Friday, February 29, 2008

Pakistani Media on Washington's Attitude

Pakistani media comment sees Washington's attitude toward Pakistan since its recent parliamentary election, in which both Islamic militants and military dictatorship were rejected, as a "huge mistake" that threatens to "deepen the divide" between the Bush Administration and the Pakistani people.

...election results are being viewed as a turning point in Pakistan’s chequered history….The US, however, appears to have failed to appreciate the significance of the forces thrown up in the wake of Musharraf’s mauling of the Constitution and repeated assaults on state institutions, all of which helped breed defiance in civil society. Sadly, Washington remained a prisoner of its own past and thus unable to look beyond the narrow confines of the war on terror, the pursuit of which, in its view, has become synonymous with the person of Musharraf. This is a huge mistake though, if the past is any guide, it is very much in keeping with earlier American errors.

Admittedly, the US has powerful interests in Pakistan, given the country’s geopolitical importance and its pivotal role in the global war on terror. Over the past years, it has used Pakistan’s territory and military resources not only to pursue the war on terror, but also to prevent proliferation of nuclear and missile weapons, material or technology to extremists or non-state actors. Moreover, NATO’s widening presence in Afghanistan and its growing operations in the border areas are added reasons to secure Pakistan’s cooperation. But having worked under an arrangement, the details of which have not been shared with the political leadership, the Bush administration is loath to have to now deal with a democratic dispensation, which by its very nature, will seek a more balanced and equitable relationship with the US.

The ability of authoritarian regimes to offer ‘concessions’ to foreign
powers is not available to elected representatives. It was therefore no surprise
that the US would look with horror to this cozy relationship being disturbed and
that too by people viewed as too ‘nationalist’. The US feels that these objectives can be better achieved by ensuring that Musharraf retain control over the levers of power and thus its current emphasis on a ‘hybrid’ government in Pakistan. This also explains Washington’s inability to begin distancing itself from Musharraf. Bush has phoned Musharraf to reiterate his support for him, while Secretary Rice has come out with a strong endorsement, calling Musharraf the man the US has been dealing with and wants to continue doing so. She added that loss of parliamentary support should not necessarily weaken Musharraf, an embarrassing evidence of her ignorance of the Pakistani political landscape. The likely Republican presidential candidate, Sen John McCain, too, has rejected calls for Musharraf’s resignation calling him ‘a legitimately elected President’. Some Democrats also endorsed this view.

It would also appear that Washington is either ignorant of or oblivious
to the real meaning of the elections
. This is evident from Bush claiming that
the election results are a ‘part of the victory in the war on terror’. Nothing
could be further from the truth as evident from polls carried out by credible
international organisations, such as the Pew Project and the International
Republican Institute, which showed that 70 per cent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to immediately resign, another 89 per cent disapprove of the US war on terror and nearly an equal number are opposed to allowing the US or NATO forces to operate in Pakistan.

The US may continue to see Musharraf as the ‘bond’ that holds Pakistan
together, but the country’s overwhelming majority see him as the cause of
polarisation and a source of instability. Thus, there is a major chasm between the Bush administration and the Pakistani public and recent statements from Washington threaten to deepen this divide.

While it is true that no democratic government in Pakistan can provide
a carte blanche to the US in the manner and to the extent that Musharraf has,
mainstream parties are opposed to terrorism and their leadership consists of
modern, moderate and progressive politicians. They are however convinced that
military option is not the answer to the problem and may even be counter-productive. Instead, they advocate a more nuanced approach, in which the military effort would be complemented with economic development, social benefits and political dialogue. Incidentally, this is the approach being now advocated by Sen Biden, who wants the US to triple its non-military aid, sustain it for ten years and focus on schools, health care and roads. In other words, more diplomacy and resources and less force and violence.

Washington needs to recognise the folly of having crafted a policy around the person of Musharraf, ignoring the interests of the people of Pakistan. If Washington has a genuine preference for democracy, it needs to cut itself off from its attachment to Musharraf. President Bush needs to recall the wisdom contained in one of his speeches, when he stated that “if people are permitted to choose their own destiny…then the extremists will be marginalised and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end.”

How true and the US can make it happen in Pakistan. If the US wants
peace and stability in Pakistan and a genuine ally, it should place its trust in
the people of the country and step in with a strong and unequivocal support for
the restoration of a democratic dispensation. This will not only enhance its
moral standing, but also become a powerful message to other Muslim
Dawn, Feb 28

The words by the two frontrunners for Democratic
Party candidature, give an indication of the way Pakistan is looked at in the
United States. For people in Pakistan, however, the words are ominous. For one,
they suggest that the Democratic Party too sees a strong US role as essential in
Pakistan. Neither of the candidates appears to realize that it is these
perceptions regarding US intervention in Pakistan that is contributing to the
extremist problem within it, and indeed to the rise in terrorism.

A more sagacious and far-looking approach may bring dividends. Now that
Pakistan's people have given a verdict, it is important to allow the forces
voted in by them to take forward the war on militancy — by building a consensus
with the people of Pakistan, and particularly those based in tribal areas. Given
the degree of mistrust that exists for the US across Pakistan, and the
perception is that it is determining actions within the country will only
complicate an already complex problem. What it is important for US leaders to
realize is that Pakistan itself must be seen as combating terror on its own. To
do this, the hearts of people must be won over —through persuasion, and by
granting them more in terms of education, health and welfare. It is in these
areas that US support can come in handy. Otherwise threats and harsh words will
only aggravate the issue that currently most threatens stability in Pakistan and
poses a threat to all its citizens
The News,Feb

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Their Own Words: U.S. Presidential Candidates on Iraq & al Qua'ida

If you don't want to repeat it, history matters.

Turkish Model of Moderate Islamism Threatened by Incursion into Iraq

Can Turkey construct a model of moderate, inclusive Islamic politics even as it launches major military operations against Kurdish rebels?

Protests are spreading in Kurdish Turkey against the current Turkish incursion into Kurdish Iraq. What Istanbul has portrayed as an anti-terrorist operation is already, less than a week after Turkey’s recent military action commenced, starting to blow back, provoking ethnic unrest within Turkey. Do Turks realize how dangerous their little military solution is becoming…to them?

Ethnic Kurds in Turkey Protest Incursion

Large protests in support of the PKK turned violent in the town of Diyabakir on Monday as protesters clashed with police.

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid said the situation in the town was tense and that reports of similar small clashes in other Turkish towns reflected the growing frustration of Turkey's Kurdish minority. She said that there was also growing anger on the Turkish side as the number of coffins of soldiers returning home continued to mount. There are fears for increased instability as local Peshmerga forces could engage Turkish troops.

Under the moderate Islamic party Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) now “ruling” Turkey (within the space it can carve out of a political system dominated by the military), a model of a third way for Moslem states—in addition to secular dictatorships and Islamic radicalism—is emerging. The PKK, which seems to be the most popular party in Kurdish as well as Turkish ethnic regions of Turkey, is arguably leading the way toward a modern, post-ethnic Turkish nationalism inclusive of the Kurds. Whether or not Turkey can manage to teach the PKK a lesson without inflaming old ethnic tensions within Turkey to the degree that will derail this long-overdue process is a critical question, not only for Turkey and its neighbors and their own large Kurdish minorities but more broadly for Pakistan, Israel, Indonesia, India, Iran, Somalia, and Lebanon—all of which face the same challenge of figuring out a route to modernization that will offer civil liberties, economic development, and mutual respect among minorities while avoiding the Scylla of dictatorship and the Charybdis of repressive Islamic fundamentalism. A tough stance against proponents of violence combined with a compassionate stance toward domestic minorities plus serious efforts to pull the standard of living in minority regions closer to that of the nation as a whole is in theory the right approach to achieve this goal. But the dynamics in which a tough stance against militants plays out typically tend to weaken the other two legs of such a policy. If Turkey can indeed manage to implement such a three-legged policy, then Turkey would constitute a major obstacle to the emergence of the Islamic political fault line so ardently being sought after by extremists.

Milestones to watch for that would indicate the worsening of this new crisis include:

  • Kurds citing Kosovo independence as a precedent.
  • Civilian Iraqi Kurdish deaths.
  • Turkish troops firing on Turkish protests.
  • Fighting between Turkish invasion forces and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers (the peshmerga).
  • The PKK carrying out its threatened attacks in Turkish cities.
  • Rise in popularity of the PKK within Turkey.
  • Turkish repression against peaceful political action by Turkish Kurds.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

U.S.-Iranian Relations: The Bottom Line

Noam Chomsky summarizes U.S.-Iranian relations in this video on Real News.

What constitutes "interference":

suppose it was true that Iran is helping insurgents in Iraq. I mean, wasn’t
the United States helping insurgents when the Russians invaded Afghanistan?
we think there was anything wrong with that? I mean, Iraq's a country that was
invaded and is under military occupation. You can't have a serious discussion
about whether someone else is interfering in it. The basic assumption underlying
the discussion is that we own the world. So if we invade and occupy another
country, then it's a criminal act for anyone to interfere with it.
What about
the nuclear weapons? I mean, are there countries with nuclear weapons in the
region? Israel has a couple of hundred nuclear weapons. The United States gives
more support to it than any other country in the world. The Bush administration
is trying very hard to push through an agreement that not only authorizes
India's illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons but assists it. That's what the
U.S.-Indo Nuclear Pact is about.

The real reason for Washington's hostility toward Tehran :

The real reasons for the attack on Iran, the sanctions, and so on…Iran is out of control. You know, it's supposed to be a U.S.-client state, as it was under the Shah, and it's refusing to play that role.

If it were desired to prevent solving a problem, the easiest way would be to prevent the problem from being understood.

Recognizing Kosovo Independence: Dangerous Precedent

For an analysis of the implications for global stability of the recent Kosovo declaration of independence, see this five-minute video by Stephen Zunes on the important independent source of global affairs developments Real News:

Well, this is a very dangerous precedent, because if it's ignoring the UN
Security Council resolution, makes it an irreversible fact, what is the point of
UN Security Council resolutions? That it is back to the old-fashioned kind of
power politics. My interpretation of 1244 is that it does not include
independence as an option within that same work. And indeed it seemed to make a
lot more sense for Kosovo to enjoy the status of the Iraqi Kurds or the
Taiwanese, who even for those of us who believe that morally they have a right
to independence, recognize that they essentially had that already, and by making
a formal declaration as such and having this kind of recognition by foreign
powers can destabilize the region and create a very dangerous precedent, which
would very likely cause far more problems than a compromise, a solution might
have done.

It is of course difficult to determine whether the short-term implications of failing completely to satisfy the aspirations for independence of a particular group outweigh the long-term implications doing so. If decision makers make a sincere attempt to weigh short-term against long-term implications and explain their thinking, then they have at least minimally done their jobs. In the case of Kosovo, it would not have been hard to anticipate how the precedent of declaaration of total independence despite the unclear wording of the relevant U.N. resolution might be used by other oppressed groups aspiring to attain freedom.

One of the keys to foreseeing the future is thinking about how the long-term implications of behavior may differ from the short-term implications; another is thinking about how the implications for the group involved may differ from the implications for other groups that may take some event as a precedent. To fail to consider such complications in advance is to throw away valuable tools for the protection of our security.

Further Reading...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exposing Israeli Repression

UN expert: Palestinian terror 'inevitable' result of occupation
By The Associated Press, as reported in Haaretz.

A new report commissioned by the United Nations and written by a South African campaigner against apartheid "suggests that Palestinian terrorism is the inevitable consequence of Israeli occupation and laws that resemble South African apartheid."
According to the author...."common sense ... dictates that a distinction must be drawn between acts of mindless terror, such as acts committed by Al-Qaida, and acts committed in the course of a war of national liberation against colonialism, apartheid or military occupation....While Palestinian terrorist acts are to be deplored, they must be understood as being a painful but inevitable consequence of colonialism, apartheid or occupation," writes Dugard, whose 25-page report accuses the Israel of acts and policies consistent with all three. He cited checkpoints and roadblocks restricting Palestinian movement to house demolitions and what he terms the Judaization of Jerusalem. "As long as there is occupation, there will be terrorism," he argues. "Acts of terror against military occupation must be seen in historical context," Dugard says. "This is why every effort should be made to bring the occupation to a speedy end. Until this is done, peace cannot be expected, and violence will continue."

Map of Illegal Israeli Settlements in Occupied West Bank

Map of Israeli Wall

Dividing & Conquering Moslem Societies: A Complex Peril

Is Washington intentionally provoking Sunni-Shi'ite civil war in the Mideast? Would such a policy be likely to work - Sunni radicals and Shi'ite radicals canceling each other out, leaving pro-U.S. Arabs in control? The pattern in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq is clear enough to take seriously. Complexity theory suggests that the result will come as a nasty surprise.

According to this video of a CNN interview of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia jointly funded Sunni extremists in Lebanon as part of a broader U.S. policy of fomenting Sunni-Shi'ite civil war as a means of undermining Shi'ite radicals by strengthening Sunni radicals (i.e., al Qua'ida's base). Washington and Tel Aviv supported Fatah against the legally elected Hamas government in Palestine, as well. In Iraq, Washington's shifting of support from the Shi'ite groups that dominate Washington's Iraqi colonial government toward the Sunnis defeated by Washington's invasion could also be interpreted as an effort to strengthen Sunnis for the purpose of weakening the Shi'a (rather than simply as a belated attempt to separate Baathists from al Qua'ida).

Describing the then-new U.S. policy toward Iraqi Sunnis in Feb. 2007, Cliff Montgomery observed:

Perhaps precisely because of its hopeless blunders in Iraq, Iran has become
the Bush Administration's "Public Enemy Number One", against which its Middle
East strategy is increasingly focused, according to some leading experts on the
Gulf region. That strategy appears aimed at forging an informal alliance between
Bush, Sunni-led Arab states and Israel. The alliance seems designed to challenge
and roll back perceived Iranian influence in the region, according to Gary Sick,
a Columbia University professor who served as former President Jimmy Carter's
chief advisor on Iran."The organizing principle of the new strategy is
confrontation with and containment of Shia influence--and specifically Iranian
influence--wherever it appears in the region," says Sick.

How the new U.S. policy of funding Sunni militias, the "Awakenings," (as long as they combat al Qua'ida) fits in remains to be answered. Is it primarily an effort to unite moderate Iraqis against (mostly foreign) Wahhabi fundamentalists, or is it the first step in a new stage of the Iraqi civil war between Shi'ite and Sunni Iraqis? That is at least two questions:

1) What is the policy actually accomplishing?
2) What is Washington's intent?

The answers are not yet clear, but according to a new study from the Center for American Progress, what has been extolled as a central “success” of the surge has also exacerbated existing political divisions and fomented new political cleavages in an already fractured and fragile Iraqi body politic. Newly empowered sahwa leaders are challenging each other, traditional Sunni Arab political parties, and the Iraqi government.

The assumption that Shi'ite radicalism is potentially as dangerous to the U.S. as their mutual enemy, al Qua'ida, is somewhat far-fetched since al Qua'ida has been attacking the U.S. directly. The three main Shi'ite forces are Iran, which is not attacking the U.S. and has frequently offered to negotiate; Hezballah, which is focused on defending its Lebanese homeland; and the Shi'ite parties in the Iraqi government under U.S. control. (This is of course not to say that an aggressive U.S. policy might not transform one or more Shi’ite group into an implacable enemy.) But even if we somehow could make a logical case that Shi'ite radicalism was bound to become a greater threat than the Sunni groups we have supposedly been fighting ever since the African embassy bombings, the Cole, 9/11, the London subway attack, and the Spanish train attack, is fomenting an Islamic civil war a logical road to U.S. security? (Many glib and uninformed analogies have been made between Islam and the Nazis; a more interesting analogy would be between the al Qua’ida-neocon struggle and the Nazi-Soviet use of the Spanish Civil War as a proxy test for WWII.)

As Alastair Crooke concluded in a study of how to pacify an armed political movement,

...any effort to marginalize the plurality ethnic group in Lebanon -- the
Shia -- [is] fated to fail
....A consensual outcome in Lebanon would need to begin
by defining Lebanese national security objectives in ways that address the
vulnerabilities of the respective confessional groups rather than defining
external threats. It would require the agreement, at minimum, of the four
principal confessional groups (the Shia, the Sunnah, the Druze and the
Christians) to new security structures and forces. The new forces would have to
be disengaged from their earlier sectional attachments and histories; and their
operational policies and conduct would have to be overseen by a monitoring body
that is viewed as representative of the community. To achieve such agreement in
any divided society is ambitious; but to achieve it at a time when the West and
other Arab actors are polarizing the politics of Lebanon in pursuit of their own
strategic agendas, may prove impossible. Finally, what needs to be done
eventually and inevitably...must needs be done in Lebanon: the international
community must abandon the ideal and adopt the real. Hezbollah will not disarm
in the face of its enemies... But Hezbollah...will engage in a political process
that is transparent and honest, and that holds out the hope that, at its
conclusion, its existence as a political movement will be guaranteed and that
the sacrifices of its cadre will be recognized and rewarded.

What historical record in any human culture would support the contention that civil war brings out moderation? Al Qua'ida rose from the ashes of U.S.-Saudi support for Islamic extremists in Afghanistan. Moqtada al Sadr and the whole Iraqi insurgency rose from the ashes of Bush's invasion of Iraq. Hezballah rose from the ashes of the Lebanese civil war, with considerable help from Israel's 1982 invasion. The split of Palestine into two feuding camps rose as the result of U.S. military and diplomatic support for Fatah at the expense of the legally elected Hamas government. And now we are to believe that Hezballah will be reined in and replaced by moderate, pro-U.S. feeling as a result of a new civil war, with considerable help from Washington?

There is no law prohibiting politicians from ignoring history, but missing a pattern this obvious cannot but make one wonder if there just might possibly be an alternative explanation. Rather than concluding that Washington is run by people so naive as to think that we can defeat Islamic radicalism by provoking even more radicalism, might it be that the almost inevitable chaos that will result from such an inflamatory policy is in itself the goal?

As long as chaos exists in the Islamic world, the neo-cons (both in Washington and Tel Aviv) can make the argument that they are right, there really is a war between civilizations, and their brand of fundamentalist/expansionist extremism is the West's only hope of survival. The argument may be ridiculous, it may turn reality on its head, but chaos will enable them to convince the many voters filled with righteous indignation but utterly ignorant about the world.

Perhaps one should not be surprised that the traditional policy of divide and conquer would be used by Washington. Empires have, after all, been successfully implementing this policy as long as historical records have existed. Rome was past master at the technique, Stalin used it in Central Asia, the British empire used it in Iraq in the 1930's.

However, near universal education, modern communications, and the extraordinary danger today of asymmetric warfare that effectively empowers the marginalized in a unique way have changed the world. The modern world is significantly more complex - more integrated, more difficult to divide up into local situations that an external power can manipulate one by one. Where a historical policy of divide and conquer left an isolated group disempowered and defeated (e.g., the majority Shi'a in Iraq in the 1930's or a Central Asian ethnic minority intentionally placed in a Soviet Republic dominated by a different ethnic group), today these groups are quick to see the parallels between their local situation and other situations. For example, Bush had hardly left the Mideast when a pro-government Saudi paper, the Arab News, termed Bush's policy of forming an anti-Iranian front composed of the U.S. plus its Sunni allies "madness in search of war." All can see the pattern of Shi'a in Lebanon being frozen out of the Lebanese political system and Shi'a Iran being frozen out of the Mideast/South Asian political system.

Aggravating conflict between extremist Shi’ite and Sunni groups will radicalize and energize both. The more they fight, they more radical each will become. Moreover, the more they fight, the more harm will come to the 1.5 billion Moslems of the world – most of whom (e.g., anti-mullah electoral outcome in Pakistan; e.g., declining popularity of Ahmadinejad in Iran; e.g., peaceful behavior of the half million residents of Gaza who spilled out of their Israeli prison last month, calming went shopping, and voluntarily returned home) just want to go about their lives. That harm (“collateral damage”) will, as in Iraq, provoke them to take sides and/or blame the U.S.

The new, more complex world of today facilitates the formation of new alliances that enable oppressed, ostracized groups to survive long enough to learn how to adapt. Once the process of adaptation gets rolling, it becomes increasingly difficult for the external aggressor to keep up with the evolution of the adapting opponent: the oppressed group not only can gain strength but evolve rapidly, creating new organizational structure, new behavior, and perhaps new goals, none of which will be predicted by the external aggressor. "Divide and conquer" today is a policy that sets up the aggressor for a nasty surprise: in a complex world, it is no longer logical policy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pakistani Momentum for Change: Can It Make a Difference?

The Pakistan People's Party apologized to the people of Baluchistan, offering "an olive branch to nationalists and dissidents:"
A lead role in Balochistan —which a key party leader from the province called a “100 per cent possibility” — will give the PPP a rare position of controlling not only the centre but also sharing power in all the four provinces. As some party circles predicted this possibility, the would-be national ruling party showed an olive branch to nationalists and dissidents in Balochistan by offering an apology for “the atrocities and injustices committed” in the province in the past and calling for an immediate halt to the ongoing military operation there and release of all political prisoners, including former chief minister Akhtar Mengal. It seemed a major gesture for peace in the country’s largest but least populated province, which has gone through an insurgency for more than two years mainly over demands for more provincial autonomy and a greater control over natural resources.

Can FATA be far behind?

The double trend toward moderate coalition government and taking the road of "healing and mutual respect," as the PPP pledge put it, toward Pakistani minorities seems to be increasing the electoral momentum toward a new governmental attitude of listening to its own people that may leave external forces of all stripes out in the cold unless they can modify their attitudes and behavior fast enough to get back in step with the new moderate and nationalist approach. As for the man who still holds both the presidency and the guns, he seems increasingly an anachronism.

Background Video: "New Pak Government Against Extreme U.S. Military Action"

However real one may judge this "momentum toward a new governmental attitude," the fact is that countercurrents remain all too real. The very same issue of the same paper reported a suicide attack in Baluchistan, a separate attack that killed a general, dismissal by Musharraf's spokesman of Senator Biden's suggestion that he opt for "graceful" retirement, and rejection by the army of the idea that it end its anti-insurgent campaign in Swat. One test with serious long-term implications of whether the old-style military dictatorship or a new momentum toward mutual respect is now in control will be whether or not the army heeds the PPP's call for an end to military operations in Baluchistan. Dashing the hopes of Pakistanis for a new and more humane approach to domestic conflict resolution would put ammunition in the hands of extremists.

Care about Israel? Read the Israeli Press

Those who feel strongly that Israel deserves to be protected need to inform themselves about the reality of Israel and the region in which it exists. Learning about the range of ideas for maintaining Israeli security being discussed in Israel is critical to gaining such understanding. A good place to start is the English-language Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Qatar willing to broker cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas
--Haaretz, Feb 25

Israel is "making a big mistake if you think you can reach an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas without including Hamas in the
talks," said the Qatari premier, according to a report of the conversation
received by Haaretz. Hamas, continued al-Thani, "must be taken into
account," because even if talks do progress with Abbas, "he will not be able
to sign an agreement without Hamas's consent."...The Qatari added that "the
possibility of separating Hamas and Abbas is an illusion" and said that the
Mecca Agreement must be revived.--Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Hamed bin
Jassem al-Thani told Israel

In order to make progress, people must be open to new ideas.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Opportunity for Pakistan

The Pakistani people—including those of FATA—have just called with a striking degree of unanimity for moderate, just, democratic government. This presents Pakistan with an opportunity to deepen national unity that must be seized with alacrity. This raises the obvious—and urgent—question of what the particular concerns of the people of FATA are and how best to address them.

Certain general points can be assumed from the start:

  • The people of FATA want justice;

  • The people of FATA want respect;

  • The people of FATA want security;

  • The people of FATA want economic opportunity.

It is shocking how often policymakers ignore such basic demands that are almost always at the core of popular dissatisfaction. Pakistan needs immediately to make a concerted and visible effort to address these concerns. Badrakumar's essay on Pakistani party politics suggests some of the problems that may soon upset the consensus of the moment.

From this follow two questions that are somewhat more difficult:

1) How do the above points translate into specific issues in FATA?
2) What can the new Pakistani government--and its foreign friends--do to address these concerns?

If Pakistan is not starting a national debate to answer these questions, then it certainly should be. The post-electoral sense of national unity and purpose is not a door that will remain open for long.

Pakistani media provide some clues about how the nice concepts “justice,” “respect,” “security,” and “economic opportunity” translate into the real world of FATA.

Justice for the populace of FATA:
A senior government official said, “You can only convert the sympathies of the public from these guerrillas by providing what the government should be providing: justice, security, clean hospitals.” (Daily Times, Feb 4)

Zanroor Afridi, JI deputy secretary general of NWFP accused the government of “gross violation of human rights in the tribal areas” according to Frontier Post, Feb 9.

Respect toward the populace of FATA:
In the words of Islamabad lawyer Babar Sattar -

The tribes inhabiting Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas are fiercely
protective of their autonomy. Their violent response to foreign invasion -- be
it Punjabi or American -- cannot be subdued by greater violence. The US strategy
vis-a-vis the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas is as blemished as
the one in Iraq. No amount of spin and PR can change the underlying reality that
western forces continue to be viewed as occupation forces in Afghanistan. The
claim that foreign forces are actually welcomed by the tortured and suffering
local populations is predicated on the argument that peace is all that people of
a war-ravaged country want. This belief is mistaken as most people do wish for
peace and economic prosperity, but not at the cost of dignity. And it is dignity
and national pride that continues to evade a nation under the siege of a foreign
army, irrespective of how noble the intentions of such 'peacekeeping' force.
(The News, Feb 9)

Security for the populace of FATA:
Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based Afghan affairs expert and journalist, noted in Daily Times on Feb 20 that “Musharraf’s response to the new government would be most important in determining whether militancy could subside after the mullahs electoral defeat. “’Militants have hatred for Musharraf and it depends whether he stays there.’”

Amplifying on Yousafzai’s observation two days later in the same paper, just elected parliamentary representative Shaukatullah Khan said the “use of force” had proved a failed solution to the crisis. “In tribal dynamics, the use of force pays little dividends. In our society, all disputes are solved through jirgas at the end of the day.” Daily Times also reported “consensus among the tribal people Daily Times spoke to” that the military should only provide a backup to the political process, to disassociate the local population from Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants.”

Underscoring this point, Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the newly victorious Awami National Party (ANP), said “economic assistance and political reconciliation were the key to success in a region where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants were holed up.” He added, “The voters have made it clear that they do not want wars and militancy.” (Daily Times, Feb 22)

Economic opportunity for the populace of FATA:
According to Asfandyar Wali Khan, “Our people have given their verdict and now the ball is in the court of the international community to support us in our quest to give our children books and pens instead of Kalashnikovs and suicide jackets.” (Daily Times, Feb 22)

If the hopes of the Pakistani people are to be realized, their government must develop a plan that will substantively address the concerns of FATA people for justice, respect, security, and economic opportunity. Pakistani media commentary is providing valuable clues about what such a plan should incorporate.


Here’s an opportunity for bloggers concerned with the future of Pakistan to make a contribution:

put substance into this discussion.

What are the specific actions the government should take?
Which are most feasible?
What are the priorities?
How might action on one issue impact another?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pakistan: Leading the World (!) Toward Democracy

Leaders who break the laws of their countries need to be held responsible. Perhaps in a particular case they should be severely punished, in another case only verbally reprimanded. What is done to the individual leader is far less important than making explicit that the violation is illegitimate and should not be considered a precedent. Otherwise, today’s crime becomes tomorrow’s excuse. Whatever the details of the decision made by legal authorities in a given case, to ignore illegal behavior on the part of a leader undermines the legitimacy of the state and the security of the society. It is an open invitation to endless future trouble.

One country in which this principle of leadership responsibility is currently on center stage is Pakistan, where the people have just demonstrated a commitment to democracy and moderation that puts to shame the behavior of more than one Western society. In contrast to the bullying of the world by Western societies so easily panicked after 9/11, the Pakistani people stood up to extremists on both sides by voting against both military dictators and religious fanatics. This popular demonstration in favor of democracy follows closely on the heels of the impressive willingness of leading members of the Pakistani judiciary to put their careers and lives on the line in the face of blatant government undermining of the constitution and brutality against their persons. Moderate Pakistani politicians--whatever one may say about their compromises, hypocrisy, or corruption in the past—have also put their lives on the line: not just Benazir, but also Nawaz Sharif and the moderate nationalist leader of the Awani National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan. Voters, members of the judiciary, and politicians have risked their lives to support the vision of a moderate, democratic Pakistan in which the rule of law is observed by all, even the leadership.

Despite constant interference from outsiders aggravating Pakistan’s situation, Pakistanis on the whole did not blame others and certainly did not launch a war against anyone else. Nor did they turn their backs on constitutional protections and surrender to dictatorship in order to make some minority a scapegoat. Nor did they renounce modernism, despite all its flaws, in an emotional flight to the fraudulent sanctuary of fundamentalism. Pakistanis chose the slow, hard road of supporting a moderate society ruled by laws in which all are free to express themselves and no one is free to force his views upon his neighbors.

They remain far from achieving victory, of course; this road is not for the impatient. For example, Professor Ali Khan of Washburn University School of Law recently described the next challenge on Pakistan’s horizon:

Pervez Musharraf, who usurped power in Pakistan on November 3, 2007 by
virtue of his Proclamation of Emergency, refuses to relinquish the office of the
President, an office he unlawfully occupies against the will of the people and
contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan....if Musharraf does not voluntarily vacate the Presidency, Pakistan's newly-elected Parliament is authorized to pass an Emergency Bill to capture him, charge him with treason, and prosecute him under Article 6(1) of the Constitution, under which: "Any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason."

Arresting Pervez Musharraf will establish the sovereignty of the Parliament, fulfill the demands of justice, and restore the rule of law for which the judiciary and lawyers of Pakistan have paid a heavy price. Any compromise with Musharraf that keeps him in office might please foreign constituencies. But it will be lethal for democracy and constitutionality in Pakistan. Any such compromise will encourage future military coups. The time has come for Pakistan to show to the world that a fearless democracy can remove usurpers in a strong but lawful manner.

Recognizing that enormous challenges lie ahead, we must also recognize that Pakistan has made a leap forward that hardly anyone outside Pakistan would have thought possible six months ago. The fact that Pakistani society has had little exposure to democratic norms, the fact that it is poor, the fact that it is not a leading industrial state, the fact that it is Moslem, the fact that it is an artificial country created by Western imperialism and built of nervous ethnic blocs...all these facts turned out to be less important over the last few months than the fact that several different elements of Pakistani society came to share a highly sophisticated vision of the democratic society they could, just possibly, construct together.

The West needs to pay attention to Pakistan. Certainly Pakistan is worth paying attention to because serious dangers arising in that country could emerge to threaten the world. But we should also pay attention to Pakistan because that society has just taught the world—including the smug, superior, self-congratulatory West—a lesson about democracy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Washington (!) Idea for Real Change: Talk to Tehran

If you are sick of politicians who offer arrogant bluster or vacuous promises, read this hard-hitting, precise, forward-looking article by Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein in the San Francisco Chronicle. Key points:

If you want to see why our nation's policy on Iran has failed, look no
further than a revealing episode at the World Economic Forum in Davos,

White House officials reportedly were "angered" that our ambassador
to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, sat next to the Iranian foreign
minister on a panel at the forum. He did not have a separate meeting or
conversation or handshake with the foreign minister. He just sat next to him.

I could not believe my eyes when I read that. It should be a
tip-off to the American public that there are key Bush administration officials
who do not want
to engage in diplomacy with Iran on any terms - with
preconditions or without - let alone find solutions to some of the
long-simmering issues.... is the moment for a bold U.S. diplomatic move to begin direct
official talks with Iranian officials
. And I believe the Bush administration's
insistence that we wait until Iran suspends its enrichment program is
counterproductive. This policy has given Iran incentives to increase its
enrichment capacity under ever more hostile conditions.

Now that is a policy for an American approach to the world of which we can be proud, an initiative to make the world a more secure initiative for genuine change.

Maybe Dianne Feinstein should be the Democratic candidate for president...

Challenge & Response: Addressing the Needs of Pakistan & Iran

The foreign policies of both Iran and Pakistan over the past half century have incorporated repeated challenges to the international system that suggest profound dissatisfaction on the parts of the ruling elites in each state going far deeper than individual personalities, parties, or ideologies. This in turn suggests that such frequently recommended (in the West) solutions as “regime change,” creating “democracy,” or taking political power from the military and passing it to civilians will not by themselves resolve this dissatisfaction.


One issue is security. Each state has typically perceived itself as facing significant security threats. As is not uncommon in international affairs, many of the perceived threats were caused or inflamed by the behavior of the threatened state; each state of course finds its own guilt hard to see, given the degree to which real threats have in fact existed independent of any such guilt. Regardless, the security threats have been genuine.

Iranian Security Concerns.
The U.S. Threat.
Iran has repeatedly been threatened by the U.S.: the U.S. overthrew Iran’s first attempt at a democratic government in the early 1950’s in order to prevent Iran from taking control over its oil export prices. Following Saddam Hussein’s invasion, the U.S. provided Saddam with significant military support in order to prevent an Iranian victory. Iran has also repeatedly evinced concern over its neighbors, particularly Iraq but also over Persian Gulf security more broadly. Its concern with Iraq today is not with an Iraqi invasion, of course, but with either a U.S. invasion from Iraq or the spread of Iraqi domestic chaos into Iran. The conditions may be grossly different, but Iraq remains a major security concern for Tehran.

The Persian Gulf Threat. Since Iran’s economy is founded on the export of oil through Persian Gulf waters militarily dominated by the U.S. and a Saudi state whose military establishment and spending dwarf those of Iran, Persian Gulf security is a second constant concern for Tehran. Both the legacy of Gulf Arab support for Saddam’s invasion of Iran and Khomenei’s unsettling pan-Shi’ite stance continue to plague efforts to settle regional relations.

The Afghan Threat. Afghanistan has also repeatedly been a security concern. The Soviet invasion surely must have reminded Iranians of the Tsarist threat to Iran and the post-WWII Soviet effort to take over, at the very least, northern Iran. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was defeated, the rise of the radical Sunni Taliban led to severe tensions. Today, the threat from Afghanistan is two-fold: on one hand, the huge U.S. military establishment there leaves Iran surrounded by U.S. forces that, given Bush Administration rhetoric and the concerted Israeli effort over the last decade to inflame U.S.-Iranian relations, Iran must assume to be extremely hostile; on the other hand, the explosive growth in the power of Afghan drug gangs threatens to undermine Iranian society with an epidemic of illegal narcotics flowing across a porous Afghan-Iranian border.

The Baluchi Threat. Finally, Pakistani Baluchi demands for better treatment and the brutal Pakistani suppression of their civil rights raise the specter of unrest among Baluchis on the Iranian side of the Iranian-Pakistani border.

Pakistani Security Concerns.
The Indian Threat.
Pakistan has been equally concerned over its security, given the overwhelming military superiority of India. Although Pakistan lost its eastern half as the result of the unjust treatment of Bengalis by the West Pakistan military and civilian elite, to blame the Pakistani civil war on India has become dogma in (West) Pakistan, which only fuels the fire of insecurity vis-à-vis New Delhi. The repeated and very real threats of war, even nuclear war, with India may have originated in Pakistani provocations in Kashmir (e.g., the forming of terrorist groups and Musharraf’s Kargil adventure). The war threats may also be exploited by the Pakistani military to justify its political control. Nevertheless, the implicit threat posed by New Delhi’s aggressive pursuit of overwhelming military superiority, uncompromising repression of Kashmiri political desires since Nehru’s death, and harsh treatment of Kashmiris only serve to fuel Pakistani security concerns.

The Domestic Ethnic Threat. In addition, Pakistan is fighting a Baluchi insurgency in the west and a Taliban insurgency in the north, with both being inflamed by Pakistani army heavy-handedness.


A second issue, connected to but distinct from security, is status. States, or more properly, regimes seek status as individuals do and tend to be extremely sensitive to gaps between their size and the status they are accorded.

Iranian Status Concerns.
Iran wants regional status befitting its history and size. It also sees acquisition of regional status as a means of breaking out of isolation and enhancing its security. For that reason, insecurity feeds the desire to gain higher regional status, a tough challenge since it means status in the eyes of either Sunni Arabs or Sunni Pakistanis. Defending the rights of Palestinians is one obvious option for gaining support among Arab populations, but that tends to worsen relations with conservative Arab regimes trying to avoid tension with Israel. Another option is to pose as defender of Islam, also a tough challenge since the mostly Sunni Arabs do not exactly see Shi’ite Iran as their natural leader. Iran has tried, and currently is putting considerable emphasis on, both options, with, so far, only modest success. Iran’s failure to gain the status it believes it deserves is by no means good news for its opponents: a frustrated, alienated Iran will be much more difficult to deal with than one that sees benefits flowing from cooperation with the powers that be. The more Iran is isolated, the more many of Iran’s conservatives will be likely to focus on improving ties with other regional actors who are similarly isolated and frustrated. The West has paid heavily for ignoring this commonsense principle.

Pakistani Status Concerns.
For Pakistan, regional status seems if anything even more closely ties to security concerns. Geographically, Pakistani elites aspire to regional leadership in, at a minimum, Kashmir and Afghanistan, in great part to gain buffer zones against India. Ideologically, Pakistani elites want close ties to Saudi Arabia and over the past three decades have opened the doors ever wider to Saudi cultural, educational, and religious influence at the same time that Saudi money has flowed to Pakistan in return for Pakistani nuclear knowledge. Beyond the monetary value of nuclear technology exports, being the most technically advanced Moslem state also confers on Pakistan a much-desired status that it otherwise would have no hope of attaining.

In brief, both for reasons of national security and regional status, which in itself enhances security, Iran and Pakistan have consistently focused their foreign policy over the last half century on enhancing both security and regional status. Although Washington may see these two states in terms of U.S.-Iranian or U.S.-Pakistani relations, that relationship has never been the foundation of Iranian or Pakistani foreign policy. This misperception may have much to do with the difficulties Washington has had in eliciting the type of behavior it desires from those two countries: in brief, the carrots and sticks employed by Washington have not been those most relevant to the primary concerns of Pakistan and Iran. If Washington indeed wants Iran and Pakistan to moderate--not to mention renounce—the development of nuclear arms, nuclear proliferation, and support of insurgencies, then Washington will have to pay more attention to Iranian and Pakistani core concerns. It will have to show Iran and Pakistan that they can achieve progress on their core concerns by working within the system rather than by challenging it.

It would not be hard to make the argument that both countries could enhance their security by pursuing less challenging policies. Putting greater effort into developing their economies and avoiding exacerbating ties with other countries might well give Iran and Pakistan both more security and more status over the long run, but they are by no means alone in having politicians who cannot see past their own personal times in office. Moreover, neither state has in fact been given many attractive options. The fact is that the elites in each country consistently see these measures as necessary, which raises the question of the degree to which such attitudes are a function of the behavior of Washington.

Threats against Iranian national security by Washington and Tel Aviv are pushing Iranian defense policy in a direction that those capitals profess to dislike and to be trying to prevent.
Instead of criticizing Tehran for becoming more proactive and developing long-range missiles and asymmetric warfare capabilities, those capitals might ask themselves to what extent their own policies are contributing to these Iranian policies.

The way to persuade Tehran to give up supporting anti-Israeli violence by Hezballah and Palestinian insurgents is a two-fold approach of simultaneous 1) addressing Lebanese and Palestinian concerns in order to minimize their need to fight Israel and 2) opening the door to participation in regional affairs by Iran.

Similarly, Washington’s pressure on Pakistan to suppress violence in Kashmir and Afghanistan by its radical agents cannot logically be expected to work unless it addresses Pakistan’s concerns. To address Pakistan’s concerns, the pressure needs to be paired with steps to alleviate Pakistani security concerns. In that context, making the government more democratic and returning the Pakistani military to its barracks might well be valuable implementation steps but do not represent magic bullets. In other words, domestic Pakistani reforms (“free” from the U.S. perspective because they require no concessions by the U.S.), regardless of their nature, will not suffice to address international issues of concern to Pakistan: logically, international concerns must be met by changes in the international environment. That will entail changes in the behavior of both New Delhi and Washington.

Washington’s focus on individuals, parties, religious groups implies that eliminating such individuals, parties, or religious groups would resolve the issue. But since the security and status concerns of Iran and Pakistan have remained the same for half a century, the logical route to persuading Iran and Pakistan to modify their behavior would be to address those concerns. Isolating countries, labeling them as evil, and refusing to negotiate with them unless they make the key concessions in advance (i.e., surrender first, then “talk”) is not likely to evoke cooperation. Overtly pressuring governments to turn on their own agents without addressing the concerns those agents were created to take care of is also not likely to evoke cooperation. The former is Washington’s Iran policy, the latter Washington’s Pakistan policy.

Recent history gives both countries good reason for thinking that for security they must depend on themselves. This perspective makes nuclear capabilities and asymmetric warfare (e.g., Iran supporting Hezballah and certain Palestinian parties, Pakistan supporting the Taliban and insurgency in Kashmir) tempting methods of leveling the playing field against opponents that will remain vastly superior in terms of conventional military capabilities.

Cornered, either of these states has the capacity to become very dangerous. Iran has been the obsession of some in the West for several years, while Pakistan essentially burned like a slow lava flow, reassuringly blackened on the surface but red-hot underneath. In fact, the Pakistani nuclear technology export program of the last two decades was probably far more dangerous to the world than anything post-Shah Iran ever attempted. Whatever the current status of that program of deception, it is not hard to imagine others scenarios that would quickly turn Pakistan into a major global headache. If treated with scorn, under either military dictatorship or a democratic civilian administration, Pakistan’s ties to the West could very quickly collapse, given the popular resentment over U.S.-supported dictatorship, the near-disastrous state of the standard of living of most of the population, and the resentment over U.S. pressure to conduct a vigorous military campaign against Islamic activists.

To turn any large country into a supporter of the global political system, it must be given a stake in that system. Today, both Iran and Pakistan seem condemned to poverty by an unresponsive, if not irrationally hostile, international system. Moreover, Iran, at least, is surrounded by enemies and ostracized from regional diplomacy. Given the military superiority of India, Pakistan—rightly or wrongly—may well feel isolated as well. Each can be forgiven for perceiving that it really doesn’t have a very big stake in the current international system. And that endangers everyone else’s security.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Somali Crisis Still Burns Hot

Remember the other U.S. war – the one we ignore totally because it is Ethiopian rather than U.S. troops who are on the frontlines? On Feb. 11, the U.N. announced suspension of its operations in Somalia, the country recently called the worst place on earth for children because its local headquarters were attacked. Last fall, when the mainstream media in the US condescended to mention Somalia for a short while, it was reported that some 300,000 people had been displaced as a result of the Ethiopian war against the Islamic Courts Union that had succeeded in nearly unifying the country for the first time in two decades. It’s not over – 40,000 additional people have fled the capital in just the last two months – while the country’s plight was being totally ignored in the west.

Newsweek recently summarized the Somali situation as:

Worse than Darfur. That was the assessment two weeks ago of the United Nations' top refugee official in Somalia, who called the country Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has effectively splintered into three separate states: Somaliland in the north, Puntland in the center and chaotic southern Somalia. In December 2006, U.S.-supported Ethiopian troops invaded the country to oust an Islamist government that briefly controlled Mogadishu and the south, triggering a civil war. Islamist and clan-based militias have battled Ethiopian troops and supporters of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG). A small force of African Union
peacekeepers has been powerless to halt the violence. The war has forced 1
million people from their homes.

With the world still trying to prop up the Transitional Federal Government at the expense of the opposition (composed of the Islamic Courts Union and members of the TFG who opposed the Ethiopian intervention), it may be difficult to achieve peace even if African peacekeeping troops do eventually succeed in implementing current plans to replace the Ethiopians. For one thing, the extent of direct U.S. involvement remains unclear.

According to a recent report,

Djibouti City's Camp Lemonier serves as the base for the US Combined Joint
Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Most members of the 1,800-strong task
force appears to be engaged in fairly mundane activities - improving
military-to-military ties, training members of allied regional militaries and
humanitarian projects. However, the CJTF-HOA mission was clearly defined by its
first commander as combating "transnational terrorist groups posing an imminent

There have been unconfirmed reports of special operations raids in
neighboring Somalia which may have been launched from Djibouti airport or from
the multinational taskforce patrolling the nearby Somali coast and adjacent
shipping lanes.

On the other hand, both the new TFG prime minister and the opposition have expressed a willingness to talk.

Stay tuned; as we have seen repeatedly over the last few years, one-sided external intervention in a civil war tends to aggravate and prolong the pain endlessly.

McCain, Obama: Freedom? Change?...Pride???

John McCain said:

Our purpose is to keep this blessed country free, safe, prosperous and proud.

That's fantastic. Now both the leading candidates are advocates of change. And change...real change...fundamental change is what this country needs.

Given the shockingly rapid decline in Constitutional protections for individual liberty in the U.S. amidst the panic of the so-called "war on terror," it should be obvious that a militarized approach to foreign policy is not the road to freedom. As for safety, does anyone feel safe anymore? And's your floating mortgage rate doing these days?

But pride is where the discussion really gets uncomfortable. It is hard to be proud of a government that starts wars on false pretenses. It is hard to be proud of a government that breaks its own laws to prevent enemies from being brought to trial. It is hard to be proud of a government that violates international law even as it criticizes other countries for being a threat. It is hard to be proud of a country that voluntarily launches a war against an "evil" dictator and then lets the conquered society collapse into chaos. It takes more than whining "nice...just incompetent" to make me proud. But most of all, it is hard to be proud of a country that bullies weak opponents who are too proud to kowtow with threats that "all options are on the table." So, John, if you think you are qualified to be president, reassure us that you would never dream of allowing yourself to crawl into the gutter of world affairs and engage in any of the above hypothetical actions.

Don't worry, though. I'm just feeling neurotic. After all, in this democracy, we can trust our leaders. A presidential candidate would never lie to the American people. So I have a dilemma. I certainly support Obama's call for change. I also certainly support McCain's call for an America that is "free, safe, prosperous, and proud"--which would be change indeed. The only solution I can see is to vote for both of them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Post-Election Pakistan: Peace Opportunities

Now that the Pakistani parliamentary election has been held—and with a rather surprising degree of peacefulness and apparent legality, change is in the air, and a close look at recent dynamics in the tribal regions is called for. Recent events suggest a much more nuanced situation with more room for compromise than the intensity of recent fighting might suggest.

In December, Baitullah Mehsud granted an interview to al Jazeera in which he identified defense as his first priority and accused the Pakistani army of “barbarism” and conducting a “policy of deception” by playing off one tribe against another. He identified his second goal as the establishment of Islamic law throughout Pakistan. For whatever reason, he apparently paid little attention to the standard al Qua'ida goals of "global jihad" or "attacking the far enemy." Underscoring his concern over defense, his spokesman Maulvi Umar told Dawn on Jan 22 that they would “target sensitive installations in Islamabad, including the headquarters of intelligence agencies, if the military does not stop its operation.” After several weeks of intense military clashes, he “told the government that he could halt terrorist actions if the key commanders and militants arrested by security forces were released,” according to Daily Times (Feb 1). On Feb 15, the Taliban in one region promised to suspend violence during the election and were reportedly prepared to participate in peace talks. On the 19th two tribes in North Waziristan reached agreement with the local government to cooperate in opposition to extremism (Daily Times, Feb 19).

Numerous reports have indicated widespread resentment among the tribal population over Pakistani army behavior. For example, Daily Times reported on Jan 18 that “Mehsud tribe elders on Thursday refused to facilitate peace efforts in South Waziristan Agency until “troops stop pounding areas.” The very next day, Dawn reported collateral deaths of civilians resulting from military attacks. Fighting in the “formerly stable” Darra Adam Khel in late January resulted in the departure of 70% of the local population, according to Daily Times (Jan 26). Following the shelling of Taliban positions in South Waziristan, local residents accused troops of “targeting civilian areas, according to Daily Times (Jan 28). On Feb 1, residents were reported to have protested against the government relief effort as being ineffective (Daily Times, Feb 1). A senior government official was reported by Daily Times on Feb 4 to have recognized that “You can only convert the sympathies of the public from these guerrillas by providing what the government should be providing: justice, security, clean hospitals.” The same report quoted a South Waziristan lawyer observing that “The government has nothing for the tribal people but troops, missiles and cobra gunship helicopters.” Zanroor Afridi, JI deputy secretary general of NWFP, accused the government of “gross violation of human rights in the tribal areas” by bombing civilians and forcing internal migration (Frontier Post, Feb 9).

Locals also blamed the Taliban. On Jan 17, the Jamaat-i-Islami leadership decided, for example, to contact Taliban activists in swat and Waziristan to ask them to give up violence (Dawn, Jan 18).

One of the most prominent dynamics in recent evidence is the use of the fighting as a negotiating tactic. The rebels have evinced considerable willingness to compromise; the electoral results may well bring a positive response from the government. It is not clear exactly what the long-term rebel goals are, but it is clear that they are concerned about protecting themselves, are being pressured by the local population to compromise, are having trouble presenting a unified front, and are adopting a flexible pose. Opportunities for initiatives to move from the battlefield to peaceful political competition now appear to exist.

Is Israel Thirsting for Another Invasion of Lebanon?

Is more war on the horizon in the Mideast? Read Allan Nairn's full post; key points:

On Friday I asked a top-level Israeli, a former IDF (Israel Defense
Forces) elite unit man and prime-ministerial confidante, whether the
assassination of Hezbollah's Imad Mughniyeh could have been done by a Lebanese
group.He snorted at the preposterous notion. This was "way too sophisticated,"
he said. "This [the car bombing] was a precisely orchestrated international
operation," and this was the "third or fourth or fifth time in a year that
Israel has carried out a military operation in Syria."

When I asked him to repeat that last part he added the word "allegedly." But the message, or at least the boast, was clear. So why is Israel doing this?

The man said of his colleagues:
"There are a lot of [Israeli] military and cabinet people just dying for a
second round with Lebanon. If given the opportunity they'll take it," i.e.
attack Lebanon again, not in spite of "but because of" the perception that their
'06 attack failed.Though the IDF leveled blocks and villages, dropped 4 million
cluster bomblets (some of which are still exploding), and killed some 200
Hezbollah combatants and 1,000 Lebanese civilians (roughly 40 Israeli civilians
were killed by Hezbollah), they apparently departed Lebanon feeling politically
inadequate. The official feeling was that they either did not destroy enough, or
destroy enough of the right people and items, to avoid the embarrassing
perception that they lost to Hezbollah.So to have the option of solving this
problem they've apparently staged a provocative assassination in hopes of
goading Hezbollah into retaliating and providing a pretext for new -- better --
destruction that this time around will "succeed," i.e. soothe hurt Israeli

Interim Pakistani Parliamentary Election Results: Good News for Pakistan

The interim Pakistani parliamentary election results appear to be good news for Pakistan for several reasons:

First, the parties of Sharif and Bhutto each are doing very well, which may tend to minimize hubris and maximize inter-party cooperation. Given the sad historical performance of Pakistani civilian parties, that still does not guarantee strong support for civil rights, pragmatic economic policies, moderate foreign policy, or democracy, but it may at least open the door to such reforms, as is suggested by the calls for a coalition government from the leaders of both parties.

Second, the two leading pro-democracy opposition parties each appears far ahead of the party of the military dictatorship, despite the windowdressing of Musharraf's engineered self-election as president in civilian garb. There is no guarantee that such a coalition will be able to resist the combination of Pakistani military pressure to restrict democracy and foreign pressures to put foreign interests first, but again, it opens the door to such an outcome.

Now, can the strengthened Pakistani middle free the judiciary, persuade professionals in the army to return the troops to the barracks, and resist the pressures of both domestic and international extremists long enough to put together a national political compromise that persuasively addresses the cultural/civil rights concerns of disaffected minorities and offers the poor some economic hope?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Permanent American Aggression?

If you thought that the election might lead to peace, read this warning about how the state of the world could get very much worse if John McCain is elected. The warning concludes that a McCain victory "would likely complete America's transition to a militarized state and would empower terrorists everywhere, resulting in constant warfare and bankrupting the United States in fairly short order. Such is the price of the neocon new world order."

Adaptation in a Complex Political System

An enduring weakness of how humans conduct foreign policy is the ease with which one can identify with an individual and the difficulty of seeing the system. In evolutionary terms that may be readily understandable: a caveman faced with a hungry tiger really did not need to concern himself with the biological system in which man and tiger operated. He needed a brain optimized for emergency response. Even as late as the Roman empire, perhaps capacity for emergency response still trumped capacity to comprehend systemic processes. It may be popular in academic circles to point out the many systemic deficiencies of the Romans (poisoning themselves with lead plumbing, mistreating Italian farmers with shortsighted tax policies to the point where the native population could no longer support the empire), but, after all, Rome lasted 1,000 years. In today's far more complex world, an empire with a foreign policy based on emergency response or that makes alliances based on personal rapport between leaders rather than judicious consideration of the nature of the global political system is not likely to last anything like 1,000 years. Whether or not we can train ourselves to act on the basis of system realities in time to avoid our own destruction remains a very open question.

The international political system today is so much more complex in the scientific sense (interconnected, interdependent, co-evolving) that we have arguably (and it is the duty of political scientists not only to make the argument but to lay out the evidence, pro and con) reached a fundamentally new stage in which the cold-blooded "realist" rules of the past are, well, no longer realistic.

It may all come down to the ability to adapt, as in, "Remember the dinosaurs? Well, they couldn't." Everything functions as part of some system. You can choose which system to study (family, town, corporation, country, world; political, economic, cultural, environmental, biological), but you cannot omit the system and expect to understand human behavior. (In contrast, you can omit the system--i.e., the car--and understand the behavior of, say, a piston.)

Given that comprehension requires consideration of the system, one can start by trying to identify attributes of a system (e.g., defensive capacity) and examining each, perhaps by comparing cross-system functionality. That is feasible and has been done, but does not answer the mail because it is essentially a reductionist approach that still leaves you blind to how the system actually functions as a unit (you may imagine, if you insist, an intelligent supercar of the future in which the pistons were alive and constantly evolving to function better in response to whatever new fuel they were fed). The world's greatest expert on defensive capacity of nations would never understand nations without also knowing about other attributes, and I will be so bold as to claim (claims are not made to get hung up on; to "claim" is to invite refutation) that the most important of those attributes is adaptability. That is of course not a statement intended to be absolute - adaptability is key only in a rapidly changing environment. For neolithic man in a 90,000-year-long interglacial period, adaptability would perhaps not be particularly important. But for 21st century man--faced with population explosion, global warming, and asymmetric warfare--it is not much of an exaggeration to state that:

survival = F(adaptability).

The more complex the world becomes, the more opportunities will exist for finessing a situation. For example, I would hypothesize that:
H1 = the more complex the political context, the more opportunities a local rebellion will have to find allies to help it stave off defeat until it can figure out a winning strategy.
Moreover, I would hypothesize that:
H2 = The more complex the political context, the more winning strategies there will be.

The new, more complex world of today facilitates the formation of new alliances that enable dissident groups to survive long enough to learn how to adapt. Once the process of adaptation gets rolling, it becomes increasingly difficult for the dominant group to keep up with the evolution of the adapting opponent: the dissident group not only can gain strength but evolve rapidly, creating new organizational structure, new behavior, and perhaps new goals, none of which are likely to be predicted by a dominant group. It will be hard for the dominant group to keep up because it will be reacting, always a step behind by definition. It will be hard because of a tricky characteristic of behavior in nonlinear situations (and much of behavior in a complex system will be nonlinear) - new behavior starts with almost invisible first steps and then rapidly snowballs. Disease control experts who worry about single cases of bird flu understand this dynamic. It will also be hard because we humans, and especially humans who are winning, tend to ignore the system, instead taking personal credit for victories that were probably mostly due to the luck of the draw.

It would seem likely increasingly to become a truism that today survival favors the adaptable. This may not have been the case for neolithic man or even for a Roman, but it does appear to be the case for, say, frogs (faced with environmental pressures that can be realistically be described as genocidal) and superpowers (Great Britain lasted a couple centuries as a superpower, the Soviet Union lasted 70 years, Nazi Germany lasted a decade or so, the U.S. looks shaky after some 60 years in that role and a short 17 years holding the position by itself).

Based on the above hypotheses, complexity provides more opportunities to learn a new, winning strategy. This does no good if you assume that you control the system, assume that you are a winner because you are superior, and assume that you will continue to be superior simply because you are at the moment. If, on the other hand, you are losing and therefore sufficiently concerned to open your eyes to the distinction between the influence of your own will and the influence of the system, then you can take advantage of these opportunities to learn faster than your smug opponent. Complexity provides both information from remote parts of the system to facilitate learning and opportunity to translate the learning into new behavior.

It is not just that hubris is dangerous - hubris is particularly dangerous in a rapidly evolving environment.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Destabilizing Pakistan

Two disturbing scenarios for the near-term destabilization of Pakistan under U.S. pressure have been laid out in a provocative essay by former professor Zeena Satti:

In Pakistan’s urban areas, religious lunacy is being orchestrated and celebrated while the administration watches helplessly. After the military operation of July 10, 2007 the “Red Mosque” in Islamabad was reopened for Friday prayers bearing all visible marks of the carnage that took place earlier. With blood stained walls and the belongings of killed men, women and children piled in public view, fiery sermons against the “infidels” and their paymasters were allowed to echo in the heart of Islamabad. Suicide bombings have targeted the high security garrisons of the military. No terrorist group has ever taken responsibility for these blasts. The
military rank and file does not know who it is they are supposed to fight. The
morale of the officers is steadily eroding. The judiciary is out on the streets.
Courts are a sham. Military “defections” in the North and South Wairistan are
being camouflaged as “abductions”. The disappearance of staple foods and
essential commodities from the market has instilled a deep seated despondency
amongst the people of Pakistan. High profile deportations of Pakistani notables
from Western capitals may be exercises in absurdity, but they do make Pakistani
society question the efficacy of their statehood. Washington’s “leaked” war
games dealing with the ubiquitous Pakistani nukes amount to Pakistan military’s
emasculation by its vital ally. Pentagon’s open declaration of its “discussions”
with the Pakistani generals regarding military collaboration in the tribal areas
only helps damage Pakistani troop’s as well as civil society’s moral....

Given Musharraf’s policies, spearheaded by the U.S, two plausible scenarios can emerge in Pakistan. Each will have a U.S hand in its making.

Scenario one may entail civil war in Pakistan that splits the military itself into two factions, one for the war against the Taliban and the other against it.
This split will be augmented by the U.S’s patronage of the pro-war faction against the anti-war one. Due to the Pakistan military’s historically punitive treatment of its civilian adversaries, which includes executions and forced exiles, Pakistan’s civilian alternatives are crippled. As the conflict escalates, an increasing number of civilian
Pakistanis will seek refuge within India, impacting its stability and providing
it with an excuse to intervene. The U.S will not thwart Indian intervention, and
will even encourage India to annex Pakistan.

Scenario two could plausibly entail heavy bombardment of Pakistani tribal areas by the U.S forces, causing a flood of internal migration, which will also mean the spread of militants into the Pakistani mainland.
This could provide the U.S with a reason to lead an international demand, possibly through the U.N Security Council, for Pakistan’s denuclearization. Under threat of extensive U.S bombardment of the country in case of non-compliance, the Pakistan military is likely to capitulate. Once the nukes are neutralized, the U.S will withdraw its support for the Pakistan
military. Given the absence of viable civilian alternatives, this could spell
the strategic end of the state. India has always maintained that stability in
Pakistan is essential for stability in India. Pakistani mayhem will thus
guarantee an Indian intervention.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rigging Iran's Parliamentary Election

For a nice review of the conservative purge of opposition candidates for Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections, see:
By Omid Memarian

Gravel on War Against Iran

If you are interested in living in peace for the next four years, you owe it to yourself to spend a minute on this video of presidential candidate Mike Gravel discussing anti-Iranian war planning in Washington.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Iranian Campaign for Regional Security

Adding substance to the recent proposal by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi for a new regional security paradigm to combat foreign interference, both Expediency Council head Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Prosecutor-General Qorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi have advocated regional cooperation.

Rafsajani noted that some want to undermine regional security and “said that throughout its political and cultural history, Iran has strived to help establish intra-regional security as opposed to a security provided by the West.”

Najafabadi suggested the formation of a regional parliament. Such a body would provide Iran with a permanent route for participating in regional affairs and automatically exclude the foreign involvement that concerned Mohammadi, reversing the current situation in which Iran frequently finds itself frozen out of regional diplomacy.

Najafabadi also called for a regional defense plan, noting that "if a powerful bloc was formed in the region, the foreigners would never dare to interfere in the region’s affairs, and we would not witness problems such as those currently existing in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.”

Mohammadi’s and Najafabadi’s speeches fit smoothly with recent Iranian efforts to improve relations with Persian Gulf states and Egypt, as well as representing a much more skillful foreign policy campaign than the in-your-face rhetoric of Admadinejad that certain Western politicians have found so easy to exploit.

Among the developments worth watching for are:

1) Will such calls continue after the current celebrations of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the March 14 parliamentary election?
2) Will Iran follow up these “unofficial” conference speeches with more formal actions?

  • One example occurred on Feb 9, when Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad-Reza Sheibani, said in a meeting with opposition leader Michel Aoun Iran was ready to help solve Lebanon’s political impasse.
  • In another example, on Feb 4, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated Iran's support for a Mideast nuclear-free zone.
  • In a third example, Mottaki recently met in Saudi Arabia with President of the Islamic Development Bank, Ahmed Mohammed Ali.

3) Will any other countries respond to these Iranian initiatives?
4) Should such a regional “parliament” be formed, what will the manner of Iran’s participation be?


Who Is Dori Najaf-Abadi?

Appointed Minister of Intelligence and Security by Khatami in 1997, he resigned in
1999 under very confusing circumstances. See
this for a discussion. In any case, he landed on his feet and became Attorney General. He has been described both as relatively liberal and as a close associate of Khamenei, descriptions that typically do not go together. In 2005 he was quoted advocating severe internal security measures, such as were used by the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan and as are used by Saudi Arabia. At the time of Saddam Hussein’s trial, he issued a strong call for international recognition of Saddam’s crimes against Iran. In January he advocated putting Bush on trial for his psychological warfare against other countries. Based on the sketchy media reports of his recent remarks, he appears to be a firm nationalist interested in making a foreign policy name for himself as a practical thinker concerned about national security and a supporter of moderate ties to the rest of the region. His remarks resemble those of Supreme National Security Council member Ali Larijani and Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi much more than those of Ahmadinejad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Iranian Call for Regional Security – More Charm Offensive or a Real Change?

The West is quick to criticize harsh Iranian rhetoric – choosing to
interpret a rhetorical flourish at face value, perhaps inflating it a bit,
perhaps mistranslating it to make it sound worse, perhaps making a headline out of a standard phrase that has been in use for decades.

So…how should we react to moderate, reasoned, thoughtful Iranian rhetoric?

In a speech pointedly given in Islamabad on Feb 9, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi called for a “new security strategy” for Iran’s neighborhood from the Mideast to Afghanistan and Pakistan, pointing out that “it has faced four wars in the last three decades.” He voiced support for Pakistan’s struggle against terrorism, advocated joint Iranian-Pakistani efforts to combat both terrorism and illegal narcotics in Afghanistan, noted the “moral confusion” of discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and called for the removal of foreign forces from Iraq. Americans should be so lucky as to get a new president willing to advocate such views. It would be difficult for anyone to disagree that recent decades have treated the region harshly and that changes are needed.

Mohammadi attributed the region’s chaos to “foreign interference,” evidently (judging from press reports) making quite clear that he holds the U.S. primarily responsible. That as well is a reasonable argument. The list of foreigners who have interfered in the region’s Moslem societies over the last three decades is of course long and obvious: Washington, Tel Aviv, and Moscow have invaded regional states so many times it is hard to remember them all:

  • Israel’s repeated invasions of Lebanon between 1982 and 2006;
  • Israel’s invasion of the West Bank and Gaza;
  • invasions of Afghanistan by the USSR and the U.S.;
  • the 1991 and 2003 US invasions of Iraq;
  • the 15 intervening years of U.S. air war against Iraq.

The list is much longer if military interference short of full invasion is included:

  • U.S. and European “peacekeepers” in Lebanon after the 1982 Israeli invasion taking a pro-Israeli stance;
  • the Israeli attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities years ago;
  • Israel’s attack on a mysterious Syrian site this fall;
  • Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

And of course, the list is endless if one includes non-military forms of interference, including:

  • U.S., European, and Soviet support for Saddam’s war against Iran;
  • U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq between 1991 and 2003;
  • U.S. pressure today on Lebanon’s government to reject compromise with the opposition; Israeli threats of military attack on Iran;
  • U.S. pressure on Pakistan to attack domestic radicals;
  • U.S. threats against Iran despite repeated Iranian offers to negotiate.

Over the course of the three decades, overwhelmingly, external interference came either directly from Washington or indirectly via Washington’s proxies or allies (choose the word you prefer).

So it is hard to find fault with the thesis that chaos in the region has resulted from foreign interference, as far as it goes, though one could certainly argue that this thesis leaves out a large part of the story. Nevertheless, the hypothesis that the basic cause of regional turbulence is external interference deserves to be recognized by American politicians and voters.

Mohammadi evidently called for cooperation among Moslem countries, implicitly to take care of their own issues, thus eliminating the need? temptation? for “foreign interference.” This is a thoroughly reasonable and responsible concept, indeed, and one that gets at precisely what was missing from Mohammadi’s thesis that regional chaos was primarily the result of foreign interference. Given the history of foreign exploitation of the region by powers seeking oil, he certainly has a point. Nevertheless, imagine how different the region’s history over the last 30 years might have been if all the Moslem countries of the region had been able to agree on a joint strategic program to manage the region! It is pointless to argue about whether foreign interference or regional disunity was the “primary” cause of regional instability: in truth, the two causes have been intertwined, each exacerbating the effects of the other, frequently by intent.

The internal contradictions among even Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq (the three countries named by Mohammadi), and Iran have been profound and deadly over the last three decades.

Relations with Iraq. How far is Iran willing to go to reach a permanent settlement of its long-contentious border with Iraq? How much influence over Iraq’s domestic politics is enough to satisfy Tehran, now dizzy with glee at its sudden prominence in a country supposedly “conquered” by the world’s only remaining superpower?

Relations with the U.S. Iran gave significant support to the US invasion of Afghanistan (until Bush brushed Iran aside with his infamous “axis of evil” speech). Should Mohammadi’s speech be read as implicitly offering cooperation once again – if the next U.S. president proves willing to “sit down and reason together” rather than indulging in irresponsible and threatening rhetoric?

{This article sheds light on critically important distinctions between the
apparent views of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on this issue.}

Relations with Pakistan. What are the implications for Iran’s theocracy if it forms a regional strategic partnership with two Sunni states and especially with one (Pakistan) closely allied to Saudi Arabia? An Iranian-Pakistani entente implies an Iranian-Saudi entente, with fundamental
implications for Washington’s influence in the Mideast and for Israel’s ability to maintain its policy of expanding military dominance.

This was, of course, “just a speech.” But in the context of Iran’s recent campaigns both to
improve its ties with the Arab Gulf states and with Egypt, it would not be wise to dismiss this speech.

For an Iranian official to visit Pakistan in order to call for a regional security paradigm is an act of potential importance. If this idea worked, it would fundamentally restructure the region and consequently change world affairs. It would significantly constrain Washington’s freedom of behavior. Playing off a Saddam against a Khomeini would no longer be so easy for Washington.
Depicting Iran’s leaders as “mad mullahs” intent on attacking Israel would be a much harder argument to make with a straight face.

However, agreement on a common approach to security among Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will take some real compromises on alsides. This time, Tehran’s words were thoughtful and moderate. That’s nice. But one cannot help but wonder what substance Tehran is willing to put on the table to demonstrate how cooperative with neighbors it is willing to be.