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.