Archive for June, 2009

India’s right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party: searching a new subterfuge?

June 30, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, June 30, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

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Wasn’t there a playwright who penned Six Characters in Search of an Author?

Well, India has a “major” political party that seems forever in search of a programme.

It is called the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

But, hang on; unlike the famous play cited above, the BJP’s interminable project is, in fact, not to find the author/programme but to constantly hide the one and only it has.

That author of its unreal being is the RSS, the so-called cultural organization that was established by India’s right-wing, Brahmanism in 1924 in order to direct the anti-colonial freedom movement towards the formulation of a majoritarian Hindu Rashtra, in opposition to the secular and pluralist ideals of the then Congress-led national movement.

Staunch adherent to that time-tested instrument of social and every other oppression in India, the caste hierarchy or varna vyavastha,  three dominant principles have constituted its raison d’ etre:

–an unrelenting hegemony of the upper castes over Hindu thought and practice;

–an unrelenting crusade against the Muslims whom it regards as alien to the land, and chief enemies of India’s “cultural essence”;

–a close embrace with militarist imperialism and with the systemic economic underpinnings that make such militarism and imperialism possible and necessary.

Not till 1949 did this organization declare its allegiance to the Indian Tricolour as comprising the undisputed icon of the new nation, and then too under duress and as a quid pro quo to the Nehru government’s willingness to release from prison its big chief or sarsangchalak who had been locked up as a consequence of the banning of the RSS after the Gandhi murder in 1948.

Only then was the RSS literally coerced into framing its constitution and putting on record its allegiance to the flag.

The fact that it still remains unreconciled to the Indian Constitution was borne out when the Vajpayee-led NDA regime (1999-2004) constituted a Constitution Review Committee, designed to alter some of the basic features of the Republic.

Continued >>

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Iraqis rejoice as US troops leave Baghdad

June 30, 2009

The Raw Story, June 29, 2009

By Agence France-Presse

Iraq’s security forces were Monday on high alert in Baghdad as US troops finalised their withdrawal from the conflict-hit nation’s urban areas, an event to be marked by a massive party in the capital.

The US pullout, under a bilateral security accord signed last year, will be completed on Tuesday, which has been declared a national holiday.

In the wake of several massive bombings that have killed more than 200 people this month, soldiers and police were out in force in Baghdad.

All leave for security forces personnel has been cancelled in a reflection of the threat of attacks, and motorcycles, the favoured transport of several recent bombers, have been banned from the streets.

“Our expectation is that maybe some criminals will try to continue their attacks,” said Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, the interior ministry’s operations director and spokesman.

“That is why orders came from the highest level of the prime minister that our forces should be 100 percent on the ground until further notice.”

On Monday, the former defence ministry building in the capital, taken over in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion, was handed back to the Iraqi government.

“This marks the end of the rule of the multinational force,” said General Abboud Qambar, commander of Baghdad Operation Command, the central headquarters for the Iraqi security forces.

Festivities to mark “a day of national sovereignty” were to start at 6 pm (1500 GMT) in Zawra Park, the biggest in the capital, with singers and poets kicking off proceedings before music groups take to the stage.

From July 1, Iraq’s security forces will take sole charge of security in the country’s cities, towns and villages.

In the first reaction from Iraq’s dominant Shiite Muslim community, Sheikh Ali Bashir al-Najafi, one of the country’s four supreme religious leaders, said the US withdrawal was a significant sign of progress.

“It is a step we hope to follow up by other steps to achieve independence and stability of the country, and it is a real test of the efficiency of the security forces to shoulder their responsibilities,” he told AFP.

“Iraq will after this day be just like many other Arab countries where there is the presence of foreign troops organised according to agreements signed between the country and the government of those forces.”

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned earlier this month that insurgent groups and militias were likely to step up attacks in the run-up to the June 30 deadline in a bid to undermine confidence in Iraq’s own security forces.

There have been several large bombings since, the deadliest of which came in the northern city of Kirkuk on June 20, when a truck loaded with explosives was detonated, leaving 72 people dead and more than 200 wounded.

The toll from a bomb in a market five days ago in the Shiite district of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad was also bloody, killing at least 62 and wounding 150.

But Maliki and senior government officials have since insisted that Iraq’s 750,000 soldiers and police can defend the nation against attacks attributed to Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents and forces loyal to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Only a small number of US forces in training and advisory roles will remain in urban areas, with the bulk of American troops in Iraq, 131,000 according to Pentagon figures, quartered elsewhere.

The June 30 withdrawal is the prelude to a complete American pullout by the end of 2011.

Although the Iraqi police and army remain fledgling forces, they have in recent months steadily taken control of military bases, checkpoints and patrols that used to be manned by Americans.

Iraq has also set up a joint operations centre — the Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee, based at Baghdad airport — which must give its approval before a US unit can intervene.

The Status of Forces Agreement, which set the pullback deadline, says US commanders must seek permission from Iraqi authorities to conduct operations, but American troops retain a unilateral right to “legitimate self-defence”.

Amnesty asks India to end torture in Kashmir

June 30, 2009

Daily Times, June 29, 2009

ISLAMABAD: International human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has said the Indian government must take immediate steps to end torture and other human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK).

In a letter to Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, AI Asia Pacific Programme Director Sam Zarifi said AI continued to receive reports of torture and ill-treatment of individuals in custody in IHK. “I am writing to express AI’s concerns that torture and other cruel inhuman treatment or punishment are still inflicted widely throughout India,” Zarifi said, asking India to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. app

The Elephant in the Room: Israel’s Nuclear Weapons

June 30, 2009

by David Morrison | The  Electronic Intifada, June 30, 2009

At a White House press conference on 18 May 2009, US President Barack Obama expressed “deepening concern” about “the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran.” He continued:

“Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

By his side was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the room with them, there was an elephant, a large and formidably destructive elephant, which they and the assembled press pretended not to see.

Continued >>

Israel permits new settlement homes

June 30, 2009
Al Jazeera, June 30, 2009

Israel has approved 50 new settlement units in the West Bank and plans to build 1,400 more [AFP]

Israel has approved the construction of 50 new homes in a West Bank settlement and announced plans to expropriate more Palestinian land.

The move comes just hours before Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, visits the US in a bid to defuse tensions over Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The land grab and new permits come despite a demand from Barack Obama, the US president, for a complete freeze to all Israeli settlement activity, and could exacerbate a rare public spat between the allies.

Continued >>

Victims of Israel’s Gaza invasion give evidence to UN mission

June 29, 2009

By Donald Macintyre in Gaza City | The Independent/UK,  June 29, 2009

Harrowing testimony by bereaved victims of Israel’s military onslaught on Gaza was heard yesterday in the first public session in Gaza City of a UN factfinding mission led by a prominent South African judge.

Israel has refused to co-operate with the enquiry, and Judge Richard Goldstone’s team was obliged to enter Gaza through the Egyptian border post in Rafah. It had also hoped to travel to southern Israel to hear testimony from Israeli victims of rocket attacks from Gaza but says it will now do so in Geneva next month. Israeli witnesses may be flown to Geneva to give evidence at UN expense as the team is barred from Israel.

Judge Goldstone, a Jew and an eminent lawyer on the board of Human Rights Watch, is also a former governor of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He said: “The purpose of the public hearings in Gaza and Geneva is to show the faces and broadcast the voices of victims – all of the victims.”

He told witnesses at the start of the hearing that the judges knew “it is not easy, and how painful it is” to tell their stories.

Moteeh Silawi, an imam from Jablaya, graphically described leading his blind father, aged 91, across scattered body parts after 17 worshippers were killed by flying shrapnel from an explosion just outside its door during evening prayers on 3 January. Mr Silawi, who lost three brothers and two nephews, including a four year old, said: “I saw bloodshed in the mosque. Can you imagine such a shock? I never thought it would be possible [for] a house of God, a house of worship, to be targeted by missiles.”

The team heard evidence from the Deeb family which lost 11 of its members, including five children, in the same series of mortar rounds that killed up to 40 people on 6 January near al-Fakhoura UN School in Jabalya, which was being used as a shelter. They also heard from Wael Samouni who survived an attack that killed 29 of his extended family on 5 January after they had taken shelter in his warehouse in Zeitoun.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to blame over Iraq war, says Army report

June 29, 2009

By Rupert Hamer | The Mirror/UK, June 28, 2009

Tony Blair visits gaza (pic: Getty)

A secret report by Army bosses to be presented to the Iraq war inquiry blames Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for the botched occupation of the country.

The dossier – prepared for ex-military chief General Sir Mike Jackson – criticises then Chancellor Mr Brown for withholding funds to rebuild Basra for FIVE months after our troops went in. And the 100-page document attacks Mr Blair for “uncritically” accepting flawed US plans for the March 2003 invasion, which led to tens of thousands of deaths, including those of 179 British troops.

The report – Stability Operations in Iraq – will not be officially made public because the inquiry’s head, Sir John Chilcot, ruled all documents will remain secret.

But the contents have been leaked to the Sunday Mirror.

We can reveal that a lack of cash for the operation meant British troops sent to fight in Iraq:

Used mobile phones to communicate in combat because radios did not work.

Were forced to leave wounded soldiers on the battlefield for an average of two-and-half hours before getting them to a field hospital.

Needed more “spy in the sky” aircraft to track rebel fighters.

Lacked machine guns, night- vision equipment and grenade launchers when protecting supply convoys.

Were in danger of breaching the Geneva Convention by having so few resources. The convention says occupiers must provide vital services such as humanitarian aid and water.

In a broadside at the then PM Mr Blair, the report says the battle for the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis was lost because of a lack of planning and the five-month delay in starting to rebuild their country.

It says: “The failures to plan… seriously hindered Coalition chances of stabilising post-Saddam Iraq. The lack of improvements to essential services and the standard of living together with disorder meant many locals who were ‘sitting on the fence’ were not persuaded to support the Coalition.”

It was only after riots in Basra in August 2003 that Mr Brown agreed to release £500million for reconstruction work, the report says.

And it contradicts six years of Government spin which claimed ordinary Iraqis backed the “liberation”, saying troops “found themselves fighting insurgents without clear support (from local people)”.

MOST DAMNING CONCLUSIONS:

Flawed US plans were rubberstamped by Blair

Brown blocked vital funding for five months

It took mass rioting in Basra to make him pay up

Chaos lost us the battle for Iraqi hearts & minds

Palestinians in Gaza struggle to survive: ICRC

June 29, 2009

Khaleej Times Online, June 29, 2009
(AFP)

GENEVA – Six months after the Israeli offensive and two years of a blockade the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are struggling to survive and sliding into despair, the Red Cross said Monday.

“The people living there find themselves unable to rebuild their lives and are sliding ever deeper into despair,” a new report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

The report said that seriously ill patients were not getting the treatment they needed and thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed during Israel’s 22-day military operation at the turn of the new year were still without shelter.

“The poorest residents in particular have exhausted their coping mechanisms and often have to sell off their belongings to be able to buy enough to eat,” said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza.

“Worst affected are the children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population,” he added.

Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza in June 2007 when the Islamist movement Hamas, which is pledged to the Jewish state’s destruction, took control of the Palestinian territory.

In late December last year, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza to stop Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel, which claimed 12 Israeli lives. Israeli air raids and tanks destroyed swathes of the coastal enclave and 1,400 Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian emergency services.

The ICRC report said in the wake of the Israeli offensive essential water and sanitation infrastructure remain largely insufficient and that the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools of basically untreated sewage is daily pumped into the Mediterranean Sea.

Some 4.5 billion dollars pledged by donor countries to rebuild Gaza is of little use if building supplies cannot get past the Israeli blockade, the ICRC said, calling for the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods.

“Israel has the right to protect its population against attacks,” said Grand. “But does that mean that 1.5 million people in Gaza do not have the right to live a normal life?”

The Geneva-based humanitarian organisation said Gaza urgently needed to import medical equipment and building supplies including cement and steel, and its farmers needed access to their land in the buffer zone and its fishermen should be allowed back into deeper waters.

The ICRC also called for political authorities and the armed groups in Gaza to take the necessary steps to help the civilians.

“Humanitarian action can be no substitute for the credible political steps that are needed to bring about the changes the population of Gaza needs,” the ICRC said.

Obama: the next FDR or the next Hoover?

June 29, 2009

It would be hard to imagine Barack Obama acting like FDR did at the height of the New Deal. But then again, Obama doesn’t face a mobilized and militant working class.

Socialist Worker, June 29, 2009

AS THE Obama administration has settled into Washington, some of its most ardent supporters have become unsettled with its failure to seize the opportunity to push through a bold agenda for reform.

Columnist: Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History, a socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays by leading solidarity activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review.

Perhaps the most cutting commentary so far was Kevin Baker’s article, titled “Barack Hoover Obama: The Best and Brightest Blow It Again,” which appeared in the July issue of the liberal magazine Harper’s. Noting that many writers have compared Obama’s arrival in the White House at a time of economic crisis with Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration in 1933, Baker turns the historical analogy on its head.

Continued >>

Obama must call off this folly before Afghanistan becomes his Vietnam

June 28, 2009

Senseless slaughter and anti-western hysteria are all America and Britain’s billions have paid for in a counterproductive war

Simon Jenkins | guardian.co.uk, Thursday 28 June 2009 22.00 BST

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to ­disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy’s noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of ­terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American ­collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed – and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to ever more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite ­evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to “train and equip” a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that “we are not winning” and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the “mistakes” of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

Last year’s denial of reinforcements to Helmand is an open secret. Ever since the then defence secretary, John Reid, issued his 2006 “London diktats”, described in a recent British Army Review as “casual, naive and a comprehensive failure”, intelligence warnings of Taliban strength have been ignored. The army proceeded with a policy of disrupting the opium trade, neglecting hearts and minds and using US air power against “blind” targets. All have proved potent weapons in the Taliban armoury.

Generals are entitled to plead for more resources and yet claim that ­victory is just round the corner, even when they know it is not. They must lead men into battle. A heavier guilt lies with liberal apologists for this war on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to invent excuses for its failure and offer glib preconditions for victory.

A classic is a long editorial in ­Monday’s New York Times, congratulating Barack Obama on “sending more troops to the fight” but claiming that there were still not enough. In addition there were too many corrupt politicians, too many drugs, too many weapons in the wrong hands, too small a local army, too few police and not enough “trainers”. The place was damnably unlike Connecticut.

Strategy, declared the sages of Manhattan, should be “to confront the Taliban head on”, as if this had not been tried before. Afghanistan needed “a functioning army and national police that can hold back the insurgents”. The way to achieve victory was for the Pentagon, already spending a stupefying $60bn in Afghanistan, to spend a further $20bn – increasing the size of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 250,000. This was because ordinary Afghans “must begin to trust their own government”.

These lines might have been written in 1972 by General Westmoreland in his Saigon bunker. The New York Times has clearly never seen the Afghan army, or police, in action. Eight years of training costing $15bn have been near useless, when men simply decline to fight except to defend their homes. Any Afghan pundit will attest that training a Pashtun to fight a Pashtun is a waste of money, while training a Tajik to the same end is a waste of time. Since the Pentagon ­originally armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviets, this must be the first war where it has trained both sides.

Neither the Pentagon nor the British Ministry of Defence will win Afghanistan through firepower. The strategy of “hearts and minds plus” cannot be realistic, turning Afghanistan into a vast and indefinite barracks with hundreds of thousands of western soldiers sitting atop a colonial Babel of administrators and professionals. It will never be secure. It offers Afghanistan a promise only of relentless war, one that Afghans outside Kabul know that warlords, drug cartels and Taliban sympathisers are winning.

The 2001 policy of invading, ­capturing Osama bin Laden and ­ridding the region of terrorist bases has been tested to destruction and failed. ­Strategy is reduced to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of young western soldiers and thousands of Afghans. Troops are being sent out because Labour ministers lack the guts to admit that Blair’s bid to quell the Islamist menace by force of arms was crazy. They parrot the line that they are making “the streets of London safe”, but they know they are doing the opposite.

Vietnam destroyed two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, and ­destroyed the global confidence of a ­generation of young Americans. ­Afghanistan – ­obscenely dubbed the “good war” – could do the same. There will soon be 68,000 American troops in that country, making a mockery of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 tactic of hit and run, which at least had the virtue of coherence.

This is set fair to be a war of awful proportions, cockpit for the feared clash of civilisations. Each new foreign ­battalion taps more cash for the Taliban from the Gulf. Each new massacre from the air recruits more youths from the madrasas. The sheer counterproductivity of the war has been devastatingly analysed by David Kilcullen, adviser to Obama’s key general – David Petraeus – no less.

Obama is trapped by past policy ­mistakes as were Kennedy and Johnson, cheered by an offstage chorus crying, “if only” and “not enough” and “just one more surge”. He and Petraeus have to find a means and a language to ­disengage from Afghanistan, to allow the anti-western hysteria of the Muslim world – which the west has done so much to foster – now to cool. It is hard to imagine a greater tragedy than for the most exciting American president in a generation to be led by a senseless intervention into a repeat of America’s greatest postwar debacle.

As for British politicians, they seek a proxy for their negligence in Afghanistan by staging a show trial of their ­negligence in Iraq. Why do they fiddle while Helmand burns? Might they at least ask how they can spend £40bn a year on defence yet watch a mere 8,000 troops on their one active front having to be rescued by Americans?