A Planet at the Brink

A Planet at the Brink

Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well, notes Michael T. Klare.
Will Economic Brushfires Prove Too Virulent to Contain?

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a “lost decade,” the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals.

Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you’re a gambling man or woman, it’s a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins.

For the most part, such upheavals, even when violent, are likely to remain localized in nature, and disorganized enough that government forces will be able to bring them under control within days or weeks, even if — as with Athens for six days last December — urban paralysis sets in due to rioting, tear gas, and police cordons. That, at least, has been the case so far. It is entirely possible, however, that, as the economic crisis worsens, some of these incidents will metastasize into far more intense and long-lasting events: armed rebellions, military takeovers, civil conflicts, even economically fueled wars between states.

Every outbreak of violence has its own distinctive origins and characteristics. All, however, are driven by a similar combination of anxiety about the future and lack of confidence in the ability of established institutions to deal with the problems at hand. And just as the economic crisis has proven global in ways not seen before, so local incidents — especially given the almost instantaneous nature of modern communications — have a potential to spark others in far-off places, linked only in a virtual sense.

A Global Pandemic of Economically Driven Violence

The riots that erupted in the spring of 2008 in response to rising food prices suggested the speed with which economically-related violence can spread. It is unlikely that Western news sources captured all such incidents, but among those recorded in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were riots in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.

In Haiti, for example, thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and demanded food handouts, only to be repelled by government troops and UN peacekeepers. Other countries, including Pakistan and Thailand, quickly sought to deter such assaults by deploying troops at farms and warehouses throughout the country.

The riots only abated at summer’s end when falling energy costs brought food prices crashing down as well. (The cost of food is now closely tied to the price of oil and natural gas because petrochemicals are so widely and heavily used in the cultivation of grains.) Ominously, however, this is sure to prove but a temporary respite, given the epic droughts now gripping breadbasket regions of the United States, Argentina, Australia, China, the Middle East, and Africa. Look for the prices of wheat, soybeans, and possibly rice to rise in the coming months — just when billions of people in the developing world are sure to see their already marginal incomes plunging due to the global economic collapse.

Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well. In India, for example, violent protests threatened stability in many key areas. Although usually described as ethnic, religious, or caste disputes, these outbursts were typically driven by economic anxiety and a pervasive feeling that someone else’s group was faring better than yours — and at your expense.

In April, for example, six days of intense rioting in Indian-controlled Kashmir were largely blamed on religious animosity between the majority Muslim population and the Hindu-dominated Indian government; equally important, however, was a deep resentment over what many Kashmiri Muslims experienced as discrimination in jobs, housing, and land use. Then, in May, thousands of nomadic shepherds known as Gujjars shut down roads and trains leading to the city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, in a drive to be awarded special economic rights; more than 30 people were killed when the police fired into crowds. In October, economically-related violence erupted in Assam in the country’s far northeast, where impoverished locals are resisting an influx of even poorer, mostly illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh.

Economically-driven clashes also erupted across much of eastern China in 2008. Such events, labeled “mass incidents” by Chinese authorities, usually involve protests by workers over sudden plant shutdowns, lost pay, or illegal land seizures. More often than not, protestors demanded compensation from company managers or government authorities, only to be greeted by club-wielding police.

Needless to say, the leaders of China’s Communist Party have been reluctant to acknowledge such incidents. This January, however, the magazine Liaowang (Outlook Weekly) reported that layoffs and wage disputes had triggered a sharp increase in such “mass incidents,” particularly along the country’s eastern seaboard, where much of its manufacturing capacity is located.

By December, the epicenter of such sporadic incidents of violence had moved from the developing world to Western Europe and the former Soviet Union. Here, the protests have largely been driven by fears of prolonged unemployment, disgust at government malfeasance and ineptitude, and a sense that “the system,” however defined, is incapable of satisfying the future aspirations of large groups of citizens.

One of the earliest of this new wave of upheavals occurred in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 2008, after police shot and killed a 15-year-old schoolboy during an altercation in a crowded downtown neighborhood. As news of the killing spread throughout the city, hundreds of students and young people surged into the city center and engaged in pitched battles with riot police, throwing stones and firebombs. Although government officials later apologized for the killing and charged the police officer involved with manslaughter, riots broke out repeatedly in the following days in Athens and other Greek cities. Angry youths attacked the police — widely viewed as agents of the establishment — as well as luxury shops and hotels, some of which were set on fire. By one estimate, the six days of riots caused $1.3 billion in damage to businesses at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Russia also experienced a spate of violent protests in December, triggered by the imposition of high tariffs on imported automobiles. Instituted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to protect an endangered domestic auto industry (whose sales were expected to shrink by up to 50% in 2009), the tariffs were a blow to merchants in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok who benefited from a nationwide commerce in used Japanese vehicles. When local police refused to crack down on anti-tariff protests, the authorities were evidently worried enough to fly in units of special forces from Moscow, 3,700 miles away.

In January, incidents of this sort seemed to be spreading through Eastern Europe. Between January 13th and 16th, anti-government protests involving violent clashes with the police erupted in the Latvian capital of Riga, the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, and the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. It is already essentially impossible to keep track of all such episodes, suggesting that we are on the verge of a global pandemic of economically driven violence.

A Perfect Recipe for Instability

While most such incidents are triggered by an immediate event — a tariff, the closure of local factory, the announcement of government austerity measures — there are systemic factors at work as well. While economists now agree that we are in the midst of a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s, they generally assume that this downturn — like all others since World War II — will be followed in a year, or two, or three, by the beginning of a typical recovery.

There are good reasons to suspect that this might not be the case — that poorer countries (along with many people in the richer countries) will have to wait far longer for such a recovery, or may see none at all. Even in the United States, 54% of Americans now believe that “the worst” is “yet to come” and only 7% that the economy has “turned the corner,” according to a recent Ipsos/McClatchy poll; fully a quarter think the crisis will last more than four years. Whether in the US, Russia, China, or Bangladesh, it is this underlying anxiety — this suspicion that things are far worse than just about anyone is saying — which is helping to fuel the global epidemic of violence.

The World Bank’s most recent status report, Global Economic Prospects 2009, fulfills those anxieties in two ways. It refuses to state the worst, even while managing to hint, in terms too clear to be ignored, at the prospect of a long-term, or even permanent, decline in economic conditions for many in the world. Nominally upbeat — as are so many media pundits — regarding the likelihood of an economic recovery in the not-too-distant future, the report remains full of warnings about the potential for lasting damage in the developing world if things don’t go exactly right.

Two worries, in particular, dominate Global Economic Prospects 2009: that banks and corporations in the wealthier countries will cease making investments in the developing world, choking off whatever growth possibilities remain; and that food costs will rise uncomfortably, while the use of farmlands for increased biofuels production will result in diminished food availability to hundreds of millions.

Despite its Pollyanna-ish passages on an economic rebound, the report does not mince words when discussing what the almost certain coming decline in First World investment in Third World countries would mean:

“Should credit markets fail to respond to the robust policy interventions taken so far, the consequences for developing countries could be very serious. Such a scenario would be characterized by… substantial disruption and turmoil, including bank failures and currency crises, in a wide range of developing countries. Sharply negative growth in a number of developing countries and all of the attendant repercussions, including increased poverty and unemployment, would be inevitable.”

In the fall of 2008, when the report was written, this was considered a “worst-case scenario.” Since then, the situation has obviously worsened radically, with financial analysts reporting a virtual freeze in worldwide investment. Equally troubling, newly industrialized countries that rely on exporting manufactured goods to richer countries for much of their national income have reported stomach-wrenching plunges in sales, producing massive plant closings and layoffs.

The World Bank’s 2008 survey also contains troubling data about the future availability of food. Although insisting that the planet is capable of producing enough foodstuffs to meet the needs of a growing world population, its analysts were far less confident that sufficient food would be available at prices people could afford, especially once hydrocarbon prices begin to rise again. With ever more farmland being set aside for biofuels production and efforts to increase crop yields through the use of “miracle seeds” losing steam, the Bank’s analysts balanced their generally hopeful outlook with a caveat: “If biofuels-related demand for crops is much stronger or productivity performance disappoints, future food supplies may be much more expensive than in the past.”

Combine these two World Bank findings — zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices — and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances which could spread like multiple brushfires in a drought.

Mapping a World at the Brink

Survey the present world, and it’s all too easy to spot a plethora of potential sites for such multiple eruptions — or far worse. Take China. So far, the authorities have managed to control individual “mass incidents,” preventing them from coalescing into something larger. But in a country with a more than two-thousand-year history of vast millenarian uprisings, the risk of such escalation has to be on the minds of every Chinese leader.

On February 2nd, a top Chinese Party official, Chen Xiwen, announced that, in the last few months of 2008 alone, a staggering 20 million migrant workers, who left rural areas for the country’s booming cities in recent years, had lost their jobs. Worse yet, they had little prospect of regaining them in 2009. If many of these workers return to the countryside, they may find nothing there either, not even land to work.

Under such circumstances, and with further millions likely to be shut out of coastal factories in the coming year, the prospect of mass unrest is high. No wonder the government announced a $585 billion stimulus plan aimed at generating rural employment and, at the same time, called on security forces to exercise discipline and restraint when dealing with protesters. Many analysts now believe that, as exports continue to dry up, rising unemployment could lead to nationwide strikes and protests that might overwhelm ordinary police capabilities and require full-scale intervention by the military (as occurred in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989).

Or take many of the Third World petro-states that experienced heady boosts in income when oil prices were high, allowing governments to buy off dissident groups or finance powerful internal security forces. With oil prices plunging from $147 per barrel of crude oil to less than $40 dollars, such countries, from Angola to shaky Iraq, now face severe instability.

Nigeria is a typical case in point: When oil prices were high, the central government in Abuja raked in billions every year, enough to enrich elites in key parts of the country and subsidize a large military establishment; now that prices are low, the government will have a hard time satisfying all these previously well-fed competing obligations, which means the risk of internal disequilibrium will escalate. An insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, fueled by popular discontent with the failure of oil wealth to trickle down from the capital, is already gaining momentum and is likely to grow stronger as government revenues shrivel; other regions, equally disadvantaged by national revenue-sharing policies, will be open to disruptions of all sorts, including heightened levels of internecine warfare.

Bolivia is another energy producer that seems poised at the brink of an escalation in economic violence. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it harbors substantial oil and natural gas reserves in its eastern, lowland regions. A majority of the population — many of Indian descent — supports President Evo Morales, who seeks to exercise strong state control over the reserves and use the proceeds to uplift the nation’s poor. But a majority of those in the eastern part of the country, largely controlled by a European-descended elite, resent central government interference and seek to control the reserves themselves. Their efforts to achieve greater autonomy have led to repeated clashes with government troops and, in deteriorating times, could set the stage for a full-scale civil war.

Given a global situation in which one startling, often unexpected development follows another, prediction is perilous. At a popular level, however, the basic picture is clear enough: continued economic decline combined with a pervasive sense that existing systems and institutions are incapable of setting things right is already producing a potentially lethal brew of anxiety, fear, and rage. Popular explosions of one sort or another are inevitable.

Some sense of this new reality appears to have percolated up to the highest reaches of the US intelligence community. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 12th, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, declared, “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications… Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period” — certain to be the case in the present situation.

Blair did not specify which countries he had in mind when he spoke of “regime-threatening instability” — a new term in the American intelligence lexicon, at least when associated with economic crises — but it is clear from his testimony that US officials are closely watching dozens of shaky nations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia.

Now go back to that map on your wall with all those red and orange pins in it and proceed to color in appropriate countries in various shades of red and orange to indicate recent striking declines in gross national product and rises in unemployment rates. Without 16 intelligence agencies under you, you’ll still have a pretty good idea of the places that Blair and his associates are eyeing in terms of instability as the future darkens on a planet at the brink.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books).

Zardari Lights Match, Pakistan Ready to Burn

Protests break out across Pakistan, slam Sharifs’ ban

Protests took place in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Quetta, Muzaffarabad and several other cities. — Reuters

Protests took place in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Quetta, Muzaffarabad and several other cities. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Police fired tear gas and rounded up protesters in Islamabad Friday, with the nuclear-armed nation in turmoil since a court banned the top opposition leader from contesting elections.

The cabinet met to discuss the crisis and paramilitaries went on alert as thousands rallied, one day after the country marked the biggest protests yet against President Asif Ali Zardari, who took office last September.

Protesters are heeding a call from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the second largest party in Pakistan, to rise up after the Supreme Court Wednesday barred him and his brother from holding public office.

Zardari and Sharif are at loggerheads over the future of Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy which has been teetering under financial crisis, extremism and weak government.

Analysts say Pakistan, reeling from extremist attacks that have killed more than 1,600 people in less than two years, can ill afford a showdown on top of international pressure to bring to justice those behind the Mumbai attacks.

In Islamabad, police fired tear gas shells to disperse stone throwers and dozens of protesters shouting slogans against the government on a key road leading to the international airport, an AFP photographer said.

Riot police, armed with batons, charged into the mob, beating demonstrators and rounding up around 25 protesters into vans, the photographer said.

A senior government official said Friday’s weekly cabinet meeting focused on ‘the situation arising after the Supreme Court decision.’

In Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, ousted chief minister Shahbaz Sharif addressed more than 1,000 lawyers and activists while another 500 people rallied outside the regional parliament, an AFP reporter said.

Waving green party flags and portraits of Nawaz Sharif, around 100 provincial lawmakers also shouted ‘Go Zardari Go,’ an AFP photographer said.

Shahbaz, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, lost his post in Punjab, the country’s political heartland, where the government suspended the provincial parliament.

The protestors in Lahore also torched tyres.

Hundreds more protested in Rawalpindi, Quetta and in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Twice a former prime minister, 59-year-old Nawaz Sharif has tapped into widespread public discontent with Zardari, crowning his status as a key player in Pakistani politics since a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia.

His Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) demands the reinstatement of constitutional court judges sacked when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule in 2007.

‘On the request of the Punjab government we have deployed (put on alert) paramilitary forces to maintain law and order,’ interior ministry spokesman Shahidullah Baig told AFP.

‘The situation is under control,’ he added.

Police said complaints had been filed against hundreds of PML-N workers and three local leaders in connection with unrest and property damage on Thursday.

Sharif’s two terms as prime minister in the 1990s were marred by corruption claims and efforts to introduce Islamic sharia law.

The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court verdict in Lahore last June that he was ineligible to stand in a by-election due to past convictions.

Taliban not the only problem in Afghanistan

Taliban not the only problem in Afghanistan

Afghanistan, the ancient junction point of Asia, has been suffering the traumas of civil war and occupation for the last 30 years and is again among the main points of the world’s agenda following the regime change in the United States.

And despite the 65,000-strong NATO force under American leadership, stability and security in the country remain elusive.

Amidst elections campaigning, Barack Obama had said Afghanistan would be his number-one foreign policy priority, and, now president, he is trying to determine an exit strategy for the region. Obama is sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Some news reports suggest the US has requested additional Turkish troops as well.

As an assessment of the state of affairs goes on in Washington, the special Pakistan-Afghanistan envoy is establishing contacts in the region to sound out the situation. As a doubling of the US forces in the country is planned, to bring the total to 60,000, ahead of a critical NATO meeting in April, there are efforts to convince alliance members to up their own contributions there.

Delivery of Turkish aid packages

It’s unknown what sort of commitments are being made in the deliberations going on behind closed doors, but one thing that is for certain is that as far as the US and NATO go, a view is gaining currency: that stability in Afghanistan cannot be ensured through only military means but that such action absolutely must be paralleled by political, economic and social development.

As part of a journalism program organized by the US Department of State, officials (from NATO and elsewhere) came together in Brussels and Kabul and asserted that the only exit strategy capable of success would be to build a self-sufficient Afghan state.

Gen. David D. McKiernan

What the Afghan people want immediately is a nation that can stand on its own two feet. Nimatullah Wasik, an English teacher in Kabul, summarizes this desire by saying that instead of giving Afghanistan a fish every day, the international community should teach it how to fish. “More foreign soldiers will not bring stability to this country. We import everything from abroad. Kabul’s electricity comes from Uzbekistan. What if they cut it off one day? This is why we need education and technology. Let the West obtain this for us.”

The International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) establishment of provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) across the country is of key importance in this regard. The 26 PRTs, 12 of them under US leadership, construct things like roads, water canals, schools, clinics and police stations, and create projects in fields like security, education, health and management to provide technical and logistical support for development and security. An example is the Afghanistan Technical and Vocational Institute the US opened in Kabul, which is training students to meet the need for qualified workers. PRTs have completed 126 projects, with 268 still ongoing. Another 284 proposed projects are waiting in line.

AFGHANISTAN IN NUMBERS

  • The population of Afghanistan is nearly 30 million. Ninety percent of the population is Sunni, and 10 percent Shiite.
  • In Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest nations, 70-75 percent of the population is illiterate. Seventy percent of the people live in rural areas.
  • Forty-one percent of the people are destitute. Five million depend on charity for their basic nutritional needs.
  • Unemployment in the country is at a rate of 40 percent; 82 percent of the employed make a living from agriculture, while 6 percent work in industry.
  • The standing NATO international forces in the country number 65,000. The US has 37,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and is planning to double this number.
  • Civilian deaths have doubled since 2006. According to the UN, 2,100 civilians were killed in the country, with NATO forces responsible for 40 percent of these deaths.
  • Afghan security forces number 160,000, but only 30 percent of the army and 3 percent of the police are classed as “good” or “very good.”
  • In the first five years after 2001, the US lost an average of 50 soldiers a year, while this number increased to 100 in 2006, 120 in 2007 and 155 in 2008. The number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 has surpassed 1,000. At least 600 of these were Americans.
  • The US has spent $33.37 billion on rebuilding the country.
  • Six-hundred and eighty schools have been constructed, and following the Taliban’s fall from power 4.2 million students returned to school. Of the nearly 6 million students, 35 percent are females.
  • While 670 health clinics were built, 10,000 health professionals were trained. Seventy percent of children are vaccinated, but in the nation where the life expectancy is an average 45 years, one of every five children dies before reaching the age of 5.
  • The nation’s economy has grown by 10 percent annually since the fall of the Taliban. The gross domestic product (GDP) has doubled, but the GDP is only $11 billion.
  • Of the 34 provinces, 18 no longer produce opium, but Afghanistan still provides 93 percent of the world’s opium. Fifteen percent of the public are involved in the opium trade.
  • Since 2001, over 4 million refugees have returned home to Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and Iran another 2.8 million refugees have yet to return home.

Public disappointed

But the serious security problem in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is even able to carry out bold attacks on ministry buildings in the capital, is weakening rebuilding activities. Even top-level NATO and US officials admit this openly. The number-one military commander in the country, American Gen. David D. McKiernan, described this reality thusly: “Seven years after the fall of the Taliban, we’re not where we want to be. Security is insufficient in the country’s eastern and southern provinces. The public is disappointed with regards to security.”

Among the State Department’s prominent ranks is US Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood, who admits that the US was wrong in thinking that following the Taliban’s 2001 fall a small force would be able to rebuild Afghanistan. “But in the 2003-4 period the Taliban regained strength. Opium production took a leap. … People feel less safe than they did two or three years ago. From a number of perspectives, the situation is more difficult than it was in 2003,” he says. Last year saw a 35 percent increase in violent attacks over 2007. Last year, NATO lost more soldiers than in any other year. According to UN figures, civilian deaths rose by 40 percent to exceed 2,100. A high-level Western official summarizes the situation on the field by saying, “NATO isn’t winning, but it isn’t losing; the Taliban isn’t losing, but it isn’t winning.”

But there have been adamant denials of news reports that the Taliban has gained strength in the past two years and expanded its sphere of influence. Asserting that the country’s north and west are relatively safer than in previous years, authorities defend that violent incidents increased in the south because there are more soldiers in the field there. Pakistan’s not paying enough attention to its border because of internal unrest also plays a big part in this and the increase in cross-border infiltrations.

Gen. McKiernan describes news reports that the Taliban is gaining power as myths, saying that violence in the nation does not stem from the Taliban alone, but also clan rivalry, battles between drug kingpins and ordinary crime, asserting that these are also important factors contributing to incident rates. As Wood discusses violence, he is particularly careful to avoid using the word Taliban, instead using terms like “illegal power centers,” drug traders, warlords and bandits to describe those threatening the administration.

Army fighting an uphill battle on many fronts

The ISAF’s top priority is to bring the Afghan military to operational status and to ensure peace and stability. It holds the view that in the fight against the Taliban, the Afghan forces will be more successful because they know the country’s geography, culture and who the Taliban is. An Afghan police officer, Kami Ahmad, says: “It’s not possible for foreign forces to bring security to Afghanistan. Remember Russia’s experience.”

The ISAF aims to be a force that supports the Afghan security forces’ own management of field operations. There are 86,000 Afghan troops and the goal is to train a force of 134,000 that is capable of carrying out its own operations. Currently, only 25 percent of troops carrying out security operations are Afghan. The lack of sufficient numbers of instructors, equipment and financing are slowing the process of building up the Afghan military. Another stumbling block is presented by the high illiteracy rates among those applying to join the army. One Afghan military official says, “If you can read and write, you’re automatically an officer.”

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Zahir Azimi complains in particular of insufficient heavy arms supplies, such as tanks and cannons, and the country’s lack of an air force. Speaking with Today’s Zaman, the spokesman said that within a year the American government was to give them Italian-manufactured C-27 planes. But the other major problem for the Afghan military is financing. The general, a veteran of the Afghan battle against the Soviets, says: “Our soldiers are paid below market prices. This lowers the number of volunteers. We give our soldiers $100 a month. This is half of what Taliban fighters get. According to our intelligence, the Taliban gives its fighters $200 a month.”

However, the general says the US has promised that within three years it will provide $20 billion for the Afghan security forces.

The Afghan military is also careful that its forces reflect the ethnic makeup of the country. According to defense officials, the military’s ethnic distribution is as follows: 40-45 percent Pashtun, 30-35 percent Tajik, 10-12 percent Hazara and roughly 10 percent other.

Another important constituent in terms of the country’s security and development is the police force. Only 82,000 Afghan police officers have been trained at this point. The ISAF is struggling in developing and expanding the police force because of a lack of instructors and training centers. Corruption, low salaries and equipment and weapons deficits plague the police forces — in addition to heavy losses in Taliban attacks. In a country where violence has run unchecked for 30 years, there is no working legal system. There is no tradition of a police force in the modern sense, which is a big obstacle for the Afghan administration. It’s not possible to speak of a police structure outside of Kabul and a handful of other big cities. In the province of Wardak, for instance, there are only 300 police officers. In a country where the clan system reigns, people are unwilling to apply the rules that the state has instated or punish those who do not follow the law.

On the other hand, at the Pentagon, plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan are in their final phase. In the plan to be presented to Obama soon, 20-30,000 American soldiers will be deployed to the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and along the border with Pakistan. The first batch of deployments has already taken place and the rest will be sent by the summer, according to the plan. With the arrival of the reinforcements, the US will focus on fighting the drug trade and preventing infiltrations across the border with Pakistan.

2009 will also be a bloody affair for Afghanistan

Afghan and American officials do not expect a decrease in violent events for 2009. Gen. Azimi predicts: “The enemy will resort to tactics like roadside bombings, suicide attacks, ambushes and kidnappings, focusing on soft targets like logistics convoys. 2009 will be as bloody a year as last year.” American Gen. McKiernan also says that this year will be difficult, but takes a more optimistic stance, asserting that the sun also rises and after the waves of violence will follow a lasting stability.

Afghanistan important for NATO legitimacy

The US toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan on the premise of aiding and harboring the terrorists who organized the Sept. 11 attacks. The reasoning behind the Afghanistan operation was to prevent the country from serving any longer as a haven for terrorists. But Western officials, noting that 2009, when NATO will mark 60 years since its establishment, will be a critical year for the alliance’s “off-site” Afghanistan operation, have said that for NATO to bear any legitimacy after the Cold War period, success in Afghanistan is imperative.

Another reason Afghanistan is so important was expressed by US Ambassador Wood, who notes that Afghanistan, sharing borders with Pakistan, Iran and China, is in a complicated geographical position, located in a region where Russia and India also have interests. “Four of its neighbors are nuclear powers, and Iran also wants nuclear power. These five countries are in a phase of self-identification and their relationships with one another will constitute a big piece of the history of the 21st century. And Afghanistan is right in the middle. Afghanistan can either be a source of stability for these very important countries or, as it has been for the last 30 years, be a source of instability. For all of us and for world geopolitics, there are huge security stakes here.”

A Turkish high school

Turkey planting seeds of peace, development in Afghanistan

On the topic of rebuilding Afghanistan and securing its socioeconomic development, ISAF PRTs play a major role. There are PRTs in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces. The Turkish PRT serving in Wardak, 25 kilometers outside Kabul, stands out from the pack in its close communication with the people and its civilian structure.

The Turkish PRT deployed in November 2006 and is the only civilian-run PRT in the country. The Turkish PRT encompasses a total of 75 civilians, including Afghans. Among the many accomplishments of the Turkish-led PRT are the successful projects they’ve led: In Wardak, which is split into nine regions, to date they have built seven schools, one medical center, two deep freezer facilities, two water reservoirs, a fruit drying facility, 10 wells, a police training center, a police station, a gymnasium and a mosque.

Turkey’s positive contributions in the region have brought it the accolades of the international community working in Afghanistan. Western diplomatic and military officials gathering in Kabul speak highly of the developments in Wardak, all praising the Turkish PRT’s tangible effectiveness in the region, in the words of Gen. McKiernan. “PRTs, which work with different elements in the provinces along with international forces, regional administrations and the people, make the biggest contribution. And we see this cooperation in Wardak,” he said, also emphasizing that the Turkish PRT was a model for the other PRTs throughout Afghanistan.

27 February 2009, Friday

NAMIK KEMAL PARLAK KABUL

Ukrainian Economic Dilemma Creates European Gas Bottleneck Once Again

Kommersant: Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine over non-payments

Kommersant: Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine over non-payments

Russian energy giant Gazprom could cut gas deliveries to Ukraine from March 8 if Naftogaz does not pay for supplies received in February, Russian business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

The newspaper said Naftogaz does not have the money to pay for the gas.

A week ago Naftogaz warned it might face problems paying for gas supplied by Russia’s gas monopoly as non-payments by Ukrainian utilities were leaving the national energy company short of funds. The issue was discussed at a Gazprom board meeting on Tuesday.

“If $400 million is not forthcoming by March 7, it will be necessary once again to cut off Ukraine,” Andrei Kruglov was quoted as saying by an unidentified participant in the meeting. Kommersant said a senior Gazprom official confirmed such a plan is being developed.

“The company will carry out its obligations to consumers and transport gas at previous volumes. But the volume of gas delivered to Ukraine will be reduced – fuel will not be supplied to Naftogaz free of charge,” the source said.

Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Ukraine on January 1 over non-payments and the two sides’ failure to agree a delivery contract for 2009. A week later, Gazprom accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for EU consumers and cut off gas deliveries to the European Union via the country, prompting two weeks of major gas shortages across much of Eastern Europe.

The standoff was resolved after negotiations between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko. The gas supply and transit contract signed on January 19 by Gazprom and Naftogaz stipulates that the Russian energy giant can switch to 100% prepayments if payments are not received on time.

Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky on Wednesday told Kommersant that the company hoped “to collect the necessary sum of money by March 7 and to make the payment.”

Another company source said Naftogaz could find $100-$160 million, but did not say where the remaining funds would come from.

Pakistani President Zardari Lets Past Conflicts Trouble Nation’s Present

Pakistan faces new political crisis as Nawaz Sharif banned from office

Pakistan has been plunged back into political crisis after its Supreme Court banned its former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from holding political office.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi and Javed Siddiq in Islamabad
Pakistan faces new political crisis as Nawaz Sharif banned from office

Former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif (R) and his brother Shahbaz Sharif Photo: EPA

The court also ousted Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League from power in Punjab province, where his brother Shahbaz was chief minister.

The ruling upheld a move by the country’s election commission to ban the Sharif brothers from contesting elections because of past criminal convictions. But Mr Sharif accused President Asif Ali Zardari of orchestrating the ruling.

The ban on Shahbaz Sharif led to the immediate collapse of the state government in Punbjab. President Zardari immediately appointed Punjab’s governor Salaman Taseer – a long-term opponent of the Sharif brothers – to run the provincial government as chief executive for the next two months pending the formation of a new administration.

Mr Zardari is also expected to try to persuade some of Nawaz Sharif’s opposition assembly members to desert him and join a new coalition led by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Shares in Islamabad plunged five per cent amid fears of a return to the political instability of the 1990s when Mr Nawaz’s PML party and the PPP of Mr Zardari’s assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto persecuted each other and their supporters.

Those fears were heightened by a series of large protests in Lahore and other cities in Punjab, and also by calls by Mr Sharif for mass demonstrations to unite the opposition towards the ban.

Mr Sharif alleged that Mr Zardari had prompted the verdict because he and his brother had rejected a “business deal” under which the Sharif brothers would be ruled eligible to hold political office if they agreed to extend the term of the country’s chief justice, Abdul Hamid Dogar.

Mr Sharif and his brother have consistently campaigned for Chief Justice Dogar to be sacked and for his predecessor, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was ousted by the former president Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule in 2007, to be reinstated.

Mr Zardari is said to fear that if he reinstated Mr Chaudhry, the independent-minded former chief justice might strike down Mr Musharraf’s National Reconciliation Ordinance, under which corruption charges against Mr Zardari were dropped and he was allowed to hold office.

Mr Zardari denies all wrongdoing.

Nawaz Sharif claimed: “Zardari invited him [Shahbaz Sharif] for lunch and said he was offering him a business deal under which he could remain the chief minister in return for our help in securing an extension for Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar.

“When Shahbaz promptly shot down the suggestion, Zardari told him: ‘I am offering you a business deal, a trade off’. We decided to put the interests of Pakistan first’.”

He called for Pakistanis to join planned protests led by the country’s lawyers’ movement campaigning for the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf to be reinstated.

“The nation should rise against this unconstitutional decision and this nefarious act of Zardari. He opposed rioting, he said, but warned:”If the people want to show their anger, who can stop them?”

Mr Sharif is regarded as Pakistan’s most popular politician and his stock has risen since last year’s elections when his PML defied expectations to win comfortably in Punjab. He remains influential and is regularly courted by visiting US officials who believe he could yet return to power.

Yes we are raging – against a Government that spies on its citizens while ignoring the crimes of greedy bankers

Yes we are raging – against a Government that spies on its citizens while ignoring the crimes of greedy bankers

By James Slack

Today one of Britain’s most senior police officers with responsibility for public order raises the spectre of a ‘summer of rage’, with victims of the increasingly bitter recession taking to the streets in possibly violent protest.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police’s public order branch, warned that law-abiding middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.

Protests against economic conditions

Thousands of workers demonstrated in Dublin on Saturday. Police fear the worsening economic situation will lead to mass street protests in the UK

Many will consider such a scenario unlikely, or point out this has not been the ‘British way’ over the past two decades.

Violent protests take place in Europe – in recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France took to the streets to demand greater protection for their jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik – but not here.

But can we really be so sure? The public’s rage with the banks and the Government is growing by the day.

Thousands are losing their jobs through no fault of their own because bankers who made millions during the good times are calling in the loans which their employers need to stay afloat.

Homes are being repossessed across the country, but not the penthouse flats and country piles of bank bosses who thought nothing of taking home vast seven-figure bonuses, and consider £1 million a year a modest income.

The innocent are being punished while the guilty continue to lead affluent lives.

As Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions says today: ‘If you mug someone in the street and you are caught, the chances are that you will go to prison. In recent years, mugging someone out of their savings or their pension would probably earn you a yacht.’

Add to this a second issue highlighted by Sir Ken: the march of the surveillance state.

Ministers have been spending their time focussing on eroding our most treasured individual freedoms, while doing little or nothing to curb criminal behaviour by the banks.

The DNA database containing the samples of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people…the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world…anti-terrorist powers being deployed against dog foulers…restrictions on telling religious jokes…

All of these intrusive, liberty-sapping polices were developed while the banks were blowing billions on reckless sub-prime lending.

How much better a place Britain would be today if Labour had focussed on regulating the banks and getting a grip on the shambolic, toothless Financial Services Authority, rather than building a surveillance state.

That the public is being watched by Big Brother at every turn is deeply  alarming. That the innocent were being tracked going about their every day lives while a blind eye was being turned to a financial sector apparently hell-bent on destruction is unforgivable.

Thus, the idea of the ‘summer of rage’ may not be as far-fetched as it first appears.

Superintendent Hartshorn talks of the banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, becoming ‘viable targets’. Likewise, the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.

It is to their eternal shame that our banks should find themselves in such a position, and that Labour – while eroding the civil liberties Britain has fought so hard to defend over the centuries – was prepared to sit back and allow it to happen.

News From England, Test Lab For Global Police State

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It is time to resist

David Omand’s national security strategy report shows us we have a very short time to save society from tyranny

“Once an individual has been assigned a unique index number, it is possible to accurately retrieve data across numerous databases and build a picture of that individual’s life that was not authorised in the original consent for data collection,” says Sir David Omand in a report for the Institute for Public Policy research.

This is not some wild fantasy. It is the world that we are about to move into and which Jack Straw’s coroners and justice bill, the ID Cards Act, RIPA laws and the EBorders scheme have patiently constructed while we have been living in an idiots’ paradise of easy money.

We have a choice: either we can believe that the British state is peculiarly immune to tyrannical instincts that are beginning to show in this government or we can now start to oppose what is going on. We have a very short time to save our society from this nightmare, as has been made clear by Sir Ken Macdonald, the former DPP, Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, and the House of Lord constitutional committee.

Omand is not the first civil servant to describe this world to us. In 2006 Sir David Varney, the head of Transformational Government predicted that the state would know “a deep truth about the citizen based on their behaviour, experience, beliefs, needs or desires”. The report from the IPPR merely fills in the gaps of this statement and shows us how it will be done.

Omand is a “securicrat” par excellence. He is the former intelligence and security adviser to Tony Blair; he speaks from the heart of the surveillance bureaucracy; and his views are those of GCHQ, which has lobbied for the measures in the coroners and justice bill. His paper is presented by some as a warning – which it is to all of us – but having met the man and debated him, I am pretty sure that this represents his heart’s desire. Either way, the important point is that we now have a very clear picture of what is about to happen, and it is for us to respond by fashioning a society where the powers that technology grants our rulers are controlled.

You may wonder why parliament has not alerted us to these dangers. That is because it is because part of the project, and Labour ministers continue to shelter behind the Human Rights Act, which offers no protection to the British public whatsoever. What we need is entrenched legislation that controls the executive and makes sure that no British citizen will ever be assigned a number so that the state may conveniently watch his or her every move.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to resist for we cannot rely, as Omand asks us, on the “essential reasonableness of the UK police, security and intelligence agency activity”.

Tomorrow week the Commons committee meets to discuss Jack Straw’s data-sharing proposal in the coroners and justice bill. If this measure goes through we are lost.

California’s Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink

California’s Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink

By Vivien Lou Chen

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — In California’s Contra Costa County, 40,000 families are applying for just 350 affordable-housing vouchers. Church-operated pantries are running out of food. Crisis calls have more than doubled in the city of Antioch, where the Family Stress Center occupies the site of a former bank.

The worst financial crisis in seven decades is forcing thousands of previously middle-income workers to seek social services, overwhelming local agencies, clinics and nonprofits. Each month 16,000 people, including many who were making $60,000 to $100,000 annually just a few years ago, fill four county offices requesting financial, medical or food assistance.

“Unless we do things differently, not only will we continue to be on life support, but the power to the machine is going to die,” said county Supervisor Federal Glover, who represents Antioch and the cities of Pittsburg and Oakley about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of San Francisco.

Contra Costa, an East Bay suburban region of more than 1 million, turned thousands of farmland acres into housing in the past two decades, becoming an affordable alternative to San Francisco. Now, the area is being hit by a double whammy, as rising unemployment increases demand for social services, while plunging home values shrink tax revenue and squeeze agency budgets.

County officials made $90 million in cuts during the current fiscal year, and plan to reduce another $56 million, out of a $1.2 billion general-fund budget, in the coming year. County administrator David Twa said he doesn’t expect to see a “gradual recovery” in property taxes until 2012 or 2013.

Safety Net

The social safety net is being stretched “all over the country,” said Jacqueline Byers, research director for the National Association of Counties in Washington. “The formerly middle class who lost jobs, homes, or both suddenly are requesting assistance for the first time.”

Nationwide, demand for food stamps, one of the first benefits that new applicants for services qualify for, has mushroomed since the recession began in December 2007. About 31.1 million people received food stamps in November, an increase of 13 percent from the end of 2007, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department, which administers the program.

A record 5.11 million Americans were collecting unemployment benefits in the week ended Feb. 14. The jobless rate in Contra Costa, currently at 9.3 percent compared with a U.S. rate of 7.6 percent, is likely to reach as high as 12 percent, Twa said. Among local employers that have cut jobs or forced workers to take unpaid leave are USS-Posco Industries, a joint venture of U.S. Steel Corp. and Posco of South Korea, and newspaper publisher MediaNews Group Inc.

“We are in a critical situation and it’s not likely to get better over the next several years,” Twa said.

Therapy for Staff

Lines snake out the door of Contra Costa County’s employment and human services office in Antioch. At the Richmond office, the applicants’ stories of foreclosures and repossessed cars are “weighing” on staffers, who are offered therapy, said division manager Renee Giometti.

“People are physically going through a slow death,” said Karen Stewart, an area real-estate agent who earned about $80,000 a year just three years ago and is now down to her last $700. “You don’t have any support and the support systems that were in place before aren’t in place anymore.”

Recently separated, Stewart, 45, said she has been without a steady income since 2006 and is living on a county-issued food- debit card. The five-bedroom house in Brentwood she and her husband had purchased for $500,000 went into foreclosure in January. She said she hasn’t ruled out moving into her Lexus sedan and sending her 12-year-old son to live with a relative on the East Coast.

‘On the Edge’

Shelley Bowen, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom from Antioch, said she and her husband Jason are “teetering on the edge,” as they face slowing sales of his art work and a $2,500 monthly mortgage that will go up by $1,000 in April.

Even though Jason makes $90,000 to $95,000 a year as an oil painter and instructor, “we’re kind of holding our breath, hoping nothing else happens,” Bowen said. If necessary, the couple would turn to family and friends, then church-welfare services and government assistance, she said.

“It’s a combination of a housing crisis and unemployment crisis like we’ve never seen before,” said Antioch realtor Kay Trail, a former city-planning commissioner. “Instead of being a bedroom community where people could live a certain lifestyle for an affordable price, now there’s quiet dread.”

Homeowners Default

The county’s median house price has plummeted 53 percent to $220,000 from $463,000 in a year, according to MDA Dataquick in San Diego. In the fourth quarter, 3,135 notices of default representing the first stage of foreclosure were filed against county homeowners, the firm said. That’s more than 10 times the number in San Francisco.

In Antioch’s old-town district, the Peacock Expressions art gallery, More to Love clothing store, and Rivertown Cafe are gone, replaced by empty storefronts.

About five miles away, signs reading “bank-owned home” are scattered throughout neighborhoods. Single-family properties built by KB Home are offered for less than $300,000. At the County East Mall, TJX Cos.’ Marshalls and Gottschalks Inc. stores were almost empty.

The county’s Housing Authority has a five-year wait for affordable-housing vouchers, said executive director Joseph Villarreal. Requests for homeless assistance statewide were up 26 percent in September over a year earlier, according to the California State Association of Counties in Sacramento.

Suicide Threats

“There’s always a level of desperation” in applicants, Villarreal said. “But the degree and depth of it now I’ve never seen: I’m not used to getting calls from clients saying they’ll kill themselves if they don’t get on the wait list.”

California’s 58 counties are $1 billion short of the amount needed to administer social-service programs in the current fiscal year that ends in June, said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the statewide group of counties. The local-government crisis was aggravated by state Controller John Chiang’s move earlier this month to start delaying almost $270 million in payments to counties for social services.

Neither the California legislature’s new budget package approved on Feb. 19 nor President Barack Obama’s $787 billion federal stimulus plan signed into law two days earlier will be enough to completely or immediately help counties, said McIntosh and Glover. Counties will still fall short of what they need even if Chiang releases previously withheld funds, they said.

“Contra Costa is near the front of the pack” among counties with the deepest financial woes, McIntosh said. “But the pack is tightly bunched and all headed in the same direction: off a cliff.”

Dostoevsky & The Jewish Bankers

Dostoevsky & The Jewish Bankers

Dostoevsky & The Jewish Bankers

DOSTOEVSKY & THE JEWISH BANKERS
By Brother Nathanael Kapner, Copyright 2009


FEODOR DOSTOEVSKY LEFT US A “PROPHECY” of the threat to Christian civilization by emancipated Jewry.

In his book, Diary Of A Writer, published in 1877, Dostoevsky penned a journal entry, entitled, The Jewish Question. With alarming and frightening foresight, (by which he penetrated into today’s events), Dostoevsky predicted a growing domination over social and political affairs by the Jews with their newly acquired rights:

“The Jews look forward to world domination. This requires them to maintain their own close-knit identity. If the Jews are given equal legal rights in Russia, but are allowed to keep their ‘State within a State,’ they would be more privileged than the Russians. The consequences of this situation are already clear in Europe.” View Entire Article Here.

Expressing his concern regarding Jewry’s agenda for world domination, Dostoevsky demonstrated how Jewish bankers had taken over Europe by the mid 1800’s:

“It is not for nothing that everywhere in Europe the Jews are reigning over the stock exchanges, not for nothing that they control capital, not for nothing that they are masters of credit, and not for nothing, I repeat, that they are the masters of all international politics.

What is coming is the complete triumph of Jewish ideas, before which, sentiments of humanity, the thirst for truth, Christian feelings, and the national and popular pride of Europe must bow.

And what will be in the future is known also to the Jews themselves: Their reign is approaching, their complete reign!” View Entire Article Here.

IN LIGHT OF JEWRY’S CONTROL of Europe’s financial & social sphere, Dostoevsky then voiced his fears regarding Jewry’s threat to Russia:

“What if there were only three million Russians and there were eighty million Jews? How would they treat Russians and how would they lord it over them? What rights would Jews give Russians?

Wouldn’t they turn them into slaves? Worse then that, wouldn’t they skin them altogether? Wouldn’t they slaughter them to the last man, to the point of complete extermination?” View Entire Article Here.

DOSTOEVSKY BROUGHT HIS PROPHECY to a head by predicting that Jewry’s religious dictates, coupled with the control of the “Yid and his bank,” would bring the Gentiles into complete subjugation:

“It is impossible to conceive of a Jew apart from his religion. They are all waiting for their messiah, all of them, from the lowest Yid to the highest and most learned philosopher and rabbi-Kabalist. They all believe that their messiah will unite them in Jerusalem and bring by his sword, all nations to their feet.

The Yid and his bank are now ruling over everything: over Europe, education, civilization, socialism, especially socialism, for he will use it to uproot Christianity and destroy its civilization. And when only anarchy remains, the Yid will be in command of everything.

For while the Jew goes about preaching socialism, he will stick together with his own, and after all the riches of Europe have been wasted, the Yid’s bank will still be there.” View Entire Quote Here & Here.

Scary, Isn’t it? And, Very Much Up To Date Is It Not?
… Brother Nathanael Kapner, A Former Jew, Reporting …

___________________________________

For More See: Jewry’s Scheme For World Domination Click Here

And: The ‘Jewish Question’ Now A Global Issue Click Here

And: Federal Reserve: A Private Jew Bank Strangling America! Click Here

And: Putin’s Purge Of The Rothschild Money Changers Click Here

And: Solzhenitsyn & The Jews Click Here

Taliban call for peace with Afghans

Taliban call for peace with Afghans

Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters

U.S. soldiers with Alpha Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment walk in a line during a patrol at Mullagora village, close to the border with Pakistan in Kunar Province, Afghanistn, Feb. 24, 2009.Oleg Popov/ReutersU.S. soldiers with Alpha Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment walk in a line during a patrol at Mullagora village, close to the border with Pakistan in Kunar Province, Afghanistn, Feb. 24, 2009.

KABUL — The Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace, but the problems of Afghanistan can only be solved if foreign troops withdraw from the country, a senior insurgent leader said.

The Taliban have made a strong come-back in the last three years, extending the scale and scope of their insurgency across the south and east and up to the fringes of the Afghan capital.

U.S. officials admit they are not winning the war but, they say, neither are the Taliban. A stalemate has been reached with insurgents unable to overcome NATO’s military might and foreign troops unable to stop Taliban roadside and suicide bombs.

Repeated calls from Afghan President Hamid Karzai for talks with the Taliban have been rejected by the militants, but the statement from the senior Taliban commander signals a slightly softer stance towards the government while maintaining the customary hard line against the international troop presence.

“We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mullah Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, told al-Samoud magazine in an interview conducted on Feb. 25.

But, he said, the United States “has to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible, because the real starter of crises and complication of matters is the presence of foreign forces in the country.

“If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he was quoted as saying in the interview translated by the U.S.-based Site Intelligence Group which monitors jihadi web sites.

Mutassim is regarded as close to fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The United States has some 38,000 troops in Afghanistan alongside some 30,000 troops from 40 other mostly NATO nations.

President Barack Obama last week ordered another 17,000 U.S. troops deployed to try to break the stalemate and has pledged a new strategy in Afghanistan to increase development and at the same time ease regional tensions that contribute to the war.

Mutassim said the armed struggle was the only way to drive out foreign forces and if the United States sent more troops to Afghanistan that would just lead to more soldiers being killed.

“Obama’s taking this unreasonable strategy indicates the plan of his bloody and fierce war strategy which will cause the death of many of his arrogant troops in the face of the holy Afghan jihad,” he said.

Despite his harsh words for the West, Mutassim only had praise for the government of Saudi Arabia which is often scorned by hardline Islamists for its close ties with the United States.

Saudi Arabia, one of only three states to recognise the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, has hosted tentative talks between former Taliban and Afghan government officials aimed at exploring ways toward peace.

But, Mutassim said, the Taliban were not for a share in power.

“The Islamic Emirate demands to rule the country so as to establish an … Islamic system in it, not in order to occupy high positions in the agent government,” he said.

Mutassim denied the austere Islamists movement had been against women’s education while they were in power, but said the ravages of war had not allowed girls to be schooled.

“I say that educating women is as necessary as educating men,” he said.

The Taliban have eased a number of their hard line edicts against such things as television and music in the areas they control making them, Mutassim said, more popular now than when they were in power.

© Thomson Reuters 2009

“For This I Blame America”

“For This I Blame America”

Afghanistan: Chaos Central

By Chris Sands

February 26,2009 “Counterpunch” — As the summer of 2005 began its slow fade into autumn, a piece of newspaper wrapped around a kebab said Osama bin Laden had moved to Iraq. It seemed everyone had forgotten there was a war on here. American soldiers used those remaining days of sunshine to buy carpets in Kabul’s Chicken Street bazaar, not caring when they were charged over the odds. Elsewhere, mercenaries downed cheap Russian vodka in phoney restaurants before wandering up a few stairs to sleep with Chinese prostitutes whose pimps bribed local government officials. The brothels were often in the same neighborhoods as the mansions that militia commanders were building themselves with CIA funds and drug money.

Back then, this beautiful city was the ideal place for a bit of post-conflict profiteering. Hastily-created NGOs continued to flood in, eager for a slice of the action. So did journalists determined to write about democracy, the suave English-speaking president and the local golf course. It was the calm before the storm. Victory had been declared and, while Afghans were starting to feel the weight of its baggage, the rest of the world was still having fun at their expense.

But the decadence and ignorance were never going to be allowed to last for long, and the Taliban knew their time was coming again. The warning signs were around for anyone who cared to look.

I’d been in Afghanistan less than a week when aid groups revealed that deteriorating security had put their projects under threat. They feared they had become targets for the insurgency. A little while afterwards, the governor of Maidan Wardak, a province bordering Kabul, told me all was okay there. Then the PR finished and he cut loose. A new generation of militants had shown its face, he said. They were young men disillusioned with the occupation and some were trained in Pakistan. Trouble was also evident near the eastern city of Jalalabad, where a villager complained that his cousin had vanished since being arrested by the Americans roughly three years earlier. We talked in a dirt yard full of kids and I think they were the only ones who expected his return.

The south, though, was where the pieces of the jigsaw began to fit together. Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and in late 2005 the movement was again drawing strength from its birthplace. There, for the first time, I caught sight of a reality our politicians had made us believe did not exist.

A man working at the football stadium reminisced fondly about the old days when executions happened on the pitch. If capital punishment was still common, he said, the new government wouldn’t be so crooked. This was something I would hear repeatedly, until eventually it was said by Afghans across the country. The police were the worst offenders, looking for bribes at every opportunity to supplement their low wages. Another Kandahari had joined the Taliban as a teenager in the 1990s. “At that time we were very happy,” he said. “It was like we were very poor and had suddenly found a lot of money.” Talibs are good people and they can never be beaten, he continued. Now they have no choice but to fight because otherwise the Americans will send them to Guantanamo Bay. Most importantly for the future, he revealed that a number of local religious clerics had just declared a jihad.

Insurgent attacks and violent crime were already a problem in Kandahar by then. It was like “living under a knife” said a 53-year-old in the city. Yet even as civilians died, the Taliban were rarely the subject of people’s fury. Directly or indirectly, they blamed the government and its allies.

Taliban on the Rise

In the spring of 2006 Kabul’s imams decided to speak out against all this and more. Officials were lining their own pockets and alcohol was easily available, they said. They were also angry at the house raids conducted by foreign soldiers in rural areas and accused them of molesting women during the searches. Most said the time for jihad was approaching and one announced that armed resistance was now the answer.

So when rioters tore through the capital on  May 29, it was no big surprise. The spark for that particular day of unrest was a fatal traffic accident involving US troops, but the explosion had been primed long before. Protesters shouted “Death to America” and by the end of the anarchy at least 17 people had lost their lives. The situation was now ripe for the Taliban to harness national discontent and kick-start a major revolt, and this is exactly what they did.

When British troops had first arrived in Helmand that February, they had come ostensibly to allow reconstruction. The then defense minister John Reid said he would be “perfectly happy” if they did not have to fire a single shot. Instead, they soon found themselves bogged down in some of their worst fighting since the Second World War, at times being drawn into hand-to-hand combat. Over 100 have died in the ensuing years.

The Taliban’s remit also grew stronger in areas close to Kabul and two hours from the capital people were warning that the government might collapse. I couldn’t find anyone in Ghazni who admitted to taking the insurgents’ side: they usually said poverty and a lack of reconstruction were causing people to rebel. Looking at the broken roads and crumbling homes, it wasn’t hard to understand what they meant.

Not long before, police in one of the province’s districts had tried to stop the Taliban’s favorite mode of transport by banning the use of motorbikes. The militants responded by imposing travel restrictions on the whole of that area’s population. At night they would go to mosques and tell worshippers not to drive to the provincial capital. “They say ‘if you don’t cooperate with us we will kill you’,” was how one man described their tactics. “What would be the natural human response to that? Of course you will cooperate.”

An emerging pattern

A pattern was emerging. The more the Taliban turned to violence, the more they came to be regarded as an omnipresent force that could not be stopped. The bloodshed made people long for the stability of the old regime, if not its repressive laws. Villagers across the south and east had gained almost nothing from the US-led invasion and, in fact, many had lost the little they previously had: good security. Among people in Logar, another of those sad provinces bordering Kabul, the anger was palpable. “Our biggest problem is with the foreigners – we just hate them. Our families, our children, our women – everyone hates them,” said an elder. “Let’s pretend I’m a young man,” said someone else. “I have graduated from school but I can’t go to university and there is no factory to work in. So how can I feed myself? I can just join the insurgents – it’s easy.”

The Taliban first rose up in 1994 when Afghanistan was controlled by warlords still high from the CIA support they had been receiving a few years earlier. A similar thing was happening again and the movement’s original members were quick to see that.

Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil lost his father during the Soviet occupation and joined the Taliban, he said, “to give the country freedom”. He went on to become Mullah Omar’s spokesman and later his foreign minister. We talked on a freezing January morning in 2007 when Mutawakil was being kept under watch in Kabul. He knew his government had made mistakes, particularly in letting jihadis from across the world train and fight here. But he was adamant that the international community’s decision to isolate the regime had only made it more extreme. “The interesting thing from that time, and lots of people are remembering this now, is the tight security,” he said.

Kandahar was frightening that spring of 2007. The police were accused of carrying out kidnappings and robberies, and the scars of suicide bombings pockmarked the streets. There was a lot of anger, despair and black humor around. Residents expressed a grudging admiration for the old ways of the Taliban simply because the alternatives had come to appear so dire. To them, democracy meant virtual anarchy and, in the villages, a brutal occupation. “If I sit at a table with an American and he says he has brought us freedom, I will tell him he has fucked us,” said a father-of-two. He had fled Kandahar during the Taliban government because he was against its restrictions on education. “But I was never worried about my family,” he added. “Every single minute of the last three years I have been very worried.”
Comments like this came thick and fast, mixed in with jokes. Some of the men insulted the president, Hamid Karzai, and his wife, laughing and swearing as they did so. A woman I met was sure the city had been better under the Taliban. “If we did not have a full stomach we could at least get some food and go to sleep,” she said.

Slipping into Chaos

On and on it went, a litany of complaints and stories that portrayed a nation slipping deep into chaos. A religious leader from the district of Panjwayi described how 18 of his relatives had been killed in an air strike. Then three Talibs from Helmand defended the insurgency as being a natural reaction to events. Basically, they felt they had nothing to lose.

Reports of civilians getting bombed from above came regular as clockwork that spring and summer. First some villagers or local officials would say innocent people were dead and the Nato or US-led coalition would deny it. Then all parties would agree civilian blood had been spilt, but argue over casualty figures. Hamid Karzai kept demanding that the carnage stop, but it never did.

In Kabul, a senator from Helmand said it was killing the entire country. He was among members of parliament’s upper chamber who had called for a ceasefire and negotiations with insurgent groups. They had also said a date should be set for the withdrawal of foreign forces. By then the parliament, supposedly the shining light of a new democracy, was actually a symbol of the Taliban’s resurgence. Police in riot gear stood watch and the building was falling to pieces, with paint flaking away and the walls starting to crack. Not only was there sympathy for the militants inside, there were also men whose viciousness had caused the movement to form in the first place. Most Afghans wanted the warlords brought to justice, but instead the international community had let them stand for election, and here they were showing off their power yet again.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef knew the impact that was having. He used to serve as the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan and, after initially being sent to Guantanamo, he was another of the old guard now living under constant surveillance in Kabul. He refused to talk about his stint in US custody, but he was quick to highlight that men with blood on their hands were now the West’s great hope. “At the time of the Taliban if someone killed another person it was possible to capture him, send him to court, punish him and execute him. Today, if someone goes to a village and kills 100 people, tomorrow he is given more privileges by the government,” he told me. “The Americans and the world community brought the warlords to power. They are supporting them for their benefit against the Taliban, but they know these people are not liked.”

By summer 2007 the horror could not be ignored, even in Kabul. Suicide bombings were the main weapon of choice and they struck fear into Afghans like nothing else, having been unheard of during the Soviet occupation.

For all their rhetoric about fighting for freedom, justice and the Almighty, it was also obvious that some in the Taliban were willing to murder anyone to achieve their aim.

This was clear in the pieces of charred flesh and hair that lay scattered in the dust after a bus was blown up near a police headquarters in the city on  June 17. And it was evident amidst the smell of shit that filled Pul-e-Charkhi jail, where a prisoner was quick to declare his intentions. “I tell you, when I get out of here the first thing I will do is kill journalists and infidels,” he said. “I will kill journalists because they are all spies.”

‘For this I blame America’

As 2007 drew to an end, men who hated the Taliban were starting to resemble them. A former Northern Alliance commander from the province of Badakhshan summed it up nicely: “Now when any foreigner is killed every Afghan says ‘praise be to God’,” he told me. We were chatting at his home in an area of Kabul where the poor had been forced out so warlords and foreign contractors could move in. He owned a small house and, in front of that, a half-built mansion that he could not afford to finish off. Possibly, the only optimists left were the American ambassador and the locals who had the money to take long holidays in Dubai.

Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu community had been about 50,000 strong before 1992. Now it was down to 5,000. The exodus had been instigated by the Mujahideen, not the Taliban. With the same old faces back in power again, no one was happy. “The Taliban told us we had to do all our religious ceremonies in private, but they did not stop us from doing them. It was a government that was not recognised by the world, but it was better than now,” said a Sikh.

Even the section of society that should have benefited most from the US-led invasion was full of sorrow. Female MPs told me they felt ashamed for not being able to help their constituents. One said she was sure the time was approaching when she would be a prisoner in her own home again. “For all this I blame America. When the Russians were here the people picked up guns to fight them. Now people are picking up guns to fight the Americans,” she said. “Soon my daughter will finish school and then she wants to start private education,” said another. “But I cannot let her because I cannot give her a bodyguard.”

‘Everything is screwed up’

In January 2008 the streets were a bleak monochrome and the graveyards that dominate Kabul’s landscape gave me a glimpse of the future. I interviewed a judge at the Supreme Court who admitted what everyone already knew: certain people here are above the law. He was too scared to name names, but he described the control warlords have over his colleagues as “totally ordinary”. Barely had he spoken and the Taliban attacked a luxury hotel in the city. Foreigners were shocked. Afghans just shrugged.

Kandahar was so bad I felt sick before returning there in early spring. Luckily, a friend of mine reassured me that, as a Pashtun, he would offer unconditional protection. “Mullah Omar destroyed Afghanistan because of Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t give him up,” he said. A day later a Taliban commander from Helmand described how the resistance had struggled to find support in the early years. But after innocent people had been detained or killed the jihad had burst into life. Now even the Afghan army secretly gave them bullets and treated their wounded.

The story of the insurgency, though, no longer needed a great deal of travelling. In April I took the short drive from Kabul city to Paghman and all I found where the offices of Zafar Radio used to be was a pile of burnt trash. Masked men had torched the premises for being “un-Islamic”.

In the summer, it got worse. I met an Afghan American who said that “everything is screwed up”. Then on  July 7, a car bomber attacked the Indian embassy. The huge explosion left corpses scattered around and the wounded dazed and bloodied. By the next morning people were venting their anger at the government, saying it was unable to provide security. When Barack Obama arrived during his presidential campaign, optimism was hard to find. In an area of the capital where Hamid Karzai had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the spring, a qualified doctor sold samosas from a roadside stall because it was the only job he could get. “The politics will not change,” he said.
2008 was the grimmest year since the invasion. On the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the annual death toll for US troops here had reached new heights: the 113 killed up to September were two more than for the whole of 2007.

Civilians are paying a heavier price. Caught between a rapidly developing insurgency and an occupation force over-reliant on air strikes, they are dropping like flies: according to the UN, 1,445 were killed from January to August 2008 alone.

The Taliban’s strength is growing on Kabul’s doorstep, in the provinces of Maidan Wardak and Logar. The main highway south is a turkey shoot that no one sensible travels along. In the east of the country, the rebels have taken new ground as they move freely across the border. In the north, warlords are reasserting their dominance – raping and beheading at will. The violence affects us all. Kabul is a claustrophobic, paranoid place. Rockets occasionally land in the streets, ugly concrete barriers have appeared and Afghans kidnap each other for ransom. Last autumn, on a bright October morning, a British aid worker was murdered in a part of the city regarded as safe.

More foreign troops are due to be sent. But they risk the kind of backlash experienced by the Soviets, and the long-term aim is unclear. After all these years, there are no firm ideas about the way forward. For now the bitter cold has brought the usual lull. But how much more violence will come this spring?

Chris Sands is a British freelance journalist, and frequent contributor to CounterPunch, who has been working independently in Afghanistan since August 2005. This article appears in the February edition of this excellent monthly, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

Hepatitis Plight of India’s Untouchables?

10,000 kg of used syringe seized, 15 docs booked

Gaza: Death`s Laboratory

Gaza: Death`s Laboratory

By Conn Hallinan
Feb 27, 2009, 04:03

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Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist, worked in Gaza hospitals during the recent war.`It was as if they had stepped on a mine,` he says of certain Palestinian patients he treated. `But there was no shrapnel in the wound. Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but I have never seen such injuries before.`

Dr. Fosse was describing the effects of a U.S. `focused lethality` weapon that minimizes explosive damage to structures while inflicting catastrophic wounds on its victims. But where did the Israelis get this weapon? And was their widespread use in the attack on Gaza a field test for a new generation of explosives?

DIMEd to Death

The specific weapon is called a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). In 2000, the U.S. Air Force teamed up with the University of California`s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The weapon wraps high explosives with a tungsten alloy and other metals like cobalt, nickel, or iron in a carbon fiber/epoxy container. When the bomb explodes the container evaporates, and the tungsten turns into micro-shrapnel that is extremely lethal within a 13–foot radius. Tungsten is inert, so it doesn`t react chemically with the explosive. While a non-inert metal like aluminum would increase the blast, tungsten actually contains the explosion to a limited area.

Within the weapon`s range, however, it`s inordinately lethal. According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in multiple amputations and `very severe fractures. The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns.` Most of those who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and organ collapse. `Initially, everything seems in order…but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs,` says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. `It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles…that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically.` According to Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.

If by some miracle victims resist those conditions, they are almost certain to develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat. A 2005 U.S. Department of health study found that tungsten stimulated RMS cancers even in very low doses. All of the 92 rats tested developed the cancer.

While DIMEs were originally designed to avoid `collateral` damage generated by standard high-explosive bombs, the weapon`s lethality and profound long-term toxicity hardly seem like an improvement.

It appears DIME weapons may have been used in the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but not enough to alarm medical workers. But in Gaza, the ordinance was widely used. Al-Shifta alone has seen 100 to 150 victims of these attacks.
Gaza as Test

Dr. Gilbert told the Oslo Gardermoen, `there is a strong suspicion…that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons.`

Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch`s senior military advisor, says `it remains to be seen how Israel has acquired the technology, whether they purchased weapons from the United States under some agreement, or if they in fact licensed or developed their own type of munitions.`

In fact, Congress approved the $77 million sale of 1,000 GBU-39s to Israel in September 2008, and the weapons were delivered in December. Israel was the first foreign recipient of the DIMES.

DIME weapons aren`t banned under the Geneva Conventions because they have never been officially tested. However, any weapon capable of inflicting such horrendous damage is normally barred from use, particularly in one of the most densely populated regions in the world.

For one thing, no one knows how long the tungsten remains in the environment or how it could affect people who return to homes attacked by a DIME. University of Arizona cancer researcher Dr. Mark Witten, who investigates links between tungsten and leukemia, says that in his opinion `there needs to be much more research on the health effects of tungsten before the military increases its usage.`
Beyond DIMEs

DIMEs weren`t the only controversial weapons used in Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also made generous use of white phosphorus, a chemical that burns with intense heat and inflicts terrible burns on victims. In its vapor form it also damages breathing passages. International law prohibits the weapon`s use near population areas and requires that `all reasonable precautions` be taken to avoid civilians.

Israel initially denied using the chemical. `The IDF acts only in accordance with what is permitted by international law and does not use white phosphorus,` said Israel`s Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on January 13.

But eyewitness accounts in Gaza and Israel soon forced the IDF to admit that they were, indeed, using the substance. On January 20, the IDF confessed to using phosphorus artillery shells as smokescreens, as well as 200 U.S.-made M825A1 phosphorus mortar shells on `Hamas fighters and rocket launching crews in northern Gaza.`

Three of those shells hit the UN Works and Relief Agency compound on January 15, igniting a fire that destroyed hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies. A phosphorus shell also hit Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City. The Israelis say there were Hamas fighters near the two targets, a charge that witnesses adamantly deny.

Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International said: `Such extensive use of this weapon in Gaza`s densely-populated residential neighborhoods…and its toll on civilians is a war crime.`

Israel is also accused of using depleted uranium ammunition (DUA), which a UN sub-commission in 2002 found in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, the Conventional Weapons Convention, and the Hague Conventions against the use of poison weapons.

DUA isn`t highly radioactive, but after exploding, some of it turns into a gas that can easily be inhaled. The dense shrapnel that survives also tends to bury itself deeply, leaching low-level radioactivity into water-tables.
War Crimes?

Other human-rights groups, including B`Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, charge that the IDF intentionally targeted medical personal, killing over a dozen, including paramedics and ambulance drivers.

The International Federation for Human Rights called on the UN Security Council to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes.

Although the Israelis dismiss the war-crimes charges, the fact that the Israeli cabinet held a special meeting on January 25 to discuss the issue suggests they`re concerned about being charged with `disproportionate` use of force. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to at `all times` distinguish between combatants and civilians and to avoid `disproportionate force` in seeking military gains.

Hamas` use of unguided missiles fired at Israel would also be a war crime under the Conventions.

`The one-sidedness of casualty figures is one measure of disproportion,` says Richard Falk, the UN`s human rights envoy for the occupied territories. A total of 14 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, three of them civilians killed by rockets, 11 of them soldiers, four of the latter by `friendly fire.` Some 50 IDF soldiers were also wounded.

In contrast, 1,330 Palestinians have died and 5,450 were injured, the overwhelming bulk of them civilians.

`This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare, which we ask to be investigated by the Commission of War Crimes,` a coalition of Israeli human rights groups and Amnesty International said in a joint statement. `The responsibility of the state of Israel is beyond doubt.`
Enter the Hague?

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann would coordinate the defense of any soldier or commander charged with a war crime. In any case, the United States would veto any effort by the UN Security Council to refer Israelis to the International Court at The Hague.

But, as the Financial Times points out, `all countries have an obligation to search out those accused of `grave` breaches of the rules of war and to put them on trial or extradite them to a country that will.`

That was the basis under which the British police arrested Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

`We`re in a seismic shift in international law,` Amnesty International legal advisor Christopher Hall told the Financial Times, who says Israel`s foreign ministry is already examining the risk to Israelis who travel abroad.

`It`s like walking across the street against a red light,` he says. `The risk may be low, but you`re going to think twice before committing a crime or traveling if you have committed one.`

Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.

http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5862

A people abandoned

A people abandoned

By Serge Halimi
Feb 27, 2009, 04:07

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By 14 January Israeli troops had killed more than a thousand Palestinians confined to a narrow strip of land and subjected to land, sea and air bombardment by one of the most formidable armies in the world. A Palestinian school converted into a United Nations refuge had been bombed (1), a resolution – issued by the only organisation that really represents the “international community” people are so fond of talking about – had called in vain for a halt to the military operations in Gaza. So, on 14 January, the European Union showed just how firmly it was prepared to react to this mixed display of violence and arrogance. It decided to suspend the process of rapprochement with Israel! But to lessen the impact of what might, even so, have been seen as gentle reproach to Tel Aviv, it explained that this was a “technical”measure, not a “political”one. And that the decision was taken by “both parties”.

Israel is free to do as it likes. Its army had already destroyed most of the Palestinian infrastructure funded by the EU and there had been little or no reaction, no legal action, no call for reparations (2). It then imposed a blockade on people already living in poverty, with no water, food or medical supplies. Still no response, only endless admonitions and a general refusal to become involved in the argument, on the pretext that violence of the strong is not always accompanied by submission of the weak. So why should Israel suppose that it cannot continue to act with impunity?

Twenty years ago, the Jewish state took the precaution of encouraging the rise of Hamas against the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Hamas was a dream adversary, with a medieval charter, doubtful military potential and no inclination to “communicate” with western public opinion. Having no “partner for peace”is a perfect excuse to bomb and colonise ad lib. But even now, there are still newspaper editors in Europe complaining that Israel one day lose the moral high ground” (3).

The United States too has nothing against the Tel Aviv government’s plans. On 9 January, the House of Representatives passed a resolution recognising Israel’s “right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza”. A few hours earlier the Senate had “reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas”. Perhaps with the idea of striking some sort of “balance”, the House of Representatives resolution also expresses to innocent Israeli and Palestinian victims and their families”. That resolution was adopted by 390 votes to five. The Senate resolution was adopted unanimously. The US executive also held firm: a few hours after announcing a unilateral ceasefire, Ehud Olmert rang the US president to thank him for his support. Support also includes non-refundable aid amounting to $3 billion a year, which no-one including Obama has thought of questioning.

With this sort of backing, the main Israeli parties’ aim seems to be clear: to destroy any prospect of achieving the internationally recognised aim of establishing a genuine Palestinian state. The West Bank will continue to be an amorphous collection of homelands, criss-crossed with walls and roadblocks, dotted with settlements, and drip-fed by the European Union. And Gaza will be bombed whenever its neighbour has a mind to unleash a disproportionate “response” to rocket or other attacks. In fact, after 60 years of defeat, humiliation, exile, violation of signed agreements, colonisation and internecine feuding, after governments all over the world have abandoned them to their fate and allowed international law, including international humanitarian law, to be ridden over roughshod, it is nothing short of a miracle that the Palestinians are still determined to assert their national identity in real terms.

If they succeed, it will not be thanks to the Europeans, or to the Americans or to most Arab states. In Gaza, these powers have all conspired once again in the interminable spoliation of a nation.

http://mondediplo.com/2009/02/01abandoned

Fueling the Cycle of Hate

Fueling the Cycle of Hate

By YIGAL BRONNER and NEVE GORDON
Feb 27, 2009, 04:13

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Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: `Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?` sang the crowd. `Because all the children were gunned down!` came the answer.

Aside from its sheer barbarism, this chant reflects the widespread belief among Israeli Jews that Israel scored an impressive victory in Gaza – a victory measured, not least, by the death toll.

Israeli pilots and tank commanders could not really discriminate between the adults and the children who hid in their homes or huddled in the UNRWA shelters, and yet they chose to press the trigger. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that the lethal onslaught left 1,314 Palestinians dead, of which 412 – or nearly one third of all of the casualties – were children.

This latest assault underscores that Israel, not unlike Hamas, readily resorts to violence and does not distinguish between civilians and combatants (only the weapons at Israel`s disposal are much more lethal). No matter how many times the Israeli government tries to blame Hamas for the latest Palestinian civilian deaths it simply cannot explain away the body count, especially that of the children. In addition to the dead, 1,855 Palestinian children were wounded, and tens of thousands of others have likely been traumatised, many of them for life.

Every child has a story. A Bedouin friend recently called to tell us about his relatives in Gaza. One cousin allowed her five-year-old daughter to walk to the adjacent house to see whether the neighbours had something left to eat. The girl had been crying from hunger. The moment she began crossing the street a missile exploded nearby and the flying shrapnel killed her. The mother has since been bedridden, weeping and screaming, `I have let my girl die hungry`.

As if the bloody incursion was not enough, the Israeli security forces seem to be keen on spreading the flames of hatred among the Arab population within Israel. Hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested for protesting at the Israeli assault and more than 200 of them are still in custody. One incident is enough to illustrate the psychological effect these arrests will likely have on hundreds more children.

A few days after the ceasefire, several men wearing black ski masks stormed the home of Muhammad Abu Humus. They came to arrest him for protesting against the killings in Gaza. It was four in the morning and the whole family was asleep when the men banged on the door. After entering the house, they made Abu Humus`s wife Wafa and their four children Erfat (12), Shahd (9), Anas (6) and Majd (3) stand in a corner as they searched the house, throwing all the clothes, sheets, toys, and kitchenware on the floor. With tears in their eyes, the children watched as the armed men then took their father away and left.

Chance would have it that Abu Humus, a long-time peace activist and member of the Fatah party, is a personal friend of ours. In 2001, he joined Ta`ayush Arab-Jewish Partnership, and since then has selflessly organized countless peace rallies and other joint activities. During the past eight years, we have spent many hours at each other`s homes and our children have grown up respecting and liking one other. It is hard to believe that just one month ago he attended the Bar Mitzvah of Yigal`s son in a Jerusalem synagogue.

Muhammad and Wafa Abu Humus have tried over the years to instill in their children a love and desire for peace, and while the security forces may not have destroyed this, the hatred they have generated in one night cannot be underestimated. Indeed, what, one might ask, will his children think of their Jewish neighbours? What feelings will they harbour? And what can we expect from those children in Gaza who have witnessed the killing of their parents, siblings, friends and neighbours?

We emphasize the Palestinian children because so many of them have been killed and terrorized in the past month. Yet it is clear that Israeli children are suffering as well, particularly those who have spent long periods in shelters for fear of being hit by rockets.

The one message that is being conveyed to children on both sides of this fray is that the other side is a bloodthirsty monster. In Israel, this was instantly translated into gains for the hate-mongering Yisrael Beytenu party headed by the xenophobic Avigdor Lieberman, who is now the frontrunner in mock polls being held in many Jewish high schools, with the hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu coming in second.

Hatred, in other words, is the great winner of this war. It has helped mobilise racist mobs, and as the soccer chant indicates it has left absolutely no place for the other, undermining even basic empathy for innocent children. Israel`s masters of war must be happy: the seeds of the next wars have certainly been sown.

Yigal Bronner teaches in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).

http://www.counterpunch.org/gordon01272009.html

Israel Planning Mass Expansion of W.Bank Settlement Bloc

Israel Planning Mass Expansion of W.Bank Settlement Bloc

Readers Number : 52

27/02/2009 Despite the Israeli formal commitment not to expand West Bank settlements, a government agency has been promoting plans over the past two years to construct thousands of housing units east of the Green Line, Israeli daily Haaretz has reported.

The plans, which have not yet been approved by the Israeli government, were drawn up by the Civil Administration, the government agency responsible for nonmilitary matters in the West Bank. Details of the plans appear in the minutes of the agency’s environmental subcommittee, which were obtained by the B’Tselem organization under the Freedom of Information Act.

The plans propose the initial construction of 550 apartments in Gva’ot, located near Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, followed by construction of another 4,450 units at a later stage. Rimonim will get another 254 apartments if the plans are approved, and expansion plans are also in the works for Einav and Mevo Dotan. All three of these settlements are east of the separation fence.

Ma’aleh Adumim has included planned construction in the E-1 corridor in its sewage treatment plans. That corridor, which links Ma’aleh Adumim to occupied Jerusalem, is eventually slated to hold some 3,500 apartments.

Nearby Kfar Adumim’s sewage treatment plan predicts that the settlement will double its population “in the coming years,” to 5,600 inhabitants. And in Eshkolot, the Civil Administration instructed the settlement to draw up a sewage plan adequate for a population five times its current one.

A Civil Administration spokesman said that its “environmental subcommittee does not discuss approval for housing units at all, but deals with the professional aspects of the area’s environmental needs, sometimes at the theoretical level.”

Hezbollah Condemns Israeli Offense Against Prophet Mohamad (pbuh)

Hezbollah Condemns Israeli Offense Against Prophet Mohamad (pbuh)

Hussein Assi Readers Number : 631

26/02/2009 … And the Israeli “malice” and “spite” continues, always in its worst forms!

Day after day, the Zionist entity insists on proving to the whole world its proficiency in bad faith and misconduct, uncovering more “vicious surprises.”

Day after day, this same Zionist entity proves to the whole world that it disrespects and undermines all values, beliefs, and convictions in what has become an Israeli “profession” or “expertise” amid suspicious international silence..

Indeed, and only a few days following its condemned and rejected offense against Christianity, Jesus (pbuh) and his mother Mary (pbuh), Israel decided to progress in its war against religions and the Messengers of God…

After Christianity, came the turn of Islam with the same Israeli channel 10 insulting Prophet Mohamad (pbuh)..

HEZBOLLAH CONDEMNS, CALLS FOR ACTION
Hezbollah issued on Thursday a statement in which it vehemently condemned the insult committed by the disgraceful Zionist enemy on Channel 10 against the Prophet Mohamad (pbuh) which comes only days after the same channel’s insult of one of the great Prophets of God, Jesus Christ, the son of pure holy Mary peace be upon them, considered sacred in the Bible and the holy Qura’an, by Muslims, Christians and all believers in God’s messages across the world.

Hezbollah’s statement noted that the enemy’s persistence in its criminal policy through wars and crimes and offending holy sites and icons was another reflection of its malice, hatred and racism. The Resistance party recalled that the Zionist entity was actually built and founded on aggression and assault.

Hezbollah renewed condemnations for all Israeli crimes committed recurrently against religions and called on all concerned parties to immediately take action to prevent this entity from going too far in committing such sins. It called on all human bodies, world governments and leaders to firmly face the non-stop Zionist insults.

More Crap From Zionist-sponsored “Al Qaida” Clearinghouse, Home of Fake Bin Laden Videos

CAN’T CIA/MOSSAD CREATE MORE ORIGINAL FAKE NAMES?

Al-Qaida offshoot claims Algeria attacks

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Al-Qaida’s North African offshoot claimed responsibility Thursday for the killing of nine security guards near an Algerian power facility, as well as eight other deadly attacks this month.

The bombing and mortar attack Monday in the Jijel area 215 miles (350 kilometers) east of Algiers, the capital, targeted the housing compound of security guards working on an electricity dam operated by Sonelgaz, Algeria’s national provider.

Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa said in a statement posted on the Internet that it had killed 10 guards, though authorities have only confirmed nine deaths.

“In its war to exhaust the capabilities of the apostates” the group’s fighters also blew up a train transporting goods to the west of the country, the group claimed in the statement posted on Internet sites frequently used by Islamist militants.

The authenticity of the statement, carried by the U.S.-based SITE intelligence group that monitors extremist messages, could not be independently verified.

Militants claimed eight other attacks this month, including one at a fake checkpoint during which three soldiers were reportedly executed at point blank range and the roadside bombing of a military convoy in a coastal zone west of Algiers.

The group claimed it killed or injured 47 people in the various attacks — significantly more than what authorities have acknowledged or Algerian media reported.

Violence has increased in Algeria after a monthlong lull as the North African country braces for presidential elections in April with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a third term.

The North African affiliate of al-Qaida is a reborn version of an Islamist insurgency group that was among extremists who battled security forces since 1992. The violence has killed up to an estimated 200,000 people, civilians, soldiers and Islamic extremists.

The group officially merged with al-Qaida in 2006.

Knocking on Heavens Door Plea to Law Enforcement, Military

Channel IconSubscribeUnsubscribewarrior1777October 18, 2007(more info)(less info)Want to Subscribe?Sign in to YouTube now!Sign in with your Google Account!Men and women of Law Enforcement and the Military. You have sworn to defend the US Constitution from any enemy Foreign and or DOMESTIC(I understand they sign your paycheck, but soon your paycheck w…Men and women of Law Enforcement and the Military. You have sworn to defend the US Constitution from any enemy Foreign and or DOMESTIC(I understand they sign your paycheck, but soon your paycheck will be worthless). It is easy to drop bombs on poor people, but taking on the enemies that are powerful in our own Country, traitors(Who signs your paycheck), you seem to fail to live up to your sworn oath. Do you not feel that we all may be knocking on Heavens Door?http://thelawparty.org/MusicWithAMess…

Pakistan Negotiate with ‘reconcilables’ Taliban

Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi echoes recent comments made by new American trouble-shooter Richard Holbrooke, about separating “reconcilables form irreconcilables.” Nobody bothers to ask, “reconcilable” to what? In truth, reconcilable means submissive and compliant.

Experts Discuss US Options in Afghanistan, Pakistan

An Afghan checkpoint on the border with Pakistan
An Afghan checkpoint on the border with Pakistan

A panel of experts urged changes in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their testimony before a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday came as the Obama administration is conducting a review of U.S. policy in the region.

Much of the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee dealt with Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama has decided to send another 17,000 troops to respond to the worsening violence there.

The experts at the hearing agreed with the president’s decision, but said success in Afghanistan would require more than just an increase in troop numbers.

The experts agreed on the need to unify the NATO and American military command chain, help the Afghan government increase the ranks of its Army and intensify U.S. engagement in the region — proposals offered by the Senate Armed Services Committee top Republican, Senator John McCain of Arizona, in a Washington speech this week.

Retired Army Lieutenant General David Barno, Director of the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, offered a sober assessment.

“In my judgment, the international effort in Afghanistan is drifting toward failure. There is still time to turn it around. But it will take strong U.S. leadership, a change of strategic direction, focused and substantial effort,” he said.

Barno called for a unified counterinsurgency approach. “A unified strategy must include counter-narcotics, rule of law, governance, development, building security forces and counterterrorism,” he said.

Barno suggested pursuing this approach in three phases. He said the United States and its allies should focus first on stabilizing Afghanistan and setting the conditions for a successful presidential election later this year. He said that next year, the focus should shift toward building additional Afghan security forces and state institutions. Barno described the final phase, to take place between 2015 and 2025, as movement to full Afghan control as security improves and economic capability takes root.

James Dobbins, Director of the RAND Corporation’s International Security and Defense Policy Center and a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the goal of U.S. policy in Afghanistan should be security for the Afghan people.

“Our job is neither to defeat the Taliban nor to determine the future shape of Afghan society. The American and allied objectives should be to reverse the current negative security trends and ensure that fewer innocent Afghans are killed next year than this year. If as a result of our efforts the current rise in violence is reversed and the population made more secure, the Afghan people will be able to determine their own future through peaceful rather than violent competition of ideas, people and political factions,” he said.

The experts agreed that Pakistan poses a top challenge to the region.

Lieutenant General Barno called on the United States to assist Pakistan in reforming the country militarily and economically. “We have to have a vision of a long term relationship there that <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:”Cambria Math”; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:1; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-format:other; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; margin-top:0in; margin-right:0in; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} span.body {mso-style-name:body; mso-style-unhide:no;} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} .MsoPapDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; margin-bottom:10.0pt; line-height:115%;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.0in 1.0in 1.0in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>
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allows them to believe in the sustained presence and the sustained involvement of the United States in the region. Their lack of that belief today undercuts all of our efforts,” he said.

Marin Strmecki, Senior Vice President and Director of Programs at the Smith Richardson Foundation, suggested that the United States use development aid as leverage to spur greater efforts by Islamabad against extremists in the border area with Afghanistan. He called for increasing such aid to the level given to Egypt — the largest recipient of U.S. development aid.

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“I think if Pakistan moves into a fully cooperative posture, vis-à-vis Afghanistan, we should be prepared to put on the table Egypt-level assistance in the long-term to rebuild Pakistan’s educational infrastructure, its economy, and to prove that the United States has an interest in Pakistan — not because it is going to help us in the war on terror, but for Pakistan’s own sake.

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only after Pakistan has become fully cooperative in our relationship,”

he said.

A number of U.S. lawmakers favor increasing development aid to Pakistan, although not all of them say it should be made conditional.

Pakistan: War in focus – Swat 2009

Pakistan: War in focus – Swat 2009

By Rahimullah Yusufzai

Unlike earlier phases of the Pakistan military’s operations in Swat, in 2007 and 2008, the action initiated in January 2009 has won the support of the ANP-PPP coalition Government, in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and of other sections of Pakistani society, opposed to the militants. The key reason for the support given to the military at this juncture is the belief that the latest military operation will be intense, focused and targeted.

In October 2001, on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan, General Pervez Musharraf had sought to win public support for his unpopular decision to ally Pakistan with the US. In a foreshadowing of the present, he too had argued that American military action in the neighbouring country would be swift, focused and targeted. The General calculated that the Taliban regime would collapse and US troops would go home speedily after installing a pro-West government in Kabul. Musharraf stuck to this assessment despite President George W Bush’s statements to the contrary. Supremely confident of his military knowledge and intellectual prowess, the General claimed that the Taliban could not fight a guerrilla war and, would soon become irrelevant.

He was wrong: the US military action, subsequently backed by troops from around 40 NATO and non-NATO countries, was neither quick nor focused and targeted. Almost seven-and-a-half years later, it does not appear to be characterised by speed; its focus has been lost and its targets, be they the capture of Osama bin Ladin or various political and development goals, remain unmet. US-led foreign forces are struggling to contain the Taliban-led resistance and the hope is that the arrival of 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan will enable the coalition to regain the intiative.

The reality of the war seems far removed from the one discussed at conferences, in newspaper columns and on TV talk shows. Things are apt to go wrong on the battlefield, especially if the enemy is underestimated. The militants’ tactics and strategies in Pakistan and elsewhere, are increasingly sophisticated, and their motivation to fight and die is unusually high. Revenge is often the driving force through their conviction that they have been wronged, especially through the loss of family members or the destruction of their homes during military attacks. Some have resorted to brutality and the wanton destruction of government and private property.
Much is expected from a professional and well-equipped army, but Pakistani soldiers cannot fulfil their potential if they are unsure about the cause for which they are fighting. Confusion is rife as the public continues debating whether the military is fighting America’s or Pakistan’s war. Desertions by some troops and a willingness to surrender without a fight are manifestations of the demoralisation that has set in amongst soldiers required to fight against their own people.
Pakistani armed forces haven’t fared very differently from the Western armies. Both share tactical similarities, including the greater use of airpower, long-range missiles and artillery guns. This obviously reflects the shortage of forces on the ground but also the calculated avoidance of military casualties especially as the Taliban on their part lack anti-aircraft guns and missiles. Both the US and Pakistani armies initially deployed the airborne Rapid Reaction Force by flying army commandoes in helicopters to conduct search operations and nab suspected militants, but the practice has almost ceased. It seems the US wasn’t satisfied with its success rate because it was difficult to keep such operations secret.

The military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) began in late 2003 and early 2004 and none of the tribal agencies has been fully pacified. Relative calmness has returned to North and South Waziristan primarily as a result of the peace agreements that the Government and the military made with the militants, mostly on the latter’s terms. Rather than extending the Government’s writ, military operations have in some cases radicalised the population, disturbed the dynamics of tribal society and diluted the power and effectiveness of the civil administration. It is true that peace deals too haven’t brought stability, but the same is true of military operations. The failure of one strategy or the other doesn’t mean that it should be given up altogether. Thus, the option of talking peace again or launching military action should remain open.

Despite the current upturn of support, the ongoing military action in Swat risks losing steam and becoming controversial due to the high number of civilian casualties and the ancillary displacement of people, the largest in the country’s history. Dissenting politicians and representatives of civil society have started accusing the military of targeting civilians instead of the militants and for uprooting villagers from their homes. As usual, the Government failed to make timely and proper arrangements for internally displaced people fleeing the military action in Swat, leaving most to fend for themselves. This had happened in the case of Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies and earlier when the military carried out operations in South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The Swatis’ anger towards the militants for heaping suffering upon them is being channelled towards the military that has uprooted them from their homes, and towards the provincial and federal governments that have failed to bring them relief. The battle for hearts and minds, so essential in the fight against militancy, is being lost even before any real effort was initiated to win the sympathies of the people of Swat.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai @yahoo.com