Afghan/Pakistani left coming together

From DAWN Newspaper

AfPak left-wing parties to work together for peace

LAHORE, Dec 21: Left-wing parties of Pakistan and Afghanistan have got together for the first time and agreed on working jointly for regional peace and progress. They have rejected any military solution to the problems of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The consensus was developed at a two-day consultation of Leftists from both countries on `Regional Political Context and its Impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan` here on Wednesday.They pledged to devote all their energies to building concrete alternatives to the false choice between Nato and the Taliban. They sought the right to self-determination for Afghanistan as well as adequate and relevant mechanisms to support and sustain it.

The participants belonged to the Awami Party, Pakistan Workers Party, Labour Party Pakistan, Solidarity Party Afghanistan, Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organization and the event was sponsored by the Swedish Left Party.

Alleging that in both neighbouring states the progressive forces had been pushed to the wall through controlled democracies, they set their aim at working together to resist Nato strikes and standing up as a “third option” to bring peace and make progress on both sides of the Durand Line.

Swedish Left Party representative Ann Carin Landstorm said they supported the dialogue to strengthen left-wing progressive movements and parties. She called for a joint and meaningful peace revolution in the region with the moral support of her party.

She welcomed the gathering after devastating periods of history in the region that led to anarchy, chaos and terrorism instrumented by international imperialistic powers.

Afghanistan Revolutionary Organization`s Faridoun Aryan, Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organisation president Arif Afghani and Abdul Qadir Ranto and Nasir Shah of Solidarity Party Afghanistan called for peace in their country and condemned the US-led Nato invasion. They urged the Left to get united on a single platform and resist this regime with sincere efforts.

They called for better relations with Pakistani left-wing parties and expediting the efforts to resist the “war on terror”.

Dr Lal Khan, Jamil Umar, Abdul Qadir Ranto and Farooq Tariq of the Labour Party Pakistan also spoke. — Staff Reporter

Why did the US attack?

First published at SocialistWorker.org

GUNFIRE FROM NATO helicopters killed 24 Pakistani soldiers November 25 in Mohmand Province near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in an attack on a military outpost that highlights the deep split between the Pakistani and U.S. governments over the war in Afghanistan.

NATO officials made contradictory claims about the attack–that it was a strategic error, but also that they had the go-ahead from the Pakistani leadership for the strike. Both of these claims were different from the original story–that NATO forces were fired on from across the Pakistani border. Accusations are also flying in Pakistan itself that there may have been communication between Pakistan and NATO forces approving the strike.

What’s impossible to believe, though, is that NATO forces–that is, the U.S. military– didn’t know that they were targeting Pakistani military installations during a two-hour-long firefight.

U.S. and NATO forces have been collaborating for a full decade over the war in Afghanistan, and it seems fantastical to suggest that NATO doesn’t know where Pakistani military outposts are located. Pakistani officials have called the attack “blatant”; American and NATO officials are still tight-lipped about specifics.

While it may take some time before the truth of the story emerges, the consequences have been dramatic for the Pakistani-American alliance, which was already ailing.

The U.S. has been regularly killing men, women and children in Pakistan through drone aircraft strikes targeting alleged Taliban fighters. The Pakistani government typically has denied knowledge of these attacks and downplayed them as tragic accidents. But by killing Pakistani soldiers in a helicopter attack, the U.S. crossed a line.

Thus, the Pakistani government reacted almost immediately to the latest deadly air strike, announcing a review of all ties with the U.S., suspension of NATO supply lines through Pakistan, and the imposition of a 15-day deadline on the U.S. to vacate the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan–from which the U.S. conducts its drone operations in the region.

Pakistan also withdrew from the much-touted Bonn diplomatic conference, which was supposed to bring together parties throughout the region to hammer out the details of a future Afghanistan. Pakistan’s withdrawal meant that the Taliban’s representatives didn’t appear for the conference either.

This puts American hopes for a political solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan in some jeopardy, since the close ties between the Taliban and Pakistan were supposed to help bring the Taliban to the table.

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THE IMPACT that this will have on NATO operations in Afghanistan is still hard to estimate. Gareth Porter, a historian and investigative journalist, claims that America’s war in Afghanistan has been “thrown into confusion,” and documents just how deep the cover-up of the details of the raid go.

Unfortunately, though, the more meticulous the accounting of NATO’s foreknowledge becomes, the more difficult it becomes to see the logic behind it. Some are already speculating that the motives for the U.S. attack include a complete destabilization of Pakistan itself.

The strikes have also, predictably, produced some substantial saber-rattling from the Pakistani military, which was already humiliated last year when the U.S. operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden demonstrated the complete failure of Pakistani military intelligence. In response to the attack, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has authorized all Pakistani soldiers to respond to any future U.S./NATO aggression with “full force,” without waiting for authorization from the high command.

Islamist organizations inside of Pakistan have also been strengthened, as anti-U.S. and NATO rallies across Pakistan were organized by a number of far-right organizations, including the banned Jamaat ud-Dawa and Jamaat-e-Islami. The cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan’s centrist Tehreek-e-Insaaf party has also been a part of many of these anti-incursion protests, but the Islamists have definitely attempted to use the anti-American sentiment generated by the strikes to their advantage.

Inside of Pakistan, though, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been rocked by the recent revelation that Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Hussain Haqqani, attempted to approach Adm. Mike Mullen to ask the U.S. to help the Pakistani government put pressure on Pakistan’s own military. In exchange, Pakistan offered support for the U.S. campaign against the Taliban’s Haqqani network, as well as the Inter Service Intelligence agency, which has longstanding connections with the Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

In making this overture to the U.S., Haqqani was most likely operating on orders from President Asif Ali Zardari, who is said to fear a military coup. However, both the ambassador and prime minister denied any knowledge of a memo in which the details of the proposed deal were spelled out.

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WHAT THIS entire episode has revealed are the fault lines in both the Pakistani and the American strategies for long-term security in the region. Neither country seems to have a workable strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that they are working at cross-purposes only compounds what would be a farcical game of realpolitik if there weren’t so many deadly consequences. The U.S. drone attacks have already killed hundreds of civilians.

In Pakistan, there has long been a debate about the relationship between U.S. interests in the region and Pakistan’s regional ambitions. The weakness of the civilian government has meant that it has to rely heavily on U.S. aid for both its military and development strategies. This has meant that American interests have tended to dominate over Pakistani interests when it comes government policy.

At the same time, the close ties between industrialists in Pakistan and the Pakistani military means that the ruling class always has an alternative to dealing with the elected government. The military’s long-term objectives are not the same as the civilian government’s, especially since it sees an Afghanistan led by Hamid Karzai as potentially too close to India.

The Pakistan military under former Gen. Pervez Musharraf–who seized power in a coup–was willing to do the American’s bidding. But after Musharraf was forced from office by large protests in Pakistan and pressure from Washington, the U.S. shifted its largesse to the civilian government.

However, civilian governments in Pakistan have always been a junior partner to the military, which has spent more time out of the barracks running the country than not. Currently, political forces close to the military once again sense their advantage. It would be hard not to imagine a plan for replacing the Zardari government. Rumors of a military or a judicial coup are already filling the news channels in Pakistan.

This contradiction inside of Pakistan is worsened by the contradiction in U.S. foreign policy in the region. On the one hand, the American empire relies on Pakistan for intelligence and resources in the war on terror. But everything that the war requires to succeed puts Pakistan directly in the path of Washington’s fire. It is not simply militants crossing the border that worries NATO, but also the ability of Pakistan’s military to influence forces inside Afghanistan.

As a result, two factions have emerged within the U.S. foreign policy establishment with respect to Pakistan. The first, which believes that Pakistan is “too nuclear to fail,” believes that constructive engagement with the civilian government is a necessary part of U.S. foreign policy. The second, now most vocally represented by Sen. John McCain, sees Pakistan as part of the problem and wants to ratchet up the rhetoric about taking action. Calls for this will likely be a major part of the Republican presidential campaign in the U.S.

More importantly, though, what has come to the fore is the absurdity of U.S. and NATO designs inside of Afghanistan and the total venality of the leadership in Pakistan. The war in Afghanistan necessarily produces “collateral damage” in Pakistan. Thus the Pakistani elite can fatten their bellies, in large part due to U.S. aid, while their own population is bombed by U.S. forces.

The toll of a continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan for ordinary people throughout the region is immense.

Bangladesh steals from its citizens to give to the oil giants

Bangladesh’s government signed a deal with ConocoPhillips last year to explore possibilities for deep-sea drilling in the Bay of Bengal.  There are some 7.3 trillion cubic feet of known gas reserves in the Bay. The deal will last nine years and will involve some production sharing with PetraBangla, the nationalized petroleum processing corporation.

Bangladesh is projected to run out of its current natural gas reserves in less than 4 years, and so it is anxious to try and find new energy sources domestically.  Depending on international petroleum markets leaves the nation vulnerable.

There are a number of problems with this deal (not the least of which is the treacherous game that is played with the ecosystem every time energy corporations go hunting for profits in ever deeper waters).

The Bay of Bengal is disputed territory and Burma, India, and Bangladesh all have made competing claims about territorial boundaries.  Because all three countries are oil-dependent and energy-poor, the discovery of series petroleum reserves in the Bay of Bengal will only intensify competition between the three nations.  The Burmese military junta, for instance, sent warships into the Bay as a warning to Bangladesh not to go hunting for oil.

At the same time, ConocoPhillips is undergoing a major restructuring of its operations to restore profitability and investor confidence.  They’re already planning on selling some $17 billion in assets and need new finds in order to prove their long-term profitability.  The Bangladesh deal comes at a crucial time for them; it’s hard to imagine that ConocoPhillips won’t take advantage of Bangladesh’s relatively lax environmental restrictions in the pursuit of “exploration success.”

A citizen’s network called the Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Mineral Resources, with allies drawn from leftist parties, workers, environmentalists and professionals staged a demonstration and clashed with riot police on Tuesday protesting that the contract would hamper national interests.

Prof Anu Mohammad, leader of the citizen’s network argue that the deal with Texas based corporation would lose ownership of the blocks once the contract was signed, which is nearly 150 miles away from the coast. It which would be suicidal for the nation, observed the economic professor of a state university.

ConocoPhillips would get to keep 80 percent of the profits, while Bangladesh would get 20%.  There are a number of other clauses that make this a sweetheart deal for ConocoPhillips.

But there are other reasons to be worried.  Deals struck with other Canadian (Niko Resources) and American companies in Magurchara and Tengratila in the 1990s resulted in unsafe processing facilities and massive explosions in 2003 and 2005.  ConocoPhillips itself has a record of major accidents, too, in 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Some of the details of the current deal were uncovered through WikiLeaks:

The controversy further deepened after whistleblower site Wikileaks revealed that U.S. Ambassador John F. Moriarty in 2010 pressured the Bangladesh prime minister’s energy advisor to award the contracts to Conoco Phillips, Halliburton and another American company.

Over the weekend there was a student demonstration at Dhaka University.  On Tuesday, they organized a protest in Dhaka and 6-hour strike that was joined by some 600 students, activists, and union members.  More than a hundred protesters were arrested including several left-wing bloggers (all appear to have been released).  There is a call for a black flag march this Thursday if the deal moves forward.

The drone attacks in Pakistan are inhuman

One more reason to stop the drone attacks in Pakistanfrom today’s edition of the Guardian UK:

Pakistan’s civilian victims of drone strikes deserve justice

If the US believes in the rule of law, it should not be hindering my advocacy of claims against the CIA for wrongful death and injury

Unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone aircraft

The unmanned Predator drone aircraft: Mirza Shahzad Akbar represents Pakistanis who are suing the CIA and US defence department on claims that they, as innocent bystanders, have been injured or lost relatives in drone attacks. Photograph: Sipa Press / Rex Features

I am a Pakistani lawyer who is suing the CIA for killing innocent civilians through drone strikes in my home country. This month, the US state department prevented me from travelling to the United States to participate in a conference hosted by the human rights programme at Columbia University law school in New York City.

I have been granted US visas before and no reason was given by the state department for refusal on this occasion: despite repeated enquiries, we were merely told there was a “problem” with my application. If seeking justice through the law – instead of violence – is the reason for banning my travel, then mine is another story of how government measures in the name of “national security” have gone too far.

Although I have previously held consultancies with USAID, and helped the FBI investigate a terrorism case involving a Pakistani diplomat, my relationship with the US government changed dramatically in 2010, when I decided to take on the case of Karim Khan. Karim Khan was away from home on New Year’s Eve 2009 when two missiles fired from what we believe was a CIA-operated drone struck his family home in North Waziristan and killed his son, aged 18, and his brother, aged 35. Informed over the phone of their deaths, he rushed back to find his home destroyed and his brother’s family – now a widow and two-year-old son – devastated.

Khan believes his son and brother were innocent victims. His brother, who had taken the surname Iqbal in honour of the famous Pakistani poet, was a schoolteacher who had returned to their ancestral village, shortly after finishing his master’s degree in English literature, because he believed education was vital for his countrymen’s improvement. Khan’s teenage son helped out at another government school in the area.

To avenge their deaths, Khan could have joined the Taliban insurgency against the United States. Instead, he put his trust in the legal system. In November 2010, we initiated legal notices against the CIA and the US secretary of defence for their wrongful deaths. Since then, more than 35 families from Pakistan have come forward and joined us in our legal proceedings.

So, why would the US government want to prevent me from discussing these cases at Columbia law school? Perhaps, it is because our legal challenge disrupts the narrative of “precision strikes” against “high-value targets” as an unqualified success against terrorism, at minimal cost to civilian life.

As a lawyer in Pakistan, my experiences tell a different story. A 17-year-old boy named Sadaullah – another victim of the drone attacks – sought my help shortly after we filed Karim Khan’s case. In September 2009, when he was 15 years old, Sadaullah was serving food at a family iftar, the traditional breaking of the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, when missiles from a drone struck his grandfather’s home and killed four of his relatives. Falling debris knocked Sadaullah out, but he survived. When he awoke in a Peshawar hospital, he found that both his legs had been amputated and shrapnel had penetrated his eye, rendering it useless. Pakistani media reported that the strike had killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a militant leader. But months later, Ilyas Kahsmiri was seen alive in Afghanistan. It was only a few weeks ago that the militant was reportedly killed in yet another drone strike.

The New America Foundation, a US thinktank, estimates that the drone campaign has killed 35 high-value targets. But for every assassination, it seems a more ferocious and extremist leader has emerged. Thus, Pakistanis continue to be victims of terrorism. Suicide attacks are becoming more indiscriminate and claiming more lives – at least 6,302 have died since 2008, according to news reports.

This chaos within Pakistan makes Karim Khan’s story all the more powerful as a rejection of retributive violence in favour of the rule of law. As they seek investigation, judgment and redress for any wrong done, my clients’ impulses are a testament to how dearly people the world over – and not just in the west – value the principle of due process and the right to plead a cause.

Instead of preventing me from speaking with American colleagues about these legal cases, the US government should support our attempt at justice within the law – even if it disagrees with our view of the facts. Let us debate and sometimes disagree; after all, that is how American justice is supposed to be done.

Bahrain and the Arab Spring

Speech given at today’s rally for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain:

I am out here today because I stand with the people of Bahrain against their corrupt and vicious monarchy, because I stand in solidarity with the people who are protesting throughout the Arab world (in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and on and on), and because I believe that these protests are in direct response to policies that the US has pursued throughout the 1970s until today, the most horrible examples of which have been the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the undeclared war in Pakistan.

But the protests that have broken out in Bahrain in the past five months, did not come out of the blue. They are part of a long process of economic change and struggle that has been developing in Bahrain and has followed a similar pattern to economic and political processes throughout the Arab world, where in order to control the wealth of the country, the leadership of those countries exercised increasing amounts of state power and violence and restricted democracy by choking the life out of it – all while the US encouraged it.

In order to maintain its economy, the ruling class in Bahrain has done two things. One is to create two pools of low-wage workers and pit them against each other –this keeps the capitalists happy and the workers at war with each other. Starting in the 1970s, Bahrain began importing workers (more Sunni than Shi’a) into Bahrain from Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq in order to run basic industries and services. These immigrants are then put at the head of the list for jobs, education, and housing, while Bahraini Shi’a are often left to fend for themselves, creating a deep sense of injustice in the population. The immigrants are themselves exploited but they depend on the state for their jobs, so they often side with the state. Shi’a on the other hand are not only kept out of the economy, they are discriminated against politically, and the official sentiment in Bahrain is that all Shi’i are agents of Iran in Bahrain.

These divisions are new, and based on the strategic plan of the Bahraini monarchy to divide and conquer their population. In the 60s and 70s, for instance, there was quite a bit of intermarriage and integration in Bahraini society – there is much less so now. But this is on the backs of pursuing a massive neoliberal program in order to make Bahrain open for business — the second important feature of the Bahraini ruling class’s economic strategy. Bahrain is the only country in the Gulf to have signed a Free Trade Agreement with the US. The result has been massive inequality in the region: desperate poverty and homelessness in parts of the country despite being awash in oil wealth.

Bahrain has a long history of social protests, especially over housing and jobs, because despite being an oil-rich country, Bahrain survives on a deep economic inequality that is often expressed along sectarian lines. The Shi’i majority by and large are substantially worse off. Not only economically, but also politically – despite being the majority in the country they are outnumbered in the Parliament and completely barred from the security forces, which consist of mostly Pakistani and other Arab nationals. The idea in Bahrain is that no Shiite should have a gun.

Starting in February, the people of Bahrain have been protesting for greater democracy in Bahrain. Signs called for more democracy and said things like “not Sunni, not Shi’a, we are all Bahrainis.” The protests gathered in the Pearl roundabout in Manama and were beginning to turn into Tahrir Square, when the Bahraini government declared martial law in March and allowed the Saudi national guard to enter the country and begin a massive crackdown on protesters. Doctors and nurses who were treating protesters have been arrested and are now being subject to military tribunals. It has meant an intensification of torture, secret trials, demolition of Shia mosques, and repression against human rights activists, labor, lawyers, students, political figures, and others.

The US media has not covered any of this. They have made the problem out to be one of sectarian violence or of Iranian meddling. Or they’ve talked about how the US is working patiently to help the Bahraini protesters. Don’t believe it. We have every reason to believe that the US has given the Bahraini government as well as the Saudi government the green light to continue their attacks on protesters. Barack Obama spoke out about the violent crackdown against the Bahraini protesters back in May, but last Tuesday, Bahrain’s crown prince, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa meet with Obama and Hillary Clinton. The Crown Prince says he is open to dialogue about national reconciliation in Bahrain, but this is utter nonsense as the entirety of the leadership of the opposition and many key activists are all sitting in jail, many awaiting illegal military trials.

When the media isn’t covering this nonsense, it is covering the formula one race. It’s very sad when the FIA, the organization which hosts the Formula One Grand Prix has better politics than most western governments. They agreed to cancel the race in Bahrain because of the crackdown on protesters and the instability in the country – which is a whole lot better than the US.

But because of its small size and relative weakness, the Bahraini government has allied itself to the Saudi government, itself no friend of democracy or human rights, but it must be added, good friend to the Americans. And Saudi Arabia has helped in the crackdown viciously, by sending in its own national guard to help the Bahraini government stay in power.

I think that it’s time that activists in this country stand up and say that US foreign policy has been an agent of much violence in the world and little good. Lupe Fiasco was not that far off when he called Obama a terrorist. The hypocritical support for the Gulf regime and the cynical backing of some of the worst forces in Libya (like the National Transitional Council) against Qaddafi, a man they sold weapons to for decades.  It must be added that Saudi Arabia’s support for the No Fly Zone over Libya was only secured by giving the Saudis a free hand to crush protests in Yemen and Bahrain.  And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all demonstrated over and again that the US is not interested in improving the lives of ordinary people in the region – it is only interested in the welfare of the rich corporations that do business here and over there.

The only thing that can help the Bahraini people will be the active solidarity that they get from activists in the US and from the successful completion of the revolutions of the Arab Spring. Their liberation won’t come from Saudi Arabia, it won’t come from the 5th Fleet, it won’t come from Iran. Their liberation and the liberation of all Arab peoples depends on activists in this country putting an end to the meddlesome and destructive foreign policy of the United States.