Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
This is a question that has been discussed for years, arguably since the last open conflict in 2006 ended in an Israeli withdrawal and an expanded UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mandate to keep the peace in the southern part of the country. That conflict may have ended but its after-effects linger. Long after the cluster munitions fired from both sides settled into the earth, many of them remain unexploded and continue to kill civilians. Long after the withdrawal, the near-universal consensus that Israel was not the clear ‘winner’ it intended to be and the Winograd Commission’s findings were published, Israeli embarrassment at not having been able to ‘win’ simmers and the conflict festers.
Most commentators believe that a new conflict (though the two countries are still technically at war) is a matter of when not if. Note this interesting discussion on the Qifa Nabki blog (an excellent point of reference for Lebanon, for the uninitiated) with Nicholas Noe, founder of The Middle East Wire,
The roots of the conflict are broad. Hizbullah is only gaining in power and prominence in Lebanon. It has a ready supply of arms, funding and is gaining legitimacy across the sectarian divide in Lebanon. Many Lebanese perceive Hizbullah as the dominant military power in Lebanon and the only power capable of defending Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Israel, particularly its right-wing-stacked political climate, cannot cope with a resurgent, popular and increasingly assertive Islamist opposition on its Northern border. This, along with its less than impressive display in 2006, are a cause for embarrassment among Israeli war hawks.
Factor in the continued aggressive moves by Israel in Lebanon and you already have a veritable powder keg. For example, Israel continues to operate manned overflights in Lebanese air space, in violation of UNSCR resolution 1701 and international law generally. Or take Israel’s continued occupation of several disputed areas on the border between Lebanon and the (equally occupied) Golan Heights.
Recent news is only set to aggravate tensions. Clashes have broken out along the border between UNIFIL and local villagers, reportedly unhappy with military exercises being performed and the perceived ‘pressure’ on Hizbullah from the international community over an alleged Scud rockets transfer (that is far from proven) and its ongoing arms buildup.
More threateningly, ongoing exploration of the Tamar and Leviathan gasfields has become a real cause for concern since it was estimated that they may contain up to 35 years of Israel’s current consumption of natural gas and may even make it a net exporter. The territoriality of the fields is disputed by Lebanon which says that they may also be part of its own natural waters. This was followed by Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau’s comments to Bloomberg last week that Israel would use force if necessary to defend its right to develop and produce the fields. [via FP's Oil & Glory]
The reality is that Israel’s infrastructure advantage means that they are far better positioned to develop and explore these fields than Lebanon. Also, the Western backed coalition, led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, that holds a tenuous grip on power in Lebanon, is unlikely to do anything real to challenge Israel on its hegemony over the gasfields. Hizbullah, which dominates the country’s opposition bloc, is likely to make a real issue of this.
Given that squabbles over natural resources are a perfect pretext for countries to go to war, it’s difficult to see how this news makes war even remotely avoidable. As Nicholas Noe puts it to Qifa Nabki, linked above, the only foreseeable thing that could stop this are “some bold moves by the Obama administration in the next year.” Given the Administration’s recent history in the region and its many policy failures to date, this eventuality seems rather unlikely indeed.
The term “failed state” has been thrown around with wild abandon for quite a while now and has only grown in popularity and public prominence since Foreign Policy magazine, in partnership with the US think tank Fund for Peace, started publishing its annual Failed States Index in 2005.
But what does it mean to be a “failed state” and what is the real impact of this index?
The ranking is based on the total scores of 12 indicators. For each indicator, the ratings are placed on a scale of 0 to 10. The total score is the sum of the 12 indicators and is on a scale of 0-120. More information on the indicators used and further methodology can be found here.
My initial qualms are simple. How comprehensive can the tracking and monitoring of these indicators possibly be for each of the 177 states included in the 2010 index? How much access are researchers going to get to a country like North Korea, for example? How many hours of work would it take to be able to effectively establish a comprehensive rating of 12 indicators for 177 states within a reasonable time frame? Questionable, very questionable.
Putting that aside, even the structure itself is flawed. There are too many problematic examples for a single blog post but here’s one. All 12 indicators are weighted equally. One of those indicators is, say, “Progressive Deterioration of Public Services.” Ok, that’s pretty important. But what about the equally weighted “rise of factionalized elites,” described, in part, as “use of nationalistic political rhetoric by ruling elites”? I can see how that could be dangerous but it’s also pretty arbitrary and I can certainly think of worse things. That means a country with no nationalism but no public services whatsoever, and a country with sparkling public infrastructure and lots of flag-waving will be ranked equal in terms of being “failed.”
Also, how these indicators are squeezed into a rating out of 10 is beyond me. How do you assign an entire country a rating for “legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance or group paranoia”? What gives Pakistan a rating of 9.4 in this category vs. Iraq’s 9.3?
Ultimately, the index is obviously flawed, but ok, it’s impossible to create a perfect index that will sum up how 177 countries ‘failed’ to live up to a contrived ideal of perfect statehood. Which begs the question, should we even be trying? I understand that this is full of political bombast. A magazine that can tell its readers which states are ‘the worst’ and which states are ‘the best’ is surely useful. But also surely harmful.
Much of the danger arises when what the index is actually saying is compared to what people perceive it to be saying. The words ‘failed state’ set off massive psychological alarm bells, they tell potential tourists to avoid the country at all costs, they tell potential investors to put their money elsewhere and they inform the general language and framework of public debate about these countries, something that can be very damaging in the long run. When your average FP-reading punter reads the words “failed state” they don’t immediately question the methodology, they just hear massive alarm bells ringing in their head screaming “DANGER DANGER OMG!!!111.” These crushingly important perceptions can swiftly become prejudices when one considers how little thought your average reader puts into critically analysing the index itself.
These problems are exacerbated further by the articles FP prints to go along with its index. Check out, “Postcards from Hell,” a series of wonderfully cliched images of starving African people, shifty-looking ethnics with AK-47s, ominous burqas and random fire. These images have all the intellectual depth of a Michael Bay movie and do little but promote flawed pigeon-holing of entire nations into neat boxes marked “poverty” & “danger”. Things are made worse by charmingly worded accompanying captions, the writer of which seems to have trawled the thesaurus for every possible synonym of ‘bad’ but provide very little by way of explanation. For example, the caption under 32nd most failed state, Iran reads: “Clashes broke out in Tehran after a disputed June 2009 election saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming victory over his main challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi,” which doesn’t tell me much about why Iran is any more ‘failed’ than number 33, Liberia.
Then there’s the ‘analysis’. Robert Kaplan’s piece, quaintly titled “Actually, it’s mountains“, a stinker that was seemingly faxed-in after a 45 minute session with the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, stands out for me. Kaplan spends most of the article harping on about the problematic geographies of the countries on the list and then rounds it off with a hopeful-sounding “None of these places is doomed. Human agency can triumph over determinism.” Thanks, Rob, I feel a lot better. I suggest a new title: “Actually, it’s lazy.”
Or what about George Ayittey’s “The Worst of the Worst“, a list of a bunch of terrible dictators and all their evil transgressions. Once again liberally applying the thesaurus, Ayittey goes through his list with wild abandon, brutally deriding the “bad dude dictators” and “coconut-heads,” and mercilessly cutting them down with the sword of Western Reason while riding past on his high horse.
But what is the use of all this sensationalism? We are told that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a bad man but there is no analysis of the complex Iranian political system where most power (including foreign policy and control of the armed forces) actually rests with Ayatollah Khamenei. We are told that Hosni Mubarak is a bad man but nowhere is it mentioned that his regime is propped up entirely by the US government. And that’s just the basics, there’s no in-depth analysis anywhere suggesting that maybe Iran is seeking a nuclear deterrent to Israel, or that Uzbekistan was used by Bush as a staging post for the War on Terror, thus giving Karimov legitimacy, or that Mubarak’s torture was not only approved but taken advantage of by America’s use of extraordinary rendition. Nope. Nada. Just lots of bad men and ‘failed states’.
And therein lies the problem with their entire concept. There is far too much weight behind the two words “failed state,” and too many conflicted definitions, to entrust the definitive explanations of entire nations to a few scantily-analysed annual magazine articles. Readers, do yourselves a favour: next time you read somewhere that a state is ‘failed’ or a head of state is ‘bad’, or a ‘dictator’ or a ‘coconut-head’, ask why. Because until we start asking why and actually analysing the global situation in a broader manner we will never find real solutions, just constant fear and further entrenchment of damagingly simplistic binary assessments of entire peoples that many already perceive as ‘the Other’.
On Friday – a day that has been marked with a terrorist attack during Friday prayers for so long now that I have gotten used to turning the TV on around 2 PM to check which city has been ravaged to pieces this week – two Ahmadi places of worship were attacked by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. 3000 people were trapped inside, over 90 killed and over 100 injured.
I cannot call the ‘place of worship’ a mosque because I would be thrown into jail for doing so, either in print or on this blog. There would be an angry mob – the same mob that declares social networking websites as entirely evil.
There is nothing in the constitution that says this, but if one were to interpret the constitution, I would have a criminal case against me for having used mosque for a sect that the constitution says cannot use the word ‘mosque’ to identify its ‘place of worship’.
In 1974, the Constitution of Pakistan featured this inclusion that made Ahmadis non-Muslims, and the Pakistan Penal Code was amended in 1984 to impose punishments. For decades, Ahmadis have been killed, harassed and maimed. (See this list of cases registered against Ahmadis.) The country’s only Nobel Prize winner was an Ahmadi, but his treatment at the hands of the state of Pakistan was beyond appalling.
The rest of us Pakistanis, regardless of whether we practice our faith or not, will never have to face the fear that Ahmadis do when filling out a form that asks them their religion, and having to tick Muslim simply because they do not want to be the subject of a nameless mob’s fury and self-righteous condemnation.
Instead, every time we fill out a form to register for an identity card or a passport, we sign a declaration that says:
‘I solemnly affirm that, I believe conditionally and unconditionally in the finality of the Prophethood of the Prophet MUHAMMAD (PBUH), and that I am not a follower of any person who claims Prophethood on the basis of any interpretation of this word, neither I believe such a claimant to be a reformer or a prophet, nor I belong to Qadiani or Lahori group or call myself Ahmadi.’
Pakistan is the only country in the world that requires its citizens to sign this.
The fact that the Taliban thought they were doing the right thing by attacking Ahmadis, the responsibility for this belief of theirs, lies collectively at the hands of every government that has created, enforced and perpetuated the law, that has stood by while hundreds of Ahmadis have been victims of target killings, at television evangelists who have justified killing Ahmadis, at organisations – supported by politicians and the state – that have called for Ahmadis to be killed, organisations that sheltered the killers, and at every citizen who has signed this document to obtain an identity card to be officially counted as a Pakistani.
Pakistanis have said they are ashamed, but others supported the Taliban for having besieged two places of worship. Mohammed Hanif posted on Twitter that a grand total of 40 people were present at a protest against the attacks in Islamabad.
Pakistan should have been a secular state, but it isn’t. But even if it is destined to be a religious state for the rest of its existence, can it not ensure that the minorities – that it has declared to be minorities – are safe?
Read the following blogposts for more:
- Chapati Mystery: We are all Ahmadi. Parts I, II and III
- Kala Kawa: Hanging my head in shame
- The World Has Stopped Spinning: Our collective shame
- Changing up Pakistan: Targeting the Ahmadis
- BBC Urdu: Kaafir Factory
- Al Jazeera Blogs: Are all Pakistanis equal?
- Cafe Pyala: The Original Sin
- A Reluctant Mind:We all have blood on our hands
- The Express Tribune: Saviours of the day recount tales of horror
Its been a busy news week – thankyou Faisal Shahzad for keeping everyone occupied – and so this report on The Mercenary Organisation Formally Known as Blackwater and Now Known as Xe went somewhat unnoticed.
Jeremy Scahill at The Nation wrote about a speech Erik Prince – the founder of Xe – gave recently. The entire article is worth reading, but I’m going to focus on the Pakistan aspect.
Prince scornfully dismissed the debate on whether armed individuals working for Blackwater could be classified as “unlawful combatants” who are ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention. “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”
It is significant that Prince mentioned his company operating in Pakistan given that Blackwater, the US government and the Pakistan government have all denied Blackwater works in Pakistan.
Who are ‘these people’?
Earlier this year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Pakistani news channel Express 24/7 that Blackwater did have a presence in the country, after weeks and months of denying that the contractors had a presence. Here’s what Gates said: (As Scahill pointed out in a post on The Nation, the Defense Department attempted to clarify that comment)
Q All right. And I want to talk, of course, about another issue that has come up and again — (inaudible) — about the foreign security companies that have been operating in Iraq, in Afghanistan and now in Pakistan. Xe International, formerly known as Blackwater or Dyn Corp. Under what rules are they operating here in Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, they’re operating as individual companies here in Pakistan. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, because they are theaters of war involving the United States, there are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they’re contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.
The Blackwater theory has been brought up again in the past few weeks because of the UN report investigating the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. While the report has nothing to do with Blackwater, there are several rumours that have done the rounds since BB’s death that she had been recommended to use Blackwater for her personal security while she was in Pakistan. The rumour is also repeated by the French lawyer Jacques Verges in a new book by Benazir Bhutto’s niece, Fatima Bhutto.
Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan has been talked about endlessly – it has also made for some of the worst reporting to have come out of Pakistan and contributed to the general sense of paranoia in the country.
Here’s an example:
When militants attacked the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in October 2009, this was their list of demands
- Halt of operation in northern areas
- Accountability of former President Pervez Musharraf
- Return of Blackwater
- Closure of Western NGOs
Even more interestingly – and I wish I had a link to corroborate this – but I believe a Rawalpindi resident told a Pakistani news channel that the GHQ attack was carried out by ‘foreigners’ in cars with tinted windows. This is the level to which paranoia about Blackwater has steeped into Pakistani society.
But that paranoia has to be separated from the fact that there is something truly murky about the way Blackwater works (apparently) in Pakistan. This March, three American soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy, questions lingered about their identity initially because they were not identified as soldiers to local journalists travelling with them.
The issue could simply benefit from someone just admitting who has outsourced operations to Blackwater, what exactly are they doing in Pakistan, and are there any checks and balances in place? (Though this may answer some of those questions). While hoping for any answer is utterly naive given that Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister has categorically denied the organization works in the country, it wouldn’t hurt to go back to the basics.
No one wants a repeat of Nissour Square.
Just when I thought I could take a few extra days hiatus from Middle Eastern Politics blogging to focus on launching my new Melbourne food, coffee & booze blog (It’s called The MSG and you should all totally check it out, that was a rather surreptitious plug now wasn’t it?) Along comes Thomas Friedman with more of his amusing, this time qat-induced, hallucinations. I swear I could blog about Friedman’s columns every day (I could probably wring an extra post out of him even on days he doesn’t write) and it would be so much fun that it wouldn’t even matter if anyone read it.
So what pearls of wisdom does Friedman have for us today? I’d be tempted to say he’s gone off his rocker but then he always seems to be off his rocker, probably in a golf caddy somewhere (I’m not sure which five star hotel he’s staying at in Yemen but presumably the lack of golf is making him feel funny, hence all the qat). Well his latest column is built on the usual Friedman premise, a dramatic oversimplification of complex historical events to make everything seem lollywater easy and everyone else seem simple for not figuring it out first… until of course you actually think about the bloody thing:
Visiting Yemen and watching the small band of young reformers there struggle against the forces of separatism, Islamism, autocracy and terrorism, reminded me that the key forces shaping this region today were really set in motion between 1977 and 1979 — and nothing much has changed since. Indeed, one could say Middle East politics today is a struggle between 1977 and 1979 — and 1979 is still winning.
So the ‘small band of young reformers’ are ‘struggling’ against bad things, as usual Friedman gives us a handy hero to root for from high on top of his big white man castle, aren’t we lucky? And isn’t it interesting that 1977 and 1979 are apparently the axial years that created the Modern Middle East? Friedman goes onto mention that in 1977 Sadat made peace with Israel (this was therefore a good year) and in 1979 the Islamic Revolution occurred, the Saudis got all Wahhabi on everyone’s ass and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (a bad bad year clearly). He then goes onto contend that this is totally the reason why everything is messed up in the Middle East, all because of that one year and its still lingering sinister ‘forces’. Right.
So you know, no mention of say, 1916 and the Sykes-Picot agreement or say, 1917 and the Balfour declaration or say, 1921 and the installation of Hashemite King Faisal as the ruler of Iraq (which arguably led to Ba’athist Iraq and all the other bad stuff after that) or, given that he mentions the Iranian Revolution, how about 1953 and the US/UK orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government which led to the much hated Shah being reinstated and then deposed by the revolution Friedman so seems to scapegoat. How about those things Tommy? Did your favourite CEO of last month neglect to tell you about those on the golf course? Or were they missing from your Marriott napkin notes?
Or is it more that these facts don’t fit into Friedman’s simplistic and crudely applied meta-narrative that he uses to write all of his columns on this region which roughly goes like this: “terrorism, Islamism, sectarianism – BAD! democracy, USA – GOOD!” yeah its around about that complex. Speaking of meta-narratives and democracy, Friedman rejects the prevalent ‘meta-narrative’ that:
The Arabs and Muslims are victims of an imperialist-Zionist conspiracy aided by reactionary regimes in the Arab world. It has as its goal keeping the Arabs and Muslims backward in order to exploit their oil riches and prevent them from becoming as strong as they used to be in the Middle Ages — because that is dangerous for Israel and Western interests.’
He rejects it because it’s stupid guys. Come on! What clearly makes much more rational sense to Friedman is the following piece of unedited crap that’s been churned out using copy and paste from previous writings of his:
Deconstructing that story, and rebuilding a post-1979 alternative story based on responsibility, modernization, Islamic reformation and cross-cultural dialogue, is this generation’s challenge. I think it can happen, but it will require the success of the democratizing self-government movements in Iran and Iraq. That would spawn a whole new story.
That’s right, Friedman once again is stupid enough to somehow try to prove that democratisation will solve the problems of the Middle East despite himself earlier admitting in the same article that his treasured Sadat peace deal in 77 failed to translate to the way the people actually feel. Ie. The meta-narratives in the Middle East against Israel and the West are popular and will obviously remain in spite of any democratisation. In fact, it may well be that if Egypt, a country he seems to neglect to mention, for example was actually democratised, the very same peace deal could well collapse. But why am I spelling this out for you people? You know! It’s only Friedman and his dreadfully irresponsible editor that don’t seem to, maybe they’ve been drinking rubbing alcohol like Matt Taibbi suggested, or maybe Friedman should stay off the qat.
Over 70 people are reported to be killed and a large number injured in an attack on a volleyball match in Lakki Marwat. The area had reportedly been ‘cleared’ of Taliban during the military operation, but the target of the attack was actually a peace lashkar that had been formed as a counter measure to the Taliban. According to Geo TV, on not being able to get to the mosque where the lashkar was meeting, the attacker drove an explosives-laden car into a wall. Houses in the area are reported to have collapsed due to the intensity of the blast and people are still buried underneath the rubble.
The local hospital has inadequate medical facilities, and news reporters in the area cite that there are injured people lying on the floor of the hospital, and there are not enough vehicles to transport the dead from the site.
Its going to be a long, long year.
Haaretz has made public details about the supposed map of a proposal that Ehud Olmert offered Abu Mazen to delineate a prospective Palestinian state. Details of the map and proposal have always previously remained clandestine:
Together, the areas would have involved the transfer of 327 square kilometers of territory from within the Green Line.
Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map.
Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories. His proposal would have also involved evacuation of dozens of settlements in the Jordan Valley, in the eastern Samarian hills and in the Hebron region. In return for the annexation to Israel of Ma’aleh Adumim, the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, Ariel, Beit Aryeh and settlements adjacent to Jerusalem, Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence.
Olmert is currently suggesting that his map provide the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. In his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign statesmen, the former prime minister has said the international community must demand a formal response from Abbas to the Olmert proposal and proceed from there in the talks. Olmert has not presented the detailed map to Netanyahu.
While this can be seen as an admirable effort by Olmert, I’m not sure how feasible it is. I seriously question Olmert’s, Netanyahu’s or anyone else’s ability to get this through the Knesset unscathed and actually deliever this kind of land to the Palestinians. This is what makes Middle Eastern peace such a difficult proposition. The other notable thing is that there is no mention of East Jerusalem or of a Right of Return. While I personally believe the latter is unfeasible and not something the Palestinians can expect to receive, the former, in my opinion, or East Jerusalem being the capital of a Palestinian state, should be a minimum condition to peace or land deals. If the original proposal did not include East Jerusalem then it is perfectly understandable that Abu Mazen didn’t want to sign it, that sort of concession would need a great deal of thought and discussion, if it was to be made.
You would have been under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the veritable storm of controversy surrounding the Goldstone Report since its release. Justice Goldstone himself has not been under said rock, and he’s also noticed the fairly rhetorical manner in which his report is being attacked. His first and foremost challenge to critics: read the bloody thing! The man has a point, the Obama administration has denounced the report in strong words, and assisted Israel with its diplomatic offensive to have the report ignored. Most are assuming that the US will use its veto on the Security Council to make sure the report is not accepted (if Russia or China, both of which have come out in opposition to the report, don’t get there first, though admittedly Russia did back it in the UNHRC).
Lebanon’s Daily Star has a good round-up of the choice quotes from the al-Jazeera interview Justice Goldstone gave:
“I have yet to hear from the [Barack] Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,” South African former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone told Al-Jazeera television.
“I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” added the jurist…
“I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelming majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said, adding that the criticism had become personal. [Daily Star]
You can view the full interview here.
One other thing that struck me about the interview was Goldstone’s continued preambles of “As a Jew…”, it strikes me because it gives an idea of how deeply personal the attacks have been. I’m sure Justice Goldstone and his family have suffered a great deal in these past few weeks, what with their commitment to Israel and Jewishness questioned, as well as their very humanity and ethnic identity denied. I think the criticism from some members of the Zionist lobby has been a fairly nasty piece of work indeed.
Goldstone also wrote a piece that appeared in Jerusalem Post and Guardian’s comment-is-free, in it we have the same entreatments to read the report rather than go into personal attacks, also an interesting bit of rebuttal from him regarding the dismissal of the UNHRC’s recommendation to have the report looked at on the basis that its members have questionable human rights records themselves:
Israel and its courts have always recognised that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.
Indeed, the Human Rights record of its members should not be used to mask the question at hand, if Israel committed war crimes in Gaza then it should be properly investigated and brought to justice for doing so. Questioning the human rights records of members such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt as a reason to have the Council’s recommendation ignored does more to harm Israel’s reputation. Israel, claiming to be a bastion of democracy and law, should be striving to exceed such expectations, not compare itself to countries with Human Rights records severely blighted already.
All-in-all I find Goldstone’s defense to be adequate, well-reasoned and somewhat alarming. It is not too much to ask that if the report be criticised, then it should be properly read and the sections of the report with which issue is taken to be pointed out. Stonewalling it without even addressing it is not a constructive thing to do.
A couple of surveys have been released about Pakistan recently. The first, was an Al Jazeera commissioned survey done by Gallup Pakistan; which delivers a fairly interesting insight into the way prospective voters are viewing issues about Pakistan.
Points of note:
Asif Ali Zardari’s unpopularity
Much has been made of this: a 42% disapproval rating is fairly high. But what’s interesting is that the disapproval ratings are as high amongst voters for the PPP as well as its coalition partners, notably the ANP and MQM. This may not bode well for the President in the long run; if the parties decide to breakaway and forge a partnership with the PML-N – whose leader Nawaz Sharif is said by 38% of respondents (the highest) to be the ‘best’ leader for the country, President Zardari may find himself in trouble. Though there seems to be little chance of that happening unless another constitutional crisis emerges.
Next up, is good news for the army - the military operation in FATA has found approval in Pakistan. In 2008, the Taliban were considered unfavourable by 33% of respondents – in 2009, its gone up to 70%. Combine the number of suicide bombings, attacks on army and police installations and the influx of terror tales from Swat and that was a shift that was bound to happen; but I have personally been fairly cynical trying to figure out if the operation has found popularity, given the lackluster response to fundraising for the IDPs in the cities. The Al Jazeera survey puts the number at 42% for approval of the military operation.
But while the Taliban may be down on the popularity graph, what’s interesting is that the respondents of the Pew survey approve of the strict punishments (ala those in KSA) that the Taliban would have brought in. As the report pointed out:
The new poll finds broad support for harsh punishments: 78% favor death for those who leave Islam; 80% favor whippings and cutting off hands for crimes like theft and robbery; and 83% favor stoning adulterers.
But all isn’t lost..
Pakistani public opinion departs significantly from the Taliban on the issues of girls’ education and extremist violence.
As many as 87% of Pakistanis believe it is equally important for boys and girls to be educated.
The poll also finds that support for suicide bombing that targets civilians in defense of Islam remains very low.
Only 5% of Pakistani Muslims believe these kinds of attacks can often or sometimes be justified; as recently as 2004 roughly four-in-ten (41%) held this view. Fully 87% now say such attacks can never be justified – the highest percentage among the Muslim publics included in the 2009 survey.
The shift over the years, from 2002-2009 is interesting because the countries surveyed (seen above) have seen a massive increase in suicide attacks. The Iraq invasion saw a rise in the number of suicide bombings – from 25 in 2003 to 257 in 2008, and Pakistan – as mentioned above – has seen a huge increase over the years. So the shift in the perception is highly important if the military expects and wants the country to be fully on board with the military operation.
The survey also points out the usual: the unpopularity of the US. This isn’t a surprise – the US has been considered extremely hostile and unpopular over the decades, with an escalation in public opinion in 2003 (My assumption is that the hike was because of the Iraq war and the attack the year before at the US consulate in Karachi).
Sadly for the US administration though, the views extend to President Barack Obama and the US is still being counted as a ‘threat’ to the country. I particularly find it interesting that the least ratings are given to two countries that get a lot of aid from the US – Pakistan and Jordan; and we can expect a refrain of ‘oh those ungrateful Pakistanis!’ considering the US has given $15 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001.
The Washington Post quoted US Defense Secretary Robert Gates who was asked about the Pew group’s survey results:
Asked Thursday about a new poll of Pakistanis indicating that 64 percent view the United States as an enemy, Gates said, “The Pakistanis probably — and with some legitimacy — question . . . how long are we prepared to stay there?” He said that “we walked away from them” after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and that assistance was restricted in the 1990s because of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.
Although a close relationship was developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “it’s going to take us some time to rebuild confidence” with the Pakistani people, he said.
They have a fairly uphill task ahead. Check out the survey results:
On a personal note, today’s Independence Day and last night the Jamaat-e-Islami activisits were roaming around the neighborhood I live in (in Karachi) with a loudspeaker in tow, imploring Pakistanis to rise up against US domination.
But so, if the Pakistanis disapprove of the US and President Obama and their own President Zardari, who do they appreciate?
The military and the media top the list as positive influences on the country. More kudos for the military here and I suspect every channel CEO in the country will be going ‘ha-ha!’ to their detractors. However it only serves to highlight how important it is that the Pakistani media reports responsibly on internal affairs. The level of straight-out biases has become fairly ridiculous but if you do sift through the number of channels, magazines and newspapers, atleast Pakistanis have every sort of opinion available to them in the mainstream media. I’m a bit surprised at ‘religious leaders’ but what’s even more interesting is that the ISI is cited as a better influence than President Zardari. Given how much flak the ISI gets, when even Zardari is ranked lower, its something to think about.