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If the world thought that Europe’s finance ministers were running in to put out the blaze spreading through Athens and Rome this week, it might come as a surprise to learn they still don’t agree on the size of the fire or how to deal with it.
Any training course will tell you that if a small fire isn’t tackled quickly, it could make things a lot worse. The Greek crisis is like a small electrical fire that has grown into a dangerous inferno now threatening to gut Italy.
But ministers meeting in Brussels have clearly not been on any fire extinguisher training courses lately — they don’t know their water from their foam and their dry powder. In fact, they appear to be pouring oil on the fire.
Belgium’s Finance Minister Didier Reynders says it is best to try to smother the blaze with a small cloth soaked in a chemical called a financial transaction tax, while Sweden’s Anders Borg and Austria’s Maria Fekter say they can’t spare any of their CO2 extinguishers.
“Italy can achieve a lot from its own doing,” Fekter told reporters who were watching the fire grow closer. Borg, Fekter and others are sure the Italians in the burning building down the street will be able to sort things out themselves.
Spain’s Elena Salgado is meanwhile clearly upset that the smoke from that fire is billowing into her garden, but France’s Francois Baroin says there was no need to reach for a fire hose: “Tout va bien” (Everything’s going well), he said, wiping his brow from the heat.
A combustible mix of hot air and faulty wiring seem to be one assessment of the causes of the euro zone flames, which no one is really willing to consider. But as the sound of emergency sirens grows louder, it may be time to remove the safety pin from the extinguisher marked “European Central Bank” — it may be the only way to remove all the oxygen feeding the fire.
By Aaron Maasho
Ethiopia and Eritrea are still at each others’ throats. The two neighbours fought hammer and tongs in sun-baked trenches during a two-year war over a decade ago, before a peace deal ended their World War I-style conflict in 2000. Furious veRed Sea, UNrbal battles, however, have continued to this day.
Yet, amid the blistering rhetoric and scares over a return to war, analysts say the feuding rivals are reluctant to lock horns once again. Neighbouring South Sudan and some Ethiopian politicians are working on plans to bring both sides to the negotiating table.
Asmara has been named, shamed and then slapped with two sets of U.N. sanctions over charges that it was aiding and abetting al Qaeda-linked rebels in lawless Somalia in its proxy war with Ethiopia. However, a panel tasked with monitoring violations of an arms embargo on Somalia said it had no proof of Eritrean support to the Islamist militants in the last year.
Nevertheless, Eritrea’s foreign ministry wasted little time in pointing a finger of accusation at its perennial rival. “The events over the past year have clearly shown that it is in fact Ethiopia that is actively engaged in destabilising Eritrea in addition to its continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory in violation of the U.N. Charter,” the ministry said in a statement last month.
The Red Sea state was referring to Addis Ababa’s open declaration in 2011 in which its late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country would no longer take a “passive stance” towards its rival following Eritrea’s alleged plot to bomb targets in the Ethiopian capital during an African Union gathering of heads of state.
Then foreign minister (and now premier) Hailemariam Desalegn followed up on the rhetoric soon afterwards by disclosing his government’s support to Eritrean rebels. Meles and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki were once comrades-in-arms, even rumoured to be distant relatives. Ethiopia’s late leader rubber-stamped a 1993 referendum that granted independence to the former province after their rebel groups jointly toppled Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta two years earlier.
The love affair did not last long. The pair fell out spectacularly after Eritrea introduced its own currency in 1997 and Ethiopia responded by insisting on trading in dollars. Their economic spat aggravated already simmering border tensions, which culminated in Eritrea deploying its tanks months later and occupying hotly disputed territory that was under Addis Ababa’s administration.
Ethiopian troops breached Eritrea’s trenches nearly a year later and retook contested ground – namely the flashpoint town of Badme – before a peace deal was signed. What then followed is the sticking point that remains today. An independent boundary commission awarded Badme to Eritrea in 2002 but the ruling is yet to take effect. Ethiopia wants to negotiate its implementation and warns that delimitation of the border as per the finding would unreasonably split towns and other geographical locations into two.
Asmara on the other hand insists on an immediate hand-over. The bickering has evolved into a proxy war and diplomatic skulduggery as both sides attempt to bring about regime change in the other. But despite the harsh words, mediation efforts are in the pipeline. Deng Alor, neighbouring South Sudan’s Minister for Cabinet Affairs, told Reuters on Wednesday his newly-independent country is about to embark on rounds of shuttle diplomacy between the capitals of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both countries, he said, have given their blessing.
A handful of Ethiopian members of parliament are also devising a similar initiative, local sources say. Addis Ababa has never ruled out mediation. But even though Eritrea publicly dismisses any idea of a thaw in strained relations before the Badme spat is resolved, recent developments might change its mind, some believe.
Ethiopian analysts think Asmara now realises that its neighbour may easily adopt a more belligerent stance following the sudden death of Meles, who they say stood firm against a potential slide towards full-scale conflict. And of course not all Ethiopians express enthusiasm about an independent Eritrea, the creation of which left their country without access to the Red Sea.
Some diplomats say the chances of both sides making drastic concessions from their current positions remain slim. So will the mediation efforts finally yield a deal?
A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence. Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India’s role in Afghanistan including a$ 2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi’s way to expand influence.
Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai’s visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said India and Afghanistan were “both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to.” The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani’s comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.
It continued to hold discussions, meanwhile, on the grant of the Most Favoured Nation to India as part of moves to normalise ties. Late last month the cabinet cleared the MFN, 15 years after New Delhi accorded Pakistan the same status so that the two could conduct trade like nations do around the world, even those with differences.
And on Thursday, Gilani met Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the margins of a regional summit in the Maldives and the two promised a new chapter in ties, saying the next round of talks between officials as part of an engagement on a range of issues will produce results. Afghanistan or the pact, was scarcely mentioned in public, although it is quite conceivable that the two would have talked about it.
Is there a shift in the ground, in both India and Pakistan ? Pakistan is battling multiple crises, including ties with the United States that at the moment certainly look worse than those with India. It is also struggling to tackle a melange of militant groups that have metastasized into a mortal danger for the Pakistani state itself and a deep economic downturn that a nation of 180 million people can ill-afford at this time. While it continues to invest time and energy in Afghanistan, a large part of the war has come home too and it is struggling to enforce its writ on its side of the Pasthun-dominated lands that straddle the two countries. A lessening of tensions with India can only help at this point.
India, meanwhile, has shot out of the blocks building a trillion-dollar economy that dwarfs everyone else’s in the region, not just in size but also growth rates even if it is slowing down now. It still has a long way to go to meet the aspirations of a billion plus people and realise its own potential, though. It needs peace within and on the borders and it needs closer economic ties with all its neighbours. Its economic stakes are rising across the region including Afghanistan where Indian firms, along with the Chinese who preceded them, are the only ones prepared to risk blood and treasure to exploit its mineral resources. Conversely if a pomegranate farmer in southern Afghanistan- the Taliban heartland – wants to sell his produce to the booming Indian market, New Delhi wants to do whatever it can to try and make that possible.
A hostile Pakistan until now has balked at trade and transit, but if India and Pakistan begin to have normal trade ties following the breakthrough on MFN, then easier flow of goods from Afghanistan seems a natural possibility. The long-running project to pipe gas from Turkmenistan and through Afghanistan, Pakistan and then India may seem less of a dream as the economies of India and Pakistan begin to interlock and both sides develop stakes in the well being of the other to protect their investments and trade.
Indeed, Sajjad Ashraf, a former Pakistan ambassador to Singapore and now a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, cautioned against a knee-jerk Pakistani reaction to the Indo-Afghan treaty. In a paper for the Institute of South Asian Studies, he said that a careful reading of the pact suggests that the countries involved want to develop Afghanistan as a hub linking South and Central Asia since it sits in both regions. Which isn’t such a bad thing for the countries of south Asia but especially Pakistan which by its geography as landlocked Afghanistan’s neighbour with the longest border has a key role to play.Ashraf said :
“If the three countries can reach an understanding and let India develop Afghan capacity leading to regional economic integration, Pakistan too becomes a winner. In the age of globalisation, following any other course will result in Pakistan lagging behind.
For India, peace in Afghanistan is important to be able to exploit the vast economic potential of the Central Asian states. It shares Afghanistan’s concerns about the security of the nation after the western withdrawal from a combat role in 2014. Ashraf wrote :
India is concerned, which everyone should be, at the return of a medieval Taliban like regime in Kabul that could become the staging ground for cross border extremism into India.
It makes little sense for India to keep the borders with Pakistan tense, least of all turning up the heat on its western flank with Afghanistan, Ashraf said. India doesn’t have a contiguous border with Afghanistan and the last thing it needs is a costly entanglement there. Besides, it is obvious to everyone, including the stategic community in India, that there cannot be lasting peace in Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s security establishment would worry about potential security cooperation between India and Afghanistan flowing from the strategic pact. ( A separate one is under negotiations with the United States) But so far New Delhi had been sensitive to Pakistani concerns, according to U.S. Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Michele Flournoy. She said New Delhi had avoided a playing a major role in the training of Afghan security forces.
Ultimately, the key to Afghanistan’s future was unlocking its potential, tying it into the economies of its neighbours and hope that it will strengthen the state to stand firmly on its feet once its powerful backers retreat three years from now.
Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid may have captured something rather interesting in his short story published this month by The Guardian. And it is not as obvious as it looks.
In “Terminator: Attack of the Drone”, Hamid imagines life in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan under constant attack from U.S. drone bombings. His narrator is one of two boys who go out one night to try to attack a drone.
”The machines are huntin’ tonight,” the narrator says. “There ain’t many of us left. Humans I mean. Most people who could do already escaped. Or tried to escape anyways. I don’t know what happened to ‘em. But we couldn’t. Ma lost her leg to a landmine and can’t walk. Sometimes she gets outside the cabin with a stick. Mostly she stays in and crawls. The girls do the work. I’m the man now.
“Pa’s gone. The machines got him. I didn’t see it happen but my uncle came back for me. Took me to see Pa gettin’ buried in the ground. There wasn’t anythin’ of Pa I could see that let me know it was Pa. When the machines get you there ain’t much left. Just gristle mixed with rocks, covered in dust.”
It is powerful stuff, told in the language of a black American slave in the style of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”. It vividly captures the terror inspired by drones, and the helplessness of the people who live in the tribal areas. But is it true? And does it matter?
In a discussion on Twitter, literary critic Faiza S. Khan, who tweets @BhopalHouse, argued that the story should be judged as a work of fiction rather than taken as reportage. A fair point. But what if we turn this around and consider the story as reportage, not of the tribal areas and the drones, but of the way these are imagined in Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland? As a writer who spends part of his time in Lahore, capital of Punjab, Hamid can be considered representative of at least part of that Punjabi imagination.
We will return to the short story later, but first step back a bit and consider that the narrative gaining traction, at least in urban Punjab, is that the people of the tribal areas have been radicalised by American drone attacks. Pakistan’s rising political star, Imran Khan, attracted tens of thousands to a rally in Lahore last month with a version of this narrative. Stop the drones, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, can be engaged in peace talks to end a wave of bombings across Pakistan.
The simplicity of this narrative is beguiling. At a stroke it taps into the anti-Americanism prevalent in Pakistan and also promises peace. Yet it is incredibly problematic. Bear with me – this is not a defence of drones per se. The use of “machines” to fight a war is disturbing, as indeed is the use of snipers in their capacity for personalised targetting by an unseen hand. Emotionally, I would be far more scared of drones and snipers than I would be of artillery and airstrikes, even if I knew the latter two were more likely to kill me. And nor is it a defence of the way the United States has fought its war in Afghanistan - the risks of the Afghan war going wrong have been obvious from the start to anyone with a knowledge of history. But those are different subjects. This is about how the drone campaign is perceived in mainland Pakistan, and perhaps particularly in Punjab.
The first problem with the narrative is that it slides over the fact that radicalisation in the tribal areas (and Pakistan as a whole) began long before the U.S. drone campaign. Many ascribe it to Pakistani support for the United States in backing the jihad against the Soviet Union after the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. I might go further back, perhaps to the 1973 oil boom when a disproportionate number of Pashtun from the tribal areas went to seek work in the Gulf . The results were twofold – the migrant workers were exposed to the Wahhabi puritanical Saudi Arabian tradition of Islam, and the remittances they sent home upset the traditional balance of power in the local economy. I could go back even further, to the origins of the Pakistani state in 1947 and its use of Islam as a unifying force to counter ethnic nationalism, including Pashtun nationalism. In short – it is complicated. Stopping drones may or may not be a moral imperative, depending on your perspective. But let’s not be fooled into thinking that in itself, it will bring peace.
Secondly, the narrative on drone attacks takes at face value assertions that they cause high numbers of civilian casualties. The Americans say they are precise; their critics say they are lying; the rest of us simply don’t, and can’t, know the truth. With little independent reporting on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), we can’t possibly verify whether the claims of civilian casualties are accurate. We don’t know for sure the numbers of the dead, let alone whether among those dead were Taliban foot soldiers who are also civilians.
What I have noticed however, is that at least some among the Pashtun intelligentsia say the drone strikes are precise, and that opposition to them increases the further away you get from the tribal areas. Earlier this year, a senior Pakistani military officer was quoted as saying that ”a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign terrorist elements”. Writer and academic Farhat Taj has taken this argument further by saying that people actually prefer drone strikes to living in fear of the Taliban and their foreign allies.
Now I don’t know the truth. I have been to the tribal areas only once, on a one-day army-supervised trip to Bajaur. Incidentally, I was struck by how far the landscape differed from my own Kiplingesque imaginings of “the Frontier”. In Bajaur, I saw agricultural prosperity, neatly laid out fields, and mountains which in relative terms (ie compared to Siachen, the Karakoram and even the barren mountains of Scotland) seemed unexpectedly tame. I gather other parts of FATA are wilder, but that Bajaur trip was a lesson for me in how far my imagination (no doubt heavily influenced by colonial literature) was very different from reality. Many Pakistanis never get a chance to visit FATA at all – and so it remains in the Pakistani heartland as much of an imagined frontier as it was under the Raj.
So to get back to the drones, let’s for a moment take the prevalent view that Pakistan is fighting “America’s war” out of the discussion and consider what the people of FATA themselves think about drone attacks and peace talks with the Taliban. As the people who suffer most at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban, their views - at least from a moral point of view – should predominate in any Pakistani discourse which set itself up as idealistic. What do they say?
This brings me to the most problematic part of the narrative, and loops back into Hamid’s short story. In the “stop the drones, win the peace argument”, the people of FATA are crucially assumed not to be able to speak for themselves. They are frozen in time in an idealised village life, people who will revert to their ancient traditions as soon as the drones and the Afghan war ends, as though the last 60 years of history never happened. As though not not one of them had ever got on a plane, worked in the Gulf, or migrated to Karachi.
Look at how they are portrayed in Hamid’s story (though since I have not asked him, I will concede this may have been an intentional parody of the way the people of FATA are often viewed).
In his story, our characters have no ability to grasp the big world events that have brought the machines to their land. They speak in the language of black American slaves. The narrator’s mother is compared to an animal, “snorin’ like an old brown bear after a dogfight”. Their primitiveness is underlined by the sexualisation of the weapon assembled by the two boys to attack the drone: ”We put the he-piece in the she-piece”.
They are reduced to the cipher of “the noble savage“.
It is true that the people of FATA do not tend to speak for themselves. But given the scale of bombings and assassinations, fear seems to be a more likely explanation than an inability to articulate their thoughts.
And it is also true that they are not even proper citizens. Rather they are subject to the Frontier Crimes Regulation – a draconian colonial-era law which makes them liable to collective punishment, and which is only slowly being reformed by the Pakistani government. The eventual abolition of the FCR, the incorporation of FATA into Pakistan, and other reforms meant to decentralise and accommodate Pakistan’s different ethnic groups, would arguably be far more effective in the long run in allowing the country’s Punjabi heartland to make peace with the Pashtun in the tribal areas, more even than ending drone strikes.
You will find people who argue you can do both – abolish the FCR and end drone strikes. But how can you tell? How do you make peace with a particular group and work out what suits them best, unless they are represented politically? (Holding peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban is not the same.)
Now reread Hamid’s piece and consider the gap between the characters imagined in his short story, and a people with full citizenship rights and political representation. As Fazia S. Khan said, judge it as a work of fiction. But as a window into the Punjabi imagination, it may also have its uses as a political document.
When former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said this weekend that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe under President Asif Ali Zardari, he almost certainly did not mean that the nuclear arsenal is not secure. The nuclear weapons have little to do with the civilian government; they are guarded ferociously by the Pakistan Army both against terrorist attacks and any foreign or U.S. attempt to seize them, and, as a matter of pride for Pakistanis chafing at any American suggestions otherwise, safeguarded to international standards.
Rather it was a rhetorical device to attack the government at a rally where Qureshi announced he was joining the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) , the party of former cricket star Imran Khan, a rising force in Pakistani politics. Qureshi’s assertion tapped into growing anti-Americanism, and a populist view that the civilian government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, to which he once belonged, had somehow sold the country’s honour – in this case symbolised by nuclear weapons – in return for American aid. (Pakistan first agreed its uneasy alliance with the United States under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.)
Yet it is a measure of how distorted and narrow political discourse has become within Pakistan that Qureshi might use the safety of nuclear weapons to attack the government. That political discourse, difficult even at the best of times, is likely to become even narrower in the fury which has followed the NATO airstrikes which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan on Saturday.
The attack, which Pakistan says was unprovoked and NATO described as a “tragic, unintended incident”, has outraged Pakistanis who have already endured thousands of casualties in a war they believe was forced on them by the United States.
Underneath the confusion about the aims and course of the Afghan war, lies a deep sense of hurt that Pakistani lives are somehow less valued than American lives, and a painful loss of pride over the country’s inability to defend its territory from attacks by a foreign, and apparently hostile, power – whether from airstrikes, drones, or even the May raid by U.S. forces who killed Osama bin Laden.
The result is a society which is being shaped by the Afghan war in ways which neither Pakistan’s neighbours, nor western powers, would choose. The airstrikes, coming soon after the forced resignation of Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani for allegedly seeking American help to curb the power of the military, have added fresh oxygen to a combustible mix of anti-Americanism and religious nationalism enveloping Pakistan. Haqqani denies the allegation, but the so-called “Memogate” scandal has badly weakened the civilian government, while the airstrikes have rallied the country behind the army.
In such an environment, there is little room for a discourse that might suggest Pakistanis should also be outraged at the deaths of civilians blown up by suicide bombers sent by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and therefore discuss ways to turn decisively against Islamist militants. Nor is there space for a realistic political debate on how Pakistan should manage its foreign relations that goes beyond a hatred of America and an illusory faith in China’s readiness to ride to the rescue.
Before the latest crisis, the government had been pushing through legislative reforms to help democracy take root in Pakistan. It is difficult to see these making much more progress now as the government fights for survival. The tedious mechanics of documenting the economy, as a first step towards increasing the tax base and raising revenues, dropped off the political agenda long ago.
Expectations that the civilian government could become the first in Pakistan’s history to complete its term and be replaced by another democratically elected government are being lowered by the day as the politicians descend into the kind of internecine feuds typical of the 1990s. That decade ended in Musharraf’s military coup in 1999.
The next casualty of the rising tide of nationalism could well be Pakistan’s warming ties with India – one of the few relationships in the region that until now had been going well. The civilian government had eased itself into the driving seat in pushing for improved trade relations with India, though no one would suggest that it made the progress it did without the approval of the Pakistan Army. It has a particular interest in better ties with India - the army has drawn its power from a perceived need to defend the country against an Indian threat, contributing to Pakistan’s civilian-military imbalance.
So when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani joined each other in early April to watch the Pakistan-India cricket semi-final in the town of Mohali, they discussed a Pakistani appeal that India drop its opposition to an EU duty waiver on Pakistani textiles exports. By the end of April, it was becoming clear that improved trade ties could be a game-changer. (Pakistan had earlier resisted improving trade without first settling the Kashmir dispute.) By early November, New Delhi agreed to the EU duty waiver and, more significantly, Pakistan granted Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India.
That mood has changed. Reports have begun to surface in the Pakistani media that the army has reservations about granting MFN status to India. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the humanitarian wing of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, and an organisation close to the military, has launched protests against granting India MFN status, saying that the Kashmir dispute must be settled first.
After the NATO airstrikes, a JuD protest to mourn the Pakistani soldiers killed turned quickly into a protest against improved trade ties with India. While the government may yet be able to push ahead with its India agenda – albeit on a very tight military leash – the signs are not looking good.
Progress in relations with India had become – quite unexpectedly – one of the few release valves left to ease off the pressures building up within Pakistan. On its western border, the United States and its allies are pushing ahead with an agenda in Afghanistan which has already integrated the possibility there will be no early peace settlement with Afghan insurgents - an idea long sought by Pakistan. And while Pakistan won some initial sympathy from foreign governments over the NATO airstrikes, its decision to boycott next week’s international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, will - at least symbolically – highlight its isolation. It is beginning to look like a country turning in on itself in dangerous ways.
We have always known there was a risk that Pakistan could become to Afghanistan what Cambodia was to Vietnam - a country horribly destabilised by an American war spilling across its borders. We are not there yet. Perhaps those who say all will be well when the United States leaves the region will prove right – American influence for decades has tended to be toxic to Pakistan.
But pay attention to the domestic political discourse. There is no point in winning the battle in Afghanistan and losing the war in Pakistan.
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Greeks smashing windows and setting fire to shops and banks in a fury of opposition to yet more austerity is gripping. But it is hardly unique. A few years ago there were similar scenes for weeks after police shot a 15-year old schoolboy. And back when I lived there, U.S. President Bill Clinton was treated to a similar welcome — mainly because of his military assault on Serbia (a fellow Christian Orthodox nation) during the Kosovo conflict.
There are doubtless degrees. The latest level of destruction was the worst since widespread riots in 2008 — and austerity being imposed on Greeks is very painful. But it is worth noting that there are two underlying elements than make such uprisings more common in Greece than elsewhere.
The first is a division in Greek society that goes back to at least the end of the second world war. The civil war that followed the end of the German occupation was brutal and split the country between those wanting western free market democracy and those favouring Soviet-style communism. This carried though into the 1967-74 junta.
The second element is the role of outsiders on Greek history. The Civil War brought in western intervention and the junta got U.S. support — to the deep-seated bitterness of those on the other side. Going back further — and Greeks have long historic memories — there are Persians, crusaders, Nazi Germans and the particularly hated Ottomans trying to make Greeks be something other than Greek. Here is a feature on it.
Add to that mix the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank, the Brussels-based European Commission, derisive artilces in British and German tabloids and a drumbeat of tough talk from Berlin.
This is what happens when Greeks get their backs up about foreigners telling them what to do.
Greece’s creditors have essentially let it off the hook by overwhelmingly agreeing to take a 74 percent loss. So what better time to remember one of the first times Athens got in trouble with paying its debts.
In 490 BC, the bucolic plains before the town of Marathon were the site of a bloodbath. Invading Persians lost a key battle against Greeks, who were led by the great Athenian warrior Kallimachos, aka Callimachus.
The trouble is, Kallimachos shares some of the difficulty with numbers that modern Greek leaders appear to have. Before launching himself upon the Persians, he pledged to sacrifice a young goat to the Gods for every enemy that was killed.
His troops slaughtered some 6,400 invaders. Unfortunately the Athenians didn’t have that many young goats. So they had to spread the repayment and legend has it that it took them a century to honour the pledge.
Apparently, Zeus and the other Gods had not heard of the Institute of International Finance and were unwilling to take a 74 percent cut in goats.
By Cosmas Butunyi
The dust is finally settling on the storm that was kicked off in South Africa by a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.
The country that boasts one of the most liberal constitutions in the world and the only one on the African continent with a constitutional provision that protects and defends the rights of gays and lesbians , had its values put up to the test after an artist ruffled feathers by a painting that questioned the moral values of the ruling African National Congress .
For weeks, the storm ignited by the painting called ‘The Spear’, raged on, sucking in Goodman Gallery that displayed it and City Press, a weekly newspaper that had published it on its website. The matter eventually found its way into the corridors of justice, where the ruling ANC sought redress against the two institutions. The party also mobilised its supporters to stage protests outside the courtroom when the case it filed came up for hearing. They also matched to the gallery and called for a boycott of City Press , regarded as one of the country’s most authoritative newspapers.
The controversy has cooled down now that the newspaper has removed the artwork from its website, the gallery pulled it down after it was defaced. The ANC has withdrawn its lawsuit.
“We say No to abuse of artistic expression”, a placard screamed during one of the protests called by the ANC outside a court in Johannesburg after a case the ruling party had filed came up for hearing.
In other parts of Africa novelists such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, playwright Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, and poet Jack Mapanje of Malawi have been locked up in the past for their critical writings.
Where does much of Africa stand when it comes to artists challenging the ethos by which much of the continent is guided?. What role should art play in African society? Can art be used in modern Africa to correct ills of society?. What of African playwrights and novelists who have been thrown behind bars for too much scrutiny of national governments.
It took author Gretchen Peters two years working with a team of researchers to compile a detailed report on the Haqqani network. Published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, it is a comprehensive study of the Haqqani’s business interests in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gulf, defining them as much as a criminal mafia as an Afghan militant group. It took me an hour to read it through. Yet when I tweeted a link to the report with the suggestion those with strong views on drones should read it – the Haqqanis’ base in North Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal areas has been the primary target of U.S. drone strikes – the answers came within minutes. “I assume u probably never met a minor or a woman who lost the head of the family in drone attack as ‘colateral dmg,” said the first response.
It is symptomatic of the debate on drones that it is so often reduced to this; the civilian casualty becomes a cipher for opposition to U.S. drone strikes, discussed in isolation from the men the missiles were intended to hit. In Pakistan, outrage is selective; someone killed by a U.S. drone strike is ascribed more value than someone killed by militants or by the Pakistan army, as though human life can be valued not according to the identity of the person who died, but by who pulled the trigger. The debate in the west is not much better; much of it is about what the ethics of drone strikes mean for the United States with little reference to people on the ground; the greatest anxiety is reserved for the use of drones against U.S. citizens abroad.
The report on the Haqqani network provides an opportunity to escape the narrowness of the drones debate – which has become repetitive, polarising and politicised – and reframe it in terms of what to do about an organisation which is seen by Washington as the most dangerous group operating in Afghanistan, and which also exercises a powerful and corrosive influence within Pakistan. The report does not set out to assess drone strikes. Its details, like everything else about Pakistan, will be contested and different conclusions drawn from the same material. But it does raise serious questions about the arguments made by those who say – and this now includes the Pakistani government – that ending drone strikes will improve the situation.
For a start, the report offers a powerful counter-argument to the conventional anti-drones narrative that these encourage militancy in the tribal areas and that if only they were halted and peace talks held, a political solution might be found. It describes the Haqqanis as “war profiteers” who have a strong financial interest in the continuation of conflict, since this creates the conditions which allow them to run criminal activities from extortion to kidnapping to drug trafficking to money laundering, alongside legal activities in business sectors, including import-export, transport, real estate and construction in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf and beyond.
Far from being the wayward tribals popularly conceived of as the targets of drone strikes, or indeed even ideologically driven fighters, “the broad range of business activities in which the Haqqanis engage suggests that the pursuit of wealth and power may be just as important to network leaders as the Islamist and nationalistic ideals for which the Haqqanis claim to fight.” Indeed – in an ironic echo of accusations often thrown at Pakistani government – the report describes them as the “conflict elite”, driven by self-interest and greed. They would have little incentive to support a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan or in FATA; but rather a clear financial stake in disrupting any moves towards peace.
The report is firm in its conclusion that while the Haqqanis operate in Afghanistan, their base is securely in Pakistan – an assertion sometimes challenged by Pakistani officials. And these bases are not, as again sometimes popularly imagined, in rugged mountain training camps, but in comfortable houses both in the main town in North Waziristan and in mainland Pakistan. “The network’s rear organisational base is located in Miran Shah, in the North Waziristan Agency of the FATA. Most key decisions—whether military, strategic or financial—are made from family compounds and other training bases in North Waziristan and Haqqani safe houses deep inside Pakistani territory.” The bulk of its logistical supplies, it says, come from Pakistan; it operates across the country, not just in the tribal areas, command and control of its financial operations are in Pakistan.
The idea of the Haqqanis having safe houses inside mainland Pakistan has been discussed anecdotally for years. The New York Times last month quoted a western diplomat as saying “he had seen credible reports that the group’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, dined openly in a (Islamabad) city centre restaurant this year.”
But the comprehensive collation of their activities in the report shows the scale of the challenge in uprooting an organisation which retains close links to al Qaeda and thrives on Pakistan’s extensive black economy. A comparison in the report to the Sicilian mafia, which emerged in a weak Italian state in the 19th century, does not bode well given how deeply the mafia penetrated mainland Italian politics. In a perfect world, Pakistan would become a clean, documented and legal economy which squeezed the space for groups like the Haqqanis and others to operate; and where their leaders could be arrested and given a fair trial rather than being targetted by drones. We know that is not going to happen any time soon.
So what can be done? The report is relatively measured in the extent to which it argues the Haqqani network enjoys the support of the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency -the main bone of contention between Pakistan and the United States. It says it is “unlikely the Haqqanis would survive if the Pakistani state turned against them”, and describes collusion ranging from tacit approval to the direct involvement of former ISI officials to allowing members of the group to travel to the Gulf via Pakistani airports for fund-raising activities.
“However, the relationship between the Haqqanis and the ISI is complex and often fraught with more tension than outsiders imagine,” it says. No longer reliant on the ISI for funding, it does not take direct orders, though the two might cooperate when it suited, the report says. Specifically, it acknowledges the Pakistan military’s own options for tackling the Haqqanis are limited – an argument often made by security officials who say if they take on all militant groups at once they will face a severe backlash in Pakistani cities. The Haqqanis have yet to target Pakistan itself – one of the many reasons why it is left alone – but the report recognises that could change.
“There are signs that the relationship is deteriorating, however. Pakistani authorities routinely arrest Haqqani network leaders and limit their capacity to operate, two issues which infuriate the Haqqani leadership. The Haqqanis, meanwhile, openly collaborate with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), a group that has repeatedly targeted ISI and Pakistan military installations, killing dozens of intelligence officers and military personnel. Some analysts even predict that a withdrawal of U.S. forces could prompt the Haqqanis to turn their guns on Islamabad.”
So far, U.S. drone strikes appear to be keeping the Haqqanis under pressure, making it harder for the group – limited to a small number at the top – to travel, operate and communicate. Efforts to squeeze the Haqqanis’ business interests would complement this; but given the difficulty of the task, would not alone be a substitute. “The small and centralized nature of the decision-making process and fund distribution network could be a major vulnerability for the Haqqanis, suggesting the possibility that the killing or capture of key senior figures, in particular those who handle financial matters and supplies, might significantly degrade overall network capacity.”
So the question is really not whether drone strikes are right or wrong; or indeed in the interminable debates of exactly how many civilian casualties they cause (without free access to FATA we don’t know for sure; we know only that they have the precision capability to cause fewer casualties than other weapons), but what are opponents of drones offering as an alternative?
Bringing the rule of law to FATA, working on peace negotiations in Afghanistan, and squeezing Haqqani finances in Pakistan and the Gulf should all help. The huge sums of foreign money pumped into the region to fund the war will begin to dry up as U.S. troops withdraw, reducing earnings for those like the Haqqanis who profit from a war economy. But – at least on the basis of this report – none of this will be enough.
The military alternative which has been floated by Pakistan – replacing U.S. drones with air strikes by Pakistani F-16s – would seem even worse – increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties and of a backlash against Pakistani cities (the best that can be said for this alternative is that it would allow Pakistanis to take ownership of the war and reduce anti-Americanism; a debateable point which deserves to be discussed separately).
And those who think the Haqqanis might be coaxed into peace talks if only we end drone strikes and ask nicely enough might want to consider what they do to their enemies. In one particularly grisly incident, the report says, a Haqqani death squad wreaked revenge on two men accused of helping U.S. forces capture one of their leaders in Afghanistan. “When their bodies were found, one victim had been disembowelled; both had been crushed by boulders, had scalding iron rods shoved through their legs, and shot through the head.”
(Reuters file photo)