Friday, January 29, 2010

Three Shiites killed near Quetta en route to Iran

Sunni militants shot and killed three Shiites en route to Iran near Quetta. The sectarianly motivated attack is likely to have been perpetrated by Iranian Sunni extremist group, Jundallah (which is hitherto not listed as a terrorist group by the US), in collaboration with Pakistani based Pushtun militants.



AFP reported the following:

Four people riding two motorbikes sprayed bullets on the pilgrims when their bus stopped near a restaurant on the outskirts of Quetta, the main city in the insurgency-hit province of Baluchistan, local police chief Asif Sheikh said.

“Three people including a woman were killed and six others wounded,” he told AFP. The assailants managed to escape.

The pilgrims from the minority Shia community had left the southern port city of Karachi and were heading through Baluchistan to Iran to visit holy sites, senior police officer Zaman Tareen said. “It was a sectarian attack. The victims were Shia Muslims,” he added.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Train kills a family of four in Pakistan

From The Frontier Post

Four, including two kids, crushed by train

F.P. Report LAHORE: Four of a family including two children were crushed by 13 Up Awam Express near Balloki railway crossing, in Kahna Kacha area. According to Pakistan Railways sources,the family was attempting to cross the railway track when they were hit and run over by the train coming from Karachi. All four died on the spot. According to police, the couple along with their two children, after getting off a train was crossing the railway line when another approaching train crushed them all to death. Police shifted the dead bodies to nearby hospital. Meanwhile, citizens held a protest demonstration against the killing of the four persons. They chanted slogans against Railways authorities over loss of four precious lives and demanded to build overhead bridge to cross railway line to save precious lives. They said that there was no alternate to cross railway line and citizens were forced to cross line and dozens of precious lives have been lost while crossing it. Railway authorities when approached said that the incident occurred due to the mistake of the deceased who were crossing railway line carelessly. Police after registering a case into the incident have initiated the investigations.

Osama’s children vacationing in Iran?

For years the Americans have been accusing Iran of supporting the Taliban.  Iran, on the other hand, has denied all such allegations on the pretext that Iranians are Shiites, and that the Taliban are Sunnis who consider Shiites as heretics.

It was therefore nothing but a huge surprise when Saudi Arabia requested Iran to allow Osama bin Ladin’s (OBL) 19-year old daughter, Imaan, to leave Iran for Saudi Arabia.  It turned out that since the attack on Afghanistan after 9/11, Osama bin Ladin's family members have taken refuge in a suburb of Tehran, Iran, where they have been hosted in a compound with ”trees and a swimming pool” and with access to computers and laptops, but not the Internet.

The New York Times quoted OBL’s older son, Omar and his British wife Zaina, that “at least six of Osama bin Laden’s children [including Osman, Mohammed, Fatima, Hazma and Bakr] and one of his wives live in a comfortable compound in Tehran with other relatives, for a total of about 30 family members there.”

Meanwhile, Asharq Alawsat reported that OBL’s young son Bakr suddenly surfaced in Damascus to reunite with his birthmother on Christmas Day last year. Bakr told the family that he had been in Iran since 2001.

These developments certainly raise a whole host of questions about the relationship between Iranian government and OBL’s family.  First, if the family of Osama bin Ladin had taken refuge in Iran after the attacks on Afghanistan in 2001, was the family being held in Iran against its will or was it a case of habeas corpus.  Saudi newspapers are suggesting that Osama's family was indeed under detention and that 19-year old Imaan escaped from captivity and reached the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran.  In 2001, Imaan would hardly be 10 years old, and thus a minor alongwith other siblings.

Second, if this were not a case of habeus corpus, why would the Shiite government in Tehran be interested in providing refuge to Osama's family, which has not shown any respect or consideration for the Shiites in general, and have supported the murderous Taliban regime in Afghanistan that was directly responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Shiite Hazras. Put simply, why Iran did not extradite OBL’s family to Saudi Arabia, Syria, or UAE.

The Iranian government has observed that it would permit OBL's daughter to leave Iran once her identity has been established.

Bin Laden Son, Bakr, Arrives In Damascus from Iran

By Mohammed Al Shafey

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Bakr Bin Laden, the youngest son of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus on Christmas night following an absence of more than eight years in Iran. However the case of Osama Bin Laden's daughter Iman, who sought refuge in the Saudi embassy in Tehran, remains suspended, and Omar Bin Laden informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian authorities want to [first] confirm his sister's identity.

Omar Bin Laden, Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden's fourth son, said that the single source of happiness or joy felt by the Bin Laden family was in the return of his youngest brother, Bakr, aged 16, from Tehran. Omar Bin Laden said that Bakr was reunited with his mother in Damascus suddenly and without pre-arrangements.

Omar Bin Laden told Asharq Al-Awsat "My youngest brother, Bakr, arrived from Tehran on Christmas Day, the family was overjoyed, and my mother wiped away many tears [of joy], and this increased our trust in God Almighty, for what is closed, by God's will, becomes open, and we thank God for this. However this joy will not be complete until the safe return of the rest of my siblings, God willing, from the Iranian capital."

Omar Bin Laden thanked the Iranian authorities for their good intentions towards his sister Iman who sought refuge in the Saudi embassy in Tehran more than one month ago. He also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that ten days ago he, along with his wife Zaina, and his mother, Osama Bin Laden's first wife Najwa al-Ghanem, applied for visas to visit Iran, and that they are still waiting for a response [to this request].

Omar Bin Laden confirmed that the Iranian authorities wish to first confirm his sister Iman's identity, along with the identities of his other 5 siblings who are present in Iran, and his father's wife, Umm-Hamzah.

Omar Bin Laden, aged 29, told Asharq Al-Awsat "we are ready to prove to the Iranians that these are the children of Bin Laden. For our part, we also want to prove our good intentions, and we will take my siblings to any place that they want to go outside Iran."

He said "the goal is to reunite the family after more than eight and a half years of sad separation."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast confirmed in an e-mail correspondence with Asharq Al-Awsat that his countries government will deal with the case of Iman Bin Laden seeking to leave the country on humanitarian grounds.

Iman Bin Laden is currently residing in the Saudi embassy in Tehran, but she wishes to leave the country. The Iranian government wants legal documentation from Saudi Arabia confirming her identity, as well as further clarification on how she came to be in Iran.

Mehmanparast said that once this process is completed, Tehran will deal with this case from a humanitarian perspective, which is interpreted by some observers as a sign that Iman Bin Laden will not face legal action for illegally entering Iran.

Omar Bin Laden revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that he had applied for a visa to visit Iran after receiving a number of telephone calls from an Iranian woman speaking Arab in an Iraqi accent and claiming to work for the Iranian Foreign Ministry. She asked them to travel to Iran in order to receive Iman Bin Laden from the Saudi embassy, and the rest of the family members from the residential complex, and for this to take place quietly away from the eyes of the media.

Omar Bin Laden's wife, Zaina, told Asharq Al-Awsat that telephone communication between Iman Bin Laden in the Saudi embassy and her mother, Najwa al-Ghanem in Syria has been suspended for almost a week. She said that Najwa al-Ghanem is living in a state of extreme grief and sadness because she is not allowed to speak with her daughter. Zaina said that she thinks that what is happening is against the teachings of Islam, which advocates family unity and cohesion.

Zaina al-Sabah said she does not know "what the mother or daughter did to be denied communicating with one another in this manner." Zaina also called for the Iranian authorities to continue their good deed of looking after her husband's siblings since 2001 by rapidly facilitating their return to their family.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Sunday that the Saudi government is in talks with Iran to secure the release of the Al Qaeda chief's daughter. Prince Saud al-Faisal said "we do not want to get involved in the political issues relating to this case because I do not want to complicate the issues, and possibly delay Iman's departure from Tehran."

The statements made by the Saudi Foreign Minister represent the first official response to this case by the Saudi government. Asharq Al-Awsat first discovered that Iman Bin Laden escaped from the guards assigned to her during a shopping trip in Tehran and sought refuge in the Saudi embassy. This story represented the first conclusive evidence that some of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden's children are present in Iran. This was later confirmed by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki who confirmed that Iman Bin Laden is present in the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and will be allowed to leave Iran once her identity is confirmed

In an e-mail to Asharq Al-Awsat, Omar Bin Laden said that he almost lost his life on more than one occasion during the years that he lived with his father in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. He confirmed that he had visited his father's training camps, and that his father sent him to the frontlines more than once during the Afghanistan war [against the occupying Soviet forces]. He also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that he was in the company of his father when he received the news of the bombing of two embassies in Africa, saying "we were quickly transferred to a safe house following the bombing of the two embassies, where we spent more than one month, during which former US President Bill Clinton bombed Afghanistan with cruise missiles."

AFP reported the following:

Saudi says in talks to bring Bin Laden daughter from Iran

(AFP) – Jan 2, 2010

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia said Saturday it is holding talks with Iran to repatriate Osama bin Laden's daughter to the kingdom after she took refuge in the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

"We consider this is a humanitarian issue," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.

"We are negotiating with the Iranian government on this basis," he said.

Imam bin Laden, 17, recently fled from a family compound near Tehran to the embassy in hopes of leaving Iran, where she, several siblings and one of Osama bin Laden's wives have lived under house arrest for several years.

British newspaper The Times reported 11 of the Al-Qaeda terror network chief's grandchildren were also living in the high-security compound outside Iran's capital.

The group fled Afghanistan just before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and walked to the Iranian border, where they were detained and taken to the walled compound by guards, the Times said.

Prince Saud declined to give any details of the talks with Tehran, saying it could complicate the issue.

Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted on December 25 as saying the teenager would be free to leave Iran once her identity is confirmed.

"The foreign ministry told the embassy that based on international conventions if her identity is confirmed she can leave Iran with passage documents," ISNA quoted Mottaki as saying.

"We were not able to confirm her identity but the embassy says she is" the daughter of bin Laden, he added.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bus versus rail in South Asia

The knee-jerk reactions to traffic problems in South Asia have been either to build new or widen existing roads, or to build the expensive underground subway systems. Bus-based alternatives, especially bus rapid transit (BRT) have had a tough time winning the approval of the transport policymakers in South Asia. Despite the efforts by dedicated experts, such as Professors Geetam Tiwari and Dinesh Mohan of IIT Delhi, to promote bus transit, which is affordable and effective in the South Asian context, the news media in South Asia has mobilised the opinion against BRT.

The recent recognition of a BRT project in Ahmedabad, India, for implementing Janmarg, India's first full bus rapid transit (BRT) system, for the 2010 Sustainable Transport Award should help spread awareness about the affordable transit alternatives for South Asia.

Kudos to Ahmedabad. Here are the details:

City's Janmarg Bus Rapid Transit System Reduces Carbon Emissions, Dramatically Improves Residents Access

Cities in Developing World Dominate Award

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 -- The developing world is leapfrogging developed countries when it comes to urban transport, with the city of Ahmedabad, India, today announced as winner of the 2010 Sustainable Transport Award for the successful implementation of Janmarg, India's first full bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

"This year's Sustainable Transport Award nominees demonstrate the relevance of the developing world in the fight against climate change while improving citizen's quality of life and enhancing their international competitiveness," said Walter Hook, Executive Director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. "Cities have the power to significantly reduce carbon emissions by actively seeking ways to improve transport."

The Sustainable Transport Award is given annually to a city that uses transport innovations to increase mobility for all residents, while reducing transportation greenhouse and air pollution emissions and increasing cyclist and pedestrian safety and access.

Ahmedabad's Janmarg BRT system is a sustainable model for the future of transportation in India, where a quarter of the world's population lives. "BRT systems can positively impact air quality if car and motorbike drivers start taking trips by bus," said Sophie Punte, Executive Director of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-ASIA). "This is particularly important in Asian cities, where air pollution levels are often far above guidelines of the World Health Organization."

City residents have embraced their new BRT system; 18,000 daily passengers use Janmarg to commute to work, to school and elsewhere. In just a few months of operation, Janmarg has transformed the delivery of transit in South Asia. Janmarg uses innovative central median stations pulled away from the junctions. Bus stations feature passive solar design, an inexpensive way to keep stations naturally cool. The city is making continued efforts to be a leader in sustainable transport, including incorporating high-quality pedestrian facilities in some corridors, as well as bicycle lanes. Ahmedabad has initiated car-free days and recently announced more.

For the first time in the six-year history of the Sustainable Transport Award, all of the nominees are cities in developing nations. The four honorable mentions go to Cali, Colombia, for transforming citywide BRT service with MIO; Curitiba, Brazil, for opening a new BRT line and city park on a former federal highway; Guadalajara, Mexico, for completing a full BRT system in less than two years and at an affordable cost; and Johannesburg, South Africa, for creating Rea Vaya, Africa's first BRT and the first public transit system that connects Soweto to the downtown district.

The cities that received honorable mentions were all recognized for creating new BRT systems that reduce carbon emissions and create an optimal environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

The city of Cali, Colombia, is revolutionizing public transit with a complete overhaul of its transport systems. Cali opened its BRT system, called MIO, introducing a new type of service that allows the buses to work both within and outside its dedicated corridors.

Curitiba, Brazil, continues its sustainable transport heritage to link land use policy to transport interventions, including not only buses but also cycle ways, public space and pedestrian access.  

"Curitiba has laid the foundation for innovative transit," said Kathryn Phillips, a transportation policy expert with Environmental Defense Fund based in Sacramento. "Everyone recognizes it deserves to be an honorable mention recipient for the 2010 Sustainable Transport Award."

Guadalajara, Mexico, opened a full BRT system in just two years. This rapid implementation shows the city's courage and its political dedication to delivering public transport access to its residents.

"The Guadalajara Macrobus BRT System is an extraordinary example of farsighted leadership, good planning, and effective implementation," said Daio Hidalgo, Senior Transport Engineer, EMBARQ, The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport. "Macrobus is now fully operational just two years after the idea was embraced by the local authorities, with high quality and extraordinary performance."

"Nominations to three major Latin American cities (Cali, Curitiba and Guadalajara) for this year's Sustainable Transport Award reaffirm the leadership role adopted by this region of the world to develop cleaner and more efficient transport systems," said Sergio Sanchez, Executive Director of the Clean Air Institute. "Examples like these should enlighten other Latin American cities and elsewhere to keep moving to build more competitive cities, while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

The city of Johannesburg, South Africa, opened the first full BRT in Africa, and completed the first mass transit investments in the city since the fall of apartheid. Rea Vaya is the first public transit system to link the previously disadvantaged Soweto area to the central business district.

"In under three years, Johannesburg opened a state-of-the-art BRT system that uses the cleanest buses on the continent," said Manfred Breithaupt of Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH. "Johannesburg's accomplishment against enormous challenges and the upgrading of the corridor in Soweto with lighting and sidewalks makes it an exceptional honorable mention."

Chosen by a selection committee that includes the most respected experts and organizations working internationally on sustainable transportation, this year's nominated cities have successfully addressed a diverse range of urban transport challenges. The Sustainable Transport Award selection committee includes the most respected experts from organizations working internationally on sustainable transportation. The committee members include:

    • Walter Hook, Executive Director, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
    • Kathryn Phillips, transportation policy expert, Environmental Defense Fund
    • Ralph Gakenheimer, Chair, Transportation Research Board Committee on Transportation in Developing Countries
    • Sophie Punte, Executive Director, Clean Air Initiative for Asia Center
    • Sergio Sanchez, Clean Air Institute, Clean Air Initiative for Latin American Cities.
    • Dario Hidalgo, Senior Transport Engineer, EMBARQ, The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport
    • Manfred Breithaupt, Senior Transport Advisor, GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit)
    • Heather Allen, Senior Manager, Sustainable Development, International Association of Public Transport (UITP)
    • Choudhury Rudra Charan Mohanty, Environmental Expert, United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD)

The Sustainable Transport Award is given each year during the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C. Past winners include:

    • 2009 – Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York, United States, for making bold moves to achieve the ambitious goals of PlaNYC 2030.
    • 2008 – Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Paris, France for implementing a range of innovative mobility solutions with vision, commitment and vigor.  
    • Mayor Ken Livingston, London, United Kingdom for expanding London's congestion charge program and developing other low emissions programs that dramatically impacted air quality.
    • 2007 – Mayor Jaime Nebot, Guayquil, Ecuador for revitalizing the downtown, creating dynamic public spaces, and instituting a new public transit system.
    • 2006 – Mayor Myung-Bak Lee, Seoul, Korea for the revitalization of the Cheongyecheon River and the implementation of its bus rapid transit system.
    • 2005 – Former Mayor Enrique Penalosa, Bogota, Colombia for the TransMilenio bus rapid transit system, bicycle integration, and public space reclamation.

For more information, photos, and videos about the award and a list of past winners, visit  

For more information please contact: Claudia Gunter, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, +1 646 839-6479, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

SOURCE Institute for Transportation and Development Policy


This may take years to end

A child in Tank (near South Waziristan) died after the “toy” he was playing with exploded. Mohammad Shoaib and his friends mistook a bomb as toy, which ended Shoaib’s life and injured his friends.

Such incidents have been common in Afghanistan where hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghan children have died and continue to die from the leftovers explosives that punctuate the Afghan landscape since the hostilities began in mid seventies.

Pakistan may have to deal with the leftover explosives in the tribal areas for decades to come unless efforts are made to recover planted mines, IEDs, and other explosives. Given Pakistan State’s negligent past of protecting its people, one finds no reasons to be hopeful on this front.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Killer rails in Pakistan

A tragic collision between a train and a school van in Pakistan has left 11 young children dead. The train collided with a school van at an unmanned railway crossing in the morning.  According to the reports, the visibility was extremely poor due to fog, which is often the reason behind numerous accidents during winterin Pakistan  .

This tragic accident speaks volumes of transport safety in South Asia where thousands expire every year because of negligence, poor enforcement of safety standards, and inadequate infrastructure.  These deaths are certainly preventable.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Obama's Yemeni odyssey targets China

I am reproducing below an insightful piece contributed by Mr. Bhadrakumar to Asia Times about President Obama’s forthcoming misadventures in Yemen and against the Arab Shiites in the Middle East.

By M K Bhadrakumar

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

A year ago, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh made the startling revelation that his country's security forces apprehended a group of Islamists linked to the Israeli intelligence forces. "A terrorist cell was apprehended and will be referred to the courts for its links with the Israeli intelligence services," he promised.

Saleh added, "You will hear about the trial proceedings." Nothing was ever heard and the trail went cold. Welcome to the magical land of Yemen, where in the womb of time the Arabian Nights were played out.

Combine Yemen with the mystique of Islam, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Israeli intelligence and you get a heady mix. The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, dropped in at the capital, Sana'a, on Saturday and vowed to Saleh increased American aid to fight al-Qaeda. United States President Barack Obama promptly echoed Petraeus' promise, assuring that the US would step up intelligence-sharing and training of Yemeni forces and perhaps carry out joint attacks against militants in the region.

Another Afghanistan?

Many accounts say that Obama, who is widely regarded as a gifted and intelligent politician, is blundering into a catastrophic mistake by starting another war that could turn out to be as bloody and chaotic and unwinnable as Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, on the face of it, Obama does seem erratic. The parallels with Afghanistan are striking. There has been an attempt to destroy a US plane by a Nigerian student who says he received training in Yemen. And America wants to go to war.

Yemen, too, is a land of wonderfully beautiful rugged mountains that could be a guerrilla paradise. Yemenis are a hospitable lot, like Afghan tribesmen, but as Irish journalist Patrick Cockurn recollects, while they are generous to passing strangers, they "deem the laws of hospitality to lapse when the stranger leaves their tribal territory, at which time he becomes 'a good back to shoot at'." Surely, there is romance in the air - almost like in the Hindu Kush. Fiercely nationalistic, almost every Yemeni has a gun. Yemen is also, like Afghanistan, a land of conflicting authorities, and with foreign intervention, a little civil war is waiting to flare up.

Is Obama so incredibly forgetful of his own December 1 speech outlining his Afghan strategy that he violated his own canons? Certainly not. Obama is a smart man. The intervention in Yemen will go down as one of the smartest moves that he ever made for perpetuating the US's global hegemony. It is America's answer to China's surge.

A cursory look at the map of region will show that Yemen is one of the most strategic lands adjoining waters of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. It flanks Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are vital American protectorates. In effect, Uncle Sam is "marking territory" - like a dog on a lamppost. Russia has been toying with the idea of reopening its Soviet-era base in Aden. Well, the US has pipped Moscow in the race.

The US has signalled that the odyssey doesn't end with Yemen. It is also moving into Somalia and Kenya. With that, the US establishes its military presence in an entire unbroken stretch of real estate all along the Indian Ocean's western rim. Chinese officials have of late spoken of their need to establish a naval base in the region. The US has now foreclosed China's options. The only country with a coastline that is available for China to set up a naval base in the region will be Iran. All other countries have a Western military presence.

The American intervention in Yemen is not going to be on the pattern of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama will ensure he doesn't receive any body bags of American servicemen serving in Yemen. That is what the American public expects from him. He will only deploy drone aircraft and special forces and "focus on providing intelligence and training to help Yemen counter al-Qaeda militants", according to the US military. Obama's main core objective will be to establish an enduring military presence in Yemen. This serves many purposes.

A new great game begins
First, the US move has to be viewed against the historic backdrop of the Shi'ite awakening in the region. The Shi'ites (mostly of the Zaidi group) have been traditionally suppressed in Yemen. Shi'ite uprisings have been a recurring theme in Yemen's history. There has been a deliberate attempt to minimize the percentage of Shi'ites in Yemen, but they could be anywhere up to 45%.

More importantly, in the northern part of the country, they constitute the majority. What bothers the US and moderate Sunni Arab states - and Israel - is that the Believing Youth Organization led by Hussein Badr al-Houthi, which is entrenched in northern Yemen, is modeled after Hezbollah in Lebanon in all respects - politically, economically, socially and culturally.

Yemenis are an intelligent people and are famous in the Arabian Peninsula for their democratic temperament. The Yemeni Shi'ite empowerment on a Hezbollah-model would have far-reaching regional implications. Next-door Oman, which is a key American base, is predominantly Shi'ite. Even more sensitive is the likelihood of the dangerous idea of Shi'ite empowerment spreading to Saudi Arabia's highly restive Shi'ite regions adjoining Yemen, which on top of it all, also happen to be the reservoir of the country's fabulous oil wealth.

Saudi Arabia is entering a highly sensitive phase of political transition as a new generation is set to take over the leadership in Riyadh, and the palace intrigues and fault lines within the royal family are likely to get exacerbated. To put it mildly, given the vast scale of institutionalized Shi'ite persecution in Saudi Arabia by the Wahhabi establishment, Shi'ite empowerment is a veritable minefield that Riyadh is petrified about at this juncture. Its threshold of patience is wearing thin, as the recent uncharacteristic resort to military power against the north Yemeni Shi'ite communities bordering Saudi Arabia testifies.

The US faces a classic dilemma. It is all right for Obama to highlight the need of reform in Muslim societies - as he did eloquently in his Cairo speech last June. But democratization in the Yemeni context - ironically, in the Arab context - would involve Shi'ite empowerment. After the searing experience in Iraq, Washington is literally perched like a cat on a hot tin roof. It would much rather be aligned with the repressive, autocratic government of Saleh than let the genie of reform out of the bottle in the oil rich-region in which it has profound interests.

Obama has an erudite mind and he is not unaware that what Yemen desperately needs is reform, but he simply doesn't want to think about it. The paradox he faces is that with all its imperfections, Iran happens to be the only "democratic" system operating in that entire region.

Iran's shadow over the Yemeni Shi'ite consciousness worries the US to no end. Simply put, in the ideological struggle going on in the region, Obama finds himself with the ultra-conservative and brutally autocratic oligarchies that constitute the ruling class in the region. Conceivably, he isn't finding it easy. If his own memoirs are to be believed, there could be times when the vague recollections of his childhood in Indonesia and his precious memories of his own mother, who from all accounts was a free-wheeling intellectual and humanist, must be stalking him in the White House corridors.

Israel moves in

But Obama is first and foremost a realist. Emotions and personal beliefs drain away and strategic considerations weigh uppermost when he works in the Oval Office. With the military presence in Yemen, the US has tightened the cordon around Iran. In the event of a military attack on Iran, Yemen could be put to use as a springboard by the Israelis. These are weighty considerations for Obama.

The fact is that no one is in control as a Yemeni authority. It is a cakewalk for the formidable Israeli intelligence to carve out a niche in Yemen - just as it did in northern Iraq under somewhat comparable

Islamism doesn't deter Israel at all. Saleh couldn't have been far off the mark when he alleged last year that Israeli intelligence had been exposed as having kept links with Yemeni Islamists. The point is, Yemeni Islamists are a highly fragmented lot and no one is sure who owes what sort of allegiance to whom. Israeli intelligence operates marvelously in such twilight zones when the horizon is lacerated with the blood of the vanishing sun.

Israel will find a toehold in Yemen to be a god-sent gift insofar as it registers its presence in the Arabian Peninsula. This is a dream come true for Israel, whose effectiveness as a regional power has always been seriously handicapped by its lack of access to the Persian Gulf region. The overarching US military presence helps

Israel politically to consolidate its Yemeni chapter. Without doubt, Petraeus is moving on Yemen in tandem with Israel (and Britain). But the "pro-West" Arab states with their rentier mentality have no choice except to remain as mute spectators on the sidelines.

Some among them may actually acquiesce with the Israeli security presence in the region as a safer bet than the spread of the dangerous ideas of Shi'ite empowerment emanating out of Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah. Also, at some stage, Israeli intelligence will begin to infiltrate the extremist Sunni outfits in Yemen, which are commonly known as affiliates of al-Qaeda. That is, if it hasn't done that already. Any such link makes Israel an invaluable ally for the US in its fight against al-Qaeda. In sum, infinite possibilities exist in the paradigm that is taking shape in the Muslim world abutting into the strategic Persian Gulf.

It's all about China

Most important, however, for US global strategies will be the massive gain of control of the port of Aden in Yemen. Britain can vouchsafe that Aden is the gateway to Asia. Control of Aden and the Malacca Strait will put the US in an unassailable position in the "great game" of the Indian Ocean. The sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are literally the jugular veins of China's economy. By controlling them, Washington sends a strong message to Beijing that any notions by the latter that the US is a declining power in Asia would be nothing more than an extravagant indulgence in fantasy.

In the Indian Ocean region, China is increasingly coming under pressure. India is a natural ally of the US in the Indian Ocean region. Both disfavor any significant Chinese naval presence. India is mediating a rapprochement between Washington and Colombo that would help roll back Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. The US has taken a u-turn in its Myanmar policy and is engaging the regime there with the primary intent of eroding China's influence with the military rulers. The Chinese strategy aimed at strengthening influence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar so as to open a new transportation route towards the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Africa, where it has begun contesting traditional Western economic dominance.

China is keen to whittle down its dependence on the Malacca Strait for its commerce with Europe and West Asia. The US, on the contrary, is determined that China remains vulnerable to the choke point between Indonesia and Malaysia.

An engrossing struggle is breaking out. The US is unhappy with China's efforts to reach the warm waters of the Persian Gulf through the Central Asian region and Pakistan. Slowly but steadily, Washington is tightening the noose around the neck of the Pakistani elites - civilian and military - and forcing them to make a strategic choice between the US and China. This will put those elites in an unenviable dilemma. Like their Indian counterparts, they are inherently "pro-Western" (even when they are "anti-American") and if the Chinese connection is important for Islamabad, that is primarily because it balances perceived Indian hegemony.

The existential questions with which the Pakistani elites are grappling are apparent. They are seeking answers from Obama. Can Obama maintain a balanced relationship vis-a-vis Pakistan and India? Or, will Obama lapse back to the George W Bush era strategy of building up India as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean under whose shadow Pakistan will have to learn to live?

US-India-Israel axis

On the other hand, the Indian elites are in no compromising mood. Delhi was on a roll during the Bush days. Now, after the initial misgivings about Obama's political philosophy, Delhi is concluding that he is all but a clone of his illustrious predecessor as regards the broad contours of the US's global strategy - of which containment of China is a core template.

The comfort level is palpably rising in Delhi with regard to the Obama presidency. Delhi takes the surge of the Israeli lobby in Washington as the litmus test for the Obama presidency. The surge suits Delhi, since the Jewish lobby was always a helpful ally in cultivating influence in the US Congress, media and the rabble-rousing think-tankers as well as successive administrations. And all this is happening at a time when the India-Israel security relationship is gaining greater momentum.

United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is due to visit Delhi in the coming days. The Obama administration is reportedly adopting an increasingly accommodative attitude toward India's longstanding quest for "dual-use" technology from the US. If so, a massive avenue of military cooperation is about to open between the two countries, which will make India a serious challenger to China's growing military prowess. It is a win-win situation as the great Indian arms bazaar offers highly lucrative business for American companies.

Clearly, a cozy three-way US-Israel-India alliance provides the underpinning for all the manoeuvring that is going on. It will have significance for the security of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. Last year, India formalized a naval presence in Oman.

All-in-all, terrorism experts are counting the trees and missing the wood when they analyze the US foray into Yemen in the limited terms of hunting down al-Qaeda. The hard reality is that Obama, whose main plank used to be "change", has careened away and increasingly defaults to the global strategies of the Bush era. The freshness of the Obama magic is dissipating. Traces of the "revisionism" in his foreign policy orientation are beginning to surface. We can see them already with regard to Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine problem, Central Asia and towards China and Russia.

Arguably, this sort of "return of the native" by Obama was inevitable. For one thing, he is but a creature of his circumstances. As someone put it brilliantly, Obama's presidency is like driving a train rather than a car: a train cannot be "steered", the driver can at best set its speed, but ultimately, it must run on its tracks.

Besides, history has no instances of a declining world power meekly accepting its destiny and walking into the sunset. The US cannot give up on its global dominance without putting up a real fight. And the reality of all such momentous struggles is that they cannot be fought piece-meal. You cannot fight China without occupying Yemen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

War kills three kids a day in Afghanistan

In 2009 alone, 1,050 children under the age of 18 died in violence resulting from the war in Afghanistan. Most were victims of the violence perpetrated by the Taliban.  The Afghanistan Rights Monitor reported that while the Taliban were behind most deaths, NATO and other security agencies were also responsible for the death of children in Afghanistan.

The report by ARM, an independent rights monitoring group set up in Kabul in 2008, comes after the United Nations said civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose 10.8 percent in the first 10 months of 2009, most caused by the Taliban.

The United Nations put civilian deaths at 2,038 for that period, up from 1,838 for the same period of 2008, with the vast majority killed by insurgents.

It said 468 deaths were caused by pro-government forces, including NATO and US-led forces, and 166 by "other actors."

In the words of Habib Jalib:

محبت گولیوں سے بو رہے ہو
وطن کا چہرہ خون سے دھو رہے ہو

گمان تم کو کہ رستہ کٹ رہا ہے
یقین مجھ کو کہ منزل کھو رہے ہو


Saudis running sweatshops


Habib Hussain, an Indian immigrant worker from Uttar Pradesh, hid in a toilet of a plane to catch a ride home from Saudi Arabia. He has been working at the airport in Medina for five months. He alleges that his employers did not pay him even once, forcing him to flee the holy land. He survived in Saudi Arabia by begging for food from pilgrims performing the annual Haj ritual.

Habib is not alone. The draconian labour laws in Saudi Arabia are designed to discriminate against immigrant labourers who hail mostly from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  Other Arab states are no different. The labourers working in UAE and other Middle Eastern states live in deplorable conditions. The workers have to handover their travel documents to the employers as part of the agreement. By withholding the travel documents from labourers, the employers in the Middle East treat the South Asian migrants as bonded  labour.

Only recent has the media mustered the courage to report on the plight of immigrant labourers in the Middle East.  In a related development, a group of 108 Indian labourers was abandoned in Kabul by the agents representing their employers in Dubai. These workers had handed their travel documents to their employers who have not returned the same to the labourers now stranded in Afghanistan, The Indian embassy in Kabul is trying to repatriate these workers who at the moment have taken refuge in a Gurdawara in Kabul.

The fact that the Arab employers have routinely ill-treated their South Asian workers have been known for decades. It is time to remove the shroud of holiness from the face of the Arab-owned businesses in the Middle East and force them to embrace international covenants on labour rights.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Militants attacking Pakistan’s armed forces in Kashmir

Pakistani strategists, who saw the Taliban and the militants as Pakistan’s strategic depth against India, must now ponder over the naivety (I’d call it stupidity) of their short-term thinking that has created long-term pains for Pakistan, which is half the country today than it was in 1947, and faces further threats of dismemberment.

The very militants who have been behind the militancy in the Indian administered Kashmir since the early nineties have now shifted their focus on their handlers in Pakistan. Today (January 5) the militants attacked the army barracks in Tarar Khal area in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir killing four soldiers. Last year in June, a similar attack left two soldiers dead in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. A series of attacks against the ISI personnel and buildings in Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Lahore has already left hundreds dead.

The militants are loyal to their cause, and not to Pakistan or its people. The militants have bitten the very hand that fed them since 1947. The ubiquitous suicide and other bombings have rendered streets devoid of life and vibrancy in Pakistan. Civilians and members of the armed forces are equally likely to to be the targets of militants. No one is safe in Pakistan any more.

The Pakistan-based militants have been incensed by the change in Pakistan’s official strategy that no longer  supports non-state actors against India, Afghanistan, and Iran. While many argue that the change has not been fully instituted and that not every one in the military hierarchy is on board with the change, their is enough evidence to appreciate that the change in policy has taken place, which in turn has shifted the violence from Indian-administered Kashmir to first Pakistan proper, and now to the Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The graph below highlights the decline in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and a simultaneous increase in violence in Pakistan since 2002. It appears that the militants returning from their secondment in Indian-administered Kashmir have resumed their positions in Pakistan causing an exponential increase in violence.


While there is overwhelming evidence that suggests the failure of Pakistan’s militarized stance against India over Kashmir, the civil and military establishment in Pakistan refuses to learn from its mistakes. Only yesterday, the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari,boasted in an address to the legislators in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir that they were ready for “a thousand year war” over Kashmir. A nation that has remained economically bankrupt since the early seventies, and is heading to moral bankruptcy and chaos today, should not be flirting with the idea of war. Peace is a bigger challenge for the Pakistani establishment than war. It should not shy away from embracing it.

President Zardari unfortunately will have his wish for a thousand year war come true, but not against India, but against Pakistanis who took the war rhetoric literally.

Pakistan’s military and civil establishment has to come clean and join the civil society (not just the NGOs, but also the religious institutions that have preached non-violence as part of their Sufi traditions) in addressing the menace of violence. Many believe that the battle-hardened militants, who earned their stripes in Kashmir and Afghanistan, are now more than 10,000 strong and come from all walks of the society. The foot soldiers may be illiterate, unemployed youth, but the militant leadership is anything but illiterate. 

The attacks in Mumbai, the recent bombing against the CIA staff in Afghanistan, and the gruesome murder of the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent, Daniel Pearl, suggests that the militant leadership is university educated, technologically savvy, fearless, cunning, and effective in reaching its goals. Furthermore, these militants are not just Pakistan-based. Instead, they have arrived from England, the United States, and the Caucasus to wage a war against the people of Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan have to make a choice. Would they like to win over the militants by reasoning with them or will they go for a full-fledged war that may either eliminate the militant threat or export it to safe havens abroad. The choice between the two alternatives is certainly not easy and carries huge ramifications regardless of the choice.

One thing, however, is clear. It will take decades to free the Pakistani society of the strands of militancy, which President Zardari illustrated in his speech yesterday continues to be state-sanctioned and is in conflict with the stated change in post-911 foreign policy. 

While grave challenges face the nation, the people of Pakistan have yet to resolve the most elementary of the disputes. The people are still divided over the future of the state: should it be a parliamentary democracy or a Khilafat that may take Pakistan back to the governance and norms prevalent in the 7th century Arabia. With fast urbanization, the Pakistanis may increasingly boast of urban geographies, but they maintain their rural dispositions, which have more in common with a tribal order than the rule of law.

Social Justice Lacking

The lack of social justice in Pakistan since its independence has driven many in the hands of the militants and extremist ideologies. The princely State of Swat, for instance, had a more effective judicial system before it joined the federation. The corruption that followed Swat’s annexure to Pakistan was partly behind Sufi Mohammad’s revolt in Swat that began in the early nineties and blew up in the establishment’s face in 2008-09.

The establishment and the society in Pakistan should realize that without social justice in Pakistan peace will continue to be evasive. They should first try to develop a just society by strengthening the institutions that address individual’s grievances against the state and the society. Only then will the militants in Pakistan will see their support disappear. And while Pakistan is at it, it wouldn’t hurt to give up the 1000-year war rhetoric.

Supreme Court acting supreme

While hearing a case of habeas corpus filed by the family of one Mustafa Azam, who is reportedly in the custody of one of the numerous intelligence agencies in Pakistan, Justice Javed Iqbal offered some candid remarks on the state of affairs in Pakistan.


Justice Iqbal mused about the state of democracy in Pakistan where he observed that “the common man can no longer maintain the link between soul and body.” Justice Iqbal observed that Pakistan is standing at the precipice heading to a collapse. He observed that “some one” has to intervene to prevent the state and the society from failure. I hope that his someone included the courts and the Parliament, and not the military.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Marwats face the Taliban music

image The gruesome New Year’s Day suicide attack at a local volley ball match in the 5000-strong Shah Hasan Khel village in Lakki Marwat, a small town near the troubled tribal area of Waziristan in Pakistan, has left almost 100 dead. Almost all dead were men or young boys who had gathered at a ground to watch local volley ball teams play a friendly match.

A suicide bomber drove an explosive laden vehicle into the crowd and exploded it. The friendly match ended with the most unfriendly outcome. Almost 100 dead, and scores other injured.

While it may appear to be yet another suicide bombing in Pakistan, however the location, and the sectarian and tribal pedigree of the victims makes it anything but. The victims most likely belong to the Marwat tribe, which is closely allied with the Mehsud and Wazir tribes of Waziristan . Marwats, just like Wazirs and Mehsuds, are Pushtuns following the Deobandi School of conservative Islam. Marwats have also been involved in the Afghan war against the Russians and have been behind numerous kidnappings, car jackings, and sectarian killings targeting Shiites in the Frontier Province and other parts of Pakistan. Why would the Taliban target their own?


A local resident sits alongside a victim of suicide bombing, at a local hospital in Lakki Marwat.—AP (Source:

The Pakistani media has reported that the elders in Lakki Marwat had resisted the Taliban and were behind their expulsion from the town. The Taliban had therefore retaliated against the elders by bombing the town as a punishment. It is hard for me to imagine that Lakki Marwat was a Taliban-free town because the elders forced the Taliban out. It is my understanding that Lakki Marwat has always been a hot-bed of sectarian violence where the majority wholeheartedly subscribed to the Taliban’s ideology.  Given the close ties between the Taliban, who also come from the Marwat tribe, I find it hard to believe that the Taliban would attack their fellow Pushtuns, Deobandi brethren just because they were asked to leave the town.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have reportedly killed another six tribesmen in Bajaur Agency. Among the dead is Malik Gul Shali, who was one of the tribesmen who sided with the military against the Taliban.

It will take some time for one to discover who was behind the attack in Lakki Marwat.  It could very well be someone settling a personal dispute. That my sound excessive, however, in the tribal belt of Pakistan, the tribesmen have hurled grenades at their opponents to settle debts of five rupees (one-twentieth of a US dollar).  It could also be tied to the drug trade. Lakki Marwat is now an important post in the international supply chain that carries Afghanistan’s opium and heroin to the junkies in the developed countries.

Despite the suffering and misery brought about by such bombings, the suicide bombers are indeed serving a purpose by exposing the extremist face of the sectarian Islam that had remained hidden in the past because it exclusively targeted Shiites and other religious minorities in Pakistan. 

Since 2007, the suicide bombers have targeted Pakistan’s senior military officers, the Inter Services Intelligence, the commandoes of the Special Services Group, and the children of the senior military commanders fighting the Taliban.  Police constables at the checkpoints across Pakistan are dying almost daily at the hands of the extremists and religious fanatics. The police training camp in Lahore was attacked more than once. The bombers have also gone after soft targets: the bombing of Moon market in Lahore is an example of indiscriminate violence.

It is only when the ordinary citizens, mostly Sunnis and especially the Punjabis, became victims of the senseless fanaticism that the public opinion in Pakistan turned against the violence supported by the religious extremists. For years, the Sunni majority in Pakistan remained complacent in the violence against minorities in Pakistan by not speaking out against it. Had the mainstream Sunnis reacted to the extremism in the mid-eighties and prevented the systematic takeover of Sunni mosques by the Deobandi preachers, the Sunnis could have avoided becoming the target of the extremists that rose from within their ranks.

Even today a complete realization has not yet occurred. From university professors to cab drivers, Pakistanis continue to be in a state of perpetual denial. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that the violence is being perpetrated by their own sons and in some instances, daughters. Pakistanis blame every one but themselves for their misfortunes.

The biggest challenge in Pakistan today is to make the Pakistanis realize that it is their fellow Muslims, and not Indians, Israelis, or Americans, who are behind the attacks on mosques and suicide bombings. These are the same individuals who have killed thousands of Shiites and other religious minorities in Pakistan over the past three decades. Without this realization, healing may not begin.

Waziristan: The last frontier

Economist magazine offers a vivid account of the history of Wazir and Mehsud tribes in its December 30th issue. A must read. Please click at the link below to read the article.