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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I'm proud to tell you that TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse has just received a prestigious Ridenhour Prize -- named after the remarkable GI who first blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre -- for "reportorial distinction." It was for his powerful piece, "A My Lai a Month," on the mass killing of civilians during the Vietnam War, published by the Nation magazine. I was at the ceremonies, and it was an event to remember. You can check out this year's prizes by clicking here -- don't miss Bob Herbert's acceptance speech -- and you can watch Nick accept his award by clicking here. You might also check out Nick's TomDispatch piece on two Vietnamese peasants who lost their legs in that war. In its wake, U.S. Vietnam veterans and others put together a small fund that provided new prosthetic limbs for those two men, a small accomplishment that also leaves TomDispatch proud.
In addition, a recommendation: The filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed, Iraq for Sale) is now producing a new film on the Af-Pak war and -- an innovative act -- releasing it, part by part, in "real time" on-line. It's called Rethink Afghanistan and it's a must watch. Part three, "The Cost of War," has just been posted. Check out the first three parts by clicking here and visit Greenwald's website Rethink Afghanistan, all part of a documentary campaign to raise public awareness about the war and affect Congressional oversight hearings. The work of both Turse and Greenwald is germane to the piece that follows. Tom]
How Safe Do You Actually Want to Be?
By Tom Engelhardt
Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death -- so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They're so repetitive that, once you've started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away.
Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs -- so many "insurgents," or "terrorists," or "foreign militants," or "anti-Afghan forces" killed in an air strike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead "terrorists" or "militants" were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral.
Clinton says Pakistan is abdicating to the Taliban
By Arshad Mohammed | Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan's government has abdicated to the Taliban in agreeing to impose Islamic law in the Swat valley and the country now poses a "mortal threat" to the world, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
Surging violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence through its northwest are reviving concerns about the stability of the nuclear-armed country, an important U.S. ally vital to efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who on March 27 unveiled a new strategy that seeks to crush al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and those operating from across the border in Pakistan, meets the presidents of both countries May 6-7.
A potentially troubling era dawned Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where a top Islamist militant leader, emboldened by a peace agreement with the federal government, laid out an ambitious plan to bring a "complete Islamic system" to the surrounding northwest region and the entire country.
Speaking to thousands of followers in an address aired live from Swat on national news channels, cleric Sufi Mohammed bluntly defied the constitution and federal judiciary, saying he would not allow any appeals to state courts under the system of sharia, or Islamic law, that will prevail there as a result of the peace accord signed by the president Tuesday.
"The Koran says that supporting an infidel system is a great sin," Mohammed said, referring to Pakistan's modern democratic institutions. He declared that in Swat, home to 1.5 million people, all "un-Islamic laws and customs will be abolished," and he suggested that the official imprimatur on the agreement would pave the way for sharia to be installed in other areas.
Mohammed's dramatic speech echoed a rousing sermon in Islamabad on Friday by another radical cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who appeared at the Red Mosque in the capital after nearly two years in detention and urged several thousand chanting followers to launch a crusade for sharia nationwide.
Together, these rallying cries seemed to create an arc of radical religious energy between the turbulent, Taliban-plagued northwest region and the increasingly vulnerable federal capital, less than 100 miles to the east. They also appeared to pose a direct, unprecedented religious challenge to modern state authority in the Muslim nation of 176 million.
"The government made a big mistake to give these guys legal cover for their agenda. Now they are going to be battle-ready to struggle for the soul of Pakistan," said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of security studies at Quaid-i-Azam university here. He predicted a further surge in the suicide bombings that have recently become an almost daily occurrence across the country. Two recent bombings at security checkpoints in the northwest killed more than 40 people.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to the region, said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN that the decision by insurgents to keep fighting in spite of the peace deal should be a "wake-up call to everybody in Pakistan that you can't deal with these people by giving away territory as they creep closer and closer to the populated centers of the Punjab and Islamabad."
In the video...
- Andrew Bacevich is a professor of International Relations & History at Boston University. He has written several books, including The Limits of Power: The End of Military Exceptionalism and The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.
By Gareth Porter, IPS
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 (IPS) - The U.S. programme of drone aircraft strikes against higher-ranking officials of al Qaeda and allied militant organisations, which has been touted by proponents as having eliminated nine of the 20 top al Qaeda leaders, is actually weakening Pakistan’s defence against the insurgency of the Islamic militants there by killing large numbers of civilians based on faulty intelligence and discrediting the Pakistani military, according to data from the Pakistani government and interviews with senior analysts.
Some evidence indicates, moreover, that the top officials in the Barack Obama administration now see the programme more as an incentive for the Pakistani military to take a more aggressive posture toward the militants rather than as an effective tool against the insurgents.
As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base....Jamil Amjad, the commissioner in charge of the refugees, says the government is running short of resources to feed and shelter such large numbers....Pakistani officials say drone attacks have been stepped up since President Barack Obama took office in Washington, killing at least 81 people.
American drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.
By Amir Mir, The News
LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.
Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three
By Jeff Leys
Jeff Leys is Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
Fourteen peace and social justice activists were arrested on April 9 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The arrests occurred during a 10 day vigil at the gates to Creech–which is home to members of the Air Force who “pilot” the Predator and Reaper drones used in the Afghanistan - Pakistan war.
Participants in the Sacred Peace Walk (organized by Nevada Desert Experience) arrived at Creech in the late afternoon, after walking 14 miles that day en route to the Nevada Test Site. With the vigil’s numbers strengthened by the walkers, participants gathered together to reflect upon the lessons to be learned from the examples of the White Rose student movement in Nazi Germany and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work to oust Hitler from power through a coup attempt.
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Even as the Obama administration launches new drone attacks into Pakistan's remote tribal areas, concerns are growing among U.S. intelligence and military officials that the strikes are bolstering the Islamic insurgency by prompting Islamist radicals to disperse into the country's heartland.
Al Qaida, Taliban and other militants who've been relocating to Pakistan's overcrowded and impoverished cities may be harder to find and stop from staging terrorist attacks, the officials said.
Moreover, they said, the strikes by the missile-firing drones are a recruiting boon for extremists because of the unintended civilian casualties that have prompted widespread anger against the U.S.
Baitullah Mehsud has become the most powerful Pakistani militant and is the head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Intelligence sources believe he leads an army of over 25,000 and may have joined forces with Mulla Mohammad Omar's Taliban in Afghanistan to develop a "three-pronged strategy for their coming spring offensive" against US forces in the region.
Pakistan could collapse within six months in the face of the snowballing insurgency, a top expert on guerrilla warfare has said.
The dire prediction was made by David Kilcullen, a former adviser to top US military commander General David Petraeus.
David Kilcullen is the best known practitioner of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations and had advised Gen Petraeus on the counter-insurgency programme in Iraq. Few experts understand the nature of the insurgency in Af-Pak as well and he is now advising Petraeus in Afghanistan.
Petraeus also echoed the same thought when he told a Congressional testimony last week that the insurgency could "take down" Pakistan, which is home to nuclear weapons and al-Qaida.
By Norman Solomon
Top Democrats and many prominent supporters -- with vocal agreement, tactical quibbles or total silence -- are assisting the escalation of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The predictable results will include much more killing and destruction. Back home, on the political front, the escalation will drive deep wedges into the Democratic Party.
The party has a large anti-war base, and that base will grow wider and stronger among voters as the realities of the Obama war program become more evident. The current backing or acceptance of the escalation from liberal think tanks and some online activist groups will not be able to prevent the growth of opposition among key voting blocs.
Americans elected President Obama in part based on his promise to put diplomacy and international cooperation, rather than the use and threat of military force, at the center of his foreign policy. With respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while there have been some encouraging signals, in terms of actually implemented policies the folks who voted for Obama are not yet getting the "diplomacy first" that they were promised. Last week the Washington Post reported that 55% of Democrats support negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, and that 56% of Democrats think the U.S. should focus more on economic development in Afghanistan than on defeating the Taliban militarily.
“Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people . . .”
I believe him, with a passionate urgency — this new president, swept into office on a surge of hope and anger. I believe him without cynicism. After all, he has a terrifying job to do, a toxic legacy left to mop up. I cut him slack, listen for the sound, in his words, of the turning of the ship of state. How does he plan to engage the future? He’s an intelligent and, I think, courageous leader. And he has a global constituency to back him up. All he has to do is speak to it, clearly and candidly . . .
I was numb to the lies and simplistic rhetoric of George W. Bush. But when Barack Obama tries to fill those incredibly small shoes, to rev up the same constituency of true believers (the constituency that didn’t vote for him) and sell the same war — new! improved! — to the American people, I am not numb. The hope in my heart bursts into flying shrapnel. You’re making a serious mistake, Mr. President.
Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country" (Trailer)
Pakistan is in such a perilous state that Bruce Riedel, a foreign policy expert leading President Obama's Afghanistan review, has called it "the most dangerous country in the world today." Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a government disconnected from the poverty, malnutrition, and lack of healthcare afflicting its people. And though Pakistan remains a U.S. ally, tensions continue to rise as the U.S. considers broadening military strikes within Pakistan's borders. Part two of Rethink Afghanistan focuses on how the Afghanistan crisis affects Pakistan and all of us.
Click "Read more" for 11 min. movie essential for understanding the stakes in Afghanistan, petition, question submissions, and updates.
Commentary: Afghanistan and Pakistan's wilderness of mirrors
By Arnaud De Borchgrave | UPI
The ancient Arab proverb "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" does not apply in Pakistan. Knowledge of Raumschach, or space chess, as played on "Star Trek" is more useful. It's a form of 3-D chess where one can lose on several levels.
The geopolitical nexus of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Federally Administered Tribal Areas-India is now seen in the White House as a regional crisis that requires a holistic politico-military approach. But suspicions and disinformation about each other's motives, replete with conspiracy theories, have combined to make Pakistan, the Muslim world's only nuclear power, the most dangerous place on Earth.
President Obama sees the enemy in Afghanistan as the Taliban and al-Qaida. But al-Qaida shelters and the Taliban rests and trains in the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. And while Pakistan is "a major non-NATO ally," it also assists, through its Inter Services Intelligence agency, the Taliban insurgents fighting the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Greg Mortenson: Targeted by the Taliban, the 'Three Cups of Tea' Author Never Gave Up on His Peacebuilding Efforts
"If you fight terrorism, that's based in fear. But if you promote peace, that's based in hope," Mortenson said. "And the real enemy I think is ignorance. It's ignorance that breeds hatred."
It all started accidently. In 1993 on his way down from a harrowing and unsuccessful climb of the world's second tallest mountain, K2 in northern Pakistan, an exhausted and dehydrated Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe. The people of the village helped him get well. While recovering he noticed the children had nowhere to learn.
"When I saw those 84 children sitting in the dirt and they asked for help to build a school I made a promise that day that I would help them," Mortenson explained.
Mortenson returned to the United States and began to try to raise money for the project. He composed letters on a borrowed electric typewriter and sent them to 580 celebrities asking for help. He got one $100 check.
"What changed things around was that my mother, who is an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, invited me to come and talk to the kids. A fourth grader named Jeffrey said I have piggy bank at home and I am going to help you," Mortenson said.
Jeffrey and his school mates raised 62,400 pennies.
The Great Afghan Bailout: It's Time to Change Names, Switch Analogies
By Tom Engelhardt
Let's start by stopping.
It's time, as a start, to stop calling our expanding war in Central and South Asia "the Afghan War" or "the Afghanistan War." If Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke doesn't want to, why should we? Recently, in a BBC interview, he insisted that "the 'number one problem' in stabilizing Afghanistan was Taliban sanctuaries in western Pakistan, including tribal areas along the Afghan border and cities like Quetta" in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.
Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President
By Ray McGovern
I was wrong. I had been saying that it would be naïve to take too seriously presidential candidate Barack Obama’s rhetoric regarding the need to escalate the war in Afghanistan. I kept thinking to myself that when he got briefed on the history of Afghanistan and the oft proven ability of Afghan “militants” to drive out foreign invaders—from Alexander the Great, to the Persians, the Mongolians, Indians, British, Russians—he would be sure to understand why they call mountainous Afghanistan the “graveyard of empires.”
By Noah Shachtman, WIRED
President Obama has just laid out his new war strategy. And he's made it clear that the fight is both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So I asked Dennis McDonough, with the National Security Council: Does that mean U.S. ground forces in Pakistan? Or more drone attacks? "I'm not going to comment on the notions you laid out there," he answered, during a White House conference call with bloggers. But during a separate press conference, Bruce Reidel, who recently completed a strategy review of the region for the White House, offered some hints. READ THE REST.
President Obama is expected to "announce" his "new" Afghanistan strategy Friday - the traditional Washington day for burying things. But there aren't likely to be many surprises. The Administration has been dribbling details out to the news media, and what has been foreshadowed includes: more troops, more civilians, narrower goals; a renewed concession, perhaps, that there is no military solution.
By Dave Lindorff
The actions of Obama's Chief Financial Adviser Larry Summers and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in permitting the payment of $165 million in bonuses to AIG executives (Summers, according to the Wall Street Journal, actually pressed Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, to secretly remove a bar to the payment of such bonuses from the bailout bill) and storm of public outrage that has followed public disclosure of those payments, provides President Obama, whose administration is stumbling badly on many fronts, to turn things around and avoid political disaster.
He should promptly demand Geithner's and Summers' resignations, and should also fire the CEO of AIG, Edward Liddy (as 80% owner of AIG, the US has the power to do that anytime). It would also be a good idea at the same time to fire the CEOs of all the leading banks that are at this point surviving on government bailouts.
Pakistan's embattled government announced key concessions to opposition demands Saturday, on the eve of a mass protest in Islamabad that had raised fears of bloody clashes in the streets.
The move to defuse tensions came as the army was put on standby, to be deployed in case of serious civil unrest, and the capital Islamabad was sealed ahead of the planned arrival of the protesters from across the country on Monday. The opposition is campaigning for an independent judiciary.
Obama Afghan Plan Focuses on Pakistan Aid and Appeal to Militants
By Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker | NYTimes
The emerging outlines of President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan include proposals to shift more American efforts toward problems in neighboring Pakistan and to seek some kind of political reconciliation with the vast majority of insurgents in the region, according to administration officials.
The plan reflects in part a conclusion within the administration that most of the insurgent foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are “reconcilable” and can be pried away from the hard-core organizations of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. At least 70 percent of the insurgents, and possibly more, can be encouraged to lay down their arms with the proper incentives, administration officials have said.
Britain and the US are trying to broker a compromise between Pakistan's two major political parties as confrontation threatens to push the country towards collapse.
For the past two days British and American officials have been involved in intense mediation between President Asif Ali Zardari's government and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. London and Washington are concerned that Pakistan, a key ally, is engulfed in political infighting rather than tackling extremists.
Political sources in Pakistan said Sharif looks unlikely to back down as a "long march" protest against Islamabad kicked off yesterday, drawing a heavy-handed response from the government.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – At least eight people were killed Sunday in two suspected US missile strikes in northwest Pakistan near to the border with Afghanistan, security officials said.
"Two missiles fired by a suspected US drone hit a compound in Sararogha, in tribal South Waziristan region, killing at least eight suspected militants," a security official told AFP.
The region is a known haven for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
"It was a Taliban sanctuary, which was destroyed in the attack," another security official said.
"Some foreigners were possibly among those killed in the attack," he said.
The compound, which had underground bunkers, was in the area controlled by militant commander Baitullah Mehsud's tribe, he said.
US congressman Ron Paul says US military interventions around the world show that American politicians are in pursuit of a "world empire".
US statesmen from both sides of the aisle "are all interventionists, they all believe in the world empire," said the outspoken Republican congressman in an interview with Russia Today.
Paul made the remarks when asked about President Barack Obama's decision to assign 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan contingents.
The Texas congressman called Obama's decision an "outrage", saying the US has suffered "the most because we're paying for our foreign intervention overseas."
"But foreign policies don't change; it doesn't change with Democrats or Republicans," Paul said.