Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The 2007 Turkish Elections: An Islamist Victory?
Guest Op-Ed by Howard Eissenstat

It is hard to understate the high drama of the Turkish elections that took place on July 22nd. One leading candidate, Devlet Bahçeli, of the neo-fascist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) took to tossing a hangman’s noose to his audience to demonstrate his tough “anti-terror” stance. Another candidate was murdered shortly before the election, though unpaid debts and ties to organized crime are more likely than politics as the cause of his assassination.

But the most important aspect to these elections was that they represented an important face-off between the elected government of Turkey and that country’s powerful military and bureaucratic elite. For many in the bureaucracy and, particularly, with the military, the government is nothing more than an Islamist wolf in democratic sheep’s clothing. In the Spring, a combination of massive (and well financed) protests, half-veiled threats from the powerful Turkish military, and legislative high jinks effectively stymied the ability of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to choose its candidate for the Presidency. At a legislative impasse, the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan, called for elections, promising to win an even more decisive victory than he had in the 2002 elections. He was as good as his word and the AKP, won better than 45% of the popular vote, an improvement of more than 12% over the 2002 results and more than enough to ensure that the AKP can again form a government without reliance on coalition partners.

There are a number of reasons to be pleased with the results of the election. The poor showing of the MHP suggests that even in the militantly nationalist atmosphere of contemporary Turkey, the attractions of fascism are limited. On the other hand, a significant number of Kurdish candidates, who risked disenfranchisement through the arcane rules of Turkey’s electoral system (written under the watchful eye of the Turkish military), effectively overcame this hurdle by running as independent candidates. Twenty-seven independent candidates will participate in the new parliament, most of them representing Kurdish interests. Perhaps the most important outcome of these elections, however, has been the failure of the old military and bureaucratic elites to either cow or overturn the popularly elected government.

That being said, do the 2007 elections really, as so many commentators have suggested, represent the “triumph of Political Islam” in Turkey? In a word, no.

Clearly, many in the old Turkish elite and among the millions who protested the AKP this past Spring, believe that the AKP constitutes a danger to the secular nature of the Turkish state. There are reasons to be concerned. Early in the AKP administration, an attempt to criminalize marital infidelity raised eyebrows and threatened a national pastime before it was quietly aborted. More troubling, municipal governments associated with the AKP, have often attempted to use state resources to promote what they see as proper Islamic practice. Finally, the AKP, while far less corrupt than previous Turkish governments, has not shied from indulging in what the Turks call, “kadrolaşma” stuffing government institutions with their supporters both as a means of rewarding loyalty and ensuring that their power continues even if their electoral fortunes one day falter.

Nevertheless, these concerns are overstated. First, the secret to the AKP’s success is that it has reframed debates regarding the role of Islam in Turkey. While there is certainly a determined (and tiny) minority in Turkey which hopes to overthrow the secular basis of the Turkish Republic, this has never been on the AKP’s agenda and indeed would be tremendously unpopular. Instead, they have argued that being religiously observant should not constitute a barrier to access of the public sphere. The AKP has coupled this call for tolerance for religious observance with economic liberalism and a determination to locate Turkey decisively in “the West.” This “center-right” formula has been consistently successful in Turkish politics since the first democratic elections in 1950. It has proven equally successful for the AKP.

Certainly, many devout Sunni Muslims voted for the AKP this past Sunday. But most were voting for the opportunity to practice their religion without interference from the state, not imposition of Islamic law. In addition, much of the AKP’s electoral success is based on its economic policies and the steady growth and relative stability that they have brought. In Turkey, as elsewhere, money matters.

The AKP’s relative liberalism seems to have also gained it the support of many who have been distrustful of state power but have no interest in an Islamist state. As in the past, the AKP did well in Kurdish regions. If newspaper reports are to be believed, it also did well with many of Turkey’s diminishing non-Muslims, who were presumably won over by the AKP’s pro-Europe stance and were fearful of the rabid nationalism espoused by both the MHP and the formerly left-of-center, Republican People’s Party (CHP). Of greater electoral significance, the AKP also did surprisingly well in regions with large Alevi population, a group that has historically voted for left-of-center parties and has been particularly protective of Turkey’s secular traditions. Only serious survey data will indicate how successful the AKP was with the Alevi; at minimum, however, they were able to cut into a significant portion of the Alevi vote. This is particularly significant because the Alevi are a large voting bloc which has historically sided with the secular left as the best defense against Sunni dominance. Even if Turkey’s elites remain unconvinced of the AKP’s long-term ambitions, the party has been able to convince an even more important group: Turkey’s voters.

The AKP won its popularity through careful stewardship of the economy and by progressive liberalization of the political sphere. Its victory is a victory for Turkish democracy, not a call for Sharia.

Howard Eissenstat is an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. Read more on this article...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iran and US Jiu-Jitsu in the Middle East
Op-Ed by Gary Sick

Gary Sick of Columbia University writes

About six months ago, I wrote . . . speculating on what I thought was an emerging US Middle East strategy. The essence of the argument was that the United States would attempt to use the threat of Iran and a Shia political emergence to mobilize Arab support and perhaps even a degree of tacit Arab-Israeli cooperation. The strategy would also intend to shift attention away from the US catastrophe in Iraq.

A[n] . . . attentive reader . . . wrote to me some weeks ago and asked how I (or the US, for that matter) could reconcile this tripartite strategy focused on Iran as the enemy with the decision to initiate direct talks with Iran. I thought it was a very good question, and I have been thinking about it.

I was finally moved to respond by the news this weekend that the US intends to sell $20 billion in new arms to the Arab states of the Gulf over the next decade, while increasing military aid to Israel by 25% (a total of $3 billion per year) and also raising aid to Egypt by a smaller but significant amount. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are getting ready for a major Middle East trip to present this package and to attempt to forge a working consensus focused squarely on Iran as the major threat in the region. The level of the bribes may change in the course of discussions, but this is obviously intended as an offer that they cannot refuse.

[ . . . Robin Wright of the Washington Post also wrote an article today . . . that compared this development to US strategy during the cold war -- see "U.S. vs. Iran: Cold War, Too" in Thread 15. See also "Is it a cold war?" By Aluf Benn in Haaretz, Thread 25.]

This strikes me as a marvelous example of political jiu jitsu. The United States made possible an emergent Iran by eliminating its Taliban rivals to the east and its Baathist rivals to the west and then installing a Shia government in Baghdad for the first time in history. Having inadvertently created a set of circumstances that insured an increase in Iranian strength and bargaining power, that seriously frightened US erstwhile Sunni allies in the region, and that undermined US strength and credibility, the US now proposes a new and improved regional political relationship to deal with the problem, and, incidentally, to distract attention from America's plight in Iraq while reviving America's position as the ultimate power in the region.

But there is a potentially huge flaw in this brilliant policy legerdemain. Iraq will just not go away, and the government of Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia partisan, is proving to be an intractable obstacle to sweeping the Iraqi debacle under the rug. The "surge" in US military forces may be intended to create at least the illusion of greater stability in Baghdad and thereby facilitate the start of a US withdrawal. It may also provide the basis for greater pressure on the Iraqi government to solve some of its most pressing political and economic disputes. But it seems to be a tactical maneuver that is unlikely to produce any long-term solutions.

Perhaps the same can be said about the talks with Iran. These talks serve several purposes. First, they provide periodic opportunities for the US to denounce Iran's nefarious actions and thereby reinforce the Iran-focused strategy. They also serve to placate those in the UN Security Council and elsewhere who believe that the sanctions policy should be accompanied by direct diplomacy. They are a gesture in the direction of the Baker- Hamilton commission, which called for the creation of a regional forum to deal with Iraqi dilemma, and they provide evidence to American's Sunni Arab allies that Washington is prepared to go some way to "tame" the Iranians. The talks may also serve the purposes of the hardliners around Dick Cheney who want to make them fail so they can point to the futility of talking to fanatics. But they also respond to direct requests by the Iraqi government to bring Iran into the security equation, and they provide a forum in which Iran, Iraq and the United States can all three meet around the same table.

It is unclear to me whether the US is serious about the talks, and perhaps Washington itself has not fully made up its mind. But I am more than a little surprised that Iran has shown a willingness to proceed with the talks, and even to make them a regular fixture, despite US disparaging comments and sermonizing at every possible opportunity. Iran's response has been remarkably imperturbable. Is Tehran willing to accept US bluster addressed to its domestic constituents as a necessary evil in order to obtain a desirable outcome? Do they know something I don't know?

The bottom line in any event is that neither the US nor Iran has walked away from the talks, although either of them could have done so at any point. That suggests a degree of seriousness that perhaps belies the hostile rhetoric.

In January, I spelled out what I saw as the "moving parts" of the new US strategy -- a proposed division of labor among the various parties. Perhaps this is a good moment to review this check list:

United States:

-- Drop any further talk about democratization in the Middle East [done];

-- Use its influence in the United Nations Security Council to keep the pressure on Iran (and to a lesser extent Syria) with sanctions and coordinated international disapproval [done];

-- Provide military cover for the Arab Gulf states as they take a more confrontational position vis a vis Iran (Patriot missiles, additional naval aircraft, etc.) [now greatly enhanced by the massive proposed arms deal, which of course produces some juicy profits for the US aerospace industry but also provides a framework for getting Israeli (and US congressional) acquiescence for selling some significant new military technology to the Arabs];

-- Undertake a more vigorous diplomatic effort to find a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, recognizing that even limited visible progress will provide diplomatic cover for the Arab states if they are to cooperate more closely with Israel [some considerable efforts to date, including calls for a new peace conference and other initiatives, though still far less than most observers would regard as satisfactory];

-- In Lebanon, provide covert support for efforts to support the Siniora government and to thwart Hezbollah, probably in close cooperation with Israeli intelligence [being done?];

-- Organize dissident movements in Iran, primarily among ethnic groups along the periphery or other targets of opportunity, to distract and potentially even destabilize the Tehran government [being done?];

In Iraq:

-- keep attention focused on Iran, including raids and general harassment of its representatives [the 5 Iranians who were arrested in Irbil have now been in US custody for more than 6 months, during which time Iranian representatives have been permitted to meet them only once, near the six-month anniversary];

-- keep U.S. forces in country to prevent the situation from descending into full scale civil war or a breakup of the country [done];

-- consider engineering a more Sunni-friendly government, especially if Prime Minister Maliki is unwilling or unable to control the Shia militias [not yet];

In the Arab States (the six Gulf Cooperation Council states plus Jordan and Egypt or 6+2):

-- Provide major funding and political support to the Siniora government in Lebanon and work to undercut Hezbollah's influence and image [not clear to me];

-- Attempt to woo (or threaten) Syria away from its alliance with Iran with promises of money and support of Syrian efforts to regain the Golan Heights [if so, the effort is totally subterranean as far as I can tell];

-- Provide facilities and funding to assist the various U.S. initiatives above [not really; Saudi Arabia has brokered its own deal with Hamas against US and Israeli wishes, and it has done some direct diplomacy with Iran to try and find a more acceptable modus vivendi, which seemed to produce some positive results -- in short, the Sunni Arabs have not been particularly active in holding to their end of the bargain as I see it];

-- Attempt to bring down the price of oil, which will remove some political pressures on Washington and make life more difficult for Iran [again, no very persuasive cooperation from the Arab side].


-- Provide intelligence support to U.S. (and potentially Arab) anti-Hezbollah efforts in Lebanon [probably done];

-- Keep international attention focused on the Iranian threat as a uniquely dangerous situation that may even demand Israeli military intervention [done in spades; please note that on the very day that word was leaked of the new US arms deal, the pro-Israeli website DEBKA announced that Iran was buying a huge number of long range attack aircraft and refueling aircraft from Russia (see Thread 18), thus hyping the threat -- whether true or not -- and providing an allegedly genuine threat rationale for the massive arms deal];

-- Use long-standing Israeli contacts, especially with the Kurds in Iraq and Iran, to foment opposition to the Tehran government [being done? needless to say, nobody will make an announcement...];

-- Be prepared to make sufficient concessions on the Palestinian issue and the Golan to provide at least the perception of significant forward motion toward a comprehensive settlement [not apparent to me, but that's not my field and I may not catch the subtle shifts, if any].

I realize that I am not doing justice to many of the moving parts in this alleged strategy (and I sincerely hope that those with special expertise will amend or correct any of these comments). However, the existence of such a US strategy seems to me indisputable, and the biggest question marks about its success involve (1) Arab (read Saudi) policy idiosyncrasies and doubts that don't fit with the American plan; (2) the internecine labyrinth of Iraqi politics and security; and perhaps (3) Iranian policy that has the capacity to surprise.

On one hand, Iran is performing according to plan, with Ahmadinejad continuing with his extravagant rhetoric and the Iranian security services holding American-Iranian scholars hostage in Evin prison and concocting TV KGB-style "confessions" that would be hilarious if they were not so grim in purpose and so painful for those involved.

But Iran also seems to have made a fundamental decision to talk to the US, and that is an interesting development that deserves to be acknowledged. This suggests that there are at least some power centers in Iran that are still operating on a pragmatic basis, at the same time that the security paranoia of the intelligence and "Justice" ministries has seemingly spiraled out of control.

Finally, much of the criticism of my earlier posting consisted of doubts that the Bush administration could possibly be capable of constructing such a complex strategy. I am aware of the total incompetence of this administration over much of the past five years or so in the Middle East, and I also read the polls saying that their confidence level with the American people (not to mention the rest of the world) is at a nadir. However, I am simply describing what I see, and I think it is important to take seriously the evidence in front of us. Perhaps my analysis is wrong, but I don't believe this concatenation of actions by the Bush administration is simply random.

Gary Sick Read more on this article...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Improving America's Security Act of 2007

The Pakistani press, and the authorities are quite chagrined at some languages but more concerned about the requirements imposed by the just passed Improving America's Security Act of 2007.

The section relevant to Pakistan from H. R. 1

(a) Findings-
Congress finds the following:
(1) Since September 11, 2001, the Government of Pakistan has been an important partner in helping the United States remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and combating international terrorism in the frontier provinces of Pakistan.
(2) There remain a number of critical issues that threaten to disrupt the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, undermine international security, and destabilize Pakistan, including--
(A) curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology;
(B) combating poverty and corruption;
(C) building effective government institutions, especially secular public schools;
(D) promoting democracy and the rule of law, particularly at the national level;
(E) addressing the continued presence of Taliban and other violent extremist forces throughout the country;
(F) maintaining the authority of the Government of Pakistan in all parts of its national territory;
(G) securing the borders of Pakistan to prevent the movement of militants and terrorists into other countries and territories; and
(H) effectively dealing with Islamic extremism.

(b) Statements of Policy- The following shall be the policies of the United States:
(1) To work with the Government of Pakistan to combat international terrorism, especially in the frontier provinces of Pakistan, and to end the use of Pakistan as a safe haven for forces associated with the Taliban.
(2) To establish a long-term strategic partnership with the Government of Pakistan to address the issues described in subparagraphs (A) through (H) of subsection (a)(2).
(3) To dramatically increase funding for programs of the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of State that assist the Government of Pakistan in addressing such issues, if the Government of Pakistan demonstrates a commitment to building a moderate, democratic state, including significant steps towards free and fair parliamentary elections in 2007.
(4) To work with the international community to secure additional financial and political support to effectively implement the policies set forth in this subsection and help to resolve the dispute between the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

(c) Strategy Relating to Pakistan-
(1) REQUIREMENT FOR REPORT ON STRATEGY- Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report, in classified form if necessary, that describes the long-term strategy of the United States to engage with the Government of Pakistan to address the issues described in subparagraphs (A) through (F) of subsection (a)(2) and carry out the policies described in subsection (b) in order accomplish the goal of building a moderate, democratic Pakistan.
(2) APPROPRIATE CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES DEFINED- In this subsection the term `appropriate congressional committees' means the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate.

(d) Limitation on United States Security Assistance to Pakistan-
(A) IN GENERAL- For fiscal years 2008 and 2009, United States assistance under chapter 2 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2311 et seq.) or section 23 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2763) may not be provided to, and a license for any item controlled under the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2751 et seq.) may not be approved for, Pakistan until 15 days after the date on which President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Pakistan is making all possible efforts to prevent the Taliban from operating in areas under its sovereign control, including in the cities of Quetta and Chaman and in the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
(B) FORM- The certification required by subparagraph (A) shall be transmitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.
(2) WAIVER- The President may waive the limitation on assistance under paragraph (1) for a fiscal year if the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that it is important to the national security interest of the United States to do so.
(3) SUNSET- The limitation on assistance under paragraph (1) shall cease to be effective beginning on the date on which the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Taliban, or any related successor organization, has ceased to exist as an organization capable of conducting military, insurgent, or terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistan.
(4) APPROPRIATE CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES DEFINED- In this subsection, the term `appropriate congressional committees' means the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate.

(e) Nuclear Proliferation-
(1) FINDING- Congress finds that Pakistan's maintenance of a network for the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies would be inconsistent with Pakistan being considered an ally of the United States.
(2) SENSE OF CONGRESS- It is the sense of Congress that the national security interest of the United States will best be served if the United States develops and implements a long-term strategy to improve the United States relationship with Pakistan and works with the Government of Pakistan to stop nuclear proliferation.

(f) Authorization of Appropriations-
(1) IN GENERAL- There are authorized to be appropriated to the President for providing assistance for Pakistan for fiscal year 2008--
(A) for `Development Assistance', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of sections 103, 105, and 106 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151a, 2151c, and 2151d,);
(B) for the `Child Survival and Health Programs Fund', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of sections 104 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151b);
(C) for the `Economic Support Fund', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of chapter 4 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2346 et seq.);
(D) for `International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of chapter 8 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2291 et seq.);
(E) for `Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs', such sums as may be necessary;
(F) for `International Military Education and Training', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of chapter 5 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2347 et seq.); and
(G) for `Foreign Military Financing Program', such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section 23 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2763).
(2) OTHER FUNDS- Amounts authorized to be appropriated under this subsection are in addition to amounts otherwise available for such purposes.

(g) Extension of Waivers-
(1) AMENDMENTS- The Act entitled `An Act to authorize the President to exercise waivers of foreign assistance restrictions with respect to Pakistan through September 30, 2003, and for other purposes', approved October 27, 2001 (Public Law 107-57; 115 Stat. 403), is amended--
(A) in section 1(b)--
(i) in the heading, to read as follows:
`(b) Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008- '; and
(ii) in paragraph (1), by striking `any provision' and all that follows through `that prohibits' and inserting `any provision of the foreign operations, export financing, and related programs appropriations Act for fiscal year 2007 or 2008 (or any other appropriations Act) that prohibits';
(B) in section 3(2), by striking `Such provision' and all that follows through `as are' and inserting `Such provision of the annual foreign operations, export financing, and related programs appropriations Act for fiscal years 2002 through 2008 (or any other appropriations Act) as are'; and
(C) in section 6, by striking `the provisions' and all that follows and inserting `the provisions of this Act shall terminate on October 1, 2008.'.
(2) EFFECTIVE DATE- The amendments made by paragraph (1) take effect on October 1, 2006.
(3) SENSE OF CONGRESS- It is the sense of Congress that determinations to provide extensions of waivers of foreign assistance prohibitions with respect to Pakistan pursuant to Public Law 107-57 for fiscal years after the fiscal years specified in the amendments made by paragraph (1) to Public Law 107-57 should be informed by the pace of democratic reform, extension of the rule of law, and the conduct of the parliamentary elections currently scheduled for 2007 in Pakistan.
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Security Tightened after Deadly suicide blast near Pakistan's Red Mosque

Pakistani authorities in Islamabad, the capital, tightened security in the wake of a suicide bombing near the Red Mosque, targeting police, that killed 14.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Urdu Press on Threat of US Attack in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

The USG Open Source Center rounds up Pakistani editorials on the prospect of a US attack on al-Qaeda elements in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan. The consensus? A major wave of anti-American feeling would wash over Pakistan, many of whose citizens might well rally to the tribals against the US.

Pakistan: Urdu Press Roundup on Threat of US Attack in Tribal Areas

The following is a roundup of excerpts from editorials and articles on the situation arising out of the recent US statements that it can launch direct attacks on Pakistan's Tribal Areas to dismantle Al-Qa'ida and Taliban hideouts, published in 27 July editions of five Urdu dailies:
Pakistan -- OSC Summary
Friday, July 27, 2007

Khabrain Editorial Sees Contradiction in Statements of US Officials: Expressing surprise over the statements of the US officials, who on one hand acknowledge and appreciate Pakistan's crucial role in the war against terrorism and on the other accuse it of failure to take effective steps in this war, the editorial says: "It is beyond any doubt that Pakistan has fought the war against terrorism with all sincerity and good intentions. It is still doing so. It has faced internal opposition and criticism in this regard. However, despite all this, the United States is expressing suspicion about its intentions. If irresponsible statements from the US side do not come to an end, the US should keep it in mind that strategic partnership with it can end due to its irresponsible statements."

Jang Article by Aga Mahsud Hussain Warns of Rise in Anti-US Sentiments in Event of Attack: Supporting the statement of Foreign Minister Kasuri that there will be extreme surge in anti-American sentiments if the US attacks Pakistan's Tribal Areas, the article comments: "President Musharraf will have to face the most difficult situation in case of possible US attack, though he has been fighting against terrorism in collaboration with the US. He has achieved remarkable successes in this war. The troops of Pakistan Army sacrificed their lives while extremists are killing troops and policemen inside the country (due to this very reason)."

Express Article by Ahmed Latif Fears Large-Scale War in Tribal Areas: Saying that the United States may implement its threats of attacking the Tribal Areas to realize its objectives, the article says: "It appears that fear of a big war on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border may come true if seen in the perspective of recent happenings and threats of direct attacks by the United States. In his weekly Radio address, President Bush has also talked about such things. He termed the Lal Mosque operation as part of the global war against terrorism. Pakistan is being patted for doing an excellent job but the desire of 'do more' is also expressed at the same time. In other words, Pakistan is being asked to attack its own people. There are people who say that it will now be Pakistan's turn or the process has already started."

Nawa-e Waqt Editorial Warns US Against Attacking Tribal Areas: Asking the Pakistan Government to tell the United Sates that resistance against the US in Tribal Areas is due to its oppression in Afghanistan and Iraq, the editorial says: "The Pakistan Government should tell the Untied States that the Tribal Areas are integral part of Pakistan and if Washington attacks these areas, people of Pakistan will be duty-bound to assist their tribal brethren. The United Sates will have to face stiff resistance, in addition to facing the anger and protest of Muslims across the world. Hatred against the US in Muslim countries will not end due to verbal consolation given by Washington. The United States will have to stop the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and make reparations for the material losses there."

Islam Editorial Asks Government To Refrain From Inviting 'More' Trouble: Analyzing the situation that shows that the United States is engaged in planning to create difficulties for Pakistan by deteriorating the situation in the country and estranging its trustworthy friend China, the editorial says: "The situation in Tribal Areas has worsened in the wake of scrapping of the peace agreement. There is danger of more attacks and suicide attacks following reports about launching of a joint operation by the United States and Pakistan. The possibility of its reaction spreading to other parts of the country cannot be ruled out. Keeping in view these realities, there is need that the Pakistan Government acts wisely and refrains from inviting more trouble and danger for the country under external pressure." Read more on this article...

Taliban deny Extending Hostage Deadline

The USG Open Source Center translates an article that appeared Friday concerning the Taleban capture of Korean aid workers.

"Afghan Taleban denies hostage deadline extended, gives warning
Afghan Islamic Press
Friday, July 27, 2007

Afghan Taleban denies hostage deadline extended, gives warning

Text of report by Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency, Kandahar, 27 July:

The Taleban say that the latest deadline for the abducted South Korean nationals has not be extended (the last deadline set was for 0730 gmt on 27 July).
Speaking to Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) over the phone after about a 24-hour delay, the Taleban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yusof Ahmadi, said: "The government delegation told us that new people have been included in the delegation and will soon find a solution. The delegation also said that the guest who came from South Korea will also be effective in this issue, so the delegation asked the Taleban to wait."

We also want to solve the problem, but if we realize that the government does not want to find a way out of the crisis, we will kill the hostages, the Taleban spokesman added.

When asked whether there was still a risk to the lives of the hostages, the spokesman said: If the Taleban perceive that the government is not releasing their prisoners and does not want to solve the problem, the Taleban will kill the Korean hostages.

Today, a member of the government delegation told AIP that the Taleban had agreed to extend the deadline for reaching an agreement on the fate of the Korean hostages.

AIP has so far not received any reports confirming direct negotiations between the Taleban and the government delegation.

(Description of Source: Peshawar Afghan Islamic Press in Pashto -- Peshawar-based agency, staffed by Afghans. The agency used to have good contacts with Taliban leadership; however, since the fall of the Taliban regime, it now describes itself as independent and self-financing) Read more on this article...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ismail Haniyeh talks exclusively to Euronews

Ismail Haniyeh, the deposed prime minister of the Palestine Authority and an important figure in Hamas in the Gaza Strip made headlines Thursday by claiming that the British government had increased its diplomatic contacts with Hamas. The British Foreign Ministry denied Haniyeh's allegations.

Video from Eurovision of an interview with Haniyeh, who maintains he is still prime minister.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Inside Story - US and Iran discuss Iraq - 24 Jul 07

Coverage of the Iran-US talks in Baghdad from Aljazeera English.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ryan Crocker Complains, Kazemi Qomi Waits

The second and longer meeting with Iran and the U.S. over Iraq ended with a public display of dissatisfaction on the part of Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, about Iran’s support for the Iraqi Shi’ite militia. Meanwhile his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, has been a lot more discrete about the meeting. Talking to the Iranian press he said he was satisfied with the American “acknowledgment in the meeting that they had made many mistakes in Iraq.” He was also satisfied with the American agreement to set up a joint “security committee” to help quell the insurgency in Iraq. This was a proposal made by Qazemi Qomi to Crocker in the meeting that was held between the two in late May. Crocker, awaiting instructions from Washington, did not respond then. After two months, there seems to be a grudging acceptance that cooperation with Iran may have to be in the cards. As Juan Cole points out, this is a significant development that needs to be watched.

Given the agreement on the security committee, the details of which is supposed to be revealed in the next few days, then one has to wonder about Crocker’s critical commentary. This is particularly so if, as the Iranian website Baztab which is connected to the former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie reports, there has been a follow up meeting between Crocker and Kazemi Qomi. According to an unidentified Iraqi official, this meeting did not include Iraqis and entailed discussion of “issues of mutual concerns between the two countries.” Baztab suggests that Crocker's critical commentary was intended to divert attention from the subsequent “private” meeting between the two emissaries.

Whether or not this interpretation is true or a subsequent meeting actually took place, the differing public posture of the two ambassadors tells me something significant about differing politics surrounding U.S./Iran relations in the two countries.

In both countries there has been quite a bit of criticism of the two meetings coming from the hard-line flanks of the two administrations. But Crocker’s public accusations after the meeting suggest that the Bush Administration is probably more concerned about the reaction to the meeting from domestic critics and regional allies. This is the only way one can explain the disconnection between Crocker's words and U.S. actions. In this context, it is worth remembering that after the first meeting in May, Crocker has specifically stated that subsequent meetings will be contingent on Iran’s behavior. If indeed, as Crocker suggests, the “on the ground” behavior of Iran has not changed since the last meeting and in fact has worsened (he said that Iran's behavior "has not been encouraging"), then why did the U.S. agree to the second meeting in the first place and even more so why the agreement over the creation of the security committee? In the post-meeting news conference, Crocker suggested that the security committee would be a framework within which Iranians could begin to address U.S. concerns about Iran's behavior in Iraq. Even if this is the only task of the security committee, which I seriously doubt, it is indeed a significant departure from Secretary Rice’s position that “Iranians already know what we expect of them” and there is no reason for any dialogue for them to act on what the U.S. expect them to do.

In Iran, on the other hand, things are working out a bit differently. The hard-line Kayhan and the presumed mouthpiece of the supreme leader has been against meetings with the U.S. from the beginning, calling them “dancing with the wolves” or an enterprise from which Iran will gain nothing and the clearly troubled Bush Administration will gain much ("why help it under such dire circumstances?"). The conservative Baztab has also criticized the lack of adequate planning and proper publicity regarding these meetings. But the decision about taking these meetings seriously seems to have been taken and hence the official discussion of these meetings have been measured and without headline grabbing accusations. Crocker’s accusations have also not been responded to in a tit-for-tat manner. Foreign Minister Mottaki even suggested that Iran would take a formal request by the United States for higher level meetings seriously, a suggestion that was immediately rejected by the Bush Administration. The Iranians seem to be banking that the realities of Iraq will force the Bush Administration to slowly come around, the same way it did with the security committee. Read more on this article...

Robert Fisk on Postwar Lebanon

From an appearance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in April, the Beirut correspondent of The Independent in the UK explains the reality on the ground and critiques US media coverage of the Middle East.

In part, Fisk is talking about the post-war Lebanon economy, covered by this article. Apparently among the big consequences of the war last summer has been an acceleration of Lebanon's brain drain. Economists worry that without its white collar, professional middle class, the country will stagnate.

Read more on this article...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

First Pro-Kurdish MPs in Ankara for 16 years

Some twenty (some sources say 24) Kurdish MPs were elected to the Turkish parliament, some of them with ties to the violent PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party) guerrilla group. For the Kurds to have representation at this level is unprecedented since the early 1990s, and could be a positive development. They will face a lot of hostility from Turkey's far rightwing nationalist party, which also gained seats for the first time in a while.

What this article does not say is that 100 of the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) members of parliament are of Kurdish heritage.

Video from Euronews.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Taliban extend Korea hostage deadline by 24 hours

Taliban in Afghanistan holding 23 Korean Christian aid workers hostage are demanding that Taliban prisoners be released in exchange for them. Taliban also held two German hostages, demanding that German troops leave the country, and one of them was found dead on Sunday. That discovery made saving the Korean hostages seem even more urgent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel angrily rejected the idea of Germany being blackmailed by the Taliban into leaving Afghanistan. She pledged to work to free the remaining German hostage.

Video on the Korean hostage situation from Kabul, courtesy Euronews/ YouTube.

Read more on this article...

Insight with Benazir Bhutto: Pakistan on the Brink

Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, is saying that she may return to the country to contest the fall elections.

Bhutto had been excluded from the country by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who threatened to have her arrested and tried on corruption charges if she returned. (Her husband, Asif Zardari, faced even more serious such charges, having been known while first husband as "Mr. 10%" because of the cut he took on foreign contracts.)

Musharraf, however, has now been much weakened. His failure to deal effectively with militants in the northern areas, his invasion of the Red Mosque and seminary, and the recent slap in his face when the Supreme Court reinstated chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry-- all these events have left him reeling. As a military dictator, Musharraf lacks grass roots.

Under attack from the Muslim religious Right, he may seek the support of the secular, left of center Pakistan People's Party and allow Ms. Bhutto to return. She has now said she is coming back, even without such a deal. She says that her return is necessary to forestall a take-over of Pakistan by Muslim extremists sometime during the next 5 years. See the video below:

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Three Moroccans held in Italy, amid mosque terror camp claim

Italian authorities announced Saturday that they had uncovered a terrorist training cell with links to Usama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Police found manuals on how to fly a passenger jet and others on handling poisons and explosives. Police arrested three men of Moroccan heritage and are searching for a fourth man.

Police found indications that some of those trained by the cell may have gone abroad, including to Iraq.

Video follows:

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Palestinian prisoners freed

The Israeli release of 250 Palestinian activists this weekend was designed as a gift of good publicity to Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. Most of those released were from the Fatah group that he heads, and none were from Hamas, which now controls Gaza. Fatah fighters have announced a cease fire with Israel.

Jonathan Alterman is skeptical about the impact of the gesture:
' "It changes the subject for a while but it doesn't address the fundamental strategic challenges Abbas has," said Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national-security research center. "I don't see how this does any more than begin to set him in the right direction."

Video from Aljazeera English follows:

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Turkey's Upcoming Elections

Turkey's elections on Sunday have polarized the country, with about a third of the population fearing that a victory by the AK Party will spell an end to Kemalist secularism and endanger the rights of women. Polls show that the slightly Islamically tinged AK will do very well.

Riz Khan's interviews on the elections from Aljazeera English:

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Justice's Turn

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, finally realizing that the political landscape has shifted away from Musharraf, reinstated CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and nullified the reference filed against him by Musharraf.

This is perhaps one of the pivotal rulings in the turbulent history of this nation. Pakistan, since 1947, has underwent long duration of military rule. From the first military commander of the nation Ayub Khan [1958 - 1969] to Zia ul Haq [1977 - 1988] to Pervez Musharraf [1999 - ], these warrior-kings have all made one fundamental claim to their public: that their particular act of suspension of democracy in Pakistan was ultimately constitutional and, hence, for the benefit of the nation. And, in making this claim, they have always had the support of Pakistan's Supreme Court - a support which was crucial in providing them the necessary legitimation for power. This rejection of Musharraf is all the more dramatic since it comes after a long history of judiciary's involvement in the dismissal of democratic institutions. I had posted earlier about framing the Lal Masjid crisis in somewhat broader context. In a similar vein, here are some things that should be kept in mind as we try to predict how the dice will roll for our embattled General.

It took nine years after independence, in 1956, for the Constitutional Assembly to come up with the first constitution for Pakistan. That document survived a mere two years - as General Ayub Khan set it aside for Martial Law in 1958. He shaped another constitution in 1962 - with the President having absolute authority over every thing, of course. That constitution was, again, suspended in 1969. The secession of East Pakistan and the election of the populist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1971 was cause enough to take yet another stab at writing a constitution. The result, unveiled in 1973, was accepted by all the political parties and remains in effect to this day. That is, if you consider the following checkered list to mean 'in effect': suspended 5 July 1977, restored with amendments 30 December 1985; suspended 15 October 1999, restored in stages in 2002; amended 31 December 2003. Throughout the 34 years of existence, this Constitution has often become the doodle-pad for the military ruler - Zia ul Haq issued a dozen or so Presidential Ordinances which were grafted as amendments to the constitution in 1985 and stamped by the Supreme Court. One of the most pernicious of these Presidential Ordinances cemented the power of the Executive to dismantle the legislative branch within the Constitution. The civilian goverments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif became painful hostages to that Ordinance.

In this history, the role of the Supreme Court is a particularly sordid one. In 1954, when Governor General Ghulam Muhammad dissolved the first Constituent Assembly, an appeal was made to the Supreme Court, asking it to rule on the legitimacy of such an action. The Chief Justice of Supreme Court at the time, Mohammad Munir, sided with the Governor General in his ruling calling it "the doctrine of necessity". Four years later, in October 1958, when President Iskander Mirza killed off the 1956 Constitution and declared Martial Law with General Ayub Khan as the Martial Law Administrator, the Assembly again appealed to the Supreme Court. Once again, the case of State vs Dosso, legitimized the coup. General Ayub Khan's very next step was to exile the President and the template was fixed for futures to come.

The Supreme Court, having climbed in bed with the military, had no choice now but to tuck in and get cozy. In 1977, it unanimously upheld Martial Law under General Zia ul Haq. In 1981, when Zia instituted the Provisional Constitutional Order and asked all Justices to re-take their oaths - the majority did. Those who refused were fired. This largely ensured future accommodation of any wishes of the Chief Military Officer of the country. In 1988, the Court rejected all challenges and upheld the 1988 dissolution of the National Assembly by General Zia. In 2000, Musharraf stuck to the playbook by sacking any Supreme Court Judge that refused to take their oaths to his regime.

The basis of this symbiotic relationship between The General and the Court lie in the structure of power and influence in Pakistani society. The tiers in this pyramid are the Military, which is the largest employer, the largest landholder and has had the longest duration in power, the civil bureaucracy, which traces back to the Raj (though much weakened during Musharraf's tenure), and the largely land-owning/industrial elite [who often provide the political players]. Functioning between these tiers are functional classes like the lawyers who have parlayed their unique access to military, civil and landed elite into their necessary role as brokers. The Court is apex of such brokerage. It has relied especially on the hagiography of the Constitution to bolster its power even as it sides with the Generals in almost every instance. The Generals, eager for the legitimation, have filled the Supreme Court with their appointees and trumpeted to the public that the Court is the last bastion of truly apolitical and patriotic actors in Pakistan - who have validated their rule. See how easy is this three card monte?

So, what changed with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry? By most accounts, the cause for his dismissal was that he had decided to hear petitions into government scandals - especially about citizens missing after their encounters with ISI and other intelligence services. The first response from the State to this alarming development was the circulation of a rather dubious letter accusing Iftikhar Chaudhry of corruption, cronyism, and abuse of public trust. After some heat was generated from the letter, Musharraf stepped in and declared the CJ to be non-functional and removed from office. And, going by the history of the country, there things would have rested. Except they didn't.

Iftikhar Chaudhry became a public hero. Hundreds of thousands of citizens thronged the streets of Lahore and Islamabad to see him and hear him. The call for Democracy went from being mere abstraction to a full-throated roar in the streets. The middle class that had traditionally sided with Musharraf broke away.

I find it hard to imagine how The General will survive all this. CJ Chaudhry back at the bench will surely pick up where he left off - hearing cases about the disappeared. Musharraf has lost all credibility and legitimacy since Feb/March. The Lal Masjid operation provided only temporary relief.

In the meanwhile, human bombs continue to blast away. Read more on this article...

Afghan warlord Hekmatyar announces ceasefire

There are reports that Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is seeking a truce with the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai. Hekmatyar had been a primary ally of the Reagan administration against the Soviets and his militia may have received $1 billion from the US in the 1980s. When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001-2002, Hekmatyar sided with the Taliban and has been leading a guerrilla war against his old allies ever since.

The report that he is laying down arms is preliminary and has not been verified. But if it is true, it could be an important development. Hekmatyar is a mass murderer, but he does have some authority with some Afghans.


Read more on this article...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lal Masjid - Pakistan in Aftermath

Car bombings and attacks have thrown northern Pakistan into instability and taken dozens of lives in the aftermath of the storming of the Red Mosque militant stronghold by Pakistani troops.

Video follows:

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Iran's Intelligence Ministry Goes Back to Its Old Tricks

Yesterday one of the channels the Iranian national television (IRTV) showed a trailer for an upcoming program to be shown on Wednesday and Thursday nights called “In the Name of Democracy.” In the trailer two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, are shown discussing things. The reason I cannot be more specific about the content is because the clips are so obviously doctored and shown out of context that the reference points are not at all clear. But the clear intent of the trailer is to relay the message that both Haleh and Kian are admitting that they were involved in efforts to create "cleavage between the government and people” (Kian’s words) and that their activities were merely “in the name of dialogue, in the name of empowering women, in the name of democracy” (Haleh’s words).

I am not surprised at what is being shown on IRTV. It is an old trick that used to be extensively practiced by the Intelligence Ministry in the pre-Khatami era that has now made a comeback during Ahmadinejad’s security-oriented environment. Both Haleh and Kian are filmed in a non-prison environment, probably in one of the many nicely set-up apartments that are owned by the Intelligence Ministry in the city of Tehran. My bet (and I have to acknowledge that my bet is an educated one because I spent a few days in the Evin prison last summer and then went through a series of lengthy “interviews” outside of prison for a couple of months) is that they don’t know that they are being filmed and in all likelihood they are not even talking to their interrogators! They are probably talking to someone, introduced to them as a professor or researcher in some Iranian university, about the Bush Administration’s Iran policy and its objectives.

I said that I am not surprised at what is being shown on IRTV but I am very surprised at the way the American newspapers are covering the trailer. Rather than reporting the exact words of both Haleh and Kian, they are printing the implications that Intelligence Ministry would like to relay through the doctored frames of their words. The implication is of course that these two scholars have "admitted" to things. For instance, the Washington Post story states: “Esfandiari …is quoted as saying her work was ‘in the name of dialogue, in the name of women's rights, in the name of democracy.’ In the trailer, however, Haleh in no way says “her work” was in the name of anything. In fact, as mentioned above, the doctored footage simply says, “in the name of democracy, in the name of women’s empowerment, in name of democracy.” The Los Angeles Times story also states:” “In the video clip shown Monday, she admits to being part of "a velvet revolution in Georgia," the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus region.” Again she says no such thing. Her words were “they were agents of the velvet revolution in Georgia.” The referent “they” is not at all clear and could have easily been any social or political group regularly identified as agent of change. Regarding Kian, the Los Angeles Times report states: “the role of ‘the Soros center after the collapse of communism was to target the Islamic world,’ he says in the promo, adding that he had sought to create ‘a conflict between the government and the people.’ Again he says no such thing. His only words, uttered not in continuity, are: “the Islamic world to be a target,” and “a cleavage be created between government and the people.”

The circumstances of Haleh and Kian are difficult enough to explain anything they end up saying to just get out of Evin prison. But I must admit that the American newspapers' falling so easily for the Intelligence Ministry's tricks took me by surprise. Read more on this article...

Yet another Election Kickoff in Iran

Last week - a week that saw the arrest of several student activists peacefully commemorating the anniversary of 1999 student protests, abduction of labor leader Massour Osanlou by plainclothes men in broad daylight (after a few days he was reported to have appeared in Evin prison’s Ward 209 which is run by the Intelligence Ministry), and the stoning of a man to death for adultery in the Qazvin province despite the attempt by other judicial authorities to stop it (the judge who ordered the stoning is now under investigation) - Iran for all practical purposes also kick started its elections for the Eight Parliament (Majles) to be held on March 15.

The occasion for what I consider a kickoff was the deadline set by new election regulations that came to pass last week for high ranking government employees to resign their posts six months before the election if they wished to run. The deputy interior minister for parliamentary affairs reported that approximately 150 high ranking officials resigned for an election that among Iran's political classes is considered both important and contested. The actual registration and the subsequent Guardian Council vetting process will not begin until late December but election talk and maneuvering for the creation of slates of candidates have already begun.

The legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, for variety of reasons, is intimately tied to the exercise of elections and this will be the Islamic Republic’s 25th elections for various offices (added to the 3 elections held in the immediate post-revolution year regarding the change of regime, election for the Constitutional Assembly and the approval of the Islamic constitution) in its 28-year history. Since until last year these elections were never held jointly, there have been elections in Iran almost annually. It was the extensiveness of resources required to mobilize for nationwide elections that led to the decision to hold the December 2006 elections for the Assembly of Experts (every eight years) and municipal councils (every four years) together. Similar attempts were made throughout last year to synchronize presidential and parliamentary elections, both held every four years, but the Guardian Council declared unconstitutional every legislative attempt to either shorten the president’s term or lengthen that of the Majles. Unlike the terms for the Assembly of Experts and municipal councils, the Iranian Constitution is explicit about the four -year duration of the presidential and parliamentary terms, and on this particular technicality the Guardian Council has proven uncharacteristically a stickler to the letter of the law at least so far.

Given the power of non-elective institutions – office of the leader, the Guardian Council, and the Expediency Council – one can and should question the significance of elections in Iran in heralding any measurable change in the political system as a whole. But notwithstanding this fundamental issue, elections in Iran do involve a competition in which the outcome is not pre-determined and as such they are significant political games, involving all the machinations, organizational maneuvering, attempts at coalition building, and voter and vote manipulations that are prevalent in many countries that have competitive political systems. Like elsewhere, they may also entail shifts in policy direction (as it has happened in the shift from Khatami to Ahmadinejad), particularly in the economic and cultural arenas. Moreover, there is the added element of constant attempt to manipulate election rules in order to handicap opponents or those candidates which may challenge the system (this is again not unique to Iran but is currently practiced much more extensively than elsewhere). As such elections also provide an important space for conversation about the rules of the game, and criticism of how elections are conducted and ultimately how the Islamic Republic is run. These criticisms rarely get anywhere but elections are important vehicles for their airing. Whether the recent security-oriented created to confront U.S. pressures and UN Security Council sanctions will prevent the usual opening of the public space during elections times is yet to be seen

As to the manipulation of the rules, the world mostly knows about the vetting of the candidates by the Guardian Council - a body consisting of 6 clerics appointed by the supreme leader and 6 non-clerics nominated by the head of the judiciary and approved by the Majles - and how this very effective mechanism has been used since the early 1990s by the conservatives who control the Guardian Council to handicap their opponents. But this process has also received quite a bit of domestic and international criticism and for the upcoming elections new tactics are being tried by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of conducting elections and since Ahmadinejad’s election has also been controlled by hard-line conservatives.

For instance, the new election regulations require those who occupy a significant number of government positions to resign from their positions six months before elections (hence the last weeks deadline). This rule is a clear disadvantage to those with higher chances of being vetted by the Guardian Council, i.e., the reformists/centrists. Since election registration and vetting do not begin until two months prior to the election, the very real possibility that a person may be disqualified and be out of a lucrative government job is likely to act as a significant barrier to candidacy. In recent years, the way to get around the vetting process, at least partially, has been by flooding the election market with candidates. This particular rule is intended to counteract that tactic. But ironically, given the fact that the conservatives now also control the executive branch, this may hurt them more by the mere fact that they now have more people in positions of power who are by law forbidden to run for the parliament unless they resign their positions. This is why the reformist and centrist political parties are claiming that they will have less difficulty in fielding sufficient number of candidates.

The second changed rule, an increase in the education requirement of candidates to a Masters degree (or a Bachelors degree and five years of managerial experience in the private or private sector) is likely to reduce the traditionally unwieldy number of candidates without little partisan impact over the long run. But in the short run the mere fact of the conservative controlled Interior Ministry becoming an arbiter of whether a candidate has enough combined education and experience adds another layer of vetting, hidden by the veneer of educational requirements. As such, it politicizes an already highly politicized electoral process even further. Finally, the decision to count each four-year stint as a member of the parliament as equivalent to one educational degree is undoubtedly intended to help the incumbent (mostly conservative) deputies retain their seats.

Despite all the rule manipulations, the process of forming slates of candidates for large cities is already in full gear. The past few elections have revealed a “hyper-fractionalization” of the political forces to the point that without some sort of concerted effort to form pre-election coalitions, organizations or political parties identified as either conservative or reformist will not have be able to declare any kind of victory in the upcoming Majles election. But in forming coalitions, the reformist/centrist and conservatives forces face different problems.

For the reformists/centrists the issue is registering enough candidates, particularly for the 30 seats of the city of Tehran, so that after disqualifications they would still have appealing slates in large cities (by appealing I mean that the top tiers of the slates are sufficiently well-known to attract the voters to come and vote and, when they do, vote for the whole slate). They also need to struggle against the urge among some reformists to boycott the elections if the vetting process becomes too extensive. Vetting clearly disadvantages the reformists/centrists but low voter turnout, likely in case of boycott by some reformists, assures a victory for conservatives (as it did in the 2003 municipal and 2004 Majles election) who can always rely on a solid base of supporters to show up on Election Day.

Even more important for the reformists/centrists is the need to overcome political divisions that have cost them several elections by offering slates that despite some variations essentially share a core of candidates that are acceptable to all the reformist and centrist forces. This strategy was tried during the 2006 municipal elections and led to significant gains in large cities. In the city of Tehran, for instance, the reformist/centrist council members now constitute a significant minority and because of this they were able to prevent the attempt on the part of hard-line conservative to dislodge the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who today is considered more moderate (and a more capable executive) than Ahmadinejad and the most likely person to successfully challenge him in the next presidential election of 2009.

The conservatives’ problem with political divisions is probably worse. Being in power and not facing the kinds of adverse moves that the reformists/centrists have faced in the past few years against their political survival, they will have a more difficult time overcoming their ideological and political differences, particularly over the running of the economy. They could of course make a marriage of convenience for the sake of maintaining power (something they were unable to do during the 2006 municipal elections). But given past experience, they know that this marriage will fall apart immediately after the election as it has during the current conservative Majles. In fact, several prominent deputies have already announced the formation of a group of independent conservatives, with the intent of offering its own separate slate for the city of Tehran.

The conservative inability to reach a compromise in order to maintain their solid control of all elective and non-elective institutions makes the urge to manipulate the electoral process stronger and the pre-election situation very fluid and unpredictable. But such fluidity and unpredictability (and wild electoral swings) have become almost the norm in Iranian politics and in all likelihood a function of a political system that, while endowed with bickering political elite, is lacking in a fully-formed party system based on competing platforms. As such, the next few months in Iran will again be literally consumed with intrigues and maneuvering about who should be on which list, along with accusations and counter-accusations, without much reference to what elections results will mean in terms of the country’s well being. What will matter is first how many people will show up to vote as a reflection of the continued support for the Islamic Republic as a whole (traditionally somewhere between 50 to 60 percent for Majles elections with the exception of 2000 election which resulted in a clear reformist victory when 67% turned out to vote), and second, the extent to which the results can be considered a rejection of the conservative political faction in power. Once the results are in, then it is time to begin bickering and maneuvering for the next election: the presidential election of 2009! Read more on this article...

Monday, July 16, 2007

No One Ever Left the Room

William Dalrymple has a piece on Asma Jahangir and the recent events in Pakistan at the NYer, Days of Rage: Challenges for the nation’s future.

But amidst all the bombast of the Mullah, it heartens me to read that life goes on as usual. This is of no great significance - unless, like me, you believe in the power of words and music - but Mike Del Ferro recently gave a master class in Karachi blending Jazz piano and Sitar. Del Ferro is the Director of Jazz Programming for American Voices.

Do give it a read - esp. the last six paragraphs.

Maybe they can earmark some of that $750 million to similar efforts.

On a more discordant note, is the case of Shaheen Khan. Read more on this article...

Pakistan All Parties Democratic Movement

The USG Open Source Center rounds up Pakistani editorials on the formation of a new political alliance aimed at ending military dictatorship in Pakistan. They note that the Pakistan People`s Party is absent from the coalition. Some in Pakistan are talking about the possibility that Gen. Pervez Musharraf will bring back PPP leader Benazir Bhutto to promote secularism and take the pressure off himself over democratization.

The report:

"Pakistan: Urdu Press Roundup on Formation of All Parties Democratic Movement
Pakistan -- OSC Summary
Monday, July 16, 2007

The following is a roundup of excerpts from editorials on the formation of a new political alliance by over thirty political parties of the country to resist dictatorship and the Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) absence from it, published in the 13 July 2007 editions of six Urdu dailies: Jang Editorial Says Political Parties Should Unite for Achievement of Common Goals

Highlighting the absence of one of the main parties, the PPP, from the new alliance and the differences among the political parties at the all parties conference, the editorial states: "The opposition parties need to refrain from thrusting their viewpoints on their colleagues and promote the culture of mutual understanding. They should lay a foundation for collaboration on the points on which they are fully agreed. There is still for the host of the all parties' conference, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, to start talks with the PPP and other political parties that are expressing their reservations about the new alliance and chalk out a strategy in consultation with them. The alliance of the opposition cannot be considered as stable until some key political parties are included, and it will fail to yield credible results in not so doing." Nawa-e Waqt Editorial Sees Bhutto's Absence Due to Deal Talks

Highlighting that Bhutto's absence from the all parties' conference and her failure to join the new alliance will be detrimental to her political future, the editorial remarks: "The reason given for Bhutto's non-participation in the all parties' conference and her refraining from joining the new alliance is that she cannot sit down with Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) on any platform. However, the real reason seems to be her bid to make herself acceptable to the United States and President Gen Musharraf in her bid for power, for which the promotion of the US philosophy of secularism and the recognition of the philosophy of enlightened moderation is a prerequisite. Under the thinking of the United States and other anti-Islamic forces, it is also necessary to dub the spirit of jihad among Muslims and their freedom movements as terrorism (to become a ruler in alliance with them)." Jasarat Editorial Says Bhutto not Ready To be Party to Efforts Against Musharraf

Maintaining that Bhutto still hopes that matters will be settled with President Musharraf, due to which she has been hesitant to become part of the active opposition alliance, the editorial says: "Nawaz Sharif is correct in asking when the political parties will make their stance clear if they fail to do so at this time. It is hoped that the PPP will realize the ground realities and join those making a joint struggle; otherwise, it will suffer great loss. It is possibile that the people and the country may also suffer loss due to this behavior. However, Makhdoom Amin Fahim's position that he was not given a mandate to announce PPP's participation in the new alliance cannot be contradicted. It would have been better if consultations had been made beforehand (with the PPP on the formation of the alliance)." Khabrain Editorial Questions Success of New Alliance

Discussing the stance of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, that PPP's absence and contrary stance will make no difference, the editorial remarks: "The statement of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto that no new alliance can be formed without the permission of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) should be given consideration. What is the status of the new alliance, the All Parties Democratic Movement, in the wake of this statement? Even its formation seems to fraught with difficulty. What guarantee can be given for the success of a movement launched from the platform of such an alliance?" Islam Editorial Sees PPP Exposed

Referring to the rumors and conjectures of a deal between Bhutto and President Musharraf and the former's support for the latter for launching the Lal Mosque operation, the editorial comments: "Due to the latest developments, the policy of the PPP and its deepest stance has been exposed before the nation. On this juncture, the leaders of the alliance should maintain their unity at all costs and not sacrifice it for the sake of expediency and the doctrine of necessity. This will help in realizing the objectives that the alliance has set forth. The nation also will get rid of the status quo, and the masses will get their rights." Express Editorial Says PPP To be Isolated if it Stands Firm on its Policy

Exposing the wavering of the PPP in chalking out its future course, the editorial remarks: "Political analysts say that the PPP may not join the new Movement if the MMA remains part of the alliance because it terms itself as a liberal party. Another reason for PPP's staying away from the alliance is that the party may still be nourishing hopes that it will be able to strike a deal with President Gen Pervez Musharraf. However, those monitoring the political situation closely say that if the PPP fails to strike a deal with the president, and it fails to become part of the All Parties Democratic Movement, it will be isolated in the near future. In such a situation, the movement can dominate the political scenario." " Read more on this article...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Army continues bombardment on Lebanon camp

The crisis between the Lebanese military and Fatah al-Islam militants inside the Nahr al-Barid camp near Tripoli continues. After renewed bombardment in recent days, the Lebanese military has begun entering the camp. Such an incursion is extremely rare. Video follows:

Read more on this article...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pakistan buries the dead from Red Mosque

Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Thursday said that the Pakistani government had been more than forebearing and that the militants in the Red Mosque and its attached seminaries had forced the government's hand. He pointed especially to their kidnapping of Chinese residents of Islamabad and the embarrassment this action caused as a reason for acting. China is a key ally of Pakistan, which has been locked in decades of conflict with its much bigger and more powerful neighbor, India. Musharraf blamed the militant leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi for constantly inflating his demands and declining to negotiate seriously. Given this situation, Musharraf said, the attack on the mosque was "inevitable."

Al-Qaeda's number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a videotape menacing the Pakistani government over its attack on the mosque.

Musharraf says he is determined to reform the madrasahs or Islamic seminaries. Past such pledges have gone unfulfilled.

Journalists were given access to the mosque/seminary complex on Thursday (see video, below), and found a scene of horror, including a place where a militant blew himself up in a suicide bombing of approaching troops, and a room where 5 militants committed collective suicide as the Pakistani army closed in on them. At least 76 militants were killed, and 9 Pakistani troops.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Al-Qaeda regaining strength

Al-Qaeda is the strongest it has been since 2001, we are told, and firming up its base in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan.

Could there be a more trenchant critique of George W. Bush's supposed 'war on terror?' Do a calculation of what he has spent on fighting an unnecessary and counter-productive Iraq War, and what he has spent actually trying to bring Bin Laden and the ever more garrulous Ayman al-Zawahiri to justice.

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The Pessoptimist in Istanbul: Will Bin Laden Win?

Today I am in Istanbul in a hotel overlooking the Sea of Marmora. I am here for -- of all things -- a conference on the Durand Line. Of course it is about much more than the Line itself, demarcated by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 as the limit of the dominion of the Amir of Afghanistan.

Today this line through a mountainous, arid, sparsely populated area is regarded by Pakistan, and most of the world, as the international border with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized it as such. Above all, the people living around the line have never recognized it as a border. They were there before these states. They wonder who gave Durand or anyone in London, Kabul, Delhi, or Islamabad the right to divide them?

There is nowhere more different from the Durand Line than the Sea of Marmora. This morning I walked along the seafront, by a stone wall that once constituted the fortifications of the entry to the Golden Horn and the Strait of Bosporus. Yesterday from the terrace of my hotel, my colleagues and I saw an enormous container ship traveling from the Black Sea through the Strait and outward to the Mediterranean. Would it then cross the Suez canal and enter the Indian Ocean?
The ship was registered with the Maersk shipping line; I remembered seeing the same containers while driving from Kabul to Jalalabad in the spring of 2005 with Omar Zakhilwal, head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. The main road from Kabul to Sarobi was closed for construction, so we had to take the old road, over the Lataband Pass, the same route taken by the Army of the Indus when it retreated under fire from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1841. The Army of the Indus, however, had long since mutated into the Armed Forces of Pakistan, and today most of the traffic was in the other direction. Truck after truck lumbered with full loads of Maersk containers headed for Kabul from the port of Karachi via Peshawar and Jalalabad, carrying, what? -- Ukrainian airplane parts shipped from Odessa (where my great-grandfather was born) through the Strait of Bosporus and on through the Sea of Marmora?

So much for the unchanging Afghan frontier. Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, during whose reign (1880-1901) the Durand Line was demarcated, decided against building roads through the country's passes, as the same roads that facilitated trade facilitated conquest as well. Afghanistan's isolation protected both his rule -- and the British Empire in India. Britain, which subsidized the Amir's
government and army to assure that it could control the territory on the frontier, forbade Kabul to welcome any foreign legation but one from Delhi. The Amir depicted his realm as a just Islamic order under his command: But to the British this isolated Afghanistan state with a subsidized army fulfilled the function of a buffer state: keeping Russia far from their Empire. The British and Russian governments demarcated the rest of the country's borders and formalized their agreement in the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention on Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

This Treaty was an part of the same process that Usama Bin Laden evoked in his warning to the United States on October 7, 2001. Seated not far from the Durand Line before an outcropping of the mountains of Afghanistan, whose name and history he did not mention, the Amir of al-Qa'ida informed his global audience:

What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years. Our nation has been tasting this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years.

What was he talking about? He was talking about the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), in which "THE BRITISH EMPIRE, FRANCE, ITALY, JAPAN, GREECE, ROUMANIA and the SERB-CROAT-SLOVENE STATE, of the one part,and TURKEY,of the other part" agreed to the demarcation of today's Republic of Turkey.
Lausanne followed on the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which separated most of the Ottoman Empire from Anatolia. Together these treaties abolished the Islamic caliphate, which had been claimed for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan and recognized by most Sunni Muslims. The Treaty of Lausanne stipulated:
No power or jurisdiction in political, legislative or administrative matters shall be exercised outside Turkish territory by the Turkish Government or authorities, for any reason whatsoever, over the nationals of a territory placed under the sovereignty or protectorate of the other Powers signatory of the present Treaty, or over the nationals of a territory detached from Turkey.
It is understood that the spiritual attributions of the Moslem religious authorities are in no way infringed.

The division of the Islamic umma, the Muslim community, into nation states by the European colonial powers the better to dominate them and nullify the temporal power of the Islamic caliphate is at the heart of Bin Laden's grievances against the contemporary world order. Destruction of the caliphate based in Istanbul prepared the ground, in his view, for the catastrophe of the Palestinians, sanctions and war against Iraq, and the "occupation of the Land of Muhammad" by "infidel troops."
Though Bin Laden mentioned neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, al-Qaida respects the border dividing these two states no more than it does the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims.

It is no coincidence that al-Qaida, though led and conceived by Arabs, was founded in these borderlands. To Westerners it may appear that Bin Laden is now trapped in an isolated region. But this region, never fully integrated into the modern system of states, provides an appropriate seat for this transnational insurgency against that very system.

And as the itinerary of the containers shows, that region is no longer the isolated backwater it remains in the National Geographic mind. While in the days of Abdul Rahman Khan only British India was permitted a legation in Kabul, today the capital of the Mughal Emperor Babur is a major outpost of the UN, NATO, the US Central Command, and the European Union, with enormous embassies of every major country under construction. The people whom Amir Abdul Rahman Khan informed about his rule with an illustrated map are now more likely to have traveled abroad than Americans, if not usually as tourists, and listen to far more international news in several languages.

Their country, which used to rely on subsistence farming, has become a commercial single-crop economy. Opium poppy -- like sugar cane in Cuba, rubber in Liberia, or tea in Sri Lanka -- encroaches further every year on land used for subsistence farming and traditional horticulture. Traffickers and traders from all major markets reserve their share of the Afghan product through futures markets. Every family includes migrants in Karachi, Iran, or the states of the Persian Gulf. The remittances sent by these workers finance many new houses and shops, while the workers, separated for years at a time from family, tribe, and village, seek refuge and meaning in mosques frequented by global preachers. Cash, once rare, reaches the remotest villages through this global trade and the omnipresent hawala system, which links Afghans to global electronic banking networks through mobile phones and itinerant traders.

It is common enough to observe that globalization has transformed sovereignty, transferring functions of states to larger organizations like the European Union and shattering the weak institutions of others. It is less commonly realized that Bin Laden's vision of the caliphate constitutes a revolutionary response to globalization. The states drawn by imperial powers on the territory of the Islamic umma have excluded the Palestinians from nationhood and placed one of Islam's holiest places under Israeli control. The zone from where Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawihiri now issue their pronouncements symbolizes how the same process of state making has divided and ill-served the Pashtuns.

The dialectic of terrorism and counter-terrorism has transformed the tribal areas. In 2003, when US pressure to search for the al-Qaida leadership led General Pervez Musharraf to send the Army of Pakistan (a direct descendant of the Army of the Indus) into the Momand Tribal Agency, elders awoke officials in Kabul with midnight calls -- Pakistan had invaded "Afghanistan." For in these elders' minds, while the Afghan state administration ended at the Durand Line, Afghanistan did not.

Islamabad's invocation of US pressure to fence and even mine that border has led elders to tell President Hamid Karzai that if he allows Pashtuns to be divided in this way, his name will be remembered with shame. The Afghan Army has responded by firing on the Pakistan Army, the same Pakistan Army that is fighting al-Qaida. The lives of the people need a soft border, but Washington's counter-terrorism needs a hard one.

In my Istanbul hotel room, as sea traffic traverses the Bosporus outside my window, al-Jazeera English broadcasts the news: the battle of the Red Mosque in Islamabad; demonstrations in Bajaur; the anniversary of the latest war in Lebanon; the ongoing massacres in Iraq and Sudan; more suicide bombers in Afghanistan. And on CNN and Bloomberg I see the growth of the US trade deficit, the fall of the dollar against other currencies, and the unstoppable growth of the US debt, as our government sells securities to China to cover the costs of the war in Iraq.

Amir Abdul Rahman Khan used the British subsidy to build his army; he used his army to build his revenues; he used his revenues to build a justice system; and the justice system enabled his people -- those he had not massacred or exiled -- to till their lands in peace. He died in his bed in 1901 bequeathing to his son both rulership and a surplus of 40 million rupees in the national treasury.

This Circle of Justice, first described in an Islamic text of the eighth century, has for centuries constituted the model of governance for the people of South and West Asia; today the Afghan Government uses it to describe the goals of its Afghanistan National Devleopment Strategy.

But in response to the challenge of Bin Laden, rather than building its army, the US has mobilized thousands of private contractors and exhausted its army in the fatal venture of Iraq. Rather than calling our people to fight and sacrifice, our government cut the taxes of those most able to afford to pay and financed its military ventures with subsidies, not from an imperial hegemon, but from financial markets that are far more arbitrary than Lord Curzon. To retain its monopoly on power in the face of failure, the ruling party has undermined the system of justice. We could have responded more wisely to Bin Laden's challenge, but we have drawn this circle of injustice around ourselves.

In 1919, Abdul Rahman's grandson, Amanullah Khan, made Afghanistan independent and renounced the British subsidy. Less than ten years later, he was overthrown. Amanullah had attempted a grand transformation for which he had no resources. His efforts to raise taxes and strengthen the state provoked a peasant uprising that brought a Tajik commander to power, ending the dynasty of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan. Soon Pashtun tribes from the same areas now hosting Bin Laden and Zawahiri descended on Kabul to loot it and install a new, much weakened king.

Neither Bin Laden nor the neo-Taliban of the tribal zone are Pashtun nationalists -- that ideology serves the interest of a state in Kabul and politicians in Peshawar and Quetta. But the ideology of the caliphate provides another vehicle for the grievances and ambitions of people whom the nation-state system always served poorly.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, the "international community," acting unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilaterally, is trying to shore up, strengthen, and create states to provide peace and stability. Some, even many, people of those areas long to become full citizens of states that protect their rights and provide services. But for many others, it is harder to imagine that they might one day be citizens of an effective accountable nation-state than that they might be joined with their fellow Muslims in a renewed caliphate. Somewhere in the mountains of the land its inhabitants call Pakhtunkhwa, Bin Laden is waiting. Read more on this article...