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Archive for January 2012

Pervez Musharraf – how not to make a comeback

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There are efforts to scare me, but these people don’t know that I’m not among the afraid”, said Pervez Musharraf to a rally of about 8,000 supporters in the commercial centre Karachi via videolink from Dubai.

For someone who insists he is ‘not scared of anyone’, ex Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has spent the past few years in exile, hiding away, and hiding behind Saudi Arabia, seeking their guarantees that he would not be detained once he lands in Pakistan.

He said he will return to the country at the end of January to contest elections, despite an announcement by prosecutors that he will be arrested for the killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto upon arrival.

Musharraf has promised to make a comeback, one worthy of Rocky Balboa’s I expect, but will it turn into a dull nostalgia trip? Already it seems so, he does reiterate how great the economy was during his time in office. But unfortunately, he has made a few blunders.

The first was to suggest Pakistan should be open to the idea of establishing relations with Israel. Perhaps Musharraf, in all those long, three years of exile in Britain, has forgotten just what Pakistanis’ attitudes are towards Israel. Clue: they’re not amicable.

He was correct when stating that Pakistan and Israel are both ‘ideological’ states, but that is where the similarity ends. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that the Muslim world is tired of foreign interference from the United States and its favourable stance towards Israel, which brings me on to my second point.

Running to the US and the Saudis will also scupper any chance he may have in the elections. The Saudi royal family has often played the role of an arbitrator in Pakistan’s domestic politics.

It played a key role in facilitating a deal whereby former premier Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave Pakistan after he was deposed in a military coup led by Musharraf in 1999 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Already a state in turmoil, the last thing Pakistan needs is even more Saudi influence, which has been detrimental to its society. Musharraf has underestimated Imran Khan, leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, perhaps even dismissed him as a credible opponent, but where Khan gains a lot of support with the voters is with the notion that ‘outside interference’ needs to end.

Despite the odds, Musharraf’s desire to return is based on his belief that he alone can “save” Pakistan. During his speech to supporters on Sunday, Musharraf repeated that he provided strong economic growth and foreign investment during his presidency, and they could expect more of the same.

But do the people want him back?  It looked possible maybe two years ago, but that was before Imran Khan gained popularity in the polls. Like Musharraf, he is a ‘saviour’, someone to ‘rescue’ Pakistan.

Pakistani Journalist Ayaz Amir reckons Musharraf’s electoral chances are ‘not very bright’, but “he hinks the people of Pakistan are waiting for him and that he’s the Messiah. He’s a person who is really a part of Pakistan’s yesterday, but he thinks he’s the future of Pakistan”.

The media is in a frenz yover the possible arrest of Musharraf but it seems unlikely to happen. If, and that is a big if, he is arrested as soon as he lands in Pakistan, it won’t be for long.

American-Pakistani businessman Raza Bokhari, one of Musharraf’s close associates, is expected to meet US Ambassador Cameron Munter in Islamabad to prevent this. Musharraf is not stupid; he has been biding his time in exile and rallying international support to prevent this from happening. Why else would he delay his return and refuse to give a precise date?

Pakistan is a country where the tail, i.e. the military, wags the dog. If you’re not in with the army you may as well be out. The army will be divided over their former ruler and their current leader; even Khan’s support within the army is unpredictable. Either way, Pakistan is definitely one to watch this year.

Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Arab League monitors in Syria will only be a disappointment

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Once again, the credibility of the Arab League (AL) is being questioned, after ‘news’ that General Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi, the leader of the observers currently in Syria, has been accused of human rights abuses.

What did people expect anyway? The whole of the Arab world is ruled by corrupt regimes, so the idea of the corrupt investigating another corrupt regime is ludicrous. Prior to the intervention in Libya, many world leaders have encouraged the AL and the rest of us to believe that only the AL should be investigating other Arab countries, and that their permission is needed in order for something to be deemed as successful.

Let us take Libya as an example. Those in favour of intervention continually pushed this line that if the AL were in favour of intervention in Libya then that made it OK – it was justified. The same is happening in Syria. Thus, the general public forgets the glaringly obvious fact that they are all ruled by dictators. And they are selective in their approach.

Look at Bahrain. Something similar is happening there, but where is the media? We are told that journalists are not allowed in Syria yet we receive footage daily (albeit from members of the Syrian opposition) of the brutalities there. Why do we not receive any such footage from Bahrain? If you do not believe me, just go on to the Guardian website, for example. Even when you click on links for news of Bahrain, at least ¾ of the stories are about other Arab countries.

The role of media is crucial in all of this. Jeremy Salt, in Palestine Chronicle, de-bunks many of the reported myths surrounding Syria, observing that we are made to ‘disbelieve the claims of government and believe the claims of rebels, often made in the name of human rights organisations based in Europe or the US’. Take this article for instance. The headline is misleading – it states that something has happened, when in fact it is a claim by Syrian activists. Journalism 101: always ensure your headline is notmisleading!

Troops fired on crowds on Thursday, but al-Dabi said he had so far seen “nothing frightening”, dismaying some activists and Western observers. Allowing the AL observers in the country will not solve anything. The violence and bloodshed will continue. For how long though is anyone’s guess.


Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Posted in middle east, USA

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Russian resolution on Syria: it’s all a game of chess and dominoes

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Russia presented a new, ‘beefed-up’ draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on the violence exercised by the Syrian regime. France promptly rejected it, claiming the text was too weak. Ironic, considering it was only two months ago that Russia, along with China, vetoed an equally weak, draft resolution that only contained a threat of sanction.

Has Russia suddenly done a U-turn? Not quite. After it initially opposed the no-fly zone over Libya, Russia (and other countries) was viewed with much suspicion by Western leaders. Now that the Arab league (useless as they are) have turned up the notch with their condemnations of Bashar al-Assad, Russia has realised that now is the time to be clever.

The draft resolution is a pragmatic step by a country that is becoming more and more isolated. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said: “Russia is changing its position because to completely defend the Syrian regime is impossible given that everyone is against it, including practically all the Arab nations”.

Essentially, it’s all politics. “Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess,” stated Spengler in Asia Times. As Eric Walberg wrote in the Palestine Chronicle, “At times, it is wise to sit back and wait for the straw that breaks the ogre’s (excuse me, camel’s) back. A fool’s mate comes about when your opponent is bankrupt, and it certainly looks like this is how the current game is shaping up”.

The fall of the government in Syria will not be confined to one country, as in Libya. Syria has many key allies, aside from Russia, and is strategically situated. It will throw the whole Middle East into chaos. Bring Syria down and the rest of the dominoes follow suit. In that sense, al-Assad was correct when he said attacking Syria would cause an ‘earthquake‘.

Russia is hardly the moral nation in all of this. They say if you want to find the truth, you need to ‘follow the money’. The Moscow Times reported that Russia’s investment in Syrian infrastructure, energy and tourism amounted to $19.4bn in 2009. Civilian lives and death tolls are hardly their number one priority.

Russian middle eastern experts compare Syria to Russia’s province of Dagestan in the North Caucasus. David Hearst, writing for the Guardian, believes whatever happens in Syria would impact on Dagestan, where journalist Gadzhimurat Kamalov, who routinely invetigated government corruption, was shot dead outside his newspaper’s office.

It is difficult to predict the future of Syria and Russia. Protests, and killings, have been ongoing for almost a year. The African Arab dictators are long gone. But with Syria, as well as Yemen and Bahrain (under reported in the media), the situation is different. And the solution is not as simple or as easy to resolve.

Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm

US withdrawal from Iraq: mission accomplished?

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Originally published in The Pryer and re-published for

“Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, The Sun ran the headline: ‘Brits 45 mins from doom”. Other newspapers echoed the sentiments. Saddam Hussein, it was claimed, did have weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them.

Did the public buy into this notion? Millions of people around the world protested against the war, but many Americans believed Saddam had WMD’s and had links to Osama bin Laden.

After nearly nine years of war, tens of thousands of casualties—including 4,500 US soldiers dead — and more than $800bn spent, the US military on Thursday formally ended its mission in Iraq. On Friday, Iraq took control of the last American military base in the country.

The hardships and losses endured by the military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, have given Iraqis the opportunity to make their own future. President Barack Obama honoured America’s “bleeding and building” in Iraq on Wednesday, hailing the “extraordinary achievement” of a war he once branded “dumb.”

Aside from the fact that Obama is campaigning for re-election, and will say/do anything for that to happen, just what are the achievements of this war a war — let us not forget, was illegal under international law?

In an appallingly written article in today’s Sun newspaper, Colonel Richard Kemp claims that the war prevented “an alliance between Saddam and al-Qaeda”. The article is coupled with a photo of the men with an equally appalling and inaccurate caption: “Evil alliance … Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden”.

We did not find the WMD’s that Saddam supposedly had, nor was there a proven link between Saddam and bin Laden, so then the narrative had to change. We were going in there to ‘liberate’ Iraq from a brutal dictator who had killed many of his own people. A sound reason, perhaps, if it was not shrouded with hypocrisy.

On Monday, the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London to discuss the ‘ongoing reform process in Bahrain’, (aka killing and suppressing one’s own people), regional developments in the Middle East, and ways to strengthen the relationship between Bahrain and Great Britain. There are no sanctions or resolutions being passed against Bahrain of course.

Now, even the people who were anti-war in 2003 insisted that foreign troops must stay now that they are there. The country will fall prey to sectarian conflicts, they say. Wednesday’s Guardian editorial suggests that, unfortunately, Iraq will not be a strategic ally for the US, and Salafists are taking over. Run, run, the Salafists are coming!

I am reminded of a quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime”. A lot of damage was done by Saddam Hussein, but much of it was also the result of American efforts to rule the country directly. Divide and rule remains a popular method as ever.

So what happens now? Military troops may have left the country, but mercenaries will remain, along with the US embassy in Baghdad, he largest and most expensive of any embassy in the world. A US-funded paramilitary force will operate in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, wrote in 2010:

“Using private forces is a backdoor way of continuing a substantial US presence under the cover of “diplomatic security”. The kind of paramilitary force that Obama and [Hilary] Clinton are trying to build in Iraq is, in large part, a byproduct of the monstrous colonial fortress the United States calls its embassy in Baghdad and other facilities the US will maintain throughout Iraq after the “withdrawal”… the United States is going to have armed forces in the country for the foreseeable future. The only question is, How many will be there as uniformed soldiers and how many will be private paramilitaries?”

Effectively, there is no withdrawal. There is a ‘re branding’ as John Pilger once said. This is not the end — it is just beginning.

Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm

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