Sunday, February 28, 2010
US wants hassle-free visa for its nationals
By Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn, February 27, 2010
ISLAMABAD: Washington wants Islamabad to put in place a restriction free and uniform visa regime for its diplomats and embassy staff posted here allowing them to carry out ‘full range of activities’.
“We look forward to creation of a visa mechanism that will enable US officials do their jobs without interference,” US Ambassador Anne Patterson said in a statement issued by the embassy’s Office of Public Affairs.
Delays in issuing and extension of visas of American diplomats and other embassy staff posted here remained a major irritant in relations between the two countries.
The government recently issued most of the requested visas in an effort to placate an angry Washington, which had linked it to the release of the deferred Coalition Support Fund reimbursements.
Although, the backlog is yet to be fully cleared and some of the visas are still being processed, Ambassador Patterson acknowledged progress was being made. “Prime Minister Gilani’s offer to work with the United States to establish a transparent process on visas that will enable us to undertake full range of activities … is a positive development.”
The issuance of most of the visas led to release of $349 million out of an outstanding amount of $2.6 billion.
Many of the remaining cases relate to personnel assigned with the Office of Defence Representative for Pakistan (ODRP), which has been at the centre of the dispute over CSF disbursements.
The ODRP has been also accused by the US Government Accounting Office of inconsistently applying CSF guidelines in Pakistan.
With the visa issue nearing resolution, the Americans look to be setting the bar even higher for Islamabad for the release of remaining funds by seeking visa mechanism that ensures a hindrance-free working.
Besides, the visa clampdown, the other concern for the Americans has been enhanced vigilance by the country’s security agencies, which have recently intercepted embassy vehicles for search. While Pakistani authorities insist that the search was necessitated by the deteriorating law and order situation, the US embassy took them as ‘contrived incidents’ and ‘provocative actions’.
A senior US diplomat, speaking to Dawn, said in addition to a restriction-free regime, Washington also wanted a regular and uniform visa system for all staff based in Pakistan.
“Some of them are given single entry visas for one month, others get multiple visas for a year,” he said, adding this had to be standardised.
He indicated that close to 50 visas requests were still under consideration by Pakistani authorities.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
US offered Rigi 'extensive aid' for Iran attacks
Feb 25, 2010, PressTV
The captured ringleader of the Jundallah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, has confessed that the US administration had assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The following is the detailed transcript of Rigi's confession, stated in Farsi, as broadcasted on Press TV.
"After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.They met us after clashes with my group around March 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the US operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting."
"I said we didn't have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran."
"They asked to meet me and we said where should we meet you and he said in Dubai. We sent someone to Dubai and we told a person to ask a place for myself in Afghanistan from the area near the operations and they complied that they would sort out the problem for us and they will find Mr. Rigi a base and guarantee his own security in Afghanistan or in any of the countries adjacent to Iran so that he can carry on his operations.
"They told me that in Kyrgyzstan they have a base called Manas near Bishkek, and that a high-ranking person was coming to meet me and that if such high-ranking people come to the United Arab Emirates, they may be observed by intelligence people but in a place like Bishkek this high-ranking American person could come and we could reach an agreement on making personal contacts. But after the last major operation we took part in, they said that they wanted to meet with us.
"The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran. We don't have a military plan against Iran. Attacking Iran is very difficult for us (the US). The CIA is very particular about you and is prepared to do anything for you because our government has reached the conclusion that there was nothing Americans could do about Iran and only I could take care of the operations for them.
"One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system. They reached the conclusion that your organization has the power to create difficulties for the Islamic Republic and they are prepared to give you training and/or any assistance that you would require, in terms of telecommunications security and procedures as well as other support, the Americans said they would be willing to provide it at an extensive level."
Iran's security forces arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over the Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan.
What lies behind Pakistan's Taliban arrests?
By M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Feb 25, 2010
Islamabad: A succession of senior Afghan Taliban leaders have reportedly been seized in Pakistan in recent weeks. The world has been left guessing as to what might lie behind these arrests.
But answers will take time in coming.
At least four Taliban "shadow governors" of provinces in Afghanistan were arrested in Pakistan in February, reports say.
But for the moment the Pakistani military has only confirmed one arrest: that of the Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was detained in the southern city of Karachi.
Yet they have not issued any categorical denials about the other alleged arrests.
And the US media has been quoting unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials when reporting them.
Shift in attitude?
It is normally unlikely that such leaks could occur without discreet authorisation. Pakistan's policy of ambiguity when it comes to confirming these arrests could be down to the sensitivity of being seen to follow a US agenda.
Indeed analysts have long suspected senior Taliban leaders of finding shelter and sympathy in Pakistan, although the Pakistani authorities have consistently denied this.
So what are Pakistan's reasons for this sudden stream of arrests?
One group of analysts is of the view that the Pakistanis have finally started seeing the Taliban as a threat to their society and have decided to co-operate with the West's efforts to contain the movement.
Some say it is partly a quid pro quo for the US drone strikes that eliminated the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, responsible for hundreds of bomb attacks in recent years.
But whether this amounts to a shift in Pakistan's security paradigm is unclear.
The arrests also coincide with the onset of a major military offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province, long considered a Taliban stronghold.
Many believe that Pakistan's powerful security establishment, which is widely perceived to be a supporter of the Taliban movement, has come under considerable pressure from the US to make adjustments in its policy.
The Pakistani military heavily depends on the US for funds and equipment.
President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan is also an issue for Pakistan. Analysts say that in the event of non-cooperation, Pakistan fears losing the chance of salvaging its "legitimate" interests in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani move to arrest top Taliban leaders has also come as the first peace talks between India and Pakistan were held.
India halted all talks with Pakistan after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which India says was carried out by Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistan, which already disputes India's territorial claim to the northern part of Kashmir, is wary of its growing influence in Afghanistan.
Over the last 20 years, the Pakistani military is believed to have backed a number of militant groups launching attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir.
In this time it has also been accused of training and funding the Afghan Taliban with a view to having a pro-Pakistan regime in Kabul.
In the years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has been repeatedly blamed for "double-crossing" the Americans - protecting the Taliban and other militants while at the same time playing its role as the frontline state in the US-led "war on terror".
Since 2008, Pakistan has also resisted mounting Western pressure for more troops to be deployed in its north-western tribal badlands, on the Afghan border. It has said it needs troops on the eastern border with India.
With the Indians finally coming to the dialogue table and the US going for a troops surge in Afghanistan, options for Pakistan may well be shrinking.
And affirming its own influence in a new Afghan order will be important.
Reduced Afghan role?
But there is another interpretation of the latest events.
The argument goes that the recent arrests are part of an American strategy to drive a wedge in the Taliban movement and engage the more "moderate" elements for some kind of a power-sharing deal.
The arrests of top Taliban leaders will hurt the morale of their foot soldiers, and minimise their ability to regroup if they disperse in the wake of the US-led offensive.
These leaders could then be set free as part of a deal with the Taliban, and allowed to lead the movement into a process of integration with the wider Afghan society.
If peace is held and reconstruction begins quickly, analysts say the influence of Taliban may shrink drastically as they would be forced to compete with tribal, regional and political entities.
If that happens, Pakistani influence in Afghanistan will also decline. Is Pakistan ready for this?
Others argue that the leaders reportedly arrested so far have all been close to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, and as such are more pragmatists than ideologues.
If they have not been arrested with negotiations in mind, their detention may not only close down crucial channels of communication with the Taliban, they may also leave the movement in the hands of more rigid and brutal second-generation leaders.
The fine print here is that Pakistan is unlikely to be naive enough not to see that by eliminating their proteges in the Taliban movement, they will be cutting off their influence over the only group they can hope to befriend in an otherwise hostile, pro-India Afghanistan.
The arrests may just be indicative of a Pakistani decision to settle for a reduced role in Afghanistan.
The fate of the detained Taliban leaders and a close watch on any further arrests may cast some light on Pakistan's strategy - in the absence of official comment.
C.I.A. and Pakistan Work Together, but Do So Warily
By Mark Mazzetti and Jane Perlez, NYTimes, Feb 25, 2010
"In strengthening ties to the ISI, the C.I.A. is aligning itself with a shadowy institution that meddles in domestic politics and has a history of ties to violent militant groups in the region. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Officials in Washington and Islamabad agree that the relationship between the two spy services has steadily improved since the low point of the summer of 2008, when the C.I.A.’s deputy director traveled to Pakistan to confront ISI officials with communications intercepts indicating that the ISI was complicit in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The spy agencies have built trust in part through age-old tactics of espionage: killing or capturing each other’s enemies. A turning point came last August, when a C.I.A. missile killed the militant leader Baitullah Mehsud as he lay on the roof of his compound in South Waziristan, his wife beside him massaging his back.
Mr. Mehsud for more than a year had been responsible for a wave of terror attacks in Pakistani cities, and many inside the ISI were puzzled as to why the United States had not sought to kill him. Some even suspected he was an American, or Indian, agent.
The drone attack on Mr. Mehsud is part of a joint war against militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where C.I.A. drones pound militants from the air as Pakistani troops fight them on the ground.
And yet for two spy agencies with a long history of mistrust, the accommodation extends only so far. For instance, when it comes to the endgame in Afghanistan, where Pakistan hopes to play a significant role as a power broker, interviews with Pakistani and American intelligence officials in Islamabad and Washington reveal that the interests of the two sides remain far apart.
Even as the ISI breaks up a number of Taliban cells, officials in Islamabad, Washington and Kabul hint that the ISI’s goal seems to be to weaken the Taliban just enough to bring them to the negotiating table, but leaving them strong enough to represent Pakistani interests in a future Afghan government.
This contrasts sharply with the American goal of battering the Taliban and strengthening Kabul’s central government and security forces, even if American officials also recognize that political reconciliation with elements of the Taliban is likely to be part of any ultimate settlement.
Tensions in the relationship surfaced in the days immediately after Mullah Baradar’s arrest, when the ISI refused to allow C.I.A. officers to interrogate the Taliban leader. Americans have since been given access to the detention center. On Wednesday, Pakistani and Afghan officials meeting in Islamabad said that a deal was being worked out to transfer Mullah Baradar to Afghan custody, which could allow the Americans unrestrained access to him.
Besides Mullah Baradar, several Taliban shadow governors and other senior leaders have been arrested inside Pakistan in recent weeks.
A top American military officer in Afghanistan on Wednesday suggested that with the arrests, the ISI could be trying to accelerate the timetable for a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government."...
"The ISI gets millions of dollars in United States aid from its American counterpart (which allowed the Pakistan spy service to develop a counterterrorism division), yet is suspicious that the Americans and the Indians might be playing their own “double game” against Pakistan.
In Islamabad, officials are nervous about the intensification of the C.I.A.’s drone campaign in North Waziristan against the network run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom the ISI for years has used as a force to carry out missions in Afghanistan that serve Pakistani interests.
C.I.A. officials believe that Mr. Haqqani’s group played a role in the killing of seven Americans in Khost, Afghanistan, in late December, and since then have carried out more than a dozen drone strikes in the Haqqani network’s enclave in North Waziristan.
The ISI, an institution feared by most Pakistanis, is used to getting its way. It meddles in domestic politics and in recent months has been suspected by Western embassies in Islamabad of planting anti-American stories in Pakistani newspapers.
It has also been criticized in reports by international human rights organizations of using brutal interrogation tactics against its prisoners, though the same could certainly be said of the C.I.A. in the period of 2002 to 2004. The annual human rights report of the State Department in 2007 said “there were persistent reports that security forces, including intelligence services, tortured and abused persons.”
The head of the Pakistani military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a recent briefing that it was doubtful that a centralized government would work in post-conflict Afghanistan, making it more important for Pakistan to continue to influence the Taliban in the years to come.
As a result there remains a belief among American intelligence officials that Pakistan will never completely abandon the Taliban, and officials both in Washington and Kabul admit that they are almost completely in the dark about Pakistan’s long-term strategy regarding the Taliban.
“We have a better level of cooperation,” said one top American official who met recently in Islamabad with General Kayani. “How far that goes, I can’t tell yet. We’ll know soon whether this is cooperation, or a stonewall and kind of rope a dope.”
Pir Zubair Shah contributed reporting."
Since its pre-emptive war of 1967, Israel had maintained an aura of "invincibility" and "legitimacy". The first got bitterly crushed in the Summer of 2006 and later in the 2008-9 aggression on Gaza (where Israel failed to neutralize the resistance). The crack in that aura began in 2000 when Israel was forced to withdraw from South Lebanon. As for legitimacy, for Israel it matters most of all in the US. Israel however paid a high price for its inhumane massacres in Lebanon and Gaza especially because it failed to achieve a clear and tangible victory in these military campaigns (the "birth pangs" of Condi Rice did not yield the desired outcomes which could have been used as justification for Israeli atrocities.) Especially during the Gaza massacre, Israel's image was severely damaged by graphic images and information that got disseminated over internet and through hundreds of protest gatherings in North America and Europe. Israel still had a tighter control on information flow in the corporate media. Now Israel feels further threatened by the potential popularity of a BDS movement. Due to all of these developments, the entity of Israel is in a deep crisis right now, struggling to survive with whatever means it can, and it may resort to unrealistic steps, including another military warfare. However, what's becoming clearer with every passing day is that it probably won't take too long before this racist entity is finally dismantled like the Apartheid South Africa.
Israel's new strategy: "sabotage" and "attack" the global justice movement
Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 16 February 2010
An extraordinary series of articles, reports and presentations by Israel's influential Reut Institute has identified the global movement for justice, equality and peace as an "existential threat" to Israel and called on the Israeli government to direct substantial resources to "attack" and possibly engage in criminal "sabotage" of this movement in what Reut believes are its various international "hubs" in London, Madrid, Toronto, the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
The Reut Institute's analyses hold that Israel's traditional strategic doctrine -- which views threats to the state's existence in primarily military terms, to be met with a military response -- is badly out of date. Rather, what Israel faces today is a combined threat from a "Resistance Network" and a "Delegitimization Network."
The Resistance Network is comprised of political and armed groups such as Hamas and Hizballah who "rel[y] on military means to sabotage every move directed at affecting separation between Israel and the Palestinians or securing a two-state solution" ("The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall, Reut Institute, 14 February 2010).
Furthermore, the "Resistance Network" allegedly aims to cause Israel's political "implosion" -- a la South Africa, East Germany or the Soviet Union -- rather than bring about military defeat through direct confrontation on the battlefield.
The "Delegitimization Network" -- which Reut Institute president and former Israeli government advisor Gidi Grinstein provocatively claims is in an "unholy alliance" with the Resistance Network -- is made up of the broad, decentralized and informal movement of peace and justice, human rights, and BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activists all over the world. Its manifestations include protests against Israeli officials visiting universities, Israeli Apartheid Week, faith-based and trade union-based activism, and "lawfare" -- the use of universal jurisdiction to bring legal accountability for alleged Israeli war criminals. The Reut Institute even cited my speech to the student conference on BDS held at Hampshire College last November as a guide to how the "delegitimization" strategy supposedly works ("Eroding Israel's Legitimacy in the International Arena," Reut Institute, 28 January 2010).
The combined "attack" from "resisters" and "delegitimizers," Reut says, "possesses strategic significance, and may develop into a comprehensive existential threat within a few years." It further warns that a "harbinger of such a threat would be the collapse of the two-state solution as an agreed framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the coalescence behind a 'one-state solution' as a new alternative framework."
Reut does not recommend to the Israeli cabinet -- which recently held a special session to hear a presentation of the think tank's findings -- that Israel should actually change its behavior toward Palestinians and Lebanese. It misses the point that apartheid South Africa also once faced a global "delegitimization network" but that this has now completely disappeared. South Africa, however, still exists. Once the cause motivating the movement disappeared -- the rank injustice of formal apartheid -- people packed up their signs and their BDS campaigns and went home.
Instead, Reut recommends to the Israeli government an aggressive and possibly criminal counter-offensive. A powerpoint presentation Grinstein made to the recent Herzliya Conference on Israeli national security actually calls on Israel's "intelligence agencies to focus" on the named and unnamed "hubs" of the "delegitimization network" and to engage in "attacking catalysts" of this network. In its "The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall" document, Reut recommends that "Israel should sabotage network catalysts."
The use of the word "sabotage" is particularly striking and should draw the attention of governments, law enforcement agencies and university officials concerned about the safety and welfare of their students and citizens. The only definition of "sabotage" in United States law deems it to be an act of war on a par with treason, when carried out against the United States. In addition, in common usage, the American Heritage Dictionary defines sabotage as "Treacherous action to defeat or hinder a cause or an endeavor; deliberate subversion." It is difficult to think of a legitimate use of this term in a political or advocacy context.
At the very least, Reut seems to be calling for Israel's spy agencies to engage in covert activity to interfere with the exercise of legal free speech, association and advocacy rights in the United States, Canada and European Union countries, and possibly to cause harm to individuals and organizations. These warnings of Israel's possible intent -- especially in light of its long history of criminal activity on foreign soil -- should not be taken lightly.
Behind Brand Israel: Israel's recent propaganda efforts
Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, 23 February 2010
Delegitimizing the delegitimizers
There is also an "offensive" element to Israel's strategy, one that is currently less developed than Brand Israel tactics, yet likely to come increasingly to the fore. In a 14 December 2009 Jerusalem Post article, Shimon Samuels, the director of international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, suggested that "propagators of deliberate slurs targeting Israel and, by association, world Jewry, must realize that they may incur a price." He urged that "a consortium of the best Jewish and pro-Israel legal brains should be on call," and ready, among other things, "to use the courts in ad hominem defamation."
A key strategy discussed at the Herzilya conference and the MFA's Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism is "delegitimizing the delegitimizers." In addition, the "soft warfare" working paper presented at Herzliya included the recommendation that "research to identify all the key players that initiate and generate hate (as compared to those that disseminate it), with a breakdown by country, religion and ethnicity, in order to analyze their motivations and objectives, estimate the threat and consider possible ways of handling each" ("Delegitimization of Israel: 'Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions'" (Word document)). One of the purposes of this kind of "systematic, ongoing research, of all anti-Israeli publications, including media analyses, reports, boycotts and on campus activities" is to facilitate the "identification and exposure of and levying pressure on the sponsors of the inciters." The paper also endorsed legal action "by the Israeli government and by independent entities in Israel and abroad, against media networks, publications, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and individuals that make defamatory reports."
This aggressive dimension was also included in the Global Forum's BDS Working Group document, which included in its vision for a five year plan the proposals to "name and shame" nongovernmental organizations, and meeting "lawfare" with "lawfare." (In that regard, see "The Lawfare Project" and its upcoming conference in March, where neocon and right-wing Zionist lobbyists, academics, and diplomats, will discuss how to shield Israel from the "abuse" of human rights law: http://www.thelawfareproject.org/about/program.) There is also the idea to form "groups of Jewish/pro-Israel professionals within various national and international professional association/organizations/unions," in order to pass "anti-discrimination bylaws within the organization that are general in nature, and that do not mention Israel per se, but rather oppose discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality, etc."
Students on campus
Unsurprisingly, given the increasing strength of the Palestine solidarity movement amongst students, campuses are a target of the anti-BDS battle plan. One element of this is the role played by Zionist "ambassadors" like the Jewish Agency's emissaries (or "shlichim") scheme. In a 16 December 2009 Jerusalem Post article, Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, expressed his desire to increase "the number of young Israelis sent to communities in the US and especially the more than 100 shlichim based at universities there." He also raised the possibility of the likes of Irwin Cotler and US lawyer and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz "teaching the shlichim before they go [to the US]."
The Herzilya "soft warfare" paper also discussed university campuses (and schools) as the subject of a suggested "proactive public relations" drive. It added that "such public relations should cover both the subject of Israel and its history, and the subject of radical Islam and the dangers it unfolds." Yet as has been evident for a while now, the anti-BDS push on campus is just as -- if not more -- likely to emphasize "dialogue" and "narrative-sharing," as opposed to openly pushing an "Israel first" line. In other words, instead of far-right former-MK Effie Eitam we'll have the dovish pro-Israel advocacy group J Street "Invest, Don't Divest" campus programming and two-state solution-peddling One Voice tours.
The reported response of campus Zionists in Canada to Israeli Apartheid Week is instructive and encouraging. Apart from promoting Israel's "global renown in science, medicine, technology, business, humanitarian aid" and culture, public talks are being scheduled ("Students get ready to counter 'apartheid lie,'" The Canadian Jewish News, 18 February 2010). There are apparently talks scheduled in Toronto by a Sudanese human rights activist, Arab reporter Khaled Abu Toameh of the The Jerusalem Post, and a self-proclaimed "ex-terrorist" whose mission is to "wake up the body of Christ" to the danger of "radical Islam" ("Students get ready to counter 'apartheid lie.'"
It is also worth noting the Global Forum's BDS Working Group's recommendation that "more money needs to be spent on the programs that already exist in countries like Canada to send non-Jewish student leaders (members of student government, campus organizations, campus newspapers etc.) to Israel to learn the facts on the ground."
A call for coordination
A common theme in the recently intensified discussion by the Zionist lobby is the perceived need for improved, and centralized, organization and coordination. The Reut Institute's "Delegitimization Challenge" report pointed to the imperative of reorganizing "the foreign policy establishment" in Israel, including "comprehensive reform within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
The "soft warfare" paper urged the creation of "a state-led, integrated capability," reflecting what they described as a "broad consensus that a sufficiently-funded government agency is required in order to manage the battle against hate incitement." The two specific options put forward were "a special unit under Israel's National Security Council" to run a public relations strategy in association with "pro-Israeli organizations and activists abroad," or "an entity within the Israeli intelligence community, which would collect, analyze and distribute information, and initiate 'operations' in areas relevant to Israel's public relations campaign." This latter "entity" could cooperate with groups like Middle East Media Research Initiative (MEMRI), as well as "direct the intelligence agencies to thwart anti-Israeli propaganda efforts."
The Global Forum's anti-BDS group talked of the "Jewish community" needing "a war room" that would be "tracking this movement, sharing best practices, coaching communities." It mentioned that "in North America, the Federation system is talking about launching a coordinating body to fight BDS." One of the group's co-chairmen, McGill professor Gil Troy, commented on his blog on The Jerusalem Post's website earlier this month that there was a new initiative "rumored to be in the works in North America and Israel to help galvanize and centralize pro-Israel sentiment."
For all those involved in some capacity in the international campaign for justice in Palestine/Israel, and the growing BDS movement, these state-backed efforts can appear rather daunting. The Israeli government and its allies in lobby groups are not short of powerful contacts and money, and there is now a concerted effort to think "strategically." However, for all the research, conferences and working papers, there is a comical ignorance shaping these responses. A great example of this is can be found in the Global Forum's BDS paper, which includes the idea to "circulate information on Muslims acting contrary to Islam." This is on the basis that "if the people of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia knew their 'pious' leaders were really alcoholics, gamblers and perverts, they might hasten regime change." As if the people in the Middle East are not fully aware of the corruption of their autocrats and dictators -- many of whom, of course, enjoy US and Israeli support for their antidemocratic "moderation."
Moreover, all of this strategizing and energy is needed in order to avoid the manifestly unimaginable truth -- that Israel is increasingly unable to maintain a regime of ethno-religious exclusion, apartheid separation and colonial violence without paying a price. Its supporters are also unable to see that it will prove to be unsustainable.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
If, like the second story suggests, Jundallah's Rigi was indeed connected to the mainstream Baloch nationalist movement, then it is highly unlikely that the Pakistani security agencies would have nurtured and supported him. And, if they allowed him (and Judallah) to operate inside Pakistan, perhaps it was under pressure from the US. Washington, to my knowledge, also never demanded that Pakistan ban Jundullah - like Washington has in the case of Jamaat ud-Dawa and others - just for its symbolic value, if nothing more. But this theory still needs to explain Jundallah's connections with local militant-sectarian groups like Lashkar-e Jhangvi and SSP, when the latter two are known to receive continuous support and protection from the security agencies. I guess we may find some clues if we investigate the nationalist credentials of Jundallah, in the ideology that they propagate, the nature of their funding and support, and their activities so far. In case they are really not that connected to the mainstream Baloch nationalist insurgency, I think it's likely that both the foreign powers (including KSA) and the security establishment saw a utility in letting this group prosper.
Why then the establishment cooperated with Iran this time? That's a very important question and may perhaps be answered, in one way, through the resistance that the security establishment is trying to pose, at least so far, against the US pressures (as suggested by some analysts commenting on the mysterious and repeated arrest and release of Americans on the Pakistani soil and the recent calculated suicide attack that killed 3 American personnel in Dir, Pakistan). One also needs to take into consideration the continuous, intense pressure from Iran as the second report indicates.
Has the establishment surrendered to US pressures, yet? Some may argue that it has, and there is a recent policy shift indicating just that. I believe that in quite significant ways, yes, but not totally.
Pakistani militant group easily evades ban
By Asif Shahzad and Chris Brummitt, The Associated Press, February 23, 2010
Source (Alternative source)
LAHORE, Pakistan -- Long-haired jihadis toting automatic weapons patrolled a mosque last week as the cleric who heads the militant network blamed for the Mumbai attacks preached inside. The group's supporters collected funds in the courtyard and later marched through this eastern Pakistani city, calling for the death of those who insult Islam.
Pakistan announced a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa - sealing the group's offices, freezing assets and rounding up leaders - amid international outrage after the 2008 siege of the Indian financial capital. But the group has scored a few wins in court against the government and is up and running again, exposing Islamabad's unwillingness to fully crack down on militants who target India, its longtime enemy.
The resurgence of the group could chill the first round of peace talks between Pakistan and India since the attacks.
India is insisting the negotiations Thursday focus on Pakistan's efforts to rein in groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa; Pakistan wants all issues, including the disputed territory of Kashmir, to be on the table.
The United States has urged the two nuclear-armed nations to resume dialogue despite Indian concerns about the Pakistan's crackdown on militants. Both nations mobilized troops to their shared border as tensions spiked following Mumbai. Another major attack by Pakistani militants on Indian soil would put New Delhi under intense domestic pressure to mount a military response.
India, the United States and the United Nations allege Jamaat is the front group for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which they charge carried out the attacks in December 2008 that killed 166 people in Mumbai. Seven militants identified as members of Lashkar by prosecutors are currently on trial in Pakistan charged with planning and carrying out the attacks. The sole surviving alleged gunman in the attacks, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani with links to Lashkar, is on trial in India.
Lashkar was founded in the 1980s by Hafiz Saeed with the assistance of Pakistan's security agencies to wage war against India in the hopes of wresting the Indian portion of Kashmir away from New Delhi. The group claimed responsibility for numerous attacks there, but the government banned it in 2002 following pressure from the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Saeed is now the leader of Jamaat, which claims to be focused only on charity work. It runs a large network of Islamic schools and clinics, and participates in disaster relief.
Members of Jamaat say there is no link between it and Lashkar. But even Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is the law minister in Punjab, said the two are simply different wings of the same group.
After the Mumbai siege, Saeed, a 60-year-old former Islamic studies lecturer, was placed under house arrest but was freed in June last year by the Lahore High Court, which said there was no evidence he was involved in any wrongdoing. In October, a court ruled there was no case against Saeed and found that the government had never formally prohibited Jamaat. The government has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Even before the court ruling, however, critics said Pakistan was not aggressively enforcing the ban.
Saeed has exploited the legal limbo and openly challenges the government's attempts to tamp down his group.
On the government's Kashmir Solidarity Day earlier this month, Saeed addressed supporters in Lahore who waved Lashkar flags and shouted "Here comes Lashkar to kill the Hindus."
"If America with the help of NATO and all its weapons could not maintain its occupation in Afghanistan, India too will not be able to hold on to Kashmir anymore," Saeed told the crowd.
Frustration at the impunity groups like Jamaat seem to enjoy angers some lawmakers.
"It is shocking to see how banned terrorist organizations are allowed to challenge the writ of the state," Sherry Rehman, a lawmaker with the ruling party, told parliament on Tuesday. "What is the point of our innocent civilians and soldiers dying in a borderless war against such terrorists, when armed, banned outfits can hold the whole nation hostage in the heart of Punjab's provincial capital?"
Security and government officials in Lahore offered several reasons for the lack of action against Saeed and his group. They said India had presented no evidence of his involvement in the Mumbai attacks; stressed he was not involved in any of the attacks by Islamist militants that have struck Pakistan over the last year, several of them in Lahore; and they said that closing the group's schools would deprive thousands of an education and health care.
But analysts said Pakistan had strategic reasons for not acting against Jamaat.
"Pakistan is keeping these groups as a gray area of its policy, and it will continue doing so long as there are no guaranteed steps from India," defense analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said, referring to moves to resolve the Kashmir dispute. "Pakistan does not see these groups as completely undesirable if there is no progress on its issues."
India has demanded Saeed be put on trial for the Mumbai attacks.
A government-appointed administrator is now in charge at the group's headquarters in Muridke, just outside Lahore. Spread over 75 acres, it has schools and a hospital that provide free services for nearby residents, stabling for horses and a swimming pool.
But the staff there are still from Jamaat, though Minister Khan said they are "not very devoted" members.
A spokesman for Jamaat scoffs at the idea that the government has frozen its assets, as Islamabad said it had done when the ban was announced.
"How can someone who doesn't contribute any money control the purse strings?" said Yahya Mujahid.
The guards posted outside the mosque on Friday were to protect against possible attack by Indian agents, said Mujahid.
A man collecting donations defended the right for the group to do so. "Do you see any harm? Is it wrong?" he asked. "These funds are for welfare in the name of Allah."
In other parts of the country, there has been some enforcement of the ban.
In Karachi, the country's largest city but never a stronghold of the group, it was evicted from its old offices in a residential block where a family now lives. Members say it is no longer allowed to hold large rallies and have had to close down three health clinics due to lack of funds.
Associated Press reporters Babar Dogar in Lahore and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.
Rigi’s arrest a godsend for Pakistan
By Baqir Sajjad Syed, Dawn, Feb 24, 2010
ISLAMABAD: Arrest of Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi and his deputy Hamza during a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan marks a lucky break for Pakistan, which has been long accused by Iran of hosting the terror group’s ringleader, and offers an opportunity to ease the tense relations between Tehran and Islamabad.
Iran, despite repeated denials by Islamabad, always alleged that the group operated from Pakistan’s soil and that its leader Rigi was based there and carried Pakistan’s national identity card by the name of Saeed Ahmed, son of Ghulam Haider.
The militant leader had been educated at Karachi’s Binnori Town seminary, which was school to many of the Taliban leaders.
Rigi is believed to have camouflaged his nationalist movement in a sectarian colour to curry favour with Pakistani sectarian groups.
Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who visited Pakistan in October following an attack on elite Revolutionary Guards in south-western Sistan-Balochistan province along Pakistan’s border, is said to have handed over proofs of Rigi’s travel to Pakistan.
“We have documents that show (Abdolmalek) Rigi travels readily to Pakistan ... we are here to ask Pakistan to hand over Rigi to Iran,” Mr Najjar had said in a statement.
Although, the attack on Revolutionary Guard incensed the Iranians and evoked the strongest reaction, bilateral relations between the two countries had been on the slide ever since the group was formed in 2002 stepped up cross-border raids out of their havens along Pakistan-Iran border targeting Iranian security personnel and civilians.
The Zahedan attack in 2007 on Revolutionary Guards was followed by emboldened attacks by the outlawed organisation, but unfortunately some of the operations that ensued involved the use of Pakistan’s soil, including the abduction of 21 Iranian drivers in 2007 from Chabahar, who were later freed by Pakistani forces.
It is also believed that the group brought 16 Iranian policemen kidnapped from southeastern Iran to Pakistan and killed them.
In view of enhanced Iranian concerns, Pakistan had offered Tehran with increased intelligence sharing and intensified border patrolling.
Pakistan had been insisting that Rigi was not in Pakistan and Jundallah operated in ‘triangle region’ between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran making it harder to act against the group.
The 1,000 km stretch between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan is a rough terrain making patrolling extremely difficult.
Extradition of Abdolmalek Rigi’s brother Abdolhamid Rigi by Pakistani authorities to Iran in June 2008 was the highlight of cooperation between the two countries on the contentious issue of Jundallah.
National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, during her recent trip to Tehran, had disclosed at a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki that a number of Jundallah militants were arrested in Pakistan and extradited to Iran.
Iran had always alleged that Jundallah was financed by the US government to destabilise their country.
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in another report in July 2008 that US Congressional leaders had secretly agreed to former president Bush’s $400 million funding request, which gave the US a free hand in arming and funding Iranian terrorist groups such as Jundallah militants.
Asia Times Online reports that, "The circumstances surrounding Rigi's arrest are unclear. Iranian officials claim he was flying in a small plane from Pakistan to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when Iranian authorities forced the plane to land in Iran. Baloch tribes in the Taftan area of Balochistan in Pakistan say Rigi was arrested inside Pakistan and then handed over to the Iranians. All that Iranian state television showed was a handcuffed Rigi being escorted by four masked commandos off a small aircraft."
Monday, February 22, 2010
By Ian Deitch, Canadian Press, Feb 21, 2010
JERUSALEM — Israel is adding two key West Bank holy shrines to its list of national heritage sites, the prime minister said Sunday, staking a claim that angered Palestinians, who want Israel out of the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing a session of his Cabinet at a heritage site in the Israeli Galilee, said the two sites were late additions to the list, reflecting pressure from settlers and other nationalists to widen the heritage category to include Old Testament sites in the West Bank.
One of the sites, in the city of Hebron, has been a flashpoint for decades. Jews call it the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Bible says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives.
Muslims call it the al-Ibrahimi mosque, reflecting the fact that Abraham is considered the father of both Judaism and Islam.
Hebron is a focus of violence because it is the only place in the West Bank where Jews live among Palestinians. About 500 Israeli settlers, some of them extremists, live in enclaves near the disputed holy site, guarded by Israeli soldiers who control part of the city where about 170,000 Palestinians live.
The other new heritage site is the traditional tomb of the biblical Rachel on the outskirts of Bethlehem, about 12 miles (20 kilometres) north of Hebron. Israel's West Bank separation barrier juts into Bethlehem to put the site under Israeli control. The 30-foot (8-meter) high concrete wall is a constant irritant to Palestinians there, who reject Israel's claims that the barrier is meant to keep out attackers and consider it a land grab.
Altogether, about 150 sites are on the national heritage list. Netanyahu convened his Cabinet at Tel Hai, location of a legendary 1920 battle between early Jewish settlers and Arab attackers.
The prime minister, who angered settlers by agreeing under U.S. pressure to slow settlement construction, said the two West Bank sites must be preserved because they show Israel's ancient ties to the land.
"Our existence here doesn't just depend on the might of the military or our economic and technological strength," Netanyahu said. "It is anchored first and foremost in our national and emotional legacy."
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib condemned the decision and warned it could take the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a dangerous direction.
"We believe that this particular violation is very dangerous because it might add to the religious nature of the conflict," Khatib said. Palestinians claim the West Bank as part of their future state.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the list was not meant to draw borders. "The purpose of the list ... is to single out sites that are of great importance to the Jewish people," he said.
Israeli settlers and their backers, who oppose giving up control of any of the West Bank, were pleased with the move and said they would press for additional biblical sites to be added to the list.
Arieh Eldad, a lawmaker from the hardline National Union party, toured the Hebron site Sunday.
"There is no Israeli heritage without the Bible, there is no Zionism without the Bible," Eldad told Israel Radio. "This is the real birthplace of the Jewish people, here it all began."
Also in the West Bank, about 50 Jewish settlers stormed into the town of Jericho in the Jordan River valley late Sunday, the Israeli military said. Media reports said the settlers planned to barricade themselves inside an ancient synagogue. The military said Israeli soldiers were being sent to the area, though it is under Palestinian control.
Additional reporting by Associated Press writer Ben Hubbard in Ramallah, West Bank.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
On the Hypocritical and Agenda-Driven Western Media Coverage of the Iranian Presidential Election of 2009
Chutzpah, Inc.: "The Brave People of Iran" (versus the Disappeared People of Palestine, Honduras, Afghanistan, Etc.)
by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, MRzine, Feb 20, 2010
"It is almost a commonplace, at least for the real -- as opposed to the cruise-missile -- left, that the flow of information, opinion, and moral indignation in the United States adapts well to the demands of state policy. If the state is hostile to Iran, even openly trying to engage in "regime change," and if it is supportive of the state of Israel, no matter what crimes Israel may commit, and if it doesn't like the populist president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and supports his overthrow and a follow-up "demonstration election" by the local elite, the media and many intellectuals will follow the state agenda, even if they must indulge in mental somersaults. In the case of Iran, the Israeli state and its U.S. supporters are also eager for regime change, so the somersaults on the Iran menace are wilder yet, with large injections of chutzpah.
This chutzpah is in full bloom in a full-page ad in the February 7 New York Times and February 9 International Herald Tribune addressed to Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, Dimitry Medvedev, Gordon Brown, and Angela Merkel: "How Long Can We Stand Idly By and Watch the Scandal in Iran Unfold?"1 The ad was sponsored by "The Elie Wiesel Foundation For Humanity," and signed by 44 Nobel Prize laureates, 42 of them men and a substantial fraction Jewish. The ad attacks Iran's "cruel and oppressive regime" for its "shameless war against its own people" and its "irresponsible and senseless nuclear ambitions [that] threaten the entire world," and calls upon Washington, Paris, Moscow, London, and Berlin, the UN Security Council, and "important NGOs" to impose "harsher sanctions" on Iran, and adopt "concrete measures . . . to protect this new nation of dissidents. . . ." "They must know that we are on their side," the ad implores. "All of us who care must offer our full support and solidarity to the brave people of Iran."This open letter is a shameless and demagogic call for foreign intervention in Iran, for destabilization and subversion, and, above all, for war -- although three of the signers (including Wiesel) are past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize2 -- and the text could have been written by the Foreign Office of the state of Israel. Indeed, Wiesel himself is an unabashed protagonist for Israel, having long proclaimed his unwillingness to make a public criticism of that country ("I never attack, never criticize Israel when I am not in Israel"3), so that we can rest assured that his "Foundation for Humanity" will never proclaim its solidarity with any humans living under the Israeli boot. The Wiesel Foundation did not sponsor a full-page ad in the New York Times to protest Israel's shameless and criminal onslaught against the Gaza Palestinians in early 2009, which in just three weeks killed some 340 children, a greater number than the aggregate of protester deaths in post-election Iran.4 Nor will it sponsor an ad that criticizes the irresponsible buildup of nuclear weapons that Israel has accomplished outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that pose a much clearer threat to the world than that posed by the still nuclear-weapon-free Iran, which is under steady threat of attack by Israel and by a U.S. leadership that says "all options" remain on the table...."
"The late June 2009 Chatham House analysis, which cast doubts on Iran's official election result and thus helped to delegitimize the Iranian government in the eyes of the great Western metropolitan centers, was quoted frequently in the Western media, and its authors were sometimes used as expert sources. But the original September 2009 survey of Iranian opinion by PIPA-WPO was virtually ignored by the Western media; and PIPA's subsequent analysis of no fewer than 12 different opinion surveys, released on February 3, remained unreported anywhere in the establishment media through February 17.25 We believe that this differential treatment follows from the now well-established party-line in the West that has demonized Iran's leaders and that processes and manages news-interest and news-flow accordingly. The Western media and intellectuals gravitated to Chatham House's analysis while ignoring PIPA's for the simple reason that Chatham House (like so many other commentators) served up the requisite damning view of the official result -- and PIPA did not. Hence, the newsworthiness of the "stolen election" line, and the lack of attention paid to serious empirical challenges to it."
"By now, the standard claims about Iran's "stolen election" have been repeated so many times by the establishment Western media, as well as by those on the left who took the bait, that almost everybody is hooked on it and unable to wiggle free. 29 Undoubtedly, many foreign activists sincerely believe that they are supporting democracy inside Iran, and large numbers of Iranian dissidents truly are struggling for a more open and decent society and political order. But if Iran's 2009 official election result is valid, and if there is strong majority support among Iran's citizens for the structure and general character of its Islamic Republic,30 then these foreign activists, including the collection of Nobel laureates gathered around Wiesel, and those on the left who like to invoke "solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement," clearly are not aligned with majority opinion inside Iran. We are not quite sure what to call this toxic mix of opposing the majority will of a foreign country's citizens and doing so in the name of "democracy," while feeding into the regime-change program of the United States and Israel. But strong currents of Orientalism as well as imperialism are clearly running through it.
The huge attention given to Iran's 2009 election and its aftermath,31 and the indignation vented over its "stolen" character, can only be explained by the convergence between this focus and the long-term U.S.-Israeli hostility towards Iran -- their demonization of the leaders of the Islamic Republic, and their steady efforts to destabilize Iran and force it to change in a manner to their liking. It is also of interest that less democratic elections in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the August and October 2009 "demonstration elections" in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, and even the coup in Honduras in late June and the subsequent terror-laced "demonstration election" there in late November were treated in the West with nowhere near the same level of attention or indignation. The focus on Iran is thus a remarkable case of channeled benevolence, but one that, from the standpoint of genuine peace and democracy-promotion objectives, we believe to be seriously mis-channeled."
Robert Fisk: Britain's explanation is riddled with inconsistencies. It's time to come clean
How could the Arabs pick up on a Mossad killing, if that is what it was? Well, we shall see
February 18, 2010, The Independent
Collusion. That's what it's all about. The United Arab Emirates suspect - only suspect, mark you - that Europe's "security collaboration" with Israel has crossed a line into illegality, where British passports (and those of other other EU nations) can now be used to send Israeli agents into the Gulf to kill Israel's enemies. At 3.49pm yesterday afternoon (Beirut time, 1.49pm in London), my Lebanese phone rang. It was a source - impeccable, I know him, he spoke with the authority I know he has in Abu Dhabi - to say that "the British passports are real. They are hologram pictures with the biometric stamp. They are not forged or fake. The names were really there. If you can fake a hologram or biometric stamp, what does this mean?"
The voice - I know the man and his origins well - wants to talk. "There are 18 people involved in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Besides the 11 already named, there are two Palestinians who are being interrogated and five others, including a woman. She was part of the team that staked out the hotel lobby." Two hours later, an SMS arrives on my Beirut phone from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is the same source.
"ONE MORE THING," it says in capital letters, then continues in lower case. "The command room of the operation was in Austria (sic, in fact, all things are "sic" in this report)... meaning the suspects when here did not talk to each other but thru the command room on separate lines to avoid detection or linking themselves to one another... but it was detected and identified OK??" OK? I ask myself.
My source is both angry and insistent. "We have sent out details of the 11 named people to Interpol. Interpol has circulated them to 188 countries - but why hasn't Britain warned foreign nations that these people are using passports in these names?" There was more to come.
"We have identified five credit cards belonging to these people, all issued in the United States." The man will not give the EU nationalities of the extra five - this would make two women involved in Mr Mabhouh's murder. He said that EU countries were cooperating with the UAE, including the UK. But "not one of the countries we have been speaking to has notified Interpol of the passports used in their name. Why not?"
Video: UK demands Israel answers
The source insisted that one of the names on a passport - the name of a man who denies any knowledge of its use - has travelled on it in Asia (probably Indonesia) and EU countries over the past year. The Emirates have proof that an American entered their country in June 2006 on a British passport issued in the name of a UK citizen who was already in prison in the Emirates. The Emirates claim that the passport of an Israeli agent sent to kill a Hamas leader in Jordan was a genuine Canadian passport issued to a dual national of Israel.
Intelligence agencies - who in the view of this correspondent are often very unintelligent - have long used false passports. Oliver North and Robert McFarlane travelled to Iran to seek the release of US hostages in Lebanon on passports that were previously stolen from the Irish embassy in Athens. But the Emirates' new information may make some European governments draw in their breath - and they had better have good replies to the questions. Intelligence services - Arab, Israeli, European or American - often adopt an arrogant attitude towards those from whom they wish to hide. How could the Arabs pick up on a Mossad killing, if that is what it was? Well, we shall see.
Collusion is a word the Arabs understand. It speaks of the 1956 Suez War, when Britain and France cooperated with Israel to invade Egypt. Both London and Paris denied the plot. They were lying. But for an Arab Gulf country which suspects its former masters (the UK, by name) may have connived in the murder of a visiting Hamas official, this is apparently now too much. There is much more to come out of this story. We will wait to see if there are any replies in Europe.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Tens of thousands of Palestinian books destroyed after Israel's establishment, Ben-Gurion University researcher says
Ynet, January 28, 2010.
Israel plundered and destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian books in the years after the State's establishment, according to a doctoral thesis to be submitted next month by a Ben-Gurion University researcher.
In an interview with the researcher published on al-Jazeera's website Thursday, he claimed that Israel destroyed the Palestinian books in the framework of its plan to "Judaize the country" and cut off its Arab residents from their nation and culture.
According to the doctoral dissertation, Israeli authorities collected tens of thousands of Arab books in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Safed, and other towns that were home to Arabs. Israeli officials proceeded to hand out about half the books, while destroying the second half, characterizing them as a "security threat," the researcher said.
In his al-Jazeera interview, the researcher claimed that, based on Israeli archives, IDF troops plundered the books from the homes of Palestinians expelled during the "Nakba" and handed them over to authorities. The State proceeded to establish a library in Jaffa and other towns for the books, he said.
The researcher told al-Jazeera that according to documents he possesses, Israel destroyed 27,000 books in 1958, claiming that they were useless and threatened the State. Authorities sold the books, most of them textbooks, to a paper plant, he said.
"This was a cultural massacre undertaken in a manner that was worse than European colonialism, which safeguarded the items it stole in libraries and museums," the researcher charged.
He added that some books were sold at discounted prices to Arab schools, while the others were transferred to the Hebrew University's library in Jerusalem.
The researcher estimated that about 6,000 Palestinian books are currently available at the National Library at Hebrew University. However, he claimed that many other books in Arabic, English, and French were not recorded, charging that most of them are being held in the library's warehouses and cannot be accessed.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
The government is of course implicated in these blasts. First, because the government is supposed to protect its citizens and their religious and civil rights. Unfortunately, some government officials once again want to blame their security failures on the public nature of the Muharram commemorations. They fail to recognize that be it indoor or outdoor location – government buildings, mosques, or schools – they have failed to stop terrorists from carrying out their attacks in the last couple of years. They also fail to recognize that Imambargah Ali Raza, Masjid-e Haideri, Mehfil-e Murtaza, and a number of other religious places that were hit by terrorists in the past few years were all indoor locations.
But, the failure to take adequate security measures is not the only reason that the government is implicated in this tragedy. For years, the power-holders and policy makers in this country have nurtured and manipulated the extremist-militant elements, within and outside of Pakistan, in the name of security, ‘strategic depth’, and ‘Jihad’. During the Cold War, these extremist groups openly received funding, training, and, quite often, their agenda through middlemen or directly from America and Saudi Arabia. Both of these powers were interested in curbing the influence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and containing the Soviet advancements. The ‘establishment’ also saw it in its interest to support this agenda. From the 1980s onward, the security agencies allowed, and even endorsed, these extremist elements to spread hatred and violence against all others that did not confirm to their twisted ‘Jihadist’ ideology and politics – Shia and Sunni alike.
However, more recently, when this policy backfired and the country suffered the blowback with waves of suicide attacks and bomb blasts, the establishment took recourse in propagating a distinction between “Good Taliban” and “Bad Taliban”. Good Taliban are those who still follow their dictate; the Bad Taliban are those who have become independent or who now take their dictates and funding directly from other powers, within or outside of the country. While the Musharraf regime claimed to fight the war on terror, it continued to support the “Good Taliban” over the last decade with the money received in military aid from the US. The perpetual ‘India threat’ paranoia of the establishment as well as their desire for “strategic depth” was also at work. The establishment also feared that once the NATO forces would leave Afghanistan, Pakistan would be left with a hostile neighbor. (The “strategic depth” policy was recently reiterated by General Ashfaq Kayani, albeit in a modified version). What the establishment has not realized yet is that there are no good or bad Taliban – neither is good for the future of Pakistan or Afghanistan. Furthermore, America is not leaving Afghanistan in any near future. The “Af-Pak” is the new geographical category in the neo-imperial planning, with assigned roles given to both countries.
The establishment needs to stop using the “Good” Taliban and similar extremist-militant groups within and outside Pakistan as tools for its strategic objectives. This policy has demonized Islam and ideologically polarized the Pakistani society. Furthermore, the establishment needs to stop playing as mercenaries in the neo-imperial American plans for the region, under pressure and/or for military assistance. The American presence in the region, and its continuous bombardment and killing in the last few years, has only fueled more extremism and violence. Pakistan did not have any suicide bombers in 1998, and now it exports them! More violence gives the US more reasons to stay in this region to keep a check on Iran, Russia, and China. The so called “war on terror” has actually allowed Washington to expand its neo-imperial ambitions. Furthermore, for years now, America, Israel, and India have continuously conspired to undermine and neutralize Pakistan's nuclear capabilities. It is clear that Pakistani interests and those of the foreign powers are diametrically opposed to each other, and it makes no sense for the establishment to continue following the line given to it by Washington.
The civilian government is similarly implicated. The conditions under which the deal between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was brokered by the Bush Administration are still unclear. The NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) was certainly one manifestation of that deal. Now it is an open secret that the establishment and the civilian governments are at odds with each other. First, over consolidation of one's power over the other. Next, over the agenda given to the civilian government by Washington. That tussle was clearly reflected in the civilian government’s failed attempt to bring the ISI under its control in July 2008. This tussle is a major reason for the ongoing instability in Pakistan.
Furthermore, the civilian government shares the responsibility of the tragedy because it showed no serious interest in tracing the hands behind the Ashura blast. No independent inquiry commission was set up. Rather, the government seemed more concerned about maintaining its political alliances and holding on to power. Otherwise, there was clear evidence about the systematic nature of the Ashura attack and the violence in the aftermath, and if examined carefully, the evidence would have unmasked many faces. However, the multiple hands that could have been exposed in the investigation are once again being covered up by throwing the labels of "suicide bombing" and "Talibanization" in public discourse. These labels serve as both description and explanation of violence: Call it "mindless fanaticism" and then there is no need to dig deeper for the hidden hands or bigger game plans. If the government is really sincere, then it should set up an independent inquiry commission to investigate both the apparent and hidden perpetrators and bring them to justice.
For specifics of the Ashura blast and the list of questions it raised, see "Six Talking Points about the Ashura Blast in Karachi." See a brief report of the Chehlum (or Arbaeen) blasts here.
"There were clear reports in the media that the Arbaeen (also called, Chehlum) procession in Karachi would be targeted by terrorists once again, following the deadly attack on the last Ashura. No real guarantees that anyone participating in the commemorations would return home safely. But that did not stop the mourners from joining. It was estimated that the turn out was at least three times higher than usual – much more than what was on the day of the last Ashura. A good number of mourners came wearing symbolic white shrouds. Some shrouds had written on them Azadari Ya Shahadat (Commemoration or Martyrdom!), others had Shahadat Sa'adat (Martyrdom is Success). Even after reports of the two blasts that came one after another within the span of just two hours in the afternoon, the mourners – men, women, children, elderly – continued their march, unceasingly chanting, Labbaik Ya Hussain, Labbaik Ya Hussain.
The mourners clearly understood that the real target was Muharram processions. The enemies wanted to confine these processions to indoors. They wanted to reduce them to a spiritless ritual, so that these gatherings that inspire the world with the message of truth and resistance against injustice of any kind would not be effective any more. After the last Ashura blast, some well-intentioned but naïve people in the authorities also made similar suggestions of "limiting" or "confining" the processions in the name of security. But over years of being targeted by one or another form of violence, the Shias in Pakistan have understood very well the real goals of their enemies. The enemies want to impose a 'defeatist mentality' on them, that the Shias would be allowed to perform their religious practices as long as they remain invisible in the public sphere, and that they should not dare to interfere in determining the future of religion and politics in Pakistan or resist the neo-imperial plots in the region.
No single person or organization was controlling the miles-long Arbaeen procession on Friday. It had not been surprising for any other crowd to lose patience and break discipline upon hearing the news of the tragic blasts. That is perhaps what the terrorists would have wanted. But the self-discipline with which the mourners continued the procession spoke of their political maturity and fearless devotion as a nation. One was reminded of the political resilience and organized response of the Lebanese Shias during and after the 2006 Israeli war."
Muharram Blasts in Karachi: Why the Government is Implicated
Six Talking Points about the Ashura blast in Karachi
photo courtesy: online
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Dawn Editorial, Feb 02, 2010
A disturbingly familiar pattern of violence is once again emerging in Karachi, where over 15 people belonging to specific ethnic backgrounds have been killed since Friday. The latest round of violence began with the killing of an MQM activist, which led to greater bloodshed.
Political violence of this kind usually has a political explanation, and it appears that a turf war may have broken out now that the tentative date for the next local government elections has been announced. Lending credence to this theory are the areas in which the violence has broken out: neighbourhoods and townships such as Qasba and Orangi have pockets of Pakhtun populations and the ANP may be harbouring ambitions of electoral gains there — ambitions that are sure to be fiercely opposed by those who believe that these areas ‘belong’ to them.
Whatever the reasons for the violence, though, they are completely unacceptable. The city is being nudged towards ethnic strife. The parties that have clout in the restive areas must be bluntly told to control the violence. (Given the pattern of such violence — turned on and off like a faucet — it is inconceivable that the parties involved cannot stop it.) We understand there are other, historical reasons that are contributing to the violence: the fact that the city is armed to the teeth, the reality of a police force that is nakedly and thoroughly politicised, etc.
However, there is this fact, too: in certain areas inhabited by a specific ethnic group, no ‘outsider’ can even sit on a bus and pass through a ‘rival’ neighbourhood without being forced to disembark and questioned about his ‘unauthorised’ and ‘unwanted’ visit. So, whatever the grievances, whatever the rivalries, whatever the fears, the political parties must bluntly be told to take their hands off the trigger and in fact to exert their influence in a way that reduces, instead of exacerbates, ethnic tensions. Karachi is as much a tinder box for historical reasons as it is for the proclivity of its present masters to readily turn to violence, a proclivity that needs to be decisively curbed. We have said it before: there is something truly awful about the fact that Karachi is no safer from ethnic strife despite the fact that the three major parties in the city are all in government together. We did not expect democracy to be an immediate panacea. But neither did we expect a return to the bad old days so quickly.
Monday, February 1, 2010
First, this blast on December 28, 2009 that killed over 50 people should be seen as part of the ongoing wave of violence against Shia Muslims in different parts of the country, including D.I. Khan, Hangu, Peshawar, and Parachinar. Hundreds have lost their lives in these attacks. They also are linked to broader wave of violence and blasts that have been going on throughout the country for the last couple of years.
Second, it was nothing less than a systematic and careful plot. Many local and international players were probably involved. Just a few days ago, four Jundallah members were captured by Karachi police, which claimed that the members confessed their involvement in the three Muharram blasts in Karachi this year, including the Ashura blast. Jundallah is widely known for its connection to the US (see an acknowledgment in ABC News). Jundallah is also known for its connection to local extremist-militant groups in Pakistan.
However, one should also take the Police's claim with a grain of salt, given their silence on how exactly were these members involved, and given the way the Police works in Pakistan: It is not unimaginable for the Police that under the pressure of their superiors or public demanding justice and efficiency they would capture innocent people or petty criminals and charge them for a high-profile crime.
It is hard to tell the reality of those captured from outside. It won't be surprising if those captured were really not responsible for the blast. But that should not invalidate the general statement that various interests were probably behind this blast (which I argue further below). This also should not invalidate the fact that since the 'Afghan Jihad' many extremist-militant groups in Pakistan have more or less remained connected to and dependent on Pakistan's security agencies, and some of them directly to foreign actors (like in the case of Jundallah). Their involvement in “sectarian” violence in the past is no secret. Time and again, they have done their master's bidding. Jundallah, for example, claimed responsibility of the bomb blast in the Iran-Pakistan border area in October 2009 that killed more than 40 people including Iranian military officials and local tribal elders – Sunni and Shia both.
Third, consider also the systematic nature of arson and torching of shops and buildings in the particular vicinity (Bolton Market) by masked miscreants who were all dressed in black and came prepared with cutters and inflammable chemicals. All of this was captured by security cameras (see Urdu clip from Dunya News). It is hard to imagine that they could be the Azadars (participants of the Muharram processions) with those accessories ready who somehow knew beforehand that a blast would happen and they would have the opportunity to steal and torch those shops.
Consider also that the "reactionary violence" by "angry protesters" - as some news sources framed it - happened only in the Bolton Market. If the reactionary violence was indeed caused by irrational impulses of angry protesters, then the systematic arson and property destruction should have happened at multiple points in the miles long procession on the M. A. Jinnah road. The plotters surely screwed up this part in their planning.
The blast and its aftermath were clearly well-planned, perhaps coordinated among multiple groups whose diverse interests all converged into making it happen in Karachi.
Fourth, to frame these attacks as "sectarian" in the news misleads an uninitiated viewer into believing that this is a fight between the Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan. That is not true. For one, consider the background of people killed in the Ashura blast: according to one report 15 of the 50 killed were Sunnis, two Bohra Shias, and one Christian. Anyone familiar with the ground reality in Pakistan knows that Muharram processions are widely attended by Muslims from diverse sectarian background, and at some places, even non-Muslims also participate. Thus the processions are not an exclusive tradition of Shias, contrary to how it is framed in the international news media. They are for all those who want to commemorate the noble sacrifice of the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Imam Hussain. However, the reductive representation in the international news media further distorts the image of Sunni-Shia differences in the mind of general viewers: An attack on Muharram procession is automatically seen as an attack on "Shias by Sunnis" in news and analysis. Perhaps that was also the intention of the perpetrators of these attacks: to provoke sectarian differences and to distance Sunnis from Shias (and Muharram processions).
This is not a fight between Sunnis and Shias in Pakistan. The ongoing wave of terrorist attacks is aimed at not only Shias but also those Sunnis who are against extremism or who do not fit into the strategic equations of the bigger players in this game. Maulana Sarfraz Ahmed Naemi who was killed in a suicide attack on June 12, 2009 is a case in point. (For the role of the Taliban in Pakistan and how their various groups intentionally or unintentionally play into the hands of bigger players, see here).
Fifth, the Ashura blast should also be seen in relation to the "ethnic" clashes among different groups that are going on in Karachi for many months now. The clashes are partly about political control against the fear of a demographic shift (with the continuous influx of "migrants" from northern Pakistan (and interior Punjab) areas) and partly about land-grabbing interests. In the past, concerns were raised by different groups that a certain ethnic group may be targeted in the name of curbing "Talibanization" in Karachi. That, all it would require is a provocation - from whatever side it may come from and in whatever name it may be carried out (sectarian or otherwise) to spark clashes. In response, others contended that there was indeed a rise of extremist-militant activities in certain neighborhoods in Karachi and the "Talibanization" threat was real and imminent.
In one broader perspective, the purpose of planned violence all throughout the country is to pressurize the civilian government or the Army to give in to certain demands, and for that reason, Blackwater's role should also be considered in any investigation (See Blackwater in Pakistan: Loose End or Larger Strategy). Another perspective suggests that the volatile conditions may further weaken the central government and destroy its political alliances, paving the way for a sweeping political change.
Sixth, in the global context, one should also question the simultaneous escalation in "sectarian" violence in Iraq and Pakistan. Political analysts argue that instability in Pakistan, Iraq, and particularly Lebanon are key indicators of possibly a decisive move by the US or Israel against Iran and/or Palestinian resistance. Instability in the case of Pakistan and Iraq would lead to further chaos, so their populations would be kept busy in themselves. For Lebanon, it may be internal strife among different militia groups or an attempt to 'neutralize' the resistance movement so that it cannot respond to any major Israeli or US aggression against Palestine or Iran.
One should carefully follow the developments on the international scene, including the media's role in manufacturing consent for wars. In the last couple of days, front page headlines on the line that 'US arms gulf states against Iran attack' were seen on all major news sources in the US and UK (See, for example, NYTimes, WSJ, Telegraph). Recently, General David Petraeus, who heads the US Central Command overseeing US forces in the Middle East, Gulf, and Central Asia, has repeatedly made provocative statements about bombing Iran. However, this also could be just psyops to pressurize Iran. On a related note, on Jan 18, 2010, the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz reported that the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Lebanon that "Israel may be planning attack". A statement like this to come from Turkey is not very usual.
Within the context of these reports, the point here is to keep an eye out for political developments at the international level, as they will certainly have an impact on politics at the national and local levels in concerned countries.
Commenting on the Indian reaction to the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, the Pulitzer Prize winner author, Arundhati Roy wrote in her characteristic perceptive style (Guardian, Dec 12, 2008): "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."
Building on the same premise, the above talking points draw attention to the multitude of players (rather than simply the "Taliban"). All evidence suggest that the Ashura blast should not be seen as an isolated occurrence and cannot be simply explained through "mindless fanaticism" of the "Taliban" (without tracing the hands behind them). Moreover, these talking points raise the question of interests and ends: Who benefits? And, how do such tragic events fit in the broader equations of different political players?