Diplomat Confirms Turkey Hosting US Drones

Diplomat Confirms Turkey Hosting US Drones

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Turkish Consul General in Erbil Aydin Selcen. Photo Rudaw.

“Recently the US government gave Turkey four US Predator drones, for air surveillance and monitoring and intelligence gathering. How else has the US been involved in Turkey’s campaign against the PKK?

Aydin Selcen: You’ll have to allow me to correct a few of your assumptions, in no particular order of priority. Concerning the four Predator drones – they’re at Incirlik (air) base. As they (the US) withdrew their military, as our military ally, the US asked us whether we could host the drones in our base and if they could continue their operations and we said yes. This is one thing. The other thing is that there is ongoing intelligence between the US and Turkey. This also includes the intelligence that might emanate from those drones. These are technical issues. The other thing is that the PKK is seen as an illegal terrorist organization by the US and is classified as such. And PKK leaders are designated as drug smugglers by the (US) Treasury Department… So we have ongoing cooperation with the US, but not only the US – it’s trilateral cooperation, including Iraq, Turkey and the US. And within the Iraq side the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is also represented, so that’s where we are.”  (read HERE)

It’s Official–Afghanistan Demands That Pakistan End Support To Taliban

End support to Taliban for peace: Afghans to Pak
Singapore: Afghanistan on Monday asked Pakistan to end its “unequivocally abundant support” to Taliban to check terrorist activities in the region that are hurting both countries. 

A top advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said while bold and open discussions have been held between Kabul and Islamabad on the issue of tackling terrorism, Pakistan now needs to “walk the talk”.

“Both countries are suffering from losses due to increasing terrorist activities,” Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, an advisor on the Home Security to the President, said on the sidelines of a workshop to discuss the Afghan transition.

He said while notable progress has been made in strengthening the security sector in Afghanistan, it was only in 2011 when the government’s comprehensive, population- centric counter-insurgency operations started bearing results and the trend started reversing.

“This is, however, a delicate progress and can reverse, if not managed well. With the unequivocally abundant support funnelled to them from outside the Afghan borders, insurgents are increasingly shifting tactics focusing on high profile targets thus rejecting any notion that they are losing the war,” he told over 100 delegates, including high ranking diplomats and representatives from the Pakistan and Indian High Commissions.

Other Afghan delegates too insisted that Pakistan was a source of insurgency in their country, and any fencing of the 2,400 km of border would not help contain terrorists.

Stanekzai, who is also the chief executive officer of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme, said there was trust-deficit between the two countries which remained a major hurdle in taking clearer action on the ground.

“Stabilising Afghanistan following NATO’s departure 2014 will not be possible unless the international community establishes a realistic strategy for the government to respect the rule of the law,” stressed Fawzia Koofi, the Afghanistan member of parliament and one of the 10-member Afghan delegates at the workshop, the first of its kind to be hosted in Southeast Asia and Singapore.

“The Taliban must stop getting military supplies from other side of the border, namely, Pakistan,” said Koofi, expressing concern over the possibility of Taliban’s return that, she said, would hit women the most.

PTI

Pakistan Is Out of Gas and Out of Cash–Perfect Time for An Invasion

[Nationalists take glee in “shutting down NATO” in Pakistan, thinking that the great war machine will grind to a halt–Well it is not happening.  On the other hand, the Arab oil regimes, which this same group of Nationalists consider to be “brotherly” countries are instead, listening to the Imperialists as they whisper in their ears, “Screw Pakistan, let it fall.”    This is going to be a long, cold winter for Pakistan, as locals scramble, looking to scrounge cooking gas, or transportation fuel.  This will probably prove to be far more devastating to Pakistan than Western sanctions are upon Iran.]

‘Brotherly’ countries turn down Pakistan’s request

Islamabad had asked Riyadh, Kuwait to extend their credit terms for oil payments.

ISLAMABAD: All rhetoric of brotherhood notwithstanding, two ‘friendly’ Arab countries have refused to supply oil to Pakistan on long-term credit.

Plagued by circular debt, and faced with high international oil prices, Pakistan had requested Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to extend their credit term for oil payments.

During his two-day visit in August last year, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had requested Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to either restore ‘free oil facility’ or extend the credit term for oil payment from the existing 30 days to one-year.

Saudi Arabia had granted Pakistan a ‘free oil facility’ in 1998, in the aftermath of the nuclear tests and subsequent economic sanctions from the United States and Europe.

“Saudi Arabia has turned down Pakistan’s request on grounds that since it exports oil to other countries, they may demand similar treatment,” said sources, quoting Saudi officials.

Saudi authorities also said that oil export is a commercial business for them and they would offer Pakistan the same terms that are offered to other countries, sources added.

Pakistan had also requested Kuwait to extend its credit terms for oil payments to six months, from the current two-month deferral period.

A formal request in this regard was made during President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Kuwait on May 7, 2011. At that time, Kuwait said it would discuss the matter with concerned authorities and let Pakistan know later.

Kuwait is the only country that supplies oil to Pakistan on a two-month deferred payment plan, an arrangement secured during the 2008 financial crisis. Other Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, export oil on 30-day credit term.

When contacted, however, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain said he had no knowledge of such requests.

Earlier, Iran had been supplying 45,000 barrels of crude oil to Pakistan on a three-month deferred payment plan until January 2011. UN-imposed sanctions, however, brought a halt to these due to difficulties in opening Letter of Credits from global banks for oil imports from Iran.

Since then, Iranian oil is largely smuggled to Pakistan. Officials say people of Baluchistan meet most of their requirements with smuggled oil.

Cash crunch at PSO

With almost Rs200 billion due to pay local and international fuel suppliers as of January 6, 2012, the largest public sector oil marketing company, Pakistan State Oil (PSO), is in dire straits.

Of that amount, PSO owes almost Rs114 billion to international fuel suppliers, including Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC). “PSO is facing an emergency-like situation and has no money to pay for oil supplies,” sources said.

“The situation has been aggravated due to nonpayment of dues by power sector and some other clients; PSO’s receivables have piled up to Rs185.2 billion,” sources added.

The company is mainly dependent on oil imports since oil refineries in the country are operating at 70% capacity due to circular debt, sources added.

Published in The Express Tribune

2011: Drone Attacks Remained Ineffective against Militant Leaders

2011: Drone Attacks Remained Ineffective against Militant Leaders

 Period/ Year
No. of Drone Attacks

Fatalities

2004-2007

9

     109

2008

34

      296

2009

53

709

2010

132

938

2011

75

609

Total

                 303

2661

According to the Conflict Monitoring Center’s annual report on drone attacks American Spy Agency CIA has failed to eliminate more than four Al-Qaeda leaders in its highly costly and controversial ‘assassination by drones’ campaign inside Pakistan during the year 2011. It had carried out 75 drone attacks inside Pakistani territory during the year 2011 killing 609 people, among them only three were Arab commanders of Al-Qaeda; one was UK’s most wanted and just four were senior commanders of different factions of Pakistani militants. During the year 2011 collaboration and cooperation between CIA and ISI turned into confrontation. After arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis and Abbottabad Operation, ISI busted many modules of local and international CIA agents active in the country. As a result American agency was deprived off human intelligence in many areas of North and South Waziristan. This led to ineffectiveness of the drone attacks against militant leadership. During the confrontation, the CIA also conducted revenge attacks in Pakistan. Due to differences between American State Department and the CIA, at the occasion of almost every high level meeting between Pakistani and American authorities, the CIA carried out a drone attack. American premier agency effectively undermined public diplomacy of its own government.

Conflict Monitoring Center’s tally of the drone attacks shows that overall number of drone attacks since 2004 has crossed the figure of 300 and So far 2661 people have been killed in 303 drone attacks. The Conflict Monitoring Center (CMC), an independent research center which regularly monitors drone attacks in Pakistan has prepared an annual report (2011) on drone attacks inside Pakistani territory. The report is based on the data collected from mainstream national and international media, e.g. CNN, NY Times, Al-Jazeera, Daily Dawn, The News, Daily Times, Geo News, Daily Express, Daily Ummat, Daily Mashriq, Daily Aaj and other news organizations.

The report notes 43 percent decline in drone attacks during the year 2011 than 2010. The CIA had conducted 132 drone attacks in 2010. The Number of fatalities in drone attacks has also dropped by 35 percent.

Mounting protest and public backlash against drone attacks as well as tension between US and Pakistan during the year led to the decline in drone attacks. U.S. has suspended drone attacks after an attack by NATO helicopters on a Pakistani military check post on November 26, 2011.

An unprecedented increase in Drone Attacks in South Waziristan was observed during the year. In the past, drone attacks in South Waziristan were rare in numbers as 90 percent of the attacks in 2010 occurred in North Waziristan. During the year 2011, South Waziristan was more frequently targeted. Drone attacks in South Waziristan were increased by 60 percent. During the year 2010 which was deadliest year of the history of Drone attacks in Pakistan with highest ever number of drone attacks and subsequent deaths, only 9 out of 132 strikes were carried out in South Waziristan. However, in 2011 the number of attacks increased to 23. In North Waziristan, the CIA carried out 50 strikes while two strikes were carried out in Kurram Agency.

American drones fired 242 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles during the year and destroyed 38 houses, 37 vehicles, one camp and a Madrassa. One such missile costs for $68000 which means the CIA spent $16.456 million or 1.5 billion Pakistani Rupees to kill 609 people. In average, ammunition cost of every single casualty was $27000 or 2.4 million Pakistani rupees. If other expenses are included the overall cost of killing one suspected militant will further rise. It may become point of concern for American tax payer that such a huge amount of money was spent just to eliminate four Al-Qaeda leaders and four Taliban commanders and during the process strained relations with key US ally in War on Terror, a diplomatic and political cost which cannot be measured in terms of pennies and dollars but can impact the overall result of the war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Contrary to American claims of only 50 civilian deaths during past eight years, a UK based media organization The Bureau of Investigative Journalism confirmed that a minimum of 391 and a maximum of 780 innocent civilians including 175 children have so far been killed in drone attacks.

Although Pakistani government has publically opposed Drone attacks but its ‘anonymous’ security officials kept playing dubious role while releasing false details of Drone Attacks. The government also failed to devise any plan to record casualties of civilians and militants by drone attacks. No comprehensive compensation policy for civilian victims of these attacks is in place however the government has announced .3 million for each of the victims of infamous March 17 attack on a peace Jirga in North Waziristan which killed 40 tribesmen. Drone attacks have emerged as a cause of the problem rather than a solution. During the year many public demonstrations were held against drone attacks in different parts of Pakistan while National Assembly, Senate, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkha Assemblies passed resolutions to condemn drone attacks. Besides public protests, there are at least three court cases pending against drone attacks in three different courts of Pakistan.

Total Drone Attacks in 2011

Month

No. of Drone Attacks

Reported Max Deaths

January

11

49

February

3

22

March

11

89

April

2

32

May

8

63

June

12

117

July

6

73

August

6

50

September

4

22

October

8

55

November

4

37

December

0

0

Total

75

609

Yearly Comparison of Drone Attacks

Period/ Year

No. of Drone Attacks

Fatalities

2004-2007

9

109

2008

34

296

2009

53

709

2010

132

938

2011

75

609

Total

303

2661

For Full Report Please Contact

Abdullah Khan

Director

Conflict Monitoring Center Islamabad at conflictmonitor@gmail.com

U.S. trump card in the Afghan endgame

[US strategy is centered upon reintroducing  Taliban to their former environments, who have been held at places like Guantanamo, where they have been subjected to the most extreme reconditioning processes imaginable.  At Guantanamo, they are broken-down physically and psychologically in those one-meter by two-meter cells, so that they are made to be agreeable to the plans that CIA/ NATO have made for them.  This is how people like Abdullah Mehsud and others just like him were turned into human weapons of mass destruction and deployed into areas deemed to be ripe for a militant Islamist revolution, such as Wana, S. Waziristan, or the vital Kurrum/Khyber agencies.  In places where there are relatively large settlements of Shia or other religious minorities, open sectarian warfare is made more likely by the introduction of these Westernized agents who brutally dispense their false “Shariah Law,” with predictable results.

The easy part of this tricky strategy is the willingness of the militant communities to receive old repatriated allies.  Maybe it is a Taliban gesture of scorn, seen as mocking the West’s potent mind-conditioning capabilities–Something like, the power of their false “Islam” can easily overcome Western mind-sciences and brutal torture.  If this is the case, then Taliban need to be more suspicious of Western interactions.

It is to be expected that release of Taliban prisoners who had been taken captive in Northern Alliance territory would be America’s first choice, since the new game in Afghanistan will mean return to the same old game, Afghan civil war.  Once again, Western-oriented Taliban will wage war against Eastern-oriented anti-Taliban, a.k.a., “Northern Alliance.”  

If Fazl formerly had great influence with Juma Namangani and the IMU (which have always responded to Western cash), then he might prove to be instrumental in driving militant Afghans and formerly displaced Uzbeks and Tajiks northward, toward the Central Asian prize.  Since the American military penetration of CA relies upon elevated fears of Afghan Islamists, then it will prove to be instrumental in the war after Afghanistan.  That is the vital fact which no analyst should overlook, American plans for perpetual/”persistent war.”  

It is unlikely that Fazl can provide much influence upon any “Spring” movement in CA, since there has been no careful planting of the seeds of Wahabbism in this area, to create fertile ground for the kind of psychological “fertilizer” (bull shit) that America’s Islamist spread.  The fear of Afghan militants is highly overrated, since most of them will be tied-down for years trying to defeat a rearmed Northern Alliance and to reclaim their former government. 

It is doubtful that release of brainwashed Taliban prisoners will prove to be any kind of Trump Card, but it is classic “Obama,” clever, but not brilliant.]

U.S. trump card in the Afghan endgame

M. K. BHADRAKUMAR

“Through sustained diplomatic efforts, Washington has gained acceptance of the idea that durable peace in Afghanistan can be reached only through an inclusive settlement involving the reconciliation of the Taliban.” In this Dec. 28, 2011 photo, former Taliban militants walk to hand over their weapons during a joining ceremony with the Afghan government in Herat, Afghanistan. Photo:AP

The Obama administration is considering the transfer of Mullah Mohammed Fazl, big-time Taliban and one of Mullah Omar’s closest allies detained at the Guantanamo Bay, to Afghan custody.

The Afghan endgame has got off to an exciting start. The great reconciliation with the Taliban is all set to begin. Through sustained diplomatic efforts, Washington has gained acceptance — in the domestic opinion in the United States as well as internationally — of the idea that durable peace in Afghanistan can be reached only through an inclusive settlement involving the reconciliation of the Taliban. No one today (including the visceral critics of the Taliban in the Indian establishment) would demur about the idea of reconciling the Taliban that seemed so bizarre as recently as in January 2010, when it was first introduced at the London peace conference. In fact, no Indian official any longer quibbles over the subtle difference between ‘reintegration’ and ‘reconciliation’ in the diplomatic idiom.

‘TALIBAN NOT OUR ENEMY’

At any rate, it is crystal clear that the Obama administration intends to press ahead with the idea — and even speed up its realisation — no matter what others think about it. If Vice-President Joseph Biden is to be taken on his word, Washington has unceremoniously dumped the pre-conditions it underlined at the London conference. To quote Mr. Biden, the Taliban “per se is not our [U.S.’] enemy.” Clearly, the strategic ambiguity over the ultimate destiny of the Taliban in mainstream Afghan political life has been conclusively cleared and the U.S. is open about its willingness — nay, keenness — to accommodate the Taliban in the power structure. So, the tantalising part of the U.S. strategy now narrows down to the ‘great game.’ Put differently, what the U.S.’ ‘hidden agenda’ could be with regard to the western military presence in the region beyond 2014, which is the timeline set for the drawdown of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Here, too, the strategic ambiguity is being incrementally removed with a steady, calibrated spate of statements coyly suggesting Washington’s determination to retain a permanent military presence, including combat troops, for itself and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. What 2012 will unfold is the high drama of bringing the Taliban in from the cold and getting it to accept the idea of a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which it has so far opposed.

This is where Qatar comes in. The Obama administration places trust in the skill Qatar displayed in Libya (and, to an extent, in Egypt) in finessing seemingly intractable Islamist groups by making them susceptible to the way of all flesh. The western accounts claim Qatar spent $450 million on Libya. Thanks to the charming Qatari ally, the U.S. has been able to catapult itself to the ‘right side of history’ in the Middle East alongside the Islamists on the surge. The Obama administration is optimistic about bringing the Taliban to Doha and exposing it to the magical Qatari ways of relaxing even Islamists with a stubbornly religious outlook. There could be other countries in the region such as Turkey or Saudi Arabia that may be ‘Islamic’ but they do not possess the special skills that Qatar seems to have. All said, therefore, it stands to reason that the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, travelled to Doha recently to make an on-the-spot assessment of the prospects of Qatar doing a ‘Libya’ on the Taliban.

Thus, in the run-up to the New Year, the Obama administration began signalling that it was raring to go. Carefully planted media ‘leaks’ began to appear, speculating on the appreciable progress of the U.S.’ initial contacts with the Taliban so far and underscoring the high efficacy of buttressing the positive impulses of this sub-soil intercourse with some open display of confidence-building measures (CBMs), aimed at enticing the Taliban leaders to sit across the table with American officials in a formal setting in Qatar. Thanks to the latest ‘leak’ on New Year’s Eve, we now know that the Obama administration is considering the transfer to Afghan custody a senior Taliban official, Mullah Mohammed Fazl, detained at the Guantanamo Bay. The ‘leak’ maintains that his release (transfer to Qatar) is by way of acceding to a request by the Kabul set-up. Now, Fazl is big-time Taliban — actually, one of the most experienced Taliban commanders and one of Mullah Omar’s closest associates right from the infancy of the movement in the early 1990s. He went on to serve as deputy defence minister and chief of the Afghan militia.

FAZL’S ‘HOMECOMING’

Conceivably, nothing would convince Omar of American goodwill more than Fazl’s ‘homecoming’. But herein hangs a tale. Fazl also happens to be linked to some of the bloodiest pages in the Taliban saga. According to reports reaching Tashkent, when the Taliban under the ISI’s astute guidance and backing moved into the Amu Darya region, thousands of Shi’ite Hazaras, including women and children, were killed in ethnic cleansing in the August-September of 1998 and left to rot on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif to be eaten by wild dogs. Reliable accounts put the figure at over 5000 killed. Indeed, Fazl (and Taliban governor of Mazar-i-Sharif, Mullah Manon Niazi if he is alive) would have a great deal to explain as war criminal — as also his role in the execution of eight Iranian diplomats who were assigned to northern Afghanistan.

Again, Fazl resurfaced in a pivotal role in strange circumstances during the surrender of the Taliban in Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif in November 2001. Most certainly, he mediated between the U.S. Special Forces and the al-Qaeda’s ‘foreign fighters’ who were taken prisoner in Kunduz. The then leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Juma Namangani, was an associate of Fazl. Fazl was a key figure in the execution of the grand design of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda (and its affiliates such as IMU) toward Central Asia and Russia’s North Caucasus region. At the very least, he was Mullah Omar’s ‘point person’ at the operational level with the al-Qaeda, and he probably had one foot inside the al-Qaeda camp. Suffice to say, Fazl is not exactly the human face of political Islam in Afghanistan.

However, the Obama administration will be resorting to a masterstroke if it brings Fazl out from his 2×1 metre underground cell in Guantanamo Bay where he has been interned for a decade. Mr. Pasha’s visit to Qatar to confer with the U.S. Central Command officials suggests that the ISI would like to take a rain check. After all, Fazl was a darling of the ISI and his ‘homecoming’ ought to be a delightful event. Conceivably, it can even be transformed as Washington’s ‘olive branch’ to Rawalpindi. Fazl is today America’s man too, after the intense bonding in Guantanamo Bay. But there is uncertainty when someone like Fazl is introduced into the game at extra time. For instance, the Haqqani clan may not easily give way to him. Of course, all this is predicated on Qatar ensuring that Fazl’s metamorphosis as a reasonable Islamist politician is complete.

TERRIFIC EQUATION WITH THE ISI

What is the game plan? First and foremost, Fazl does have the credentials to bring Mullah Omar on board for launching formal peace talks. Rather, the initial contacts between the U.S. and the Taliban can be expected to move on to a qualitatively new level if he is around. Second, Fazl is a familiar face to the Taliban militia and it would be inclined to emulate his farewell to arms. Third, he is one of the finest products of Pakistan’s madrassas and he enjoyed terrific equations with the ISI. (Declassified U.S. State Department documents cite him as a key figure in the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996.) His bonding with the Islamist forces in Pakistan and the ISI can be useful channels of communication to persuade Islamabad to cooperate with the U.S.-led peace talks or, at the very least, refrain from undercutting. Fourth, Fazl evokes hostile sentiments from the Hazaras but not so much from the Tajiks (Ahmed Shah Massoud negotiated prisoner exchanges with him) or the Uzbekis (he worked with the U.S. Special Forces in November 2001 while in Rashid Dostum’s custody in Qala-i-Jangi.) Fazl’s appearance can throw the erstwhile Northern Alliance groups into disarray.

But Fazl is a trump card for the U.S. on two other templates. One, he is an antidote to Iran’s influence in Afghanistan and can create imbalance in the delicate Iran-Pakistan equations. Tehran cannot easily forgive him for his war crimes. Two, Fazl used to be the Taliban’s interface with the Jihadi Internationale and he is just the partner Washington might need in the great game if the ‘Arab Spring’ were to appear in Central Asia holding prospects of regime change and the rise of ‘Islamic democracies’ in the steppes. Of course, Fazl can always be counted upon to persuade the Taliban not to make such a terrible issue of the U.S. plans to establish military bases in Afghanistan.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

Berdymukhamedov recently said Turkmenistan plans to build a high-speed railway

[CENTCOM brings us the following news, nonetheless, I have confirmed it is true from other sources.  Turkmenistan plans to open a rail corridor connecting Afghanistan to Europe–sure sounds like the NDN (Northern Distribution Network).  Whatever happened to the famous Turkmen “neutrality”?  This move places Turkmenistan clearly in the NATO court.  I guess that Berdy isn’t afraid of Putin any longer.]

Turkmens to build high-speed, other railways

ASHGABAT – Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov recently said Turkmenistan plans to build a high-speed railway between Turkmenbashi and Turkmenabat, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan said January 4, covering a presidential working trip to Balkan Oblast.

Turkmenistan also plans soon to build rail links between Atamyrat-Imamnazar and Gazachak-Shasenem-Dashoguz and a Turkmenabat-Farab railway bridge spanning the Amu Darya River, Berdymukhamedov added.

Another project, the North-South railway, will give European and Asian countries access to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf and will enable South and Southeast Asian countries to ship goods from the shores of the Indian Ocean to Northern and Eastern Europe, he said.

Completion of those projects will provide a “mighty stimulus to further development of railway transport,” he said, according to the State News Agency. However no proposed completion date or cost was cited.

Central Asia: An Exception to the “Cute Cats” Theory of Internet Revolution

Last month Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center of Internet and Society, gave a lecture on how his “cute cats” theory of the internet applies to the Arab Spring. For those of you unfamiliar with the theory, Cory Doctorow sums it up in an rapturous review of the talk in the Guardian:

Zuckerman’s argument is this: while YouTube, Twitter, Facebook (and other popular social services) aren’t good at protecting dissidents, they are nevertheless the best place for this sort of activity to start, for several reasons.

First, because when YouTube is taken off your nation’s internet, everyone notices, not just dissidents. So if a state shuts down a site dedicated to exposing official brutality, only the people who care about that sort of thing already are likely to notice.

But when YouTube goes dark, all the people who want to look at cute cats discover that their favourite site is gone, and they start to ask their neighbours why, and they come to learn that there exists video evidence of official brutality so heinous and awful that the government has shut out all of YouTube in case the people see it.

Doctorow goes on to claim that the everyday use of social media technology leads to a sort of inadvertent activism. Accustomed to sharing apolitical content online, citizens use the same technology to post evidence of state atrocities:

The first thing that comes to mind after you capture a mobile phone video of the police murdering a family member isn’t “Let’s see, I wonder if there’s a purpose-built activist tool that I can use for distributing this clip?” Rather, the first thing that comes to mind is, “I’d better post this on Facebook/YouTube/Twitter so that everyone can see it.”

In Zuckerman’s view, the rote relay of controversial content enables revolution, as it provides a way for citizens to air their grievances (before the state censors them) and inflames their curiosity and rage (after). Zuckerman is careful to refrain from labeling the internet as some sort of miracle medium, instead inscribing its power to its very banality: it is a social platform, but one that turns political as revelations of state crimes enter the social sphere. He claims that this is what happened during the Arab Spring.

Zuckerman’s theory is a refreshing alternative to the common caricature of internet users in authoritarian states as revolutionaries in waiting. But it suffers from a fallacy that plagues much of internet scholarship: studies of the effectiveness of the internet in fomenting revolution are usually limited to where the internet was effective, because those successes, by definition, are the ones we know. The “failures” – the many countries where the circulation of evidence of state crimes through social media prompts no change in state practices, and in some cases, dissuades citizens from joining activist causes – tend to go unmentioned. They are, I suspect, more the norm than the exception, and they have proven the rule in former Soviet authoritarian states.

Why has online activism in Central Asia failed to inspire the kind of public support we see in the Arab world? That is a big question, one that would benefit from the sort of long-term ethnographic examination that is sorely lacking in study of the internet, as fellow Berkman researcher Jonathan Zittrain has noted. I suspect the answer lies less with problems unique to the former Soviet Union than it does with a central assumption of the “cute cats” theory: that the exposure of wrongdoings inspires people to make things right. In authoritarian states, the circulation of state crimes often serves to confirm tacit suspicions, and in some cases, to reaffirm the futility of the fight. Fear, apathy, cynicism and distrust as are as common reactions to these quasi-revelations as are outrage and a desire for change.

This is not to say that the internet is not important. In many states, it is the only medium through which state brutality can be exposed. But the reception to online media varies as to the political culture of the people involved. The following cases speak to greater problems of trust, fear and apathy in post-Soviet political culture – problems that the internet does not solve, but often exacerbates.

The “donkey bloggers” of Azerbaijan. In 2009, activists Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada were arrested after posting a satirical video of government corruption and wastefulness on YouTube. The case attracted international outcry as well as intense attention among the frequent social media users with whom Milli and Hajizada socialized online. Yet in the aftermath of the case – both activists were released in November 2010 – support for political protest decreased among frequent internet users, as a forthcoming article I co-wrote with Katy Pearce for the Journal of Communication makes clear. Why did this happen? At the time of the case, Azerbaijan, unlike many other former Soviet states, had an open internet, all the better with which to publicize the horrifying repercussions of using the internet for political purposes. The online publicity surrounding Milli and Hajizada’s plight did not inspire citizens to rise up, but to rethink the risks of participating in online activism.

The Osh events. The June 2010 violence in southern Kyrgyzstan was documented online from the moment it occurred: witnesses posted updates on Twitter and Facebook; observers uploaded their photos and videos to LiveJournal and YouTube; and Kyrgyz websites were awash in commentary – much of it speculative, accusatory, and inflammatory. As I noted in 2010, online coverage of the events constituted “a catalogue of sins, searchable and accessible, impervious to the human desire to move on”. The circulation of state and citizen atrocities through social media networks like Facebook and Twitter heightened a sense of futility surrounding the government’s capacity to intervene, and the population’s ability – and desire – to forgive.

Zhanaozen. “Kazakh Spring” is the “fetch” of Central Asia: try as you might, it’s just not going to happen. This is not to say the bloodshed in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan isn’t horrifying or important: it absolutely is. But there is no indication that the intense online discussion of the events, and circulation of videos showing police brutality, is going to lead to Arab Spring-style unrest. Instead, Zhanaozen reveals the extent that Kazakhstan’s authorities will go to make those who document the state its next target. It also highlights the diversity and contentiousness of online media among both Kazakhstani and Western audiences. Much as Zuckerman predicted, the videos from Zhanaozen have been widely circulated through social media, but their reception is far from uniform. As in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, news reports are viewed with skepticism, the motives of those both involved in the issue and reporting it are relentlessly scrutinized, and the risks to those who engage in political pursuits (even pursuits as banal as posting a video online) are all too clear.

Effective use of social media in authoritarian states is not only a matter of circumventing government censorship, but of securing and sustaining citizen trust. Both Zuckerman and Doctorow have spoken at length about the need to create tools that are safe and effective for activists, and their efforts are admirable. But the development of tools through which corruption and brutality can be exposed leads to an uncomfortable question: and then what?

{ 3 comments…

Edilbay January 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Sarah, interesting obesrvation. While I myself tend to side with sceptics of twitter-triggered revolutions, I think you fail to appreciate how in the case of Zhanaozen – the video of police brutality had tremendous impact on the domestic and international audience. While it didnot directly lead to Arab-style revolt, the technology that enabled a group of independent witnesses to document state terror and then mass spread the information – was a real game changer. Please do not be fooled by the ‘far from uniform reception’ – we all know of the groups (a few dozen users at most, not armies, really) of internet avatars being paid to generate the required reaction.
“Cute cats” theory is still applicable to the region.
It doesnt get falsified by the failure of each and every “donkey” video to cause another Tunisia.

REPLY

Sarah Kendzior January 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Thank you for the feedback, Edil. I agree that Zhanaozen is a game-changer, but I see it as analogous to the 2005 Andijon events in Uzbekistan. The shootings confirmed people’s worst suspicions about the lengths to which the government would go to suppress dissent, but it did not inspire many people to embrace activism, either online or on the ground. In both cases, people have reacted with anger, fear and incredulity – but that does not necessarily lead to revolt.

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Joshua Kucera January 8, 2012 at 1:24 pm

This is really interesting. But I wonder, too, what would happen if we looked at the long term. Zhanaozen hasn’t led to a Kazakh Spring yet, but the reaction to it (abetted by the internet) has probably chipped away at the government’s legitimacy.

Also, it seems like we should look at it in more than a binary way: does this cause a revolution, or doesn’t it? Perhaps this will make the government more responsive to citizen complaints than it was before (it seems like that may already have happened). While that’s not a revolution, it’s still bringing about some sort of democratic change.

Still, I don’t want to nitpick, this is thought-provoking stuff.