The increasing desperation in the Middle East

The news reports are preoccupied with the many families fleeing the Middle East — mostly Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — desperately trying to get into Europe, as if Europe were a safe haven.  As is becoming evident, after so many days and so much expense in order to make the journey, they are being greeted by reluctance if not open hostility.  Europe is in no way ready to receive them. But it is evident that these peoples — Muslims, Christians, people of all kinds and of all walks of life — are desperately voting with their feet.

In a sense this pattern of migration is not new.  The western world has benefited for many years by the flight of the middle classes, the professional and educated elements of these societies.  Those folks have been fleeing the troubled parts of Asia and Africa for years.  What is new here is that these refugees are from all levels of society:  the poor, the weak, the sick, the broken.  Everyone that has the means to flee seems to be fleeing.

So what drives them out of their homes, their whole social worlds?  Here is a note I received from a friend from one of those countries.

Tragedy and pain have found their way into my every organ today. What has turned my world upside down is that I have no solution to the problems I see. I have become mute. There’s too much suffering — way beyond my comprehension. Why God punishes its people when they are innocent? It’s on these trying days that we’d like to doubt God’s existence, His glory, His powers. But as I probe into the territory of the divine, it’s then that I see Him most vividly. Suffering and pain — contrary to the conventional belief — can make us a whole lot closer to the Almighty. I’m a fighter. Even though I despise the world and all its designs sometimes, I am grateful for all that has been bestowed upon me; and I feel lucky to be alive, fully functional — with all my cognitive faculties intact. In the midst of darkness, there’s always light. And that’s why I must remain sanguine and continue to stay in the fight and forge ahead.

At some point in the course of events we can come to the point when desperation leads us, as he says, to appeal to and seek help in the notion that there is a God who is above it all, who is well aware of the messy world that we live in, and is the only hope for any sense to be made in the human condition.  If there is no judgment, if there is nothing to look for beyond this life, if there is no mercy, then there is no hope.  It’s not good enough to rail at God.  At some point we have to throw ourselves on the mercy of One who is bigger than the world as we know it and has, as generations before us have desired, a bigger plan.

In the mean time, “In the midst of darkness” we seek the light, and remain sanguine, and continue the fight, and forge ahead.

[See the following site for a helpful analysis of what has caused the movement to flee Syria: Click here]



Fahim Masoud on the overwhelming need in Afghanistan

Fahim Masoud has written on Afghanistan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese affairs has paid a visit home to see his family in Herat.  He has been sharing his experiences and observations with us.  Here is the latest report:

It happens every time I come to Afghanistan. During my first days I am shocked by the amount of pain and poverty I see. During my first days I go out of my way to give out money to the poor and to the people on the streets. Even though it relieves me to know that I just gave someone money to buy himself/herself a dinner, I become down as soon as I realize how temporary the fix to the problem of poverty is. You can’t keep giving these people fish — without teaching them how to fish, any aid is useless. People in Afghanistan have been given a lot of fish in the last 15 years, but they were never given lessons on how to fish. That’s why we have so much pain and poverty in this country today.

Foreigners gave Afghans billions of dollars in aid, but the majority of that money left Afghanistan for foreign banks before they arrived to Afghanistan. Corrupt leaders and politicians stole every dollar they could get their hands on and deposited it into their foreign banks. I think had the world community spent the money on building factories and industries in Afghanistan, today the people of Afghanistan would have been much better off in every way.

Before I proceed, please allow me to say what I mean by normalization of pain. Earlier I said that the amount of pain and poverty on display in this country shock me. However, after a few days of being here, I’m no longer shocked. In fact, because I see so much misery, it no longer bothers me. I no longer go out of my way to help out the poor. I become de-sensitized. I feel like I no longer have warm feelings toward my fellow human beings. Pain can become normalized. Pain can be processed like all other things and feel like it’s not there when it’s right in front of you. Pain — even though it’s very visible — can become very invisible.

Everyday I spent hours with people from all walks of life. These people are teachers, students, intellectuals, and laborers. Even though these people are so different in their occupations, they are very similar in their forecast of how the affairs will turn out for Afghanistan. They know that Afghanistan has traveled beyond the point of being fixed.

Some say that a lot of good things have happened in Afghanistan — an idea that bears some truth. What they mean is that Afghans shouldn’t forget where they came from. They compare the current situation to the times of the Taliban. Then Afghans were stripped of every basic right there was. Now, they are endowed with some rights; it’s not perfect but in comparison to the the Taliban times, it is much better. The same argument is held when it comes to the sphere of economics. The majority of Afghans are much more better off. Yes, there’s a lot of poverty but poverty is universal. People who hold this line of argument say that Afghanistan will get better. We, the Afghans, need to be patient because this situation of terror and panic cannot last for too long.

So many issues and so much poverty in this country that it breaks my heart to be witness to so much misery in this country.

We have stress and misery everywhere, but the kind that is manifested in this country is beyond comprehension. One of the guards — at a school that I frequent and utilize their wifi services — works for $100 a month day and night. The interesting thing is that he feels very lucky to be working at this job.

When I see so much pain and poverty, I feel extremely lucky to be a citizen of America. We have our stresses and pains in that world too, but at least we are entitled to rights and have options. Not in this country. The status of women is especially appalling. People treat their women worse than property. At least there are people in this world who take care of their properties but in Afghanistan there are some people who have no respect for women. I have heard some “intellectuals” say: zan che ast ka aql-ash bashad — what is a woman for her wisdom to be of any value? I feel sorry for so many people in this country.

What’s amazing is that some very patriotic Afghans who would have never imagined leaving Afghanistan are now thinking of leaving this country. There’s a doctor who’s a close relative of ours. He’s considered the best heart doctor in this country. This man has many good skills — skills and an education that makes him about $10,000 a month in Afghanistan now. But he’s too decent of a human being to think about money. This man with so much money and so much prestige is now leaving Afghanistan. Another friend of mine who knows this doctor said: I thought he would never leave this country. Now that he leaves, I realize how dire our situation has become.

This paragraph will intrude on the coherence of my other paragraphs, as it doesn’t bear relevance to them. The other day I was in a busy part of the city of Herat. All of a sudden I saw a number of police vehicles cruising through the crowded streets in an extremely unprofessional way. The convoy of the police cars were still on the streets when people on my right and left began to curse them. Such a scenario — people holding feelings of disgust and anguish toward their government and security officials — seems to be prevalent throughout the city of Herat and Afghanistan in general.

The people of Afghanistan have lost all their faith and confidence in their government. A government that is losing the fight against the insurgents is not because it doesn’t have enough security forces capable of doing the fight, but because it doesn’t have the backing of its own people. Today, a BBC article says that only 20 percent of the Afghan people approve of Ghani’s government. That’s the lowest of any other government I know around the world. Another recent report, which was prepared by Tolo TV, claims that corruption has gone up under the Unity Government. These are not good signs. Ominous dark clouds are gathering over the skies of Afghanistan. I’m afraid no sun can smash these clouds and make them go away . . .

I’ll be back with more to say.

Fahim Masoud: The view of the taxi driver

I take taxis or rickshaws everywhere in Herat. Most of the times I avoid taxis — instead I take rickshaws because I can save some money and give it to the poor. I say this not to show off my virtues. But to tell you that people here are very desperate and any amount of money can help mitigate their hunger.

Today, on my way to the doctor I took a taxi because I was in a hurry. The cab driver looked really interesting — his physical stature and form looked like an elite soldier, which prompted me to start a conversation and ask him: how is business. He said it was alright — not as good as it used to be only to finish his sentence with saying that there’s not “maza” in anything anymore. Maza means taste but in the vernacular sometimes people say that business maza nadara which means business is not too good.

The long taxi drive and the rush hour spearheaded our conversation into political issues. In a country like Afghanistan, everything and everyone is political. Necessities and pressing social and economic matters have made everyone political. To be political is to be bedar (awake) in this country. So no matter who you meet the issue that they want to engage in talking to you about is politics.

We, the driver and I, came across a number of traffic cops — and his disgust for them became obvious immediately.He talked about this morning and that he was pulled over by a cop for having run through a red light. While he was being questioned as to why he committed this traffic violation, an important car which meant it belonged to some high ranking commander or wali (governor) did the same thing as this cab driver had done. Instead of pulling over this traffic violator, and to the taxi driver’s surprise, this cop and his colleagues didn’t even bother going after this important car.

In Afghanistan, there are some laws and regulations — but only for the poor. The rich and the governing class can get away with anything and everything. Go murder someone, but if you have money, you will walk away Scott free. These are things that have turned people away from the government — to the point that some want to join ISIS or the Taliban in order to be free of this constant oppression and subjugation.

The taxi driver continued to register his frustration with the government. He said this current government is over. It’s been six months, he said, since its employees have been paid. He said every public official knows that this government cannot work and that its doomed to collapse. But he said they are here to enrich themselves and walk away. It’s amazing how much corruption there’s in the government of Afghanistan.

You cannot find one government office — one office that’s clean. The high degree of corruption combined with the regular abuse of the people by the security officials are driving the people into the arms of the insurgents.

Today is the 19th of August. It’s the day Afghans claim to have gotten their independence from the British. A number of celebrations are underway. For example, at the stadium of Herat there will be a large number of people talking and celebrating their independence. Around the city there are small gatherings in which a mullah or a prominent leader talks about Afghanistan’s heroic history and how Afghans have always maintained their independence.

As my taxi was making a turn toward our destination we heard a bunch of people clapping to the words of whoever was speaking to them. The driver started laughing out loud. He said I don’t know what our officials and politicians are thinking. He said either they are mad or we are mad. He interrupted himself right away and said: I know we, the Afghans, are not mad. These politicians aren’t mad either. They are just too stupid celebrating an independence that doesn’t mean anything because Afghanistan is still occupied and has become a rentier state. How can we claim independence, he said, when we are so dependent on foreign governments? Independence must mean not only political independence but also economic independence.

As we got closer to my drop-off spot, the driver said: I’m so tired of the government that sometimes I’m tempted to join ISIS in Afghanistan. Then before stating his last sentence, he looked at me to reveal the seriousness of his tone to me, he said: “sometimes I am tempted to join ISIS so I can kill as many officials as I can. It pays $500 a month. What can be worse than that?”

PS: a bomb went off a couple of hours here in Herat. About half a mile from our house.

A Critical Note from Afghanistan July 2015

The following is a note from Fahim Masoud, who is visiting his family in Herat, Afghanistan.  I present it here as received.  This is Mr Masoud’s sincere appraisal of the situation.  He is deeply discouraged about the prospects.  This is significant because in the past he has held high hopes for the future of his country.  Fahim is a well informed commentator on affairs in Afghanistan and Central Asian affairs, which makes his dark estimation of the situation all the more sobering.  RLC

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the first female Afghan pilot who has been getting a lot of recognition from around the world. Though now her life is at risk. She’s getting all kinds of threats from the Taliban and her own relatives. This is one example showing how terrible the security situation is in Afghanistan.

This will break your heart, but I believe (BELIEVE) there’s no future for Afghanistan. There’s no order in this country. The people of Afghanistan have devolved into a soul-less bunch. They have no compassion. No understanding of one another. They are too intolerant and cannot accept each other’s differences. This is what the war has done to them. This is what unemployment and lack of resources are doing to them. Ethnic divisions have become much more obvious and pronounced.

Leaders from all around the country voice their support of one ethnic group over another vociferously. Tonight I’m at a gathering in which a bunch of people from a prominent village in Herat are here. They are talking about an “arbab” or village leader chosen by the people of the village. It’s been months since this village is without an arbab yet no one has been chosen yet — even though the village desperately needs one.

Folks in this village cannot choose their leader because they haven’t reconciled their tensions over whether a Tajik or Pashtoon leader should get elected. It’s a shame because most of my father’s relatives claim to be Pashtoon yet they cannot speak a word of Pashto. It’s crazy to be fighting over the election of a leader when you have nothing but the zai suffix at the end of their names.

This county is in a lot of mess. You need to be here to see the degree of chaos and disorder. No one cares. No one. Everyone is here to enrich themselves and walk away. Thousands of people are leaving this country on a daily basis. What’s so amazing is that there are a great number of really, really nice houses on sale in Herat now. The owners of these houses are not only selling their houses but also everything in them. Home prices have gone down significantly because no one is buying anything anymore. There’s no flow of cash. Too many people are on the streets begging for money to feed themselves.

The whole survival of the country depends on the presence of U.S. troops.

Ghani has proven himself a very incompetent leader. He’s disappointed everyone in this country. I doubt he came make it.

A guest of ours a few nights ago said something very wise. He said we liked Karzai because he was our beggar. He said Karzai didn’t mind going abroad and begging for money — to the point that once on a trip to Iran, he brought a bag of cash with him on the plane. Ghani — on the other hand, he said, is too proud and arrogant. He’s too proud to ask for aid. Instead, to make up for the government’s expenses, Ghani has raised taxes on people. This gentleman, after changing his posture, and making sure I was fully listening, said to me, “how dumb is it to raise taxes when people have no money and there’s no business?”

The seriousness and sincerity of his voice, the gravity and reality of the situation made me think very hard about this issue. It reminded of the United States. The reason Americans began their war of independence against the British was taxation without representation. How can you tax people heavily when you can’t give them proper representation, security, and employment? Such a really stupid move on Ghani’s part.

One thing is for certain. This situation is not sustainable. Something catastrophic is inevitable in Afghanistan. Most foreigners don’t say this because they are in Kabul. They don’t visit the provinces often. Kabul is pretty safe. There’s money. Bureaucracy and lots of non-governmental agencies are in Kabul, keeping many Kabulis employed. This is not the case in provinces. None of Herat’s districts and villages are safe and there are Taliban presence in almost all of them.
More later.

Find the article HERE


Watching Bill Moryers’s interview with Mark Leibovich today, on the system of relations in Washington, I learned what I could not have made up, could have have imagined.  Justice is being subverted in DC on a
gargantuan and pervasive scale.  Moral sensibility has been dulled all around, not only among the political leaders who
are being bought off by the powerful corporations but also among the
The details of Liebovich’s book are worth repeating, some of them discussed in the interview.  Every person named here should be closely inspected for how he or she has caved into the powerful vortex of corporate interest, which now controls the way our country’s wealth is being divvied up.
Here I reproduce Bill Moyers’s critical summation of the situation at the end of the interview: it states so bluntly and vigorously the sense of outrage that the people of this country
should feel toward what is happening in Washington [I only wish I could write like him].  Washington is not a place where the interests of the
American people are being dutifully served but a place where vultures [the rich and well connected of all sorts] feed on the
wealth paid in by the ordinary Americans, distributing the largess in such a way as to insure that blame
is so broadly distributed that no one — no person, no corporation, no industry — can be held to account.  Most of us don’t know how totally our country is dominated by an upper class that includes both parties and even a media that now sucks up to the powerful and connected.

BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below. 

The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke. 

Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. 

They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations. 

We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain. 

The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works. 

William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?” 

Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.   

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands. 

“The most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the Supreme Court”

Finally a Republican calls a
spade a spade.  If any Republican is
going to say what everyone else considers tragically obvious it is going to be
John McCain.  Thanks, John, for saying
what seems so obvious that the need to say it reveals how distorted American
political discourse has become.  
He was
being interviewed on The News Hour
by Judy Woodruff and the problem of money in American politics came up.  Here is that part of the interview.
Judy Woodruff: 
this … just inevitable that we’re now in a period where money is going to be
playing this dominant role in American politics?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I’m afraid, at least for the time being, that’s going to
be the case, because of the most
misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court
think in the 21st century [i.e., the decision on Citizens United].  To somehow
view money as not having an effect on election, a corrupting effect on
election, flies in the face of reality. I just wish one of them had run for
county sheriff
. . . .
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean one of the justices?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: One of the five Supreme Court justices that voted to
invalidate what we know of as McCain-Feingold.
Look, I guarantee you, Judy, there will be
scandals. There is too much money
washing around political campaigns today.
And it will take scandals, and
then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue.
Remember, the Supreme Court rules on
constitutionality. So just passing another law doesn’t get it. So I’m afraid we’re in for a very bleak period
in American politics.
You know, we all talk about — and you just did —
about how much money is in the presidential campaign.
Suppose there’s a Senate campaign in a small
state, and 10 people get together and decided to contribute $10 million each.
You think that wouldn’t affect that Senate campaign?
JUDY WOODRUFF: This question of campaign money highlighted today by
this — the announcement that there’s a huge amount of money coming in from one
donor in the state of Nevada.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the
Gingrich campaign. And much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come
from this casino in Macau.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which says what?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming
into an American campaign
— political campaigns.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of the profits at the casinos in Macau?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need
to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit
on the flow of money, and that corporations are not people.
 That’s why we have different laws that govern
corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations
are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court
decisions that we have made — that have been made in the past.

How the State Department intimidates its own employees

A recent post by Peter Van Buren on how he has been harassed
for posting a link from his personal blog to a Wikileaks site on the web should
alarm everyone.  There are still, and
always will be, ways of intimidating individuals without breaking the law, and
the treatment of this State Department official is frightening.  This kind of behavior, I can believe, might
have taken place during the George W Bush administration when the whole country
was punchy about every twitch that could be regarded as a threat to the
country.  But, no, this took place only
recently, by officials in the Obama administration, which we had all hoped
would avoid such knee-jerk reactions.  Consider
the following:
Van Buren was told that by posting a link to a WikiLeaks document already available
elsewhere on the Web he had essentially disclosed “classified material.”
was reason to be formally asked if he had “donated any money … to a forward
military base in Iraq.”
Had he “’transferred’
classified information” in any other way?
Van Buren assumed that there was a subtext to this interrogation:  Someone objected to what he had to say in a
forthcoming book, We Meant Well:
How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
.  Whatever the reason it was un-American.
Van Buren is a State Department employee with 23 years of
experience, and in this interview he was told that for the act of simply
linking to another website he could lose his security clearance, which for him
would of course mean the termination of a career.  The agents questioning him even stated that he
was subject to criminal prosecution.  Indeed
by merely revealing that he was being thus interrogated he could be charged
with “interfering with a Government investigation.” A report of the interrogation on his blog would be considered “Law Enforcement Sensitive”.  
Hmm.  This is a free society, right?  Not Syria,
not Saudi Arabia, not Bahrain, not Iran
or North Korea.  We think an open society is a good thing.  We like the idea of a society in which people
are free to use the internet.  It’s OK even to link to other sites the
web — because of course they are  already there.  

Gangs fighting in Karachi over drugs and patronage?

Bombs going off in Kabul today, and in Khybar agency. And signs of a major turf war in Pakistan. There are many law-abiding people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is hard to envision the many internal issues getting resolved very soon. Below are some excepts from today’s Al Jazeera on the fighting in Karachi. Note that drugs are involved and political patronage. Does this imply that the drug industry in Pakistan and the political patronage system are connected?

Maybe we should be surprised, but we are not. Most of us cannot remember that there was a similar article last Aug 2, in which there was the statement:

> Over the years, criminal gangs have been used by political parties in a city-wide war for influence in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue.

Below are selected statements from the article in Al Jazeera. [click on the title for a link to the source article.] RLC

Karachi violence claims more lives: Escalating gang violence in Pakistani port city claims lives of at least 37 people in past 24 hours.

At least 37 people have been killed in Karachi in the past 24 hours in another outbreak of gang-related violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in Pakistan’s commercial capital and main port city.

… spats between rival gangs have intensified in recent weeks.

… a senior leader of Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was among those killed on Wednesday, ….

…The attacks happened as Karachi’s main party, the MQM, said it was rejoining the national PPP-led coalition government.

“Most of the killings have resulted from clashes between criminal gangs …,”.
“It’s not the kind of fighting that we saw last month; this is more of a gang war.”
But police said turf wars between gangs dealing in drugs and extortion rackets were by no means a new development in Lyari.

“These gangs regularly clash and kill members and supporters of rival groups,” ….
…. the killings were directly related to gang warfare conducted with the patronage of the country’s political elite.

Security officials say this is because the killers are being protected by senior politicians.

They say the violence is being used to stoke recently ignited ethnic passions both for political gains and as a means by criminal gangs to fight turf wars behind the facade of political activism.
“Everything boils down to politics,” said Hyder.

A city of more than 18 million, Karachi has a long history of violence, and ethnic, religious and sectarian disputes and political rows can often explode into battles engulfing entire neighbourhoods.

About 300 people were killed in July, making it one of the most deadliest months in almost two decades. Human rights groups say 800 have been killed since the start of the year.

Siddique on the corrosive power of politics on Pakistan’s military

Abubakar Siddique of Radio Free Europe has a great statement of the problem with Pakistan’s military: It has long been not only rich [holding land, many companies, large trust funds, investment funds, etc.] but also politically entrenched. The combination of wealth and political power is corrosive everywhere. Siddique describes the extant problem [see also Tariq Ali, “The color Khaki”]. RLC

Radio Free Europe: Feature article
Pakistan: Armed With Power, Perks, And Privileges
June 04, 2011
By Abubakar Siddique

It has been a turbulent month for the Pakistani military.

First came the May 2 killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, on Pakistani soil, by American commandos. The raid led to questions of how the Al-Qaeda leader could find a safe haven alongside Pakistan’s elite military training academy, and how such a raid could be successfully carried out unbeknownst to the armed forces.

Then came the deadly insurgent attack on a naval base in Karachi on May 22-23, which took 16 hours to contain and which resulted in the death of at least 10 military personnel and four militants. Eyebrows were raised over how the armed services could fail to protect a key military installation.

Capping off the month was the kidnapping on May 29 of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. His abduction in the capital came shortly after he had written an investigative piece alleging that the Karachi attack stemmed from a breakdown in secret negotiations between the navy and Al-Qaeda.

There have been allegations that journalist Syed Salim Shahzad was tortured and killed by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency.
Days after Shahzad warned that he had received threats because of his report, his tortured body was discovered far from the capital. Suspicions turned toward the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, considered an integral part of what Pakistanis refer to as the “military establishment.”

Human rights campaigners and journalists are clamoring for investigations into Shahzad’s death as well as reports he had been threatened by the ISI, which the intelligence agency denies.

An Old Debate Rekindled

It is far from open season on the military, which takes the lion’s share of foreign aid, possesses enormous wealth, and has dominated political and economic life in Pakistan for decades.

But lawmakers, the media, and the public have now become emboldened enough to rekindle an old debate about the considerable perks and privileges enjoyed by the country’s powerful military.

Why, they ask, are immense resources being used to prop up bloated security institutions while a growing and impoverished population is left wanting?

The grumbling can be expected to get louder in the coming days.

“There are a lot of questions about where the resources are going,” says Islamabad-based author and journalist Zahid Hussain, who asks “whether the huge military budgets are properly utilized?

“There are also questions about the…military’s own professionalism,” he says. “Professionalism in dealing with this kind of situation. Particularly, there are questions about the army running other businesses and not concentrating on their professional duties.”

These are the type of questions that Hussain has suffered personally for asking in the past.

In a 2002 article for “Newsweek” magazine, he documented how the Pakistani military had carved out a corporate and real-estate empire that gave the then-ruling generals enormous wealth, power, and advantages.

‘Military Generals Play Golf All The Time’

In response, Hussain was banned for years from covering the press conferences of President General Pervez Musharraf, who held office from 1999-2008.

Others have suffered more for going against the grain in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation, which has been ruled by military dictators — Musharraf being the last — for more than 30 of the years since its founding in 1947.

Sixty-year-old Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir has spent most of her life campaigning for the rights of religious minorities and landless farm workers effectively bound to a life of modern-day slavery.

Her work has placed her in direct opposition to the military’s dominance of the Pakistan’s decision-making process. For this she has been imprisoned and placed under house arrest.

Peaceful demonstrations she has orchestrated have been met with harsh police violence, and her family’s businesses have suffered as her patriotism has been questioned.

Nevertheless, Jahangir continues to be one of the most vocal public voices questioning the perks enjoyed by the military.

“These military generals play golf all the time,” she said on a popular night-time talk show on May 26. “And then they talk about where they will get plots [of land]. Please tell me how a marriage hall can operate in a sensitive [military] installation such as the [naval base] that was attacked in Karachi recently. Have you heard this happening anywhere else?”

An Immense Economic Machine

Jahangir’s comments have attracted angry press statements and letters to the editor from former senior military officers, as have more subdued criticisms lodged on other TV talk shows and newspaper columns.

It will take a lot more than public questioning to put a dent in the military’s immense economic machine, however.

Under the country’s annual budget released on June 3, the military gets a major slice of the pie — about 25 percent. Healthcare and education, by contrast, receive only a sliver — less than 5 percent combined.

. . . [For more, click on the title above]

Skyreporter: Kabul Airport is a major source of heroin export

I am unsure what to think of what Skyreporter has to say, but certainly his December 10 notice about drug smuggling through the Kabul airport makes one wonder how much progress has been made in controlling of the graft in Afghanistan. Here is what he has to say. RLC

Kabul Airport Confirmed As Gateway For Heroin Loot
By Arthur Kent, December 10, 2009 — After years of denial and deception, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s ministers has finally admitted that Kabul Airport is a bleeding wound of corruption.

Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal has confirmed estimates by U.S. officials that an estimated $10 million per day is smuggled through the airport. And that’s just cold hard cash: no one has dared to place a dollar figure on the amount of heroin that takes flight from Kabul each day.

Predictably, Zakhilwal and his patrons from Washington have failed to explain exactly how this key transport hub, just a short drive from the U.S. Embassy, was allowed to fall under the sway of Afghanistan’s cash-swamped heroin Khans and their accomplices in high office.

The truth is that American officials, like their counterparts at Kabul’s other foreign embassies, watched the scandal as it unfolded, literally on their doorsteps, and did nothing about it – as detailed by in regular dispatches since March of 2007.

Worse, many of the “internationals” went to considerable lengths to conceal the problem.

Counter-narcotics efforts at the airport were thrown into chaos in October of 2006 with the dismissal of the respected chief of border police, Gen. Aminullah Amerkhel.

Accusations against him by the Karzai regime’s then-Attorney General proved groundless. But in the meantime, smuggling went into overdrive and drug busts at the airport plummeted, from five or six per week on Amerkhel’s watch to only one a month. (Please see our Afghan Heroin series, from page 39 of Recent Stories.)

Karzai’s Interior Minister of the time, responsible for policing, refused to comment. It was the same story at the U.S. Embassy, the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. DEA agents in Kabul and Washington failed to reply to repeated phone inquiries. British and Canadian officials stonewalled Skyreporter’s queries, too.

While the regime and its foreign sponsors obscured the truth, Afghanistan’s heroin trade literally took flight.

In May of 2007, quite by accident, one bust exposed the sinister scope of Kabul Airport’s dirty secrets (see Afghan Heroin Discovered En Route To Canada on page 29 of Recent Stories).

At the airport’s main gate, a pair of Afghan cops stopped a courier van for a routine check. Lifting the hatchback, they were greeted by a familiar, pungent smell.

Before them were six carpets, bundled and bound. The cops worked their fingers through the weave. Sure enough, each rug contained granules of pure heroin, sewn and knotted into the yarn.

In all, the estimated 18 kilos were worth as much as $1.8 million. Cut to 40% purity, the haul might generate $6 million in the West. There was a waybill attached: the rugs were prepaid to Toronto via Dubai, with sender and recipient clearly marked.

Canada’s then-Ambassador to Kabul, Arif Lalani, did not return telephone queries about the bust, nor did the Prime Minister’s office or Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. The RCMP responded to an email, but refused to comment.

We followed up with the airport policemen two months later, and were told that the confiscated rugs had been turned over to officers working out of the Karzai government’s Ministry of Interior. There, they had vanished – with no further investigation.

The policemen were certain where the heroin-laden rugs had gone: “back with the people who shipped them.”

A year later, in 2008, President Karzai was forced to fire both the Attorney General who triggered the airport policing scandal, Abdul Jabar Sabet, and Interior Minister Zarar Muqbul. Both men are candidates for investigation by the current Attorney General, Ishaq Aloko, whose list of upcoming prosecutions awaits Karzai’s signature.

Gen. Amerkhel has been vindicated, with his record declared clear by both Aloko and Karzai. He is now security chief at the Ministry of Education.

Only this week, however, three long years after the scandal broke into public view, comes the admission by Afghan and U.S. officials of Kabul Airport’s role in bankrolling lawlessness — and the Taliban’s war effort.

Not so remarkably, half a world away in Canada, another controversy has shed light on the role played by members of the U.S.-led coalition.

Leaked emails that were originally sent from Kabul in 2007 by senior Canadian diplomat, Richard Colvin, currently an intelligence officer posted to Washington, include this revealing query to the head of Canada’s Afghan Task Force:

“What credibility can the embassy bring to bear on counter-narcotics when we do not even have a single dedicated officer? Because of under-staffing, we are unable to process the very heavy flow of information and intelligence, resulting in critical information gaps about key issues and personalities.”

Colvin’s Conservative government masters have responded by attacking his credibility, particularly over his reports on the abuse of prisoners by Afghanistan’s security service, the NDS. The politicians’ harsh criticism has triggered a backlash by a group of 35 former Canadian ambassadors, who’ve sprung to Colvin’s defence.

Public servants, they say, must be free to tell their bosses the truth, not simply what they want to hear — which of course cuts to the chase about the entire international mission to Afghanistan.

>From Kabul Airport and the corruption-plagued Karzai regime, to the strategic threat posed by the Taliban’s safe-havens in Pakistan, the U.S. and its allies have been guilty of defaulting to information control, instead of seeing the challenges of Southwest Asia for what they really are, and rising to them.

Now we’re to believe more of the same – more troops, more Karzai and more P.R. – will turn things around.

Kabul’s smugglers know where to put their money. It’s still flowing through Kabul airport, a five-minute drive from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s desk.