IT is really ridicules to read the statements of PML(N) Leaders from Hazara over the name Pukhtunkhwa ,let me remind PML(n) GROUP THAT NAWAZ SHARIF IS NOT A NATIONAL LEADER AND PML(N) should not forget that for getting ANP support when Luhar was PM, he promised ANP to rename NWFP as PUKHTUNKHWA, These leaders from Punjab should remember that Pakistan is already at the edge of collapse because of stone age barbarians , Taliban, today Pukhtuns blood is spilling in SWAT and brave Army of Pakistan is afraid to kill these monsters of SWAT VALLEY who are denying education of Pukhtun girls, who are destroying our schools, who wants to impose their views on majority of people who wants to live in peace and improve their lives. It is really shameful and tragic that non of these so called politicians of PML(N)never said anything against Taliban activities in SAWT VALLEY but they are worried about the name of PUKHTUNKHWA, I don’t think these so called politici ans have any moral values, today Valley of Swat is burning, ignorant and criminal Taliban are busy killing Pukhtun people who oppose them, Many innocent people have been killed in most inhuman ways for being termed as spy, whoever tries to resist in any manner in this area against the norms imposed by these militants is termed as an agent /spy, there are many reports that identify people beheaded and hanged on trees and poles at the unfortunate Grain chowk now identified as khooni chowk (The bloody crossing).Is it Islam? What these politicians of PML(N) think about these tragic events, what so called religious leaders like FAZAL and QAZI think about it??? its not the people of HAZARA who are opposing name PUKHTUNKHWA, its party (PML(N)of LUHAR brothers who are trying to divide people of this great province.Gen. Ayub Khan was born in the village of Rehana in Haripur District, NWFP into a family of the Tareen tribe, The Tareen are a prominent Pashtun tribe residing in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The tribe have an influence on politics in Haripur District and the Hazara area of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, The principal language of Tareens IS Pashto, Which proves that people of HAZARA are group of Pushtuns even if they speak different language then Pashto. On the other hand anyone who talks about the so called referendum on this issue then they should have referendum whether Pukhtuns wants to continue living with Pakistan or Afghanistan It seems like Politicians of PML(N) are generating a new issue of hate and divide in this province. Lets not make it a political issue. one should not politicize an issue for own interest. I see no reason for denying Pukhtoons the legitimate name of their province on the grounds that this will increase ethnic tension. On the contrary, if anything, it will defuse the existing tension. Lets not forget what happened to East Pakistan when West Pak denied them their right of Bengali language. The problem is Pakistani politicians never learn from history, these politicians needs to understand that Pakistann’ s imposition of Urdu on east Pakistan was a mistake. It seems like some opportunist politicians of PML(N) IN THE province are trying to create political tension over Pukhtunkhwa. People in Pukhtunkhwa wants to be recognized as a nationality in their own right and for this they want their living place to be given their name Pukhtunkhwa. Why can Punjabis have Punjab, Sindhis Sindh , Baloochis Balouchistan , but Pukhtoons can't have Pukhtoonkhwa ???why Pukhtoon are being treated like occupied Palestine who will breakaway at the first chance...? and if do deci d to break off , trust me with all its might, Pakistan can't prevent that. Pakistan couldn't beat Bengalis into submission and it can never force Pakhtoon into submission. Its stupid that some people who consider themselves super patriotic imply that Pakhtoons are any less patriotic than themselves. Let me remind those self declared super Pakistanis that Punjab did not have any option except joining Pakistan. Punjab had to chose between joining Pakistan or cleaning after the Hindus. But we Pukhtoon had a choice to join our brothers in Afghanistan, with whom we share not only our ancestry but our culture, our history, our tradition, and our language, but Pukhtoons decided to stay with Pakistan .

How can someone from Punjab or Sindh or any other part of Pakistan give us a lecture on patriotism..? I think these people are the one who needs a lesson in patriotism101, because by suppressing minorities right and denying them their identity they are weakening Pakistan NOT Pukhtoons.. Its tragic that Pakistani politicians did NOT learn any lesson from history. Bengalis were at the forefront in the struggle for Pakistan but when Pakistan suppressed them and denied them their rights and their identity what happened ..? We all know the end result. By calling Bengalis traitors because they demanded their rights they were converted into traitors. Alas we could learn from history because if we don't , history is doomed to repeat itself. Acceptance of history is a good sign, no wonder, but learning no lesson from it is unforgivable. Pease someone help me to Understand how renaming NWFP is gonna break Pakistan or divide people in this province? and please don't give me the crap about patriotism and Islamic unity. Whats wrong with Pukhtoons having their identity in Pakistan like Punjabis, Sindhis, and Balouchis..? it’s the politicians who are making mess over the name not the people living in this province. Sindh, punjab and Balochistan are border provinces too why they are not called ,east-south,north-east or south west provinces why these provinces are call with identity of race reside in side that territory? We are unanimous on one thing that people from this province are all pathan if all are not Pashtun. So please take back the British name and give us our own name. The usage of Pukhtunkhwa in Pushtu poetry dates back to the middle ages. The word is a combination of two words - that is Pakhtun and Khwa. Pukhtun or Pashtun is a noun while Khwa means side. Culturally there is no doubt that the land was called Pukhtunkhwa in Pushtu literature since 15th century .The word Pukhtunkhwa was also used in the modern poetry by contemporary poets like Qanaldar Momand (1930-2003) long before it was suggested as the nomenclature for the NWFP.

The name NWFP is certainly a misnomer today since it does not satisfy the aspirations of the people of the province. Three of the four provinces the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, got their own identity either through their environment or inhabitants. But the NWFP has been named neither after the historical and cultural background of the inhabitants nor derived its name from environment. Since the name (NWFP)does not reflect the true ethnic identity of its inhabitants, therefore a demand for its change is a logical consequence but unfortunately the matter has turned into a controversial issue again by so called politicians.

Those opposing the word Pukhtunkhwa argue that the name will not represent non Pashto speaking population of the province. The argument is unjustified and impractical. There is hardly any country in the world which does not have ethnic minorities. Even in Pakistan ;Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan have large number of people who do not speak the language their names ostensibly suggest. The 74 percent population of NWFP speaks Pashto as mother language in present day NWFP and the proportion will greatly increase when FATA will ultimately be merged in the province, choosing a proper name for the province is the fundamental right of its residents. It would help strengthen the federation besides removing the sense of deprivation among people of the smallest province of the country.

It is time that politicians belonging to different factions of Muslim League too come out of their mindset and start and objectively treating the demands the smaller provinces. It will help us build a stronger and more vibrant federation. Instead of debating again and again over this issue, politicians are wasting their time, they should either spend their time on development of this province or quit politics. There is no need to challenge the Pukhtunkhwa issue as it has been passed with overwhelming majority in the provincial assembly, members of this assembly should discuss how to solve the problems in this province. Renaming the NWFP province to Pukhtunkhwa has a long political history in Pakistan. Pakhtoons and nationalist groups, which are passionate about naming their inhabited land after their identity as Pukhtoons, have been demanding the change of the province’s name for decades. But a number of political groups and opportunist politicians are not in favor of calling NW FP as Pukhtunkhwa and they are trying to divide people in Pukhtunkhwa. These members of assembly should be discussing creating jobs, hiring police officers, opening new schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and providing clean water and electricity to their voters and keeping province safe, rid Province of violence and terror, generate productive employment for youth, provide education, health care, and bring progress to the doorstep of workers, farmers and small businesses elimination of child labor etc . These are the issues people elected these assembly members to solve.

How Not to Lose Afghanistan

Even if an additional 30,000 American and NATO troops were deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban problem would not be reduced. It would merely be pushed back over the Pakistan border, destabilizing Pakistan's already volatile North-West Frontier Province, which itself is more populous than Iraq. This amounts to squeezing a balloon on one end to inflate it on the other.
The tribal militias, newly armed with Chinese AK-47s, will not be able to cope with that influx. Even now, the increase in attacks on NATO convoys in Peshawar and the Khyber Pass show how the Afghan front is seriously affected by American policies in Pakistan. Fewer arms from the United States (the Obama administration intends to emphasize civilian over military aid) have diminished the Pakistani military's willingness to support American supply routes, forcing the U.S. military to scramble for new routes through Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. As was the case under the Musharraf regime, the Pakistan army is more interested in American planes than policies.
Clearly, America cannot resolve the Afghan problem in isolation. South-Central Asia needs independent security institutions, beginning with a joint Afghan-Pakistan force empowered to conduct operations on both sides of the border, as recently proposed by Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's defense minister.
At the same time, America will have to accept Afghan and Pakistani negotiations with Taliban commanders, who have emerged from a deep Punjabi and Pashtun social base that cannot be eradicated anytime soon.
Just as needed are provincial reconstruction teams in Pakistan's tribal areas, like those that have been established in parts of Afghanistan. These Pakistani-led teams should be provided with the cash and supplies to install power generators, to give local police officers more pay and to hire thousands of local Pashtun to build roads, hospitals and schools.
This process can begin from the Khyber agency outside Peshawar and spread north and west toward the Afghan border. The original reconstruction teams in Afghanistan also need more support -- which should involve Arab, Turkish and Chinese participation. In other words, long-term stability depends on getting reconstruction right on both sides of the border.

Swat and the Hur uprising

Monday, January 26, 2009
by Ayesha Ibrahim(THE NEWS)
From 1940 to 1947, the British colonial government in India struggled desperately to enforce its writ in a large portion of Sindh, controlled by a group known as the Hurs who had risen in rebellion against the state. The rebellion centred in Rohri, the seat of the Rohri Pir or the Pir of Pagaro, as he is more commonly known, and spread over a considerable area, where the disciples of the Pir lived. Pir Sibghatullah Shah, the Pir at the time, has been viewed variously as a champion of the nationalist movement and as a shrewd politician aiming for a regional fiefdom. Nevertheless, among the Hurs, he inspired what has been called a fanatical devotion and thus, when the Pir was arrested by the British for conspiracy against the government, the Hurs instigated a rebellion that ignited much of Sindh for a decade (continuing in the newly independent state of Pakistan).

This historical episode is similar to the current situation in Swat in some respects. Firstly, a group of people, a sub-set of the local population, rose in revolt against the state; the Hurs in one case and the Taliban in the other. This group managed to gain control over a considerable geographical area and either made allies of the local populace or intimidated the population into acquiescence. Secondly, both rebellions are ostensibly set in a pre-modern framework; the Hurs fought for the kingdom of Pir Pagaro over the region of Sindh (as prophesied by some other Pir) while the Taliban are fighting for the implementation of their version of the ‘shariah’. While these are the ostensible justifications for revolt, the Pir was taking revenge for humiliations wrought upon him by the British and establishing a foothold for himself in the soon to be decolonized subcontinent and the Taliban are obviously waging a political struggle for dominance in the region as revenge for and in reaction to what has been wrought upon them by the US-Pakistan alliance in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, in both cases, the military was called into resolve the conflict, to a large extent, in vain. Martial Law was imposed in a large part of Sindh during the 1940s and, though, the army took extreme measures to destroy any and every bastion of support the Hurs might have (including trying to burn the forests in the area), the Hur reign of terror prevailed in the countryside, in large part due to the local support they continued to command. Within the Hurs there was a body of active perpetrators of violence who sought to challenge the British, while the remaining Hurs, though peaceful, supported the cause of the active Hurs and provided them with food, supplies and information about the activities of the British. In the case of Swat, despite the deployment of military forces, the Taliban continue to wreak havoc and their authority reigns supreme.

The two rebellions are also eerily alike in that in both cases the perpetrators were initially patronized by the state and later came to bite the hand that fed them; the British state had a deliberate policy of cultivating relations with the Pir Pagaro in order to enlist his support in governing the country and the Pakistani state funded and armed (along with the US) the mujahideen who have now morphed into the Taliban. In both cases, also, the state showed signs of backtracking on its previous policy of patronage (the British imprisoned Pir Sibghatullah and the Pakistani government joined the war on terror), which triggered the rebellions. Last but not least, the policy of the state towards both the rebellions was marked by divided opinion over the wisdom of a military operation in unfamiliar territory and there remained, within the administration, considerable support for the opinion that only dialogue of some sort could resolve the dispute. While many among the Hurs were captured, their spirit remained unbroken until the incumbent Pir (succeeding Pir Sibghatullah) ordered them to stop; as his disciples, the Hurs obeyed but perhaps their obedience was also due to a sense that as the Pir had reconciled with the state, the Hurs’ interests would also be protected hereafter. The Pakistani state, too, is vacillating between an attitude of unrelenting aggression to a dialogue-loving position.

What do these similarities suggest? Firstly there appears to be little change in the capacity and posture of the state from colonial times to the present. Just as the colonial state relied on elites (such as the Pir) for effective governance and made little effort to positively influence the lives of the ordinary and thereby had little knowledge or presence in interior Sindh, so, too, has the Pakistani state made little effort to positively impact the lives of those in the northern areas, an extreme case of which is FATA, but it is also apparent in Swat. This lack of political will and the resultant lack of (civilian) capacity in the north-west has allowed the Taliban to gain a foothold.

Secondly, the similarities, along with the history of the rugged north-west, suggest that no resolution of the state of affairs is possible without recourse to both military means and dialogue. While the violence of the Taliban can only be stalled, in the immediate-term, through military means, a long-term solution will require some form of dialogue and negotiation.

The Taliban have obviously acquired a base, have access to supplies, and have made allies or recruits from some of the population and intimidated the rest. To wrest control from this force, without massacring the entire population, is an almost, if not entirely, impossible task. Therefore, despite the justifiable cries for military action in the area, a pragmatic view of the situation suggests that some form of negotiation will be required.

Once some level of peace and stability has been attained, it is the responsibility of the state to pay attention to the area and devote resources, both human and financial, to this troubled region. Only by doing so, can there be any viable hope for national integration and peace.

Pir Pagaro the Seventh (Urdu: پیر پگاڑو) (Sindhi: پير پاڳارو) or Pir Pagara is the title given to the leader of Sunni Muslim Sufi order of Hurs in Sindh province of Pakistan. It comes from Persian word Pir (Chief) and Sindhi word Pagara (Chieftain's Turban). The turban that Pir Pagaro's used to adorn was thought to belong to Prophet Muhammad.
Per legend, the first Pir Pagaro was such a high scholar that he won many scholarly debates. As per Sindh's tradition, the defeated scholar would submit his turban. With so many turbans on his head, he was declared Pir Pagaro or Chief with Many Turbans.
The current Pir Pagaro is Shah Mardan Shah II, who became Pir Pagaro in 1954. He and his offspring are widely known to use their influence and name for intimidation, much like the Mafia. People use their connections with pagara as possible threats. His father Pir Syed Sabghatullah Shah Pagaro was given the chair; he was hanged on 20th March, 1943 by the British colonial government after he was found guilty, in a sham trial, of inciting an armed uprising of Hur followers.
The writer is a staff member. Email: ayesha.ibrahim@thenews.com.pk

The original sin

“If one were to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) today, then all roads would intersect in Pakistan." Says a study entitled "World at Risk" by an American Congressional commission. Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright came up with the view that, "Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons; it has terrorism, extremists, corruption and is very poor". The report "World at risk" urged US president to take steps for securing Islamabad's biological and nuclear weapons. This is how some sections in the US view Pakistan: most dangerous country on the surface of earth, not only instable but having the potential to destabilize neighbouring region and its Generals with suicidal urge ever ready to go nuclear in the event of war with India. Especially in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks criticism of Pakistan has gained sharp edge. Such criticism and vilification of Pakistan has also become a sort of daily routine in the Western print and electronic media. India, on the other hand, in spite of its state sponsored terrorism and its unfair treatment of Muslims and Christians is being treated more sympathetically. It is rising gradually in Western estimation and is seen as a tragic victim of international terrorism being sponsored by Pakistan. It is true all is not well in Pakistan, its North Western tribal territories are on fire, virtually without government control, a section of its population has embraced Jihadist ideology and act independently of governmental control, waging war against American-led Western troops in Afghanistan or on Pakistani troops back home or going on suicidal mission to India. But constant mantra of Pakistan being a failed state, sponsor of global terrorism or as a "nation itself is a kind of WMD" is most unfair. Views like these don't take into account the core reasons leading to today's terrible mess of terrorism and instability in Pakistan. Instability and insecurity in Pakistan came as long-term consequence of Pakistan's association and partnership with the US for safeguarding and furthering America's own strategic interests in the region. If today forces of chaos, terrorism and instability are sending shock waves across the region then it is the US which committed the original sin of creating same forces. The word Jihad is nowadays associated with all the negative connotations in the West but the same Islamic injunction was systematically invoked by America to motivate and encourage the Muslims fight against the Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan. It became America's strategic objective to give the Soviets a bleeding nose in Afghanistan and the idea of Jihad against the infidel Soviets came handy in motivating Muslims fight against the Soviets. Guerilla warfare requires sufficient level of commitment and Americans realised very well that invoking Jihad against the godless Soviets could give the Afghan fighters the required level of commitment to engage the Soviets in a protracted war. This is how Jihad was launched with American and Western blessings and Mujahideen were launched into Afghanistan's killing fields from Pakistan's border areas. Today whole of the Western world is behind the US in demanding Pakistan to put a stop to cross border infiltration of Taliban into Afghanistan but the same trend of cross border raids was set with the active encouragements of US in the days of Soviet occupation. Today's Taliban are merely following a guerilla tradition of Islamic Jihadist kind of Soviet days sanctioned by the US. There are some telling historical parallels helping to better understand the idea discussed. Then Soviet-backed Afghan government headed by PDPA was internationally recognised and had itself requested Soviet military assistance or intervention in 1979 to fight rebels who had taken up arms against the government for its Soviet-styled reforms. Once the US began to aid and arm the Mujahideen, the Soviet Union and Afghan government raised the issue of cross border intervention by Pakistan and American-backed Mujahideen, very much in present day Karzai like manner. But such diplomatic protests went largely ignored at that time by the international community. Now with the benefit of hindsight we can see where America went wrong. It is America which didn't show farsightedness at that time, not realising that indoctrinating Muslims with heavy doses of jihad could become dangerous. Defeating the Soviets became America's obsession and the rest was postponed to the later day. The Mujahideen were wrongly credited for causing the Soviet Union to collapse, though they during the struggle couldn't capture a single town on Afghan soil. Puffed up with too high notions of themselves, the Afghan war veterans began to nourish dream of dismantling the remaining infidel super power. Again it was USA which left Afghanistan at its own after Soviet troops withdrawal. America didn't maintain a constructive engagement with Afghanistan, the country fell to civil war and Al Qaeda got a foothold in the area and this is how Taliban - Al Qaeda nexus came into being, destabilizing the entire world. It is Al Qaeda which through its subtle propaganda began to influence and infiltrate the Muslims in the entire world, even in the educated ones living in the Western countries. 9/11, 7/7, Madrid bombings, Bali bombing and all other acts of terrorism had been inspired by al Qaeda ideology. So if one were to apportion blame for present day acts of terrorism, then we should accuse America in the first place for committing this cardinal sin of creating this jinni. Now this jinni is out of the bottle troubling every one. America cultivated Jihad passion among the Muslims, recruited and trained Jihadi fighters from across the world and now the same Jihadis are every where from Morocco to Indonesia, from Britain to Australia. America aimed to teach Soviets a lesson in Afghanistan but it were the Muslim fighters who learnt the greatest lessons that super powers can be defeated through strong faith and jihad. The lesson of Afghan war have ever since been inspiring Jihadi fighters all over the world. But such bare facts are always ignored and spotlight always comes over Pakistan. It is suspected of wrong doing for variety of reasons. Firstly, because the big players of Jihadi ideology are well ensconced in Pakistan's tribal regions, threatening Western world with acts of terrorism and also because Pakistan army is suspected to still retain some closer links to some of the Jihadi outfits for having some sort of leverage in Afghanistan and Indian occupied Kashmir. Further complication comes with Pakistan's nuclear weapons and the relating fear that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal might fall into the hands of Jihadist or Islamic minded generals. This all is the stuff West's nightmares are made of and that is why some people in the West like to consider Pakistan a "suicidal state" or terrorist state or they talk of multiple threats emanating from Pakistan threatening the entire world. These major threats the world has yet to see, but in Pakistan these threats have seen their actual realisation. Pakistan's siding with the West in War on Terror triggered violent Taliban backlash, making Pakistan their legitimist target. For the Taliban America is far away, they indeed engage NATO troops in Afghanistan but Pakistan is their own country, have their sympathizers in every nook and corner and have far more easier targets in Pakistan than any where else in the world. Pakistan's support for the US in Afghanistan hasn't come at a cheap price. It has bled Pakistan white. It is better for the West to realise the crises Pakistan is passing through, a crises foisted on Pakistan due to West's lack of foresight. Half way across the world America came to Pakistan's tribal areas to give the Soviet Union its Vietnam War, and when it left Afghanistan lay in rubbles and second time it came to Afghanistan proper but its presence destabilized Pakistan. It is true America being a friend of Pakistan doesn't want to see anarchy and instability in Pakistan, but censure and condemnation of Pakistan by American and European think tanks and media leaves a bad taste in Pakistan. To understand how much anti-Pakistani bias Western media retains, readers should check ISI chief's interview to German news agency Spiegel and have it compared with Afghan spy chief's interview by the same news agency. Condemnation and criticism of Pakistan comes easy for Indians but Pakistanis get a rude shock if Westerners begin to speak the same Indian language and heap all sorts of blame and criticism over their country. Pakistan is passing rough and tumble time, dogged by crises and challenges. The need today is to help Pakistan get over the crises, not to criticise it for all that goes by the name of terrorism.

In Afghanistan, Terrain Rivals Taliban as Enemy

KHUGA KHEYL, Afghanistan -- It was near sunset when the tire on one of the armored vehicles blew out on the way back through the village of Khuga Kheyl this month. The U.S. Army convoy stopped dead in a narrow, rocky cleft between two small mountains. A gang of Afghan boys ran down a nearby slope toward the convoy as it jerked to a halt near the border with Pakistan.

That morning, Capt. Jay Bessey had warned his platoon not to waste time and to stay tight. There was word that a suicide attacker might try to infiltrate his small base in a remote district in the eastern Afghan province of Nangahar. There was also a rumor that Taliban forces may have planted more than a dozen bombs along the convoy's route near another isolated district close by.

A flat tire an hour before sunset was the last thing Bessey needed. Yet there he sat, waiting for another unit to arrive with a spare. The incident underscored what all U.S. forces operating near the 1,500-mile-long border know: that the tyranny of the terrain is almost as formidable an obstacle to their goals here as the treachery of the Taliban.

The plan had been to meet with district tribal elders, deliver food aid and drop off a few benches and tables at a new school, creating a little local goodwill for U.S. efforts to stabilize the region, then get back to base before dark. Instead, Bessey sat listening to a village elder who had scrambled down the mountain from Khuga Kheyl with cups of tea and a laundry list of demands while the sun set on the convoy.

The mission in Khuga Kheyl was textbook counterinsurgency -- the kind of approach Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, has been trying to drive home to U.S. troops since he was a field commander in Iraq. There, under Petraeus, U.S. troops reached out to Sunni tribal leaders in the western province of Anbar to form community-based militias that helped reverse the tide of violence. The so-called Anbar Awakening, combined with an increase in U.S. troops, gradually created pockets of security in areas previously dominated by insurgents.

Petraeus, who is now in charge of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has said he plans to launch a similar approach this year in Afghanistan in a bid to retake the initiative from a resurgent Taliban. For that strategy to succeed, U.S. troops will have to broaden their presence in areas of Afghanistan where development has been slow, security precarious and confidence in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai limited.

Many of those areas lie in eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan, which has become a gateway for the insurgency. With U.S. troop levels set to double to about 62,000 in Afghanistan in the coming year, American military officials here say the struggle to win tribal allegiances in remote, isolated places such as Khuga Kheyl will define the success or failure of Petraeus's plan. But in far eastern Afghanistan, where tribal loyalties often trump national interests, that is no easy task.

Rough, often impassable mountain terrain has made it tough to make inroads into border areas where thousands of Pashtun tribesmen teeter between support for Karzai and support for the Taliban. Last year, Afghanistan's eastern border provinces witnessed some of the bloodiest battles between coalition and insurgent forces. Insurgent incursions in the east increased by nearly 45 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. military. And many of the 151 U.S. troops killed last year died in combat in areas bordering Pakistan.

The conditions have made for a tense atmosphere for Bessey's men in the 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, based in Fort Hood, Tex., but he has pushed hard to counter their fears. "I try to tell our guys, 'You know, we're not going to win this thing by killing people,' " Bessey said. "We're not going to win by being the ugly Americans out there."

Bessey, a tall, athletic-looking West Point graduate from Michigan, glanced over at the stalled convoy while he settled in on a pile of rocks and waited for help to arrive. He vigorously worked a plug of tobacco in the corner of his mouth while he listened to Malik Dalawar, the Khuga Kheyl tribal elder, plead his case.

Thick-fisted and balding, with a stubbly white beard, Dalawar took Bessey's measure with a long, hard look. We need guns, he said. At night, there are few NATO forces or Afghan police or troops around to safeguard local villagers. Dalawar said he and his people needed some way to defend themselves against the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who regularly sweep into the area from Pakistan. But Bessey was not entirely convinced.

Dalawar, a member of the Mohmand tribe, said he is no fan of the Taliban. But in places such as Khuga Kheyl, the pressure on tribal elders to join the Taliban is intense. Electricity is scarce. Paved roads are nonexistent. And insurgent hideouts are abundant on both sides of the border. Dalawar said insurgent commanders regularly try to entice him to join the fight against coalition forces.

"They tell us to fight alongside them. They say: 'We will give you roads. We will give you electricity.' The Taliban, they tell us: 'Look, the Afghan government has given you nothing. If you fight with us, you can have everything,' " Dalawar said. "When we tell them, 'No, we will not do this,' then they tell us they will take our villages by force if they have to."

The threat in Khuga Kheyl is serious. A day before Bessey's convoy passed through the village, about 600 Afghan Taliban fighters had overrun a Pakistani military base in the Mohmand tribal area just across the border. The assault left 46 Pakistani troops dead. Regional experts and military officials speculated that many of the attackers came from an area not far from Khuga Kheyl.

"I am an elder, so if someone has a gun and I don't, I can't do anything," Dalawar said.

"If the area is secure, then you don't need a weapon," Bessey replied.

Dalawar tried again: "If something happens and I do not have an AK-47, it could be a problem."

"If you have a weapon, it could be a problem for someone else," Bessey said.

In other parts of Afghanistan, the debate over whether to arm local tribal leaders has been largely settled. In southern Afghanistan and in provinces near the capital, Kabul, where the Taliban is strongest, the training and arming of local tribal militias will soon be underway.

Nevertheless, some Afghans have said they fear that arming local militias will lead to abuses and could reignite the same intertribal frictions that sparked a protracted and brutal civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Lt. Col. Patrick Daniel Jr., commander of the U.S. battalion based in Nangahar province, said many American officers in the field support the idea of allowing responsible Afghan tribal elders to arm themselves. But such an approach carries risks and might not work in every province, Daniel said.

"For a lot of us out here, we recognize that it's much like how we feel about the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms in the States," Daniel said. "But we already have tribal disputes that are resolved by violence, and when you give them more weapons, that could mean those disputes could get resolved with those weapons. So it's a roll of the dice. Still, you can't rule it out . . . because people here need to protect themselves."

When another U.S. convoy arrived with a spare tire, Bessey deferred the decision on Dalawar's request for a few weeks, saying he would bring it up with the incoming U.S. commander in the region. He brushed the mountain dust from his pants and called for his troops to mount up.

Dalawar looked the American soldiers over one more time. He frowned slightly. The sky darkened as the sun dropped behind the mountains. He shook Bessey's hand and said he would be glad to see him again.

Analysis: For Cuba and US, making up is hard to do


HAVANA – Raul Castro says Barack Obama seems like a good guy, and his brother Fidel says he's certain of Obama's honesty. The new U.S. president wants to sit down and negotiate, and is in a better position to do so than any other since Eisenhower.

But making up is hard to do. To restore relations and end the U.S. embargo, Obama would have to drop demands for democracy on the island, or Cuba would have to accept them — both unlikely scenarios.

Never since a young Fidel Castro traveled to the United States in 1959 have hopes for U.S.-Cuba relations been higher, nor the obstacles to closer relations fewer. Among the positive signs:

• An ailing Fidel Castro handed the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006, removing a symbolic hurdle to closer ties.

• Obama didn't need the anti-Castro vote in Florida, once thought indispensable. In any case, a recent poll indicates most Cuban-Americans in the heart of Florida's exile community want an end to the embargo that bars most U.S.-Cuba trade and travel.

• A stream of Latin American leaders has visited Havana in recent weeks, and the region is beginning to speak with one voice against the U.S. embargo.

• Obama took heat during the campaign for saying he'd sit down with a Castro — and won anyway.

• And the Castros, who covered Havana with images of former President George W. Bush as a bloody-fanged vampire, actually seem to like the new president.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was convinced of this after a private meeting with the elder Castro Wednesday, telling reporters that Fidel told her Obama is an honest man — "un hombre sincero."

Raul Castro chimed in: "He seems like a good man."

Fidel Castro said Thursday in his first essay in more than a month that he watched Obama's inaugural speech and has had "no doubt of the honesty with which Obama ... expresses his ideas."

Obama's Cuba policy appears clear: He'll quickly end limits imposed by the Bush administration on the number of trips Cuban-Americans can make to see relatives, and on the amount of money they can send home. He signed an order Thursday to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which Cubans considered to be an affront to their patrimony — the U.S. naval base was built on land permanently leased from Cuba under terms imposed when American troops occupied the island in 1903.

But Obama said during the presidential campaign that he would keep the embargo in force, using it as a bargaining chip for democratic change in Cuba.

"The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair," Obama said as he outlined his Latin America policy last May.

Cuban officials recoil at the thought of a U.S. president telling them how to run their country.

"It would cost us our dignity. Under pressure we won't do anything," Miguel Alvarez, senior adviser to the president of Cuba's National Assembly, told The Associated Press. "That's very Cuban."

One problem, says Dan Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, is that there is no high-profile figure in the United States with a background in Cuba to lead the charge for normalization, like war veterans John Kerry and John McCain did for U.S.-Vietnamese relations.

Erikson said it will be hard to overcome the "inertia" of U.S. policy, which for 50 years has been based on the increasingly improbable hope that isolating the island and draining it of foreign capital will weaken the government's hand and allow an opposition to flourish.

"This despite the fact that almost no one thinks this policy will be successful at its goal: achieving democracy in Cuba," he said.

Many observers suggest the U.S. could have far more impact by unilaterally ending the embargo and removing the sanctions Cuba's government uses to explain away the island's poverty and other restrictions on what Cubans can say or do. That way, Cubans would be able to judge their rulers on their own merits.

"I don't see any downside to ending the embargo. The embargo at this point is an anachronism that makes us look foolish," said Wayne Smith, the former chief of the U.S. mission in Havana.

Ending the embargo would require backing down from entrenched positions neither side seems ready to abandon. It would also require an act of Congress, since lawmakers wrote key parts of the restrictions into law in 1992 and 1996.

But relations also could be revolutionized if either side takes smaller steps that carry minimal political cost.

Cuba, for example, could free political dissidents from its prisons. Raul Castro said last month he'd be willing to send them and their families to the United States in exchange for the freedom of five Cubans locked up in U.S. prisons as spies.

The United States could lift restrictions that bar most Americans from traveling to Cuba, sending a million ambassadors of democracy fanning out across the island every year. Cuban officials say they'd happily take in the tourists, for the hard currency they would bring to the economy.

"If you remove the travel restrictions, the embargo becomes irrelevant," a Cuban official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss policy.

While the politicians mull their next moves, ordinary Cubans are infused with a hope the island hasn't seen in quite some time.

"Everything changed over there today," Havana resident Roberto Gonzalez marveled as Obama took the oath of office Tuesday. Gonzalez, 40, mugged for tourist photos with a dachshund wearing an "Obama-Biden" pin, hoping he might make a few dollars in tips.

"I can see the day that Barack Obama will step onto Cuban soil," he said. "That day isn't very far off."

No point in talking to the Taliban

Friday, January 23, 2009
by Farhat Taj
Some weeks ago I was with a family in the NWFP. The family had staying with them many relatives from a Taliban-occupied tribal area. I asked one of the relatives his views on a dialogue with the Taliban. We were talking in Pashto, but the young man's prompt reaction came in English: "Dialogue? Taliban? My foot!" Then he returned to Pashto. "All those who want a dialogue with the Taliban should go to hell. No dialogue with the Taliban. The army must kill them all. But the army does not want to kill them."

The remarks typify the widespread feelings of hatred towards the Taliban and of disappointment in the army's failure to curb them in the tribal areas and the NWFP. People just want the writ of the government restored and the Taliban brought before the law.

Most of those in Pakistan who seek the dialogue are outsiders who do not care to come to the Pakhtun areas and see the ground realities and the sufferings of the people. They are either intellectually lazy or are insensitive to the trauma of the terrorised people.

One of these advocates of a dialogue between the government and the Taliban is Masooda Bano. After reading her article in The News titled "What a Thought" (Jan 16), I sent her an email asking the following questions.

1) Which Taliban/militant leaders in the Pakhtun areas are you proposing for a dialogue? Please name those leaders.

2) Please elaborate why you think there should be dialogue with those leaders. Please elaborate one by one with reference to each leader?

3) If not the Taliban/militant leaders, who else are you proposing as partners in the dialogue?

4) Under what conditions should a dialogue with Taliban/militants take place, or should it be unconditional?

5) Are you from the NWFP or FATA?

6) If not, when was the last time you came to the NWFP or FATA?

She never replied to my email. If she had replied, I would have had a better idea of the logic behind her suggestion for the dialogue. One person with whom I discussed her suggestion said the writer is backing the Taliban by asking for what they themselves ask--a dialogue. "The Taliban ask for dialogue just to get more time and space to reorganizes," said a woman.

Masooda Bano referred to words two British ministers to conclude that there is "recognition at the global level that the use of force perpetuates rather than curtails militancy," which provides the Pakistani leadership with "just the right support to build a strong case for replacing military operations in the NWFP and tribal belt with dialogue." The Pakhtun who experience the full range of Talibanisation, day and and day out, know that Taliban atrocities are not going to end with a dialogue. The Taliban have an agenda of a savage social order to be imposed on the people. The Pakhtun are not ready for that and this is the reason why they are bearing the brunt of the Taliban savagery. Hatred against the Taliban in the Pakhtun areas is at an all-time high and so is disappointment, even resentment, about the Pakistani army for its failure to stop the Taliban. All over the NWFP and FATA one can find people who even discuss possibilities of Israel and India to be asked for help. Their argument goes like this: "We are not killed by Israel and India. We are killed by the Taliban and the Pakistani army. So, who is our enemy, then?" Many people in the Taliban-occupied territories of the NWFP and FATA told me they constantly pray for the US drones to bomb the Taliban headquarters in their areas since the Pakistani army is unwilling to do so. Many people of Waziristan told me they are satisfied with the US drone attacks on militants in Waziristan and they want the Americans to keep it up till all the militants, local Pakhtun, the Punjabis and the foreigners, are eliminated.

The Pakhtun are not ready to accept that the strong Pakistani army is unable to eliminate the key leaders of all the Taliban groups and their headquarters. People argue: When the Pakistani army leadership wished, it eliminated Nawab Akbar Bugti in the most brutal manner, in complete disrespect for the wishes of the Baloch and other Pakistanis. How come the army does not eliminate the murderous gangsters like Taliban leaders Baituall and Fazllulah when the Pakhtun are asking for it? People want the army to eliminate the entire leadership of all Taliban gangs, their headquarters and hideouts in targeted operations based on good intelligence. The Pakhtun are not ready to accept that the mighty ISI cannot provide actionable intelligence to the army for prompt targeted operations.

In my article of Jan 15 I explained that there cannot be a dialogue with the Taliban because there does not exist any common ground that is mutually respected by both the government of Pakistan and the Taliban. Such a ground, I argued, can be the law of Pakistan, the code of Pakhtunwali or Islam--none of which is respected by the Taliban. Now I would say that it is not even practical and feasible to have a dialogue with the Taliban. The Taliban are not a homogeneous group. There are not one, two, three, four or five Taliban leaders. The Taliban are made up of a large number of militant and criminal gangs. (Perhaps the ISI knows the exact number.) How many dialogues must the government initiate? How many criminal gangs must the government appease?

The Taliban groups have a broad-based combined agenda--i.e., imposition of their own version of religion on the Pakhtun through terror and violence. But the groups operate independently of each other. They, however, support, or at least do not mess up with, each other's activities in the implementation of the agenda. Thus, for example, a group of local Taliban in North Waziristan have a peace deal with the army. According to the written version of the agreement (which has been seen by NWFP and tribal journalists), the deal binds the Taliban not to allow any activities in their area that can be against the law of Pakistan. But some South Waziristan Taliban gangs, linked with the Punjab-based sectarian groups Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jangvi, move through the area of North Waziristan Taliban to come to the area between Kohat and Parachinar to terrorise Shia Pakhtun in the area. After having committed their acts of terrorism in the Shia reas, they go back to South Waziristan via North Waziristan where the Taliban that have agreement with the army never ever try to stop this traffic in the Shia areas.

Taliban gangs in both Waziristan routinely terrorise the people of Waziristan. This is one of the key reasons why so many people of Waziristan have preferred to live as internally displaced people in other parts of Pakistan.

An internally displaced woman of Waziristan with whom I discussed Masooda Bano's article has this message for her: "Would you like to live under Taliban rule? If yes, you are most welcome to come to Taliban-occupied Waziristan or Swat. If not, why do you float pro-Taliban suggestions like the dialogue which will force the Pakhtun to live under their inhuman order one way of the other? Or perhaps you believe that the Pakhtun are naturally cut out for brutal life under the Taliban."

The NWFP government had an agreement with groups of the Taliban in the NWFP. According to the agreement the arrested Taliban militants for involvements in terrorist activities were to be released after a judicial procedure. Later some Taliban leaders argued that they do not believe in the law of Pakistan and insisted the arrested Taliban must be released without any judicial procedure under the law. The government refused, and this put the agreement in trouble.

The Pakhtun are sick and tired of this dialogue and the so-called peace agreements with the Taliban. They want the Taliban brought by force under Pakistani law. As a Pakhtun I understand the outsiders, whether ignorant or insensitive, do not understand and respect this law.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: bergen34@yahoo.com

The fall of Swat....Barbarian Taliban destroying Pakhtoons

The fall of Swat
Daily Times
After a year of military operations in Swat, the territory controlled by the terrorists has reportedly increased from 25 percent to 75 percent. On Friday, the army killed 12 Taliban in different parts, but could not prevent the demolition by them of a rest house owned by the ANP’s late leader, Mr Abdul Wali Khan. The party that rules in Peshawar has been systematically decimated in Swat as its allies walk in fear and no longer criticise the Taliban in public, accusing only the army of being “indiscriminate”.

Swat had voted last year for ANP as a liberal alternative to the now defunct MMA because they wanted their home territory to be made safe against the vandalism of the Taliban. But what they have got is the systematic destruction of the female educational infrastructure in Swat by the Taliban and loss of protection by the state. The terrorists had warned last month that if any girls’ schools opened after January 15, they would be bombed. Consequently, after the expiry of the deadline, none of the 400 plus schools has reopened, causing 80,000 girls to go without education for the foreseeable future. Along with them, 8,000 female teachers will be rendered jobless in state sector and private institutions.

The federal information minister, Ms Sherry Rehman, has responded to the questioning in the National Assembly by saying that the government is not oblivious to the situation and will do something about it. But this isn’t terribly credible. The Taliban have already bombed out of existence 122 girls’ schools in Swat while the army operations go on inside a fast shrinking territory of the writ of the state. The inhabitants no longer believe that the state is capable of protecting them and talk on TV channels freely in favour of the army clearing out of the area and the government negotiating with the terrorists to give them what they want, including a literal ban on the public movement of women.

The ANP government began talking peace with the Taliban after coming to power in 2008. It reached an agreement on the enforcement of sharia with the terrorists and even let their founder-cleric out of jail as an earnest of its peaceful intent, but, according to the ANP leaders, the contract was sabotaged by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud who sent in more “foreigners” into Swat to tighten his hold on the territory. Reporters have described youths who behead people in the valley as people who speak differently from the locals and even look like non-Pakistanis.

In Pakistan, the foremost obstacle in pacifying Swat is the national division of opinion. A majority of the people who mould public opinion think that “it is not Pakistan’s war”, and trace it to the cruelties inflicted on the innocent people of Swat by the Musharraf regime. A recent opinion on the plight of Swat was expressed like this: “Swat was totally peaceful until two years ago. Then the government of Pervez Musharraf destroyed its peace. It spilled the blood of innocent people, and now the same innocent people had become greatest oppressors. They are killing each other in the name of Islam. What a great irony that the dictator who loudly proclaimed his enlightened moderation cast Swat into the clutches of religious extremism. And now he is going around the world lecturing on peace”.

But the truth is that Swat saw its trouble first in the mid-1990s with a radical cleric Sufi Muhammad asking for sharia. In 2001, the Sufi joined the Taliban in Afghanistan to fight the Americans. After his arrest, his son-in-law Maulvi Fazlullah unfurled the flag of jihad in Swat and was soon taking orders from the South Waziristan warlord Baitullah Mehsud. Today, Swat lives under the sharia of Fazlullah. Civilian collateral damage has been considerable, and may have caused rebellion in some cases, but most of the “obedience” observable in the valley is because of the fear of beheadings by the terrorists.

The measure of lack of success of military operations in Swat can be had from the fact that the terrorists now have an autonomous state of their own, complete with running sharia courts and an FM radio station exhorting the people to accept the new order or die. They have their own network of intelligence and an information secretary that you can ring up and talk to. Every day the people of Swat wake up to find someone or the other either beheaded or hanged on the Green Chowk of Mingora now called Khuni Chowk. Those who could flee Swat have done so; those who have nowhere to go will live under the terrorists. The “state” will soon have to survive on the economy of contraband and kidnappings in the settled areas of the NWFP.

Pakistan can turn away from the obligation of saving Swat only at the risk of further more dangerous erosion of the state. It is a war that has to be fought and Pakistan cannot afford to lose it. Islamabad must realise that Swat terrorists have their networks in the rest of the country; and last year, Lahore’s girls’ schools had received threats of closure the same way as in Swat.

War from Kabul to Peshawar and then …

Wali Khan spent the last days of his life at home in one of the most beautiful places in the Swat Valley. The house which is surrounded by greenery and a picturesque river has a significant place in the history of Pakistani politics.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Wali Khan took several important decisions in this house. I met Wali Khan in the same house in the 1980s along with other senior journalists. An active politician, Wali Khan had foretold that the situation will become dangerous especially in the NWFP if Pakistan would not stop sending armed people to Afghanistan in the name of Jihad. Most people did not share his foresight at the time, however, his prediction has proved true today.

I remembered his words again as I read the news about militants attacking and damaging the residence of the late ANP leader, Khan Abdul Wali Khan. The war that started in Afghanistan in the 1980s by Ziaul Haq in the name of Jihad has now reached Peshawar from Kabul.

A few days ago, I had the chance to meet Mian Iftikhar Ahmed, a minister of NWFP (Pakhtoonkhawa) in an informal meeting held in Karachi. He was here to attend a conference, which was to be convened by the Sindh Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Minister, Makhdoom Jameeluzzaman. However, the conference was cancelled due to other engagements of the federal IPC Minister, Raza Rabbani. I was the only journalist in this luncheon meeting with other guests Mian Iftikhar Ahmed, Information and IPC NWFP, PPP leaders Nafees Siddiqi, ANP Sindh Chief Shahi Syed, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan Secretaries IPC and Joint Secretary IPC federal government. The purpose was to create an IPC ministry and the departments in the provinces were to share their problems and suggest solutions.

Taking advantage of this occasion, I asked Mian Iftikhar about the situation in the NWFP. Most of the information that he shared was off-the-record. However, it was quite alarming. He explained that the people who had elected religious parties in the last election rejected them this time around and as a result the ANP and other liberal parties came into power. The people of NWFP were happy over this change while the political parties had the mandate to serve and develop the province.

He said that their major demand to change the name of NWFP to Pakhtoonkhawa has been accepted as the PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari had agreed for the constitutional amendment to change the name of the province. Unfortunately, the situation changed suddenly, just after the government started planning. Terrorists came out and started sabotage and suicide activities in the province. Consequently, the government started negotiations with Jihadi groups to handle the situation and people welcomed this move as they wanted peace. However, some quarters got angry with this political move and finally the terrorists increased their activities.

Being a political party, the ANP persuaded the public to stand united against terrorism. People and tribes took action against terrorists in their respective areas, which forced the terrorists to take shelter in other areas including Swat. In retaliation, the terrorists who are equipped with modern arms and latest communication equipments, spread terrorism by exploding schools, government buildings and taking civilians hostage while there is an Army operation in progress.

Mian Iftikhar said that his province needed political, moral and financial support to fight against terrorists — which in fact should be construed as a fight for Pakistan. He added that the writ of the government is only followed in Peshawar, but the provincial capital is also under the siege. Terrorists in the provincial capital have attacked not only the Governor, but also other government functionaries. Mian Iftikhar asserted that support for the NWFP situation should be the top priority, otherwise the situation will soon be out of control. He emphasised that the terrorists would not stop in the NWFP, they will also enter Islamabad, Punjab and other provinces.

He further disclosed that Punjab is also not safe from the threat of terrorism as some terrorists also come from training camps in southern Punjab. After the NWFP they would spread their fight to Punjab, if the provincial and federal government do not take action.

Unfortunately, the media and religious parties call these elements ‘Jihadis’. However, they are terrorists because Jihadis never kill women, children and explode schools. “If somebody has the impression that terrorists will stop at Attock border in the NWFP, they are living in a fool’s paradise. Terrorism is a threat for all, they will not stop until they have breached Islamabad, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.”

His community is looking for support from the entire nation. “Please do something before everything is destroyed,” Mian Iftikhar said.

What went right for Bush

Article from: The Australian
THE final word on George W. Bush's foreign policy belongs, perhaps, to his successor, Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated as president of the US next week. In his most wide-ranging television interview on foreign policy, Obama was asked last week whether he stood by a remark he made in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has been constantly shelled by Hamas rockets from the Gaza Strip. Obama said that if his town, where his daughters slept each night, was constantly being attacked by rockets he would want to do something about it.

In the light of Israel's military campaign in Gaza, the TV interviewer asked if Obama still felt that way?

He replied: "That's a basic principle of any country: that they've got to protect their citizens."

Obama was further asked to differentiate himself as strongly as possible from the Bush administration's policy of supporting Israel. Would he instead be ushering in a bold new policy?

Obama replied: "If you look not just at the Bush administration but what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach."

Good grief! These words should shock every true Bush hater in the world. But wait, there's more.

Obama's nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that the Obama administration would put more emphasis on diplomacy and try to engage Syria and Iran in dialogue. (Just, indeed, as the Bush administration has tried to do.)

But, just like Bush, she and the new administration would not take the military option off the table in dealing with Iran.

On Hamas, she said: "You cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognises Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is an absolute. That is my position and the president-elect's position." It is also one of the most contentious positions of President Bush, Democrat Obama's Republican predecessor.

Then there is the US prison in Guantanamo for terror suspects. Obama has pledged to shut it. Indeed, Bush wanted to shut it, too. But Obama's people now say that doing so might take a year or more, because, like Bush, Obama will face the dilemma of what to do with intractably dangerous people whose countries of origin either won't have them back under any circumstances or would be likely to torture or kill them if they did take them back.

It would be wrong to suggest there is no difference between Obama and Bush in foreign policy. But from the moment that Obama's hawkish, almost neo-conservative foreign policy essay appeared in the US journal Foreign Affairs in July 2007, it has been clear that the continuity in US foreign policy from Bush under Obama would vastly outweigh the change.

Indeed, Obama is the American Kevin Rudd, though, with no disrespect to our Prime Minister, Obama is more glamorous and better looking.

But, like Rudd, Obama is likely to engage in some powerful symbolic gestures while keeping much of his predecessor's policies in substance.

Obama is even keeping some of Bush's key personnel, most remarkably Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and some key Bush administration figures in the National Security Council.

Obama acknowledges the success of the Bush troop surge in Iraq and wants to imitate it in Afghanistan.

In truth, there is no greater compliment in political life than for a political opponent to adopt his predecessor's policies once he gains office.

All this is the opposite of the popular stereotype - parroted nowhere more faithfully than in the Australian media - of a bumbling, incompetent Bush producing a train wreck of a foreign policy requiring profound remedial action. So great is the emotional prejudice against Bush - on display again in a remarkably silly essay by Don Watson in the January issue of The Monthly magazine - that it is almost impossible to get a serious, rational, dispassionate discussion of the Bush foreign policy legacy.

But it is time to take serious stock of what Bush has meant for foreign policy. From an Australian perspective, it is necessary to distinguish different parts of the Bush time in office.

There is Bush's record on issues of special concern to Australia, such as Asia and trade policy, and Bush's incredible increase in aid for Africa. But there is the big question mark over the Middle East and the lack of action on global warming.

It is necessary to distinguish, too, between Bush before 9/11 from Bush after 9/11, also to distinguish the first George W. Bush term from the second, for they were very different.

None of these complexities normally figures in the celebratory denunciations of Bush constantly emanating from pundits and opinion panjandrums across the world.

One important reality check came from Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the US Council for Foreign Relations, in a recent lecture to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.

Mead is in no sense a Bush partisan or neo-con. He is a non-partisan voice of great elegance and sophistication in US foreign policy. Speaking just after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and in the midst of the global financial crisis, He asserted that he was an optimist about the international scene. He advanced five reasons for his optimism.

One: Financial and banking crises are a regular and perhaps inevitable part of the capitalist system. But the US and the world always recovers from them and life goes on, generally with a better understanding of the way economies work and often, therefore, a better regulatory system.

Two: The failure of Osama bin Laden and his project throughout the Islamic world. This is most evident in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs there saw the US in a sense at its worst - given the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the mismanagement of the early part of the occupation - and al-Qa'ida potentially at its most appealing as the leader of resistance against Western domination. And yet in the Iraqi Sunni awakening, they rejected al-Qa'ida and chose partnership with the West.

Three: The rise of Asia. Mead rejects the intellectually constipated notion that China's rise equals America's decline. Instead he thinks that Asia is producing numerous big powers - China, Japan, India - that will naturally balance each other and always seek the involvement of the US as a further balancing and stabilising force.

Four: The enduring strength of American soft power. But how can this be? Surely Bush's global unpopularity has permanently ruined America's standing in the world? Not at all, Mead argues. One election, the triumph of Obama, and suddenly the world loves the US again.

European magazines recently at the centre of anti-Americanism declare that we are all Americans now and that Obama is the president of the world.

But if anti-Americanism is so easily banished, was it really such a powerful force? Another possible explanation (and here I am not quoting Mead) is that much anti-Americanism is exported from the US itself and reflects not much more than the visceral hatred of Bush by The New York Times class.

The New York Times itself is reprinted all over the world and its attitudes and disdains aped by faux sophisticates from Brussels to Balmain.

Five: The enduring dynamism of US society. No candidate ran in the US presidential election in 2008 as the status quo candidate.

I find Mead's arguments pretty convincing. If there is even a glimmer of truth to them, they suggest that the world Bush created was not altogether and entirely as evil as contemporary reviews suggest.

From Australia's point of view, at any rate, the Bush presidency was overwhelmingly successful.

What are the core Australian national interests that Canberra would always want a US administration to protect? Surely three would be: a stable security order in the Asia Pacific; the integrity of the international trading system; and the health of the US-Australian alliance.

On all three, Bush was outstandingly good for Australia. Bush's success in Asia is simply undeniable, and Rudd, among many others, has often acknowledged it. Michael Green, the former Asia director at the NSC under Bush, has in several important articles collated opinion poll data about the US in Asia. It turns out that Asia is the one region in the world where the US's poll ratings are higher at the end of the Bush administration than they were at the beginning.

This was anything but inevitable. When Bush was first elected, the fear du jour of the international know-alls was that Washington and Beijing would find themselves in confrontation.

Then in April 2001 a US reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet collided and the US plane had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The world held its breath. Here was the confrontation all had feared.
In fact, the Bush team handled the ensuing days of tension, while the Chinese temporarily held the American air crew hostage, with great sophistication, calm and restraint.

It was a sign of things to come. The US-China relationship has never been better managed than over the past eight years. China has grown wealthy as a result of the good relationship. At the same time, Washington's management of Taiwan has been masterful. It has maintained its security guarantee for Taiwan but consciously and effectively reined in its independence aspirations and managed downwards its independence vote.

The biggest success for the US was India, where it negotiated a new nuclear co-operation agreement that will help the transformation of Indian industry, and incidentally do more than almost any single act of government policy anywhere to counter greenhouse gas emissions. But most importantly it cements the new strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi.

The US also reinvigorated its alliances with Japan and South Korea. Both contributed substantial troop contingents to Iraq. At Australian urging the Bush administration also revived its relationship with Indonesia. All of this is of the greatest possible benefit to Australia and is a powerfully positive framework for the Obama administration to inherit.

On trade, it is true that the Bush administration was unable to complete the Doha round of trade liberalisation. But it never walked down the path of renewed tariff protectionism. It never played the protectionist card against China; will Obama be as good on this score? And it negotiated free-trade agreements with Australia, South Korea, Singapore and a slew of South American countries.

On the US-Australia alliance, the Howard government got everything it wanted from Washington, from profoundly important new intelligence-sharing arrangements to unrivalled technological access. These arrangements have been institutionalised and act as great force multipliers for Australia. The Rudd Government has sensibly consolidated them and they will be in place for the Obama administration.

Undoubtedly the hinge point of the Bush administration was the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Many of those who now oppose the military aspects of the US's response supported them at the time. Indeed, The New York Times's Maureen Dowd, admittedly the most air-headed of all significant North American columnists, once wrote of then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he was sexy and charismatic.

Bush's mainstream opponents agreed with his decision to intervene in Afghanistan, and Obama is pledged to stay the distance there. Iraq remains the great divider of opinion.

This is no place to rehash all the Iraq arguments but what is absolutely clear is that everyone involved in Iraq policy, in every relevant nation, believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. They believed this partly because Saddam wanted them to, and partly because no other explanation of the facts made sense. But it is legitimate to criticise Bush for a wrong judgment on Iraq; it is not legitimate to say he lied his way into war, as Bush critics have to acknowledge that the WMD beliefs were nearly universally held.

The greatest and most justified criticism of Bush arises from the mismanagement of the early years of the Iraq occupation and the dreadful scandal of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. On the flipside, Bush gets all the credit for the subsequent troop surge, which was opposed by his key advisers and which has given Iraq a chance to emerge independent and semi-democratic.

The other great criticism of Bush is that he failed to wield the brilliant and powerful individuals of his national security team - Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Rich Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice - into a coherent team.

The second Bush administration was much less internally divided than the first and ran a consultative, cautious, centrist policy, concentrating on winning the wars it was involved in.

If you believe that global warming is the surpassing issue of the day, then Bush did not do enough to combat it, though it is clear the Kyoto Protocol was a flawed instrument for attacking this problem and there was never support for it in the US (remember Bill Clinton had recommended against its ratification).

Bush did neither significant harm nor significant good to the UN. That body's impotence and fatal moral confusion long predate him. But consider Africa. In his first term, Bush tripled US aid to sub-Saharan Africa. That's right, the US under Bush was giving three times more to Africa than it was under Clinton. And the increases kept coming during Bush's second term, so that if Obama continues the rate of increase, US aid will again be doubled by 2010.

Now how does that fit into the conspiracy theories about Bush? Was he pandering to the African-American vote? Was there a secret neo-con objective? Does Cheney have relatives there? Or could it be that Bush was trying to do some good?

It's too early to judge the Bush project in Iraq. But I am sure that, overall, history will judge Bush much more kindly than today's commentators do.

Political institutions in Pakistan must be authoritative: Biden

WASHINGTON: On the occasion of his briefing to President-elect Obama on Pakistan’s recent visit, U.S. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden said, for the swift progress of Pakistan it in indispensable that the political institutions in Pakistan should be authoritative instead of individuals or personalities.

VP-elect said I went to read Pakistan stance over various issues instead of delivering our policy. “I did not reveal the policy of new U.S. government instead my visit was meant for hearing from Pakistani government ”.

Briefing Obama, Biden also informed that he had left some of US governments’ reservations with Pakistani government. Biden said that government and the people of Pakistan have extended their good wishes for president-elect Obama for his tenure as U.S. president.

Talking to media after briefing President-elect said Al-Qaeda and Osam Bin Ladin are still the chief threat to United States’ sovereignty.

He added to take all actions necessary to wipe out Al-Qaeda bases.

India razes slums, leaves poor homeless

NEW DELHI, India... Hanso Devi moved to New Delhi from Rajasthan with just one hope -- to make a better life for herself and her family.She, her husband, five children and other relatives erected a hut to live in --- a home that provided shelter and a base for her husband's streetside blacksmith business.The problem is that the land they built on belongs to the government. And the government has decided to take it back.In a matter of minutes bulldozers level the place, leaving Devi and her family perched on a bed atop a sea of rubble. They have nowhere to go."They did it so fast that there was no time to take out anything. And the bulldozer broke everything on the way," Devi said."It's like we were picked up and thrown away," she said.Bulldozers razed the makeshift home and hundreds of others earlier this month as the Indian government moves to improve New Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Officials say the land is for a road and the demolitions are simply part of a master plan to clean up the city and move slum-dwellers to proper housing.But, the government says, there will be no relocation for families like Hanso Devi's because they do not meet relocation requirements.The government says they are squatting too close to the road, and are located in a major development zone."You see they have encroached on the specific project lengths -- there will be no notice, no relocation projects for them," said New Delhi Mayor Arti Mehra, who says she and the city are worried about those who have been left homeless.About 3 million people live in New Delhi's slums, the government estimates. Mehra says New Delhi is slated to build 100,000 new apartments, though only 6,800 are under construction.Critics say demolishing housing that has been here for years and relocating some residents but not others will hurt many who live on the margins of society."They'll be pushed to the brink," said A.K. Roy of the Hazards Centre Sanchal Foundation, a non-governmental organization."Eventually I think what the planners are doing, they are not realizing they'll be building up a pool of violence."The people who live in New Delhi's slums are some of the city's maids, drivers, street vendors and day laborers. Roy argues the city could not survive without the services that the slum dwellers provide.The slums may not have looked like much to outsiders, but to families who had lived there for years, they were everything. Their businesses, homes and temples were there. Now they are lost.Some huts are still standing, for now. Among them is the home of Sheila Naurang Lal, built more than 20 years ago by the family who still lives there.But that is little comfort for Lal as she sees what has happened to the homes a few yards from her house."I came to the road yesterday after being scared seeing the bulldozer," Lal says. "You must have seen the front part has been broken."
It has been two days since the latest slum eradication, but families are still eking out a living amid the ruins. A mother cooks for her children, a 90-year-old woman with a walker sits on her bed and someone's pet goat is tied up at a shrine, waiting for its owner.Hanso Devi looks around as night falls. She will spend another night in the open with nothing to keep her warm but a small fire."We are going to sleep right here. There is no place other than this."

Pakistan unrest world's flashpoint

As world attention remains intensely focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict, a similar but far more serious situation with implications way beyond the Middle East may be closer than most people think.Israel's Gaza action has diverted attention away from the fallout of November's carnage by Islamist gunmen in Mumbai that left nearly 200 dead. Indian authorities have submitted dossiers on investigations linking the planned, co-ordinated attacks to Pakistani nationals and their Pakistan-based sponsors. The reports have gone to the Pakistan Government and Western countries.
After more than a month of consistent denials, Pakistan has grudgingly begun to acknowledge evidence of the involvement of individuals and organisations in that country, despite the FBI, European and Russian investigators having established these links.Both the outgoing Bush Administration - rather too late in the day - and Obama's regime have acknowledged that the key to making headway in the war on terror lies in dealing with the Pakistan situation first.The biggest foreign-policy challenge awaiting President-elect Barack Obama is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Pakistan, Stephen Hadley, United States national security adviser told the Wall Street Journal last week."Pakistan's increasingly turbulent border region poses threats not just to the US mission in Afghanistan, but also to neighbouring India, as evidenced by the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, as well as to urban areas of Pakistan itself - and the world beyond. If extremists succeed in destabilising Pakistan, the resulting chaos will threaten the entire region. That's why I think Pakistan is at the centre," he said.What he left unsaid is the intelligence agencies' fears this might already be happening. The increasingly porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border has waves of Taleban militants making inroads into Pakistan. A month ago, militants bombed a Nato depot destroying dozens of trucks and communication infrastructure besides killing three workers. As a result the Western coalition's operations in a crucial area around Peshawar were temporarily suspended.Amid rumours of possible military action by India after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani Army threatened to move 100,000 troops from its Afghan frontier to its border with India to the East - causing consternation through the Western countries' camp. India assured the world it was not contemplating military action but the Pakistani Army's alacrity in announcing a troop withdrawal from the western front was an emphatic signal about its priorities.The Taleban considers India one of its main enemies along with Western nations but unlike them India is within easy striking range. It is a soft target and a great one for global exposure.There is no doubt Pakistan's announcement to move troops emboldened the Taleban to infiltrate further into Pakistani territory. In fact, the Taleban leadership even issued media statements that it would fight India alongside Pakistani forces.Indian media have consistently carried reports of the increasing Talebanisation of Pakistani villages where women are barred from being seen in public and schools for girls are being razed. Men have to wear beards and recruitment into their armies continues.The legal system is being replaced by the Taleban's own brand of brutal, instant justice.Not containing the Taleban's slow, but what appears to be steady, eastward foray into Pakistan immediately puts the country's nuclear hardware and infrastructure within its greater reach with each passing month. As things stand, Taleban activity is less than 200km from some of Pakistan's nuclear installations.There is no knowing how safe and secure the country's nuclear chain of command is, what with poorly defined demarcations between the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which world intelligence agencies know is teeming with highly placed officials, many of them retired army brass, that are partial to radical Islamist causes and the nuclear establishment.It's more a question of when, not if, the Taleban infiltrates the Pakistan's nuclear defence system. Not that the Western countries are unaware of this - but the question is how to deal with the situation.While the West needs to do everything it can to keep President Asif Ali Zardari's democratically elected fledgling Government alive, the Mumbai attacks have pointed to the Government's progressive marginalisation with each passing week. The West is painfully aware that nothing can be achieved without the Army's help.It can't deal with the Army directly so long as a civilian government is in place and the Army won't listen to its own Government (its reversal of the President's assurance to send the intelligence chief to India after the Mumbai carnage is a case in point).Instead of the Gaza situation for a moment consider a scenario involving Western nations (with India included). And rather than Hamas they are dealing with a far more geographically widespread and nuclearised Taleban.
Instead of the 30-60km range rockets that Hamas has been using on Israeli targets, the scenario in Pakistan could involve dozens of 700-2000km nuclear-capable missiles ready to fly at the push of a button. What you might have is a scenario that will leave the Middle East situation looking like a bar brawl.

Chavez Turns Into Palestinian Hero

Venezuelan flags and portraits of President Hugo Chavez have been flying high during protests in the West Bank against Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip.
The Venezuelan president's decision on January 6 to expel Israel's ambassador from Caracas -- the only country apart from Mauritania to take such a step -- has made the left-wing South American leader a hero to Palestinians.Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls Gaza, has welcomed Chavez's "courageous decision," while Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, urged Arab states to follow the Venezuelan president's example.Chavez on Saturday accused Israel of being the "murder arm" of the United States and said the solution to the Gaza crisis was in the hands of Barack Obama when he becomes US president later this month.Mohammed al-Lahham, an MP for the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, said Chavez was "a symbol of the struggle for liberty, like Che Guevara. This distinguishes him from the world's other presidents."His opposition to Washington, Israel's loyal ally, over the invasion of Iraq and to the Israeli offensive against Lebanon in 2006 have made Chavez a symbol for all peoples who "are resisting and fighting against occupation," he said.Venezuelan flags and portraits of Chavez could be seen lofted by demonstrators in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron during rallies last week.Al-Jazeera television ran an interview with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro in which he slammed "the criminals who govern Israel" and who have "carried out a holocaust against Palestinians for 60 years.""I would like to be able to give Chavez a Palestinian passport so he could become a Palestinian citizen. Then we would elect him and he would become our president," said Mahmud Zwahreh, mayor of Al-Masar, a community near Bethlehem where 8,000 people live in poverty."This is the right reaction" to American domination, said the mayor, who is printing out as many portraits as he can of the Venezuelan president to hand out to protesters."Everyone here knows about him. More and more people are coming to ask me for photos to carry during the demonstrations," Zwahreh said.Mohammed Brijeh, who heads an action group in the Bethlehem area against the security wall between Israel and the West Bank, said: "Chavez's response is worth more than the UN's."The United Nations "only does what Israel wants," he said."If only we had leaders as strong as Hugo Chavez," Brijeh said, while Zwahreh said: "We have no leader with a clear strategy and mission."
Abbas and his moderate Fatah movement have been weakened by rivalry with Hamas and by the ever-present memory of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, whose portraits still adorn many public buildings and homes.Iyad, who runs a shop near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, has no doubt: "Chavez is the best president. He always supports the Palestinians.""He is better than Arab leaders. Jordan and Egypt should have also expelled their ambassadors (from Israel). It is a real shame that we have no leaders like him," said Assem, another shopkeeper.