Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Jundullah (Soldiers of God) has long been a thorn in the side of the Iranians and a continuing source of tension between Pakistan and Iran. The most recent was the suicide attack on October 18th of last year in Pishin which resulted in the death of several top officers of the revolutionary guards. The Iranians blamed the US and Pakistan with some justification.
A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior U.S. government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the U.S. to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.


Besides condemning alleged Western support for Jundullah, the Iranian government sharply criticized Pakistan, from whose territory the bombers were said to have entered Iran, and demanded that Islamabad act against the group.

While any suggestion of a U.S. hand in Sunday's attack may be far-fetched, Iran is basing its accusation on the covert program begun by the Bush Administration during its second term in office that allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to efforts at destabilizing the regime from inside Iran. And while President Obama came into office promising a new era of engagment with Iran, it's not clear whether the covert program was ever suspended. Former Bush National Security Council officials Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett wrote recently in the New York Times of their conversations with Iranian leaders, saying "President Obama has had several opportunities to send ... signals [of good intent] to Tehran — such as ending Bush-era covert programs against Iran — but has punted." Iran has long suspected that groups such as Jundullah are supported as part of the covert campaign, and in 2007, ABC News alleged that Jundullah had secretly received advice and encouragement from U.S. intelligence officials.

The founder of Jundullah Abdulmalik Rigi (or more fancifully Emir Abdulmalik Baloch) who has personally claimed to have "executed" Iranians. It is reasonable to assume that the Pakistan Army intelligence service, the ISI has a hand in maintaining and funding the Jundullah. But, the ISI seems to have turned on its asset. The Iranians reported that Rigi was captured when the plane carrying him to Dubai was forced to land in Iran. Asia Times Online is reporting that
Baloch tribes in the Taftan area of Balochistan in Pakistan say Rigi was arrested inside Pakistan and then handed over to the Iranians. All that Iranian state television showed was a handcuffed Rigi being escorted by four masked commandos off a small aircraft.
If this is indeed true and the ISI is turning on its assets expect the assets to hit back. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a fanatical anti-Shiite group, which is closely linked with Jundullah has previously carried out some pretty brutal attacks in Pakistan. It might decide to do more of the same. The fact that ISI is turning on its assets might also cause some discomfort to other terrorist organizations previously supported by the ISI. Altogether an explosive situation.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Marjah

So why did the US decide to invade Marjah? There is the somewhat Panglossian view from Stratfor:

Marjah is perhaps the quintessential example of a good location from which to base. It is in a region sympathetic to the Taliban; Helmand province is part of the Taliban’s heartland. Marjah is very close to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, the religious center of the local brand of Islam, the birthplace of the Taliban, and due to the presence of American forces, an excellent target. Helmand alone produces more heroin than any country on the planet, and Marjah is at the center of that trade. By some estimates, this center alone supplies the Taliban with a monthly income of $200,000. And it is defensible: The farmland is crisscrossed with irrigation canals and dotted with mud-brick compounds — and, given time to prepare, a veritable plague of IEDs.

Simply put, regardless of the Taliban’s strategic or tactical goals, Marjah is a critical node in their operations.

And therefore, argue the authors, it makes perfect sense that Marjah should be the target. But if Marjah is important because it is close to Kandahar, "the birthplace of the Taliban," then why not attack Kandahar asks Steve Coll:
Routing the Taliban from Marja, where they had established a vicious and increasingly unchallenged shadow government, was undoubtedly necessary. I’m no military strategist, but it remains unclear to me why surging U.S. forces continue to invest their efforts and their numbers so heavily in Helmand. The axis of Taliban power, guerrilla infiltration, and money flows in southern Afghanistan lies somewhat to the East, along the routes between Kandahar and the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, which serve as sanctuaries for senior Taliban leadership. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a historical seat of power. From their birth in 1994, the Taliban have relied upon their ability to move freely between Kandahar, Baluchistan and Karachi.
Peter Bergen is also somewhat puzzled. Though like most other western commentators he tries to find a reason. Gareth Porter figures it is all a propaganda operation where the target is the US public. Have shown their strength and steely resolve in six months the Obama administration can start negotiating with the the Taliban from a "position of strength.

More at The Real News

The US Military claims the Marjah offensive as the first step in their counter insurgency plan. The Taliban are to be driven out rapidly followed by the delivery of a "government in a box" which will provide great governance to the Afghans - flower strewn road to follow. Steve Hynd at Newshoggers has been effectively debunking the "COINdinista" myth for a while - the Marjah edition is here. If this is truly counter insurgency it is not being done very well. Naming an operation against a Pashtun region with a Dari word - Moshtarak (together) - probably did not help in the hearts and minds department. And the folks that the US military is together with are themselves mainly Tajiks - again not a great recommendation to the rural Pashtuns.

The Taliban have their own view of why Marjah.

While both government and opposition papers denied that Marjah and Nade Ali had been chosen for clear, military and strategic reasons, the Taliban themselves had no such doubts. Judging by an interview with the Taliban commander in charge of Marjah, the movement regards the operation as part of an international imperialist conspiracy which renders Marjah and Nade Ali of special military and strategic importance. The interview with Mullah Abdul Rezaq Akhund, the Taliban commander in Marjah, was conducted in Pashto and posted on Cheragh Daily website.

The interview shows that seen through the Taliban's conspiracy prism, Helmand's geographic location gives the province strategic importance. In the interview, Akhund listed four primary reasons which, according to the Taliban, explain why Helmand is of great geo-strategic importance to Nato. The Taliban commander alleged that the US and the UK intend to set up surveillance centres along the border to collect Iranian military and intelligence data. Akhund further alleged that since Helmand is also close to Gwadar, a Pakistani port which is of economic significance to China, controlling Helmand allows Washington to curb the influence of its main economic rival in the region.

Giving Arbabzadeh the last word.
According to anecdotal evidence, Mullah Akhund's views reflect those of a majority in Afghanistan. The conspiracy theory comes in variations but common to all versions is a denial of the fact that the violence has local roots and that the problem is self-created and self-perpetuated. It is this denial that is moshtarak, or shared, by all parties, from the government to the opposition and the Taliban.

Friday, February 19, 2010

All hail Fafnir

The Fafblog gets to the heart of the matter:
So a coupla Israeli guys are hangin around in Dubai, havin a good time, checkin out the place, seein the sights, that building that looks like a boat, that island that's shaped like a bigger island, get a few drinks, catch a show, kill a Palestinian, maybe grab a coupla souvenirs for the kids an hit the road. Oh wait! Wait a second! Something went wrong there! Something happened there that was very, very wrong! Because in the course of doing those things, those people went and forged some British passports.

Well now it's one thing to kill Palestinians abroad and thousands more next door while starving whoever manages to survive and demolishing their homes, but sullying the honour and dignity of Her Britannic Majesty's Royal Passport? Well sir, that is just not cricket. That sounds to me like one a those less enjoyable English pastimes like badminton or stumpgouger or dead arabball.

Now it's pretty obvious to me that Britain and Israel have a lotta stuff to work out, a lotta trust issues. But if we sit down, talk it over, work it out, I think we can save this relationship. Maybe over a friendly game of dead arabball.

Tribalism today

There are two interesting posts - in a way related - by Greenwald and Sullivan:
Greenwald gives us the skinny on the definition of a terrorist.
Sullivan gives us a an understanding of the Catholic Bishops priorities when it comes to the sanctity of life.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religious democracy - a bloody oxymoron

The idea of a religious democracy in any environment where there is even a minimal amount of religious diversity - including diversity within a particular faith - is being proven again and again to be a fantasy. Whether it be the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Jewish Democracy in the Middle East, all protestations of democracy come to naught when faced with the exclusionary nature of religious governance. Not that religions per se have to be exclusionary, but the moment decisions on how society should be run begins to be based on religious interpretations, the results are necessarily exclusionary. Despite being a Turcophile I have had some reservations about Ataturk's visceral hostility to religion. But perhaps he had his reasons. Lawrence of Cyberia, back after a long absence has her own take on Israel:
Israel's dilemma is that it wants to be viewed as a modern, humane, democratic state; but modern democracy requires equality. And if everyone under Israeli rule - Jewish, Muslim, Christian or otherwise - is an equal human being, then that is the end of the "Jewish state" in Palestine. It is Israel's own attachment to creating a state in historic Palestine where democratic rights are reserved in their fulness to only one of the peoples who live there that requires Palestinian human rights to be trodden on. To stop treading on Palestinian human rights - to stop routinely killing, exiling, disenfranchising and dispossessing Palestinians - is to give up the very policies that are necessary to build a Jewish state in a place where most people are not Jewish. To recognize that the annihilation of one's neighbors is a central element in one's own national ideology is a difficult and painful thing to do. It is much easier to invent an alternate reality, in which the denial of any rights to Palestinians is the result of an essential defect in their own collective nature.
The argument is not that Judaism or Islam or Christianity is incompatible with democracy. But when the state endorses a particular religion it commits itself to follow the tenets of that religion. And as any dynamic religion has to be capable of multiple interpretations and as the state will always try to maximize its control, it inevitably drifts towards more and more authoritarian interpretations of the religion. Consider the Islamic Republic of Iran in which the legitimacy of the "religious" government is viewed with suspicion by much of the religious orthodoxy. Jonathon Lyons explains:
In traditional Shi’ite thought, legitimate political authority may be exercised only by the line of the Holy Imams, the last of whom went into hiding to escape the agents of the rival Sunni caliphs and has not been heard from since 941. The return of the Hidden Imam, which will usher in an era of perfect peace and justice on earth, is eagerly awaited by all believers. Until then, all political power is seen as corrupt and corrupting by its very nature, and as such it must be avoided whenever possible.

Historically, this has served the Shi’ite clergy well, forging a close bond with the people, as intercessors with the state authorities at times of acute crisis, a privileged and influential position only rarely achieved by their Sunni counterparts. Yet, it stands in direct opposition to Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical religious notion of direct clerical rule and has been the source of underlying tensions within the clerical class for three decades. The dirty little secret of the Islamic Republic is the fact that it is seen as illegitimate by huge swathes of the traditional Shi’ite clergy.
The Shia clergy could afford their "populist" stance only as long as they were not part of the state. As part of the state they are subject to the need of the state to exert control - which has meant that they have become captive to the instruments of state used to exert control - the Revolutionary Guard and its Basiji militia. Religious democracy is an idea whose time has passed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Neal Conan - on the job

The Iraq war would have been more difficult had it not been for the help of the "liberal" media in preparing the way to war. A major player in this effort was NPR who turned the sickening crime of invasion into something Serious People needed to Seriously consider. Fawning interviews of liberal hawks by liberal icon Terri Gross helped blur the lines as did the "news" arm of NPR. Neal Conan, host of Talk of the Nation, was one who was especially good at staying on message. Today he was again on message helping to prepare the ground for a "strong response" to Iran. Talking to Mike Shuster about Iran's nuclear program Conan asks "what of Iran's neighbors.."(10:08 into the segment) Shuster replies:
... they always get nervous when there seems to be moments when there is greater tension between Iran and the United States because they fear they could be caught in the middle of any kind of shooting war if it were to break out ... they do not want to see anything like serious conflict break out
Clearly, Iran is not about to attack the US, so what the "neighbors" are worried about is aggression coming from the US. It is the US that arouses fear, not Iran. However, this does not conform with the message, so Conan simply reiterates his own contention of the neighbors being worried about Iran, not the US, and continues. Says Conan
..and the Neighbors are concerned not just about what goes on inside Iran but also inside Iraq vis a vis Iran
This might seem trivial but it was the use of continuous propaganda of this sort that helped pave the way to the war in Iraq. And NPR is relentless in its job of supporting the American imperial enterprise.

If you have previously supported NPR consider diverting that support to something like Free Speech TV

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Uriah Heep Presidency

Tariq Ali has a summary of some of the current administrations accomplishments in killing. A summary of the summary is provided by the image accompanying the piece.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interrogation for information or pain

How to stop the flow of information.

After his conviction in April 2001, Ressam cooperated with federal authorities in hopes of winning a shorter prison sentence. He became a key source of information on the operation of al-Qaida in Western Europe and North America after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, providing information that led to the prosecution of some of the terrorist organization's top leaders.

But two years later he stopped cooperating. A court-appointed psychiatrist found that he was suffering from a mental breakdown after years in solitary confinement and repeated interrogations. When he was sentenced in December 2008, Ressam recanted everything he'd ever said as a government informant.

and how to interrogate in order to actually get information.

In the days following the failed bombing, a pair of FBI agents flew to Nigeria and persuaded Abdulmutallab's family to help them. When the agents returned to the U.S., Abdulmutallab's family came, too, according to a senior administration official briefed on the case. The family persuaded Abdulmutallab to work with the FBI, believing he would be treated fairly in U.S. courts, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

FBI officials continue to question Abdulmutallab, working in collaboration with CIA and other intelligence authorities, the official said. ... A law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, said Abdulmutallab has provided information about his contacts in Yemen, where an al-Qaida branch has claimed responsibility for the failed attack.

Though Jack Bauer would probably not approve.