Pakistan Has Allowed the Creation of Secret Intel Network At Own Peril–(The Hindu)

[Pakistani leaders have enabled the Americans to effectively cut them out of the picture in Afghanistan and the sub-continent.  You see the creation of an American covert intelligence network on Pakistani soil, which will allow the US to negotiate directly with the Taliban (bypassing Pakistan), alongside a converging of US/Indian agreements that endorse Mumbai charges against Pak officers, and lean toward a US/Indian agreement to resist Chinese penetration of Pakistani northern provinces.  American/Indian destabilization missions within Pakistan are the stuff that regional conflagrations are born of.  If the Pak Army is truly as patriotic as so many claim, then they will take immediate actions to eradicate this existential threat within their midst.  None of which could have been arranged without the connivance of the top military and establishment leaders.  The great house-cleaning must begin there.]

Pakistan confronts U.S. Afghan strategy

M.K. Bhadrakumar

The Pakistani military leadership wishes to draw a redline for the U.S.’ covert operations so that Washington will be compelled to deal with militant Afghan groups through the single window of the ISI.

In his 22nd visit also, Admiral “Mike” Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the United States armed forces, failed to achieve what he couldn’t at the previous 21 calls he made to Pakistan since assuming his assignment in the Pentagon in October 2007. Yet, of all top U.S. officials, Mr. Mullen is projected by Washington as a dogged believer in America’s cooperation with the Pakistani army leadership. As he proceeded to Islamabad last Wednesday, he spoke with extraordinary candour on the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship. “We have had a very turbulent time,” he told Reuters, but despite tensions, both the U.S. and Pakistan acknowledged that the relationship was vital. “I think that all of us believe that we cannot afford to let this relationship come apart. It’s just too dangerous. It’s too dangerous, in each country, for each country. It’s too dangerous for the region.” The relationship was difficult, but “we walk away from it at our peril, quite frankly.” The U.S.-Pakistan relationship couldn’t have been framed more aptly. But then, Mr. Mullen went on to make the stunning allegation that what caused tension most is the “relationship” between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the so-called Haqqani network of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Mr. Mullen couldn’t have arrived at this realisation on the ISI-Haqqani nexus, which has been one of the worst-kept secrets of the Afghan bazaar, belatedly. The latest bunch of WikiLeaks cables pertaining to Guantanamo Bay actually reveals that the U.S. military, which Mr. Mullen heads, has all along listed the ISI as a “terrorist” organisation alongside the al-Qaeda, the Hezbollah, the Hamas and the Iranian intelligence! Surely, the issue is the timing of Mr. Mullen’s statement. He deliberately upped the ante, holding the ISI directly and primarily responsible for the stalemate in the war; in effect, he challenged the Pakistani military leadership that it would be held accountable for the Taliban’s summer offensive.

Mr. Mullen betrayed the deep frustration within the Barack Obama administration that the stalemate in the Afghan war cannot be broken militarily. A ferocious Taliban counter-offensive is expected and American officials are nervously anticipating a sharp escalation in war casualties, which may happen at an awkward time as the U.S. presidential election campaign begins to get livelier by the day. The war has become unpopular in the American public opinion and the political class doesn’t have the stomach to continue with it. The U.S. coalition partners too (including Britain) are in a tearing hurry to exit.

Over and above, there is an acute “resource crunch.” David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote recently that the current budget crisis “should force some hard decisions about America’s foreign policy priorities … Today, the U.S. is allocating about $110 billion annually for the Afghan war, about $3.2 billion for military and economic aid to Pakistan, and about $150 million in special assistance to help Egypt’s democratic revolution. In terms of U.S. national interests, those spending levels don’t make sense. The pyramid is upside down … we should spend less [on AfPak], going forward, as we move along the exit ramp. This will mean a smaller military footprint, more use of paramilitary forces and more emphasis on diplomacy.”

Prima facie, the Washington-Islamabad acrimony is due to the U.S. displeasure that the Pakistani military continues to baulk at launching operations in the North Waziristan region, where the Haqqani group is entrenched, while Islamabad opposes the manner in which the U.S. is conducting drone attacks and intelligence activities within Pakistan. However, the acrimony is quintessentially an attempt to set the bottom line of the Afghan peace talks. The Pakistani suspicion is that the U.S. is deliberately withholding its long-term Afghanistan strategy, which leaves Islamabad groping in the dark about American intentions.

Bypassing the ally

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. has been holding direct talks with the Taliban. It has been able to do this largely because of the extensive intelligence network it has created in Pakistan — which became possible because Islamabad allowed it to happen. That, ironically, enables Washington to dispense with the good offices of the Pakistani military and the ISI, and opt for direct interaction with the insurgent groups. The U.S. intelligence network within Pakistan has penetrated the range of insurgent groups — the Afghan Taliban, the “Pakistan Taliban,” and non-Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani) militant groups. Evidently, if the drone attacks are becoming more “result-oriented,” it is due to real-time intelligence inputs. During the six weeks of gruelling interrogation of U.S. intelligence operative Raymond Davis, the Pakistani military caught on to a host of home truths. By now, the Pakistani military would have a fair idea of the extent of the American intelligence network and its potential to play merry havoc by splintering insurgent groups, pitting one group against another, manipulating factionalism within groups, monitoring the terror network and, conceivably, even turning some of the insurgent groups into instruments of U.S. regional policies. (Tehran insists that the U.S. is indulging in covert operations in Pakistan and Iran.)

Suffice it to say the Pakistani military leadership wishes to draw a redline for the U.S.’ covert operations so that Washington will be compelled to deal with militant Afghan groups through the single window of the ISI — within the parameters set by what old-timers call the “[Ronald] Reagan rules” during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s. There is hardly any leeway for Pakistan to compromise on this demand, which aims at revising the ground rules of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic partnership in the conduct of the Afghan war (based hitherto on unspoken, unwritten, ever-deniable and flexible templates of collaboration).

To be sure, Pakistan is insisting on the need to reset the ground rules as the endgame advances, in order to avoid the horrible prospect of its so-called “strategic assets” in Afghanistan — which it created at enormous cost and sacrifice and at great risk over the past three decades — getting systematically cannibalised by the American intelligence operatives scavenging the Pakistani territories, on one side of the Durand Line, and by the Special Forces under General David Petraeus relentlessly scouring the Hindu Kush, on the other — the famous “hammer and anvil approach.”

Therefore, Pakistan has done the logical thing by reaching out to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an attempt to form a condominium to kick-start formal reconciliation with the Taliban in a swift sequential process, which would present Washington with a fait accompli. Mr. Karzai is willing to cooperate in this sideshow since he has his own problems with the Obama administration. The Washington establishment is annoyed with Mr. Karzai due to his inability (or unwillingness) to deliver a status of forces agreement that would effectively legitimise long-term American military presence on Afghan soil. On his part, Mr. Karzai expects a pivotal role in any peace process so that he doesn’t become politically expendable by 2014, whereas Washington quietly incites the non-Pashtun elements to challenge his zeal for reconciliation with the Taliban. So, it is this congruence of interests between Kabul and Islamabad that manifests as their joint demand that any Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led and not “dictated from outside”.

The core of the U.S.’ strategic dilemma is that the Pentagon desperately wants to perpetuate American military presence in Afghanistan, but knows that the majority of Afghans and the regional powers disfavour it. Therefore, the U.S. is opting for a strategy of selective reconciliation with “friendly” insurgent groups, which allows the drawdown of U.S. troops and gradually turns the war into a matter of Special Forces operations or pinpointed air strikes. The strategy aims at creating a political environment within which American forces can relocate themselves to the tranquil northern regions of Afghanistan (without having to fight and get killed or maimed), while vast areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan and the tribal tracts in the border regions lapse into “cold peace.”

Of course, Pakistan is justified in wondering what is there for it in this scenario. This wasn’t how the war was supposed to end. Obviously, Washington’s priorities will change once the intensity of the fighting declines. For one thing, the U.S. aid flow will decline. Once the U.S. strengthens its direct line to the insurgents, its dependence on the Pakistani military can only decline. But Pakistan’s objective of gaining “strategic depth” in Afghanistan remains elusive. Equally, Pakistan will be left grappling with an assortment of militant groups along its long, disputed border with Afghanistan that have been highly radicalised by the U.S.-led war. These include some groups which have been alienated one way or the other by Pakistan’s role as the U.S.’ “key non-NATO ally.”

Pakistan faces an existential crisis in its Pashtun tribal tract that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-led war. As last Saturday’s London Times report shows, there will be all sorts of attempts to muddy the waters. It suits the U.S. strategy to give the Afghan endgame the exaggerated overtones of an India-Pakistan turf war. The Indian establishment acted wisely to open dialogue with Pakistan in Mohali.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe 25 years later

Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe 25 years later

by Janette D. Sherman, M.D., and Alexey V. Yablokov, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists asked Dr. Sherman, recognized worldwide for her expertise on Chernobyl, to write this article last year, then rejected it just before deadline, probably considering it too alarming. In it, she reports the widespread expectation of another nuclear power plant failure and the catastrophic consequences. Now, a few months later, the world commemorates the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl while watching the Fukushima meltdown.

For more than 50 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have abided by an agreement that in essence allows them to cover each other’s back – sometimes at the expense of public health. It’s a delicate balance between cooperation and collusion.

Signed on May 28, 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, the agreement states:

“Whenever either organization proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement,” and continues: The IAEA and the WHO “recognize that they may find it necessary to apply certain limitations for the safeguarding of confidential information furnished to them. They therefore agree that nothing in this agreement shall be construed as requiring either of them to furnish such information as would, in the judgment of the other party possessing the information, interfere with the orderly conduct of its operation.”

The WHO mandate is to look after the health on our planet, while the IAEA is to promote nuclear energy. In light of recent industrial failures involving nuclear power plants, many prominent scientists and public health officials have criticized WHO’s non-competing relationship with IEAE that has stymied efforts to address effects and disseminate information about the 1986 Chernobyl accident, so that current harm may be documented and future harm prevented.

For years, concerned individuals have held vigils outside WHO’s Geneva headquarters urging it to function as an independent agency of the United Nations, free of influence from the IAEA because they want to prevent another tragedy. Chernobyl has shown that societies everywhere – especially Japan, France, India, China, the United States and Germany – must distribute stable potassium iodide (KI) before an accident and must provide independent, publicly available radiation monitoring of both food and individual in-body irradiation levels with the aim of documenting the danger and preventing additional harm.

Twin brothers Michael and Vladimir Iariga of Minsk, Belarus, are 16 years old. Michael, with hydrocephalus, is five minutes older than Vladimir, who is deaf. – Photo: Robert Knoth

On the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl, WHO and the IAEA published the “Chernobyl Forum Report,” mentioning only 350 sources, mainly from the English literature, while in reality there are more than 30,000 publications and up to 170,000 sources that address the consequences of Chernobyl. By 2006, there had been 10 major publications concerning Chernobyl published in England, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the United States, with scientists currently publishing new data.

After waiting two decades for the findings of Chernobyl to be recognized by the United Nations, three scientists, Alexey Yablokov, Vasily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko undertook the task to collect, abstract and translate some 5,000 articles reported by multiple scientists, who observed first-hand the effects from the fallout. These had been published largely in Slavic languages and not previously available in translation. The result was “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009.

According to the official records, the destruction of the Chernobyl reactor was the result of both design factors and human error. Many technocrats hope that engineering feats will provide benefits for society, but from the sinking of the Titanic to the recent British Petroleum oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, it is apparent that neither technology nor humans are error-proof. To mitigate this and any future nuclear disasters, it is critical to learn about the extent of the Chernobyl disaster and continue research into the effects upon the biosphere and all that live in it.

The greatest amount of radioactivity fell outside of Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia, extending across the Northern Hemisphere as far away as Asia, North Africa and North America, while the greatest concentrations continue to affect the 13 million living in Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia.

Immediately after the catastrophe, release of information was limited, and there was a delay in collecting data. WHO, supported by governments worldwide, should have been pro-active and led the way to provide readily accessible information. These omissions resulted in several effects: limited monitoring of fallout levels, delays in getting stable potassium iodide to people, lack of care for many and delay in prevention of contamination of the food supply.

Key to understanding the effects is the difference between external and internal radiation. While external radiation, as from x-rays, neutron, gamma and cosmic rays, can harm and kill, internal radiation – alpha and beta particles – when absorbed by ingestion and inhalation releases damaging energy in direct contact with tissues and cells.

Radiobiological science is not new, and Chernobyl’s adverse outcomes were to be expected, but new adverse effects in humans, animals and plants were documented for the first time by those who directly observed the human and biologic populations exposed to the fallout.

Environmental consequences

As a result of the accumulation of Cesium-137 (Cs-137), Strontium-90 (Sr-90), Plutonium (Pu) and Americium (Am) in the root soil layer, radionuclides have continued to build in plants over recent years. Moving with water to the above-ground parts of plants, the radionuclides – which earlier had disappeared from the surface – concentrate in the edible components, resulting in increased levels of internal irradiation and dose rates in people, despite natural disintegration and decreasing total amounts of radionuclides over time.

Will workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan meet the same fate as their predecessors in Chernobyl, as Dr. Sherman warned? These workers are inside Reactor B1. On April 27, plant owner TEPCO announced that a woman worker was exposed to radiation three times the legal limit last month – with no explanation why they waited a month to make this public. – Photo: TEPCO

Bioaccumulation results in concentration in plants, mushrooms and animals and can increase a thousand-fold as compared with concentrations in soil and water. The factors of accumulation and transition vary considerably by season even for the same species, making it difficult to discern dangerous levels of radionuclides in plants and animals that appear to be safe to eat. Unfortunately one cannot see, smell or taste radioactive isotopes and, in general, they cannot be cleaned up.

While there have been some reports of wildlife thriving in the 30-km exclusion zone around Chernobyl, the appearance is deceptive, with most being immigrants. According to morphogenetic, cytogenetic and immunological tests, all of the populations of plants, fishes, amphibians and mammals that were studied there are in poor condition. This zone is analogous to a “black hole,” essentially a micro evolutionary “boiler,” where gene pools of living creatures are actively transforming, with unpredictable consequences.

The accumulation of Sr-90 into plants is greater than that of Cs-137, but it varies by species, population and area. Thus, grazing animals concentrate Sr-90 in their milk, and then into the food supply.

People who rely upon wild plants and game animals found their food supplies diminished, as mushrooms, wild game and berries were contaminated and could not be used as food.

Plants developed deformities of their roots, fruits, leaves, pollen and spores, and land and aquatic plants show chromosomal changes and mutations that were rare or unheard of before the catastrophe.

It may be that disappearance of one or more species in an ecosystem may bring about the collapse of an entire system.

Radioactive contamination re-circulates through the biosphere via rain, snow, fire and water. Seasonal growth and decay of plants contributes to spread contamination to other plants and animals. Fires spread plant and soil contamination via air currents, and the spectacular wildfires in Russia that occurred in 2010 have not been fully documented.

Adverse human health findings

Those profoundly – and expectedly – affected are the liquidators, the young and healthy men and women who worked to stop the fires and to contain the release of radioactivity. Miners were recruited and many worked to tunnel under the reactor.

Of the estimated 830,000 people conscripted to do the work, by 2005, some 125,000 – 15 percent – were dead, mostly from circulatory and blood diseases and malignancies. Of those from Belarus who worked May to June of 1986, versus those who worked July to December 1986, more developed stomach or thyroid disease and had a greater incidence of cancer. Malignancies were expected, given the liquidators’ close proximity to intense radioactivity.

Heart disease accounted for 55 percent of deaths in the earlier workers. The increase in non-malignant diseases was new to the world of radiation medicine, and documented only because there were so many victims and so many scientists and physicians who observed the victims.

Koreans are still buying Japanese seafood like this at a wholesale market in Seoul, but fears are rising that it is being poisoned by the radioactive water pouring out of Fukushima. – Photo: Reuters

Children born to liquidator families were seriously affected with birth defects, thyroid cancer, an increase in central nervous system tumors – in Kiev – and generally poor health. There was also an overall increase in juvenile morbidity, cataracts in children and diseases characteristic of accelerated aging.

In Belarus and the area of Ukraine around the Chernobyl site, children in general have poor health, including loss of intellect. Based upon the research of multiple researchers, it is estimated that in the heavily contaminated areas of Belarus, only 20 percent of children are considered healthy, placing an enormous burden upon governmental resources to provide medical care and education for those affected.

Significant adverse human health findings

General morbidity increased all of the contaminated territories and is correlated with the density of radioactive contamination as documented in “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.”

Blood and circulatory systems:

Radioactive contamination resulted in diseases of the blood, blood-forming organs and the circulatory system and is a major factor in overall morbidity for inhabitants of contaminated territories, including evacuees, migrants, liquidators and their children. It is becoming clear that one of the common reasons for these functional impairments is radioactive destruction of the endothelium, the covering of the inner surface of vessels. Leukemia incidence, largely involving the bone marrow damage, increased not only in children and liquidators, but also in the general adult population.

Endocrine system:

All forecasts concerning thyroid cancer have been wrong. Chernobyl related thyroid cancers have rapid onset and aggressive development, mostly in the papillary form, affecting both children and adults.

The marked increase in thyroid disease and thyroid cancer in children is linked to the release of radioactive iodine. Of concern is damage to the thyroid of the unborn, with concomitant loss of intellectual function. To date, an important finding is that for every case of thyroid cancer there are about 1,000 cases of other forms of thyroid gland pathology. In Belarus alone, experts estimate that up to 1.5 million people are at risk of thyroid disease.

Immune system:

The quantity and activity of various groups of lymphocytes and thus the production of antibodies, including various immunoglobulins, stem cells and thrombocytes, are altered. The ultimate consequences are immunodeficiency and an increase in the frequency and seriousness of infections and of acute and chronic diseases. The suppression of immunity as a result of this radioactive contamination is known as “Chernobyl AIDS.”

Respiratory system:

There was a marked increase in respiratory morbidity everywhere in the contaminated territories. In the first days after the catastrophe, respiratory problems of the mouth, throat and trachea in adults were basically linked to the gaseous aerosol forms of Iodine-131 (I-131), Ruthenium-106 (Ru-106), and Cerium-144 (Ce-144). Further damage to the respiratory system was caused by “hot particles” – the firm particles of uranium fuel melted together with other radionuclides. “Chernobyl dust” has been found in liquidators’ bronchial tubes, bronchioles and alveoli for many years.

Reproductive system:

A wide spectrum of reproductive function disorders and urogenital morbidity exists in those living in contaminated territories. These include abnormal development of the genitalia, sperm pathologies, including dead sperm, low sperm mobility, disorders of secondary sexual characteristics, degenerate changes of the placenta, delay in sexual maturation, primary infertility, complications during pregnancy and birth, and perinatal and neonatal deaths.

Significantly high levels of alpha radionuclides were found in bone tissue of aborted fetuses from mothers living in the contaminated territories in Ukraine. Changes in sex ratios at birth were documented in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

Genetic changes:

Chromosome aberrations in peripheral blood cells were among the first ominous signs of the Chernobyl catastrophe and revealed a correlation between the level of aberrations and a number of pathological conditions. Somatic chromosomal mutations were linked to congenital malformations and protein polymorphism. Mutations in mini-satellite DNA are only some of the genetic changes resulting from radionuclide exposure, but the overwhelming majority of Chernobyl-induced genetic changes will not become apparent for several generations.

Skeletal system:

Liquidators and residents of the contaminated territories often complain of bone and joint pain. Bone function is a balance between the formation of bone and the natural re-absorption process. Because a number of isotopes become deposited in bone these diseases may be due to either hormonal disorders or direct damage by irradiation to the cellular predecessors of osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Sr-90, produced in the splitting of uranium is deposited in children’s bones and teeth and linked to diseases later in life. (Sherman, 2000; Mangano and Sherman, 2011)

In contaminated Ukrainian territories, children have been born without bones (“jellyfish children”), a condition seen previously only in the Marshall Islands after the nuclear tests of the 1950s.

In contaminated Ukrainian territories, children have been born without bones (“jellyfish children”), a condition seen previously only in the Marshall Islands after the nuclear tests of the 1950s.

Cataracts:

Throughout the more contaminated territories, visual abnormalities occur with greater frequency than in less contaminated areas and include premature cataracts, vitreous degeneration, refraction errors, uvitis and conjunctivitis. It is disturbing that only after 2000 did medical authorities begin to recognize the radiogenic origin of the large increase in cataracts among liquidators and evacuees from the Chernobyl territories. Official recognition occurred 10 years (!) after doctors began to sound the alarm and 13 years after the problem was first registered.

Congenital malformations and anomalies:

Wherever there was Chernobyl radioactive contamination, there was an increase in children born with anomalies and congenital malformations (CMs), including previously rare multiple structural impairments of the limbs, head and body. (Wertelecki, 2010). Analysis of more than 31,000 Belarussian abortuses revealed that the incidence of officially registered CMs increased in all of the contaminated territories and was especially significant in areas with Cs-137 levels of contamination higher than 15 Curies per square kilometer (15 Ci/km2).

In Belarus, some 24 percent of the children in the territories with Cs-137 levels less than 1 Ci/km2 were born with CMs; 30 percent had CMs in territories with levels of 1-5 Ci/km2, and 83 percent had CMs in districts with contamination levels above 15 Ci/km2. The Russian State Registry, which included more than 30,000 children born to liquidators, revealed 46.7 percent had congenital anomalies and “genetic syndromes,” with the prevalence of bone and muscular abnormalities being 3.6-fold higher than corresponding normal Russian parameters.

With the passage of more than a decade, we do not know the full extent of the health of children and grandchildren born to those who were contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout, but research must continue to find out. (Holt, E., 2010)

Central nervous system:

The most serious effect of the Chernobyl radiation is to the brain and is a major medical, social and economic problem for the affected individual, the persons’ family and society at large.

TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu and other company officials kneel to beg forgiveness at a shelter in Koriyama – but they’ve offered no financial compensation. The story has surfaced of a whistleblower who warned about Fukushima 11 years ago and was blackballed from the industry in response. – Photo: Kyodo/Reuters

Studies of liquidators and those irradiated in utero reveal that even small amounts of nuclear radiation, considered harmless by official measures of radiation exposure, resulted in marked organic damage of the frontal, temporal and occipitoparietal lobes of the brain. These organic changes are reflected in nervous system dysfunction, including perception, short-term memory, attention span and operative thinking and result in behavioral and mental disorders and diminished intelligence.

Recent studies show that schoolchildren from the most exposed areas in Sweden who were in the sensitive gestational period during the Chernobyl release were significantly less likely to qualify for high school. (Almond et al., 2007) A recent study of Norwegian adolescents revealed the adverse effect of low dose Chernobyl radiation exposure in utero on cognitive function (verbal IQ). (Heiervang et al., 2010)

Inexplicably, WHO had a special project on brain damage in the Chernobyl territories, which was abruptly stopped after the first definitive results. It is becoming clear that low-dose and low-dose rates of radiation have a profound effect upon fine structures of the nervous system, upon higher nervous system function and upon neuropsychiatry function.

Many pro-nuclear critics have attributed the latter to “radio-phobia,” but documentation of disease is not limited to the human population. With few exceptions, animal and plant systems that were studied demonstrated structural abnormalities in offspring, loss of tolerance and viability, and genetic changes. (Moller and Mousseau, 2010) Wild animals and plants did not drink alcohol, smoke or worry about compensation.

Total number of victims

The number of victims is one of the most contentious issues between scientists who collected data first-hand and WHO/IAEA that estimated only 9,000 deaths.

The most detailed estimate of additional deaths has been done in Russia by comparing rates in six highly contaminated territories with overall Russian averages and with those of six lesser-contaminated areas, maintaining similar geographical and socioeconomic parameters. There were over 7 million people in each area. Documentation is as follows:

The region under study exceeded the Russian average in both over-all mortality and increased rate of mortality. The total number of additional deaths, calculated on the basis of the standardized mortality rates, is estimated at 60,400 (95 percent CI: 54,880 to 65,920) – or 34 persons per 1,000. From 1990 to 2004, the number of additional deaths represents 3.75 percent of the entire population of the contaminated territories and agrees well with the figure of 4.2 percent for Ukraine. (National Ukrainian Report, 2006)

For the populations in all the contaminated territories together – European Russia 1,789,000 (1999), Belarus 1,571,000 (2001) and Ukraine 2,290,000 (2002) – and based on the additional rate in Russia, the total number of extra deaths from Chernobyl in Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia is estimated to be 212,000 for the first 15 years after the catastrophe.

While this calculation seems straightforward, it might underestimate the real figures for three reasons according to Khudoley et al. (2006):

1. Official data about the radioactive contamination for Belgorod and Lipetsk provinces do not correlate with corresponding changes in health statistics after Chernobyl, meaning that the differences in mortality between contaminated and non-contaminated populations that were found might actually be greater. If so, the Ukrainian mortality rate of 4.2 percent may be more realistic than the Russian 3.75 percent.

2. It is well known that there was considerable contamination – sometimes more than 1 Ci/km2 – not only in the six regions under consideration but also in 10 other regions of the European part of Russia, meaning that the total death toll for Russia may be higher.

3. The calculations cover a 15-year period (1990–2004), omitting the years between 1986-1990.

Japanese farmers protest outside the Tokyo head office of TEPCO on April 26, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe. As calls were heard across Japan that day for a “nuclear-free society,” the farmers took with them vegetables, milk and even two cows. A farmer whose land is 23 kilometers from Fukushima said his cows were getting thin and dying. – Photo: AFP

When we apply the additional mortality of 34 extra deaths per 1,000 population for the 15 years 1990-2004, which was derived above, to the cohort of liquidators not living in contaminated zones (400,000), to the evacuees and to people who moved away from contaminated areas (350,000), then we expect another 25,500 deaths in this period. The overall number of Chernobyl-related deaths up until 2004 in the former USSR is estimated to be 237,500.

Assuming that 10 million people in Europe, outside the former Soviet Union, live in territories with a Cs-137 ground contamination higher than 40 kilobecquerels per square meter, or 40 kBq/m2 (>1.08 Ci/km2), and that the mortality risk is only half that determined in the Chernobyl region, that is, 17 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants – and with better food and better medical and socioeconomic status – up until 2004, we can expect an additional 170,000 deaths in Europe.

Assuming further that the other 150 million Europeans living in territories with a Cs-137 ground contamination below 40 kBq/m2, the additional mortality will be 10-fold less – i.e., 1.7 deaths per 1,000 in 1990-2004 – then we can expect 150,000 x 1.7 or 255,000 more deaths in the rest of Europe.

Given that 20 percent of the radionuclides released from the Chernobyl reactor were deposited outside Europe, with an exposed population of 190 million and with a risk factor of 1.7 per 1,000 as before, we can expect 323,000 additional deaths outside Europe by 2004.

Data from multiple scientists estimate the overall mortality from the Chernobyl catastrophe, for the period from April 1986 to the end of 2004, to be 985,000, similar to those of Gofman (1994a) and Bertell (2006) and a hundred times more than the WHO/IAEA estimate.

Overall effects of radioactive fallout

While fallout was measured in many countries, multiple short half-life isotopes were largely un-measured. Decades of research have confirmed that radioisotopes become deposited in various parts of living systems. In humans, I-131 and I-129 concentrate in the thyroid, Cs-137 in soft tissue, and Sr-90 in teeth and bones.

Combined effects from exposure to multiple isotopes that concentrate in various portions of a human or animal have not been fully examined, however, by comparing disease rates in communities with increased levels of radiation to others with low levels, or pre-Chernobyl levels, while maintaining similar socio-economic factors, distinct patterns of effect emerged in those who received the Chernobyl fallout.

Fallout deposition was uneven and remains uneven. Aerial measurements were largely of Cs-137 fallout, which has a gamma component detectable from a plane or helicopter, but even with monitoring, hot spots remained ill defined. The effects of “hot particles” was first documented when upper respiratory, skin and eye problems became manifest soon after the Chernobyl explosions. The particles consist of radioactive metal, largely alpha emitters that cause significant damage when in contact with living cells.

The effects from the Chernobyl catastrophe change over time, many ongoing and some increasing in adverse effect as, for example, Plutonium-241 (Pu-241) that decays to Americium-241 (Am-241), with a half-life of 432 years. Am-241 is water-soluble, moves through the food chain, and emits both gamma and alpha radiation. The ultimate effect upon migratory birds and sea life is not yet determined, but such contamination could result in the collapse of significant numbers of species and food sources.

A 2008 publication of the Ministry of Ukraine of Emergencies and Affairs of Public Protection from the Consequences of Chernobyl (“Atlas of Ukraine Radioactive Contamination”) shows dire predictions for the spread of increasing amounts of Am-241 around the Chernobyl site, westward into the Pinsk Marshes that form the border between Ukraine and Belarus, and south into the Dnepr River where it flows into the Black Sea near Odessa, empties through the Bosporus to the Aegean, and ultimately reaches the Mediterranean Sea.

The westward spread is augmented by commercial canal traffic that connects the Priyapat River to the Bug, Vistula and Oder Rivers and finally into the Baltic Sea. Thus in addition to the atmospheric spread immediately after the disaster, contamination continues to spread via water routes.

To date, not every living system has been studied, but of those that have – animals, birds, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, insects, trees, plants, bacteria, viruses and humans – many with genetic instability across generations all sustained changes, some permanent and some fatal. Wild and domestic animals develop diseases similar to those found in humans

It takes 10 decades for an isotope to completely decay, thus the approximately 30-year half-lives for Sr-90 and Cs-137 mean it will take nearly three centuries before they have decayed, a mere blink of the eye when compared to Plutonium-239 (Pu-239) with a half-life of 24,100 years.

The human and economic costs are enormous: In the first 25 years, the direct economic damage to Belarus, Ukraine and Russia has exceeded $500 billion. To mitigate some of the consequences, Belarus spends about 20 percent of its national annual budget, Ukraine up to 6 percent and Russia up to 1 percent. Funding from other countries and from the U.N. is essential to continue scientific studies and to provide help to those who continue to live with significant radioactive contamination.

The human and economic costs are enormous: In the first 25 years, the direct economic damage to Belarus, Ukraine and Russia has exceeded $500 billion. Belarus spends about 20 percent of its national annual budget to mitigate some of the consequences.

The tragedy of Chernobyl shows that societies everywhere – especially Japan, France, India, China, the United States and Germany – must consider the importance of independent, publicly available radiation monitoring of both food and individual in-body irradiation levels with the aim of documenting the danger and preventing additional harm and to have stable potassium iodide (KI) readily available to prevent thyroid damage.

Given profound weather effects – earthquakes, floods, tsunamis etc. – human fallibility and military conflicts, many believe that it is only a matter of time before there is another nuclear catastrophe. Nuclear fallout knows no state or national boundaries and will contribute to increase in illnesses, decrease in intelligence and in instability throughout the world. The economic costs of radioactive pollution and care of contaminated citizens are staggering. No country can maintain itself if its citizens are economically, intellectually, politically and socially impoverished.*

When a radiation release occurs, we do not know in advance the part of the biosphere it will contaminate, the animals, plants and people that will be affected, nor the amount or duration of harm. In many cases, damage is random, depending upon the health, age and status of development and the amount, kind and variety of radioactive contamination that reaches humans, animals and plants. For this reason, international support of research on the consequences of Chernobyl must continue in order to mitigate the ongoing and increasing damage. Access to information must be transparent and open to all, across all borders. The WHO must assume independent responsibility in support of international health.

Given the continuing and known problems caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe, we must ask ourselves: Before we commit ourselves to economic and technological support of nuclear energy, who, what and where are we willing to sacrifice and for how long?

Footnotes

Almond, D., Edlund, L. and Palme, M., “Chernobyl’s subclinical legacy: Prenatal exposure to radioactive fallout and school outcomes in Sweden.” Retrieved Aug. 3, 2009, from http://www.nuwinfo.se/almond-edlund-palme20070811.html 2007

Bertell, R. “The death toll of the Chernobyl accident.” In: Busby, C.C. and Yablokov, A.V., (Eds.), “ECRR Chernobyl 20 Years On: Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident.” ECRR Doc. 1, Green Audit Books, Aberystwyth, pp. 245, 248, 2006

Gofman, J.W., “Chernobyl Accident: Radioactive Consequences for the Existing and Future Generations.” Vysheihsaya Shcola, Minsk. 576 pp., 1994 (in Russian)

Heiervang, K.S., et al. “Effect of low dose ionizing radiation exposure in utero in cognitive function in adolescence.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2010, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9450.2010.00814.x

Holt, E., “Debate over health effects of Chernobyl re-ignited.” Lancet. 375(9724): 1424-1425, 2010

Khudoley, V.V., Blokov, I.P., Sadovnichik, T., and Bysaro, S., “Attempt to estimate the consequences of Chernobyl catastrophe for population living in the radiation-contaminated territories of Russia.” In: Blokov, I.P. (Ed.), “Consequences of Chernobyl Accident: Estimation and Prognosis of Additional Mortality and Cancer Diseases.” Center for Independent Environmental Assessment, Greenpeace-Russia, pp. 3-19, 2006 (in Russian)

Mangano, J.J. and Sherman, J.D., “Elevated in vivo strontium-90 from nuclear weapons test fallout among cancer decedents: A case-control study of deciduous teeth,” International Journal of Health Services, 41(1):137–58, 2011

Moller, A.P., Mousseau, T.A., “Efficiency of bio-indicators for low-level radiation under field conditions.” Ecological Indicators, doi:10.1016/j.ecolinf.2010.06.013 (pdf)

Ministry of Ukraine, “Emergencies and Affairs of Public Protection from the Consequences of Chernobyl,” “Atlas of Ukraine Radioactive Contamination,” Intelligence Systems GEO, Ltd., 2002, 2008

National Ukrainian Report. “Twenty Years of Chernobyl Catastrophe. Future Outlook.” (Kiev) http://www.mns.gov.ua/news_show.php? 2006 (in Russian)

Sherman, J.D. “Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer.” Taylor and Francis. New York. 273 pp. 2000

Wertelecki, W. “Malformations in a Chornobyl-impacted region.” Pediatrics, 125(4): 836-843, 2010

Yablokov, A.V., Nesterenko, V.B., Nesterenko, A.V., “Chernobyl Consequences for People and Nature.” “Nauka” Publ., Sankt-Petersburg, 367 pp., 2007

Yablokov, A.V., Nesterenko, V.B., and Nesterenko, A.V., Sherman-Nevinger, J.D., Consulting Editor, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” New York Academy of Sciences, 1181:1-327, 2009

Janette D. Sherman, M.D., is a physician and toxicologist, specializing in chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects. The author of “Chemical Exposure and Disease” and “Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer” and editor of “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” she has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. From 1976-1982, she served on the advisory board for the EPA Toxic Substances Control Act. Throughout her career, she has served as a medical-legal expert witness for thousands of individuals harmed by exposure to toxic agents. Dr. Sherman’s primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at toxdoc.js@verizon.net and www.janettesherman.com. Co-author Alexey V. Yablokov, Ph.D., can be reached at yablokov@voxnet.ru.

*This article was solicited by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 2010, but after Dr. Sherman had responded to 42 queries and spent 30 hours writing it, it was rejected shortly before the deadline, apparently as too alarmist. This paragraph is an ominous warning of the Fukushima catastrophe that occurred just a few months after it was written and a reminder of the urgent need for more public information such as is provided here. See also “Is the Fukushima nuclear plant breakdown worse than Chernobyl?” by Janette D. Sherman, M.D.

The Zionist View of Obama’s Great Mideast Revolution

The president’s catastrophic Mideast policy

By ISI LEIBLER

US President Barack Obama
Photo by: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Candidly Speaking: Barack Obama is proving, on a daily basis, to be a complete novice in foreign relations.

At every conceivable level, the Obama administration’s Middle East policies are spiraling into a disastrous free-fall.

Even Obama’s friend, PA president Mahmoud Abbas, has explicitly accused the US President of having totally misled him. In an interview with Newsweek, he said that “it was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said okay, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down the ladder and he removed the ladder, and said to me jump. Three times he did it.”

In other words, it was Obama’s initiative which motivated Abbas to make the unprecedented demand that Israel freeze all construction in settlements, including the Jewish suburbs of east Jerusalem. Abbas now finds it extremely convenient to use Obama’s impulsive action as a pretext to refuse to negotiate with Israel and stand by as global pressures are exerted on the Jewish state to make more unilateral concessions.

But it is Obama’s obtuse and utterly inconsistent approach to the upheavals in the Arab world that have plunged the US into a bottomless pit and possibly irrevocably terminated whatever support for the US remained among some of the more moderate Arab autocracies.

From the outset, Obama surprised the world by his naïve efforts to “engage” with the fervently hostile Iranian extremists seeking to become a nuclear power. When the Iranian people revolted peacefully against the ayatollahs during the “Green Revolution”, the American president was virtually struck dumb even as the regime brutally suppressed the opposition.

Yet when Egyptian president Mubarak, the most loyal US ally in the Arab world, faced a domestic revolt, Obama turned his back on him, demanding his resignation and did not even enable him to retire graciously.

The Saudis and other “moderate” pro-US Arab states were shocked at the manner in which the Americans had responded to their most faithful ally. They undoubtedly now no longer harbor illusions about the reliability of American support under the Obama administration. In fact. the most pessimistic predictions of the outcome of these “democratic” revolts are regrettably now being realized.

The Muslim Brotherhood – which a number of ignorant members of the Obama administration had described as being democratic, more open-minded and even “mostly secular”, has emerged as the most powerful force in Egypt. According to a recently released PEW Research Center poll, 75 percent of Egyptians regard the Brotherhood favorably. The US is despised – only 15% favoring a better relationship. More than 50% support the scrapping of the peace treaty with Israel. The Egyptian military council has already initiated moves to renew diplomatic relations with Iran and enabled Iranian ships to traverse the Suez Canal.

The candidate most likely to become president is Amr Moussa, who is favored by 89% of those polled. He is the secretary-general of the Arab League whose hatred for Israel was so intense that Mubarak was obliged to sack him as foreign minister. Only last week he declared that the Camp David accords were no longer relevant. The other candidate Mohammed ElBaradei declared that if Israel became engaged in a war with Hamas, Egypt would be obliged to respond militarily. Over 62% support the transformation of Egypt into a sharia state. Obama’s betrayal of Mubarak has thus directly led to the installation of a more extremist anti-Western regime.

But the regional situation is even worse. In Libya, Obama’s support of the overthrow of the deranged but recently pro-Western Colonel Gaddafi has resulted in a civil war. If Gaddafi wins, he will undoubtedly revert to his former evil terrorist activities which he had voluntarily relinquished. If the rebels are victorious, we are likely to find al-Qaida elements occupying a significant role in the country. The same applies to Yemen, which following the defeat of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has every likelihood of being transformed into a fullyfledged terrorist state dominated by al-Qaida.

But even more incomprehensible was Obama’s extraordinary tepid response to Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad, whose brutal crackdown against peaceful demonstrators made Mubarak’s repression appear positively mild.

Besides, Assad is an avowed enemy of the US and closely allied with the Iranian regime and enabled al-Qaida forces to traverse Syria in order to fight against American troops in Iraq. He is a major sponsor of Hezbollah and has acted as their conduit for the transfer of arms. He hosts Hamas in Damascus, orchestrated the murder of the Lebanese prime minister, sought to obtain nuclear weapons and bitterly opposed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

It is therefore inexplicable that even after hundreds of demonstrators were brutally killed and Assad has made it clear that he will not hesitate killing more citizens to quell any opposition, Obama has still neither called on him to step down nor initiated meaningful sanctions as he did with Libya.

We are left with a feeling of bewilderment. Is the administration so isolated from reality that it truly believes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she refers to the tyrannical Assad as a reformer? Or is there a hidden agenda of which we are unaware?

My gut feeling is that there is no conspiracy and it is all a question of absolute and utter incompetence and dysfunctionality. Obama is proving, on a daily basis, to be a complete novice in foreign relations and his liberal ideologue advisers are just as confused.

It is truly mind-boggling. We have a US president who condemns the only genuine democratic partner the US has in the Middle East for building apartments in the suburbs of their capital. He betrays the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who loyally supported America for four decades and paves the way for a new more hostile Egyptian regime. And yet he hesitates in responding to one of the most committed enemies of the US in the Arab world.

We should therefore be under no illusions that Obama will initiate any meaningful action to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In summary: The Obama administration has undermined Israel, abandoned its Arab allies and appeased America’s worst enemies.

We can only hope and pray that the Republicans will get their act together and designate a credible candidate before the next presidential elections. It is chilling to contemplate the damage Obama could inflict on America’s international standing should he be reelected for a second term, free from any electoral constraints. The damage that ongoing American decline and weakness could inflict on Western civilization is positively alarming.

ileibler@netvision.net.il

Palestinian Unity Govt.–Ominous Implications for Israelis?

[Does this represent the next phase in the State Dept. “Arab spring” scheme, and if so, does this actually imply an impending Obama double-cross of Zionist benefactor Israel, in order to force the Bush “Road map” onto all parties?]

Lieberman: Palestinian Deal Crosses ‘Red Line’

The Palestinian unity deal agreed in Cairo crossed “a red line,” Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday, warning that an array of measures could be taken against the Palestinian Authority.

“With this accord, a red line has been crossed,” the ultra-nationalist foreign minister told Israel’s military radio a day after the Palestinian parties announced a surprise reconciliation agreement.

“We have at our disposal a vast arsenal of measures including the lifting of VIP status for Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, which will not allow them to move freely,” he said referring to president Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister.

“We could also freeze the transfer of taxes collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority,” added Lieberman, who leads the Israel Beitenu party in the coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After 18 months of largely fruitless reconciliation talks, delegations from Hamas and Fatah meeting in Cairo on Wednesday announced a deal to form an interim unity government with a view to holding presidential and legislative elections within a year.

The deal raises the prospect of an end to the devastating political divide that has seen the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority govern the West Bank while the Islamist Hamas movement controls the Gaza Strip.

But the agreement was criticized by Israel, with Netanyahu warning on Wednesday, shortly after the deal was announced, that Abbas must “choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.”

Lieberman said the reconciliation deal would mean the “freeing of hundreds of Hamas terrorists detained by the Palestinian Authority in Judaea and Samaria” — the biblical name for the West Bank.

He said the elections envisaged under the agreement would allow Hamas “to take control of Judaea and Samaria.”

Lieberman said he wanted to see the international community insist that any unity government comply with conditions announced by the Middle East peacemaking Quartet, which includes the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.

“We hope that the whole international community will maintain the conditions imposed by the Quartet on the Palestinians, which means an end to violence, recognition of Israel and past agreements, and Hamas does not accept any of these conditions,” he said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “the latest events do nothing but reinforce the necessity of relying only on ourselves.

“The army and the security services will use an iron fist to deal with any threat and challenge,” he warned.(AFP)

The 1980s mujahideen, the Taliban and the shifting idea of jihad

The 1980s mujahideen, the Taliban and the shifting idea of jihad

Nineteen years ago, Afghanistan’s mujahideen defeated the Red Army. How do they compare with the Taliban who followed?

Afghan mujahideen in Bagram, 1992

Mujahideen in Bagram, Afghanistan, days before their victory over the communist regime on 28 April 1992. Photograph: AP

28 April marks the 19th anniversary of the mujahideen’s victory over the Red Army forces in Afghanistan. The original mujahideen of the 1980s and today’s Taliban may use the same language of holy war, but their understanding of jihad is worlds apart. The key difference between the original mujahideen and the Taliban is that the former waged a traditional type of jihad. In a traditional jihad, if waged locally, a contest over control of resources takes place between rival strongmen who each run their own private armies. In this scenario, the ultimate legitimacy to rule draws upon military strength, but the contest itself is called jihad simply because Islam is the sole language of political legitimacy.

Crucially, in a traditional jihad, the victorious party has an unspoken right to pillage, rape and loot the conquered population. This is because militia fighters are not paid soldiers in a regular army and hence looting is the material reward they receive for fighting. The original mujahideen followed this traditional pattern of jihad upon coming to power in 1992. Since competition over resources rather than ideology is key to traditional jihad, the mujahideen’s war focused on Kabul where the nation’s wealth and the foreign embassies, another potential source of funding, were to be found.

Judging by a historical account from the 1920s, back then the women and girls of the conquered populations also belonged to the pillage package offered to militia jihadis. Hence, in the diaries of court chroniclerKatib Hazara on the siege of Kabul in 1929, we read that the victorious mujahideen of the time had demanded to see the list of girls registered at a Kabul school so as to allocate female students to militia fighters.

Katib’s account might be exaggerated, but the story still reveals that there was an unspoken rule that women and girls were part of the conquest package. As such, the mujahideen’s struggle over Kabul was a continuation of traditional jihad complete with internal rivalries, pillage and looting. The mujahideen were part of the realm of traditional politics in which a conquered region is a turf that can be exploited by strongmen, who call themselves mujahideen so as to appear respectable.

The Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1996, by contrast, strayed from the path of tradition. In a striking breach of precedence, the Taliban militia did not make use of their unspoken right to pillage and loot. They searched the conquered populations’ homes, but only to confiscate weapons and so ensure a monopoly of violence for their state.

In a comical incident that features in Sabour Bradley’s documentary series The Extreme Tourist, the Taliban saw a poster of Rambo with a machine-gun in the home of an Afghan bodybuilder fan of the Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone. Ignorant of the world beyond the sharia law, the Taliban assumed that Rambo was a family member and told the bodybuilder: “Tell your cousin that he must hand over his machine gun to us.” The bodybuilder’s protestation that the poster depicted a fictional Hollywood hero fell flat with the Taliban, who subsequently imprisoned the man.

The Taliban were exceedingly ignorant – which made them cruel – but there’s no doubt that they saw jihad as a means to establish a state rather than legitimacy to pillage a conquered territory. Building a state was of utmost importance to the Taliban because without it the sharia law could not be enforced. If the mujahideen struggled over resources, the Taliban were concerned with religiosity.

The Taliban’s choice of their capital city, Kandahar, was further evidence of their radically new approach to conquest. As already mentioned, historically Kabul drew its importance from the fact that the nation’s wealth and the foreign embassies were concentrated there. The mujahideen’s vicious fight over the city, which resulted in thousands of dead, and their disregard for public buildings, which they indiscriminately destroyed in rocket attacks, was rooted in the view that the capital city was there to be pillaged by whichever party that came out victorious.

The Taliban, in contrast, disregarded Kabul, moving their capital to the much poorer city of Kandahar. Accounts of Afghans who met Taliban officials all reveal a lack of interest in material goods or symbols of social hierarchy. Meetings would be held seated on the floor in a circle, erasing all signs of hierarchy that traditionally has been part of Afghan court etiquette.

Ironically, such egalitarianism was what the communists had dreamed of in 1978. But in such a deeply religious society, it is not surprising that egalitarianism had to come as part of a religious doctrine. With the Taliban, rural Afghans came to power, ruling over the more sophisticated urban populations. This, too, was a breach of precedence.

Fighting for resources in a traditional fashion complete with looting and pillaging versus fighting for a state that would enforce sharia law even to the point of an obsessive preoccupation with the correct length of young men’s pubic hair is what distinguishes the original mujahideen from their Taliban nemesis.

Both parties use the same language of legitimacy – Islam, jihad, and mujahideen – which adds to the confusion, but their similarities are skin-deep.

The new great game in West Asia?

The new great game in West Asia?

CHINMAYA R. GHAREKHAN


Anti-government protesters gesture in front of the Saudi embassy in Match 2011, in Manama, Bahrain. Frenzied clashes swept Bahrain after a Saudi-led military force entered the country to defend its Sunni monarchy from a Shiite-led protest movement. File photo
APAnti-government protesters gesture in front of the Saudi embassy in Match 2011, in Manama, Bahrain. Frenzied clashes swept Bahrain after a Saudi-led military force entered the country to defend its Sunni monarchy from a Shiite-led protest movement. File photo

With Saudi Arabia regarding itself as the leader of Sunni Muslims and Iran considering itself the protector of Shias, the game has geo-political as well as religious overtones.

A new great game seems to be on. The locale is West Asia and the principal protagonists are Saudi Arabia and Iran. Unlike the original great game of the late 19th-early 20th century, the current great game has geo-political as well as religious overtones. Saudi Arabia regards itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim community and Iran is the self-appointed protector of Shias. The Umma technically applies to the entire Muslim fraternity but, in practice, the two branches of Muslim faith do not regard themselves as belonging to the same Umma. They might do so when dealing with or confronting non-Muslims, but between themselves they are antagonistic. The two powers are also engaged in a bitter and determined struggle for dominance in the region.

The Arab-Persian divide cuts across, at least partially, the Shia-Sunni rivalry. At the risk of slight oversimplification, it can be said that as a general rule, an Arab Shia is likely to be more loyal to his Arab identity than to the Shia faith if the latter would imply acting against the interests of his country. This was conclusively demonstrated when the Shias of Iraq fought alongside their Sunni brethren in the war against Iran for eight years.

There are a billion-plus Muslims in the world. Indeed, Islam is the fastest growing religion. Sunnis are in a majority by far; Shias might constitute no more than 15 per cent though most Sunnis would place the figure much lower. Every Sunni majority country has a Shia minority and vice-versa, but the size of the minority varies. There are four Shia majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. The rest are Sunni majority states, with some having significant Shia minorities. In Pakistan, 20 per cent of the population is Shia, Kuwait has about 25 per cent Shias, and Yemen slightly more. In Lebanon, Shias form 35-40 per cent of the total population, while in Egypt the percentage is negligible. Afghanistan has a significant Shia population in its western part, along the border with Iran.

The differences between the two schools emerged soon after Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 over his succession. One group, later known as Sunnis, wanted an elected successor and chose Abu Bakr; the other group, which eventually came to be called Shias, insisted that the succession pass through the Prophet’s bloodline and wanted his nephew and son-in-law Ali to be the successor. The two parted company after the death of Ali who became the fourth caliph, more particularly after Hussein, Ali’s grandson, was killed by the Sunni caliph of Baghdad. Ever since, the hostility amounting to enmity between the two groups has claimed many lives.

In several Sunni majority countries, Shias may not even be recognised as Muslims. This was the case in Saudi Arabia until a few years ago. In Pakistan, Shias are regularly targeted and killed by Sunni extremists. Even today, the sub-sects of the Shias, such as Ismailis (Seveners) and Ithnasharis (Twelvers), are considered heretics. In Tehran, a city of 16 million, the small Sunni population does not have a single place of worship of its own; there are differences in the rituals of the two groups. When this writer visited Iran some time ago, the locals invariably referred to fellow Shias as Muslims and the others as Sunnis or Sunnas.

The tensions between the Shias and the Sunnis got greatly exacerbated after the American intervention in Iraq in March 2003. The majority Shia community had been repressed since the state of Iraq came into existence in 1932. This continued during Saddam Hussein’s reign though he did place some Shias as well as Christians — Tariq Aziz being the most well-known example — in prominent positions. The Shias suddenly found themselves in power for the first time ever and decided to take their revenge on the Sunnis. The result was a bitter and bloody sectarian strife which claimed thousands of lives. Entire neighbourhoods were ethnically, or rather communally, cleansed and people changed names. Most of those who sought refuge in Jordan and Syria were Sunnis. But the most significant consequence of the American intervention, not intended by any means but anticipatable, was the increased space it created for Iran to interfere in the affairs of the region and to become a significant regional player.

The situation today is that Iran has a major voice in Iraq, Lebanon through its proxy Hezbolla which is a predominantly Shia group, and Palestine through its support to Hamas which is a 100 per cent Sunni movement. In Afghanistan, Iran has vital interests as well as influence, and any solution to the Afghan problem would need Iran’s cooperation which it is willing to offer but only on its terms which have a lot to do with its dispute with the U.S. and others over its nuclear programme.

Ever since the Islamic Republic was born in 1979, it has boldly pronounced its policy of exporting the Islamic revolution. When the Egyptians poured into the Tahrir Square in January-February this year, Iran claimed the phenomenon as success for its revolution, but clamped down sternly on its own people wanting to demonstrate in Tehran’s Azadi Square. The ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 has opened up fresh opportunities for Iran in its neighbourhood, especially Bahrain. Bahrain’s ruling family is Sunni, while the Shias account for 65-70 per cent of the population. When the Shia community protested peacefully at the Pearl Square, there were credible reports that Iran was not involved in the beginning. Once external forces, primarily from Saudi Arabia, entered the scene and used significant force to suppress the protests, Iran made its intentions clear. Although it continues to deny any involvement, it is entirely believable that Iran is doing its best to help fellow Shias in Bahrain by whatever means, short of physically sending its militia. It is noteworthy that many Iraqi voices are expressing strong disapproval of the crackdown of the Shia population in Bahrain, especially the Saudi intervention. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has warned that the Saudi action could launch wars of religion in the Middle East. Ayatolla Ali Shistani, the most powerful leader of the Shia community in Iraq and beyond, has demanded that the Bahrain authorities not use force against the protesters and has called for a dialogue.

In the years immediately following its attack on Iraq, the U.S. tried to cobble together a coalition of ‘moderate’ Sunni states to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region. Israel could not obviously be a part of this grouping but it fully supported the effort. During the visits by this writer to the countries in the region, it was made clear to him that Iraq’s neighbours would not remain silent and inactive if the Sunnis there came under serious danger. The situation did not escalate to that level; neither of the regional powers wanted to risk war.

The interesting point is that it is Iran, the lone Shia superpower which does not have the economic clout of Saudi Arabia, which has adopted an aggressive posture whereas the Sunni states seem to be on the defensive. Iran feels isolated, encircled and threatened by hostile American forces as well as by what it might perceive as antagonistic Sunni states. It is this which perhaps makes the Iranian regime more motivated and forceful in its diplomacy and actions. The feeble attempts by the Americans to discourage Saudi Arabia from sending its troops into Bahrain not only did not succeed but also led the Saudis to the conclusion that they must be on their own when it came to defending their regime and checking Iran’s growing influence. If Bahrain’s Shias succeed in gaining a share in the power structure, the Saudis will feel truly threatened, given that its Shia community, accounting for about 10 per cent of the population, is concentrated in its eastern territory where its oil assets are located. Any prospect of Iranian influence on the mainland of Saudi Arabia will be a nightmare to its ruling dynasty.

It is perhaps too late to soften the Shia-Sunni, Iran-Saudi tensions. Even if the Sunni-ruled states satisfy the demands of their Shia populations to some extent, Iran will continue to press home the advantage that has come its way recently, consolidate and build on it. The Americans will certainly not watch this game passively.

It will be fascinating to watch how this new great game plays out. We in India do not have much to worry about its implications domestically, since we are the most inclusive multicultural and multireligious society in the world, bar none. But externally, this great game will demand an agile foreign policy approach, which might demand a new form of non-alignment or dual alignment.

India Holds Back Approval for Four Russian Reactors, WSJ Reports

India Holds Back Approval for Four Russian Reactors, WSJ Reports

By Archana Chaudhary
India’s environment ministry held back approval for four Russian reactors to be set up in the southern city of Kudankulam because disposing of water into the sea may affect marine life, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A fresh risk assessment is needed following the Fukushima nuclear accident, according to the report, which cited a panel of the ministry.

Nuclear Power Corp. of India, the state-owned monopoly atomic generator, plans to set up four Russian reactors of 1,000 megawatts each at Kudankulam in the state of Tamil Nadu in addition to two units being constructed.

Shreyans Kumar Jain, chairman of Nuclear Power Corp., didn’t answer a call made to his mobile phone seeking comment. India is reviewing environmental approvals for all coastal nuclear power projects, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters in New Delhiwhen asked to comment on the report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Archana Chaudhary in Mumbai atachaudhary2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Merritt at dmerritt1@bloomberg.net