Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rubin: Insurgent Attacks Still Up in Afghanistan's East

I've been traveling in Pakistan and Afghanistan for a couple of weeks and have accumulated a backlog of themes to blog about. While traveling I often lacked electricity and internet access; the latter, when available, was usually too slow for blogging. I'll catch up as I can.

First, this update on the debate about counter-insurgency success in Afghanistan's Regional Command/East (RC/E). The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has five regional commands: East (led by the US), West (Italy), South (Canada), North (Germany), and Capital (Italy). The U.S. uses RC/E as a showpiece of counter-insurgency success to outsiders taken on short embeds. I appeared on the NewsHour with the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who had just returned from such a trip, and I took issue with his rosy prognostications based on his brief guided tour. I followed this up with some data on weekly insurgent attacks in RC/E, comparing 2007 and 2008. I also announced the death of a friend and colleague, Michael Bhatia, who was killed by an IED in Khost province, RC/E, on May 7. Michael's work as a social scientist contributed to the successes of the counter-insurgency effort in the province.

I have now received the complete data for RC/E through week 20:

The level of attacks initiated by Taliban and other anti-government forces continues to exceed last year's, despite the vaunted successes of US COIN efforts.

One of the main explanations for the level of violence is a significant increase in infiltration from Pakistan's Tribal Areas, which are directly adjacent to RC/E. The Pakistan army has used the election of a new civilian government as a blame-shifting cover for its decision to withdraw from FATA and conclude a truce with the Pakistani Taliban. This truce has enabled the militants to focus their energy on Afghanistan.

This may be true, but it does not show that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is in fact succeeding, when all factors are taken into account. During my visit to Kabul I found that several officials of the U.S. government there interpreted my challenge to Ignatius' assertions as criticisms or denigration of their efforts in RC/E. That is not at all my intention. I was not able to take up the Embassy's offer of a repeat of the Ignatius tour on this visit, and I last visited RC/E in August 2006, when I went to Gardez, Paktia, to visit Governor Hakim Taniwal, an old friend and academic colleague (Taniwal was a sociologist) . Taniwal was killed by a suicide bomber a few weeks later. I have no reason to doubt the positive accounts of US counter-insurgency work, mostly in Khost, one of the smallest of the 12 provinces in RC/E. The failures of U.S. policy do not result from poor implementation by people in the field. On the contrary, from what I have seen, whatever successes there have been have largely been led from the field, not from Washington. Those working on the ground have worked hard in many cases to reverse or evade policies imposed by the Bush administration.

Nonetheless, no amount of success in Khost amounts to success in Afghanistan. If counter-insurgency success in Khost does not reduce the strength of an insurgency whose leadership and logistical bases are in Pakistan, it shows the failure of the Bush administration to address the challenge of Pakistan. President Karzai (and nearly all Afghans I have spoken to) have argued for years that the factors that turn Afghanistan's innumerable internal problems into a violent insurgency that is increasingly using suicide bombs lie mainly in Pakistan.

In a discussion after we went off the air, Ignatius asked me if the success in Khost could be spread nation-wide if the US took over the entire effort, with its greater COIN expertise. I said, first, I doubt it, because Khost was such a small place with a relatively high level of education (it was called "Little Moscow" under the communists), and, second, the forces for such an expansion are not available, because the U.S. is stuck in a disastrous war in Iraq. It is not the fault of the Americans working in RC/E that the U.S. is in Iraq, but it is the responsibility of the administration, which undermined the chances of success in Afghanistan and Pakistan with an illegal war based on propaganda and ideology, a war that should never have been waged and should never have been authorized.

The same week that Ignatius and I appeared on NewsHour, al-Qaida and some Taliban disrupted an important national celebration in Kabul, killing three people and barely missing President Hamid Karzai. Subsequent investigations showed that this operation was carried out with the complicity of high officials of the ministries of defense and interior who were either complicit with the attackers or corrupt. The attack was planned and financed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

No amount of road building and police mentoring in Khost will compensate for a failed regional policy and unreliable security forces. The successes in Khost are not so much fake as irrelevant to the larger picture. No amount of mini-successes in isolated show pieces will compensate for the overall strategic failure of this administration. Read more on this article...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

President Suleiman's Inaugural Speech

General Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's new President, delivered a concise inaugural speech today, May 25. Listening to his words on al-Jazeera, I was struck by several elements in the speech:
He emphasized the need to connect with Lebanon's expatriate community, which includes many Christians. He spoke of the rights of this group, in contrast to those who were given citizenship in the 1990s without deserving it. This was a direct reference to citizenship decrees signed by the late Rafiq al-Hariri as Prime Minister. Al-Hariri extended citizenship to tens of thousands of people, many of them Sunni Muslims.
He insisted that Lebanon must renew its national dialogue and he underlined the importance of the Constitution.
His remarks about the Hezbollah-led "resistance" were measured, and he underlined that the resistance must not be used internally. He noted that the resistance won widespread national support in 2000, when Israel unilaterally withdrew its occupation forces and the South was liberated.
He also underlined that the Shiba' farms were still occupied, thereby noting a rationale for a continuing role by the resistance.
He referred to the sons of Lebanon who were still prisoners, which might equally apply to those held by Israel or Syria.
He spoke at comparative length about relations with Syria. He insisted on relations based on mutual respect. He said we should put aside past differences and build a relationship that includes mutual diplomatic relations (Syria still has not embassy in Beirut).
He noted the Palestine issue and emphasized that no one should use Palestine as a pretext. He recalled that the State will not allow terrorism, a reference to the Nahr al-Bared fighting last summer.
He stated tat Lebanon supports the Arab League initiative vis-a-vis an Arab-Israeli peace.
Referring the opposition incursion into West Beirut, he reminded his audience that the army needs to maintain a balanced position.
The U.S. was only represented in the chamber by a Congressional delegation led by Congressman Nick Rahall, a Lebanese-American. I was struck that Suleiman did not mention the U.S. at all. [Were it not for U.S. obstruction I believe the crisis in Lebanon would have been long ago broken, and on terms decidedly more favorable to the U.S., but I will develop that further later.]
Qatar, which shepherded the Doha negotiations, was honored.
In all, Suleiman was impressive, and one may sense that there was a collective sigh of relief in Lebanon as Suleiman took office.

A final point, Lebanese governments have used operated on the norm of consensus decision-making. Keep this in mind as you weigh whether the existing government is a departure from standard practice. Read more on this article...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Muslim Brotherhood Leader Interview

The USG Open Source Center translates an interview with Mahdi Akif, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. Akif defends the organization's failure to participate in the April general strike, saying that it was organized by the "facebook group" unbeknownst to him. He reiterates that his organization opposes the coming to power of Jamal Mubarak as his father's successor; that the MB seeks to impose sharia or Islamic canon law on Egypt; that his conception of shura or Muslim consultation differs from democracy in setting limits; that he would not accept Coptic Christians or women in high government posts; and that he supports al-Qaeda's attacks on occupation troops but not on innocent civilians. (He had earlier dismissed al-Qaeda as a US creation.)

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood's Akif Supports Al-Qa'ida, Says Bin Ladin Is Mujahid
Interview with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Guide Mahdi Akif, by Mahmud Abd-al-Rahim, from Cairo: "Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Guide Mahdi Akif to Ilaf: Bin Ladin Is Mujahid Whose Sincerity I Do Not Doubt, and I Support to Activities of Al-Qa'ida in Reply to Injustice and Corruption"
Ilaf WWW-Text
Friday, May 23, 2008
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

The interview with Muslim Brotherhood Guide Mahdi Akif has not been easy. Refusal was the first answer to the request for the interview; then, after talking forward and backward, and pleading for three weeks, a date was fixed for the interview. On the background of the circulating stories about the political and media restrictions imposed on Akif, especially with his slips of the tongue that have caused problems for the Muslim Brotherhood, and exposed it to attacks by the authorities in the Egyptian media, I was suspicious to the last moment that this date might not be honored.

Despite the fact that there have been previous telephone contacts with the man, this was the first time that I met him face to face in his office in Al-Manyal District overlooking the Nile in Giza. Contrary to what is circulating about him, Akif seemed friendly and open to the interview, which was supposed to end by the call for the noon prayer. I do not know whether this was caused by the calm tone in my presentation of the questions and his ignorance of my secular tendency, or by the fact that the man was acting naturally.

Anyway, the man did not deviate from the intellectual and inherited convictions of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the domestic and international changes, and the formal developments in the ideology and behavior of the group, the Muslim Brotherhood still insists on its stance toward democracy, women, and the Copts, even if the group is opening up toward the west.

However, the last thing that the Muslim Brotherhood guide said was expressing support for the activities of Al-Qa'ida, and describing Bin Ladin as a Mujahid who pursued the satisfaction of God by what he was doing, not to mention defending Sa'd-al-Din Ibrahim, the one accused of being the man of the United States and Israel in Egypt, in addition to supporting the existing regime in Egypt and considering that corruption existed only in a minority of this regime, despite the fact that he said that those governing Egypt were protected by the US and Zionist enemy.

Ilaf has conducted a lengthy interview with Akif about all the problems surrounding the Egyptian society and the Muslim Brotherhood group itself such as the stance toward Jamal Mubarak and his political ascent, the strong blows addressed recently at the group and their connection to its retreat from supporting the bequeathing of power, the accusations of possessing armed militia, the possibility of settling the power struggle with the National Democratic Party by force, in addition to other detailed issues. The following is the text of the interview:

(Abd-al-Rahim) In the beginning, let us stop at the latest developments witnessed in Egypt in which your stance has been criticized, I mean refraining from participation in the first general strike while waiting for a deal in the military tribunals, and then participating in the failed second general strike after your leaders were sentenced?

(Akif) This is not true. We have participated in all protests. The statement we issued on 6 April was clear and strong, as we stressed that we participate in all strikes that would be in the interest of any sector of the people, and in the interest of Egypt in general. With regard to the criticism to which you refer about the 6 April strike, we participated, but in our own way. It is a participation that does not create chaos, and does not split the society. If we did not announce our participation in a completely clear way, this was because we did not know the side standing behind this strike, because the call came via the Internet, or rather through the "Facebook" activists. As for the 4 May strike, we participated in it in a clear way, because it adopted the moral aspects, such as the call to stay at home, or to refrain from buying government newspapers, aspects that gave the strike its momentum.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But the observers consider that you let the masses down on 6 April, and hence they punished you on 4 May, the date on which the strike failed, and showed that your participation had no influence, and did not have any effect contrary to what was circulating all the time about your power in the street?

(Akif) The Egyptian press has nothing new to say, and what it says has no value, and does not achieve any benefit.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But the people in general were expecting from you a stronger stance in the midst of pressing political and economic conditions on the basis that you are the strongest faction. The people expected for instance a call for civil disobedience, which you have not dared to declare?

(Akif) Civil disobedience is something and a strike is something else. Civil disobedience is worthless unless there is a general consensus, and the decision is taken by all the political powers. If we welcome a strike, it is in order to achieve a temporary benefit. Moreover, we do not represent the entire people; when we have the right to represent the entire people, we will call for civil disobedience.

(Abd-al-Rahim) It is true that you do not represent the entire people; however, the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling party are nearly the only players on the political arena. Therefore, why do you not play your role?

(Akif) Personally, I do not consider the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling National Democratic Party to be the main players, because there is only one player with no partners, namely the people. The National Democratic Party rules through oppression, and has led the nation to this backward level, while the Muslim Brotherhood's role is education at high levels of creed, ethics, and culture, because of the Brotherhood's wish to reform.

(Abd-al-Rahim) If you do not recognize the power of the ruling party or your influence, who rules Egypt, or controls its people other than you two?

(Akif) Of course we do not rule Egypt. Egypt is under the control of an oppressive tyrannical group that has money and authority, and relies on the foreign US and Zionist enemy.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Let me rephrase the question. If you - I mean the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling party - are not engaged in a power struggle, why have the security blows addressed at your movement intensified recently?

(Akif) The blows are addressed not only at the Muslim Brotherhood, but also at all Muslims resisting the US-Zionist project.

(Abd-al-Rahim) If you look at the scenario of bequeathing power to the son of President Mubarak, do you not consider that the issue has a domestic dimension?

(Akif) The bequeathing of power is not the reason, because the issue, as I said before, is linked to the resistance to the US-Zionist project.

(Abd-al-Rahim) By the way, why is the change in your stance toward the bequeathing of power, and changing from support to opposition of the son of President Mubarak?

(Akif) We have not changed our stance twice, but we changed it three times. In the beginning, we welcomed the nomination of Jamal Mubarak as any ordinary citizen; however, when they amended Article 76 of the Constitution, which specifies the selection of the president from more than one candidate, and made it made-to-measure for the son of the president, I said that if he wanted to become a candidate, he should leave his father's palace and come down to the ranks of the people. When they amended other constitution articles by which they legislated tyranny, not to mention the policy of the (National Democratic Party's) Policies Committee, which is chaired by Jamal Mubarak, and which was found to strengthen tyranny, and support the military tribunals and security tampering under whose oppression Egypt labors, I then said: Jamal is not welcomed, and is 100 percent rejected.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Thus, should I understand from your words that the clash with you came on the background of refusing to support the ascent of Jamal Mubarak to power?

(Akif) The blows are focused on us because they feel that the Muslim Brotherhood has real presence in the street, and it is also against the US-Zionist project.

(Abd-al-Rahim) As you repeat mentioning the United States and its support for the existing regime, what about your own contacts with the United States, which has been continuing since the invasion of Iraq, and the presentation of the Greater Middle East project?

(Akif) Our stance toward contacts with the United States is completely clear. We engage in dialog with all the civil society institutions, universities, media, and study centers in the United States without embarrassment whether here or there. However, when the issue is related to the US Government, we adopt another stance. Since I have become Muslim Brotherhood guide, I stress that there will be no dialog with foreign governments except in the presence of a representative of the Egyptian Government; this is out of respect for the laws and rules of the country in which I live.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the meetings that took place inside the US embassy with US officials, not to mention the opinion polls conducted every now-and-then by the US ambassador personally?

(Akif) This is not true. What happened at the US embassy was merely a celebration in which members of the Muslim Brotherhood participated as invited guests. If anyone wants to engage in a dialog with the Muslim Brotherhood, this dialog has to be conducted with me personally.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the secret dialogs that took place through the US man in Egypt, Sa'd-al-Din Ibrahim, in European capitals?

(Akif) This man is being wronged. He has nothing to do with us except as a fellow prisoner of some members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But he is openly the United States man, not to mention that he promotes normalization; therefore, how could you defend him after your previous stances toward him?

(Akif) We have nothing to do with him. Moreover, is he the only one who supports normalization? What about those who sold gas to Israel, or those who signed the QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zones) agreement of commercial and industrial nature? Is all this not normalization?

(Abd-al-Rahim) Let us stop at the problems observed by the research centers in the west about your movement, and which arouse controversy when thinking of dealing with you whether at the domestic or foreign levels. Let us start by the stance toward the Copts, or rather the Christians of Egypt?

(Akif) We consider them as Egyptians who have the same rights and duties as we have, and who have complete citizenship from birth. This view is not introduced by me, but it is according to the shari'ah of God, who honors man.

(Abd-al-Rahim) You talk about the Christian enjoying complete citizenship; what about your rejection of his ascent to the presidency under the slogan "Supreme guardianship cannot be given to a Copt?"

(Akif) With regard to the ascent of a Copt to the guardianship, this issue is subject to contention among the Muslim ulema. Some ulema say that it is allowed, while others say that it is not. We tend to agree with the second option, namely that it is not allowed; however, the final word is up to the people.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Is this not a clear violation of the citizenship?

(Akif) It is not a violation at all. This is the culture of the citizen who lives in a Muslim country that has its values and principles, which ought to be respected.

(Abd-al-Rahim) In your opinion, is Egypt a Muslim country, or is it a pluralistic civil society?

(Akif) We are a Muslim country on the basis that the overwhelming majority of the people are Muslims, and the culture, customs, and conventions are Islamic. This is what the Christians understand.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Does not your discriminatory address of the Egyptian society, or rather describing it as "Islamic," arouse the apprehensions of Egypt's Christians, and even the western ones, of your group?

(Akif) This address cannot arouse the apprehensions of any rational man, because we do not attack the freedom of the people or their wealth. On the other hand, we now live in a country that allows everything, including the attack on wealth.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Then, you still plan to apply the Islamic shari'ah as soon as you ascend to power?

(Akif) If we ascend to power, this will mean that the people believe in our vision. Moreover, do we live for anything other than the shari'ah? The Egyptian Constitution itself says this.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Why do you not learn from the Turkish experience, i.e. preserve your ideas within the framework of a non-religious civil society?

(Akif) When the Justice (and Development) Party succeeded in Turkey, immediately a journalist asked me: Will the Muslim nation benefit from the Turkish experiment? I said: It will not benefit, because the Justice and Development Party ascended to power as a result of a democratic experiment, but in our countries there is neither freedom nor democracy.

(Abd-al-Rahim) As you consider Egypt to be a Muslim society, and you pursue the application of Islamic shari'ah, what about your stance toward the building of churches?

(Akif) The building of churches, as our Shaykh Al-Ghazali said, is subject to the law. This building process has to be organized according to the numbers of Muslims and Copts.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But there is a freehand in building mosques, and you encourage this; why should not the same thing apply to the churches?

(Akif) The law is the one to organize this.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the tense relationship with Pope Shinudah, the head of the Egyptian Church, and the accusations leveled at you that you are responsible for the sectarian tensions in Egypt as a result of the pursuits to Islamize the society?

(Akif) With regard to the relations with Shinudah, this question should be addressed to him. With regard to the other part of the question, I wish you would abandon the terminology and words of the secularists. The Muslim Brotherhood has a close relationship with the Copts. We have had Coptic advisers since the days of Imam Hasan al-Banna, and the relations are extensive. We have nothing to do with the political and security deviations that have been started by Al-Sadat; we have not changed our policy or ethics, and our way of dealing with the Copts is the same as it was.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about your negative, if not hostile, stance toward the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination Movement?

(Akif) I do not like to hear such nonsense. There is no religious discrimination in Egypt, because there is no coercion in religion.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Let us move to the second problem; I mean women and your stance toward them?

(Akif) Among us, women are honored. I challenge any civilized project to honor women as much as Islam does.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the rights of women, among which is the right to ascend to senior posts? Has your stance changed positively toward the right of women for instance to ascend to the presidency?

(Akif) The ulema also disagree about the issue of the supreme guardianship of a woman, and whether it should or should not be allowed. We have the right to choose one of the two opinions, and we have chosen that it is not allowed.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Then, in your opinion, how do you honor women while you do not believe in their right to ascend to the senior positions; moreover, women are far from even the leading positions within the Muslim Brotherhood?

(Akif) Should I place them in positions that would expose them to imprisonment?! The activity of the Muslim Brotherhood women through which they satisfy God is to bring up their children well. Let me give you a living example; when some female members of the Muslim Brotherhood were nominated as candidates in the parliamentary elections, what happened to them? Moreover, do you not know that the woman is under the guardianship of the man, who does not want her to be "trampled upon?"

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about your stance toward democracy, have you crystallized a clear stance, or are you still within the realm of the talk about Shura [consultation]?

(Akif) Shura [consultation] is the highest level of democracy in its respect of the human being.

(Abd-al-Rahim) This claim is rebutted, because Shura [consultation] has nothing to do with democracy as it is not binding, and the ruler is the unilateral decision maker. Therefore, how can it be the highest level?

(Akif) Shura [consultation] is the perfect democracy if it is done properly and respects shari'ah. I distinguish between Shura and western democracy that allows man to do whatever he wants, and to do the things that God has not ordered. Among us, the leader comes only through Shura, and the final word is up to the Guidance Bureau and not to me. I am talking about democracy here, in the society and not within the group!

(Abd-al-Rahim) Then, are you, as it is circulating, riding on the wave of democracy in order to fulfill your aims despite the fact that you do not believe in it, and after that you will show your dictatorial face, and implement the policy of closed doors?

(Akif) We now are back to using the words of the secularists! I reject this logic, because it judges the intentions, and it has no aim other than muddying the issues.

(Abd-al-Rahim) When I talk to you about democracy in society, you talk about democracy within the group. Therefore, what do you say about dismissing or marginalizing the objectors within the group, and the divisions that occur every now and then among you?

(Akif) We have not dismissed anyone. Does the departure of 10 or 100 members of the group out of millions mean that there is an exodus or a split? My group is open, whoever wants to stay can stay, and whoever wants to leave can leave. This does not bother us.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But one of the dissidents, namely Imad Taha, apart from his talk about the dictatorship prevailing within the organization, talks about militias belonging to the group, and receiving semi-military training within Egypt, and military training in Iraq and Palestine?

(Akif) This is a lie and it is unfounded.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the military parade that took place some time ago in Al-Azhar University, and whose members were put on trial?

(Akif) This alleged military parade was nothing other than a sports program that has taken place dozens of times. Encroaching upon this program was a secular and security buffoonery, and the proof is that the court exonerated the members.

(Abd-al-Rahim) I would like to dwell on the financing of the group, and the extent to which this financing was affected by the trial that took place recently of Engineer Khayrat al-Shatir, and the confiscation of his wealth, especially as he was the principal financer of the group's activities?

(Akif) Khayrat al-Shatir and Hasan Malik were not financers of the group, and we have neither investments nor a single cent in any bank. The activities are based on what the sons of the group pay from their pockets, and we do not accept a single cent from anyone who is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

(Abd-al-Rahim) What about the talked-about Saudi and Iranian aid?

(Akif) I challenge anyone to present a proof of this accusation.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Let us steer away from the domestic dossiers. Let me ask you about your stance toward the call by the second man in Al-Qa'ida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for addressing strikes at the inside of the Zionist entity on the sixtieth anniversary of the catastrophe?

(Akif) Al-Zawahiri can do what he likes.

(Abd-al-Rahim) But historically you have sent fighters to the occupied territories. Could you repeat the same stance now?

(Akif) Yes, we have sent fighters, but the army and the government fought on our side. Now if they allow us we will send fighters to resist the occupation, whether in Iraq or in Palestine.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Does the resistance need government permission?

(Akif) Do you want us to clash with the government?

(Abd-al-Rahim) As we talk about resistance and jihad, do you consider Usama Bin Ladin a terrorist or an Islamic Mujahid?

(Akif) Most certainly he is a Mujahid. I do not doubt his sincerity in resisting occupation for the sake of God Almighty.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Does this not contradict your previous description of Al-Qa'ida as US-made?

(Akif) The name is US-made, but Al-Qa'ida as an ideology and organization came as a result of injustice and corruption.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Then, do you support the activities of Al-Qa'ida, and to what extent?

(Akif) Yes, I support its activities against the occupier, but not against the people.

(Abd-al-Rahim) Finally, what about the next scenario in Egypt? Would you resort to force to settle your conflict with the Egyptian regime if the doors were to remain closed before you?

(Akif) I do not consider that we are in conflict with the regime, but we are in dispute. We have to help the regime and respect it, because only a small group controls power, wealth, and security. We are dealing with the situation with extreme patience and wisdom in order to put an end to corruption without destroying the institutions or instigating chaos. We have hope in the future, and confidence in the great Egypt.

(Description of Source: London Ilaf WWW-Text in Arabic -- London Internet daily providing independent coverage of Arab and international issues. URL: Read more on this article...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Strange Tale of Shiraz Explosion

Farideh Farhi

There are times that trying to make sense of the behavior of the Iranian government is very hard and the way it has handled the Shiraz explosion is one of them. The government initially rejected that it was an act of terrorism but has now arrested a number of people and is suggesting that the United States gave support to them.

This turnabout could of course be explained by government opportunism (an attempted tit for tat for the US charges of terrorism hurled against Iran); except for the fact the initial story of the explosion being an accident was also suspect. So the question of why the Iranian government did not capitalize on the incident at the time it occurred and why now is a relevant one.

The explosion occurred in a crowded religious center in the southern city of Shiraz on April 13, ultimately killing 14 people and injuring about 200 people, mostly young. People, as usual, had gathered to listen to the sermons of a popular local preacher known for his appeal to the youth as well as his anti-Baha’i and anti- Wahabi stance. (video of the moment of explosion can be found here and it is an interesting one to watch for people who only see the Iranian youth as western-oriented and anti-government.

The incident received some attention in the western media but not much because as I said above when it did occur the government immediately announced it to be an accident caused by leftover munitions that were on display in the Mosque or a building next to the mosques as part of an exhibition commemorating Iran's 1980-1988 war against Iraq. This immediate judgment was at the time contested publicly by the preacher who was there giving sermons but his words were essentially ignored, perhaps even hushed.

When explosions like this happens in Iran (and this was the most serious one in terms of fatalities and injuries since the early years of the revolution), the government is faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, highlighting such incidences can allow the Iranian government to suggest that it is actually a victim and not a perpetrator of terrorism. On the other hand, giving too much attention to them may highlight the opposition to or instability of the Islamic regime in front of those, particularly in the outside world, who are always looking for signs of instability.

The latter considerations were perhaps given more attention in April because at the time of the explosion the city of Shiraz was getting ready for a visit by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Hence any hint of instability or anti-government activity might have been seen as tied to his visit. Additionally there must have been concerns about publicly contemplating the possibility that the explosion was the work of Wahabi radicals, something Iran has largely not experienced so far and any hint of it will be quite worrisome to the population as a whole.

But almost a month after the incident, the government announced that the incident was indeed an explosion but one set off by an “anti-revolutionary group” that had also plans to bomb Tehran’s book fair, Russian Consulate in the Gilan Province, oil pipelines in the south, and several other educational, religious, and scientific centers. The government also claimed that the immediate identification of the explosion as an incident was an intentional act in order to mislead the perpetrators; an act that the government claims proved useful and led to the arrest of a “network” of 12 people (and death of one in an attempted arrest).

Although the government did not identify the anti-revolutionary group, BBC Persian is suggesting that the characteristics mentioned match those of Monarchy Association of Iran, an association whose leader Foroud Fouladvand in the past resided in north London and initially issued a statement taking responsibility for the explosion(although it denies any connection to the people arrested). The statement reportedly identifies the target of the bombing as “active basiji individuals, Zeinab sisters, and their leaders… who in recent years have actively participated in the forceful suppression of our youth and women, particularly civil resistors.”

If this is so, it is not clear why the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires (the Swiss embassy represents US interests in Iran) to relay its objection regarding the “free activities of a terrorist and anti-revolutionary group in the United States,” unless the Iranian government is claiming US support of Fouladvand or tying him to other monarchist groups in the U.S. According the Foreign Ministry spokesman, documents were passed along that show that an opposition group, supported financially by the United States, has publicly taken responsibility for the attack. And on this basis the government of Iran is seeking the extradition of the leaders of this group. Added to the confusion are statements made by the Iran’s prosecutor general Dorri Najafabadi that suggest that those arrested received direction from Israel via Canada.

I seriously doubt that the Iranian objections will get anywhere in Washington or elsewhere. But it may be that the Iranian government has decided that the public statement taking responsibility for an attack that killed 14 people and injured many more provides it with enough leverage to expose what it considers American double standards or hypocrisy regarding terrorism. Read more on this article...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



Tragic events can galvanize a nation in a way that brings out the best in people. When the event is on the scale of the Sichuan earthquake, and the nation is China, individual acts of heroism and generosity multiplied by hundreds of millions create an atmosphere that is transformative and inspirational.

Tragic events can also bring out the worst in a nation, as can be seen in the parallel tragedy of the cyclone in Burma, where government ineptitude, greed and paranoic self-preservation have stifled domestic relief efforts at home while refusing or bottlenecking humanitarian aid from abroad.

China and Burma share the stigma of being Asian countries with political systems seen as antithetical to Western values. Even savvy critics mistakenly assume that China has the kind of commanding influence over Burma that the US has, over, let's say, Iraq.

China, to its credit and detriment, avoids the sort of active intervention that US flag-wavers favor. But China’s ideological consistency on non-intervention, whatever its merits, grows less convincing as China grows. Growing economic clout embeds and engages China in a global economic order while heating up the hunt for scarce natural resources. Complete neutrality is not an option.

The sheer scale and volume of China’s manufacture and trade impacts life across the four seas in myriad ways, raising the spectre of economic invasion and financial intervention, not to mention the detrimental effects of trade in weapons and other things bad for human health.

Long before it became the factory floor for the world, long before it became a prime lender to a cash-starved America, long before it had the reach to score oil deals in Sudan and Iran, China was castigated for not being open enough, global enough, and capitalist enough.

China was subject to stinging derision for its appalling poverty within recent memory. Though larger in scale, it once bore a resemblance to the Burma of today; isolated and ingrown, destitute and inept.

In contrast, half a century ago, Burma, with its booming rice exports, inspirational Buddhism, bilingual education and British infrastructure was in a far better situation than abysmally poor China, still in recovery from the convulsive destruction of war, revolution and other man-made disasters.

But China has leapt forward, greatly beyond even Mao's wildest dreams, and the world is still adjusting to this unexpected pre-eminence.

China too, is adjusting. The ruling communist party often seems anachronistic, unsure of itself and untrusting of its own people, --witness the continual crackdowns on domestic media and information flow.

The ham-fisted handling of the Tibet riots did nothing to improve China's image at home or abroad, even if its crackdown on Tibetans was not as violent as emotional journalists and bloggers, stirred by the moral prestige of the Dalai Lama and miffed by the lack of access, would have one believe.

The anti-CNN, anti-Carrefour mood that swept across China on the coattails of the Tibet crisis had a unifying effect on Chinese popular sentiment but was not without traces of reactionary xenophobia and Han chauvinism. While accusations of Western media bias and careless reporting were fairly well documented, the intolerant conspiracy theories that flowed from flawed media reports were not conducive to further conversation.

Sadly, it took a natural disaster for China to snap out of its giddy, uneasy chauvinism and the shock of looking into the abyss for the Western press to snap out of its condescending sniping. The shock and horror of the tectonic shift knocked scales from the eyes, bringing out humility and humanity on all sides. China has shown its stoic, heroic side shorn of hubris, jaded China watchers have shown an outpouring of sympathetic reporting shorn of pique and ulterior motive.

More ironically yet, it took a natural disaster in China for Burma to begin to get its own act together in dealing with devastation caused by the cyclone. The latest TV news shows Burmese flags at half-mast, Burmese leaders making site inspections in the storm-wraught delta and a sudden improved access for foreign humanitarian aid that had been blocked too long for no good reason.

Did this all come about because the likes of First Lady Laura Bush ridiculed Burma, singing praise of US funded Radio Free Asia even before the floodwaters receded? Did this week’s improved access of aid to Burmese cyclone victims in dire need come about because hot-headed French, British and US politicos hinted at regime change and invasion? Highly unlikely.

Rather it was China, struggling with its own mega-tragedy, who showed Burma how to do it right. Not by invoking Katrina or threatening bombs and waterborne invasion, but by making a positive example of itself.

China set a no-nonsense tone of humility conducive to getting things done; it was open to foreign assistance, open to foreign journalists, foreign medical teams and most importantly, open to the sincere concerted efforts of ordinary Chinese to help their fellow countrymen. It is the latter, not the nervous government officials, who are the real heroes of the relief effort; ordinary Chinese made it clear as they streamed out on the information highway and onto the muddy, broken roads of Sichuan that they would settle for nothing less than an open and honest response.

Beijing, to its credit, picked up on the tone set by its vanguard citizens, appropriating the symbolic power of unconditional relief, magnifying the mourning of a provincial tragedy into a unifying national event.

Impatience with the callous intransigence of the Burmese government is understandable, but the condescending nagging from politicians looking to score points was counter-productive.

China helped Burma to open up a bit, not by angry words or preaching or threats but just by doing the best it could under dire circumstances.

When disaster response is as dysfunctional as it was in Burma, the inspirational nudge of a neighbor may not be enough, but China's quiet example has lit a path in the darkness, showing a possible way out.

pc Read more on this article...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008



The earthquake in China offers those in the Western press a chance to do what they do best --report the facts, but it may also turn out to be field day for those who like to hit a country when it is down. Some good old-fashioned reporting would be a good change of pace for certain US and European news outlets, especially the recently maligned CNN, to repair reputations tattered for sloppy reporting on Tibet.

Echoes of imperial prejudices and predilections as old as British colonialism itself could be heard in many Western reports that neatly played ethnic minority off ethnic majority. Really basic mistakes, like confusing Nepal with Tibet in photos and incorrect connecting of the dots went uncorrected too long, so hungry was the appetite for images that fit preconceived notions.

There may be no such thing as Western journalism in the sense that Chinese bloggers like to invoke the word, with conspiratorial overtones and an assumed intent to humiliate, but strikingly similar mistakes were made, apparently independently, across the world of Western journalism, from Germany to France to America and Britain. Might political and cultural differences not have something to do with it?

It's also a bit disappointing to see similar neo-colonial attitudes at work in some of the Western coverage of Burma's great tragedy. US First Lady Laura Bush set the tone, wagging her finger, finding fault in a way that eluded her ken in the case of Katrina, making veiled threats at a supine country in great distress, almost guaranteeing that US offers of aid would be viewed with suspicion and subject to delay. The story of a storm was quickly transmuted into a political equivalent of a quail hunting accident, in which Burma's government was the target, but collateral damage ensued.

Given such prevailing winds, China's timely material aid was viewed as a PR exercise, while reckless US and French offers to essentially invade Burma to save it from itself, were cast in a deeply humanitarian light.

The challenge for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is to keep the UN at the center of relief efforts, to steer a middle way, perhaps with the help of ASEAN, to keep the aid flowing without unnecessary political interruption or intervention.

When it comes to Myanmar, CNN continues to disappoint. At least the BBC has the courage of conviction of the English language to call Burma, Burma. For CNN anchors, it's "Miramar" or something appropriately exotic, and a ridiculous amount of air-time is devoted to the exploits of its daring reporters trying to sneak around behind the backs of Burma's police or bemoan the lack of access. The tone is triumphalist and self-congratulatory, and the meta-message clear --we are CNN, give us access or we will diss you.

And now, another huge human tragedy, the earthquake in Sichuan. Unless major screw-ups follow, the story should remain focused on the earthquake and its victims instead of degenerating into the predictable political sniping when a communist country, or a political system that dares to be different, falls on hard times.

Here CNN has a chance to reverse its declining China fortunes, for the Beijing bureau is lucky to have a seasoned China hand like Jaime Florcruz at the helm. The self-effacing Florcruz says things that are almost impossible to hear from "thugs and goons" Jack Cafferty or the big-haired, big egoed hacks back in Atlanta. Earlier today, he quietly pointed out in a live report that the Chinese government is pretty good at marshaling resources in times of disaster.

On a not entirely unrelated topic, I have been reviewing Western media coverage of Tiananmen 1989 for an upcoming twenty-year retrospective. I worked as a freelancer for BBC at that time, and at one time or another have done work with NBC, NHK, CCTV and have contributed to China documentaries aired by CBS, TV Asahi and PBS. It is dismaying that after all this time, an event of such importance to the Chinese people is still taboo to the Chinese media. Secondarily, it is lamentable that so much of the Western coverage was narcissistic and imagination-driven.

The story, just published in the Bangkok Post, that follows raises a question still pertinent in the aftermath of careless Western reports on Tibet, though the focus is instead on BBC, and the setting is Tiananmen. If a British media star can't tell the difference between a fellow reporter from Hong Kong staying in the same hotel and a Beijing student leader on the run, then by what rights is his view so authoritative as to be canonized by Granta as Western reporting at its best?

For the full story, please go to


pc Read more on this article...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rubin: Death of Michael Vinay Bhatia in Khost Province (RC/E), Afghanistan

Michael Vinay Bhatia, a researcher well known to many of those working on Afghanistan, died in an IED attack on his vehicle in Khost Province, Afghanistan, on May 7, 2008. Michael was working as a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense as a member of the Human Terrain System of the Army. I last saw Michael when he came to visit me before his departure and I mourn his passing.

Some of Michael's Friends have put up a blog with links to many of the tributes to him that have appeared in the press and on the Internet, including to obituaries in the Boston Globe and on the website of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, where Michael worked before leaving for Afghanistan.

From the Watson Institute tribute:

In addition to graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Brown University, Michael was a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute from July 2006 to June 2007. At the Institute, he was involved in a research project on Cultural Awareness in the Military, writing his PhD dissertation, and teaching a senior seminar on "The US Military: Global Supremacy, Democracy and Citizenship."

Over several years, Michael’s research and humanitarian work took him to such conflict zones as Sahrawi refugee camps, East Timor, and Kosovo, in addition to Afghanistan.

Of his work in Afghanistan, Michael wrote in November: “The program has a real chance of reducing both the Afghan and American lives lost, as well as ensuring that the US/NATO/ISAF strategy becomes better attuned to the population's concerns, views, criticisms and interests and better supports the Government of Afghanistan.”

Michael had recently published some of his research on Afghanistan.

His co-authored book on Afghanistan, Arms and Conflict: Armed Groups, Disarmament and Security in a Post-War Society was just released by Routledge in April. It assesses small arms and security-related issues in post-9/11 Afghanistan.

His edited book on Terrorism and the Politics of Naming was published by Routledge last September. Stating that names are not objective, the book seeks the truth behind those assigned in such cases as the US hunt for al-Qaeda, Russia’s demonization of the Chechens, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In August, his personal three-part photo essay, “Shooting Afghanistan: Beyond the Conflict,” was published by theGlobalist. In it, he wrote:

“Afghanistan will soon reach a desperate milestone – the thirtieth anniversary of ongoing conflict. … Though I have spent the majority of my time there researching the wars and those involved in it, conflict is not my primary memory and way of knowing it. I am compelled to write about experiences and ideas that cannot be placed into analytical paradigms, which do not speak to theories of war or peace, to destruction or to reconstruction, but instead to daily interactions that occurred in the course of research.”

Michael's death while working for NATO's Regional Command/East came as I and other researchers have been trying to evaluate the claims of the U.S. and some journalists that its counter-insurgency activities in the region, including Michael's work, have been succeeding in improving security in this contested region across from Pakistan's North Waziristan Tribal Agency. By coincidence, as I was receiving and circulating information about Michael's sad death, I received another notice of the incident -- as a statistic. My source in Kabul has updated the comparison between number of Taliban and other insurgent attacks per week in 2008 and 2007. As I noted previously, data from the first 17 weeks showed a significant spike over the previous year in RC/E. The statistics from the first 18 weeks are now in, and the increase over last year continues.

But this time, we know the name of one of the statistics from week 18: Michael Bhatia.

The memorial blog for Michael contains links to his writings and photographs, as well as information on memorial services in the U.S. and U.K., where Michael studied at Oxford. It also includes information on how to contribute to a scholarship fund that is being established in his name. Read more on this article...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rubin: Marines Stuck Protecting Opium in Helmand

An AP story quoting me about the deployment of U.S. Marines to Garmser District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan is making the rounds on the Internets, and mostly being misinterpreted by conspiracy theorists who think it shows that the US government (or the "Bush crime family") is engaged in drug trafficking. A surprising number of them seem to be Ron Paul supporters. I thought I would try to explain what I think this story is about and what my quoted comments meant.

The nub:
The Marines of Bravo Company's 1st Platoon sleep beside a grove of poppies. Troops in the 2nd Platoon playfully swat at the heavy opium bulbs while walking through the fields. Afghan laborers scraping the plant's gooey resin smile and wave.

Last week, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into southern Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-growing region, and now find themselves surrounded by green fields of the illegal plants that produce the main ingredient of heroin.

The Taliban, whose fighters are exchanging daily fire with the Marines in Garmser, derives up to $100 million a year from the poppy harvest by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees -- money that will buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.

Yet the Marines are not destroying the plants. In fact, they are reassuring villagers the poppies won't be touched. American commanders say the Marines would only alienate people and drive them to take up arms if they eliminated the impoverished Afghans' only source of income.

Many Marines in the field are scratching their heads over the situation.

Thanks to the wonders of satellite technology (and, I imagine, the Thoraya company), the reporter, Jason Striuszko emailed me while he was in the field last week:
Hi. I'm on an embed right now with the Marines in Garmser and need to do a story about poppies. The whole town up and down the river is filled with fields. Some farmers have fled the barrages of fighting but many have stayed behind and are currently lancing. Marines are scratching their heads at the apparent contradictions --- hunting down and calling in airstrikes and artillery on Taliban but telling farmers they won't touch their fields, and telling farmers that they'll help protect them from the taliban. Of course, those fields will be harvested and some money likely used to help fuel the Taliban, and the Marines are thinking, essentially, "huh?"

Is this the best U.S. policy can do right now? To have Marines flooding a zone that Taliban will derive money from but not touching the crop?

I realize many would say this should be counterdrug policy or eradication police job, but it's a hard thing to swallow, no?

Will there ever be a day in Afghanistan, if the drug problem can't be fixed by other means, that military steps in?
I have already argued that there is no military or even law enforcement solution to the drug economy in Afghanistan. My answer, part of which Jason quoted, was:
This is the result on the ground of a one-dimensional military policy. All we hear is, not enough troops, send more troops. Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance, and you get a lot of head scratching. Of course now there is nothing they can do. Because they think it is a military problem, they send in the Marines during the fighting season, which is also the harvest season. Why didn't they send them in during the planting season with development aid? Because they don't know about planting and harvesting, or at least they have no idea how to integrate these very basic political and economic considerations into their planning.

If they attack the farmers of course they will lose control of the area. They should try to coopt as many of the local small traffickers as possible to keep them from selling to the Taliban (believe me, the local administration knows who they are) and then launch a big aid program for next year.

After all this time, they still have no idea what they are doing.
I can already hear the reply -- how can you say U.S. policy is one-dimensional, we are giving so much aid to Helmand that it would be the fourth largest aid recipient in the world if it were a country.... Of course, on paper U.S. policy is not one-dimensional. Somebody, somewhere is working in many different dimensions. But here is one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in Afghanistan -- a mini-surge of troops, even of Marines, who have not been in Afghanistan for years. And it seems to have been planned in a completely one-dimensionlal military fashion.

Just two weeks ago I was speaking at an Army seminar, where a colonel asked us civilian "experts" how the military could integrate non-military considerations into its planning. This is a perfect example of the failure to do so. These troops have been sent to Afghanistan with a mandate derived from years of lessons learned. Instead of being told to hunt, kill, and capture terrorists, they are being told to provide security to the local population. Finally. And how do they define providing security? Keeping the Taliban away.

If the planners had included analysts who understood Afghan society a little and also understood the concept of human security, they might have learned that the most important component of security in rural Helmand is gaining a livelihood, and that the opium economy is above all an adaptation to insecurity. The time to wean farmers from the opium economy is before planting, with aid and incentives, not at the time of harvest, when they have already sold their crop on futures contracts and have no alternative. Given the impossible situation in which their commanders have put them, the Marines are doing the right thing by leaving the poppy crop alone. But when will the decision makers understand what this struggle is really about? Not before January 21, 2009, I guess. Read more on this article...

Rubin: In RC/E did David Ignatius a Stately Pleasure Dome Decree

I never paid much attention to David Ignatius. One of the luxuries of living in New York is not having to take the editorial page of the Washington Post too seriously. I did not even have a clear idea of what his views or journalistic habits were. But then I appeared on the NewsHour with him last week. I went into the studio thinking I would just give my analysis of the situation in Afghanistan after the attack on the Mujahidin Victory Day Celebration in Kabul, but instead found myself being asked to respond to his inane repetitions of PR handouts from the Defense Department. Scott Horton of Harper's characterized Ignatius' first article, a comprehensive cliche-ridden report on his one-week embed, as "Opium Dreams."

I was truly astounded last Sunday to read his second article -- Oh Person from Porlock where art thou? Couldst not have interrupted this opium-induced orientalist phantasie before such lines as:
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The most interesting discovery during a visit to this city where Osama bin Laden planted his flag in 1996 is that al-Qaeda seems to have all but disappeared. The group is on the run, too, in Iraq, and that raises some interesting questions about how to pursue this terrorist enemy.
Somebody should have told Ignatius that Usama left Jalalabad in 1996, in order to move to Qandahar, to be closer to Mulla Muhammad 'Umar, leader of the Taliban, and that he moved again in December 2001, this time to the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies of Pakistan, where he has re-established a secure base of operations. Did Ignatius even bother to read last July's National Intelligence Estimate on "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland?" One key judgment:
Al-Qaida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaida senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

• As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.
It is of course legitimate to disagree with NIEs, by, for example, questioning their evidential basis, looking for evidence of bias, presenting contrary evidence... But on the basis of a one-week embed in which a "journalist" discovers something that everybody who cares to already knows -- that Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan?

And Ignatius' solution for the problem of al-Qaida in FATA? Also lifted directly from a DoD handout:
The essential mission in combating al-Qaeda now is to adopt in Pakistan the tactics that are working in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means alliances with tribal warlords to bring economic development to the isolated mountain valleys of the FATA region in exchange for their help in security. And it means joint operations involving U.S. and Pakistani special forces to chase al-Qaeda militants as they retreat deeper into the mountains.
Military action with warlords plus economic aid -- not a word about Pakistan's democratic government, its policy positions, or the issue of governance in FATA. A U.S.-led counter-terrorist offensive in the Tribal Agencies -- actually I think I have unjustly maligned the Department of Defense by calling this idea a DoD handout. I have discussed this issue with a number of senior US military and civilian defense officials, and all of them show greater understanding of the situation than Ignatius.

What exactly do you have to write to be discredited in this country? Read more on this article...

Rubin: Security and Global Food Crisis

In two previous posts (Taliban?- What's That Got to Do with the Price of Bread? and More on Wheat, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Global Security) I discussed the impact of the global food crisis on security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When I first wrote about this in February, the global food shortage was only starting to attract media attention. Since then many articles and surveys have appeared, including a cover article in the Economist, which compared the impact of the crisis to a "silent tsunami." The U.N. Secretary-General has convened a special Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.

My colleague at the Center on International Cooperation, Alexander Evans, has published a briefing paper on Rising Food Prices. Summary Points:

  • Global food prices have risen 83 per cent over the last three years. The increases have been driven by high income growth in emerging economies (probably the single most significant factor),use of crops for biofuels, the relative inelasticity of supply, historically low stock levels and some speculative investment.
  • More recently, national concerns over inflation and prices have led some countries to reduce exports and others to try to build up stocks – creating a feedback loop that feeds on itself to drive prices up still further. In the medium to longer term, ‘scarcity trends’ – climate change, the cost of energy inputs, scarcity of land and water – could limit the supply-side response.
  • In the immediate term, the priority is to increase both the volume and the quality of humanitarian assistance available to poor people, including by moving away from in-kind food aid and towards cash transfers or voucher systems – although it is important to be clear that there are outstanding questions about how these social protection systems will work, and they should not be seen as a panacea. The issue of compensatory financing may also arise for some countries facing balance-of-payments difficulties.
  • n the longer term, the key challenge is to increase the supply of food: the World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 per cent by 2030, as a result of rising affluence and growing world population. Achieving this challenge will require something close to a revolution, and a massive investment in agriculture in developing countries.
  •  If supply fails to keep pace with rising demand, then the question of ‘fair shares’ is likely to emerge as a significant global issue. Already, the effect of a burgeoning global middle class switching to diets with more meat and dairy products – both relatively inefficient in terms of grain use – has been to reduce the affordability of staple foods for poorer consumers.
The report is published by Chatham House. Read more on this article...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Rubin: Data on Security in Afghanistan's Regional Command/East

My debate with David Ignatius on the NewsHour has sparked a discussion about security in NATO's Regional Command/East, has sparked a debate about the reported success of U.S. counter-insurgency efforts. Washington Post "reporter"/government stenographer David Ignatius claimed that "the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has begun to get some traction." In a subsequent post, in addition to criticizing the helicopter tour/PR handout school of "journalism," I cited data showing that in the first quarter of 2008 attacks by anti-government elements in the east had increased 30 percent over the same period last year.

Peter Marton at [My] State Failure Blog reviews the arguments about security in RC/E and notes that it is not the same as the "Eastern Region" (ER) as defined by my source. That ER consists of four provinces (Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, and Nuristan), whereas RC/E includes ten others as well (Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, Bamiyan, Parwan, Panjshir, and Kapisa).

I asked my source to aggregate the data by NATO command and got the following chart for the first four months of 2008 compared to 2007:

This chart shows that throughout RC/E attacks have been only slightly higher this year than last year, though there has been a spurt in the last week of April, when the Taliban announced their spring offensive. It will be important to see if the insurgent surge continues.

Marton cites U.S. military claims (relayed by Anne Marlowe) that the attacks are concentrated in smaller areas. Combined with the above data, the conclusion seems to be that U.S. efforts have confined the same or slightly greater effort by the insurgents to a smaller area. Given the nature of guerrilla warfare, which places a premium on mobility, surprise, and strategic choice of targets, this does not seem like much success.

After this debate, the U.S. embassy in Kabul wrote to offer me the RC/E helicopter tour. I'll take up the offer when I can, but my next trip (forthcoming soon) will be too short. Meanwhile, I wrote my correspondent in Kabul that "It's nice to know that when the government collapses in Kabul, at least Khost will still be secure." He wrote back to say, "You gave my my first laugh of the day, and it's 7 PM here." But he who laughs last.... Read more on this article...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Rubin: Against Holocaust Denial, Against Naqba Denial (Updated with letter from The Guardian)

I try to be friendly, I try to be kind.
Now I'm gonna drive you from your home, just like I was driven from mine.
Someday baby you ain't gonna worry po' me any more.

Bob Dylan, Someday Baby.

May 8, Israeli Independence Day, will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, an occasion to be marked in Israel and Jewish communities around the world with celebration. As always, Independence Day is preceded by Holocaust Remembrance Day (May 2) and Yom ha-Zikaron (Memorial Day, on May 7, in memory of those fallen for the state.

May 15 will mark the 60th anniversary of the Naqba (catastrophe), as Palestinians call the founding of Israel and their consequent defeat, expulsion, and exile. Palestinian and other communities will mark the day with mourning, protest, and anger.

The founding of Israel is often justified, at least partly, as reparation for the genocide of European Jews by the German Nazi regime. For many Jews, the creation of this state redeems, if anything can (and in my view it can't) not only that ultimate atrocity, but also the entire history of Jewish suffering and persecution, seen as a prelude to national rebirth.

Of course the Nazi genocide and all the rest of the history of persecution of the Jews does not and cannot provide any moral justification for punishing Palestinian Arabs. (When I mentioned this in a previous post, a commenter listed various incidents in history where Jews have suffered in Muslim countries. Of course such incidents occurred. But Palestinians are no more guilty of the 1840 blood libel of Damascus, not to mention various outbreaks in 12th and 11th century Cordoba and Granada, than they are of the Holocaust. Palestinian Arabs began to attack Jews only after the Zionist movement began its efforts to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.)

Nonetheless, a few anti-Zionists (notably President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran) have resorted to denial of the historical fact of the Holocaust in order to undermine one of the justifications for the Jewish state. Some non-Jews may not understand how painful, threatening, and offensive this denial of history is. It is like denial of our our own experience, which validates our very existence.

I learned of the Holocaust as a child. When I was 12 or 13, a friend's father, all of whose family had been killed, told us sitting on his lawn one night what it felt like to be whipped at Auschwitz. In the Jewish Day School I attended, we saw Nazi documentary footage of the Warsaw Ghetto, including piles of starving bodies. When my grandfather died, my great aunt found letters in Yiddish in the basement informing his father (after whom I am named) of the death of his sisters, who had stayed behind in Balti, Bessarabia. (This area was in Russia when my great-grandfather left it around 1900. It became part of Romania after World War I and the Russian Revolution, and was joined to the USSR as the Bessarabian Soviet Socialist Republic after World War II. Today it is part of the Republic of Moldova. The violent peregrination of ethno-national borders in Eastern-Central Europe is not as irrelevant to this story as may first appear -- the same process is now going on in many other places, Israel-Palestine among them.)

I also learned about Israel and Zionism as a child. I learned that the Jewish settlers in Palestine scrupulously respected the rights of the few Arabs who lived in the mostly abandoned country, buying whatever land they obtained for a fair market price. I learned that the corrupt shaikhs and bureaucrats stirred up the common people against the Jews because they feared the ideology of equality, democracy, and socialism that they were bringing. I learned that the international community recognized the right of Jews to a homeland in establishing the British Mandate over Palestine after the defeat of the Ottomans, but that anti-Semitic British officials favored the Arabs, even while the Jews of Europe were being massacred by Hitler. I learned that in 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel by the United Nations, and the declaration of Independence by the Yishuv (the political organization of the Jewish settlers in Palestine) the new Israeli government urged all Arabs to remain in their homes, where they would be protected as equal citizens of the State of Israel, but that the reactionary Arab regimes, which were trying to destroy the new state, broadcast repeated calls to the Arabs of Palestine to flee until the Jews were destroyed, and that most of the Arabs carried out this instruction, showing their bad intentions. The Jewish state miraculously survived and then rescued the Jews of the entire Arab and Muslim world from persecution. It brought these communities to Israel, while the Arabs and their supporters refused to accept this exchange of populations. Instead they preferred to use the Palestinian refugees as political tools.

In other words, I learned to deny the Naqba. My subsequent reading and experience have led me to conclude that the account I learned of the founding of Israel, is not much closer to the truth than the claim that the deaths at Auschwitz were mostly due to disease and war conditions. Of course some people in concentration camps did die of disease and war conditions.
Arab leaders certainly exploited the Palestinians for political gain. But the denial of the Naqba that I learned is, I imagine, as painful, threatening, and offensive to Palestinians as denial of the Holocaust is to Jews.

(I am not equating the Holocaust and the Naqba. Murdering an entire population is worse than expelling most of a population from their homes, treating those who remain as second-class citizens, occupying more of their land, and repressing them through military reprisals, mass detentions, blockades, and targeted killings. Racist genocide is worse than nationalist ethnic cleansing. But no action can be justified on the grounds that even worse actions are possible).

This is not an issue for historians. It is one of the core issues blocking a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is the issue that prevents Hamas from offering to recognize Israel. It is the issue that makes Israel resist any recognition, however symbolic, of the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a founder of Hamas, referred to this dispute in his recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post. After recounting the killing of his two sons and his son-in-law, he signaled his recognition of the Holocaust by comparing the resistance of Gazans to that of the Warsaw Ghetto. But he added:
Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state -- the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees -- to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away.
Naqba denial is as non-negotiable to Palestinians as Holocaust denial is to Jews.

[But Hamas is a terrorist organization! I can't spend time here exploring all the hypocrisies surrounding the word "terrorist." Suffice it to say that I never heard an American official apply it to the Afghan mujahidin in the 1980s, though their missiles caused far more civilian deaths in Kabul than missiles from Gaza or South Lebanon have in Israel. I am totally opposed to killing civilians for political purposes, either intentionally or because the attacker cannot be bothered to avoid it. But I am also against using that principled opposition to evade accountability for other kinds of crimes.]

We need a common history so that we can have a common future. Here's my outline:

Zionism arose as Jewish nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century as ethno-nationalism of other groups threatened the Jews of the Hapsburg and Russian empires. The European struggles over creating nations and states in that region resulted in both World Wars, the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing of Germans from much of Eastern Europe, the ethnic cleansing of much of Yugoslavia, and mass migrations of many groups to create the more homogeneous states that exist there today. Ideologically, Zionism was one of several alternatives open to the Jews of Europe. The Dreyfus Affair convinced Theodor Herzl (from the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary) that liberal integration would fail. Some turned to nationalism, and others to socialism. The largest number, including my ancestors, found an apolitical solution in emigration to the U.S. or elsewhere.

Simultaneously, the Ottoman Empire, like its European counterparts, was becoming weakened by international competition and internal nationalist movements. The weakening of the Ottomans opened the possibility for European Jews to settle in Palestine as part of a nationalist movement rather than, as previously, as religious pilgrims. To an extent that those unfamiliar with Jewish texts might not appreciate, the "Land of Israel" occupied and occupies a central place in the Jewish imagination. Three times a day religious Jews prayed for God to return them to the land from which they had been exiled, and in times of national catastrophe, chiliastic or messianic movements had repeatedly formed around a return to the land. Zionism provided a secular national transformation of this cultural pattern, and therefore melded Jewish nationalism (a new phenomenon) with the messianic passion of the return.

Palestinian Arabs (and most of the rest of the world) were not aware of these currents, nor, quite understandably, did they conclude that because of these beliefs they should allow a group of foreigners to form a state on their land. Britain could call on related Biblical narratives in sympathy with the plan for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, though strategic objectives (desire for a friendly population near the Suez Canal) certainly played a role.

Jews were persecuted, even massacred, in much of Europe, but they largely shared the European assumption that Western colonialism represented progress, and that the decision by the League of Nations to award a Mandate over Palestine to Britain, including the creation of a Jewish National Home, was a legitimate and binding decision in international law. In Palestine as elsewhere the subjects of colonial rule had a different perspective.

The creation of Israel was part of the global redrawing of borders, forced migrations, ethnic cleansing, imperial breakdown, and genocide that overwhelmed much of the world during and after World War II. As the Jewish state was established in Palestine, resulting in war and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, a Muslim state, Pakistan, was carved out of India, leading to far bloodier wars and many more deaths. Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, Poland, and elsewhere, by virtue of their affiliation to the former occupier. Serbs, Croats, Albanians and others in and around Yugoslavia started the process of ethnic cleansing that continues today. The USSR seized territory from all the states to its west, with huge concomitant population transfers. These are just a few random examples. The formation of ethno-nationalist states through violence and population transfer was the rule rather than the exception -- which did not make it any more legitimate or tolerable for its victims.

In this general violent upheaval of nationalism, Jewish survivors were not welcome in their former homes and were even massacred at times on their return. The victorious countries of World War II, including the US, still emerging from both Depression and wartime deprivation, were not willing to open their borders to millions of refugees. As after other historical incidents of disaster (the various Jewish Naqbas) a movement (with messianic components such as the teachings of Rav Kook) arose around the return to the land, this time taking the form of nationalism. What happened in Palestine was nothing unusual -- it was happening all over the world. National movements recruited desperate, idealistic, devoted, cruel, thoughtful, and thoughtless people in service of creating states on territories by excluding others. After all they had been through, the Jews would not rely on anyone else for their security, and if their desperate and heroic act of national revival created other victims, it was up to the rest of the world to compensate them.

Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and others in the colonial world narrated these events as part of a different story. The European powers that won the war were also the major colonial powers and used their domination of the United Nations and the world scene to create a state in Palestine without consulting its inhabitants, who naturally resisted. Some saw this as part of an ongoing struggle of Muslims against their enemies, who aimed to destroy them.

Perhaps if the Arab states, still emerging from colonial domination themselves, had been stronger and had more resources, they could have reached an agreement that would include absorption of the Palestinian refugees, as Germany accepted the repatriated Germans or India and Pakistan accepted each others' refugees. But these countries were insecure and poor themselves. Their populations, and most of all, the Palestinians themselves would not accept it. Nor was there any reason that they should. No people is obliged to surrender its sovereignty and security to redress wrongs committed by others. Every person has the same individual human rights that the world affirmed (if hypocritically) largely in response to the Holocaust itself. Among these basic rights, included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (passed by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948) is the "right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." There is no exception for Palestinian refugees. But it wasn't enforced for Jews or many others. Why for them? But this is not a question likely to interest Palestinians expelled from their homes and still living under occupation or as refugees 60 years later.

That was the "foundational crime" of which Dr. al-Zahar wrote. I propose a reframing: the Jews and the Palestinians are joint victims of the Holocaust and the Naqba, of the history of nationalism, racism, and colonialism, from which we are all suffering. They should jointly demand of the rest of the world assistance and support in finding a way out of this tragedy.

Therefore: no to Holocaust denial, no to Naqba denial. There are still plenty of difficult issues to resolve. But let's start with the tragic truth.

Update: From the Guardian:

We're not celebrating Israel's anniversary

In May, Jewish organisations will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This is understandable in the context of centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we are Jews who will not be celebrating. Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-semitism and Hitler's genocidal policies. As Edward Said emphasised, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.

In April 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin and the mortar attack on Palestinian civilians in Haifa's market square, Plan Dalet was put into operation. This authorised the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state. We will not be celebrating.

In July 1948, 70,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in Lydda and Ramleh in the heat of the summer with no food or water. Hundreds died. It was known as the Death March. We will not be celebrating.

In all, 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Some 400 villages were wiped off the map. That did not end the ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Palestinians (Israeli citizens) were expelled from the Galilee in 1956. Many thousands more when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Under international law and sanctioned by UN resolution 194, refugees from war have a right to return or compensation. Israel has never accepted that right. We will not be celebrating.

We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.

We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.

Seymour Alexander
Ruth Appleton
Steve Arloff
Rica Bird
Jo Bird
Cllr Jonathan Bloch
Ilse Boas
Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Tanya Bronstein
Sheila Colman
Ruth Clark
Sylvia Cohen
Judith Cravitz
Mike Cushman
Angela Dale
Ivor Dembina
Dr. Linda Edmondson
Nancy Elan
Liz Elkind
Pia Feig
Colin Fine
Deborah Fink
Sylvia Finzi
Brian Fisher MBE
Frank Fisher
Bella Freud
Catherine Fried
Uri Fruchtmann
Stephen Fry
David Garfinkel
Carolyn Gelenter
Claire Glasman
Tony Greenstein
Heinz Grunewald
Michael Halpern
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Anna Hellman
Amy Hordes
Joan Horrocks
Deborah Hyams
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Yael Oren Kahn
Michael Kalmanovitz
Paul Kaufman
Prof. Adah Kay
Yehudit Keshet
Prof. Eleonore Kofman
Rene Krayer
Stevie Krayer
Berry Kreel
Leah Levane
Les Levidow
Peter Levin
Louis Levy
Ros Levy
Prof. Yosefa Loshitzky
Catherine Lyons
Deborah Maccoby
Daniel Machover
Prof. Emeritus Moshe Machover
Miriam Margolyes OBE
Mike Marqusee
Laura Miller
Simon Natas
Hilda Meers
Martine Miel
Laura Miller
Arthur Neslen
Diana Neslen
Orna Neumann
Harold Pinter
Roland Rance
Frances Rivkin
Sheila Robin
Dr. Brian Robinson
Neil Rogall
Prof. Steven Rose
Mike Rosen
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead
Leon Rosselson
Michael Sackin
Sabby Sagall
Ian Saville
Alexei Sayle
Anna Schuman
Sidney Schuman
Monika Schwartz
Amanda Sebestyen
Sam Semoff
Linda Shampan
Sybil Shine
Prof. Frances Stewart
Inbar Tamari
Ruth Tenne
Martin Toch
Tirza Waisel
Stanley Walinets
Martin White
Ruth Williams
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Devra Wiseman
Gerry Wolff
Sherry Yanowitz

Read more on this article...

Rubin and Ignatius Debate Afghanistan on the NewsHour (Updated)

I appeared tonight on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in a segment on Afghanistan. Margaret Warner interviewed me along with the Washington Post's David Ignatius, back from a one-week tour of Afghanistan escorted by the U.S. embassy and military. He claims to have reported only what he saw with his own eyes, but he does not understand even what he saw with his own eyes very well.

For instance, he claims that thanks to the wonderful counter-insurgency work of the U.S. in Afghanistan's Regional Command/East, the area is more secure. No doubt his hosts took him to the most secure areas. Data I posted from an independent source show that insurgent attacks in the first quarter of 2008 in the Eastern Region were up 30 percent over last year, only slightly less than the nationwide increase of 38 percent. Not only that -- although the NewsHour discussed only the attack on President Karzai at the April 29 Mujahidin Victory Day celebration in Kabul, here's what was going on at the same time in a part of RC/E that David Ignatius did not visit:
Taliban militants killed 19 Afghans, including seven civilians, and wounded 41 more in a suicide bomb attack on a drug eradication team in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said.

The Taliban have vowed to step up suicide attacks this year, to undermine the faith of Afghans in the ability of their government to provide security and to sap support in the West for the continued presence of international troops in the country.

The bomber targeted an opium poppy eradication team led by the district chief, tribal elders and police officers as they left the local government headquarters in Khogiani, a town south of the city of Jalalabad, close to the Pakistan border.

Gunmen opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades following the suicide attack, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

Twelve police officers and seven civilians were killed, the Interior Ministry said. Two Australian journalists were also among the wounded, the ABC broadcaster said on its Web site.
The eradication of course is carried out under very heavy US and UK pressure. As I have argued on this blog and elsewhere, poppy crop eradication, not poppy cultivation, drives rural communities to ally with the Taliban.

I thought that after all the scandals about journalists misleading the public by repeating government leaks and press releases and "reporting" from escorted tours, major journalists like columnists at the Washington Post would have learned something. Apparently not. Repetition of government propaganda without independent investigation or analysis does not constitute journalism. Readers can decide what it does constitute.

Listen to the program (Real Audio), or watch it (streaming video).

Update (May 1): Scott Horton links to this in his comment on The Afghan Opium Dreams of David Ignatius. Happy Mission Accomplished Day! Read more on this article...