BBC- Jim Muir: Palestinian protests: Arab spring or foreign manipulation?


The “Nakba” day incidents on Israel’s borders showed that the Palestinians have undoubtedly been caught up at last in the Arab revolutionary spring fever. In a very different position from most Arab nations, the Palestinians had so far been largely left out as the spirit of assertive demands for rights and freedoms swept the region and threatened its dictators.

The pent-up frustrations of the Palestinians largely took the form of pressure on their own divided leaderships to unite, something that has now happened. The 15 May challenges to Israel on its borders with Lebanon and Syria, within the fragmented West Bank and on the Gaza frontier, undoubtedly embodied the same kind of risk-taking, confrontational people-power ethos that has fired the revolts in many parts of the Arab world.

Palestinian militancy and desire for self-assertion in keeping with revolutionary Arab times are very strong and can be taken as a given. But the ability to express those sentiments is something else.

‘Common denominators’

There is clearly another dimension to the unprecedented eruptions on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, in which a number of protesters are reported to have been shot dead and many others wounded.  The common denominators in both cases are Syria and its ally Iran.

In past years, Syria has prevented Palestinian protesters from getting anywhere near the sensitive Golan border, where Damascus has in the past scrupulously respected its truce agreement with Israel.  Nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees live in Syria, some of them in camps not far from the Golan.  Syria may be distracted and preoccupied by events inside the country, but so much that it could not have prevented the Golan incident if it had wanted it not to happen?

The real power in southern Lebanon is Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement that was created in the early 1980s by Iran and Syria to counter Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. If Hezbollah had not wanted the display of Palestinian refugee militancy at Maroun al-Ras on the south Lebanon border with Israel to happen, it would not have happened. Damascus and Tehran retain extremely strong ties with Hezbollah, so by extension, the same is true of them.

Lebanon, like Syria, also has getting on for half a million Palestinian refugees on its soil. But Jordan has something like two million, yet its borders with Israel, running along the Jordan river, did not see any such incidents because Amman did not want it to happen. Jordanian police intervened to prevent a mere 200 Palestinian students from marching towards the border, and six of them were injured when they were restrained.

The unusual flare-ups on the Golan and on the Lebanese border came as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime moved into its third month of confronting its biggest internal challenge in more than 40 years of rule by his family and the Baath Party. It would be hard not to see a link between the two developments.

To allow a controlled burst of tension on the borders with Israel might have been seen by the Syrian regime as serving several useful purposes: to divert attention from its internal troubles, and to burnish its nationalist credentials of steadfast resistance to Israel.

It may also have been aimed at conveying to Israel and the Americans the message that if Mr Assad’s grip on power should slip, Israel might face a much more militant Syria. In a recent New York Times interview, the president’s controversial businessman cousin, Rami Makhlouf, said that if Syria had no security, Israel would have no security – remarks from which the regime has officially distanced itself, but which came from a key figure within the inner circle of power.

‘Playing with fire’

One question Israel will be asking itself is whether the outbursts on the borders might be sustained and turn into a running situation.  That is not impossible. But Damascus and its allies in Lebanon know that they are playing with fire. Syria would be unlikely to permit a situation on the Golan that could get out of hand and lead to a serious engagement with the Israelis that could be deeply damaging, and might even hasten a decision by Washington to move towards a call for regime change.

A warning skirmish is one thing, a serious confrontation something else. In Lebanon, while anything is possible, Hezbollah is also unlikely to want an open-ended situation in which Palestinians play a leading role. The Palestinian presence triggered the Israeli invasion in 1982 and other interventions which greatly hurt Hezbollah’s Shia community.

The Palestinians in Lebanon played no part in Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. But clearly, these are uncharted waters. For the first time ever, Lebanon had the extraordinary experience of having people shot dead on its northern border by Syrian security forces because of the upheavals inside Syria, and a larger number shot dead on its southern border because of the Palestinian issue.

Whatever the degree of possible manipulation by Syria and its allies, the message from Palestinians both inside and outside is that the Arab revolution has found another home.

BBC: ICC prosecutor seeking warant to arrest Gaddafi, his son, and his Security Minister for Crimes Against Humanity

The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor is seeking the arrest of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and two others for crimes against humanity.  Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Col Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi bore the greatest responsibility for “widespread and systematic attacks” on civilians.

ICC judges must still decide whether or not to issue warrants for their arrest. The Libyan government has already said it will ignore the announcement.  Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim said the court was a “baby of the European Union designed for African politicians and leaders” and its practices were “questionable“.  Libya did not recognise its jurisdiction, like a few other African countries and the United States, he added.

‘Inner circle’

Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s call for the arrest of Col Gaddafi on war crimes charges is his second for a sitting head of state. But as with his indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, this could be just as hard to enforce. Some fear this will only complicate efforts to bring the violence to an end, making it harder to negotiate a settlement – if potential interlocutors fear they will face future prosecution.

The Libyan authorities have already dismissed the International Criminal court as irrelevant. But the prosecutor’s office says it has been getting calls from some unnamed Libyan officials offering evidence, which if true suggests some at least take the prosecutor’s investigations very seriously. And the Libyan leader, his son and his intelligence chief are now looking even more isolated.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said that after reviewing more than 1,200 documents and 50 interviews with key insiders and witnesses, his office had evidence showing that Col Gaddafi had “personally ordered attacks on unarmed Libyan civilians”.  “His forces attacked Libyan civilians in their homes and in public spaces, shot demonstrators with live ammunition, used heavy weaponry against participants in funeral processions, and placed snipers to kill those leaving mosques after prayers,” he told a news conference in The Hague.

“The evidence shows that such persecution is still ongoing as I speak today in the areas under Gaddafi control. Gaddafi forces have prepared a list with names of alleged dissidents, and they are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli, tortured and made to disappear,” he added. Mr Moreno-Ocampo continued: “His [Col Gaddafi’s] second-oldest son, Saif al-Islam, is the de facto prime minister and Sanussi, Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, is his right-hand man – the executioner, the head of military intelligence. He commanded personally some of the attacks.”

The prosecutor insisted he was “almost ready” for a trial, based on the testimony, particularly of those who had escaped from Libya. Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council praised the ICC move. But its vice-president, Abdel Hafez Ghoga, said: “We would like him [Col Gaddafi] to be tried in Libya first before being put on trial in an international court.

Selective justice?

Earlier, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said the three men were suspected of committing crimes against humanity in two categories – murder and persecution – under the Rome Statute, which established the court.  The charges cover the days following the start of anti-government protests on 15 February. Between 500 and 700 people are believed to have been killed in that month alone.

ICC prosecutors are also studying evidence about the alleged commission of war crimes once the situation developed into an armed conflict.  This includes allegations of rape and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly perceived to be mercenaries. An inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council is expected to submit its report on the alleged war crimes to the UN Security Council on 7 June.

 The charges cover the days following the start of anti-government protests on 15 February. Mr Moreno-Ocampo said he was acting in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1970, which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC. The Pre-Trial Chamber’s judges may decide to accept the prosecutor’s application, reject it, or ask him for more information.

If a warrant for Col Gaddafi is issued, it would only be the second time the ICC has sought a warrant for a sitting head of state. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide in Darfur. Amnesty International said the international community must not allow justice to appear selective, because what was happening in Syria was “equal to if not worse than the situation in Libya”.

Overnight, Libyan state television reported Nato aircraft had bombed an oil terminal in the eastern port of Ras Lanuf. The alleged raid came after insurgents said they had taken full control of the western city of Misrata. The rebels also said they had defeated two brigades of troops loyal to Col Gaddafi in the city of Zintan, south-east of Tripoli, over the weekend.

Waris Husain Editorial: The Army’s Nation

 

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is facing a tumultuous period after the discovery of Osama Bin Laden near Islamabad, as allegations have been lodged that the ISI was providing bin Laden protection. This has prompted the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee to hold hearings on Pakistan, and possibly reconsider distributing civilian aid to punish the state for its reticent support of terrorists. However, such debate brings to light a mistaken assumption on the part of  U.S.policy-makers: that the civilian government controls the nation’s foreign policy, and deserves punishment for the bin Laden incident.

TheU.S.cannot make the grave mistake of treating Pakistan as a singular unit, if it wishes to diminish the capability of international extremism growing within the country.  The military  in Pakistanexercises absolute power over foreign affairs and national security, without the advice or consent of the civilian government. This has led to the army being able to secretively engage in a dangerous double-game of accepting U.S. military aid with one hand and harboring extremists with the other. If the U.S. cuts off both its civilian and military aid toPakistan, this will play directly into the hands of the military as it grapples control from the civilian government. In fact, the U.S.must now increase its support for the civilian government, to challenge the illegitimate control of power by the Army, and pursue the interests of both nations openly and progressively.

            Before delving into the specifics of Pakistan, Americans must try to imagine what a similar structure of power exclusively held by military-men would result in at home. If the American army operated likePakistan’s, there would be no oversight or power for the President or Congress to determine the nation’s foreign policy. The CIA would be able to secretively set foreign policy, engage in wars with other countries, and fund “fighters” that serve American interests abroad. This would tear at the very fabric of the constitutional democracy established in the U.S., where the power to make such significant decisions emanates solely from those who were chosen to lead by the people.

 In many ways the U.S.civilian government has capitulated to military interests over time. However, the reigns of power still remain in the hands of elected officials. The Congress holds the ultimate “power of the purse”, where its members determine both the scope and budget of the armed services and can cut those funds at their own will. In the executive branch, the CIA or military might be asked to advise the President when setting a national or international security strategy, the opposite is true inPakistan.

            The military directly dictates the policies relating to foreign relations and the civilians are told to follow suit in some instances. Other times, the civilians are left completely out of the loop and no information is given to them, which is especially true for the ISI’s support for some extremist groups. While General Kayani has often tried to give the impression in pubic statements  that the civilian government has a place in security and foreign policy matters, his actions have made it abundantly clear that the military has no intention of relinquishing any of its powers.

            There are several reasons that explain the military’s ability to command civilian governments throughout the nation’s history, but above all those who control money control the power. And since American policy-makers have until recently focused almost exclusively on assisting and developing relations with the military, the army has enjoyed billions of dollars in aid while the civilian governments have struggled financially.

The unequal distribution of aid by the U.S.could have been beneficial if the Pakistani army shared the same goals and visions as the U.S., but they clearly do not. The top brass has always believed that theU.S.and its coalition partners would fail inAfghanistan, and that a power vacuum will form after theU.S.exits the nation to be filled the Taliban and its affiliates. This scenario explains why the ISI may have been providing a safe house to the most wanted terrorist in the world, bin Laden, and doing less than two hours away from the nation’s capital. 

The Pakistani military does not wish to achieve a democratic or free Afghanistan. What is far more important is that the regime be Pakistan-friendly. Thus, the Army will continue to hedge its bets by providing protection to the very Taliban commanders who plan attacks onU.S.interests and hope to reclaim control ofAfghanistanone day.

The more toxic aspect to the Pakistani military is not in its double-crossing of its partners but their ability to control public rhetoric and opinion. From the time of General Zia onwards, the public has been indoctrinated by the military, through schools and media, to support their extremist-sponsoring policy. This has created the rampant anti-Americanism that denies progress in the nation and hinders the ability of the U.S. to eradicate the region of international extremists.

Further, the very nature of having an army and its spy organization run the affairs of a nation is at odds with a democratic order due to its secretive nature. Because the public is not able to access information to judge the validity of the army’s actions and policies, the nation has erupted in a conspiracy- theory culture. This frenzy of theories has been fed by the army as a means to distract the public from realizing that the army was playing with fire by allowing the monsters of extremism to roam the lands freely.

            In examining the future of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, President Obama and members of Congress should reflect on the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who warned the American public of the dangers of allowing the military to control the nation’s policies. The nightmare of President Eisenhower has come true inPakistan, with the military unitarily leading the nation and the peoples’ psyche towards accommodating hateful religious extremism. Thus, instead of “calling the whole thing off” inPakistan, theU.S.would be well served in realizing this as a momentous opportunity to empower the civilian government to regain its legitimate power from the military. This would make the security and foreign policy-making of the nation more transparent, and deny the ability of military men to create secret deals with terrorists that can lead to leaving the country, as it is today, in a state of acute international embarrassment.

Waris Husain Editorial: The Death of Bin Laden: Sentiment and Effect

President Obama’s announcement of U.S.forces having killed Osama Bin Laden was met with jubilation in the streets ofWashington,D.C.with revelers singing national anthems outside the White House. The feeling shared by most Americans is one of relief and elation, as the face of 9/11 was finally killed. However, beyond the calm soothing sense of revenge, there should be a realization that this death will do little to stop the global network of terrorists from continuing to target Americans and innocent civilians abroad. If one looks to the outpouring of grief and anger in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the death of the world’s most notorious man, the U.S.must realize the difficult road ahead to continue its war on terrorism against the thousands who supported Bin Laden.

            A Roman proverb states that “revenge is a confession of pain,” and this was no more apparent than through the reaction of the American people after hearing of the death of Bin Laden. Each generation seems to be defined by the biggest tragedy of its time, and their ability to overcome the trauma of this event is linked to their capability of pursuing retribution for it. In American history classes, the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese are depicted as calamites in U.S.history, which required U.S. retaliation by joining the Allies in World War 2, and eventually using the atomic bomb against them.

In modern times, the trauma of 9/11 has continually plagued the mentality of most Americans, and this is especially true for the youth. Those who have grown up in the aftermath of 9/11 have seen much of their lives altered due to the War on Terror at home and abroad. However, unlike the World War 2 generation who could easily point to its enemy on a map in order to fight against them, the enemies of the 9/11 generation were far more amorphous. As Bin Laden and his organization represented an ideology rather than a state, they were far more difficult to find and bring to justice.

The inability to either kill Bin Laden never allowed the wound of 9/11 to heal, and perhaps now that his death has been announced, the nation will begin to move forward. However, it would be quite dangerous to hold up the “Mission Accomplished” sign if one realizes the difference between what Bin Laden was, and what he represented. Bin Laden was represented in the media and by certain government officials as a boogey man who was behind every terrorist attack in the world. On the other side, groups like the Taliban and Al-Queda created support amongst the public by creating the narrative of Bin Laden as some super-human jihadi leader who couldn’t possibly be killed.

Just as this immortal theory was proven incorrect through his elimination byU.S.forces, the American perception assigning such high significance to Bin Laden will also be proven incorrect. The ability of terrorist networks to carry out attacks on civilians and  U.S.military will continue unaltered for several reasons. First, there has already been a breakdown of leadership structure in Al-Queda and its affiliates, leaving the old guard with little power over the group.  The U.S. operations in Afghanistan greatly limited the ability of the leadership to openly control its forces, many being relegated to hiding in underground networks. Groups like Al-Queda began creating splinter cells that function independently of central leadership, making it difficult for the U.S.to rely merely on eliminating the high level leaders of the group in order to demobilize them.

Secondly, the location of Bin Laden’s hideout signals a complication to the War on Terror instead of its resolution. The fact that the world’s more wanted man was hiding in a mansion 2 hours away from Pakistan’s capital, near an Army training base, will certainly bring about questions of whether Pakistan was providing Bin Laden sanctuary. The nation’s top spy agency, the ISI, has been accused of maintaining relationships with high level terrorists but has continually denied the presence of Bin Laden inPakistan. If this operation were done with ISI and Pakistani military support, it could signal a strengthening of relationships between the two nations. However, if the plan to kill Bin Laden came without the help of Pakistani forces, it could mark a change in U.S.-Pak  relationship, perhaps leading to more U.S.presence on the ground.

Thirdly, the ability of extremist groups to challenge U.S. interests beyond the death of Osama Bin Laden is guaranteed as evidenced through the vows of retribution against theU.S.by extremists inAfghanistan and Pakistan. These threats should not be overvalued, considering these same groups have been attacking civilians and military personnel for nearly a decade, and have done so without the motivation of revenge for Bin Laden’s death. However, Bin Laden’s death will be utilized to fan the flames of anti-Americanism, which may lead to more attacks against the U.S. in the aftermath of the death.

The residual national trauma of 9/11 helped to color the celebrations of Bin Laden’s death, and it certainly marks a time when Americans feel justice has been done. However, this death does not in any way signal an end to global terrorism or the need for U.S.efforts to stop young people from joining extremist groups under the brainwashing of individuals like Bin Laden. These groups have not lost their lethal potency, and will utilize the symbolic death of Bin Laden to find supporters, even though he had become meaningless in the actual business of international jihad. Thus, the reaction to this event must be limited at most to cautious optimism, as the U.S.attempts to address the thousands in the shadows who stood behind Bin Laden and his hateful and violent ideas.

Waris Husain Editorial: Double-Standard Defense

As the protest movement in Bahrain gains strength, authorities have responded with massive arrests and sentenced four protest leaders to death. This brutal repression has been exercised with the help of mercenary defense contractors fromPakistan’s Fauji Foundation and Bahria. These organizations follow the same model as the much-despised American contracting firms like Blackwater and CACI. And while there is indignation at the thought of these companies operating within Pakistan, the same resentment does not follow when Pakistani contractors are used against peaceful protestors abroad. This reveals the Double-Standard Defense strategy adopted byPakistan, where it lambastes the U.S.military, while adopting some of its strategies.

            During last week’s protests, Bahrani dissidents chanted “The Police are Pakistani,” and there have been several instances of Pakistanis being attacked by mobs, leading to a few deaths. Though some Pakistanis who travel to the Gulf have long-complain about the racist undertones against non-Arabs, these have exploded into an all-out assault on some Pakistani communities. Such behavior is as unacceptable as the discrimination practiced by the al-Khalifa Royal family against Shiites inBahrain, because it is based on an individual’s background instead of their actions.

            However, the Bahraini protestors are angered by Pakistani presence in their nation, as Pakistanis reject the presence of the U.S.in theirs. They both produce similar arguments as well, the first of which is that foreign militaries are engaging in secretive operations to influence the events of the other country. These claims gained credibility in Pakistan after the Raymond Davis incident, where a CIA agent’s identity was revealed after he shot two people. The U.S.government felt the ire of the Pakistani Army and populace for several weeks thereafter, as tensions between the two partners have worsened since the incident.
            Yet,Pakistan’s military fails to find the irony of decrying CIA presence in their country, while training and sending secret agents to subvert the events of another. Allegations have been made that the ISI has stationed agents and trainers inBahrain, as a product of Pakistan’s subservient relationship to the Saudi Arabians. As the Saudis feel they have much to lose if Bahrain’s regime falls, their Pakistani servants are dispatched to arrest and detain protestors. Due to the fear of a domino effect in theGulf States,Saudi Arabia has deployed several thousands of its own security forces toBahrain, many of whom are directly trained by Pakistani military personnel. Though a Raymond Davis-type situation has not revealed the interference of Pakistan’s military against the democratic protests, there is a high likelihood thatPakistan is acting under its alliance to the Saudis in assisting repression in one way or another.

            The second claim of double-standard defense is made by Pakistanis and relates to the existence of private defense contractors around every corner and behind terrorist attack. Companies in theU.S.like Xe, formerly called Blackwater, and CACI have earned billions of dollars from the government by employing a cadre of ex-soldiers.  Due to their lack of affiliation to theU.S.military, these groups often act with in violation of international and local laws, and have been rejected by Afghans and Pakistanis alike.

            Yet,Pakistan’s Fauji Foundation office for Overseas Employment Services has adopted a similar strategy: creating contracts withGulf Statesto provide ex-servicemen who can assume the responsibility of actual soldiers and security officials. This has resulted in claims of terrible brutality by mercenary soldiers; where protestors inManamaclaimed that many of the security officials slaughtering citizens were speaking Urdu. Indeed, this claim can be more easily verified than the claims of direct ISI involvement because the Fauji Foundation printed advertisements in March in Dawn, one of Pakistan’s largest newspapers. These advertisements requested up to 800 ex-servicemen to sign up for deployment as “riot-police and trainers” working under the Bahraini security authorities.

The plan to involve Pakistanis in a brutal repression in a foreign land will carry grave effects due to the economic significance of Bahrainand otherGulf StatesonPakistan. Much of Pakistan’s economy is based on remittances from workers inGulf States. However, if Pakistanis are seen as the face of the regime’s oppression, survival in the country will be far less likely for them. If an exodus of Pakistani foreign workers does occur from the Gulf States due to increased discrimination, this would greatly harmPakistan’s economic future.

Thus, even thoughPakistanabhors the actions of theU.S.military and its associated corporations, it adopts these same practices itself.  Pakistani military leaders criticize the CIA for stationing secret agents in the nation and expound upon the threat posed by private mercenary contractors. The same allegations have been made by protestors inBahrainwho say they are facing the bullets of ISI agents and Pakistani mercenaries. Yet, if Pakistan’s leadership  reflects on the damage done to its relationship with theU.S.due to the actions of the CIA and American mercenary contractors, it should realize that a post-Khalifa Bahrain will be an instant and enraged enemy.

New Tibetian Prime Minister to Assume Dalai Lama’s Political Duties

Lobsang Sangay , a Harvard University academic, has been elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile andwill take on the political role previously played by the Dalai Lama. Lobsang Sangay won 55% of the votes cast by Tibetans around the world. He defeated two candidates for the role, Tenzin Tethong and Tashi Wangdi.

Mr Sangay must now assume the political functions of the Dalai Lama, who said in March he wanted to devolve this responsibility to an elected official. The Dalai Lama will retain his role as Tibetan spiritual leader.

‘Middle way’

The elections were held in March and the result announced on Wednesday in Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based. “The Election Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has declared Dr Lobsang Sangay as the third kalon tripa,” Election Commissioner Jampal Thosang announced, using the Tibetan term for prime minister.

Almost 83,400 Tibetan exiles were eligible to vote and more than 49,000 ballots were cast, he said. Tenzin Tethong, a former representative of the Dalai Lama in the US, got 37.4% of the vote and Tashi Wangdi, a government-in-exile bureaucrat, received 6.4%.

The 42-year-old winner is an Indian-born legal expert who has never lived in Tibet. His father fled Tibet in 1959, the same year as the Dalai Lama. He says he will move to Dharamsala to serve as prime minister and that he supports the Dalai Lama’s stance on ties with China. “What His Holiness stands for is the ‘Middle Way’, which is genuine autonomy within China or within the framework of the Chinese constitution,” he told the BBC earlier this month.

“If Tibetans are granted genuine autonomy then his Holiness the Dalai Lama said he is willing to accept Tibet as part of China.”  In a victory statement on Wednesday, he said he took comfort in the fact that the handover was taking place while the Dalai Lama “is healthy and available to watch over us”. “I urge every Tibetan and friend of Tibet to join me in our common cause to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans in occupied Tibet and to return His Holiness to his rightful place,” he said.

Daunting task

An official told Reuters news agency that the Dalai Lama was “very happy” that people had taken “a very active part in the election process”.  The 76-year-old monk announced in March that he wanted an elected official to assume some of his responsibilities, saying that such a move was in the best interests of the Tibetan people.

Analysts say he aims to ensure that even if China’s government tries to select the next Dalai Lama, the Tibetans will have an elected leader they can look to who is outside China and beyond the Communist Party’s control.  The BBC’s Mark Dummett says Lobsang Sangay has the daunting task of trying to keep the issue of Tibet alive while the man who embodies the struggle for Tibetan rights gradually steps back from the limelight. He has been elected head of a government which no country recognises and will face in China an opponent which has shown no sign of wanting to compromise, our correspondent adds.