As if everyday life in Pakistan weren’t dispiriting enough, last month the swift and turbulent Indus burst its banks and swathes of the country disappeared under water. Divine punishment, the poor said, but they were the ones who suffered. Allah rarely targets the rich. As the floods came and the country panicked, its president fled the bunker and went on a tour of inspection to France and Britain.
The floodwaters have now receded in many parts of the country, leaving 20 million people homeless. The province of Sindh, however, is still under threat and 800,000 people are marooned without food. Aid agencies estimate the bail-out costs for the country at between seven and ten billion dollars, but only $800 million has been pledged by foreign donors, in total contrast to the support given after the devastating earthquake of 2005. The rebuilt towns and villages are proof that not all the money was stolen that time. But despite this, little help has been forthcoming from abroad, the result of a combination of Islamophobia and distrust of the Zardari government on financial matters.
Did the rulers of Pakistan treat the worst natural disaster to hit their country as an emergency, and pull out all the stops without thinking of themselves or drooling at the prospects of foreign aid pouring in? Like hell they did. For the whole of August the plutocracy floundered hopelessly as the catastrophe grew. The army did its best, but was hindered by the war on terror. As nearly a million people came under threat from the floodwater in Jacobabad, the local authorities were informed that the nearby Shahbaz airbase could not be used for rescue operations. In response to a parliamentary question from the opposition, the health secretary, Khushnood Lashari, explained: ‘Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is controlled by the United States.’ It was not necessary to add that those on the base were busy arming and dispatching drones to hit villages in northern Pakistan. In Swat, closer to the AfPak war zones, a detachment of marines was made available to airlift tribal elders to safety, in an attempt presumably to win hearts and minds. Some hope.
Tariq Ali will be in Washington, DC on the 16th and New York on the 17th for the launch of his new book The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad. If you are in the vicinity, we strongly encourage you to attend.
A few days ago, the West’s favorite Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, wrote a ‘guest column’ on the BBC website in which he suggested that the Afghan governance model be transferred to Pakistan:
Pakistan’s Reconstruction Trust Fund could be run by a board that included the World Bank, other international lending agencies and independent and prominent Pakistani economists and social welfare figures with no ties to the government.
Pakistanis would still take all the major decisions, but those who did so would not be the cronies of the president, the PM or the opposition leaders.Pakistan’s finance bureaucracy and army would have seats at the table, but certainly no veto powers over how the money is spent.
Their job would be impartial implementation of recovery overseen by the Trust Fund. Such a fund would not just monitor the cash, but help the government put together a non-political, neutral reconstruction effort. It would also help plan long-term economic reforms….
The notion that that the World Bank, IMF and friends are ‘non-political’ and ‘neutral’ is risible and not worth wasting time on, especially given that their supervision of Afghanistan’s largest bank (largely owned and controlled by the Karzai family and just as corrupt as Zardari and his cronies) doesn’t seem to have been all that effective since it collapsed just as the BBC website published the path-breaking text.
Alexander Cockburn’s comments about the left’s inability to acknowledge US defeat in Iraq and the bogus ‘war for oil’ thesis are perceptive. But in Tariq Ali and Seumas Milne he has chosen the wrong avatars for this odd belief in the empire’s invincibility. Tariq is a good friend and I have had this conversation with him several times. I know for a fact that he rejects the reductionist ‘war for oil’ argument. (He made his position clear in the Q&A after his recent London Review of Books lecture.) Milne sometimes hews to the establishment left line, but has shown far more independence and courage than some other left luminaries. I’d rather Cockburn had directed his criticism at Noam Chomsky, whose defective and predictable analysis of the Middle East continues to mislead many.
“The US isn’t withdrawing from Iraq at all – it’s rebranding the occupation… What is abundantly clear is that the US , whose embassy in Baghdad is now the size of Vatican City , has no intention of letting go of Iraq any time soon.” So declared Seumas Milne of The Guardian on August 4.
Milne is not alone among writers on the left arguing that even though most Americans think it’s all over, They say that Uncle Sam still effectively occupies Iraq, still rules the roost there. They gesture at 50,000 US troops in 94 military bases, “advising” and training the Iraqi army, “providing security” and carrying out “counter-terrorism” missions. Outside US government forces there is what Jeremy Scahill calls the “coming surge” of contractors in Iraq , swelling up from the present 100,000. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the number of military contractors working for the state department alone from 2,700 to 7,000. Of these contractors 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals, typically from the developing world. “The advantage of an outsourced occupation,” Milne writes, “ is clearly that someone other than US soldiers can do the dying to maintain control of Iraq.
A disaster of biblical scope: the floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains a month ago have affected more than 17.2 million people and killed over 1,500, according to Pakistan’s disaster management body. August is the monsoon season in Pakistan. This year a hard rain keeps falling, which is why the floodwaters are not abating. Nearly two thousand deaths and over 20 million people are homeless. The man-made disasters – war in Afghanistan, its spillage into Pakistan – are bad enough. Now the country faces its worst ever natural disaster. Most governments would find it difficult to cope, but the current regime is virtually paralyzed.
Over the last sixty years, the ruling elite in the country has never been able to construct a social infrastructure for its people. This is a structural defect that goes deep and affects the bulk of the population adversely. Today the country’s rulers eagerly follow the neoliberal dictates of the IMF, to keep the loans flowing. Not helpful at the best of times they are useless when the country is undergoing its worst humanitarian crisis of recent decades.
The following letter was sent to The New York Times by Oliver Stone, Mark Weisbrot and Tariq Ali in response to a grossly distorted account of their new film ‘South of the Border‘ by Larry Rohter, a one time backer of the 2002 coup attempt.
Larry Rohter attacks our film, “South of the Border,” for “mistakes, misstatements and missing details.” But a close examination of the details reveals that the mistakes, misstatements, and missing details are his own, and that the film is factually accurate. We will document this for each one of his attacks. We then show that there is evidence of animus and conflict of interest, in his attempt to discredit the film. Finally, we ask that you consider the many factual errors in Rohter’s attacks, outlined below, and the pervasive evidence of animus and conflict of interest in his attempt to discredit the film; and we ask that The New York Times publish a full correction for these numerous mistakes.
1) Accusing the film of “misinformation,” Rohter writes that “A flight from Caracas to La Paz, Bolivia, flies mostly over the Amazon, not the Andes. . .” But the narration does not say that the flight is “mostly” over the Andes, just that it flies over the Andes, which is true. (Source: Google Earth).
2) Also in the category of “misinformation,” Rohter writes “the United States does not ‘import more oil from Venezuela than any other OPEC nation,’ a distinction that has belonged to Saudi Arabia during the period 2004-10.”
From New York to Dubai and Bangladesh, Empire looks at the impact of US-style capitalism and asks: What does the future hold for crony capitalism? And what are the alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation?
Joseph Stiglitz and our friend Tariq Ali on Al Jazeera’s Empire.
Forgive an outsider and staunch atheist like myself who, on reading the recent French press comments relating to Ilhem Moussaid the hijab-wearing NPA candidate in Avignon, gets the impression that something is rotten in French political culture. Let’s take the debate at face-value. A young Muslim woman joins the NPA [New Anti-Capitalist Party]. She obviously agrees with its program that defends abortion, contraception, etc, i.e. a woman’s right to choose. She is then told that despite this she does not have the right to choose what she wears on her head. It’s astonishing. There is no Koranic injunction involved. The book says: “Draw their (women’s) veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty”, which can be interpreted in several ways but is disregarded most blatantly by hijab-wearing Egyptian women I see in Cairo and Karachi wearing tight jeans and T-shirts that contradicted the spirit of the Koranic message.
Patriarchal traditions, cultural habits and identity are what is at stake here and they vary from generation to generation. Pushing people back into a ghetto never helps.
A year since the White House changed hands, how has the American empire altered? Under the Bush Administration it was widely believed, in both mainstream opinion and much of the amnesiac section of the left, that the United States had fallen under an aberrant regime, the product of a virtual coup d’état by a coterie of right-wing fanatics—alternatively, ultra-reactionary corporations—who had hijacked American democracy for policies of unprecedented aggression in the Middle East. In reaction, the election to the Presidency of a mixed-race Democrat, vowing to heal America’s wounds at home and restore its reputation abroad, was greeted with a wave of ideological euphoria not seen since the days of Kennedy. Once again, America could show its true face—purposeful but peaceful, firm but generous; humane, respectful, multi-cultural—to the world. Naturally, with the makings of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt for our time in him, the country’s new young ruler would have to make compromises, as any statesman must. But at least the shameful interlude of Republican swagger and criminality was over. Bush and Cheney had broken the continuity of a multilateral American leadership that had served the country well throughout the Cold War and after. Obama would now restore it.
Rarely has self-interested mythology—or well-meaning gullibility—been more quickly exposed. There was no fundamental break in foreign policy, as opposed to diplomatic mood music, between the Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2 Administrations; there has been none between the Bush and Obama regimes. The strategic goals and imperatives of the us imperium remain the same, as do its principal theatres and means of operation. Since the collapse of the USSR, the Carter Doctrine—the construction of another democratic pillar of human rights—has defined the greater Middle East as the central battlefield for the imposition of American power around the world. It is enough to look at each of its sectors to see that Obama is the offspring of Bush, as Bush was of Clinton and Clinton of Bush the father, as so many appropriately biblical begettings.