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Posts Tagged ‘Taliban

The Great Game all over again?

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Ethnic Uzbeks gathered near the Kyrgz-Uzbek border in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, trying to seek refuge in Uzbekistan following violence in the city of Osh. According to official estimates, 370 people died there after the Kyrgz went on a rampage against the Uzbeks, and vice versa. The true figure is likely more than 2,000. Some 75,000 people fled to Uzbekistan. Photo: Der Spiegel


The Deutsch news magazine Der Spiegel certainly thinks so. It has begun a special series which will explore Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In these countries, once the center of the ‘Great Game’, a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases between the British and Russian colonial powers, history is being repeated, says Der Spiegel.

“The Pamir, Hindu Kush and Tian Shan mountain ranges and the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers border a region in which two world religions, Islam and Christianity, collided, astronomy blossomed and eminent doctors taught. Central Asia is one of the eternal hot spots in world history, a place where Darius I and Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane left their marks. The British and Russian colonial powers followed suit when they embarked on the “Great Game,” a bitter struggle over natural resources and strategic bases.”

The news magazine says that today the major powers’ interests in the region range from military bases for waging the war against the Taliban to oil and gas pipelines and drug prevention. One of the most important heroin smuggling routes passes through a part of Central Asia controlled by Islamists.

“For these reasons, the world is now witnessing a new version of the Great Game, this time involving both the former players, Russia and Great Britain, and new players, the United States, China and Iran. None of the countries within their field of vision is stable, eccentric dictators are in control almost everywhere, corruption is rampant and many nations are at odds with their neighbours.”

Economic impacts of Pakistan floods

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A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

A flooded Thatta suburb, Pakistan. Photo © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

For hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis forced by the floods to abandon their homes, food is a primary concern. IRIN news reports that some families have gone days without a meal. Frances Kennedy, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson, told IRIN: “We are very concerned about the nutritional situation. About 2.8 million people have been reached, but there are others in need. Camps are crowded and people are sleeping on sides of the roads.” WFP has been supplying “dry rations” (family rations for a month), made up of wheat flour fortified with vitamins and minerals, cooking oil and high-energy biscuits.

“This allows us to reach more people, more quickly… These distributions are at different points across the flood zone – both in camps and other locations identified through our assessments and where partners have been able to set up distribution sites,” Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman, told IRIN. Currently about 4.8 million people are without shelter, “although we believe this may have gone up considerably with the latest developments in Sindh,” said Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The immediate impact on the population is truly staggering — 20 million people affected with 8 million in need of water, food, and shelter; 1,500 to 2,000 killed; 4 million left homeless; and 15 million displaced. The devastation has hit virtually all sectors of the economy. The Pakistan government estimates total economic damage to be near $15 billion, or about 10 percent of GDP. Damage to infrastructure alone (roads, power plants, telecommunications, dams and irrigation systems, and schools and health clinics) amounts to around $10 billion.

Mohsin S. Khan, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States, have written about the economic impact of the Pakistan floods. They say that agriculture, which represents 25 percent of the Pakistan economy and provides employment to 50 percent of the workforce, was extremely hard hit. At least 30 percent of the cotton crop has washed away, which is bound to devastate the textile industry, the mainstay of Pakistani manufacturing and exports. Adding to this is the loss of wheat, rice, and maize crops, and about 10 million head of livestock. Altogether agricultural production this year could fall by as much as 15 percent. Even next year’s production is likely to show a further decline because the spring wheat crop that needs to be planted in October–December this year will not be possible.

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

While Khyber-Pakhtunkwa is inundated with water, there is very little that is safe to drink. Photo © Abdul Majeed Goraya/IRIN

“The overall growth of real GDP, which prior to the floods was projected to be in the 3 to 4 percent range for 2010, will now turn negative,” say Khan and Nawaz. “Estimates of the fall in real GDP are in the 2 to 5 percent range, although it is conceivable that the decline could be far greater as more information on the losses of both physical assets and production becomes available.”

“Reconstruction activity could provide some boost to the growth rate, but it is likely that any positive effects will only show up in 2011 and beyond, and even then it may not be sufficient to bring the growth rate back to the 2009 level of 4 percent for several years. Inflation, which is already in double digits, will rise with the increase in food prices and the destruction of the food supply distribution networks. Furthermore, the government will need to finance the reconstruction effort, and absent sufficient foreign assistance and the inability to divert domestic revenues toward reconstruction, the increased expenditures will necessarily widen the fiscal deficit.”

“The floods have dealt Pakistan a severe body blow while it was still reeling from the economic crisis, political infighting, and the war against terror. The diversion of resources and attention to the flood relief and reconstruction work will undoubtedly affect social spending and the drive against the Pakistani Taliban, whose fighters have been dislocated from their tribal bases in the Northwest Frontier region and have taken the war back into the Pakistani hinterland.”

The Afghan War Diaries

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The full comment I wrote for Khaleej Times is here.

Ghazni Province, Afghanistan

In der Provinz Ghazni zeigen Taliban-Krieger ihre Waffen. Wenig spricht dafür, dass Afghanistan bis 2014 tatsächlich in der Lage sein wird, die Sicherheit durch eigene Soldaten und Polizisten zu garantieren - so hatten es Vertreter von über 70 Staaten und Organisationen kürzlich bei der Afhanistan-Konferenz in Kabul zuversichtlich verkündet. Der Spiegel/AFP

Described to the world as a leak, this extraordinary and terrible library of new information about the war in Afghanistan is anything but. It is instead a testament that has emerged when the conditions for its emergence are right. That they have emerged because of the disestablishment organisation called Wikileaks in no way should determine their status as primary data records. Wikileaks the organisation has for several years encouraged, sought and published the secret, the dirty, the murderous deals that help define the post-modern era: bank scams, crooked arms deals, financial disaster by design. It has done so by ensuring anonymity to those who make available such information, often at great risk and at great cost.

The Afghan War Diary is as a subject and as a deep insight into contemporary history altogether different. It is beginning to be seen as the single biggest leak in intelligence history. The weeks of analysis that lie ahead will surely confirm that. But the Afghan War Diary is more, much more. It is also a terrifying window into how a superpower has run a war the world does not want, and the costs of such a war detailed in hundreds of accounts of the deaths of innocents.

Historical ruins outside Kabul

Das unwirtliche Bergland am Hindukusch war jahrhundertelang Schauplatz kriegerischer Auseinandersetzungen und ein Durchgangsland mit wechselnden Herrschern. Auch dieses Grab von Sultan Mohammed Telai in Kabul wurde während des Bürgerkriegs in den neunziger Jahren beschädigt. Der Spiegel/AP

In the immediate aftermath of the massive store of documents being made public, two governments are immediately forced onto the defensive, that of the USA and of Pakistan. The protests against the ‘leaks’ from the White House, the US military establishment and the supporters of its wars in the region are long and loud. They are also irrelevant, for this is not the era of the Vietnam War and the leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The New York Times is involved here too, with the Afghan War Diary, and so are The Guardian of Britain and Der Spiegel of Germany. A comment in the The Times, years later, about its game-changing 1971 series on the Pentagon Papers had said they “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance”.

That is exactly what The Afghan War Diary promises, for the secret compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010 describe the majority of lethal military actions involving the United States military. They include the number of persons internally stated to be killed, wounded, or detained during each action, together with the precise geographical location of each event (Wikileaks has enabled the plotting of these deadly, tragic events on Google Earth, in a timeline of bloody death), and the military units involved and major weapon systems used.

Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Ein afghanischer Junge wartet in der Provinz Helmand auf eine Behandlung durch Militärärzte. Britische und US-Soldaten hatten Dorfbewohnern medizinische Unterstützung durch Untersuchung und erste Hilfe angeboten. Der Spiegel/Reuters

“The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war,” said Wikileaks in its introduction to the complex database created for the intelligence reports. “The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind each most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.” Implicit in this introduction is the responsibility that now rests with the readers and researchers of the The Afghan War Diary. It will be up to us, individuals and groups of concerned citizens everywhere, to employ these raw ingredients and fashion anew accountability and truth, democracy and peace.

Read what Yasmeen Ali at pakpotpourri2 has to say on the Afghan War Diaries. I quote some paras from her article:

“Why are the Americans so flabbergasted by the botch up of the Allied Forces performance in Afghanistan? Are they shocked because civilians, children, women were being killed? Or that CIA had expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan?. Or that these units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids?. Or that from  2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary?”

“Much has been written and shall continue to be written on the Wiki Leak. WikiLeaks, an online whistle-blower, has released the ‘Afghan War Diary’, a set of over 91,000 leaked US military reports from 2004-2009. Some 75,000 reports have been released online.  There has not been any ‘surprise’ in the official US circles. US National Security Advisor General James Jones said that the US “strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information…which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk” but the leaks “will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the leaked reports were not based on facts and “do not reflect the current on-ground realities”.”

“Pakistan has been an ally to USA in this war and has suffered greatly .It has everything to lose by continued instability in Afghanistan and everything to gain by stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan gains nothing by prolonging the war or running a counter policy of her own.”

Written by makanaka

July 28, 2010 at 12:08