Tajik First Deputy Prime Minister Dies Suddenly On Way To Power Plant Inspection

Tajik First Deputy Prime Minister Dies

First Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Ghulomov (center) during a recent meeting with a UN Development Program delegation.First Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Ghulomov (center) during a recent meeting with a UN Development Program delegation.

August 03, 2011
DUSHANBE — Tajikistan’s first deputy prime minister, Asadullo Ghulomov, has died suddenly at the age of 57, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reports.

Unconfirmed reports suggested Ghulomov died of a stroke.

A government official confirmed to RFE/RL that Ghulomov died during a helicopter trip to inspect the Sangtuda hydroelectric power plant in the south of the country.

Ghulomov was born in February 28, 1954, in Danghara, some 70 kilometers south of Dushanbe. Danghara is the home district of Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon.

Ghulomov graduated in 1976 from Tajikistan’s Polytechnical University and had served as first deputy prime minister since December 2006.

He is survived by a wife and four children.

Gaming in Waziristan

still from Conic studies 8

Gaming in Waziristan

Noor Behram | Butler Brothers | Nooshin Fahrid 

19 July – 5 August, 2011

Tuesday – Friday, 11am-5pm

Thursday 21 July, 6-9pm: Exhibition launch with Clive Stafford Smith in public conversation with Shahzad Akbar on the drone effect.

Friday 29 July, 6.30 – 8.30pmLAST Fridays: Gaming in Waziristan as part of Becks South London Festival of Art Night

Exhibition includes:

Noor Behram, Documents from the Frontier, 2007-2011

A cache of hitherto unseen images taken by a local journalist Noor Behram in the tribal regions of Pakistan reveal the unequal human cost of remotely controlled war machines. Courtesy Reprieve. QuickTime movies compiled by Iben la Cour.

Photos document alleged US drone strike victims in Pakistan

Photos document alleged US drone strike victims in Pakistan

David R Arnott writes

GRAPHIC WARNING: This post contains graphic images which some viewers may find disturbing.

At the Beaconsfield Gallery in London last Friday, I sat in a darkened room and watched as dozens of images of death and destruction lit up the wall in front of me. Gruesome photos of mangled bodies and destroyed buildings, each accompanied by the name of a village and a date. The war they depict does not officially exist.

The photographs were taken by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, and they document what he says are the civilian victims of unmanned aircraft ‘drone’ attacks carried out by U.S. forces.

Noor Behram via AP

In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo provided by Noor Behram, a man holds debris from a missile strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The Beaconsfield gallery in London is staging an exhibit of photographs taken by Behram allegedly showing innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Over a three year period Behram was able to travel to around 60 attack sites in Waziristan, a region that is usually off-limits to the international media. His images, fuzzy, washed-out and often poorly composed, are an incongruous sight in an art gallery, but these are photographs taken as a form of documentation, rather than for their aesthetic value.

In this, Behram follows a path set out by the renowned French photographer Gilles Peress, who declared in a 1997 interview that “I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography'; I am gathering evidence for history.” Peress’ project A Village Destroyed, which documented a 1999 massacre in Kosovo, illustrated the important role that photography can play in human rights investigations.

Noor Behram via AP

The body of an eight-year-old boy killed by a missile strike in Makeen, South Waziristan, Pakistan, in a photo taken on Feb. 14, 2009.

Behram explained his own motivation in taking the pictures: “I have tried covering the important but uncovered and unreported truth about drone strikes in Pakistan: that far more civilians are being injured and killed than the Americans and Pakistanis admit,” he told the AP’s Sebastian Abbot last month.

As Abbot reported, U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program, but they have said privately that the strikes harm very few innocents and are key to weakening al-Qaida and other militants.

Noor Behram via AP

A man stands next to a destroyed vehicle after a missile strike on a funeral in South Waziristan, Pakistan, on July 8, 2009.

The Beaconsfield exhibition, Gaming in Waziristan, is a collaboration with the NGO Reprieve, which has provided legal representation to prisoners on death row and Guantanamo Bay inmates. Reprieve has launched an initiative named “Bugsplat” – the term used by the CIA to describe a successful drone hit – which calls for an inquiry into the use of drones and says that some of the attacks may have constituted war crimes.

“We currently have a monopoly, or effective monopoly, on armed drones,” John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, told Reuters last month. “This technology will spread, and it will be used against us in years to come.”

In one tense district, Afghan crisis comes into focus

[We are witnessing the slow motion reversal of Afghanistan right back into Taliban hands.  The death and destruction have all been unnecessary and the efforts wasted in futility.  The only way to help the people of Afghanistan is for the US and NATO to focus on repairing the damaged country, but there is no room for this in Imperial plans, which are all focused down the road, all the way into Central Asia.  It was never about finding and destroying the intelligence assets, 'Al-CIA-da," it was about reaming-out Afghanistan and the entire region.]

In one tense district, Afghan crisis comes into focus

BY JONATHAN S. LANDAY

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

SAROBI, Afghanistan — The atmosphere inside the district headquarters had grown as torrid as the pulsing summer heat outside when tempers finally exploded.

“If you keep rudely interrupting me, I’ll stomp on you,” thundered Ali Ahmad, a grizzled tribal elder. Dozens of men leapt from the floor, some with fists and teeth clenched, others pushing apart would-be brawlers.

The uproar that ended the traditional tribal parley last week was a measure of the volatility that’s left Sarobi the only one of 15 districts in Kabul province that the U.S.-led international security force hasn’t transferred to Afghan responsibility.

This Taliban-haunted district’s dysfunctional governance, power struggles and long-standing rivalries offer a grim microcosm of the national crises that plague Afghanistan. Together, they’re fueling fears that the drawdown of allied combat forces that began last month could push the country deeper into turmoil and perhaps even all-out civil war.

Sarobi’s struggles may not be unique in Afghanistan, but the 425-square-mile district of sweeping mountains and remote valleys, home to about 120,000 people, is especially crucial to the country’s fate.

Sarobi is a strategic gateway to Kabul, the Afghan capital. The main highway linking Kabul to the Pakistani border runs through here, a vital corridor for trade, travel and U.S. military supplies.

The highway skirts the Kabul River, plunges through the cliffs of the Kabul Gorge and finally spills into a mountain-ringed basin, where it feeds an azure lake formed by a decrepit, Soviet-built hydroelectric dam. Tracing a route that invaders used for centuries, it passes between rocky choke points that make perfect defenses.

In 1996, after overrunning the district center, Taliban fighters took less than 24 hours to storm into Kabul, 30 miles to the west, where they consolidated their grip on Afghanistan and set the world on a collision course with Sept. 11, 2001.

Residents of Sarobi – a clutter of ramshackle stores, flyblown fruit stands and dank eateries straddling the highway – recall the factional battles that convulsed the town during the civil war that followed the 1989 pullout by Soviet troops.

“I hope God doesn’t bring those times back,” said Rahmatullah Ahmadzai, sitting in his shop stuffed with DVDs and CDs, which the Taliban banned as un-Islamic. “The Taliban say that killing one music shop owner is the same as killing 12 French soldiers.”

Some 3,900 French troops are deployed in Sarobi and a neighboring district. French commanders had hoped to begin pulling them out as early as this past February but the move was delayed until late this year. a prospect that still fills residents and officials with dread.

“The security here depends on the foreigners,” warned Hazrat Mohammad Haqbin, a veteran bureaucrat who runs the district administration. “A neutral force of some kind will be needed here when the French leave. People in this region are murderous to each other and they will kill each other.”

Violence is way down from when the French deployed here three years ago and lost 10 soldiers in an ambush, the French army’s single biggest loss in 25 years. The Taliban fire at vehicles on remote stretches of the highway and stage occasional bomb strikes, though they stay away from Sarobi town.

The insurgents, however, may just be waiting for the French to leave. They’re in many parts of the district , and residents say they have a stronghold in the remote Uzbin Valley, where Afghan forces rarely venture.

“There are so many Taliban in the valley,” said Malik Waheedullah, a tribal elder. “The government hasn’t been there yet.”

Local politics are making the situation more brittle. Rival groups of tribal leaders, businessmen and other prominent figures are competing over who’s the real district council, exchanging charges of nepotism, greed and corruption that nearly turned last week’s parley into a punch-up.

“This piece of paper will ignite fighting between the people of Sarobi,” Ahmad yelled. He displayed a government certificate that verifies the victory of the 50-member “official” council in a March election that Kabul held in an apparent bid to tighten its grip on the district.

Both groups have ties to the Taliban: The brother of one official council member served several years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay. Others include local powerbrokers and former commanders of anti-Taliban militias-turned-political parties that many Afghans fear are rearming, preparing for the vacuum that the U.S.-led military drawdown is creating.

District councils have no real power, but they resolve local feuds and act as partners in small-scale foreign aid projects, roles that confer influence and prestige on members – and provide opportunities to skim funds and corner contracts.

Tribal elders selected Sarobi’s “unofficial” council of 80 members from among themselves four years ago. Because of its informal nature, the group reached understandings in some areas with Taliban fighters that allowed it to employ locals who were desperate for work on projects such as drilling wells and building culverts, members said.

“We have worked in places controlled by the Taliban,” recounted Waheedullah, an unofficial council member. “The official council can’t go to my village.”

Unofficial council members warned that the truces will collapse unless the official council, whose members they accuse of buying votes, allows their group to remain in an unpaid advisory role. Otherwise, they said, aid projects will stall, fueling support for the Taliban.

Moreover, they said, the official council is hamstrung by its association with President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government, which pays council members a monthly salary of about $130.

“The Taliban has warned people to cut their connections to the government. Otherwise they will saw their heads off with a shoestring,” said Allah Mohammad, the clerk of the unofficial council.

Abdul Mubin Tawkalzai, the official council chairman, denied the vote-buying allegations against his 50-member group. Those who are making the charges are just angry that they lost their races for the new body, he said.

“They are losing their economic interest and their public reputation and are being pushed out of the district’s political scene,” said Tawkalzai, a heavyset, bearded man. “The election was transparent and there were no problems.”

He dismissed the idea that his council is too closely associated with the Karzai government to supplant the unofficial group, saying, “We are independent people.”

A June report by the International Crisis Group research agency identified Tawkalzai as a former Northern Alliance commander whose militia fought over Sarobi in the late 1990s against a militia aligned with the Taliban.

Tawkalzai – whose nom de guerre is Commander Mubin – and his former rival faction leader “have continued to exert considerable influence over Sarobi through their relatives and proxies, several of whom are fighting on behalf of the Taliban,” said the report, quoting residents.

Adding to the tensions, Karzai’s government has decided to establish and arm a 300-man volunteer police unit in Sarobi under a U.S.-funded program that’s designed to boost security in rural areas. But some warlords associated with Afghanistan’s three decades of factional slaughter have used the Afghan Local Police program to build personal militias known as “arbaki.”

Ordinary Afghans accuse the formations, which are trained by U.S. special forces, of committing crimes and other abuses with impunity.

“Who is going to recruit these arbaki? The former commanders of the mujahedeen,” said Haqbin, the district chief, in apparent reference to Mubin and other power barons. “Instead of weakening these former commanders, this will strengthen them.”

Sarobi residents worry that the departure of foreign troops will turn back the clock to the chaos of the 1990s, when rival factions battled over checkpoints used to extract tolls from drivers who dared to ply the highway.

“There were 20 different checkpoints along this road” remembered Lal Gul Sahebzada, who runs a teahouse in the town bazaar. “If you were in a truck carrying goods, you had to pay a huge amount of money at each checkpoint.”

“At some checkpoints, they’d release a dog to frighten you into paying them,” he continued. “There was one fighter whose commander called him ‘Dog’ and used him to do the same thing.”

(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this report.)

Turkmenistan: Police Crack Down on Abadan Reporters; President Reprimands Cell Company

This Explains the Loss of My Turkmen Readership

[My traffic numbers reflect the significant loss of what was once nearly 60% of my readership.  The following quote comes from an article I posted last year:

"The "No Sunglasses" website is the 24th most popular website in Turkmenistan.--Sep 4, 2010"]

Russian MTS Loses $140 Million, 2 Million Turkmens Lose Internet Connection

Oil payment row and India-Iran ties

Oil payment row and India-Iran ties

ATUL ANEJA

Green fuel emission control petrol Euro III and IV units of HPCL. File photo
The Hindu

As Indian firms line up behind Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, their moves are likely to invite Iran’s hostility which could easily spill over into the political realm.

India’s ties with Iran need urgent attention as an unresolved row over oil payments threatens to drag the relationship, once described as “strategic,” to a new low.

The problem arose in December 2010 when the Reserve Bank of India, under U.S. pressure, decided to no longer use a clearing mechanism to pay Iran for its crude. Washington and its western allies had exhorted India not to use the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) currency swap system to pay Iran. They argued that this mechanism, established at the initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) and in operation since 1974, was disconcertingly opaque. Consequently, it was difficult to ascertain whether the money flowing into Iran’s coffers was not used to fortify the country’s nuclear programme. Faced with these objections, India, according to theFinancial Times, began using the German bank, EIH, for making payments. However, this channel broke down in May 2011, after the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran is India’s core energy partner — its second largest oil supplier. Nearly 12 per cent of India’s total demand, around 4,00,000 barrels a day, feeds India’s refineries and petrochemical complexes. The Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MPCL) is the largest oil importer from Iran. The IOC, BPCL, HPCL and Essar are also major consumers of Iranian crude.

Because of the difficulties over payments, Indian companies have accumulated a debt of nearly $5 billion. With the payment row festering, Iran decided to halt supplies to Indian firms for August. However, as the deadline for the payments neared, both sides scrambled to achieve a breakthrough. On July 31, Iran’s Oil Ministry website SHANA reported that the payment row had been settled. India would pay part of the debt “promptly” and the rest would be “gradually settled.” The Ministry’s optimism notwithstanding, details of the inner workings of the new mechanism and the prospects of its durability remain far from clear. (Media reports say that India and Iran have finalised the settlement of dues through a Turkish bank arrangement.)

The possible collapse of Iranian supplies will have far greater ramifications than a mere commercial impediment in a buyer-seller relationship. Iran’s decision not to supply oil, if implemented, will deliver a serious blow to the evolution of a robust geostrategic relationship between New Delhi and Tehran, of which a highly developed energy partnership has to be the core. Aware of the importance of establishing a strong political relationship, India and Iran, with Pakistan as the third party, had begun negotiations on the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. Had the pipeline materialised, it would have not only generated obvious economic benefits but also imparted regional stability, premised on mutually beneficial interdependence.

Despite the unrealised potential of the IPI or any of its variants, Iranian officials privately concede that the energy relationship between India and Iran should move on. Before threatening to stop supplies, Iran had begun to show fresh interest in seeking Indian investments in its oil and gas sector. Alive to the recent Indian energy forays in neighbouring Central Asia, Iranians were also considering working with India on a possible fuel swap arrangement in the future. Under this mechanism, Iran could export energy to India from its terminals, in return for an equal amount of oil delivered across the border to Iran, which may have been tapped by Indian firms in Central Asia.

Quite recently, India’s induction into the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member appeared to have led Tehran, to consider afresh, the need for reinforcing its ties with New Delhi. “We realise that India in the future is likely to play an ever-larger global role, and we want to position ourselves well as this process unfolds,” an Iranian academic in Tehran, who did not wish to be named, recently told this correspondent.

Apart from energy, there are two key elements that define the relationship. One of them is trans-continental transit. Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas is the starting point of the north-south corridor which can ferry goods northwards towards the Caspian, and further into Russia and Europe. But, more critically, India needs Iran to physically access Afghanistan. It can do so from the Iranian port of Chabahar, from where a land corridor extends northwards before entering Afghanistan. For reasons of geography, Iran is central to India’s Afghan policy.

The importance of Iran to fulfil India’s aspirations in Afghanistan is bound to heighten as NATO, most likely without imparting much stability, begins to pull out of the country, in accordance with a three-year time table. In a likely political vacuum, there will be demands on India, Iran, its Central Asian neighbourhood and possibly Russia to play a proactive role in Afghanistan. That would, however, require a powerful vision and strategic cooperation, including intelligence sharing and political coordination at an unprecedented level, for which serious preparations have to begin right away. In fact, with western forces stepping out, in a manner not very different from the Soviet withdrawal from the country in 1989, India may find it necessary to initiate the evolution of a regional mechanism, where neither Pakistan nor China is left out, so that Afghanistan — a country prone to multiple influences — has a realistic chance to rebuild.

However, the manner in which the oil payments row is being handled suggests that New Delhi, far from strengthening ties with Tehran from a larger regional perspective, might have, after considerable deliberations and probably in line with the thinking in Washington, decided to scale down its ties with Iran. Alternatively, India-Iran ties, of which Afghanistan is a key component, might have become the victim of governmental drift, reflecting complete liberation from a larger strategic vision that should otherwise inform a vibrant relationship between the two countries.

It is, therefore, disappointing that India, instead of quickly arriving at a new payment agreement with Iran and defusing a major crisis, has apparently decided to place heavier reliance on Saudi Arabia as an alternative fuel supplier.

Reuters has quoted K. Murali, HPCL’s head of refineries and international trade, as saying that the company has sought an additional supply of one million barrels in August from Saudi Aramco.

India’s greater reliance on Saudi Arabia may not be temporary, confined to warding off its current difficulties with Iran. Indian refiners may already be restructuring their procurements by probing alternative suppliers, especially Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, to offset their dependence on Iran. In its annual report, MRPL has noted that given “the enhanced level of sanctions on Iran in future, [and] the non-resolution of the current payment crisis, the availability of Iranian crude may be difficult.”

As Indian firms appear to line up behind Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf partners, their moves are likely to invite Iran’s hostility, which could easily spill over into the political realm. The decision to increase dependence on Saudi Arabia and reduce procurements from Iran is particularly ill-timed because of the rapid escalation recently of a Cold War between the two countries. Since the advent of the Arab Spring — the expression for the rising tide of pro-democracy movements since January that are sweeping across West Asia and North Africa — relations between Riyadh and Tehran have turned nasty. Saudi Arabia’s decision in March to send troops into neighbouring Bahrain to quell, what was described by Riyadh as a pro-Iran Shia uprising, has added a sharp emotive edge to the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Iran’s foes have also accused Tehran of fomenting the rise of the so-called “Shia crescent” in the region — a mythical Iran-led Shia alliance that allegedly is trying to foist a sectarian anti-Sunni agenda in the region.

By siding with the Arab petro-monarchies to meet its energy requirements, India has, inadvertently or otherwise, forced itself into the throes of the Saudi-Iran Cold War. For many influential Iranians, India’s move would be seen as taking sides — a deliberate decision to join the anti-Iran camp led by the United States and its regional allies, chiefly Saudi Arabia. In highly politicised Iran, which is particularly on edge after the onset of the Arab Spring, this is combustible material, which can rapidly inflame public passions against India and eventually lead to the undermining of New Delhi’s core interests in Afghanistan, compulsorily channelled through Iran.

Amid the fluidity of the Arab Spring and its accompanying firmament, India needs to navigate skilfully to establish parallel and independent relations with both Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, and Iran, its strategic partner, for the protection of its interests in Afghanistan and, later, in energy-rich Iraq, where Tehran’s influence runs deep. But a balanced and vibrant relationship with the two regional giants will become possible only if India assesses its difficulties with Iran not as an isolated technical issue but as one which can define the contours of its influence in the region.

A Glimpse Inside of Hillary’s Subversive “Intern Factory”

[The purpose of this intern program is the Americanization of innocent Pakistani youth, before sending them back to Pakistan to organize and mobilise and “Shape Public Discourse”--the same process that Arab and N. African youth went through before becoming American shock troops in their own homelands.  After attending these brainwashing sessions, these Hillary clones should not be allowed back on Pakistani soil.]

Embracing the American mainstream

By Malik Siraj Akbar | DAWN.COM

Divergent stories of success and suspicion made the one-day conference a ‘must-attend’ event to learn more about the role and issues of the Pakistani-American community.

On one bright sunny day a school trip to Newseum— a museum in Washington DC which is exclusively devoted to media and journalism— changed Noorulain Khawaja’s life. Inspired by gallant stories and heroic images of war correspondents, the little Pakistani-American girl decided to become a journalist. She wanted to tell fascinating stories to the world but her mother believed “journalism was a failed profession”.

Ms. Khawaja’s was destined to be a bumpy ride because of what she terms the “complex identity as a Pakistani-American-Kashmiri Muslim woman”. She faced hardships due to each of these misconstrued identities.

“If you want to achieve a goal in your life,” says Ms. Khawaja, a producer with Al-Jazeera English, “just go and achieve it. Don’t wait and only harp about it.” Today, her mother is “110 per cent satisfied” with Khawaja’s decision to stand different from the mob by deciding to opt for journalism as a career against the oft-preferred spheres of medical science and engineering.

The audience at the Washington DC Youth Conference on “Embracing the American Mainstream” fervently listened as Khawaja recalled her journey from the Pakistan Television to BBC, CNN and the United Nations to pursue her goal as a scrupulous story-teller.

“Don’t waste any opportunity of practical learning,” she advised the young audience of Pakistani Americans while referring to the significance of networking and interactions to assimilate into the US mainstream: “intern, intern and intern until you learn what you need in your professional life”.

While Ms. Khawaja confidently counted her achievements, every speaker at the conferences did not share similar experiences of joy and success. For Ms. Darakshan Raja, a human rights activist, it had been a contrary experience.

“They [the Americans] hate us,” said Ms. Raja, a panelist who works with the Amnesty International in New York, “Discrimination against Muslims and particularly Pakistanis in the US has significantly skyrocketed since 9/11.”

Her anguish was officially certified by Ms. Iffat Imran Gardezai the deputy chief of the Pakistani diplomatic mission in the United States.  “There is a nasty media campaign unleashed in this city [Washington DC] against Pakistan,” she grumbled, “The media are propagating against us.”

Such divergent stories of success and suspicion made the one-day conference a ‘must-attend’ event to learn more about the role and issues of the Pakistani-American community.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani regretted the ghettoisation of the Pakistani community and its absence from the American mainstream.

In the first session of the conference on “Reflections on Pakistani American visibility in the US”, Dr. Mehtab Karim, a visiting senior research fellow at Pew Research Center, said around 600,000 Pakistan Americans lived in the United States. 32.7 per cent of them were born in the United States while the biggest migration (23 per cent) took place between 1990 to 1999. During 1980 to 1989, the second higher migration (14 per cent) was recorded. However, the post-9/11 period saw a dramatic decline in the number of Pakistanis who migrated to the US.

“A vibrant, educated youth is in fact the strength of the Pakistani American community,” said Dr. Khan, who had formerly taught demography at Karachi’s Agha Khan University, “60 per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 35 while only 49 per cent of America’s total population is below 35 years.”

He noted that more Pakistanis (29.5 per cent) completed four years of college than Americans (17.6 per cent). Likewise, Pakistanis did better (22.5 per cent) than the Americans (20.0 per cent) in terms of completing a Master’s degree in a professional degree while 1.6 per cent Pakistanis obtained a doctorate degree as compared to the total of Americans (1.1 per cent).

“More Pakistani Americans opt for medical and engineering while fewer join the education sector,” he observed, “America is a country where writers and researchers are easily noticed and widely respected whereas a low presence of Pakistanis in social sciences is one major reason for their invisibility in the American mainstream.”

Moeed W. Yusuf, the South Asia advisor at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said the Pakistani-Americans faced tough challenges because of an increasing clash of interests between their ancestral and present countries.

“The Pakistani community faces a serious problem of assimilation either because of the experiences they bring from their home country or due to averseness to politics,” he pointed out.

The presentation by Shuja Nawaz, the Director of South Asia Center, at the Atlantic Council, was very helpful to the audience in grasping the classic problems of integration and nostalgia faced by Pakistani and other communities who newly settle in the United States.

According to Mr. Nawaz, the immigrants bring with them the South Asian culture to the United States and continue to romanticise the “good practices”, “delicious food” and “wonderful music” of their home country which does not necessarily exist in the new country of their residence. Hence, the new-comers subsequently find it hard to integrate into the American pluralistic culture and initiate a nostalgic discourse of ‘my country versus America”. They also draw an analogy of American cultural practices with their home country instead of accepting diversity and pluralism as the essence of American society.

“Those who have come to the United States should not shy away from taking ownership of responsibilities and practice the rights they are guaranteed by the constitution instead of living in ghettos,” he recommended, “At the end of the day, it’s your hard work and credibility that counts.”

During the conference, discussions on “the art of organising and mobilising”, “the value of public service” and “Shaping Public Discourse” further helped in understanding the challenges and opportunities the Pakistani community faced in the United States. A few young Pakistani girls, who now work at important institutions such as the US Congress, Department of Defense, USAID, ABC News etc, inspired the audience with their stories of hard work and achievement of professional goals.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, like most speakers of the conference, regretted the ghettoisation of the Pakistani community and its absence from the American mainstream. In his views, Pakistanis failed to join the mainstream because of their unwillingness to shun their past experiences and get out of their comfort zones.

A lot of Pakistanis still look at channels and newspapers from back home as the “reliable sources” whereas the ambassador insisted that they were “full of conspiracy theories and rhetoric which eventually form people’s perceptions about the United States and distance our people from accepting the different realities of the western world.”

Mr. Haqqani described America’s ties with Pakistan as that of a rich uncle’s troubled relations with a thankless child who loved to accept gifts and presents from the ‘rich-uncle’ but still continued to speak against him.

“Pakistan should not solely depend on American assistance,” he suggested, “We should take this assistance as an opportunity to grow the seed for future progress by developing our institutions. It is easy to suggest discontinuing relations with the US or rejecting their aid but we have to calculate the price of such an emotional decision.”

In the session called “Town Hall with the Ambassador”, Mr. Haqqani frankly spoke about Pakistan’s “poor branding” in the United States. For instance, only 5298 Pakistani students were enrolled in the United States as compared to 98,000 Chinese and 60,000 Indians and even 11,000 Nepali students because of the poor standard of education in Pakistan.

The first youth conference of the Pakistan-Americans was very candid in debating pressing challenges and appreciative of success stories of gifted youth of Americans of Pakistani origin. It did a remarkable job by recognising the achievements of those individuals whose actions have ultimately spoken louder than the stereotypes. The event also provided a chance to critically analyse the problem of increasing isolation and self-imposed segregation of the American-Muslim-Pakistani community from the American mainstream.

Malik Siraj Akbar, a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow based in Washington DC, is a visiting journalist at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

We Have Merely Made the Fuse On Our National Debt Bomb One Inch Longer

China says US deal ‘failed to defuse debt bomb’

China, sitting on the world’s biggest foreign exchange reserves of around $3.20 trillion as of the end of June, is the largest holder of US Treasuries. — Photo by AP

BEIJING: China warned Wednesday that tortured efforts to raise the US debt ceiling had failed to defuse Washington’s “debt bomb”, and that it would further diversify its currency holdings away from the dollar.

US President Barack Obama finally signed an emergency austerity bill on Tuesday that averted what would have been a catastrophic debt default for the world’s biggest economy.

But a failure to rein in US borrowing could “jeopardise the well-being of hundreds of millions of families within and beyond the US borders”, the official Xinhua news agency said in a blistering commentary on the deal.

“The months-long tug of war between Democrats and Republicans…failed to defuse Washington’s debt bomb for good, only delaying an immediate detonation by making the fuse an inch longer,” the commentary said.

“Meanwhile, the madcap farce of brinkmanship has disclosed yet another ticking bomb in the heartland of the sole superpower in the world — the crippling tendency to politicise the economics while trivialising the politics.”

China, sitting on the world’s biggest foreign exchange reserves of around $3.20 trillion as of the end of June, is the largest holder of US Treasuries.

Xinhua’s comments came as China’s central bank said it would continue to diversify its foreign currency investments, signalling growing concerns in Beijing over the US debt crisis and economic downturn.

“China’s foreign exchange reserves will continue following the principle of diversified investment, enhancing risk management,” People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said in a statement.

“Large fluctuations and uncertainty in the US treasury bond market will affect the stability of international monetary and financial systems, which will hurt global economic recovery.”

The statement, in which he also welcomed the plan, was the first official response to the deal to raise to the limit on US borrowing and enact at least $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade.

“We will further study and pay close attention to the details of the plan in hopes the US government and Congress adopts responsible policy measures to properly deal with the debt problem,” he added.

Also Wednesday, Xinhua said Chinese rating agency Dagong, which has links to the government through its chairman, had downgraded the United States’ credit rating from A+ to A, with a negative outlook.

Dagong has made a name for itself by hitting out at its three Western rivals — Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s — saying they caused the financial crisis by failing to properly disclose risk.

The big three agencies have consistently awarded Washington their highest possible “AAA” rating — allowing the United States to take on more debt at lower cost.

Dagong’s chairman, Guan Jianzhong, is a paid adviser to China’s government, but insists his agency is fully independent.

The agency is trying to build an international profile, but currently has little influence outside China.

The US House of Representatives late Monday approved a package that would slash spending in return for raising the legal limit on US sovereign debt, in a bid to avoid a catastrophic default.

An article in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily on Tuesday said the last-minute deal revealed the long-term risks to China’s massive holdings of US Treasuries.

China’s state television network CCTV has also criticised the agreement in a rare editorial broadcast on the national evening bulletin on Monday, saying it had more “pomp and ceremony than substance”.

Timing of Drone Strikes Reflect State Dept./CIA Turf War

[This murderous CIA program purposely destabilizes every diplomacy gain, in order to ratchet-up the terror, the driving mechanism in the official "strategy of tension."  The CIA is run by a bunch of egotistical monsters who prefer to lie, cheat and steal to perpetuate the Imperial delusions, while State operates on the principle of bribery and implied threats.  Has either side ever thought of doing things the old-fashioned way--helping the other side, as the most effective, moral means of persuasion?]

Timing of US drone strikes questioned

* Panetta dismissed Munter’s request not launch drone attacks day after Davis release

ISLAMABAD: The American ambassador to Islamabad phoned Washington with an urgent plea: Stop an imminent CIA drone strike against militants on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.

He feared the timing of the attacks would further damage ties with Islamabad, coming only a day after the government grudgingly freed a CIA contractor held for weeks for killing two Pakistanis.

Ambassador Cameron Munter’s rare request — disclosed by several US officials — was forwarded to the head of the CIA, who dismissed it. US officials said Leon Panetta’s decision was driven by anger at Pakistan for imprisoning Raymond Davis for so long and a belief that the militants being targeted were too important to pass up.

The deadly March 17 attack helped send the US-Pakistan relationship into a tailspin from which it has not recovered. The timing of the strike — and others that followed — outraged Pakistani officials, complicating US efforts to win Pakistani cooperation on the Afghan war and retain support for the drone programme.

Newly revealed details of the drone raids were provided by US and Pakistani officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the programme.

Among them were attacks that followed an April visit by Pakistan’s spy chief to Washington as well as trips here by Sen John Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May.

Seven years into a secret programme that has killed scores of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, there are increasing questions over whether it is worth the diplomatic backlash in Pakistan. US President Barack Obama has dramatically ramped up the programme, unleashing more than 200 strikes since he took office compared to fewer than 50 during the Bush administration.

The Pakistani government is widely believed to have supported the programme in the past and even allowed the drones to take off from bases inside Pakistan, but that support has waned as relations between the two countries have soured.

The attacks have also strained the relationship between the US State Department and the CIA, where officials argue that killing militants who threaten US interests should take priority over political considerations, said US officials.

That tension was clearly visible between Ambassador Munter and the CIA station chief in Islamabad, who recently left his post because of illness, said a senior Western official in the region.

“When the doors are closed they are shouting at each other, but once the doors are open they are congenial in front of the embassy staff,” said the official.

The hard-charging station chief also clashed with the head of Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the ISI, over drone strikes, said a Pakistani official.

The CIA does not comment on the drone programme.

A US official familiar with the issue played down the tension.

“It is very, very rare for the chief of mission to express concern about any particular operation,” the official said, referring to the ambassador. “When concerns are raised, they’re always given close consideration.”

Munter must sign off on every planned drone attack in Pakistan, although he rarely voices an objection, said a former aide to the ambassador. If Munter disagrees with a planned strike, the CIA director can appeal to him, said two US officials, providing the most detailed description of the process to date.

Clinton can also weigh in, and has done so at least once, one US official said.

On March 17, Munter used the embassy’s secure line in an attempt to stop an imminent drone strike. His concern was that the strike — a day after the release of the CIA contractor Davis — would set back Washington’s already shaky relations with Islamabad, said the former aide and a senior US official.

The Davis case had left bad feelings on both sides. On January 27 in Lahore, Davis shot to death two Pakistanis who he said were trying to rob him, enraging many people in a country where anti-American sentiment is high. The US insisted Davis had immunity from prosecution, but he was not released until March 16 under a deal that compensated the victims’ families. Pakistan’s security agencies came under intense domestic criticism for freeing him.

Munter’s request went to the State Department and was forwarded to then-CIA director Panetta, now secretary of defence, who insisted on going ahead, said the officials. It is unclear whether Clinton was involved in the decision.

The former aide said the strike reflected the CIA’s anger at the ISI, which it blamed for keeping Davis in prison for seven weeks.

“It was in retaliation for Davis,” the aide said. “The CIA was angry.”

The CIA also believed it was vital to kill the militants targeted in the strike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, said the senior US official. But other US officials agreed with Munter that it wasn’t worth the political blowback, the official said.

Two pairs of missiles were fired three minutes apart, hitting several dozen tribesmen meeting in the open in Shiga village near the Afghan border. Pakistani officials and local tribesmen said four Taliban fighters and 38 innocent people were killed.

The CIA claimed they were all militants, but villagers and Pakistani officials said the group was holding a community meeting, or jirga, to resolve a local mining dispute.

A tribal elder, Malik Dawood, had purchased rights to cut down and sell a large tract of oak trees, said 40-year-old farmer Gul Ahmed. But he subsequently realised the land contained chromite and argued with the landowner about whether he could mine it, he said. Four Taliban militants were attending the jirga to guarantee any decision made because of their control over the area, said the villagers and Pakistani officials.

US officials said the CIA tracked the militants driving to the meeting and decided rather than targeting just the car, they would wait to get the entire assembled party.

The strike killed the militants, along with six tribal policemen and 32 other tribesmen, according to Ahmed, who provided the names of the dead and attended their mass funeral. A senior official in the area confirmed the death toll. In a rare public statement, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said the jirga “was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life.”

US intelligence officials brusquely dismissed the Pakistani claims. “There’s every indication that this was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands,” said one official at the time.

ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha took the strike as a personal insult because he had stepped in to get Davis released, Pakistani officials said.

The strike hampered counter-terrorism cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, and the Pakistani government started sending US military trainers home — a process that accelerated after the raid that killed bin Laden.

Pasha made a personal trip to Washington in April in an attempt to repair relations. The ISI chief said he would work to let in more CIA operatives if the US would consider including Pakistan in the process of drone strike targeting, said US officials at the time.

But before Pasha had returned home, two US missile strikes killed six suspected Taliban fighters in the South Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani officials said the attacks were seen as another slap to Pasha and made it impossible for him to raise the CIA’s requests with the army or the government.

This pattern continued after the US raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2. The operation outraged the Pakistani government because it was not told about it beforehand. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited in mid-May trying to salvage the relationship.

He made some progress but just as he left on May 16, the CIA launched a missile strike in North Waziristan, killing seven suspected militants. In response, Pakistani army chief Kayani and President Asif Ali Zardari sent Kerry angry messages that he received when he touched down in Dubai, said Kerry’s spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin, confirming details that first appeared in The New York Times Magazine.

State Department officials were also angry about three missile strikes that followed Clinton’s visit to Pakistan at the end of May, said a US official familiar with the events.

The prevailing view at the State Department and the White House is that CIA strikes are motivated by a drive to kill as many militants as possible in what the US sees as a window of opportunity that might soon close, rather than a deliberate attempt to torpedo diplomacy, said the official.

White House adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan Douglas Lute suggested as much during remarks last weekend at the Aspen Security Forum when he said al Qaida was on its heels after the death of bin Laden.

Referring to the drone campaign only obliquely, as a “covert action programme,” Lute said, “I would not adjust programmes today that are designed to go for the knockout punch when we’ve got this opportunity.”

However, former US intelligence chief Dennis Blair said the US should stop its drone campaign in Pakistan because the strikes damage the US-Pakistan relationship and are more of a nuisance than a real threat to al Qaida.

“I just see us with that strategy walking out on a thinner and thinner ledge,” Blair said at the forum, “and if even we get to the far end of it, we are not going to lower the fundamental threat to the US any lower than we have it now.” ap

What Team Does this Pair Play For?

[The West keeps trying to come-up with new angles to prove that they really are negotiating with Mullah Omar, and none of them are credible.  Apparently they really blew it last year, when they actually were negotiating with Baradar, Omar's Second in command, but, for whatever reason, that all ended when Pakistan's ISI took him and the other potential reconcilers into custody (SEE: Arresting Taliban To Cover America’s Ass ).  First the German media report on Americans negotiating with that Taliban youngster, Tayyab Agha, now this woman and the geezer.  Give it up!  Either start some serious negotiations with the real Mullah Omar and end the American occupation, or drop the bullshit.]

The Curious Case Of The Mullah Omar Meetings

Afghan lawmaker Homa Sultani 
Afghan lawmaker Homa Sultani      Lawmaker Haji Abdul Basir

August 02, 2011
In interviews with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Afghan lawmaker Homa Sultani has repeated the claim that she has met with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. She claimed that she knows his current whereabouts and that she has access to him. Sultani first made the claim on July 14, when she and a fellow lawmaker, Haji Abdul Basir, told reporters that they recently met the fugitive Taliban leader. He has signed on to their peace plan, they added.

Speaking this week to RFE/RL broadcaster Mustafa Sarwar, Sultani said she met Mullah Omar last year in Helmand and met him again near Kabul recently. “Mullah Mohammad Omar has reached an agreement with me even though I am a woman and a [ethnic] Hazara. He considers me an arbitrator between his side and other parties to the conflict in Afghanistan,” she said. “This points to progress and change in the ideology of the Taliban leadership.”
Sultani also claimed to have exchanged letters between Mullah Omar and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In a hand-written note in Dari language, the Taliban leader purportedly agreed to meet Karzai and had even traveled to within 150 kilometers of the Afghan capital to see him. Hamid Elmi, a spokesman for the Afghan president’s office, had previously expressed “doubts” about the signature on the purported letter from Mullah Omar. Sultani said last week the Afghan presidency had cooled on their efforts.

The purported letter from Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar to Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Her statements have generated tremendous interest and skepticism. Sultani defended her claims on a popular nighttime Afghan TV show. She has calmly answered critics inside the lower house of the Afghan parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. Afghan authorities are cautious after the embarrassment they faced last year, when Kabul and NATO mistook an impostor for a Taliban negotiator.

But for ordinary Afghans, any claim of progress in the seemingly unending quest for peace in their homeland rekindles hope. International forces are similarly intrigued by the prospect of a quick settlement that could pave the way for their exit from the mountainous country.

Reuters reported that Sultani’s July 14 press conference attracted journalists and diplomats:

That Sultani’s story would draw a packed audience from Kabul’s local and international press corps along with low-profile Afghan delegates from Western embassies, shows just how little is really known about peace “talks” with the Taliban.

Several embassies (inc Brits) sent people to today’s bizarre presser with Mullah Omar’s improbable mediators. Clutching at straws?” one Western journalist said on Twitter after the news conference.

Reuters added that cheerful Afghan journalists poked fun at Sultani’s claims: “Reporters jokingly embraced and congratulated each other that peace had finally come.”

– Abubakar Siddique

NATO asks for more troops for Kosovo

NATO asks for more troops for Kosovo

A French peacekeeper of the NATO force in Kosovo. (AFP Photo)

A French peacekeeper of the NATO force in Kosovo. (AFP Photo)

PRISTINA: NATO said Tuesday it had asked for more troops in Kosovo days after a trade row with Serbia sparked deadly violence, an apparent signal that it will not allow the situation to deteriorate.

NATO spokesman Hans Dieter Wichter told AFP that the KFOR mission in the territory had asked for one extra battalion.

A battalion is usually around 500 soldiers and a German military spokesman told AFP in Berlin that the troops would be sent from Germany and Austria.

Wichter explained the additional troops were needed to boost the operational reserve of the over 5,900 KFOR soldiers currently in Kosovo as “all of them are currently deployed”.

He stressed that the request did not mean that KFOR was unable to control the situation in majority-Serb northern Kosovo, where unrest flared last week after the ethnic Albanian government ordered police to seize control of two border crossings.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero also insisted the call for extra troops should not be read as a sign that the crisis is worsening.

“The reason for that is to relieve the forces currently on the ground, so this deployment should not be seen as a sign of escalation,” she said. “The situation is actually de-escalating.”

In Pristina, where EU mediator Robert Cooper was meeting Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to discuss the crisis, NATO’s move was seen as a signal that NATO is keen to see the trade row resolved peacefully.

“I think it is a message to Serb extremists that NATO is resolute in maintaining the situation and that no one can impose any solution by violence,” Ardian Collaku, a political commentator for the Zeri daily, told AFP.

“NATO is buying time and creating room for a political solution for the north through talks at the political level,” he added.

After the meeting with Cooper, Thaci said Pristina has “again made clear (which are) its red lines” not to be crossed in the talks with Serbia.

“Full sovereignty, territorial integrity and public order cannot be a part of any dialogue,” with Serbia, Thaci said in a statement.

Thaci blamed Belgrade as driving force of the latest deterioration in the north with the aim of dividing the region from Kosovo.

Pristina said it ordered its security forces to wrest control of the border crossings last week to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia which was being ignored by ethnic Serb members of Kosovo’s border police.

One ethnic Albanian police officer was killed in the ensuing clashes.

NATO troops stepped in when a border post in Kosovo was set on fire and bulldozed, apparently by ethnic Serbs.

Angry Kosovo Serbs have been blocking the roads leading to the crossing for several days and vowed to remain at the barricades until a solution was found.

Kosovo banned imports from Serbia in response to a similar move by Belgrade in 2008, when the ethnic Albanian majority unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia.

The disputed border crossings are seen as vital by many Kosovo Serbs as they provide a link with Serbia on which northern Kosovo relies almost exclusively for supplies of food and medicine.

Over the weekend, food shortages were reported in some northern Kosovo towns.

The European Union has repeatedly called for restraint on both sides and urged the Belgrade and Pristina to return to the dialogue.

EU mediator Cooper brokered talks between the two sides that kicked off in March aimed at smoothing friction and ending day to day headaches faced by ordinary people stemming from Belgrade’s non recognition of Kosovo’s break-away.

The talks stalled after both Serbian and Kosovo authorities were criticised at home for making too many concessions after they announced several agreements.

The idea was that the talks would progress from tackling practical issues to building confidence and finally dealing with more problematic issues such as the volatile situation in the north.

According to independent Kosovar analyst Naim Gashi the current crisis in the north makes that the number one issue to be solved in the talks.

“The latest development … imposed North Kosovo as the priority. There is no sense in talking about technical issues while the north is reaching boiling point,” he said.

- AFP/al

Russian minister calls for limits on the Internet

Russian minister calls for limits on the Internet

* Minister calls for Internet limits to protect youth

* Interior minister’s call raises fear of Internet controls

* Russian-language bloggers ridicule Nurgaliyev’s remarks

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Russia’s interior minister called on Tuesday for limits on the Internet to prevent a slide in traditional cultural values among young people, raising fears of controls over the vibrant Russian-language web.

Many of Russia’s 53 million web users fear that hardliners around Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would like to impose Chinese-style limits on the Internet to stave off any potential Arab Spring-style unrest ahead of the presidential election.

Russia’s iPad-wielding president, Dmitry Medvedev, has ruled out draconian controls while suggesting a discussion of how to deal with clearly illegal content such as child pornography.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev is the most senior official to publicly propose limits for cultural reasons.

“It is necessary to work out a set of measures for limiting the activities of certain Internet resources without encroaching on the free exchange of information,” ITAR-TASS quoted him as telling an inter-ministerial meeting on fighting extremism.

Nurgaliyev, who did not indicate which sites he felt should be curbed, said that Russia’s youth needed looking after to prevent young people from being corrupted by “lopsided” ideas, especially in music, that may undermine traditional values.

“It seems to me that the time has long been ripe to carry out monitoring in the country to find out what they are listening to, what they are reading, what they are watching,” he was quoted as saying of Russia’s youth.

“They have forgotten the love songs of old, the waltzes, everything that united us, our background and our roots,” the 54-year-old former KGB officer said.

Nurgaliyev’s lament echoes a wider perception among older Russians that morals have slipped in the two decades since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, but his call provoked ridicule and concern in the vibrant Russian-language blogosphere.

“Well, what can I say? I am not even going to say this is completely absurd,” Alexei Nikitin said on his Russian language blog here

“Sirs, idiocy is taking over the country.”

Andrei Makarevich, the leader of the popular Russian soft-rock group Mashina Vremeni, or Time Machine, told NTV television that Nurgaliyev’s comments were so confusing he could not find words to describe them.

But Russian intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov said Nurgaliyev’s comments camouflaged a wider drive by law-enforcement forces to establish intrusive monitoring of the Internet.

“Nurgaliyev… wants to use budget funds to set up a system to monitor the Internet,” Soldatov, head of the think-tank Agentura.ru, told Reuters. “The fact that Russian law-enforcement forces have begun actively working with companies to exchange information in this sphere is turning the concept of ‘privacy’ into a complete illusion.”

In a country where much media is state-run, the Internet is one of the last bastions of free speech. Russian bloggers freely criticise authorities, often scathingly, question high-level corruption and swap information without fear of censorship.

The Internet has played a crucial role in the unrest that has rocked North Africa and the Middle East, prompting some governments to tighten controls over access.

Such turmoil is unlikely in the near future in Russia, but some hardliners appear keen to ensure they could limit content on the Internet in the event of unrest.

A senior officer in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said in April that uncontrolled use of Gmail, Hotmail and Skype were “a major threat to national security” and called for access to the encrypted communication providers.

Western diplomats told Reuters that a series of cyber attacks on prominent hosting websites in recent months — including Medvedev’s own blog — had all the hallmarks of a highly organised, well-financed hacker attack. (Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Heinrich) (; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Washington’s Silk Road Dream

Washington’s Silk Road Dream

Afghans walk in the old city of Bamiyan, on an old Silk Road trade route.Afghans walk in the old city of Bamiyan, on an old Silk Road trade route.
By Muhammad Tahir

“Historically, the nations of South and Central Asia were connected to each other and the rest of the continent by a sprawling trading network called the Silk Road,” Hillary Clinton said during her recent trip to the Indian city of Chennai. “Indian merchants used to trade spices, gems, and textiles, along with ideas and culture, everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the banks of the Bosporus. Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road.”But times change. This time around, Clinton envisages something that is not “a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections.”

Sounds like a great idea. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Dreams are good, but sometimes a bit of a reality check is in order. First of all, let’s consider for a moment this whole idea of the Silk Road. It’s a term invented by German geographer Ferdinand von Richtofen in 1877. The concept is just a bit more than a century old.

In the Middle Ages, the territory now associated with the idea of the Silk Road — spanning South, Central, and East Asia and much of the Middle East — was controlled by just a few rulers, and the territories of their empires were barely guarded. Borders barely existed. There was no such thing as a passport. The Silk Road itself was never “a single thoroughfare” but rather a messy tangle of interconnected routes. Roads, as a matter of fact, barely existed.

Perhaps even more importantly, the trade links that existed back then appeared against a radically different political and security backdrop.

Just consider Iran. Ancient Persia was undoubtedly an important part of the old Silk Road. But what about modern-day Iran? It is ruled by a regime of religious fanatics who have been targeted by UN sanctions. Doing business with the country is discouraged by international law. So will Iran be a part of this new Silk Road or not?

Then there’s historical India, a place that was controlled in ancient times by various empires and kingdoms. Today it is divided into three states — India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — two of which are bitter enemies that have fought at least three bloody wars against each other in less than half a century of their existence. Their relations are still bedeviled by their dispute over Kashmir.

As long as Indian and Pakistani leaders are unwilling to sit down and talk peace, the idea of extending trade links across the region makes little sense. You can certainly argue that promoting trade and transport between them will give them an incentive to behave more rationally toward each other. But it is hard to imagine that this will ever affect the situation in a fundamental way unless the underlying political problems that divide the two countries are addressed.

Pakistan also has an extremely tense relationship with Afghanistan, its neighbor to the west. Pakistani troops recently fired rockets across the border — not exactly the conditions for a positive business environment.

The fact that security in Pakistan is increasingly threatened by Islamist militants doesn’t exactly make it inviting to international investors either. Jihadis, who understand quite well the liberalizing effects that cross-border trade can have, have every interest in prolonging this state of affairs. The limited authority of the central government, deepening ethnic and religious divides, and fragile political institutions aren’t helping much, either.

As for Afghanistan, its main export to the rest of the world is still opium — the one commodity that seems to flow continuously across all regional borders. As for transport, the main infrastructure project of the past 30 years, the 2,200-kilometer Ring Road, has been under construction for the past nine years and still isn’t finished — and that was while U.S.-led international forces were still holding the Taliban more or less in check. Construction has been funded mostly by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Now Washington pulling out its troops. Will the Afghans manage to maintain the road? Will they be able to keep it secure?

The rest of Central Asia, it turns out, has comparable problems. Uzbekistan has restricted trade with neighboring Tajikistan — in retaliation, some say, for the Tajiks’ plans to build a huge hydropower project. The Uzbeks accuse the Tajiks of siphoning off much-needed water resources.

The Uzbeks are also angry at their neighbors in Kyrgyzstan, where there has been strife involving ethnic Uzbeks. The autocratic president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has never shown the slightest understanding of the values of free trade and open borders. After 21 years in power, he is unlikely to change now.

The same goes for Turkmenistan. Ruled by its own notorious autocrat, Turkmenistan remains one of the most isolated nations on earth. Getting in and out of the country remains extremely difficult even for individual travelers, let alone caravans of traders. This is one of several reasons why the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project — under discussion for 16 years — has never come to pass.

It is no accident that the government of Turkmenistan is now being sued for breach of contract by five Turkish companies that have done business there, while another two dozen or so are considering similar action.

These are not academic issues. All of these countries are in dire economic straits precisely because they are stifled by bureaucracy and corruption — conditions that stem directly from the way they are ruled. Only Kyrgyzstan is not under the rule of an out-and-out dictator, but there as well democratic institutions and the rule of law are woefully underdeveloped.

Yet Central Asia seems to stand at the center of the latest version of the Silk Road project, tirelessly promoted by some U.S. policymakers and Washington think tanks. The State Department and the Pentagon are among its most enthusiastic supporters.

Perhaps they can make it work. Secretary Clinton’s vision of trade caravans moving from the Bosporus to China, from New Delhi to Almaty, is seductive.

But wishing for such a thing does not make it so. So far, there is little evidence that any of these countries really understands the benefits that permeable borders and smoothly flowing trade could bring it. Until some of them do, it is hard to imagine how a 21st-century Silk Road can ever come to pass.

Muhammad Tahir is a Washington correspondent for RFE/RL and former correspondent of the IHA Turkish News Agency in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not ne

Washington’s Silk Road Pipe Dream


Washington’s Silk Road Pipe Dream

Peter Chamberlin

If arrogance and over-confidence had any real power or actual value, then Hillary Clinton could envision and create a New World Order all by herself (SEE:  Washington’s Silk Road Dream).  Democrat interventionists like Mrs. Clinton and her neutered husband like to daydream of ideal circumstances, way beyond the realm of human possibility and then do everything in their power to turn those daydreams into government policies.   It is idealistic foolishness to believe that these differences could be papered over with enough money in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, or in Somalia, where real divisions were compounded by pent-up anger over great historical wrongs or injustices.  

Our belief that we are capable of “managing conflicts,” validates our egotistic notions of superiority whereby we claim for ourselves the right or the responsibility to force compromise our solutions upon the parties in dispute.   These thoughts of superiority further lead us to justify forcing solutions upon others which also benefit us.  When the guile of our serpents’ tongues or the sparkling appeal of our suitcases full of greenbacks and gold are not enough to force our solutions upon the warring factions, then we also feel validated in the decision to use our overwhelming military and technological superiority to literally force a favorable resolution.

The “Clintonistas” of the Democratic Party are the worst of the wide-eyed, idealist interventionists.  From the Middle East to Central Europe, Clinton has made himself appear as a great “statesman,” by forcing pseudo-peace “accords” which lock-in perpetual wars.  The Oslo Accords froze the “peace process” in place upon Israel and Palestine, allowing the war to go on under international monitoring.  Similar peace deals dismembered the former Yugoslavia and permanently militarized the Balkans.   Somalia has simmered over the years, as Islamic sparks blew off of it, to ignite the surrounding famine and drought-stricken states.  But those wars linger-on still (all of them part of the melange of conflicts managed by Mrs. Clinton), some of them merely cooking on a slow boil, awaiting the arrival of the  next explosive opportunity.

American delusions wrapped around Hillary’s smoky dreams of reviving the Silk Road are actually a devious euphemism, depicting for the public an alternative narrative to the planned corporate rape of the energy rich region, using all available media to portray the massive military looting operation as a noble act of humanitarian mercy, just like the deception in Libya.  Hillary’s idyllic dreams of freeing the people of Central Asia from dictatorship and economic slavery can only be realized through the total American militarization of the region, yet no one dares to speak of this or of the convoys of humvees that will inevitably be patrolling that Silk Road, which coincidentally runs parallel to row after row of gas and oil pipelines.  The blissful lines of camel caravans painted in the pretty picture, carrying Hillary’s pipe dream, plying their wares to the outside world, will be run over by racing police cars and army convoys dashing back and forth, making futile efforts to contain the opium traffic, the only commodity that ever really mattered on any previous Silk Road.  As long as American and NATO forces refuse to eliminate the Afghan opium crops, or cooperate with Russia and the CIS states to stop the flow of opium, heroin and precursor chemicals for heroin production along the proposed Silk Route, then narco-mafias and narco-terror rings will continue to flourish, and as they do, they will provide the justification for the American militarization plans.

From their duplicitous role-playing games of noble popular revolutions springing-up over at the State Dept. and the ever-popular denials of reality in leaks and at Pentagon press briefings, it seems as though our highest leaders must all be sharing the same pipe dream, perhaps drawing on the same pipe?  American “public diplomacy” is a criminal policy, intended to produce criminal results.  American diplomats directly lobby foreign populations, by going around the governments of those nations is political subversion of the worst kind.  The use of American national technical means to enable Washington political animals to secretly create subversives and manufacture radicalized youth in targeted countries, is a quiet act of war, which no nation has yet called us to account for.  Neither have we been called to account for our military actions, such as the bombing of TV transmitter towers in Libya, where our “public diplomacy” of end-running around the Libyan government, by beaming satellite transmissions directly to the Libyan people is not enough–our leaders must also cut-off that legitimate government’s ability to communicate with its own people.  

American State Dept. destabilization of the troubled dictatorships of Central Asia, even while American and NATO forces are penetrating those same states, through cooperative anti-terror and anti-narcotics initiatives, reflects a particularly devious arrogance which systematically both attacks and defends a targeted country simultaneously, always careful to keep the level of destabilization one step lower than its power to maintain control.  Successful conflict management means that those whom you can’t control, you can predict.  The river of cash which makes all of these things possible serves to restrain potential negative reactions by those dictators.  Whether these capabilities will withstand the testing that will surely come from Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, or Turkmenistan’s Berdimuhamedov remains to be seen. 

Our ability to both create and limit these new conflicts in the former Soviet satellites through conflict management techniques will be put to the test in the days ahead.  I hope that Mrs. Clinton and her staff haven’t “bit-off more than they can chew.”


chamberlinpeter@hotmail.com