article placeholder

And the winner is…

By Sameer Lalwani

The UN backed commission's charge of electoral fraud confirmed what most Afghans and observers already knew—that this was a messy election revealing the corruption, fecklessness, and disarray of the government. But the implications are much more strategically disturbing.

In terms of the US and NATO's counterinsurgency strategy, the best possible outcome they could have hoped for was a sweeping electoral mandate for a single candidate (presumably President Karzai) to avoid the infighting and delays in a runoff and demonstrate to the Afghan people (and the international community) that there was a unified Afghan state ready to return to the business of governance and state development.

Unfortunately, the electoral outcome was the worst of both worlds—a fractured vote mired in illegitimacy amidst allegations of vote-tampering and ballot-stuffing with President Karzai likely barely accumulating over 50% of the vote.

article placeholder

Even the pros of attacking Iran are bad ideas

Conservative British journalist and historian Paul Johnson has a rambling op-ed in Forbes, supposedly on the possibility of an Israeli "surgical strike" on Iranian nuclear facilities. What's worth pointing out is this error in logic that Johnson makes, which is similar to a flawed assumption made by many Iran commenters:

Knocking out Iran's nuclear capability would be much more difficult because of the distance to be covered by Israeli aircraft and because the plants are underground. These difficulties must be weighed against the fact that the Iranian regime is unpopular everywhere because of its recent crooked election and the savagery with which protests against the results were put down.

The implication here is that, while the "con" to launching an attack on Iran is that it would be logistically difficult for Israel to do, the "pro" to this debate is that the Iranian government is unpopular and not very legitimate. Wait a minute. Wouldn't bombing Iran be very unpopular with Iranians? Couldn't this, just maybe, undo the very unpopularity and illegitimacy with which the Iranian regime is now saddled? Further on in the piece Johnson admits as much:

What we don't know is if a successful Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Iranians to close ranks behind their extremist leaders. [emphasis mine]

Generally, when bombs fall on people, they get mad at the people doing the bombing. It's a simple enough lesson, but one that many, in their unconsidered haste to bring about the regime's downfall, miss quite entirely. The second of Johnson's possibilities, or a version of it at least, seems much more likely to result from a missile attack; this would only enhance the government's hardline posture, and give needless credibility to its attempts to focus attention on outside "enemies."

Plus, who in their right mind would suggest a bombing campaign if we don't even know what the results of a successful attack would be? Missiles fired by armchair hawks tend to do a lot less damage than those that actually create the messy carnage of reality.

article placeholder

UN Group issues recommendations on U.S. use of mercenaries

One tricky area of international and national law is how to approach private military contractors.  So-called PMSC, or Private Military and Security Companies are becoming a more and more common feature of international security operations.  The suite of national and international law, however, has generally not kept pace with the increasingly frequent use of armed forces that are not government entities.   This is a relatively new, post-cold war phenomenon that has come to the fore with the expansive use of PMSCs in American-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Into this mix is a UN body affiliated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries.  The "group" as it were, is a panel of five independent international experts, led by Shaista *Shameem of Fiji.  Today, the group concluded a two-week fact finding mission in the United States and released a set of recommendations. It found that significant progress has been made on regularizing accountability mechanisms for PMSCs through legislation enacted in January 2008 and an internal Department of Defense "Interim Final Rule" issued in January 2009.  Still, the working group identified areas where the United States could improve its oversight of PMSCs. 

Although the US authorities have put in place mechanisms to better monitor PMSCs,there is still very little information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. The Working Group would like to reiterate that the responsibility of the State to protect human rights does not stop with contracting or subcontracting. It is indeed the responsibility of the State to ensure that any contractor to which it outsources its functions, fully respects human rights, and, in cases of violations is prosecuted and held accountable.

The Working Group is greatly concerned that PSMCs contracted by US Intelligence agencies are not subject to scrutiny from the US Congress and Government, due to classified information. The Working Group believes the public should have the right to access information on the scope, type and value of those contracts. The Working Group hopes that the US Government will take the necessary steps to remove all obstacles to transparency and accountability on the intelligence activities contracted to PMSCs in order to ensure full respect for and protection of human rights and prevent any situation that may lead to impunity of contractors for violations of human rights.

To that end, the working group offered a few recommendations:

article placeholder

India Launches a Nuclear Sub

On Sunday, India launched their first Indian-built nuclear-powered submarine, named Arihant.  It’s a 6000-ton vessel, capable of launching a range of missiles and currently armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The Indian officials at the launch were particularly effuse in their thanks to Russia for providing technical support to the sub’s development. The Russian ambassador to India was present at the launch. The sub, in fact, is only 60% Indian materials; the rest, in particular the mini-reactors, was supplied by Russia.

Arihant means “Destroyer of Enemies” in Sanskrit, and India’s major potential enemy is not happy about the sub launch.  Pakistan stated that the sub threatens regional security – a spokesman for the Pakistan navy said that “the Indian move would have far-reaching destabilising effects on the security environment not only of Pakistan but also of all the littoral states of Indian Ocean and beyond.”

Pakistan’s concerns sound far-fetched to me. The Indian naval presence isn’t aimed at Pakistan or its brown-water navy; it’s aimed at China. I think Pakistan’s frustrated that their own military is tied up trying to suppress militants and maintain their borders, while India has breathing room to develop and launch new weapons. What I am really interested in is China’s response to the sub launch, both in terms of expanding Russian influence in India and India’s new ability to target China.  I’d also like to know what Hilary Clinton has to say.

article placeholder

IMF approves Sri Lanka Loan, U.S. gives $8 million for resettlement

The International Monetary Fund's board of directors approved a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka last week.  The vote was not without controversy.  There are currently hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Tamil civilians trapped in military run concentration camps that are largely off-limits to international humanitarian organizations and international media.  These hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of the conflict zone in April during the waning days of Sri Lanka's long civil war.  Ban Ki Moon has called the largest of these camps, Manik Farm, "the most appalling scenes" he has witnessed. 

The loan's defenders say that Sri Lanka needs this money to address a "balance of payments" that, if left unaddressed, "could have a devastating effect on the economy and people." Not all member states bought that argument--or at least thought it sufficient to overcome their human rights concerns.   The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Argentina and Germany, which collectively represent over a third of the IMF executive board's voting shares, did not vote to approve the loan.  

Meanwhile, former UN Dispatch Human Rights Salon participant and current assistant secretary of state for refugees Eric P Schwartz visited Manik Farm.  Speaking to reporters outside the camp on Monday, Schwartz announced $8 to help the resettlement of the IDPs.   From the Associated Press:

He said the U.S was "deeply concerned about a range of issues where further progress is essential."

"In particular the vast majority of displaced persons remain confined to camps," he said.

"Moreover there remain burdensome limitations on access to those camps for those international humanitarian organizations and others who are in a position to ameliorate the conditions faced by these victims of conflict," he said.

Schwartz says he received assurances from top officials in Columbo that the displaced will be allowed to return home soon.  I suppose we will have to wait and see if these officials follow through on their committments and obligations to international law. 

article placeholder

Jakarta bombing

By now you have heard of the twin suicide bombing attacks at the Marriot Hotel and Ritz Carlton Hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia.  At least 8 people were killed and 50 injured. Smart money is that Jemaah Islamiya is behind the attack. I found this video depicting the chaos following the explosion. 

article placeholder

Sanctions tightening around North Korea

The facts that China appears to be on board -- not to mention that the UN panel on North Korea sanctions may come to consensus before its deadline -- do not bode well for a defiant Pyongyang.

The U.N. Security Council neared agreement on Wednesday on North Korean firms and individuals to be added to a blacklist for involvement in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, diplomats said

"We are very close" to agreement, Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu told reporters. Diplomats from several countries said a council committee that has been discussing the issue for a month was on target to meet a weekend deadline for completing its task and could do so as early as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, North Korea insists that its "sovereignty" be respected before negotiations can recommence. This seems to have it completely backwards. North Korea's leaders aren't exactly the ones to place conditions here; they're the ones who will need to reconsider their country's nuclear program if they are interested in, say, having unfrozen bank accounts or being able to travel anywhere.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised to hear some off-the-mark commentators continue to insist that an utterly isolated North Korea somehow has "the upper hand" in this drama.

article placeholder

July Already the Deadliest Month for Foreign Troops in Afghanistan

A harbinger of things to come or a temporary spike?

The death toll for foreign troops in Afghanistan halfway through July equalled the highest for any month of the eight-year-old war, tallies showed on Wednesday, as a U.S. escalation has met unprecedented violence.

Authorities announced a U.S. soldier had been killed by a bomb and two Turks had died in a road accident, raising the toll of U.S. and allied foreign fatalities in the first half of July to 46, equal to full month highs set in August and June 2008.

In the two weeks since U.S. and British troops launched massive assaults, Western troops have died at an average rate of three a day, nearing the tempo of the bloodiest days in Iraq and almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04.