Government on a Rampage

Once again, police overreaction by a repressive and short-sighted regime that assumes without forethought that A) its own position is beyond question and B) that the concerns of a frustrated population merit no consideration is manufacturing a needless crisis.

Police, in the event, are obstructing funeral processions and killing stone-throwing teenagers. Local doctors reported, based on their examination of the wounds of protestors delivered to hospitals, that government forces were “firing from close range to target the vital organs of protesters.” [“Docs At SMHS Reveal Gory Condition Of Victims” on Greater]

No, I am not referring to Israel, the U.S. in Iraq or Afghanistan, Colombia, Russia in the Caucasus, or Iran; this time the repressive regime is that of the great Asian democracy India. This can come as little surprise, really; since Nehru broke his promise to Kashmir more than half a century ago, New Delhi’s stance has been quite consistent: might makes right. (New Delhi should pray that Beijing never decides to apply to India the same principle.)
In the words of Indian journalist and former government official Prem Shankar Jha [“The Valley Will Accept a Client Regime No More,” on]:

Kashmir is in the early stages of an intifada. The home minister dismissed the upsurge of anger in the Valley in June by accusing the Lashkar-e-Toiba of being behind the stone pelters. What no one seems to have realised is that the decision of Kashmiri youth to abjure the use of guns and throw stones instead has conferred a moral ascendancy on the separatist movement that it never enjoyed before. In 1990, most Kashmiris had not approved of the boys’ decision to pick up guns. A significant proportion were therefore prepared to concede that the State might have resorted to violence in selfdefence. By exchanging stones for guns, today’s generation of militants has deprived India of this shield at one stroke. As a result, each fresh death of a boy at the hands of the police or paramilitary is feeding a rage the Valley has never known….

Only an anger that is beyond control can overcome the instinct for self-preservation and make one throw oneself in death’s way. Such rage is not born out of poverty, but out of a profound rebellion against injustice. In Kashmir it is embedded in the collective unconscious of its youth. Seven out of 10 Kashmiris are below the age of 25. Not one has known a day when the talk among elders was not of death — of relatives and acquaintances killed or arrested, of classmates who had crossed over into Pakistan, of rapes, custodial killings and deaths of innocents in crossfire.
It is pretty clear that New Delhi is manufacturing a needless crisis; whether or not this may be intentional is less clear. In some well-known cases, regimes have benefited from crisis. Israel uses crises with Palestinians to pressure Washington into providing more weapons and to distract attention from its West Bank land grab. Colombia similarly uses its low-grade civil war to get arms as well as to enable the landed elite to expand their latifundia by stealing land from peasants being herded into cities. Under the cover of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington built a massive archipelago of military bases along much of Iran’s border, bases Iran could be forgiven for viewing as a direct military threat to its national security. The degree to which such considerations constituted the primary rationale for the respective hardline policies of the states choosing to resolve their problems through force is debatable, but the fact remains that portions of the elite in each case benefited from the violence they provoked.

Whether New Delhi sees the rapidly escalating crisis in Kashmir as an opportunity, however, is another question. Low-grade “counterterrorist” campaigns seem endlessly tempting to politicians, but in this case, the police over-reaction may just be a typical case of government arrogance. Assuming that is the case, one cannot but ask, “Where do politicians elected to serve the people keep getting the idea that they are justified in oppressing, rather than listening to, those with grievances?”

Can you hear Plato’s ghost whispering, “What else would you expect, when you let the rabble elect politicians no better qualified than themselves?” And perhaps it is indeed exactly that simple.

Whatever the calculus in New Delhi, an explosion in Kashmir will be a golden opportunity for jihadis, risk a Pakistani-Indian war, spill over into Afghanistan in all sorts of ways, and generally undermine Washington’s already precarious South Asian position. Calls for “restraint” are predictable, and the uselessness of such mindless statements is also predictable. Why mindless? Restraint is a great policy when the playing field is level (e.g., when each side is a regime backed up by an army), but when the aggrieved party is citizens being repressed by an unresponsive state, “restraint” means “accept your oppression and forget your grievances.” That is a non-starter, blatantly unjust, and can only be expected to provoke further outrage. In the event, a rise in government corruption and mistreatment of Kashmiris over the last several years provoked outrage, which provoked harsh police reaction rather than an examination of government misbehavior, producing the current crisis, so “restraint” would overlook the government misbehavior and leave the population exposed.

The conditions for dialogue with New Delhi defined by the Kashmiri All Parties Hurriyat Conference are instructive. Note their focus on substantive government moves to improve the situation on the ground and implicitly recognize that protest implies not criminality to be eliminated but grievances to be addressed [“Delhi Digs a Well While Kashmir Burns,” on]:

1.       The immediate and complete cessation of military and para-military actions against the civilian population in Jammu & Kashmir;
2.       Withdrawal of military presence from towns and villages;
3.       Dismantling of bunkers, watchtowers and barricades;
4.       Release of political prisoners;
5.       Annulment of various special repressive laws;
6.       Restoration of the rights of peaceful association, demonstration and assembly.

Perhaps the Conference should have added a final condition, i.e., the formal indictment and bringing to public trial of those in charge of New Delhi’s Kashmir policy to force them to explain New Delhi’s policies.

A call for restraint between oppressor and victim is simply a refusal to make a moral judgment. If teenagers are risking their lives to throw rocks at soldiers who respond by killing them, a prima fascia indictment of the government by the people has been submitted. The first step is to bring the government to trial and listen to the people’s evidence.


Digging Your Own Grave

When it comes to nuclear policy, both Washington and Tehran appear to be digging their own graves.

Now that the Western nuclear powers have taken the small but commendable step toward nuclear transparency of revealing how many nuclear warheads [All Headline News 5/27/10] they possess, the spotlight shines all the brighter on the nuclear rogue states–North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India—and on the suspiciously non-transparent Iran. Declaration of a global nuclear transparency standard with privileges for qualifying countries and penalties for all that fail to qualify would now be timely. Unfortunately, nothing remotely resembling a standard exists. North Korea is more-or-less ignored. Washington is rewarding India with nuclear aid and rewarding Israel with a fire hose of offensive weapons. China is about to reward Pakistan with nuclear aid. And Iran, which is only being accused, so far without any evidence, of intending to join the “nuclear rogue club” is the victim of economic warfare and under the threat of nuclear attack. Given the world’s treatment of Israel, India, and Pakistan, acquisition of nuclear arms would indeed appear to be a rational policy for Iran if its goal is increased prestige and access to Western nuclear technology!
Iran today is being treated far worse for its policy of nuclear ambiguity than any of the actual nuclear rogue states is being treated. That being the case, one can be excused for wondering why Iran insists on pursuing such a policy. In particular given its recent agreement with Ankara and Brazilia to exchange its electricity-grade uranium for medical-grade uranium, granting its new friends the courtesy of underscoring its eagerness to be transparent by going the extra mile to reassure the IAEA of its sincerity would seem the better part of valor. Tehran has demonstrated that it has the courage to stand up to Western threats; now, does it have the courage to work with global moderates to lower tensions?
That question of course ignores at least two other possibilities. The first possibility is that Tehran has no interest in actually obtaining nuclear arms but that it is absolutely committed to keeping tensions high in order to justify its harsh treatment of domestic dissidents, cement the regime’s hold on power, and find an excuse for its deplorable economic performance. The second possibility is that Tehran is actually trying to develop a hidden breakout capability, though one wonders who in Tehran can be so naïve as to think that the possession of a handful of primitive nuclear bombs would in fact increase its security. Has not Israel yet made it sufficiently plain that it stands always ready to find war the answer to its problems? Tehran seems to be getting the worst of all possible bargains – severe threats to its national security, denial of nuclear assistance, economic warfare against it that is indeed responsible for trashing its economy, and the consolidation of extreme right wing control in—at the very least–Tel Aviv.
Tehran is also risking its new-found ties with Ankara and Brazilia by its reluctance to be more forthcoming. Those moderate states may, for the moment, be pretending that they have solved the nuclear issue with last week’s agreement, but they are surely aware that their agreement, in the absence of an Iranian guarantee to halt refinement to the 20% level backed up by full transparency, does little more than crack open the door to a solution. Both Erdogan and Lula are bending over backward to give Khamenei the benefit of the doubt, but Tehran’s behavior is crassly taking advantage of their desperation for an accord; it should realize they will not stand forever alone on the dance floor while Tehran flaunts its solo routine.
If the logic of Tehran’s nuclear policy can be questioned, so can that of Washington. In a world where nuclear arms are seen as the road to global prestige and national security, Washington’s policy of proliferation to those who kneel down contains a built-in contradiction making it a dangerously short-sighted policy. Tel Aviv’s implicit, if not explicit, threat to launch a nuclear attack on Iran behind Washington’s back, even if not implemented, still greatly complicates Obama’s life. Had the old apartheid South Africa accepted Israel’s insane offer of nuclear bombs, who knows what problems that might have caused? The near miss of an India-Pakistan nuclear war around 2002 further shows the propensity of nuclear-armed subordinates to “declare independence.” Why Washington does not see the rationality of offering Tehran the deal it has made with Tokyo and Brazilia is a question all too often ignored in the U.S. One wonders if Washington intends to start opposing Brazilian uranium refinement now that Brazilia is showing some foreign policy independence…
Whatever the intent of Washington’s policy, the result is to provoke Tehran to rush forward toward a breakout capacity, to trash the Iranian economy, to empower Tehran radical nationalists, and to alienate rising moderates concerned about their own future independence.
Indeed, it seems that one could say to both Washington and Tehran, “When you find yourself digging the ground out from under your own feet, get a bigger shovel!”

Preparing an Honorable U.S. Exit Strategy

The time has come for the U.S. to move past the simplistic “go or stay” debate to a focus on the full range of Afghan policy options. Washington urgently needs to design an honorable Afghanistan exit strategy.

Three principles that currently seem almost taboo in Washington policy-making circles point the way to an honorable exit strategy from Afghanistan for the U.S. These principles are of course moot to the degree that Washington may have no intention of leaving, but for those searching for an American exit strategy that leaves Afghanistan in peace, these principles offer an initial set of guidelines.

  1. Local Control: Muslim socio-political reform should be managed first by locals and second by neighboring non-Western societies;
  2. Civil Society First: The method should always give precedence to civil society reform with military action firmly subordinated;
  3. Afghan Independence: The goal should not be incorporation into the American system but the establishment of an independent society.

But how can they be implemented?

Neither as a society nor as a government, has the U.S. even come close to answering this challenging question. In fact, the question almost seems to be considered unacceptable in polite conversation, as though even to ask were somehow to “embarrass,” a sin in Washington far worse than hypocrisy.

Local Control:

Whether “local” means “tribal,” “Afghan,” “Muslim,” or “Central Asian,” it implies that decisions do not flow from Washington, but what other organizations are willing to step up to take leadership and, of course, how are their members to be protected? Are there politically neutral civil society organizations that could be accepted by both sides, that could negotiate with both sides to carve out spaces for action? Might there be members or factions of the Taliban willing to accept moderate Muslim but modernizing civil society activities in return for the removal of U.S. forces and their inclusion in the political process?

Iran. One piece of a non-American solution is Iran, which has been providing electricity and other economic aid to the Herat region, the area of its traditional influence, but Iranian aid allegedly can cut both ways. Whatever the truth of Pentagon charges that Iran aids the Taliban, it is certainly aiding Afghan society more generally, including the building of a new university and, sometimes, in the face of American opposition. Iran also fulfills its aid pledges much more reliably than does the U.S.

Turkey. Turkey is, albeit slowly, taking the initiative to support Afghan development. Two questions concerning this potentially important development concern Turkey’s resolve to act in time, given the urgency of the situation, and whether Turkey will act primarily as a member of NATO or primarily as a Muslim country.

Civil Society. The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief or other international relief coordinating bodies might be a route to building Afghan society that could be accepted by both the U.S. and the Taliban if the Taliban could be granted a role in building society so they would not see destruction as their route to power. A good beginning would be for the U.S. to give the kind of emphasis to improving Afghan civil administration it is giving to building up Afghan security forces. Arif Rafiq recommends that the Organization of the Islamic Conference take the lead; why that group has not been more active on Afghanistan so far is unclear.

Civil Society First:

Whatever the politically correct words from McCrystal, as long as the Pentagon is in charge, the hammer it holds in its hand will always be the main tool employed. How might Washington transfer initiative from the Pentagon to civilian organs of government?

Medecins Sans Frontiers has returned to Afghanistan for the first time in five years, because it views the situation as worsening. Whether or not MSF will be better protected this time than back in 2004, when it left Afghanistan because its personnel were being murdered, remains to be seen.

Afghan Independence:

Whatever Washington’s intent, to the degree that it unilaterally constructs military bases in Afghanistan, it will give the impression that it plans to colonize Afghanistan and use it as a base for threatening regional states. Both care in constructing bases that are obviously designed for counterinsurgency use only (rather than regional power projection) and a focus on obtaining approval from regional states (specifically including Iran) in advance would be useful steps for signaling a willingness to support true Afghan independence. Far more important would be a fundamental shift in military policy from a U.S.-centric to a Muslim-centric military force.

Rafiq, for example, recommends that only Muslim troops be sent to Afghanistan. This intuitively appealing approach would entail new dangers – highly unstable Bangladesh might suffer blowback of its own were it to get involved in the Afghan conflict; Turkey might appear to be just another NATO member; Saudi involvement would raise the already high threat of further Saudi sponsorship of Salafi extremism; it is hard to see how Egypt or Iran could be a force for the sponsorship of democracy. However, while these concerns merit consideration, they pale beside the horrors and self-defeating nature of massive American forces. Might sufficient forces be assembled from such Muslim states as Morocco, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, Malaysia, and Indonesia? Might an Asian even if non-Muslim force be able to play a significant role, perhaps in guarding regions currently peaceful?


Wise policy-makers in Washington will start thinking seriously about how an honorable exit strategy from Afghanistan might be designed. Both the obvious worsening of the situation since Washington turned its primary attention to invading Iraq six long years ago and the easily overlooked historical record of American military interventions in developing world conflicts support the contention that Washington needs to have a carefully planned exit strategy.

The result of American intervention in Vietnam was the destruction of Vietnamese culture; a disastrous defeat for the U.S. that provoked stagflation and opened the strategic door to the Soviet Union; a dishonorable rooftop escape for Americans accompanied by a treacherous abandoning of America’s Vietnamese allies; and the needless death of perhaps 4,000,000 people.

The result of American intervention in Iraq remains to be seen but already includes perhaps 1,000,000 dead; tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers with wounds so severe their lives are destroyed; invalidation of America’s claim to being moral leader of the world; and the provocation of an Iraqi domestic terror campaign that may yet spill over into the rest of the world.

Designing an exit strategy that will save the U.S. from another defeat and make possible a stable, decently governed Afghanistan will require an uncommon degree of policy-making creativity and humility. It is time to get started.

Pakistan Trumps Afghanistan

Losing Pakistan would be far too great a price to pay for any imaginable outcome in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Frontier Post, in an editorial lamenting Washington’s attitude toward Pakistan, has asked a fair question:

President Barack Obama’s anointed viceroy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke says militants are crisscrossing between the two countries of his domain. Then, why is the American army in Afghanistan not stopping their trafficking on its side? Why too are not the NATO forces and the Afghan army? Isn’t it their job? Or is it written in scriptures they all will sit in their secure bases away from the border, keep munching on burgers, expect the Pakistani military to do this job all alone and pass judgements on its act?

This question is not only reasonable but important because it must be in the minds of many Pakistanis. The absence of a good answer from Washington can only undermine U.S.-Pakistani relations. For the U.S. to fight a war in Afghanistan may or may not be rational; the answer, I admit, is debatable. But what is not debatable is the vastly greater significance of Pakistan. To wreck US ties to Pakistan and, worse, to wreck Pakistan in the process of fighting an inept American-style war in Afghanistan would make the Afghan war a disaster regardless of who ends up in control of that country.

What Might Pakistan’s Tribal People Actually Want?

I suppose the “good news” is that Pakistan’s mainstream media are discussing all the bad news in the tribal regions, rather than simply ignoring those areas. Now, for some of the bad news…

A recent article summarized the challenge in these words:

Fata is part of Pakistan in name alone. It is not subject to the laws of the land and the writ of the state holds no meaning in large swathes of the tribal belt. What’s more, Taliban ‘rule’ in recent years has transformed the power equation in the region. The militants have killed or quelled the tribal maliks who once called the shots. True, the old order was also iniquitous but the maliks at least had a stake in a state that awarded them status and privilege. The militants and clerics who now rule the roost are under no such obligations.

A few details make the point more clearly:

Money must and can be found to develop the tribal belt, create employment opportunities, and cater to basic needs such as schooling and healthcare. For far too long, the notion that tribal people just want to be left alone has given the centre a pretext for doing nothing for their uplift. Nobody wants to travel 100 miles to get to a hospital.

The paper then astutely raises another question:

What the residents of Fata want must be ascertained first and foremost. Are they ready to accept a social contract under which they willingly relinquish some of their freedoms in exchange for protection by the state and the rights and privileges of citizenship?

Now, we have reached the nub of the issue.

It is all too easy to argue that past injustice and lack of governance led to the rise of the Taliban, which must now be defeated by a combination of judicious, precision military might (so far a concept that appears to exist only in the minds of “leftwingers”) and a powerful reform of that old bad governance. But if the old society of local chieftains has been destroyed by the combination of Taliban murders and government military destruction, what do the locals—many now in refugee camps—want? The option of returning to the old days seems no longer possible. They have little evidence that anything good will come from a new, close association with “those people in the plains,” as the much mistreated mountain people may think of the somewhat alien society of Pakistan.

So far, neither government nor Taliban seems to be asking the locals what they might actually want. Some vote with their feet and flee…but don’t get much of a welcome in Pakistan. Others vote with their feet and fight against the Taliban…but don’t get much Pakistani support so they tend to get slaughtered. Still others vote with their feet and join the Taliban. I wonder what type of government the people of Waziristan might adopt if they actually had a free choice?

The Negative-Sum Permanent War Against Islam

Forget rhetoric. Think about what is actually happening in the world. With the neo-cons kicked out and, in the minds of thinking people, utterly discredited, has anything changed? Or is Washington still fighting a war against Muslims?

The U.S. military has not left Iraq; on the contrary, it has consolidated itself out of sight. The threats against Iran have not only not ended; they have intensified. How else does one interpret the impatient remarks of Secretary Clinton and the highly public movements of Israeli nuclear-capable ships into better positions from which to attack Iran? U.S. forces are not withdrawing from the Muslim world; they are building up. Supply lines are shifting from ground to aerial. Deaths on both sides are rising. The main campaign under the neo-cons was in Iraq, a country of some 30,000,000, including the several million refugees and the 1,000,000 who died as a result of the U.S. invasion. Now the main campaign is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, an area with a population of some 190,000,000. The refugee flow in Pakistan is rising so fast it cannot even be calculated. That is not progress.

The war on Islam, or, to be more precise, the war against activist Muslims who talk back, demand their rights, and refuse to kowtow, is slowly becoming institutionalized. It is being transformed from an emergency response to a deadly threat from a small but evidently vicious, immoral, and possibly uncompromising group into a permanent policy of aggression toward all Muslim societies that refuse to submit.

Washington does not discriminate between extremist Muslim enemies and Muslim social reformers. Not just Hamas, in itself no enemy of the U.S., but the whole half-starved civilian population of tiny, helpless, half-starved Gaza is treated the same as anti-Western terrorists in their training camps. Moslems who talk back are threatened with the same military response as Moslems who shoot back.

This attitude toward Islam is irrational and self-defeating. Condemning Muslims to submission or resistance is a fool’s game with endless unpredictable opportunities for disaster that only multiply as the game continues to be played. Even if the West managed to survive and maintain such a policy, eventually the side-effects of endless war would encompass the decline and fall of Western democracy: endless war and democracy are mutually exclusive. Western arms may, conceivably, always win, but Western society can only lose a zero-sum military conflict with Islam. If that tragedy occurs, it will come as no satisfaction to Westerners that Muslim society will also end up a loser. Nothing is more tragic than a negative-sum outcome.

The Meaning of Colonialism

Just for the record, when an imperial state needs to use its regular armed forces to keep the peace in a colony, its colonial adventure is in real trouble. That is not how colonialism works. The idea is for the army to conquer and as quickly as possible turn the colony over to a lackey regime, which will maintain domestic peace with its police force on behalf of the imperial ruler. Imperial troops mostly leave the colony altogether! And the rest (this is a secret), return to their barracks and stay out of sight (that’s the secret part, as in ‘they secrete themselves away out of sight). An alternative approach is for the imperial power to recruit locals into its army and post them, with imperial officers, to maintain local control. Still another approach is to put a minority in control, since, being the minority, it will be totally dependent on the imperial power to maintain its authority.

Perhaps the above was unclear. Let me make the case in different words: the movement of imperial forces off the streets of the colony has nothing to do with returning sovereignty. On the contrary. It is precisely about institutionalizing the colonial adventure.

The last thing a great global imperial power can afford is to have its army mucking around fighting battles against its colonial subjects. Battles can be fought – but by mercenaries, not by the imperial forces. The imperial forces will inevitably be needed for new wars (e.g., against still independent countries on the borders of the colony).

The withdrawal of imperial troops from conquered cities to distant rural outposts of a colony constitutes a critical victory for the empire and a defeat for the colonial people, who will lose their target without gaining their freedom.

Of course, the above is just the theoretical musings of a political scientist. You figure out whether or not it bears any relationship whatsoever to any real-world events!

Obama: Charting a Challenging Path Forward

President Obama’s speech in Egypt may have contained more than a trace of certain traditional Washington biases, but on the whole it was a tremendous reaffirmation, urgently needed, of American values, often phrased eloquently, well informed about the history and perspectives of Muslims, willing to criticize both America and Islam, laying a path forward that Obama himself will find it a true challenge to stride. One can only hope that he was sincere and that he will have the courage to stay the course. As Obama said, this is just one speech; nevertheless, to me this speech says that America is over its temper tantrum. Analytically, I have reservations for sure, but emotionally…for the first time in a decade, I feel proud to be American.

Obama provided an excellent summary of historic Western mistreatment of Muslim societies phrased gently but stating the key Muslim complaints in a way that clears the air:

tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.

And for the bigots in America who were listening:

Islam is a part of America.

Then, he made a key political point that has an acceptable message in that it certainly suggests moderates worldwide need to cooperate. I would have clarified that this “violent extremism” includes Grozniy, Jenin, Gaza, Fallujah…well, you get my point. Nevertheless, so far, so good:

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

But once he turns to specific policy issues, things begin to break down. Obama’s emphasis in his remarks on Afghanistan was overwhelmingly on destroying extremism, with only brief discussion of social conditions, no hint of the possibility that social problems are at the root of discontent, and no recognition that any of those fighting in Central Asia are other than threatening extremists that need to be slaughtered. More seriously, he gave no recognition to the possibility that it is the very presence of American military that is provoking the deepening tragedy. Obama’s words suggest to me a future of merciless war that will destroy the region and leave those who survive embittered…and with good reason.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America‘s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I’m aware that there’s still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America‘s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths — but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who’ve been displaced. That’s why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

If Obama learned no lessons from Iraq or Somalia or Gaza or Lebanon for application in Afghanistan, at least he does seem to have applied those lessons to Iraq itself:

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. … I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq‘s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq‘s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

On Israel, Obama still voiced no recognition that we might have unbreakable bonds with Israelis without having such bonds with a racist, warmongering Israeli regime. If Obama wishes to visit Buchenwald, then he should also demand to visit—without Israeli handlers—Gaza. Here, he missed a real chance to put his money where his mouth is.

America‘s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

Obama’s words, while refreshing for a Washington politician, continue to evade the truth about Palestine, referring to “the pain of dislocation” rather than admitting honestly that they were the victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Saying that the settlements must “stop” rather than “be eliminated” also amounts to surrendering to Netanyahu since such a stance would make inconceivable the realization of “the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” Moreover, calling on Palestinians to abandon violence before demanding an end to the violence of the Israeli occupiers puts the cart once again before the horse and reveals the continuing pro-Israeli bias. Nevertheless, calling the Palestinian situation “intolerable” represents a huge rhetorical victory for Palestinians, perhaps a sufficient step forward for one speech.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel‘s interest, Palestine‘s interest, America‘s interest, and the world’s interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America‘s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel‘s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel‘s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine‘s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

On nuclear weapons, he laid a respectful foundation for serious negotiations with Iran and hinted at but careful avoiding admitting that Iran had a point in feeling it should be allowed to have what Israel has. Repeating the mantra that for Iran to try to catch up with Israel would “cause” a nuclear race shows the gap between pretense and reality that remains in the Washington perspective. However, Obama clearly ended the nonsense seen in recent days in the U.S. media that Iran “may” have a right to nuclear technology. Fine; that issue is over. One can certainly find words to argue about, but essentially Obama has opened the door to talks; it now seems up to the new Iranian administration that will take office after June 14. Iran has won its point that there should be no discrimination against it. Now, will it offer utter, convincing transparency (perhaps in the context of a little transparency by Israel)?

it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America‘s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that’s why I strongly reaffirmed America‘s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I’m hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

On democracy, Obama steered a fine line, first observing flatly:

No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

And then adding the caveat that we reserve the right to interfere (rhetorically or otherwise?) to oppose dictatorships imposed from inside. The world will see how this is implemented in practice. If Obama meant what he said, it is bad news for his dictatorial host and a clear offer to work with Hezbollah if it A) wins and B) plays by the rules once in power. Hamas also now seems to have a conditional pass to join the party. One wonders if Fatah got the message.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

A very well written critique of Obama’s speech by Chatham House Mideast analyst Rime Allaf includes these key lines:

Unfortunately, the double standards of American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, have remained at the crux of official rhetoric. Many will have heard a patronizing address, with an American president preaching, again, about what they must do and about the facts they must accept. The reference to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, for example, would have resonated more strongly had President Obama dared to speak of Israel’s extensive nuclear arsenal. Remorse about Iraq, instead of dubious claims of achievement there, would have earned him some credibility.

Pakistani Nuclear Offer: A Model?

Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Haqqani just told the media that “Pakistan is willing to engage with our neighbor for a comprehensive settlement in which the nuclear weapons can be phased out by both countries.”

Leaving aside the question of how New Delhi might react and the question of how the Pakistani Army might react should New Delhi be so cool as to call Haqqani’s bluff, I would like to know if Israel and Iran might possibly be interested in taking this approach under consideration.

Just thought I’d ask…

Creating Pakistan

Ayaz Amir’s article, “Missing the essence of Talibanism,” should be required reading for Western decision-makers. Mr. Amir, it is not just Pakistani officials who “are not getting it.” Read the whole essay in Pakistan’s The News.

Islamabad diary

Friday, February 13, 2009
by Ayaz Amir

I think we are not getting it. Talibanism in Afghanistan is a revolt against the American occupation. Those who can’t see this deserve an extended stay in a re-education camp. From this perspective the true godfather of the Afghan resistance is the United States of America.

But Pakistani Talibanism, as represented by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, is a slightly different phenomenon. It may have originated as a side-effect of the Afghan war but it has now mutated into something with a personality of its own. With all its primitive and even barbaric permutations — the bombing of schools, the insistence on what amounts to female segregation, the slitting of throats — it is a revolt against the Pakistani state. Or rather a revolt against the dysfunctional nature of this state.

Far from being defeated, much less crushed, this revolt is spreading. Hitherto it was confined to the Frontier Province. But on February 7 we saw this revolt cross the River Indus for the first time when a police check post in Mianwali (Qudratabad near Wan Bachran) was attacked by Taliban fighters. On Feb 11 another police outpost near Essa Khail came under attack.
There is a stratum of privileged people in Pakistan, a middle class which also lives comfortably or gets by reasonably well, and then an entire population of have-nots, with no stake in the existing order of things, whose existence may not be short but it is nasty and brutish all the same.

Which are the elements flocking to Mahsud’s banner in Waziristan and Fazlullah’s in Swat? Not the big Khans or Maliks but the have-nots. Beware Punjab’s huge under-class which will be fodder and recruiting ground for the Taliban if the revolt in the north-west, escaping the best ability of the Pakistan military establishment to suppress it, snakes its way into the adjoining districts of Punjab.

Every Punjab town, large and small, has a mosque, if not more than one, sympathetic to the Taliban brand of Islam. So at least there is a handy network — a Ho Chi Minh Trail, so to speak — down which the ideology of the Taliban can travel, whether we like this ideology or abhor it being a separate issue altogether.

Al Qaeda may be a factor in the larger situation but the Taliban revolt in Pakistan has acquired an impetus of its own. Like a runaway plant it is rearing its head wherever it can — freebooters, buccaneers, committed Islamists, all drawn to its cause.

There are people who don’t have enough to eat, who don’t have a job and no prospects in life. If they are wronged they have no redress. There are people tortured daily in our police stations, people caught up for years in the endless grind of court cases. There is endemic corruption all round. Every government department, without exception, serves itself, not anything as esoteric as the people. If this is not recruiting ground for Talibanism, what is?

If dollars alone could do the trick the US would not have lost in Vietnam. Dollars alone cannot prove triumphant in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

If history is any guide, the American effort in Afghanistan is doomed. Not for nothing is it called the graveyard of empires. The Americans will come to this realisation sooner or later but by that time it may be too late for us.

Talibanism is a form of radicalisation. The only way to fight it is through radical leadership. But do we have anything of the kind? The PPP and PML-N are both wedded to the status quo. Both are pro-American, both terrified of getting on the wrong side of the Americans, both incapable of independent thinking.

At a conference in Qatar in December 2003 — attended from Pakistan by Mushahid Hussain, Ejaz Haider of Daily Times and myself — Richard Holbrooke came up with the astounding statement that if the participants chose to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Iraq war they would be wasting their time. He spoke like one who was utterly sure of himself, someone who had all the answers. The impression he gave throughout the three-day conference was of being a stuck-up guy. And it’s on him that our leadership, civil and military, has been fawning these last few days. Just goes to show the kind of stuff we have.

But this is the best we have, the sum total of our collective political intelligence. And it is with this that we must fight the Taliban revolt. It is not going to be easy.

I am so embarrassed by the American propensity to pour its wealth and power and energy into a suffering country like Pakistan without taking the time, without having the humility to taste the soup before pouring in its seasoning. I have only had one true Pakistani friend in my life. Veena, wherever you are, my apologies and my deepest sympathies.

Two suggestions:

  1. American and Pakistani societies need to communicate far better. Where is the foundation that will fund a serious effort to engage people like Ayaz Amir who can help us Americans learn about Pakistan?
  2. Washington needs to appoint someone outside of the American power structure that has done so much to create this mess in the first place to oversee any U.S. effort to repair the damage. Why? No American “establishment” solution will work; Pakistanis will have to find their own way to a just society, and that society will certainly not be either a lackey of the West or a copy of the West. Its form will be unpredictable, but it is very predictable that it will not fulfill any vision in the head of the Washington establishment.

This struggle is not about forcing Pakistan to fit itself into a mold that comforts Washington. This struggle is about the Pakistani people inventing a society in which they can live lives acceptable to them. The West is in very big trouble if Pakistanis decide that they must turn to the Taliban to realize their aspirations.