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Where is the fountainhead of jihad?


REVIEWER: Dr Mohammad Taqi*

The general elections in Pakistan scheduled in ten days from now are easily the bloodiest in the country’s history. The secular parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan People’s Party have come under deadly attacks by the jihadists. But the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has literally unleashed a war on the liberal Pashtun Awami National Party, killing scores of its leaders and cadres. The TTP is supposedly the ‘bad’ Taliban, an arbitrary distinction applied by many, but most importantly, the Pakistani security establishment. The ostensibly ‘good’ Taliban are the groups not directly attacking the Pakistani interests and oriented towards Afghanistan and the US and allied forces stationed there.

The capacity of the TTP to strike at will and with ferocious impunity, with an abysmal response from the Pakistani state suggests that the outfit enjoys an ideological strategic depth within the country, where Punjab-based parties like the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and the religious parties across the board are reluctant to even condemn its terrorist activities. Perhaps more important is the logistical sanctuary that the TTP has maintained in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) courtesy the Jalaluddin Haqqani terrorist network (HQN) to train and plan for the operations elsewhere in Pakistan. The current work by Vahid Brown, a specialist in the history of Islamist militancy and author of Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in al-Qaeda and Don Rassler, of the South Asia research programme at the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at the US Military Academy, meticulously describes the identity and evolution of the HQN and how the jihadist-terrorist network came to enjoy de facto rule over large swathes of the Pakistani tribal territory of the NWA.

While the HQN has been previously been called the ‘veritable arm’ of the ISI, the authors state that the HQN “is an Afghan and Pakistani insurgent group whose senior leadership structure is hierarchical and mostly familial in nature.” Correctly assigning the HQN’s dual identity is key to the authors’ remarkable scholarship that approaches the network’s nexus position and role as a group that did not operate merely as a local sidekick to the Arab al Qaeda but as a major enabler of global terrorism and actually helped shape al Qaeda and provided it with operational support, logistics and battleground training. Brown and Rassler describe in fascinating detail the unique role the HQN has played “in the region due to its interpersonal relations, geographic position and strategic approach” spanning more than 30 years and that “part of the network’s power also stems from its close ties to Pakistan’s Army and its intelligence agencies, which have historically used the group as a proxy to exert influence in Afghanistan and to mediate disputes in Pakistan’s FATA.” The book details the ideological and logistic ties between the HQN and the TTP to the extent that Siraj Haqqani and Qari Hussain (killed in a drone strike in 2010) jointly ran the suicide bomber training camp at Shawal near Miranshah in NWA. The deep ties between the HQN and the TTP raise a question about Pakistan consistently dragging its feet to act against the former while fighting the latter.

The title of the book is actually the name of the magazine Manba al-Jihad, literally meaning the fountainhead of jihad, that the HQN published in Pashto and Arabic in the 1980s and 1990s, the 1000-page record of which along with the written communications by the group’s members and leaders, media productions by its studio (also called Manba’ al-Jihad) and the articles and correspondence by al Qaeda leaders and operatives forms the backbone of this painstaking research. The HQN-related primary sources archive thus assembled by the authors is a first and describes the HQN as a brand distinct from al Qaeda and the Taliban though overlapping and sharing with both at times. The authors write that from its bases in the Loya Paktia — Khost, Paktia, and Paktika — in Afghanistan and NWA in Pakistan “the network has provided a variety of state sponsors, private donors, and entrepreneur revolutionaries with a particularly valuable resource in the global economy of conflict: a platform for delivery of violence.” To understand the HQN’s rise to its preeminent position of power in the conflict economy the book ‘unpacks’ the three themes in its title, viz the fountainhead, jihad and nexus in extensive detail.

Part one of the book, including the introduction, is written by Vahid Brown and deals with the ‘Establishment and Historical Evolution of the Haqqani Nexus’ and its development up to September 11, 2001. The second part, including the conclusion is written by Don Rassler, and focuses on the network’s position in the post-9/11 world by analysing and explaining “through the lens of the group’s value proposition to its local, regional and global partners”, i.e. “the Taliban and other local insurgents, the Pakistani state and its ISI Directorate, and al Qaeda and the global jihadists”, respectively. As the 2014 US drawdown is approaching the book asks, “What is at issue is how the ISI is engaged in Afghanistan and the role it plays as an enabler of groups that operate with al Qaeda…(the support) being deployed against the Pakistan’s stated ally — the United States.” The authors point out that “Pakistan’s favoured Afghan proxy is also the very same actor that has served as al Qaeda’s primary local enabler”, and that “it is unlikely that Pakistan has not been aware of this.” An old picture of the HQN’s Zhawara base in the book shows an arrow pointing to the camp’s gates, which reads: “Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi-sabil-illah” (Faith, piety and war in Allah’s path). Interestingly, it is the same motto as the Pakistan Army’s and begs the question where exactly is the fountainhead of jihad?

In the last two months books by Vali Nasr, Barnett Rubin, Peter Bergen and Mark Mazetti have come out, which deal wholly or in part with Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is surprising that while these works, some of which carry rehashed and outdated materials, got a lot of attention, the monumental effort by Brown and Rassler — though sold out now at many outlets — has not yet drawn the analyst spotlight it rightfully deserves. The meticulously sourced and indexed material is exceedingly readable but given the wealth of data presented, a searchable electronic edition would be highly desirable.

The Fountainhead of Jihad, barring the perpetuation of certain stereotypes about the Pashtuns, is a tremendous compendium of information on local, regional and global dimensions and designs of the HQN known to date. The book has serious policy implications as 2014 approaches and the TTP’s war on Pakistan’s secular parties has intensified. While the authors have opted not to venture into policy prescriptions, any keen observer of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs cannot afford to miss the treasure trove of information on a shadowy HQN that operates, paradoxically, in broad daylight mostly out of its safe havens in NWA.
( *This review first appeared in Pakistan daily, Daily Times. It is republished here with the permission of the writer)

US launches new drone attacks on Pakistan

American predator drone over Pakistan

By Bill Van Auken

The Obama administration ordered new drone attacks on Pakistan over the weekend, killing at least a dozen people in the tribal area of South Waziristan.

Sunday’s strike involved two drones, which fired two missiles each into a home and a car in the Wana district of the northwestern Pakistan tribal region near the Afghan border. Ten people were killed, and another ten wounded.

The attack was mounted as men came to offer condolences to the family of an alleged commander of the Maulvi Nazir group, one of what differing accounts put at between two and four men killed less than 24 hours earlier in a Saturday drone strike.

The group, led by Nazir Ahmed, is considered by the Pakistani government as “good Taliban”, because it does not seek to overthrow the regime in Islamabad and has rarely opposed the presence of the Pakistani army in South Waziristan. It has united, however, with other Pashtun groups on both sides of the border to fight the US-led occupation of Afghanistan.

The attack on a group offering condolences is in line with previous strikes that have targeted funerals for drone attack victims, as well as rescuers attempting to dig dead and wounded from the rubble left by Hellfire missile strikes.

The Pakistani press reported that the missile strikes razed the house to the ground, and that local people rushed to aid the injured and recover the remains of the dead.

News accounts of both Saturday’s and Sunday’s strikes described all of the victims as “suspected militants”. However, they follow the publication last week of a lengthy article in the New York Times detailing how President Barack Obama selects victims for assassination strikes and personally approves many of the so-called “signature strikes”—those directed not at identified “suspects,” but rather at crowds considered to be engaged in “suspicious behavior”.

The article revealed that Obama had approved a CIA policy of classifying any combat-aged male slain in a drone strike as a “militant,” in the absence of definite evidence to the contrary. This method essentially legitimizes the killing of any adult male in the border regions targeted for drone attacks.

Sunday’s strike marked the seventh drone attack since the NATO summit in Chicago last month. They have included a May 24 strike on a mosque that slaughtered 10 people as they were worshipping. A May 26 attack killed at least four people in a bakery where alleged militants were buying bread.

Already strained relations between the US and Pakistan deteriorated further at the Chicago summit after the two sides failed to reach an agreement for reopening the supply routes linking the Pakistani port of Karachi to the Afghan border. The routes were closed last November in protest over US air strikes on two Pakistani check points on the Afghan border that claimed the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers. At the same time, the Pakistani government forced the shutdown of the clandestine Shamsi air base in Baluchistan used to support drone attacks, which had previously enjoyed Islamabad’s tacit approval.

The Pakistani supply routes were previously used to carry over 30 percent of the materiel for the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan and are seen as crucially important for the drawdown of US-NATO forces and their equipment that is supposed to take place over the next two and a half years.

Last month, the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution making a halt to the drone strikes a precondition for reopening of the supply routes and demanding that Washington apologize for the killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Obama administration has rejected both demands.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post published an article Saturday establishing that escalating US drone strikes in Yemen are targeting individuals not because they are considered to be any “imminent threat” to the United States—the supposed criteria for selecting targets for remote-control murder—but because they are engaged in an insurrection against the US-backed regime in Sana’a.

Entitled “US drone targets in Yemen raise questions”, the Post article points to the case of Kaid and Nabil al-Dhahab, two brothers who survived after being targeted in a Memorial Day drone strike. The two were related by marriage to Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico-born Islamic cleric and US citizen assassinated in a drone strike ordered by Obama last September.

Asked if the two brothers were involved in any plot against the US, a US counter-terrorism official replied: “It is still an open question.” Acknowledging that the focus of their activities are “more local”, the official defended the strike by referring to their family ties to Awlaki. “Look at their associations and what that portends.” Given the ties binding the Awlak tribe, one of the most powerful in southern Yemen, of which Awlaki was a member, this logic turns a vast population into “militant suspects” who Washington claims the right to murder with impunity.

“In some cases, US strikes appeared to be coordinated with Yemeni military advances on al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa,” the Post reports. In other words, under the pretext of combating a terrorist threat, the drone attacks are being used to help quell an uprising against the US-backed regime in Yemen.

While the drones strikes are supposedly targeted at those posing a “direct threat” to the US, an official admitted to the Post that “the elasticity of that has grown over time.” The cynical claim is now being made that those being murdered pose a threat to US Special Forces troops, CIA agents and contractors who have been sent into Yemen to organize the killings.

Out of at least 21 drone strikes conducted in Yemen since January, US authorities have been able to identify only three “high-value” terrorism suspects killed. Yemenis in the areas struck and human rights groups, however, have reported many civilian casualties from the attacks, generating growing hostility to the US and the Yemeni regime it supports.

In an article published last week, based on over 20 interviews with Yemeni tribal leaders, officials, relatives of drone attack victims and human rights workers, the Post warned that the strikes had produced “a marked radicalization of the local population.”

Courtesy WSWS.Org

As tensions mount with China US shifting bulk of Navy ships to Asia-Pacific

U.S. Navy and Singapore ships in the South China Sea
By Patrick Martin

The United States will deploy the majority of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region over the next decade, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Saturday in a speech to a security conference in Singapore. The move is part of a major shift in the global strategy of American imperialism that puts China at the top of the US target list.

The mobilization of warships will be accompanied by an increase in the number of military exercises conducted by the Pentagon in the region, involving air, sea and land forces. Most will be carried out in conjunctions with countries that are openly or tacitly allied with the US against China, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines.

In his speech to the conference, Panetta elaborated on the “pivot to Asia” announced by Obama last year, in which he indicated that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the beginning of a drawdown from Afghanistan would allow the US military to deploy far greater resources to the Far East.

“All of the U.S. military services are focused on implementing the president’s guidance to make the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Panetta said, adding: “While the U.S. military will remain a global force for security and stability, we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region.”

The current deployment of the US Navy is approximately a 50-50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific. This will change by 2020 to a 60-40 split in favor of the Pacific, Panetta said: “That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and submarines.” He called these forces “the core of our commitment to this region.”

Panetta singled out for praise the agreement last fall with the Australian government for the deployment of US Marines in northern Australia, calling it “a critical component” of the US military buildup.

“This Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be capable of rapidly deploying across the Asia-Pacific region,” he said, thus confirming that it will be able to intervene at key choke points like the Strait of Malacca, vital to China’s export and import trade, particularly oil supplies from the Middle East and Africa.

The US is negotiating a similar agreement for stationing ground forces on a rotating basis in the Philippines, he said, and is pursuing such arrangements with other countries in the region, although he did not name them. In 2011 the US military conducted 172 military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region, and that number will increase considerably this year.

Panetta claimed that the US buildup was not directed against China, and even made the Orwellian claim that “increased US involvement in this region will benefit China as it advances our shared security and prosperity for the future.”

There is no mistaking the meaning of the measures he announced, however. More than half the US Navy is to be deployed to the Asia-Pacific. What other country could be the target?

North Korea has a handful of coastal vessels that are no threat to South Korea, let alone the United States. Nearly every other country in the region is either a formal US ally, like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia, a client state like Taiwan and Singapore, or a prospective partner in military action against China, like India.

When Panetta declared, referring to US relations with China, “We in the United States are clear-eyed about the challenges,” all the conference participants, as well as Beijing, undoubtedly got the message.

If there were any doubts, Panetta closed his address with an invocation of the history of US wars in the region. “Over the course of history, the United States has fought wars, we have spilled blood, we have deployed our forces time and time again to defend our vital interests in the Asia-Pacific region,” he declared.

iscuss joint operations against North Korea.

TPanetta followed up his appearance in Singapore with a visit to two countries that have fought wars with China in the past 50 years—Vietnam (which fought a war with China in 1979) and India (in 1962). In Vietnam Sunday he spoke to US sailors on board a naval supply ship anchored at Cam Ranh Bay, which was the biggest US Navy base in Asia during the US war in Vietnam.

Besides the public posturing, Panetta had closed-door meetings on the sidelines of the Singapore conference with a series of defense ministers and other top officials from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. The defense ministers of Thailand and Cambodia invited Panetta to visit their countries.

Panetta held a trilateral meeting with South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin and Japan Parliamentary Senior Vice Minister of Defense Shu Watanabe to dhe meeting follows a press report in the United States that US and South Korean special forces have conducted infiltrations operation into North Korea to gather intelligence on secret underground military facilities.

Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of US special forces in South Korea, told a conference in Florida that North Korea has dug thousands of tunnels in the 60 years since the end of the Korean War. “The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites,” Tolley said. “So we send ROK soldiers and US soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance.”

While an aide to Tolley later claimed that he “misspoke,” the general’s remarks, as reported by the press, were unequivocal. According to The Hill web site, “Tolley told attendees during a special operations industry conference in May that elite US troops have been dropped behind North Korean lines to pinpoint the specific locations of Pyongyang’s vast network of underground military bases. American commandos have identified hundreds of underground munitions facilities, along with thousands of subterranean artillery positions…”

The report gives a glimpse of the real posture of the United States military in the region, behind the usual diplomatic blather about peaceful intentions and defending the “free world.” US imperialism is the most powerful and aggressive military force on the planet.

Panetta’s bilateral meeting with Singapore Minister of Defense Ng Eng Hen finalized the agreement for the stationing of four US littoral combat ships in the island state. These ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments, particularly against mines, submarines and small, light surface craft.

General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the ships would be rotated in and out of Singapore for six to ten months at a time. The sailors will live on board and not stationed or home-ported in Singapore. But the result is that at any one time, some 300 US navy personnel will be in Singapore, keeping watch over the adjacent Strait of Malacca. The ships will also move about the region, to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere in southeast Asia.

Following the Singapore conference, Dempsey traveled to the Philippines for meetings with President Benigno Aquino III and Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Philippine naval forces recently confronted Chinese vessels over access to the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of islets and reefs in the South China Sea.

(Courtesy: wsws.org)

Washington continues campaign for Syrian regime-change

By Niall Green
The Syrian government’s crackdown on opposition, as well as attacks by anti-regime forces, continued across the Middle Eastern country last week. Meanwhile, Washington and the European powers stepped up their campaign to oust the Baath Party government through efforts in the United Nations and talks with the Syrian opposition.

Opposition groups claim that the bodies of 30 people killed by security forces were found in the city of Homs on December 5, and another 3 people were killed by gunfire on Saturday. The Syrian army has established more than 60 checkpoints inside and around the city, according to a Turkish-based opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC).

Homs has been at the centre of fighting between Syrian security forces and opponents of the regime. Scores of people have been killed in the city since the outbreak of civil conflict in January.

A major armed confrontation between Syrian troops and army defectors occurred Sunday in the southern town of Busra al-Harir, near the Jordanian border. According to Reuters, residents claimed the defectors had been hiding in the area and attacking military supply lines, provoking the assault by forces loyal to the government. Eighteen people were killed across Syria in clashes on Sunday, according to an opposition group.

A national “dignity strike” to protest the government crackdown, planned for Sunday, the first day of the work week, did not result in significant disruptions in Damascus and Aleppo, the two major cities, according to media reports. In some regions, the strike call apparently had an impact. Human rights groups alleged that the Syrian military and militiamen loyal to Assad broke up the strike in the southern city of Daraa.

Due to severe reporting restrictions inside Syria, little independent information is available on casualties. The Syrian government claims that armed opposition fighters have killed around 2,000 security personnel this year, while various opposition groups and the United Nations claim that a total of 4,000 people have died in security crackdowns.

Homs is also a centre of oil production for Syria. Anti-government forces apparently blew up a major pipeline bringing oil to the refinery near the city Thursday. One of only two refineries in Syria, the Homs facility can process more than 130,000 barrels per day, nearly half of the country’s capacity. It is unclear if the refinery is still in operation.

The official Syrian news agency called the pipeline attack a “terrorist sabotage operation.” Syria’s total oil production, a major source of revenue, has fallen from 340,000 barrels per day in February to around 120,000 today. The European Union, the country’s main energy export market, no longer purchases Syrian oil.

Located just a few miles from the Lebanese border, there are signs that Homs has become an entry point for arms and opposition supporters coming into the country. The Syrian government claims to have intercepted weapons and funds being smuggled across the border to support armed opposition forces. There have also been reports in the Lebanese press of exchanges of gunfire across the border between Lebanon-based armed groups and the Syrian army.

Leading figures in the self-proclaimed Syrian opposition are calling for foreign military intervention in the civil conflict. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the SNC, met with US secretary of state Hilary Clinton in Turkey this week. In an interview following the meeting, Ghalioun told a reporter that his organization had “been in contact with the US diplomatic service for some time” and that he had urged Clinton not to “stand back or delay in working to create mechanisms to protect civilians.”

Asked about the possibility of the US carving out “humanitarian corridors”—i.e., militarily enforced no-fly zones inside Syrian territory—Ghalioun replied, using the language employed by the imperialist powers and their servants: “We have said that all options are on the table to secure international protection.”

He also stressed that the SNC, which was only established in October with the backing of Turkey and the Western powers, was seeking diplomatic recognition, in the same way that the Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya was offered diplomatic and financial support during the NATO-led operation to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

Any regime brought to power in Damascus on such a basis, as with the TNC in Libya, would be a staunchly pro-capitalist pawn of the major powers, wholly unreceptive to the democratic and social demands of the Syrian masses, who oppose the conditions of poverty and social inequality in Syria as well as the Assad regime’s brutality.

As in Libya, Washington and the European powers are utilizing a civil conflict in an attempt to replace a regime that it views as something of an impediment to their predatory interests in the energy-rich region. The US government and its European allies have repeatedly pressured the United Nations to pass condemnations of the government of President Bashar Assad.

However, Security Council permanent members Russia and China, which have close economic and strategic ties to Syria, have refused to sign on to Washington’s destabilization campaign. Last month, Beijing and Moscow vetoed a Security Council resolution, drafted by Britain and France that would have imposed sanctions on Syria.

At a meeting on Friday, the Security Council agreed to a French request for a discussion of events in Syria. The move by Paris was reportedly opposed by Russia, China and Brazil, whose governments fear that, as in the run-up to the NATO war against Libya, Security Council resolutions will be used to justify a US-led campaign of regime change.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, warned that the Security Council’s consideration of the Syrian situation was “intruding on the affairs of the Human Rights Council,” a less influential UN body that does not have the authority to authorize sanctions against Damascus.

However, the US has worked through its regional allies in the Middle East to pressure Damascus and sponsor anti-Assad groups engaged in fighting inside Syria.

The only Middle Eastern member of the US-led NATO military alliance, Turkey is acting as the main ally of Washington in the confrontation with Syria. The Turkish government hosts the two main Syrian opposition groups, the SNC and the Free Syrian Army, and has moved thousands of extra troops to its border with Syria.

On Friday, there were reports of heavy exchanges of gunfire along the 560-mile Turkish-Syrian border. The Syrian government claims that anti-regime fighters and weapons are coming into the country from Turkey, while Ankara has accused Syrian border guards of indiscriminately firing upon people on the Turkish side of the frontier.

The Turkish regime warned Syria on Friday that it would take further action to prevent a flood of refugees coming into its territory, in effect a threat to directly intervene into the Syrian civil conflict.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu refused to state what action Ankara would take. “Turkey has no desire to interfere in anyone’s internal affairs. But if a risk to regional security arises then we do not have the luxury of standing by,” Davutoglu told reporters.

“A government that is fighting its own people and creating refugees is putting not only their own security at risk but also that of Turkey. Then we have the responsibility to say, ‘Enough!’ ”

Turkish officials have previously suggested that the country’s armed forces could set up a “safe zone,” enforced by ground troops and aircraft, inside Syria. Purportedly to protect civilians, such a move would be an act of war, giving Turkish forces, backed by the US and NATO, a beachhead from which to topple the Assad regime.

Such actions could quickly spiral into a full-scale regional war. Iran is Syria’s main ally and has guaranteed its sovereignty, while the other countries bordering Syria—Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq—as well as the Persian Gulf monarchies, could easily be drawn into the conflict.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Saudi government has cynically claimed that it has a responsibility to protect the Syrian people. Despite the Saudi regime’s brutal suppression of domestic opposition to its own authoritarian rule, and its deadly military crackdown on protesters in Bahrain earlier this year, Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of the most senior figures in the Saudi ruling family, warned this week that the Arab League would “not sit back and allow the continued massacre of the Syrian people.”

In response to the Arab League suspending its membership, Damascus has signalled its willingness to accept international human rights monitors into the country, on the condition that sanctions against the country are lifted.

However, even if Damascus allows Arab League inspectors into the country, which many observers consider unlikely, the US-led campaign for regime change will continue, driven by the desire of US and European imperialism to control the vast oil and gas resources of the Middle East and block any genuinely progressive expression of the aspirations of the Syrian population.
(wsws.org)

NEW THREATS FROM MONSTER CALLED LeT

by SURENDER KUMAR SHARMA*
American journalist Sebastian Rotella’s twin exposes in ProPublica – America’s botched chances to stop the American Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley behind India’s 9/11 and LeT operational head, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s jail life with all the trappings of status guest status, have coincided with the release in India of journalist Wilson John’s new book titled “The Caliphate’s Soldiers: The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s Long War”.  Read both works together. It becomes clear that despite investing the title of Man of Peace on the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, and despite intense global scrutiny and sanctions, Lashkar-e-Toiba remains a grave threat to the world than ever before not only to the immediate neighbours of the ‘land of pure’ as Pakistan would like to project itself but to the entire world.

The LeT is more complex and orthodox to the core than even the Haqqani network, with which the Americans are disparate to hold talks or the Taliban with which Pakistan’s establishment is going through the motions of a dialogue for peace in an apparent bid to misguide the ears on the ground and eyes in the sky.

Sebastian and Wilson look at the Lashkar-e-Toiba phenomenon through different prisms; the American’s concern is how and why Pakistan army chief Gen Kayani is disregarding US concerns over LeT particularly Zak-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Headley. The Indian scholar goes beyond the headline and comes up with a scholarly work on LeT to add another feather to his cap as the only thorough bred terrorism expert in this part of the world, who has made the world to sit up and put on the thinking cap.

Though the Americans were loath to admit in public until the recent Mullen outburst, the US-Pakistan relationship has been strained because of LeT and its 2008 Mumbai attacks.  The state guest status that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi enjoyed ever since he was placed under custody to assuage world opinion did not help matters either. One of the luxuries accorded to Lakhvi is access to the outside world and with a mobile phone he is conducting LeT operations without hindrance. American officials took up the issue with Gen Kayani, and he rejected the request, says Sebastian, quoting a memo addressed to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s National Security Council.

What about Headley, the half-Pakistani-half American, who is known to have juggled allegiances with militant groups, slipped with effortless ease through American cracks, and manipulated and betrayed wives, friends and allies? Official America is less than honest in sharing the unprecedented confessions he had reportedly made opening a door into the secret world of terrorism and counterterrorism in South Asia and America.

Why Washington acted in the way it did on the issue is linked to its fond hope of arm-twisting Pakistan to do its bidding in North Waziristan to tame the Haqqanis and Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.  The mission was doomed to fail and it had failed with the high-decibel interaction between the US and Pakistan offering a mild distraction.

Sebastian’s investigation report in ProPublica fills some gaps in the narrative by looking at Hedley’s past, particularly his growing up years in Pakistan as a devout Muslim, an enthusiastic jihadi, a young ideologue of Lashkar-e-Toiba and privileged informant for the US drug enforcement.  But real key to understanding the Headley phenomenon comes from looking at the bigger picture which has come to be identified with the LeT phenomenon.   And this is the canvas of Wilson John’s labours. His conclusion is disturbing to say the least as the LeT has been maintaining a very low profile and appears engaged in Dawa (religious preaching) activities through paid workers since the Mumbai attacks.

There are no visible signs of any disruption in the `strategic partnership` of LeT with the Pakistan army and ISI. Nor are there any visible signs of the Pakistani state ‘disengaging with’, and ‘dismantling the terrorist group’, according to the author.  In his assessment, Let remains the world’s most powerful, and resourceful, multi-national terrorist group. It is this what makes terrorist attacks directly carried out by LeT or by its proxies in India and elsewhere in the world a possibility and the threat will remain quite high in the coming years. ‘At least some of these attacks would be spectacular in visibility and impact, and will carry the potential of triggering a military conflict in the region’, Wilson opines.

With over 50,000 armed cadres trained in guerrilla warfare, intelligence gathering, explosives, and sabotage, LeT has a unique leverage vis-a-vis Pakistan military hierarchy. In fact, it has become a reliable military reserve force that can be outsourced work by the Pakistan Army like it did during the Kargil war waged by then army chief Gen Musharraf.

Today, , LeT runs scores of training centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwah, Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and POK. The objective is to have an office and centre in every district of Pakistan.  LeT spends about $330 per trainee for the daura-e-aam course (basic) and about $1700 per trainee in the more advanced three-month daura-e-khaas course.  Its operational bill is over $5 million a year.

Pakistan Army and ISI reimburse the bill on training camps, and launching of attacks on India and Afghanistan.  Herald magazine from the stable of Pakistan’s most respected and sedate daily, Dawn,  reported in June 2006 that ISI pay off was as much as $50,000 -60000 every month. LeT also manages for a fee the terrorist campaigns of Pakistan Army/ISI and the extremist agenda of anonymous patrons in West Asia.

The other key source of LeT money is Islamic charities across the world, particularly those based in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Inside Pakistan, LeT acts primarily as a dawa group promoting a radical interpretation of Islam much on the lines of its Wahhabi patrons in Saudi Arabia and UAE. This alliance brings the group an enormous amount of petro-dollars as donations   to its madrasas and mosques in Punjab. A 2008 US estimate put this annual munificence at over $100 million a year. Some Pakistani business houses in Punjab have been supporting the group’s terrorist activities by giving money and food articles for the recruits.

Wilson John’s study brings to light another lesser known facet of Lashkar-e-Toiba. The group’s wide-ranging terrorist activities flourish under the guise of various charity organisations and trusts. These are not driven by any domestic agenda but a broader goal of establishing a Caliphate through jihad. It goes about the task in four ways though on a low key.

One it runs recruitment centres out of mosques, book shops, and social-welfare centres sprinkled across Pakistan. Two it taps kinship networks of maulvis, local terrorist/extremist allies, Afghan Jihad associates and its own alumni in South Asia.  Three it recruits bright faces in the West through allied or proxy groups in the home countries.  A former soldier, Sajid Mir, heads a well-funded external recruitment wing at the LeT headquarters.  Four, it has become a terror consultancy with military officials – retired, dismissed or resigned in its ranks.

Aftermath of a terrorist attack in Quetta

By the late 90s, LeT had set up its main training campus at Baitul Mujahideen near Shawai Nala in Muzaffarabad (PoK). The campus was expanded by 2001 to house several hundred recruits at any time. The training syllabus was overhauled under the supervision of former and current ISI and Army officers. Specialised courses were introduced, among them: intelligence gathering; communication technology; sabotage; and managing interrogation.   American authorities are aware of the danger posed by LeT’s global recruitment and consultancy. In-house research carried out by New York University’s Centre on Law and Security has brought into sharp focus how American citizens or residents had travelled to an overseas training camp or war zone since 9/11.

Simultaneously, LeT has been acting as an agent for al Qaeda and the Taliban to train their new cadres, procure weapons, and generate funds and give them protection. Result is that emergence of unparalleled jihadi alumni in as many as 22 countries and the ripples of the wave are being felt across many parts of the world. While it would be difficult to arrive at even a rough estimate of their numbers, it is fair to suggest that it would go beyond a few thousand, according to Wilson Johan. Difficult to disagree with his conclusion after seeing the spread of LeT tentacles through South Asia, and the emergence of double deep cover agents like David Headley in America, which has become the hate symbol for the jihadis of all hues.

Says Wilson: “This ability to infiltrate and implant agents far away from its natural harbour in Pakistan—and its capacity and willingness to train terrorists from different groups and nationalities, even individuals—strongly raises the possibility of LeT or any of its proxies, alumni, or trained cadre, executing a spectacular terrorist attack on the US homeland, or in any other western capital…in other words, LeT today has the operational capability, reach and resources to carry out an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 anywhere in the world”.

What makes LeT a greater threat than other outfits is its BPO service to eliminate other sectarian/extremist/militant groups which take on the Pakistan Army and  run protest campaigns, hold conferences and public meetings for the army, to create and shape public opinion especially against India and the US.  (Syndicate Features)

(* the author is a columnist on South Asian issues and terrorism)

Global “economic recovery” distant dream still

By Nick Beams

Any conception that the world economy would experience a “recovery” in the wake of the global financial crisis has been shattered by the latest figures coming from Britain and the United States.

The British economy grew by only 0.5 percent in the first quarter of this year following a contraction of the same amount in the last quarter of 2010. The flatlining of the past six months has prompted warnings that Britain is on the edge of a “double dip recession.”

In the US, the annualised growth rate for the first quarter was down to 1.8 percent, a decline from the 3.1 percent recorded in the previous quarter. Over the past year, the US economy has grown by only 2.3 percent, less than the 2.5 percent considered necessary just to keep pace with the expansion of the labour force.

Fears of a global slowdown sparked sell-offs in equity and commodity markets this week as European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Tritchet indicated that an interest rate rise in June was unlikely because of the state of the European economy.

The employment situation confronting American workers is a social disaster. The average time a worker stays unemployed is now 39 weeks—the longest period on record. Young people are especially hard hit. Last year the jobless rate for 16 to 24 year-olds was 18.4 percent—also a record high.

The economic situation in both Britain and the US is marked by processes that have not been seen in the post-war period. In Britain, real earnings are set to contract for the fourth successive year in a row—the first time this has happened since the 1870s. Household disposable incomes are predicted to fall by 2 percent in real terms this year. Far from there being any return to “normal”, the financial situation remains extremely fragile with Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, warning this week that any rise in long-term interest rates would have “severe” consequences.

In the United States, while profits have risen in the past year, there has not been an economic recovery. This is because the increased profits have not come from expanding markets but are the result of cost cutting, especially the slashing of wages. Consequently, profits are not being ploughed back into new investments—the way the business cycle turns around in “normal” conditions—because US firms fear that markets will remain stagnant or may even contract.

Business fixed investment at the end of last year was about 15 percent lower than before the onset of the financial crisis, as US firms decided to hold on to their profits. As a result, their holdings of cash and other liquid assets rose to more than $1.93 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, an increase of more than 14 percent over the year.

In order to sustain the position of the US banks and finance houses in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, the US Federal Reserve has made available to them hundreds of billions of dollars at close to zero interest rates. While this policy of “quantitative easing” is expected to end in June, the Fed will continue to keep interest rates at ultra-low levels.
The result is unprecedented turmoil in international financial markets.

In a clear sign of the growing lack of confidence in the US currency, it was revealed this week that the central bank of Mexico had bought nearly 100 tonnes of gold in February and March as a way of transferring its reserves out of falling US dollar assets. The Mexican purchases, valued at about $6.4 billion at current prices, follow similar moves by China, India and Russia which have all made large gold purchases in recent years.

The falling dollar is leading both to inflation and recessionary trends. Food prices have soared by around 30 percent over the past year, adding to pressures on living standards in the poorer regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

At the same time, countries with flexible exchange rates are experiencing increased market pressure as their currencies rise, subjecting them to intense international competition, especially in manufacturing industry.

Brazil, whose finance minister Guido Mantega last year warned that the fall of the dollar was leading to an international currency war, is now facing the risk of “deindustrialisation” as a result of the appreciation of the Brazilian currency, the real, against the US dollar.

The chief executive of the German industrial conglomerate, Siemens, which has large investments in Brazil, told the Financial Times this week that controls had to be implemented to stop the surge in the real or the company’s export business would be crushed. “This is fundamental; there is a risk of deindustrialisation,” he said.

The rise of the real, sparked by the slide in the US dollar, is hitting all sections of manufacturing. The chief executive officer of ArcelorMittal, the country’s largest steel producer, told the Financial Times that last year was a “disaster, almost a complete disaster.”

The Australian dollar is another currency that has taken off against the US currency. From a level of 60 cents to the US dollar in 2009, the Australian currency has hit its highest level since being floated in 1983, at one point reaching $1.10. This has led to near-recessionary conditions in all sectors of the economy other than minerals and resources.

More broadly, the ongoing turmoil in global financial markets and the world economy is being accompanied by warnings from the spokesmen of international finance capital that there is no prospect of pre-crisis conditions returning. Their demands are for increasing austerity measures directed against the working class.

Announcing a 38 percent profit increase this week, the head of the ANZ banking group in Australia, Mike Smith, warned that Australian businesses had been structured for a “bull market and constant growth. What has happened is that, after the crisis, we have an adjustment where certain sections of the economy have suddenly become globally uncompetitive and the models they had operated with are no longer sustainable.” It was “unrealistic,” he said, to expect a return to “pre-crisis times.”

These warnings of a “paradigm shift” underscore the fact that the financial crisis of 2008-2009 was not a cyclical downturn but the start of a massive restructuring of economic and social relations on a global scale, aimed at driving down the social position of the working class to levels not seen since the Great Depression. . (wsws.org)

Obama backs India’s bid for permanent UN Security Council seat


US President Barack Obama has endorsed India’s longstanding bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Obama announced the policy shift in his Monday (Nov Eight) afternoon speech to India’s parliament—a speech that was planned as the climax to his three-day visit to India. Obama used the occasion to make Washington’s case for a global strategic partnership between US imperialism and the Indian bourgeoisie.

“In Asia and around the world,” declared Obama, “India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged. And it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India—bound by our shared interests and values—will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. This is the partnership I have come here to build.”

Obama’s support for India’s bid for permanent UN Security Council membership was widely and correctly interpreted in the US media as a step calculated to aggravate China, against which the Obama administration has adopted an increasingly provocative stance over the past year. The Washington Post called Obama’s backing for India “a powerful endorsement of India’s growing economic power and global aspirations, but one likely to anger China.”

India and China have rapidly growing economic ties. But their relations are strained by a fractious border dispute, competition for oil and other resources to feed their expanding economies, India’s fears of China’s close relations with Pakistan, Beijing’s expanding influence throughout South Asia, and Beijing’s concerns that New Delhi is being drawn into a US-led Asian-Pacific military-strategic bloc.

Washington is anxious to harness India to its drive to contain and, if need be counter, a rising China. Toward that end, it has aggressively courted New Delhi for the past decade, including spearheading a successful campaign to lift a three decade-old international embargo on civilian nuclear trade with India.

“The United States,” Obama told the parliamentarians, “not only welcomes India as a rising global power; we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.”

In the run-up to Obama’s India visit—the first leg of a 10-day, four country Asian tour from which China has demonstrably been excluded—several key figures in the previous administration of George W. Bush called for the US to do more to cement the Indo-US partnership. Among their proposals was that Washington publicly support New Delhi’s campaign for permanent Security Council membership.

Obama’s announcement leaves China as the odd-man out. It is the only one of the five current veto-wielding UN powers not to have publicly supported India’s bid to join them as a permanent member of the Security Council.

But important as was Obama’s announcement—hitherto his administration had endorsed only the bid of Japan, the other pivot of its China containment strategy, for permanent UN Security Council status—it was largely symbolic.

Any reform of the UN Security Council would call into question the powers and prerogatives of the existing permanent members—the US, Russia, Britain, France and China—many of whose relative economic and geo-political power is much diminished from what it was when the victors of World War II created the UN. Moreover, the raise of new states to the status of permanent members would not only dilute the power of the current members, it would change regional geo-political dynamics and thus stir up a hornet nest of opposition.

Obama’s announcement was also short on specifics. He did not say whether the US supports India having a veto as do the existing permanent members. (There have been various proposals for a second-tier of permanent members). And he tied Washington’s support for India’s bid for permanent Security Council status to a broader, that is to say even more potentially contentious, reform of the UN—a reform that does not figure anywhere near the top of US diplomatic and geo-political priorities.

Speaking to reporters about the US’s support for India gaining permanent Security Council membership, the US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns conceded, “This is bound to be a very difficult process and it’s bound to take a significant amount of time.”

That said, under conditions of world economic crisis and rising geo-political tensions, symbols can have major significance. Obama clearly wanted to send a message to both New Delhi and to Beijing as to the lengths that the US is ready to go to strengthen its relations with India.

The first country to respond to Obama’s speech was Pakistan. Its Foreign Ministry issued a statement that warned that the attempt to make India a permanent member would add “complexity to the process” of reforming the Security Council and urged the US not to follow the “exigencies of power politics.”

Throughout his three-day visit, Obama sought to balance the assiduous courting of New Delhi, with the need not to overly antagonize Islamabad. The US depends on Pakistan for its continued support for the Afghan War.

Obama began his visit in Mumbai, staying in and delivering a speech from the Taj Hotel, which was one of the targets of the November 2008 terrorist attack. India has charged that sections of the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus helped organize the attack. But to the widely-voiced dismay of the Indian media and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s official opposition, Obama made no mention of Pakistan in his Taj address condemning terrorism.

Obama did denounce “terrorist safe havens” in Pakistan in his speech to India’s parliament Monday. But he also encouraged India to pursue a peace dialogue with Pakistan, while making clear that Washington has no intention of mediating between the two states, let alone seeking to impose a settlement. India has spelled out in the strongest terms that any attempt by the US to intervene in its dispute with Pakistan, especially the explosive Kashmir dispute, would jeopardize the Indo-US partnership.

Prior to Obama’s visit, Pakistani officials had said that that they were looking to the US President to raise the question of Kashmir but in deference to the wishes of his Indian hosts, Obama appears to have made not a single public mention of Kashmir during his entire visit.

Nevertheless, India was not entirely satisfied. At a joint press conference with Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh justified India’s refusal to resume the composite peace dialogue with Pakistan that was suspended after the 2008 Mumbai attack, accusing Pakistan of continuing to practice “terror-induced coercion.” Said Singh, “You cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as before.”

Obama’s speech to India’s parliament was full of rhetorical flourishes meant to flatter the Indian elite and encourage its appetite for increased power and influence in Asia and globally.

Thus he waxed eloquent about India having “emerged” as a world power and about the “economic marvel” that “has lifted tens of millions from poverty and created one of the world’s largest middle classes”—this is in a country where hundreds of millions are malnourished and where three-quarters of the population survives on less than $2 per day.

Obama made clear that Washington aims for a multi-dimensional partnership with India. This includes an ever expanding commercial relationship, in which US companies will be given access to key sectors such as financial services, multi-brand retail, and agricultural where they are world leaders; and a military-strategic partnership, aimed at what Obama called preserving “peace and security” and “strengthening (international) democratic governance and human rights.”

During Obama’s visit, Indian and US officials announced several major military contracts, including the largest every Indian armaments order from the US, an agreement to purchase 10 C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft.

Washington is determined to wrest large military contracts from India, to boost major aeronautics firms and other US arms manufacturers, but also in order to make India’s military dependent on US supplies and technology.

While Obama did not make specific mention of it in his address, the US has also made clear its support for India assuming a greater role in the policing of the Indian Ocean and regional disaster relief and other emergency interventions.

But for all the phrases from Obama meant to convey the idea that the US and India are now “two global powers” and two “great democracies” acting together as equals, he gave a brief but pointed indication of the true relationship that the US seeks with India. Near the conclusion of his speech, he baldly declared that with “increased power comes increased responsibility,” then went on to affirm that India has a “responsibility” to back US policy in regards to Iran and Burma.

Ignoring the fact that the US has arbitrarily sought to rewrite the rules of the world nuclear regulatory regime as part of its campaign to bully and subvert Iran, Obama urged India to join with the US to ensure “every nation” meets “its international obligations—and that includes the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Obama explicitly criticized India for not slavishly following Washington’s self-interested and selective human rights campaigns. Routinely governments that are viewed as obstacles to US interests, be they Iran, Cuba, or Zimbabwe, are pilloried for their repressive polices so as to isolate and destabilize them, while the crimes of authoritarian regimes that are US allies, are excused and covered up—to say nothing of the horrific crimes perpetrated by the US military, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Faced with … gross violations of human rights,” said Obama, “it is the responsibility of the international community—especially leaders like the United States and India—to condemn” them. “If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often avoided these issues.”

The Indian ruling elite is gambling that it can secure the benefits of a close partnership with the US, while not becoming ensnared in a subordinate relationship to the US that makes it a proxy in Washington’s drive to maintain, through bullying and war, its domination of the Middle East and Asia.

This is a dangerous wager, one with potentially catastrophic consequences for the people of South Asia and the world.( By Keith Jones, wsws.org)

US tax data shows falling wages, rising inequality

President Obama and Michelle Obama arrived in Mumbai on Nov 6 on their first three day visit to India
By Andre Damon and Tom Eley, wsws.org

Average annual wages for US workers fell by $457 in 2009 and the median annual wage fell by $247 to $26,261, according to recently updated data from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The incomes of the top-earning corporate executives barely budged in 2009. The pay of the handful of individuals making over $50 million fell by about 7 percent 2009, despite the fact that stocks fell in value by 40 percent, demolishing the claim that executive bonuses are tied to corporate “performance.”

Last year, in the midst of 10 percent unemployment, a relative handful of Americans lived as royalty. In 2009 there were 3,689 individuals that made more than $5 million, 1,618 that made $10 million or more, 425 that made $20 million, and 72 that brought in $50 million or more.

Top 0.8 percent of those reporting income cornered about 27 percent of all income, more than combined income of the bottom 100 million or so households, those making less than $40,000.If anything, this portrait underestimates social inequality in the US.

These 5,307 tax filers, equivalent to the population of a small town, together took home about $57.62 billion in 2009, about $8 billion more than the bottom 24 million households filing taxes, and a staggering 10 percent of all income earned in the US.

Behind this financial aristocracy are another 72,000 or so individuals and households that reported income of more than $1 million in 2009, and then another 1,611,000 who took home more than $200,000. These top three categories, only 1.7 million tax filers—the top 0.8 percent of those reporting income—cornered about 27 percent of all income, more than combined income of the bottom 100 million or so households, those making less than $40,000.

If anything, this portrait underestimates social inequality in the US, as the data addresses only earnings, and not accumulated wealth.

The sharp decline in wages in 2009 marks an intensification of a longer-term trend of growing social inequality. Adjusted for inflation, the median income in 2009 was $167 less than it was in 2001. The same nine years has been a bonanza for the extremely wealthy. In 1990, there were 739 people making over $5 million per year. By 2009 that figure had increased more than sevenfold, to 5,307.

The SSA data corroborates a recent study by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, which found that two thirds of the total national increase in personal income between 2002 and 2007 went to the wealthiest 1 percent of society.

Significantly, the SSA data suggests that the official unemployment rate, currently at 9.6 percent, grossly underestimates joblessness. Between 2008 and 2009 the total number of wage earners fell by 4.5 million, from 155,434,562 to 150,917,733. But for the same period the Labor Department counted 2.6 million job losses.

The figures were first reported by David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times writer, on tax.com, the website of the nonprofit group Tax Analysts. Commenting on the data, Johnston pointed out the connection between the vast growth of social inequality over the past several years and policies that directly favor the wealthy. In previous writings, Johnston has pointed to the clear connection between the precipitous drop in the effective tax rate for the wealthiest 400 US families, and the concurrent tripling of their wealth between 1994 and 2007.

Last year’s sharp fall in wages is the outcome of an ongoing campaign of restructuring and wage-cutting by US corporations, which dumped millions of workers from their payrolls while forcing those remaining to work harder for less. The Obama administration spearheaded this drive with the forced bankruptcy and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, which included a 50 percent wage cut for newly hired auto workers.

The trend continues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics this week reported that worker productivity surged in the second quarter, even as labor costs continued to decline

US sanctions of Iran hurts India, leaves China unaffected


{This article first appeared on Policy Research Group web site, poreg.org}

Washington does not seem to be `too serious’ to enforce these sanctions. This is clear from the `loopholes’ in the relevant laws, which appear as a deliberate act of realpolitik factoring in the limitations of American long arm in reining in countries like China that have vibrant trading links with Iran.

Early August (on the 3rd and the 5th) the US Government made two separate announcements in a bid to further tighten the ‘sanctions regime’ against Iran, describing Tehran as the “most active State sponsor” of terrorism. The first was the long awaited “Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009” by the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The second was by the US Treasury Department clamping sanctions against `Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force’, and 21 entities of the Iranian foreign trade network operating in Belarus, Germany, Italy, Japan and Luxembourg.
While the executive summary of the `Report on Terrorism for 2009’ mentioned Iran as the `most active state sponsor’ of terrorism, it did not list any attacks that may have been actually sponsored by Iran. However, Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counter Terrorism and Russ Ravers, Deputy Director of the NCTC have tried to justify the designation.
Addressing a press meet on Aug 5, the two experts claimed that several people had been killed in Iraq as a result of Iranian munitions, supply of which could be traced back to Iran. They also spoke of Iranian support to the Hamas and the Hizballah.
Both Daniel and Ravers went on to say that though there was evidence of state support from Iran and Syria, such `facilitation’ didn’t form part of their report. They agreed that for a long time the pre-dominant instigators of violence in the world are not state sponsored groups but non-state groups like Al Qaida and its affiliates.
The US Treasury has declared that Iran is using its state apparatus, including IRGC – Qods Force, and state-run social service organisations to support terrorism under the guise of providing reconstruction and economic development assistance or social services.

Sanctions on Tehran show Washington comes down by an inch from its high pedestal when the green backs future remains uncertain and when a few yuans are about to fall into its lap. It also shows the bruised global cop has no qualms to jump back to the pulpit when countries like India enter into commercial dealings with Iran for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. And State Department’s roofs begin to leak. For the American media, the leaks become manna.


The organisations and their leaders under the Treasury scanner are:
• Four senior officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, (IRGC-QF), Hushang Allahdad, Hossein Musavi, Hasan Mortezavi and Mohammad Reza Zahedi for their alleged role in the IRGC-QF’s support of terrorism.
• The Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, (ICRL), and its director, Hessam Khoshnevis, for allegedly providing financial, material, and technological support to Hizballah
• Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, (IKRC), Lebanon branch – owned or controlled by Hizballah, and for providing financial and material support to Hizballah and its director, Ali Zuraik; and
• Razi Musavi, a Syria-based Iranian official, for allegedly providing financial and material support to Hizballah. (See the Annexure –I for full details)
Under the `Iranian Transactions Regulations’, the US Treasury’s notification has listed 21 entities as owned or controlled by the Government of Iran and prohibited any dealings by the Americans with them. According to the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Stuart Levey, as its isolation from the international funding and commercial system increases, the Iranian government is creating dubious entities to evade the sanctions. The entities that have been brought under sanctions operate in areas like banking, insurance and investment, mining and engineering industries. (See detailed list at Annexure II).
Washington does not seem to be `too serious’ to enforce these sanctions. This is clear from the `loopholes’ in the relevant laws, which appear as glaring, and, therefore, deliberate.
The sanctions law has a clause, which entitled ‘exemptions’. Careful reading of the clause shows that the exemption regime is an act of realpolitik and it adroitly factors in the limitations of American long arm in reining in a number of countries like China and Russia that have vibrant trading links with Iran. The US will need the support of these very countries at the UN to push its case for sanctions against Tehran. As a result, many Chinese, Russian and Turkish companies continue to operate in Iran and also supply oil despite sanctions. Put mildly, the American sanctions talk the talk but don’t walk the talk.
Consider the facts. `Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control’ has concluded that Chinese state-owned companies blacklisted by America for selling arms to Iran have had no problem in doing business with the US companies. “Lacklustre enforcement of US sanctions is allowing Chinese companies to ship goods to the United States even after being threatened with an import ban on proliferation to Iran”, said the report released in December 2009.

New Delhi has to use Iranian territory for reaching out to some of its markets. What other option India have when Pakistan refuses ‘transit’ facility? Through Kashmir India could have reached out to Afghanistan and Central Asia but that part of Kashmir which could have given this advantage to Delhi is under occupation by Pakistan and China.

One of these Chinese companies is CPMIEC, China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation. It was described as a “serial proliferator” of missile technology to Iran. LIMMT Economic and Trade Company Ltd is another Chinese firm that has been found on the wrong side of American law.
CPMIEC has been the target of proliferation sanctions since 1991. It remained undeterred and came under more sanctions in 2002 and again in 2003 for its continued arms sales to Iran. LIMMT Economic and Trade Company Ltd is much more audacious in its evading the US trade restrictions. It has adopted a new name to do business with its American clients. The Manhattan Grand Jury indicted the company in April last year on charge that it was covertly using New York Banks to finance large quantities of restricted material to Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.
The triangle that emerges from the foregoing defies conventional logic. It only shows that the US administration can afford to be lax and come down by an inch or two from its high moral pedestal when the green backs future remains uncertain and when a few yuans are about to fall into its lap.
It also shows that the bruised global cop has no qualms to jump back to the pulpit when countries like India enter into commercial dealings with Iran prompted as much by their legitimate geo-political strategic interests, as business opportunities. And the State Department roofs begin to leak. For the American media, the leaks become manna.
Texas-based online intelligence service, Stratfor, says India is looking for ways of getting around the American and UN sanctions against Iran. Quoting a report, titled “International Sanctions on Iran and way forward for India-Iran relations”, the Stratfor mentioned of various options that India is said to be exploring. One option is making a request to Washington to exempt India from the sanctions regime and thus facilitate Indian companies’ trade with Iran, without “getting caught in the sanctions dragnet”.
Stratfor is not new to such ‘despatches’, some as in the instant case, are attributed to so-called Indian documents. The message that comes through is clear; the intent that comes out loudly is equally clear. And it pressurise India, malign India, and deny India a level playing field, when, like any other country in its neighbourhood, it is looking to protect its business and strategic interests.
Such a pressure is quite surprising. For two reasons. One the Chinese companies are enjoying a `free ride’ to and in the Islamic Republic. Two the US has strategic partnership with India. So, comes upfront is the question: Is America insensitive to New Delhi’s `core’ national interests?
New Delhi has use to Iranian territory for reaching out to some of its markets. What other option India have when Pakistan refuses ‘transit’ facility for Indian trade bound for Afghanistan and Central Asia. Through Kashmir India could have reached out to Afghanistan and Central Asia but that part of Kashmir which could have given this advantage to Delhi is under occupation by Pakistan and China.
Refusing to factor in this reality is in neither strategic nor diplomatic interest. The US exit plan from Afghanistan starting from next year is its concern born out of as much worry over body bags as the fear of Vietnam repeat.
But India cannot afford to be myopic. It has look at as much at the near term as the short term of the consequences of an American pull out with no Plan B in place so to say. India and others similarly placed cannot afford to countenance a situation that throws the red carpet once again to the Jihadis and their allies across the Durand Line.
The short point is India has a national interest. It is within its rights to work towards protecting its rights. Delhi is not subscribing to the theory of no concern whatsoever when national interests are involved propagated and adhered to by some countries. It is only saying that there cannot be any bar to explore opportunities to engage Iran, within international legal bounds, while adhering to the larger objective of persuading the Islamic Republic to desist from any illegal nuclear arms activity.

Instead of targeting India, and denying it a level playing field, it should be co-opted into the US effort for walking the talk with Iran because there cannot be any bar to explore opportunities to engage Iran, within international legal bounds for the largest country with longest borders in South Asia

Instead of isolating or targeting India, this largest country with longest borders in South Asia should be co-opted into the US effort through a `group of interested countries’- China, Russia, and EU including, for walking the talk with Iran and in Afghanistan.

ANNEXURE I
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Leadership
Treasury today further targeted the IRGC-QF by designating four of its senior officers: Hushang Allahdad, Hossein Musavi, Hasan Mortezavi and Mohammad Reza Zahedi.
* Hushang Allahdad has been a financial officer for the IRGC-QF since at least 2002. In this position, Allahdad personally oversees distribution of funds to Levant-based terrorist groups and provides financial support for designated terrorist entities including Hizballah, Hamas, and PIJ.
*RGC-QF General Hossein Musavi is Commander of the IRGC-QF Ansar Corps, whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan. As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.
*In his capacity as an IRGC-QF senior officer, Colonel Hasan Mortezavi provides financial and material support to the Taliban.
*Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the commander of the IRGC-QF in Lebanon, plays a key role in Iran’s support to Hizballah. Zahedi held several senior positions in the IRGC-Qods Force including Commander of the Lebanon Corps and Deputy Commander of the Qods Force. He has also acted as a liaison to Hizballah and Syrian intelligence services and is reportedly charged with guaranteeing weapons shipments to Hizballah.
IRGC and IRGC-QF Support for Terrorist Organizations:
* The IRGC-QF is the Government of Iran’s primary arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups. The IRGC-QF provides material, logistical assistance, training and financial support to militants and terrorist operatives throughout the Middle East and South Asia. It was designated by Treasury pursuant to E.O. 13224 in October 2007 for its support of terrorism.
*The Government of Iran also uses the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and IRGC-QF to implement its foreign policy goals, including, but not limited to, seemingly legitimate activities that provide cover for intelligence operations and support to terrorist and insurgent groups. These activities include economic investment, reconstruction, and other types of aid to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, implemented by companies and institutions that act for or on behalf of, or are owned or controlled by the IRGC and the Iranian government.
*In Afghanistan, the IRGC-QF provides select members of the Taliban with weapons, funding, logistics and training. In Iraq, the Government of Iran trains, equips, and funds Iraqi Shia militant groups.
*In the Levant, the IRGC-QF continues to support designated terrorist groups such as Hizballah and Hamas. Hizballah is the largest recipient of Iranian financial aid, training, and weaponry; and Iran’s senior leadership has cited Hizballah as a model for other militant groups. Iran also provides training, weapons, and money to Hamas, bolstering the group’s ability to maintain its armed resistance and opposition to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon (ICRL)
* The ICRL provides financial, material, and technical support to Hizballah. It was established by the Government of Iran after the 2006 Israel-Hizballah conflict and functions as a key channel for Iran’s support to Hizballah reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.
In addition to ICRL’s stated mission of supporting reconstruction, ICRL has financed and facilitated Hizballah’s infrastructure and private communications network that enables the terrorist group to communicate securely.
The ICRL has provided funding and engineering expertise to Hizballah’s construction arm, Jihad al-Binaa, which was designated by Treasury pursuant to E.O. 13224 in February 2007.
Treasury also today designated ICRL director, Hessam Khoshnevis for providing technical support to Hizballah’s reconstruction efforts in Lebanon and to the expansion of the terrorist group’s private communications network. Khoshnevis also operates as President Ahmadinejad’s personal representative in Lebanon.
Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC) Lebanon Branch
The IKRC in Lebanon is a Hizballah social service organization that was created by the Government of Iran in the 1980s and is directed and run by Hizballah members or cadre. Iran has provided millions of dollars to the Hizballah-run branch in Lebanon since 2007.
The IKRC has helped fund and operate Hizballah youth training camps, which have been used to recruit future Hizballah members and operatives. Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged the IKRC branch in Lebanon as one of Hizballah’s openly-functioning institutions linked to and funded by Iran.
Also designated today is the director of IKRC in Lebanon, Ali Zuraik, for acting for or on behalf of the IKRC in Lebanon. Zuraik has also publicly acknowledged that the IKRC in Lebanon operates under the umbrella of Hizballah.
Razi Musavi
Razi Musavi is a Syria-based Iranian official who is a key conduit for Iranian support to Hizballah. He provides crucial support to Hizballah, including financial and material support to the Lebanon-based terrorist group that is closely allied with Iran and often acts at its behest.
Identifying Information:
Individual: Hushang Allahdad AKA: Hushang Allahdadi AKA: Sa’id Golzari
Passport No.: 08550695 Passport No.: A0022791
Individual: Hossein Musavi
Nationality: Iranian
Passport No: A0016662 (issued October 29, 2002)
DOB: October 23, 1960
POB: Neishabour, Iran
Individual: Hasan Mortezavi AKA: Ali Hassan Mortezavi AKA: Hassan Ali AKA: Majid Mirali Mortezavi AKA: Majid Mortezavi
Passport No: 7572775
Citizenship: Iranian
DOB: April 28, 1961
POB: Ghazvin, Iran
Individual: Mohammad Reza Zahedi AKA: Ali Reza Zahedi AKA: Reza Mahdavi AKA: Mohammad Riza Zahdi AKA: Hasan Mahdawi
Nationality: Iranian
DOB: 1944
POB: Esfahan, Iran
Location: Beirut, Lebanon

ANNEXURE II

Entity: The Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Headquarters for the Reconstruction of Lebanon AKA:
Iran’s Headquarters for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, AKA:
Iranian Committee for Contribution in the Reconstruction of Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Organization for Reconstruction in Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Committee for Rebuilding Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Organization for Rebuilding Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Contributory Organization for Reconstructing Lebanon AKA
Iranian Commission for Rebuilding Southern Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Commission in Lebanon AKA:
Iranian Committee to Reconstruct Lebanon Location:
Near Iranian Embassy, Brazilia Building, 1st Floor, Lebanon
Individual: Hessam Khoshnevis AKA:
Hesam Khosh-nevis AKA:
Hesaam Khosh-Nevis AKA:
Hesam Khoshnevis AKA:
Hassan Khoshnvis AKA:
Hussam Khosh AKA:
Hussam Khoshnevis AKA:
Hussam Khouchnoyess
Nationality: Iranian
Passport: A0023862

Entity: Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (Lebanon Branch) AKA:
Imam Khomeini Relief Organization AKA:
Islamic Charity Emdad AKA:
Islamic Emdad Charitable Committee AKA
Comite Islamique Daides et de Biem Liban AKA:
Imam Khomeiny Aid Committee AKA
Imdad Islamic Association Committee for Charity AKA:
Islamic Charity Emdad Committee AKA:
Emdad Assistance Foundation AKA:
Emdad Committee for Islamic Charity AKA:
Imdad Committee for Islamic Charity AKA:
Imdad Association of the Islamic Philanthropic Committee AKA:
al-Imdad AKA:
Imam Khomeini Support Committee AKA:
Imam Khomeini Emdad Committee AKA:
Imam Khomeini Imdad Committee AKA:
Komite Emdad Emam AKA:
Imam Khomeini Foundation AKA:
Khomeini Social Help Committee AKA:
Khomeini Charitable Foundation
Location: P.O. Box 25-211 Beirut AiRabi’ Building 2nd Floor Mokdad Street Haret Hreik, Beirut, Lebanon, P.O. Box: 25/221 El Ghobeiry, Beirut, Lebanon
Individual: Ali Hasan Zuraik AKA:
Ali Hassan Zreik AKA:
Ali Zraiq AKA: Ali Zurayq AKA:
Ali Zreik
Passport No: RL0266714
Passport No: 1082625
DOB: 1952
POB: Al Khiyam, Lebanon
Individual:
Razi Musavi AKA: Hosein Razi Musavi
DOB: 1964
Location: Damascus, Syria

On the way to Myanmar’s democracy Nirvana

By Malladi Rama Rao

Myanmar Parliament Building

Myanmar goes to polls on November 7 to elect its new law makers and new government, according to the brief announcement carried on the state radio and TV on Friday, Aug 13. The junta describes the one-day ballot as the final step in the roadmap to democracy, which is a very elaborate seven stage plan of Senior General Than Shwe to establish ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ in the country.

How far the forthcoming one-day election will be free and fair is any body’s guess. Political parties are denied breathing time to put their act together for contesting the election. They have been asked to file nominations between Aug 16 and 30. That means they are given just 18 days to complete their home work for contesting the 400-member parliament. Sept. 3 is set as deadline for withdrawal of nominations.

Myanmar politicians cannot claim that they are taken unawares by the Election Commission’s decision. The junta has been talking about elections for a long while, and has gone through several motions which are in effect nothing but clearing the decks for sartorial change by the prime minister and several of his colleagues. In fact, many candidates in the fray will be military officers, who have just doffed off their uniform.

“Every military ruler has a craving for legitimacy, and at some point of time, whether out of own interest or under external pressure, holds elections. Historically, most such elections do not usher in an unadulterated democracy. But quite too often, these regimented elections, which, in some countries saw the GHQ doubling up as the EC and Vote Counting Centre, paved the way over time to a semblance of democracy the world has come to accept. The developments in Myanmar fall into a familiar pattern, though with hope and cynicism in equal measure- hope that ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ is at best a half-way measure; cynicism that the ballot will herald a sartorial change from colourful uniform to three-piece suits with stripes,” says the writer.
This article first appeared on www.poreg.org

This is one reason why the criticism against the forthcoming elections rings hollow. Whatever be its other failings the Than Shwe regime did not hide its plans and planks from public view; these are designed from the word go to keep out Aung San Suu Kyi. She is not only barred from contesting elections but even the ballot is scheduled in such a way that it takes place a week before she ends her latest house arrest. If the arrest has been cited as the reason for her disqualification, the poll date is quarantined from her physical presence during the campaign period. The fact that her late husband was a foreigner (Britisher) also prohibits her from running for elections.

The election held in 1990 saw Aung San Suu Kyi lead her party, National League for Democracy, to victory securing 392 of the 492 seats on offer. But neither she nor her colleagues enjoyed the fruits of the landslide win. And the country remained under military rule. It was because the electoral outcome had effectively ruled out any role for the army in the national affairs.

The voting in the November election will not lead to limitations on the army, which is in the driver’s seat for five decades. The government to be formed will be effectively in the hands of serving and retired military officers.

The constitution adopted in 2008 expressly barred civilians from key ministries like defence, interior affairs and justice. And, created National Defence and Security Council, headed by the commander- in – chief, with powers to overrule the civilian government. The statute makes two other stipulations – one 25 per cent of parliamentary seats go to the military; two there can be no constitutional amendment unless more than 75 per cent of lawmakers give consent. Put mildly, the statute has taken every care to insulate the military from the civilian interference.

So, to crib that the election will not be free and fair is neither here nor there. Nor is the lament voiced by Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma that the junta was moving forward to hold the “sham election.” And the concern of the State Department spokesman, Noel Clay, “We remain concerned about the lack of a level playing field for opposition parties and the oppressive political environment in Burma”.

There is merit, nonetheless, in the criticism that the United States, European Union and the United Nations have failed to exercise “effective pressure” on the junta. Myanmar expatriates living in ASEAN member-states, Australia and the US have welded together as a powerful force. Naturally, they feel badly let down at a crucial time in their country’s history.

Aung Din echoed their mood, when he said, ‘The generals in Burma are now confident that the international community can’t and won’t do anything beyond issuing statements to stop their crimes against humanity and plan to build a permanent military dictatorship in the country’.

The US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell made a two-day visit to Myanmar in May. After his talks in Yangon, he said he was “profoundly disappointed” over the preparations for the election. And added, “What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy”.

From these remarks it is clear that Campbell had some inkling into the preparations for Nov 7 poll. If so, the question is, did he persuade the Junta to follow the universally accepted norms for democracy? Did he offer any incentives and speak of disincentives. The American preferred to be economical in his post-Yangon visit interaction with the media. So, we donot know what had exactly transpired during the visit.

In hindsight, it may be said, though in a very limited sense, that the West had not served the interests of Myanmar people and of democracy by refusing to enter into a dialogue with the junta for a fairly long time. Criticism that the institutions of law are weak and that there are no checks and balances in the country is one thing, and not helping a nation that is steeped in poverty despite nature’s bounty is another.

Whether it is the US, EU or the UN and their various organisations, they all appeared satisfied at least in the initial days with the backing to the pro-democracy campaigners stationed outside the Myanmar borders. By ignoring the people and their plight and steadfastly refusing to enter into a dialogue with the junta, the West has neither served its cause nor of the people of Myanmar.

For Washington or London or Brussels, talking to generals is not a new thing. They have always pampered the leaders in uniform, often at the cost of democratically elected leaders in the neighbourhood all across the globe in countries that appeared as important to serve their geo-political and strategic interests. Obviously, Myanmar did not fit that bill till recently, and hence its junta and people were allowed to fend for themselves.

ASEAN has every reason to shun Myanmar junta. Yet, the ten-nation grouping did not refuse to open the doors to Than Swe and his colleagues. What is more this most successful regional group did not wait to be influenced in its interaction with Myanmar by the actions of China. The west should have taken a cue from ASEAN, which has become a benchmark in regional cooperation. .

It was only last year that the Obama administration initiated a policy of re-engagement with Myanmar after years of trying to isolate the country. A number of visits by high-level American officials followed. But the junta made no concessions that Washington considered as high point on the road to democracy. And the generals’ decision to press ahead with the vote makes this amply clear.

Admittedly, the forthcoming election is a means to legitimize the military power and give it the trappings of civilian rule. Put differently, the election gives democratic gloss to the junta regime. The timing of the election, the short campaign period and the ban on chanting, marching or saying anything at rallies that could tarnish the country’s image (in other words criticism of the government) are nothing less than a calculated political ambush as a Burmese commentator in exile, Win Tin, says.

So much so, should there be a poll boycott, as suggested by Aung San Sui Kyi to her NLD cadres. It will be tempting to endorse her stand but larger interests of democracy and the policy of isolation so resolutely followed by the West offer compelling reasons to welcome the election. Howsoever deeply flawed an election is, it always represents the best chance of bringing about a change even haltingly.

Democracy is never picture perfect, anywhere. There are so many models in vogue today, each with its own trademark flaws. Even, the greatest democracy, the United States doesn’t have a text book perfect election system and vote counting methods, as Al Gore will testify to the discomfort of George Bush junior. The Westminster model is not as hollowed as it is made out to be, going by the scandals that surfaced during Prime Minister Brown’s term.

Any how there is no single model of democracy even in the Asian region – there is the Rajapaksa model, which is one –family rule that relies on the police and bureaucracy rather than the elected lawmakers; there is the Pakistani model which is another name for military dictatorship through the backdoor; the Malaysian model, which defies a straightjacket definition; the Afghanistan model of tribal jirgas that decide the course of social and government interaction’, and above all, the Indian model that is both federal and unitary in character with a three-tier elected democratic institutions in the provinces.

The point is each country has to evolve and adopt a democratic system based on its own core values and learning from others’ experience. From a Zia to Musharraf and from an Ershad to a Mugabwe, every dictator has a craving for legitimacy, and at some point of time, whether out of own interest or under external pressure, holds elections.

Historically, most such elections do not usher in an unadulterated democracy. But quite too often, these regimented elections, which, in some countries saw the General Headquarters doubling up as the proxy Election Commission and Vote Counting Centre, paved the way over time to a semblance of democracy the world has come to accept. The developments in Myanmar fall into a familiar pattern.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s call to NLD to boycott the election deserves to be respected. So is the decision of Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai, who is upset that special branch police were visiting the homes of his cadres for personal information and two photos each. By the same token, the resolve of some colleagues of Aung San Suu Kyi to enter the fray as the National Democratic Force deserves to be treated with respect. Obviously, these leaders believe in the age old dictum that not retreat into a shell, but constant engagement with the rulers is the best way out to reach the cherished goal.

By the last official count, at least 40 parties have registered to join the elections. Only five of them had fought the 1990 general election. Amongst the new parties, the most prominent is the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is the junta’s platform, and, therefore, pampered with state money and special privileges. Most other parties represent ethnic minority groups with local agendas.

It is unclear how many of the country’s marginalized ethnic minorities will take part in the ballot. Myanmar is home to 135 officially recognized minorities, who make up 40 percent of the population of 50 million. Many of these ethnic groups lead what may be loosely called an autonomous existence as adversaries of the government in Yangon. .

The Election Commission has designated one parliamentary constituency for each ethnic minority in each of the seven regions and seven states. Sagaing, Tanintharyi, Bago, Magway, Ayeyawaddy, Yangon and Mandalay are the regions; Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and Chin are the states under the new constitution. The election law reads: the region or state parliament will be made up of two representatives from each township in the region or state with each representative elected from each ethnic minority determined by the authorities as having a population which constitutes 0.1 percent and above of the population of the union. The law reserves one-third of the total number of parliamentary seats for the military personnel nominated by the commander-in-chief of the defense services in the region or state parliamentary election.

In March this year, State Peace Development Council, the ruling junta passed a set of five electoral laws, namely Union Election Commission Law, Political Parties Registration Law, People’s Parliament Election Law, Nationalities Parliament Election Law and Region or State Parliament Election Law. As a follow-up, the SPDC formed a 17-member Union Election Commission led by U-Thein-Soe. On its part, the poll body has designated 330 constituencies for the House of Representatives and 12 constituencies for the House of Nationalities in the multi-party mode.

By all accounts, Myanmar is entering an unchartered territory with hope and cynicism in equal measure – hope that ‘discipline-flourishing democracy’ an euphemism for ‘controlled’ democracy is at best a half-way measure; cynicism that the ballot will herald a sartorial change with colourful uniform giving place to three-piece suits with stripes.

Both schools have a point as they stand at the threshold of a new dawn. The jury is still out.