Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

India OK to test nuclear weapons: US ambassador

This week the US Ambassador clarified a crucial question about India's nuclear program. At the same time, division within the Conservative caucus over Canada's position on the nuclear deal between India and the US may still be the most charged issue to fight an election on, but opposition parties don't appear to have a clue. Stay tuned to find out the real meaning of "step up to the plate."

Is it just me? Or is has the pace of events, especially those that suggest a coming apart at the seems, been picking up in the new year?

Just to get you in the mood, I've added a new polling question to the blog. Are you ready? It goes like this: Which of the following do you see as the most urgent security threat? nuclear attack? or climate change? peak oil? economic dependence on the US? the end of commercial fisheries? what about media concentration? or the demise of corporate agriculture? remember terrorism? a pandemic such as HIV/AIDS or Avian Flu? Gun crime? or civil unrest? It's a list that could go on, but that seemed like a good place to stop. Polls on the World Report blog aren't intended to provide big, statistically valid results. But they are helpful for what they tell me about your thoughts and opinions. And I hope that they help to open discussion up to more than just the one or two possibilities typically reported in the traditional media.

Contributing to that increase in the pace of events is Harper's apparent belief that he and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates can, with the help of the press, spin NATO's lack of enthusiasm for its mission in Afghanistan as a lack of resolve or courage or even adequate training to fight a counterinsurgency like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan--which the US has handled so well.

Some of this has been said before. Way back in March of 2006 during the course of a review of the subject, World Report suggested that "the War in Afghanistan and Canada's role in it are clearly experimental." Early that same year, a senior British officer put a sharper point on it. Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was the second most senior officer responsible for training Iraqi forces, publicly accused the US Army of institutional racism, moral righteousness, misplaced optimism and of being ill suited to engage in counter-insurgency operations. (Guardian Jun 2 06)

It was an observation that could easily have been taken to apply equally to the mission in Afghanistan, had anyone been listening.

But that was then. The truth about the Afghanistan mission now, if polls are to be believed, is that even among the NATO allies who provide the most troops, there is nothing you could call popular support for the war. In Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and even Poland, governments may be enthusiastic, but the people are divided. Unlike Americans and Canadians, Europeans have seen enough long and devastating wars fought on their soil, and many of them are sick of it. That, and not the lack of backbone, may be the reason why a war half a world away against a host of organizations, most of which pose no threat to anyone more than to the foreigners who have invaded their homeland, may be why raising the troop levels required has been such a hard sell.

Moreover, the increased pace of events in South Asia is outstripping the ability of governments to formulate even inadequate policy. The conflict is now generally understood to include Pakistan. But not for John Manley and his Independent Panel. Manley and the Harper government just want an additional 1000 troops.

General Dan K McNeill, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, [did say] at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that the military mission is “under-resourced.” However, he also said that a counterinsurgency campaign, along the lines of US doctrine, would require more than 400,000 NATO and Afghan troops. NATO troops currently total about 40,000.... The Afghan national army has roughly another 60,000.... (Kaplan Slate Feb 8 08).

This too has been said before.

Musharraf made it clear in 06 when he visited Canada that there were too few troops, that the Soviets had lost with nearly three times as many including a large contingent of neighbouring Islamic troops, and that it was time to step up the diplomacy. He and the British made some deals with village leaders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US and NATO did little to make those agreements work, paving the way for the current instability in Pakistan, and, in Helemand Province, some of the worst fighting the British have encountered since WWII (according to a British General in charge of operations there).

Manley, it seems, is still operating on the outdated concept that insurgents use Pakistan for training and rest. In 2006, however, there was an insurgency on both sides of the border, and the one in Pakistan has cost many more lives than had NATO operations in Afghanistan. At that time, the insurgency was limited to the countryside, which was where it had started against the Russians, too. But in recent months, at least on the Pakistan side of the border, the insurgency has spread to the cities like Islamabad, Swat, and more recently Karachi. According to the World Security Institute, the Serena Hotel bombing in Kabul on January 18 may signal a similar development on the Afghanistan side of the border.

Robert Fisk spent part of his long and illustrious journalistic career sneaking back and forth across the same border during the Soviet occupation. He quotes Mohamed Ziarad, then, in 1979, the Governor of Jalalabad. As the mujahedin were closing in on his city, Ziarad explained, "It is the bandit groups [meaning the mujahedin] that are the problem and the dispossessed landlords who had their land taken from them by our Decree Number Six and they are assisted by students of imperialism [i.e., the CIA]. These people," he said, "are trained in camps in Pakistan. [Sounds familiar.] They are taught by the imperialists to shoot and throw grenades and set off mines.... [also familiar] We tried to make sure that all men and women had equal rights and the same education," [familiar again] he said. But we have two societies in our country, one in the cities and one in the villages. The city people accept equal rights but the villages are more traditional" (Fisk Great War 93).

At the time, the Soviet war in Afghanistan was widely referred to in the west as "another VietNam." Reading Fisk's version of those events today, NATO's war in Afghanistan seems almost like another--well, another Afghanistan.

Maybe the American primaries contribute to that feeling of an accelerated pace of events. CBC, which sent Peter Mansbridge and Heather Hiscox across the line to cover the California primary, reports on voters' excitement, but I think it's desperation. CNN's special item called "Elections 2008" has been running daily since January 2007. Is it possible that under the circumstances, the secular mind views elections as a kind of salvation?

Contributing to the nuclear flavour in much of this pandemonium is the first suicide bombing inside Israel by Hamas since August 2004. It took place last week in Dimona. The Dimona reactor produces plutonium for Israel's nuclear weapons program. Israel, Pakistan and India are the only countries that have not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Last week, in an interview with CNN-IBN David Mulford, the US Ambassador to India, clarified for anyone who doubted it that the pending US-India nuclear deal will allow the testing of nuclear weapons.

According to a Canadian Press story (February 9 2008) he said, "It's very clear that India is free to do as it wishes with regard to future testing."

Stephen Harper, after his election in 2006, said he viewed the possibility of nuclear cooperation between Canada and India "with some degree of caution," a view he re-iterated in May 2006 when John Howard, then Prime Minister of Australia, was visiting Canada.

Between those two meetings (March 15, 2006), the Pak Tribune wrote from Islamabad that Harper had told Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that “Canada adhered to the policy of nuclear non-proliferation."

True to form, Harper went on to inform Aziz that the "former government of Canada had inked a deal [on] civilian nuclear technology transfer with India," which his government considered to be "controversial” and said that it “would be reviewed."

That controversy within the Conservative caucus may still be the most divisive--and the most important--issue to fight an election on, but the opposition parties don't appear to have a clue.

As a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Canada still gets a vote on whether or not to allow the agreement between the US and India.

In 2007 (Oct 22) ExpressIndia quoted Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesperson Bernard Nguyen as saying "Canada is considering the proposed exemption for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines in accordance with Canadian interests and principles."

Note how much of the information about this issue comes from India and Pakistan and how little from Canada.

"Canada's current nuclear non-proliferation policy and multilateral commitments prohibit nuclear cooperation with India, at this time," Nguyen said.

It is worth mentioning that Canada also supplied the reactor and half the fuel India diverted for its first nuclear explosive.

This week's Canadian Press story notes that “The agreement would reverse three decades of American anti-proliferation policy by allowing the US to send nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has been cut off from the global atomic trade by its refusal to sign nonproliferation treaties and its testing of nuclear weapons.”

The deal, commonly referred to as a “civilian cooperation agreement,” is the most recent in a series of assaults by the Bush Administration on the existing non proliferation architecture, beginning with abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on June 13, 2002 and including deployments and proposed depolyments of ballistic missile defence systems in the US, Japan, Poland and the Czech Republic.

"It is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India," Ambassador Mulford warned. But “unlikely” doesn't mean it's a promise.

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