Monday, December 29, 2008

What's Really Behind the Israeli Attacks in Gaza?

The Israeli air strikes in Gaza have already killed more than 350 people. Below is a good four-point summary by Neve Gordon on what might be the objectives behind. Would like to add in the first point though that the objective may not be to kill Hamas, although Israel would certainly wish that. But - as the below article also states - that is not realistic. I think Israel also understands that quite well. They tried that with Hezbollah in 2006, and failed miserably. Like Hezbollah, Hamas enjoys mass support among the Palestinians and throughout the Arab/Muslim world. The Israeli objective is probably to force Hamas into a settlement based on conditions of Israel's choosing. The objective is to cut Hamas' hands, logistical and moral. Logistical in terms of further restricting their movement and activities. Moral in terms of de-legitimatizing their cause in the eyes of the world should they engage in violent resistance in future against any Israeli aggression. That also appears to be the goal behind the economic blockade in Gaza for the last several months. Haaretz reports that Israeli "Defence Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas." The report also notes that about a month ago Israel deliberately flared up the tension by carrying out a military incursion in Gaza during the ceasefire.

One may also add another possibility here. Preparing vigorously since the end of the summer 2006 Lebanon war, Israel's objective may be to open two fronts, the other being South Lebanon. The objective may be limited to regaining its aura of 'invincibility' (or power of deterrence) by launching effective air raid campaigns on Gaza and South Lebanon (see point three in the below article). But the plan may also be wider in scope. Some reports indicate that Israel has already asked its residents in the North, close to the Lebanese border, to take precautionary measures, and be ready to move into protective shelters. Eight Katyusha rockets were found by a farmer on Thursday (Dec 25) in a valley in South Lebanon, two miles from the Israeli border. They were fitted with timers and set to launch on late Thursday night. This was before the Israel air raids started in Gaza on Saturday (Dec 27). In a speech on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah suggested that Israel may be looking for an excuse to attack South Lebanon, and, if Hezbollah were to make any strikes on Israel, it would do it openly. He also suggested that Israel wants to make use of the transitional period in the White House and create conditions that will shape the possibilities and constraints for the next incumbent. Nasrallah reminded people to be vigilant against Israeli plots.

On a related note, I don't think Nasrallah expects anything out of ordinary from Obama's administration. Given the team of 'hawkish-pragmatists' that Obama has assembled around himself, if that is any indicator, it seems that there won't be any significant changes to the current US policy toward the Palestine-Israel conflict. Rather it seems likely that we will see a continuation of 'creating a new middle east' agenda, under one pretext or another. The agenda is supported not only by Israel but also many Arab regimes. The current onslaught in Gaza is probably part of that plan. The US and the Arab regimes all have given a green signal to Israel.

Like in 2006 when they blamed Hezbollah, this time the status quo Arab regimes (Saudi, Egypt, Jordan) are blaming Hamas. Over the past few years, as Seymour Hersh and other noted journalists have pointed out, these regimes have actively collaborated with Israel and America to crush the resistance in Gaza and Lebanon (and the anti-dictatorial movements in their own countries).

What, Exactly, is Israel's Mission?
By Neve Gordon, CounterPunch, December 29, 2008

The first bombardment took three minutes and forty seconds. Sixty Israeli F-16 fighter jets bombed fifty sites in Gaza, killing over two hundred Palestinians, and wounding close to a thousand more.

A few hours after the deadly strike, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a press conference in Tel-Aviv. With Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sitting on his right and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his left, he declared: “It may take time, and each and every one of us must be patient so we can complete the mission.”

But what exactly, one might ask, is Israel’s mission?

Although Olmert did not say as much, the “mission” includes four distinct objectives.

The first is the destruction of Hamas, a totally unrealistic goal. Even though the loss of hundreds of cadres and some key leaders will no doubt hurt the organization, Hamas is a robust political movement with widespread grassroots support, and it is unlikely to surrender or capitulate to Israeli demands following a military assault. Ironically, Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas using military force has always ended up strengthening the organization, thus corroborating the notion that power produces its own vulnerability.

The second objective has to do with Israel’s upcoming elections. The assault on Gaza is also being carried out to help Kadima and Labor defeat Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyhu, who is currently ahead in the polls. It is not coincidental that Netanyahu’s two main competitors, Livni and Barak, were invited to the press conference – since, after the assault, it will be more difficult for Netanyahu to characterize them as “soft” on the Palestinians. Whether or not the devastation in Gaza will help Livni defeat Netanyhu or help Barak gain votes in the February elections is difficult to say, but the strategy of competing with a warmonger like Netanyhu by beating the drums of war says a great deal about all three major contenders.

The third objective involves the Israeli military. After its notable humiliation in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, the IDF has been looking for opportunities to reestablish its global standing. Last Spring it used Syria as its laboratory and now it has decided to focus on Gaza. Emphasizing the mere three minutes and forty seconds it took to bomb fifty sites is just one the ways the Israeli military aims to restore its international reputation.

Finally, Hamas and Fatah have not yet reached an agreement regarding how to proceed when Mahmoud Abbas ends his official term as President of the Palestinian National Authority on January 9th, 2009. One of the outcomes of this assault is that Abbas will remain in power for a while longer since Hamas will be unable to mobilize its supporters in order to force him to resign.

What is clearly missing from this list of Israeli objectives is the attempt to halt the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel’s southern towns. Unlike the objectives I mentioned, which are not discussed by government officials, this one is presented by the government as the operation’s primary objective. Yet, the government is actively misleading the public, since Israel could have put an end to the rockets a long time ago. Indeed, there was relative quiet during the six-months truce with Hamas, a quiet that was broken most often as a reaction to Israeli violence: that is, following the extra-judicial execution of a militant or the imposition of a total blockade which prevented basic goods, like food stuff and medicine, from entering the Gaza Strip. Rather than continuing the truce, the Israeli government has once again chosen to adopt strategies of violence that are tragically akin to the one’s deployed by Hamas, only the Israeli ones are much more lethal.

If the Israeli government really cared about its citizens and the country’s long term ability to sustain itself in the Middle East, it would abandon the use of violence and talk with its enemies.

Neve Gordon is the chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and is the author of Israel’s Occupation, University of California Press, 2008. His website is

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mystery grows over general's slaying in Pakistan

Mystery grows over general's slaying in Pakistan
Reuters, December 15, 2008

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani newspapers gave prominent coverage on Monday to a British media report that a retired general gunned down in Islamabad last month planned to blow the whistle on fellow generals' dealings with the Taliban.

Jang, Pakistan's biggest selling Urdu-language newspaper, ran a story on its front page headlined: "Gen. Alavi was against pacts with Taliban, Musharraf had sacked him."

The reports in Jang and other Pakistani dailies were based on a story published in Britain's Sunday Times, and written by Carey Schofield. Major-General Amir Faisal Alavi, a brother-in-law of Nobel prize-winning British novelist V.S. Naipaul, was shot dead along with his driver on the outskirts of the capital on November 19.

Suspicion initially fell on Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, but an investigation by police and intelligence agencies has yet to come up with hard evidence.

"The investigation is going on but so far there has been no progress. We could not identify the murderers or the motive," said Sajid Kiyani, superintendent of police in Islamabad.

Schofield says Alavi, who had commanded the elite Special Services Group, gave her a copy of a letter he had had sent to army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in which he named two generals whose conspiracy resulted in his premature retirement more than two years ago.

Western and Pakistani analysts have long harboredsuspicion that Pakistan has played a double game by supporting Taliban factions in the years since 2001, despite the heavy casualties suffered by its security forces fighting militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.


A copy of the letter, dated July 21, 2008, with the names of the two generals blacked out, was reproduced on the Sunday Times website.

In the letter, Alavi asked Kayani to open an inquiry into the reason for his retirement and disciplinary action against the generals who had plotted against him.

He also asked for a military decoration and a post-retirement job that he believed would help restore his honor.

The British journalist said Alavi gave her a copy of the letter four days before he was killed, and had asked her to publish it in the event of his death.

She said Alavi expected to be killed as he had not received any response to his letter.

Alavi believed he had been forced out of the army because he had become openly critical of deals between Pakistani generals and the Taliban.

There is no mention of support for the Taliban in the letter, just a veiled reference that the purpose of the plot against him "by these General officers was to hide their own involvement in a matter they knew I was privy to."

Alavi wrote that he would "furnish all relevant proof/information" to an inquiry.

Reuters made several attempts to reach a Pakistani military spokesman for comment on the Sunday Times reports.

The Sunday Times report said Alavi mentioned a deal between a general and Baitullah Mehsud, who declared himself leader of the Pakistani Taliban late last year, to stop attacks on the army.

The military did reach a deal with militant tribesmen, including Mehsud, in the South Waziristan region in February, 2005. There were media reports at the time that the army had paid militants to stop attacking them.

Mehsud's group was blamed for many of the suicide attacks on security forces and Pakistani cities in last year, including one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the late wife of President Asif Ali Zardari.

(Reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore and Kamran Haider; Editing by David Fox)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Arundhati Roy on the Mumbai Attacks

The 'context' of the current mess that she mentions goes further back than just the partition. The pursuit of secular-nation building project, insensitive to the reservations and interests of the religious 'minorities' , is deeply implicated in it, both in its precept and practice in the pre-partition era (See Ayesha Jalal's 'Solespokesperson' and Gyan Pandey's 'Construction of Communalism' ). But it is also true that the postcolonial interactions between the two countries and their respective failures at building religious and secular nation-states (for a variety of reasons) have their contributions too.

Roy highlights the long term grievances and disparities in India, particularly in Kashmir. While their existence is certainly true, it's difficult to make a connection with certainty between them and the present attacks. The 2001 parliament-attack inquiry (that she also cites) provides enough reason to look at the official statements and sources with suspicion. And in this day and age of "global networks of foot soldiers, trainers, recruiters, middlemen and undercover intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives working not just on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, but in several countries simultaneously", the question of 'who did it' may not be as relevant as 'who is going to benefit from it and how'. - IS

The monster in the mirror
The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed 'India's 9/11', and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war
By Arundhati Roy, The Guardian, December 12, 2008


In much the same way as it did after the 2001 parliament attack, the 2002 burning of the Sabarmati Express and the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the government of India announced that it has "incontrovertible" evidence that the Lashkar-e-Taiba backed by Pakistan's ISI was behind the Mumbai strikes. The Lashkar has denied involvement, but remains the prime accused. According to the police and intelligence agencies the Lashkar operates in India through an organisation called the Indian Mujahideen. Two Indian nationals, Sheikh Mukhtar Ahmed, a Special Police Officer working for the Jammu and Kashmir police, and Tausif Rehman, a resident of Kolkata in West Bengal, have been arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks.

So already the neat accusation against Pakistan is getting a little messy. Almost always, when these stories unspool, they reveal a complicated global network of foot soldiers, trainers, recruiters, middlemen and undercover intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives working not just on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, but in several countries simultaneously. In today's world, trying to pin down the provenance of a terrorist strike and isolate it within the borders of a single nation state is very much like trying to pin down the provenance of corporate money. It's almost impossible.

In circumstances like these, air strikes to "take out" terrorist camps may take out the camps, but certainly will not "take out" the terrorists. Neither will war. (Also, in our bid for the moral high ground, let's try not to forget that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE of neighbouring Sri Lanka, one of the world's most deadly terrorist groups, were trained by the Indian army.)

Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America's ally first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war. As recruiting agents for America's jihad against the Soviet Union, it was the job of the Pakistan army and the ISI to nurture and channel funds to Islamic fundamentalist organizations. Having wired up these Frankensteins and released them into the world, the US expected it could rein them in like pet mastiffs whenever it wanted to.

Certainly it did not expect them to come calling in heart of the Homeland on September 11. So once again, Afghanistan had to be violently remade. Now the debris of a re-ravaged Afghanistan has washed up on Pakistan's borders. Nobody, least of all the Pakistan government, denies that it is presiding over a country that is threatening to implode. The terrorist training camps, the fire-breathing mullahs and the maniacs who believe that Islam will, or should, rule the world is mostly the detritus of two Afghan wars. Their ire rains down on the Pakistan government and Pakistani civilians as much, if not more than it does on India.

If at this point India decides to go to war perhaps the descent of the whole region into chaos will be complete. The debris of a bankrupt, destroyed Pakistan will wash up on India's shores, endangering us as never before. If Pakistan collapses, we can look forward to having millions of "non-state actors" with an arsenal of nuclear weapons at their disposal as neighbours. It's hard to understand why those who steer India's ship are so keen to replicate Pakistan's mistakes and call damnation upon this country by inviting the United States to further meddle clumsily and dangerously in our extremely complicated affairs. A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.

On the plus side, the advantage of going to war is that it's the best way for India to avoid facing up to the serious trouble building on our home front. The Mumbai attacks were broadcast live (and exclusive!) on all or most of our 67 24-hour news channels and god knows how many international ones. TV anchors in their studios and journalists at "ground zero" kept up an endless stream of excited commentary. Over three days and three nights we watched in disbelief as a small group of very young men armed with guns and gadgets exposed the powerlessness of the police, the elite National Security Guard and the marine commandos of this supposedly mighty, nuclear-powered nation.

While they did this they indiscriminately massacred unarmed people, in railway stations, hospitals and luxury hotels, unmindful of their class, caste, religion or nationality. (Part of the helplessness of the security forces had to do with having to worry about hostages. In other situations, in Kashmir for example, their tactics are not so sensitive. Whole buildings are blown up. Human shields are used. The U.S and Israeli armies don't hesitate to send cruise missiles into buildings and drop daisy cutters on wedding parties in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.) But this was different. And it was on TV.


How should those of us whose hearts have been sickened by the knowledge of all of this view the Mumbai attacks, and what are we to do about them? There are those who point out that US strategy has been successful inasmuch as the United States has not suffered a major attack on its home ground since 9/11. However, some would say that what America is suffering now is far worse. If the idea behind the 9/11 terror attacks was to goad America into showing its true colors, what greater success could the terrorists have asked for? The US army is bogged down in two unwinnable wars, which have made the United States the most hated country in the world. Those wars have contributed greatly to the unraveling of the American economy and who knows, perhaps eventually the American empire. (Could it be that battered, bombed Afghanistan, the graveyard of the Soviet Union, will be the undoing of this one too?) Hundreds of thousands people including thousands of American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The frequency of terrorist strikes on U.S allies/agents (including India) and U.S interests in the rest of the world has increased dramatically since 9/11. George Bush, the man who led the US response to 9/11 is a despised figure not just internationally, but also by his own people. Who can possibly claim that the United States is winning the war on terror?

Homeland Security has cost the US government billions of dollars. Few countries, certainly not India, can afford that sort of price tag. But even if we could, the fact is that this vast homeland of ours cannot be secured or policed in the way the United States has been. It's not that kind of homeland. We have a hostile nuclear weapons state that is slowly spinning out of control as a neighbour, we have a military occupation in Kashmir and a shamefully persecuted, impoverished minority of more than 150 million Muslims who are being targeted as a community and pushed to the wall, whose young see no justice on the horizon, and who, were they to totally lose hope and radicalise, end up as a threat not just to India, but to the whole world. If ten men can hold off the NSG commandos, and the police for three days, and if it takes half a million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir valley, do the math. What kind of Homeland Security can secure India?

Nor for that matter will any other quick fix. Anti-terrorism laws are not meant for terrorists; they're for people that governments don't like. That's why they have a conviction rate of less than 2%. They're just a means of putting inconvenient people away without bail for a long time and eventually letting them go. Terrorists like those who attacked Mumbai are hardly likely to be deterred by the prospect of being refused bail or being sentenced to death. It's what they want.

What we're experiencing now is blowback, the cumulative result of decades of quick fixes and dirty deeds. The carpet's squelching under our feet.

The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We're standing at a fork in the road. One sign says Justice, the other Civil War. There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Peshawar blast kills 34, mostly residents of Parachinar

The target of the blast, 'Saraye Alamdar-e-Karbala,' was a stay-house/motel and Imambargah in Peshawar frequented by the residents of the Kurram Agency. So far the blast has taken a toll of 34 lives, while injuring more than a hundred, including children. This is a very tragic incident, and, in the long run, may be very damaging to the recently signed peace accord in Kurram.

Death toll from Peshawar blast 34, probe begins
Daily Times, December 07, 2008

PESHAWAR: The death toll from Friday’s car bomb explosion outside an imambargah in Peshawar has risen to 34 as officials said police had launched an investigation into the attack.

Rescue workers retrieved nine more dead bodies from the debris on Saturday, SP Chaudary Asharf told Daily Times, but put the death toll at 29.

According to Lady Reading Hospital’s records, 165 victims of the blast were taken to the hospital and 34 of them were dead, while 131 were injured. Around 90 people – with 10 in critical condition – are now being treated at the hospital, the remaining have been discharged.

Twenty-one bodies have so far been identified, while 13 bodies burnt beyond recognition are being kept at the hospital’s morgue.

Most of those who died or were injured were residents of Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The imambargah, Alamdar Karbala, is also known as ‘the imambargah of Parachinar’.

Mohammad Asif, a resident of the area, told Daily Times his 12-year-old daughter died in the blast, and his house had been completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, a senior police official told Daily Times it was not yet clear whether a timed-device was placed in the car or a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

He said that the police had collected severed parts of around 10 bodies, and it was therefore difficult to say with certainty what method had been employed by the attackers.

Police officials going through the debris found the engine of the car used in the attack, and said they were trying to locate the owner of the vehicle.

Teams from the Federal Investigation Agency’s Special Investigation Group visited the site on Saturday to collect evidence.

A bomb disposal squad official told Daily Times that the vehicle was carrying more than 80 kilogrammes of explosives.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Debilitating conditions in Karachi

The tragic Mumbai attacks have overshadowed the debilitating conditions in Karachi. Since last Saturday, violence and cross-fires have taken a toll of at least 32 lives, while injuring more than 50 people. However, these riots are anything but purely accidental. For months, various informed sources warned about the possibility of violent repression against particular ethnic groups in the name of fighting the so-called Talibanisation. The Talibanisation-specter, apparently, subsided in the last couple of months after it was exposed and scrutinized in the Pakistani media and public sphere. It could no longer be used as a smoke screen that easily. With the ongoing clashes between the militant elements of the two ethnic groups, are we seeing the real face of the conflict? What role (or lack thereof) is the security apparatus of the state playing in this conflict? Where is the writ of the national government?

Karachi bleeds again: Worse to Come? - Adil Najam,

Riots leave 32 dead in Pakistan's port city Karachi - AFP

MQM, ANP condemn violence in city - The News

Below Urdu news story is from Jang News, December 1, 2008

Military establishment on alert after Mumbai attacks

The Telegraph reports that "a rift has opened up between the Pakistani government and army in the wake of Mumbai attacks." The rift is definitely there, but it's hardly new. The Mumbai tragedy has exposed this rift once again.

Hamid Mir takes a skeptical look at the establishment's recent moves:

Source: Jang News, December 1, 2008.

Policy experts rule out war between Pakistan and India

Scholars rule out war but say situation dangerous
By Anwar Iqbal, Dawn, December 1, 2008

WASHINGTON, Nov 30: A major troop mobilisation on the Indian border will force Pakistan to withdraw troops from the Afghan border, said a US expert on South Asian affairs.

But Marvin Weinbaum, a former adviser to the US State Department on South Asia who now works for a Washington think-tank, believed that the situation had not yet reached a point where Pakistan could begin withdrawing its troops from the Afghan border.“This is high politics,” said Christine Fair another US expert on South Asia. “The Pakistan Army knows the United States cares that it remains engaged in the war against terror, so by declaring that it is going to withdraw, it is trying to put pressure on Washington” to persuade New Delhi not to mobilise its troops.

Dr Weinbaum agreed with her. “It is politics. The Pakistanis are trying to tell the Americans: keep the Indians off our backs. If they get too aggressive, we will reconsider our cooperation in the war against terror,” he said.

The two scholars, in separate interviews to Dawn, also ruled out the possibility that India and Pakistan could actually go to a war over the Mumbai terror attacks but warned the situation is fraught with dangers.

At least one other scholar agreed.

“It would certainly complicate everything, put things on hold, make any negotiations harder,” said Terry Pattar, a counter-terrorism associate in the Strategic Advisory Services at Jane’s Information Group, which publishes the Jane’s Defence Weekly.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is understood to have urged the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee not to escalate tensions with Pakistan. She also appealed for calm when she spoke to President Asif Ali Zardari.

Ms Rice has spoken at least twice to each leader since the Mumbai terror attacks began on Wednesday.

Ms Fair said she was still not sure how ten Pakistanis could have executed the attacks on their own. She also noted that the Mumbai attacks were quite different from Lashkar-i-Tayyaba’s earlier attacks. Indian officials claim to have gathered evidence to show that the LT was behind the Mumbai attacks.Ms Fair, however, warned that if Pakistan were to withdraw troops from the Afghan border, it will put a lot of strain on US-Pakistan relationship. “The goodwill between US and Pakistan is going to be sourer. Washington would be very concerned if Pakistan were to remove or diminish its focus on its internal security threats.”

Mr Weinbaum noted that nothing would be achieved by bringing Indian troops to the Pakistani border. “Creating a security threat does not weaken the jihadi forces, it makes them stronger,” he said.

Dr Weinbaum urged India to work with the Pakistani government to bring pressure on groups like LT and Jaish-i-Mohammed.