Afghan drug cartels, corrupt officials squeeze farmers

[Afghanistan opium over-production is killing farmers’ prices.  According to UN’s Afghan Opium Survey for 2009 Afghan farmers produced 1,900 tons more than total world demand.  Someone is stockpiling the stuff. ]

Afghan drug cartels, corrupt officials squeeze farmers

Afghan farmers work on a poppy field in the Grishk district of Helmand province. Pervasive corruption and strong Taliban foothold over the farms are hindering the opium eradication process. —Photo by Reuters

LASHKAR GAH: Like farmers the world over Haji Afzal has locked in the price for his crop with a forward contract.

Rather than a contract on the Chicago Board of Trade — like an American wheat farmer or a Thai rice grower — Afzal was paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees (5,000 dollars) by a middleman for the world’s biggest drugs cartels.

Afzal will harvest in a month, when the tall green weeds on his land have burst into scarlet bloom and the poppy bulbs ooze sap that will become opium.

The cash ensured Afzal had all he needed for a good crop — seed, water, fertiliser, tools — supplied by the men who will process his opium into heroin and ship it across the world.

But opium prices have fallen over the past year by about 30 percent, to less than 50 dollars a kilogramme, and Afzal worries officials will destroy his plants — or demand bribes not to.

He also worries his farm will be squeezed between the Afghan government with its Western military backers and Taliban militants who control poppy production in Helmand province, source of most of the world’s opium.

Azfal — not his real name — lives in Gereshk and is watching closely as US Marines lead efforts to assert government rule in Marjah, a farming district further south down the Helmand River.

The area has for years been controlled by insurgents and drug traffickers who compel farmers to grow poppies, paying for the raw opium they produce or making life difficult if they do not.

“We know the government has started a campaign to eradicate opium,” said Azfal, referring to new plans to wipe out poppies.

“Some people are worried, although we know they cannot extend their campaign to our district because there are Taliban who will resist and attack them.

“But we are also worried about the military — if the Marjah operation goes well, they may plan to extend their operation to other parts of Helmand,” he said.

Poppy farmers squeezed between drug cartels, corrupt officials —

Marjah is the target of a coordinated campaign to push out militants and drug dealers and establish government control with police and civil services.

Operation Mushtarak (“together” in Dari and Pashto) is the test of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy focused on winning the confidence of local people with a level of security to keep the Taliban and drug lords from returning.

It has not worked in the past because the Afghan government could not ensure a stable and accountable presence with officials immune to the temptations of corruption inherent in the three-billion-dollar-a-year drugs business.

“Drug money is addictive, and is starting to trump ideology,” said the head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, in a September report.

Cooperation between the Taliban, drug smugglers and corrupt officials has turned areas such as Marjah into mafia fiefdoms.

Militants provide the muscle to coerce farmers to grow poppy and protect the processing labs and smuggling routes through Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west or the former Soviet states to the north.

The Taliban use religion and violence to bolster their power — telling local people it is un-Islamic, for instance, to send their girls to school, and administering rough justice to ensure compliance.

This “marriage of convenience” has turned Afghanistan into a narco-state comparable toColombia, Costa said.

Afghan opium funds crime gangs, insurgencies and terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, his report said, adding “collusion with corrupt government officials is undermining public trust, security and the rule of law”.

Eradication efforts a failure

In Lashkar Gah, a reconstruction team — where British bureaucrats lead a multinational team of experts in such areas as governance, justice and counter-narcotics — has distributed wheat seed to 40,000 Helmand farmers in an effort to provide alternatives to poppy, said deputy head Bridget Brind.

“These sort of counter-narcotics initiatives reduce insurgent influence and increase government authority,” she told reporters, adding that the fall in opium prices was matched by a wheat price rise, another reason to switch.

But the figures don’t quite match the rhetoric and UNODC has called eradication “a failure.” In 2008-2009, only 10,000 hectares of opium, or less than four percent of land planted, were eradicated.

Norine MacDonald, president of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), said: “If these calculations are accurate, it still leaves a staggering 1.4 million people involved in illegal poppy cultivation.

“Despite good intentions and investment in alternative development programmes there is still no structural solution for these millions of Afghans,” she told a US Senate hearing in October.

UNODC found opium output down by 10 percent, to 6,900 tonnes in 2009, but said yield rose 15 percent because farmers extracted more opium per bulb.

Production far outstripped annual world demand of 5,000 tonnes, it said.

For farmers the world over the equation of over-supply and falling prices is simple and inAfghanistan cartels are hoarding, with stockpiles of opium estimated at 10,000 tonnes.

That’s two years supply of heroin for addicts, or three years of morphine for medical use, according to UNODC.

Amid military campaign, smugglers look for other routes

Nevertheless, the Afghan government this month announced eradication had begun anew in Helmand, Nangahar and Farah provinces, and will soon begin in Kandahar.

Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Daud Daud said poppy cultivation had stopped in 21 ofAfghanistan’s 34 provinces by 2009, but there was “minor” planting in 18 of those provinces this year, suggesting a re-emergence.

He said he hoped the programme would see 25 provinces cleared of poppy by the end of this year.

Interdiction had also failed, with only about two percent of the world’s opium seized inAfghanistan, UN figures show.

Sending in the military is having an impact, another expert said on condition of anonymity, comparing it to the short-lived but effective tactics of the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime.

It will only work if the government can provide security along with alternatives, she said, “because there is so much money to be made”.

A Helmand smuggler said the Marjah campaign has shaken up kingpins, who are now looking for alternative routes.

“Our main route for transporting drugs to neighbouring districts, provinces and countries was Marjah,” he said, giving his name as Haji Abdul Qudos.

As he had already advanced 10 million rupees to farmers, he would be looking for other ways to get the drugs out, not ways to get out of drugs.

“We will find alternative routes or even use Marjah roads, but (the military campaign and presence of police) mean it is more difficult now, with the danger that our opium is sometimes confiscated by international forces,” he said.

“At the moment no one’s farms have been eradicated but there is the concern that they might be.” -AFP

BLA Murder Professer in Quetta Because He Was Hazara, or Because He Was Punjabi?

[SEE: The Stunning Investigative Story on the Birth of Balochistan Liberation Army]

Educationist shot dead by the BLA in Quetta

By Saleem Shahid
Students disperse after police used tear gas on protestors during a protest against the killing of Professor Bari in Quetta on March 22, 2010. – Photo by AFP.

QUETTA: Renowned educationist Professor Fazal Bari was gunned down here on Monday and the Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Professor Bari, Principal of the Tamir-i-Nau Public Model school and a former chairman of the Balochistan Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education, was going to the school when the gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire at his car near Bhosa Mandi, killing him on the spot and injuring his driver Abdul Sattar.

The Tamir-i-Nu-Public college and its affiliated schools announced a three-day closure to mourn the death of the widely respected educationist.

The killing triggered protests by students who first reached the civil hospital after hearing the news of the murder and later marched on various roads, chanting slogans against the government for its failure to stop the target killings in the province.

They later went to the Governor’s House and Chief Minister’s House where they held a demonstration and demanded immediate arrest of the killers.

Police fired tear-gas shells and baton charged the protesting students and detained three of them.

The Namaz-i-Janaza of Prof Bari was offered in the Tamir-i-Nu-Public College ground and his body was flown to Lahore.

Professor Bari’s son Abid said that his family had no enmity with anyone.

Police raided various areas in the city and took into custody 25 suspects.

“We have picked up over two dozen suspects who are under interrogation,” police sources said, adding that it was an incident of target killing.

Meerik Baloch, a spokesman for Baloch Liberation Army, calling from an unspecified place, told newsmen that the BLA had organised the murder.

Taliban say not involved in Kabul peace talks

Taliban say not involved in Kabul peace talks

The Taliban, the biggest insurgent group, have their bases in the south, but operate throughout much of the country. — Photo by AP

KABUL: The Taliban are not involved in peace talks between an insurgent faction and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and will not agree to talks until Western troops are withdrawn from the country, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Karzai’s office said on Monday he had held his first direct talks in Kabul with a senior delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the three main insurgent groups in the country and rivals to the Taliban.

The meeting was an unprecedented success in Karzai’s efforts to reach out to insurgents this year, a crucial time when Washington is sending a “surge” of extra combat troops before planning to start withdrawing next year.

Although the talks appeared to be preliminary, the publicly acknowledged face-to-face meeting was a significant milestone: previous contacts with insurgents have been furtive and conducted through mediators, mostly overseas.

The Hezb-i-Islami team, which included the son-in-law of the group’s fugitive leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, brought a 15-point peace plan including a call for all foreign troops to withdraw this year, though a spokesman said the demands were negotiable.

A separate peace with Hezb-i-Islami could markedly change the balance of power on the ground in the east and northeast of the country where the group is mostly active.

But the main prize would be talks with the Taliban themselves, more powerful than at any time since they were driven from Kabul in 2001 by US-backed Afghan militia.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said his movement, which refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the country’s name when it ruled from 1996-2001, had not altered its position: that no talks could be held until troops withdraw.

“The Islamic Emirate has a clear position. We have said this many, many times. There will be no talks when there are foreign troops on Afghanistan’s soil killing innocent Afghans on daily basis,” Mujahid said.

“If the representatives from Hezb-i-Islami are in Kabul for talks, it’s their choice,” he added.

Taliban encroach on Hezb-i-Islami turf

The Taliban, the biggest insurgent group, have their bases in the south, but operate throughout much of the country and have encroached on Hezb-i-Islmai turf in the northeast and east in recent months.

Taliban fighters clashed with Hezb-i-Islami militants in the north of the country two weeks ago, which the government said led some Hezb-i-Islami guerrillas to seek its protection.

Although direct contacts between the government and senior Taliban officials have been denied by both sides, Western officials say they believe indirect and lower-level contacts have taken place throughout eight years of war.

The outgoing UN mission chief in Kabul, Kai Eide, said last week he had held meetings with Taliban representatives over the past year, which ended abruptly this year when Pakistan arrested the number two Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Some Afghan officials have said the government had made contact with Baradar, and blame Islamabad for arresting him to ensure that it has leverage over any future talks.

Karzai’s spokesman has said the government had no “direct” contacts with Baradar, but declined to comment on whether it had had “indirect” contacts.

India behind Balochistan unrest, Malik tells Senate

India behind Balochistan unrest, Malik tells Senate

Says most of missing persons in Afghanistan, 40 of them in Dubai

By Muhammad Anis

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Monday categorically named India to be behind acts of terrorism and unrest in Balochistan.

“I say India is involved in Balochistan, yes it is there behind what is happening in the province,” Rehman Malik told the Senate in clear and strong words, while responding to a point of order on target killings in the province.

He said he was also ready to share with the Senate, in an in-camera briefing, evidences of the foreign involvement, including recovered passports of the missing persons, who were getting training from outside the country to carry out acts of terrorism and target killings in Balochistan.

“I will show the members the passports of the persons (involved in target killings) and they will also know as to which country is issuing them visas,” he added. About the issue of missing persons, he said when he had taken charge of the office, it was said that 6,000 people from Balochistan had gone missing and the list was later reduced to 1,100 missing persons. He also highlighted efforts of the government for the recovery of the missing persons.

Malik said most of the missing persons were getting training in Afghanistan, adding 40 of them were currently present in Dubai. “Those involved in target killings in Balochistan are neither Balochis nor Pakhtuns or Punjabis, but there is a conspiracy against Pakistan’s sovereignty,” he added.

He asked the senators, particularly those belonging to Balochistan, including Shahid Bugti and Dr Abdul Malik, that he would share all details with them at an in-camera briefing. However, he said organisations like the BLA and others existed there, while the people belonging to a particular sect were also being targeted.

He said as per the Balochistan package announced by the government last year, all the check-posts had been removed. However, Dr Abdul Malik and Shahid Bugti said the minister was not giving the facts. They said check-posts had been removed, but mobile checking had been increased.

Senator Hasil Bazenjo said whether it was America, India or Afghanistan, the foreign involvement in Balochistan should be exposed. Earlier, Senator Gulshan Saeed, while speaking on a point of order, said Punjabis were being subject to target killings in Balochistan. In this connection, she referred to the murder of a professor on Monday. Senator Tahir Mashahdi, on a point of order, strongly criticised the government for its failure to tackle the issue of loadshedding and continuous increase in the power tariff. “For how long the government will continue with its inefficiency and chaos,” he added.

Troubled province

Troubled province

Dawn Editorial
Police officers beat a student during a protest to condemn killing of their professor by gunmen in Quetta on Monday, March 22, 2010. – Photo by AP.

The level of violence in Balochistan appears to be rising; yet there is little evidence that the various tensions prevailing in the province are being addressed. Controlling the situation involves understanding that the violence is provoked at multiple points of conflict.

On the one hand, the army and other security outfits are widely perceived as indulging in political victimisation. Not only is there great resentment in terms of the uncounted missing persons, the clampdown on movements and individuals with ultra-nationalist leanings, too, is being fiercely resisted. Unsurprisingly, this has led to representatives of the security apparatus being targeted. On Sunday, a cycle bomb aimed at a police vehicle killed two policemen and a shopkeeper while injuring 19 others. In Hub, seven people were injured when a police checkpoint was targeted by a hand grenade.

Additionally, the province is rent by sectarian and ethnic violence, while tribal rivalries are also present. On Saturday, for example, three people were killed and as many injured when their vehicle was attacked by gunmen. All the victims belonged to the Hazara tribe. The police termed the bloody incident as sectarian. Also over the weekend, a man was shot dead on the outskirts of Quetta while in Turbat, a policeman and another man were killed when unidentified people opened fire on them. On Monday, college principal and educationist Fazle Bari was killed in a drive-by shooting that police linked to the recent wave of targeted killings. The motives in all these cases remain unclear and proper investigations are essential to the process of apprehending the assailants. Meanwhile, attacks on migrants from other provinces, particularly Punjab, are not infrequent.

The only way of bringing all this violence under control is to pick apart and then address the underlying issues. Political victimisation must cease forthwith, and the law-enforcement agencies must under all circumstances refrain from using undue force. The panacea to sectarian, ethnic and tribal violence, however, can only lie in education and development — for which the province has long been lobbying. Investment, a fairer share of the federal exchequer and royalties have been longstanding demands of the Baloch.

Obama Sacrifices India


Photo: Kamal Narang

A large number of Indians now suspect that the CIA carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

According to India’s Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar: “For the first time in recent years, the Indian public has closed ranks with prevalent opinion in Pakistan that sees the US as a diabolic, self-centered power, which double-crosses its partners, friends and allies in single-minded pursuit of its interests.” (A spy unsettles US-India ties)

The American FBI has made a bargain with the American ‘CIA agent’ David Headley.

Headley planned the terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008.

The deal means that the US government doesn’t have to produce any evidence against Headley in a court.

That evidence might have included details of Headley’s links with US intelligence.

The deal means there will be no cross-examination of Headley.

The deal means that the families of the 166 people who died cannot have lawyers questioning Headley.

The FBI is not allowing Headley’s extradition to India.

The FBI is not allowing Indian agencies to interrogate Headley regarding his links with US and Pakistani intelligence.

In return for pleading guilty to the charges against him Headley will get a light sentence.

On 23 March 2010, M K Bhadrakumar, a former Indian Ambassador, wrote “A spy unsettles US-India ties

According to the ambassador:

The Obama administration is involved in a cover-up.

The plea bargain refers to the Pakistani handlers of Headley as A, B, C and D.

We will never know who they are.

After the Lockerbie Bombing in 1988, the UK government allowed the American authorities access.

The plea bargain confirms that Headley worked for the US Drug Enforcement Administration which works closely with the CIA.

The US government is trying to hide something, “and what better way to do that than by placing Headley in safe custody and not risk exposing him to Indian intelligence?

“…Clearly, the Obama administration was apprehensive that Headley might spill the beans if the Indians got hold of him and the trail could then lead to his links with the CIA…”

The Americans are hoping to manipulate the Indian elite, including big business.

“The Indian public has closed ranks with prevalent opinion in Pakistan that sees the US as a diabolic, self-centred power…”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s has had a pro-American foreign policy.

He has favoured the entry of American companies into the Indian market for nuclear power deals.

“A rethink on foreign policy has now become almost inevitable.

“Delhi recently rolled out the red carpet to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“Delhi may now seriously engage Tehran…

“Delhi can be expected now to work full throttle to resist the US-Pakistani game plan to engage the Taliban and to reintegrate them in Afghan power structures…”

Putin Delhi visit to result in jet fighter sales: Voice of Russia

Syrian Murdered In Budapest While Israeli Jet Flew Overhead

2nd mystery ‘hit’

Israeli jet flyover amid Hungary slay


In a possible sequel to the Dubai assassination, Israeli spy planes flew uninvited and unannounced over Budapest the same day a Syrian man was shot to death in his car, Hungarian media reported yesterday.

Two Israeli air force Gulfstream V-type jets, equipped with sophisticated intelligence gear, flew more than 1,300 miles over Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania on Wednesday before flying over eastern Budapest and then disappearing, the reports said.

The incident occurred the same day Budapest police said a 52-year-old Syrian was gunned down while stopping his black luxury car at a traffic light on the east side of the capital.

The attacker fired several shots before stealing a black briefcase from the car and fleeing on foot, authorities said.

Police have yet to identify the victim or give a motive.

The incident follows the Jan. 19 assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai, which United Arab Emirates police blamed on an Israeli hit team. Investigators accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of planning the hit on Mahmoud al-Mabhouh for more than a year and using dozens of bogus passports or phony identities to enter Dubai.

Hungarian Defense Minister Imre Szekeres yesterday demanded an investigation of Wednesday’s overflights, which the ministry said were made without prior notification from Israel.

The MTI news agency said experts believed the planes approached Ferihegy International Airport at a low altitude before veering off. They said there was no attempt to land.

The Israeli Embassy in Budapest said the planes were on a diplomatic mission, but did not elaborate. “Of course, they were not spy planes,” said Ambassador Alice Bin-Noun.

The Hungarian Foreign Ministry refused comment when asked about a possible diplomatic motive for the flights.

Over the years, Israeli operatives, including Mossad agents, have been credited with assassinating dozens of targeted Arab terrorists, often in Europe.

Some attacks occurred far from the Mideast, such as in Athens, Paris, Rome, Cannes, Norway and even Uruguay.

Aside from possible involvement in the Syrian’s murder, the spy planes might have been gathering intelligence, the Hungarian newspaper Nepszabadsag said. The flying distance from Israel to Budapest is greater than to Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy, it noted.

Israel has had a bitter relationship with Syria, which provides sanctuary for terrorists in Damascus and sponsors Hezbollah and other terror groups.

In September 2007, Israeli jets reportedly blew up a nuclear reactor in Syria that was being built with North Korean help.

Felony Waivers for a Criminal War–God Bless America.

Seven years after Iraq invasion, an Army transformed

Nasser Hempel: He spent 11 years in Texas prisons for his role in a 1991 robbery.

By Sig Christenson
San Antonio Express-News

When Nasser Hempel walked into an Army recruiting office in October 2006, he wasn’t the typical applicant – a kid out of high school looking to serve his country and earn some college money.

At 33, he was four years removed from having spent 11 years in Texas maximum-security prisons for a 1991 robbery. In his first month in a prison dubbed “Little Vietnam,” he said he was involved in two riots and 12 fistfights.

He was an inmate when he heard about the 9-11 attacks.

“I remember how helpless I felt being stuck behind millions of dollars of concrete and steel while America was under attack,” said Hempel, a San Antonio native who grew up in a trailer park in Houston.

“For a guy who built his reputation on fear and violence in prison, that feeling I had that day was something I’ve never experienced,” he said. “That’s the day I realized the world was bigger than me.”

Now an Army Reserve corporal serving in Baghdad under the service’s moral conduct waiver program, Hempel, 36, lives a life transformed. But the Army, too, has undergone a radical makeover since the Iraq invasion seven years ago.

It’s been forced to turn to the once-seldom-used National Guard and Reserve to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Saturday, the seventh anniversary of the war, more than three dozen reservists with the 328th Human Resources Company and 363rd Quartermaster Battalion Detachments 3 & 4 were welcomed home in San Antonio after a year in Iraq.

An additional 500 troops with the Army Reserve’s 17th Psychological Operations Battalion, with companies in Austin, Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and San Antonio, are preparing this spring for a yearlong deployment in Baghdad.

Turning to part-time troops was one way the Army has coped with wars it never anticipated. Bringing more troops in through a variety of waivers, among them “character” or moral conduct issues that included felony crimes, were other measures – yet only part of a much larger Army story.

Waivers are granted for everything from medical woes and low scores on the Pentagon’s aptitude test to recruits failing drug and alcohol tests. They’re also given for people with misdemeanor and felony records.

University of Maryland military sociologist David Segal said waivers are nothing new, but have been used with greater frequency by an Army strained by the Iraq war.

“They’ve been doing it forever, but the numbers were small,” he said. “It’s only with the current conflict in the past couple of years that the numbers have gotten so large.”

The Army stopped issuing felony waivers after the start of the fiscal year in October 2008 and severely curtailed conduct waivers of other kinds as the recession made it easier to recruit troops.

The Army Recruiting Command’s Douglas Smith said he expects waivers in both numbers and as a percentage of all enlistments to remain down throughout the year.

“That being said, I would like to re-emphasize that we are confident in the soldiers we recruited over the past few years who received waivers. It would be doing them a disservice by implying that they somehow should not have been allowed to become soldiers,” he said.

A different recruit
Still, the Army that camped in Kuwait’s vast desert just south of the Iraqi border in the weeks before the March 20, 2003, invasion was far different. More recruits entering boot camp then held high school diplomas and posted better scores on the Pentagon’s aptitude test. The oldest GI just out of boot camp was 35 or 36.

No one imagined a flabby 42-year-old recruit in basic training until Russell Dilling of San Antonio showed up at Fort Jackson, S.C., in summer 2006, after the age limit was extended twice that year. He’s 45 and out of the Army studying on the GI Bill, but still sports his combat helmet in a photo on his Facebook postings.

The Army began taking in more dropouts as the lightning invasion morphed into occupation. It increased the number of recruits scoring poorly on the aptitude test and dangled ever larger cash bonuses before recruits and veteran GIs.

The Army spent nearly $1 billion to sign up 64,526 active-duty and Reserve soldiers from 2006 to 2009. While that is a fraction of the Iraq war’s cost – $748.2 billion so far – it remains a significant investment and illustrates how the Army scrambled to find recruits.

Active-duty Army recruits in 2006 got an average bonus of $12,000. Two years later, it was $18,300. Army Reserve recruits saw their bonuses more than double over the same period, to $19,500.

Waivers have been seen by the various services as an indispensable tool in recruiting from a population in which only three in 10 applicants are qualified to serve. In 2008, the latest year available, Defense Department figures show that one in every four people joining the armed services did so under a waiver of some kind.

Not everyone qualifies for one. Those convicted of sexually violent offenses and drug dealing aren’t allowed into the Army. Federal gun control law forbids people convicted of domestic violence crimes from serving, and those involved in school violence were barred after the Columbine shootings. Anyone on parole or facing felony charges is excluded as well.

Becoming a soldier was Hempel’s dream. Like others wanting a felony waiver, he had to wait until completing his parole in October 2006 before entering the Army Reserve. He became one of 1,002 new soldiers with felony records that year.

New stripes
Hempel talks about going from “prison stripes to sergeant stripes.” He’s been promoted to sergeant but hasn’t formally received his chevrons.

“There has not been anybody in the history of the United States military that has served more time than me and voluntarily joined the Army,” he said.

The Recruiting Command’s Smith noted the Army was founded in 1775 and that it probably was impossible to confirm Hempel’s claim. Smith noted that while Hempel joined under a waiver, the Army couldn’t provide details about it or why commanders decided to approve him for service.

Records show Hempel went to prison for a robbery outside a Houston nightclub. The victim told police a man demanded his billfold, money and watch before jumping into an SUV driven by Hempel. The victim chased after them, and the passenger in the SUV fired at him.

The victim was hit but later identified Hempel, then 18, and the second man in a photo lineup. Hempel said he’d lost his job and was desperate for cash. He got 15 years after pleading guilty to robbery, while an aggravated assault charge was dropped.

At 5 feet, 9 inches and 155 pounds, he began working out two hours a day after surviving riots and fighting in the Beto 1 unit in East Texas. A prison system spokeswoman couldn’t discuss his disciplinary record, but said he spent time in a number of maximum-security units.

“Prison life is crazy,” said Hempel, who called his first six months as a prisoner the longest of his life. “You see some strange stuff and meet even stranger people.”

Hempel was released in December 2002. A few years later, he ran an obstacle course at Padre Island set by Army recruiters and learned about the waiver program. Later, he was interviewed by a top Recruiting Command officer and cleared for service.

Today, the reservist is preparing to return home to his wife and three children after a year of war but would prefer to deploy to Afghanistan. Going back to war is easier than coming home, where he worries about having trouble finding a job and a place to live because he’s a felon.

“I try to be considerate to society’s feelings about me,” said Hempel, a heavy equipment operator and carpenter with the 808th Engineering Company. “That’s why I take rejection like a big boy, but sooner or later society has to realize that rejection doesn’t pay the bills.”

In a camouflage uniform, Hempel is redeemed. He rooms with a police officer. Another buddy is a cop, as is his first sergeant. His fresh start in an Army badly in need of boots and the success that he has enjoyed might strike some skeptics as counterintuitive, but isn’t uncommon.

A study found that soldiers entering the Army on moral waivers were less likely to be booted from basic training compared with others. They had fewer personality disorder cases than nonwaiver GIs, re-enlisted at a higher rate, were more likely to be high school graduates, earn awards for valor and rise faster to sergeant.

Still, there are downsides. Waiver soldiers in the study period from 2003-06 were more likely to become deserters, fail alcohol rehabilitation courses and get bad conduct or dishonorable discharges. As different as the Army is as the United States enters its eighth year of war in Iraq, Hempel will argue that it’s good – and has an idea for making it even better.

His suggestion comes right out of Hollywood.

“People have always wondered why we don’t send prisoners to go fight in the war instead of just sitting behind bars. I’m here to tell you that being on both sides of the spectrum, I feel prisoners would make great soldiers – not necessarily better soldiers but great soldiers.”

Rights Group: Pakistan Using Tribal Militias for Extralegal Killings

Rights Group: Pakistan Using Tribal Militias for Extralegal Killings

Report Details Hundreds of Mutilated Bodies in Malakand

by Jason Ditz

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) today issued their annual report, condemning the Pakistani government for its policy of setting up tribal militias as “proxies” in its assorted wars against the insurgents.

As the violence across Pakistan has grown, the government has increasingly pressed tribes in the effected areas to form “lashkars,” or tribal militias, and given them arms and orders to go after the Taliban. In many cases the tribes are coerced with threats of being added to the list of Pashtun groups called “Taliban” across the country.

The commission detailed in particular the violence in Malakand, one of the major military offensives last year. While the military invaded and drove civilians out of the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, they also pressed the lashkars into service. The result was around 300 mutilated bodies found throughout the area, dumped along roadsides and hanging in trees.

The HRCP complained that the government was using the lashkars for extralegal killings of suspects, giving them plausible deniability over responsibility for those deaths. Pakistan’s government has constantly maintained that they don’t give any specific orders to the lashkars, but private indications suggest this is not the case.

More deaths from unsafe water than from war: UN

More deaths from unsafe water than from war: UN

(AFP) – 6 hours ago

UNITED NATIONS — More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in a message to mark World Water Day.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF noted that more than 155 million people, or 39 percent of the population in West and Central Africa, do not have access to potable water, with only eight of 24 countries in the region on track to meet key poverty-reduction targets by 2015.

“These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential,” Ban said as the issue was discussed at a high-level UN General Assembly dialogue.

“Day after day, we pour millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural wastes into the world’s water systems,” he said, noting that clean water has become scarce and would be even scarcer as a result of climate change.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the stakes, saying that global peace and security will depend on access to water.

“Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It’s also a matter of national security,” she said.

Government stability and economic growth will always depend on countries’ ability to successfully manage water in a world where water resources grow scarcer by the day, the chief US diplomat added, urging rich countries to realize the importance of their role in the matter.

Ban stressed that the world has the know-how to solve the challenge and urged nations to “become better stewards of our water resources.”

UNICEF said the water situation in West and Central Africa “remains a major concern,” with the region home to the lowest coverage of potable water worldwide.

It said the total number of people in the region without access to improved potable water increased from 126 million to 155 million people from 1990 to 2008.

Despite an improvement in coverage from 49 percent in 1990 to 61 percent in 2008 — countries needed to reach 75 percent by 2015.

Six countries have less than 50 percent drinking water coverage: Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Mauritania and Sierra Leone.

Also of concern is the fact that 291 million people have absolutely no access to sanitation in West and Central Africa, the region with the highest under-five mortality rate of all developing regions at 169 child deaths per 1,000 live births.

The Nile River Basin, home to 180 million spread across 10 East African countries, is also largely mired in poverty and conflict, Clinton noted.

“Cooperative management of the basin’s water resources could increase economic growth — increase it enough to pull many of these countries out of poverty and provide a foundation for greater regional stability,” she said.

The theme of this year’s World Water Day, “Clean Water for a Healthy World,” highlights the fact that both the quality and the quantity of water resources are at risk.

Nine countries in Africa’s drought-affected Sahel region will meet in Chad on Thursday to find ways to manage scarce water supplies and protect people against food shortages, a Chad official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel — which groups Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal — will focus on setting up a global coalition on managing water.

Many of the member countries have suffered drops in food production due to erratic rains.

“Without water, there will be no prospects for achieving all MDGs (Millennium Development Goals),” UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang said.

At a 2000 UN summit, world leaders set a 2015 deadline for achieving Millennium Development Goals.

These include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, empowering women, reducing child mortality, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

India’s Greatest Security Threat

Face to face with “India’s greatest Security Threat”.

Walking With The Comrades

By Arundhati Roy

22 March, 2010

Last month, quietly, unannounced, Arundhati Roy decided to visit the forbidding and forbidden precincts of Central India’s Dandakaranya Forests, home to a melange of tribespeople many of whom have taken up arms to protect their people against state-backed marauders and exploiters. She recorded in considerable detail the first face-to-face journalistic “encounter” with armed guerillas, their families and comrades, for which she combed the forests for weeks at personal risk.

Arundhati Roy finds a quiet moment to herself during a punishing visit to the forest where she became the first journalist/writer to break the taboo of of interviewing Maoist guerrillas in their lair.

The terse, typewritten note slipped under my door in a sealed envelope confirmed my appointment with India’s Gravest Internal Security Threat. I’d been waiting for months to hear from them. I had to be at the Ma Danteshwari mandir in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, at any of four given times on two given days. That was to take care of bad weather, punctures, blockades, transport strikes and sheer bad luck. The note said: “Writer should have camera, tika and coconut. Meeter will have cap, Hindi Outlook magazine and bananas. Password: Namashkar Guruji.”

Namashkar Guruji. I wondered whether the Meeter and Greeter would be expecting a man. And whether I should get myself a moustache.

There are many ways to describe Dantewada. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a border town smack in the heart of India. It’s the epicentre of a war. It’s an upside down, inside out town.

Red Shadow: Centenary celebrations of the adivasi uprising in Bastar; Sten gun at hand

In Dantewada, the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail superintendent is in jail. The prisoners are free (three hundred of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.

Across the Indravati river, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call ‘Pakistan’. There the villages are empty, but the forest is full of people. Children who ought to be in school run wild. In the lovely forest villages, the concrete school buildings have either been blown up and lie in a heap, or they are full of policemen. The deadly war that is unfolding in the jungle is a war that the Government of India is both proud and shy of. Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India’s home minister (and CEO of the war), says it does not exist, that it’s a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilised for it. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all.

If ghosts are the lingering spirits of someone, or something, that has ceased to exist, then perhaps the new four-lane highway crashing through the forest is the opposite of a ghost. Perhaps it is the harbinger of what is still to come.

The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organised, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion. The Maoists and the paramilitary are old adversaries and have fought older avatars of each other several times before: Telangana in the ’50s; West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late ’60s and ’70s; and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the ’80s all the way through to the present. They are familiar with each other’s tactics, and have studied each other’s combat manuals closely. Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever. Today once again the insurrection has spread through the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal—homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered. Even after Independence, tribal people were at the heart of the first uprising that could be described as Maoist, in Naxalbari village in West Bengal (where the word Naxalite—now used interchangeably with ‘Maoist’—originates). Since then, Naxalite politics has been inextricably entwined with tribal uprisings, which says as much about the tribals as it does about the Naxalites.

Staying Put: People of Kudur village protest the Bodhghat dam: ‘It does not belong to the capitalists, Bastar is OUrs’y

This legacy of rebellion has left behind a furious people who have been deliberately isolated and marginalised by the Indian government. The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce, it criminalised a whole way of life. In exchange for the right to vote, it snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population—for dams, irrigation projects, mines—it talked of “bringing tribals into the mainstream” or of giving them “the fruits of modern development”. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry.   (read HERE)

Karzai studying peace offer from militant group

KABUL -Afghan President Hamid Karzai held an unprecedented meeting Monday with representatives of a major Taliban-linked militant group, boosting his outreach to insurgency leaders to end the eight-year war.
Less certain is whether the talks with the weakened Hizb-i-Islami faction represent a game-changer in the conflict, given its demand to rewrite the Afghan constitution and force a quick exit of foreign forces.
It is the first time that high-ranking representatives of the group, led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have traveled to Kabul to discuss peace. The reconciliation offer from Hekmatyar contrasts with his reputation as a ruthless extremist.
Hekmatyar’s power has waned over the years and he commands far fewer fighters than the Taliban. Nevertheless, Hizb-i-Islami is very active in at least four provinces of eastern Afghanistan and parts of the north. His defection from the insurgency would be a coup for Karzai and could encourage some Taliban commanders to explore their own peace deals.
Talking with the Taliban and other insurgent groups is gaining traction in Afghanistan, even as thousands of U.S. and NATO reinforcements are streaming in to reverse the insurgents’ momentum. The talks have not stemmed the fighting. NATO reported three service members were killed Monday in separate explosions in southern Afghanistan.
Hekmatyar, who is in his 60s, was a major recipient of U.S. military aid during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s but fell out of favor with Washington because of his role in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. The U.S. government declared Hekmatyar a “global terrorist” in February 2003, saying he participated in and supported terror acts committed by al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Unless that tag is removed, the designation could complicate any move by the U.S. to sign off on a deal, even though in recent years Hekmatyar has expressed a willingness to negotiate with the Karzai government.
A spokesman for Hekmatyar said the delegation had lunch with Karzai at the presidential palace and planned to meet with him again.
Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president would study the peace plan. “We’re not in a position to comment on the concepts that they provided,” he said.
However, Maqbul Ahmad, a deputy to a Karzai adviser who met with the delegation, said the two sides had resolved about 60 percent of the issues being negotiated. He predicted an agreement could be reached before the end of the week.
Minister of Economy Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, leader of a political party that split off from Hekmatyar, said contacts that had been under way for months were apparently moving forward, or the delegation would not have made the trip to Kabul.
“I welcome this effort. I hope that this kind of negotiations continues and that we will witness a delegation from the Taliban coming to start negotiations,” Arghandiwal said.
The Hizb-i-Islami delegation is led by Qutbudin Halal, who served in the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani in the 1990s, and includes a Hekmatyar son-in-law. Three members of the group arrived in Kabul from Europe on March 6, according to a member of the group who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations. Two others arrived in the past few days.
Besides Karzai, the delegation has met with Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim; top members of parliament; the president’s half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai; presidential advisers; and jihadi leaders. Harun Zarghun, chief spokesman for Hizb-i-Islami, said the delegation also hoped to meet with Taliban leaders somewhere in Afghanistan.
The delegation member said the group was determined not to leave the capital without a deal. He said the group will work to gain the confidence of the Afghan government, then will talk with Afghanistan’s international partners.
But some of the demands might be hard for Karzai and his international partners to accept.
The 15-point plan that a Hizb-i-Islami official e-mailed to The Associated Press was described as an offer of cooperation “to save our homeland from the ongoing painful condition” and permanently end war.
The top demand, repeated throughout the plan, is for foreign forces to begin withdrawing in July — a year ahead of President Barack Obama’s desired deadline to begin a pullout.
After foreign troops leave Afghanistan, the group said presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections should be held in the spring of 2011. The group said the newly elected parliament would have the right to rework the constitution. Karzai has in the past agreed to negotiate with those that embrace the current constitution.
“Any internal and external elements who are opposed to this agreement and insist on fighting, we all will jointly deal with the war mongers to save our homeland from their curse,” the plan states.
While the delegation said it hoped to talk with international officials in Kabul, U.S. military and diplomatic officials said no meetings were planned.
“The U.S. does support the Afghan government’s interest in reaching out to members of insurgent groups that cease support to insurgency, live in accordance with the Afghan constitution, renounce violence and have no ties to al-Qaida or terrorist organizations that share its objectives,” U.S. spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.