Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rubin: Harpers Interviews Ahmed Rashid on Pakistan Elections

Scott Horton of Harpers interviews Ahmed Rashid (see my related post):
American interest in Pakistan picked up suddenly when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and then came back briefly as the Pakistani elections produced surprising results. In a word, they were a clear-cut defeat for Pervez Musharraf. I turned to the foremost commentator on Pakistani politics for some predictions, to Ahmed Rashid. Operating out of Lahore, Rashid is the author of three books including the best sellers ‘Taliban’ and most recently ‘Jihad.’ He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and writes for the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review,’ the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal.’
Read the whole interview here. Read more on this article...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rubin: Taliban?- What's That Got to Do with the Price of Bread?

In the opening scene of Louis Malle's film My Dinner with Andre, the playwright/actor Wallace Shawn (memorably portrayed by playwright/actor Wallace Shawn) kvetches to himself as he goes about his New York daily errands:
I've lived in this city all my life. I grew up on the upper east side, and when I was ten years old I was rich! I was an aristocrat, riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I'm thirty-six, and all I think about is money!
I thought of this scene after I returned from a trip to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 1998. A few months later, during a discussion at the International Peace Academy, I summarized my findings as, "Outside of Afghanistan, all people think about about is Islam and extremism, but inside Afghanistan all people think about is money."

I often have flashbacks to this, most recently when a reporter who was gearing up for his first trip to the region by reading books on theology and political ideology asked me how it was possible for Hanafi Muslims like the Taliban to ally with Wahhabis like al-Qaida -- was it because the Deobandi school was closer to Wahhabism? I replied (with a pinch of exaggeration) that this had nothing to do with anything, and to understand the Taliban he would be better off looking into the price of bread.

Outside of Afghanistan people want to know if Deobandis are a type of Hanafis that are closer to Wahhabis, but inside Afghanistan all people think about is the price of bread. As I was leaving Kabul in January, the fixer who helps me get through lines and avoid bribes at the airport started complaining about the price of bread (as for bribes -- when one of the border police at the numerous airport checkpoints asked him for some money for tea, he pointed to me and said "mahman-i rais-i jamhur ast wa-farsi mifahmad" -- he's a guest of the President and understands Persian -- both clauses of which were exaggerated but effective). He complained that people in Afghanistan were concerned with only one thing: getting enough bread to eat, and so many were not able to do so. The prices of everything were so high! Under the Taliban the price of everything was much lower. I pointed out to him that we were driving to the airport (much improved, difficult though it is to believe for those seeing it for the first time) along a newly paved wide highway that could accommodate the increased traffic. He acknowledged all that, but said that many people were better off under the Taliban.

I paused a little bit to let that sink in, and then I asked him, So do people want the Taliban to come back? His eyes bugged out as if I had completely lost my mind, and he started waving his hands in the air and shouting, "No! No!" Of course this man had a secure job with the government, was about to leave for English-language training course in India, and had been able to go on hajj last year. I don't think that foreign soldiers had broken into and searched his house or killed, arrested, or abused any of his relatives (at least he never mentioned it, which others did). He was a hajji, but a clean shaven hajji. And by the looks of him, he was getting his daily bread, and then some.

But I had heard quite a bit about this bread. Someone told me that food prices had gone up 70 percent. After General Musharraf declared a state of Emergency during my visit in November, notes from Pakistani friends often spoke of a growing shortage of "atta" (whole wheat flour). On my flight to Delhi from Kabul I sat with a senior official of the Indian Customs Service who was advising the Afghan Customs Department. He told me that Afghanistan was importing only ten percent the amount of wheat that it had last year. U.S. Ambassador William Wood was trying to convince Afghan villagers that food shortages (like the insurgency) were due to poppy cultivation. (I always heard that food shortages led Afghans to cultivate poppy so they could buy wheat plus have some cash for other needs -- but that would require assuming that farmers earn money for their crop and can buy food on a market.)

What is going on? The Wall Street Journal (behind subscription firewall) answers the question this morning (hint -- it's not the scourge of narcotics or, to be fair, General Musharraf either):
The little known Minneapolis Grain Exchange is suddenly one of the hottest spots in the global financial markets.... Yesterday wheat closed at $22.40 a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, up from about $5 a year ago....Minneapolis has become ground zero for the global wheat shortage, which has been caused by drought in Australia and poor weather in other grain-producing countries. Global stocks are projected to reach 30-year lows this year, while U.S. stocks will reach 60-year lows.

The rise in agricultural prices, combined with high oil prices .. have contributed to higher food inflation in the U.S. and around the world....

Another byproduct of the rally by wheat and other grains is that food is becoming more politicized as countries dependent on food imports fear they will be left at the mercy of volatile markets and shrinking supplies. Such a development could exacerbate hunger while generating food riots or political problems at home.

To cope with high prices, countries have been rationing supplies by leveling tariffs or taxes on grain exports. [Kazakhstan and Syria have taxed or canceled exports, while Jordan and Egypt are short of food.] Pakistan recently stopped exporting some of its wheat flour to Afghanistan.
In addition, countries accounting for a third of global exports (Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Argentina, and China) have taken some wheat off the market to address domestic shortages.

"Food riots or political problems...." Of course there were those riots in Kabul in May 2006 in which a few hundred angry young men paralyzed the capital for much of a day.... At several meetings I have heard former Minister of Finance of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani say that the most common definition of a "Talib" in southern Afghanistan is "an unemployed youth." Some Kandahari fruit traders I interviewed said that nearly all the fighting in Afghanistan was due to unemployment. Statistically, youth employment is one of the most robust correlates of civil violence.

Another thought -- this bad weather, drought, and so on leading to shortages not seen in decades.... Could it be related to climate change? I don't know. But I suspect that neither missile strikes, nor more NATO troops, nor a deeper study of Islamist political ideology will enable us to solve these problems. Read more on this article...

Rubin: The Fantastic Obsessions of Tim Russert

Posts knocking Tim Russert for his performance as a moderator in the Clinton-Obama debate last night are all over the blogs today. I was personally most struck by the postings by my fellow Jews, like Polk-Award Winner Josh Marshall at TPM and a diarist at DailyKos, taking offense at Russert's McCarthyite attempt to tie Barack Obama to anti-Semitic remarks made by Louis Farrakhan through some contorted series of associations that sound like the perceptions of paranoids that I hear about from my wife, a psychotherapist. (Josh Marshall does the complete pilpul on that parasha). Hillary Clinton's attempt to get Jewish votes by somehow implying that Obama is soft on anti-Semitism did not inspire confidence over her ability to craft a successful policy toward Israel and the Palestinians either.

Russert's questions on foreign policy in general indicate that he should try reading past the second paragraph of front-page articles and maybe look at a map. His questions were more like plot scenarios for 24 than reality-based queries. On Iraq he first invented the following screenplay:
You both have pledged a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You both have said you'd keep a residual force there to protect our embassy, to seek out Al Qaida, to neutralize Iran. If the Iraqi government said, President Clinton or President Obama, you're pulling out your troops this quickly? You're going to be gone in a year? But you're going to leave a residual force behind? No. Get out! Get out now! If you don't want to stay and protect us, we're a sovereign nation, go home now. Will you leave?
Both candidates made the obvious point that the U.S. cannot stay in Iraq against the wishes of the elected Iraqi government. I suppose it would not have been presidential to point out that actual foreign policy decisions and actions consist of long chains of inter-related discussions with many actors before a decision is announced, rather than like a montage of video clips from a Fox docudrama. I would imagine that President Clinton or Obama would have some private discussions with Iraqi counterparts before announcing a specific decision on withdrawal. Obama put it reasonably well:
We will be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. We will give ample time for them to stand up to negotiate the kinds of agreements that will arrive at the political accommodations that are needed. We will provide them continued support.
Unsatisfied, Russert pressed on:
RUSSERT: I want to ask both of you this question, then. If this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in totality, and Al Qaida resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right in your mind as American president to reinvade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?
The number of misconceptions contained in this question is mind-boggling. Just to mention two: First, the most likely negative consequence of a careless withdrawal from Iraq is not a resurgence of al-Qaida, which would not exist in Iraq without the US invasion, but a resumption of sectarian and factional warfare that could increasingly involve Iraq's neighbors. (Hence the need to coordinate a withdrawal with a diplomatic initiative involving all neighbors, including Syria and Iran.)

Second, a reinvasion by the US would not stabilize Iraq!!! What planet is he living on? Does he think the candy and flowers will come out of their underground bunkers this time? How are you supposed to answer a question like that? I was disappointed that neither candidate pointed to the imbecility of the question, but Hillary Clinton did at least refuse to answer such a flawed question:

CLINTON: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I believe that...

RUSSERT: But this is reality.

CLINTON: No, well, it isn't reality. You're making lots of different hypothetical assessments.

Then we move on to Russia. I suspect that Russert forgot that the USSR doesn't exist any more. He really should look at a contemporary map. Otherwise, I can't think of how to explain this question:
And if he [future Russian President Dmitri Medvedev] says to the Russian troops, you know what, why don't you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?
Obama gave a pretty good answer about relying on multilateral security arrangements. I wish he had noted that in order to get to Serbia Russian troops would first have to invade Ukraine and then cross Romania or Hungary, both of which are now members of NATO.

I'm not an expert on this subject, but I occasionally see press articles about the Russian Army, which appears to have its hands quite full trying to regain control of the territory of Russia. A casual google search of the subject turned up this recent AFP survey of experts on the subject:

But analysts say Moscow's bark is worse than its bite.

Putin warns of a new arms race and promises a military renaissance, but Russia's military budget is less than one twentieth that in the United States and most of its weaponry is relatively outdated.

"Russia is trying to flex its muscles and trying to be a player on the world stage," Bob Ayers, at the Chatham House think-tank in London, told AFP. But "in a military sense they are not a major player now ... It's just PR."

Russian military analyst Alexander Goltz said that both Moscow and Western political circles were responsible for hyping routine military exercises by Russia's forces.

In the West "certain intellectual circles are searching for confirmation of the Russian leadership's militaristic tendencies," he said. "They exaggerate any military activity."

Meanwhile, Russia's propaganda machine also presents "the most run of the mill exercises as some kind of Russian military comeback."

Maria Lipman, analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Putin wants to exorcise Russia's "past humiliations," but that the country's main strategic goal is to build an economic powerhouse based on energy exports.

"Russia, under today's leadership at any rate, is not seeking a Cold War confrontation, a real arms race," Lipman said.

"The rhetoric may get very unpleasant and tough, even aggressive, but I don't think this overshadows the main trend that Russia is interested in commercial profit, in economic success."

It would have been nice for the candidates to mention this. They also both missed an opportunity to make a very important point: President Putin has been able to build his domestic political base and start to rebuild Russia's military for one single reason: the huge increase in oil prices that has taken place during the Bush administration. Neither candidate mentioned that the world's continuing dependence on fossil fuels -- and the Bush administration's obsession with maintaining a military presence in the Persian Gulf -- have strengthened the regimes in Russia, Venezuela, and Iran, not to mention in all the other countries where oil revenues are funding corruption and authoritarianism. Despite the numerous harmful effects of oil dependence, the Bush-Cheney administration's only strategy is to occupy the Persian Gulf and drill in wilderness areas. This should be a much higher priority campaign issue.

On Pakistan I can't blame Tim Russert. Both candidates to their credit emphasized the need for stronger support for democratization and less reliance on Musharraf. Their disagreement consisted of a contest between a misrepresentation and a misconception. Clinton claimed that Obama "basically threatened to bomb Pakistan" (a misrepresentation of his advocacy of targeted strikes against al-Qaida), and Obama answered by defending the need for such strikes, as if missile strikes would be a very useful tool against a transnational insurgency.

So it goes. Read more on this article...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Schmidt: Syria – the ’little China’ of the Middle East or an Islamic Revolution Waiting to Happen?

Søren Schmidt

Has the Syrian regime succeeded in plagiarizing the Chinese development model in which economic liberalization and growth goes hand in hand with political dictatorship and oppression of civil rights? In recent years, economic growth has been a good six percent a year, and the regime has apparently succeeded in weakening the democratic opposition and isolating it from the general public. Or is this apparently successful model on the verge of collapse in the face of Islamic resurgence? Does Syria's future lie with an Iranian model more than a Chinese one?

The economic growth is not only due to increased demand by over a million refugees from Iraq, but is also based on increased investments and sales in both the commercial and tourist sectors and export to the Gulf countries in the wake of the free trade agreement approved by the Arab countries a few years ago.

The Danish architect studio, Henning Larsen Architects, won a competition last year to design a 15,000 m2 discovery centre in Damascus. Just outside the city, another ambitious construction project is underway for 3 billion DKK that contains housing and a gigantic shopping and business centre, including a stock market. These two projects, plus several more, are being constructed while Syria’s oil production is decreasing and the country is beleaguered by a US trade embargo.

At the same time, Damascus has recently imprisoned critics who signed the so-called Damascus declaration of October 2005, demanding a liberalization of the political system.

So it does seem on the surface that Syria has succeeded in copying the Chinese model that is so popular among authoritarian regimes.

However, if we dig just a little deeper, we find some serious problems.

The most serious economic problem in Syria is that productivity of the industrial sector has still not improved in any significant way. As a result, Syrian industrial products are still unable to compete on global markets.

Productivity is dependent on three factors: the labour force’s qualifications, organization of the division of labour, and technology. A country’s long-term economic development depends mainly on its ability to bring these three factors into play.

Many private schools and universities have been established in recent years and contributed to improving the educational level and thus the labour force’s qualifications. However, only a minority can afford to pay tuition at these schools, and also the main areas being taught are political science and the humanities and not the natural sciences or mathematics. As a result, more men are being educated for the commercial sector, and more future housewives are extending their knowledge of English literature etc., while few are being trained to run modern industrial enterprises. The government is satisfied with liberalizing the educational sector, while neglecting to take any constructive and active steps to improve education.

The division of labour is mainly accomplished today by integrating enterprises in global value and marketing chains in order to make mass-production benefits and specialization possible. These benefits cannot be exploited by producing for the limited Syrian market. Rather, in order to realize them, production must be aimed at international markets through cooperation with large international companies.

Syria’s political isolation and high level of economic risk have caused Syria to be the country in the Middle East that continues to be least integrated into the international economy. This isolation in turn has led to high production costs and poor ability to compete.

Authoritarianism continues to be a drawback on the economic side of the ledger. Because of the lack of due process in the country, foreign investments are restricted to the commercial sector and tourism, where earnings are quick and safe. Risk capital and long-term investments, which characterize the industrial sector, are avoided.

An optimal division of labour in the country’s production also requires a financial system that makes it possible for citizens to channel their savings into the most profitable investments. In this area, Syria has actually made progress. Private banks have been established and the activities of the financial sector have been liberalized; however, corruption and inefficiency within the government limit the ability to control the private financial sector effectively. This creates possibilities for swindle and sets a limit for confidence and credibility in the financial sector among economic actors. Government investments in physical and regulatory infrastructure are also decisive for an optimal organization of the division of labour. Although roads and harbours function reasonably well, especially the authorities’ ability to implement and enforce regulations is seriously deficient.

The greatest technological progress in Syria in recent years has been the introduction of cell phones and the internet. These technologies are also used everywhere else, however. The only way to increase Syria’s use of modern technology in the industrial sector is to encourage foreign investments for this purpose.

Thus, state policies are the crucial determinant of the qualifications of the labour force, the division of labour, and the implementation of technology.

Without regular control by the voters (democracy) and freedom of expression it is difficult to prevent corruption and inefficiency within the public sector. In China, a public-service oriented elite still compensates for the lack of democracy, whereas the political elite in Syria does not seem to take such considerations seriously. Therefore, countless examples can be found of government officials acting as a kind of mafia, greedily making themselves rich and using brutal violence when necessary. However, so far President Bashar al-Asad has understood how to distribute benefits among the elite without antagonizing more people than absolutely necessary, while also appropriately punishing those who ’misbehave’ – for example, by expropriating all the property belonging to the former vice-president and present regime critic, Abdul Halim Khaddam, and his family.

One result of the government’s failure is the growing inequality in income distribution and the general population’s increasing dependence on social assistance, such as mutual health insurance arrangements and burial funds.

Some observers have descriptively termed this economic growth as ’Beirutization’, implying that Syria increasingly resembles Lebanon, where the elites are jet-setters while the rest of the population slides into poverty and underdevelopment.

The government’s lack of ability and will to provide public health services and other forms of social welfare has led many Syrians to turn to fundamentalist Islam. Because of the absence of the public sector, the Islamic organizations have grown and created self-help programmes; and increasing numbers of veiled women and bearded men are seen in the streets. Even though the Islamist organizations cooperate with the regime, which also finances large new mosques, it is difficult to imagine that these organizations will not in the long run come to influence the way in which the country is governed. In addition to social solidarity, two of the most important elements in the Islamist ideology are fighting against corruption and enforcing moral virtue. Thus, the elite’s fondness for fast cars and bordellos that attract tourists from the Persian Gulf cannot help offending the virtuous Islamists.

All in all, the Syrian regime has proved to be far more pragmatic than many had imagined. But without some form of democracy, freedom of expression and a certain degree of social justice that can strengthen the country’s democratic opposition, it seems certain that the Islamist opposition will at some point challenge the present regime’s monopoly on political power. Whether the result will be a form of modern ’Turkish’ Islamism or a more radical ’Iranian’ form is still difficult to predict.

Project Researcher
Danish Institute for International Studies
Strandgade 56
1401 København K
Denmark Read more on this article...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rubin: Across the Borderline -- Pashtuns and Taliban in Two States

I was delayed in posting several items by some travel. I apologize for the delay and will get them up in the next couple of days.

First note: Changes are afoot in the lands of Pashtuns.

In the couple of weeks before the February 18 elections in Pakistan, attacks by presumed “Taliban” killed over 140 Pashtuns in Kandahar (Afghanistan) and over 25 Pashtuns in Charsadda (Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan). After the elections they attacked a Pashtun wedding in Swat and killed 14 people, including the bride. Despite (or because of) this terror, the predominantly Pashtun electorate of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province marginalized the pro-Taliban political parties in the February 18 elections. The staunchly anti-Taliban Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party will dominate NWFP's delegation to the national parliament and will form the next government of the NWFP in alliance with the PPP; the two parties control 60 percent of the seats in the NWFP Legislative Assembly.

The ANP (about which more later) is closely allied to the government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul and opposed to both military rule in Pakistan and a mainly military approach to the challenge of militancy. Its victory poses an insoluble problem to the Cold-War minded Bush clique, which cannot conceive that a non-violent democratic party could be a better partner for opposing jihadi terrorism than a military dictator. (John McCain has shown his faithful following of this delusion, calling for continued support for Musharraf, while no Democratic candidate has yet shown an understanding of the possibilities created by the Pakistan elections).

I am hoping (but not too optimistic) that I will never again have to listen to people (especially, but not exclusively, Pakistani government officials) arguing that the Taliban are just Pashtuns fighting against foreign occupation and a Tajik-dominated central government in Kabul. And, consequently, that only a Pakistani regime dominated by the “pro-American” military can be a partner for the US in the struggle against extremism.

These persistent stereotypes make me wonder: why did a Taliban “Pashtun insurgency” kill hundreds of Pashtuns in Kandahar, while Tajiks and Uzbeks quietly went about their business from Badakhshan to Bukhara? Who are the foreign occupiers in Charsadda and Swat? Why are Uzbek and Chechen “Taliban” terrorizing Pashtun schoolgirls in Mardan, NWFP (threatening to attack their schools if they did not wear burqas, as I was told by a young Pashtun from Mardan in Islamabad in November, who feared for his sister)? Because they resent the fact that the Panjshiri Tajik Marshall Muhammad Qasim Fahim was Afghan Minister of Defense from December 2001 to December 2004? To drive the Canadians out of Kandahar? If Taliban are “just Pashtuns” (as a researcher at a Pakistani think tank told me recently), then who was voting in NWFP on February 18?

In Kandahar on Sunday February 22 a suicide bomber killed over a hundred people at a dog fight. (Left, the scene minutes after the bombing.) If you find an attack on a sporting event puzzling, read Whitney Azoy's book, Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan, or the late Clifford Geertz's essay, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight." (Or reflect on the strange career of George W. Bush, former owner of the Texas Rangers, who has displayed the transformational power of freedom by making Iraq safe for baseball.)

Through such public games, people (men, usually) enact conflict and display their power. Azoy's book on Buzkashi (the game of north Afghanistan wherein teams of horsemen compete to snatch the body of a sacrificial victim -- calf or goat), ends, as I recall, with the author in the Kabul airport. He is on his way out of the country within days after the coup d'état by Soviet-trained military officers in April 1978. He asks one of his Afghan friends, "What will happen now?" The friend replied, "You should know. You've been studying it. Now the buzkashi will begin."

In Kandahar the enactment was close enough to the reality that even fundamentalists (who, regardless of affiliation, sometimes have difficulties processing metaphor, just like schizophrenics) could detect it. The sponsor of one of the dogs fighting was Abdul Hakim Jan, who appears to have been the main target -- the suicide bomber detonated himself so close to him that his remains have not been found.

Abdul Hakim had been a commander in the jihad against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and served as the police chief of Kandahar during the mujahidin government in the 1990s. He was a follower of the late Mullah Naqibullah, the major mujahid commander of the Alikozai tribe. Abdul Hakim had the reputation of a fierce opponent of the Taliban and Pakistani influence in Afghanistan -- several people in Kandahar say he was the only commander there who never abandoned resistance to the Taliban. His Arghandab district of Kandahar saw active revolt against forced conscription by the Taliban during their rule. According to a note from Sarah Chayes (order her book here, her soap here), Abdul Hakim was recently appointed the commander of the Afghan National Auxiliary Police (a new force intended to create a community-based "surge" against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan) in Arghandab. He was known as the best military tactician among the Alikozai fighters. According to Sarah, "What this is really about is opening Arghandab for the spring offensive." Another observer in Kandahar (who must remain anonymous) concurs: “Now Arghandab is wide-open for the Taliban to come in. And once Arghandab falls, everyone knows the next step.” Dear reader, should you not be among “everyone” – the “next step” is the fall of Kandahar.

After the death of Mullah Naqibullah (left) last October, Taliban briefly invaded Arghandab, even dancing on the roof of Mullah Naqibullah's house. They were expelled, largely by forces led by Abdul Hakim Jan, but signs point to a planned offensive in the spring, made easier by the successive deaths of Alikozai leaders. The modus operandi of the dog-fight killing bears all the earmarks of a suicide operation carried out by Afghan or Pakistani Taliban who have learned their technique from al-Qaida, but the Taliban’s public denial of involvement may be intended to exacerbate tribal tensions by aggravating doubts about who was responsible.

The day after the operation against Abdul Hakim Jan, someone (presumed to be Taliban) exploded another suicide bomb in Kandahar province, in the border district of Spin Boldak. This attack, which killed 38 Pashtun civilians, may have been aimed at a Canadian military unit. Canada is in charge of the NATO military command in Kandahar and is facing a divisive internal conflict over its commitment to Afghanistan that the bombers may have intended to influence.

An analyst in Afghanistan (whose position requires anonymity) has sent me confidential data showing that “security incidents” by “anti-government elements” in Afghanistan in early 2008 have exceeded those at the same season in 2007. Last year the late winter increase led to a spring escalation of asymmetrical attacks (suicide bombings and IEDs); this year the curve looks higher, perhaps presaging a larger offensive. Of course this offensive will not include conventional attacks (including tank battles, artillery duels, close air support, saturation bombing, or nuclear strikes), the lack of which has in the past led the Pentagon to claim that the Taliban are being defeated.

The major threat to the Taliban offensive, however, is not from the front but from the rear: Pakistan. For years, the Pashtun nationalists led by the Awami National Party have argued that support for the Taliban comes not from the Pashtun population but from the Pakistani security services and jihadi parties that use Pashtun lands, and especially the tribal agencies, as platforms for covert operations. Even if the military has lost control of some of these actors, who now threaten the army itself, many of its strategists still consider jihadis a tool against the threat posed not only by India but by a potential US-India alliance.

The ANP’s origins go back to the Khudai Khidmatgaran (Servants of God) or Red Shirts, founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (right, with Mahatma Gandhi) in the 1920s. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who is buried in the Afghan city of Jalalabad near the tomb of Amir Amanullah Khan, the reformist ruler whom he admired, was known as the Frontier Gandhi for his espousal of independence, non-violence and village-based egalitarian social reform. Because the Pashtun nationalists originally allied with the Indian National Congress rather than with what they saw as the Muslim League’s communalist and reactionary orientation, the Pakistan establishment has always treated them as potential or actual enemies of the state, even after they proclaimed support for new state of Pakistan. Their leaders were arrested in the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto suppressed an insurgency in Baluchistan. Some were rearrested by the Zia regime in the 1980s, while others sought refuge in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

The Pashtun nationalists (unlike Baluch separatists) have always supported non-violent resistance to Pakistani dictatorships and central domination. They have tended to look to the Afghan government as a protector of Pashtun interests – they had good relations with the royal regime, with President Daud Khan, the Soviet-supported regime (especially Najibullah), and, since 2001, with the government of Hamid Karzai.

I witnessed the intimate relations between the ANP and the Karzai government, on my first trip to Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban. Waiting for the UN flight from Islamabad in March 2002, a week before the Nawruz holiday, I saw Afrasiab Khattak waiting for the same flight. Khattak, who is now the Secretary of the ANP in the NWFP, was the main speaker at the February 9 Charsadda rally attacked by the Taliban. I had met him years earlier when he had been honored in New York by Human Rights Watch for his work as a lawyer and chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

In March 2002 Afrasiab (left, with Asma Jahangir) and I were both part of a small foreign delegation of "friends of Afghanistan" invited by the new government to celebrate the first Nawruz after the Taliban’s ouster. During the following week, though I managed to evade most of the official events organized by our hosts, I had the opportunity to dine with Afrasiab with President Karzai in the Arg (Presidential Palace) and with Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni in his office, and to tour with him the devastated plain north of Kabul, where the Taliban and al-Qaida had carried out scorched earth tactics, burning houses, felling orchards, and uprooting vineyards.

Over the succeeding years I frequently saw Afrasiab in Kabul, where he had lived as a political exile under Najibullah, during the military dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. (He had roomed with Najibullah at one time at a student hostel in Peshawar.) I noticed that he and his fellow Pashtun nationalists enjoyed as much trust in Kabul – and not only among Pashtuns – as their military rulers provoked distrust. In Islamabad and later on a visit to the US Afrasiab also introduced me to ANP leader Asfandiar Wali Khan, grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and son of Khan Abdul Wali Khan.

By chance the six-foot-four Wali Khan had sat next to me on a flight from Peshawar to Karachi in November 1986, and I had an opportunity to observe how passengers brought their children to shake hands with the inheritor of a great legacy. At a time when the Reagan administration was pouring billions of dollars of sophisticated weapons into the most Islamist parties of the Afghan mujahidin, Wali Khan patiently explained to me why he thought arming Islamic extremists was a dangerous response to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. This position alienated the Pashtun nationalists of Pakistan from some of the Afghans who had sought refuge on their soil. At the time I too thought that Wali Khan was making judgments about Afghanistan a bit too much on the basis of Pakistani domestic politics.

Asfandiar Khan and Afrasiab hosted Ahmed Rashid (author of the best-seller, Taliban) and me as guests at the “Pashtun Peace Jirga” that the ANP organized in Peshawar in November 2006. True to their democratic, pluralistic, and non-violent tradition, the ANP invited representatives of the entire political spectrum of Pashtuns in Pakistan, from the fiery Quetta-based nationalist Mahmud Khan Achakzai, who dwelt perhaps excessively on the perfidy of the British in dividing Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, to the wily Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Deobandi party often seen as the godfather of the Taliban. Today Fazlur Rahman is a target of the new generation of Taliban, who see him as a sellout to the Pakistani establishment for his political alliance with Musharraf.

Fazlur Rahman’s party was the largest grouping in the Islamist alliance, the MMA (Mutahhida Majlis-i Amal, or United Action Council), which then controlled the provincial government of NWFP. In his speech to the jirga, Fazlur Rahman portrayed the Taliban as a movement of resistance to foreign occupation. He ambiguously held out hope of a political solution, arguing that he would not deny to others what the claimed for himself – the right to compete peacefully in elections – but that the withdrawal of foreign troops was a condition for Taliban to lay down their arms.

The ANP leaders took a different tack. Those whose views of Pashtuns are largely formed by Rudyard Kiping and his epigone, Pervez Musharraf, might be surprised to learn that the senior figure of the leading lineage of Pashtun nationalists placed great emphasis on the peaceful nature of Pashtun culture. He deplored that Pashtuns had become portrayed as terrorists and extremists throughout the world and argued that the tribal code, Pashtunwali, placed strict limits on the taking of life, and could never justify the type of violence now taking place throughout the lands of Pashtuns – with Pashtuns as its primary victims.

I encountered similar concerns the following year in a conversation with an official of the Afghan Presidency in Kabul. After this Pashtun official and I exchanged astonishment at the charges from Pakistan that the Afghan government was dominated by non-Pashtuns (the contrary charges by Afghan non-Pashtuns seemed to have more merit), I asked him what was President Karzai’s main concern. His answer surprised me – he said, “education” – and not just in the sense that Afghanistan has one of the world’s lowest rates of both literacy and professional training. President Karzai, he said, was particularly worried at the constant attacks on schools in the Pashtun areas of the country by “Taliban.” Nobody, least of all these “Pashtun” insurgents, was attacking Tajik, Uzbek, or Hazara schools – only Pashtun schools. Who wanted Pashtuns to be uneducated and weak? Who was attacking the future of Pashtuns? The unspoken answer was, neither non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan nor a “Pashtun insurgency”: the attack was coming from across the Durand Line.

[There are of course many domestic factors promoting the insurgency in Afghanistan – especially corrupt and abusive local governance; and actions by the Coalition and NATO that kill civilians or result in lengthy detention and fears of torture and abuse, certainly facilitate recruitment. But the secure foreign base for leadership and logistics transforms protest or resistance into an insurgency.]

According to Asfandiar Wali Khan and the ANP, the extremists, including the Taliban and al-Qaida, had been created on Pashtun land to serve strategic interests, of the US and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, of Pakistan in the 1990s and thereafter. These powers had used the vulnerability and poverty of Pashtuns, to transform their lands into bases for extremist movements that exploited rather than represented the needs of Pashtuns.

The answer, according to the ANP, was democracy and federalism, not centralized military dictatorship and jihad. The Pakistan military has marketed its services to the US as the only force in Pakistan that would or could battle the militants – whereas the militants were that military’s own creation in its battle against domestic democracy and foreign enemies. The ANP’s program calls for the abolition of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies that shelter the militants and the integration of their people and territory into a federal, democratic Pakistan. In that Pakistan, FATA would join a new province, named not the “Northwest Frontier,” after its security function in the British Empire, but “Pakhtunkhwa,” after its people,. The ANP has chosen this name, not “Pashtunistan,” the term used by Afghan irredentists, to emphasize that the goal is not separatism but participation as full citizens of Pakistan, like Sindhis, Punjabis, and Baluch, each of which has an eponymous province. Bringing FATA into the “mainstream,” which is part of the program of all the parties that won the recent elections, would constitute the best guarantee against the use of these territories against Afghanistan, Pakistani democracy, or anyone else, including the US and Europe.

If Pashtuns received such recognition of their identity and guarantees of their participation within Pakistan, the ANP would reverse the long history of Pashtun nationalism by recognizing the Durand Line as a border distributing Pashtuns between two states, and it would urge Kabul to do likewise. Once Pashtuns could participate as full citizens in both states, an open border could become a focus of cooperation rather than conflict. Such a settlement of issues surrounding the border could also help calm inter-ethnic relations in Afghanistan, where non-Pashtuns have at times feared the use by Kabul of the tribes across the Durand Line to suppress them and rulers have exploited the historic grievance over colonial borders as a symbol in ethnic politics.

On the day of the Pashtun Peace Jirga, Ahmed Rashid and I were invited to lunch with the then Governor of NWFP, General Muhammad Jan Orakzai. The lunch was a product of the good offices of Mushahid Hussain, Secretary-General of the PML-Q (Musharraf’s party) and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Pakistani Senate. Mushahid had told the Governor that I was a “friend of Pakistan,” either because I had recommended in a report that Afghanistan should recognize the Durand Line, or because of a speech I had given at Mushahid's instigation several days earlier at a celebration of the 800th birthday of Jalaluddin Rumi at a shrine presided over by President Musharraf’s personal Sufi mentor.

The Governor is a rather grand figure, appointed by the President. He does not receive reports of insurance commissions, like an American governor. As representative of the President (and Chief of Army Staff), Orakzai oversaw a provincial government at least nominally led by a chief minister chosen by the legislative assembly. Furthermore, as representative of the Federal Government, he directed the administrative apparatus of FATA, overseeing the work of all political agents and the Frontier Corps. General Orakzai, himself a native of Kurram Agency, had taken an active role in FATA – he had conceived and negotiated the peace agreement in North Waziristan a few months earlier. The government claimed that the agreement was solely with tribal elders, though the Urdu text of the agreement defined the parties as including Taliban and mujahidin as well, thereby recognizing the war against the Kabul government as a jihad. Gen. Orakzai was unable to put his hands on the text of the agreement at our meeting, but fortunately someone had faxed me one from Islamabad earlier.

The entry into Governor’s House, Peshawar, offers no hint that it belongs to a “Republic,” Islamic or otherwise. After waiting in an elaborate drawing room full of gilded furniture and regimental memorabilia, Ahmed and I walked with the Governor in his formal garden, among the peacocks, in order to work up an appetite for the “humble camp lunch” that we were promised, which included, as I recall, at least eight distinct courses (served to the three of us by liveried servants at a banquet table capacious enough for all the OBEs of Imperial India).

Between mouthfuls of chapli kabab and other Peshawari delicacies, we discussed the same matters as at the Peace Jirga, but from a quite different point of view. As the discussion was off the record, I cannot cite the Governor’s remarks, save to assure President Musharraf, that General Orakzai’s views in no way differed from those delivered by his superior at the Council on Foreign Relations two months earlier: the Taliban were or were in danger of becoming a Pashtun uprising against foreign occupation and a Tajik-dominated Kabul government. On the subject of integrating FATA with the Pakistani “mainstream,” Orakzai cited numerous difficulties and instead supported the policy of reaching peace agreements, supposedly to re-empower the “traditional tribal leadership.”

At that time and until February 18, Pakistani official spokesmen continued to market this branding of the situation in the Pashtun areas. One Pashtun member of the country’s military-bureaucratic establishment could barely conceal his contempt for the ANP over lunch at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, in October 2006. He depicted the ANP as a bunch of effete intellectuals distant from the people (the equivalent of “latte drinkers”) who could not win even a single constituency in NWFP (especially when the elections were rigged to prevent their doing so).

This year, however, despite massive pre-poll rigging and terrorist attacks on their rallies, the ANP nonetheless swept the provincial and national assembly elections in NWFP. They will be coalition partners of the PPP and PML-N in the center and will form the provincial government of the NWFP with the PPP -- together the two parties hold 60 percent of the seats.

As long as he remains president, Musharraf will control the FATA ruling structure through the NWFP governor, but the signs of his power are waning. The new chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, has used his independence of Musharraf in favor of fair elections. He withdrew army officers from civil functions in the week before the elections, preventing implementation of the usual pattern of rigging on polling day. (Some technical changes made by the election commission and a broad-based citizens’ monitoring effort also made rigging more difficult). Thus far Kayani has not demanded to participate in the political negotiations over formation of a new government, as did his predecessors.

It is less than a month until Nawruz 1387/2008, six years after Afrasiab Khattak and I flew together from Islamabad to Kabul. I don’t know yet if Afrasiab will be Chief Minister of the NWFP or a minister in the Federal cabinet. He now must be one of the top terrorist targets in Pakistan, if not the world. But this spring he and his colleagues will try to use their popular mandate to gain control of their own land, which is now used as a base not only to attack the government of Afghanistan and the democratic forces in Pakistan, but as the logistics and support center for al-Qaida’s global operations.

Difficult as it may be for some in Washington to understand, the most sincere and potentially effective allies the US has in Pakistan are secular, non-violent opponents of military rule, not the generals in Islamabad. The generals were willing to send troops to and drop bombs on FATA. But the ANP and its allies are willing to mobilize the people of the area to try to take back control of their own land, something a military regime neither would nor could do. As the Taliban and al-Qaida launch their spring operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the political challenge to control of their base areas is their greatest vulnerability. Is the Bush administration capable of exploiting it?

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Trix: Kosova: Stories the Press has Missed

Kosova: Stories the Press has Missed

Frances Trix

Since Kosova declared its independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008, there has been media coverage of Serbia's negative response and the fragility of the "new state." The press has been fascinated by the sight of Serbs demonstrating in Belgrade and burning embassies but has little to say about the failure of Serbia to examine its own role in the dissolution of former Yugoslavia, particularly its actions in Bosnia and Kosova. Having covered the 1998-1999 war in Kosova and the 2008 declaration of independence, the press has overlooked the dismal performance of the UN administration of Kosova from 1999 to 2008. With this in mind, I offer the following five stories about Kosova that the media ought to have covered, starting in 1912.

An honorable exception is Leon Trotsky, who covered the Balkan Wars 1912-1913 and described how after the city of Prishtina had capitulated in 1912, Serb soldiers killed 5,000 more Albanians.

1. Ethnic cleansing was Serbia's policy in Kosova through most of the 20th century

Serbia conquered Kosova in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire, and took power against the will of the Albanian majority, which continued to fight the Serbian annexation well into the 1920s. The Great Powers allowed Serbia to keep Kosova as compensation for not being allowed to keep lands in northern Albania, also taken through warfare, that would have given Serbia access to the Adriatic Sea.

Serbian policies throughout the 20th century were then largely designed to change the demographics in Kosova. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1990s the Serbian-dominated Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and later Yugoslavia dispatched large numbers of Serbian colonists to Kosova. Albanian lands were expropriated and education for Albanians severely limited for decades. In the 1910s, 1950s, and 1990s, Serbs expelled Albanians and indigenous Turks from Kosova. These policies culminated in 1999 in the killing of over 10,000 Kosovar Albanians by Serb soldiers and paramilitary and the expulsion of over 800,000 Albanians from Kosova. The Kosovar Albanians have not forgotten that many Kosovar Serbs were actively complicit in this attempted genocide.

When I was at the University of Prishtina in 1987-1988 studying Albanian linguistics, there were three groups in the faculty lounge: Serbian faculty, Albanian faculty, and police informers. They didn't mingle. By 1991 all the Albanian faculty members were fired, all the Albanian students forbidden entry to the university, and many of the Albanian books in the National Library in Prishtina were recycled for pulp in a local paper mill south of Prishtina.

2. Serbian politicians, clerics, and media have failed to acknowledge Serb oppression, rape, expulsion, and killing of Kosovar Albanians in the 1990s.

Serbs appear to be living in a web that they and their leaders have woven where they are the only victims. It took the recent showing in Belgrade of a film on the massacre of 7,000 Bosnian men and boys in Sbrenica for this to begin to percolate into local consciousness. Two of the three main Bosnian Serb war criminals, Mladic and Karadjic, are still living in Serbia, despite repeated demands for their extradition by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague.

The Serbs have not even begun to acknowledge their war crimes in Kosova. What Serbs did learn in Bosnia was that bodies needed to be hidden more carefully, hence the five known mass graves of Kosovar Albanians in Serbia. However, there are still over 2,000 Kosovar Albanians missing, and Belgrade, which directed these reburials, has not been forthcoming. Further, while Albanians in general do not talk about rape, women's groups in Kosova estimate that over 8,000 Albanian women and girls were raped in the spring of 1999 by Serb soldiers and paramilitaries.

With all the concern over Serbian churches and monasteries in Kosova, they did survive over 500 years of Ottoman rule, and the local people, both Serb and Albanian, had something to do with this. There is virtually no talk of the 250 mosques that were destroyed or severely damaged in the fighting in 1999.

Without acknowledgement of past wrongs, it is unthinkable that Kosova would consider any form of sovereignty from Belgrade.

There was a UN sponsored plan to allow Serbs in northern Mitrovice to visit the graves of their relatives in the Christian cemetery in southern Mitrovice, while allowing the Albanians in southern Mitrovice to visit the graves of their relatives in the Muslim cemetery in northern Mitrovice. However, the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch of Nis preached from the pulpit in northern Mitrovice against this plan and denounced anyone who took part. Meanwhile the Muslim cemetery in the town of Zvecan, just north of Mitrovice, was turned into a playground and soccer field for Serb refugee/colonists from Croatia.

3. Kosova is not Bosnia

Kosovar Albanians and Serbs do not have a recent history of harmony like that in Bosnia before the Bosnian war. The proud goal of internationals to integrate the minority Serbs in Kosova does not acknowledge that Belgrade continues to foment animosity and to pay salaries to the minority Serbs in Kosova to keep them from working with Kosovar Albanians. Further, the Ahtisaari Plan for the future of Kosova still allows Belgrade to interfere in Kosova to "protect" Serb minorities.

So where does the pipedream of Kosovar Albanian and Serb harmony come from? Much of the UN staff in Kosova first served in Bosnia. They took goals from Bosnia, not particularly well implemented there, and tried to plant them in Kosova, whose history they do not know. Then, in 2001 when Michael Steiner was the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) in Kosova, the effective ruler of UN administered Kosova, he devised the slogan "standards before status." This was a stalling tactic when the UN was not interested in moving forward to new status for Kosova. These "standards" were devised without consultation with Albanians, well after the major work of rebuilding had been accomplished by Kosovar Albanians, and so over-represented the more difficult issues of Albanian-Serb relations. The "success" of the UN mission in Kosova then came to be evaluated by numbers of Serb "returnees," thereby keeping Kosova hostage to the Serb minority once again.

When I asked a UN staff person who had been in Prishtina for seven years why he had not bothered to learn Albanian, he said it made more sense to learn Serbian since in his salary reviews it would count as three languages (Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian).

4. The KFOR and UN administration of Kosova has largely been a boondoggle.

The UN Resolution 1244 that ended the fighting in Kosova in 1999 is an ambiguous and deeply flawed document that Russia encouraged Serbia to sign. The international force to protect Kosova, known as KFOR, divided Kosova into five segments, giving the most sensitive one to the French, long known for their sympathies with Serbia. This is the northern segment adjacent to Serbia and containing many of Kosova's mines. It was under the French, months after the war, that the city of Mitrovice was divided into a northern Serb area and a southern Albanian one. Most Albanians were expelled from the north, Serb paramilitary leaders moved in, and Serbia created a university there that is a political hotbed of Serb nationalism.

The UN administration established itself only slowly and ponderously in a place where it had the support of over 90% of the people. Internationals, virtually none of whom bothered to learn Albanian, are paid nine times what local people are paid. The head of the UN administration has the real authority in Kosova, despite the existence of elected municipal and parliamentary representatives. The men appointed by the UN Secretary General to head the UN mission in Kosova have tended to stay for less than two years each. Virtually no international staff have been fired in the nine years they have been there. Neither the UN staff nor the 16,000 strong KFOR soldiers anticipated the March 2004 riots in Kosova, nor were they effective in containing. them. For example the KFOR did not remove Serb roadblocks to major roads, they were unable to protect cultural landmarks, nor did they assist the local Kosovar police when requested.

The first report by Norwegian ambassador Kai Eide, commissioned by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan after the Kosova riots of March 2004, is a remarkably clear condemnation of the UN administration in Kosova. The "standards before status" was unworkable, there had been no progress toward status, the privatization process had been stalled, and the economy was in shreds. There must be a special circle in hell for UN mandates.

One agricultural consultant for the UN in Kosova kept a Serbian mistress whom he described as Polish. He had been working for two years on developing a local cheese. Another UN media consultant kept his Serbian wife in London, and dedicated the lion's share of his budget for the year to supporting the Serbian press in Kosova. Serbs constitute roughly 7% of the population of Kosova.

5. It's the economy, Eurocrats!

Some media reports are finally acknowledging the importance of the economy. Unemployment is officially 44% with especially low participation by young people and women. Kosova's main export in 2006 was scrap metal from disintegrating industrial sites. Serbian forces took property documents when they left in 1999, making it difficult to determine property rights. Privatization has been difficult with internationals in charge, and few people willing to invest in a place where status is in limbo. The socialist/communist past discouraged private initiative.

And yet there was remarkable economic activity initiated by Kosovar Albanian entrepreneurs in the 1990s in the face of expulsion from virtually all jobs by the Serbian authorities. The Albanian diaspora levied a 3% tax on themselves to support Albanian underground schools in Kosova the 1990s. Many Kosovar Albanians work in Europe and North America and have generously supported relatives in Kosova for years.

American and German models for industrial development are less suited to the economy than say Turkish ones of smaller concerns. The few successful economic establishments in Kosova work in tandem with Croatian and Slovenian companies. This should be encouraged. Local businessmen call for capital at lower interest rates. This too should be encouraged, rather than dependency on international funding.

Further, there are many Kosovars, both men and women, who demonstrated remarkable organizational skills in the 1990s in organizing parallel schools and social service clinics. The international agencies have largely ignored these people but they are still around. In addition there are bright well educated young Kosovar Albanians who should also be brought into the new administration.

May the new EU administration that will take over in June 2008 learn from the UN experience and not simply replicate it. This will be difficult since many of the people from the UN administration plan to stay on as it is unlikely they would find jobs with comparable pay and status in their home countries. I suggest massive housecleaning.

Frances Trix is an associate professor of linguistics and anthropology at Indiana University. She speaks Albanian and spent the summer of 2007 in Kosova doing research on Kosova under the UN administration. Read more on this article...

Friday, February 22, 2008

IAEA’s Latest Report on Iran: Time to Move On

Farideh Farhi

The full text of the much awaited IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities can be found here. It is an important report that finally brings an end to almost all the technical issues that in the past five years have concerned the IAEA regarding Iran’s declared civilian nuclear program. Last August the Agency and Iran laid out a Workplan to resolve issues that related to Iran’s past activities and on every issue, except one, Iran’s responses were deemed by the IAEA as either consistent with the Agency’s own finding or not inconsistent with them.

In this report the Agency once again states unambiguously that it “has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.” It also states that on the issues of Polonium-210 experiments and Gchine mine, contamination at a technical university and procurement of a former head of Iran’s Physics Research Center (PHRC). Hence, the conclusion: “the Agency considers those questions no longer outstanding at this stage,” repeated by ElBaradei’s in different words in this video (transcript here) “we have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran’s enrichment program.”

Now, it can be argued that there is some ambiguity in the report regarding the use of the expression “not inconsistent with” instead of “consistent with,” with the former requiring further questioning and reporting particularly since much of it relate to the procurement activities of the Physics Research Center, an institution also under questioning regarding Iran’s alleged undeclared activities. Still the extent of IAEA’s acknowledgment of the plausibility of Iran’s explanations of past activities is an important breakthrough for that country.

The report also suggests that Iran has effectively and voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol in the past few months, allowing the IAEA extensive inspections and access. But as discussed by Mohammad ElBaradei in the IAEA video, as well as in the report, this voluntarily implementation on a short terms basis is not sufficient for IAEA’s purposes of monitoring Iran’s present declared program. IAEA wants Iran to sign the Additional Protocol. Iran has said that its previous offer of signing the protocol is no longer on the table so long as Iran’s case at the UN Security Council. In short, Iran’s position is that it cannot be forced to sign an international agreement but it may consider doing so if the Western countries begin treating Iran’s nuclear program in the same way they treat other country’s nuclear programs. This position will be maintained even more steadfastly now that almost all the outstanding issues about Iran’s declared program have been resolved.

The one issue that has not been resolved involves “alleged studies” done by Iran that can be connected to weaponization ("Alleged studies" is the way they are identified by the IAEA but not surprisingly by the New York Times which talks about these studies as “evidence …that strongly suggested the country had experimented with technology to make a nuclear weapon.” For a look at the media coverage of the report see here). These studies come out of a laptop that was reportedly given to the U.S. intelligence by an Iranian “walk-in” source who stole the laptop from someone else (see earlier stories and analyses on the stolen laptop and documents here, here, and here. The most troublesome aspect of the information in the laptop was the plans for “the design for a missile re-entry vehicle, which could have a nuclear military dimension.”

In the Workplan signed in August 2007, Iran agreed to assess the documentation generated out of the laptop that alleges weaponization-related studies (not an actual experimentation with technology as NYT suggests) provided it was given the documentation. The language used in the work plan is interesting and worth mentioning:

“Iran reiterated that it considers the following alleged studies as politically motivated and baseless allegations. The Agency will however provide Iran with access to the documentation it has in its possession regarding: the Green Salt Project, the high explosive testing and the missile re-entry vehicle. As a sign of good will and cooperation with the Agency, upon receiving all related documents, Iran will review and inform the Agency of its assessment.”

The interesting thing about all this was that the Agency was not able to give Iran the documentation required for Iran to make its assessment until early February (February 3-5) and when it did so it was only partial documentation because the country in possession of the documents, namely the United States, either would not give the documents to the IAEA or would not give the IAEA permission to give the documents to Iran until then. It was only on February 15, or a mere one week before the publication of the current report, that Iran was informed that the IAEA is ready to give Iran a second batch of documents (reportedly a large amount of them dumped by the United States on the IAEA’s lap on that same day).

Iran’s response to the first batch of documents, which included subsequent clarifications to further IAEA questions, was that they were fabrications (with names of non-existent individuals and offices). Iran has yet to respond to the IAEA further requests of meeting over the second batch of documents released on February 15 for obvious shortage of time but there is reason to believe that after seeing the first batch of documents, Iran may not want to continue to play the game as its mid-February response stated explicitly that its assessment that the documents are fabricated was final (Note that in the above quoted section of the Workplan, assessment of the documents was the only thing Iran promised).

So here are a few questions to ponder at this point:

1. Why was the Bush Administration so late in dumping the documents on the IAEA? Were the documents suspect as suggested by initial reports about them? Was it because the U.S. did not want to be blamed for stifling the Workplan? And/or was it because once it became clear that the IAEA was about to announce all outstanding issues related to Iran’s past declared activities resolved, the Bush Administration felt that the late release of these documents were the only instruments it had to keep the Iran file going?

2. What is the IAEA expected to do if Iran insists that the documents are fabricated and IAEA’s own stance remains that these are “alleged weaponization studies that Iran supposedly conducted in the past,” (i.e., it cannot confirm the veracity of the documents) and IAEA has not “detected any use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have any credible information in this regard”? It is true that the IAEA makes an observation in paragraph 39 that the computer image made available to Iran showing "a schematic layout" of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle, as being “assessed by the Agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device.” But it does not (and I assume cannot) make an assessment of whether the information itself is fabricated as Iran claims. Secondly, the Agency admits that neither the documents nor the IAEA can offer a link of these studies to any weaponization program. So for the coming year are we going to be facing a specter of a back and forth between Iran and the IAEA not over Iran’s nuclear program but over documents about alleged studies that no one (except the Iranians) seem to be sure whether they are fake or not? Isn’t this really hanging on to a pretty thin straw?

3. Will the IAEA be pressured to continue this process?

My sense is that this report will be used by both sides in ways that suits their purposes. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has already declared the report a vindication of Iran while the United States will again push and probably get a rather meaningless Security Council resolution that will not go much beyond the previous resolutions in terms of impact but presumably make a political point that the Security Council route is not really exhausted as the Iranian leaders, particularly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claim.

But the reality is that most people associated with this process are exhausted and ready to move on (with the notable exception of the Bush Administration folks that are just simply exhausted). Perhaps ElBaradei’s last words in his interview gives us some hints about the exhaustion (and exasperation) the IAEA must be feeling regarding the continuation of the general political deadlock and the need to move on after years of what under other circumstances would be considered successful interaction between his Agency and a member country; interaction that has led to the resolution of significant technical issues:

“A durable solution requires confidence about Iran’s nuclear program, it requires a regional security arrangement, it requires normal trade relationship between Iran and the international community. As the Security Council stated, the ultimate aim should be normalization of relationships between Iran and the international community. Definitely the Agency will continue to do as much as we can to make sure that we also contribute to the confidence-building process with regard to the past and present nuclear activities in Iran, but naturally, we can not provide assurance about future intentions. That is inherently a diplomatic process that needs the engagement of all the parties."

I am sure some European governments and the Bush Administration will be upset and once again accuse ElBaradei for going beyond his technical mandate and talking about ways to overcome the deadlock politically and diplomatically. But in this day and age of failed policies shouldn’t calling it as is be everyone’s mandate? Read more on this article...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008



The Hollywood relay race to politicize the Olympics has begun in earnest, with Mia Farrow prodding Steven Spielberg to take the baton, while other stars close in tightly, seeking an early lead.

The Beijing authorities need to graciously accept the fact that celebrity activists are going to leverage their fame to politicize the Olympics for all kinds of reasons good, bad, and ridiculous. Fame not only breeds more fame but a certain amount of ludicrous behavior.

Steven Spielberg’s decision to get involved and subsequently uninvolved speaks more to the issue of Hollywood fame management than a masterful grasp of foreign policy issues. In the end, being badgered by a feather-weight actress weighed more heavily than the Mount Tai of Chinese public opinion. The legendary director, the first from Hollywood to make a big film in China, has flip-flopped in a way that is no doubt disappointing, if not outright baffling to his legions of Chinese fans.

Beijing has lost the services of a talented artist, but it will survive the kerfuffle if it scrupulously sticks to script as a tolerant, cosmopolitan host, with or without the Hollywood touch.

Who needs Hollywood? The Olympics remain an ideal opportunity for China to show the world how cosmopolitan it has become, again, echoing a truly cosmopolitan past that predates the first Olympic games held in Greece.

Please read on at the site below...

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pakistan Elections

Just a few quick thoughts.

One: Musharraf got voted out everywhere. PML-Q - the "King's party" was the only party that ran a campaign on their "record" and its major figures, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Sheikh Rashid, Wasi Zafar etc., were main characters in the Musharraf soap-operatic democracy. They are all voted out on the national scene. I think that the recent economic pains - lack of flour in the market, rising costs of water and electricity - had a lot to do with PLM-Q's defeat.

Two: PPP is the only national party in the country. It won seats in every state. No other party won was able to do that. Much of that has to do with the after-shocks of Benazir Bhutto's assassination but it is also a reflection of how restrictive the ethnic or regional based agendas the rest of the parties have.

Three: No great surprise, the Islamist parties lost - and lost heavily. In the northwestern regions, they lost to the secular, center-left Awami National Party (ANP) by huge margins. This should be a clear sign to the US policy makers that their understanding for Pakistan's possible futures is not the reductive and wrong, Musharraf or Mullah.

I appeared on Chicago Public Radio's Worldview this morning for a brief chat. I think our blog audience may also be interested in hearing my initial thoughts.

Juan Cole has already put up a terrific post and I am hoping we can hear from Barney Rubin soon.

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Lebanon on the cusp

The political stalemate in Lebanon shows little sign of ending anytime soon. President Emile Lahoud’s undistinguished nine-year term in office sputtered to an end last November. His extension in office, imposed by Syria in 2004, precipitated a process of dissent, political resistance and retaliatory violence, including the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005. With Lahoud poised to leave office, many Lebanese and outside observers worried that an unoccupied presidential palace in Ba’abda would be an invitation to danger. My own concern, as I expressed it in a recent article, was that Lebanon could not “totter endlessly on the cusp of the maelstrom.” External powers have since accustomed themselves to the vacancy, and it is now possible that nothing will happen until after the 2009 parliamentary elections. This is a dangerous experiment in delay, one that may well have disastrous consequences for Lebanon.

Government and opposition forces have stiffened their positions, with significant encouragement from external sponsors, especially the U.S. , France, Saudi Arabia, on the pro-government side, and Iran and Syria on the opposition side. The result is that bargains that may have been possible months ago, witness the candidacy of General Michel Suleiman, may no longer be on the table. While an Arab League summit is scheduled for late March, in Damascus, it is probably a good bet that the summit will be delayed, if not canceled, especially after much celebrated assassination of Imad Mughniyah.

There is good reason to worry that the stalemate may erupt rather than collapse. While many adult Lebanese have direct experience of the civil war (1975-1989), there are many shabaab—young bloods—who have no living memory of the civil war and are ready to fight. It is distressing to listen to well-to-do teen-agers declare their readiness to pick up arms and fight, despite their parents’ attempts to dissuade them. Clashes that end in deaths are thankfully still relatively uncommon, but the incidence of inter-sectarian clashes in urban neighborhoods is on the increase, and in some places skirmishes are now nightly events.

Will the time will come when even wise leaders will no longer be able to rein in the hot tempers? The army, in particular, has done a reasonably effective job of keep the violence in check, but there are limits to its self-control as we have already witnessed.

Last week’s assassination of Mughniyah has certainly increased the political polarization. Mughniyah--one of a cohort of young militants who imbibed the ideology of Iran’s revolution and then were radicalized by the Israeli invasion of 1982--had plenty of blood on his hands. Celebrations of his violent end have painted him as a mastermind of all manner of bloodshed and chaos over the course of the past quarter century or so. His role in some cases, such as the infamous hijacking of TWA 847 in 1985 or the kidnapping and despicable treatment of hostages in 1980s, is well-documented. His role in the early 1990s in the Buenos Aries bombings has been substantiated by Argentinean investigators.

I am not convinced that he deserves all the credit for terrible deeds that has fallen on his corpse. For instance, was he a 21 year old Svengali who directed the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in April 2003 and the horrendously effective truck bombing of the marine barracks in the autumn of the same year? Perhaps not. Mind you, Mughniyah had plenty of blood to answer for, but hearing the litany of deeds attributed to Mughniyah one has to be a bit skeptical. The Long Commission, aptly in my view, characterized the attack on the marines in 1983 as an act of war by Iran. Mughniyah would have been a player, but not the mastermind.

In recent years, little was ever said about Mughniyah in Lebanon. Lebanese close to Hezbollah usually noted that he was most likely in Iran, and he had been close to Pasdaran figures since at least the early 1980s. A variety of commenters, including Israeli officials, have alluded to his operational role in the 2006 war. My own hunch is that the great service that he performed in the July war of 2006 was to maintain the supply conduit between Hezbollah and Iran, as well as being the Pasdaran’s nexus with Hezbollah.

End of part I. Read more on this article...