Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On organ harvesting in Israel and CIA involvement in the West Bank

Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent
Ian Black, Guardian, December 21, 2009

"Israel has admitted pathologists harvested organs from dead Palestinians, and others, without the consent of their families – a practice it said ended in the 1990s – it emerged at the weekend."
"The story emerged in an interview with Dr Yehuda Hiss, former head of the Abu Kabir forensic institute near Tel Aviv. The interview was conducted in 2000 by an American academic who released it because of the row between Israel and Sweden over a report in the Stockholm newspaper Aftonbladet.

Channel 2 TV reported that in the 1990s, specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.

The Israeli military confirmed to the programme that the practice took place, but added: "This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer.""

CIA working with Palestinian security agents
Ian Cobain, Guardian, December 17, 2009

"While the CIA and the Palestinian Authority (PA) deny the US agency controls its Palestinian counterparts, neither denies that they interact closely in the West Bank. Details of that co-operation are emerging as some human rights organisations are beginning to question whether US intelligence agencies may be turning a blind eye to abusive interrogations conducted by other countries' intelligence agencies with whom they are working. According to the Palestinian watchdog al-Haq, human rights in the West Bank and Gaza have "gravely deteriorated due to the spreading violations committed by Palestinian actors" this year.

Most of those held without trial and allegedly tortured in the West Bank have been supporters of Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in 2006 but is denounced as a terrorist organisation by the PA – which in turn is dominated by the rival Fatah political faction – and by the US and EU. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been in control for more than two years, there have been reports of its forces detaining and torturing Fatah sympathisers in the same way.

Among the human rights organisations that have documented or complained about the mistreatment of detainees held by the PA in the West Bank are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, al-Haq and the Israeli watchdog B'Tselem. Even the PA's human rights commission has expressed "deep concern" over the mistreatment of detainees."
"Concern about detainee abuse is growing in the West Bank despite an effort by the international community to create Palestinian institutions that will guarantee greater security as a first step towards creating a Palestinian state. More than half of the PA's $2.8bn (£1.66bn) budget came from international donors last year; more than a quarter was swallowed up by the ministry of the interior and national security. Human Rights Watch and al-Haq have said that in raising the security capacity of the PA, donor countries have a responsibility to ensure it observes international human rights standards.

At the heart of the international effort is the creation of the Palestinian national security force, a 7,500-strong gendarmerie trained by US, British, Canadian and Turkish army officers under the command of a US general, Keith Dayton. Many Palestinians blame Dayton for the mistreatment of Hamas sympathisers, although the general's remit does not extend to either of the intelligence agencies responsible."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blackwater in Pakistan: Loose End or Larger Strategy?

There are two perspectives here:

First: There is a tug-a-war going on between the White House and the Pentagon. Among others, the elements from the previous administration, still influential in the Pentagon, are pressurizing Mr. Obama to increase war spending and troops for Afghanistan. They are also against normalization of ties between the US and Iran. So they are creating events and situations, without direct authorization from the president, to influence his decisions. In the case of Afghanistan, indirect threats of high ranking officials' resignations appear to have been made if Obama would not comply with their demands. Similarly, there are stories of 'discovering' this or that about Iran's "evil" intentions (like the Alavi Foundation case or Nuclear reactor, etc.) that are meant to create the hysteria for war. The important question and indicator in this perspective is: Would the Obama administration comply?

Cyril Almeida in a recent piece in Dawn (Nov 27, 2009) puts a spin on Jeremy Scahill's story in what appears to be an attempt by Almeida to shift the focus of critical scrutiny to the Pakistani Army. For that Almeida draws attention to Kestral Logistics, a security firm in Pakistan that was named in Scahill's story, as Scahill points out: "Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral's main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries." Scahill, however, is not clear about Kestral's direct connections to official military intelligence entities. Perhaps Scahill did want to imply that, but I doubt that straightforward connection.

Kestral and Blackwater (or Xe) could very well have been hired by the US supported current civilian government. In October 2007, when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, it was reported in the media that 'some' private security firm was taking care of her security. After her assassination a number of stories emerged in the media indicating that Bhutto distrusted Musharraf/Army's intentions.

Another important question to be asked here is that why a half-a-million strong Army with notoriously powerful security agencies would want to hire services of foreign security firms? Why would it let itself be undermined within its own territories? Especially when it is very concerned about foreign attempts to 'neutralize' its nuclear arsenals and is resisting any attempts to put them under foreign monitoring or surveillance? We have seen in the case of Swat that when Army goes seriously after the militant elements, it has been able to tackle them relatively well. Within this context, it's not the militant elements that Army is having trouble tackling with, it's the forces behind them, from neighboring countries and beyond, that make things complicated and that seek to pressurize the Army to comply with certain demands (see below for more on this line).

The point here is not to deny or affirm any connection between the Army and private security firms. Just that it cannot be simply assumed, and within the perspective presented here, it seems less likely. (Even when we are playing in the territory of speculations - supporting one perspective or the other - distinctions could still be made between the more probable from the less probable explanations.)

Second: The other perspective argues that increasing US presence was already part of the larger strategy. Mr. Obama is just locked into his election's anti-war rhetoric and constituency. He cannot come off as straightforwardly willing to increase war adventures in the Afghanistan. Hence the public drama of displaying a tension between the white house and the pentagon before the ultimate decision is announced. Similarly, there are certain targets to be achieved in Pakistan that relate to the military and neutralizing nuclear arsenal. I have written about this earlier. These targets were more clearly defined and pursued toward the end of the Bush administration (resulting in an already unpopular Musharraf's falling-out-of-favor). The Obama administration is continuing on the same strategy. When it comes to larger strategies, the 4- or 8- year term US presidents are only part of the deciding equation. Especially the presidents in their first term are not as powerful as one would think they would be as Commander-in-Chief. In the first perspective, that is why there is a tension between the two poles in Washington and one is able to exert so much influence on the other. In the second perspective, Mr. Obama has already consented to the larger hegemonic ambitions of the empire.

The specific targets in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan are also supported by the neighboring India and Israel. For Israel and its supporters in Washington (including both Neo-Cons and Liberal-imperialists), both Pakistan and Lebanon are peripheries that need to be ‘neutralized’ or 'kept busy' before or around any attack on Iran, (so as to minimize any severe backlash against US/Israel). Consider also the recent Jundallah bombing, which caused some discord between Iran and Pakistan. Jundallah, according to even US sources, has been funded by the United States.

In the second perspective, the purpose of Blackwater's covert operations - and that of other similar elements in Pakistan who are working with the security agencies of other countries and have nurtured some of the active terrorist groups in Pakistan - is to create conditions under which Pakistan would be pressurized to give in to the US demands. Instability and chaos also become the pretext for prolonged US presence in the "Af-Pak" region.

This is the political context of the heated debate on 'Sovereignty vs. American-backed democracy' in the current public discourse in Pakistan. The Pakistani Army has capitalized on this moment and has presented itself as the indispensable defender of Pakistan's sovereignty. This is despite the Army's ongoing convoluted relations with terrorist groups (including some elements of the Taliban and other militant sectarian groups: consider the whole discourse of "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban by military loud speakers in the media). This is also despite the perpetual dependency of the Army on the US for military aid and technology, and the Amry's willingness to work as US mercenaries as long as the latter does not undermine its authority in Pakistan (See the issue of Military and ISI reform through Kerry-Lugar Bill or through the civilian government). The Army is deeply suspicious of the "foreign" agenda of President Zardari and so do a significant number of people in Pakistan. Ironically enough, the same Army that was highly unpopular just over a year and a half ago is now seen by many as the champion of Pakistani people and sovereignty.

How come Zardari is still in power? In addition to the support from the US, part of it could be explained through President Zardari's success in courting support from politicians and power-brokers in the 'marginalized provinces' (vis-a-vis Punjab): Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP, and Gilgit-Baltistan.

How long is his government going to last? The major players are still in the game, the political conditions remain volatile, and so does his government.

Here is The Nation article:

Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan
By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation, November 23, 2009

Also see,

See the following NY Times blog story on the same: "Pakistan's Taliban issues video denial - 16 Nov 09". There are many strands within the Taliban, some under control of the military and its security agencies, others not and supported by other forces. The Taliban as a collective phenomenon although a major cause of de-stability in Pakistan, but as I have argued before, they are largely pawns (voluntary or otherwise) in the hands of other bigger players in this game. They are largely symptoms of a bigger problem linked to the question of distribution of state power and foreign influence. A narrow, concentrated focus on the 'Taliban' or 'Religious Extremism' in Pakistan in the news media usually serves as distraction from that bigger picture. It's unfortunate that some political commentators in the Pakistani media still choose to focus only on the 'Taliban' and discard the larger, convoluted game as just "conspiracy theory".

Well, it only makes sense to have a "conspiracy theory" for explanation when there in fact are many 'conspiracies' at play in Pakistan! (Yes, pun intended!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Update on the Northern Areas and Kurram Agency

The lower Kurram areas have long been a hideout for Taliban militants and criminals from other agencies and even from across the volatile border. And that is one major reason why this agency has experienced violence and turmoil in the last few years, which is however often dubbed as "sectarian" in the media.

The road from Thal to Parachinar has been opened. On Sunday, Nov 15, after another year of blockade (following the short-lived opening last year), 25 trucks loaded with food, medicine, and other basic supplies reached Parachinar, the agency capital. The local people, Kurram Militia, and the Government all worked together to make this happen. The government has also promised to set up 7 check posts along the road. 25 trucks, as should be obvious, is not enough for hundreds of thousands of residents of upper Kurram who are barely surviving. The residents of these areas do not have high expectations from the government. They are not asking for aid, just security and open passage so they can get their regular supplies from within Pakistan and wouldn't have to cross the border into Afghanistan. The Afghan route is both very costly and dangerous. I certainly hope that the government and its security apparatus deliver their promise this time.

25 trucks carrying edibles reach Parachinar
Monday, November 16, 2009, The News

PARACHINAR: A convoy of security forces’ vehicles carrying edibles Sunday arrived here as the Parachinar-Sadda-Thall Road reopened after a closure for three years.

Official sources said 25 trucks of the security forces carrying food, medicines and other necessary items reached Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency. The arrival of the convoy with food items sent a wave of happiness among the residents as they had been facing severe shortage of edibles and medicines due to blockade of roads by militants.

Kurram Militia Commander Col Tausif Akhtar led the convoy named as ‘Peace Convoy,’ which was accorded a warm welcome by the residents at Balishkhel checkpost. The residents hoped the government would continue supply of foodstuffs and other goods to the agency and take steps for reopening of roads.

Gunship helicopters target Lower Kurram
Dawn, November 22, 2009

PESHAWAR: As forces pound militant hideouts in Kurram Agency, residents flee to safer areas due to the threat of a possible military operation.

According to official sources, gunship helicopters targeted various areas of lower Kurram. It is beleived that the hideouts belong to militants linked to banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. On the other hand, residents of central Kurram have started migrating to safer areas.

Also, in Orakzai agency, militant hideouts in Mishti and Shahokhel areas were desroyed in airstrikes. Sources in the area claim that ongoing military operation in South Waziristan has forced militants to flee to areas of Lower, Central Kurram and Orakzai ageny.

Gilgit-Baltistan: next phase
Editorial, Daily Times, November 17, 2009

The Election Commission (EC) has announced the official results in 19 constituencies for the legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Reflecting closely the unofficial results, the EC awarded 12 seats to the People’s Party while the remaining seats were shared by the other parties. The results for four seats are still awaited. The disturbing aspect of the tail-end of electioneering for the first-ever legislative assembly in the recently designated autonomous region is the squabble between political parties over charges of rigging, pre-poll as well as on the polling day. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was quick to refute the charges of unfair electoral practices a day after the election. The second tier party leadership too has echoed the same views. However, the EC has already ordered re-polling in some parts of Diamer District. The PML-Q and MQM have protested against what they termed as “unfair manipulation of the electoral process by the ruling party to get their candidates elected”. However, the PML-Q leadership struck a positive note by announcing that “the result will be accepted for the sake of ensuring the continuity of the democratic process in the country.” This caveat was somewhat at odds with democratic norms. Citing “strategic national interests”, Chaudhry Shujaat demanded a consensus government in the region. The term “consensus” seems to be the newfound panacea for all political forces with poor showing at the ballot box or those elements who wish to paralyse the incumbent government of a highly polarised society. PML-Q has so far won one seat in the GB election. The demand for a “consensus government” when the PPP appears to have won a comfortable simple majority is tantamount to placing “consensus” over and above the electorate’s mandate.

Sadly, the appearance of democratic tolerance displayed by the top political leadership was less evident at the grassroots level where skirmishes broke out among the activists of various political parties and supporters of candidates. In two separate incidents of violence, PPP activists clashed with the supporters of the PML-N and MQM. Several people were injured and when the police appeared unable to pacify the situation, the local administration imposed Section 144 in Skardu. On a pleasantly surprising note, the local religious leaders of various sects were seen helping the administration towards the restoration of normalcy in the area.

Disagreements regarding the fairness or validity of the electoral process or the results thereof are normal, especially in South Asia. However, our constitutional scheme has laid out a clear procedure and a proper platform to seek redress in such a contingency, namely the EC. It is advisable for the aggrieved political parties to approach the EC with any evidence of electoral malpractices. To demand directly from the government that re-polling be held in certain constituencies where alleged discrepancies have occurred appears more like an exercise in political point scoring than observance of genuine democratic procedures. In this context, the statement of the regional PPP chief seems more in conformity with the ground realities. He has hinted at the possibility of forming a coalition government with the parties that are already part of the government at the centre. *

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pakistan and the US: A Tug-A-War over the Nuclear Arms

Below see excerpts from Seymour Hersh's latest piece in The New Yorker. There are good insights in this piece just as there are distractions and even misleading content.

For example the "very close" relationship between Mullen and Kayani as suggested in the piece is BS - "very coercive" would be a better choice; it's a game of power and respective interests. Or the indirect suggestion through quoting "a senior Pakistani official" with "close ties to Zardari" and then Zardari himself, that Zardari's administration would be keen on protecting the nuclear assets of Pakistan. One just needs to understand who brought him to power in the first place and with what agenda.

See previous posts on the nuclear issue and the tug-a-war between the main political players: On the larger US strategic interests, here. On President Zardari's role in this game and Army's response, here. On bombs/terrorism and politics surrounding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, here. On the Taliban threat and the larger game, here.

Defending the Arsenal
by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, November 16, 2009


"Pakistan has been a nuclear power for two decades, and has an estimated eighty to a hundred warheads, scattered in facilities around the country. The success of the latest attacks raised an obvious question: Are the bombs safe?"

"Obama did not say so, but current and former officials said in interviews in Washington and Pakistan that his Administration has been negotiating highly sensitive understandings with the Pakistani military. These would allow specially trained American units to provide added security for the Pakistani arsenal in case of a crisis. At the same time, the Pakistani military would be given money to equip and train Pakistani soldiers and to improve their housing and facilities—goals that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, has long desired. In June, Congress approved a four-hundred-million-dollar request for what the Administration called the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, providing immediate assistance to the Pakistan Army for equipment, training, and “renovation and construction.”"

"The secrecy surrounding the understandings was important because there is growing antipathy toward America in Pakistan, as well as a history of distrust. Many Pakistanis believe that America’s true goal is not to keep their weapons safe but to diminish or destroy the Pakistani nuclear complex."

"High-level cooperation between Islamabad and Washington on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal began at least eight years ago. Former President Musharraf, when I interviewed him in London recently, acknowledged that his government had held extensive discussions with the Bush Administration after the September 11th attacks, and had given State Department nonproliferation experts insight into the command and control of the Pakistani arsenal and its on-site safety and security procedures. Musharraf also confirmed that Pakistan had constructed a huge tunnel system for the transport and storage of nuclear weaponry. “The tunnels are so deep that a nuclear attack will not touch them,” Musharraf told me, with obvious pride. The tunnels would make it impossible for the American intelligence community—“Big Uncle,” as a Pakistani nuclear-weapons expert called it—to monitor the movements of nuclear components by satellite."

"In an actual crisis, would the Pakistanis give an American team direct access to their arsenal? An adviser to the Pentagon on counterinsurgency said that some analysts suspected that the Pakistani military had taken steps to move elements of the nuclear arsenal “out of the count”—to shift them to a storage facility known only to a very few—as a hedge against mutiny or an American or Indian effort to seize them. “If you thought your American ally was telling your enemy where the weapons were, you’d do the same thing,” the adviser said."

"A former State Department official who worked on nuclear issues with Pakistan after September 11th said that he’d come to understand that the Pakistanis “believe that any information we get from them would be shared with others—perhaps even the Indians. To know the command-and-control processes of their nuclear weapons is one thing. To know where the weapons actually are is another thing.”"

"Tarar, who retired in 1995 and has a son in the Army, believed—as did many Pakistani military men—that the American campaign to draw Pakistan deeper into the war against the Taliban would backfire. “The Americans are trying to rent out their war to us,” he said. If the Obama Administration persists, “there will be an uprising here, and this corrupt government will collapse. Every Pakistani will then be his own nuclear bomb—a suicide bomber,” Tarar said. “The longer the war goes on, the longer it will spill over in the tribal territories, and it will lead to a revolutionary stage. People there will flee to the big cities like Lahore and Islamabad.”"

"A $7.5-billion American aid package, approved by Congress in September, was, to the surprise of many in Washington, controversial in Pakistan, because it contained provisions seen as strengthening Zardari at the expense of the military. Shaheen Sehbai, a senior editor of the newspaper International, said that Zardari’s “problem is that he’s besieged domestically on all sides, and he thinks only the Americans can save him,”..."

"Pakistan’s fears about the United States co√∂perating with India are not irrational. Last year, Congress approved a controversial agreement that enabled India to purchase nuclear fuel and technology from the United States without joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty, making India the only non-signatory to the N.P.T. permitted to do so. Concern about the Pakistani arsenal has since led to greater co√∂peration between the United States and India in missile defense; the training of the Indian Air Force to use bunker-busting bombs; and “the collection of intelligence on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal,” according to the consultant to the intelligence community. (The Pentagon declined to comment.)"

"In an interview the next afternoon, an Indian official who has dealt diplomatically with Pakistan for years said, “Pakistan is in trouble, and it’s worrisome to us because an unstable Pakistan is the worst thing we can have.”" [I think this has some validity. India would prefer a neutralized Pakistan than a dismembered one, and 'controlled chaos' in Pakistan than 'total chaos' to achieve its strategic interests because the latter option would inevitably cause instability in India.]

"At another point, Musharraf, dressed casually in slacks and a sports shirt, said that he had been troubled by the American-controlled Predator drone attacks on targets inside Pakistan, which began in 2005. “I said to the Americans, ‘Give us the Predators.’ It was refused. I told the Americans, ‘Then just say publicly that you’re giving them to us. You keep on firing them but put Pakistan Air Force markings on them.’ That, too, was denied.”"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'US out of Afghanistan NOW' - Malalai Joya

In her recent two interviews with CNN, the courageous and articulate, Malalai Joya once again demanded that the occupation forces leave Afghanistan immediately. The above clip is from CNN-international.

Eric Garris on the Antiwar blog notes how she received different treatments on CNN-US and CNN-International. In the former she was cut off after her assertion that the US is an occupation force, whereas on the latter she was received respectfully. Under the international law the US and NATO are occupying force in Afghanistan. It's as plain as that.

Malalai Joya and the Tale of 2 CNNs

My thoughts on the American presence in the region and possible solutions, see here

In May 2007, Malalai Joya, who is an elected member of the Afghanistan parliament, was suspended for “insulting fellow members of parliament” in an interview.

In her famous December 2003 speech at the Afghan Loya Jirga which was convened to ratify the constitution, Joya publicly denounced the warlords and war criminals sitting in that gathering:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'Ex-servicemen belonging to Tablighi Jamaat meet in Raiwind'

The tension of orientations discussed in the below story is not new. It's not surprising either that in the face of highly volatile conditions within the country and simultaneous overt and covert intrusions by foreign powers, the TJ members are becoming impatient, and they want to exert their voice in politics. We saw a similar shift within Jamaat-e Islami earlier this year when the more overtly pro-Taliban-anti-American elements held sway in the elections and Syed Munawwar Hasan became the new Amir of the party. What's interesting though is the indication in the below story of growing popularity and strength of TJ among the politically influential segments of Pakistan. That is, if the numbers presented below are in fact accurate and that it was not an concerted, alarmist story (to raise the specter of 'Islamists-taking-over-Islamabad') - and just that the journalistic quality of this report was poor.

Revolution, not quite
By Waqar Gillani, The News, Nov 2009


"Ahead of the Tablighi Jamaat's annual congregation in Raiwind near Lahore -- one of the largest congregations of Islamic world attended by at least one and half million Muslims -- there has been a day-long meeting of at least 50 former officers of Pakistan's armed forces in Raiwind to discuss the future agenda of the rapidly-expanding movement.

Though party sympathisers term the meeting as 'routine', insiders claim these retired officers had travelled from across the country to attend this special meeting of "Halqa-e-Khawas" (group of special people) and were well-taken care of and hosted by the Ameer of TJ, Maulana Abdul Wahab. It may be interesting to note that Wahab is no seminary student but an ordinary landlord.

The annual congregation of TJ, which is considered a non-resistant and non-political Islamic revivalist movement, is scheduled from Nov 5-8, 2009.

The meeting, convened under the driving force of this group in Pakistan armed forces, Lt Gen (r) Javed Nasir, former director general Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), was attended by at least 50 former high-rank officers of the military including many generals, brigadiers and admirals and even top police officers etc. Apart from Lt Gen (r) Nasir, there were Lt Gen (r) Agha Masood Hasan, former naval chief Admiral (r) Karamat Rehman Niazi, Lt Gen (r) Aftab Ahmed and others.

The objective of this meeting was to discuss the possibility of politicising its agenda. Many retired army officers were convinced that the TJ now should have a political manifesto. Wahab, the head of TJ, reportedly related the first phase of the party to Prophet Muhammad's time in Mecca where he tolerated all violence and criticism by infidels and patiently focused on preaching Islam. Wahab, who believes that one day the rule of Allah must be set up in the world, however, asked these retired armymen that being the main force of this party, they should start planning about the direction this gathering of millions gathering should take.

Insiders told TNS this kind of resistance and questions are being raised within the Tablighi Jamaat from time to time."

Added on Nov 16, 2009:

It is not clear if the quotes in the below story reflect the official position or consensus of the Tablighi Jamaat leadership. But they do problematize the alarmist calls of 'Islamists with Taliban-like-mindset becoming political who no sooner than later will take over Islamabad'.

Taliban under fire from Pakistani's faithful
Dawn, Nov 15, 2009

"‘The Taliban are enemies of Islam and humanity and advance only an American and Indian agenda -- to destabilise Pakistan,’ said Farhan Hamad Khan, who had come from Dera Ismail Khan, where many other refugees are also living."

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Middle East "peace industry"

See related posts here and here

Can we talk? The Middle East "peace industry"
Faris Giacaman, The Electronic Intifada, August 20, 2009

Upon finding out that I am Palestinian, many people I meet at college in the United States are eager to inform me of various activities that they have participated in that promote "coexistence" and "dialogue" between both sides of the "conflict," no doubt expecting me to give a nod of approval. However, these efforts are harmful and undermine the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel -- the only way of pressuring Israel to cease its violations of Palestinians' rights.

When I was a high school student in Ramallah, one of the better known "people-to-people" initiatives, Seeds of Peace, often visited my school, asking students to join their program. Almost every year, they would send a few of my classmates to a summer camp in the US with a similar group of Israeli students. According to the Seeds of Peace website, at the camp they are taught "to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills -- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation." They paint quite a rosy picture, and most people in college are very surprised to hear that I think such activities are misguided at best, and immoral, at worst. Why on earth would I be against "coexistence," they invariably ask?

During the last few years, there have been growing calls to bring to an end Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people through an international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). One of the commonly-held objections to the boycott is that it is counter-productive, and that "dialogue" and "fostering coexistence" is much more constructive than boycotts.

With the beginning of the Oslo accords in 1993, there has been an entire industry that works toward bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in these "dialogue" groups. The stated purpose of such groups is the creating of understanding between "both sides of the conflict," in order to "build bridges" and "overcome barriers." However, the assumption that such activities will help facilitate peace is not only incorrect, but is actually morally lacking.

The presumption that dialogue is needed in order to achieve peace completely ignores the historical context of the situation in Palestine. It assumes that both sides have committed, more or less, an equal amount of atrocities against one another, and are equally culpable for the wrongs that have been done. It is assumed that not one side is either completely right or completely wrong, but that both sides have legitimate claims that should be addressed, and certain blind spots that must be overcome. Therefore, both sides must listen to the "other" point of view, in order to foster understanding and communication, which would presumably lead to "coexistence" or "reconciliation."

Such an approach is deemed "balanced" or "moderate," as if that is a good thing. However, the reality on the ground is vastly different than the "moderate" view of this so-called "conflict." Even the word "conflict" is misleading, because it implies a dispute between two symmetric parties. The reality is not so; it is not a case of simple misunderstanding or mutual hatred which stands in the way of peace. The context of the situation in Israel/Palestine is that of colonialism, apartheid and racism, a situation in which there is an oppressor and an oppressed, a colonizer and a colonized.

In cases of colonialism and apartheid, history shows that colonial regimes do not relinquish power without popular struggle and resistance, or direct international pressure. It is a particularly naive view to assume that persuasion and "talking" will convince an oppressive system to give up its power.

The apartheid regime in South Africa, for instance, was ended after years of struggle with the vital aid of an international campaign of sanctions, divestments and boycotts. If one had suggested to the oppressed South Africans living in bantustans to try and understand the other point of view (i.e. the point of view of South African white supremacists), people would have laughed at such a ridiculous notion. Similarly, during the Indian struggle for emancipation from British colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi would not have been venerated as a fighter for justice had he renounced satyagraha -- "holding firmly to the truth," his term for his nonviolent resistance movement -- and instead advocated for dialogue with the occupying British colonialists in order to understand their side of the story.

Now, it is true that some white South Africans stood in solidarity with the oppressed black South Africans, and participated in the struggle against apartheid. And there were, to be sure, some British dissenters to their government's colonial policies. But those supporters explicitly stood alongside the oppressed with the clear objective of ending oppression, of fighting the injustices perpetrated by their governments and representatives. Any joint gathering of both parties, therefore, can only be morally sound when the citizens of the oppressive state stand in solidarity with the members of the oppressed group, not under the banner of "dialogue" for the purpose of "understanding the other side of the story." Dialogue is only acceptable when done for the purpose of further understanding the plight of the oppressed, not under the framework of having "both sides heard."

It has been argued, however, by the Palestinian proponents of these dialogue groups, that such activities may be used as a tool -- not to promote so-called "understanding," -- but to actually win over Israelis to the Palestinian struggle for justice, by persuading them or "having them recognize our humanity."

However, this assumption is also naive. Unfortunately, most Israelis have fallen victim to the propaganda that the Zionist establishment and its many outlets feed them from a young age. Moreover, it will require a huge, concerted effort to counter this propaganda through persuasion. For example, most Israelis will not be convinced that their government has reached a level of criminality that warrants a call for boycott. Even if they are logically convinced of the brutalities of Israeli oppression, it will most likely not be enough to rouse them into any form of action against it. This has been proven to be true time and again, evident in the abject failure of such dialogue groups to form any comprehensive anti-occupation movement ever since their inception with the Oslo process. In reality, nothing short of sustained pressure -- not persuasion -- will make Israelis realize that Palestinian rights have to be rectified. That is the logic of the BDS movement, which is entirely opposed to the false logic of dialogue.

Based on an unpublished 2002 report by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last October that "between 1993 and 2000 [alone], Western governments and foundations spent between $20 million and $25 million on the dialogue groups." A subsequent wide-scale survey of Palestinians who participated in the dialogue groups revealed that this great expenditure failed to produce "a single peace activist on either side." This affirms the belief among Palestinians that the entire enterprise is a waste of time and money.

The survey also revealed that the Palestinian participants were not fully representative of their society. Many participants tended to be "children or friends of high-ranking Palestinian officials or economic elites. Only seven percent of participants were refugee camp residents, even though they make up 16 percent of the Palestinian population." The survey also found that 91 percent of Palestinian participants no longer maintained ties with Israelis they met. In addition, 93 percent were not approached with follow-up camp activity, and only five percent agreed the whole ordeal helped "promote peace culture and dialogue between participants."

Despite the resounding failure of these dialogue projects, money continues to be invested in them. As Omar Barghouti, one of the founding members of the BDS movement in Palestine, explained in The Electronic Intifada, "there have been so many attempts at dialogue since 1993 ... it became an industry -- we call it the peace industry."

This may be partly attributed to two factors. The dominant factor is the useful role such projects play in public relations. For example, the Seeds of Peace website boosts its legitimacy by featuring an impressive array of endorsements by popular politicians and authorities, such as Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Shimon Peres, George Bush, Colin Powell and Tony Blair, amongst others. The second factor is the need of certain Israeli "leftists" and "liberals" to feel as if they are doing something admirable to "question themselves," while in reality they take no substantive stand against the crimes that their government commits in their name. The politicians and Western governments continue to fund such projects, thereby bolstering their images as supporters of "coexistence," and the "liberal" Israeli participants can exonerate themselves of any guilt by participating in the noble act of "fostering peace." A symbiotic relationship, of sorts.

The lack of results from such initiatives is not surprising, as the stated objectives of dialogue and "coexistence" groups do not include convincing Israelis to help Palestinians gain the respect of their inalienable rights. The minimum requirement of recognizing Israel's inherently oppressive nature is absent in these dialogue groups. Rather, these organizations operate under the dubious assumption that the "conflict" is very complex and multifaceted, where there are "two sides to every story," and each narrative has certain valid claims as well as biases.

As the authoritative call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel makes plain, any joint Palestinian-Israeli activities -- whether they be film screenings or summer camps -- can only be acceptable when their stated objective is to end, protest, and/or raise awareness of the oppression of the Palestinians.

Any Israeli seeking to interact with Palestinians, with the clear objective of solidarity and helping them to end oppression, will be welcomed with open arms. Caution must be raised, however, when invitations are made to participate in a dialogue between "both sides" of the so-called "conflict." Any call for a "balanced" discourse on this issue -- where the motto "there are two sides to every story" is revered almost religiously -- is intellectually and morally dishonest, and ignores the fact that, when it comes to cases of colonialism, apartheid, and oppression, there is no such thing as "balance." The oppressor society, by and large, will not give up its privileges without pressure. This is why the BDS campaign is such an important instrument of change.

Faris Giacaman is a Palestinian student from the West Bank, attending his second year of college in the United States.

Noam Chomsky on Obama's Middle East Policy

Last week, the Imperial College Political Philosophy Society, in association with Palestine societies at UCL, SOAS, Goldsmiths, LSE, Imperial and Kings, organized a lecture by MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky: Iran, Palestine and the region in the Obama era: the emerging framework. from ICU Political Philosophy Society on Vimeo.

A few points here and there may require further probing but overall this was a very insightful analysis.

Professor Chomsky's point about studying various civil/human rights movements closely is crucial. For example, the political dynamics and dedication level of the US support for Israel are quite different from that for the apartheid South Africa. Would the same tactics that were successful in South Africa work in the case of Palestine-US-Israel? Would the 'advocacy process' follow a similar course in this case, as Chomsky seems to suggest?

A further challenge for our movements (of people of conscience) is to come up with action plans - not just "proposals" as Chomsky rightly points out - involving practical strategies and tactics that are in line with our principles and sound political analysis.


So far the Obama administration has shown no meaningful signs of any major change to the old grand plan of a "new middle east" (as Condy Rice famously stated), other than slight modifications in the tactics. Suspending the expansion of settlements and recognizing the two-state solution that the current administration is asking of Israel were already part of Bush’s “Road Map for Peace”. Neither of them actually enforced these demands on Israel.

Against the Bush administration’s “hard power” however the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has put forward the idea of “smart power”, combining diplomacy and “iron fist”. What that probably means for Muslim countries is the ‘Good Muslim vs. Bad Muslim’ game. The good Muslims are those compliant to the US-Israeli imperial ambitions. The Bad Muslims are those who resist that and therefore must be disciplined.

The status quo regimes of the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan - are presented as the “moderate” Muslims. While those - within the status quo states and from outside - opposing their corruption and the hegemonic ambitions of US-Israel are labeled as the Bad Muslims. And it is demanded from the latter (those resisting) to ‘reform’ and become ‘good Muslims’. After the inauguration, Obama went to the West Bank, not Gaza, and then to Egypt, where he delivered his now popular Cairo speech. Both are telling indicators.

Consider the following two sentences from the end of that speech: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” What?! During the inquisition?! Muslims were slaughtered, forced to convert or exile under the Inquisitorial Regime. Is that what Mr. Obama is suggesting that Muslims do today against the oppression of their own dictatorial regimes and from outside? Perhaps it was a blunder on the part of Obama’s speech writer.

But in practical terms, this is exactly what the current administration is asking of the Palestinian people: Keep suffering. Rhetorical gestures of conciliation-s by the new administration aside, the US and Israel are more or less continuing the same policy of turning Gaza into a virtual prison and dividing the West Bank into small quarantines through the Security Wall, with Israel having effective control over water, communication, and security matters of both areas.

What lies ahead? A further military and political marginalization of legitimate resistance movements in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. Israel will haggle on the price for ‘peace’ by creating stalemates of one kind or another and thereby finding more time for its expansionist ambitions. Further military actions against those who do not comply, within the occupied territories and outside, are also probable.

On problems with the two-state solution see http://gazaawareness.blogspot.com/

Unpublicized Crises: Chomsky on Sri Lanka

Noam Chomsky at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) on 27 October 2009.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Defending the Palestinian Cause on Jon Stewart's Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
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(Do watch the second part too)

The interview showed the human and rational face of the Palestinian resistance not widely known to the general American viewers. It moved beyond the usual morality tale of 'poor Israelis facing genocidal-minded Arabs/Muslims' . It must have impressed upon the viewers that Palestinians, like Israelis, may also have legit concerns and need to be heard too.

My concern with that interview and with many others out there chanting 'peace, peace, non-violence, non-violence' is that sometimes they are used to de-legitimize militant resistance (as 'irrational' and 'unjustifiably violent'). It takes attention away from the whole history of Israeli atrocities by focusing too much on - and even blaming at times - the victims for responding with violence in defense. (Same goes for the case of Lebanon.) The 'peace, peace' slogans at times neglect the fact that the international community has failed to deliver any positive results in the last sixty years. So far the only thing that has been directly effective against the Israeli expansionism is militant resistance.

That said I don't think Anna believes that militant resistance is wrong in principle. I was in one of her presentations last year where she emphasized the role of historical atrocities which led Palestinians to adopt violent tactics. From what I understand, she would not want to de-legitimize the militant resistance, although she might believe that non-violence is preferable and more effective. (I don't know the position and politics of Mustafa Barghouti.)

I think the resistance in Palestine as well as Lebanon would also prefer non-violence over violence. The difference really is on the question of 'efficacy' of violent vs. non-violent tactics. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was largely non-violent. Even scholars of non-violent movements acknowledge that fact.

The distinction between principle and tactic is important here. We would be arguing on a very different level if some peace activist believes in non-violence as a principle - that militant resistance is always wrong. (Even Gandhi made exceptions to that principle!)

But if it is a matter of tactic with non-violence as the preferred method, then the implication is that if legit resistance-s choose militant tactics in Palestine or Lebanon, their actions should not be looked down upon by peace activists. Also since it is a matter of tactic (not principle), tomorrow the resistance-s may very well decide to become non-violent, if they feel that time has changed and the international community is more responsive to non-violent tactics and can actually do something to address their grievances.

Back to the interview. Given the imposed limitations in the mainstream media over this issue, I think the interview was a step forward in pushing the limits of the debate. Though it would have been nicer if the two had somehow questioned the framework in which the debate was framed. Joseph Levine's excellent article in Boston Review comes to mind: http://bostonreview.net/BR33.5/levine.php The debate needs to be re-framed from that of ‘Israeli security vs. terrorism’ to ‘Israeli occupation vs. Palestinian resistance’. That is critical.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Afghan President's Brother - Drug Lord and CIA Agent

Informed people in Afghanistan and abroad already knew about this fact. The question is why now. Why the turn in media against Karzai in recent months, from portraying him as a good ally in the 'War on Terror' to a bad puppet? Is it time to dump him? Has Washington found a replacement already? Zalmay Khalilzad or Abdullah Abdullah? Eric Margolis provides some insights here: Two Puppets Are No Better Than One.

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

By Dexter Filkins, et. al., NYTimes, October 28, 2009

KABUL, AfghanistanAhmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the C.I.A.

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Some American officials said that the allegations of Mr. Karzai’s role in the drug trade were not conclusive.

“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence. “And you can’t ignore what the Afghan government has done for American counterterrorism efforts.”

At the start of the Afghan war, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, American officials paid warlords with questionable backgrounds to help topple the Taliban and maintain order with relatively few American troops committed to fight in the country. But as the Taliban has become resurgent and the war has intensified, Americans have increasingly viewed a strong and credible central government as crucial to turning back the Taliban’s advances.

Now, with more American lives on the line, the relationship with Mr. Karzai is setting off anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials in the Obama administration. They say that Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafialike way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.

These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” a senior American military officer in Kabul said. Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.

“If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” the American officer said of Mr. Karzai. “Our assumption is that he’s benefiting from the drug trade.”

American officials say that Afghanistan’s opium trade, the largest in the world, directly threatens the stability of the Afghan state, by providing a large percentage of the money the Taliban needs for its operations, and also by corrupting Afghan public officials to help the trade flourish.

The Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the drug lords who are believed to permeate the highest levels of President Karzai’s administration. They have pressed him to move his brother out of southern Afghanistan, but he has so far refused to do so.

Other Western officials pointed to evidence that Ahmed Wali Karzai orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother’s re-election effort in August. He is also believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots.

“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

In the interview in which he denied a role in the drug trade or taking money from the C.I.A., Ahmed Wali Karzai said he received regular payments from his brother, the president, for “expenses,” but said he did not know where the money came from. He has, among other things, introduced Americans to insurgents considering changing sides. And he has given the Americans intelligence, he said. But he said he was not compensated for that assistance.

“I don’t know anyone under the name of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Karzai said. “I have never received any money from any organization. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. This is my duty as an Afghan.”

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that the C.I.A. and Special Operations troops stayed at Mullah Omar’s old compound. And he acknowledged that the Kandahar Strike Force was based there. But he said he had no involvement with them.

A former C.I.A. officer with experience in Afghanistan said the agency relied heavily on Ahmed Wali Karzai, and often based covert operatives at compounds he owned. Any connections Mr. Karzai might have had to the drug trade mattered little to C.I.A. officers focused on counterterrorism missions, the officer said.

“Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade,” he said. “If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

The debate over Ahmed Wali Karzai, which began when President Obama took office in January, intensified in June, when the C.I.A.’s local paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, shot and killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, in a still-unexplained shootout at the office of a local prosecutor.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Qati’s death remain shrouded in mystery. It is unclear, for instance, if any agency operatives were present — but officials say the firefight broke out when Mr. Qati tried to block the strike force from freeing the brother of a task force member who was being held in custody.

“Matiullah was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview.

Counternarcotics officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over the unwillingness of senior policy makers in Washington to take action against Mr. Karzai — or even begin a serious investigation of the allegations against him. In fact, they say that while other Afghans accused of drug involvement are investigated and singled out for raids or even rendition to the United States, Mr. Karzai has seemed immune from similar scrutiny.

For years, first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration have said that the Taliban benefits from the drug trade, and the United States military has recently expanded its target list to include drug traffickers with ties to the insurgency. The military has generated a list of 50 top drug traffickers tied to the Taliban who can now be killed or captured.

Senior Afghan investigators say they know plenty about Mr. Karzai’s involvement in the drug business. In an interview in Kabul this year, a top former Afghan Interior Ministry official familiar with Afghan counternarcotics operations said that a major source of Mr. Karzai’s influence over the drug trade was his control over key bridges crossing the Helmand River on the route between the opium growing regions of Helmand Province and Kandahar.

The former Interior Ministry official said that Mr. Karzai was able to charge huge fees to drug traffickers to allow their drug-laden trucks to cross the bridges.

But the former officials said it was impossible for Afghan counternarcotics officials to investigate Mr. Karzai. “This government has become a factory for the production of Talibs because of corruption and injustice,” the former official said.

Some American counternarcotics officials have said they believe that Mr. Karzai has expanded his influence over the drug trade, thanks in part to American efforts to single out other drug lords.

In debriefing notes from Drug Enforcement Administration interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants obtained by The New York Times, one key informant said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the American operation that lured Hajji Bashir Noorzai, a major Afghan drug lord during the time that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, to New York in 2005. Mr. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the D.E.A. in 2006 that Mr. Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after Mr. Noorzai’s arrest.

Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti and James Risen from Washington. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What lies ahead for Pakistan?

See a related post here on the larger US strategic interests. On President Zardari's role in this game and Army's response, see a previous post here On bombs/terrorism and politics surrounding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, see here

Pakistan Feels The American Raj
Eric Margolis, InformationClearingHouse, Oct 21, 2009


"The current Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, advanced with President Barack Obama's blessing, is ham-handed dollar diplomacy at its worst. Pakistan, bankrupted by corruption, feudal landlords, and the previous Musharraf military regime, is being offered US $7.5 billion over five years - but with outrageous strings attached.

Washington denies any strings are involved. But few in South Asia believe the cash-strapped US is handing over $7.5 billion for the sake of pure altruism or concern for Pakistan's social welfare.

The US wants to build a mammoth new embassy for 1,000 personnel in Islamabad, the second largest after its Baghdad fortress-embassy. New personnel are needed, claims Washington, to monitor the $7.5 billion in aid. So US mercenaries (aka `contractors') are being brought in to protect US interests and personnel. New US bases may also be in the cards. Most of this new aid will go right into the pockets of the pro-western ruling establishment, about 1% of the population.

Washington is also reportedly demanding some form of indirect veto power over promotions in Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence agency, ISI. This crude attempt to exert more US influence over Pakistan's 617,000-man military has enraged the armed forces and set off alarm bells.

It's all part of Washington's `Afpak' strategy to clamp tighter control over restive Pakistan and make use of its armed forces and spies in Afghanistan. Seizing control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the key to its national defense against a much more powerful India, is the other key US objective. Many Pakistanis believe the US is bent on tearing apart Pakistan in order to seize its nuclear arsenal."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Washington's "Af-Pak" plans meet resistance

Below is a very informative report with insightful hints about probable Washington plans for Pakistan. Is Pakistan going to be the base for CentCom or AfricCon like operations for this region to keep Russia, China, and Iran in check? What conditions would enable such a possibility? How is this going to affect the internal political dynamics of the country? See a related post here . On President Zardari's role in this game and Army's response, see a previous post here

U.S. Push to Expand in Pakistan Meets Resistance

By Jane Perlez, NY Times, October 6, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Steps by the United States to vastly expand its aid to Pakistan, as well as the footprint of its embassy and private security contractors here, are aggravating an already volatile anti-American mood as Washington pushes for greater action by the government against the Taliban.

An aid package of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years passed by Congress last week asks Pakistan to cease supporting terrorist groups on its soil and to ensure that the military does not interfere with civilian politics. President Asif Ali Zardari, whose association with the United States has added to his unpopularity, agreed to the stipulations in the aid package.

But many here, especially in the powerful army, object to the conditions as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs, and they are interpreting the larger American footprint in more sinister ways.

American officials say the embassy and its security presence must expand in order to monitor how the new money is spent. They also have real security concerns, which were underscored Monday when a suicide bomber, dressed in the uniform of a Pakistani security force, killed five people at a United Nations office in the heart of Islamabad, the capital.

The United States Embassy has publicized plans for a vast new building in Islamabad for about 1,000 people, with security for some diplomats provided through a Washington-based private contracting company, DynCorp.

The embassy setup, with American demands for importing more armored vehicles, is a significant expansion over the last 15 years. It comes at a time of intense discussion in Washington over whether to widen American operations and aid to Pakistan — a base for Al Qaeda — as an alternative to deeper American involvement in Afghanistan with the addition of more forces.

The fierce opposition here is revealing deep strains in the alliance. Even at its current levels, the American presence was fueling a sense of occupation among Pakistani politicians and security officials, said several Pakistani officials, who did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the United States. The United States was now seen as behaving in Pakistan much as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, they said.

In particular, the Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies are concerned that DynCorp is being used by Washington to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel within Pakistan, officials and politicians close to the army said.

The concerns are serious enough that last month a local company hired by DynCorp to provide Pakistani men to be trained as security guards for American diplomats was raided by the Islamabad police. The owner of the company, the Inter-Risk Security Company, Capt. Syed Ali Ja Zaidi, was later arrested.

The action against Inter-Risk, apparently intended to cripple the DynCorp program, was taken on orders from the senior levels of the Pakistani government, said an official familiar with the raid, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The entire workings of DynCorp within Pakistan are now under review by the Pakistani government, said a senior government official directly involved with the Americans, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity.

The tensions are erupting as the United States is pressing Pakistan to take on not only those Taliban groups that have threatened the government, but also the Taliban leadership that uses Pakistan as a base to organize and conduct their insurgency against American forces in Afghanistan.

In a public statement, the American ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, suggested last week that Pakistan should eliminate the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, a onetime ally of the Pakistanis who Washington says is now based in Baluchistan, a province on the Afghanistan border. If Pakistan did not get rid of Mullah Omar, the United States would, she suggested.

Reinforcing the ambassador, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said Sunday that the United States regarded tackling Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan as “the next step” in the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in an unusually stern reaction last week, said that missile attacks by American drones in Baluchistan, as implied by the Americans, “would not be allowed.”

The Pakistanis also complain that they are not being sufficiently consulted over the pending White House decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The head of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, met with senior officials at the Central Intelligence Agency last week in Washington, where he argued against sending more troops to Afghanistan, a Pakistani official familiar with the visit said.

The Pakistani Army, riding high after its campaign to wrench back control of the Swat Valley from the Taliban, remains nervous about Washington’s intentions and the push against the new aid is reflective of that anxiety, Pakistani officials said.

Though the Zardari government is trumpeting the new aid as a triumph, officials say the language in the legislation ignores long-held prerogatives about Pakistani sovereignty, making the $1.5 billion a tough sell.

“Now everyone has a handle they can use to rip into the Zardari government,” said a senior Pakistani official involved in the American-Pakistani dialogue but who declined to be named because he did not want to inflame the discussion.

The expanding American security presence has become another club. DynCorp has attracted particular scrutiny after the Pakistani news media reported that Blackwater, the contractor that has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, was also in Pakistan.

Recently, there have been a series of complaints by Islamabad residents who said they had been “roughed up” by hefty, plainclothes American men bearing weapons, presumably from DynCorp, one of the senior Pakistani officials involved with the Americans said.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office had sent two formal diplomatic complaints in the past few weeks to the American Embassy about such episodes, the official said.

The embassy had received complaints, and confirmed two instances, an embassy official said, but the embassy denied receiving any formal protests from the Foreign Office. It also declined to comment about the presence of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, in Pakistan.

American officials have said that Blackwater employees worked at a remote base in Shamsi, in Baluchistan, where they loaded missiles and bombs onto drones used to strike Taliban and Qaeda militants.

The operation of the drones at Shamsi had been shifted by the Americans to Afghanistan this year, a senior Pakistani military official said.

Several Blackwater employees also worked in the North-West Frontier Province supervising the construction of a training center for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a Pakistani official from the region said.

There was considerable unease about the American diplomatic presence in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, one of the senior government officials said. Politicians were asking why the United States needed a consulate in Peshawar, which borders the tribal areas, when that office did not issue visas, he said.

Another question, he said, was why did the consulate plan to buy the biggest, and most modern building in the city, the Pearl Continental hotel — which was bombed in a terrorist attack this year — as its new headquarters.

As Parliament prepared to discuss the American aid package Wednesday, the tone of the debate was expected to be scathing. On a television talk show, Senator Tariq Aziz, a member of the opposition party, called the legislation “the charter for new colonization.”

“People think this government has sold us to the Americans again for their own selfish interests,” said Jahangir Tareen, a former cabinet minister and a member of Parliament, in an interview. “Some people think the United States is out to get Pakistan, to defang Pakistan, to destroy the army as it exists so it can’t fight India and to break down the ISI’s ability to influence events in India and Afghanistan. Everyone is saying about the Americans, ‘Told you so.’ ”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saddam's Iraq - Lest people forget...

This is a very famous footage from July 16 1979. The man speaking was Secretary of the Baath Party who was forced to name Iraqi officials who supposedly were part of a Syrian plot against Iraq. The men being led out were never seen again. The men remaining were spared that day. Later some of the spared officials were forced to personally execute their colleagues who were not so lucky. On that day Iraq went from being a garden variety middle-east dictatorship to a totalitarian police state and added flying colors on CIA's achievement book which supported Bakr-Saddam coup in the first place, then supported Saddam extensively during the Iran-Iraq war and armed him with chemical and biological weapons. The Secretary of Baath also met an unfavorable fate. The person who tries to raise hand and speak in the middle of the clip was Saddam's old friend. He was not allowed to talk and led out. This video was sent all over Iraq to induce terror in people's hearts.

The biological weapons given to Saddam by the Western powers to fight the resilient Iranians were also used on the Kurds of the North. During the late stages of the Iran–Iraq War Saddam's proconsul Ali Hassan - aka Chemical Ali - is said to have used Mustard Gas, Sarin, Tabun, and VX against Kurdish targets. The first such attacks occurred as early as April 1987 and continued into 1988 culminating in the notorious attack on Halabja in which over 5000 people were killed. With Kurdish resistance continuing Ali Hassan decided to break the back of the rebellion by eradicating the civilian population of the Kurdish regions. His forces embarked on a systematic campaign of mass killings property destruction and forced population displacement in which thousands of Kurdish villages were razed and their inhabitants either killed or deported to the south of Iraq. For more on chemical and biological weapon sale to Saddam by the West, see http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0908-08.htm

It is well documented that Saddam-Bakr coup was supported by CIA. PBS Frontline's documentary "Survival of Saddam" (air date 2000) for one acknowledges that fact (some good footage in that documentary, otherwise a propaganda crap, manufacturing consent for war on Iraq). A Times piece published on December 30, 2006 states: "The coup that brought the Ba'ath Party, of which Saddam was a member, to power in 1963, was supported by the United States, openly welcomed by the White House and possibly even engineered by the CIA."

Saddam was encouraged to attack Iran, supplied with satellite information about Iranian military movements, and given conventional as well as chemical and biological weapons by America, France, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

Must-Watch: Behind Saddam's Attack on Kuwait and Suppression of Shias in 1991

As also argued by Michael Klare in a recent Media Education Foundation (MEF) documentary, "Blood and Oil", the US intentionally adopted a "containment" policy, instead of overthrowing Saddam after the Gulf War, to use that as a pretext for US military presence in that region. After the Iranian Revolution and against the Soviet threat, the Carter Doctrine in 1980 made it explicit that the US would expand its military presence in the region to protect the oil interests. The Reagan Administration launched CentCom in 1983 with the same mandate. What also helped the US during the Gulf War was the fear of the status quo regimes of the region - Saudia, Jordan, Egypt - that if Saddam was toppled, there was no other possibility but that Shias would come to power.

The same Times Online piece states: "That the regime survived was down not to the US commander of the liberation of Kuwait, General Norman Schwartzkopf, who allowed Saddam's forces to continue flying helicopters throughout the country and let two powerful units of the Republican Guard, trapped in Basra, to return to Baghdad. Saddam's fear sharpened his revenge. Iraqi opposition leaders say up to 300,000 people were tortured and executed in the repression that followed. The experience of March 1991 left a legacy of bitter suspicion. The Americans, having liberated Kuwait, were now widely perceived in Iraq to have come to Saddam's rescue." ("Saddam Hussein - obituary", Times Online, December 30, 2006)

A decade later the NeoCons invade Iraq with the plan to appoint puppets Ahmad Chalabi and his likes as leaders - a tactic used 80 years ago by the British who installed King Faisal I - but their plot was effectively foiled by Ayatollah Sistani's call for direct elections in 2005 (See Newsweek's "What Sistani Wants", Feb 14, 2005).

Friday, October 2, 2009

How did Saddam get Chemical and Biological Weapons?

How Did Iraq Get Its Weapons? We Sold Them
by Neil Mackay and Felicity Arbuthnot, Sunday Herald, September 8, 2002

THE US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

Reports by the US Senate's committee on banking, housing and urban affairs -- which oversees American exports policy -- reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.

Classified US Defense Department documents also seen by the Sunday Herald show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxine can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas.

The Senate committee's reports on 'US Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual-Use Exports to Iraq', undertaken in 1992 in the wake of the Gulf war, give the date and destination of all US exports. The reports show, for example, that on May 2, 1986, two batches of bacillus anthracis -- the micro-organism that causes anthrax -- were shipped to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education, along with two batches of the bacterium clostridium botulinum, the agent that causes deadly botulism poisoning.

One batch each of salmonella and E coli were shipped to the Iraqi State Company for Drug Industries on August 31, 1987. Other shipments went from the US to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission on July 11, 1988; the Department of Biology at the University of Basrah in November 1989; the Department of Microbiology at Baghdad University in June 1985; the Ministry of Health in April 1985 and Officers' City, a military complex in Baghdad, in March and April 1986.

The shipments to Iraq went on even after Saddam Hussein ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which at least 5000 men, women and children died. The atrocity, which shocked the world, took place in March 1988, but a month later the components and materials of weapons of mass destruction were continuing to arrive in Baghdad from the US.

The Senate report also makes clear that: 'The United States provided the government of Iraq with 'dual use' licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-system programs.'

This assistance, according to the report, included 'chemical warfare-agent precursors, chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings, chemical warfare filling equipment, biological warfare-related materials, missile fabrication equipment and missile system guidance equipment'.

Donald Riegle, then chairman of the committee, said: 'UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and [established] that these items were used to further Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs.'

Riegle added that, between January 1985 and August 1990, the 'executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think that is a devastating record'.

It is thought the information contained in the Senate committee reports is likely to make up much of the 'evidence of proof' that Bush and Blair will reveal in the coming days to justify the US and Britain going to war with Iraq. It is unlikely, however, that the two leaders will admit it was the Western powers that armed Saddam with these weapons of mass destruction.

However, Bush and Blair will also have to prove that Saddam still has chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. This looks like a difficult case to clinch in view of the fact that Scott Ritter, the UN's former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, says the United Nations destroyed most of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and doubts that Saddam could have rebuilt his stocks by now.

According to Ritter, between 90% and 95% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were des troyed by the UN. He believes the remainder were probably used or destroyed during 'the ravages of the Gulf War'.

Ritter has described himself as a 'card-carrying Republican' who voted for George W Bush. Nevertheless, he has called the president a 'liar' over his claims that Saddam Hussein is a threat to America.

Ritter has also alleged that the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits certain gases, which would have been detected by satellite. 'We have seen none of this,' he insists. 'If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof.'

He also dismisses claims that Iraq may have a nuclear weapons capacity or be on the verge of attaining one, saying that gamma-particle atomic radiation from the radioactive materials in the warheads would also have been detected by western surveillance.

The UN's former co-ordinator in Iraq and former UN under-secretary general, Count Hans von Sponeck, has also told the Sunday Herald that he believes the West is lying about Iraq's weapons program.

Von Sponeck visited the Al-Dora and Faluja factories near Baghdad in 1999 after they were 'comprehensively trashed' on the orders of UN inspectors, on the grounds that they were suspected of being chemical weapons plants. He returned to the site late in July this year, with a German TV crew, and said both plants were still wrecked.

'We filmed the evidence of the dishonesty of the claims that they were producing chemical and biological weapons,' von Sponeck has told the Sunday Herald. 'They are indeed in the same destroyed state which we witnessed in 1999. There was no trace of any resumed activity at all.'