Saturday, August 22, 2009

Canada and NATO

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Stephen Saideman, the former Pentagon intern and a current McGill University professor, argued that it was in Canada's interest to play second fiddle to the United States in its international misadventures. I disagree. Canadian soldiers and tax payers have paid the ultimate price in Afghanistan, which has slid further into chaos, poverty, and misery since 2001.

Mr. Saideman believes that the Canadian willingness to lead and bleed in Afghanistan has earned her "power, influence, and stature." While Canada may have earned the bragging rights in the big boys club (read: NATO), there is no denying the fact that the war in Afghanistan has pushed South Asia further into chaos.

To date, 125 Canadians have laid down their lives in Afghanistan. Scores others have been injured or maimed. Canada's Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that by 2011 the Canadian taxpayers will spend up to $18 billion on a war, which according to an EKOS poll in July 09, only 34% of Canadians support.

All of this would have been worthwhile had there been real progress on the ground. Sonia Verma, also in today's Globe, reports that corruption has worsened in Afghanistan, drug production has doubled, and law and order has completely deteriorated in the past few years.

The lack of adequate infrastructure in Afghanistan has left most Afghans without potable water, electricity, sanitation, and education. Add to this the insurgency, and the chaos in Afghanistan appears to make sense.

While Canada has spent billions in military intervention, it has done little in supporting sustainable development in Afghanistan. Canadian imports from Afghanistan stand at a piddly $800,000.

Afghanistan can use more of Canada's generosity in re-establishing its institutions and infrastructure. Billions spent on guns and bombs are unlikely to earn respect for Canada in Afghanistan even when it may buy Canada some power and influence with NATO.

A hero's welcome for the convicted Libyan bomber

President Baraka Obama and numerous others have expressed their disgust at the hero's welcome for Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted of bombing the Pan Am flight that crashed in Lockerbie in 1988.  While the U.S. is critical of Libyans, the American government also extended a hero's welcome to William C. Rogers III, who while being the second commanding officer of USS Vincennes in July 1988, shot down an Iranian Airbus near the Strait of Hormuz killing 290 civilians on board.  

Independent inquiries, including evidence from commanding officers of other American ships in the Middle East at that time, revealed that the William C. Rogers III was a trigger happy naval commander, who violated many rules of engagement by shooting down a civilian plane. 

When USS Vincennes returned to the United States after active duty in the Middle East, the U.S. government also extended a hero's welcome to William C. Rogers III and awarded him Combat Action Ribbon.  To date, the U.S. government has not apologized to the families of the 290 victims, and despite paying monetary compensation, the American government admits no wrongdoing.

The Libyans are merely mimicking Americans by celebrating al-Megrahi's return, who to this day protests his innocence. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What were Canadian politicians thinking?

Eugene Lang and Eric Morse, writing in the Globe and Mail, take issue with the new NATO's secretary general who wants Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2011. Messrs Lang and Morse argue that the Canadian politicians and generals did not anticipate an "out-of-control insurgency" or a five-year long commitment in Afghanistan when they committed the Canadian Forces in 2005.

Historically, marching into Afghanistan has not been a problem. Marching out of Afghanistan, however, has been the real challenge. The British learnt this lesson almost a hundred years earlier. The Soviet Union concluded the same in the mid-eighties, and the Pakistan's ISI has reluctantly acknowledged the same since 2001. No wonder then that the incoming head of the British Army, Gen Sir David Richards, warns of a 40-year long British commitment in Afghanistan.

Canadian soldiers were committed to Operation ATHENA in July 2003 with the tall objectives of suppressing insurgency, building capacity, and supporting infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. These objectives remain largely unmet today due to an insurgency that the Canadian leadership could not anticipate! This begs the question: what were the Canadian politicians and generals thinking when they committed soldiers to Afghanistan?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

NATO Chief wants to talk with the moderate Taliban

The incoming chief of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, mentioned his support for dialogue with the "moderates within the Taliban." This is rather interesting. NATO allies have criticised Pakistan for negotiating with the Taliban within Pakistan. However, NATO would like to do the same. Should Pakistan now accuse NATO of dancing with the terrorists?

The reality is that NATO has been holding talks with the Taliban since summer of 2008. These talks were sponsored and hosted by Saudi Arabia at the behest of the United States. What good may come out of this is any body's guess.

High treason charges against general Musharraf?

The fact that Pakistan's Armed Forces have violated the constitution of Pakistan more than once, it is important that a clear message be sent to the Armed Forces that neither the people of Pakistan nor the international community appreciates usurpers in civilian clothing or in fatigues.

I am all for holding General Musharraf accountable and other serving and retired members of the Armed Forces who took part in military coups in Pakistan. I am however against the idea of charging General Musharraf and others with high treason.

Pakistan has become a very unforgiving and intolerant society supporting a murderous ethos.   We need to rediscover mercy and forgiveness. Accountability is important, but it should realize in the spirit of forgiveness; more along the lines of the truth and reconciliation commission of South Africa.

At the end of the day, we all know family members and friends who have served in the Armed Forces. If Musharraf has to be held accountable, let us first hold our friends and family accountable who as captains, majors, colonels, and generals have supported the very institution that violated the constitution of Pakistan.

If we have forgiven our own, we should do the same with others. This is necessary for Pakistan to get out of this merciless rut where ordinary people are being burnt alive and beheaded in the name of peace and faith.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Two trucks and a jeep can derail democracy

The most profound statement about the state of political affairs in Pakistan was made by the least politically eloquent individual, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who headed his own faction of Pakistan Muslim League and was the prime minister under General Musharraf. Commenting on the latest verdict by the supreme court of Pakistan in which the apex court declared some decisions made by the former general unconstitutional, Chaudhry Shujaat observed that " two trucks and a jeep have been used to disrupt democratic rule" in Pakistan in the past. For the entire statement, please visit daily Dawn by clicking HERE.

As a journalist in Pakistan, I have, more than once, witnessed coups staged by military. In 1993, I remember watching the 111 brigade driving its large trucks with yellow headlights on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad on its way to depose the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Mr. Hussain rightly points out the fragile nature of civilian institutions in Pakistan that the military has overrun in the past using a handful of soldiers crammed in two trucks and a jeep.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Christian women and child killed in Punjab, Pakistan

Intolerance in Pakistan has reached new heights. Radical Muslims in Gojra, Punjab have killed six Christians, on the mere accusation of someone desecrating the Muslim holy book, Quran. Christian homes have been burnt by rioters and despite intervention by the federal minister for minorities, the police to date has played the role of spectators.


Six Christians die in riots with Muslims

Saturday, 01 Aug, 2009

Pope urges Mideast Christians to keep the faith

ISLAMABAD: Days of rioting between Christians and Muslims in eastern Pakistan following allegations that a Quran was defiled escalated Saturday, leaving six Christians dead, including a child, authorities said.

Members of a banned Muslim organization began torching Christian homes in the Punjabi city of Gora on Thursday after accusing them of desecrating pages from Islam's holy book, Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said.

'There is no truth in the allegation,' he told The Associated Press, adding that he had himself visited Gojra on Friday and asked police to provide protection to Christians who were facing threats.

He accused the police of ignoring his instructions and said hundreds of radical Muslims on Saturday burned more Christians homes and killed six, including four women and a child.

Television footage from the scene showed houses burning and streets strewn with debris and blackened furniture as mobs ran at each other. Local media also reported gunfights had broken out between Christian and Muslim communities and that rioters had blocked the local railway line.

Pakistan is predominantly a Sunni Muslim state where Christians are a tiny minority. Although the two sides generally live peacefully, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, pro-Taliban militants have periodically targeted churches and Christians, suspecting them of sympathizing with Washington.

Bhatti said the attackers belonged to the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba group, which is accused of launching attacks against the security forces and carrying out bombs attacks at public places in the country in recent years.

Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah said authorities had investigated the allegation of a Quran being defaced 'and our initial reports say that there has not been any incident of desecration.'

Sanaullah said that although the situation had calmed down by Friday, 'some miscreants and extremists entered the city today and pushed people toward armed clashes.'

Another minister, Dost Mohammad Khosa, said the issue of the alleged desecration had been settled.

'Today, somebody opened fire at a peaceful rally that was passing by a Christian neighborhood. That made things worse. We are sure some miscreant elements have tried to exploit the situation,' he said.

Faislabad Commissioner Tahir Hussain told local television that representatives of the two communities were to meet later Saturday in an effort to calm the situation.

'Let's hope for the best. The emotions of the Muslims are very high,' he said. 'And the Christians again they have faced the wrath and they have faced the casualties, and their emotions are also very high.' -AP