Monday, September 29, 2008

Major reshuffle in Pakistan Army, DG ISI changed

Major reshuffle in Pakistan Army, DG ISI changed
By Iftikhar A. Khan, Dawn, September 30, 2008

ISLAMABAD: In a major reshuffle in the army’s top command, the chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Monday brought in a new head of the all-powerful Inter-services Intelligence (ISI), changed four of the nine corps commanders, and appointed a new chief of general staff, besides giving key postings to a few others.

The shake-up is the most wide-ranging since General Kayani took over as the COAS and perhaps even more significant since former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf stepped down as the country’s controversial president.

The move came within hours of the promotion of seven major generals to the rank of three-star lieutenant generals, with a number of them becoming the direct beneficiaries of the reshuffle.

Perhaps the most surprising of all such changes has been the appointed of Lt. General Ahmed Shujja Pasha as the new director general of ISI. He has replaced Lt. General Nadeem Taj, who has been appointed commander of 30 Corps in Gujranwala.

A highly professional soldier in his own right, Lt. General Pasha has, for the last two years, been overseeing the ongoing security operation in the tribal areas and parts of NWFP.

In his capacity as the director general military operations (DGMO) he had been directly responsible for the launching and execution of all the major security strikes in FATA and Swat, the latest being the major onslaught against religious extremists in the Bajaur tribal agency.

But he is not the only beneficiary of Monday’s promotions and reshuffle carried out by General Kayani who, many believe, has put in place a new team to implement his vision for reviving the prestige of the armed forces and for enhancing the security of the state.

Some of the other significant appointees are former SSG commander Lt. General Tahir Mahmood, who has been given the most crucial 10 Corps in Rawalpind; Lt. General Shahid Iqbal, who has been made commander of the 5 corps in Karachi; and Lt. General Mohammad Yusuf, who has been given 31 corps in Bhawalpur.

Lt. General Mustafa has been appointed as the Chief of General Staff, who will replace the incumbent Lt. General Salahuddin Satti.

According to an announcement by the ISPR, the Corps Commanders of Rawalpindi, Karachi, Bahawalpur and Gujranwala have been changed.

The reshuffle in the Pakistan Army is being seen by observers as highly significant in the backdrop of stepped up US incursions inside Pakistan’s territory and an unusual statement by the Army Chief declaring that violation of the country’s sovereignty would not be allowed at any cost.

Some observers have pointed out that the ISI Chief has been changed for the first time after the abortive attempt through a controversial notification to place the intelligence agency under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Ministry.

Also see:

The News: Lt. Gen Pasha to Head ISI

Dawn: Pakistan appoints new ISI chief amid US accusations

NY Times: Pakistan Names New Intelligence Chief

Update on the Bajaur Operation

Al Jazeera Reports on the Bajaur Operation

Also, Talat Hussain of AAJ TV reports from Bajaur in Urdu. Talat re-emphasizes the military establishment line that militants are pouring in from outside. The report also talks about the promise of cooperation by the local tribes for the military operations against the Taliban. However, exactly what kind of financial and territorial promises the establishment has made in return, we don't know. Local development of infrastructure might be part of it, but the most important thing for the locals is their territorial sovereignty. They don't like 'outsiders' on their soil - whether foreign militias or Pakistani forces. The territorial state boundaries are seen as arbitrary and fictitious. The Pashtun bonds are more real, and as one tribal elder is quoted in the report, the Durand Line cannot divide the Pashtun people living on both sides of the border. An important questions here is that would the tribes fight against the local, Pashtun insurgents, who are unhappy with military's incursions into their lands, and, to many locals, reacting for just reasons? How durable is this cooperation, it's difficult to say anything conclusively.

Militants pouring in from Afghanistan, says Pakistan
By Zeeshan Haider, Reuters India, September 29, 2008

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Militants battling Pakistani forces are getting weapons and reinforcements from Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday, vowing no let-up in their offensive in the northwest.

Government forces launched an offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border in August after years of complaints from U.S. and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan were getting help from Pakistani border areas such as Bajaur.

Now the tables have turned and the militants locked in heavy fighting with Pakistani forces are getting help from the Afghan side of the border, officials said.

"The Pakistan-Afghan border is porous and is now causing trouble for us in Bajaur," a senior security source in the military told a news briefing.

"Now movement is taking place to Pakistan from Afghanistan," said the official, who along with a colleague at the briefing, declined to be identified.

The officials did not blame the Afghan government for sending militants across the border but called on Kabul and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan forces to stop the flow.

Bajaur is the smallest of Pakistan's seven so-called tribal agencies, semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal regions.

U.S. officials say Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters, financed by drug money, use the tribal regions as an operating base to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been under pressure from the United States to block cross-border militant incursions into Afghanistan.

But in a sign of growing frustration with Pakistan's efforts to stem the flow, U.S. forces have carried out six cross-border missile strikes by pilotless drones and a commando raid on a border village this month.

The Pakistani offensive had made Bajaur a "centre of gravity" and "magnet", and even though up to 1,000 had been killed, the region was drawing militants from as far as Central Asia via Afghanistan, the officials said.

"Stop the reverse flow in Bajaur. It's coming. Heavy weapons are coming. The militants are coming," a second Pakistani official said.

In the latest fighting, jets hit militant hideouts after the Taliban announced a ceasefire for the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, killing 10 militants, a paramilitary officer said.


The fighting has displaced several hundred thousand people and about 20,000 had sought refuge across the border in Afghanistan, the United Nations said [nISL56342]

Security forces launched the offensive in Bajaur after a year of deteriorating security with militants carrying out 88 suicide attacks across the country since July last year in which nearly 1,200 people were killed. A suicide truck bomber attacked a hotel in capital Islamabad on Sept. 20 killing 55 people.

Worsening security has coincided with a widening current account deficit, an unsustainable fiscal deficit and inflation running at more than 25 percent.

An economist serving on the prime minister's economic advisory council said on Monday Pakistan needed a capital infusion of $3 billion to $4 billion "up front" to stabilise its economy and bolster rapidly dwindling foreign reserves.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's support is crucial for the U.S. war against terrorism and for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The security officials said they were not sure if any top al Qaeda member was in Bajaur. Pakistani intelligence officers have said al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al Zawahri was believed to have visited in recent years. In 2006, a U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in Bajaur in the belief he was there.

The officials said tribesmen there were raising a militia to expel foreign militants from the Mamund district even though some Arabs linked to al Qaeda had family links with the valley.

"The Mamund valley is likely to erupt, in our view, in about 48 to 72 hours," one of the officials said.

The officials said could not say how long the offensive would last but said it should be followed with reconciliation efforts and aid. (Editing by Robert Birsel and Valerie Lee)

Also See

Some 20,000 refugees flee Pakistan fighting (BBC)

The UN says 20,000 people have fled Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur for Afghanistan amid fighting between troops and militants in recent months.

The UN's refugee agency says almost 4,000 families have crossed north-west into Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The army began a sustained campaign against militants in Bajaur nearly two months ago.

Some 300,000 others have fled east within Pakistan in recent weeks with many of them living in temporary camps.

For a contrasting perspective on the situation in Fata, see the below report on Geo TV's Hamid Mir's recent briefing in Karachi. Mir talks in his typical sensational tone, and I highly doubt the 78% figure that he presents (how did he estimate it??), yet I believe that there is some truth in what he is saying about the local reaction to the incursions by the US and Pakistani military.

'Most militants fighting to avenge military actions’
The News, September 29, 2008

KARACHI: When Corps Commander Ali Jan Orakzai had deployed troops for the first time in Mohmand Agency in 2003, he gave an impression that the military intended to build schools, hospitals and roads there but he rather launched an operation against the militants that ultimately created further problems for civilians, as a result separatist tendency increased there. And this was the beginning of the conflict there.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir said this while speaking at a seminar “Military action in Fata, reality, myths and implications”, held at Justice Cornelius Library of the newly built National Law University, Clifton, on Sunday.

“The concept of Pakistan has almost ended there as the insurgency is taking shape of separatism,” he added.

According to him, there exist around 10-15 militant groups, which are not Taliban and they are not well organized. “They lack command structure and sometimes they also fight with each other. They are insurgents and separatists,” he claimed.

“Mohmand Agency is the biggest hub of separatist tendency,” Hamid Mir believed, adding that it was being led by Abdul Wali who originally belongs to “Shab Qadr” and who operates with the cover name of Omer Khalid.

“His men search for victims’ families and pick youths aged between 14 to 15 years and train them for carrying out terrorist activities,” he said.

These militants sometimes also deliver instant “justice” to thieves, etc. and impress the locals but they have successfully hidden their terrorist activities to deceive the common men, he said. Initially, youths trained at Abdul Wali’s camp only fought against Pakistan Army but now they have started killing civilians also, he added.

Hamid Mir said that US spy drones never target Wali’s camp but they target Shah Khalid because he was allegedly involved in attacking US troops in Kunar province of Afghanistan by crossing border.

Referring to the detention of “suicide bomber” in Khyber Agency by “Moral Brigade” the other day, Mir said they were also militant outfits but Pakistan Army did not take action against them since they fight against USA and were not against Pak Army.

He said Pakistan has to change its policy of “good Taliban and bad Taliban, good militant and bad militant”.

He claimed that 78 per cent of the militants were involved in avenging military actions, saying: “If you talk to them, they don’t know much about Islam and some even do not perform prayers; there are only 30pc militants who have some ideological agenda and want to achieve the same through guns”.

He said Baitullah Mehsood turned anti-Pakistan only one-and-a-half years ago after the government did not fulfill promises made with him in 2005.

Mir claimed that Baitullah gets support from Afghanistan and whenever Pakistan informed US about his presence, the US never targeted him.

He said another outfit led by Moulvi Nazir did not fight against Pak troops but his men fight in Afghanistan.

He said it was because of him that the US recently targetted Angoor Ada.

Mir said that the root cause of the conflict was the presence of US troops in Afghanistan and added that we must also condemn the militants who were creating problems.

“The army action was bringing miseries for civilians while Taliban across the border are also creating problems,” he said, adding that a new thinking was being developed among influential tribal leaders there that they should take action against those Taliban who cross border and carry out acts in Afghanistan.

Recently, the politicians of NWFP had clearly told the army chief during his briefing to take action against all Taliban and do not differentiate between good and bad Taliban or else wind up the military operation, he added.

Hamid Mir further said that the Bajaur militants tended to help militants in Kunar province, while militants from Kunar were coming to Bajaur in reciprocation.

He said the problem has become complicated and it was high time that civil society should come forward and its first priority should be the displaced civilians who were living in miserable condition at camps.

He said the government could pacify the situation in Fata by announcing general amnesty for militants on the pattern of Balochistan, adding, the government should also initiate political dialogue, focus on development of tribal areas, end FCR and allow parliament to play vibrant role.

To a question, he claimed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was supporting separatist elements in Fata.

He said that Baitullah Mehsood was being supported by Afghanistan, while Pakistan supports Moulvi Nazir.

Mir said Moulvi Nasir originally belongs to Khyber Agency and he was running a training camp in Khost province of Afghanistan where he trains militants and later sell them for five to 10 lakh rupees to Baitullah Mehsood.

The Geo anchorman said that drug money was also compounding the problem and asked as to why the government was not taking action against 300 shops which openly sell heroin in Bara.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms Uzma Aslam and Abila Ashfaq of People’s Resistance and relatives of displaced persons Ali Hasan and Badshahzada said that human miseries were multiplying in the affected areas.

Badshahzada said that the remaining people in Bajaur have developed tunnels inside their homes and live there in fear.

He said people did not know who their enemies are - Taliban or security forces. Ali Hasan said the ordinary people in tribal areas did not support the army because they were the victims of military operations. —IA

The News: Secret Taliban Peace Bid Revealed

Secret Taliban Peace Bid Revealed
The News, September 29, 2008

KABUL: The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging “peace process” sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer has revealed.s

The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hard-line Islamist movement travelling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals. Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks — despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with the Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.

Sources in Afghanistan confirmed the controversial talks, though they said that in recent weeks they had “lost momentum.” According to Afghan government officials in Kabul, the intensity of the fighting this summer has been one factor. Another is the inconsistency of the Taliban’s demands.

“They keep changing what they are asking for. One day it is one thing, the next another,” one Afghan government adviser with knowledge of the negotiations said. One aim of the initiative is to drive a wedge between Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Last week, the French Prime Minister, Franois Fillon, referred indirectly to the talks during a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. “We must explore ways of separating the international Jihadists from those who are acting more for nationalist or tribal motives. Efforts in this direction are being led by Sunni [Muslim] countries such as Saudi Arabia,î he said.

This summer’s fighting season in Afghanistan has been the most violent since the invasion of 2001. The deterioration of the situation has provoked a major review of strategy among the 40-nation international coalition pitted against an increasingly confident and effective insurgency.

Although, there have been low-level contacts with individual Taliban commanders at district level before, the Saudi initiative is the first attempt to talk to the Taliban leadership council based in or around Quetta, known as the Quetta Shura.

The talks started in the summer and have been brokered by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Afghan government. The go-between has spent weeks ferrying lists of demands and counter-demands between the Afghan capital, Riyadh and Quetta. He has also visited London to speak to Foreign Office and MI6 personnel. A delegation from Saudi intelligence has also visited Kabul.

The Taliban are understood to have submitted a list of 11 conditions for ending hostilities, which include demands to be allowed to run key ministries and a programmed withdrawal of western troops.

In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai’s national security adviser Zalmay Rasul has been in charge of the negotiations. It is understood that Karzai has yet to make a formal response to the demands, leading to frustration among some western officials.

The Observer has also learnt of a separate exchange of letters in the summer between Karzai and the Taliban ally Gulbuddin Hikmatyar. The dialogue proved fruitless.

Late last year Karzai said he would welcome the chance to speak directly to Hikmatyar and to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s leader and one of the most wanted men in the world, promising that if the Taliban demanded a ìdepartment in this or in that ministry or a position as deputy ministerî in exchange for ending violence, he would give them the posts.

Previously, Taliban spokesmen have said that only the departure of foreign troops, the institution of a fiercely rigorous interpretation of Sharia law and a share of government would be acceptable to them as the basis for any deal.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that he had no knowledge of the ‘Saudi initiative,’ as it is known in diplomatic circles, but that the British government ìactively supported the Afghan government’s reconciliation process,î which was ìpart and parcel of the counter-insurgency campaign.î

In another development, The Observer has learnt that the British government is considering increasing the length of tours served by troops in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last week that tours for senior soldiers in key command positions were set to be extended from six months to a year.

îWe are looking at increasing tour lengths for a small number of headquarters posts with the aim of creating greater continuity in key positions,î an MoD spokesman said.

Although, the MoD denied any plans to extend other service personnel’s combat tours in Afghanistan, the idea of troops deployed to the area serving nine months was raised recently by the army’s director of infantry, Brigadier Richard Dennis, in a speech to senior commanders. Washington is putting pressure on Nato allies such as Britain to match American troop increases.

Also see:

NY Times (September 30, 2008): Karzai Sought Saudi Help With Taliban. This piece tells a different story of Taliban's recent engagement with Karzai and his Western supporters (?).

Daily Times (September 30, 2008) reports that Karzai has denied the Observer's report about any ongoing talks with the Taliban mediated by Saudis and backed by Britain.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

‘Friends’ unveil initiative to avert economic collapse in Pakistan

‘Friends’ unveil initiative to avert collapse: Over $15bn needed
By Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider, Dawn, September 27, 2008

NEW YORK, Sept 26: A permanent forum was launched in New York on Friday to help raise billions of dollars to avert a possible economic collapse in Pakistan.

The forum, which will be called the Friends of Pakistan, will hold its first meeting in Abu Dhabi next month.

The decision to form such a body was made at a meeting of some of the world’s richest nations that also have close ties to Pakistan and want to help.

“I don’t want them to give us the fish. I want to learn how to fish and do it myself,” said President Asif Ali Zardari while explaining what Pakistan expected from the new forum.

“We are engaged with Pakistan through international financial institutions,” said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “We will support the steps Pakistan must take” for economic reforms.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband described the meeting as “a very strong signal of political and economic support to the democratically elected government in Pakistan”.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed said his country fully backed the initiative to “show our commitment to Pakistan”.

The three officials were among half a dozen world leaders who attended Friday’s meeting formally inaugurated by President Zardari.

The United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, China, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the UAE attended the inaugural meeting.

European Union and the United Nations sent their representatives. Other countries are also likely to join.

Recent reports in the western media indicate that Pakistan needs as much as $10 billion to avoid an economic meltdown.

The United States and Britain jointly launched the initiative to form a group to help Pakistan after realising the seriousness of the economic crisis confronting the country.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that at a meeting with President Zardari on Wednesday US President George W. Bush had told him that “Pakistan needs help today, rather than tomorrow”.

Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves are falling fast and if forward liabilities are included, the real reserves may go down to $3 billion. This cannot meet the import bill of one whole month.

Out of total reserves of $8.467 billion, the reserves held by the commercial banks stood at $3.461 billion on September 23. From September 22, the reserves fell by around $180 million, as there were no receipts while the government made heavy payments for oil and other imports.

This week, Moody’s Investors Service lowered Pakistan’s credit outlook to negative due to the risk of “missed repayments” on the nation’s debt.

Pakistan’s gradual economic decline, which started last year, alarmed the United States and Britain as they feared that financial chaos could allow terrorists to deepen their roots in the country.

To avoid such an eventuality, they decided to launch a new group of donors.

After Friday’s meeting, President Zardari told journalists outside a UN conference room that the participants had decided to make the Friends of Pakistan group a permanent body.

“All of them want to help. They want to make democracy work,” said Mr Zardari.

He said countries in Pakistan’s region realise that they had to support its efforts to fight terrorism, which was a regional issue as well and therefore needed “a regional ownership”.

“There is a very strong support for Pakistan’s democratic government” and the world wanted to help it deal with the economic challenges the country faces, he said.

“They want to help bring stability to the young democracy” and to help it “take difficult decisions” for economic recovery, Mr Zardari added.

Ms Rice, who accompanied Mr Zardari and Mr Miliband to the media briefing, said that those joining the Friends of Pakistan group had stayed “very closely engaged” with international financial institutions that provided economic assistance to Pakistan.

“We look at the US and the world support to (our economy) as a blessing,” said Mr Zardari while responding to Ms Rice’s expression of support.

The British foreign secretary said that every single country that joined the Friends of Pakistan group “stands shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan”.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kurram Tribes Agree to Ceasefire

The tribes have agreed to cease fire along with a number of other provisions. A comprehensive peace accord addressing the remaining issues is planned for the Oct 6 meeting. See my comments on the peace talks here.

Warring Kurram tribes agree to ceasefire
By Inamullah Khattak, Dawn, September 28, 2008

RAWALPINDI: A peace Jirga of tribal elders, representing the warring groups of Kurram Agency, agreed on Saturday to stop fighting till December 31.

The tribal leaders vowed to cooperate with the government in the restoration of peace in the sectarian-violence hit troubled region.

The elders of the tribesmen that met for the fourth consecutive day here also decided to meet again on October 6 for a ‘grand jirga’ to help resolve unsettled matters.

The 100-member Jirga comprising 50 members each from the 12 tribes of both Shia and Sunni sects also included parliamentarians from both groups, including elected representatives of the Kurram Agency, MNAs Munir Khan Orakzai, Sajid Hussian Turi, Senator Eng. Rasheed Khan, former Senator Sajjad Syed and other notables of the Kurram Agency.

The jirga was held under the supervision of Political Agent Kurram Mohammad Azam Khan and Assistant Political Agent Lower Kurram Ayyaz Khan Mandokhel

The four-point ‘peace agreement’ says

“(1) Ceasefire in Kurram Agency would continue till December 31, 2008 and if incident of fire happened in any area, the tribes of the concerned region would themselves hand over the involved persons to the local administration under the responsibility of territorial jurisdiction. The concerned tribe would fully cooperate with the government and the administration would take stern action against the violators of the peace agreement.

2. A grand jirga to be nominated later for which the jirga members authorised the Political Agent, would be called on October 06, 2008 to resolve the controversial issues between Shia and Sunni tribes in presence of the political agent.

3. Both Shia and Sunni tribes would exchange the dead bodies or those kidnapped during the period of conflict.

4. Both the tribes would try to supply edibles, medicines and other things of daily necessities to the concerned affected areas to resolve problems being faced by the local people particularly women and children."

To a question, the political agent said: “I will suggest the government to conduct an intelligent operation in order to stop foreign intervention in Kurram Agency and expel the foreign elements”.

He said the Jirga had agreed to stop foreign intervention in the region.

Violence erupted in Kurram Agnecy on April 6 last year, killing over 2,000 people and leaving hundreds of people displaced.

Kurram Agency tribesmen welcome peace accord
DailyTimes, September 28, 2008

* Acute shortage of medicines, food, diesel and petrol in agency

PESHAWAR: Kurram Agency tribesmen on Saturday welcomed peace agreement between Jirga members of Turi and Mengal tribes, who agreed on a ceasefire in the agency.

The peace negotiators met in Islamabad recently and agreed to hold ceasefire between the warring Turi and Mengal tribes.

The Jirga members agreed to end violence in Kurram Agency and vowed to fight the hidden hands erupting clashes in the area, a Jirga member said, adding that both tribes agreed to continue with the process of negotiations until complete peace was restored in the agency.

The residents of Kurram Agency, currently residing in Peshawar, have expressed satisfaction over the Jirga’s decision and termed it an important development towards restoration of peace in the agency. They hoped that now peace would soon be returned to the agency.

Haji Yousaf said the local people of the agency were fed up with the ongoing militancy in the agency. “The tribesmen of the agency are facing extreme problems due to closure of the main Thall-Parachinar Road,” he added.

Raza Khan said it was a good development in the right direction, which would bring peace to the area. He urged the government to pay attention towards maintaining durable peace in the area. “I would now have chance to go to my village after one year,” he said.

Ali Mehdi, another resident of the agency, said restoration of peace was must for development of the agency, which had suffered a lot in the ongoing unrest for about one year.

Shortage of medicines: Mehboob Ali Paracha said there were acute shortage of medicines, essential goods, diesel and petrol in the area. He hoped that with the restoration of peace these items would be supplied to the agency.

An official of the political administration said it was a good sign that rival Turi and Mengal tribes had agreed to restore peace in the restive agency.

Violence in Parachinar had erupted in November last year and so far hundreds of people had been killed and thousands displaced from the agency.

The entire Kurram Agency is without electricity for the last two months resulting in acute shortage of drinking water in the agency.

Iqbal Hussain Turi, a Jirga member, said that both groups agreed that there was no Sunni-Shia tension in Kurram Agency but a third hand was involved in disturbing peace of the agency. “We will foil all conspiracies against our tribal people,” he added.

The 100-member peace Jirga comprised 50 members each from the Turi and Mengal tribes, Kurram Agency’s Political Agent Azam Khan and Lower Kurram Assistant Political Agent Ayaz Khan Mandokhel. app

Millions Honor International Quds Day

Muslims of the World Honor International Quds Day
Millions of people around the world held massive rallies on the International Quds Day in support of Palestinian people's rights.
Press TV, September 26, 2008

Demonstrations are underway in different countries, including Iran, Iraq, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and the city of al Quds (Jerusalem).

International Quds Day, an initiative of the late Founder of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini, is observed in all Islamic nations. Demonstrations by Muslims and concerned individuals worldwide show support for the Palestinian people suffering under occupation and hardship.

Quds Day is held on the fourth Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan every year.

People in several other countries also honored the occasion.

Millions of Iranians took to streets throughout the country to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

According to Press TV reporter in Tehran, hundreds of thousands turned out in the capital city of the Islamic Republic.

According to our correspondents in al-Quds, Palestinians have staged the same demonstration to protest the six-decade-old occupation by the Jewish regime.

In Iraq, thousands of people marked September 26, the last Friday of Ramadan, by staging massive demonstrations in Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, Nasiriyah, Samawah, and al-Amarah.

The demonstrators, carrying banners and pictures of Imam Khomeini expressed their resentment against the Israeli regime and its allies, especially the United States.

Hundreds in Bangladesh staged rallies in the capital Dhaka to commemorate the day.

Millions of Palestinian people have been forced to flee their homeland since the establishment of the occupying regime of Israel in 1948.

The demonstrators are also calling for an end to Israel's illegal control of al-Quds.

Also See

The News: Quds Day Observed Countrywide

Press TV: Pakistanis show solidarity with Palestine

Muslims in Pakistan mark Al Quds Day with big rallies and protest demonstrations

AlQuds Day Observed in Pakistan

Guns, not roses, for Iraq

Guns, not roses, for Iraq
The U.S. is selling billions in weapons to Iraq. Is the Pentagon's plan making the country secure or arming it to the teeth for civil war?
By Mark Benjamin,, Sep. 18, 2007

The grand debate about Gen. David Petraeus' Capitol Hill testimony last week on U.S. strategy in Iraq focused primarily on troop levels, withdrawal dates and whether Bush's so-called troop surge was succeeding. But widely overlooked was Petraeus' sales pitch to lawmakers for one initiative he said will help save the war-torn country: massive arms sales from the U.S. government to Iraq.

"Iraq is becoming one of the United States' larger foreign military sales customers," Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 11, noting that Iraq has inked deals to buy $1.6 billion in arms from the U.S., with the "possibility of up to $1.8 billion more." Data obtained by Salon shows the arms sales could rise far higher than even the amount the general suggested last week.

Petraeus said that the arms sales are an important part of the initiative to keep the Iraqis "rapidly expanding their security forces." But Petraeus himself presided over an arms debacle in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 in which nearly 200,000 weapons went missing. And while U.S. arms might help the Iraqi security forces "stand up" in the short term, experts warn that the U.S. military could easily lose control over what may follow. Some fear a war zone flooded with weapons that could be turned on U.S. soldiers, or supply huge firepower for a full-blown civil war.

The Pentagon confirmed that this fiscal year, the United States has finalized $1.6 billion in arms sales to Iraq, placing the country in an elite club of weapons buyers. For example, in recent one-year periods Saudi Arabia bought $800 million and Egypt bought $1 billion in arms from the U.S., while Pakistan spent $3.5 billion, including the purchase of jet fighters. "This would put [Iraq] right up there with the top handful of arms buyers," said William Hartung, a weapons proliferation expert at the New America Foundation.

In fact, the numbers Petraeus presented on Iraq were the tip of the iceberg. According to data obtained by Salon from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency at the Pentagon, which manages the arms sales, the military has alerted Congress to up to $4.3 billion in arms sales that have been under discussion since at least 2006 between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

The arms deals come as the U.S. has shifted strategy to enlist Sunnis in western Iraq -- some of them former insurgents -- into all-Sunni units of the Iraqi security forces. The fear is that these newly trained and armed units will ultimately turn against the Shiite-dominated central government or against U.S. forces again. "I think this is kind of crazy," Hartung said about the arms sales. "Now we are making deals with some of these Sunni groups. Well, what if they turn around and go back to being insurgents after we have built them up? I think the danger of these arms being misused, even in the short term, is fairly high."

The weapons are sold through what is called the Foreign Military Sales program, which handles direct, government-to-government arms sales. Federal law requires the Pentagon to notify Congress of deals under development through that program, even if final contracts have not yet been signed. On Sept. 19, 2006, for example, the Pentagon alerted Congress of one pending deal with Iraq, worth $500 million, including 100,000 M-16 and M-4 rifles, the models carried by U.S. troops; 10,000 heavy machine guns; more than 10,000 Glock pistols; almost 3,500 M-24 sniper rifles and 1,300 night vision goggles; and tens of millions of rounds of ammunition.

Plans to sell billions in small arms to the Iraqis could come back to haunt the United States, agrees Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information at the World Security Institute. "I don't know if it makes sense to pump more weapons into the hands of actors that we have absolutely no idea about what their angles are and how those weapons are going to be used," she said. "It is such a chaotic situation ... I'm not sure at this point that that is the best policy."

Losing control of weapons once they are out of U.S. hands is a risk Petraeus knows about. In July, a Government Accountability Office released a critical report showing that the military had lost track of 190,000 weapons the U.S. military was supposed to hand out to Iraqi security forces, including 110,000 AK-47 rifles. That report received widespread attention in the media. (These weapons, purchased by the United States and handed out to Iraqis, are in addition to these new arms deals with Iraq.)

What received less attention was that the report was highly critical of Petraeus himself, though not by name. He was the first commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq from when the command was set up in June 2004 until September 2005. That command was in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces. According to the GAO report, Petraeus' command "did not maintain a centralized record of all equipment distributed to the Iraqi security forces from June 2004 until December 2005." As a result, the whereabouts of 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets are unclear. The military, the report added, "cannot ensure that Iraqi security forces received the equipment as intended."

Late last month, a report from National Public Radio revealed that Glock pistols were part of a growing black market in Turkey for weapons of U.S. origin.

"I think he has gotten off easy on this," Stohl said about Petraeus' role in the missing weapons. "Obviously you have to place the blame somewhere and I think that he should take some of it."

When Petraeus was pressed about his role in the missing guns, he argued that the weapons had to be handed out quickly to Iraqis willing to fight against insurgents. There was no time to wait around for tracking systems to be implemented, he said.

Petraeus is now emphasizing speed once again. The Iraqis "have put a lot of stock into Foreign Military Sales, and we have to come through for them," he said in response to questioning by Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor during last week's Senate hearing. "It can't be business as usual. It has to be really moved very quickly."

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Iraq, said the military now carefully records the identity of each member of the Iraqi security forces who gets a weapon. "That means you take a serial number. You take a retinal scan. You take fingerprints of all 10 fingers. Those all get compiled in a database together," explained Garver. Lost weapons can now be traced back to their original recipients, Garver said.

Garver conceded, however, that the improved tracking system will be of little use in a civil war. "It does provide a measure of control," he said. "In terms of loyalties lying where they lie, will that prevent someone from going to do something? No."

On the home front, American arms companies stand to gain from the arms deals with Iraq, since Pentagon contracting practices favor domestic arms manufacturers. But good business doesn't necessarily equal good foreign policy. According to Stohl, the arms sales to Iraq are part of a troubling pattern of the Bush administration's supplying weapons to unstable regimes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Early this month, her organization released a report on arms sales to 25 countries considered to be key allies in the so-called war on terror, including many with clear human rights or stability issues, including Ethiopia, Chad and Pakistan. The report showed that since 9/11, arms sales to those 25 countries were worth four times more than sales to those countries in the five years before 9/11. It added that the State Department had reported serious, grave or significant human rights abuses committed by the governments of more than half of the countries on the list.

"I think the United States has made the mistake, since 2001 in particular, of looking at short-term benefits rather than long-term strategic gains," said Stohl. "It is not just with these sales we are talking about in Iraq. It is also from a global perspective in terms of increasing military assistance to governments that probably have not been very much on our side in the past."

With respect to Iraq, most experts agree that it very much remains an open question as to who in that country might be on our side in the future.

Also See:

U.S. Arms Sales Agreements with the Middle East, 1999-2006 (Statistics)

NY Times: With White House Push, U.S. Arms Sales Jump

With White House Push, U.S. Arms Sales Jump
By Eric Lipton, NY Times, September 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is pushing through a broad array of foreign weapons deals as it seeks to rearm Iraq and Afghanistan, contain North Korea and Iran, and solidify ties with onetime Russian allies.

From tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and even warships, the Department of Defense has agreed so far this fiscal year to sell or transfer more than $32 billion in weapons and other military equipment to foreign governments, compared with $12 billion in 2005.

The trend, which started in 2006, is most pronounced in the Middle East, but it reaches into northern Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and even Canada, through dozens of deals that senior Bush administration officials say they are confident will both tighten military alliances and combat terrorism.

“This is not about being gunrunners,” said Bruce S. Lemkin, the Air Force deputy under secretary who is helping to coordinate many of the biggest sales. “This is about building a more secure world.”

The surging American arms sales reflect the foreign policy tides, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader campaign against international terrorism, that have dominated the Bush administration. Deliveries on orders now being placed will continue for several years, perhaps as one of President Bush’s most lasting legacies.

The United States is far from the only country pushing sophisticated weapons systems: it is facing intense competition from Russia and elsewhere in Europe, including continuing contests for multibillion-dollar deals to sell fighter jets to India and Brazil.

In that booming market, American military contractors are working closely with the Pentagon, which acts as a broker and procures arms for foreign customers through its Foreign Military Sales program.

Less sophisticated weapons, and services to maintain these weapons systems, are often bought directly by foreign governments. That category of direct commercial sales has seen an enormous surge as well, as measured by export licenses issued this fiscal year covering an estimated $96 billion, up from $58 billion in 2005, according to the State Department, which must approve the licenses.

About 60 countries get annual military aid from the United States, $4.5 billion a year, to help them buy American weapons. Israel and Egypt receive more than 80 percent of that aid. The United States has also recently given Iraq and Afghanistan large amounts of weapons and other equipment and has begun to train fledgling military units at no charge; this assistance is included in the tally of foreign sales. But most arms exports are paid for by the purchasers without United States financing.

The growing tally of international weapon deals, which started to surge in 2006, is now provoking questions among some advocates of arms control and some members of Congress.

“Sure, this is a quick and easy way to cement alliances,” said William D. Hartung, an arms control specialist at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute. “But this is getting out of hand.”

Congress is notified before major arms sales deals are completed between foreign governments and the Pentagon. While lawmakers have the power to object formally and block any individual sale, they rarely use it.

Representative Howard L. Berman of California, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he supported many of the individual weapons sales, like helping Iraq build the capacity to defend itself, but he worried that the sales blitz could have some negative effects. “This could turn into a spiraling arms race that in the end could decrease stability,” he said.

The United States has long been the top arms supplier to the world. In the past several years, however, the list of nations that rely on the United States as a primary source of major weapons systems has greatly expanded. Among the recent additions are Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan, according to sales data through the end of last month provided by the Department of Defense. Cumulatively, these countries signed $870 million worth of arms deals with the United States from 2001 to 2004. For the past four fiscal years, that total has been $13.8 billion.

In many cases, these sales represent a cultural shift, as nations like Romania, Poland and Morocco, which have long relied on Russian-made MIG-17 fighter jets, are now buying new F-16s, built by Lockheed Martin.

At Lockheed Martin, one of the largest American military contractors, international sales last year brought in about $6.3 billion, or 15 percent of the company’s total sales, up from $4.8 billion in 2001. The foreign sales by Lockheed and other American military contractors are credited with helping keep alive some production lines, like those of the F-16 fighter jet and Boeing’s C-17 transport plane.

Fighter jets made in America will now be flying in other countries for years to come, meaning continued profits for American contractors that maintain them, and in many cases regular interaction between the United States military and foreign air forces, Mr. Lemkin, the Air Force official, said.

Sales are also being driven by the push by many foreign nations to join the once-exclusive club of countries whose arsenals include precise, laser-guided missiles, high-priced American technology that the United States displayed during its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Persian Gulf region, much of the rearmament is driven by fears of Iran.

The United Arab Emirates, for example, are considering spending as much as $16 billion on American-made missile defense systems, according to recent notifications sent to Congress by the Department of Defense.

The Emirates also have announced an intention to order offensive weapons, including up to 26 Black Hawk helicopters and 900 Longbow Hellfire II missiles, which can knock out enemy tanks.

Saudi Arabia, this fiscal year alone, has signed at least $6 billion worth of agreements to buy weapons from the United States government — the highest figure for that country since 1993, which was another peak year in American weapons sales, after the first Persian Gulf war.

Israel, long a major buyer of United States military equipment, is also increasing its orders, including planned purchases of perhaps as many as four American-made coastal warships, worth $1.9 billion.

In Asia, as North Korea has conducted tests of a long-range missile, American allies have been buying more United States equipment. One ally, South Korea, has signed sales agreements with the Pentagon this year worth $1.1 billion.

So far, the value of foreign arms deliveries completed by the United States has increased only modestly, reaching $13 billion last year compared with an average of $12 billion over the previous three years. Because complex weapons systems take a long time to produce, it is expected that the increase in sales agreements will result in much greater arms deliveries in the coming years. (All dollar amounts for previous years cited in this article have been adjusted to reflect the impact of inflation.)

The flood of sophisticated American military equipment pouring into the Middle East has evoked concern among some members of Congress, who fear that the Bush administration may be compromising the military edge Israel has long maintained in the region.

Not surprisingly, two of the biggest new American arms customers are Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just in the past two years, Iraq has signed more than $3 billion of sales agreements — and announced plans to buy perhaps as much as $7 billion more in American equipment, financed by its rising oil revenues.

Lt. Col. Almarah Belk, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that making these sales served the interests of both Iraq and the United States because “it reduces the risk of corruption and assists the Iraqis in getting around bottlenecks in their acquisition processes.”

Over the past three years, the United States government, separately, has agreed to buy more than $10 billion in military equipment and weapons on behalf of Afghanistan, according to Defense Department records, including M-16 rifles and C-27 military transport aircraft.

Even tiny countries like Estonia and Latvia are getting into the mix, playing a part in a collaborative effort by 15 countries, mostly in Europe, to buy two C-17 Boeing transport planes, which are used in moving military supplies as well as conducting relief missions.

Boeing has delivered 176 of these $200 million planes to the United States. But until 2006, Britain was the only foreign country that flew them. Now, in addition to the European consortium, Canada, Australia and Qatar have put in orders, and Boeing is competing to sell the plane to six other countries, said Tommy Dunehew, Boeing’s C-17 international sales manager.

In the last year, foreign sales have made up nearly half of the production at the California plant where C-17s are made. “It has been filling up the factory in the last couple of years,” Mr. Dunehew said.

Even before this new round of sales got under way, the United States’ share of the world arms trade was rising, from 40 percent of arms deliveries in 2000 to nearly 52 percent in 2006, the latest year for which the Congressional Research Service has compiled data. The next-largest seller was Russia, which in 2006 accounted for 21 percent of global deliveries.

Representative Berman, who sponsored a bill passed in May to overhaul the arms export process, said American military sales, while often well intended, were sometimes misguided. He cited military sales to Pakistan, which he said he feared were doing more to stoke tensions with India than combat terrorism in the region.

Travis Sharp, a military policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, a Washington research group, said one of his biggest worries was that if alliances shifted, the United States might eventually be in combat against an enemy equipped with American-made weapons. Arms sales have had unintended consequences before, as when the United States armed militants fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, only to eventually confront hostile Taliban fighters armed with the same weapons there.

“Once you sell arms to another country, you lose control over how they are used,” Mr. Sharp said. “And the weapons, unfortunately, don’t have an expiration date.”

But Mr. Lemkin, of the Pentagon, said that with so many nations now willing to sell advanced weapons systems, the United States could not afford to be too restrictive in its own sales.

“Would you rather they bought the weapons and aircraft from other countries?” he said. “Because they will.”

On a related note:

September 28, 2008 - Pentagon approves Cobra helicopters for Pakistan

The offer is part of a package of $1.01 billion of weapons for four US allies, including France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan.

Robert Fisk: Six years in Guantanamo

Robert Fisk: Six years in Guantanamo

Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, was beaten, abused and humiliated in the name of the war on terror. He tells our correspondent about his struggle to rebuild a shattered life

Thursday, 25 September 2008


Sami al-Haj walks with pain on his steel crutch; almost six years in the nightmare of Guantanamo have taken their toll on the Al Jazeera journalist and, now in the safety of a hotel in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer, he is a figure of both dignity and shame. The Americans told him they were sorry when they eventually freed him this year – after the beatings he says he suffered, and the force-feeding, the humiliations and interrogations by British, American and Canadian intelligence officers – and now he hopes one day he'll be able to walk without his stick.

The TV cameraman, 38, was never charged with any crime, nor was he put on trial; his testimony makes it clear that he was held in three prisons for six-and-a-half years – repeatedly beaten and force-fed – not because he was a suspected "terrorist" but because he refused to become an American spy. From the moment Sami al-Haj arrived at Guantanamo, flown there from the brutal US prison camp at Kandahar, his captors demanded that he work for them. The cruelty visited upon him – constantly interrupted by American admissions of his innocence – seemed designed to turnal-Haj into a US intelligence "asset".

"We know you are innocent, you are here by mistake," he says he was told in more than 200 interrogations. "All they wanted was for me to be a spy for them. They said they would give me US citizenship, that my wife and child could live in America, that they would protect me. But I said: 'I will not do this – first of all because I'm a journalist and this is not my job and because I fear for myself and my family. In war, I can be wounded and I can die or survive. But if I work with you, al-Qa'ida will eliminate me. And if I don't work with you, you will kill me'."

The grotesque saga began for al-Haj on 15 December, 2001, when he was on his way from the Pakistani capital Islamabad to Kandahar in Afghanistan with Sadah al-Haq, a fellow correspondent from the Arab satellite TV channel, to cover the new regional government. At least 70 other journalists were on their way through the Pakistani border post at Chaman, but an officer stopped al-Haj. "He told me there was a paper from the Pakistani intelligence service for my arrest. My name was misspelled, my passport number was incorrect, it said I was born in 1964 – the right date is 1969. I said I had renewed my visa in Islamabad and asked why, if I was wanted, they had not arrested me there?"

Sami al-Haj speaks slowly and with care, each detail of his suffering and of others' suffering of equal importance to him. He still cannot believe that he is free, able to attend a conference in Norway, to return to his new job as news producer at Al Jazeera, to live once more with his Azeri wife Asma and their eight-year old son Mohamed; when Sami al-Haj disappeared down the black hole of America's secret prisons the boy was only 14 months' old.

Al-Haj's story has a familiar ring to anyone who has investigated the rendition of prisoners from Pakistan to US bases in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. His aircraft flew for an hour and a half and then landed to collect more captives – this may have been in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital – before flying on to the big American base at Bagram.

"We arrived in the early hours of the morning and they took the shackles off our feet and pushed us out of the plane. They hit me and pushed me down on the asphalt. We heard screams and dogs barking. I collapsed with my right leg under me, and I felt the ligaments tearing. When I fell, the soldiers started treading on me. First, they walked on my back, then – when they saw me looking at my leg – they started kicking my leg. One soldier shouted at me: 'Why did you come to fight Americans?' I had a number – I was No 35 and this is how they addressed me, as a number – and the first American shouted at me: 'You filmed Bin Laden.' I said I did not film Bin Laden but that I was a journalist. I again gave my name, my age, my nationality."

After 16 days at Bagram, another aircraft took him to the US base at Kandahar where on arrival the prisoners were again made to lie on the ground. "We were cursed – they said 'fuck your mother' – and again the Americans walked on our backs. Why? Why did they do this? I was taken to a tent and stripped and they pulled hairs out of my beard. They photographed the pupils of my eyes. A doctor found blood on my back and asked me why it was there. I asked him how he thought it was there?"

The same dreary round of interrogations recommenced – he was now "Prisoner No 448" – and yet again, al-Haj says he was told he was being held by mistake. "Then another man – he was in civilian clothes and I think he was from Egyptian intelligence – wanted to know who was the "leader" of the detainees who was with me. The Americans asked: 'Who is the most respected of the prisoners? Who killed [Ahmed Shah] Massoud ([the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance Afghan militia]?' I said this was not my business and an American soldier said: 'Co-operate with us, and you will be released.' They meant I had to work for them. There was another man who spoke perfect English. I thought he was British. He was young, good-looking, about 35-years-old, no moustache, blond hair, very polite in a white shirt, no tie. He brought me chocolate – it was Kit Kat—and I was so hungry I could have eaten the wrapping."

On 13 June, al-Haj was put on board a jet aircraft. He was given yet another prison number – No 345 – and once more his head was covered with a black bag. He was forced to take two tablets before he was gagged and his bag replaced by goggles with the eye-pieces painted black. The flight to Guantanamo took 12 to 14 hours.

"They took us on a boat from the Guantanamo runways to the prison, a journey that took an hour." Al-Haj was escorted to a medical clinic and then at once to another interrogation. "They said they'd compared my answers with my original statement and one of them said: 'You are here by mistake. You will be released. You will be the first to be released.' They gave me a picture of my son, which had been taken from my wallet. They asked me if I needed anything. I asked for books. One said he had a copy of One Thousand and One Nights in Arabic. He copied it for me. During this interview, they asked me: 'Why did you talk to the British intelligence man so much in Kandahar?' I said I didn't know if he was from British intelligence. They said he was.

"Then after two months, two more British men came to see me. They said they were from UK intelligence. They wanted to know who I knew, who I'd met. I said I couldn't help them." The Americans later referred to one of them as "Martin" and they did not impress al-Haj's senior interrogator at Guantanamo, Stephen Rodriguez, who wanted again to seek al-Haj's help. "He said to me: 'Our job is to prevent "things" happening. I'll give you a chance to think about this. You can have US citizenship, your family will be looked after, you'll have a villa in the US, we'll look after your son's education, you'll have a bank account'. He had brought with him some Arabic magazines and told me I could read them. In those 10 minutes, I felt I had gone back to being a human being again. Then soldiers came to take me back to my cell – and the magazines were taken away."

By the summer of 2003, al-Haj was receiving other strange visitors. "Two Canadian intelligence officers came and they showed me lots of photos of people and wanted to know if I recognised them. I knew none of them."

In more than 200 interrogations, al-Haj was asked about his employers the Al Jazeera television channel in Qatar. In one session, he says another American said to him: "After you get out of here, al-Qa'ida will recruit you and we want to know who you meet. You could become an analyst, we can train you to store information, to sketch people. There is a link between Al Jazeera and al-Qa'ida. How much does al-Qa'ida pay Al Jazeera?"

"I said: 'I will not do this – first of all because I'm a journalist and this is not my job. Also because I fear for my life and my family.'"

Many beatings followed – not from the interrogators but from other US guards. "They would slam my head into the ground, cut off all my hair. They put me into the isolation block – we called it the 'November Block' – for two years. They made my life torture. I wanted to bring it to an end. There were continual punishments without reason. In interrogations, they would tighten the shackles so it hurt. They hadn't allowed me to receive letters for 10 months – even then, they erased words in them, even from my son. Again, Rodriguez demanded I work for the Americans."

In January of last year, Sami al-Haj started a hunger strike – and began the worst months of his imprisonment. "I wanted my rights in the civil courts. The US Supreme Court said I should have my rights. I wanted the right to worship properly. They let me go 30 days without food – then I was tied to a chair with metal shackles and they force-fed me. They would insert a tube through my nose into my stomach. They chose large tubes so that it hurt and sometimes it went into the lung. They used the same tube they had used on other prisoners with muck still on it and then they pumped more food into me than it was possible to absorb. They told us the people administering this were doctors – but they were torturers, not doctors. They forced 24 cans of food into us so we threw up and then gave us laxatives to defecate. My pancreas was affected and I had stomach problems. Then they would forbid us from drinking water."

Al-Haj says he completed 480 days of hunger strike by which time his medical condition had deteriorated and he was bleeding from his anus. That was the moment his interrogators decided to release him.

"There were new interrogators now, but they tried once more with me. 'Will you work with us?' they asked me again. I said 'no' again – but I thanked them for their years of hospitality and for giving me the chance to live among them as a journalist. I said this way I could get the truth to the outside world, that I was not in a hurry to get out because there were a lot more reporters' stories in there." They said: 'You think we did you a favour?' I said: 'You turned me from zero into a hero.' They said: 'We are 100 per cent sure that Bin Laden will be in touch with you...' That night, I was taken to the plane. The interrogators were watching me, hiding behind a tennis net. I waved at them, those four pairs of eyes."

The British authorities have never admitted talking to Sami al-Haj. Nor have the Canadians. Al Jazeera, whose headquarters George Bush wanted to bomb after the invasion of Iraq, kept a job open for Sami al-Haj. But Prisoner No 345 never received an official apology from the Americans. He says he does not expect one.

Also See:

Daily Times: Prisoner 650 - Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

Wikipedia: Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

Prisoner 650, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui missing since 2003

Neo-cons, Ex-Israeli Diplomats Push Islamophobic Video, "Obsession"

Neo-cons, Ex-Israeli Diplomats Push Islamophobic Video, "Obsession"
By Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, 24 Sep (IPS) - A group of hard-line U.S. neo-conservatives and former Israeli diplomats, among others, are behind the mass distribution, ahead of the November U.S. presidential election, of a controversial DVD that critics have denounced as Islamophobic.

The group, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), is working with another organisation called the Clarion Fund, which produced the 60-minute video and is itself tied closely to an Israeli organisation called Aish Hatorah.

The Fund is currently distributing some 28 million copies of the DVD through newspaper inserts in key electoral ''swing'' states -- states like Michigan, Ohio, and Florida that, according to recent polling, could go either way in November's presidential election.

According to Delaware incorporation papers, the Clarion Fund is based at the same New York address as Aish Hatorah, a self-described 'apolitical' group dedicated to educating Jews about their heritage.

The Clarion Fund's street address as listed on the group's website and a DVD mailer for the film is apparently not a physical address, but rather a 'virtual address' that goes to a post office box in New York City.

Critics allege that the movie 'Obsession' is 'hate propaganda' which paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

At least two major metropolitan newspapers solicited to insert the paid advertisement into their product have refused to do so because of a perceived bias in the film.

'Despite the perilous state of American newspapers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch advertising department took an ethical stand and refused to distribute the DVD of a film that for two years has troubled American Muslims,' wrote Tim Townsend, a reporter at Missouri's most influential newspaper earlier this month after it rejected the ad.

While the initial press reports about the mass distribution focused on the Clarion Fund's financing role, it was EMET that organised and oversaw the distribution, EMET's spokesman, Ari Morgenstern, told IPS. Morgenstern, a former press officer for the Israeli embassy here, said he contacted IPS at the Clarion Fund's request.

EMET, according to a recent press release, is 'a non-partisan, non-profit organisation dedicated to policy research and analysis on democracy and the Middle East.'

According to filings made in compliance with the organisation's tax-exempt 501(c)3 status, 'the organisation hosts seminars, debates and educational films featuring Middle East experts in order to educate policymakers and the public at large on the common threats facing Israel and the United States.'

Morgenstern told IPS that EMET was 'partnered with the Clarion Fund' on what he called the 'Obsession Project' which he identified as 'an initiative of EMET'. He declined to name the Project's donors. A spokesman for the Clarion Fund, Gregory Ross, has also refused to name the Fund's donors, whose identity remains a mystery.

Morgenstern also declined to specify the cost of the DVD distribution, but did say, 'it costs a great deal -- it's a multi-million-dollar effort.' Outside experts have estimated the cost of the operation, including reproduction and distribution, at between 15 million dollars and 50 million dollars.

Like hard-line neo-conservatives, EMET opposes any land concessions to Palestinians and takes other hard-line positions identified with Israel's right-wing Likud Party and the ''Settler Lobby'' there. EMET's website says, 'We regard ourselves as 'intellectual revolutionaries''.

The group's acronym, EMET, mirrors the name of a predecessor to the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, which was called Emet. The word means 'truth' in Hebrew.

Two weeks ago, EMET sponsored a seminar series on Capitol Hill named for the controversial multi-billionaire casino and hotel magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to right-wing Zionist organisations in the U.S.; the far-right lobby group, Freedom's Watch; and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), whose efforts to persuade Jewish voters that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is aligned with radical anti-Israel forces in the Islamic world have drawn strong criticism from the mainstream Jewish press here.

EMET's board of advisers includes a list of familiar neo-conservative figures, as well as three former Israeli diplomats, including a former deputy chief of mission in Israel's Washington embassy.

The group is headed by Sarah Stern, who began her activism on Israeli issues in opposition to the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians. She made a career out of her activism in the far-right Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) as its national policy coordinator from 1998 through 2004.

Notable members of the advisory board include prominent hard-line neo-conservatives, including former U.S. U.N. Amb. the late Jeane Kirkpatrick; Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum; and the Hudson Institute's Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-born spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top Middle East adviser, David Wurmser.

Other prominent neo-conservative members of the board include Centre for Security Policy (CSP) president Frank Gaffney; former CIA chief James Woolsey; and Heritage Foundation fellows Ariel Cohen and Nina Shea, who has also served for years on the quasi-governmental U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

The U.S.-born and -educated hard-line deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at Gaffney's CSP, Caroline Glick, is also an adviser.

Glick, Pipes, and Walid Shoebat, a 'reformed' terrorist and EMET adviser, are all featured as experts in 'Obsession'.

Also among the top names of listed advisers to EMET are three Israeli diplomats. Two of them, Ambassadors Yossi Ben Aharon and Yoram Ettinger, were among the three Israeli ambassadors whom then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin referred to as 'the Three Musketeers' when they lobbied Washington in opposition to the Oslo accords. Indeed, Stern began her career at the behest of three unnamed Israeli diplomats who were based in Washington under Rabin's predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, according to EMET's website.

Ettinger was at one time the chairman of special projects and is still listed as a contributing expert at the Ariel Centre for Policy Research, a hard-line Likudist Israeli think tank that opposes the peace process.

Ben Aharon was the director general -- effectively the chief of staff -- of Shamir's office.

The third Israeli ambassador, Lenny Ben-David, was appointed by Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as the deputy chief of mission -- second in command -- at the Israeli embassy in Washington from 1997 until 2000. Ben-David had also held senior positions at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for 25 years and is now a consultant and lobbyist.

But EMET is not the only group involved in the 'Obsession' controversy to have direct ties to Israel.

The Clarion Fund has also been criticised for initially denying its ties to the Israel's Aish Hatorah, which were first disclosed publicly by an IPS investigation last year., an organisation set up by Aish Hatorah and also a client of Ben-David, admitted to IPS that it had aided the production of the film.

The Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah are headed by twin Israeli-Canadian brothers Raphael and Ephraim Shore, respectively. The two groups appear to be connected as Clarion is incorporated in Delaware to the New York offices of Aish Hatorah.

'It seems that the Clarion Fund, from what we can tell, is just a virtual organisation that is a front for Aish Hatorah,' Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told IPS. 'They don't have staff, they don't have a physical address. Nothing.'

Little is known about the shadowy Clarion Fund, which is listed with the New York Secretary of State's office as a 'foreign not-for-profit foundation.' The group has rejected requests for information about its donors.

IPS has, however, uncovered one donor to the Clarion Fund, the Mamiye Foundation, which gave it 25,000 dollars in August of 2007, according to tax filings. Four Mamiyes, Charles M., Charles D., Hyman and Abraham, are listed as trustees on the forms.

According to filings with the New York Secretary of State, a contact listed for a Mamiye company is also the same man listed as a contact and counsel for the Clarion Fund -- Eli D. Greenberg of the law firm Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler, Freeman and Herz.

Foreign nationals and companies, and domestic tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profits are prohibited by federal election law from attempting to sway U.S. elections at any level through either contributions to campaigns or advocacy.

Morgenstern, EMET's spokesman, said that the DVD distribution only went to 'swing states' because media attention is focused there, and EMET is hoping to spark a public debate about the threats posed by' radical Islam'.

But CAIR has filed a complaint asking the Federal Election Commission to review the actions of the Clarion Fund both as a foreign entity and as a non-profit.

The complaint by Nadhira Al-Khalili, CAIR's legal counsel, asked that both charges be investigated.

Also See:

NPR: Clarion Responds, As New Details Emerge About "Radical Islam" DVD

Muslim group seeks probe of 'radical Islam' DVD

The Recent Qaradawi Controversy over Sectarian Relations

In The Politics of Sects, Amira Howeidy covers a recent controversy over some statements issued by a well-respected, moderate Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf El-Qaradawi. El-Qaradawi is quoted to have said that Shias are "heretics" - but still within the bounds of Islam, according to him - and warned that they are "invading" Sunni countries. El-Qaradawi is popular among millions of people in the Arabic speaking world with his Al-Jazeera TV show on sharia laws. A wide range of newspapers and magazines covered the controversy this last week.

In the past El-Qaradawi has played a positive role in bringing the two sects closer (See, for example, Qaradawi, Rafsanjani Urge Unity). I was quite disappointed to see these recent statements. All I can say is that instead of fear-mongering, the Muslim clerics may want to focus on illuminating the spiritual and rational appeal of their faith and leave it on their audience to choose the best thereof (as recommended by the The Quran, 39:18).

This kind of slandering of other sect cannot be justified or tolerated in the name of freedom of speech either. Freedom without any limits or ethics is self-destructive. Even in the so-called liberal societies of the West you have laws against slander and hate-speech.

I was not able to confirm the statement attributed to Lebanon's leading Ayatollah, Syed Hussein Fadlallah, in that article from other news sources, that Fadlallah dared El-Qaradawi to challenge the Christian missionaries in Muslim countries. Given the political conditions in Lebanon and Fadlallah's own efforts toward bridging sectarian divides, I doubt that he would have made such a suggestion in those exact terms. Howeidy did not provide any reference in her piece. I did read in other news sources (Guardian, for example) that Fadlallah has termed El-Qaradawi's fear mongering a kind of 'fitna' detrimental to the larger interests of the Muslim Ummah, or nation. This makes sense, considering that today sectarian differences are being used as a tool to suppress anti-dictatorial and anti-imperial movements by the Arab regimes and foreign powers. See a piece by Omayma Abdel-Latif from the same Al Ahram on this line of argument: The Shia-Sunni Divide: Myths and Reality.

It is unfortunate that this controversy was stirred up in the holy month of Ramadhan, especially before the international day of Quds. The Quds day, commemorated each year on the last Friday of Ramadhan, is supposed to bring together Muslims for their common cause of peace, unity, and justice.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kurram Tribes Come Together for a Peace Talk

Light at the end of the tunnel? I hope it is. (See the news report below.)

The government of course has a huge role in making the peace process work, in how its security forces fulfill their duties against the criminal elements, especially against those coming from outside of the Kurram agency. The opening and safety of the main Tal-Parachinar route would be the litmus test of its performance.

The role of the tribal elders is another important factor. Unfortunately, in the past, those among the tribal elders who could have ensured peace in the area were systematically targeted by the criminal elements. At least 300 tribal elders have been killed in different areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) in these years. The elimination of this layer of leadership is one of the key reasons why there are insurgent militias ruling over FATA these days.

Some of these militias are Taliban-inspired, others are not and may in some cases be against the Taliban. Often they are locally based. But sometimes they also have foreign connections and membership too. In some cases, the local people have supported these insurgent militias against the tyranny of local leaders, state officials, and 'maliks', or against their rival tribes. More recently the American and Pakistani military incursions and the resulting loss of lives, property, and honor have also expanded the membership and support of these militias.

Some strands of these insurgent militias also had support of the state's security apparatus in the past, particularly during the Afghan War era. Some claim that they still do.

Kurram tribes ready to burry the hatchet
By Inamullah Khattak

RAWALPINDI, Sept 25: A tribal peace jirga which met in the capital on Thursday agreed to end sectarian violence in the restive Kurram Agency and vowed to fight the ‘hidden hands’ fuelling violence in the region. [Daily Times reports that the jirga was held in Peshawar (?)]

The 100-member peace jirga comprised 50 members each from the Turi and Mengal tribes, including parliamentarians belonging to both groups—MNAs Munir Khan Orakzai and Sujid Hussian Turi and Senator Rasheed Khan—former Senator Sajjad Syed and Kurram’s Political Agent Azam Khan and Lower Kurram Assistant Political Agent Ayyaz Khan Mandokhel.

The jirga agreed to continue the process of negotiations till peace was restored in the agency.

Violence in Parachinar erupted on April 6 last year and so far over 2,000 people have been killed and hundreds of people have been displaced.

“Today both the groups agreed that there was no Sunni-Shia tension in Kurram Agency, rather a third hand is involved in pitting the two tribes against each other. But we will foil all conspiracies against our tribal people,” Malik Sardar Ahmed Bangash, a jirga member told Dawn.

He said that both the groups resolved to assist the government in eliminating terrorist elements from the agency.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tariq Fatemi: Bush-Zardari Meeting

A crucial meeting amid discord
By Tariq Fatemi, Dawn, September 25, 2008

A SUMMIT-level exchange between allies in the global war on terror would be important at any time, but the recent meeting between Presidents George Bush and Asif Zardari had an added significance, coming as it did at a time when US-Pakistan ties appeared to have entered a strained phase.

Either by coincidence or design, the Bush administration’s welcome for Pakistan’s elected government has been shockingly irreverent. Instead of giving it time to get a grip on myriad problems inherited from an authoritarian dispensation, Washington is indulging in missile attacks and cross-border raids on so-called terrorist targets. Resultantly, the government is confused and the people outraged.

In fact, the expectation in Pakistan after the army chief’s meeting with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, last month was that the anti-terror strategy would be reviewed and the terms of engagement determined. Obviously, this was not the case for Sept 3 witnessed the first US ground assault in South Waziristan. Attacks have continued amidst reports that Bush had issued an executive order in July authorising unilateral ground action in our tribal areas.

More worryingly, in a congressional testimony this month, Admiral Mullen presented a detailed roadmap of a new, comprehensive American strategy. Admitting that the US was not winning in Afghanistan, Mullen asserted that “these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border”, indicating that the US would treat both Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single area of operations. Admiral Mullen’s testimony was a tacit admission of failure in Afghanistan, while also an assertion that the only way to win in Afghanistan was to open a new theatre of operations in Pakistan. Confirmation of this was contained in President Bush’s speech at the US National Defence University where he named Pakistan among the major battlegrounds in the global war on terror, clearly a warning to Islamabad that in the war on terror, it had no option but to continue to play the role assigned to it.

Around the same time, the American media reported that the Bush administration had approved a three-phase plan calling for a far more aggressive military campaign and authorising US forces to operate inside Fata to capture Al Qaeda leaders. The same sources stated that the CIA presence in the Pak-Afghan border areas was being beefed up. Later, Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher called for reform of the Inter-Services Agency (ISI) to increase the pressure on Islamabad.

US officials claim to be closely monitoring public and private reactions to cross-border operations. They explain that even though the stepped-up operations risked a backlash, the US had decided “to get to the areas where the terrorists rest, relax and train”. What then explains the American impatience with Pakistan? Is it the presence of safe havens in Fata that leave the US with no option or that “the initial Pakistani response has been relatively restrained”, as claimed by Pentagon officials? Or is it because of the administration’s confidence that the improved situation in Iraq and a power shift in Islamabad had widened the window of opportunity for more strikes?

The politics of US presidential elections involving a desire to achieve major success against Al Qaeda to brush up Bush’s negative legacy could also be one of the factors. Finally, is there any truth to the claim made by Arnaud de Borchgrave, a veteran American journalist, that Pakistan’s consent has been forthcoming — “with a wink and a nod”?

It is quite obvious that US “patience with Pakistan is running short”. Nevertheless, Washington needs to broach this issue cautiously. As the Marriott Hotel blast has demonstrated, this may not be the most appropriate time for Washington to give expression to its petulance.

America needs to appreciate that the Taliban resurgence is primarily on account of its own mistakes in Afghanistan, including failure to provide the men and material required immediately after the invasion; the inefficient and corrupt government of Hamid Karzai; and its support for an authoritarian regime in Pakistan that failed to ‘own’ the war on terror thus reinforcing the impression that it was America’s war and not ours.

Unilateral US attacks betray a sense of desperation and a misplaced reliance on brute military offensive to cover up a strategic failure. It is in this context that Zardari’s meeting with Bush assumes special importance. He would have done well to have ensured national consensus through parliament’s endorsement of government policy before embarking on this crucial visit. From Bush’s remarks to the media it appears that Zardari did raise Pakistan’s concern at the violations of its sovereignty.

Bush, however, avoided giving any commitment on this issue though Information Minister Sherry Rehman later claimed that Bush had assured Zardari that the US would respect our sovereignty, though she did not respond when asked whether Zardari had received assurance that the US troops would no more enter our territory while pursuing the militants.

In fact, US policy is not likely to change as evident from the vigour and conviction with which Bush dwelt on the issue of terrorism in his speech to the General Assembly, claiming that “bringing terrorists to justice does not create terrorism; it’s the best way to protect our people”. Zardari did well to play on Bush’s ego and public attachment to democracy by claiming that “democracy was the answer to the problems”.

Hopefully, Zardari would have also emphasised that Pakistan’s democratic government cannot react with the same disregard for public opinion as did the earlier authoritarian regime. For the first time, the federal and Frontier governments have publicly ‘owned’ the war on terrorism and supported military action in the tribal areas. National support for this policy that was greatly strengthened after the Marriott blast, could, however, be quickly diluted if the US persists in disregarding Pakistani sensitivities.

The US has to be persuaded that commando raids and missile attacks that result in civilian casualties are likely to raise anti-American sentiments, make extremists more popular, discredit the civilian set-up and weaken the effectiveness of government. All this could jeopardise Pak-US cooperation in countering terrorist groups. The US should concentrate on providing Pakistani forces with advanced equipment, sharing credible and timely intelligence and extending massive economic assistance, especially to the affected areas, and then letting the Pakistanis deal with the situation.

Pakistan, in turn, has to get its own house in order, formulate a well thought out strategy, sell it to the people through building consensus in parliament and then implement it forcefully.

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut's Shelled Synagogue

By Massoud A. Derhally,, September 17, 2008


Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon's 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

Arazi, a leader of Lebanon's tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country's tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut's only synagogue, damaged during the war.

``Those who don't have a past don't have a future,'' Arazi said to explain his push to rebuild the synagogue.

Beirut's Maghen Abraham Synagogue opened in 1926 in Wadi Abou Jmil, the city's Jewish quarter, located on the edge of west Beirut near the Grand Serai palace, where the government meets, and within walking distance of parliament.

Lebanon then was something of a haven for Jews, some of whom were the descendants of those who had fled the Spanish inquisition; it later served a similar role for refugees from Nazi Germany. With ``no history of anti-Jewish tensions,'' it was the only Arab country whose Jewish population rose after Israel's creation in 1948, according to Kirsten Schulze, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and author of ``The Jews of Lebanon.''

By the mid-1960s, there were as many as 22,000 Lebanese Jews, said Arazi, 65. In addition to heading the Jewish Community Council he owns a food-machinery business with 1,000 customers.

All Together

``Christians, Muslims and Jews were all living together when I was growing up,'' said Liza Srour, 57. ``Whenever there was a war with Israel, or tension, the government used to provide protection for us.''

That changed with the nation's 1975-1990 civil war, as Jews fled the violence triggered by rivalries among the nation's Christian, Muslim and Druze factions and emigrated to Europe, North and South America.

Now, Arazi said, only 100 Jews live permanently in the country, while another 1,900 go back and forth or have intermarried into other religions. Srour is the only Jew still residing in Wadi Abou Jmil.

In 1982, according to an Associated Press report at the time, Israeli shells tore through roof of Maghen Abraham as the Jewish state invaded southern Lebanon in an effort to crush Palestinian guerrillas. The synagogue has been closed ever since, its brittle entrance gate chained and padlocked. Plaster and rubble are scattered on the floor.

Political Calm

Arazi figures it will cost about $1 million to restore the synagogue. Making the effort possible is the end of an 18-month crisis between Lebanon's political factions, the blessing of the Lebanese government, financial support from a downtown reconstruction project and acquiescence from the Shiite Hezbollah movement that fought a month-long war against Israel in 2006.

He so far has raised about $40,000 for the project, but has promises of more. Ten percent of the estimated cost will come from Solidere SAL, a company founded in 1994 by then-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri -- later assassinated in a bombing supporters blame on Syria -- to rebuild the capital's downtown.

The company has given $150,000 to each of 14 religious organizations that are restoring places of worship in Lebanon -- about $2.1 million in all. ``We help all the communities,'' said Solidere chairman Nasser Chammaa.

The Safra family, whose Safra Group includes Brazil's Banco Safra SA and Safra National Bank of New York and which was based in Lebanon in the 1940s as part of the Jewish community, has agreed to help fund the project once work begins, Arazi said.

Financial Help

Joseph R. Safra, nephew of Republic National Bank of New York founder Edmond Safra, said: ``We do not comment on private matters.'' Joseph Safra heads Arview Holdings, Inc., a New York financial-consulting and advisory firm.

Two banks in Switzerland whose founders have Lebanese- Jewish roots also agreed to provide financing, Arazi said. One of the banks has pledged $100,000 toward the synagogue's restoration. Arazi declined to name the banks.

Even the warring factions in Lebanon's government have blessed the project. ``This is a religious place of worship and its restoration is welcome,'' Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, 65, said in an interview. Hussain Rahal, a spokesman for Hezbollah, said his group -- which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, and which the West considers a terrorist organization -- also supports the restoration of Maghen Abraham.

``We respect the Jewish religion just like we do Christianity,'' he said. ``The Jews have always lived among us. We have an issue with Israel's occupation of land.''

Arazi said work on the restoration is to begin next month. Meanwhile, his council is already working on plans for its next project: restoring Beirut's Jewish cemetery, where about 4,500 people are buried.

Walking among the weeds overgrowing the cemetery's tombstones, Arazi said: ``I remember my father when I come here.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut at