Archive for March 6, 2009

Sufi devotees in Lahore

Some believe that Pakistan’s mystic, non-violent Islam can be used as a defence against extremism (Photos: Kamil Dayan Khan)

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Lahore

It’s one o’clock in the morning and the night is pounding with hypnotic rhythms, the air thick with the smoke of incense, laced with dope.

I’m squeezed into a corner of the upper courtyard at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal in Lahore, famous for its Thursday night drumming sessions.

It’s packed with young men, smoking, swaying to the music, and working themselves into a state of ecstasy.

This isn’t how most Westerners imagine Pakistan, which has a reputation as a hotspot for Islamist extremism.

Devotional singing

But this popular form of Sufi Islam is far more widespread than the Taleban’s version. It’s a potent brew of mysticism, folklore and a dose of hedonism.

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Inside the Sufi drumming session at the shrine of Baba Shah Jamal

Now some in the West have begun asking whether Pakistan’s Sufism could be mobilised to counter militant Islamist ideology and influence.

Lahore would be the place to start: it’s a city rich in Sufi tradition.

At the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh Hajveri, musicians and singers from across the country also gather weekly, to perform qawwali, or Islamic devotional singing.

Qawwali is seen as a key part of the journey to the divine, what Sufis call the continual remembrance of God.

“When you listen to other music, you will listen for a short time, but the qawwali goes straight inside,” says Ali Raza, a fourth generation Sufi singer.

“Even if you can’t understand the wording, you can feel the magic of the qawwali, this is spiritual music which directly touches your soul and mind as well.”

But Sufism is more than music. At a house in an affluent suburb of Lahore a group of women gathers weekly to practise the Sufi disciplines of chanting and meditation, meant to clear the mind and open the heart to God.

One by one the devotees recount how the sessions have helped them deal with problems and achieve greater peace and happiness. This more orthodox Sufism isn’t as widespread as the popular variety, but both are seen as native to South Asia.

‘Love and harmony’

“Islam came to this part of the world through Sufism,” says Ayeda Naqvi, a teacher of Islamic mysticism who’s taking part in the chanting.

“It was Sufis who came and spread the religious message of love and harmony and beauty, there were no swords, it was very different from the sharp edged Islam of the Middle East.

“And you can’t separate it from our culture, it’s in our music, it’s in our folklore, it’s in our architecture. We are a Sufi country, and yet there’s a struggle in Pakistan right now for the soul of Islam.”

Sufi drummer

Sufism is a mixture of music, chanting and meditation

That struggle is between Sufism and hard-line Wahhabism, the strict form of Sunni Islam followed by members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

It has gained ground in the tribal north-west, encouraged initially in the 1980s by the US and Saudi Arabia to help recruit Islamist warriors to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

But it’s alien to Pakistan’s Sufi heartland in the Punjab and Sindh provinces, says Sardar Aseff Ali, a cabinet minister and a Sufi.

“Wahhabism is a tribal form of Islam coming from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia,” he says. “This may be very attractive to the tribes in the frontier, but it will never find resonance in the established societies of Pakistan.”

So could Pakistan’s mystic, non-violent Islam be used as a defence against extremism?

An American think tank, the Rand Corporation, has advocated this, suggesting support for Sufism as an “open, intellectual interpretation of Islam”.

There is ample proof that Sufism remains a living tradition.

In the warren of Lahore’s back streets, a shrine is being built to a modern saint, Hafiz Iqbal, and his mentor, a mystic called Baba Hassan Din. They attract followers from all classes and walks of life.

‘Atrocities’

The architect is Kamil Khan Mumtaz. He describes in loving detail his traditional construction techniques and the spiritual principles they symbolise.

Sufi gathering in Lahore

Huge crowds are attracted to Sufi gatherings

He shakes his head at stories of lovely old mosques and shrines pulled down and replaced by structures of concrete and glass at the orders of austere mullahs, and he’s horrified at atrocities committed in the name of religion by militant Islamists.

But he doubts that Sufism can be marshalled to resist Wahhabi radicalism, a phenomenon that he insists has political, not religious, roots.

“The American think tanks should think again,” he says. “What you see [in Islamic extremism] is a response to what has happened in the modern world.

“There is a frustration, an anger, a rage against invaders, occupiers. Muslims ask themselves, what happened?

“We once ruled the world and now we’re enslaved. This is a power struggle, it is the oppressed who want to become the oppressors, this has nothing to do with Islam, and least of all to do with Sufism.”

Sufi food distribution

Sufi people are often actively engaged in social welfare programmes

Ayeda Naqvi, on the other hand, believes Sufism could play a political role to strengthen a tolerant Islamic identity in Pakistan. But she warns of the dangers of Western support.

“I think if it’s done it has to be done very quietly because a lot of people here are allergic to the West interfering,” she says.

“So even if it’s something good they’re doing, they need to be discreet because you don’t want Sufism to be labelled as a movement which is being pushed by the West to drown out the real puritanical Islam.”

Back at the Shah Jamal shrine I couldn’t feel further from puritanical Islam. The frenzied passion around me suggests that Pakistan’s Sufi shrines won’t be taken over by the Taleban any time soon.

But whether Sufism can be used to actively resist the spread of extremist Islam, or even whether it should be, is another question.

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A giant air purifier was installed recently along a busy street in Lima, Peru. Its makers claim it can clear carbon dioxide from 200,000 cubic meters of air each day, the equivalent of 1,200 trees. If the air pollution levels in Lima though are nine times as high as recommended by UN pollution guidelines and they are mainly caused by cars, why not focus on creating public transport rather than spending millions of dollars on band aid solutions?

National Geographic (AP)

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australia-fire

Mark Adams of the University of Sydney said global warming could trigger a vicious cycle in which forests could stop becoming sinks of CO2, further accelerating the rise of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere. “With increasing concerns about rising CO2, rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in many of the forested areas, then we could well see much greater emissions from forest fires,” Adams, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, told Reuters.

The Victoria fires, which killed more than 200 people, were the worst in the nation’s history. “Scientists worldwide are worried about fires and forests. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Arctic tundra fires, or peat fires in Kalimantan or bushfires in Australia,” said Adams, who has worked in collaboration with the Bushfire Co-operative Research Center.

In a submission to the United Nations last year, the Australian government said wildfires in 2003 released 190 million tons of CO2-equivalent, roughly a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions for the year. Such large, one-off releases of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane, are not presently accounted for in Australia’s annual list of national greenhouse gas emissions. If they were, the country would vastly exceed its emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations’ main weapon to fight climate change. Which is why Australia is calling for amendments to rules on land use change under the United Nations so that only human activities that “can be practicably influenced” are included. Adams said U.N. climate talks at the end of the year in Denmark that aim to agree on a successor pact to Kyoto, should discuss the growing threat from forest fires and how to develop better legal frameworks to tackle the problem.

MAJOR PROBLEM

Adams, who has studied how much carbon Australia’s forests and soil can store, has estimated that fires in 2003, which ravaged the capital Canberra, and in 2006-07 released about 550 million tons of CO2. The recent fires had already burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, he said, in areas with total carbon content of 200 tons per hectare or more.

Australia, though, was not the only concern. Annual fires in Indonesia also release vast amounts of CO2. Huge fires in 1997 released up to 6 billion tons of CO2, covering Southeast Asia in thick haze and causing a spike in global levels of the gas. Research on the forest and peat fires by a team of international scientists found the blazes released the equivalent of up 40 percent of global annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Adams said the research was a wake-up call. “When you see the step-increases (of CO2) that they observed, we have to sit up and take notice, that fires are a major problem,” said Adams. He said in the past, native forest carbon had been in rough equilibrium over millions of years with fires, with very small accretion of carbon over very long periods of time. “But then if you add rapid climate change and much greater fire frequency, the equilibrium carbon content of the native forests, instead of going up, is going to go down.”

[Thanks to Enviro]

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The following article’s value lies in it making a convincing case for the true purpose of the planned US anti-missile system in Europe: to provide the US military with a better chance to win a nuclear war. The author, in a sometimes quite repetitive way, stresses the point that the (anti) missiles would be deployed against Russia after an American first strike. He also briefly touches on Russian military counter-strategies. The bottom line of the article is determine whether we’re heading into a new cold war, which is a worthwhile question to ask, BUT: I wonder why there isn’t at least some critical reflection on the whole insanity of nuclear threats and the notion of war in general. I was actually not sure whether to re-post this article at all given that I think reflections on peace are much more important than those on geopolitical or geomilitary strategies; the reason I did decide in the end to publish it was that it gives me at least a bit more clarity what this so-called missile defense game is all about.

missile_defense_notional_3

New Cold War on Hold? Is Obama Ready to Drop Missile Defense?

by F. William Engdahl
Global Research

US President Obama has sent a secret letter to Russia’s president Medvedev, suggesting that he would back down from deploying the controversial US missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, according to White House spokesmen. The New York Times reports that the letter to Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by Under Secretary of State William J. Burns three weeks ago. It reportedly said the United States would not need to proceed with its missile interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.

The Obama offer reportedly was intended to give Moscow an incentive to join the United States in a common front against Iran. Russia’s military, diplomatic and commercial ties to Tehran give it influence, but it has understandably resisted Washington’s hard line against Iran. The question is what the ultimate US strategy is vis-à-vis Russia.

New Strategy or new tricks?

If as it seems, the secret offer to Medvedev is accurate the question is whether this represents a serious retreat under President Obama from the long-term Pentagon goal of nuclear primary—in military terms the ability of the United States to deliver a fatal nuclear first strike against Russia without fear of significant Russian retaliation.

missile-defense-architectureAs Russian and even US military experts have stressed, deployment of an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic is a direct threat to Russia’s nuclear potential. They argue that an ‘anti-Iranian’ missile defense system will be deployed in the next two to three years in an area clearly beyond the reach of Iran’s existing and projected missiles, but very convenient for intercepting missiles launched from European Russia in a northern and a north-western direction. The immediate targets of this system are the Russian Strategic Missile divisions deployed west of the Urals. A simple look at the numbers shows that although there are several Topols and UR-100s for each American interceptor, this ratio would only stand until the first nuclear strike. The Russian concern is that it could be tempting for Washington at some point, to initiate a first strike when there is a system that protects against retaliation.

The 10 ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles planned for Poland cannot, of course, hope to counter a full-scale strike by the Russian Strategic Missile Forces and missile-carrying submarines. But the strategic importance of these interceptor missiles would increase greatly were the US to deliver a nuclear first strike against Russia. In such a scenario, the Polish-based interceptor missiles would only have to contend with the reduced number of missiles that survived the first strike. This would allow the US prospect for the first time since the 1950s, for ‘victory’ in a nuclear war.

As I describe in my book, Apokalypse Jetzt!, the placement of US missiles in Poland and advanced radar in the Czech Republic are vital parts of the US post-Cold War strategy of NATO encirclement of Russia and eventual decapitation of the nation as a functioning entity. As Obama foreign policy adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski has repeatedly stressed, the gravest threat to US sole superpower dominance of the planet lies in Eurasia and the chance that Russia, China and other Eurasian powers combine forces to resist US domination. That is what the British father of modern geopolitics, Sir Halford Mackinder considered the worst nightmare. In this context, indications to date suggest that the Obama initiative is part of a clever chess game, intended as a poker chip in the geopolitics of the Grand Chess Game for US control over Russia in Eurasia.

‘It’s almost saying to them, put up or shut up,’ one anonymous senior Obama official is quoted saying. ‘It’s not that the Russians get to say, ‘We’ll try and therefore you have to suspend.’ It says the threat has to go away.’ Initial reaction from Medvedev has been duly restrained. The press secretary for Medvedev told the Interfax news agency that the letter did not contain any ‘specific proposals or mutually binding initiatives.’

By anonymously leaking to the New York Times an unverifiable version of the Obama offer, it is clearly intended to put Russia on the defensive as to why it is unwilling to join Washington in pressuring Iran. Russia’s president denied the media report claiming that Washington had pledged to drop its Central European missile shield plans if Moscow helped resolve Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

Obama meets Medvedev for the first time on April 2 in London. The plan to build a high-tech radar facility in the Czech Republic and deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, both former Warsaw Pact members on Russia’s doorstep, was a top priority for President George W. Bush. Washington had insisted, in a dubious argument, that the aim was not to counter Russia’s nuclear arsenal but to deter Iran in case it developed a nuclear warhead to fit atop its long-range missiles. Bush never accepted a Moscow proposal to install part of the missile defense system on its territory and jointly operate it so it could not be used against Russia, giving strong credence to the Russian argument that it was aimed not at Tehran but at Moscow.

At a NATO meeting in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 20, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, ‘I told the Russians a year ago that if there were no Iranian missile program, there would be no need for the missile sites.’ Obama’s inauguration, Gates added, offered the chance for a fresh start.

Moscow’s response to Polish missiles

Medvedev has replied that Russia is open to discuss any proposal to end the US missile defense plans for Poland and the Czech Republic but that he would not accept any linkage with Iran talks.

iskander-eMedvedev had warned last year that Moscow would deploy nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordered by Lithuania and Poland, in response to the US plans. The Russian Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, now says that Moscow would not place Iskander missiles on the EU’s doorstep if Washington abandoned its plans to deploy missile defenses in Central Europe. “If the deployment [of U.S. missile defense elements] is suspended, we will not start the retaliatory measures we planned,’ Serdyukov told Russian media, in Moscow after meeting his German counterpart, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung, to discuss issues of bilateral military cooperation, including the rail and air transit of military cargo for German troops in Afghanistan through Russia. ‘We are ready to continue discussions on this [missile defense] issue, including in the framework of the Russia-NATO Council,’ he added.

The Iskander theater missile system is Russia’s answer to the possible appearance of elements of a U.S. anti-missile system in Eastern Europe. The range of the Iskander in its basic form is 300 kilometers, and could easily be extended to 500 kilometers and more should Russia decide to abandon the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Additionally, the Iskander can also launch long-range cruise missiles. R-500s have already been successfully test-fired from the Iskander. The range of a cruise-missile system can potentially exceed 2,000 kilometers, thus making it possible to hit targets across Western Europe.

Iskander mobile launchers deployed in Kaliningrad, and possibly in Belarus, even in their standard configuration, could deliver a sudden strike, including with nuclear warheads, at most of Poland. Rapid deployment, which takes a few minutes, combined with the characteristics of the missile itself, increase the probability of successfully engaging targets, especially in view of the fact that the main targets – the interceptor missile launchers – are fixed.

Gates admits Iran ‘not close’ to bomb

The curious part of Washington’s latest cat-and-mouse games with Russia is the new admission by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, an open advocate of missile defense, that Iran is no where close to having a nuclear weapon.

Iran has recently begun testing its Bushehr civilian nuclear power plant, a construction project run by Russia, ironically to complete a nuclear plant first begun by German contractors under the regime of the Shah during the 1970’s. Tehran said the plant, its first nuclear power station, could go on line within months. That is not the same as having enough fissionable material to make a bomb.

Iran’s controversial nuclear program was cited by the Bush Administration as one of the reasons behind its plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic. The missile shield has been strongly opposed by Russia, which rightly views it as a threat to its national security. US missile defense officials have openly admitted that ‘missile defense is the key to developing a nuclear first strike.’ That means far from ‘defensive’ the Polish missiles and radar would be aggressive and offensive in the extreme, presenting the world the most dangerous risk of nuclear war by miscalculation since the 1962 Cuba missile crisis.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on NBC television this week that Iran was not close to building a nuclear bomb, contrary to the argument Israeli politicians including the Prime Minister designate, Netanyahu make. ‘They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time,’ Gates said.

The choice of a new Cold War or not clearly lies now in Washington, not Moscow.

F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press) and Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (www.globalresearch.ca) and will release his new book, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (Third Millennium Press) in April. He may be contacted at www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net.

F. William Engdahl is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by F. William Engdahl

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War comes home to Britain

By Pilger, John
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john_pilgerFreedom is being lost in Britain. The land of Magna Carta is now the land of secret gagging orders, secret trials and imprisonment. The government will soon know about every phone call, every email, every text message. Police can willfully shoot to death an innocent man, lie and expect to get away with it. Whole communities now fear the state. The foreign secretary routinely covers up allegations of torture; the justice secretary routinely prevents the release of critical cabinet minutes taken when Iraq was illegally invaded. The litany is cursory; there is much more.

Indeed, there is so much more that the erosion of liberal freedoms is symptomatic of an evolved criminal state.  The haven for Russian oligarchs, together with corruption of the tax and banking systems and of once-admired public services such as the Post Office, is one side of the coin; the other is the invisible carnage of failed colonial wars. Historically, the pattern is familiar. As the colonial crimes in Algeria, Vietnam and Afghanistan blew back to their perpetrators, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, so the cancerous effects of Britain’s cynicism in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home.

The most obvious example is the bombing atrocities in London on 7 July 2005; no one in the British intelligence mandarinate doubts these were a gift of Blair.  “Terrorism” describes only the few acts of individuals and groups, not the constant, industrial violence of great powers. Suppressing this truth is left to the credible media. On 27 February, the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Ewen MacAskill, in reporting President Obama’s statement that America was finally leaving Iraq, as if it were fact, wrote: “For Iraq, the death toll is unknown, in the tens of thousands, victims of the war, a nationalist uprising, sectarian in-fighting and jihadists attracted by the US presence.”  Thus, the Anglo-American invaders are merely a “presence” and not directly responsible for the “unknown” number of Iraqi deaths. Such contortion of intellect is impressive.

In January last year, a report by the respected Opinion Research Business (ORB) revised an earlier assessment of deaths in Iraq to 1,033,000. This followed an exhaustive, peer-reviewed study in 2006 by the world-renowned John Hopkins School of Public Health in the US, published in The Lancet, which found that 655,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion. US and British officials immediately dismissed the report as “flawed” – a deliberate deception. Foreign Office papers obtained under Freedom of Information disclose a memo written by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, in which he praised The Lancet report, describing it as “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ given [the conditions] in Iraq.” An adviser to the prime minister commented:   “The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones”. Speaking a few days later, a Foreign Office minister, Lord Triesman, said, “The way in which data are extrapolated from samples to a general outcome is a matter of deep concern.”

The episode exemplifies the scale and deception of this state crime. Les Roberts, co-author of the Lancet study, has since argued that Britain and America might have caused in Iraq “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide”. This is not news. Neither is it a critical reference in the freedoms campaign organised by the Observer columnist Henry Porter. At a conference in London on 28 February, Lord Goldsmith, Blair’s attorney-general, who notoriously changed his mind and advised the government the invasion was legal, when it wasn’t, was a speaker for freedom. So was Timothy Garton Ash, a “liberal interventionist”. On 9 April, 2003, shortly after the slaughter had begun in Iraq, a euphoric Garton Ash wrote in the Guardian: “America has never been the Great Satan. It has sometimes been the Great Gatsby: ‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things …”. One of Britain’s jobs “is to keep reminding Tom and Daisy that they now have promises to keep”. Less frivolously, he lauded Blair for his “strong Gladstonian instincts for humanitarian intervention” and repeated the government’s propaganda about Saddam Hussein. In 2006, he wrote: “Now we face the next big test of the west after Iraq: Iran.”  (I have italicized we). This also adheres precisely to the propaganda; David Milliband has declared Iran a “threat” in preparation for possibly the next war.

Like so many of New Labour‘s Tonier-than-thou squad, Henry Porter celebrated Blair as an almost mystical politician who “presents himself as a harmoniser for all the opposing interests in British life, a conciliator of class differences and tribal antipathies, synthesiser of opposing beliefs”. Porter dismissed as “demonic nonsense” all analysis of the 9/11 attacks that suggested there were specific causes: the consequences of violent actions taken by the powerful in the Middle East. Such thinking, he wrote, “exactly matches the views of Osma bin Laden … with America’s haters, that’s all there is – hatred”.  This, of course, was Blair’s view.

Freedoms are being lost in Britain because of the rapid growth of the “national security state”. This form of militarism was imported from the United States by New Labour. Totalitarian in essence, it relies upon fear mongering to entrench the executive with venal legal mechanisms that progressively diminish democracy and justice. “Security” is all, as is propaganda promoting rapacious colonial wars, even as honest mistakes. Take away this propaganda, and the wars are exposed for what they are, and fear evaporates.  Take away the obeisance of many in Britain’s liberal elite to American power and you demote a profound colonial and crusader mentality that covers for epic criminals like Blair. Prosecute these criminals and change the system that breeds them and you have freedom.

www.johnpilger.com

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The armed assault on Sri Lanka’s cricket team in Lahore has been a brutal demonstration, if any more were needed, that the war on terrorism is devouring itself and the states that have been sucked into its slipstream.

Par756994Pakistan is both victim and protagonist of the conflict in Afghanistan, its western and northern fringes devastated by a US-driven counter-insurgency campaign, its heartlands wracked by growing violence and deepening poverty. The country shows every sign of slipping out of the control of its dysfunctional civilian government – and even the military that has held it together for 60 years.

Presumably, that was part of the intended message of the group that carried out Tuesday’s attacks. But the outrage also fits a well-established pattern of attacks carried out in revenge for the army’s devastation of the tribal areas on the Afghan border, where thousands have been killed and up to half a million people forced to flee from the fighting with the Pakistani Taliban.

Hostility to this onslaught has been inflamed by the recent revelation that US aerial drone attacks on supposed terrorist hideouts have been launched from a base in Pakistan itself, with the secret connivance of President Asif Zardari, as well as across the border from occupied Afghanistan.

Now that Pakistan faces its own blowback from the Afghan war and the Taliban it helped create, its military intelligence is trying to redirect its wayward offspring back to fight what are supposed to be Pakistan’s own US and British allies in Afghanistan on the other side of the border. The Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s call on his Pakistani followers this week to stop attacks on the Pakistani army and join the battle to “liberate Afghanistan from occupation forces” reflects that pressure.

afghanistan-war-2The situation is only one byproduct of the systematically counterproductive nature of Western policy across the wider region since 2001. After seven years of lawless invasion and occupation, the war on terrorism is in ruins. The limits of American military power have been laid bare in the killing fields of Iraq; Iran has been transformed into the pre-eminent regional power; Hezbollah and Hamas have become the most important forces in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; a resurgent Taliban is leading an effective guerilla war in Afghanistan; and far from crushing terrorist networks, the US and its allies have spread them to Pakistan.

Barack Obama’s rise to power is a product of that record of failure: without his opposition to the Iraq war he would not be President. And since his inauguration, he has signalled potentially important shifts in US foreign policy, while ditching the rhetoric of the war on terrorism. But although the belligerent language has gone, what is striking is the continuity with the main elements of George Bush’s “war on terrorism”.

Obama’s timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq mirrors last November’s status of forces agreement between the Bush administration and the Iraqi Government, including his stated “intention” to pull out all troops by the end of 2011. And, as after last year’s deal, that was quickly qualified by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, who said he would like to see a “modest” US military presence stay on thereafter – if the Iraqi Government requested it.

In the crucible of conflict in the Middle East, between Israel and the Palestinians, there is also little sign of any substantive change in US policy, whether on lifting the continuing siege of Gaza or talking to the Palestinians’ elected representatives, let alone using US leverage to bring an end to Israel’s illegal colonisation of the West Bank or to end its occupation.

However, it is in Afghanistan that the new US is on the point of compounding the failures of the war on terrorism. Obama has already committed himself to sending 17,000 more US troops, an increase of almost 50 per cent, with the prospect of a similar number again later in the year.

afghan-war-3But there is not the remotest prospect that a “surge” of this scale – aimed at propping up a corrupt Afghan administration the US and its allies openly despise – can pacify the country or crush Taliban-led Pashtun resistance, though it will surely raise the civilian death toll, running at more than 2000 last year.

It is also not what Afghans or Americans want, according to opinion polls, and it will continue to destabilise an already precarious Pakistan, which will be the sanctuary for even more Taliban fighters.

The grip of conservative Islamism on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is the legacy not just of Bush, but decades of US meddling in the region. What Obama has inherited is an arc of US- and Western-backed occupation from Palestine to Pakistan.

If the administration’s review of “Afpak” policy were to lead to negotiations with the Taliban and a wind-down of the occupation, that would cut the ground from under Pakistan’s own insurgency. But if Afghanistan becomes Obama’s war, it risks poisoning his presidency – just as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson more than 40 years ago.

[Seumas Milne, Guardian News & Media via Sydney Morning Herald]

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It seems wild animals threatened by extinction, like tigers and elephants, are taking are last stand against money hungry Indonesian business tycoons and corrupt politicians. But they of course aren’t the ones suffering; that is the fate of the animals the poverty stricken villagers at the frontline, neither of whom gains any benefits from the deal between the Indonesian government and loggers plus plantation owners. And neither do Indonesian neighbours who will continue to live in suffocating smoke or the rest of the planet who’ll have to live with the consequences of Indonesia being the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China. It simply does not make any rational sense how greed blinds the human mind.

sumatran-tiger

THE Indonesian Government has approved a big increase in logging of its tropical forests, a decision that will lead to a rise in carbon emissions and, most likely, lead to further deadly attacks on villagers by tigers and elephants.

The end of a 14-month moratorium on logging comes amid a spate of macabre maulings of Indonesians by animals struggling to survive in their dwindling habitats. On Wednesday, an 83-year-old man on the island of Sumatra was killed after 30 wild elephants stampeded through his village. The death followed a month of elephants running amok in the village, which is close to a trail commonly used by the threatened species. “The elephant routes are almost gone,” said Johny Mundung, the co-ordinator for the Indonesian environmental group Wahli in the Sumatran province of Riau, where the attack occurred.

Four people have died in Sumatra in the past 3½ months due to wild elephant attacks. However the deaths caused by Sumatran tigers have been even more dramatic. The death by mauling of an illegal logger in Sumatra on Wednesday was the ninth in five weeks. About half of Sumatra’s forests have been destroyed, the trees logged and, in some cases, replaced with palm oil and pulp plantations. All the deaths caused by elephants and tigers occurred in areas where such plantations abound.

Indonesia’s deforestation has earned it the title of the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. More than 80 per cent of the emissions are caused by deforestation. Indonesia has destroyed more than 28 million hectares of forest since 1990, much of it on swampy, densely forested peatlands that are the world’s most potent carbon sinks, absorbing greenhouse gases spewed out by a rapidly industrialising world.

In 2007, the Indonesian Government announced it would stop the clearing of the peatlands, shortly before Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to reduce carbon emissions from forests by 50 per cent in 2009 and 95 per cent by 2025. But last month, Indonesia’s ministry of agriculture quietly announced it would issue permits for the destruction of another 2 million hectares of peatlands. “SBY’s goal is now mission impossible,” said Yuyun Adradi, a Greenpeace forests campaigner.

A sharp fall in palm oil prices has led to calls from the industry, many of them substantial political donors, for more land concessions. Officials from the agriculture ministry said the new permits would be carefully managed and represented only 8 per cent of the remaining peatlands. But Greenpeace said that the logging will lead to a huge increase in carbon emissions, as much as 10 times the annual emissions from fossil fuel consumption in Indonesia.

The logging of marshy peatlands creates a environmental triple whammy. The cutting down of the forests and draining of the peat destroys the carbon sinks. Then the oxidisation of the exposed peat – created from thousands of years of organic matter composting – emits more carbon gases. The third climate change calamity is caused when the denuded and drained peatlands catch fire during the dry season. Peat is highly combustible and the fires typically burn underground and cannot be doused with traditional firefighting methods, creating smoky haze that drifts across the archipelago and neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia for months.

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