Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Victims of senseless violence in Pakistan speak out

Thousands of innocent civilians have died in the senseless violence that has Pakistan in it grips for the past many  years. most of the time, the media in Pakistan never tells the story of victims. BBC has been an exception in this regard. It has made an attempt to have the victims share their grief with the rest. Here is a story of a mother and a young man who perished in two separate bomb blasts in Pakistan.


Bilal (right) died in Rawalpindi in an attack on the army’s mosque in early December 09.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Karachi targeted on Ashura

Shiites in Pakistan commemorating the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, were attacked on MA Jinnah Road in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. The attack took place on the very day of the Islamic calendar (called Ashura) when Imam Hussein was killed in 680 AD by the violent extremists. 30 are reported dead and numerous others injured. Just a few days earlier, the extremists killed five and injured 60 in an attack on Shiites in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.


Source: BBC

The attack is part of the Sunni extremists violent campaign against the Shiites in Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world that has left thousands dead amongst the Shiite minority. The emergence of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban has further strengthened the sectarian violence perpetrated by the hard-line Sunni extremists.

In Pakistan the financial and ideological support for the Sunni extremist comes from Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam and other clerics of the Deobandi school of thought. The clerics in Saudi Arabia, however, are the prime motivators and financiers of the extremists  now active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Karbala, as relevant today as it was in 680 AD

Muslims across the world are commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, who was murdered along the banks of Euphrates near Karbala in the year 680 AD at the orders of the sixth Muslim Caliph, Yazeed son of Caliph Muawwiyah. 

The events in Karbala in the year 680 AD continue to shake the world today. The Taliban and their spiritual leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen, are in fact fighting Yazeed’s war even today. The war in Iraq between the Shiite and the Sunnis has the same pretext.

Though Imam Hussein was murdered along with his family by Caliph Yazeed, The real conflict was between Prophet Muhammad’s tribe, Bani Hashim, and Bani Omayya, a powerful Arab tribe that lost its key leaders and chiefs while fighting against the new religion, Islam. Even when the Omayyads converted to Islam, they continued resenting the fact that a large number of their celebrated tribal chiefs died in wars with Islam, especially, at the hands of Imam Ali, Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and Imam Hussein’s father.

Caliph Yazeed demanded allegiance from Imam Hussein, which he refused on the grounds that their was no room for monarchy in Islam. Yazeed took over caliphate  from his father Caliph Muawwiyah as birthright. Imam Hussein offered Yazeed the option of going into exile if Yazeed were to leave his family alone. Yazeed instead sent an army of thousands to follow Imam Hussein’s family and friends who were travelling in a convoy of men, women, and children. Yazeed’s forces killed Imam Hussein, his friends and male offsprings, including a six-month old baby and numerous teenagers. In total 73 males, including Imam Hussein, were murdered by the Yazeed’s army. 

After the slaughter at Karbala, Imam Hussein’s family was made to walk from Karbala in Iraq to Syria to appear in Yazeed’s court, where he imprisoned the women and the surviving son of Imam Hussein, Imam Zain-ul-Abedeen.  More children of the Hussein’s family died in the prison in Syria.

This continued until Muslims loyal to Prophet Muhammad and his family staged a coup against the Ommayads under the command of Ameer Mukhtar. Yazeed and his associates who participated in the 680 AD massacre of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and his family were singled out and eliminated.

The clash of values between Hashemites (Prophet’s tribe) and the Ommayads continue even today. The Saudis are the followers of Ommayads and the Ommayad’s version of Islam. The Saudis continue to preach and practice the nomadic tribal version of Islam that has more to do with the pre-Islamic tribal norms than the the teaching of Prophet Muhammad.

A caveat is indeed in order. Even today, a vast majority of the Sunni Muslims do side with Imam Hussein and not Yazeed.

The Shiites and the Ismailis have remained loyal to the family of Prophet Muhammad. However, the descendants of the Ommayad tribes and those who have been loyal to the Ommayads continue to attack the Shiites in the Muslim countries. Assassinations and bombings of Shiite notables and places of worship are common even today.

The fight in Iraq today has more to do with the shared history of those Sunnis who are loyal to Ommayads and the Shiites. Taliban are also followers of the Ommayads. It is indeed intriguing that even 1329 years later, the Shiites are still struggling and suffering to keep monarchy and tyranny away from Islam.

In Sindh, Pakistan, the Hindu minority has been observing Muharram and the death of Hussein and his family at the hands of tyrants. The following BBC footage presents the story of Pakistani Hindus who appreciate and understand the difference between just rule and tyranny. That’s why they commemorate Hussein. The Taliban, even being Muslims, couldn’t make that easy choice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

President Obama’s Nobel award acceptance speech

"Once we wrap doctrines perpetuating war in the arms of justice, we can easily legitimate the wholesale slaughter of innocents,"

- Dennis Kucinich - US Congressman's comments on President Obama's Nobel award acceptance speech.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canadian government not coming clean on Afghan torture

The Globe and Mail in Canada has revealed that the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC), Peter Tinsley, has not been extended in the position to complete the inquiry of the alleged torture of the Afghan prisoners who were transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

It is likely that Mr. Tinsley be replaced by the Conservative government in Ottawa by a person more willing to follow the government’s line. This will indeed be a disturbing development. Already, 111 former Canadian diplomats have signed an open letter expressing their concern over the attempts by the Prime Minister Harper’s government to silence and discredit public servants.

The Conservative Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, has even dismissed the concern expressed by the decorated Canadian public servants by suggesting that “they are not familiar with the Afghanistan file.” Mr. Cannon should have exercised caution and not undermine the decades of experience and wisdom of the Canadian foreign service officials who have served Canada with dignity. As for Mr. Cannon, one would like to know the extent of his expertise on Afghanistan. Sipping Tim Horton’s coffee on the Kandahar base does not make one an expert on Afghanistan!

Writing in the Globe and Mail on November 24, 09, another conservative, General Lewis McKenzie, dismissed the idea of having Canada’s elected representatives review the allegations of torture of Afghan prisoners. He observed:

A public inquiry would be a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. The government should put the file back into the MPCC's lap and direct all players to co-operate. The commission has the highly qualified staff necessary to get to the truth of the matter in the most cost-effective manner.

I believe General McKenzie and the Conservatives want to prevent the public inquiry and prefer MPCC because the government would exercise complete control over the scope and mandate of the inquiry by MPCC. How can the Conservative government “direct all players to co-operate” when it is the one holding back the information. Not extending Mr. Tinsley’s tenure as chair should serve as proof of the government’s intent to silence this inquest.

However, the Conservatives are unlikely to be able to sweep Afghan torture issue under the carpet. The issue has struck a chord with the ordinary Canadians and not just former diplomats. As of Sunday afternoon, 433 readers recorded their comments on the Globe’s website about Mr. Tinsley’s story, which is a clear indication that this issue is of great concern to Canadians. Conservative pundits in Canada should take notice or else they would pay the price when the next time Canadians head to the polling booths.

December 11, 2009

Afghan detainee watchdog warns of Tory 'chilling effect'

By Steven Chase
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Departing military commission chief's comments come as Harper government digs in its heels in face of parliamentary order to turn over confidential files

The departing head of a commission probing the Afghan detainee controversy says Ottawa's refusal to extend his term so he could finish the job contributes to a "chilling effect" on cabinet-appointed watchdogs charged with keeping government accountable.

Peter Tinsley, whose chairmanship of the Military Police Complaints Commission expired yesterday, offered parting comments even as the Harper government signalled it would defy a parliamentary order to release uncensored versions of records on Afghan detainees.

The Tories are fighting Opposition attempts to follow the paper trail surrounding detainees after stunning military revelations on Wednesday that a Canadian-captured detainee was abused in June, 2006, after being handed over to the Afghans, contrary to Tory government assurances that there was no evidence prisoners were tortured.

The long-simmering issue was reignited in mid-November when diplomat Richard Colvin told a Parliamentary committee that all detainees captured by Canadians likely were tortured after being transferred to Afghan hands in 2006 and early 2007.

The Harper government responded with attacks on Mr. Colvin's credibility, an onslaught that this week brought a letter of protest from former ambassadors.

Friday, the number of former diplomatic heads of mission putting their names to the letter climbed to 111, a list that now includes Allan Gotlieb, who represented Canada in Washington in the 1980s.

The open letter castigates Ottawa for dismissing Mr. Colvin's 2006 and 2007 torture warnings as irrelevant and suspect - a move ex-ambassadors fear casts a chill over the foreign service's ability to report frankly from abroad.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon played down the growing protest among ex-ambassadors, saying: "The signatories were speaking as private persons; they no longer have any responsibilities within the department that I lead. In addition, they are not familiar with the Afghanistan file."

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr. Tinsley said it was unprecedented for the Harper government to forgo reappointment during a significant inquiry. He said the interruption will hurt the probe's ability to do its job.

The Tories said they plan to appoint a new chair soon, but critics have raised concerns Mr. Tinsley's successor will not be as enthusiastic to press ahead.

The commission has run into a string of roadblocks federal lawyers have used to delay and severely limit the scope of its probe.

Mr. Tinsley suggested a bigger problem is the Harper government's attitude to the heads of watchdog agencies, who are appointed on the advice of cabinet. He cited the example of Linda Keen, the former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, who was fired in 2008.

"Lack of co-operation by the government, or resistance [to] the roles of administrative tribunals, and the effect on the [cabinet] appointees, can have nothing but a ... chilling effect across the field."

He said the fear is that watchdog chairs could be cowed by "an environment where the government of the day sends signals that if you don't guess right what the government of the day wants" there will be consequences.

Separately, Trade Minister Stockwell Day rejected opposition calls for open access to records on detainees. "It would be naive to the extreme to think that that information can be given out."

With reports from Gloria Galloway and Daniel Leblanc

Drinking water in South Asia

Water-borne diseases continue to be a major source of disease and mortality in South Asia. In developed economies, such as Canada, drinking water quality is a matter of great concern.  Statistics Canada recently reported that 88% of the water treated by the plants in Canada was surface water, which was treated to be ready for human consumption.

The monthly reporting of E. coli in drinking water in Canada was found to be within the specified limits 98% of the time.  In South Asia, the numbers are the other way around where perhaps 98% of the time the E. coli count may be in excess of the specified limits.

Afghans are paying for Obama’s re-election campaign

I agree with Christian Parenti of the Nation who argues that “Whatever the outcome, Obama has made it clear: he is willing to kill to get re-elected” in his comment, The Road to Re-Election Runs Through Kabul?

I would only remove the question mark from the title. My blog on the same topic from December 3 is available here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tarek Fatah backs Zardari

In an op-ed piece to the Globe and Mail, Tarek Fatah has identified Mr. Asif Ali Zardari as the last hope for democracy in Pakistan. Here is my response to the editor.

Dear editor:

Tarek Fatah’s ringing endorsement of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is quite misplaced. Mr. Zardari is certainly no champion of democracy. His actions as the President of Pakistan have in fact undermined democracy and institutions in Pakistan.

In the past 48 hours of arriving in Pakistan, I have spoken with numerous former journalist colleagues and friends who unanimously disagree with Mr. Fateh’s claims that Mr. Zardari is “the only politician in Pakistan who has the guts to identify the cancer of jihadi extremism and order the Pakistani army to root it out.” The following facts should be considered.

Mr. Zardari hijacked the Pakistan People’s Party after his wife’s (Benazir Bhutto) death. He assumed the leadership of the party by resisting any attempts to hold elections for the position. Since assuming the leadership, Mr. Zardari has sidelined veteran party members who co-founded the Party with Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Mr. Zardari came into power after striking a compromise with the former military dictator General Musharraf who promulgated an ordinance to absolve him and other politicians of charges related with graft and other felonies. The Supreme Court in Pakistan is at present reviewing the constitutionality of the amnesty Mr. Zardari received from the military. Given the quid pro quo he reached with the military, Mr. Zardari is the last person to contain Pakistan’s armed forces, which have been in contempt of Pakistan’s constitution more than once.

Mr. Zardari blocked the restoration of independent judiciary and only gave in when the entire nation joined in a long march to restore the Supreme Court judges that were unconstitutionally removed from office by the military dictator, General Musharraf.

Furthermore, Mr. Zardari tried to dislodge the provincial government in Punjab, the most populace province of Pakistan, and impose Governor rule to take control of the provincial government away from his political opponents. Mr. Zardari backed down only when his own party members refused to join in a coup against a populist government in Punjab.

Lastly, the democracy in Pakistan is guarded by the people of Pakistan who are represented by the Parliament, which is headed by the Prime Minister and not the President. It is the time to come to the rescue of Pakistan’s Parliament and not a political widower who made a deal with the devil to occupy the Presidential palace in Islamabad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The monster haunts Dr. Frankenstein

An attack on the offices of the  Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence Agency (ISI) in the quaint town of Multan, Pakistan, killed 12 and injured many others. The recent wave of senseless violence has killed more than 400 in Pakistan in the past few weeks. The death toll in the past seven days alone has already exceeded 80, with hundreds more injured and maimed.

Make no mistake, a civil war is now underway in Pakistan. In Multan, a town famous for the shrines of Sufi saints who preached peace and harmony, the militants fired rocket launchers and hurled grenades at the ISI building followed by a suicide car bomb blast. While the militants came prepared with conventional small arms and dirty bombs, the Pakistani state and the society, however, are least prepared to deal with this menace as it spreads its tentacles to the cities and towns that hitherto escaped violence and destruction.

The militants are now targeting ISI across Pakistan. It was only in the recent past that the militants and the intelligence apparatchik enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, which undermined the democratic institutions within and outside of Pakistan. The former head of ISI, General (retd) Hameed Gul, never gets tired of boasting about his support for the Taliban and his role in rigging elections against Pakistan Peoples Party.

The monster created by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan to achieve its “strategic depth” has turned against its creator and in so doing it exposes the shallowness of the ideology that helped foster this monster in the first place.

The attack in Multan left the ISI building in tatters

It was only a few years ago that the same militants were considered an “asset” by the intelligence agencies in Pakistan.  These non-state actors were active in South Asia and beyond. The Pakistani establishment was forced to rethink its defense strategy after September 2001 when it was made clear to the Musharraf regime that the world was no longer prepared to tolerate violence, intrigue, or unrest perpetrated by the non-state actors. Pakistan had to abandon the Afghan Taliban and other mercenaries and sectarian outfits that were carefully cultivated by the State since the military coup in 1977 by late General Zia. The successive civilian and military regimes were complacent in sustaining these rogue elements.

Since 2007, the nexus of Pakistani militants has the intelligence agencies in its target. On my last visit to Pakistan in September 2007, I woke-up to the sound of a bomb blast that killed 18 staffers of the intelligence agency, ISI, on board a shuttle bus to their work. Twenty minutes later, an other attack targeted military officers heading to work in the Royal Artillery Bazaar in the Rawalpindi Cantonment killing another seven.

The attack on ISI’s bus on September 4, 2007, occurred in the Qasim Market area in Rawalpindi Cantonment.  Last Friday (December 3rd, 2009), the militants attacked a mosque in the same Qasim Market killing 40, including senior military officers and their children.  The militants penetrated the highly protected Qasim Market neighbourhood, which is home to military’s senior establishment, with ease and vanished without trace after the attack.

Earlier in November 2007, the intelligence agencies came under fire again when two coordinated suicide blasts killed at least 17.  Pakistan’s Intelligence agency, ISI, has been explicitly targeted by the militants. Just last month (November 13, 2009), the militants attacked the ISI headquarters in Peshawar killing 12 and injuring at least 40 others.  The ISI’s building was completely destroyed in the attack.


Attack on the intelligence agency in Peshawar in November 2009 destroyed the building

Yesterday, I visited public and private schools in the early morning in Rawalpindi Cantonment. The schools’ entrances were barricaded and the children were being frisked by the security staff while their school bags were scanned for explosives. I visited the federal capital Islamabad later in the afternoon, which resembled a city braced for war. Automatic weapons held by security personnel were peeking through the cracks in the bunkers made of sandbags through out the federal capital. Even the Unicef’s head office in Islamabad was hidden behind a reinforced concrete barrier that was over 10 feet tall and two-feet wide.

My former journalist colleagues recalled that Pakistan’s armed forces did not loose high-ranking officers in the conventional wars they fought against India in 1948, 1965, 1971, and the Kargil operation in 1999. In the past two years alone, several Lieutenant and Brigadier Generals as well as other senior commissioned officers have died at the hands of militants in suicide bomb attacks and ambushes. 

Despite its tumultuous past, never were the children in Pakistan frisked and searched while entering their schools. Never were Pakistanis afraid to venture into Bazaars and streets, which have always been alive with the hustle and bustle of city life. Never were the military officials asked to avoid military fatigues to conceal their identities in public. Never did the worshippers required armed guards for protection while praying at mosques.

Pakistan is indeed facing the gravest challenge since its independence. The country is at war with itself. The people of Pakistan cannot and must not lose this war against militants of all stripes.  The collapse of the State and society in Pakistan could destabilize capitals from Delhi to Dublin.

It is not the time to watch Pakistan bleed. It is the time to step up to strengthen Pakistan against militants who may otherwise be knocking on doors far beyond the borders of this fast collapsing State.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bomb blasts kill scores in Pakistan

A series of bomb blasts in Peshawar and Lahore have left scores dead. The first blast occurred in Peshawar near the session courts earlier in the day that killed 5 including a lawyer and two police officers. Later in the evening, two bomb blasts within 40 seconds hit a popular market in Lahore killing 10 and injuring another 60.

I have landed at the Islamabad airport at 7 pm today. The gruesome task of keeping the tally of the victims of senseless violence has already begun for me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Prabhat Patnaik and Joe Stiglitz discussing poverty in India

A public conversation between Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate economist, and Prabhat Patnaik, perhaps India's most distinguished left wing economist.

Military personnel in Rawalpindi killed while praying

A brazen terrorist attack involving seven militants has killed 40 worshippers in a crowded Sunni mosque on Friday in the Qasim Market neighbourhood in the Rawalpindi Cantonment. More than 36 persons have been confirmed dead (including 17 children) and over 71 seriously injured [last count at 5:00 AM, EST].

It is widely believed that the attack on the mosque, which is frequented by military personnel, is in retaliation of the military action against the Pakistan-based Taliban outfits in the North West Frontier Province. The militants arrived in a car and have reportedly used ladders to scale the compound’s walls to reach inside. The operation resembled an attack by commandoes, which raises the concern that the attack may have been perpetrated by individuals who had received military training.

The mosque is located in a neighbourhood popular with serving and retired military officers. Militants first threw grenades, later blasted a bomb in the mosque, and followed up by firing at the survivors. The cross-fire between the security forces and the surviving militants, who took refuge in a house near by,  continued for hours after the initial attack.


The dead include the following military personnel:

  • Constable Masud
  • Constable Abdul Qayyum
  • Major General Bilal Umar
    • Director General Operations and Plans of the Joint Staff Headquarters
  • Brigadier General Abdul Rauf
  • Lieutenant Colonel Manzoor Saeed
  • Lieutenant Colonel Fakhar
  • Major Zahid
  • Major (retd) Shoaib
  • Deputy Director of the National Logistic Cell, Mr. Taskeen

The children of army personnel have also died in the attack. Those include Bilal Ryaz son of Maj. General Naseem Ryaz, Ali Hasan son of Colonel Shabbir Hassan, Hasan s/o Colonel Shukhran, Syed-ul-Hassan son of Lieutenant Colonel Fakhar. The injured include the former Vice Chief of Army Staff General (retired) Yousaf.


Victims lying in the hospital compound. AP/ B. K. Bangash

It is not yet clear if all militants are dead. While the army took position in the neighbourhood surrounding the mosque and exchanged gun fire, there are however conflicting reports suggesting that a couple of militants may have been able to flee from the scene.


Today’s attack is a continuation of a long tradition of attacks on places of worship in Pakistan. In the past, the Shiite minority was almost exclusively targeted by the fundamentalist Muslims who are mostly inspired by the extremist Islamic interpretations supported by Saudi Arabia.

The recent attacks are targeted on those Sunni mosques that are frequented by the military personnel. Earlier attacks included a suicide bombing of a mosque in Attock where the commandoes who participated in the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad used to pray. A bus carrying personnel working for Pakistan’s intelligence agency was also bombed near Qasim Market in August 2007. More recently, another suicide attack at a nearby bank where retired military personnel collected their pensions killed 35 and injured scores more. The armed forces General Head Quarters, also located within 5 km of Qasim Market, was also stormed by the militants in October in which a brigadier general and several soldiers died.

Not to be forgotten is the attack on the Iranian air force cadets within kilometres of the Qasim Market in September 1997, which left five cadets dead. The militants responsible for the attack on the Iranian cadets belonged to Laskar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) outfit, which was then believed to have been an “asset” of Pakistan’s establishment. Riaz Basra, head of the LJ, called the newspapers after the attack on Iranians and claimed responsibility. He further demanded the release of an associate, Malik Ishaq, who had a $50,000 reward for his capture.

The same assets have now become liabilities. The intelligence agencies confirmed that the militants behind the attack on army’s headquarters were members of LJ.

Despite the violence and chaos that has ensued in Pakistan, the masses are still not unanimous against those extremists who have brought the war to Pakistan’s main street. Even after the bombings today, the religious scholars were busy denouncing India, Israel, and the United States for terrorism in Pakistan. Scapegoating  in Pakistan has reached unprecedented heights.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Canadians in Afghanistan

The internet searches using the Google search engine about Afghanistan by Canadians present an interesting spatial trend that is not consistent with the population distribution in Canada.  Given the large difference in population sizes, one would assume that the Afghanistan related searches conducted from within Canada should be higher for provinces with large populations and lower for provinces with smaller populations.  Thus, Ontario with the largest population in Canada should have the highest searches conducted about Afghanistan followed by Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta.

The reality is rather different.  While Ontario accounts for the largest searches conducted about Afghanistan, the second place goes to Manitoba, which is a much smaller sized province in terms of its population than the ones listed above.  Similarly, two other small provinces namely New Brunswick and Nova Scotia take the third and fourth positions for Afghanistan searches on Google in Canada.

Internet searches about Afghanistan using Google from computers located within Canada.

This anomalous trend may have to do with the home base of Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan who often belong to smaller towns and provinces.  It is hard to determine if these trends are reflective of the Canadian soldiers' population stationed in Afghanistan or otherwise.


$40 bn in American aid makes Afghanistan the second least developed country

THE US has spent over $40 billion in rebuilding Afghanistan since 2002. The huge sum in development aid has not much to show in Afghanistan. Even by America’s own account, the oversight and control on the $40-billion spending spree in Afghanistan has been “sloppy.”

The United Nation’s Human Development Report in 2009 has listed Afghanistan the second least developed country out of the 182 nations in the world. Afghanistan is sandwiched between Sierra Leone and Niger at the bottom of the development index. 

Afghans constitute 13% of the global refugees and 16% of the global asylum seekers. According to the development statistics, there is a 40% probability that an Afghan citizen will not see his or her 40th birthday. Four in 10 Afghan children under the age of 5 are malnourished and underweight. Only 12% women are literate and a small proportion of school-aged children are in fact enrolled in educational institutions.

It is indeed surprising that the $40 billion in American spending in Afghanistan has accomplished almost nothing. Retired Major General Arnold Fields, the US Chief Inspector for Afghanistan reconstruction, has argued for more “accountability, particularly as the Obama administration intends to funnel more funds through Afghan institutions.” He calls the $40 billion spending oversight sloppy.

While transparency International lists Afghanistan among one of the most corrupt countries, it should also look into how billions in aid money is used routinely to bribe Afghans and other destitutes.

Afghan surge and the American elections in 2011

Come to think of it, the US surge in Afghanistan, i.e., dispatching 30,000 additional troops, and then starting a withdrawal from Afghanistan by mid 2011, has more to do with the next Presidential elections in the US than to do with the ground realities in Afghanistan.

The bid to re-elect President Obama for  a second term will begin in early 2012 and will be in full force by the summer of 2012. It will be around the same time that the ‘victorious’ soldiers from Afghanistan will be returning home. A ‘mission accomplished’ sign will be hanging from the walls of the White House in Washington, DC for a job well-done in Afghanistan.

Since it takes months to provide the logistics support required to move 30,000 troops, the surge in Afghanistan is likely to be in effect in the second half of 2010. Even with 150,000 NATO troops on ground in Afghanistan, the task of putting in place a stable government in Kabul will remain highly elusive.

It is not clear to me that how in a short period of 12 months, i.e., between the summer of 2010 and summer of 2011, NATO will accomplish the tasks it had set for itself, which it could not accomplish in 8 years,  and would start withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Even if Afghanistan continues to be the wild west of Asia where warlords and narco traffickers may be calling the shots in 2012, one outcome is becoming more certain: the US forces will be back on American soil in 2012; in time for the US Presidential elections.

Pakistan looking like Somalia

A bomb blast in Mogadishu has killed at least seven including three ministers. The lawlessness in the failed state of Somalia has reached new heights. The country is falling increasingly under the control of warlords and pirate who may soon be controlling Somalia’s land and water.

A similar dismal picture is emerging in Pakistan where bombs have killed members of Parliament and senior military officials. An elected member of the Frontier province’s provincial assembly died only this week in a suicide bomb attack in his town in the troubled Swat region. The Surgeon General of Pakistan Armed Forces earlier and two Brigadier Generals more recently have fallen victim to the terrorists attacks in Pakistan. The number of dead civilians and non-commissioned military offices runs into thousands.

It was only a few years back when the Pakistan Armed Forces were dispatched to Somalia as part of the UN Peace Mission. In a matter of years, Pakistan has turned from providing forces to maintain peace to needing forces to maintain peace and stability. 

The number of failed states  has been on the rise in the past decade. Pakistan was not on the list just a decade ago. It is becoming fast a credible contender for a mention on the list of the failed states. What was touted as a tiger economy is now more looking like an economy and a society at the brink of default.

A rethink in Pakistan is needed at the individual level. Pakistanis have to decide about their own future. Would they like to continue chasing the same future as Somalia, or would they like to work towards a prosperous future delivered by a tolerant society.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The surge in Afghanistan

President Barak Obama is expected to announce a new Afghan strategy that would bring in an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan.  Once the additional troops from the United States and other NATO countries arrive in Afghanistan, the total number of troops will approach 150,000, which would be almost 50,000 more than the Russian soldiers at their peak in Afghanistan.

If you are hoping for the surge in Afghanistan to restore peace even in the long-term, I would advise you not to hold your breath.  Here are the reasons behind my lack of optimism for the surge. First, because of the logistics constraints, such as the lack of housing for the additional troops, it would take months to install the additional troops in Afghanistan.  Second, the surge in Afghanistan is likely to increase the hostilities in Afghanistan against the NATO troops.  Additional NATO presence in Afghanistan would further legitimize the opposition by the Taliban in the eyes of ordinary Afghans, especially Pushtuns.

Third, even with 150,000 NATO troops on ground in Afghanistan, the number falls much short of the numbers required to restore peace in Afghanistan, and not just in Kabul or its suburbs, and along some strategic trade routes.  In the past, high ranking British officials have put the number at over 300,000 troops (others have suggested 600,000 troops) for restoring normalcy in Afghanistan.  The additional 30,000 troops are unlikely to be able to improve the safety of ordinary Afghans, but may be able to improve the safety of NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Fourth, irrespective of the number of troops that NATO would install in Afghanistan, a long-term solution would not be possible without an effective Afghan army that is seen legitimate by the Pushtuns, who constitute the largest minority, and other ethnic minorities in Afghanistan.  Given the Afghan parliament comprising of warlords and drug traffickers and the shoddy leadership of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who retained his presidency in a largely rigged election, a quick fix in Afghanistan is out of question even with a 250,000 strong Afghan army, which would take another 10 years to raise.

Fifth, the comparisons with the surge in Iraq and the improvement in security are misleading to begin with.  It has to be recognized that the improvement in law and order in Iraq has less to do with the increase in the number of U.S. troops and more to do with Iraq's demographics.  The Shiites, who constitute the majority in Iraq, were able to take a more prominent role in governance in the post-Saddam Iraq. The violence that ensued after the Bathists (mostly Sunnis) were removed from power in Iraq was predominantly perpetrated by the Sunnis, who were not keen on giving up control over Iraq and its wealth.  It took a few years before the government in Iraq, which was led by the Shiites, to enforce itself as well as to develop a relative consensus regarding governance in Iraq. 

Furthermore, the internal migration of Shiites to the Shia majority areas of Iraq and of Sunnis to the Sunni minority areas of Iraq further reduced the possibility of sectarian violence.  The resulting fortified communities made it difficult for the opposing sects to attack each other. This happened not only at the intercity level, but also within each city.  Therefore, Baghdad of today is much more segregated than it was 10 years ago.  The new equilibrium resulting from the internal mass migrations has contributed more to the improvement in law and order than the increased number of U.S. troops in Iraq. 

Sixth, even after years in Afghanistan, NATO troops cannot distinguish between foes, friends, and the ordinary Afghans.  The loss of life and property of innocent civilians, often referred to as the collateral damage, has become the biggest scandal in Afghanistan.  Ordinary Afghans are almost equally likely to be killed by the Taliban as they are to be killed by the NATO forces.  The former head of the Canadian armed forces, General Rick Hillier, recently testified in Ottawa and admitted that the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan could not differentiate between the Afghan farmers and the Taliban. The General said: "Yes, we probably detained the occasional farmer - and whether they were farmers by day and Taliban by night, which is often the case, is something that is very difficult to discern."

General Hillier’s words should serve as and eye-opener for the NATO policymakers. The retired General fails to recognize his mistakes despite admitting that the Canadian soldiers could not even identify the enemy with certainty. It was only a few years ago in July 2005 when General Hillier was much more sure-footed as he boasted to the Canadian reporters at a lunch that Canada’s elite JTF2 soldiers would target the “detestable murderers and scumbags” in Afghanistan. Four years after the tall claim in 2005, it turns out that the NATO forces couldn’t even distinguish between scumbags and ordinary Afghans.

Writing in today's Guardian, Malalai Joya, an outspoken Afghan politician and former member of the Parliament, mentions that the troops surge is likely to “magnify the crime against Afghanistan.” She points out that the eight-year long NATO's intervention in Afghanistan has only worsen the lives of ordinary Afghans.  She points out that Afghanistan was ranked the second most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.  The United Nations development report lists Afghanistan as the second least developed country of the 182 nations in 2009.  Other indicators of human development in Afghanistan, such as the infant mortality rates, have also worsened over the years as well as .

Given the worsening of safety and security for ordinary Afghans and the lack of any sustainable development over the past eight years in Afghanistan, NATO has not much to show for progress on the ground.  With the existing NATO strategy not working in Afghanistan, adding more troops shows a complete lack of introspection on part of the NATO leadership.  By doing more of the same, NATO would hope to see different results in Afghanistan.  The reality is that doing more of the same would only result in even bigger problems in Afghanistan than the ones NATO is struggling to solve.

Some Canadian analysts are trying to convince the Canadian leadership that by leading and bleeding in Afghanistan Canada has earned the respect of other NATO countries, more so of the United States.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  For starters, leading and bleeding in Afghanistan has not even earned the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, the privilege of receiving a phone call from President Obama, who did call President Sarkozy of France, President Zardari of Pakistan, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of England to apprise them personally of the US plans regarding Afghanistan.  In fact, the Canadian leading and bleeding in Afghanistan has earned Canada a call from Vice President Joe Biden.

The reality remains that the support to keep NATO troops in Afghanistan has been declining over the years.  Polling by the Pew Global Attitudes Project suggests that with the exception of Israel and United States, the balance of opinion in developed economies is not in favor of maintaining troops in Afghanistan.


The prudent thing for President Obama is to announce a withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan by committing to hard deadlines.  There are lessons to be learned from the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan when the announcement for the withdrawal was made in one February and the troops marched back into Soviet Union by the next February.

The goal for NATO and other developed economies should be to help Afghanistan raise its own armed forces and to set up a political leadership that does not comprise of warlords and drug traffickers.  The focus should be on rebuilding the institutions and infrastructure in Afghanistan and not active combat.  Furthermore, Afghanistan’s neighbours need to be reminded that their role in Afghanistan should be constructive, rather than setting up proxy governments by backing militants and warlords.  The United States and other NATO countries have enough financial means to convince Afghanistan in its neighbours to do the right thing. 

Regardless of how much we abhor the Taliban (who are Pushtuns) and what they stand for, we in the west have to recognize that they will be part of the future governments because of Afghanistan’s demographics where the largest minority are Pushtuns.

The post-NATO Afghanistan would be the same regardless of when NATO leaves.  It is prudent that the  NATO leaves sooner so that the Afghans can start to resolve their differences without foreign intervention.

With NATO troops in combat in Afghanistan and foreign nationals making the key decisions in Afghanistan, Afghans do not enjoy the ownership of the state and its institutions. Consider that a Canadian national heads the election commission of Afghanistan that presided over the rigged presidential elections. This does not bode well for the ordinary Afghans who feel  disenfranchised in their own homeland.

The last point about the war in Afghanistan is to understand that a war ends when one warring faction surrenders.  This is an unlikely scenario in Afghanistan.  If the Taliban could no longer fight against the NATO forces, they would pack up and return to their lives as farmers.  They will hold on until the NATO forces leave Afghanistan to take up arms against the government in Kabul.  This eventuality cannot be avoided and hence needs to be dealt with now than later.