A conference of journalists working in the tribal areas came to some interesting conclusions:
Growing anarchy has made access to information dependent on the will of the military and the militants. Both have shown little tolerance in allowing reporters to work independently. In threatening circumstances, journalists feel little hesitation in toeing the line, which has made journalism subservient to military strategies. More importantly, it has provided journalists with an excuse to justify anything in the name of insecurity, making professional dishonesty the norm in war reporting.
Ethically, any defensive measure is justified if it helps reporters keep safe. In the local context, however, this provisional compromise is of little help in ensuring their security. Meanwhile, it has killed in them the spirit of initiative. There is a growing realisation that journalism in a hostile situation is mainly about serving the combatants. This has caused complacency in war reporters. They take pride in their relationship with militants, who often invite them to cover terror at the source.
This should give pause to think tanks which regularly use this reporting to build arguments for or against drones and more generally, the ‘war on terror.’ It’s what I pointed out in an earlier post.
Full article here.
Oh, NYT, why must you tempt me with your strange tales of stranger lands.
1) PALESTINE. Ethan Bronner’s article which was the lead story this morning, “Palestinians Try a Less Violent Path to Resistance” is an example of a lie reproduced as news. Putting the latest peaceful Palestinian boycott campaign in faux context, Bronner writes, “The new approach still remains small scale while American-led efforts to revive peace talks are stalled.” He falsely continues to imply throughout the rest of the article that noviolence is “limited” or alien to Palestinian soil:
Nonviolence has never caught on here, and Israel’s military says the new approach is hardly nonviolent. But the current set of campaigns is trying to incorporate peaceful pressure in limited ways.
Except that well, nonviolence–whilst perhaps a novel idea to a reporter whose son serves in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)–is nothing new for the Palestinians. The 1980s intifada was a deeply civil society based rebellion with Palestinian labour unions, businessmen and students involved in mass forms of nonviolent protest. Although initially uncoordinated, an ad hoc leadership committee called the Unfied National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU) soon rose up increasing its numbers with workers who joined as the IDF attacked Palestinian businesses. The bourgeoisie and Palestinian businessmen, increasingly burdened by the new taxes Israel was imposing, followed through with commercial strikes and non-payment of taxes. Further, Ariel Sharon’s incendiary move to shift his home to Jerusalem sparked “the shopkeepers war”, a cat and mouse game where the IDF repeatedly forced shopkeepers to open their shops and they in turn repeatedly went on strike. There was stone throwing by youth (if you can call that violent when they’re throwing them at tanks and soldiers) too and murders of alleged collaborators, but the bulk of the population took part in mass civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent protest. That was the Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, and it attests to the strength and resilience of Palestinian civil society. The effects of that movement dissipated because of the Oslo Accords which circumvented the successes of the intifada rather than build upon them.
Contrast that form of resistance with the occupying army. Raphael Eitan, then Israel’s chief of staff, said “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” Menachim Begin, who would later win the Nobel peace prize with Arafat (a venerable tradition which Obama has rightly joined) referred to Palestinians as “beasts walking on two legs”.
And for the love of god, Bronner, get a clue.
2) PAKISTAN. Sabrina Tavernise lends that special Alice-in-a-wonderland feel to her reporting on a potentially historic amendment that is making its way through the Pakistani parliament right now. If passed, it would strip the President of powers that the position has accrued over the years due to revisions to the constitution by unaccountable politicians and dictators. Tavernise is quick to manipulate the story about a significant positive political change in Pakistan into the “chaos theory” narrative the western media has reserved for Pakistan. She writes:
On paper, the changes restore the country’s democracy to its original form — a parliamentary system run by a prime minister — and undo the accumulated powers that the country’s military autocrats had vested in the presidency. (emphasis mine.)
But this is Pakistan — a chaotic, 62-year-old country, where no elected government has ever lasted a full term and the rule of law is often up for grabs — and it is far from certain that in practice the new laws will be respected. (emphasis mine.)
Down the hole, Alice goes. This is Wonderland and things don’t ever change here. Never ever ever. Never ever? Not ever. Get it?
Last year, Tavernise brought us this lovely liner regnant with Orientalism: “On a spring night in Lahore, I came face to face with all that is puzzling about Pakistan.” Wow, where? Was it at the intersection of Ignorance and Hubris? Try and get off that. It’s really overcrowded.
3) WIKILEAKS. Two days ago, Glenn Greenwald caught the NYT in a mistake, and now the paper appears to be at it again trying to damn the investigative website Wikileaks. Greenwald then noted that reporter “Elisabeth Bumiller strongly implies that WikiLeaks failed to release the full video and instead selectively edited it.” The mistake found its way into a Weekly Standard opinion piece which denounced the website for failing to release the full video. Unfortunately, for the Standard, Wikileaks had released the entire video from the start. The NYT corrected its mistake online without ever acknowledging that it had made one. The Standard‘s Bill Roggio also corrected his mistake and acknowledged it explicitly online. All that was two days ago. Now today, NYT‘s article on Wikileaks “Iraq Video Brings Notice to a Web Site“, again implies bad practise by Wikileaks:
The Web site also posted a 17-minute edited version, which proved to be much more widely viewed on YouTube than the full version. Critics contend that the shorter video was misleading because it did not make clear that the attacks took place amid clashes in the neighborhood and that one of the men was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.
But, Wikileaks posted the entire unedited video and has done so from the start. That’s something that media organizations rarely do, if ever. When’s the last time you saw an unedited video at CNN or unedited notes for an article at NYT? Second, what unnamed critics is the NYT referring to here? The Weekly Standard already corrected its mistake, and anyone else who has criticized the shorter version of the video has only been able to do so precisely because the full-version is also available. It’s just a bizarre paragraph coming as it does on the heels of the earlier Bumiller article. The NYT, btw, is absent from Wikileaks list of its supporters which does include the LA Times, Hearst Corporation, Gannett (publishers of USA Today), the Associated Press, among other journalistic bodies.
4) PAKISTAN. The Lede blog posted live video footage of the bomb blasts at the US Consulate in Peshawar (h/t jdw) and then noted:
Readers who watch the footage from Pakistani television above may notice one sign of how routine bombings have become in the country. At one stage, as images of the latest attack were broadcast, the crawl at the bottom of the screen gave updates on a celebrity drama, the planned marriage of a Pakistani cricket star, Shoaib Malik, to an Indian tennis player, Sania Mirza.
When a commenter called out the blog’s writer, Robert Mackey on his spurious concluson based on news tickers which are equally random everywhere else, he responded saying, “I explained in the post what the point of the the trivial news in the crawl seemed to be to me. I made no statement that this sort of trivia was unique to Pakistan and not found in most if not all other countries.” Even to Mackey his response must sound lame; it’s certainly not an answer.
Here’s a snapshot of CNN vs. al-Jazeera on the day the Wikileaks video was posted. Pots and kettles. Enough said.
To the west and north, the province is bounded by Afghanistan and Iran, each of which has its own Baloch population; the Pashtuns who predominate in the northern part of the province also spill across international borders. The province’s location at this explosive geopolitical crossroads – as well as its vast mineral resources and valuable coastline – have focused the anxieties of international powers near and far, suggesting that a new Great Game may take Balochistan as its target. Tehran worries about what conflicts in Balochistan will mean for its own Sistan-Balochistan province, whose Baloch population has been brutally suppressed by the state. The Americans are concerned about the Taliban who have taken refuge in the province’s Pashtun belt and the leaders of the Afghan Taliban long believed to be operating out of Quetta. Washington is also concerned about China’s increasing involvement in the area, most visibly the deep-water port at Gwadar, built with Chinese investment and intended to provide an Indian Ocean foothold for Beijing.
But for the government of Pakistan – and particularly for its army – Balochistan is first and foremost the epicentre of a stubbornly secular Baloch national rebellion whose endurance poses a threat to the state’s ideological and geographical coherence.
Balochistan is a looking glass for Pakistan today, reflecting the tortuous struggle to imagine a national community. How the state handles the rising tide of Baloch nationalism will also determine the future of Pakistan’s nationalist project.
And, in case, one needs more reminding about the Army that owns a state, here’s a story from Antiwar.com about the military attacking civilians in Fata’s Orakzai Agency, killing 61 people.
Pakistani warplanes attacked a number of sites in the Orakzai Agency today, including a mosque, a school, and a religious seminary, killing 61. Security officials initially labeled all 61 “suspected militants,” though locals later conceded that a great many of them were actually innocent civilians.
It’s not the Pakistani Army but the Baloch nationalists it suppresses that may be the most effective counter to politically motivated religious extremism.
Obama’s publicised 30,000 troop increase for Afghanistan has come with latest round of deliberations for a second “surge”: the expansion of drone attacks into Balochistan. But while the US seems to only view Balochistan, and particularly, its capital, Quetta, as a hotbed of Taliban extremism, it is far better known to the Pakistani Army as home to a politically secular, sometimes Marxist insurgency that has already been at war with the state, in its latest round, since 2004.
The largest of Pakistan’s four provinces–it’s nearly half of the country’s landmass–Balochistan was forcibly annexed in 1947, has fostered four insurgencies with a fifth currently underway and is entirely occupied by the Pakistani Army, its vast natural resources including natural gas, oil, coal, gold and copper siphoned away from the local Baloch towards the rest of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the province remains gut-wrenchingly poor, and it’s that inequality, between what Balochistan provides and what it gets, that has fuelled a stubbornly secular ethnic Baloch nationalism.
The Great Game
America too, has its own obsessions with Balochistan. Rich in energy reserves and strategically situated along the borders of Iran and Afghanistan the province is central to the energy politics of the region. The US fears that China’s involvement in building Pakistan’s critical warm water port of Gwadar on the southern edge of Balochistan may mean that the US will lose out on all that energy wealth. And with Washington’s wars expanding, it may look to Balochistan as a critical base for US forces wanting to stage attacks into Afghanistan or Iran. American drones already fly from bases in Balochistan, particularly Shamsi air base.
The Pakistani government blames India for meddling in Balochistan and fomenting an insurgency there, and Tehran is worried about what the Baloch national movement inside Pakistan may mean for Iranian Balochistan, an underdeveloped region where the Baloch have been brutally suppressed.
The state, or the “center” as the Baloch call it, has always sought military solutions to the Balochistan question, staging its worst confrontation in the 1970s during which some 55,000 Baloch fought against an 80,000 strong Pakistani Army. It has also tried to ideologically neutralize Baloch nationalism by pursuing Islamization polices. Many argue that as with the NWFP, the state has been involved in behind-the-scenes manipulation such that parties with Taliban sympathies such as the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) hold critical seats in the Balochistan Provincial Assembly. And, JUI members introduced a resolution against drone attacks into the Assembly two months ago. Although, it’s unanimous passage does not signify support for the Taliban but rather concern for the casualties that must follow when bombs drop on a crowded city of nearly two million by current local estimates, the origins of the resolution are telling.
The fanning of sectarian flames has had international consequences: Tehran accuses Islamabad for providing support to religiously sectarian Baloch outfits like the anti-Shia Jundallah, responsible for attacks inside Iranian-Balochistan this past October killing many including senior members of the Revolutionary Guard.
Additionally, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which are deployed inside Balochistan along with the Army allegedly have links with Islamist militants, the logical outcome of the FC’s involvement in training and equipping the mujahideen in the 70s and 80s.
The consequence of the Army’s and central government’s policies is an increasingly radicalized population, especially among the young. While the leaders of mainstream nationalist parties send mixed messages about whether they want maximum provincial autonomy within a federated Pakistan or outright independence, their base is far more clear. At a rally organized by the BNP-M (Balochistan National Party -Mengal faction) two weeks ago in Quetta, protestors shouted “Pakistan murdabad!” (“Die Pakistan!”) slogans. Having spent much of the past month travelling through Balochistan, that sentiment is not limited to the extremes. It’s everywhere, daubed on school walls, on road signs, hospitals and on the lips of the young. Pakistanis seriously underestimate the level of anger and discontent of the Baloch.
That’s what made the Balochistan package a foregone failure. Termed a historic offer by the current civilian Pakistani government, the Agaz-e-Haqooq deal was rejected by even the most moderate Baloch national parties as a sham because it does not fundamentally deal with budget or resource issues and simply offers to replace regular Army troops with the FC -which many Baloch describe as worse than the regulars.
The government has also claimed that it released twenty of the enforced disappeared, but Chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch, Nasrullah Baloch says that several of those freed were in fact known to be in a jail in Sui, Dera Bugti. In other words, their whereabouts were always known and they don’t belong the group of the disappeared. Anywhere between 1,500 to 4,000 Baloch remain disappeared. Eyewitness reports as well as fact-gathering missions by groups like the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) confirm that they have been forcibly disappeared by the intelligence agencies. Local police also regularly refuse to register FIRs (first information reports) or charges on behalf of families of the disappeared. The amazingly untenable responses of the government compound the issue. Echoing Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani recently remarked at a press conference that the missing were in fact not missing at all. Rather, they had “deliberately gone underground to malign the country’s intelligence agencies.”
The intransigence of the federal government coupled with the brutality of the Army has given rise to an armed Baloch movement. The Pakistani government blames India for fomenting an insurgency in the area. It’s hard to know, with any certainty whether that’s the case, but it’s clear that groups like the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) and BRA (Baloch Republican Army) enjoy widespread support among the Baloch as they launch attacks on the Army and FC. Thus, even if funding may come from international players, the genuineness of the insurgency cannot be doubted.
There is however one troubling aspect to the militancy as well as to Baloch nationalist rhetoric. The Baloch often define the issue in terms of Punjabi domination over Balochistan, and regard Punjabis living in the area as “settlers,” sometimes attacking them in retaliation for attacks on the Baloch. The most recent case has been the cycle of violence initiated in Khuzdar where the FC cold-bloodedly opened fire on a student protest killing two and injuring several including one 20-year old student Liaquat Kurd whose left leg has had to be amputated as a result. In return, four Punjabis were killed in various parts of Balochistan.
Pressed on this issue, Baloch nationalists give varying responses: some claim that those killed have links to the intelligence agencies; others argue that intelligence agencies are killing Punjabis in order to give a bad name to the Baloch struggle, a claim difficult to swallow as the BLA has accepted responsibility for three of the four killings. Other non-Baloch communities such as the Hazara have also come under attack.
Following this model of organic nationalism appears to be dangerous on two grounds. First, unlike Israel’s direct funding of Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory, the non-Baloch population inside Balochistan has not, by-in-large, been systematically placed there by the government. It thus smacks of a disregard for human rights which is not helpful to the the movement. One wonders what kind of havoc this kind of ethno-nationalism will wreak should Balochistan gain independence. Secondly, it’s simply not strategically useful because it alienates potential supporters of the Baloch struggle. While the movement appears to be gaining strength and momentum in the wake of Akbar Bugti’s murder, it now remains to be seen whether it can ground itself in more sophisticated rhetoric. None of this however, takes away from the central fact that Balochistan–like Swat of late (which I also visited)–is under occupation by Pakistan’s own Army, and that Army and its government (for the Army owns the country), have dealt with the Baloch cruelly.
The End Game
Now, Obama’s war is likely to further destabilise the region with the Army using the chaos as a cover to crack-down on Baloch nationalists rather than the Taliban once again. The end game may be that—as with Egypt and the Middle East generally in the 1970s—the repression of secular Baloch nationalists compounded by possible drone attacks may actually pave the way for the very Islamists Washington so fears.
Garry Willis bemoans Obama’s latest betrayal over Afghanistan at the NYRB blog. He writes:
Others I respect have given up on him before now. I can see why. His backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush’s heritage. But I kept hoping that he was using these concessions to buy leeway for his most important position, for the ground on which his presidential bid was predicated.
There was only one thing that brought him to the attention of the nation as a future president. It was opposition to the Iraq war….
And then Willis says something–I’ve put in boldface below–that really left me dumbfounded:
He [Obama] said that he would not oppose war in general, but dumb wars. On that basis, we went for him. And now he betrays us. Although he talked of a larger commitment to Afghanistan during his campaign, he has now officially adopted his very own war,…
Um, so the problem here is that he’s doing something he said he was going to do? Really? Wow. Whatever one may think of Obama, that pretty straightforwardly does NOT qualify as a betrayal. What it is is the sound of the liberals self-constructed grand delusions about America’s first (half)-Black President crashing all around them. It’s the sound of boots marching to Afghanistan and drones killing in Pakistan. And as usual, it will be the Other folks who’ll pay with blood for the fuzzy feel-good fantasies that liberals and many progressives draped on Obama.
Now, I’m sure Willis believes what he says. The hegemony of the system depends on the ritual of aggression and apology, of re-categorizing moments of naked truth as outliers, bad apples, and betrayals. The problem is not the alleged ‘betrayal'; the problem is that liberals believe there is one.
Chris Hedges has an intelligent, excoriating critique of liberals over at Truthdig. An excerpt:
I am not disappointed in Obama. I don’t feel betrayed. I don’t wonder when he is going to be Obama. I did not vote for the man. I vote socialist, which in my case meant Ralph Nader, but could have meant Cynthia McKinney. How can an organization with the oxymoronic title Progressives for Obama even exist? Liberal groups like these make political satire obsolete. Obama was and is a brand. He is a product of the Chicago political machine. He has been skillfully packaged as the new face of the corporate state. I don’t dislike Obama—I would much rather listen to him than his smug and venal predecessor—though I expected nothing but a continuation of the corporate rape of the country. And that is what he has delivered.
Read the whole piece, Liberals are Useless, here.
Phil Ochs’ wrote his song, Love Me, I’m a Liberal in 1966 amidst the civil rights and anti-war movements. It’s a searing critique of the liberal attitude, (worth listening to for his voice alone). Two of my favorite stanzas:
I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal…
I read New republic and Nation
I’ve learned to take every view
You know, I’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I’m almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There’s no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
ABC 7 happened to be at the local bar where I watched Obama deliver his drivel about continuing the occupation of Afghanistan. The channel was interviewing ex-marines who had gathered there about their reactions to Obama’s plan. This is the usual displacement of politics into the military domain that the American media, particularly television, carries out so dutifully. We don’t have debates about the politics of the issue at hand, but discussions about military tactics that foreclose any discussion of the occupation itself. All that’s left to argue about apparently is whether 30,000 troops is enough.
In an excellent report, NYT reporter David Barstow covered the Pentagon’s domestic propaganda program in his 2008 series. Today, a key figure from that program continues his post as Defense Department spokesperson in the Obama administration, according to Media Bloodhound.
A friend, Moneeza Ahmed, and I recently travelled to see what Swat looks like after the war. Below are a few of the quick photos we took. Click on each to see the caption. I’ll be posting more stuff/ impressions in a few days.
Operation Rah-e-Rast is the fourth Army offensive in Swat in the last 2 years. The Army and the Pakistani liberals who supported the war swear that this time, it’s for real. This time, the Army gets it. But, in Swat, that’s not true judging by the way it ran its offensive. And the goverment has yet to make serious rehabilitation or reconstruction efforts. The only thing that moves quickly is business of killing. The Army has moved on to Waziristan and is repeating its cavalierly ruthless policies there. I spoke with an aid worker in Dera Ismail Khan recently. That’s where most of the civilians have fled. No governmental or state institution has yet put up much needed refugee camps. It is also now likely that once Waziristan is over, Balochistan will be next. Under the pretext of hunting down militants, the government may try to wipe out the Balochistan insurgency which stems from their very legitimate demands for rights and access to their resources.
Swat, meanwhile, has been forgotten. Without reconstruction, it’s possible that militants could have the opportunity to return, as they have done every other time. But who gives a shit, right? I mean, Swat is so yesterday.
A great slideshow of Swat refugees over at Global Post