2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


The Two-State Solution in Israel/Palestine is as Dead as Burhanuddin Rabbani

History News Network, George Mason University (September 26-October 3, 2011)

All eyes were focused on the game of brinkmanship over the Palestinians’ bid for full United Nations membership when Afghanistan’s ethnic Tajik leader and ex-president Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated in Kabul on Monday (September 20). Rabbani’s murder has to do with past rivalries, as well as the future, of Afghanistan and is significant, as is the battle for Palestinian statehood. The stakes are high in each case. What will transpire seems uncertain at this stage.

I am not convinced that the Palestinian bid is necessarily doomed in the face of the United States veto, whenever the Security Council decides to vote, and Israel’s brute military force against the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. The Palestinian move does not alter the reality on the ground for now, but has the potential to transform international diplomacy, isolating the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. A vote in the United Nations General Assembly could then upgrade Palestine to be a “UN non-member state,” putting it alongside the Vatican, Kosovo and Taiwan. It would be short of full statehood, but a significant push.

Freedom from occupation comes after a long struggle and great sacrifices. It has been the case in the past and it is certainly the case with the Palestinians. I am old enough to remember apartheid in South Africa and how that system created a messy network of affluent white communities living off the labor of blacks of Bantustans, existing at the mercy of the Afrikaner regime. The power of anti-apartheid campaigners inside South Africa was no match compared to the power of the rulers.

The virtue of their cause gave them inner strength. Their plight transformed the world opinion slowly but decidedly. Today, the U.S. administration brandishes its veto because Israel’s military power is not enough. What is blindingly obvious to much of the rest of the world is the cruelty and injustice of the system of expanding illegal Jewish settlements and shrinking Palestinian towns and villages, separated by the wall. It stands as a monument of colonization and wrong. Attempts to create a social order of this nature often fail, and at a great cost.

For now, though, in the midst of an economic crisis, the issue of Palestine is the last thing President Obama wants to deal with, for it threatens his reelection in 2012. Obama’s remarks before an audience representing 193 member-states, overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian bid, in the General Assembly marked a dark, shameful day for the United Nations and the United States.

Uri Avnery, founder of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom and ex Knesset member, reacted by saying, “Almost every statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a lie.” Avnery described Obama at his best, and at his worst. The anger on the Palestinian side was profound.

While the demand for a “two-state solution” is under the spotlight, there is another side to the debate that is even more nightmarish for Israel’s hardline Jews and their friends. It is the idea of a single democratic state with Jews, Palestinians and Christians, all living as equal citizens of the same state. It may look farfetched now. However, as illegal Jewish settlements continue to squeeze the Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza, and an independent Palestinian state becomes less and less viable, the idea of a single Israel-Palestine gains credence.

The Palestinian leadership of Fatah and Hamas must be aware of the prospect. For the more diehard, committed to the idea of an Islamic or Jewish state, it may be beyond contemplation. But for liberal Jews and Palestinians, and others outside, it is not such a fantastic idea.

Imagine the unthinkable. Four million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza with nearly eight million citizens of present-day Israel, including six million Jews, the rest Arab Israelis and others, all enjoying equal rights under the same constitution. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a long, destructive history behind and similarly a difficult road ahead. However, it is beginning to point to a destination, still distant, not quite certain, and unpalatable for the Israeli ruling elite and those in friendly capitals.

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul temporarily overshadowed the Palestinian debate in New York. Much has been made in the western press about the setback the assassination has delivered, because it is said that Rabbani was the chairman of the Afghan Peace Council, an appointment by President Hamid Karzai. In truth, the reasons behind Rabbani’s murder have much more to do with the Cold War and Afghanistan’s ethnic and political rivalries that go fifty years back – rivalries that I discuss in my book, Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism (Potomac, 2011).

Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik from the north, was a founder of the Islamist party, Jamiat-e-Islami, and a theology lecturer at Kabul University in the 1960s. His bitter rival was Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, a Pashtun student in the faculty of engineering, and a leading figure in the Pashtun fundamentalist group, Hizb-i-Islami, which later split. Both were violently opposed to Afghanistan’s secular ruling elite.

Their hatred for each other was to continue through the 1980s when both fought the Soviet occupation forces with the CIA’s help. Their rivalry grew more intense as Hikmatyar became Pakistan’s favorite, receiving the largest amount of Western weaponry and money from Saudi Arabia, channeled through the ISI of Pakistan.

When the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989 and the last Afghan communist leader Najibullah was ousted three years later, open warfare broke out between Hikmatyar’s and Rabbani’s forces. Rabbani was president of Afghanistan during the years of factional war between 1992 and 1996. Then the Taliban, successors of the Mujahideen, pushed Rabbani’s forces out of the capital, Kabul. Thereafter, he was president only in name until the Taliban were ousted following the September 11, 2001 attacks on America.

Today, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar is close to the Taliban, fighting the U.S.-led foreign troops in Afghanistan. Rabbani was living in a heavily guarded mansion in Kabul, supposedly assisting President Karzai in achieving reconciliation with the Taliban. However, the process under Rabbani’s chairmanship was a nonstarter from the beginning. It ended in his assassination by a suicide bomber who had supposedly gone to visit him for talks.

Two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Rabbani’s military chief Ahmad Shah Massoud was murdered by al Qaeda suicide bombers posing as journalists. The writing had been on the wall ever since for Burhanuddin Rabbani. The prospects of a controversial Tajik figure like Rabbani succeeding in negotiations with the Taliban were always remote. His assassination is like oil in the fires long raging between Afghanistan’s biggest two ethnic groups.


On US policy in the Middle East

A conversation with Kourosh Ziabari, Veterans Today, June 6, 2011

Kourosh Ziabari: Do you consider the chained, continuous revolutions in the Arab world a result of pan-Arabist, nationalistic sentiments of the peoples of region who rose up? Well, the dictatorial regimes of the region have been ruling for so many decades, but the people in these countries revolted against them quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Has the economic factor been the main contributor to the emergence of Middle East revolutions? Was it all about paying a tribute to Mohamed Bouazizi that turned violent and became a set of revolutions?

Deepak Tripathi: You have raised an important question. The answer is somewhat complex. Of course, from Libya to Bahrain there are similarities on the surface: repressive regimes, closed societies, ruling cliques imposing their will on the masses. Then there is the Orientalist syndrome in the West that Edward Said depicted so brilliantly in his book “Orientalism.” It is the tendency to lump all Muslims and other people in the East into one basket, and seeing them as exotic, but inferior, people who must be educated in western ways, and exploited. This is where lies the basic mistake, and it has proved disastrous.

The recent uprisings across the Arab world display two different currents. The bigger picture is that of people rising against pro-United States dictators, in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain. On the other hand, we see Libya and Syria, which are not pro-US. Many in the populations of these countries are fed up and can take no more. They want to breath fresh air. Now, in an ideal world the people of each country should be allowed to choose their own destiny without outside interference, but that is not the case in the real world. Western interference is a major cause of resentment in many countries in the region.

Having said this, I believe each popular uprising has its roots in local conditions and causes. In Egypt, it was a people’s revolution, of men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian. They succeeded in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak and his party, but the future is by no means certain; the United States, with allies, continues its interference. America has considerable power because of the huge aid it gives to the Egyptian military every year. So we will have to see what transpires in Egypt. Tunisia, which started all this, is the same – how do long-oppressed people ensure that the system changes to their liking, not just a few faces? In other places, too, things are far from certain. In Bahrain, where the pro-US Sunni ruling family, representing one-third of the population at most, is engaged in the brutal suppression of Shi‘a majority – nearly two-thirds of the population. In Bahrain, it is oil that drives Western policy of support for the ruling family; in Libya, too, oil drives policy, but there Britain, France and Italy, and to lesser extent the Obama administration in the United States, are supporting the anti-Gaddafi forces, because Gaddafi is too independent, too unpredictable. InSyria, oil is not a factor – perhaps one of the reasons why the Western response has so far been limited to condemnations and warnings. And the Yemeni president is America’s surrogate; Yemen is vital for the security of Saudi Arabia, America’s strongest ally after Israel and the most reliable oil supplier.

The last part of your question concerns the Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, street vendor who set himself on fire after being harassed by corrupt police. Bouazizi certainly touched million and millions of people right across the region, because they could easily identify with his harassment and humiliation.

KZ: As you may admit, Bahrain has one of the blackest human rights records in the Persian Gulf region. Its longstanding tradition of suppressing the Shiites, persecuting the bloggers and journalists, incarcerating and torturing the political activists attest to the fact that despite being a close ally of the United States, Bahrain is not a democratic country based on American-championed values. Why does the United States support such a repressive regime? Does the United States consider Bahrain a proxy to confront the hegemony of Iran in the region?

DT: Countering Iran is certainly the major factor behind US support for Bahrain, and explains the muted references from Washington to the brutality of Bahraini security forces – and let’s not forget many are foreign soldiers – and more recently Saudi forces who have entered the Emirate. The tactics used against peaceful demonstrators in Bahrainin recent weeks and months are some of the worst kind. How many countries are there in which hospitals are raided by security police and doctors treating wounded people are threatened?

As you know, Bahrain is a member of the Gulf cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia, and is there to prevent Iranian and Shiite influence spreading in the region. Bahrainis also the base of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is so important for America’s strategy in the Gulf and the Middle East at large.

KZ: Do you agree with a military intervention in Libya? We already know that the Gaddafi regime, before the authorization of no-fly zone over Libya by the Security Council, had massacred scores of unarmed and innocent civilians in air-strikes on different cities of the country. Is a NATO-led military expedition necessary to preclude the killing of civilians? What’s your prediction for the future of the civil war which is taking place in Libya?

DT: The Gaddafi regime, no doubt, has been repressive over the last forty years, and I am very critical of its human rights record. It is Britain, France, Italy and the United States that have been swinging like a large pendulum: vehemently opposed to Gaddafi for decades, then friends with Gaddafi, and now enemies again.

I have several misgivings about the NATO military operation inLibya. My first and most serious objection is that NATO has gone far beyond the remit approved in the UN Security Council 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures” to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, excluding foreign occupation forces on any part of the territory of Libya. Legal scholars have pointed out that “all necessary measures” means starting with peaceful means to resolve what seems to be a tribal civil war between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In this respect, Libya is quite different from Egypt, where tens of millions of people from all sections of society rebelled against the Mubarak regime. Second, NATO military planes are now hitting government targets far from opposition-controlled areas. Tripoli and Gaddafi’s own compound have been bombed. This was not envisaged in the Security Council Resolution 1973. Regime change was not part of it. I think these are serious violations of the UN authorization. Third, NATO aircraft are now operating as if they were the air force of the anti-Gaddafi forces; British, French and Italian ‘military advisers’ have been deployed in Libya; and there is talk of sending troops. This is taking sides, and goes beyond protecting civilians. Worst of all, we now have confirmed reports that NATO planes are bombing and killing people on their own side, the anti-Gaddafi side; collateral damage in Western euphemism. Fourth, and this is very serious, the West is being highly selective in picking on an oil-rich country for military action, while its friends, Bahrain and Yemen, willfully repress their populations. I fear we will see a long war in Libya.

KZ: Many political commentators believe that whoever assumes power in Egypt following the establishment of new constitution and formation of new government will be less friendly to Israel than the regime of Hosni Mubarak was. The same analysts believe that the new government in Egypt will be necessarily less hostile to Iran compared with the Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Do you agree with them? What’s your take on that?

DT: The climate in the Middle East has undergone a dramatic change following the Egyptian Revolution. Its effects go far beyond Egypt’s borders, and these effects will be long term. The people of Egypt and beyond yearn for democracy, human rights and dignity, but they are not going to be blind supporters of American policy. There will be all kinds of pressures, warnings, threats against the Egyptian military from the West that would like to indirectly control the peoples of the region. I hope that the military does not give in to these American-Israeli tactics. I believe that the ‘new Egypt’ – if it is allowed to choose its future path – will lead to a new climate that will mean better relations with Iran, Palestinians, and will be a force for good overall.

KZ: Answering to a question regarding the recent air-strikes on Libya, the White House spokesman Jay Carney said that it is not a U.S. policy to bring about regime change in Libya. It’s already clear to the international community that Gaddafi is a merciless terrorist. He massacred more than 6,500 citizens during the first three weeks of civil war in Libya. Why don’t the United States and its allies want to take action to change the regime of Gaddafi while they did the same with regards to Iraq and Afghanistan in a situation that they didn’t have any compelling excuse to do so? Is it all about American and European interests in Libya’s oil sector which is guaranteed by the Gaddafi regime?

DT: I have elaborated on the lack of consistency in Western policy, and the real factors behind Western and allied actions showing blatant disregard for universal human rights. Their actions amount to double standards wherever it suits them. They are not about democracy and human rights at all. Look at the reign of terror and torture under the ‘war on terror’ that President George W Bush waged, and that President Obama continues in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.

KZ:Saudi Arabia was among the Arab countries which was somewhat encompassed by the wave of 2010-2011 protests of the Middle East and North Africa; however, it seems that strangulation and oppression, implicitly endorsed by the United States, is so intense that the people don’t have enough backbone and courage to rise up against the government and demand fundamental changes and reformations in the political structure of their country. Will the United States, as the most strategic partner of Saudi Arabia, allow the implementation of sociopolitical reforms in the structure the Saudi government? Will the sporadic movements of the Saudi people bear fruit?

DT: Saudi Arabia is a closed society, in many ways that theSoviet Union was before 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. It took just six years for the Soviet state to collapse after the USSR began to open up. Communication and free movement are very difficult, if not impossible for the ordinary citizen, in such societies; and news of unrest does not readily reach the world. We know that Saudi citizens nevertheless do find ways to express their opposition, but they are crushed with brute force. Remember, Saudi Arabia’s security forces are among the best equipped in the Middle East, supplied by the Americans. They use these means to coerce their population. Despite all this, social discontent simmers under the surface. Failure to open up Saudi society and give the people their basic rights could have serious consequences.

KZ: Do you agree with the idea that the Middle East revolutions, specially the popular uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt, will be of Iran’s interests? Does the destabilization of U.S.-backed Arab regimes in the region empower Iran politically, strategically?

DT: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to which I subscribe, a revolution in the political context is “forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” Uprising is an “act of resistance or rebellion” to achieve that end. It is important not to confuse the meaning of the two terms. In the late twentieth century, what happened in 1979 in Iran was a revolution; and between 1989 and 1991 there were revolutions in what was then the Soviet bloc. In the new century in recent months, Egypth as had a revolution, in the sense that a dictator and his ruling party that had a monopoly over power, have fallen. What replaces it is not certain yet. We will have to see until after the elections at least.

Bahrain,Yemen, Jordan, Syria, perhaps Libya, are all experiencing rebellions of one kind or another. How it all ends in each case – we will have to wait and see. As of now, the ruling structures in these countries are shaking; they may be collapsing; but they are still there. Equally important, what impact does it all have on the Palestinian struggle will have to be seen.

In the wider geopolitical context, these events do indicate that the United States is losing its grip over the region. In fact, America had been losing its grip for some years. It is just that the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and America’s militaristic foreign policy may have given the opposite appearance to those who fail to look beyond the immediate.

If the people of each country can decide how their country should be run, it would be a good thing. I find the idea that a big power far and away can dictate to others anywhere most objectionable. And I don’t see the events in West Asia as a victory for one country or another. The tide of history is going in its own inevitable direction, popular movements are making huge waves and contributing to that tide of history. The final outcome is not yet certain, so the struggle will need to go on.

KZ: What will be the implications of the Middle East revolutions for the Israeli regime? Will Israel suffer from the change of government in Egypt and the fundamental political reforms which are going to happen in Jordan?

DT: I have alluded to these matters in my previous replies. I will summarize my answer here.  What is happening in the Middle East at present is going to limit Israel’s scope for arbitrary conduct. The overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypth as been a huge setback to Israel, because frankly Mubarak was acting like an American and Israeli surrogate to continue the occupation of Palestinian territories, and in the broader interests of Western policy in the Middle East. In Jordan, as elsewhere, change looks inevitable, though I hesitate to predict what form it will take. I think it is never a good idea to underestimate the big players’ capacity for manipulation and deceit. In a sense, the West learned the lesson very quickly in Egypt, where it was slow to act during the anti-Mubarak protests. Eventually it dumped Mubarak when it realized he was a too big a liability to carry, and then picked Libya and Syria to reestablish its pro-democracy credentials. The West, in the guise of NATO, has switched to a pro-democracy posture by siding with the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya and with the opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But that makes Western policy in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemeneven more inconsistent, if not hypocritical.


The Bush Legacy – Washington Post

From The Washington Post Tomorrow’s Titles Today

Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Deepak Tripathi (Potomac, $24.95)
A former BBC correspondent (he opened the network’s Kabul office in the early 1990s), Tripathi has a sound grounding in the politics and myriad cultures that make up the Middle East, not to mention a stellar reputation as a fair-minded journalist. This book, though, is not for the conservative, Bush-ie camp (the title may have given that away already). It takes a thoughtful look at the legacy of two increasingly unpopular wars, focusing especially on the human toll. His thesis, which is arguable — and many will argue — is that the cost in terms of human lives lost and the enmity the aggression has sowed in the region will reverberate for generations to come, and perhaps could have been avoided if different choices were made. Whatever your leanings on this subject, one of Tripathi’s statements that seems irrefutable is that these wars will forever be linked with the name of our 43rd president, George W. Bush. For better or worse.

By Christopher Schoppa  |  March 17

Gmail Under Attack

My Gmail account is under intermittent attack for the last two days. Someone has been sending rogue e-mail purporting to be coming from me, offering ‘discounted electronic goods’ or some such things. Google and the relevant authorities are aware of this and are taking steps. My apologies to readers. Inbound messages are still fine, but I am using another address for outbound communication. If you receive a rogue message, the best thing is to delete it immediately. Thank you very much for your patience.

Deepak Tripathi
17 October 2008