‘To Contain Jihadism, You Need Pluralism’

15 02 2009

Phares sees “two stages in…a decline but not yet the end of Al-Qaeda.”

September 17, 2008

The U.S. change of command in Iraq this week comes with violence levels at four-year lows and a slight reduction planned in U.S. troop figures. Although large-scale attacks remain a concern, many observers regard a weakening of Al-Qaeda in Iraq as a major reason for the reduction of bloodshed.

Walid Phares, a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, talks to RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel about Al-Qaeda’s setbacks in Iraq and the future of its ideology.

He says young Muslim minds must be offered “a model of pluralism and democracy” as an alternative to a “fighting caliphate.”

RFE/RL: After many battles between Al-Qaeda and its former Sunni insurgent allies, and after the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq, terrorist attacks are markedly down. Now some U.S. commanders are speaking of reaching the end-game of the conflict. What has caused Al-Qaeda, which initially made such rapid progress in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, to lose so much ground?

Walid Phares: Well, No. 1, there were two stages in what seems to be a decline but not yet the end of Al-Qaeda. The first stage was that it lost its enclave and the first battle really was in Fallujah. Al-Qaeda’s not being able to establish similar Fallujah-like enclaves was its first defeat. Then, it was able to survive through its networks and the foreign jihadists who poured through the borders and, of course, it was able to survive a longer period of time because of some of the support the local Salafist networks in Iraq have provided. The reason for why Al-Qaeda is on the decline today is first of all its own behavior, its own savagery with civil society, and that is a hallmark of the Salafi combat doctrine, which in Algeria in the 1990s also had similar activities and lost the trust of Muslim constituencies.

But again, the real Al-Qaeda defeat today is because of the surge that has operated over the past year, denying Al-Qaeda the initiative. But having said all that, I agree with the commanders on the ground that this is the endgame, but only of this stage. The big question would be if, after a redeployment of U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraqi forces would be able to deliver the same blow to Al-Qaeda. And the jury is still out on that.

RFE/RL: The level of violence Al-Qaeda is ready to use against civilians is, indeed, so horrific that it often is very hard to understand the movement’s appeal at all. Yet, jihadists are able to recruit new members, partly because they claim to be working for the goal of a peaceful and just, almost utopian, world. Their stated goal is to liberate people from existing exploitive governments and recreate the harmonious society that existed in the earliest days of Islam between the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers. Does this appealing vision give jihadism an enduring appeal and perhaps assure that — despite the setbacks in Iraq and Algeria — jihadism will never entirely disappear?

Phares: That’s what the jihadist message says in its propagandist dimension, meaning for soft eyes and ears before they are indoctrinated in the classroom, in the madrasahs. What they are talking about really is to bring down 21 Arab governments as we know them. They are not always democratic or efficient, but what the jihadists want to establish instead — and I wouldn’t say only 21 but 52 Muslim states if they can — is the Taliban model. If you ask a Salafi jihadist or an Al-Qaeda supporter what is your ideal regime, they would say the Taliban, which means no rights for women, no rights for minorities, no religious rights — remember what they have done with the Buddhist statues and with Shi’a or with Sunni who will not go by their ideals — plus establishment of a very tightly interpreted Shari’a law, meaning blocking progress and liberalization within the Muslim world.

If you ask a Salafi jihadist or an Al-Qaeda supporter what is your ideal regime, they would say the Taliban, which means no rights for women, no rights for minorities, no religious rights.

With all of that, obviously, the real message is going to be understood by the public only if there is an alternative thinking, meaning: In order to contain and reverse the agenda of the jihadists you have to have pluralism, you have to have the ability for young minds to get another message and let them make their choice. If they listen to a message that says, well, the future is for a “fighting caliphate,” and at the same time they see a model of pluralism and democracy, then the choice will be theirs. I do not believe that reversing or defeating the jihadists intellectually is only by crushing their message. It is by offering another alternative and the choice will be a free choice.

RFE/RL: If jihadism has the potential to recruit people as a liberation theology, or liberation ideology, let’s look more specifically at where that potential comes from in the Middle East. Is it due to great public disappointment with the region’s self-named republican leaders who led the struggle against colonialism? Is there a sense that Western democracy does not offer the East a workable model? Is it due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? These are all reasons that are sometimes cited.

Phares: All these reasons are valid, or have some validity. But that alone does not explain the choice for another as oppressive, as suppressive movement. Meaning, that if young minds were able to choose they would choose to be away from oppression and not to choose one form of oppression over another one. The only way is for young minds, those who have not been indoctrinated, to see that there is a difference. And if you take societies where Al-Qaeda has been thriving, these are societies where the segments have been conditioned. Meaning, young people go to madrasahs because they don’t have another opportunity. And once they are in the madrasah, don’t blame them if they get only this one dominant ideology. It all goes back to providing a space for freedom — democracy will come as a result of that. You cannot impose democracy, but you can open a space for freedom.

RFE/RL: An Arab analyst once remarked to me that the reason for the “war on terror” is, in his words, that “our fundamentalists are at war with your fundamentalists.” That’s a provocative way of saying the West shares blame for the “war on terror” due to the pursuit of its own interests in the Middle East, including making profitable alliances with autocratic regimes rather than making greater efforts to promote democratic groups. How do you react to this notion?

We have seen what happened with many liberal elements in the Middle East who have been suppressed by authoritarian regimes allied with the West.

Phares: Yes, of course, U.S., Western, European foreign policies have made tremendous mistakes and among those most important mistakes in the past were to ally themselves with autocratic regimes in the region. We have seen what happened in Iran. We have seen what happened with many liberal elements in the Middle East who have been suppressed by authoritarian regimes allied with the West. Yes, I do accept partially that criticisms can be leveled against foreign policies.

But the only difference is that the West can correct itself. Not just the West, democracies can correct themselves. That’s why there are opposition movements, that is why there are hearings in congresses and parliaments, that is why there are demonstrations and free press. If the Arab and Muslim world can reach the level whereby an opposition is tolerated, whereby women can vote and drive in some places, I think that would be a good agenda to follow.





Angry Poland accuses Pak of fostering terrorism

15 02 2009

Poland has joined the ranks of countries accusing Pakistan of inaction, if not outright complicity in terrorist activity, following

the beheading last week of a Polish national by the Pakistani Taliban.

In a furious response that has stunned the international diplomatic community, Polish justice minister Andrzej Czuma on Monday blamed Pakistan’s ”apathy” in tackling terrorism for the killing of a Polish geologist who was kidnapped by the Pakistani Taliban from Attock town in Punjab.

“The structure of the Pakistani government is behind this apathy. The Pakistani authorities encourage these bandits,” Czuma told a Polish news agency, even as the horrific killing recalled the similar beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The minister’s outburst stunned his own colleagues in the diplomatic circuit who are a little more circumspect in public about Pakistan’s reputation as a haven of terrorism. ”It was unnecessary honesty, it sent shivers down my spine when I heard Minister Czuma speaking,” Pawe? Gra?, a member of the Polish parliament’s Special Services Committee and Czuma’s party colleague told the Polish media.

However, so great is the outrage in Warsaw over the brutal killing that the Poland’s Senate speaker has called off a visit by his Pakistani counterpart this week.

Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz said Tuesday his decision is not an unfriendly gesture toward Pakistan but was made after taking into consideration ”the situation in which our countryman was murdered.” Other European countries also expressed revulsion at yet another beheading in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, according to reports in the Polish media, the State Prosecutor’s Office in Cracow, formally investigating the incident, would like to secure the original tapes containing a seven-minute film showing the Pole’s execution. For now, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, it has only received a digital copy.

“We don’t want a digital copy because it may have been tinkered with,” said Prosecutor Marek We?na at the Organised Crime Bureau, State Prosecutor’s Office in Cracow. He said the persons who had taken part in the negotiations would be asked to testify. It is also possible a Polish prosecutor will go to Pakistan to secure potential evidence there.

The Polish case offers Pakistan yet another opportunity to prove its bona fides in the war on terror amid continuing questions in the international community about its seriousness. Whether it is the Mumbai carnage or the London subway blasts or the beheading of Pearl and now of Piotr Stanczack, Pakistan has not distinguished itself with its dodgy investigations seemingly aimed more at protecting the perpetrators rather than bring them to justice.

Many of the accused in such incidents, including Omar Saeed Sheikh, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Yusuf Muzammil, and Zarrar Khan are reported to be ISI assets who live under the intelligence agency’s protection, while Pakistan’s civilian dispensation drums up red herrings while privately pleading it is not fully in control of the agency or that it has been infiltrated by rogue elements.

With its constant denials, fudging and prevarication, Pakistan’s government has laid itself open that it is complicit in such acts of terrorism. There is immense distrust among the U.S and its allies about Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and how far it is in cahoots with the jihadis it fostered for long.

Source:The Times Of India





The Roots Of Terrorism Are Internal, Not External

15 02 2009

Source: Radio free europe

As long as Pakistan’s youth have little choice but conservative religious education, they will be trapped in the same cycle of poverty and extremism.

February 13, 2009
By M. D. Nalapat

Muslims across the world have a right to be angry.

Despite being blessed with natural riches and an expanding population, 60 percent of them are illiterate, a figure that rises to more than 70 percent in the case of women.

More than half the world’s Muslims live under authoritarian rule and are denied the right to vote and other benefits of democracy. Access to travel and modern education is reserved for the elite, as is the ownership of assets.

In short, the long-established elites in many Muslim-majority countries have so monopolized power and its benefits that the rest of the population continues to suffer discrimination and lack of opportunity

Take the example of Pakistan, a country that today produces large numbers of terrorists. Unlike neighboring India, where democracy has taken deep root and has led to land and economic reforms across more than 80 percent of the country, Pakistan’s rural poor continue to suffer under landlords who use them almost as draft animals.

Politics in Pakistan is very largely controlled either by this feudal elite or their cousins, the business community that acquired its wealth through contacts with the all-powerful armed forces. People’s Party leader and President Asif Ali Zardari comes from a family of feudal landlords, while Nawaz Sharif, the second-most-powerful politician in Pakistan and head of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is one of the richest businesspersons in the country. In the National Assembly, there are almost no representatives of the urban or rural poor, even though together those groups constitute more than 80 percent of the population.

Teaching To Fail

Why is it that the people of Pakistan have thus far been unable to empower themselves in a way that ensures a fairer distribution of national assets? Why is it that after six decades of independence, only the feudal elite and the well-connected can hope to succeed in Pakistan?

Apart from the absence of land reform designed to free the millions of peasants and landless from the tyranny of the feudal lords, another reason why Pakistan has become a problem for the international community is its education system, especially at the school level. Because of extreme poverty and lack of educational infrastructure, many parents have no option but to send their children to the “madrasahs,” or religious schools. Given a choice, most of these parents — and their children — would probably prefer a comprehensive education, rather than the restricted curriculum available within a madrasah.

Pakistan’s elite: Nawaz Sharif (left) with Asif Ali Zardari (center) and his son Bilawal

In India, the Ministry of Human Resource Development began a scheme six years ago that provided madrasahs state-funded access to computers, as well as to subjects such as the English language, and several religious schools have taken advantage of this to expand their staff and the range of subjects taught. While an old-fashioned madrasah education does not equip a graduate to compete effectively in the global marketplace, students in the more modern madrasahs in India are enabled, by a fusion of religious and comprehensive teaching, to handle a much greater variety of occupations than their counterparts from old-fashioned institutions.

Even the most fanatical religious extremist does not hesitate to use the Internet or modern methods of travel and communication, correctly recognizing in them not just attributes of culture but tools for self-betterment. Likewise, language too is only a method of personal advancement, and the learning of English — the international language of communication — can open the way to opportunities that would otherwise remain closed.

While in India several madrasahs have now dropped their objection to the teaching of English (and in some cases, even to teaching in English), in Pakistan those who run the madrasahs remain opposed to any innovations in their curricula. The result is that hundreds of thousands of students graduate from religious schools without the ability to compete in the international jobs marketplace.

No One Else To Blame

Because of this frustration, some turn to extremism, just as many from poor urban and rural families in Pakistan turn to extremism because local elites have blocked their paths to advancement.

Although the local elite in Pakistan blames external factors for the accelerated radicalization of youth in the country, pointing to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the disputed Kashmir region, the truth is that they themselves are the culprits. It is the ramshackle educational structure that they have imposed on the poor that is to blame. It is the absence of opportunity caused by the stranglehold of the feudal elite in the rural areas and the commercial-military elite in the cities that has led thousands of youths towards radicalism.

By always emphasizing external factors, the elites in Pakistan hope to be able to continue concealing from the rest of the population the fact that they themselves are the guilty persons. They themselves are responsible for the poverty and the lack of opportunity in Pakistan that creates the atmosphere in which so many embrace radicalism.

The lone individual caught in the November 26-28 Mumbai terror attack, Ajmal Kasab, represents the face of this new terrorist. He joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba group because it provided him with both an income and a social identity. Unless fundamental reforms take place within Pakistan’s society and educational system, the country will continue to turn out terrorists, even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, along with those in Kashmir, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The roots of terrorism are internal, not external.

The Time For Truth

A situation similar to that in Pakistan exists in several other Muslim-majority countries, many of which are ruled by a single family. True, a few monarchies have introduced reforms, such as Kuwait, where elections take place in which even women have the vote, but others have continued to deny their populations any say in governance. Small wonder that it is in such countries that extremists find fertile ground to recruit the young to their deadly cause.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be good, but wouldn’t solve Pakistan’s problems.

Yes, Iraq is important. This writer has consistently supported the right of the Iraqi people to run their own country, rather than have important issues decided from outside. Yes, Afghanistan is important, as is a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ensures a prosperous Palestinian territory. For unless people in the Palestinian Territories (who are among the most versatile in the world) are enabled to build up their economy, recruitment will continue to organizations that seek to destroy Israel. Yes, the people of Kashmir need to be assured that their interests and identity will be preserved, so that some in their midst cease to resort to violence and terror in the cause of an independent homeland.

However, what the peoples of the Muslim-majority countries need most is democratic governance, the removal of feudal constraints to personal advancement, and the creation of educational infrastructure that can once again propel Muslims to the forefront of human creativity.

For too long have feudal and other elites fooled the people by blaming on external factors problems caused exclusively by their own oppression and misgovernance. This cloak needs to be pulled away and the truth exposed. Which is the shameful misuse of religion and its symbols to conceal the absence of internal reform. Which is the attempt to divert public attention towards external conflicts in order to prevent people from looking too closely at their own situation and its real causes.

The time for internal reform has arrived.

M.D. Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is director of the Department of Geopolitics at Manipal University in India. The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL





Who’s winning?

15 02 2009
Source: Timesofindia


15 Feb 2009, 0036 hrs IST, Shobhan Saxena , TNN

When you are locked in a war of nerves with an old adversary, you can’t wait for him to blink. But that’s what seems to have happened. All of a

Who's winning?

Who’s winning?

sudden, Pakistan looks like a changed entity — not plotting and scheming against India, but cooperating in the war on terror by hunting down the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan’s generals are unusually quiet; the politicians are saying the right things and there is not even a murmur of media protest about “giving in to pressure from India”. Islamabad’s tough knees would appear to have buckled under India-led international pressure. The world community, led by the US, is patting Pakistan on the back for this “positive development”.

So far, so good. But security experts and international analysts are asking a further pertinent question: Is there really a change of heart in Islamabad? Or is this just a break in its old diplomatic games with India?

First things first. Something extraordinary happened on Thursday, when Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s advisor on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, made a series of important statements in full view of the world’s press, accepting the role of some Pakistanis in the Mumbai carnage and promising tough action. The same day Pakistan’s foreign secretary gave a list of 30 questions to India’s high commissioner. The future of Pakistan’s investigation into the matter now lies in India’s answers to these questions. It could be a trap for India.

“We made a mistake by focusing too much on Mumbai, forgetting that it was one of the hundreds of terrorist attacks on India in the past few decades. Now, Pakistan says it has caught six guys for the Mumbai attack and what do we do?” asks Ajai Sahni, executive director of Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “It has been a miscalculation in our diplomacy because even if Pakistan hangs these six men, the larger issue of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al Badr operating from its soil remains unaddressed. And what about the involvement of the ISI and army?”

Calling Pakistan a “minimal satisfier”, Sahni says it’s a ploy. “They have been handing over to the US some of the peripheral terror elements since 9/11 and yet they have been supporting the groups fighting the international forces in Afghanistan. So, if we think that by arresting six people, Pakistan has changed its course on terrorism, we will be deluding ourselves because the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan remains intact and its supporters in the government are still active,” says Sahni, who tracks terror networks in South Asia.

Former diplomats and Pakistan experts agree. “They have acted out of compulsion, not conviction,” says G Parthasarthy who was posted in Pakistan in the ’80s. “Very soon, they will go back to their old ways,” he says, adding that Pakistan’s demand it be allowed to try 26/11’s sole surviving gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab is just a way of piling the pressure on India. “A trial in Pakistan will be a total farce. It will be like the trial of nuclear scientist A Q Khan, who has been released now, or the conviction of Omar Sheikh Sayeed, who got the death sentence six years ago for the murder of Daniel Pearl, but the order has not been carried out though the anti-terror law calls for execution within a month of conviction.”

The success of the trial of the six men arrested by Pakistan will depend on the quality of evidence against them. It’s thought interesting that Malik constantly used the words “credible” and “tenable’ evidence to the world’s press. Clearly, Pakistan has publicly asked India to give “solid evidence” against the alleged Mumbai plotters. Parthasarthy says this is part of Pakistan’s game. “If the trial fails they will blame India for not giving them enough evidence.”

But Delhi is unlikely to share all the evidence — including the calls log — with a neighbour it so distrusts. This, many believe, will be Pakistan’s trump card. It will accuse India of failure to cooperate and bad faith. “By mocking (India’s) 26/11 dossier at his press conference and by putting questions about Hemant Karkare and Lt Col Srikant Purohit in its list, Malik has already set the stage for this process to fail halfway,” says a ministry of home affairs official, who doesn’t want to be named.

So has Pakistan won this round of the game? Wilson John, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and author of Karachi: An International Terrorist Capital in the Making, says he doesn’t think “Pakistan has scored diplomatically over India as they have not done anything about the terrorist network, which India has been asking them to dismantle, and they have not addressed the issue of ISI’s involvement. So, India will continue to raise these issue and they just can’t get away with it”.

But Islamabad-based terrorism expert Zahid Husain sees the recent developments as a “turning point” in bilateral relations. “It shows that Pakistan is serious about fighting terrorism. Both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism and they have to work together to fight it.”

Perhaps, but is India failing to make the right strategic moves with respect to Pakistan? Yes, says an Indian diplomat, because we place too much faith in the West. “Almost every year, we get excited about the possibility of Pakistan being put on the list of terrorist nations or facing economic sanctions, and then we hear that it’s getting billions of dollars in aid and being called a partner in the ‘war on terror’. And we look like idiots. We have put too much faith in the West and in the process lost our leverage with Pakistan.”

Pakistan knows too well that the West needs it as much as it needs the West. Malik’s confessions seem to be part of this design. He has killed two birds with one stone: turned off the heat from Western allies and put India on the spot. Sometimes, one blinks just to rest the eyes before the next round of eyeballing.

New Delhi vs Islamabad

TALE OF TRIUMPHS

1948 | As Pakistani army regulars follow the Kabayalis into Kashmir, New Delhi makes Hari Singh, then king of J&K, sign the Instrument of Accession, making the state part of India and weakening Pakistan’s claim over it

1971 | India sends its army into East Pakistan to support the Mukti Bahini. Pak is bifurcated and Bangladesh is born. A military victory and a foreign policy coup

1972 | Indira Gandhi and Z A Bhutto sign the Simla Agreement, the cornerstone of bilateral relations to this day

1974 | As Z A Bhutto cozies up to China, India tests its first nuclear device in an attempt to join the N-club, dehyphenate itself from Pak & send a message to Mao

1999 | Battle erupts in Kargil; Pakistan forced to accept its troops were present in the area. This creates a rift between Musharraf and PM Nawaz Sharif, who orders his army to withdraw after a visit to the Clinton White House

…AND BLUNDERS

1949 | Nehru’s plebiscite offer at the UN makes Kashmir an international issue and gives Pakistan a stick to beat India with

1998 | India’s Pokhran-II is followed by Pakistan’s nuclear test. Both face international sanctions and India gets hyphenated yet again with Pakistan

2001 | India invites Musharraf for peace talks. He leaves Agra in a huff, makes a strong statement on Kashmir, and India ends up legitimizing the rule of a dictator

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‘Pashtunistan’ holds key to Obama mission

15 02 2009

Source: Gaurdian

The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the ‘Af-Pak’ question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam?
?

Relaxing one evening last week at the Cuckoo’s Cafe, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed on the point of causing a major incident.

As ever in the region, there had been no warning. The weather was just right, a warm late winter evening. The view was even better – unmarred by the security subtly positioned on surrounding buildings. From his table, Richard Holbrooke, 67, the diplomat charged with calming what fellow members of the administration call the most dangerous place in the world, looked out over the giant Badshahi mosque and the imposing Lahore Fort, both more than 300 years old. Carefully invited politicians, writers, human rights activists and journalists from Lahore’s liberal elite chatted at tables around him.

It was not that Holbrooke did not enjoy the barbecued spicy kebabs, Lahore’s speciality, it was just he had one special request. He wanted daal, the plain lentil curry that is the humblest dish in South Asia. For such a distinguished guest, none had been prepared. “The bulldozer”, credited with negotiating an end to the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, usually gets his way and this time was no exception. Daal was soon on its way.

Tonight Holbrooke will land at the Palam air force base, adjacent to the main civilian airport in New Delhi. It will be the last stop on a journey that has led the diplomat across the broad swathe of territory stretching from central Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Indus river. Call it the central front of the global “war on terror”, the fulcrum of the “arc of crisis”, Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, “AfPak”, no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama’s new team.

“The situation there grows more perilous every day,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: “It’s tougher than Iraq.”

First, there is the local situation. Since launching an offensive in 2006 the shifting alliance of insurgents which make up the Taliban in Afghanistan have established control – or at least denied government authority – over a large part of southern and eastern Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband last week spoke of a “stalemate” – something senior generals and security officials have known for some time.

Local Afghan forces are still far from able to take on the insurgents without assistance from the 73,000 Nato troops now in country. The government is corrupt and ineffective. Opium production has exploded. Across the border in Pakistan, despite continuing military operations, authorities seem unable to push the Islamic militants on to the defensive. And somewhere in the mess is al-Qaida, though few can say exactly where.

Then, there is the regional situation. There is little love lost between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The two former countries have been at loggerheads since splitting in the aftermath of independence from Britain. Kabul’s relationships with New Delhi are warm, a cause and consequence of their mutual animosity towards Islamabad.

“Both India and Pakistan would justify their involvement [in Afghanistan] as a deterrent against the other,” said Chietigj Bajpaee, South Asia analyst for the Control Risks group.

Finally, there is the global situation. “AfPak”, or more specifically the area dominated by the Pashtun tribes around the border mountains, has become the “grand central station” of global Islamic militancy, intelligence sources told the Observer. Young westerners head up to the tribal areas, the semi-autonomous zones which line the Pakistani side of the porous frontier, to visit makeshift al-Qaida training camps to learn how to blow up trains or planes back home. British intelligence track about 30 individuals of high risk through Pakistan each year. Others are known to be fighting with the Taliban against Nato troops.

It is this hideous puzzle that Holbrooke has been sent to sort out. If he can. “It is not too late. If they get the approach right and make an effort to really understand the problems, they can still do it,” said Hekmat Karzai of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, Kabul.

Holbrooke will not do it alone, however. Obama has assembled a powerful team of new and old faces entirely to revamp the American “AfPak” strategy. On a global level, Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, will take charge. Holbrooke will work on the region and the political track. On the military side, David Petraeus, the general credited with turning Iraq around, is now tasked with winning Afghanistan too. He has been clear that engaging with the largely Pashtun tribes, who bear the brunt of the fighting and provide most of the support for the insurgents, is an essential part of his strategy. As those tribes stretch across the border into Pakistan – a frontier which they cross more or less at will – Petraeus has focused on Afghanistan’s neighbour too.

The complexity of the problems is forcing what UK diplomats call a “recalibration” of objectives. The Americans are more blunt. Defence secretary Robert Gates said the aim is not to build a “central Asian Valhalla”. Creating a liberal, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan has been, at the very least, postponed.

“We have certainly pulled back from the aims of a nice, happy, Scandinavian-style democracy,’ said Steve Cohen, at the Brookings Institution policy research centre, Washington.

The priority now is stabilisation. “There is a recognition that before… nation building, you have to clear the ground,” said Seth Jones, of the US-based Rand Corporation thinktank. For Waliullah Rahmani, of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Kabul, “until Afghanistan is stabilised, you can’t have good governance, development or democracy.”

First stop on Holbrooke’s “listen and learn tour” was Pakistan. As he travelled, the militants sowed death. In Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier city, last Wednesday a member of the provincial parliament was killed by a roadside bomb, the first elected politician to die in the current violence. The same day, Afghan Taliban launched an attack on government buildings in Kabul which involved eight suicide bombers and killed 28. The Afghan government blamed it on Islamabad’s spies.

In Pakistan, those Holbrooke met were impressed by the envoy’s apparent desire to hear what Pakistanis had to say. In Lahore, Jugnu Mohsin, a newspaper publisher, described how when told how Lahore was once known as a tolerant city where all religions thrived, Holbrooke, who backpacked through the region as a young man, wanted to know if it had become more conservative.

“He wanted to know about the Badshahi (mosque), who built it. He was interested in the culture and history of the place,” said Mohsin. “He was basically there to learn, to inform himself, not to tell us what was what.”

Others agreed, though pointed out that Holbrooke’s open mind might have revealed a lack of detailed knowledge. “He is candid… and not given to the pro-India fixation of the Bush administration,” said Ikram Sehgal, an analyst who briefed Holbrooke on the security concerns of Pakistani businessmen. “We’ve turned a real corner.”

Washington has poured an estimated $1bn a year in military aid into Pakistan since 2001 and is worried that it is not getting value for money. There are also persistent question marks over the Pakistan security establishment’s possible support of some Taliban elements.

Indians make frequent accusations. “We have no illusions in India that Pakistan is a major player in Afghanistan,” says MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat. “Pakistan estimates that at some point the US will withdraw … [so] it can’t let the Taliban go out of its hands.”

Islamabad denies this, accusing New Delhi of joining with Kabul to foment violence amid separatists in Pakistan’s south-west province of Balochistan and of spying from two consulates they have established along the border. “The Pakistanis have real concerns about Indian activities such as road construction or building the national parliament,” said Jones of the Rand Corporation.

Holbrooke was taken on an aerial tour of the restive Pashtun tribal areas, flying by helicopter over Waziristan, the epicentre of militancy, to see the rugged and remote terrain. Yesterday, a missile fired from an American drone destroyed a house and at least 20 Taliban fighters in areas the envoy flew over, the latest in a series of highly controversial strikes.

Holbrooke stopped in the Khyber Pass, a key supply route for troops in Afghanistan and under attack in recent months, for a briefing with local commanders. Impressed, local observers pointed out that neither Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, nor prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, have dared to do the same. Holbrooke had met both in Islamabad.

Then it was on to Lahore for meetings with former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif – who said Holbrooke had admitted that there had been “mistakes” in past US policy – and the rooftop dinner.

Then Holbrooke was on the move again to a frozen, snowy Kabul. The gritty, depressing, grey weather reflected the mood of the visit. Not only is it widely recognised that the Afghan project is in deep trouble but the Obama team believe President Hamid Karzai is at least in part responsible. Relations have deteriorated badly since the halcyon days when the Afghan tribal leader seemed the perfect man to lead his country. Obama himself is said to regard Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Hillary Clinton has called his country a “narco-state”.

Holbrooke arrived last Thursday and did not see the Afghan president until yesterday. Kabul was quiet – on account of the weather, power cuts and a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country 20 years ago.

Obama has long promised to put 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan as part of a wide-ranging review of American policy and the first soldiers are expected to arrive before late spring. John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, in Washington, believes the US commitment could eventually rise to 100,000 troops.

“The immediate problem is to stop the bleeding. The 30,000 troops is a tourniquet … [but] that is all we have,” he said. “If Obama is a two-term president then by the end of his time in office there may only be marine embassy guards in Iraq. But there will still be tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan.”

There is also the matter of Afghanistan’s coming elections, already postponed once. Some experts believe the polls might solve America’s “Karzai problem”. “Karzai will either improve his performance or he will be ex-president Karzai. That is the wonderful thing about elections,” said Nagl.

Diplomats in European capitals fret about a weakened, re-elected Karazi with no real mandate. Sultan Ahmad Bahin, an Afghan government spokesman, said that Holbrooke had reassured the Afghan government of continuing American co-operation and of the new focus that Obama will bring.

Few locals showed much interest in the visit. “He’s going to do what for us? These people just go backwards and forwards for nothing,” said Karim, 34, a shopkeeper. “The Taliban have been killing us for seven years now.”

For Bashir, a Kabul taxi driver, the Americans would leave. “The Soviets couldn’t stay in our country. How can the Americans stay?” he asked.

A preoccupation for Obama and the Europeans is domestic public support for the war in Afghanistan. White House strategists believe it will hold up much better than the conflict in Iraq. “The polling has been very supportive. Iraq was a phony war but al-Qaida really is in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Cohen.

That makes the job of persuading Americans that the war needs to be fought much easier. It is not hard to point out the genuine threats of a region where there are thousands of Islamic militants, nuclear weapons and where the 9/11 plot was hatched. “The main task will be to persuade the allies, especially the Europeans,” said Cohen.

Finally on to New Delhi, where Holbrooke will step into a diplomatic atmosphere poisoned by November’s Mumbai terrorist attacks. India holds Pakistan responsible for the three-day siege which left 179 people dead and many more injured. Relations with Islamabad are at their lowest ebb since the two nuclear-armed neighbours nearly went to war over Kashmir in 2001 and 2002.

Bajpaee, the analyst, argues that Holbrooke’s best hope is to convince India to take a step back in Afghanistan to calm Pakistani concerns. Delhi may just be happy to let the US turn the screws on Islamabad. The Indians say they intend simply to “listen” to Holbrooke. The envoy too is going to be listening. The encounter may be much quieter than “the bulldozer” likes.

Divided Pashtun Nation

Which nation with homogenous ethnic make-up, a common language, religion and values is not a nation? The answer: Pashtunistan.

The Pashtuns, of whom there are now an estimated 40 million spread from south-western Afghanistan through to central Pakistan, (plus communities in cities such as Karachi and abroad in the UK), were divided on lines drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, when he separated the British Indian Raj and the Kingdom of Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century the Pashtun tribes fought ferociously, following their honour code of revenge. In Afghanistan, they dominated the emerging state.

But it was not all war. Pashtun culture, particularly poetry and a famous love of flowers, also flourished.

In the post-colonial era, an educated elite campaigned for a nation state but with little popular support. In the past decade, Pashtun identity has fused with more global, radical Islamic strands. Experts, however, warn against branding current violence a ‘Pashtun insurgency‘.

The Pashtun world

• The world population of Pashtuns is estimated at 42 million, and they make up the majority of the population of modern-day Afghanistan.

• Pashtun tradition asserts they are descended from Afghana, grandson of King Saul of Israel, though most scholars believe it more likely they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders.

• Pashtuns are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

• The largest population of Pashtuns is said to be in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

• Pashtun culture rests on “Pashtunwali”, a legal and moral code that determines social order and responsibilities based on values such as honour (namuz), solidarity (nang), hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge.





Satellite collision reflects necessity for int’l laws: Russian expert

15 02 2009

Source: Peoplesdily online

The collision between a Russian satellite and a U.S. satellite highlights the growing importance of making international laws to monitor human activities in space,a Russian military expert told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.

The root cause of the Russia-U.S. satellite collision is the lack of international rules on space activities, said Leonid Ivashov, the president of Russia’s Academy on Geopolitical Affairs.

No matter whether Tuesday’s collision is intentional or not, it would further strain the tensions in the space situation, and even lead to the use of force, whose consequences will be very grave, Ivashov said.

He expressed concern over new challenges faced by the international security system as a result of the first-ever crash of two intact spacecrafts in orbit.

In fact, such challenges have long existed, Ivashov said, noting that a spy satellite destroyed by the United States last year might have been carrying radioactive substances. In his view, there is a trend of militarization in space activities nowadays.

It is of great urgency to take comprehensive measures, including the establishment of space management networks, so that human activities in space will be supervised and coordinated properly, he said.

The Russian expert also called on the countries which have sent spacecraft into orbit to take due responsibility.

Ivashov described Russia and China’s proposal to enact international laws on space as “necessary” and “pressing,” suggesting the two countries continue to make efforts in this regard to facilitate the formation of international agreements.

A framework document should be approved in the first place, embodying the guidelines for human activities in space and restricting the liftoff of satellites with nuclear reactors, he said.

Satellites powered by nuclear energy can be traced back to a long time ago and they generally serve military purposes, he explained.

As solar batteries cannot provide satellites with enough momentum, nuclear reactors are used to supply reliable and durable energy, he said.

But the problem is that it would be very hard to figure out if there are satellites equipped with nuclear reactors in space from Earth, Ivashov said. Both Russia and the United States now have such kind of satellites, he said.

Source:Xinhua