INDEX (stories follow)
from The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب by email@example.com (As’ad AbuKhalil)
- Fugitive General Ratko Mladic Arrested in Serbia
- U.S. Pulls Diplomats as Yemen Clashes Grow
- U.S. Arming NATO Attack on Libya
- Pakistan Requests Scaled-Back U.S. Military Force
- Egypt to Open Rafah Border with Gaza
- Israeli Cabinet Celebrates New East Jerusalem Settlement
- Obama Presses Rejection of Palestinian Statehood Campaign
- Obama Praises U.S. Ties to U.K.
- Loughner Declared Unfit for Trial
- Senate Rejects GOP Budget Bill
- Groups Seek Halt to Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals
- Activists Confront Chevron at Shareholders Meeting
- Greek Demonstrators Protest Austerity Measures
- Anti-Gov’t Protests Erupt in Georgia
- Husband-Wife Amazonian Activists Killed in Brazil
- Kucinich Visits Washington State, Site of Potential Campaign Run
- CBS Pulls Jumbotron Ad Calling for End to Haiti Deportations
The trial, while it is intended to strengthen the rule of law, is attended with dangers. It could stiffen resistance of other Arab leaders to stepping down, if they think they would then face legal action. And it could polarize Egyptian society, where the wealthier classes were strong Mubarak supporters.
2. Egypt’s new transitional government will open the crossing at Rafah on Saturday, ending the blockade of Palestinians in Gaza. Foreign Minister Nabil Elarabi rightly called the blockade of the civilian population “disgusting”; it is illegal in international law. It is a sign of a healthier and less pathological policy being made by an Arab government that actually owes something to its people’s public opinion. Palestinians in Gaza have not been permitted to export their made goods since 2007, throwing them into deep poverty and making 56 percent ‘food insecure.’ Israel also places severe limits on what can be imported. Israel destroyed one in eight residences in Gaza in 2008-9, and most have still not been rebuilt for lack of concrete. Many residents of Gaza are refugees from what is now Israel whose families were ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces in 1948.
3. A kind of civil war has broken out in Yemen between followers of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents in the Hashed tribe led by Sheik Sadiq al-Ahmar, which has left 49 dead since Monday. Although the regime has killed over 100 demonstrators this spring, the latter have mostly remained peaceful. Saleh’s attack on al-Ahmar’s compound and the paramilitary response of the Hashed tribesmen mark a new escalation of the conflict. I was a teenager in Asmara (now Eritrea) in 1967-68 during the then Yemeni civil war and remember US personnel coming over to Kagnew Station from Sanaa when the fighting got heavy. News that US embassy personnel are being moved out of the capital after the recent round of fighting brought back those memories, and I hope these tribal fighting isn’t a prelude to another civil war.
4. People who wonder what the end game in Libya is should consider that the Tripoli government is now offering negotiations with everything on the table (i.e. including the possibility that the Qaddafi family will have to step down). Heavy NATO air strikes on military installations in the capital have upped the ante, as has the rebel defeat of Qaddafi’s forces at Misrata, with UN/ NATO help. Likewise, the International Criminal Court indictment of Qaddafi has further isolated his regime, and there are signs of the African Union backing away from him.
Aljazeera English reports skeptically on the ICC indictment, but the ICC head defends its relevance ably:
5. Youth journalists and uncensored newspapers have sprung up in liberated Benghazi, Libya, by the dozens since Muammar Qaddafi’s ‘Revolutionary Committees’ were overthrown and censorship abolished.
A Dassault Aviation spokesman could not immediately be reached to comment on the report. The Rafale multirole combat aircraft is a flagship programme for the French defence industry but has had problems attracting exportbuyers.” (thanks John)
Al-Maliki said a couple of weeks ago that he would go to each of the major political blocs for advice on whether to request a new agreement with the US to leave some troops in Iraq. This statement was widely misinterpreted, I think, in the West. What al-Maliki was actually saying was that he refused unilaterally to extend the US troop presence. The main US hope for keeping American soldiers in Iraq is that al-Maliki would ask them to do so unilaterally, acting sort of presidentially. Instead, he has signalled that he will do no such thing, but will act as a prime minister, beholden to his coalition in parliament. I can’t imagine that any of the major blocs in parliament with the possible exception of the Kurds will advise al-Maliki to do a new SOFA that retains American soldiers in his country. And so it seems to me most likely that the US will have to leave, in part because of sheer political inertia in Iraq, as well as because the Sadrists have made it very clear that a US departure is a prerequisite for social peace. The Mahdi Army militia roiled the country in 2004 and could do so again. The US sees them as a proxy for Iran, but this view is largely incorrect. They are Shiite Iraqi nativists and don’t like foreigners in general, sort of an Iraqi Tea Party.
Now Pakistan is kicking out US special forces troops, showing its government’s displeasure with unilateral security operations on Pakistani soil. This move is in part a reaction against the Raymond Davis case, where a CIA operative shot two Pakistanis in broad daylight. But it also responds to the US incursion into Pakistan, when SEALS killed Usamah Bin Laden.
And as Iraqis and Pakistanis sought an end to US troop presence in their countries, the US House of Representatives surprised itself by almost passing a resolution urging a speed-up of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. the measure failed by only 12 votes, garnering 204 votes, 28 from Republicans. This is substantially more than a similar measure gained last summer in a Democratic-controlled House.
President Obama’s plan to begin drawing down US troops in July, 2011, had originally been controversial, opposed by generals like David Petraeus and by most Republicans. There was speculation that the Republican majority that came in last fall would attempt to stop the withdrawal. But the interminable Afghanistan War, the clear unreliability of President Hamid Karzai, and the killing of Usamah Bin Laden have all changed the political landscape so that momentum is building in the House for a quicker withdrawal than Obama initially proposed. Vice President Joe Biden has spoken about 2014 as an end date for the US military effort in Afghanistan, but it is unclear that the electorate will be patient for that long. Nearly 60 percent of Americans want out.
Younger Americans cannot remember when the US was not at war. Could we be seeing the glimmerings of a time, not long into the future, when no US soldiers will be fighting and dying anywhere on the globe? And, how long before a weary public finally demands that the bloated US war department budget finally be reduced, commensurate with the country’s increasingly straitened circumstances? (No other country beggars itself with military spending as the US does, and most do better economically and seem perfectly secure militarily).
In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, outrage against Pakistan has become commonplace in Washington, as exasperation grows, pressure builds, and the threats multiply. Members of Congress from both parties have urged major cuts in the third largest U.S. aid program, which has gone mainly to the Pakistani military. (Republican Congressman Ted Poe caught the mood of the moment: “Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do… Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American aid.”) Meanwhile, members of the White House have reportedlycalled for “strong reprisals” if the Pakistanis aren’t more cooperative on information-sharing in the war on terror, and Senator John Kerry traveled to Islamabad to demand from that country’s leaders “a real demonstration of commitment” in fighting terrorism at a “make it or break it moment.”
About that leadership, high American officials have lately minced few words. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was typical. At a press conference, he answered a question about whether the Pakistani senior leadership shouldn’t “pay a price” for someone there knowing about bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout in the following way: “If I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say I’ve already paid a price. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity.” Impunity? It’s not a word secretaries of defense usually wield when it comes to allies and was clearly meant to register in Islamabad — and to humiliate.
Here’s what’s curious though: as Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch regular and author most recently of After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World, points out, the Pakistanis control American supply lines to Afghanistan and so the fate of the war there, a simple fact seldom highlighted in the U.S. And here is a simple reality to go with that: The U.S., which has contributed $20 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, certainly could cut back or cut off future infusions of financial support. It could also launch those “strong reprisals,” but only if it first made a basic decision — to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and end its war there. Otherwise it remains in an uncomfortable marriage with Pakistan till, as they say, death do us part, a coupling in which, as Hiro indicates, Pakistan for all its internal weaknesses has a potentially stronger position than most Americans might imagine. Tom
Playing the China Card
Has the Obama Administration Miscalculated in Pakistan?
By Dilip Hiro
Washington often acts as if Pakistan were its client state, with no other possible patron but the United States. It assumes that Pakistani leaders, having made all the usual declarations about upholding the “sacred sovereignty” of their country, will end up yielding to periodic American demands, including those for a free hand in staging drone attacks in its tribal lands bordering Afghanistan. This is a flawed assessment of Washington’s long, tortuous relationship with Islamabad.
A recurring feature of the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been its failure to properly measure the strengths (as well as weaknesses) of its challengers, major or minor, as well as its friends, steadfast or fickle. To earlier examples of this phenomenon, one may now add Pakistan.
That country has an active partnership with another major power, potentially a viable substitute for the U.S. should relations with the Obama administration continue to deteriorate. The Islamabad-Washington relationship has swung from close alliance in the Afghan anti-Soviet jihad years of the 1980s to unmistaken alienation in the early 1990s, when Pakistan was on the U.S. watch list as a state supporting international terrorism. Relations between Islamabad and Beijing, on the other hand, have been consistently cordial for almost three decades. Pakistan’s Chinese alliance, noted fitfully by the U.S., is one of its most potent weapons in any future showdown with the Obama administration.
Another factor, also poorly assessed, affects an ongoing war. While, in the 1980s, Pakistan acted as the crucial conduit for U.S. aid and weapons to jihadists in Afghanistan, today it could be an obstacle to the delivery of supplies to America’s military in Afghanistan. It potentially wields a powerful instrument when it comes to the efficiency with which the U.S. and its NATO allies fight the Taliban. It controls the supply lines to the combat forces in that landlocked country.
Taken together, these two factors make Pakistan a far more formidable and independent force than U.S. policymakers concede publicly or even privately.
The Supply Line as Jugular
Angered at the potential duplicity of Pakistan in having provided a haven to Osama bin Laden for years, the Obama administration seems to be losing sight of the strength of the cards Islamabad holds in its hand.
To supply the 100,000 American troops now in Afghanistan, as well as 50,000 troops from other NATO nations and more than 100,000 employees of private contractors, the Pentagon must have unfettered access to that country through its neighbors. Among the six countries adjoining Afghanistan, only three have seaports, with those of China far too distant to be of practical use. Of the remaining two, Iran — Washington’s number one enemy in the region — is out. That places Pakistan in a unique position.
Currently about three-quarters of the supplies for the 400-plus U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan — from gigantic Bagram Air Base to tiny patrol outposts — go overland via Pakistan or through its air space. These shipments include almost all the lethal cargo and most of the fuel needed by U.S.-led NATO forces. On their arrival at Karachi, the only major Pakistani seaport, these supplies are transferred to trucks, which travel a long route to crossing points on the Afghan border. Of these, two are key: Torkham and Chaman.
Torkham, approached through the famed Khyber Pass, leads directly to Kabul, the Afghan capital, and Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the country. Approached through the Bolan Pass in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, Chaman provides a direct route to Kandahar Air Base, the largest U.S. military camp in southern Afghanistan.
Operated by some 4,000 Pakistani drivers and their helpers, nearly 300 trucks and oil tankers pass through Torkham and another 200 through Chaman daily. Increasing attacks on these convoys by Taliban-allied militants in Pakistan starting in 2007 led the Pentagon into a desperate search for alternative supply routes.
With the help of NATO member Latvia, as well as Russia, and Uzbekistan, Pentagon planners succeeded in setting up the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). It is a 3,220-mile railroad link between the Latvian port of Riga and the Uzbek border city of Termez. It is, in turn, connected by a bridge over the Oxus River to the Afghan town of Hairatan. The Uzbek government, however, allows only non-lethal goods to cross its territory. In addition, the Termez-Hairatan route can handle no more than 130 tons of cargo a day. The expense of shipping goods over such a long distance puts a crimp in the Pentagon’s $120 billion annual budget for the Afghan War, and couldn’t possibly replace the Pakistani supply routes.
There is also the Manas Transit Center leased by the U.S. from the government of Kyrgyzstan in December 2001. Due to its proximity to Bagram Air Base, its main functions are transiting coalition forces in and out of Afghanistan, and storing jet fuel for mid-air refueling of U.S. and NATO planes in Afghanistan.
The indispensability of Pakistan’s land routes to the Pentagon has given its government significant leverage in countering excessive diplomatic pressure from or continued violations of its sovereignty by Washington. Last September, for instance, after a NATO helicopter gunship crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan in hot pursuit of insurgents and killed three paramilitaries of the Pakistani Frontier Corps in the tribal agency of Kurram, Islamabad responded quickly.
It closed the Khyber Pass route to NATO trucks and oil tankers, which stranded many vehicles en route, giving Pakistani militants an opportunity to torch them. And they did. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a written apology to his Pakistani counterpart General Ashhaq Parvez Kayani,conveying his “most sincere condolences for the regrettable loss of your soldiers killed and wounded on 30 September.” Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, issued an apology for the “terrible accident,” explaining that the helicopter crew had mistaken the Pakistani paratroopers for insurgents. Yet Pakistan waited eight days before reopening the Torkham border post.
Pakistan’s Other Cards: Oil, Terrorism, and China
In this region of rugged terrain, mountain passes play a crucial geopolitical role. When China and Pakistan began negotiating the demarcation of their frontier after the 1962 Sino-Indian War (itself rooted in a border dispute), Beijing insisted on having the Khunjerab Pass in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Islamabad obliged. As a result, the 2,000-square-mile territory it ceded to China as part of the Sino-Pakistan Border and Trade Agreement in March 1963 included that mountain pass.
That agreement, in turn, led to the building of the 800-mile-long Karkoram Highway linking Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Region and the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, now a household name in America. That road sealed a strategic partnership between Beijing and Islamabad that has strong geopolitical, military, and economic components.
Both countries share the common aim of frustrating India’s aspiration to become the regional superpower of South Asia. In addition, the Chinese government views Pakistan as a crucial ally in its efforts to acquire energy security in the coming decades.
Given Pakistan’s hostility toward India since its establishment in 1947, Beijing made an effort to strengthen that country militarily and economically following its 1962 war with India. After Delhi exploded a “nuclear device” in 1974, China actively aided Islamabad’s nuclear-weapons program. In March 1984, its nuclear testing site at Lop Nor became the venue for a successful explosion of a nuclear bomb assembled by Pakistan. Later, it passed on crucial missile technology to Islamabad.
During this period, China emerged as the main supplier of military hardware to Pakistan. Today, nearly four-fifths of Pakistan’s main battle tanks, three-fifths of its warplanes, and three-quarters of its patrol boats and missile crafts are Chinese-made. Given its limited resources, Islamabad cannot afford to buy expensive American or Western arms and has therefore opted for cheaper, less advanced Chinese weapons in greater numbers. Moreover, Pakistan and China have an ongoing co-production project involving the manufacture of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, similar to America’s versatile F-16.
As a consequence, over the past decades a pro-China lobby has emerged in the Pakistani officer corps. It was therefore not surprising when, in the wake of the American raid in Abbottabad, Pakistani military officials let it be known that they might allow the Chinese to examine the rotor of the stealth version of the damaged Black Hawk helicopter left behind by the U.S. Navy SEALS. That threat, though reportedly not carried out, was a clear signal to the U.S.: if it persisted in violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and applying too much pressure, the Pakistanis might choose to align even more closely with Washington’s rival in Asia, the People’s Republic of China. To underline the point, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilanitraveled to Beijing two weeks after the Abbottabad air raid.
Gilani’s three-day visit involved the signing of several Sino-Pakistani agreements on trade, finance, science, and technology. The highpoint was his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Following that summit, an official spokesperson announced Beijing’s decision to urge Chinese enterprises to strengthen their economic ties with Pakistan by expanding investments there.
Among numerous Sino-Pakistani projects in the pipeline is the building of a railroad between Havelian in Pakistan and Kashgar in China, a plan approved by the two governments in July 2010. This is expected to be the first phase of a far more ambitious undertaking to connect Kashgar with the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
A small fishing village on the Arabian Sea coastline of Baluchistan, Gwadar was transformed into a modern seaport in 2008 by the China Harbor Engineering Company Group, a subsidiary of the China Communications Construction Company Group, a giant state-owned corporation. The port is only 330 miles from the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which flows much of China’s supplies of Middle Eastern oil. In the wake of the Gilani visit, China has reportedly agreed to take over future operation of the port.
More than a decade ago, China’s leaders decided to reduce the proportion of its oil imports transported by tanker because of the vulnerability of the shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf and East Africa to its ports. These pass through the narrow Malacca Strait, which is guarded by the U.S. Navy. In addition, the 3,500-mile-long journey — to be undertaken by 60% of China’s petroleum imports — is expensive. By having a significant part of its imported oil shipped to Gwadar and then via rail to Kashgar, China would reduce its shipping costs while securing most of its petroleum imports.
At home, the Chinese government remains wary of the Islamist terrorism practiced by Muslim Uighurs agitating for an independent East Turkestan in Xinjiang. Some of them have links to al-Qaeda. Islamabad has long been aware of this. In October 2003, the Pakistani military killed Hasan Mahsum, leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and in August 2004, the Pakistani and Chinese armies conducted a joint anti-terrorism exercise in Xinjiang.
Almost seven years later, Beijing coupled its satisfaction over the death of Osama bin Laden with praise for Islamabad for pursuing what it termed a “vigorous” policy in combatting terrorism. In stark contrast to the recent blast of criticism from Washington about Pakistan’s role in the war on terrorism, coupled withcongressional threats to drastically reduce American aid, China laid out a red carpet for Gilani on his visit.
Referring to the “economic losses” Pakistan had suffered in its ongoing counter-terrorism campaigns, the Chinese government called upon the international community to support the Pakistani regime in its attempts to “restore national stability and development in its economy.”
The Chinese response to bin Laden’s killing and its immediate aftermath in Pakistan should be a reminder to the Obama administration: in its dealings with Pakistan in pursuit of its Afghan goals, it has a weaker hand than it imagines. Someday, Pakistan may block those supply lines and play the China card to Washington’s dismay.
Dilip Hiro is the author of 32 books, the latest being After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World (Nation Books). His upcoming book on jihadists in South Asia will be published by Yale University Press later in the year.
Copyright 2011 Dilip Hiro
The US incursion against Pakistani sovereignty in the Abbotabad raid on Usama Bin Laden’s compound set off a round of condemnations on both sides. The US charges that Pakistan backs some factions of “Taliban” such as the Haqqani Network based in North Waziristan, which strikes at the Karzai government and US & NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. There is popular pushback against US drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The relationship was further soured by the Raymond Davis case, in which a CIA operative shot two Pakistanis dead in broad daylight in Lahore and then a US extraction team from the consulate ran over another Pakistani and killed him trying frantically to save Davis from arrest (in which they failed).
Pakistan wants China to build for it a naval base at Gwadar, a deep water port now managed by Singapore, but to which Chinese engineers and Chinese capital made key contributions. (There are 10,000 Chinese working in Pakistan nowadays.) The port was 75% financed by China.
When the lease on the port ends, China is being asked to step in to manage it. Pakistan is offering itself to China, in other words, as Hong Kong West. If China has standing access to the new naval base for its own growing fleet of military vessels, that opening would give it a new position in the Arabian Sea near the strategic Persian Gulf, which has nearly two-thirds of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and a significant amount of natural gas, as well.
China will also give Pakistan 50 JF-17 Thunder fighter jets . China and Pakistan co-produce these jets, but the 50 being proffered have more sophisticated avionics than the co-produced version. China will also provide Pakistan with “J-20 stealth jets and Xiaolong/FC-1 multi-purpose light fighter aircraft”, though talks are in train about how exactly they will be paid for.
Pakistan will thus have some 260 Chinese jets, and these aircraft are the core of its air force.
On August 14, China will launch a satellite into orbit for Pakistan. The two countries are being vague about its use but it can hardly be irrelevant to Pakistan’s military competition with India.
Two branches of China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank opened in Pakistan during Gilani’s visit to China.
There is also an economic basis, and not just a strategic one, for an increasingly strong Sino-Pakistan alliance that casts the relationship with the US into the shade.
Pakistan and China do $9 bn. a year in trade with one another each year, and Gilani wants it to rise to $15 bn by 2015. In contrast, two-way annual trade between the US and Pakistan is only $5.4 bn. a little more than half that of China-Pakistan. Likewise, US investments in Pakistan in 2010 seem only to have been 1/3 those of China.
Even the Muslim fundamentalist group, the Jama’at-i Islami, is urging closer ties with Communist China as a way of escaping Pakistan’s dependence on (“slavery to”) the United States.
The main thing the US has going for it in Pakistan is its provision of foreign aid (“strategic rent”). If Congress abolishes that, as some representatives have called for, then the Islamabad-Beijing marriage may become even stronger.
Awaz tv reports:
“Even an army bristling with the most fearsome weapons is of no use to the general if all the soldiers desert, and mass desertion is always a physical possibility.” C. Douglas Lummis, Radical Democracy