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16
Feb
12

New documentary on Kashmir

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17
Nov
11

Nostradamus of WMDs

Published at the Express Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/293408/the-nostradamus-of-wmds/

On November 4th The Atlantic published an article titled “The Ally from Hell” co-authored by Jeffrey Goldberg. In the article Pakistan is described as the “epicenter of gobal jihadism” and then the author goes into detail about the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He writes that Pakistan is paranoid about the US seizing its nuclear weapons, so much so that it constantly moves nuclear components and “mated” nuclear weapons in unprotected civilian vans through regular traffic. His wild unsubstantiated claims go on to reveal US operational plans to seize control of Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event of an “Islamic Coup” in the country. In which case US forces would enter Pakistan Hollywood style from helicopters, parachutes, running across the border etc and begin securing nuclear sites. A “disablement campaign” is also in place and it entails disabling the entire Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Under such a campaign the US would put into action the military’s 20th Support Command, whose teams will destroy nuclear weapons without causing an explosion. Another scenario involves US troops evacuating after disabling as many bombs as possible before nuclear bunkers would be targeted with missile strikes.

Such serious allegations without substantial evidence and only citing unnamed sources prompted me to conduct some research into the author’s background. Interestingly enough, one of Goldberg’s most notable pieces of work was a 2002 report for the New Yorker titled “The Great Terror”. There, Goldberg described the imminent threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. He detailed Hussein’s links with Al Qaeda and portrayed him as the evilest of all dictators who had weaponized a biological agent called aflatoxin. In an article for Slate magazine Goldberg wrote that aflatoxin does only one thing, it causes liver cancer especially in children. However, a 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the Bush Administration’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, stated that Iraqi scientists conducted experiments with aflatoxin, but determined that there was no evidence found linking these experiments with the development of biological weapons. Goldberg also wrote about Sadaam’s ability to make an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. His article concluded “the administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.” In 2008 he wrote an article on how he got Iraq wrong citing faulty intelligence which he claims is a universal phenomenon. For a person who writes on such serious topics, we should hope it is not Goldberg, himself, who suffers from faulty intelligence.

 With a proven track record of false claims regarding Iraq, how are we supposed to trust his newest allegations about Pakistan’s nuclear program? Like his previous articles on Iraq nameless sources apparently provided top secret information. Pakistan has stated many times that  nuclear weapons are kept “de-mated” where the warhead is kept separate from the delivery system thus placing their weapons in the realm of impossible to steal in any useful form. Pakistan also keeps in place a two-person control system and permissive action links (PALs) coded locks meant to prevent unauthorized arming or detonation of a nuclear weapon. Goldberg states that according to an unnamed ex defense official, it is not clear what the PAL process includes. Is it two people who would unlock the box around the warhead, or is it two people who launch the nuclear weapon once the warhead has been mated to the missile? A question which is ignored within the article is whether it would be wise for Pakistan to make information regarding the safety procedures of its nuclear weapons public. Perhaps this was omitted due to the obvious answer.

Before his career as a journalist in Washington DC, Goldberg served as a prison guard for the Israel armed forces. In his article for the Atlantic, he points out that the US gives Pakistan $2 billion a year. He states “so: the U.S. funds the ISI; the ISI funds the Haqqani network; and the Haqqani network kills American soldiers.” If claims like this get under Goldberg’s skin, he must get furious when he thinks about the annual $3 billion US aid to Israel. The US funds Israel, Israel occupies Palestine and kills Palestinians as well as US and Turkish civilians on a flotilla to deliver aid to Palestinians.

Goldberg’s article has a familiar whiff of the doomsday scenario presented by award winning journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker where he claimed that joint US-Israeli teams are in place to dismantle Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. He wrote that in the summer of 2001 a nuclear component had gone missing in Pakistan. A team from the US was deployed but by the time they reached Dubai they learnt that the report was a false alarm. Another false claim made in the article was that India supposedly conducted raids in Pakistan to target terrorist cells! Seymour Hersh has been criticized for using unnamed sources in his articles; with some even suggesting that these sources are unreliable or just made up. It’s a shame when such prestigious magazines like the New Yorker and the Atlantic publish such fantasies. The readers rely on these magazines to provide them with factual based well researched insights about situations around the globe and not some dreamt up end of the world high stakes drama. Perhaps these magazines are trying to seem nonpartisan by printing articles from extreme ends of the spectrum. That is a dangerous precedent to set because it promotes ignorance and feeds off people’s paranoia.

18
Sep
11

Governance in Pakistan’s FATA

My research paper on the governance challenge in the tribal areas of Pakistan published in the Naval Postgraduate School’s (Monterey, California) research journal – Strategic Insights:

http://edocs.nps.edu/npspubs/institutional/newsletters/strategic%20insight/2011/SI-v10-I2_Khan.pdf

18
Sep
11

Drone Strikes

The recent incriminating report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK has revealed mountains of damning information regarding drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan. According to this report a drone strike occurs every four days and has resulted in the deaths of 775 civilians including 168 children since 2004. The report states that 45 civilians have died in the past year which is contradictory to Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan’s statement that no civilians have died in nearly a year. However, the US has rejected the report’s findings and “unknown” officials have attacked the report, claiming that the numbers are exaggerated. Doubts have been cast on Mirza Shahzad Akbar’s role in the report since he is suing the CIA on behalf of Pakistanis who lost their family members to drone strikes. Mirza is a lawyer and was one of the sources used for the report. The Pentagon stated its concern about Mirza’s connection with the ISI since he ousted the undercover CIA chief in Pakistan.

The CIA has maintained that drone strikes do not result in any civilian deaths or “collateral damage” but since the beginning of the drone program in 2004, there has been controversy over the numbers of civilian deaths. The ability of the predator drone to loiter over a target for hours before striking supposedly gives it the ability to precisely aim at its intended target but the following reports depict otherwise. David Kilcullen, former adviser on counter-insurgency to General David Petraeus said for every single terrorist killed 50 civilians died, which is a hit rate of only 2 percent. Meanwhile in 2009 the Brookings Institution concluded that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also perished. On the other hand the Long War Journal stated that only 10 percent of those killed by the drone strikes were civilians reflecting that a low amount of collateral damage is acceptable. Finally an analysis carried out by the New America Foundation revealed that since 2006 till 2010, about 250 to 320 civilians died. Though they did cite difficulty in recognizing civilians from the militants since the latter live amidst the population and do not wear a uniform. These contrasting numbers over the past few years are troublesome. One of the reasons for the disparity is that people who were present in the same building as terrorists are counted as civilians in some reports whereas in others they are not. Similarly if a drone targets one house but ends up destroying three houses around the target then are the dead neighbours also counted as terrorists? Hence many questions arise regarding the data collection methods used in order to determine the accuracy of drone strikes.

The drone program is controversial because it doesn’t recognize any legal, ethical, or political boundaries. Under the United Nation’s charter drone strikes are illegal; Article 2(4) clearly states that all members shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. The UN Human Rights special investigator Philip Alston said “The CIA is running a program that is killing significant numbers of people and there is absolutely no accountability.” He warned the US for failing to track, and punish soldiers for drone strikes that result in civilian deaths, for not revealing the number of civilians killed, and for no plans on compensating victim’s families. Nonetheless, the US claims that the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have no say regarding killings during an armed conflict.

Currently there are two drone programs in effect in South Asia. A military program which operates in Afghanistan and a CIA run covert drone program in Pakistan, which the US is not at war with. These drones are controlled by an operator in the Creech Air Force base which is forty five miles north of Las Vegas. This base is the first in Air Force history that solely flies unmanned aircraft. The UAVs used in Pakistan are MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper which fire AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Reports also came out that the CIA operatives were paying Pakistanis to identify al-Qaeda targets by placing electronic chips in their homes so that they can be targeted by predator drones.

The US seems to believe that continued drone strikes will significantly diminish al-Qaeda’s abilities. However, drone strikes are counterproductive because they play into the hands of militant propaganda seeking to gather and recruit the local populace to their cause. Since the US is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan it is time to realize that drone strikes are here to stay despite their illegality and the civilian deaths they produce. With no boots on ground drones will remain the weapon of choice for the US. These strikes have hindered the capabilities of al-Qaeda and other militant groups but have not been successful in eliminating these groups all together. The US and Pakistan share a common enemy thus; a joint control of the drone program appears to be a logical approach at the moment. Jointly coordinated drone strikes will ease the level of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and also eliminate civilian deaths; since there will not be a complete disconnect between the drone operator and the reality on ground. Pakistan has demanded veto power over drone strikes and new detailed agreements between the governments of US and Pakistan are allegedly in the works. Former US Intelligence chief, Dennis Blair also supported giving Pakistan the veto power over drone strikes arguing that continued unilateral action in Pakistan is disadvantageous. Indeed a more effective strategy would entail development and investment in education and infrastructure but the area needs to be cleared of militants first before such programs can be enacted. Persistent unilateral actions by the US threaten to push the country over the brink. Pakistan continues to wallow in an era of political violence and terrorist attacks. Openly acknowledged joint efforts in pursuit of terrorists will ease public criticism while still providing a method to combat the extremist plague.

09
Aug
11

lobbying in the US

An abridged version of this article was published at the Express Tribune: http://tribune.com.pk/story/305107/fai-and-kashmir/

Lobbying in the US is not strictly an Israeli and Indian sport; in fact it is a legal activity permissible to all. The untouchable Israeli lobby in the US puts so much pressure and funds into policy makers that Israel’s interests nearly always come first. Following Israel’s lobbying model is the Indian lobby which is also succeeding in getting their way by pumping dollars and applying pressure on US Government officials. The Kashmir American Council (KAC) was no exception; it is amongst the numerous organizations that promote interests of foreign states.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) identifies itself as America’s pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC consists of Jewish Americans but some of its strongest supporters are evangelical Christians, a group which embodies a quarter of the American voters. Political careers in Washington often come to an abrupt end when officials openly support Palestinian causes; they are labeled as supporters of terrorism, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel plus the opposing candidate suddenly receives generous donations.  The US Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC) was founded by Sanjay Puri in 2002. The Indians were so enthralled by the Israel lobby that they formed USINPAC in its mold. The large size of the Indian population in the US coupled with higher level of education and income has strengthened the Indian lobby.

According to the FBI report the KAC had received up to $700,000 annually from Pakistan to make contributions to US politicians in order to influence US policy on Kashmir. Dr Fai operated overtly; he held seminars and his guests included political leaders, human rights groups, diplomats and journalists. His aim was to raise awareness about the plight of the Kashmiris and also to find a solution to Kashmir. Nonetheless, these public events threatened US national security and Fai was arrested. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires those who receive funding or lobby on behalf of a foreign government to register as a foreign agent. Thus Fai’s crime being that he did not file the correct paperwork declaring that he was working with a foreign government. USINPAC and AIPAC are not however held to the same standards. They are not registered under FARA because USINPAC claims it focuses only on Indian American community whereas AIPAC states that it does not receive funding from Israel. However, it is difficult to separate the policies of these two groups from those of India and Israel. India friendly policies proposed by USINPAC promote India’s national interest as well. For instance USINPAC played a role in pushing the US-India nuclear deal through Congress. Meanwhile AIPAC lobbies for financial aid to Israel, securing up to 3 billion annually, making Israel the largest collective recipient of US aid over the past 60 years. AIPAC also ensures that the aid is not allocated for any specific projects.

From an American standpoint, aversion to Fai’s activities seems bizarre. He was only promoting the cause of self-determination for Kashmiris and we should not forget that the right to self-determination has always been a strong tool of US foreign policy… even if it is used selectively. The timing of the revelation is also suspicious since the KAC had been operating in the US for two decades. Opportunely his ties to ISI were revealed during Hillary Clinton’s trip to India.

Kashmir: infographic. Source: Al Jazeera

In reality the US has always steered clear of Kashmir other than reiterating support for a bilateral settlement on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Secretary Clinton made no mention of Kashmir during her visit to India. When Obama first took office in 2008 he had called for a comprehensive regional solution linking Kashmir to problems on the Af-Pak border. Richard Holbrooke’s portfolio originally included Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Af-Pak-Ind). However, the Indian lobby proved successful in getting the nation excluded and furthermore prevailed in pressuring the US not to mention Kashmir. According to the Washington Post, the Indians were troubled by Holbrooke’s tough reputation and did not want him interfering in Kashmir. So Obama, like his predecessors, caved and the Indians got their way. Self-interest of the United States undoubtedly plays a role in their support of two major arms purchasers. During his visit, Obama reached a $10 billion trade deal with India in hopes of creating 50,000 new jobs. America, the champion of human rights, can overlook the abuses by the Indian military in Kashmir as long as India is willing to use American bullets along the disputed territory.

Pakistani efforts in Washington D.C. have been suffering following the Bin Laden raid as experts on the area are leaving key offices. Shamila Chaudhary once served as a member of Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and as a senior adviser to the late RichardHolbrooke. She has since moved on to the private sector. There does not seem to be a backup team in place to take charge either. As Shuja Nawaz said “there is a wholesale movement of the Pakistan expertise out, and there is apparently not enough expertise in the pipeline.”

Lobbying has become an essential activity in order to have a voice in the international arena. Pakistan does not have billions of expendable dollars to lavish among US politicians for support for its interests. Thus, it is important that the Pakistani diaspora join in to improve upon the foreign image of Pakistan. Nearly 600,000 Pakistani Americans reside in the US. They pay taxes like any other citizen and have the right to be heard. Instead of shying away from a homeland in disrepair, Pakistanis residing throughout the world would be best served by following the example of Fai. Just be careful to properly fill out all the necessary forms.

Some resources for further reading:

The Israel Lobby and the US Foreign Policy:  http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/workingpapers/citation.aspx?PubId=3670

Kashmir: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/kashmirtheforgottenconflict/

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/07/201172672822527671.html

04
Aug
11

Pakistan’s Troubled Frontier

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11
Jul
11

New Vegas – Las Vegas

After playing Fallout New Vegas, an xbox game based in post nuclear fallout during the 1950s, I wanted to experience the real Vegas. This summer provided a perfect opportunity!

We set out around 9 in the morning on an 8 hours drive to Vegas through the Mojave Desert. In the game I spent a lot of time exploring the desert thus it was intriguing to see the actual landscape. Although to be honest there was not much to observe except a vast expanse of barren land and brown mountains in the background. During our journey we came across some of the little towns which I thought were invented for the purpose of the game only. After an easy drive and a few stops on the way, I could finally see Vegas on the horizon. It was hard to miss in the desert with its glittering lights and flashy colourful billboards. The closer we got the more it seemed like we had driven into an eruption of gigantic advertisements, shops and hotels. There were hoards of people walking in opposite directions on both sides of the road, in and out of the casinos and their hotels.

Caesars Palace

While making our way to the hotel room we passed some of the famous hotels in Vegas like Caesars Palace. I couldn’t help but think of the scene from the Hangover when Alan asked “This isn’t the real Caesar’s Palace is it?”

View from top of the Palms

After a quick pizza dinner at the New York New York we made our way on top of the Palms. I heard that one could get a spectacular view of the Vegas strip from above 55 floors on the roof of the Palms hotel. The setting was indeed superb; the outdoor sky deck offered a remarkable 360-degree view and parts of the floor were glass which also provided a glimpse all the way down. From up above it was obvious why people referred to the Vegas Boulevard as the strip, it did appear to be a shiny strip of glittering lights surrounded on all sides by the darkness of the desert.

The Venetian

The next day we decided to walk down and explore  Vegas. Most of the hotels were interconnected so it was easy to move around. Each hotel tried to outdo the other and seemed grander than the previous. The ceilings in the Bellagio were painted to look like the blue sky with white puffy clouds. There were beautiful gardens inside along with a butterfly house. The Venetian looked like an Italian village inside with water canals, boats, bridges and all. The strip was longer than we had thought and we only managed to walk down half off it before we realized we barely had enough time to make it to our dinner reservation. After reading a lot of reviews online I picked the Mon Ami Gabi restaurant for dinner and it certainly lived up to its reputation. A charming classic French bistro located right across the Bellagio. We were seated in outdoor patio area which provided us with an excellent view of the fountains. Our meal was delicious and the ambiance was great. Too bad we had to rush through dinner in order to make it to the Crazy Horse Paris burlesque show at the MGM.

Bellagio fountains

The following morning we finished discovering the rest of Vegas. We walked around the latest addition on the strip, the City Center. Its ultra-modern building with a shiny smooth surface stood out next to the older hotels surrounding it. However things hardly remain new in Vegas for long, trends are always changing and everyone is competing to be the next best thing. Time flies in Vegas and before we knew it, we had to run to the Stratosphere for dinner. I was looking forward to dining at the top of the 1,149 ft high Stratosphere tower, the tallest structure in Vegas. This restaurant provides an infinite view because it slowly rotates 360 degrees during the entire length of the meal. The Stratosphere also offers dare devils the opportunity to jump from the top! It looked almost like bungee jumping but jumpers didn’t bounce back instead they were attached to a descent cable. So every now and then during our meal we saw a person  falling down outside our window. I don’t think I will ever work up the courage to attempt such an insane act.

While peeking outside I saw a strip of lights far off in the distance, it appeared to be the Nellis Air force base. Apparently drones being flown over Pakistan and Afghanistan are controlled from this base in Las Vegas! No wonder it all seems like a video game to the operators of the Reaper and Predator drones. They are so detached from the reality on ground that any large gathering seems like an appropriate target and if innocent people die then oops!

A Cirque Du Soleil show is a must in Vegas. Out of the numerous choices available I picked KA because of its action based story line. KA which means fire, is one of the five elements philosophy in Japan. It was rated as the most lavish and technologically advanced show in Western theater. The most amazing aspect of KA were its colossal floating stages which moved in every direction possible and made the viewing experience that much more surreal. At one point the entire stage was vertical with a few warriors just barely dangling from arrows shot earlier onto the stage; while the rest seemed to have fallen down in the abyss. The battle scenes were intense with actors leaping into the audience. Another bewildering feature of the show was the indoor use of fire. I could feel the heat from the massive flames during a scene consisting of a weapons making factory.

On a historical note it is hard for me to imagine that Vegas developed as a result of an atomic bomb research project during World War 2 when scientists came to the area to test bombs in the desert. The mushroom cloud became a symbol of Vegas and generated tourism. Military personal came to Vegas which created jobs and Vegas boomed. On an average a bomb was tested every three weeks over a period of 12 years! Effects of radiation were unknown at the time and above ground testing continued till 1963 when the partial test ban treaty was signed banning testing in the atmosphere.

After three wonderful nights it was finally time to say goodbye to the entertainment capital of the world. It does have a lot to offer and it can be overwhelming but that is what makes it so marvelous, a little shiny world of its own in the middle of the desert.

My daily Vegas reminder!




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