A Catastrophe Foretold

Pakistani refugees fleeing fighting in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir queue for rations in a relief camp at Mardan yesterday (DANIEL BEREHULAK/GETTY IMAGES)

There is an exodus of Pakistani civilians as battle against Taleban rages, Zahid Hussain reports. They may yet succeed, but it appears no one seems to have told the Pakistani government the first rule of counterinsurgency: it is not the driving out of opposition that constitutes success, it is the ability to hold on the gains. The militants could have been neutralized through the use of sparing and targeted force in conjunction with a political settlement. This one is guaranteed to backfire.

With jet fighters screeching overhead, tens of thousands of people fled Pakistan’s once-idyllic Swat Valley yesterday, increasing a humanitarian crisis that threatens to undermine public support for the military campaign against the Taleban.

The UN says that more than 200,000 people have left Swat in the past few days, and another 300,000 are on the move or trying to leave after the collapse of a three-month-old peace deal between the Government and the Islamists this week. They will join the estimated 555,000 who have fled other conflict zones in northwestern Pakistan since August, taking the total number of displaced people in the region to more than one million.

As government forces claimed to have killed 143 militants since Thursday, The Times spoke to dozens of refugees arriving — bedraggled, exhausted and crammed into buses, vans and trucks — at a makeshift camp in Jalala, just outside Swat.

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Police and PM in dock over arrest of terrorist suspects

Surprise, surprise! The British state cried wolf again. ‘Case against Muslim men amounted to one email and handful of telephone conversations’, report By Jonathan Brown, Robert Verkaik and Kim Sengupta. Also check out this brilliant indictment of the ‘war on terror’ by Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The case against 12 Muslim men involved in what Gordon Brown described as a “major terrorist plot” amounted to one email and a handful of ambiguous telephone conversations, it emerged last night after all the men were released without charge.

Eleven Pakistani students and one British man were freed after extensive searches of 14 addresses in North-west England failed to locate evidence of terrorist activity, according to security sources. Police did not find any explosives, firearms, target lists, documents or any material which could have been used to carry out an attack. Yesterday, the Government’s own reviewer of terrorism legislation said he would investigate the case.

The Home Office said it would deport the 11 Pakistani men, who are aged 22 to 38 and were in Britain on student visas, because the Government believed they represented a threat to national security.

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Torture Memos Released

The Obama administration has released the four torture memos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information request today. The redactions are not as extensive as initially thought. All the memos are available here. See the characteristically brilliant commentary by Glenn Greenwald below and Democracy Now’s interview with Greenwald and Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm.

Obama to release OLC torture memos; promises no prosecutions for CIA officials

(updated below – Update II)

In a just-released statement, Barack Obama announced that — in response to an ACLU FOIA lawsuit — he has ordered four key Bush-era torture memos released, and the Associated Press, citing anonymous Obama sources, is reporting that “there is very little redaction, or blacking out, of detail in the memos.”  Marc Ambinder is reporting that only the names of the CIA agents involved will be redacted; everything else will be disclosed.  Simultaneously, and certainly with the intend to placate angry intelligence officials, Attorney General Eric Holder has “informed CIA officials [though not necessarily Bush officials] who used waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects that they will not be prosecuted,” and Obama announced the same thing in his statement.

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US Drones have killed 687 Innocents

Amir Mir reports in The News that the 60 US drone attacks in Pakistan have killed 687 civilians for the 14 al-Qaeda suspects they were targeting. If you’ve ever wondered why so-called ‘human rights’ groups are treated with such scepticism (if not disdain) outside the US and EU, see this statement from a New York Times report on the drone attacks: “Marc Garlasco, a former military targeting official who now works for Human Rights Watch, the international advocacy group, said the drones had helped limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the Air Force uses them to attack people laying roadside bombs and to attack other insurgents.”

LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).

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PERU: Where the Poor Pay More for Water

On a slightly different note, Ángel Páez of IPS reports about the shocking state of water distribution in Peru. Not only do 8 million people (out of a population of 28 million) lack access to piped water but the inhabitants of the capital’s slums pay almost 8 times more than Lima’s super-rich elite for access to clean water.

In Lomas de Manchay, an area of slum-covered hills outside of the Peruvian capital that is home to 50,000 people, mainly poor indigenous migrants from the highlands, clean
water is worth gold – almost literally.

Local residents of the shantytown pay 3.22 dollars per cubic metre of water, compared to just 45 cents of a dollar that is paid a few blocks away, across the main avenue, in Rinconada del Lago, one of Lima’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.


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Israel created ‘terror without mercy’ in Gaza

More evidence of Israel’s state terrorism comes to light. Following charges of war crimes by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Guardian’s own investigative team, a new report commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society accuses Israel of  “creating terror without mercy to anyone” and “terrorising the population.” Here’s a rather bland summary of the report by the Guardian’s Rory McCarthy:

The Israeli military attacked civilians and medics and delayed – sometimes for hours – the evacuation of the injured during the January war in Gaza, according to an independent fact-finding mission commissioned by Israeli and Palestinian medical human rights groups.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society yesterday said their findings showed Israel’s military committed serious violations of international humanitarian law. In their 92-page report, compiled by five senior health experts from across the world, they documented several specific attacks, with interviews from 44 separate witnesses.

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Blue Gold

Sunday, March 22 was World Water Day. The environment editor of the Sunday Herald Rob Edwards did a decent report on the growing water crisis around the world which includes interviews with my friends Tommy Kane and Kyle Mitchell, two of the world’s leading experts on water. However, the article did not emphasize how privatization is exacerbating the crisis. Here I produce in full warnings from both Tommy and Kyle, who later today will also be introducing the Scottish premiere of the award-winning film Blue Gold: World Water Wars at 7pm in Strathclyde University’s McCance Building, Lecture Theatre 1. (There will be a wine reception to follow.) The event is open to all, so if you are in the vicinity do drop by.

Tommy writes:

In Scotland despite – or possibly because of – the overwhelming rejection of water privatisation at the now famous Strathclyde referendum there has been a concerted, clever and tacit campaign by legislators, regulators, think tanks and businesses to turn Scottish Water into a private company in all but name. By changing its corporate structure, outsourcing contracts to private companies and tapping into the Private Finance Initiative a public sector body has been almost overwhelmingly commercialised. Worryingly, these changes are conducive to a future private ownership structure.

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Criminalising Resistance

Following yesterday’s article on the criminalisation of dissent by Seumas Milne in The Guardian (posted below), The Guardian today reveals that the Government’s new ‘counterterrorism’ strategy due next month called Contest 2 will define as ‘extremist’ anyone who believes in ‘armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.’ It would also include those who ‘fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.’

The gall of this plan is quite breathtaking. Not content merely with providing political and material support to Israel’s illegal occupation, not to mention launching illegal wars and occupations of its own, the British Government will now explicitly label all resistance to these illegal and unethical projects as ‘extremist’. 

This represents a shift from the misuse of anti-terrorist legislation to attack and smear organised resistance as violent or as being infilitrated by violent extremists, towards the active repression of citizens who oppose the policy or ideology of the British Government, apparently even pacifists.  A Whitehall source told BBC Panorama that Contest 2 is a “move away from just challenging violent extremism. We now believe that we should challenge people who are against democracy and state institutions “

And of course there is no suggestion that ‘Contest 2’ will cover those who support atrocities by the British or Israeli state.  Nothing extreme about massacring Arabs obviously.  And those who are “against demoracy”?  How about the EU’s response to the election of Hamas?

Four Solutions

This is a response to Ali Abunimah’s excellent little book “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.”

“I do not hate (Israelis) for being Jewish or Israeli but because of what they have done to us. Because of the acts of occupation. It is difficult to forget what was done to us. But if the reason for the hate will not exist, everything is possible. But if the reason remains, it is impossible to love. First we must convince in general and in principle that we have been wronged, then we can talk about 67 or 48. You still do not recognize that we have rights. The first condition for change is recognition of the injustice we suffered.”

– Said Sayyam, martyred in Gaza January 2009, to Ha’aretz, November 1995.

All Palestine is controlled by Zionism. The Palestinians (not counting the millions in exile) are half the population of Israel-Palestine, but they are victims of varying degrees of apartheid. The Jewish state has already lost its Jewish majority, and is more hated by the Arab peoples than at any time in its brief, violent history. Let’s take it as given that continuation of the present situation is untenable for everyone concerned. We need a solution.

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