NEWS & VIEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: May 5

Pakistan on the brink: implications for U.S. policies

Pakistan’s diverse and dysfunctional leadership inhibits U.S. policymaking. The visit to Washington this week by the increasingly isolated President Zardari might only confirm the problem. The enigmatic military leader Gen. Ashfaq Kayani seems unwilling to work closely with Zardari. Kayani is not accompanying his president to the United States. The traditional template of Pakistan’s military and bureaucratic elite providing stability regardless of the country’s shifting political leadership appears no longer valid.

The United States is planning more aid for the Pakistan military, particularly for forces capable of operating against the Taliban rather than confronting India. Economic aid for social and educational spending is also planned, but at a projected $1.5 billion a year, it is likely to have little impact in a country of 176 million people. Measures to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and manufacturing facilities also need to be considered. The destruction or seizure of this arsenal by U.S. special forces is increasingly being perceived as a necessary part of Washington’s planning rather than a fanciful option. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Whatever planning the Pentagon has already engaged in with a view to securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (a difficult task considering there’s no evidence that anyone outside Pakistan knows all the locations), it’s reasonable to assume that plenty of planning has already been done on the Pakistani side — both official military planning and likely some clandestine planning on the part of factions who would want to thwart US plans at all possible costs. For that reason, there is a definite risk that a US operation could be the catalyst for triggering the very eventuality it is designed to prevent: the transfer of nuclear materials to jihadist groups.

One only needs to consider A.Q. Khan’s stature as a national hero in Pakistan to get a sense of the devastating impact on the Pakistani military’s domestic standing in the event that the country’s nuclear arsenal was impounded by foreign forces. Rather than face that humiliation, it’s easy to see how patriotic fervor could motivate the transfer of a few “bargaining chips” to groups or individuals seen as a bulwark against foreign interference.

Mistrust of the West is stronger in Pakistan than fear of the Taleban

In a way, however, you really have to know only one fact to understand what is happening: and that, to judge by my meetings with hundreds of Pakistanis from all walks of life over the past nine months, is that the vast majority of people believe that the 9/11 attacks were not an act of terrorism by al-Qaeda, but a plot by the Bush Administration or Israel to provide an excuse to invade Afghanistan and dominate the Muslim world.

It goes without saying that this belief is a piece of malignant cretinism, based on a farrago of invented “evidence” and hopelessly warped reasoning, but that is not the point. The point is that most of the Pakistani population genuinely believe it, even here in Sindh where I have been travelling for the past week; and the people who believe it include the communities from which the army’s soldiers, NCOs and junior officers are drawn. Understand this, and much else falls into place.

After all, if British soldiers strongly believed that the war in Afghanistan was the product of a monstrous American lie, involving the deliberate slaughter of thousands of America’s own citizens, would they be willing for one moment to risk their lives fighting the Taleban?

All the same, it is important not to exaggerate the extent of Taleban power. Whatever Hillary Clinton, the US Scretary of State, may say, there is no possibility at present of the Taleban seizing Islamabad and bringing down the state. In Punjab, the province with a majority of the country’s population, there have been a number of serious terrorist attacks and a growth of Taleban influence, but as yet, nothing like the insurgency occurring among the Pashtun tribes. In the interior of Sindh, support for the Taleban is virtually non-existent. [continued…]

Porous Pakistani border could hinder U.S.

President Obama is pouring more than 20,000 new troops into Afghanistan this year for a fighting season that the United States military has called a make-or-break test of the allied campaign in Afghanistan.

But if Taliban strategists have their way, those forces will face a stiff challenge, not least because of one distinct Taliban advantage: the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan barely exists for the Taliban, who are counting on the fact that American forces cannot reach them in their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

One Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban, a 28-year-old from the country’s tribal areas, in interviews with The New York Times, described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers. [continued…]

Pakistani army flattening villages as it battles Taliban

The Pakistani army’s assault against Islamic militants in Buner, in northwest Pakistan, is flattening villages, killing civilians and sending thousands of farmers and villagers fleeing from their homes, residents escaping the fighting said Monday.

“We didn’t see any Taliban; they are up in the mountains, yet the army flattens our villages,” Zaroon Mohammad, 45, told McClatchy as he walked with about a dozen scrawny cattle and the male members of his family in the relative safety of Chinglai village in southern Buner. “Our house has been badly damaged. These cows are now our total possessions.”

Mohammad’s and other residents’ accounts of the fighting contradict those from the Pakistani military and suggest that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is rapidly losing the support of those it had set out to protect. [continued…]

Pakistan’s critical hour

Pakistan is on the brink of chaos, and Congress is in a critical position: U.S. lawmakers can hasten that fateful process, halt it or even help turn things around. The speed and conditions with which Congress provides emergency aid to Islamabad will affect the Pakistani government and army’s ability and will to resist the Taliban onslaught. It will also affect America’s image in Pakistan and the region. Pakistanis are looking for evidence of the long-term U.S. commitment about which President Obama has spoken.

Since Obama announced his strategic review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, worsening conditions here have nudged Afghanistan from the top of his foreign policy agenda. Pakistanis are beset by a galloping Taliban insurgency in the north that is based not just among Pashtuns, as in Afghanistan, but that has extensive links to al-Qaeda and jihadist groups in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. [continued…]

Is the U.S. military proselytizing in Afghanistan?

The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:

The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain’s sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:

    “The special forces guys – they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.”

But it’s not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers “caught on camera” in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it’s against military rules. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — This would be a radically different story if Al Jazeera had been interviewing Afghan villagers who’d had these Pasto bibles thrust into their hands, but all we know at this point is that they landed in the hands of evangelical American soldiers. A more interesting story would be the one here untold: the one about the moronic American evangelists who make it their business not only to translate bibles for people who don’t want them, but to even go so far as impose such texts as the first written word for pre-literate peoples — the profoundest cultural insult that anyone ever dreamed of.

Addressing U.S., Hamas says it grounded rockets

The leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas said Monday that its fighters had stopped firing rockets at Israel for now. He also reached out in a limited way to the Obama administration and others in the West, saying the movement was seeking a state only in the areas Israel won in 1967.

“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,” the leader, Khaled Meshal, said during a five-hour interview with The New York Times spread over two days in his home office here in the Syrian capital.

Speaking in Arabic in a house heavily guarded by Syrian and Palestinian security agents, Mr. Meshal, 53, gave off an air of serene self-confidence, having been re-elected a fourth time to a four-year term as the leader of the Hamas political bureau, the top position in the movement. His conciliation went only so far, however. He repeated that he would not recognize Israel, saying to fellow Arab leaders, “There is only one enemy in the region, and that is Israel.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Just about every state across the Middle East does not recognize Israel. Why should Hamas be expected to do something that neither Saudi Arabia or even Iraq is thus far willing to do?

Israeli FM commits to peace, not Palestinian state

Israel’s foreign minister, whose anti-Arab statements have frayed diplomatic nerves, committed himself on Monday to Mideast peace, but did not endorse the idea of a Palestinian state as sought by the United States and the European Union.

As he kicked off a European tour in Rome, hardline politician Avigdor Lieberman skirted around the issue of a Palestinian state, putting him on a possible collision course with U.S. and EU efforts for a solution to the region’s conflict.

“This government’s goal is not produce slogans or make pompous declarations, but to reach concrete results,” he said when asked if he would ever endorse a Palestinian state. [continued…]

Can Bibi force Abbas to ‘recognize’ an oxymoron?

In his own version of the evasion game that has become tradition for Israeli leaders when pressed by the U.S. and others to conclude a two-state peace agreement, Bibi Netanyahu has insisted that before he’ll talk to Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO Chairman would first have to recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” and “the national home of the Jewish people”.

Excuse me?

My own understanding of Judaism makes the very term “Jewish State” an oxymoron — a nation state cannot almost by definition be based on the universal ethical imperatives at the heart of Judaism; and as I’ve long argued, Israel is hardly an exemplar of Jewish values. And anyone who tells me that my “national home” is not Brooklyn or Cape Town or wherever I choose to make it, as I’ve also long argued, is an anti-Semite. [continued…]

Interrogating torture

On November 14, 2003, at Abu Ghraib prison, on the outskirts of Baghdad, six hooded Iraqi prisoners accused by their American jailers of trying to start a riot were brought to the Military Intelligence cellblock and handed over to Corporal Charles A. Graner, Jr., the military-police officer in charge of the night shift. Graner noted in the M.P. logbook that he had instructions from a lieutenant colonel to strip the newcomers, and to subject them to a routine of rough calisthenics designed to disorient, exhaust, terrify, and humiliate them, and to cause them pain. This was standard practice on the M.I. block, and Graner set to work. When one of the prisoners resisted, Graner later told Army investigators, “I bashed him against the wall.” Running hooded prisoners into walls was also standard practice at Abu Ghraib, but this prisoner fell to the floor, and blood ran out from under his hood, and a medic was summoned. In the logbook, Graner wrote that the prisoner required eight stitches on his chin. He helped sew the stitches himself, and he had one of his soldiers photograph the bloodstained scene.

Graner clearly felt that he had nothing to hide. When his company commander, Captain Christopher Brinson, and one of Brinson’s deputies, Master Sergeant Brian Lipinski, stopped by, Graner said, he made the other prisoners crawl to their cells while Brinson and Lipinski watched. Graner also said that, in addition to medics and his superior officers, lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps frequently visited the cellblock and saw the abuse that went on there. Graner interpreted their presence to be “implied consent that this was all O.K.,” he said. In fact, two days later, Brinson, who in civilian life is a top aide to Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Alabama, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a Developmental Counselling Form to Graner. Such a form is normally used for reprimands, but what Brinson wrote sounded more like a commendation: “CPL Graner, you are doing a fine job. . . . You have received many accolades. . . . Continue to perform at this level and it will help us succeed at our overall mission.”

That story comes to mind as Americans are seized by belated outrage over the Bush Administration’s policy of practicing torture against prisoners in the war on terror. It was exactly five years ago that some of the photographs that Charles Graner and his comrades took at Abu Ghraib were aired on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” and published in this magazine. At that time, the Administration claimed that Graner was the mastermind of the abuse represented in the photographs, and that they showed nothing more than the depravity of a group of rogue soldiers who had fallen under his sway. Yet it became almost immediately apparent—and has been confirmed repeatedly in the years since, most recently with President Obama’s decision to release four Bush Administration memorandums seeking to establish a legal justification for the use of torture—that the Abu Ghraib photographs showed not individuals run amok but American policy in action. [continued…]

The threatmonger’s handbook

The United States has the world’s largest economy (so far), and the world’s most powerful conventional military forces. It spends about as much on national security than the rest of the world combined, and nearly nine times more than the No. 2 power (China). It has several thousand operational nuclear weapons, each substantially more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. America is further protected from conventional military attack by two enormous oceanic moats, there no great powers in the Western hemisphere, and it hasn’t been invaded since the War of 1812. (A few southerners may want to challenge that last statement, but I’m not going to get into that).

9/11 reminded us American security is not absolute, of course, and the strategic advantages I just outlined are no defense against climate change, pandemic disease, or financial collapse. But surely the United States is about as secure as any great power in modern history. Yet Americans continue to fret about national security, continue to spend far more on national security than any other country does, and continue to believe that our way of life will be imperiled if we do not confront an array of much weaker foes on virtually every continent.

One reason Americans exaggerate security fears is the existence of an extensive cottage industry of professional threatmongers, who deploy a well-honed array of arguments to convince us that we are in fact in grave danger. (The United States is hardly the only country that does this, of course, but the phenomenon is more evident here because its overall strategic position is so favorable). Debunking these claims is easier once you know the basics, so I hereby offer as a public service:

The Threatmonger’s Handbook:
(Or, How to Scare Your Fellow Citizens for Fun and Profit.)
[continued…]

Turkey’s diplomatic fixer takes the reins

After years of being the eminence grise of Turkey’s foreign policy, Ahmet Davutoglu has finally stepped into the limelight.

Mr Davutoglu, who became foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle announced last weekend by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wasted no time in mapping out his agenda: to make sure that Turkey’s voice is heard from Europe to the Middle East and beyond.

“Turkey has a vision,” Mr Davutoglu said at a handover ceremony that marked the end of the tenure of his predecessor, Ali Babacan, who was made vice-premier in charge of overseeing Turkey’s economic policy. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: May 5

  1. DE Teodoru

    Pakistan is an informal member of the SHANGHAI ACCORD. China, Russia, Iran would never allow it to fall to Taliban. So let Afghanistan become the problem of the Shanghai Accord instead of our chronic sore. We can just leave instead of taking the lead as in North Korea, getting played by all the neighbors. Only they have the diplomatic maturity to play this dialtectic blalance they call an “accord.” Let’s us just recognize our limits and not invest our declining assets in things we can’t control.

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