In late January, Raymond Davis, an American working in Pakistan, allegedly shot and killed two men who he claimed were trying to rob him. Soon after the shooting it emerged in the Pakistani media that Davis was a CIA operative, but that information did not surface in the US media until weeks later. That is because – at the behest of the US government – many media outlets there withheld that information. It was not until the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that Davis worked for the CIA that the US media began acknowledging it. This week Listening Post not only looks at the coverage of this story but the journalistic ethics involved because what for one nation’s media is a matter of national security, is a breaking news story in another.
By Ahsan Waheed
All of a sudden, Pakistan’s much maligned but powerful and professional intelligence agency, the ISI, is the flavor of the month. The reason is a law suit in the US against the agency for its ‘involvement’ in the Mumbai terrorist attack in which US citizens of the Jewish faith lost their lives. The government, the media and public opinion have come together like never before against this ‘outrage’; the ISI is being defended, protected and declared off limits for US courts. The US court – probably as a routine procedure – has issued a summons for the head of ISI to appear in the US court, though it would have been better if the law suit had been examined for viability – that is, unless a more sinister game is afoot.
One Bitch-Slap After Another
By DAVID MICHAEL GREEN
What do nine dead Gaza activists in the Mediterranean, nine-plus percent unemployment, and ninety years of oil catastrophe clean-up have in common?
How about one astonishingly tepid president?
How about one guy in the White House who squirms in his chair anytime someone uses the word “bold” and actually means it?
How about one dude in the Oval Office who seems much more interested in making deals to determine who should be the Democratic candidates for various state offices than in actually solving national problems?
We could hardly have a president more ill-suited to our time if we were to dig up Herbert Hoover and prop his weary bones up on the presidential throne.
Barack Obama has five major problems as president. The first is that he doesn’t understand priorities. The second is that he seems to have little strong conviction on any given issue. The third is that to the extent he stands for anything, it is for maintenance of a status quo that continues to wreck the country in order to service the greed of a few oligarchs. The fourth is that he fundamentally does not understand the powers and the role of the modern presidency. And the fifth is that he maintains the worst communications apparatus in the White House since Jimmy Carter prowled its corridors. In fairness to his communications team, though, he has given them almost nothing to sell. You try singing the praises of bailing out Goldman Sachs one hundred cents on the dollar, or of a health care plan that forces people to buy plans they don’t want from hated insurance vultures. It ain’t easy, pal. Yet, on the other hand, Bush and Cheney had far less than nothing to sell when it came to the Iraq war – indeed, they had nothing but lies – and their team handled that masterfully.
The fundamental characteristic of the Obama presidency is that the president is a reactive object, essentially the victim of events and other political forces, rather than the single greatest center of power in the country, and arguably on the planet. He is the Mr. Bill of politicians. People sometimes excuse the Obama torpor by making reference to all the problems on his plate, and all the enemies at his gate. But what they fail to understand – and, most crucially, what he fails to understand – is the nature of the modern presidency. Successful presidents today (by which I mean those who get what they want) not only drive outcomes in their preferred direction, but shape the very character of the debate itself. And they not only shape the character of the debate, but they determine which items are on the docket.
Moreover, there is a continuously evolving and reciprocal relationship between presidential boldness and achievement. In the same way that nothing breeds success like success, nothing sets the president up for achieving his or her next goal better than succeeding dramatically on the last go around.
This is absolutely a matter of perception, and you can see it best in the way that Congress and especially the Washington press corps fawn over bold and intimidating presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush. The political teams surrounding these presidents understood the psychology of power all too well. They knew that by simultaneously creating a steamroller effect and feigning a clubby atmosphere for Congress and the press, they could leave such hapless hangers-on with only one remaining way to pretend to preserve their dignities. By jumping on board the freight train, they could be given the illusion of being next to power, of being part of the winning team. And so, with virtually the sole exception of the now retired Helen Thomas, this is precisely what they did.
But the game of successfully governing is substantive as well as psychological. More often than not, timidity turns out not to yield the safe course anticipated by those with weak knees, but rather their subsequent undoing. The three cases mentioned at the top of this essay are paradigmatic.
By far and away the most crucial problem on the minds of most Americans today is the economy, as is often the case, but now more than ever. It’s hard to quite figure where Barack Obama is on this issue. What is always most puzzling with this guy is reconciling the fundamentally irrational behavior of his presidency with the obvious intellectual abilities of the president and the administrative masterfulness of the campaign he ran to obtain that office. It seems to me that there are four options for understanding Obama’s self-defeating tendency when it comes to the economic disaster he inherited. One is that he simply isn’t so smart, and doesn’t get the ramifications of continued unemployment at the level it’s currently running. The second option is that he’s just a policy bungler, who has the right intentions but makes lousy choices for trying to get there. The third possibility is that Obama recognizes this latest recession as the capstone (we hope) of a three decade long process by the economic oligarchy seeking nothing less than the downsizing of the American middle class, and he simply lacks the courage to attempt any reversal of this tsunami of wealth redistribution. The final, and scariest – but by no means least probable – explanation for Obama’s behavior is that he is ultimately no less a tool in that very piracy project than was George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.
Whatever the explanation, Obama’s timidity early in his presidency not only failed to solve the problem, but more crucially, now precludes him from introducing any meaningful subsequent attempt at solving the problem. Obama’s management of the economic stimulus bill in the first weeks of his presidency was the very model of how a president should govern – provided, that is, that the nineteenth century hadn’t actually ended over a hundred years ago. This president, who has turned deference to others – including to his sworn enemies – into an art form, told Congress that he wanted a stimulus bill and let them fill in the details. What he got, accordingly, was a giant monstrosity filled with pet projects for each congressional district in America, with about one-third of it constituted by tax cuts in order to buy Republican votes which never came anyhow. Nor has there been, to this day, any urgency about the spending of those funds.
The upshot of all of this is threefold, all of it hugely negative. First, the government spent an enormous amount of money on the stimulus without solving the problem of the recession and unemployment. Second, it therefore massively exacerbated the national debt problem, with little gain to show for it. And, third, the combination of the first two factors effectively precludes any subsequent stimulus package from emerging out of Congress for the foreseeable future, the politics of spending in general and the stimulus in particular having become altogether radioactive.
And here we see how Obama’s failure to lead in the first instance has succeeded above all in digging him into a hole subsequently. We are likely looking at nine or ten percent unemployment for years to come, and Obama’s legislative cowardice has created a situation in which the only remaining meaningful tool by which to transcend this deep recession has been taken off the table. The public looks around and asks, “Why should we spend more money on economic stimulus, when all it does is fail to produce results, while simultaneously increasing the national debt?” It’s a legitimate question, except that it omits consideration of a third alternative, which is to actually do a stimulus correctly, pumping money into infrastructure, alternative energy projects, unemployment compensation, retraining programs and the like, all of which would positively impact the economy in both the short, medium and long terms.
You see the same phenomenon in virtually everything Obama touches. Lots of spiffy rhetoric. But then lots of deference to every other actor in the play (except, of course, for the interests of the American public or for his base of progressive voters), including those who are overtly trying to destroy the president. “You say that Republicans want to remove the public option from the health care bill? Okay, let’s give that to them. It’s bound to buy, golly, what? … zero whole votes from their caucus!” “You say they demand yet more tax cuts be included in the stimulus bill? Let’s do that! And watch them vote against it almost without exception.” Brilliant.
In the Middle East, Obama has spent his first year-and-a-half in office getting bitch-slapped by Noxious Netanyahu, with nothing to show for it but total embarrassment. It’s gotten so bad that you can no longer tell which country is the client state of the other. Is it the one with the economy, military, territory, population and political power that dwarfs the other, or is it the one that continually receives financial, military and political support from the other, no matter what it does? Including, for example, regularly invading its neighbors, strangling a population of over a million people, pissing off the whole world, and humiliating both the president and vice-president of its benefactor country by continuing to build more illegal, peace-preventing settlements, in direct, intentional and arrogant contravention of their expressed preference to the contrary. If Obama could possibly be more passive in this situation, it’s difficult to know how. Perhaps he could strap on a construction belt and assist the Israelis himself in building some apartment complexes in East Jerusalem. While he was at it, maybe he’d take his shirt off in the hot Mediterranean sun, and get in another one of those hunky president photos he seems so fond of.
The story is the same back in the Gulf of Mexico, where Obama recently had his very own Michael Dukakis moment. Trying to look tough, like Dukakis did haplessly riding around on that tank in the picture that spoke a million words (and sank a presidential campaign), Obama decided to use a four-letter word to show how serious he is about those mean fellows at BP and their errant flow of oil. Except that this president is so inept that he could only manage three of the requisite four letters. He told NBC’s Matt Lauer that he has been visiting the oil spill region “so I know whose ass to kick”. I mean, raise your hand if you think that that little display of anger for the cameras was about as authentic as Cheese Whiz. And simultaneously both far less and far more cheesy. But it gets worse. It then turns out that during all of the last 45 or so days, the president hasn’t yet had a phone conversation with the CEO of British Petroleum. Turns out Obama traveled all that way to New Orleans and still couldn’t get a postal code for the limey arse to which to fax over his presidential boot.
Like he would use it if he had it, anyhow. Can you imagine the conversation he might have with Tony Hayward?
Obama: “Hey, Tony, your oil spill is really causing me problems, so I thought I’d call to kick your ass a little.”
Hayward: “Screw you, punk. You do what I tell you.”
Obama: “Oh god, you’re right. Christ! Sorry. I forgot myself. For a minute there I thought I was talking to my daughter about her homework.”
Hayward: “Get your facts straight, pal. Starting with who here works for whom.”
Obama: “Yes, sir. Right away, sir. What can we do for you?”
Hayward: “Nothing at all would be perfect, just like you have been doing. Just let us drill where we want, spill where want, thrill as is our wont to the sheer brazenness of our lies, and bill your account for the damages. We’re not greedy we won’t ask for more than that.”
Obama: “You got it, Mr. Hayward. We’ll get right on it. Raaaahhm!!!”
The only thing more grim than the visage of the pathetic Obama administration in non-action is a consideration of the opportunity lost here. Obama had all the cards stacked in his favor, ranging from a destroyed opposition party, to a series of crises, to a public demanding change, to massive majorities in Congress, to global good will. He’s pissed it all away in his unrelenting dedication to mediocrity and inoffensiveness.
And the only thing more grim than that is to consider where this all leads. Every day I shudder a little more as yet another two-by-four is crow-barred out from the edifice of America’s experiment in liberal democracy. Every time the Supreme Court hands down a decision, it means more power for the state, more power for the imperial president (whom they also select when they feel like it), and especially, more power for the rich. Every day more people are dying in the stupid and endless wars of the twilight empire, for which nobody can even articulate a purpose. Every election cycle more lethally vicious regressives are victorious, crushing common sense and human rights in tandem, moving the country further in the direction of mindless fascism.
There’s no other word for it. This country is just plain rotting from within.
And, thus, perhaps the most tragic aspect of the Obama regime will not be the embarrassingly hapless conduct of this baseball of a president, getting smacked around by big steroid-sculpted biceps swinging fat slabs of menacing lumber at the velocity of their choice. Nor will it be the blown opportunities of epic proportion, not likely to be seen again for a long time.
It is likely to be, instead, the door that was opened for far worse to be inflicted upon the American public and the world.
By failing to stand for anything while the country crumbles, Obama has virtually begged those who would make the trains run on time to seize power.
And why shouldn’t they “take their country back” from this president, anyhow?
I mean, the guy wasn’t even born in America, right?
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,www.regressiveantidote.net.
A famous and an honest Pakistani bureaucrat, QUDRATUALLAH SHAHAB, wrote the following in his autobiography, SHAHAB NAMA, in page 778.
”In 1969, when I was a member of the executive board of UNISCO, one of my friends from Poland was angry that Russia is influencing Poland against the will of polish people. The Poles were against the Soviet bloc and they didn’t like the Soviet influence in Poland. But the Polish government was a client of the Soviet Union. My Polish friend was one of the senior and experienced foreign affairs officers of his country.
One day during a chat and discussion he said, ‘Although Russia and America are enemies but on some issues they become friends.’
I was surprised and asked, ‘For example?’
He said, ‘For example, PAKISTAN.’
‘I was stunned. I requested him to explain.’
Read the rest of this entry »
As expected, immense pressure is being brought to bear on Pakistan to go after the Taliban because of the apparent Faisal Shahzad connection to them. As all this is happening, a spokesman for the Tehrik-i- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told an Indian news channel on Thursday that the organisation had no link with Shahzad. That, however, flies in the face of what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said and also conflicts with Shahzad’s own reported admission before American investigators that he had received training in Waziristan. Furthermore, the timing of the TTP denial, days after the organisation’s very own chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, suggested that the TTP was behind it and after severe pressure from the US administration on Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban, is such that there may be few in western capitals who will believe it. In fact rational and sensible Pakistanis who know the history of the Taliban and how they were created may also have doubts on this denial.
WASHINGTON: A Pakistani-American girl, only 12, refused to go to school on Tuesday, saying she fears other students will ask her questions about the suspect held in New York for a failed attempt to bomb Times Square.
Another girl, 11, went to school when her mother persuaded her to but the mother had to go back to school during the lunch break to counsel her. A 53-year old man throttled his laughter at a dinner in a Virginia restaurant as a US television channel identified the suspect as a Pakistani-American. “That’s it. We are cooked,” he remarked. “Sad, very sad,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and Britain who is now working on a book in Washington. “It will hurt all Pakistanis, particularly those living in the United States.”
ARMED AND FINANCED ALMOST ENTIRELY BY AMERICA AND INDIA
THE TALIBAN “ENEMY” IS OUR OWN CREATION
By Gordon Duff STAFF WRITER/Senior Editor
Two years ago analysts claimed most of the Taliban were fighting America simply because “they were there.” Though this may be true to some extent still, other factors have made this statement obsolete. Not only is America financing the Taliban, we are arming it and, through our ally India, training it as well. This is the “understory” behind the news that is never reported and the reports handed out to the press.
First we started by blaming the Taliban for the massive increase in narcotics production after the Taliban were forced out of power. Is it a coincidence that America invaded Afghanistan after Al Qaeda and bin Laden, only when opium production was entirely eradicated in Afghanistan? We never found bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan under virtual “house arrest” prior to 9/11, an incident, despite misleading stories to the contrary, he has never been tied to in any way. In fact, we never really found Al Qaeda or any training camps either. We did, however, manage to start a war against the Afghan tribes, a war that stretched into Pakistan, a war that is left America and the Karzai government in control of part of the city of Kabul and nothing else.
America has emerged from the era of outright aggression on the rest of the world and into the age of nuanced terror.
Here is news of the Third World War. The United States has invaded Africa. US troops have entered Somalia, extending their war front from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen and now the Horn of Africa. In preparation for an attack on Iran, “bunker-buster” bombs are said to be arriving at the US base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
In Gaza, the sick and abandoned population, mostly children, is being entombed behind underground American-supplied walls to reinforce a criminal siege. In Latin America, the Obama administration has secured seven bases in Colombia from which to wage a war of attrition against the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. Meanwhile, the secretary of “defence”, Robert Gates, complains that “the general [European] public and the political class” are so opposed to war, they are an “impediment” to peace. Remember, this is the month of the March Hare.
EVEN AMERICA IS WARRY OF INDO-SEMITE NEXUS
India and Saudi Arabia has signed extradition treaty and number of other pacts to enhance cooperation in various sectors, like economy, energy and defence in recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to India. According to the Hindu media, leaders of both the countries also emphasized for long-term strategic relations between two states. It is also a known fact that Saudi Arabian king in one to one meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has shown concern over the regional and global adverse security environment and urged him to resolve bilateral issues with Pakistan. India never liked Saudi interference on occupied Kashmir issue and always tried to tone down the conflicts in negotiations with Saudi leadership. Indo-Israel growing ties are also alarming for the Arabs and other non-Arab Muslim leadership.
Arab world including Saudi’s leadership must be well aware of the facts that India has provided bases to Israel to strike Iran and Syria. India is seeking cooperation from Israel in aerospace industries and at the same time to meet her local crude oil energy requirements approached Saudi Arabia. It is also notable here that she also recently went into arms deal with Israel purchasing over $ 200 million arms and naval crafts with a view to strengthen armed forces as one feature of her per-planned hegemonic design. Saudi rulers should be mindful to the increasing influence of Israel in central Asian region. As per Israel’s greater design, Madina (Muslim Holy City) falls in the jurisdiction of future Israeli state.
For a few hundred dollars, low-paid border guards are allowing entry into Pakistan to spies and agents of multiple foreign intelligence agencies operating in Afghanistan. In this story and video, see how a US lady entered Pakistan through Torkham on Saturday, Mar. 13, 2010, without visa and without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence officers posted there. This happens in a country that faces terrorism exported by both US-controlled Afghanistan and its Indian ally.
TORKHAM, Pakistan-Rampant corruption and a weak Pakistani state are helping the entry into Pakistan of spies and terrorists from multiple foreign intelligence agencies operating in Afghanistan. Almost all terror in Pakistan is coming from Afghanistan.
This American woman tried to sneak into Pakistan through Torkham on Afghan border today, Saturday, Mar. 13, 2010, around early afternoon. She was wearing an Afghan woman’s burqa and apparently spoke local dialects. She would have successfully crossed into Pakistan safely hidden among a group of Afghan women but something about her demeanor raised the suspicion of a Pakistani border guard.
However, the border guards, known as Khasadars, made sure that Pakistani intelligence officers posted in the area are not told about this arrest. Torkham is considered a hot station within Kasadar tribal force circles. With salaries that go less than PKR 10,000 per month [less than US$ 130], major checkpoints such as Torkham provide an extra source of income for the Khasadars through bribes from travelers.
The guards kept the woman in a room for about thirty minutes and then let her enter Pakistan in her burqa. She paid the Khasadar guards a handsome amount of money as bribe. According a source in the Khasadar Force who witnessed the whole thing, the woman didn’t panic. She appeared composed and familiar with the ways of the border guards. She knew what to do in such a situation.
Thanks to my contacts in the border force, I was able to make a cell phone video of her passport while the Khasadar chief at the checkpoint talked to her.
Her name on the passport was Zohra Rehmati, which makes her an American from either Iranian or Tajik-Afghan extract.
Over the past four years, a large number of US agents have entered Pakistan through Afghanistan. Several have been arrested in different parts of the country disguised as Afghan men, complete with beards and Turbans and fluent in Pashto, Dari and Urdu. Unfortunately, much of this covert American activity was sanctioned first by the Musharraf government and now by the pro-US Zardari-Haqqani combine in the incumbent government.
Ms. Rehmati, if that is her real name, may or may not be a CIA operative, or one of its private contractors associated with either DynCorp or Xe International. But such lax security in a country that is a target of terrorism, DynCorp managed to create quite a covert network in Pakistan before being busted by Pakistani security last year. DynCorp remains in Pakistan, thanks to backing from both the US Embassy in Islamabad and the pro-US government, despite repeated attempts by the country’s security officials to force the US defense contractor to wrap up its operations here. Xe International, formerly known as Blackwater, also operated in Pakistan until 2005 before being moved to Afghanistan, according to an earlier report in the New York Times. But going by the number of incidents in Pakistan over the past couple of years where US private agents were seen operating in major Pakistani cities, it is safe to say that both contractors continue to quietly operate in Pakistan in one
Private contractors help give CIA the benefit of deniability if an agent is arrested on foreign territory.
CIA has been known to send US citizens of foreign descent to their home countries for espionage.
The most recent example is Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American who was busted in Tehran carrying sensitive documents handed to her by an informant. Ms. Saberi was sent to Iran posing as a journalist. CIA even managed to get her newspaper accreditation from a major American newspaper. The US government was embarrassed at the arrest because Ms. Saberi was arrested red handed receiving official documents from a contact.
In Pakistan, a State that is falling apart at the seams, with no central figure or department to control the rot, is providing the perfect environment for meddling in the country not only by the United States, UK, India and other established powers based in Afghanistan, but also by a puppet regime like that of Mr. Hamid Karzai and his spymasters, who in eight years are in a good position today to wreak mayhem inside Pakistan while the politicians in Islamabad and the military in Rawaplpindi have little recourse beyond words of appeasement or caution during closed-door meetings with foreign powers in Afghanistan that are never translated into action to reestablish Pakistan’s writ domestically and in the region.
Mr. Shah is an independent journalist based in Peshawar.
Europol releases an annual study of terrorism; the results do not support claims that “(nearly) all Muslims are terrorists”
Islamophobes have been popularizing the claim that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but (nearly) all terrorists are Muslims.” Despite this idea becoming axiomatic in some circles, it is quite simply not factual. In my previous article entitled “All Terrorists are Muslims…Except the 94% that Aren’t”, I used official FBI records to show that only 6% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 were carried out by Islamic extremists. The remaining 94% were from other groups (42% from Latinos, 24% from extreme left wing groups, 7% from extremist Jews, 5% from communists, and 16% from all other groups).
But what about across the pond? The data gathered by Europol strengthens my argument even further. (hat tip: Koppe) Europol publishes an annual report entitled EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. On their official website, you can access the reports from 2007, 2008, and 2009. (If anyone can find the reports from earlier than that, please let me know so we can include those as well.)
The results are stark, and prove decisively that not all terrorists are Muslims. In fact, a whopping 99.6% of terrorist attacks in Europe were by non-Muslim groups; a good 84.8% of attacks were from separatist groups completely unrelated to Islam. Leftist groups accounted for over sixteen times as much terrorism as radical Islamic groups. Only a measly 0.4% of terrorist attacks from 2007 to 2009 could be attributed to extremist Muslims.
Here are the official tables provided in the reports…
(According to the report, there was 1 “Islamist attack” in the UK in 2008, which was omitted in the table above. It has been included in the bar graph below.)
Just glancing at those tables is enough to know how absurd it is to claim that “all terrorists are Muslims.” That statement is nowhere near the truth. If we compile the data, it comes out to this:
On p.7, the 2009 Europol report concludes:
Islamist terrorism is still perceived as being the biggest threat worldwide, despite the fact that the EU only faced one Islamist terrorist attack in 2008. This bomb attack took place in the UK…Separatist terrorism remains the terrorism area which affects the EU most. This includes Basque separatist terrorism in Spain and France, and Corsican terrorism in France…Past contacts between ETA and the FARC illustrate the fact that also separatist terrorist organizations seek cooperation partners outside the EU on the basis of common interests. In the UK, dissident Irish republican groups, principally the RIRA and the CIRA, and other paramilitary groups may continue to engage in crime and violence.
Perception is not reality. Due to the right wing’s influence and propaganda, people mistakenly think that Islamic terrorism is the greatest threat to the Western world. It is even a commonly held belief that Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat-that the very survival of the Western world is at stake. Of course, the reality is that there are other groups that engage in terrorism on a much larger scale, yet these terrorist incidents are minimized. Acts of terrorism committed by Muslims are purposefully sensationalized and focused upon, culminating in the idea that “(nearly) all terrorists are Muslims.”
Terrorism from Islamic extremists is certainly a cause for concern, but it need not be an issue that creates mass hysteria. Nor should it be allowed to be such a critical issue that we are willing to sacrifice our ideals or civil rights for fear of it. Neither should we be reduced to a status of absolute sissitude. We have analyzed data from America and Europe (a good portion of the entire Western world), and the threat from Islamic terrorism is much more minimal than commonly assumed; in the U.S., it accounts for 6% of terrorist attacks, and in Europe not even half of a percent.
It is only through sensationalism and fear mongering that the topic of Islamic terrorism is allowed to be used to demonize a religious community that happens to be a minority in the West. When confronted by such lunacy, we ought to respond with the facts and the truth.
In a future article, we shall analyze the data for terrorism on the world stage in order to further strengthen our argument…
IMRAN NEEDS A TEAM OF GOOD ADVISORS
Traveling around Pakistan is a challenge for an American nowadays. It’s not the highways. It isn’t even that our second vehicle was “armed to the teeth” as we weaved through traffic and up and down superhighways and dusty back roads. The difficulty is the landscape itself, a land, at times, very American in appearance and yet strange and wondrous too. It was the similarities that scared us.
We were there as Americans for a series of lectures and meetings to discuss economics and regional politics at universities and “think tanks.” Pakistan, a country of poverty and wealth, a nation threatened like no other was much like looking in a mirror, perhaps a mirror into America’s future.
A couple of nights ago, author and economist Jeff Gates and I along with Editor Raja Mujtaba of Opinion Maker, the controversial open forum where academics, military leaders and political dissidents from that region fight it out daily on the internet, met with Pakistani political leader, Imran Khan.
Meeting Khan was important to us because he is the only political figure in Pakistan that is widely respected in Afghanistan, a nation that could, potentially, bog American down for years in a bizarre and indefinable combination of “counter-terrorism” and traditional tribal warfare. Only Khan is respected on both sides of the border, Khan and General Aslam Beg, former Army Chief of Staff in Pakistan.
That there is suspicion between Pakistan and Afghanistan is an understatement. Millions of Afghanis and Pakistanis are, not only ethnically identical, but members of the same tribes, even families. Today, up to 4 million refugees from Afghanistan live in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These refugees combined with elements of a Pakistani Taliban have created a drain on Pakistan’s resources, a breeding ground for religious extremism and provided safe havens for Taliban sects that are clearly extremist, terrorist and criminal in nature.
With as many as 50 million people considering themselves “Taliban,” most non-extremist, differentiating between good and bad “Taliban” has been difficult and, in the case of American efforts, something approached with questionable intent.
Not that many years ago, the United States and Pakistan trained and armed the Mujahedeen, both Afghan and foreign fighters to overthrow Soviet dominance in Afghanistan. A generation later, our failure to demilitarize and rehabilitate these elements and the region has led to untold instability, world terrorism and a war against Pakistan supported by terrorist elements aided by massive funding and sophisticated weaponry and training whose origin can be traced with little difficulty to India and Israel.
Man or legend.
If a man describes “controversy” it is Imran Khan. Few people define the hopes of Islamic moderates as does Khan. This “Khan’s” empire, a “superstar” athlete of the cricket world, a sport unknown to most Americans, consists of that huge portion of the world our maps used to color pink, the regions we used to call the British Empire, a region covering 40% of the globe. When the British conquered the world they took their most beloved sport with them, cricket.
What if an American baseball pitcher won 30 games a year with an ERA of 2.0 and batted .400? Then surround him with controversy, a Muslim with a Jewish ex-wife, looks and charm and a reputed “way with the ladies” that keeps the tabloids stalking him and, oh, I forgot to mention this, make him the head of a political party. You will now begin to understand the enigma of Imran Khan
It gets worse.
He is Pashtun, one of the same ethnic group Americans know as the Taliban, a group well out of the mainstream in Pakistani politics. In a country ruled by the “Europeanized” Punjabi and Sindh, a Pashtu political leader makes Barak Hussein Obama seem “mainstream.”
It gets worse till.
Khan is not only a controversial celebrity, but an outspoken reformer fighting government corruption. Khan is a friend of Americans but strong enemy of American influence in Pakistan and very critical for the west for its mistrust of Islam. He believes the west doesn’t know the difference between a Taliban extremist and a moderate Sufi cleric but can pick out a Methodist from a Lutheran in seconds.
Imagine an American sports hero who is an Oxford trained economist, sponsored the nation’s largest cancer center and is now building a university for those who would never otherwise see a higher education.
We had to meet this guy.
His political offices were moderate. We had visited political parties in Pakistan that looked more like Ivy League campuses. Khan’s party was used furniture, peeling paint and the sound of work, footsteps up and down stairs and a lot of noise. It was an election night in Rawalpindi. A seat in the national assembly was up for grabs and charges of election fraud had charged the air.
I almost felt I was back in America. For the office of a man whose very mention that I planned to meet him had a flight attendant asking for my autograph, it was unexpected. Khan wasn’t a dilettante or elitist, he is a fighter, capable of holding his own in any political arena. The language was easy to understand. He believed what he said and knew what he was talking about.
We weren’t used to that.
If you ignored the TV crews outside, you noticed a few things. There were no lights, power had been cut, a result of terrorism’s costs to Pakistan. Khan had a small rechargeable lantern on his desk; he turned it so we could find out way and had us sit down. It was clear that we hadn’t entered the corridors of power. This was something else entirely.
We had walked in on a crusade for political accountability and reform. If this were America, it would have been that “third party” we all dream of but never get.
Not what we expected.
When Khan called President Musharraf “George Bush’s poodle” and threatened protests when Bush visited Pakistan in 2006, he was placed under house arrest. When Musharraf declared a “national emergency” in 2007, Khan called for his immediate arrest and execution for treason. Khan was jailed for this, went on a hunger strike and was released.
You can’t help but love a guy like that!
Khan wasn’t a tabloid playboy, though he looked the part, that and more, nor was he much like anything we have seen in America in many years. Khan believed what he said and could more than hold his own on any subject from economics to foreign policy, depth, clarity and understanding, not only of economic theory but someone with solutions, not just “sound bites” but solid programs, economic reform, political justice.
All of this was steeped in a passion, a drive you could feel across the room. It was electric. Mostly, however, I could feel his frustration. Reforming politics is impossible, certainly in America, at the best of times. Pakistan is beset by enemies on all sides, terror attacks are daily across the country and the threats are far worse than debt and unemployment. People are fighting for their lives.
Interview turned around.
Khan asked us about everything. I was grilled about American veterans, how they were treated, how their families suffered during multiple deployments how much Americans sacrificed in a war he believes is being handled without adequate understanding of the factors involved and the solutions available.
Khan wanted to know everything about America, as we saw it, opinions on the war, 9/11 and why Americans believed what the press told them about Pakistan and moderate Islam. His point, of course, is that extremism in Pakistan’s tribal areas was the result, as it had been in Afghanistan, of lack of education.
The aftermath of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had forgotten to rebuild the battleground of that war, Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan where the millions of refugees had settled, areas now subject to poverty and extremism as the “war on terror” had virtually collapsed Pakistan’s economy and destroyed much of its infrastructure, more than any western nation had imagined or bothered to look into.
Few European or American schools have soldiers, armoured personnel carriers and “TSA level” security at their children’s schools.
What we saw.
Pakistan’s current president, Zardari, may actually be less popular than “W” after either Katrina or the infamous “Bush financial crash” when real estimates of approval entered the single digit range. Being an “unsuccessful politician” in Pakistan and hated by “party line” newspapers is a clear sign of personal integrity.
Zardari actually passed a law making it a crime to tell jokes about him. This must be hard on a lot of people. Pakistan is a country of folks who know humor. Sometimes it is all that keeps them alive.
Meeting an honest politician, one willing to tell Bush, Israel or anyone else exactly how he feels, to the point of doing jail time for it is a bit of a shock. You could ask Khan something and he would simply tell you what he thinks, tell you the truth. Combining this with being educated, devoutly religious and with an established history for charity work and paying the price for standing up for what is right, even at great personal cost, Imran Khan is an enigma.
How would Americans view Khan?
Jeff and I looked at each other the second we left the door. Jeff remembering his years as Chief Counsel for Senate Finance hit on it immediately: “We could get this guy elected President of the United States in a flat minute.”
Thinking back at the last 40 years, there was nobody who could stand up to this guy, media, debate, programs, especially if women were voting.
What would Americans really do?
Khan would be crucified by the press. He would demand an end to corruption, end foreign influence in Washington, Israel, China, India, Saudi Arabia, everyone. The wars would end, we would begin addressing the root causes of terrorism, defense spending would plummet, and America would start working again.
He would be dead in a week.
Why think about a guy from Pakistan?
The information revolution has made the world small. Imran Khan is “out there,” YouTube, the internet, not so much in America but people know him. He isn’t perfect like some Americans, you know the ones we are talking about, all “goodness and light” on the outside and underneath it all, corruption, addiction, a life of failure reinvented by money, power and foreign lobbyists.
America is at war and Pakistan is the front lines. When you talk terrorism, Pakistan is the victim, not the US. They get it from every side, American papers, Islamic extremists along with India/Israel and games some of us can only imagine or talk of in whispers as “conspiracy theory.” When a school is blown up in Pakistan, the list of potential suspects often has some names that would surprise many Americans.
With a world in the hands of folks like Bush or Obama, Gordon Brown or Tony Blair and the EU folks, Merkel and Sarrdoozie of France, anything with signs of human life and intelligence is always welcome. Italy’s prime minister spends more money on lesbian prostitutes than an American senator can steal in a lifetime. Imran Khan is a saint in comparison
Gordon Duff is a Marine Vietnam veteran, grunt and 100% disabled vet. He has been a UN Diplomat, defense contractor and is a widely published expert on military and defense issues. He is active in the financial industry and is a specialist on global trade. Gordon Duff acts as political and economic advisor to a number of governments in Africa and the Middle East.
By John Hughes
Provo, Utah: America is one of the most stirring examples of democracy in action anywhere on the globe. But the way our legislators behave, it is no wonder some non-Americans find it totally perplexing.
Take the current political situation in Washington: Barack Obama ran his winning presidential election campaign on a platform of “change.” His Democratic supporters roared back: “Yes, we can.”
His Republican opponents ran their campaign on a sort of “We-too-can-change” platform. Their supporters murmured back: “Yes, we hope you can, but not too fast.”
Centrist independents, who now hold the balance of power between the two traditional parties, and who after a year into the new presidential term had hoped for bipartisanship and unity in the face of crisis, must be mighty disappointed.
The Democrats, after trying to rush an improbably comprehensive liberal agenda into being in Year 1 of President Obama’s term, have found out that “No, they can’t.”
The Republicans, after losing the White House and both Houses of Congress, have determined that their attitude toward anything the spendthrift Democratic majority in Congress proposes will be “No, you won’t.” The strategy apparently is to block Democratic-initiated programs with the hope that disillusioned voters will return a Republican majority to Congress later this year, and even hobble Obama’s bid for reelection. The danger for Republicans is that disaffected voters might blame the Republicans more for disruption than the Democrats for lack of accomplishment.
Much of the electorate is left fuming over (a) millions of jobs lost, (b) a mind-boggling national debt their children and grandchildren will be left paying off, (c) big bank presidents awarded annual salaries in the multimillions for questionable performance, and (d) a political logjam in Washington.
The national mood is not helped by cable TV commentators of the more lurid character suggesting that the administration is leading the country to Armageddon, or senior White House officials terming those who disagree with them “retarded.”
As has been traditional over the years, US political parties, both in and out of power, have tended to be more supportive of incumbent presidents on foreign policy than domestic policy. It is generally considered bad form to display disunity on foreign policy to foreign audiences, but acceptable to be in disarray on domestic challenges at home.
In sending more troops to Afghanistan, Obama is largely following President Bush’s war policy. His tough talk on Al Qaeda and terrorism meets with support from most Americans. He has escaped serious criticism on questionable handling of the closure of Guantánamo defense facility, on interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber, and the now-abandoned plan to try key Al Qaeda terrorists in courts a stone’s throw from the scene of the 9/11 disaster. Perhaps it is because his attorney-general, Eric Holder, is seen to have been the initiator of such moves.
While Obama’s Cairo and Istanbul “outreach” speeches to the Muslim world were well crafted and well received, his outstretched hand has yet to be gripped by the Arab world, or by difficult non-Arab clients like North Korea and Iran, to which he has also similarly offered engagement. North Korea already has developed nuclear-capable weaponry and Iran has proven rocket capability, with the ability to produce a nuclear warhead not far behind.
North Korea has proved adept at fending off US, European, and Chinese attempts to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Iran, a traditional wily negotiator, must surely have been impressed by North Korea’s example and probably hopes to emulate it.
Though China is America’s banker, its relationship with the Obama administration is prickly as it seeks recognition as a world power.
In these and other international challenges, Obama counts on bilateral support at home. It would be helpful if Republicans and Democrats could achieve similar bilateral concord on the serious domestic challenges facing the nation.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.