Monday, August 27

When demons are in charge

Last month it emerged that the US general John Allen, head of coalition forces, had instructed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) not to shoot first unless attacked, although the Ministry of Defence has denied this amounted to a change in the rules of engagement.

The situation described in the following news report is not limited to the British military; I became immersed in Afghan War reporting in 2009 when I read of American soliders telling their chaplains that they were being ordered to act like police in Afghanistan, which included not being allowed to fire their guns unless they were sure 'Taliban' were armed. 

The horror, the utter fiendishness of this situation, is that the American and other NATO governments have been paying Pakistan's military all these years, while knowing full well they were helping the military orchestrate the killings of NATO troops. So, on top of this, the troops must act in Afghanistan as if they're police in a big Western city.

There is no precedent for this in history, there is no military command in history that has ever sunk to this level of depravity.  But the NATO-ISAF commanders sunk this low.
British soldiers resort to 'baiting' Taliban to beat rules of engagement

Platoon commander describes frustration at being forced to lead troops 'to get shot at'

Jonathan Owen
August 27, 2012
The Independent [U.K.]

British soldiers in Afghanistan are being forced to act as bait in an attempt to draw the Taliban into opening fire, a serving platoon commander has alleged.

Soldiers are risking their lives to get round strict rules of engagement that allow them to shoot only if they are being attacked or are in "imminent danger".

The Taliban are increasingly exploiting the rules by hiding weapons in undergrowth near patrol routes – meaning British forces cannot act against them until they actually pick up their guns.

The claims are made by Lieutenant Jimmy Clark , a platoon commander who recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan.

Shocking scenes to be broadcast in a documentary, Our War, on BBC Three this evening reveal how it was only by luck that soldiers survived a bomb while on a patrol nicknamed "Op Bait" late last year.

Lt Clark from 2 Mercian, who was leading the patrol, describes his frustration at the rules of engagement, which led to soldiers acting as bait to tempt the Taliban into attacking them. "It's difficult really to 'fight' an enemy we're not allowed to fight. Under our rules of engagement we can only really return fire and sometimes it's very frustrating." Footage of Op Bait, shot from headcams on soldiers' helmets, released by the Ministry of Defence, shows how the plan almost backfired.

Lt Clark sums up the approach: "You have a foot patrol which has air support… you get contacted, you're being fired at and the helicopter can come in and kill that guy." For the avoidance of doubt, he adds: "Our job was to get shot at."

As they prepare to go on the patrol, soldiers try to hide their nerves by joking. One says: "Hi, I'm Lance Corporal Shepherd, this will be the last you see of me, I'm going on suicide." To howls of laughter, another says: "Hi, I'm Private Morgan, I'll be picking up Shep's legs."

The soldiers then silently move out on patrol, aware they are being watched by Taliban fighters just across the canal they are walking alongside. Suddenly two large explosions ring out followed by screams – the world temporarily turned to smoke. Amid heavy gunfire, the soldiers pull back. Miraculously, none of the patrol are killed.

In the aftermath, an exhausted Lt Clark says: "It is incredibly frustrating to be leading soldiers out on patrol with the purpose of getting shot at. There's a line between bravery and stupidity and so far we are pushing the limits."

In an interview with The Independent, Lt Clark said: "What the Taliban were extremely good at doing was walking around without weapons, having cached them in undergrowth or behind cover, walking up to those locations, which were already ready-made firing positions, and shooting at us."

The number of British soldiers being shot dead in Afghanistan has spiralled as new tactics stop them from shooting at the Taliban until they have been fired at. Fourteen have been killed by enemy gunfire in Helmand Province in the past four months, compared with three in the same period in 2011.

Last month it emerged that the US general John Allen, head of coalition forces, had instructed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) not to shoot first unless attacked, although the Ministry of Defence has denied this amounted to a change in the rules of engagement.

In a statement the MoD said: "We have always been very clear, as has ISAF, that our troops go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Recent amendments to the ISAF tactical directive reflect that commitment."

Thousands flee N. Waziristan on rumors of impending Pak military offensive there

Monday, August 27, 2012, AFP via Daily Times (Pakistan):
Thousands flee North Waziristan in fear of operation

* Officials insist there is no immediate plan to launch military operation

MIRANSHAH: Thousands of people have fled North Waziristan in recent days, fearing a military offensive against terrorists, locals and officials said.

Panicked residents have hastily left the area of North Waziristan despite officials repeatedly insisting that Pakistan has no immediate plan to launch an offensive in the volatile region, they added.

North Waziristan is considered a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. Although Pakistan has fought Taliban across much of the region, it has so far withstood American pressure to move against the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network in North Waziristan. “Thousands of people have so far left the area, they are fleeing their homes due to the fear and rumours of a military operation,” Saifur Rehman, a government official in the main town of Miranshah, told AFP.

Tasleem Khan, another government official confirmed the evacuation.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain told AFP that thousands of people have reached several districts in his area. Rumours started early this week after a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told the media that it had received “an exclusive intelligence report” about an offensive in North Waziristan.

In an email sent to media, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the campaign was to be launched on August 26 and would last one month.

Government and military officials have taken to local radio, asking people to remain calm. “This is a peaceful area with a peaceful atmosphere. The government has no plan to launch any military operation here,” a radio announcement heard by local residents said.

On Saturday, some 2,000 tribal elders and religious leaders warned the government not to launch any offensive and threatened to move to Afghanistan “in case of any military operation”.

“We will migrate to Afghanistan, if Pakistan launches any military operation," Maulvi Abdur Rehman, a religious leader who presided over the tribal jirga said.

The jirga held in Mirali Town of North Waziristan also requested residents to stay at home. An AFP reporter in the area witnessed people fleeing their homes in vehicles.

Washington has long demanded that Pakistan take action against the Haqqanis, whom the United States accused of attacking the US embassy in Kabul last September and of acting like the “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan has in turn demanded that Afghan and US forces do more to stop Pakistani Taliban crossing the Afghan border to launch attacks on its forces. afp

Friday, August 24

Majorly Profound's mysterious disappearance from blogosphere and twittersphere sets off international concern and provides a window on embattled free speech in Pakistan

His disappearance left behind disconsolate fans and, perhaps fittingly, a swirl of conspiracy theories. Some speculated he had been threatened or abducted; others predicted he would reincarnate in a new guise. Female fans - "wimmins" in @MajorlyProfound's world - were particularly upset.

"I am heartbroken," one wrote on Twitter. "What will happen to us wimmins now?" another asked.
The comments were, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek. But they also highlighted something serious: how the Internet has become an important platform for subversive satire, and outright social dissent, in a country where speaking freely can exact the highest price.

-- Declan Walsh, The New York Times

Now just see, Pundita is not the only wimmins besotted wits the Major. I am so happy with Declan Walsh for writing about the Major's disappearance that I could hug him, but I have one beef with his report:

If one's going to compare the Major's wit to any American humorist who focuses on social criticism, I'd call him Pakistan's answer to Mark Twin, not Stephen Colbert. Yet I'd always resisted bestowing that laurel on the Major because I thought doing so was kinda an insult. While the Major's creator was inspired to write by the American satirical novel, Catch-22, he's upholding a tradition of acid-penned 'native' editorialists who toiled for newspapers during the British Raj -- a tradition that continued in post-Independence India and, fitfully, in modern Pakistan.

And unlike the strongly politicized and partisan Colbert, the Major targeted the famous human tendencies of self-delusion and hypocrisy. So whether he was poking fun at Apple computer products, geostrategic analysts, the foolishness of the Indian government or his own, his humor had universal appeal.

Before I let Declan get in a few more words, I'm hoping the blog's disappearance is another one of what the Major called his "social experiments" -- the last experiment causing considerable discomfort to those urbane Pakistanis who think they can get comfy in hell by holding book fairs and fashion shows and generally trying to carry on as if they're living in London's Chelsea district.

On a darker note, the Major's creator once stepped completely out of character; this was after the U.S. raid on Abbottabad. Furious at Pakistan's military for leaving the country's defenses wide open, he wrote an icily analytical essay about the military's lapses that was not one bit funny. There was a long silence on his blog after he published the essay -- at least two months to my recollection, maybe longer.

When he returned to the blogosphere the Major character ("Maj. Butt, Ret'd.") was his old self. But it's just that capacity for mercilessly objective analysis combined with universal appeal that causes me concern about the inexplicable removal of the Majorly Profound blog.

The best I can say is that the Major's creator is a national treasure; it would be a tragedy if he's not seen as such by Pakistan's rulers.
Fans worry after Pakistan Twitter star goes off lineby Declan Walsh
The New York Times
August 22, 2012

Karachi: "Where r u MAJOR ?? What happened 2 u ?? I hope u r safe from mad dog jihadis."

Electronic cries of anguish are ringing out across Pakistan's Twitter community over the abrupt disappearance of the popular satirist @MajorlyProfound, beloved for his acid commentary on the powerful and their prejudices. The unexplained closing of his Twitter account and a related blog on Aug. 4 has become the cybermystery of the moment among English-speaking Pakistani liberals.

Channeling the American comic Stephen Colbert, the determinedly anonymous blogger behind @MajorlyProfound adopted the voice of a pompous, paranoid, honor-obsessed nationalist - Twitter posts typically started with cries of "whoa!" or "OUTRAGE!!" - then took things a step or three further. The result was a searingly funny and often jet-black perspective on Pakistan's rolling crises that pushed the boundaries of what is considered politically acceptable - or personally prudent.

A Pakistani should have been given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame, @MajorlyProfound declared during the recent opening ceremony, in recognition of "our expertise at burning things" like NATO supply trucks and Indian luxury hotels.

Later, he suggested that the national team could do well in archery, but only if a photo of an Ahmadi - a religious minority that suffers grave persecution - were placed on the target board.

"Pakistani shooters sure to win gold," he wrote on Twitter. "But there is a danger they might throw grenade instead."

Such jagged wit won @MajorlyProfound more than 10,000 followers on Twitter, many of them influential in the Pakistani and Indian news media. Foreign journalists started to quote him in stories, sensing he had become a cultural touchstone of sorts.

But the man behind the phenomenon assiduously shunned the spotlight. "I'm just a nobody," he wrote in an e-mail exchange started by The New York Times before his disappearance. "I like to poke fun at absurdity."

His disappearance left behind disconsolate fans and, perhaps fittingly, a swirl of conspiracy theories. Some speculated he had been threatened or abducted; others predicted he would reincarnate in a new guise. Female fans - "wimmins" in @MajorlyProfound's world - were particularly upset.

"I am heartbroken," one wrote on Twitter. "What will happen to us wimmins now?" another asked.

The comments were, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek. But they also highlighted something serious: how the Internet has become an important platform for subversive satire, and outright social dissent, in a country where speaking freely can exact the highest price.

Over the past two years, two leading politicians have been shot to death for their public stances, and a prominent investigative journalist was killed under mysterious circumstances in April. This summer, Asma Jahangir, an outspoken human rights campaigner, spoke of a plot by the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency to kill her. And even the hint of blasphemous speech can bring witch hunts and criminal charges. (@MajorlyProfound took that issue on, too: "On being asked if plasphemy law should be amended, 20% of beepuls said it should be retained, 80% killed the interviewer phor plasphemy," he wrote on Twitter last year, in calculatedly idiosyncratic spelling.)

And so creative young Pakistanis are turning to social media to vent their political frustrations.

A catchy satirical song by the Lahore band Begairat Brigade was shunned by the mainstream media last year, but caught fire on YouTube, where it became a Pakistani pop culture sensation. This year another little-known performer, Ali Pir Gul, scored two and a half million hits on YouTube with a comedy rap that parodied the lifestyles of the feudal elite.

"Every day you see your government doing things that make you pissed. There's nothing to do except make fun of it," said Adil Hussain, a 23-year-old student who posts politically pointed cartoons on Facebook.

Twitter has played a cameo role in several national dramas. In May 2011, Sohaib Athar, an Internet cafe owner in Abbottabad, posted details on Twitter of a mysterious helicopter raid in his neighborhood that, hours later, turned out to be the American commando assault against Osama bin Laden.

Later, Mr. Athar was called to testify before a government inquiry into the raid. As he left, he recalled recently, the presiding judge urged him to "tweet on."

Pakistan's beleaguered progressives, meanwhile, have come to view Twitter as a public square of sorts. A spontaneous Twitter campaign in January against Maya Khan, a television host accused of harassing courting couples with a camera crew in a Karachi park during her morning television program, helped lead to Ms. Khan's dismissal.

The figure behind @MajorlyProfound said he had been inspired to write by the novel "Catch-22." His target is a particular mind-set that dominates public debate: the puff-chested vanities, poisonous bigotry and contorted logic of certain politicians, generals and journalists.

He views his alter ego as "the love child of Homer Simpson and Adolf Hitler," he wrote by e-mail. "What would you do if that baby started saying and doing nonsensically stupid but scary things, yet ran a country and had a bunch of rabid supporters?" he wrote.

Why, turn to Twitter, of course. Recent events have provided a rich store of material, from the cabinet ministers who claimed to have found a car that ran on water, to the tortured talks with Washington that centered on notions of national sovereignty - or, as he put it, "sovirginity."

Beneath the punch lines, however, lies a rumbling anger, particularly over the treatment of minorities. In Pakistan, "Ahmadis and Shias are treated worse than animals," he wrote by e-mail. "More importantly, they are dehumanized."

For some, Twitter has filled a void left by the closing of teahouses and nightclubs that thrived during the 1960s and '70s, before the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq warped Pakistani society. "Pakistan no longer has permanent public spaces for reasoned conversation," a lawyer, Feisal H. Naqvi, wrote in the newspaper The Express Tribune recently. He hailed @MajorlyProfound as "Pakistan's sharpest wit."

But even the freewheeling Internet is not entirely insulated from the real Pakistan. Several extremist groups, including the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, hold Twitter accounts. Twitter's success has also sprouted legions of so-called trolls, users who direct abusive or threatening comments at other users. Women say they feel particularly vulnerable.

Such worries surfaced during a recent conference on social media, sponsored by the American Consulate in Karachi and held at a luxury hotel. Organized under low-key conditions, owing to security worries, the conference featured lively debates on the uses and value of social media.

It also brought together Twitter activists who had previously only interacted online. Not all of it went well. Heated exchanges between some rivals spilled into the hotel lobby. Since then, one Lahore lawyer has obtained a court order preventing three with whom he had clashed from commenting about him on Twitter.

One notable absence at the conference was @MajorlyProfound. Jealously protective of his anonymity, he offered only that he is between 25 and 35 years old and comes from a middle-class background. His profile picture always features goats because, he said before his disappearance, Pakistani critics might "put up with sarcasm from a goat more than from a real person."

"On the Internet nobody knows that you are a dog. Or a goat," he said. "I could be anyone."

Thursday, August 23

Can Al Qaeda-linked 'humanitarian' group backed by U.S. succeed where Pussy Riot failed?

Global Research, my favorite Canadian anti-globalist organization, has worked itself up into a lather again about imperialist America's latest capers in the attempt to unseat President Vladimir Putin. But this time the Finnish government was left holding the bag.

Before turning to the Finns, a little background from Global Research's August 22 report, America's Longstanding Campaign to Destabilize Russia by Eric Draitser (See the website for links provided in the writing):
The shootings and bombings in Ingushetia and Dagestan this week rekindled a longstanding, brutal campaign of violence and terrorism in Russia’s Caucasus region – one that has seen more than its share of terror stretching back to the Chechen “rebellion” of the 1990s.
The complex network of terrorist organizations that operate under the banners of “separatism” and “independence” for the Caucasus region, has been at the center of the destabilization of Russia for the last two decades. Within hours of the deadly attacks, the Kavkaz Center – an organization known to be the propaganda mouthpiece of terrorist leader Doku Umarov – released an article characterizing the attacks as heroic acts and referring to the dead as “Russian puppets.”

Though this would seem to be not in keeping with the Center’s stated mission “to provide reporting of events…and assistance of journalistic work in the Caucasus,” this is, in fact, very much par for the course for an organization that is funded by the US State Department and Finland’s Foreign Ministry.

Kavkaz Center has a long track record of supporting and legitimizing terrorist actions throughout the region, rationalizing atrocities committed in the name of “resistance.” In fact, Kavkaz engages in perpetual upside-down logic, referring to Russians as “terrorists” and terrorists as “heroes.”

Additionally, it is essential to note that Emarat Kavkaz (Umarov’s terrorist organization translated as “Caucasus Emirate”) has been listed by the United Nations as an organization associated with Al-Qaida.

Kavkaz Center has been described by Umarov himself as “the official information organ of the Emarat Kavkaz.” This, of course, supports the claims made repeatedly by Moscow of the connection between Chechen and other extremists in the region and Al Qaida, a claim which, until recently, Kavkaz Center continued to deny.
Believe you me, Draitser is just getting warmed up, and I had to interrupt a rather longish rant about U.S. imperialist machinations just to put together the above summary, in order to more-or-less prepare you for the Finnish angle. From a Voices of Russia report by Margarita Bogatova, dated June 15, 2012:
KavkazCenter, a Chechen extremist website has been funded by Finland’s Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, Finnish prosecutors revealed during a probe into the activities of the site’s owner Mikael Storsjo. Recently, a court in Helsinki handed down a four-month suspended sentence to Storsjo for assisting Chechen terrorists to enter Finland illegally.

The owner and sponsor of the site was first arrested and jailed last year on charges of assisting illegal immigrants. Later, he was acquitted as the court claimed that this was an act of humanity as he was helping migrants who were at risk in Russia. Moreover, Storsjo accepted no money for his assistance. This year, prosecutors managed to prove that he assisted more than 20 people to flee Russia. They included relatives of Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev, Doku Umarov and a certain Matsiyev who was allegedly involved in the Beslan school siege. [Pundita note: aka Beslan school massacre]

According to Finnish political analyst Johan Beckman, the site was sponsored by Finland’s Foreign Ministry and the US State Department.

"Finland is supporting and funding terrorist underground networks, has been was exposed in the course of the Storsjo investigation. We analyzed all the relevant documents and saw who these migrants really were. With tacit backing of Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala, Storsjo has illegally brought hundreds of people, some of whom are criminals, to Finland His website is more than just a web page it is the mouthpiece of terrorist leader Doku Umarov."

Moscow needs to provide evidence of the crimes it believes these alleged terrorists have committed to be able to extradite them and if it wants a tougher punishment for Storsjo.

Finland keeps declining Moscow’s extradition requests. This particular case echoes England’s refusals to extradite Ahmed Zakayev and Boris Berezovsky to Russia, says Alexander Mikhailov a member of the Council for External and Defense Policy

"Finland is acting in line with its national laws and can only press charges if it has evidence of these people’s wrongdoings. The mere fact that they are living in their country and conducting public and cultural activities is not the reason to bring charges against them. There is nothing Russia can do about this".

The KavkazCenter site has been shut down in Lithuania at Russia’s request and deemed illegal in many other countries, including Finland, which, however, hasn’t stopped its businessman from sponsoring it.
One of the interesting things about the situation is that for all its use of internet technology, the U.S. Department of State still hasn't gotten the main point of this era in communications, which is that it's really hard to pussyfoot around with nobody among the unwashed masses noticing.

But it's not just State, as Draitser points out. It's also the same cast of bipartisan American characters that was behind the 'color' revolutions, and which ran into accusations of meddling in Egypt earlier this year.

As I advised on the very first day of this blog's existence, in the post I titled Not Clockwork Orange Century, this fishbowl era is one of those times when the wisest course for the American government is to play it straight. To date, Washington has ignored my advice. That's really a shame, because when you look through the following list of known, probable and suspected plotters in the Beslan School massacre, you won't find an American name. You will find names associated with American allies who are well known for sneakiness. Yet ultimately, we're the ones who're always left holding the bag.
Shortly after the crisis, official Russian sources stated that the attackers were part of a supposed international group led by Basayev that included a number of Arabs with connections to al-Qaeda, and claimed they picked up phone calls in Arabic from the Beslan school to Saudi Arabia and another undisclosed Middle Eastern country. Two English/Algerians are among the identified rebels who actively participated in the attack: Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia. Another UK citizen named Kamel Rabat Bouralha, arrested while trying to leave Russia immediately following the attack, was suspected to be a key organizer. All three were linked to the Finsbury Park Mosque of north London.

The allegations of al-Qaeda involvement were not repeated since then by the Russian government.

According to the Russian government, the following people were named as planners and financiers of the attack:

• Shamil Basayev – Chechen rebel leader who took ultimate responsibility for the attack, he died in Ingushetia in July 2006 in disputed circumstances.

• Kamel Rabat Bouralha – British-Algerian suspected of organizing the attack, who was reported detained in Chechnya in September 2004.

• Abu Omar al-Saif – Saudi national and accused financer, killed in Dagestan in December 2005.

• Abu Zaid Al-Kuwaiti – Kuwaiti national and accused organizer, who died in Ingushetia in February 2005.

Wednesday, August 22

John Batchelor on Israel's calculations re a strike on Iran and Barack Obama's maneuvers in the Middle East

Red-Line Electioneering
by John Batchelor
The John Batchelor Radio Show
August 22, 2012

Visited this evening [August 21] with colleague Larry Kudlow, CNBC, to speak of the Iran threat to Israel and what is to be done. [see video below]

My best information is that Jerusalem has changed its political calculation based on the opinion that POTUS Obama will be reelected. The presumption in Jerusalem is that a second-term Obama administration will favor the Islamists of the Middle East and will tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Therefore, Jerusalem is considering that it has maximum leverage to attack Iran before the vote.

Why? Because POTUS Obama is foremost a political actor, and he will not quickly block Jerusalem for worry that it would harm his Jewish vote in the swing states.

It comes to this stark electioneering calculation: How can POTUS Obama get to Election Day while satisfying both the Jewish vote and Jerusalem and also while holding off Iran's and Syria's predation? My information is that POTUS believes the way to solve this standoff is to support a Turkish Army incursion into Syria and to provide air cover for a No-Fly Zone along the Turkey/Syria borderland. POTUS Obama's remark at the Monday press event in the White House about Syria's WMD being a "red line" was a predicate for the casus belli of entering Syria to prevent a genocide.

The chaos that will follow either will block Israel or will trigger worse -- lead to a helter-skelter of covert and/or missile attacks by Hamas from Gaza, Hizballah from Lebanon, and provocateurs from Syria. Enter the Devils.

Grand Bargain

Why does POTUS Obama hold back from supporting Israel against the Iran predators? Political opera is the answer. My information is that Mr. Obama has long offered a Grand Bargain to Tehran. In exchange for a peace conference in Tehran that is meant to imitate President Nixon's meeting with Mao in 1972 in Beijing, Mr. Obama will tolerate Iran as a nuclear-armed regional hegemon. I am told that Mr. Obama has offered this deal since 2009.

These days, approaching his final election with frantic fatalism, POTUS Obama believes that by threatening to use Turkish surrogates to invade Syria and cage Assad, Tehran will be obliged to the negotiating table. The tangled web is worse when we include the Kurds, the Iraqis, and the regional minorities in addition to the Jews and Kurds, such as the Druze, the Ismailists, the Christians, the Shiites.

The new Riehl World View

Dan Riehl has redesigned his blog! The home page looks like the front page of a newspaper; it's really cool, and super-organized. He got help from two website developers but the input was all his, including the fancy banner. Those thinking of upgrading their blog design might be interested in reading his discussion of how he did it.

Dan's been blogging for eight years; I wish him many more years on the blogosphere because he's one of the good guys. He's a political conservative but he's also a straight dealer. This makes his blog valuable to people trying to see through the smoke blown by spin doctors. He calls it like he sees it, and whenever  this angers agendists who want him to toe the party line, he couldn't care less.

I'll take this opportunity to thank Dan for linking to my August 17 post (Al Qaeda in Syria and the mass marketing of civilian Syrian massacres for Western TV), then carrying it over to his new blog as a front page feature. In that post I pieced together important information that the mainstream media will not touch, and I think Dan recognized that.

"Welcome to Pakistan: A nightmare society beyond pity or parody:" More on the case of a Pakistani Christian child accused of blasphemy

In Pakistan, Christians traditionally have worked as cleaners and sweepers; many Muslims still consider them “unclean."

The New York Times reported on August 20 that "senior police officers" involved in the case of Rimsha Masih claim that she's 16, not 11, and "100 percent mentally" fit, which goes against claims by Christians and Muslims in her neighborhood that she suffers from Down syndrome. (See the end of this post for excerpts from the Times report.) AFP reported today that the girl is between 10 and 13 years old and "reported to have Down's Syndrome."  AFP also mentions that the girl's first name is Rimsha, not Rifta as the press had previously reported.

But the Times report stresses that the disputed facts about the child's age and mental condition don't change the fundamentals, which is that an accusation of blasphemy leveled against a child is an outrage -- outrage that's gone global. Amnesty International and the U.S. Department of State and France's foreign ministry have added their voices to the chorus of criticism and concern about Rimsha's plight, which has also touched off a furor in Pakistan and brought forth several editorials in the Pakistani press.  But below I'm featuring in its entirety Iman Sheikh's op-ed for Canada's National Post. Her writing adds details about Rimsha's situation that weren't available in the early press accounts, and she does a great job of summarizing the plight of Pakistan's Christians and what it says about Pakistan.

Just so everyone's clear on the seriousness of this issue, another Pakistani Christian is in prison awaiting a death sentence to be carried out for blasphemy.
Pakistan’s anti-Christian witch hunt
by Iman Sheikh
National Post
August 21, 2012

Rifta Masih is an 11-year-old Christian girl who lives near Islamabad, Pakistan. She reportedly suffers from Down’s Syndrome. Like many of the other Christians in her area — who comprise about 10% of the local population — the members of her family work menial jobs, and live in tiny properties rented from Muslim landlords.

On Thursday evening, Rifta was seen leaving the one-room dwelling she lives in with her sister and parents, carrying an earthenware dish filled with ash. Or, it may have been some refuse in a small shopping bag. Although Hammad Malik, a 23-year-old witness, is unclear on exactly what the girl was transporting, he is quite certain that the burnt remains had Arabic writing on them.

Rifta, he alleges, was burning pages from a Koran inside her house, and then trying to find a place to dispose of the remains. Although he did not see her do this, that did not stop him from assembling an angry group of men and reporting the incident to the local police, with the demand that the girl be apprehended in accordance with the country’s Blasphemy Law. The authorities at first did not act, but then moved swiftly to get the girl into custody when a mob of over 500 people gathered at the Masih home’s doorstep. Fearing for her safety, the authorities put her into a cell for a two-week detention.

Welcome to Pakistan: A nightmare society beyond pity or parody, where handicapped 11-year-old girls must be locked up to ensure their own safety.

According to the Blasphemy Law, anyone found guilty of insulting the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran can be sentenced to death. With blind religious extremism on the upswing, there is no shortage of Hammad Malik types — self-appointed religious vigilantes on the lookout for any transgression, real or imagined. The law has been enforced in regard to even the most dubious reports of “blasphemy,” and has led to the murder of two prominent politicians.

In January 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard after he expressed sympathy for Asia Noreen, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. Scarcely two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and the only Christian in Pakistan’s Cabinet, was leaving his mother’s home in Islamabad when his car was sprayed with bullets. (The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killing.)

The aforementioned Noreen, better known in the media as “Asia Bibi,” was a farmhand who fetched water for her coworkers. When some Muslims refused to drink the water on account of it being contaminated by an “unclean” Christian, heated work-site arguments allegedly ensued. Later, a cleric received complaints that Noreen made derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad. A mob arrived at her house, attacking her and her family before she was rescued by the police. This was in June 2009. She is still in jail.

The Blasphemy Law can be manipulated by cynical plaintiffs, as a tool to take personal retribution. In the case of Asia Bibi, there had been a pre-existing feud between Noreen and a Muslim neighbour over property damage. In Rifta’s case, relations between the Muslim and Christian communities had been tense for months after complaints were made about the noise coming from churches in the area during religious services.

In Pakistan, Christians traditionally have worked as cleaners and sweepers; many Muslims still consider them “unclean.” About 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave the neighbourhood and the homes they have inhabited for two decades. On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes drive from Islamabad’s western embassies and government ministries, were locked up and abandoned, their frightened occupants having relocated to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

Pakistan is a country with many problems — from corruption to terrorism to regional secession movements. But none captures the primitive, bigoted spirit of the nation’s religious extremists more perfectly than the witch hunt for “blasphemers” that has been used to persecute the country’s tiny, beleaguered Christian community. If an 11-year-old handicapped girl is considered fair game for the fanatics, what chance does anyone else have?
From the New York Times report I mentioned above:
Christian Girl’s Blasphemy Arrest Incites a Furor in Pakistanby Declan Walsh and Salman Masood [reporting from Islamabad]
August 20, 2012
The New York Times

Christian, and some Muslim, neighbors said Ms. Masih was 11 years old and had Down syndrome. Senior police officers dismissed those claims; one described her as 16 and “100 percent mentally fit.”

Whatever the truth, experts said Ms. Masih’s plight highlighted a wider problem. “This case exemplifies the absurdity and tragedy of the blasphemy law, which is an instrument of abuse against the most vulnerable in society,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch.

While non-Muslims have long been vulnerable to persecution in Pakistan, the state’s ability to protect them is diminishing.

[Pundita note: Given the documented history of famous blasphemy cases in Pakistan, I seriously question whether the state's ability or will to provide protection was ever that strong]

The Pakistani police often are forced to register blasphemy cases against their wishes, human rights campaigners say, either to save the accused blasphemer or their own officers from attack.

In July, a large crowd, prompted by inflammatory statements from local mosques, swarmed a police station in Bahawalpur district in southern Punjab, searching for a blasphemy suspect who was being interrogated by police. The mob seized the man, beat him to death and burned his body outside the station.

A similar mob attack occurred in June in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, although in that case the police beat back the protesters.

The turmoil comes just days after Pakistanis marked the country’s 65th independence anniversary amid muted ceremonies and considerable soul-searching across the political spectrum.

“Desecrating graves, arresting 11 year old with Down syndrome, targeting of Shias — the list goes on. This is not what r religion is about,” Shireen Mazari, a staunch nationalist commentator, said on Twitter.

The adviser to the prime minister on national harmony, Dr. Paul Bhatti, said he hoped to defuse Ms. Masih’s situation through talks with moderate Muslim leaders. Dr. Bhatti is the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister for minorities who was gunned down outside his Islamabad home in early 2011, weeks after Mr. Taseer’s death.

Even if Ms. Masih avoids blasphemy charges, her family is unlikely to ever return home. Although nobody has been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, even suspected blasphemers are in danger for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 21

"Scary proof that intolerance is accepted — even rewarded — in Pakistan's mainstream media." This is Pakistan

Ahmadis have long been persecuted in Pakistan, but community leader Masood Ahmed Khan says targeted killings surged after Liaquat's broadcast.

August 20, 2012:
Pakistani Televangelist Is Back On Air, Raising Fears by Lauren Frayer
National Public Radio (USA)

As Pakistan's media has expanded in recent years, there's been a rise in Islamic preachers with popular TV call-in talk shows. And they've had their share of scandal. One famous TV host fled the country after embezzlement allegations. Others are accused of spewing hate speech.

That's the case for Pakistan's most popular televangelist, Aamir Liaquat, who's just been rehired by the country's top TV channel despite accusations that he provoked deadly attacks in 2008.

Liaquat, 41, is once again the face of Pakistan's biggest and richest private TV station, Geo TV. He also appears in commercials for everything from cooking oil to an Islamic bank. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he's been broadcasting live 11 hours a day — while fasting — and drawing record ratings.

"I say peace be with you, from the deepest core of my heart, with all sincerity and respect," he says warmly to viewers.

But the beaming TV personality has not always sounded so benign.

Four years ago, Liaquat did an hourlong special on a religious sect known as the Ahmadis. They consider themselves Muslim. But under a constitutional amendment in Pakistan, they are banned from calling themselves Muslim.

They believe in the Prophet Muhammad. But they also believe in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th-century figure they believe was the messiah. Many Muslims call that blasphemy.

On live TV in 2008, Liaquat condemned the Ahmadis' messiah.

"He was like a dead body in terms of morality and character," Liaquat said. "He never spoke the truth and never kept his promises. He was a coward. His speech and writings make me vomit."

Then he sat nodding in approval while a guest mullah said people like the Ahmadis' messiah should be killed.

"Anyone who claims to be a prophet is an infidel, and deserves to be murdered," Maulana Muhammad Ameen said.

A Surge In Targeted Killings

Since that broadcast, violence has left hundreds of Ahmadis dead. Ahmadi Najm's husband — a pediatrician with his own clinic — was one of them.


No suspect has been arrested in any of these cases. Ahmadis have long been persecuted in Pakistan, but community leader Masood Ahmed Khan says targeted killings surged after Liaquat's broadcast.

"So we as a community always blame him. You know, the blood on his hands doesn't mean that he killed somebody directly — but he instigated it," Khan says.

Liaquat refused multiple requests from NPR for an interview, but sent a message through his manager emphasizing his popularity in Pakistan.

He lost his job at Geo TV over the Ahmadi program and the violence that ensued. But a rival channel scooped him up before long. And this summer, Liaquat returned to Geo TV with fanfare — and an even bigger salary.

Nadeem Paracha, a Pakistani journalist, says the way Liaquat's comeback was advertised was "just sickening."

"How can you bring back a person who's been accused — not only by the Ahmadi community, but by a lot of people? There's so much evidence there," Paracha says. "How can you call the same guy back?"

That's a question for Liaquat's boss, Imran Aslam, the president of Geo TV.

"He is a broadcaster par excellence. But he must know his parameters," Aslam says.

He says he rehired Liaquat on the condition that he sign a new code of ethics.

"We wanted to know whether he had, I wouldn't use the word 'repented,' but certainly [would be] a little more careful," Aslam says.

Minorities Are Wary

Still, the TV executive acknowledges that bringing Liaquat back could be a gamble.

"Not only the Ahmadis, but there's a large section of the liberal population of Pakistan, which is fearful of what he could unleash. So it's a double-edged sword," Aslam says. "The guy could become a Frankenstein monster — I don't deny that. But I think he's been chastised a bit — and chastened a bit, too."

So Liaquat is back on TV, more popular than ever. For the slain pediatrician's widow, Najm, that's scary proof that intolerance is accepted — even rewarded — in Pakistan's mainstream media.

Najm says her children face it in schools, from classmates as young as 6 or 7.

"Their fellows ask, 'Are you Shia or are you Sunni? Oh, you're Ahmadi? Ahmadis are not Muslims,' " Najm says.

Pakistan's government has a media regulation group whose job is to police the airwaves for hate speech. But the group, which goes by its acronym PEMRA, has opened few investigations in its 10-year history — and none in defense of religious minorities. Critics accuse the agency of bowing to popular media figures like Liaquat, rather than doing the job it was created to do.

Kidnap, rape, forced conversion of young Hindus to Islam: This is Pakistan

American aid money can't change Pakistan; it only reinforces the notion among Pakistan's worst that Americans tolerate their behavior. Pakistan's human rights advocates don't want American money. They want Americans to stop practicing a double standard in their country. 

“Whoever gets a chance to flee, irrespective of religion and destination, is leaving. The minorities have been suffering more."
From Pakistan with fear
by Ruchika Talwar
August 21, 2012
Indian Express

Their exact numbers are not known but the reason why Pakistani Hindus are coming over to India and choosing to stay in ever larger numbers is more or less clear. As the internal security situation in Pakistan worsens, among those increasingly being targeted are Hindus, especially their women.

Their families have dwelled for centuries in what is now Pakistan. India, for them, was only home to their shrines, relatives and Bollywood. But over the past five years especially, the Hindus and also some Sikhs who cross over into India on what is formally a pilgrimage (they usually arrive before Janmashtami) are choosing not to go back. As per Indian government estimates, the number of such Pakistani Hindus now on extended visas in India could be between 4,000 and 5,000.

While each pilgrim signs an undertaking at the Attari border crossing in Punjab, promising to return before their 30-day visa expires, most of them get their visas extended.

“Hindus are a weak segment in Pakistan, hence they become an easy target for religious bigots,” said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron-in-chief and founder of the Karachi-based Pakistan Hindu Council, a registered society of Hindus of Pakistan. “Mostly young Hindu women are abducted and converted. We have petitioned in the Supreme Court against forced conversions,” he told The Indian Express over the phone.

Iqbal Haider echoed his views. A former federal minister for law and justice, information, human rights and parliamentary affairs, Haider currently practises law and is a prominent human rights activist based in Karachi.

Pointing out that social and economic insecurity was at its worst in Pakistan, Haider said: “Whoever gets a chance to flee, irrespective of religion and destination, is leaving. The minorities have been suffering more. A few years ago, the Christians were persecuted. I have dealt with their cases. The Sikhs were attacked three-four years back. Now it is mainly the Hindus. In 2012 alone, more than 45 cases have been reported so far.”

Rubbishing the argument that the cases of conversion by Hindu women were voluntary, he asked why most of the “abductions, rapes, conversions or forcible marriages” involved young, attractive girls. “Once I told a judge that this was nothing but the legitimation of forced sex.”

Because of his stand, Haider was questioned by the religious right-wing political party Jamaat-e-Islami for “opposing the spread of Islam”.

Among those to have crossed over into India is Mukesh Kumar of Mithi, Sindh, now staying in Hardwar. A businessman, he talked about extortion and forced conversion in Sindh and Balochistan. “We request the Indian government to grant us asylum. It is difficult to stay in Pakistan now primarily because we have young sisters and daughters. The perpetrators always target young girls. They kidnap a girl and demand ransom, which people pay, sometimes even through their nose. Till then, they keep the girl in their custody. When the girl returns, she has no choice but to agree to marry a Muslim because no Hindu will marry her. Hence comes the ‘wilful’ conversion.”

A Sikh from Sindh, Roshan Singh is currently living with relatives in Indore. He came to meet them and to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar and shrines in and around Indore. Reluctant to part with much information, Singh held on to the idea of returning to Pakistan after his 30-day visa expires later this month.

A local reporter in Attari working for the largest-selling Punjabi newspaper said the luggage some of these “pilgrims” bring along with them belies their reported intent to return. He saw utensils like paraat, chakla, belan (for kneading flour and making rotis) and foodgrain along with their suitcases, handbags and trunks. “Why would visitors or pilgrims bring such stuff?” he said.

A Hindu journalist with a reputed Pakistani newspaper, however, has a different version. “This is not an exodus as is being projected. People go on pilgrimage every year. I have been a couple of times to Hardwar. Individual cases of disgruntlement shouldn’t be taken for migration,” he insisted.

In the absence of concrete numbers, it’s difficult to say which side is right. Enquires at the Wagah-Attari joint checkpost and the Attari Railway Station yield a vague figure of 500 since July, with a margin of error of 50. On August 13 alone, a jatha of 266 Hindus crossed over on foot from Wagah. They all said that they were pilgrims.

No asylum policy

A large number of about 5,000 Hindus who have come to India from Pakistan in the past couple of years have chosen not to return.

They came to India on short-term visas, which allow them a stay for 30 days, but many apply to stay for longer.

India has no asylum policy for the Pakistan nationals, and as a temporary measure, the Home Ministry has been granting long-term visas, allowing them a stay of six months to a year.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari this month set up a three-member committee of parliamentarians to visit different parts of Sindh to reassure the minority community.

Monday, August 20

Police temporarily suspend mobile phone service in major Pakistan cities in ploy to thwart terrorist attacks

August 20, The U.K.) Telegraph:
Pakistan shuts down mobile phone networks overnight in major cities to prevent Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks as celebrations began for the biggest Muslim festival of the year

The draconian security measure was imposed on Sunday at 8:00 pm, at a time when millions ordinarily telephone friends and relatives with greetings for Eid al-Fitr. Networks were working again on Monday mid-morning.

Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan's two largest cities, and the troubled city of Quetta, in the insurgency-torn province of Baluchistan, were among the places where networks were suspended.

"We regret that it had to be suspended in some cities due to the risk of terrorist attacks," Rehman Malik, the country's interior minister, was quoted as saying by state TV. "We regret inconvenience caused to youths and children."

Terrorists were plotting to target "a few areas of Punjab province", of which Lahore is the capital, the minister said. Sindh province, where Karachi is the capital, and Baluchistan were also targets, he added.

Authorities feared that mobile telephones could be used to coordinate attacks or trigger a remote-controlled bomb.

The Eid festival marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan and, in Pakistan, is accompanied by a three-day public holiday, until Thursday.

The country has been on alert for Eid and security forces stepped up their presence in major cities as celebrations got underway.

Police arrest mentally disabled 11-year-old Christian for blasphemy: This is Pakistan

This is what foreign aid to Pakistan has been helping prop up.

BBC, August 19, 2012:
Pakistani police have arrested a mentally disabled 11-year-old girl after a mob accused her of desecrating pages of the Koran. The mob demanded the Christian girl's arrest and threatened to burn down Christian homes outside the capital Islamabad, local media say.

Officials said the girl could not properly answer police questions. Her parents have been taken into protective custody following threats and other Christian families have fled.  It is thought that the girl has Down's syndrome.

Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for National Harmony, told the BBC that the girl was known to have a mental disorder and that it seemed "unlikely she purposefully desecrated the Koran".

"From the reports I have seen, she was found carrying a waste bag which also had pages of the Koran," he said.

"This infuriated some local people and a large crowd gathered to demand action against her. The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under a lot of pressure from a very large crowd, who were threatening to burn down Christian homes."

He said more than 600 people have fled from the Christian neighbourhood.

Rights activists have urged Pakistan to reform its controversial blasphemy laws, under which a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Koran.

[Pundita note: Pakistan's blasphemy law calls for punishments ranging from fines to the death sentence. To my recollection the death sentence has never been carried out by the state, but it's been enforced in many cases by vigiliantes]

Many of those accused of blasphemy have been killed by violent mobs, while politicians who advocate a change in legislation have also been targeted.

Last year, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, was killed after calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.

His death came just two months after the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who also spoke out about the issue.

Sunday, August 19

File under Cyberwar: Pakistan and the 'Myanmar/Assam mass atrocities' and 'Post-Ramadan mass attacks on Indians' hoaxes

This situation is so goddamned tangled, but it serves as a horrific cautionary tale about manipulation of internet and mobile phone technologies.

As to the Pakistan angle. Not all the hoax images of atrocities against Muslims have been traced to Pakistan. And the originator of the hoax images hasn't yet been identified. But the Indian government has traced the internet rumors of planned attacks in India (in retaliation for images of widescale atrocities in Assam and Myanmar that were a hoax!) to Pakistan, and is lodging a formal protest with Pakistan's government.
To start somewhere near the beginning of this madness. From B Raman's August 18 analysis:

1. The post-Assam incidents in the rest of India had overt and covert dimensions.

2. The overt dimension related to the protests by groups of Muslims against the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar and Assam which were seen in the Azad Maidan of Mumbai on August 5, 2012, and in Lucknow on August 17, 2012.

These protests were triggered off by exaggerated accounts of the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar and Assam. These exaggerated accounts were disseminated with the help of morphed images through web sites of Islamic fundamentalist organisations, some of them located in Pakistan.

The fact that these organisations in Pakistan such as the Jamaat-e-Islami had them uploaded in their web sites does not necessarily mean they had produced them.

3. Some of the visuals uploaded in many web sites of different organisations had inter alia, morphed images of two incidents: the large number of dead bodies recovered after an earthquake in the Sichuan province of China some years ago, and public protests by the opponents of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok in 2009.

The appearance of similar or same morphed images in several websites across the region indicated a common source of the production of these visuals.

This common source has not so far been identified. All we have is the total number of websites in Pakistan that had uploaded these visuals.

These visuals definitely played a part in inflaming passions in Mumbai and Lucknow.

4. It was reported in sections of foreign media last week that President Thein Sein of Myanmar has brought these morphed images of unconnected incidents that had taken place outside Myanmar to the notice of the OIC delegation that was in Myanmar.

He reportedly told the OIC delegation that a false impression of a genocide of the Rohingya Muslims of the Rakhine State of Myanmar was sought to be created through the circulation and uploading of such images. We must get from Myanmar details of all the evidence that they have been able to collect in this regard.

5. Now, after the damage has been caused in Mumbai and Lucknow, we seem to have woken up and taken action for the blocking of the websites in Pakistan which had uploaded these provocative visuals. Was it not possible to notice them before and do it?

There's lots more to Raman's report, which he updated today, but now I want to turn to an AFP report, published about two hours ago:
India blames Pakistan for exodus of migrant workers

NEW DELHI — India has blamed Pakistan for posting threatening messages on the Internet that triggered a mass exodus from Bangalore and Mumbai by migrants fleeing to their homes in the northeast.

"Our agencies have discovered that the bulk of these messages have been uploaded on various websites in Pakistan," Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters on Saturday.

"This is a first of its kind and we believe that it is highly reprehensible."

The exodus was sparked by threats sent via mobile phones and the Internet that people from northeastern Assam state would be attacked by Muslims after the end of the holy month of Ramadan in reprisal for recent ethnic violence.

Local media reports estimated that over 35,000 people have fled the cities of Bangalore and Mumbai in recent days.

Extra trains were arranged to accommodate panicked students and workers.

Three weeks of clashes in remote Assam between members of the Bodo tribal community and Muslims have claimed at least 80 lives and displaced more than 400,000 people.

Singh said India would register a formal protest with Pakistan.

"We will raise this issue with Pakistan... I am certain that they will deny out of hand but our technical people are definite," he said.

India has banned bulk text messages temporarily to try to halt the spread of threats and incendiary rumours. Police in southern city of Bangalore have also arrested three people for spreading images and video clips across India.

The images of atrocities allegedly on Muslims sparked tension and people hailing from the northeast were attacked in western and southern cities.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said those who were fanning the rumours should be punished, saying "communal harmony" was at stake.
B Raman doesn't invoke the term cyberwar in his discussion. But if the one-two punch of hoax images of atrocities and hoax threats of large-scale attacks on Indians in retaliation for hoax images of atrocities doesn't qualify as cyberwar, I don't know what does.

Saturday, August 18

Ammonium nitrate made in two Pakistan factories is getting Americans killed in Afghanistan. What are U.S. and Pakistani regimes doing about this? They're talking about it

(Emphasis throughout excerpts from the following report is mine):
Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is being smuggled into Afghanistan for IEDs
By Greg Jaffe
August 18, 2012 - 1:41 PM EDT
The Washington Post

Seizures in Afghanistan of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the main explosive used in Taliban bombs, more than doubled in the first seven months of 2012 compared to the same period last year, said U.S. officials.

Despite the jump in seizures, senior U.S. officials said the number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, manufactured with the chemical compound has increased and is on a pace to surpass the record levels of 2011.

“We are sweeping ammonium nitrate fertilizer off the battlefield at historic rates,“ said a senior U.S. official who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. “But the IEDs are going up at historic rates too, and it is directly related. It is a supply issue.”

The homemade bombs, which are most often planted along roads and footpaths, are one of the leading killers of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The ammonium nitrate used as the explosive component is manufactured at two plants across the border in Pakistan, and officials said the manufacturer has resisted efforts to control the flow into Afghanistan.

Figures provided to The Washington Post show that U.S. and Afghan troops have seized about 480 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer this year, enough explosive material to manufacture 30,000 to 50,000 IEDs.

During the same period U.S. and Afghan troops have either triggered or discovered 16,600 of the bombs, a slight increase over 2011. In June alone, U.S. and Afghan forces encountered 1,900 IEDs, a record amount in a single month for the 11-year war.

“Unless we do something about the ammonium nitrate from Pakistan we are going to continue to face these numbers and threats,” said the senior U.S. official.

Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has conducted several hearings and investigations into the smuggling of ammonium nitrate from Pakistan into Afghanistan. He has pushed for a tougher stance against Pakistan for failing to curtail the trade and is troubled by the lack of progress.

“One year ago this month, I met in Islamabad with senior officials who committed to comprehensively regulate the component materials of IEDs, including calcium ammonium nitrate,” Casey told The Post. “Since then, there has been minimal progress. The administration will soon need to certify that Pakistan is addressing the IED threat in order to release millions in security assistance and, as of now, I cannot see how Pakistan will reach this threshold.”

The large number of IEDs uncovered this spring and summer, the traditional fighting season in Afghanistan, demonstrates that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has remained resilient even as U.S. forces have increased in recent years and the territory controlled by insurgent forces has been reduced.

U.S. troop levels are on pace to shrink to about 68,000 by the end of September from a peak of about 100,000 in 2011. Yet the massive increase in explosive material flowing in to Afghanistan could make it difficult for Afghan troops to hold territory seized from the enemy in recent years once the U.S. forces have left.

Further to the attack on Minhas air base, Dawn's Editorial Board notes Pakistan's army appears to have a militancy problem

The attack seems to have targeted early warning surveillance aircraft at the base. From B Raman's report on the attack:
6. The significance of the Minhas base as a Taliban target arises from two factors. Firstly, it is the base in which the entire PAF holdings of aircraft fitted with Airborne Early Warning Systems are located. In 2007, the PAF had ordered five Swedish-made SAAB 2000 aircraft, four of them fitted with Saab-Ericsson ERIEYE Airborne Early Warning system. The first of these fitted with Erieye was delivered to the PAF on April 3,2008, and the second in April last year. The PAF has also ordered from Sweden six ground receiving stations.

7. In addition, the PAF has reportedly ordered four Shaanxi ZDK-03 ‘Karakoram Eagle’ airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) aircraft from China, the first of which was delivered in November 2010.Thus, the PAF presently has two SAAB 2000 and one Chinese ZDK-03 planes fitted with airborne early warning systems.

8. According to reliable Pakistani sources, the main objective of the TTP raiders into the Minhas base was to locate and destroy these three planes fitted with airborne early warning systems. These sources say that the raiders managed to damage at least one of them.

9. The Minhas raid resembled the TTP raid into PNS Mehran, the headquarters of the Pakistani Naval Air Arm, located inside the Faisal base of the Pakistan Air Force at Karachi on the night of May 22, 2011, during which the TTP managed to destroy two of the three US-made Orion P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft of the Pakistan Navy. After having destroyed two of the maritime surveillance aircraft, the TTP has now tried to destroy the aircraft of the PAF fitted with Airborne early warning systems.

10. The second significance of Minhas as the target arises from the fact that the Sino-Pakistan aircraft manufacturing complex at Kamra is located next to the PAF base. At this complex, Chinese engineers are helping Pakistan in the assembly and ultimate manufacture of Chinese-made JF-17 aircraft.
Now I'll skip to paragraph 13 of Raman's analysis:
13. Sections of the Pakistani media have reported that advance intelligence regarding the likelihood of TTP attacks on PAF establishments around this period had been conveyed by the Ministry of the Interior under which the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the internal intelligence agency, functions. If true, despite this, the PAF has been taken by surprise. The repeated successful raids of the TTP into supposedly heavily-protected military establishments underlines once again the poor state of physical security in these establishments and the likely complicity of insiders with the TTP raiders.
Now to what might be the most important opinion piece on Pakistan's military in several years -- important because it wasn't written by one particular Pakistani editorialist or politician but by the Editorial Board of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest and most widely-read English-language daily newspaper.

In writing on August 17 about the attack on the Minhas base attack, the Editorial Board didn't bother with patriotic praise for the Pakistani military's handling of the attack and stayed away from the favorite Pakistani pastime of blaming outsiders. Instead, Dawn went straight to the heart of the matter, raised every question that needed to be raised, and made every point that needed to be made (emphasis throughout mine):
THE attack on the air force base in Kamra has raised disturbing — and disturbingly familiar — questions. That only one security personnel was killed as opposed to nine dead militants is only a small consolation: the first and foremost question is, how were militants able to yet again infiltrate a high-security armed services’ base and engage security forces inside for many hours?

Given that some kind of military operation in North Waziristan against at least the Pakistan-centric militants is in the offing, the possibility of preemptive strikes by the militants is high. Had the warning of a blowback only been made at the policy level without it filtering down to the security forces likely to be in the crosshairs of the militants?

Already, the very specific threat against PAF bases in Punjab by the TTP in revenge for the killing of a militant leader earlier this month had been picked up by the intelligence apparatus. Surely, then, at this stage of the fight against militancy, the security apparatus should be able to repulse attacks on at least critical sites with more efficiency, particularly with both the circumstantial and direct forewarning appearing to have been available.

As with previous attacks, the possibility of insider help to the militants in the assault on Kamra is also very high. From sympathisers of radical Islamist thought to direct supporters of militant groups, the army appears to have a militancy problem, the severity of which is hidden from the public because investigations and court martials are often carried out in secret.

The wider concern going forward ought to have the army’s screening procedures: how robust and effective is the surveillance and vetting of the armed forces’ personnel to prevent an incident before it happens? Clearly, as recent history suggests, not robust or effective enough — but what will it take for a more serious and sustained effort?

Finally, the question that has bedevilled the fight against militancy: when will the state, both the army and the political government, drive home the message to the Pakistani public that the war is real, it is against a radicalised fringe of Pakistan and that unless the war is fought with total commitment and purpose, the state and society itself will spiral towards irreversible disaster?

Gen Kayani’s Independence Day message [to cadets at a military academy] contained the first strands of that message but it has to be sustained and spread to the farthest corners of the country.

The ones shouting ‘this isn’t our war’ — many on the political right — need to be countered, firmly and unequivocally. Delay that battle any longer and the already manifold complications will grow yet more complicated.
It can't be put any clearer than that. Will Pakistan's rulers listen to Dawn? No. If they weren't scared straight by the attack on PNS Mehran, no internal pressure, and no appeals to reason, will make a dent.

However, the IMF can make a dent, and there are signs it's getting ready to do so. See IMF raises stakes for Pakistan loans, August 16, Asia Times Online.

Friday, August 17

By Jove, Hakimullah back from the dead again!

On September 5, 2009, Pakistan forces claimed they had captured a man who confessed to killing Hakimullah Mehsud. On October 1, 2009, The Daily Times reported that, according to diplomatic sources, US officials also doubted Hakimullah Mehsud was still alive. On October 4, 2009 Hakimullah met with a small group of reporters to end any speculation of his demise.

In the early hours of January 14, 2010, two missiles from a US drone struck a compound in the Shaktoi area, where it was believed that Hakimullah slept. Unnamed officials speculated that the militant leader was among the 18 killed in the attack ... On January 31, 2010, Pakistan state television reported that Mehsud was injured in the attack and died three days later of his injuries. He was allegedly buried in Orakzai Agency

In January 15, 2012 Pakistani intelligence officials reported that intercepted radio messages between militants indicated Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone airstrike on the 12th of that month.

(Above quotes from Wikipedia article on Hakimullah)

August 17, 2012, [Pakistani] Express Tribune:
ISLAMABAD: Preparations for a military push against hard-line militants in North Waziristan became more explicit on Thursday as a top American general arrived in Islamabad to hold talks with his counterpart.

Gen James N Mattis, Commander of United States’ Central Command (Centcom), arrived in Islamabad late Thursday evening and was expected to meet army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. Senior officials told The Express Tribune that the two generals would discuss how to eliminate their “common enemy” — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
As to whether there's anything in the report to indicate that Pakistan's military is to receive help from the U.S. in going after the Haqqani Network, um:
“The idea is not to go against Haqqani straight … we have suggested taking on Hakimullah and his group first and the Americans have endorsed the idea,” said a senior [Pak] military official requesting anonymity.
Do they know where Hakimullah is? Um:
According to military officials and TTP associates, Mehsud has been in deep hiding in Shawal Valley — a rugged forest region sprawling across North and South Waziristan— and might have lost control over his group.
Translation: They have no idea where he is.

Al Qaeda in Syria and the mass marketing of civilian Syrian massacres for Western TV

But observations made by German journalist Daniel Etter during a recent visit to rebel-controlled towns near the embattled city of Aleppo suggest that there is no mere "presence" of jihadists among the [Syrian] rebels: religiously-inspired mujahideen is what the rebels are. The real question is whether there is a presence of anything else.
Writing in Bild, longtime German war correspondent Jurgen Todenhofer accused the [Syrian] rebels of "deliberately killing civilians and then presenting them as victims of the government". He described this "massacre-marketing strategy" as being "among the most disgusting things that I have ever experienced in an armed conflict".

The above quotes are from two 'must-read' reports by journalist John Rosenthal (Transatlantic Intelligencer) on al Qaeda's presence in Syria. (See below.) Regarding the term "massacre-marketing strategy" that Jurgen Todenhofer coined -- yes; the Syrian rebellion has been a carefully marketed stage show. Just as the phony revolution in Cairo was marketed to Western audiences through saturation cable TV coverage (notably CNN and al Jazeera English), the revolution in Syria has been quite literally marketed to the same audiences. Unlike the Cairo caper, however, the Syrian one marketed massacres.

How was this done? Recently a young blogger at TIME, clearly unaware of the appalling implications, proudly told a CNN anchor that for many months tech-savvy Westerners had been getting into Syria to show Syrians protesting the Assad regime how to smuggle video footage of the regime's brutality past its censors and get the footage to the Western media. Thus, the skyrocketing number of smuggled videos aired on American TV -- and the steadily increasing atrocities shown in the videos.

This doesn't mean that every smuggled video that al Jazeera, CNN or FNC and other TV outlets aired for American audiences was staged. It does mean that for players whose only aim from the start was to overthrow Assad, it was dangling too much temptation to give them a pipeline to a mass audience in the West for footage of atrocities against Syrian civilians. All they had to do, once the pipeline was set up, was keep cranking out videos of atrocities and eventually, as happened in Libya, NATO would topple Assad for them on humanitarian grounds.

As to how American television news producers can sleep at night, now that events are forcing them to realize they've been willing patsies in a gruesome made-for-TV movie -- I don't know. As to how long democracy can endure if hi-tech advances in communications keep increasing the ways that mass media can be manipulated -- again, I don't know.

Here are excerpts from the two reports:

July 24, 2012
German intelligence: al-Qaeda all over Syria
By John Rosenthal
Asia Times Online

German intelligence estimates that "around 90" terror attacks that "can be attributed to organizations that are close to al-Qaeda or jihadist groups" were carried out in Syria between the end of December and the beginning of July, as reported by the German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). This was revealed by the German government in a response to a parliamentary question.

In response to the same question, the German government admitted that it had received several reports from the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, on the May 25 massacre in the Syrian town of Houla. But it noted that the content of these reports was to remain classified "by reason of national interest", Like many other Western governments, Germany expelled Syria's ambassador in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, holding the Syrian government responsible for the violence.

Meanwhile, at least three major German newspapers - Die Welt, the FAZ, and the mass-market tabloid Bild - have published reports attributing responsibility for the massacre to anti-government rebel forces or treating this as the most probable scenario.

Writing in Bild, longtime German war correspondent Jurgen Todenhofer accused the rebels of "deliberately killing civilians and then presenting them as victims of the government". He described this "massacre-marketing strategy" as being "among the most disgusting things that I have ever experienced in an armed conflict".
August 14, 2012
Al-Qaeda flags fly over rebel-held SyriaBy John Rosenthal
Asia Times Online

There has recently been a small stir in the American media, as media organizations from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Associated Press have finally gotten around to acknowledging a "presence" of al-Qaeda and like-minded jihadist groups among the Syrian rebel forces seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

It is difficult to see what the cause of the excitement is. After all, such a presence has been blindingly obvious for many months: whether as a result of the dozens of suicide attacks that have plagued Syria or the numerous videos that have emerged showing rebel forces or supporters proudly displaying the distinctive black flag of al-Qaeda.

But observations made by German journalist Daniel Etter during a recent visit to rebel-controlled towns near the embattled city of Aleppo suggest that there is no mere "presence" of jihadists among the rebels: religiously-inspired mujahideen is what the rebels are. The real question is whether there is a presence of anything else. Etter's report, which appeared in the leading German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also provides evidence that rebel authorities are subjecting civilians to arbitrary detention and torture and summarily executing captured members of the regular Syrian armed forces.
In the neighboring town of Azaz, Etter encountered a less didactic form of Islamism: namely, in the person of rebel commander Abu Anas. Etter describes meeting Abu Anas in his office: a Koran and a "silver sword" were lying on his desk and a black flag hung over it. An Arabic inscription on the flag proclaimed, 'There is no God but God. Mohammed is his Prophet" "It is the flag that al-Qaeda also used," Etter remarks.

Seemingly taking his cue from Western supporters - or perhaps indeed advisors - Abu Anas emphasized that the black flag was also used before al-Qaeda. But if it is the distinctive black flag with the circular white "seal of Mohammed" in the middle, there appears to be no evidence that this is the case.

This is the flag made famous by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq: notably, as a result of the group's notoriously harrowing videos documenting the executions of captured Iraqi security personnel and American and other hostages. Indeed, even Zarqawi's group went through various versions of its flag before settling on the version that has since become the standard banner of al-Qaeda affiliates around the world.

In any case, it is not only the choice of flag that appears to have been inspired by al-Qaeda in Iraq. The rebel leader tells Etter that his forces captured Syrian government troops in the battle for Azaz. Asked what became of the government soldiers, Abu Anas responds, "We could not take care of them. Most of them are dead."

"Earlier," Etter explains, "when Abu Anas was not yet in the room, a smiling subordinate of his showed with gestures how they bound prisoners and shot them."

Thursday, August 16

Al Qaeda isn't going away, it's metastasizing

I've omitted much detail from the following August 14 Long War Journal report on a new jihadist group; I quote just enough to underscore that any wonk or U.S. government official or mouthpiece who claims that al Qaeda is no longer a serious threat is either poorly informed or blowing smoke:
'Brigades of Osama bin Laden' forms in the West Bank
By Bill Roggio

A new jihadist group calling itself the Brigades of Osama bin Laden has announced its formation, in a statement that was recently released on terrorist-linked web forums.
The Brigades of Osama bin Laden said its focus is on Jerusalem and it was formed to "support the one religion [Islam] under the pure banner of righteousness that is not besmirched by any factional or sectarian or secular mark." It did not overtly threaten to attack Israel or the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank.
Across the border in the Egyptian Sinai, four jihadist groups -- al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula and its military arm, Ansar al Jihad, the Mujahideen Shura Council, and Jund al Sharia -- have all emerged since the Arab Spring. The terror groups have conducted attacks against Egyptian forces and a pipeline transporting natural gas to Israel. Just last week, one of these groups, likely with the help of one of the Gaza-based jihadist groups, attacked an Egyptian military base, killed 16 soldiers and seized two armored personnel carriers, and then attacked the Israeli border. One of the two APCs made it one mile inside Israeli territory before being destroyed by the Israeli Air Force. (See LWJ report, Global jihadists' overrun Egyptian Army outpost on Israeli border)

Militants attack major Pakistan air base; 7 attackers, 1 soldier killed (UPDATED)


According to B. Raman, the aeronautical complex mentioned in the Washington Post report I quoted, below, is adjacent to the Minhas base. Not, as the Post reported, housed in the base. Way to go, Washington Post.
From Washington Post , July 16 12:04 EDT report on the attack:
The Minhas base, located in the town of Kamra, houses the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, which is the manufacturing division of the air force. It builds Mirage fighter planes and, with the Chinese support, the JF-17 fighter jets.
From Reuters, August 16, 12:01 EDT:
Militants attack major Pakistan air base; 8 killed
By Qasim Nauman

KAMRA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Islamist militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fought their way into one of Pakistan's largest air bases on Thursday, the air force said, in a brazen challenge to the nuclear-armed country's powerful military.

Only one aircraft was damaged, an air force spokesman said, adding that the Minhas air base at Kamra, in central Punjab province, did not house nuclear weapons. "No air base is a nuclear air base in Pakistan," he said.

A gunbattle raged for hours after the attack started. Commandos were called in to reinforce and police armored personnel carriers could be seen heading into the base.

Seven militants and one soldier were killed, the spokesman said.

The overnight assault cast doubts over official assertions that military operations had severely weakened militants waging a violent campaign to topple the U.S.-backed government and impose strict Islamic rule.

Security forces opened fire on militants strapped with suicide bombing vests as they approached aircraft hangars, prompting other militants to fire rocket-propelled grenades from outside the base's walls, said the air force spokesman.

Base commander Air Commodore Muhammad Azam, who led the operation against the attackers, was wounded, but is in stable condition, said the spokesman.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was beaten back but a Reuters reporter who reached Kamra in the morning did not hear any gunfire.

"Security personnel are now in the process of scanning the entire area to check for the presence of any other miscreant," said the spokesman.

Minhas, 75 km (45 miles) northeast of Islamabad, is adjacent to the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, a major air force research and development centre. Pakistan manufactures JF-17 fighter planes, jointly developed with China, at the site.

Suicide bombers launched attacks near the base and the aeronautical complex in 2007 and 2009, but news reports said defenses were not breached.

It was not immediately clear how the attackers managed to enter the sprawling base this time. Although the attack took place at about 2 a.m. (2100 GMT Wednesday), it is likely many of the soldiers on the base were awake for prayers or breakfast during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Faheemullah Khan, a civilian who lives near the base, said he was at a mosque praying when he heard gunfire and explosions which he thought were military exercises.

"Then we came to a restaurant, which is next to the main entrance to the base, and heard a louder explosion," he said.

"We saw six police vans rush in, and realized something was wrong."

Several squadrons of fighters and surveillance planes are believed to be based at Minhas.

"One body of a suicide bomber strapped with explosives has been found close to the impact area," said an air force statement.

Pakistan's Taliban movement has staged a number of high-profile attacks over the past few years, including one on army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009.

Last year, six Taliban gunmen attacked a naval base in Pakistan's biggest city Karachi to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. At least 10 military personnel were killed and 20 wounded in the 16-hour assault.

Those attacks, and the latest one, are embarrassing for Pakistan's military, which has ruled the country for more than half of its 65-year history and is seen as the most efficient state institution.

The Taliban, which is close to al Qaeda, is blamed for many of the suicide bombings across Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally.

Pakistan's military, one of the biggest in the world, has staged several offensives against Taliban strongholds in the unruly tribal areas near the border with Afghanistan.

But the operations have failed to break the back of the Taliban. Major suicide bombings have eased considerably over the past year but that could be due to a tactical shift and not pressure from the military.

(Additional reporting by Sheree Sardar in ISLAMABAD and Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Tuesday, August 14

The Haqqani Network and Washington: "No choice" thinking about Pakistan continues to get Americans killed

Notice something odd about the wording in the last paragraph of this report?
Obama Signs Law On Haqqani Network
August 13, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law the Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act of 2012. Under the law, which Obama signed on August 10, the secretary of state will have one month to report on whether the Haqqani Network should be categorized as a terrorist organization.

The Haqqani Network, which operates on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, has been accused of carrying out numerous attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

The United States has already applied sanctions to some key Haqqani Network leaders, but has so far resisted designating the entire network as a foreign terrorist organization, despite calls from both houses of the U.S. Congress to do so.
Actually, there are two odd things: Describing the Haqqanis' murder of American troops as "attacks on U.S. interests," and evading mention of the U.S. Department of State by using the term "the United States" when alluding to resistance to designating the Haqqani Network a foreign terrorist organization.

Such oddities abound in American news reports that pertain to the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Why? Because the American news media, and the American government and its military, are unwilling to squarely confront the fact that U.S. policy toward Pakistan has consistently encouraged Pakistan's military to support the killing of Americans in Afghanistan.

Why? Why are they so unwilling to confront the fact? Because the American government wants things from Pakistan's government, and it considers these things to be of higher value than the lives of American soldiers.

When called out on this, they say they have no choice, and ask, 'What would have us do? Invade Pakistan?' Before invasion, why not try simpler means to convey that they find the killing of American troops intolerable? Means such as refusing dinner invitations from Pakistani dignitaries, not helping U.S. firms do business in Pakistan, not praising Pakistan's military for its sacrifices, not expressing sympathy for Pakistan's problems, and so on.

There are many measures short of invasion that the White House, Congress, State Department, and Pentagon could take to convey to Pakistan's government that it won't enable the killing of American troops. And because such measures aren't taken or consistently applied, Pakistan's military has contempt for the American government and its military.

One can't blame them for the contempt. Pakistan's military and civilian government would never give aid to another military it knew was killing Pakistani troops. It wouldn't accept dinner invitations from such a military or the country's civilian regime. It wouldn't do all the other things that the U.S. government does to convey that stopping the unnecessary killings of Americans is not the top priority.

In July the New York Times Editorial Board penned a stinging rebuke of Pakistan ( Crippled, Chaotic Pakistan) but came up with this rationalization:
Some in Congress want to designate the Haqqanis as a terrorist organization. That would be unwise because such a move could lead to Pakistan’s being designated a terrorist state subject to sanctions and make cooperation even harder. The United States has no choice but to try to work with Pakistan, including the army, when it can.
If you tell me that's typical of the lefty Times -- it's also the rationalization the State Department has used to stave off designating the Haqqanis a terrorist network.

And a few months ago the hawkish Republican John Bolton expressed the same sentiments on FNC's Greta Van Susteren show. In one breath he decried the Pakistani government's complicity in the killing of American troops; in the next breath he said the U.S. had no choice but to continue U.S. aid to the country because "we" don't want Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to fall into the hands of terrorists.

But Bolton and his straw man are standing in a long line of American enablers. The only rationalization I've not yet heard for the U.S. continuing to signal to Pakistan that it tolerates the killing of American troops is, 'The dog ate my notes.'

Monday, August 13

Meet the new U.S. defense policy. Same as the old policy.

At first glance it seems that the government of the United States has launched a bold new era in defense policy, the Light Footprint era, which Zenpundit Mark Safranski outlined in his July 8, 2011 essay, The Tip of a Shadowy Spear:
The shift that is happening in Afghanistan, partly by fiscal necessity, is going to become our default defense paradigm for at least the 2010′s. Highly mobile, extremely fast, networked, partially covert, backed by lethal high-tech firepower.
As to how the partially covert operations would shake out, Mark explained that the tip of the shadowy spear the U.S. military was fashioning -- to hurl at shadowy terrorist and transnational criminal networks around the globe -- was U.S. special forces. He then enumerated the worst drawbacks of heavy reliance on special forces, chief of which is that United States doesn't have enough special forces to handle the myriad simultaneous 'light footprint' military operations it would take to keep the bad guys at bay.

And if special forces were the tip of the spear, my question was whether drone technology was supposed to be the shadowy shaft. Contraptions firing missiles from the sky were not my idea of proper pussyfooting around. Little more than a year later Tom Dispatch, which I don't think has seen a U.S. military operation since the Civil War it doesn't consider imperialist, supplied the answer in considerable detail.  The shaft is being made from a vast proxy army drawn largely from the world's poorest nations and trained by guess who. In his August 9 essay, Washington Puts Its Money on Proxy War: The Election Year Outsourcing that No One's Talking About, Tom Dispatch's Nick Turse explains:
While the United States is currently engaged in just one outright proxy war, backing a multi-nation African force to battle Islamist militants in Somalia, it’s laying the groundwork for the extensive use of surrogate forces in the future, training “native” troops to carry out missions -- up to and including outright warfare. With this in mind and under the auspices of the Pentagon and the State Department, U.S. military personnel now take part in near-constant joint exercises and training missions around the world aimed at fostering alliances, building coalitions, and whipping surrogate forces into shape to support U.S. national security objectives.

While using slightly different methods in different regions, the basic strategy is a global one in which the U.S. will train, equip, and advise indigenous forces -- generally from poor, underdeveloped nations -- to do the fighting (and dying) it doesn’t want to do. In the process, as small an American force as possible, including special forces operatives and air support, will be brought to bear to aid those surrogates.
And by June of this year Nick had caught up with the fleet-footed Mark Safranski with his essay, The New Obama Doctrine, A Six-Point Plan for Global War: Special Ops, Drones, Spy Games, Civilian Soldiers, Proxy Fighters, and Cyber Warfare

So, despite their doctrinal differences (Tom Dispatch on the anti-war Left, Zenpundit on the hawkish Right) and shared concerns about the unintended consequences of the Light Footprint approach, two shrewd observers of the military scene are in agreement that a new era in U.S. defense policy is well underway.

Enter M K Bhadrakumar, a retired Indian Career Diplomat of such vast experience he's forgotten more about the machinations of governments than today's crop of diplomats will ever learn. In his July 20 column for Asia Times Online, US, Pakistan eye a new cold war, I think the ambassador misreads the recent agreement between the USA and Pakistan on transport of lethal NATO materiel through Pakistan (unless he knows something about the agreement that you and I and the rest of the general public don't) but then settles into explaining that in "a dramatic shift of fortunes, Pakistan is regaining its status as a key ally of the US in regional security:"
In overall terms, Washington's "pivot to Asia" strategy provides the backdrop for the restoration of the US' security and military ties with Pakistan. Getting Pakistan on board is an imperative need for the US if its efforts to outflank China in the west are to gain traction.

Looking ahead, Pakistan is also the key to the US' New Silk Road initiative. Meanwhile, Washington sees the tactical advantages in keeping Pakistan on its side at a time of spiraling tensions in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia has also come into the picture, proposing that it will help Pakistan to meet its energy crisis provided Islamabad cuts back on ties with Tehran. This offer has been held out at the level of the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who will himself meet the visiting new Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in Jeddah on Monday. The new Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz is also expected to visit Pakistan.

Abdullah is virtually dusting off a US-Saudi-Pakistan trilateral security matrix that dates back to the Cold War era.
The rest of the writing is mostly taken up with Mr Bhadrakumar's ruminations on how India's government feels about being folded into America's Asia Pivot. So he doesn't rake up embarrassing history; namely, that about 95 percent of the global terrorist threat could have been neutralized after 9/11 if the United States had bombed Pakistan and Saudi Arabia back into the stone age, and that if a few stray bombs had fallen on London this would have further reduced the threat by a couple percentage points.

Nor does he dwell on the unpleasant present, which finds the U.S. government still covering for Pakistan's military, which has been supporting groups that kill American troops in Afghanistan.

And he doesn't mention that if the USA is so intent on taking down global Islamic terrorism it has a strange way of going about it, given that one can't find a more anti-Islamic terrorism government than China's, unless it's Russia's -- the other country in the cross-hairs of America's Asia Pivot. 

But Mr Bhadrakumar's carefully limited discussion is still enough to convey that when one looks past the new-fangled widgets and geegaws of the Light Footprint era and its reliance on proxy armies and special forces, one hand is fighting the other hand, which is another way of describing NATO's protracted cold war against the Soviet Union.

In the post-WW 2 era, the United States and its NATO allies were intent on quickly rebuilding Western Europe's industrial base, which meant Western Europe relied heavily on Soviet energy supplies, which provided Russia with the wherewithal to build a nuclear arsenal and stave off collapse of the Soviet Union for decades.

So if you switch out yesterday's bad guys for today's, you're looking at the same old U.S. Cold War defense policy, gussied up with the weapons and communications technologies of this era. The basis of the policy isn't victory over Islamic terrorism, any more than victory over the Soviets was the objective of the U.S.-led Cold War. 

What, then, is the government of United States really aiming at?  I think the answer was alluded to by ISAF/U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Commander General John R. Allen when he gave a pep talk earlier this year to a gathering of grim-faced American soldiers in Afghanistan. This was right after the first wave of murders of U.S. soldiers, done ostensibly in retaliation for the burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers at Bagram Airfield on February 20 -- an incident, by the way, that an unnamed "Western" official close to the joint Afghan-U.S. investigation of the incident insisted on March 3 to the Associated Press -- insisted, mind you -- never actually happened, in contradiction to public assertions by American officials that a few Korans had been accidentally burned before the book-burning operation was halted.

Gen. Allen, by all accounts a fine warrior who never received (at least not in public) the credit he deserved for his key role in turning around the situation in Iraq, exhorted the soldiers to practice restraint in the face of severe provocation.  To inspire stiff upper lips, Gen. Allen enjoined the troops to keep in mind that the mission in Afghanistan represented a coalition of forty-four countries -- his emphasis, not mine.

The forty-four countries meme was brought up by others in the U.S. military and by Obama administration officials in the run-up to the NATO summit in Chicago in May, as if the sheer number of countries that the U.S. had gathered and coordinated under the ISAF banner represented the major victory in the Afghan War.

Coalition-building had been an aim of U.S. defense policy even before World War Two but it became the overriding aim after the war ended. It's not hard to see why.  Much has been made of the number of American combat deaths -- 47,424 -- in the Vietnam War, which dragged on for 19 years.  In little more than five weeks, 19,246 Americans were killed in combat during just one battle -- the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945).  That's not including the missing in action and wounded, and it says nothing about the British casualties and casualties on the German side of the battle. 

When one reviews all the casualty figures in the second world war, at some point the mind refuses to process what it's reading.  And yet those horrific numbers are like nothing, next to what the death count would have been if the British Empire had collapsed with great suddenness, and a victorious Third Reich and Imperial Japan had dealt with the anarchy that would have followed in countries that for generations had only known British-imposed order.  

The Nazi war machine had perfected a quick and antiseptic method for killing large numbers of prisoners and disposing of the bodies; no more messy firing squads and tell-tale mass graves.  Nick Turse wrote about the U.S. using poor countries as proxies; many of those countries wouldn't be in existence today if the Axis powers had been victorious. There wouldn't have been enough left of the native populations to maintain national borders. Because of this I'm always surprised when I hear certain Christians say that Armageddon is on the way.  Armageddon has come and gone. In its wake the American government determined that nothing like the second world war would ever happen again. 

So the accusations leveled at the United States about its military-industrial complex, its expansionism and support of dictators -- all these are like fleas on the back of an elephant when compared to the great American project to so closely engage the countries of the world with each other that they can never get enough elbow room to start World War Three.  The large multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, World Bank and IMF, and the hosts of regional alliances, including the European Union, were American inventions or inspired by the examples of American-led multilateralism and strongly encouraged by the American government. 

The American project was founded on the traumatic experience of the two world wars, which taken together pounded home the point that victory in an armed conflict doesn't necessarily create a lasting peace and can lead to a worse war than the one that started the ball rolling. However, there are problems with a defense policy that's a reaction to traumatic experiences, problems that can start small and become increasingly large over time.  A big problem is that once the policy gets institutionalized and passed from generation to generation, its rationale is no longer clearly evident to those who execute and fund it.  

Put another way, President Obama doesn't sit down to breakfast in a room where the walls are plastered with lists of U.S. casualties in World War Two battles and maps of the battles.  The same goes for the rest of official Washington and probably the majority of American military planners and for the American citizenry at large. Yet once a government loses the thread of a policy, once how it all began starts to fade from daily thought, decisions based on the policy can drift far from its original intention.  A kind of mental blindness sets in, as following the policy becomes rote.

The problem multiplies when it converges with a very changed world. The U.S. project has been remarkably successful at staving off major wars. But just because of the success, there's now a situation not unlike the one that leads to uncontrollable wildfires when a municipality won't do aggressive controlled burns to thin forests and keep brush under control.  Someone throws a lit match during the dry season and the next thing, half a county's on fire. 

I think that currently there are about 192 nations, a figure which is surely much larger than when the U.N. was established. And in that era the British and Soviet empires were still imposing some semblance of order on vast swaths of the world.  Once the order vanished and everyone and his uncle wanted his own country and his own way of doing things, the clever American peacekeeping scheme to entangle the fates of nations began to resemble the tale of Mother Hubbard, who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do.

Yet these aren't kids we're trying to shoehorn into one big family. And the role of Mother Hubbard isn't a wise one for a superpower.