Just Gimme Some Truth–Get Us Past the Lies

[As the following article points-out, Obama is passing-up a historic opportunity to bond in common struggle with the people who elected him, and his only chance to obtain that cherished elusive second term.  SEE: Message to the Future]

Just Gimme Some Truth

By David Michael Green

The layers of the American political pathology are so multiple and so deep, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start.

It’s not so much that we’re a country with problems. Every country has its challenges, and compared to much of the rest of the world I’d take our particular batch hands-down. It’s just that so many of ours are self-inflicted.

Still, looking out across the panoply of peril, all the unfortunate ways in which we get it wrong as a society, I can’t help but think that what’s at the bottom of the stack, providing a foundation for the rest, is a profound national stupidity. Maybe it’s my professional bias as an educator, but I often think that our biggest single problem is our (often willful) ignorance. Moreover, that’s the single national characteristic that enables so many of our other maladies. If only we would allow ourselves to think, it seems to me, so much of the inanity that passes for normal in our politics would be laughed off the stage, and we’d all sure be a lot better off for it.

Honestly, this was the single thing I found most compelling about candidate Obama (as opposed to President Obama, who’s more or less been one disappointment after another). Whether he was talking about dumb wars, or the fear-marketing of guns, gays and god, or addressing the question of race in America, Obama would sometimes do something that America hadn’t seen in its political class since Jimmy Carter was in the White House: He would sometimes tell the truth.

Mind you, not often, and not even the whole truth. But the comparison was nevertheless startling, so long has it been since we’ve seen anything like this. Ronald Reagan not only began the era of “America, The Movie”, he personified it as president like no one else ever has. Why worry about national problems when you can have yellow ribbons, poignant sunrises, and kick-ass wars against mortal enemies like Grenada instead? America has never quite recovered from this turn to the fantastical, this Hollywood spectacle of a government. Indeed, so deeply rooted has it become that, in order to help hold onto our comforting delusions, we now have a tenacious mythology which has arisen around the Great Mythologizer himself. The mythmaker has become myth too. New lies promulgated to prop up the old ones.

Whatever. My guess is that if we can ever have a serious discussion of Reagan in the future, one of the great crimes that will be attributed to his presidency will be the same supposed virtue that our lame punditocracy ascribes to it now. They say it was a revival of the American spirit and a restoration of our national confidence. In fact, what it was instead was a grand journey of self-delusion taken by an entire country, and at great cost, much of which we continue to pay to this day.

Thirty years of this disastrous turn in American politics could make even the half-truths of someone like Barack Obama refreshing and welcome, sometimes even stunning. I had almost forgotten what it was like to have a politician talk to me like I was an adult with a brain, rather than some Sunday School kiddie in short pants, who could only distinguish between Mr. God and Mr. Satan, the one with the beard and the one with the horns. I had almost forgotten what it could be like to see a president describe the world in three dimensions, complete with nuances and complexities, rather than some silly faux dichotomy between Good and Evil, with our team always representing the former.

Since becoming president Obama has cracked that door open a bit once or twice, though far from sufficiently and even less than during his campaign. His Cairo speech had some of these elements. And then he did it again a couple of times last week, especially when he visited the Republican House retreat and held a televised Q and A with those scary monsters.

Much as I hesitate to say it, the changes in the Obama White House this last week are slightly encouraging. It’s even possible that they’ve recognized what a suicide mission they’ve been on this last year and have taken some baby steps in the only direction available to them for survival, let alone any sort of redemption. Obama doesn’t strike me as constitutionally able to throw a punch at an adversary. It’s just not in his character. But this week, at least, he flicked a couple of spitballs. For this White House, that’s progress.

In any case, there was much that was telling about the event. First, that this semi-hostile dialogue – which many have compared to the British weekly tradition of Prime Minister’s Question Time – transpired at all was a somewhat profound development. Of course, that statement says far more about the pathetic nature of the American political system than it does about Obama or the cavemen from the Valley of the Right who questioned him. It’s also enormously telling that the GOP resisted until the last moment allowing the cameras to roll during the question and answer period – they really didn’t want to go there. Think about that. You had a single meek politician going up against two hundred rabid bullies, and which side wanted to make sure the public didn’t see the engagement? Did Republicans know something in advance that made them fearful of public exposure, even when going up against President Neville O’Bambi?

Perhaps it was the same thing that caused FOCS (Frighten Old Children Silly) “News” to cut away from the broadcast in the middle of it, despite the food-fight event being the very epitome of what television loves to show in politics. Uh-oh. Not only was Obama occasionally holding Republican feet to the fire, but he was even doing it without a Teleprompter! Evidently, the sight of the nice, genteel, reasonable black man helping a bunch of white sharks make themselves look like the stupid liars they are was all too much for Mr. Ailes and company. Seeing this was causing smoke to pour out of the ears of robo-regressives all across America, their circuits frying all at once. Cut to American Idol reruns, boys! Fast!

Why? Because Obama was actually making these lying thugs own, even slightly, the consequences of their destructive deceits. Here he was with the Republicans at their retreat, for example: “There was an interesting headline in CNN today: ‘Americans disapprove of stimulus, but like every policy in it.’ And there was a poll that showed that if you broke it down into its component parts, 80 percent approved of the tax cuts, 80 percent approved of the infrastructure, 80 percent approved of the assistance to the unemployed. Well, that’s what the Recovery Act was. And let’s face it, some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities.” Similarly, the next day he was tweaking seven Republicans who actually walked away from their own proposal for a bipartisan debt-cutting commission, just because the socialist president had subsequently agreed with them on the idea.

The Kumbaya Kid is considerably more gentle about whacking these Joe McCarthy protégés than I would be. I’d like to see a lot more Harry Truman out of him, and a lot less Harry Reid. A lot more Betty Friedan, and a lot less Betty Crocker. Just the same, the Massachusetts election may go down as an inflection point in this presidency, the moment at which the White House figured out that standing by silently and watching yourself get your ass kicked by dress-up cowboy cowards unarmed with anything but lies and bullying tactics turns out to be, amazingly enough, something of a strategic error in national politics.

But what I find so astonishing about moments like this is how revealing they are of simple truths that somehow manage to get lost, particularly in the ranks of the Democratic Party. To begin with, Barack Obama has been hard at work for a year now, crashing an enormously promising presidency that just happens to also have his name attached to it, and the way forward has always seemed to me so transparently clear. Regressives in Congress (some from his own party), representing parasitical special interests, are sucking the blood from the American polity, even as the corpse begins to stiffen in rigor mortis. Maybe I’m just a sucker for that old fashioned democracy gospel, but I still believe that many times good policy can also be good politics. How much greater public fury at banks and other corporate predators does there need to be before the president realizes that actually taking on the malefactors of great wealth in this society also happens to be the best thing that could happen to him politically? How many times does he have to lose public support because of the astounding fabrications people are promulgating about him before he decides to stop playing nice and call the liars liars?

After seeing the president in action this week, the obnoxiously abrasive pundit Chris Matthews opined that Republicans should fear Barack Obama’s learning curve. That one gave me a real chuckle. As far as I can see, no one in America has more to fear from Obama’s learning curve than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who is currently slated to be very much on the housing market in January of 2013. Indeed, the single thing most utterly astonishing to me about the Obama presidency is how such a politically astute candidate could turn out to be such an absolutely lame, slow-to-get-it, president. And I’m not even talking about the guy’s policies or ideology, much of which I abhor, since they frequently amount quite literally to warmed-over Bushism.

I’m just talking about Obama’s lack of street smarts. The health care bill was paradigmatic, though hardly the only example. When it comes to selling his policies and strategic communications and winning the battle, he is decidedly not Bush-like. That reality is made all the more ironic by the fact that, unlike Bush, Obama doesn’t even need to resort to outrageous lies in order to pitch manifestly evil policies (even if his are considerably less than wonderful). Never has a president failed so dramatically to employ his best weapon – the bully pulpit – to market his proposals for the country. Never has a president gotten so little from such favorable conditions for presidential success as Obama did this last year.

All of which begs the question of what American politics might look like if we had a president who was out there swinging for the fence, telling big truths, and mobilizing the public behind some new, healthy, and not even necessarily so hard-to-swallow national choices? The results could be astonishing.

The lists of areas where honest political discourse combined with presidential leadership could produce huge effects is fairly endless, though there is of course the danger of overload and distraction with too many initiatives at once. Just the same, here’s my top ten:

* Start with campaign finance reform: No other single domain has more potential to unleash more necessary change in America. The simple truth is that American government is for sale, and about eight or nine tenths of what ails the country is attributable to these daily acts of treason, in which government officials sell out the national interest in favor of their own, and that of their political benefactors. This problem will never be solved by Congress. It requires a president who lays it out, pounds the drum incessantly in public, and humiliates the legislative branch into action. However, that would, of course, require telling a whole bunch of truth.

* America is in fiscal crisis right now, and the president’s current solution is to pretend to seriously cut spending, and to locate all those cuts in the domain of domestic spending, just as some folks argued long ago was the real conspiracy behind Reagan’s massive deficits. What astonishes me almost daily is that there is not a single serious actor in American politics who is talking about slashing ‘defense’ spending. The United States today drops twice what the entire rest of the world combined spends on their militaries, and there is not a single state actor anywhere in the world who does or could threaten us. There is no Nazi Germany or expansionary Soviet Union. And yet we spend like we’re in a great power death match, despite the fact that we are bleeding red ink in order to do so. Couldn’t somebody speak honestly about this, especially since our finances are in a meltdown, or must we all continue to tip-toe around the drunkard in the family, pretending not to notice all the damage?

* Deregulation has produced the all too predictable results almost everywhere it has been applied, but especially in the financial sector. There’s a reason we have jails and courts and police and laws against robbery, rape and murder, you know. There’s also a reason why, following the debacle of the Great Depression, we regulated banks and Wall Street. The reason for both is the same. If you make it easy for people to commit crimes (especially by no longer making the acts in question crimes at all), they will. How many times do we have to go down this path before we learn that greedy bastards will kill us all if we let them? And yet, even today, when there is so much anger at Wall Street, no prominent voices are seriously talking about the paradigm shift that is necessary to protect the society and indeed the world against these predatory sociopaths.

* The health care fiasco has (once again) been just that. But even if the administration had gotten its bill through Congress, it would have only been a fiasco of another sort. Democrats on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue looked like circus freak contortionists, trying to write a bill that brought positive change to the country’s massively broken system, but doing so without going anywhere near the systemic, fundamental source of the breakage. No one can quite come out and say the truth here, as simple as it is: Introducing private insurers into health care provision adds nothing in terms of care, and dramatically degrades the system in every respect, from cost to complexity to coverage to care. We don’t require people to buy insurance – or have a job which provides it – if they want national security from the military or home security from the fire and police departments. So why should we do health care that way? The short answer is because nobody with a platform has the guts to tell that truth.

* Education is another area with fundamental issues that nobody dares speak about. There are lots, actually, including the stupidity of making a college education increasingly out of reach for current and future generations. How brilliant is that, even if all you care about is global competitiveness or national security? There’s plenty more where that particular lunacy comes from, but the one that is the most sickening of all, and that most betrays our supposed commitment to equality of opportunity, is local funding of schools. While dollars spent don’t directly equate to quality of education, they sure do matter, especially in their absence. It is a national crime that kids growing up in one neighborhood get vastly greater educational resources than the (probably darker-skinned) kids from just down the street. It seems to me that a little public education, pardon the pun, on this issue might go a long way toward shaming America into living up to its professed values.

* Global warming is another area where an astounding vacuum in pedagogical leadership from our political class has created a planetary suicide pact in place of what should be a plethora of prudence preventing post-apocalyptic peril. It’s one thing to allow the tail of narrow interests like pharmaceutical, health insurance, sugar, tobacco or weapons industries to wag the dog of public policy and murder tens of thousands of people every year. It’s quite another to allow the short-term stock price of Exxon-Mobil to take out an entire planet. Where is the political leadership educating the country on the nature and imminence of this threat?

* It might be nice if we could have an honest conversation about some of our recent foreign policy crimes, too, especially now that other countries like the Netherlands and Britain are at least cracking that door open. There is already so much evidence out there proving the magnitude of lies we were told about Iraq and torture and 9/11 and more. Would it be too much to ask for a little bit of truth to come out? We spend countless hours and unending rolls of yellow ribbon trying to convince ourselves how much we care about our military personnel. In fact, by continuing to allow them to die for lies, we hide from ourselves how little we actually care.

* We could be a lot more honest about our foreign policies in general, as well, especially when it comes to the Middle East, where some pretty whopping ongoing lies cost us dearly, every day. Americans not only get just one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represented in their media, they even get just one side of the debate within Israel. There’s a greater range of dialogue inside Israel about that country’s policies than there is in America. Supporting the paranoid Likud version of reality is not the same as supporting American interests in the world. Indeed, it’s not even the same as supporting Israel’s interests, truth be told. But how could most Americans ever figure that out, when they are limited to only one side, of one side, of the story?

* The United States has a sickening approach to world governance, as well. Whether it comes to land mines or the rights of children or global warming or family planning or just about any treaty, norm or initiative you could name, we are right there alongside Somalia and Libya as the outliers in international morality. Our attitude toward the United Nations and other global institutions is similarly self-reverential. These organizations are seen to exist for the purpose of supporting American interests (and those, worse yet, as defined in corporate boardrooms), and are ignored, defunded or otherwise trampled upon whenever they do not. How refreshing would it be if our political class might reeducate the country to start acting like we’re the five percent of the world’s population we actually are, rather than ninety-five percent?

* And while we’re at it, we could really make some profound changes to our attitudes about governance at home, as well. For thirty years now, regressives have been teaching Americans that it’s well and proper to hate their own government. Never mind that those same right-wingers most often have been the government over the last three decades. And never mind what it means to hate a government in a democracy, where the people doing the hating have chosen that government. The effects of this massively destructive impulse have been profound, and go a long way toward explaining the unraveling of American society and political culture we’re now living through and living with. Governments do some truly horrid things sometimes, it’s true, along with some pretty wonderful things as well. But policies, and the vehicle for those policies, are not the same thing. It’s time that we had some leadership who reminded Americans that government, for all its flaws, is not inherently evil. Indeed, it can profoundly impact people’s lives for the better, including protecting people from predators of all sorts. Which is precisely why the purveyors of unmitigated greed in America so badly want us to hate it.

I know, I know. It’s a lot to ask, talking honestly for once about all these issues and so many more not even listed here.

Actually, it is and it isn’t. So many people in America already get so much of this stuff. In so many cases, the public is ahead of its politicians.

The ground is fertile and the moment is pregnant with possibilities. Once you start talking about these things honestly, you can never go back. And creeps like just about every politician in the GOP, along with their enablers on radio and TV, can no longer commit their verbal and legislative outrages with impunity once people know better, and once they are regularly exposed to an alternative narrative.

People in this country are ready to seek solutions again. We just need a little honesty to make the critical difference, and prevail over the frightened Neanderthal tribe and their politics of fear.

Won’t somebody just give us a little truth?

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, http://www.regressiveantidote.net.


Tacoma Soldier Waterboards His 4-year Old Daughter

[Should we take from this the monstrously inhuman nature of some American soldiers or see it as proof that repeated use of such torture techniques desensitizes soldiers to the utter immorality of the men who give the orders?]

US soldier gives four-year-old daughter ‘waterboarding’ over alphabet

A soldier subjected his four-year-old daughter to waterboard-style torture when she failed to recite her alphabet, it has been claimed.

Published: 9:50AM GMT 08 Feb 2010

Joshua Tabor allegedly told police he had used the technique because he was angry and knew his daughter was scared of water.

The 27-year-old, who had recently gained custody of the young girl, said she “squirmed” as he pushed her under the water three or four times, it was claimed.

Waterboarding is a controversial torture technique used by the CIA to interrogate al Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, where water is poured over detainees so they think they are drowning.

Mr Tabor, from the Lewis-McChord base in Tacoma, Washington, was arrested after he was seen wearing a Kevlar military helmet and threatening to smash windows.

When police went to his home in nearby Yelm, his girlfriend told them about the alleged torture.

Mr Tabor’s daughter was found hiding in a cupboard with bruises on her back and throat. When asked how she got her injuries, she replied: “Daddy did it.”

The soldier, who has been charged with assault and ordered to stay on the military base, will appear in court later this week.

He is not allowed any contact with his daughter and she has been taken into care.

Afghan extremism will spread to India: Mottaki

Taliban-linked extremism in Afghanistan is blossoming because of the Western intervention there and is set to spread to India, Central Asia and Arab states, Iran’s foreign minister warned on Saturday.

Iran is deeply concerned to prevent the spread of the drugs trade and extremism from Afghanistan, but is also bitterly critical of the NATO-led and UN-sanctioned mission in the country.

“The policies imposed in recent years … in security, fighting against extremism and drug traffic – the policies in this respect are all defeated and failed,” Mottaki told a midnight session of the prestigious Munich Security Conference.

Taliban-linked extremism “can be divided into two (regional) branches: one is going to spread to the Arab countries, the other to India and Central Asia,” Mottaki warned.

And Iran has already had some 3,000 soldiers and police killed by drug traffickers moving from Afghanistan across Iran, he said.

After years of conflict in Afghanistan, the West is growing concerned that Islamist terrorist groups are looking to set up new bases in areas such as Yemen and Somalia.

Russia, meanwhile, warns that terrorists are launching new campaigns in the states of the North Caucasus.

The Munich Security Conference brings together top defence experts from around the world.

The weekend meeting was set to debate issues including the NATO mission in Afghanistan, in the presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Germany Begs EU to Help American Terror Fight, Oblivious to Terror Source

[The world should not move one inch to help the United States to bail out of Afghanistan or fight terrorism, until the US comes right out and admits to the world that it is the primary source of all the terrorism running rampant in the world and for the situation that existed in Afghanistan before we were pulled back into in 2001.]

Munich security conference: fresh focus on Afghanistan,

nuclear weapons

The host of the Munich security conference, which opens today, says Europe must step up and help its main ally, the US, and tackle pressing global security needs like Afghanistan and Iran.

A police officer checks cars near the hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich on Friday, ahead of the annual Munich Security conference.

By Robert Marquand Staff writer

Munich, GermanyAfter a year of uncertainty, “there are no more excuses” for Europe not to put its shoulder to the wheel; help its main ally, the US; and tackle pressing global security needs like Afghanistan and Iran, according to Wolfgang Ischinger, host of a prestigious annual security conference opening here today.

Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Conference on Security Policy, gestures during his speech in Munich on Friday.

Michaela Rehle/Reuters

The “no excuses” theme comes amid hand-wringing and remonstration about European “relevance.” Following a White House decision that President Barack Obama will not attend an EU-US summit this spring in Madrid, the EU called off the whole summit. The White House cited scheduling problems.

Last year’s Munich conference saw the first rollout of American foreign policy in the new administration, including the famed “reset” on Russia and an emphasis on cooperation. But one year later, the White House is reportedly underwhelmed at what it considered mostly symbolic efforts by its chief ally on a range of difficult and costly issues it inherited. This year, Mr. Obama is represented by National Security Adviser James Jones and Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The election of Obama and his early visits to Europe brought a “political spring” in European-American relations and a host of good intentions to deal with problems ranging from nuclear proliferation to Iran and the Middle East. European leaders basked in the presence of the very popular Obama in numerous trips here. Yet White House officials are reportedly irritated with a lack of delivery on problems considered to be of mutual security interest.

“Last year’s promises are still waiting to be fulfilled and excuses are no longer acceptable,” Mr. Ischinger said in a Monitor interview on the eve of a meeting that brings together some 300 top world diplomats. It opened with a statement from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and brings a last-minute acceptance by Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

“I find it not exactly helpful, but understandable, that Obama will not be at the regular EU meeting,” says Ischinger. “Europeans are the American partner in Afghanistan. We are his allies. Where are the Muslim country soldiers? Where are the Chinese? But Europe does need to make itself relevant to the White House. Obama has given us a wake-up call.”

Nuclear weapons

The 48-hour Munich meeting, with its rich set of sideline talks and bilateral meetings, also picks up a rising new focus on nuclear weapons. By May, Washington and Moscow are expected to sign the first strategic nuclear agreement in a generation, in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review. Senior statesmen like George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry have in recent weeks been in London, Paris, and Berlin to push a “nuclear free” world.

After a week of headlines here about a Europe “snub” regarding Madrid by the US president, analysts played down any transatlantic rift. Le Monde ran the headline “Europeans shaken by Obama’s indifference,” though French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Obama’s decision as “not a drama.” Most comment on the skipped meeting has been self-critical – pointing to catfights between Spanish and EU officials over the location of the EU meeting. Disagreements arose between the three EU leaders – European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and EU President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero – over protocol, and who would greet Obama and chair meetings.

Brussels is still sorting out a complex authority hierarchy after accepting a Lisbon Treaty late last year for a more powerful federal EU that installed Mr. Van Rompuy, along with a new foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton.

Obama was reportedly “unimpressed” with the EU summit he attended in Prague last June, according to the Wall Street Journal, quoting US officials.

Critics, however, say it was a diplomatic gaffe that European officials had to discover through news accounts that Obama would skip the Madrid event.

“You pick up the phone and call someone,” stated a retired US senior official now residing in Europe.

The White House is reluctant to spend time on glamour trips and photo opportunities at a unfocused EU meeting, analysts say, especially with domestic concerns and populist sentiment running high, symbolized by the ‘tea party’ initiatives and Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s election to the Senate.

“With resources on the line, with the presidency on the line,” an EU meeting that might not deliver much “is on the top of the chopping block” for the White House, says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Despite Obama’s absence in Munich, the security meeting continues to be an important venue for nations to signal policy changes and concerns. During the 2007 meeting, Vladimir Putin signaled a newly assertive Russian policy, with US defense chief Robert Gates pushing back that “the cold war is over.”

Now, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai here, this meeting is expected to further clarify Afghan policy, following up a new policy to engage the Taliban announced in London last week. Officials will also look at disarmament, as US and Russian officials this week revealed sharp cuts in nuclear-weapons stockpiles.

“The important thing is to lay to rest the hand-wringing on both sides of the Atlantic and get down to work,” says Mr. Kupchan. “If we aren’t meeting expectations in Afghanistan, what should we be doing? The will is there and it is time to make it happen.”

Russia Moves to Create Palestinian Unity, Block US Sabotage of Palestinian Cause

Hamas leader holds talks in Moscow

(AFP) – 2 hours ago

MOSCOW — The leader of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas met here Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on efforts to reunify the two main Palestinian independence movements.

“We met to pursue our discussions, and our principal goal is to build on efforts brokered by Egypt to secure Palestinian unity,” Lavrov told reporters at the start of talks with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal.

Meshaal, who lives in exile in Damascus, praised Russia for seeking a “reconciliation” between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas.

Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after a week of vicious street battles with Fatah loyalists.

Since then, the two main Palestinian movements have been deeply divided, confining Abbas’ authority to the occupied West Bank and cleaving the Palestinians into hostile rival camps.

In a newspaper interview published Monday, Meshaal accused the United States of attempting to sabotage reconciliation efforts.

“We know that the US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has recently put pressure on Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian officials,” he told Russian daily Vremya Novostei.

“If Abbas reconciles with us than the United States will halt aid to the Palestinian administration.”

“Russia wants unity in the Palestinian ranks — the Americans don’t care about this,” he told the paper.

Hamas is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the EU, but Russia has maintained official ties with the movement since it won elections and took power in Gaza in 2005.

Meshaal has visited Moscow on two previous occasions, in March 2006 and February 2007. He was scheduled to hold a news conference at 1300 GMT.

Pakistan: vindication on Afghanistan, assertive with India

Pakistan: vindication on Afghanistan, assertive with India


A Pakistani paramilitary soldier monitors from a hilltop post near Shahi Koto in Lower Dir. Photo: AP

APA Pakistani paramilitary soldier monitors from a hilltop post near Shahi Koto in Lower Dir. Photo: AP

There is confidence in Islamabad that its new importance to international interests in the region can be leveraged to secure its own interests vis-a-vis India.

As New Delhi prepares to put the Mumbai attacks behind for a re-engagement with Pakistan, there is confidence in Islamabad that its new importance to international interests in the region can be leveraged to secure its own interests vis-a-vis India.

After years of being seen as part of the problem in Afghanistan, Pakistan is savouring what it calls a vindication of its position on how to end the conflict in that country, and is confident it holds the key to the proposed new plan of “reconciliation” with the Taliban.

As evident from two sets of remarks by the Pakistan Army chief last week about what it seeks in Afghanistan and how its perceives India, New Delhi will need to factor in a resurgent Pakistani military, assertive about its concerns and self-assured of the resonance these carry in the halls of power in the U.S. and Europe.

From Pakistan’s point of view, the flurry of recent diplomatic moves on the Afghan conflict, culminating in the London Conference, was definitely the game-changer. Certainly, the new international mood seems to have played some role in drawing India back to the negotiating table.

London Conference

The details of the new approach in Afghanistan formalised at the 60-nation conference are still hazy. A cash-for-peace plan aimed at weaning away non-ideological and “moderate” Taliban fighters is one part of it, but the broad consensus emerging from the conference was that there is no way forward in Afghanistan without engaging the Taliban in dialogue, perhaps towards its eventual participation in the governance of that country.

“The outcome of the London Conference has been overall positive. It is a vindication of Pakistan’s position that we need to focus on all aspects of the strategy of the three D’s [dialogue, development and deterrence],” Abdul Basit, spokesman of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Hindu. “The international community now realises that without moving forward on the reconciliation aspect, it is not possible to achieve peace in Afghanistan.”

The decisions at the London Conference were not a total surprise. There were plenty of signals that the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe no longer believed in the possibility a military victory over the Taliban, and were looking for a dignified exit. Except that the military operations in Afghanistan will now be aimed at persuading the Taliban to negotiation, the next steps in the new roadmap for “reconciliation” and “reintegration” of the Taliban are still hazy. The main actors themselves seem unclear about many things.

Is dialogue to take place with only “moderate” sections of the Taliban? How far have talks, already reported to have begun, progressed? What will be offered to the Taliban? Will there be other parties on the table?

The U.S. remains apprehensive about the idea of talking to the top Taliban leadership. In any case, the big question for any such effort is whether the Taliban can cut off their links with Al Qaeda, give up their extremist views and reconcile with the political and social values of a democratic set-up.

Still, it is hoped that by mid-2011, when U.S. troops will begin withdrawing, enough reconciliation would have taken place for Afghans to run their country themselves.

Two countries are thought to have sufficient influence on the Taliban to be able to deliver on the London Conference decisions. Saudi Arabia, one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban-run Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from 1996 until 9/11 — the other two were Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates — has already been asked by President Karzai to act as a mediator. The kingdom, which has no love lost for Osama bin Laden, has set the pre-condition that the Taliban must renounce Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda.

Pakistan still carries considerable clout with sections of the Afghan Taliban, some of whom were given safe haven on Pakistani soil when the U.S. started the war in Afghanistan after 9/11, and continue to remain in sanctuaries in the north-western frontier regions.

“Gatekeepers” to the Taliban

Described as the “gatekeepers” to the Taliban, Pakistan would have a crucial role in delivering the Taliban to the table, either through coercion or persuasion. But it is being careful not to be seen as muscling in to impose its own agenda in Afghanistan. The mantra in Islamabad is that the process should be “Afghan-led”.

“Pakistan is perhaps better placed than any other country in the world to support Afghan reintegration and reconciliation. Why? We speak the same language, we have common tribes, a common religion, we have a commonality of history, culture and tradition” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the Guardian. “But it [Pakistani mediation] depends on whether we are asked to do so. If asked, the government of Pakistan would be happy to facilitate.”

But suspicious of its intentions, President Karzai has not been keen to involve Pakistan as a mediator, while the rest of the international community too is aware that while Islamabad could play a positive role, it could also use its influence over the Taliban to play “spoiler.” But, most observers say, no country except Pakistan can guarantee an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.

“If any country other than Afghanistan has any role, it is Pakistan. It may not be explicit right now, but it is implicit and goes without stating. Whether it is maintaining peace, security and stability of Afghanistan,” said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, secretary-general of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), “or providing a face-saving exit for American forces, it has to be Pakistan.”

A constructive role by Pakistan is likely to come attached with the demand that the international community address its “legitimate” concerns and issues in the region.

Some of those concerns were articulated by the Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani when, in two meetings with journalists this week, he said India remains the primary threat to Pakistan and the focus of the Pakistani military. He spoke of the peace, security and stability of Afghanistan as the main element of Pakistan’s “strategic depth”, and said Pakistan had a more “legitimate” expectation in the matter of training the Afghan security forces than India.

A Foreign Ministry official, who wished not to be identified, was blunter: “We do not really see India playing any role in Afghanistan. Any role for India in Afghanistan can only be problematic”. On the other hand, he said, Pakistan could not be wished away from Afghanistan, and had “a more natural role” in Afghanistan, given the shared border and other links.

Also, U.S. demands to “do more” against the Afghan Taliban holed up in Pakistani territory no more hold any logic, said Imitiaz Gul, author of a book on Al Qaeda and head of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research: “These demands have to a back seat. If we have to talk to them, why antagonise them?”

The Pakistan military said last month it would not launch new offensives against militants for six months to a year as it was overstretched. The declaration was evidently meant to pre-empt any demand during the recent visit by the U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates for military operations in North Waziristan. Now, said Mr. Gul, the Pakistan Army would want to wait to see how the situation unfolds in Afghanistan.

As Pakistani observers see it, their country has never been better positioned in recent times. At a recent seminar in Lahore’s Punjab University, Mr. Sayed spoke of how the Obama Administration is dependent on Pakistan for its Afghanistan strategy, and on China, a close ally of Pakistan, to maintain regional stability, while India has been downgraded a couple of notches by the Obama Administration from its status during the Bush years..

“The regional situation is moving towards Pakistan’s advantage. We have a strategic opening and we should use it to our advantage,” Mr. Sayed told The Hindu. This, he said, should include reining in India from using Afghanistan for what he alleged were its covert activities in Pakistan, and pushing for a solution on the Kashmir issue.

So is Afghanistan going to turn into a battleground for the competing interests of India and Pakistan? Not necessarily, said Mr. Sayed.

“In my view, Pakistan and India do not have to compete in Afghanistan,” he said, suggesting that the two countries hold bilateral talks on Afghanistan, and “see how we can co-operate instead of compete” in that country.

At the moment, as India and Pakistan do a tug-of-war over what their renewed engagement should be called, that seems easier said than done.