You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Learning from US follies

THERE has been an interesting and heartening development in Somalia. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has been elected the new president of the country by their parliament and earned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s congratulations (Feb 2).

Here, it is important to recall a few facts. In 2006, Sheikh Ahmed, who is considered by all sides to be a moderate leader, had been at the helm of the Islamist group called Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which was fighting to oust the ineffective transitional government created by the US-led international community.

By December 2006 the ICU had taken control of much of southern Somalia and restored peace to the territory, bringing to an end the warlords’ thuggery and lawlessness of the previous 16 years. However, this had alarmed Washington which, as usual, saw an Al Qaeda connection, despite ICU’s denials, and so it pushed Ethiopia into invading its neighbour to kick out the Islamists. The Americans themselves launched air and sea-based attacks on some hardliners.

In this period, the militant wing of the ICU, named Al Shabaab, allegedly aligned itself with Al Qaeda and was, by last December, controlling 90 per cent of southern Somalia. The tragedy is, if the US had not intervened two years earlier to rout the ICU-led by Sheikh Ahmed, radicalism wouldn’t have gone through the roof, taking thousands of civilian lives.

Ironically, the US representative has now welcomed the election of the same Sheikh as the president of the Horn of Africa nation! This illustrates the senselessness of American policies. As in case of the Iraqi invasion, apart from the Muslims, many Europeans (think tanks and analysts) had been stressing the need to include the Somali Islamists in the power sharing, but Washington’s extreme paranoia about Al Qaeda et al makes it act irrationally in all such situations.

Consider Pakistan. For the past several years, the US has constantly sabotaged all attempts by Islamabad to sign peace agreements with the Taliban and other militants. On several occasions it even resorted to air strikes a day or so before the treaty was due to be inked, in order to provoke the volatile tribesmen and scuttle the event.

The result is a manifold increase in radicalism and the situation now is of intense mistrust and hostility between the Taliban and the establishment, which is unlikely to end for years, if ever.Another significant fact is that according to reports in a section of the electronic media of Feb 1 (partly reported in Dawn, Feb 2), Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, chief of the British defence staff, has made several observations that are in line with what other British commanders and diplomats have been saying.

He said Taliban can only be defeated politically rather than militarily; that the American drone attacks on Pakistan are counterproductive and that the Karzai government’s weakness is causing difficulties for the British troops in Afghanistan, which implies problems for others as well, including Pakistan.

In view of these ground realities, it is extremely important for Islamabad to review its strategy for a war, which the Musharraf regime converted into its own, and the present government has been following suit. Premier Gilani felt constrained to observe in Davos and foreign Minister Qureshi, in different words in Multan, the other day that the American strategy has failed in Afghanistan. Apparently, in their hearts our leaders know the US game plan is bound to fail in the entire region, but are unable to oppose Washington’s dictates.

The front-page picture in Dawn (Feb 2) from the troubled valley of Swat showed a man carrying his elderly mother on his back to escape from the fighting in the area, which brought tears into my eyes. But, those who matter seem unmoved. Sitting at a distance in their fortified residences, they just can’t feel the pulse of these devastated souls.

Wherever the Americans have intervened directly or indirectly, thousands of Muslims’ lives have been lost at the very least, be it Algeria, Somalia, Afghanistan or Pakistan, while in Iraq nearly a million got killed. Why should the Muslims have to be guinea pigs for Washington’s psychological hang-ups and stumbling experimentation?

DAWN - Letters; February 10, 2009
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US, India and the 'K-word'

AFTER great expectations had been raised in Kashmir and Pakistan that the new American president would finally do something about resolving the Kashmir issue, it appears that India and its supporters on the Capitol Hill have been able to dissuade him from doing so.

According to a report, on New Delhi’s request the US administration has kept the dispute out of the portfolio of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (Jan 31). It cites the Washington Post as saying: “Eliminating… Kashmir from his job description…” is seen as a significant diplomatic concession to India that reflects increasingly warm ties between the country and the United States.

The Post also reported that Indian diplomats, worried about Mr Holbrooke’s tough-as-nails reputation, didn’t want him meddling in Kashmir. Ambassador Holbrooke is nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for arm-twisting warring leaders to the negotiating table as he hammered out the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

Also, in interviews to various US news outlets, Indian officials warned Ambassador Holbrooke against ‘any high-profile intervention’ in Kashmir, pointing out that it was so politically sensitive in India that it’s referred to as the ‘K-word’. Further, that India’s former national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, has said that his country was never going to relinquish control of Jammu and Kashmir because “that is written in stone and cannot be changed.”

The Indians are free to make any claims but they are reminded that there is another ‘K-word’ that is even more indelibly written in the life of nations and individuals, about which they ought to know better than anyone else. The word is ‘karma’ and is now known to ordinary people globally more than Kashmir is.

For 60 years India has been trying hard to digest what it had forcibly tried to swallow but the situation is that today it can neither swallow nor expel something that is non-kosher for it. The deadly side-effects of this unlawful morsel include a violent resistance on the part of the Kashmiri freedom-fighters — the erstwhile Indian premier Vajpayee had himself acknowledged it to be an indigenous struggle — that has caused much pain to India.

A fair estimate puts the number of those killed (another ‘K-word’) since 1989 at 80,000 and the Mumbai attacks appear to be one more manifestation of the karma. Another, even more frightful effect has been the nuclearisation of the region.

It is time India stopped fighting reality and accepted what the world leaders and even some of its own intellectuals and peace activists are saying. The famous writer and activist Arundhati Roy had been very candid and correct when she wrote last year (Dawn, Sept 3, 2008):

“For all these years the Indian state has done everything it can to subvert, suppress, represent, misrepresent, discredit, interpret, intimidate, purchase — simply snuff out the voice of the Kashmiri people. It has used money…, violence…, disinformation, propaganda, torture, elaborate networks of collaborators and informers, terror, imprisonment, blackmail and rigged elections to subdue what democratic people would call the will of the people.”

This should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind about the third degree New Delhi has given to the Kashmiris.

Instead of expediently trying to please India, Mr Obama should join hands with other countries such as Britain that think alike on the subject and do something concrete to resolve the issue fairly, in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiris.

The international community should not allow India to let its desire to hang on to Kashmir it grabbed from its real owners and continue to compromise the regional and global peace by blackmailing even the superpower. This would actually be in the nation’s own interest as well as that of South Asia and the rest of the world.


TopDAWN - Letters; February 10, 2009
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Tribal heads urge the govt. to change policy on FAtA

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Bazid Khel Villagers up in arms against Taliban

Sometime ago, it was in the news that a Union Council Nazim is leading an uprising against the Taliban along with the villagers of 'BazidKhel' near Bara.

I wonder that this courageous act is getting any attention at all? Its a one-of-a-kind valiant effort of one village to stand-up to intolerable reign of terror unleashed by the Taliban.

A story by Daud Khattak, on one of the mailing lists goes as follows:

* Committees organise patrols by volunteers to guard against possible attack to avenge killing of nine Taliban

By Daud Khattak

PESHAWAR: The hujra (community guest house) of a union council (UC) nazim is abuzz with activity in Bazidkhel village, on the outskirts of Peshawar, where villagers had killed nine Taliban last week.

On February 4, the villagers had killed nine Taliban, who had come in two cars from the neighbouring Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency to abduct UC Nazim Fahimur Rehman, who is behind the villagers uprising against a Taliban group from Khyber Agency.

Following the Talibans killing, their groups chief had warned the people of Bazidkhel, through his illegal FM radio, of a bloody revenge.To guard themselves against a Taliban attack, the villagers have taken up arms and have started patrolling the streets of the village, 20 kilometres from Peshawar. Speaking on his FM channel, the groups chief had warned the villagers to hoist black flags on their houses, to show they were not involved in the killing of the nine men, or face a bloody revenge.

Volunteer groups: However, the villagers defied the threat and formed volunteer groups to patrol the streets to guard against a possible attack. A six-foot-high wall has been constructed just behind the main entrance of the UC nazims hujra. This wall has been completed to avoid an abrupt assault from the front entrance, said Rehman. On the roof, labourers were busy erecting a boundary wall, usually used by villagers to take cover during a clash.

Praising the courage and cooperation of the villagers, Rehman said, Let them attack and we shall come out with a tougher response.With an AK-47 assault rifle slung over his shoulder and his cell phone constantly ringing, Rehman claimed he had the support of the people from 28 union councils. Nearly two dozen armed men sat in the compound of his hujra. Others guarded the front gate while another group sat alert on the rooftop. Rehman was happy with the cooperation and support provided by the government and the police. Were going to meet the NWFP governor on Monday, said the bearded nazim, in his late 30s.He said Bazidkhel and the surrounding areas were known for their long-standing blood feuds but the groups attack threat has brought us together. He said all tribesmen had set aside their personal enmities and had joined hands to face the common enemy.

The local Taliban chief had said the nine men had gone to the village to attend a condolence meeting. However, the UC nazim claimed he had received threats from the group in Khyber a week before the February 4 killings. Rehman said the group had a support base in Bazidkhel before the February 4 incident. However, all the people were now united against the group, he added.

Locals said night patrols had been increased in the area and committees had been formed to oversee patrols by volunteers. Cell phones had been distributed among the village elders and heads of the committees for coordination and quick reaction to any eventuality, they said.