January 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The twitterverse has been abuzz this week with revelations of how the U.S. State Department has been spending its money in Pakistan. A couple of interesting items to note:
The U.S. funded the Sunni Ittehad Council for holding a rally in 2009.The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) is a rabidly extremist religious outfit that most recently gained notoriety for offering Rs. 100 million for the gun that Mumtaz Qadri used to assassinate Salman Taseer a year ago. (Taseer was assassinated for his stance on changing Pakistan’s blasphemy law.) In other words, the Sunni Ittehad Council is a nasty piece of work. So what’s the U.S. doing funding such very ugly people? Well, the U.S. has decided that it hates the Taliban more than anybody, and any enemy of the Taliban is a friend, and since the SIC hates the Taliban (for very narrow sectarian reasons), that makes the SIC a friend of secularism and democracy, and thus Uncle Sam’s buddy. Note that the SIC is a Sufi Barelvi outfit, which isn’t supposed to make sense, since the U.S. has also declared that Sufism will save us from terrorism, but these are exactly the kinds of absurdities one ends up with in U.S.-foreign-policy-land.
Another interesting item of note is the nearly $1 million in funds given to film projects by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy (who has made the films Terror’s Children, Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, Reinventing the Taliban, Pakistan’s Double Game, and many other terror-themed films among others). There are two projects being funded: one, an animated series for children that will focus on identity and history, and two, a series about “ordinary heroes” in Pakistan (I’m going to guess that at least some of these heroes fight the Taliban in their spare time). Given what we know of her past films, and of course about the U.S. agenda, one can only imagine what kind of nonsense will be concocted for these new projects.
September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
The current war of words between the U.S. and Pakistani governments is just the latest installment of the soap opera that is U.S.-Pakistani relations. The pattern is typical, predictable, and actually quite stable: the U.S. makes demands on Pakistan; Pakistan rebuffs the demand; the U.S. responds with “evidence” of Pakistani complicity in fomenting terror (usually in Afghanistan but also in India); Pakistan negotiates on the initial demand, giving in to some of what the U.S. wants but still rejecting some part of the demand.
So too is the case with the latest “revelation” last week by Admiral Mike Mullen and other U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is actively sponsoring terror in Afghanistan via the Haqqani clan. According to this formulation, the Haqqani network is a state asset that is activated by the ISI in order to maintain leverage against Afghanistan and, by extension, the United States. That is seemingly explosive stuff, but predictably, as early as the next day, we were seeing statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials that they were still interested in “working with each other.” And today, we see that the U.S. State Department spokesperson has stated that “State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said that the US government was committed to its relationship with Pakistan and wants to work constructively with Pakistan on the Haqqani Network.” Ah yes, “work constructively” – that lovely phrase that hides the ugliness of just how much pressure is applied to other countries in order to coerce them to do the bidding of the U.S.
On the same day, Republican Senator Mark Kirk did his part to play the role of bad cop by stating that the U.S. government should “cut military assistance to Pakistan in the light of the allegations made by the US administration and military about Pakistan having links with the Haqqani network.” We have lost count of the number of times that Some Important Person or the other has called for cuts to U.S. aid to Pakistan in the last couple of years. It’s amusing to note that despite such threats and protests, the aid continues to flow, mostly in very generous proportions (Pakistan still remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel). Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in it for the Americans?
All of this is certainly not to minimize the sheer venality and, frankly, stupidity of the Pakistan establishment, in its attempt to manipulate various domestic and foreign actors and try to maintain leverage against the U.S. The Army, the ISI, Zardari and the other civilian politicians – they would sell their own mothers down the river before they would do what’s right for the Pakistani people. And sadly it’s the Pakistani people who continue to pay the price of this absurd but very costly soap opera.
September 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Pentagon recently released its annual assessment of global security, and the report predicts an era of perpetual war in which peace is the exception rather than the norm. Of course, unsaid in the report is that the cause of war is the Pentagon itself. Instead, war is framed as the means by which to achieve peace. Somewhere, George Orwell is weeping.
An excellent analysis of the report and its coverage in the Washington Post is at Keating’s Desk. Do check out the full entry, it’s worth the read.
August 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Perhaps file this under conspiracy-theory-that-is-revealed-to-be-true-in-due-time? A strange bird-like drone has apparently crashed and been captured in Baluchistan.
August 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Here’s some more critical analysis of Nicholas Schmiddle’s fantastical New Yorker account of the raid to kill OBL in Abbottabad. The writer, Russ Baker, raises more questions about the accuracy and ethics of Schmiddle’s piece, but he also uses this moment to raise questions about the apparent lack of accountability and oversight of the U.S. military by civilian leaders – including, possibly, Barack Obama.
Russ Baker investigates, for instance, the controversial decision to dump OBL’s body in the sea, and discovers some interesting contradictions that suggest that the decision was made by a low-level operative in consultation with Saudi officials:
At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one — that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.
So what do we learn about this from the New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners — get ready — the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.
Here’s Schmidle’s account:
All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea — a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.
Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions — arrived at in advance — are not theirs to make.
Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden — and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.
Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.
Read the whole thing.
August 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
One of the things that frustrates us here at APP the most is the way in which Pakistan is spoken about in the West, especially in the U.S. Discussions and reportage of Pakistan are always embedded in a narrative that makes some very negative assumptions about Pakistan, and one that always highlights the security angle of Pakistan above all else (i.e., either as a place to be feared or, much more rarely, as a place to be rescued).
One major assumption that undergirds this narrative is that Pakistan is a land without people. Not literally, of course, but all too often reportage on Pakistan completely misses the local human element. Actual Pakistanis themselves, as real people and not just as stock characters or as mere scenery for the “real” story, never make an appearance in such accounts. The best recent example of this is Nicholas Schmiddle’s ridiculous account of the U.S. Navy SEAL raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. There has already been considerable criticism of Schmiddle’s account based on journalistic principles, but a great analysis is the one by Myra MacDonald, a journalist who has lived in and covered Pakistan. MacDonald notes:
In a post over the weekend which prompted me to re-examine the New Yorker story, Jakob Steiner at RugPundits complained about Orientalism. That in turn led me to look at how small a role Pakistanis play in the story. Pause here, and consider that Pakistan is a country of some 180 million people of diverse religious, social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. People who fret about their children’s education and grieve for their parents like the rest of us. People who in the office will bitch around the water cooler, and over dinner talk about the weather. And yes. I simplify people’s lives, because those of us who live them (signpost irony here) know how simple they are.
Then start perhaps, by noticing the dog has a name and a breed. He (she?) is called Cairo and is a Belgian Malinois.
Yes, that’s right. We learn more about the dog accompanying the SEAL team than we ever do about any actual Pakistani.
MacDonald goes on to point out the contrast in attention paid in the piece to a very important local Pakistani, the man who first alerted the world that something big was going down in Abbotabad: Sohaib Athar, who tweeted that there had been a helicopter crash that night which seemed very unusual to him (and to the rest of us on Twitter who happened to see his post in real-time, including me). Here’s MacDonald again:
The first person to comment publicly on the raid did so on Twitter, a resident who asked what a helicopter was doing in Abbottabad so late at night. He is a man with a full name, a profile and an online identity, who I and thousands of others found and followed easily enough on the day bin Laden was killed. In the New Yorker article, he becomes merely “one local”.
Read the rest of the piece, it’s a great reminder not only that coverage of Pakistan is truly opaque, but also that it doesn’t have to be that way, and that at least some smart journalists get it.
August 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Another day, another drone strike:
A US drone attack has killed at least 21 militants in north-western Pakistan, local intelligence officials said. The drone fired two missiles, destroying a vehicle and a compound near Miranshah town in North Waziristan tribal district, on the Afghan border. The dead militants include some foreigners and are believed to be part of the Haqqani network, officials say… “The dead included local Taliban as well as some Arabs and Uzbek nationals,” news agency Reuters quoted an unnamed intelligence official in North Waziristan as saying.
The Obama administration has stepped up the rate of drone strikes considerably. As the article notes, just last month, drones killed more than 30 people within 24 hours in North Waziristan. And of course, the dead are always, by definition, “militants.” Who needs to check, right?
August 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
On July 12, the United States announced that it would withhold US$800 million from Pakistan’s aid budget. This was intended to be a Stern Warning to denote that Washington Means Business when it says that it wants the Pakistani Army to do its complete and total bidding. (After all, what did the Army think all of those billions were for?) The truth is that these funds have only been suspended and not canceled, and we can expect that the aid will resume its flow once the Army and the U.S. come to a new agreement on drone strikes, U.S. covert operations and movement of CIA assets within Pakistan, and of course on targeting those factions of the Pakistani Taliban that the U.S. deems a threat. But what has been telling in this minor kerfuffle is the response of the Army establishment (via the statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations agency):
“In line with the position taken in the Pakistan-U.S. strategic dialogue in March 2010, it is being recommended to the government that the U.S. funds meant for military assistance to Army be diverted towards economic aid to Pakistan.”
This is not, of course, a grand gesture on the part of the Army that acknowledges the tremendous drain of resources that the Army places on Pakistani society – resources that would be far better used (even in a strictly neoliberal economic sense, in terms of return on investment) in areas like education, health, and infrastructure. In fact, this is the latest strategy being employed by the Army, which continues to use the elected PPP-led government as a vehicle for advancing its own interests but using the cover of electoral democracy to disguise its actions. What this means is that the PPP government is now very publicly hand-in-glove with the Army, and will dutifully transfer the foreign aid being given to them for non-military purposes over to the Army. This strategy also means that the Army brass has also discerned rather shrewdly the game afoot in Washington. As lawmakers in the U.S. become increasingly hostile to Pakistan, and increasingly start using Pakistan as the scapegoat for failed U.S. foreign policy in the region, calls to suspend military aid to Pakistan will become stronger and stronger. So the Army is simply staying ahead of the rising tide. True, it’s short-term thinking, but that seems counter-productive and illogical only if you don’t assume that ALL the Army cares about it is its own very narrow institutional (and frankly, even very personal individual) interests.
Meanwhile, the Army’s statement also had this to say:
“[The Corps Commanders] reiterated the resolve to fight the menace of terrorism in our own national interest using our own resources.”
Hey, generals, here’s a message for you: those are not YOUR resources. They are the resources of the people of Pakistan, and they rightfully belong to the people of Pakistan. You have no right to them. If you want to play war games, go get your own toys.
June 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The UN announced today that Pakistan is host to the largest refugee population in the world – 1.9 million people (source: Dawn; note that refugees are distinct from internally displaced persons). The vast majority of these refugees are Afghans who have been displaced due to the relentless wars in Afghanistan that have now spanned over three decades. The global population of refugees is also very high, at 44 million people. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of refugees are NOT flooding Western countries, as the UN report takes pains to note:
The United Nations sought Monday to debunk what it called ‘worrying misperceptions’ about movements of displaced people saying that developing countries hosted 80 per cent of the world’s refugees.
The total number of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons, had not ceased to grow with the figure reaching nearly 44 million people in 2010, the UNHCR said in a report.
“In today’s world, there are worrying misperceptions about refugee movements and the international protection paradigm,” said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industralised countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration.
“Meanwhile it is poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.” The UNHCR’s annual report on refugee trends found that most of the world’s displaced were seeking sanctuary in developing countries, including those which are among the world’s poorest.
In other words, rich countries, chill. No one is flooding your societies, and no one is jumping over your borders. No, the biggest impact is being felt by those poor countries which you have exploited and bombed as you seek to advance your neo-colonial agenda.
To our fellow Pakistanis, we note this as another reminder of just exactly how the ISI and the military establishment as a whole has continued to sacrifice the people of Pakistan – and of course, most grievously, the people of Afghanistan – for the sake of advancing its own narrow institutional interests. And of course, by “narrow” we mean those most exceedingly narrow of interests: cold hard cash. It’s been almost amusing to see the Pakistani political machinery jump into gear in the aftermath of the OBL operation, to desperately try and ensure that the flow of US aid keeps coming uninterrupted, into the coffers of the Army and its friends, and of course eventually into the overseas bank accounts of high-ranking officers and government officials. Meanwhile, ordinary Afghans and Pakistanis continue to have terror rain down on them, with seemingly no end in sight.
May 11, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It’s been ten days since the attempted bombing in Times Square in New York City. Only ten days. And even for seasoned observers, the speed at which the case for invading North Waziristan has been made is impressive.
It began with apprehending the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, on Monday, May 3. On May 5, the FBI probe was already focused on the Pakistani Taliban and their base in North Waziristan as the source of the plot, as evidenced by the New York Times headline, “Evidence Mounts for Taliban Role in Bomb Plot.” But, as Salon reports, Shahzad seems to have received no formal training from the Taliban. He does, in fact, seem to fall into the “lone wolf” category, an individual who took it upon himself to carry this act out, and then did it not terribly well. Doesn’t say much for his so-called training.
No matter. Already, by May 5, within two days of Shahzad’s arrest, Ahmed Rashid was not only labeling North Waziristan “terror’s new hub” but also making the case for launching a military operation there. He notes:
Over the past 18 months, Pakistan’s army has conducted major offensives in six of the seven tribal agencies that border Afghanistan. But the seventh agency — North Waziristan — has been left alone… North Waziristan is the hub of so many terrorist groups and so much terrorist plotting and planning that neither the CIA nor the ISI seems to have much clue about what is going on there.
Oh, the hapless CIA and ISI. Poor things. That alphabet-soup of militant groups is making their head hurt. They helped create so many different groups that they now have trouble keeping track of them. It’s a little bit like the old woman who had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. But back to Ahmed Rashid, who goes on to conclude that:
What is happening in North Waziristan is having a global impact. Something has to be done about a region that has become an even greater terrorist hub than Afghanistan was before 2001. Pakistan’s leaders — both civil and military — should take the lead in finding solutions to the problem, as the international community helps Islamabad implement a policy that will clear out this lethal terrorism central.
“Clear out this lethal terrorism central.”
If ever there was a euphemism for genocide, that would be it.
On May 6, Rashid called Shahzad “Pakistan’s first global jihadist.” This piece details exactly how Faisal Shahzad “belongs to this country’s true blue-blooded ‘establishment’” – that is, he is the son of an Air Force Air Vice Marshall, he went to prestigious schools in Pakistan, and then went to the U.S. for higher education. He even had a well-paying job in the financial industry. So it is quite amazing that Rashid then concludes by saying:
if the quiet “establishment” terrorist is found to be linked to either North Waziristan or LT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], Pakistan will face explosive pressure from the U.S. to do something about these untouched sources of terrorism.
One fails to comprehend why Rashid doesn’t want the target to be the Air Force officers’ mess, or the elite schools that Shahzad attended, or even the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut in the U.S., which Shahzad attended, that should be cause for concern. But of course, someone has to pay for Shahzad’s stupidity, and of course it will be the innocents in North Waziristan who will suffer.
The reality, of course, is that North Waziristan is already under attack. The U.S. has been conducting a long-running drone program there, which is run by the CIA. So while the case for invading North Waziristan is being made, the bombs keep falling on North Waziristan. On May 3, 4 people were killed as a result of a drone attack. On May 9, 10 people were killed, and then again on May 10, 14 more people were killed in North Waziristan by CIA drones. Of course all of these casualties have already been labeled as “militants.” This will never be verified, as there are no independent media in the region, and no human rights organizations active there either.
Faisal Shahzad was reportedly angry about the slaughter of innocent people through the drone attacks. That doesn’t justify the slaughter of more innocents in Times Square. But it does remind us that bombing only seems to produce more bombing. Not peace.