The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Karachi – awash with blood

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Photograph: Getty Images

The residents of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, are no strangers to death and destruction. One of its most popular bazaars was bombed in the 1980s.  Its parks have been strewn with human flesh. Its roads have been full of men shooting blindly at anyone and everyone. Its alleyways have been home to bodies in gunny bags.

Over the past few decades, Karachi’s battle-weary citizens have grown familiar to thedepressing series of headlines, and now, to “targeted killings.” Over 1,000 people were killed in the first ten months of 2010, a 15-year high, and 43 people have been killed since March 18.

As I write this, news comes in that a 17-year-old man’s body has been found, after being missing for two days. He was shot four times – in the head, back and hand. He is another victim of “target killings,” though the term does not encompass who is being targeted, and why. On paper, the “who” is simple: The victims include members of political parties, religious organizations and groups with criminal links. People have been targeted on the basis of their ethnicity – shot for being Baloch,Mohajir (those who immigrated from what is now India following partition) or Pashtun, or because of personal enmity. The question of ‘why’ is far more difficult to understand. Many of the deaths are a clear-cut case of revenge. The death of a political party member, especially from those parties that were formed on ethnic platforms, is enough to provoke their members to engage in tit-for-tat killings.

Political parties have made loud noises of how these targeted killings are an attempt to “destabilize” Karachi, the country’s economic capital. The death of even one person sparks another round of “targeted killings,” derails the fragile political coalition and the security situation. Who gains from this instability? Opponents of the government, for one, who can point a finger at the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and say it is not serious about controlling crime. The small-time gangs, jostling for a piece of the lucrative pie that is Karachi, use the killings in an attempt to show their importance. The various mafias that control the drugs and arms trade or are involved in land-grabbing and extortion also use the killings to give political cover to what is sometimes justpetty murder.

Any analysis of Karachi’s violence is made complicated by the variety of killers operating in the city at any given time. On the one hand there are the criminal gangs large and small, who can arrange anything from a kidnapping to a murder for a price – whether it be money or political favors. And on the other, many political parties have provided patronage to groups of trigger-happy individuals ready at their beck and call, fuelled by a combination of party ideology, ethnic and sectarian hatred.

To their credit, the cooler heads in the main political parties in Karachi – the ethnic Muhajir Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pashtun-dominated Awami National Party (ANP) and the PPP – have all appealed for peace. The ANP has even advocated calling in the army to deal with the violence.

But taking ownership of difficult decisions is a burden few want to bear. When the paramilitary Rangers started a search operation in the low-income area of Orangi Town, the Sindh Home Minister claimed that he, the provincial chief minister and the city police chief had not been informed beforehand. So did Interior Minister Rehman Malik, despite the fact that the Rangers come under the purview of his ministry.

The fragile relationship between the MQM and the PPP is hanging by a thread, and the MQM has publicly said the government must do more to act against criminal groups.

But even if political parties are serious about stopping target killings, the underlying causes of crime have been left unresolved. The sale of licensed and illegal weapons continues unabated. The legal system is beset with lags and threats to prosecuting lawyers, and the untrained and badly equipped police are largely incapable of carrying out any proper action without running into bureaucratic snags, turf wars and political conflicts. Kidnappers and extortionists have plagued businessmen. And police “raids” net scores of people – often based on their ethnic affiliation – fueling further discontent amongst the families who have to endure constant police harassment and limiting the ability of the security services to operate.

There are no easy solutions to the issue, and the PPP is in the unenviable position of having to shoulder the responsibility alone. But as the city’s morgues fill uppolitical parties will have to realize that they cannot afford to sit back and simply make grandiose statements; it is time for action to fix what ails Karachi.

This post was originally published on AfPakChannel

Written by Saba Imtiaz

April 4, 2011 at 6:06 am

Egypt: A Striking Success & An Uncertain Future

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I’m not sure if any of my readers have noticed but my hiatus from blogging has extended for longer than it ever should have. I don’t want to make promises anymore about how often I will blog, or that this will be a full return, but I really have no excuse. I need to hop to it.

And with that, I will hop to Egypt. What more is there left to say? 2011 has witnessed, first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, the strongest display of Arab popular power in a generation. Entirely grassroots, little political organisation, no particular event to spark it (apart from the growing spectre of rising unemployment and skyrocketing food pries), suddenly the citizens of two Arab states have risen up to throw off the yoke of dictatorship that has held them enslaved for so many years.

The Arab powder keg has been written about for almost as long as the dictatorships have been in place. We’ve heard it all before: steadily growing population, demographic skew towards young people, disproportionate unemployment among young men, etc. This has been on the verge of exploding for some time, and finally, it did.

It’s too early to tell how far reaching this Arab revolution will be. The cynic in me (and full disclosure, I predicted that Mubarak would not step down on January 25th, I can admit to my errors of judgment) still thinks that this will amount to little elsewhere. Algeria seems to be the best case, but it’s unlikely that the Gulf states will see anything substantial. Among the GCC monarchs, King Hamad of Bahrain probably has the most to worry about (interesting to note his conveniently timed “gift” to Bahraini families of BHD1,000 (US$2,650) but the much talked about Saudi situation doesn’t seem at all in danger of erupting. The Syrians have shown little interest or stomach in revolting, and protests have thus far been nascent in Jordan and Yemen, though the latter two are also candidates for something bigger. It’s difficult to say, but what’s already happened has been monumental enough for a solid page in the history books.

Oh and Iran: contrast 2009′s green movement protests against the regime with Egypt and you’ll see the difference. It’s fairly clear that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have far more support among Iranians than Hosni Mubarak ever did, and the former regime has far more of a stomach for violence, so any, more successful repeat in Tehran is but a pipe dream at this stage.

But what about Egypt? The Tunisian situation is still far from resolved, but that’s a topic for another blog post. There, it seems the concerns people had about the disorganised nature of the revolution leading to a lack of clarity about a new order have been somewhat justified up to this point.

And the same concerns exist about Egypt. In case you’ve been living under a rock, yes, Hosni Mubarak finally stepped down. But you can read the questions on everyone’s lips. Touted as a replacement by Mubarak and tacitly supported by the US, Omar Suleiman clearly isn’t popular among Egyptians. This is hardly a surprise, given the man was head of Egypt’s intelligence agency (you know, the one that tortures lots of people) and, according to Wikileaks, has told Israel (who love him very much) that he’d like “Gaza to go hungry, but not starve”. Not exactly a hero.

But who is Mohamed El Baradei? The former IAEA head and man originally considered to be a front-runner to stand against Hosni or son Gamal Mubarak in the next Egyptian election may be well known in the West and international circles, but is far from well known in Egypt. He has little political history in the country and many fear he would actually have little idea how to run it, despite lofty speeches. In any case, he seems to be putting forward a candidacy of sorts – he appeared in Tahrir square with a loudspeaker during the protests and has already written a New York Times op-ed (though how many Egyptian voters read the Times is unclear) since Mubarak’s exit.

What about the Muslim Brotherhood? Despite the fearmongering from the usual suspects, I really don’t think the MB present any kind of threat. Yes, they are still a political force in Egypt, but they are a long way away from being the dominant political force. Thanks to repeated Mubarak-era purges, they have zero ground within the army (who are now running the country, in case you hadn’t noticed) and their support among the people has never been estimated at anything even approaching 50% vote-wise. Moreover, this is not the Muslim Brotherhood of Zawahiri, Hamas or even Sayyid Qutb. The party is largely non-violent.

Amr Moussa? I confess I don’t know a great deal about the man who yesterday resigned from his post as Secretary General of the Arab League. He has a political history in Egypt, albeit, as part of the NDP and as a supporter of Mubarak. But this seems more out of political expediency rather than strong ideological agreement. Will he suffer politically for his past? Maybe.

Personalities aside, I think there are two (or three, if you consider the second to be a toss-up like I do) potential outcomes to the current disorder:

1. The military leadership (and my Pakistani friends have been the first to point out this danger) will devolve into a dictatorship that maintains its grip on power using the machinery so well established by successive Egyptian rulers over decades. Exactly what form this will take, or who it will be driven by, is difficult to say at this point. Not much is known about what exactly Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is thinking right now. But we do know that he’s a veteran of post-revolution Egyptian politics. Military-backed dictatorship is all the man has ever known, and he’s 75. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? We’ll see.

2. Elections are called. I think this is the most likely outcome. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the outcome will be positive for the Egyptian people. The opposition in Egypt is fragmented, disorganised and doesn’t have a strong foothold in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people. The Muslim Brotherhood mentioned above may be the strongest group among them but is not strong enough to leap out and win any vote in a landslide. The Wafd party, despite some resurgence, is still largely a spent force in Egyptian politics, and while I haven’t been following events with a magnifying glass, I’ve seen little from them over the past few weeks. And the jury is very much out on external personalities like El Baradei and Moussa. Will they have the charisma, the institutional support within Egypt and the sheer personal gravitas to win an election and make their mark on the Egyptian consciousness? All signs, at this stage, point to no.

Now I am not familiar with internal NDP politics, which includes the party’s massive list of cronies and hangers on, and I don’t know which personalities within the party could emerge from the protests relatively unscathed politically and with enough clout within Egypt’s business, military and political communities to successfully run in an election. But I can say with confidence that theoretically this is a very possible outcome. The machinery employed by the state to suppress Egyptians and dominate public affairs is very well developed, strong and has been in place for some time. If a deal can be brokered with the military, I think they would much rather see an orderly transition of power to another strongman, rather than chaotic and fragmented elections that lead to some sort of unstable coalition. Militaries, by definition, normally like stability. Who could emerge from the current sinkhole that is the NDP, it is difficult to say, but some wily Egyptian politico very easily could.

And then what?

A new constitution before elections seems a total pipe dream to me. Far more likely is that the new elected government will bring a new constitution to the people, as per the demands of the protesters. But will this be a rosy constitution with all of the demands met? That too seems very uncertain at this stage.

So the bottom line is, not to detract from the amazing achievement of the Egyptian people in successfully toppling one of the Arab world’s most well-known and successful strtongmen, but the future is still very uncertain and things could still end fairly badly. We continue to hope and pray for a positive future for the Egyptian nation, now is not the time to rest on laurels.

I’d like to look further into internal political machinations in Egypt and I’d also like to separately address the role of the US and Obama Administration, as well as the impact of these events geopolitically. So you can look out for some more posts from me on these two topics.

Written by alexlobov

February 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Pakistan on the UN Human Development Index

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Pakistani flood victims aboard US Mairne helicopter during humanitarian relief efforts in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Image credit: Flickr user DVIDSHUB

Apologies for the lack of posts, dear readers (yes, both of you), but I’ve been rather busy. Personal update – I’ve moved to Hong Kong and started a new job. I’m now a staff hack for a financial magazine, so my trade is going to be equities, fixed income and currency wars rather than political inequity, fixed dictators and military wars. Never fear, I shall endeavour to update this blog as frequently as I can, which will hopefully not be too infrequently. My first topic since my hiatus is a rather pithy one – the UN Human Development Index.

While I’ve always been highly sceptical about sweeping indices that rank states on opaque definitions based on broad categories (my thoughts on the “Failed States Index” can be found here), I do generally consider UN indices to be a bit more interesting. Don’t ask me why, this isn’t based on any well-researched comparison of the UN versus the think tanks, perhaps I’m just an old-school multilateralist and tend to trust the UN a little more than I should. The UN relies on a number of international agencies for its data, making it incredibly difficult to meaningfully analyse the way the index is created.

But regardless, humour me and let’s consider the latest UN Human Development Index. Let’s at least pretend that its findings can be of some use to us. The report says not to compare rankings to previous reports because different indicators and calculations have been used, which makes it difficult to interpret the report in any meaningful way politically, or in terms of year-by-year development, but perhaps we can make some geopolitical comparisons.

With reference to Pakistan, one trend factor that we can look at is a comparison with other countries in the region. The obvious comparisons are of course to India (119), Bangladesh (129) and Afghanistan (155), and while Pakistan outpaces Afghanistan rather handily, this should not be seen as any kind of victory.

Afghanistan is a war zone without a functioning central government. Say what you want about army offensives, terrorist attacks in major cities and the ineffectiveness of Zardari’s government, Pakistan is not Afghanistan. I am even less an expert on Bangladesh than I am on Pakistan, so it’s difficult to make a real comparison there. However, there’s no doubt that Bangladesh, as an even younger nation than Pakistan, has made great strides.

The most tempting comparison to make is, of course, the traditional rivalry – Pakistan and India – but by no means is it a perfect one. It is notable that despite Pakistan’s geopolitical position with a 10 year long war next door, a damaging domestic insurgency and a less effective central government, it only appears 6 places behind a country often considered to be China’s most direct competitor in rising power status. Moreover, it is notable that Pakistan has a higher life expectancy at birth than India and a higher mean in years of schooling.

India is a much larger, more diverse, more populous and more stable country, much of that owing to factors beyond both its, and Pakistans, control. These factors play both to India’s advantage and its disadvantage, but judging from them, and they are incredibly broad factors, I’d say Pakistan is doing reasonably well given the many outside threats that hold it back.

This is no reason for Pakistan to rest on its laurels though. The country still lags far behind Sri Lanka (91) and is embarrassingly outpaced by impoverished, unstable countries like Equatorial Guinea (117), Timor Leste (120) and the Solomon Islands (123). Pakistan is only one spot above Congo (126).

To be contrarian, and play devil’s advocate to my own post, you can take these with a grain of salt. Numbers tempt us into a web of assumptions but the reality is, given the rather opaque way in which this index was created, it’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from a one or two rank difference. One conclusion that I’ve made, based on little hard data but a feeling in my gut, is that Pakistanis have much to celebrate and much to bemoan. The relative successes listed above can perhaps be attributed to the ongoing willpower, resilience and determination of the Pakistani people in the face of many challenges. However, if Pakistan is to realise its potential, it needs to empower its civil government and institutions through a viable democratic process, the eradication of corruption and meaningful infrastructure development. Unfortunately, with the devastating floods, the grinding poverty, the decade-long war next door and the spiralling violence, these things appear to be far easier said than done. We can only pray.

 

 

Written by alexlobov

November 8, 2010 at 2:16 am

Michael Oren loses his way again

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The ongoing stalemate in peace talks has led to another op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US. As is often the case with Oren’s op-eds, the piece is full of weak arguments, hyperbole and hypocrisy.

The introduction sets the tone for the entire piece:

NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state.

This, like the entire article, tries to oversimplify an incredibly complex issue and then make the Palestinians out to be some sort of irrational, anti-semitic barbarians. Oren is talking about a “Jewish nature of the state” when clearly defining Jewishness is a problem in itself, let alone boiling the nature of a state down to an ethno-religious identity.

Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.

Sure, it threatens peace as much as Israeli intransigence over the demands of the Palestinians. That’s what negotiation is. As for 1948, really Mr. Oren? Was 1948 really so simple? If Israel had established a Christian state, a secular state or a Rastafarian state, I’m pretty sure the Arab reaction would have been much the same. When you establish a state on land occupied partly by those who have inhabited it for the last thousand or so years, they being outside your ruling class, and partly by a massive population of recent migrants, war kind of tends to happen.

Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure,” Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would “open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public.”

I’m pretty sure Israel wouldn’t fight so hard for a “confidence-building measure”. Building confidence takes a great deal more than that.

So what is the purpose of this new obsession then? Well Oren will actually tell you:

Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.

The problem is, Oren then fails to actually refute this. And I don’t mean robustly, I mean at all. Oren goes on to claim that Israel “recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland”, which sounds nice but the reality of it is very different. This is because Israel doesn’t actually recognise a Palestinian homeland. How else would you explain its policy to settle Palestine’s “inaliable homeland” with hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers?

Oren’s position gets even more tenuous:

So why won’t the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the “historical connection of the Jewish people” to that country as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home.” In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of “an independent Jewish state,” and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” Why, then, can’t the Palestinians simply say “Israel is the Jewish state”?

Oren’s reference to “international law” seems to contain very little actual law. We can discount immediately a random speech by Obama, which could only have been intended as complete buffer. Citing the now extremely defunct League of Nations policy as a “tenet of international law” is tenuous at best. The Balfour Declaration too was a British policy statement, and though the British mandate over Palestine was accepted by the League of Nations in 1922, one would then also have to consider the McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the Churchill White Paper, which both repudiate much of the Balfour Declaration. Besides, Palestine had zero representation in the League of Nations.

Moreover, Mr. Oren’s extremely selective use of international law is galling. What about the whole host of UN Security Council resolutions that Israel routinely ignores? Not to mention the recent UN HRC fact finding missions into both Cast Lead and the flotilla incident? The hypocrisy is maddening.

The rest of the op-ed then collapses into fear mongering about “a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel’s dissolution” and Palestinians failing to accept “that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel”. Why should they accept this? They have no hope of being “resettled” in Israel regardless of its identity, and why should they want to be resettled in Palestine? Should we forcibly resettle the Jewish diaspora in Israel? This is ridiculous beyond words.

Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

And equally the Palestinians need to know that Israel is serious about peace, that it is willing to accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist and immediately halt the illegal settlement of occupied land within that future state. Though a halt to that settlement would not shield Palestine from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Israelis are not suicidally inclined towards an inevitable one-state solution. That’s how easy it is to turn this ridiculous argument on its head.

Mr. Oren concludes his op-ed with a paragraph that neatly sums up the tone and content of the rest of it, namely unabashed propaganda without meaning, logic or sense.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.

There are many ‘cores’ to the conflict, be they territory, security, national self-determination, dignity or oppression, but no one serious “refuses to recognize the Jews as a people”. The fact that some Jews are “indigenous to the region” is a matter of irrelevance and as for “the right to self-government”, the only way that Jews are going to lose the right to govern Israel is if they absorb a massive demographic shift of Palestinians under an inevitable one state solution.

And therein lies the irrational, paradoxical quality of the debate today. Mr. Oren’s op-ed reflects a fear that Israel will lose its Jewish character, but the most surefire way that that can happen is by not fast-tracking a two state solution by halting settlements and negotiating seriously. Every day the two-state solution grows further out of reach, until the inevitable point when Israel will be the only political entity between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. On that day, Israel will be faced with a choice: give the Palestinians a right to vote or create a state of true apartheid character. I strongly suggest that, instead of writing hyperbolic op-eds in the New York Times, Mr. Oren devote himself to getting his country out of that inevitable mess.

Written by alexlobov

October 15, 2010 at 1:19 am

UPDATED: A Knesset bill to watch

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This isn’t getting much coverage:

The Israeli parliament’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill on Monday requiring a 60-MK majority and national consent on withdrawing from territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

The referendum bill on withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights and East Jerusalem mandates that any government decision be brought before Israeli citizens in a referendum, Israeli news site Ynet reported. [Ma’an News Agency]

I don’t know what the likelihood is that a bill like this would pass but the fact that it might see the light of the Knesset is troubling. Firstly, it damages the potential of success for a future Israeli-Syrian peace track. By putting a plot of land viewed widely by Israelis to be a key strategic advantage to a populist referendum it harms any opportunity of future Israeli governments easily returning it to Syria.

Most pressingly, what this bill essentially achieves is yet another barrier to a two state solution and an independent Palestinian state. By putting in place further political roadblocks, it makes it easier for far right populist politicians like Avigdor Lieberman to manipulate both public opinion and votes in the Knesset and further the two state impasse. Once again, one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan becomes ever more inevitable.

Update: One of the smartest Twitter users in the Middle East, @Elizrael, points out that there is already such a law in place for the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied after the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981 with the Golan Heights Law. This action is not recognised internationally and is still considered occupied territory, as per UN Security Council Resolution 242 which remains in force to this day.

The bill that @Elizrael refers to also appears to be called the “Golan Heights Law” and was proposed by Likud MK Silvan Shalom. Any return of the Golan Heights was to require a 50% special majority of Knesset members (61/120) as well as a majority in national referendum. This was a move by the right to preempt any move by Barak to hand the Golan back to Syria, as negotiations at that stage were considered quite advanced. Incidentally, one piece of evidence indicating that Israel’s current path of discriminatory lawmaking is not that recent an event, Likud MK Uzi Landau advocated excluding Israeli Arabs from such a referendum on the grounds that it would be unfair to have Arabs voting on a proposal to hand back Arab land. On March 1,2000, the Knesset gave the bill preliminary approval. (1)

Unfortunately, I can find no further evidence or information on the interwebs about this bill, or whether it was passed. If anyone hears of anything, let a brother know. According to @Elizrael, “The Golan law was passed, however, it needs additional legislation of how to conduct the referendum, which wasn’t passed. The additional legislation has been delayed for years (including by Bibi now) because it can cause problems with the US. This means that the current law will also never see the light of day.”

All this makes for some interesting food for thought.

1. The only thing I could find via google on this bill came form Steven K. Maize’s 2006 book, “Israel’s Higher Law”. Page 215.

Israeli-Palestinian talks – A very troubling “compromise”

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The sheer amount of media reports about these talks has been deafening, and the amount of comment has been an absolute deluge, to the point where I have been reluctant to write about it (until now), due to the difficulty of contributing something new to the discussion. However, a new piece of information has come to light that I could prove very important to the future of talks and solutions.

These past few days has seen a flurry of reporting, and to-ing and fro-ing, about an article filed by David Makovsky for the Washington Institute of Near-East Affairs:

According to senior U.S. officials, the administration’s efforts culminated in a draft letter negotiated with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and chief Israeli peace negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, and ultimately sent from President Obama’s desk to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At its core, the draft letter offers a string of assurances to Israel in return for a two-month moratorium extension. More specifically, U.S. officials indicate that the document makes commitments on issues ranging from current peace and security matters to future weapons deliveries in the event that peace-related security arrangements are reached.

As agencies picked up the article, the White House issued a denial that there was any letter sent. As noted in that Haaretz report, Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat have repeatedly stated that they will leave talks unless an Israeli moratorium on settlement construction is extended, and the White House has been desperate to see such an extension so that talks can continue.

Outlets are now reporting that a deal is in fact on the table, whether or not a physical letter was sent. Politico’s Laura Rozen has a translation of a report in Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv up at her blog. The report is dated several days ago. The money graf, emphasis Rozen’s:

Sources close to the negotiations said that the American package includes a compromise for both parties on the issue of a construction freeze in exchange for a written American commitment to support the parties on other issues that are important to them in later stages of the negotiations. The sources said that in exchange for a compromise on the issue of extending the moratorium, Israel apparently demanded a written American commitment to support its demands on a number of issues, such as recognition of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state and security strategies that pertain to defending the eastern border of the Palestinian state. The Palestinians demanded, apparently, American commitments on the issues of borders and Jerusalem, in exchange for their concession regarding the discontinuance of the complete construction moratorium.

The WaPo report says:

Among other inducements, the administration has proposed that there be a lengthy “transitional period” for security on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, a plan that would presumably include Israeli troops. The United States would also promise military hardware and pledge to veto U.N. resolutions relating to Arab-Israeli peace for a year.

As part of the package, Israel would agree to extend a partial freeze on settlement growth for 60 days.

While both are reporting that Netanyahu has not yet agreed to the offer, to me it seems quite troubling.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said that Israeli troops on Palestinian land would be unacceptable in any peace agreement. Various alternative ideas have been floated, including demilitarisation for a Palestinian state (effectively reducing it to a paper tiger and affecting its legitimacy as a state altogether) and/or international peacekeeping troops, both along the border and in sensitive parts of Jerusalem.

Military hardware is, of course, nothing new, and neither is the veto-ing of UN resolutions. Already the US has been blocking anything critical of Israel in the UN on the tenuous basis that it might “harm peace talks”. A written agreement, however, to block these things for an entire year is a serious smack in the face to international institutions that further entrenches the concept of American exceptionalism as a norm (which also extends to allies like Israel).

What’s most troubling, however, is the promise to officially recognise Israel as “the Jewish people’s nation-state”. The call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has come loudest from Israel’s controversial hardline Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, a West Bank settler and crazy UN speech maker.

Officially recognising Israel as a “Jewish state” is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it affects the key Palestinian request of the right of return, and while, in my opinion, it’s the most unreasonable Palestinian request and the most likely to face the axe, it’s still a key part of their negotiating position.

Furthermore, such recognition by the US would only serve to undermine further the tenuous claims that Israel is a “Western-style democracy” and has “similar values” to the US, a call frequently made in defense of the “special relationship”. If separation of church & state is a key element of America’s identity, how can an expressly ethno-religious basis for Israel’s identity be considered “similar”?

Most worryingly, such recognition will dramatically affect the standing of over a million Arab, non-Jewish, citizens of Israel. There are already numerous Israeli laws that discriminate against Israeli citizens of Arab descent, placing them outside the state by virtue of its internationally recognised identity would serve to only further entrench this discrimination.

And making all these concessions on behalf of the Palestinians just for a 60 day extension on illegal construction of settlements in occupied land, that probably won’t be adhered to anyway, so that manifestly uneven peace talks can continue seems completely ludicrous. Make no mistake, these concessions should not be treated lightly, but it seems that, in its self-serving drive to score brownie points for “peace in the Middle East”, the Obama Administration is doing just that.

Pakistan Army accused of extrajudicial killings in Swat. Again.

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This video, which has been doing the rounds on the internet for over a week, allegedly depicts the Pakistani Army engaging in an extrajudicial execution of six unidentified men, purportedly in the Swat region. It was reported on blogs and Twitter, but the mainstream media was slow to pick it up, and most interestingly, so was Human Rights Watch.

Since then, it has been picked up by several agencies, and while it was also briefly linked to the Indian Army in Kashmir, most of the discussion seems in favour of declaring it the real Pakistani deal.

The New York Times report:

But American officials, who did not want to be identified because of the explosive nature of the video, said it appeared to be credible, as did retired American military officers and intelligence analysts who have viewed it.

After viewing the graphic video on Wednesday, an administration official said: “There are things you can fake, and things you can’t fake. You can’t fake this.”

Al Jazeera English has a better report that delves deeper into the video and its authenticity:

An organisation called the International Pashtuns’ Association posted the video on Facebook and says that the incident took place during the military’s crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley the summer of 2009.

The uniforms and rifles appear to be consistent with Pakistan’s standard military equipment, and a former Pakistani general told Al Jazeera that while the video could not be verified, the images should be taken seriously.

“We have to take it at face value at the moment, and take it seriously,” said Talat Masood. “My view is that the CIA and ISI are in a much better position to authenticate this.”

“It looks as though they are Pakistani troops, but there are several other aspects that need to be re-checked  before we can say that it is authentic.”

Human rights groups say the video fits in with “credible allegations” they have received about the conduct of Pakistani troops. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in June that 282 extra-judicial killings by the army had taken place in the Swat region in the past year.

The AJE report also includes responses from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who also say that the video is consistent with numerous reports in the past of the Pakistani Army engaging in such executions. Indeed, both HRW and the NYT have reported it in the past.

The Pakistani Army has, predictably, denied reports and declared the video fake.

The real question is over what fallout this will cause.

Reuters says that it could threaten US aid to Pakistan and includes a quote from State Department spokesman PJ Crowley: “Human rights and the issue of extra-judicial killings has been a part of our ongoing conversation … with Pakistan.” I’d say that quote pretty much sums up the US response, an “ongoing conversation” is vague enough to indicate some sort of action, but nothing concrete or real.

Scarecrow at Fire Dog Lake sums up the inconsistency in relation to drone attacks:

But then one must ask whether there is some moral or legal distinction between what the Pakistan forces are alleged to be doing, which if true would be an egregious crime and warrant protests from all civilized nations, and what our own military teams are doing when they observe a Pakistani village or group of individuals via drone cameras and then, from targeting rooms that may be located in the US, direct the drones to bomb and kill those individuals. Because I’m having a hard time seeing a meaningful difference.

Indeed, it is difficult to find a meaningful difference. Moreover, there’s the much publicised case of Anwar al-Awlaki, and reportedly three other US citizens, all of which are in line to be assassinated by the US Army. Legal challenges to these assassinations have been blocked by the Obama Administration by invoking the State Secrets doctrine to shield it form judicial review. And, of course, there’s the ongoing protection of those involved in Bush-era torture allegations.

So is the US going to withhold aid from Pakistan or take any real action over these killings? Hell no, there won’t even be a statement of condemnation. Why? Because obviously, the Obama Administration doesn’t care. It will put sanctions on Iranian diplomats for torture, but it’s not going to censure a key strategic ally for the war in Afghanistan. In this case, American exceptionalism must, to some extent, be extended to strategic allies.

So anyone looking for something concrete to come out of this, don’t hold your breath. Instead, just wait for it to blow over, as undoubtedly it will.

Written by alexlobov

October 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

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