Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"The Long War comes to Pakistan," October 23, 2007.

Click to view map of the Northwest Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan

"I want the United States to succeed in the war on terrorism. It is in the interest of the United States; it is in the interest of the international community; it is in the interest of India....The problem with them is they think they know all the answers. They've got the resources; they know all the answers et cetera. So they don't need the experience of other countries. They don't need the advice of other countries. I would say a little more humility on the part of the United States in carrying out this war on terror." (B Raman, Interview, October 19, 2007.)

Bahukutumbi Raman is the former Additional Secretary of the Indian Government's Cabinet Secretariat and writes a terrorism newsletter for the South Asia Analysis Group.

While the world worries that the Bush Administration might invade Iran and TV cameras focus their gaze on Washington's golden girl, Benazir Bhutto, a new pretext for extending the disastrous war on terror is brewing in the remote regions of Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

Raman has been watching a part of that region which has resisted central control since the days of the British Empire, a part known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. I interviewed him on Friday.

But first, we have to imagine a Canadian perspective. So let's turn for a moment to a talk by Anatol Lieven.

Dr. Anatol Lieven is not a Canadian. But Canadians would do well to consider his remarks. He is Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies at Kings College, London, and a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington DC. He gave a talk with Peter Bergen after they got back from Pakistan.

"I think it ought to be fairly obvious that in that part of the world, when it comes to our long-term, vital interests, especially, of course, our interests in the so-called war on terror, Pakistan is our greatest priority. Pakistan is the most important country, not Afghanistan.

That, I think should be fairly obvious, if one looks at the obvious facts. Pakistan has more than six times the population of Afghanistan. Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

Afghans will not be glad to hear this, but Lieven's judgement that Pakistan is more important to us than Afghanistan seems well-grounded. If instability in Pakistan means that nation building in Afghanistan has to be put on hold, as Lieven suggests, where does that leave Canadian Forces? Or Rick Hillier's attempt to portray the Forces as working mainly to build schools. For that matter, where would it leave the peace movement and Jack Layton's plan that we should leave Afghanistan and then come back in more of a peacekeeping capacity?

Lieven's talk was in August before the Pakistan election, before Bhutto returned, and before the bombings that killed over a hundred of her supporters.

However, the seige in Islamabad this summer from July 10 to 13, of the Red Mosque, so called because at one time it was painted red, had already come and gone before Lieven spoke. A little-reported consequence of that military action was the killing of some 300 girl students at the school inside the Mosque. Many of these girls were from families in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. By the time of Lieven's talk, anger over the deaths of these girls had already produced a demoralizing wave of suicide attacks and other violence against the military and the police in the region—and it isn't over yet.

At Foreign Policy in Focus, Shahid Buttar compares the political situation in Pakistan to the Iranian revolution in 1979 and expresses this concern

“If militants emboldened by Musharraf's entrenchment assassinate him or bring the Waziristan insurgency to the country's urban centers, they could gain control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. That scenario is both imminently possible and catastrophic. India or Israel could be targeted by a first strike, and North Korea – with whom Pakistani nuclear scientists under Musharraf have exchanged information before – would receive technology, if not weapons themselves.

“Supporting Musharraf increases the risks of Americans landing in the cross-hairs of terrorists wielding nuclear weapons. Bush crying wolf before led to a quagmire in Iraq, but the threat of nuclear-armed militants in Pakistan is real. The United States should address it by supporting real democracy – rather than a dictatorship, however seemingly benevolent. The alternative risks a replay of the Iranian revolution, with even higher stakes.”

I asked Raman about the nuclear issue.

"The danger in Pakistan means not so much the nuclear weapons, the atomic bomb will fall into the hands of the jihadi terrorists, but the technology leaking to the jihadi terrorists, whether it's al-Qaeda or others because there is a lot of sympathy for the jihadi elements, the fundamentalist elements, in the Pakistani nuclear community. We need a government which will be able to see that this kind of thing does not happen. We need a government which will have at least effective control over the non-tribal areas [...] as we saw what happened in Karachi with the massive explosion when Benazir Bhutto arrived. It shows the government is getting weaker and weaker even outside the tribal areas.

Amy Goodman spoke to Tariq Ali, a novelist, historian, activist and one of the editors of the New Left Review, who is originally from Pakistan though now he lives in England. They spoke just before Benazir Bhutto returned.

Amy Goodman: Tariq Ali, I wanted to play a clip of the Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Barak Obama, saying two months ago that he would attack areas of Pakistan, with or without approval of the Pakistani government.

Barak Obama: I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges, but let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered three thousand Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

Amy Goodman: That's Barak Obama. Tariq Ali.

Tariq Ali: Well, I mean what is quite staggering is that Barak Obama, whose ignorance on world politics is well-known, using this issue in Pakistan to try and strike a military pose. I mean it's utterly grotesque and pathetic. Were the United States to start bombing raids inside Pakistan, there would be a massive increase of support for the jihadi fundamentalist groups in that country. And it would weaken not just secular political groups, it would weaken even the moderate religious parties who are not associated with that. So this sort of rhetoric coming from Obama is incredibly provocative.

I remember once, I was in the United States just before Bush got re-elected. I was in Illinois watching Obama say on television that were Bush to decide to take out the Iranian nuclear reactor, he would be in total support of it. So if this is what Democratic candidates are talking like, Amy, it is quite a depressing situation.

Raman comments both in print and in my interview with him on Bhutto's statements about letting either American or NATO troops in to the tribal areas.

An expanded exploration of the situation in Pakistan will air here at KCR on this week's edition of Debuts and Encores, Friday, October 26, at noon, Pacific Daylight Time.

Special emphasis on the largely unreported events in Pakistans western border region with Afghanistan. Featuring my full length interview with Bahukutumbi Raman, more from the talks by Anatol Lieven and his colleague Peter Bergen who interviewed bin Laden at a time when the CIA couldn't find him. Bergen and Lieven were in Pakistan this summer.

Just a word for those who may be listening to our broadcast stream on the internet. In Wisconsin, that noon broadcast will reach you at 2 pm Central Time. That will be 7 pm Greenwich Mean Time, and 30 minutes past midnight on Saturday in Chennai where Bahukutumbi Raman works. You can tune in at 9 pm on Friday evening whether you are in Oslo or Jerusalem, at 8 pm in London England, at 5 pm in Brasilia, on Saturday at midnight in Karachi, or Friday half an hour before in Kabul. In Honolulu, you'll have to get up fashionably early to catch the Debuts and Encores special on Pakistan at 9 am.

I have changed the blog's Hot Topic to Canada's own Iacobucci Inquiry. That's the inquiry into Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin who were imprisoned in Syria while under investigation by security agencies in Canada. The Harper government established this inquiry in response to a recommendation of the Maher Arar Inquiry. But it has been so secretive that the credibility of the inquiry is in doubt. It is orders of magnitude easier to get information about the military dictatorship in Burma, and if that doesn't give you the creeps, you may be nursing some illusions about what it means to be white.

BlogRush is a new feature I'm experimenting with on the World Report blog. It uses the principles behind exponential growth and compound interest in a way that is similar to multi-level marketing, but without the promise of obscene wealth or indeed any money at all. It seems to be a way of finding a larger audience. Have a look and tell me what you think.

The item on the World Report blog announcing a conference of South Asians Against Nukes in Pakistan this December at a venue to be announced later has been listed in the BlogRush panel several times.

The Editor's Pick has some articles I have found especially interesting this week. Focus on Trade is actually two articles. In the first, Walden Bello looks at four new strategies that have been put forward to rescue neoliberal globalization from what he calls the "irreversible destructive logic of late capitalism" and the reality that some people and nations may not want to live in one "functionally integrated" global economy. The second article looks at Ecuador's recent initiative to keep some of its oil in the ground.

The 145-page report on Gender Inequity in Health Care has a statistical annex, case histories from Tunisia and South Africa and approaches its subject within a human-rights framework. It is included in an information-rich context on the website of Choike, a project of the Third World Institute in Montevideo. Well worth a look.

There are still 22 days left to register your opinion on the World Report blog poll. The question: “What is the next step in Afghanistan? License the poppy crop for legal sales? Lobby NATO for withdrawal? Lobby NATO for more troops? Lobby NATO to balance the mission? Convert to peacekeeping mission? Negotiate? Attack Al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan? Leave now? Or Other?

This article is published by James Terral under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. Commercial media must contact me for permission and fees. Some postings on this site are published under different terms.

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