Sunday, 27 May 2007

IHT on Women in Algeria

Here is an interesting article on women in Algeria. What makes it doubly interesting is that the author is obviously struggling with the idea that in this case, what are commonly described as 'modernity', 'moderation' and 'Islamisation' are part of the same trends. Maybe those terms need to be rethought?


Friday, 25 May 2007

Rumsfeld Just Can't Get No Love...

Just in case anyone has not yet managed to understand how badly post-invasion affairs were handled in Iraq in 2003, a senior retired army officer in Australia who was posted in Iraq has characterised Rumsfeld's handling as verging on "criminal negligence" in an interview.

This article on the gentleman's remarks goes on to say:
Kelly — an expert on the law of occupation and peacemaking operations with experience in Somalia, Bosnia and East Timor — said he offered a plan to stop looting and protect infrastructure soon after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was toppled.

"We knew exactly what needed to be done," Kelly told the ABC.

"Then Rumsfeld came in and overruled that concept and basically threw it out the window and that was where things really started to go wrong," he said.

The gentleman is now entering politics on a 'bring the troops home' platform. Surprise, surprise.


Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Losing My Cool

Its when I read shit like this that I feel most strongly that Carthage must be destroyed. Then, I read responses like this one and I regain some semblance of calm.

Meanwhile I wish this show would come to London.


Monday, 21 May 2007

Plotting Terrorist Acts is Naughty - Unless You Have a Presedential Pardon

On 30th April, the Jordanian newspaper printed the translation of a 16 page secret document that detailed a plan drawn up by "Arab and American parties" to undermine the Palestinian government and back a coup by Fatah. Apparently it was part of a proposal communicated to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (who heads Fatah) which offered the backing to get rid of the democratically elected Hamas Prime Minister.

What? The U.S. working with "arab parties" to overthrow democratically elected governments? Oh, yes, that shouldn't really take us by surprise since Seymour Hersh has already written in the New Yorker about how the U.S. government is now working with the Saudis and others to fund terrorist groups against other parties, governments and factions that it doesn't like. In Guernica, Tom Engelhardt wonders how come this frightening news made absolutely no waves in the American media and public consciousness. (As an aside, in the March issue there is an interesting interview with Stephen Kinzer about America's rather depressing tradition of "regime change".)

The man who seems to most support the plans for a coup is Deputy National Security Adviser, Elliot Abrams. Here is an article that delves into some of his activities regarding the promotion of a coup in the Palestinian territories. It also asks the rather pertinent question, is the Bush administration violating its own laws by promoting this kind of, dare I say it, terrorism?

Its not as if Mr Abrams hasn't got enough experience in the field. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges in the investigations into the Iran-Contra affair in the 80s, when the American government set up a secret program in the vice-president's office to sell weapons to Iran and use the money to fund the terrorist activities of the Contras in Nicaragua. That vice-president (George Bush I)went on to grant him and fellow conspirators a pardon during his term as president. Here is an interesting profile on the gentleman in question.

Mr Abrams has been described as the 'last neo-con standing' and certainly his hawkishness has been on full display since he re-entered the halls of power. A big believer in social and political change through the barrel of the gun, he also played a role in pushing Israel into its ill-fated mini-war with Hezbullah last year.

One gets the feeling that the neo-cons are stuck in some kind of a cold war time warp. The Iraq war was some kind of bizarre way of expurgating the ghosts of Vietnam by re-fighting the war in the middle east, only with "Islamo-fascism" cast as the evil empire instead of communism and the spectre of nuclear holocaust to be eliminated through proactive military action instead of wimpy disarmament talks. Now its time to re-live the Contra affair, except this time to come out of it smelling of roses and a wearing a congressional medal of honour instead of being sent to prison. Alas the sheer dynamic of power that chains the rest of the world to the United States means the rest of the world has been sucked into the consequences of these delusions.


Quote of the Day!

Time for the quote of the day:
"There is a misconception in the West that reality TV and pop music means that the Middle East is becoming more democratic. But, you know, voting for a superstar is not the same as voting for an election."

That from Mr Habib Battah, the editor of the Middle-east Broadcasting Journal, quoted in an otherwise pretty brainless article on the "pop revolution" in the Middle East.


Happiness in Iraq

I came across this blog by an Iraqi named Nabil. Its sad and disturbing and depressing and sometimes... funny.

For example there is this post:

Here's a funny story - its funny for me although it may sound horrible for you.

I was in my room, playing guitar as usual and was recording the song "Peace Train" for Cat Stevens, and after about 30 seconds on starting the song, when reaching the first line in the song, which was "Now I've been happy lately," a random bullet entered my room, crashed the window and broke all the glass and a heavy shooting then took place in the street.

I was like planted in my place and completely shocked because of the heavy shooting. I stopped the recording and went away from the windows to avoid getting in the cross-fire of the random bullets, and when the shooting was over, I went back to my room and checked what I recorded and here was the funny thing, that right after I said, "I've been happy lately," the bullet came in to my room.

It's like no one should be happy in this country, because if you say that you're happy, a bullet will come and smash your head right away.

maybe this country is cursed, because it's a really funny incident.

He then adds a link to the recording that he has uploaded. There's also a link to an uninterrupted version of Peace Train.


Thursday, 10 May 2007

Allah, America, Army and Awam!

Who says that Pakistani politicians can't come up with good sound-bites? The Chief Minister of Sindh, Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim recently declared that the government of President Musharaf has the support of "Allah, America, Army and Awam!" Awam, can be translated as the people, or the nation.

The proof as they say, is in the pudding. While the Chief Justice was making his triumphant way through the country, being met by crowds of thousands at every town he passed through, Mr. Musharaf addressed a 'Public Meeting' at Naukot in Tharparkar. The idea was that the meeting would show that Musharaf too has a large popular following.

Details for organising the meeting were handed over to the PML-Q who control the local government and understandably they did their utmost to make sure that the meeting was a success. For example, the police confiscated over 2000 vehicles (mostly buses and lorries) from surrounding areas so that they could be used to ferry supporters to the Public Meeting. The results of this were many, particularly for school children as they could not attend schools. Many schools were forced to shut for the day. Businesses and offices opened late or in some cases not at all as there was no public transport available.

But that's not all. In order to ensure the success of the Public Meeting, government offices were closed, and Civil servants and teachers were "asked" to attend.

So Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Allah, America and Army - maybe (though perhaps even these are wavering) but as for the support of the Awam - maybe not.


Friday, 4 May 2007

Know Your Enemy!

Last week, on 28th April, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a packed crowd that had gathered to meet the Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao after he had spoken at an PPP political rally. At least 28 people were killed and over 40 were injured. Mr. Sherpao escaped without any serious injury. The suicide bomber's vest used high-intensity plastic explosive and was packed with ball bearings in order to maximize its deadliness.

A similar modus operandi had been used in the March 29th suicide bombing attack on an army cantonment that killed 2; the January 29th suicide bombing at a police checkpoint guarding a Shia mourning procession that killed 3, the January 27th suicide bombing that killed 14, including the Chief of Police and Deputy Superintendent in Peshawar, the roadside bombing on 16th February that killed 4 including the director of a polio immunization campaign in NWFP, the January 26th suicide bombing that killed 2 at the Marriott in Islamabad and the February 17th suicide bombing in a Quetta courtroom that killed 15, including the judge who had previously tried terrorism suspects.

In 2006 of course there were cases like the November 8th suicide bombing at an army training camp that killed 42 recruits and injured dozens more, the April 11th suicide bombing that killed at least 57 at a prayer meeting being held by the Sunni Tehrik religious organisation in Karachi, the 2nd June suicide bombing on an army convoy in NWFP that killed 4 soldiers, the 9th February suicide bombing of a Shia religious procession that killed 27 people, the 2nd March suicide bombing that killed 3 outside the American Consulate in Karachi including an American diplomat and the 14th July suicide bombing in Karachi that killed a prominent Shia cleric and 2 others. There were more instances of suicide bombings in these two years but alas I cannot recall them all at the moment.

Sometimes suicide bombing is not the preferred modus operandi, for example there was this incident where 12 bombs were planted outside an army base in Dera Ismail Khan that had timers as detonation devices. In this case, they were discovered and defused in time by the police, which is why, one supposes they are not popular means of death and destruction amongst terrorists.

I suppose I should add, for those not in the know that things were not always this way. Political (or even religious) violence was not unknown in Pakistan. In fact, the older brother of the Interior Minister who recently escaped death was killed at a political rally in a bombing in 1975. But suicide bombings are a pretty new phenomena. And the wave of bombings since 2001 is unprecedented.

So who is behind them?

Curiously, one government official speculated that the suicide bomber who targeted the Interior Minister may have been a Tajik Afghan (he based this on a cursory examination of the bomber's head - which was all that was left of him - though he also added that it could be someone from "our" tribe). Generally speaking the Tajik ethnic group in Afghanistan was part of the Northern Alliance which now forms the bulk of the government of Afghanistan, so perhaps he was trying to implicate the Afghan government.

But one may not really have to look for such exotic suspects when there are, after all, the usual ones. For example, Mullah Dadullah, who has been called 'the top Taleban commander in Afghanistan' recently announced that he would launch suicide attacks against Pakistan for its 'betrayal' of peace accords with the tribes on the Afghan border. (A reference to the Pakistani military's taking sides in the recent infighting amongst pro-Taleban groups in the tribal agencies.)

Or why go as far as Afghanistan when we can look to our nation's capital to find Maulana Abdul Aziz, who has previously publicly called for the assassination of the president, threatened the government with suicide bombings, if they don't close down brothels and video shops and rebuild mosques that were recently demolished for being built on illegally occupied land. Mr Aziz's own religious seminary, the Jamia Hafsa has occupied land illegally. It also runs an illegal hate-spewing radio station, illegally set up its own court which recently issued a fatwa against the country's Tourism Minister, has been linked to the 7/7 London bombings, has declared that killing Pakistani soldiers in NWFP is Jihad and has sent out vigilante squads to"combat vice" in the city who in the course of their work have kidnapped several women and a policeman and held them against their will for several days.

What's interesting was that the seminary was built in the 1980s, and always enjoyed patronage of the military government of Zia-ul-Haq and the ISI intelligence agency, which was primarily responsible for the creation, funding, training and arming of first the Jihadi groups that fought in Afghanistan, and later on, for the Taleban. What's also interesting is that amongst the list of demands they have presented has been the release of former ISI officials imprisoned for their involvement in supporting terrorism. Interestingly enough, the leader of the country's largest Islamic political party, the JUI, which also had a hand in the creation of the Taleban has actually condemned the Jamia Hafsa crowd and distanced themselves from them, accusing "intelligence agencies" (read: ISI) of being behind the Jamia's activities and agenda. The government, meanwhile has given in to most of the demands presented by the seminary.

Why would a military dictator, with the supposedly fearsome might of the Pakistani army behind him and public dismay over the activities of the Jamia Hafsa extremists, cave in to a bunch of stick wielding fanatics? Well it could have something to do with the fact that the attention of Musharaf and his government is focused on cynical power-grabs that have weakened civil institutions and frayed public trust to almost breaking point, such as the unconstitutional removal of the Chief Justice. Instead of drawing on the support of civil society to take on the extremist fringe, the government finds itself locked in an antagonistic struggle with political parties, the judiciary and legal fraternity, unions, print and television media, and so looks to the very same extremist fringe for support.

The result? Well, today there was a spate of bombings in NWFP that blew up more than a dozen video and music shops, not long after the 30-day deadline given last month by Maulana Aziz for such shops to close down expired. Maulana Aziz had publicly threatened shop-owners with "punishment", so this latest act of terrorism shouldn't come as a surprise.

But what were the authorities doing in the meantime? Well, they were busy arresting over 1,000 political activists who were planning to participate in a peaceful rally in support of the ousted Chief Justice in Lahore.

Its good to know that the current government understands who the real enemies of the people of Pakistan are.


Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Missing Nuclear Material

Well this just makes me feel so much safer. I'm sure there is nothing at all to worry about. Just a small matter of some radioactive material that could be used to make a dirty bomb (possibly) gone missing. Even the Pakistani government says that its no big deal and just an exercise in raising public awareness. So if the Pakistani government says theres no problem, then it must be true. Nope, no worries at all...


Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Colonial State

This is a pretty insightful article by Irfan Hussain in Dawn. Its sad and disturbing, but I suppose, not very surprising, that despite the fact that since 9/11 it has been in the best interests of the country to take on Islamist groups, the military government has only done so half-heartedly, and at the same time has simply not tried to incorporate other sections of civil society into the state. Its telling that protests against the dismissal of the Chief Justice were met with brute police force, and there was an attempt to suppress media coverage, while at the same time the state was cowed by a gang of stick-wielding extremists who have illegally occupied land in the nation's capital.

As long as the military props up its rule with the support of a minority of extremists and alienates itself from the majority of civil society, it remains a colonial entity - a clique that is apart from the rest of society and rules through dominance of the security apparatus and is reliant on the collaboration of a small portion of the society it dominates.


Looking Like Osama Doesn't Pay

I feel sorry for this guy. Imagine people trying to sell you to the US government because you resemble someone else.