Friday, December 18, 2009

Weaponizing Treasury’s Financial Enforcement: Credit Suisse Rolls Over on Tehran

…While Poker Players Fight Back

From her perch at Politico, the estimable Laura Rozen reports that the U.S. government has slapped Swiss bank Credit Suisse with a “half billion dollar” settlement punishing the bank for helping Iran evade U.S. financial sanctions.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the decision, flanked by the head of Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Bush administration holdover, and China Matters bete noire Stuart Levey.

China Matters’ response: Grrrrrrrrr.

During the North Korean disarmament debacle in the last years of the Bush administration, China Matters tirelessly documented Levey’s efforts to sabotage the State Department's negotiated arrangement with Pyongyang by throwing up countless regulatory and extra-regulatory roadblocks to the key trigger for the deal: release of $24 million in North Korea-related funds frozen at Banco Delta Asia in Macau.

I hear echoes of that fiasco in the Credit Suisse deal.

I would note that, according to the Deferred Prosecution Agreement that Politico linked to, the $536 million dollars looks like it’s not Credit Suisse’s (also, the stock price doesn’t seem to have taken much of a hit since the announcement), which makes it look like Credit Suisse got off kinda easy in return for helping drop the hammer on Tehran:

…the parties agreed that the United States could institute…forfeiture against certain funds held by Credit Suisse…


Credit Suisse hereby acknowledges that $536,000,000 was involved in transactions described in the Factual Statement…[emphasis added]

So, it looks like it’s not Credit Suisse capital or earnings at stake. Probably it’s Tehran’s money and we have another Banco Delta Asia/North Korea situation.

In other words, just as we tied up North Korea’s money in a Macau bank in order to exert political pressure in 2007, now we’re tying up Iran’s money in a Suisse Bank.

From the U.S. point of view, the situation is improved because, instead of the money frozen under the jurisdiction of a bewildered and resentful foreign monetary authority, this agreement binds Credit Suisse to hand the money over to the United States on demand or face the consequences.

The Iranians, of course, are welcome to wade into the Swiss courts to try to get their money released from Credit Suisse. Once the $536,000,000 makes it to the United States, however, fuhgedaboutit.

So I guess China Matters may have Stuart Levey to kick around a lot longer.

Levey going rogue on North Korea policy, perhaps at the behest of the Office of the Vice President or some other hardline coven inside the Bush administration was one thing.

However, my strongest objection was the use of Treasury’s ability to exploit America’s central position in the world financial system to intimidate our insufficiently aggressive friends into disrupting the international financial dealings of North Korea and Iran and who knows who else.

I realize that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are much enamored of “soft power” and feel that working the financial levers is preferable to shooting a cruise missile down someone’s throat. And keeping on a Bush appointee to run the show makes for continuity, even if Levey runs an independent and refractory bureaucratic bastion.

But my main gripe about “financial enforcement” is that it’s unilateral, utterly untransparent, and targets our allies.

Most importantly, weaponizing financial enforcement undercuts America’s stance as indispensable honest broker in the world financial system.

Considering the emerging challenges to America’s role as world reserve currency from the EU and China (though, admittedly, no one seems eager to take on the job of keeping the world awash in liquidity, any more than any nation or bloc wants to assume Uncle Sam’s role as the world’s largest debtor nation), it would not seem especially wise to give other countries more reasons to start avoiding the greenback—and dodging Treasury’s heavy-handed intimidation.

However, the Credit Suisse announcement gives me a cause for holiday cheer: the opportunity to revisit one of the most popular posts in the history of China Matters, The Worldwide Gambling Storm, whose focus was the unilateral extension of the long, costly, and rather arbitrary arm of U.S. financial enforcement into foreign jurisdictions, and update the story.

The point of departure for the post was the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, a piece of calculated political folly by a delusional presidential aspirant, Bill Frist.

Under UIGEA’s aegis, the U.S. aggressively cracked down on financial institutions that held electronic wallets or otherwise facilitated the play of American gamers on offshore Internet poker sites.

The U.S. action shaved billions of dollars off the market value of British on-line gambling companies, who relied on U.S. players for much of their revenue.

The U.S. government also threatened to compel British investors to disgorge their illicit gains from illegal poker play by Americans.

The result was near apoplexy in the British establishment, and rage at the U.S. government’s use of Treasury sanctions to intimidate foreign corporations into adhering to U.S. national and even state statutes.

The Europeans brandished their own regulatory and financial clubs in a June 2009 decision citing the U.S. for WTO violations in its jihad against online gaming:

…report made it perfectly clear that there are high costs associated with U.S. infractions, citing the losses in revenue and stock market capitalization incurred by European companies who had to vacate the U.S. market. The report also provided a projection of what U.S. online gaming revenue would have been if not for the UIGEA, which showed $10 billion of hypothetical revenue loss for 2012 alone.

The report also chastised the U.S. Department of Justice for continuing to pursue European online gambling and betting companies that left the U.S. market in 2006, stating "The report comes to the conclusion that these proceedings are legally unjustified as well as discriminatory, because the activities of EU companies took place under the cover of US WTO commitments."

The U.S. is in the process of formally withdrawing from its GATS obligations as they pertain to online gaming. While the European Commission acknowledges that this process may have some influence on the actions it may ultimately take, it also was quick to point out that the U.S. would still be culpable for all its GATS violations prior to the withdrawal.

Meanwhile, American poker players felt the claws of the government at their throats.

In keeping with the theme of politicized and selective financial enforcement with zero due process, those of us with memories of the contortions and pretexts used to tie up North Korean-related funds at ADB will have a smile at this (although the 24,000 online poker players whose funds were frozen are no doubt struggling with other and stronger emotions): can reveal that the total amount of seized monies from the two largest online poker rooms, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, has now reached $40 million.

Gambling911 sources informed us that a few banks voluntarily froze another $10 million in funds over the past few days following news that the US Attorney out of New York froze $30 million transferring through payment processors on behalf of PokerStars and Full Tilt.

Last week, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York instructed four banks to freeze accounts belonging to online payment processors.

In a letter dated Friday and faxed to Alliance Bank of Arizona, the prosecutor alleged that accounts held by payment processor Allied Systems Inc. were subject to seizure and forfeiture "because they constitute property involved in money laundering transactions and illegal gambling offenses."

Some of the said money was reportedly slated as $10,000 buy-ins to the World Series of Poker won by online players in satellite tournaments. The 2009 WSOP is already in progress with the main event set to begin the first week in July.

America’s poker players have found a friend in Barney Frank, who has memorably described UIGEA as “the stupidest bill ever written”, because of its impingement on Americans’ rights to lose their money quickly and efficiently as possible on the Internet, and because it mandates costly and onerous monitoring and enforcement obligations on the banking industry.

Just after Thanksgiving, Frank engineered a six-month postponement of full implementation of UIGEA to June 2010, and will try to push through a repeal of UIGEA in the next few months.

Frank, who doesn’t gamble himself but receives significant campaign contributions from gambling advocates, visited the World Series of Poker and apparently told reporters that the $40 million seizure did not represent the priorities of the Obama administration (again bringing to my mind recollections of the rogueish tendencies of Stuart Levey’s shop at Treasury):

In response to one question, Frank questioned whether [sic] the recent seizure of some $40 million connected to individual players’ online poker funds, asserting instead that it was likely Bush Administration holdovers at the Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York who initiated the action.

The expectation appears to be that President Obama, himself a poker player, will support the reversal of UIGEA and a more sympathetic stance toward online poker.

The European Union appears to think so:

The investigation has been ongoing since March 2008 and the report has been long awaited. But it might not be entirely coincidental that its release comes as U.S. Representative Barney Frank's bill, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act, is in committee and looking for support. In fact, the report specifically stated that the European Commission's actions against the U.S. hinged on the path chosen by the Obama administration, asserting: "Moreover, the approach that the new US Administration takes with regard to the subject matter under investigation in this Trade Barriers Regulation examination may also be relevant for determining which subsequent acts are in the interest of the Community."

EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton said: "Internet gambling is a complex and delicate area, and we do not want to dictate how the US should regulate its market. However, the US must respect its WTO obligations. I hope that we will be able to reach an amicable solution to this issue."

In addition to Frank, the Poker Players’ Association—ostensibly one million strong—has enlisted the services of Alfonse D’Amato. Whether this alliance of opposites is able to overcome the inevitable Republican resistance to any Obama administration initiative, regardless of its merits or ideological slant, remains to be seen.

But for now, interested readers can revisit The Worldwide Gambling Storm--which covers UIGEA, Britain's big bet on online casinos, Chinese gambling, the nuts and bolts of cheating people at poker, the origin of the phrase “pass the buck”, and an amusing anecdote concerning another poker-playing American president: Harry Truman—at this link.

Happy reading and happy holidays!

p.s. In the e-mail notice for this post, I incorrectly referred to the Swiss Bank as UBS i/o Credit Suisse. It's corrected here. Sorry 'bout that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bloody Kashmir, Bloody India, and the Bloody Deal

Western media is always on the alert for China’s insults to its Uighur and Tibetan minorities. Certainly, China’s occupation of Tibet since 1950 has been a brutal, bloody botch that killed upwards of half a million Tibetans during the rebellion in the 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution. Despite China’s determined efforts to fulfill its enlightened despot role and reduce the body count in recent decades, Tibet’s hostility to Han control is intense, justified, and seemingly terminal.

But I think the well-oiled Western outrage machine gives a free ride to India, and brushes aside New Delhi’s ongoing shenanigans in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nepal, Jammu-Kashmir, Balochistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan as “nothing to see here” efforts by the dominant power (and vibrant democracy!) in the region to secure its sphere of influence.

Kashmir is the place where India’s democratic ideals and regional power aspirations collide with the greatest violence.

Kashmir is largely Muslim; it would have ended up in Pakistan at partition in 1947 but for the fact that its ruling Maharajah was a Hindu and something of a dingbat.

As it has clung to Kashmir for six decades, India has recapitulated Israel’s policies on the West Bank, occupying the region, ignoring U.N. resolutions calling for a plebiscite, and steadfastly resisting calls to internationalize the issue even as Kashmir’s insurgency exploded following a rigged election in 1989.

India has benefited from Western support and complacency in keeping Kashmir off the international front burner.

An EU delegation visited Kashmir in November; its statement that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” was triumphantly and extensively trumpeted in the Indian press.

The United States, as part of its pro-India tilt in Asian policy south of the Tibetan plateau, as recently as December 10 formally rejected a call by Pakistan’s president Asif Zardari to insert itself in the issue.

Kashmir is a big deal and a big problem.

Here are some numbers:

Population of India—controlled territories of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh: 10,000,000

Muslims as % of population: 67%

Number of people who demonstrated in the Kashmiri capital of Srinigar in 2008 to protest the Indian government’s transfer of 100 acres of land (out of a total of 6000 square miles in the total parcel) to a Hindu religious board to construct shelters for pilgrims visiting the sacred cave at Amarnath in Kashmir to worship a phallus-shaped ice stalagmite known as the Shivalingam that waxes and wanes with the seasons but is, most Hindus will indignantly tell you, not a phallic symbol: 500,000

Indian troops stationed in Kashmir: 700,000

Since all Americans are by now counterinsurgency experts, we note immediately that the locals to troops ratio is an eye-popping 14:1.

That’s the sign of a major security problem. In fact, that’s the sign of a major insurgency.

If we had gone into the Iraq occupation with those kinds of numbers (instead of Donald Rumsfeld’s ratio of roughly 300,000 troops per 24 million Iraqis for a ludicrous 80:1 or the industry standard of 50:1), we would probably have been able to keep a lid on things, too.

Make no mistake: the Indian occupation of Kashmir is as bloody, expensive, oppressive, and unpopular as the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories or, for that matter, the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

68,000 Kashmiris have died in the conflict, which reached its height in 2001 and then waned, apparently because Pakistan lessened its support of Kashmiri militants under U.S. pressure after 9/11. (By way of contrast, the Israel-Palestinian struggle has claimed less than 10,000 lives over twenty years).

The conflict has produced a great deal of ugliness and cruelty as India has pursued in heavy-handed occupation and counterinsurgency strategy in Kashmir at odds with its image as Asia’s democratic paragon.

Tim Sullivan of the AP filed a report on atrocities in Kashmir that should have received wider notice.

According to Sullivan, human rights groups have discovered 2400 bodies in multiple graveyards of the estimated 8,000 Kashmiris who were “disappeared” by Indian security forces during the worst of the insurgency in the 1990s:

Two decades after the insurgency broke out, only a tiny fraction have been accounted for.

The bodies themselves give a few clues. According to villagers ordered by police to bury them, they are often of particular sorts: there is blood and shattered bone where they were shot, or they are burned beyond recognition. Many show signs of beatings. At one cemetery, police told villagers they would bring seven bodies for burials. They brought seven heads

If support for the insurgency has withered, the Indian soldiers are still widely detested. Perhaps nowhere more than in the villages forced to bury the dead.

Atta Mohammed knows all about the nameless dead. The 70-year-old Bimyar farmer has buried 235 of them. He knows their bruises and their bullet wounds. He knows if they were burned so badly their mothers would not recognize them.

"I took mud from their mouths and ears. I cleaned the blood from them," said Atta, a quiet man with rotting teeth and a neatly trimmed white beard. About 12 years ago, police began bringing bodies to be buried in a small empty field. They stopped only when there was no more room.

The West gives overwhelming weight to India’s democratic system, its role as a victim of Islamicist terror, its support for U.S. strategic goals in South Asia, and its value is an anti-China chesspiece in the great game of Asian policy.

And it may be justified to take the Chinese occupation of Tibet—instead of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank—as the standard of comparison for Indian misbehavior in Kashmir.

Indeed, I would expect there is a dark deal at work: the governments of the West have decided to turn the same official blind eye to India’s occupation of Kashmir as they do to China’s presence in Tibet so that both powers can contentedly brutalize their subjugated minorities without interference while fulfilling their assigned roles in the multi-polar, U.S.-directed 21st century world.

I can imagine that, in the continual cycle of wounded pride, horse-trading, and reassurance that goes on between New Delhi and Washington in the shadow of China’s strategic, economic, and fiscal importance, India insisted that, if human rights in Tibet was off the diplomatic table, human rights in Kashmir should be removed as well.

In fact, the first conspicuous retreat from the ideals of Obama’s election campaign to the realities of his presidency was the removal of Kashmir from the brief of Richard Holbrooke, who was expected to broker the rapprochement and grand anti-terrorism alliance between the civilian governments of Pakistan’s Asif Zardari and India’s Monmohan Singh.

Instead, India’s democracy was granted (im)moral parity with China’s single party dictatorship in the matter of how it could treat its occupied territories.

Meanwhile the Western media keeps the anti-Communist pot boiling by bashing China and coddling India.

But there is a bloody side to India that we are unwilling to confront.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nepal in the News!


Nepal’s government has decided to notify the international community formally of numerous violations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Nepalese Maoists. The last straw was the declaration of two newly minted autonomous regional governments in Maoist strongholds in eastern Nepal.


Maybe then the world will take notice of Nepal’s slide back into civil war thanks to the calculated defiance of the Maoists and India’s uncontrollable compulsion to meddle in Nepalese internal affairs.

I have four pieces on the deteriorating political situation in Nepal, and the exacerbating effect that the regional power rivalry between China and India has had on the brinkmanship of the various political parties.

Three pieces are up at Asia Times Online (Sino-Indian Rivalry Fuels Nepal’s Turmoil, Nepal Rhetoric Warms to Violence, and Monarchy Re-enters Nepal’s Political Mix) and one on the ideological roots of the Maoists is in the Counterpunch print edition (you can subscribe here).

India is working non-stop to transplant sufficient financial, military, and diplomatic backbone into Nepal’s outgunned bourgeois democracy so that it will continue to defy the Maoists and deny China the services of a friendly regime in Kathmandu.

The Nepalese Maoists are not a bunch of grubby jungle insurgents; they are the biggest party in the Constituent Assembly and held the prime ministership for almost a year before they pulled out in response to the machinations of the democratic parties and India.

The Maoists have street muscle on tap for conventional political intimidation in the form of their Young Communist League and a hardened military force, their People’s Liberation Army, currently rusticating under UN supervision but ready to return to action.

If the Maoists resume the insurgency, it will probably be as a strategic move from strength, not desperation, and could be a bloody business.

In the previous iteration of the insurgency, from 1996 until 2006, the Maoists exploited Nepal’s vast, mountainous terrain and the Nepalese army’s lack of men and equipment to fight the government to a standstill in a conflict that claimed 16,000 lives.

I find the West’s lack of interest in this burgeoning crisis curious, particularly when contrasted with the media frenzy that greeted the Dalai Lama’s visit to another Himalayan flashpoint, Arunachal Pradesh (territory claimed by China but held by India), at the beginning of November.

The Western press, in its wisdom, has instead obsessed on three hot stories out of Nepal:

1. A female Nepal government minister vigorously slapped around a local bureaucrat for failing to arrange suitable transportation during her visit; the interesting but ignored backstory was that she felt that she had been intentionally insulted because of her membership in the aggrieved lowlander Madhesi ethnic group, which is perennially treated with condescension and suspicion by Nepal’s hilly elites;
2. The Nepalese government tried to trump the Maldives underwater cabinet meeting by strapping on oxygen tanks for a twenty-minute confab at 17,000 feet adjacent to the Mount Everest base camp to publicize global warming issues;
3. Elephant kills eleven (including one victim trying to worship it as an incarnation of Ganesh!) in rampage of terror in southern Nepal.

Meanwhile, the Nepalese Maoists helpfully provided the Telegraph Nepal with a scorecard of the thirteen autonomous districts they intend to set up, color-coded to show the two already declared and listing the scheduled dates for declaration of autonomy in the other eleven over the coming week.

That’s good. Given the level of Western coverage coming out of Nepal, we’ll need all the help we can get to follow the story.

The elephant, by the way, is still at large!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Obama’s Afghan Surge a Geopolitical Windfall for India

…and a Catastrophe for Pakistan and China

Well, I guess President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is going to go into the record books with a big, fat asterisk next to it.

I have an article up at Asia Times Online Beijing broods over its arc of anxiety addressing the implications of the U.S. plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

As long-time readers of China Matters know, I’ve consistently argued that Pakistan is the collateral damage in our Afghan policy.

Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan’s army is forced to go to battle a united Pashtun insurgency that would otherwise be split into murderous factions battling each other for control of the broad plains of southern Afghanistan and using Pakistan’s mountainous FATA as little more than a secure and inaccessible redoubt for rest, recreation, and resupply.

Instead, we expect Pakistan to go to war against its own Pashtun areas for the sake of the distinctly ungrateful Hamid Karzai.

For Pakistan, it’s an extremely difficult and costly battle with few tangible benefits. The dean of South Asia journalists, Syed Saleem Shahzad analyzes Pakistan’s problems with the current U.S. Afghan strategy—and America’s attempts to address them--in his Asia Times Online article, Pakistan at odds with Obama’s vision. It’s well worth reading.

The anti-Taliban war is dangerous for Pakistan as a nation because the Pashtun/Deoband/extremist nexus has a tremendous ability to make mischief throughout Pakistan by exploiting the enormous Pashtun underclass in Karachi, the vulnerability posed by the borderline-heretical character of the dominant Baralvi Islamic observance in Punjab and Sindh, and the smoldering resentment of the tens of millions of urban and rural poor throughout the country against the corrupt, pro-Western elites that rule them.

What might push Pakistan’s military over the edge and demand that the Pakistani government be reorganized and abandon the war is the awareness that India is not only profiting from Pakistan’s misery; it is actively encouraging the Obama administration to continue its ruinous involvement in Afghanistan and deny Pakistan the relief of a prompt withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

India, thanks to the “world’s biggest democracy” meme and the unpopularity of China’s Communist, Tibet-and-Uighur repressing single party state, gets an undeserved free ride from the Western press.

Actually, New Delhi is a serial and callous meddler in the matters of its neighbors (see Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim). It is impossible to view India’s involvement in Afghanistan (and the anti-Taliban war) as anything other than a conscious effort to exacerbate and prolong the miseries Pakistan is suffering as a result of the U.S. policy.

It is revealing that virtually the only nation egging on the Obama administration to stay the course in Afghanistan was India. A weakened Pakistan not only diminishes Islamabad’s ability and appetite to do mischief in India and Jammu/Kashmir; it deprives Beijing of an effective ally in China’s intensifying struggle with India along their long and disputed border.

As to why President Obama chose to surge Afghanistan, I think he recoiled from the idea that, come the 2010 elections, the Republicans could make hay with pictures of Taliban dancing in the streets of a reconquered Kabul.

Since the President is apparently a decent and intelligent man, he also shrank from the idea of racking up another 500 or so U.S. fatalities over the next 18 months just so the Democrats could limit their losses in the congressional elections.

So I think all the well-publicized debating and handwringing over the Afghan policy involved in-depth consideration (and, if there are any practitioners of the Chicago school of cost benefit analysis in the White House, literal calculations) concerning the lives saved and improved that would balance the scale against the increased number of U.S. dead and maimed the surge will bring.

But even if the United States is able to defy the demographic, political, and military forces driving Afghanistan toward a Pashtun triumph and achieve victory (or a bloody stalemate) every day the Pakistan is forced to support the U.S./NATO strategy, the greater damage it suffers.

The only nation that benefits clearly and immediately from the Afghan surge, it would appear, is India.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nepal in Crisis: Article up at Asia Times

Nepal in Crisis: Article up at Asia Times

It began with snark…

Why Isn’t the Foreign Press in Kathmandu?

Wailing and gnashing of teeth greeted the Indian government’s withdrawal of permission for foreign journalists to cover the Dalai Lama’s mid-November visit to the disputed border territory of Arunachal Pradesh and the town and monastery of Tawang on the border of China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region, as the Guardian tells us:

Four passes to Arunachal Pradesh, previously given to foreign reporters, have been revoked and all other news organisations that applied for permits including the Guardian have been turned down.

"We are incredibly surprised and disappointed to learn that reporters' visas to Arunachal Pradesh have been cancelled ahead of the Dalai Lama's visit," said Heather Timmons, the president of the New Delhi-based Foreign Correspondents' Club.

But nothing was going to happen there—the Chinese and Indian governments have wisely decided to set the burner for “border tensions” on simmer—except an eruption of local color, devotional Buddhist droning, drinking of butter tea, and babbling in Tibetan and local dialects that, it is safe to say, no outside journo could understand.

At the same time, a lot is happening in Kathmandu.

Massive torchlight parades, clashes between the cops and demonstrators, vows to bring the Nepalese government to its knees, a tottering U.N. peace process, barely concealed great-power sparring between China and India—and all this in Kathmandu, a city one could probably walk across in half a day, filled by a tiny, compulsively chattering and confiding Anglophone elite.

So far, Western reporting has reported, remotely and somewhat uncomprehendingly—and, perhaps reflecting the shared desire of the Indian, Chinese, and Western governments not to inflame the situation with excessive attention and rhetoric, with a marked lack of interest--on the massive demonstrations in Kathmandu led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). The CPNM has vowed to bring 300,000 activists to the capital to shut down the government.

Andrew Buncombe of the Independent chose to devote his Nepal reporting to the admittedly amusing story of a female government minister who administered a vigorous pummeling to a hapless local official after he failed to arrange a satisfactory luxury vehicle for her tour of a southern district (subsequently a warrant has been issued for her arrest).

Then I realized that the balance of the article was a useful overview of the situation in Nepal. Asia Times Online agreed and ran it today as Sino-Indian rivalry fuels Nepal turmoil -- minus the snarky bits, which I reproduce above for the amusement of China Matters’ loyal readers.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dalai Lama Challenges China! Chaos in Nepal! Tension at the Border!

Parsing Sino-Indian Tensions

I have an article up at Asia Times Online under the pen name Peter Lee entitled Dalai Lama at apex of Sino-Indian tensions.

It's keyed to a high profile news item--the Dalai Lama's provocative visit to a border town in territory held by India but disputed by China--and a significant but rather underreported development--the escalating political struggle between pro-Chinese and pro-Indian political forces now reaching its climax in Nepal.

The Chinese themselves have said that the biggest irritant to Sino-Indian relations is the unresolved border dispute. To them, it’s more of an issue than economic competition, India’s growing integration into the U.S. South Asian security regime, or Indian unease at Beijing’s cozying up to Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives at New Delhi’s expense and raising the specter of maritime encirclement.

This would seem counterintuitive, since the remote boondocks that have formed the basis of the border dispute—the desolate wasteland of Aksai Chin (China’s share of the Kashmir dispute) in the west and the multi-tribal mélange of Arunachal Pradesh in the east at the Burmese border—are already occupied by the parties that have the strongest claim. A simple swap—the Indians recognize Chinese jurisdiction over Aksai Chin and the Chinese acknowledge Indian control of Arunachal Pradal—has, indeed, been on the table for a half century.

I make the case that perpetual tensions at the border reflect the destabilizing potential of the “Tibet card”—the possibility that India will abandon its “One China” policy once the current Dalai Lama passes on and overtly or covertly support Tibetan independence activities along the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

China wants to secure its borders and also increase its ability to project power into adjoining areas in order to deter potential shenanigans by the Tibetans with Indian connivance. India, on the other hand, wants border conditions favorable to a possible play of the “Tibet Card”.

The slow-motion collapse of Pakistan, China’s closest ally in the region and India’s major military antagonist, has deprived Beijing of its most important asset. The idea that, if India messed with Tibet, Pakistan would unleash hell in Kashmir with Chinese support, is a vain hope today.

With this geostrategic deterrent out of the picture, the focus has shifted to securing the physical space at the borders. Both China and India are pouring money and troops into the border region and arguing over the status of a little town in Arunachal Pradesh called Tawang.

The map to the right, provided by Andy Proehl, shows the disputed area of AP. In the political map of AP below, Tawang is the district to the west sticking out between Tibet and Bhutan.

Tawang is in the news because the Dalai Lama is visiting there on November 8 to visit old friends and figuratively stick his thumb in the dragon’s eye. The Dalai Lama already made some serious waves last year when he reportedly departed from his usual apolitical stance and said that Tawang—within the contested territory in Arunachal Pradesh—was part of India.

It might be noted that the Dalai Lama looks slightly out of line here.

In 1947, the Tibetan government (the Dalai Lama was at that time a youth of twelve who had been identified as the reincarnation and resided in Lhasa but had not yet been enthroned) tried to renegotiate its border deal with the British (the famous Simla Accord of 1914 between Great Britain and Tibet that generated the McMahon line but was never accepted by China) to get acknowledgment of its de facto control of the town.

In fact, according to an interesting Wikipedia entry, the status of Tawang has been the key factor in the contested Himalayan border for well over one hundred years:

Early British efforts to create a boundary in this sector were triggered by their discovery in the mid-19th century that Tawang, an important trading town, was Tibetan territory. In 1873, the British-run Government of India drew an "Outer Line," intended as an international boundary … [In 1912-13] the Outer Line was moved north, but Tawang was left as Tibetan territory…. When the British demanded that the Tawang monastery, located south of the McMahon Line, cease paying taxes to Lhasa, Tibet protested. …. In 1944, NEFT [North Eastern Frontier Territory] established direct administrative control for the entire area it was assigned, although Tibet soon regained authority in Tawang. In 1947, the Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claim to Tibetan districts south of the McMahon Line. In Beijing, the Communist Party came to power in 1949 and declared its intention to "liberate" Tibet. India, which had become independent in 1947, responded by declaring the McMahon Line to be its boundary and by decisively asserting control of the Tawang area (1950-51).

How 'bout that. This backstory makes the Indo-Tibetan posturing over Tawang appear pretty provocative.

However, in my piece I argue that the true focus of international attention should be Nepal, which is careening into a political crisis as pro-Indian and pro-Chinese factions slug it out for dominance (with the barely concealed political, diplomatic, and financial support of their respective patrons).

At the same time that the Dalai Lama is visiting Arunachal Pradesh, the pro-Chinese Nepalese Maoists are threatening to bring the current, pro-Indian government down through mass action. The Nepalese Maoists, who abandoned their insurgency to participate in the political process, emerged from the 2008 elections as the largest political party in parliament.

This clip of the Maoists' anti-government rally in Kathmandu on November 1, beyond some Triumph-of-the-Will type thrills, gives an idea of the intensity of the current political scene in Nepal.

If the Maoists succeed—which appears very likely—India will face the unwelcome prospect of Nepal edging into the Chinese camp.

Considering that, in the 1970s, India dealt with its other unruly satellite state—Sikkim—by orchestrating the overthrow of the monarchy, dispatching Indian troops to Sikkim at the request of local pro-Indian politicians, and arranging a plebiscite that voted for union with India and the extinction of Sikkimese independence by a vote of 97.5%--there is no guarantee that the Nepalese imbroglio will end quickly or amicably.

Nobody, not even the Nepalese Maoists, seem interested in having this thing boil over into a regional crisis, and perhaps that’s why the whole mess has been almost invisible from the standpoint of the international media.

But Asia Times Online has the story. Hey, go read the thing!

As a lagniappe for China Matters readers, some serious scholarship was done on the origins of the Sino-Indian War of 1962—the mother of all Chinese border conflicts—after the Chinese government declassified documents relating to the origins of the war.

Bottom line: misunderstandings on both sides.

The Chinese misinterpreted Nehru’s expressions of sympathy with the Tibetan people and their aspirations for autonomy as an active Indian policy to challenge the PRC’s control of its Tibetan regions.

Nehru, on the other hand, made a more fatal miscalculation, believing that China lacked the military heft and will to push back when he decided to expel the PLA from Aksai Chin.

Perhaps the key psychological element in the war was the fact that Nikita Khrushchev pissed off Mao Zedong.

In his study China’s Decision for War with India in 1962, John Garver (currently professor of international relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology) describes how Krushchev got into Mao’s face about screwing up Tibet:

The question of responsibility for the crisis in Tibet figured prominently in the
contentious talks between Mao Zedong and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Beijing
on 2 October 1959. After a complete disagreement over Taiwan, Khrushchev turned to
India and Tibet, saying: "If you let me, I will tell you what a guest should not say --- the events in Tibet are your fault. You ruled in Tibet, you should have had your intelligence [agencies] there and should have know about the plans and intentions of the Dalai Lama" [to flee to India]. "Nehru also says that the events in Tibet occurred on our fault," Mao replied. After an exchange over the flight of the Dalai Lama, Khrushchev made the point: "If you allow him [the Dalai Lama] an opportunity to flee to India, then what has Nehru to do with it? We believe that the events in Tibet are the fault of the Communist Party of China, not Nehru's fault." "No, this is Nehru's fault," Mao replied. "Then the events in Hungary are not our fault," the Soviet leader responded, "but the fault of the United States of America, if I understand you correctly. Please, look here, we had an army in Hungary, we supported that fool Rakosi --- and this is our mistake, not the mistake of the United States." Mao rejected this: "The Hindus acted in Tibet as if it belonged to them." [emph. added]

Self-reflection and the willingness to admit a mistake were not Mao Zedong’s signature virtues under the best of circumstances.

Having Khrushchev—who had not only presided over de-Stalinization (a process that Mao detested) and the Sino-Soviet split; he was also pursuing a strategic alliance with India!-- rub his nose in the embarrassment of the Dalai Lama debacle and take India’s side undoubtedly infuriated the Chairman.

In this context, it isn’t surprising that Mao would welcome the opportunity to assert China’s position on the Sino-Indian border and humiliate Nehru, who was not only Mao’s rival as leader and role model for the Non-Aligned Movement; he was also Krushchev’s current darling.

When war came in 1962, the Indian Army, acclimated to service in the plains and lacking the logistical wherewithal to push men and supplies up through the Himalayan foothills to the front lines, was resoundingly thumped by the PLA.

China fielded units and commanders battle-hardened in the harsh conditions of the Korean War, and benefited from the more manageable logistics involved in resupply across the Tibetan plateau.

India’s defeat was a shock to its military planners, and the lessons of the war have guided the Indian Army’s order of battle and the militarized infrastructure development of the border regions to this day.

In this context, it’s interesting to note that the Indian government, as part of its strategy to entrench itself in Afghanistan and irritate and terrify Pakistan has the same outfits building strategic roads in Afghanistan (such as the Zaranj highway connecting Afghanistan to Iran and intended to bypass Pakistan and the Khyber Pass for trade and military resupply) that build them on the Sino-Indian border: the Border Roads Organization engineers guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

China still holds the high ground on the Sino-Indian border, however. This year India announced it was moving a squadron of nuclear-capable Sukhoi 30 MKI fighters to within striking range of the border at Arunachal Pradesh, just to keep things even.

It looks like the Tibetan problem will keep the Sino-Indian border tense for the foreseeable future.

The maps of the contested Himalayan regions were prepared by Andy Proehl, proprietor of the blog Random Axis.

The map of Arunachal Pradesh is from Wikipedia.

Photo of Dalai Lama at Tawang November 8, 2009 flanked by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu AP Photo/Manish Swarup

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Blood on the Moon

In Pakistan, the intersection of religion, ethnicity, and politics is often marked by murder. The tense interaction between the Deoband adherents of the Pashtun North West Frontier Province and the Barelvi confession of the Punjab heartland has already been marred by violence. The Awami National Party’s mishandling of an Islamic calendrical controversy provides an unsettling insight into Pakistan’s sectarian vulnerabilities and the willingness of opportunistic politicians to exploit them.

Disputes about the timing of Eid al Fitr—the fast-breaking festival concluding the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—provide a vivid illustration of the sectarian and factional fissures undermining Islamic unity.

In Pakistan, the opportunistic insertion of the North West Frontier Province’s ruling party—the Awami National Party or ANP--into the dispute offers a perspective on the immense dangers that Islamic sectarianism can present to a vulnerable nation.

In 2009, uncertainty about when the holiday should occur provided dissidents in three geopolitical hotspots—Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan—with the opportunity to question the orthodoxy and legitimacy of the leaders charged with fixing the holy date.

Eid al Fitr is supposed to take place the day after reputable (Muslim) witnesses announce they have witnessed the crescent of the new moon in the night sky.

This simple formula became a recipe for controversy as Islam spread across the globe, split into sects, fragmented into nations, became linked by global communications technology—and was forced to deal with the astronomical reality that, in every year, the moon will first appear on different days in different parts of the Muslim world.

And in some years, the new moon will appear on different days in different parts of the Muslim heartland stretching from Egypt to Pakistan.

2009 was one of those years.

If you were in the Southern Hemisphere, say in South Africa, you would be able to observe the crescent of the new moon on September 19th and break fast on the morning of the 20th to celebrate Eid al Fitr.

If you were in Iran, Iraq, or Pakistan…well, you might have a problem.

Eid al Fitr-related controversies are almost pre-ordained in the Shia quadrant of Islam. Disputes about Eid allow imams and their followers the opportunity to flex their theological and political muscles at the expense of their competitors.

In Iran, as Brian Ulrich pointed out, reformist ayatollahs challenged Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Eid selection (the 20th) in order to underline his lack of authority in their eyes and even his legitimacy as a national religious figure in the eyes of the nation.

Iraq’s Shiite community displayed the same fissures. Ayatollah Sistani, perhaps in order to show his support for moderate reformers, plumped for the 21st, thereby incurring the criticism of the Sadrists, who probably feel more solidarity with the lumpen-fundamentalists of the Khamenei/Achminejad camp.

The Sunnis, with a strong interest in sustaining the global unity of Islam, have done only slightly better.

Many Sunni communities follow the lead of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council out of respect for the kingdom’s role as site of Islam’s sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. This year, the Shallah moon was sighted in the kingdom on the 19th and the Eid observance in Saudi Arabia took place on the 20th of September.

Other Sunni communities fix Eid al Fitr based on their local astronomical realities as determined by national or regional organizations or influential mosques; Eid in the United States is declared by ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, for instance.

However, within the Sunni camp the issues involved in fixing the Islamic lunar calendar and the dates for Eid observances has provided the impetus for conferences, fatwas, and endless arguments fought out on Islamicist websites.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the most obvious candidate for font of legitimacy on this issue, has muddled its approach.

It entrusted the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to come up with an astronomically-based calendar; however, the KACST revised its premises for fixing the lunar month three times in ten years and the Kingdom decided to apply its decisions only to the civil calendar.

Religious dates are still fixed by the Supreme Judicial Council based on human observation, thus placating the fundamentalists, to whom surrendering control of Islamic observance to astronomical elites, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, is apparently anathema. As a result, the Saudis still allow other communities significant leeway and fixing their Eid observances.

And then there is Pakistan, one of the largest Muslim nations, and largely Sunni.

The central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (hereinafter RHC), endorsed by the Islamic government of Pakistan, made an astronomically orthodox observation of the appearance of the Shawwal moon on the night of September 20th and instructed the Muslims of Pakistan to celebrate Eid on the 21st, a day after Saudi Arabia.

However, the Committee was indignantly denounced by a self-appointed Ruet-e-Hilal Committee in NWFP, a collection of clergy centered at an influential Deobond mosque in Peshawar, Masjid Qasim Ali Khan. That committee called on the province to celebrate Eid on the 20th.

This was not an enormous surprise, since the NWFP RHC had already announced that it would follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in fixing Eid.

Unfortunately, then the NWFP Commission added a farcical note to the proceedings by insisting it had received in-person testimony from 44 eyewitnesses that the Shawwal moon had appeared over the province on the 19th.

According to a graphic that made the rounds of Pakistani internet forums accompanied by implicit eye-rolling at the NWFP bumpkins, the moon was invisible in Pakistan on the 19th.

Apparently, in the Middle East the new moon would have visible on the 19th only with optical aids (i.e. telescopes) and only in the very southern portion of Saudi Arabia—but it would not be visible in any part of Pakistan.

Certain Deobonds (it should be noted that few self-identified Deobandi adherents in Pakistan have completed the full curriculum of the highly respected Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic college in Deoband, India; instead they have received instruction in madrassahs in Pakistan associated with Deobandi teachings or have professed allegiance to a Deoband religious leader) appear to be obstinately literal and reductionist in their interpretation of the Quran, and in fixing Eid.

As a result they are hostile to any attempt to set the Islamic lunar calendar based on astronomical principles that may contain a Judeo-Christian or Western-scientific taint.

A fatwa by a self-identified Deoband cleric approvingly quotes the saying of Mohammed “We are an illiterate nation. We do not know how to read or count.” To be fair, the author of the fatwa works hard to infuse it with a spirit of informed skepticism beyond assertive ignorance that will not be unfamiliar to Westerners who have been exposed to Christian fundamentalists’ “evolution is just a theory” arguments.

The fatwa cites the testimony of non-Muslim astronomers to assert that the “Danjon Limit”—the 7 degree elongation of moon and sun deemed the minimum necessary to see the moon and the guideline adopted by the Greenwich Observatory to determine if the moon should be theoretically visible—is not an entirely dependable rule of thumb, thereby seeking to debunk the idea that an astronomically calculated new moon next to the sun’s disk (as the Shawwal moon was on September 19th in Pakistan) cannot be seen.

Indeed, it is clear that what really steams some Deobands in NWFP is the idea that the testimony of good Muslims can be disregarded if the astronomical calculations assert that the moon should be invisible.

Therefore, the NWFP RHC commission obstinately insisted that the new moon was visible all over the province.

The NWFP’s federally-appointed governor, PPP stalwart Owais Ghani, found it advisable to observe Eid in Peshawar on the 20th.

Pakistan’s top two political leaders, President Asif Zardari and PML-N boss Nawaz Sharif, fortuitously found themselves out of the country on the disputed dates and were able to distance themselves from the controversy.

The NWFP’s overreach might have been quickly forgotten as a piece of parochial clerical effrontery, but for the fact that the provincial ruling party, the Awami National Party, in the person of one of its leading figures, Ghulam Bilour, jumped in with both feet to support the local committee.

The ANP’s only Federal Minister in the national cabinet, Bilour went to the Qasim Ali Khan Mosque in Peshawar to announce and publicize its decision.

Bilour was not content to celebrate the astounding eyesight of the NWFP’s loyal citizens, or merely defend provincial pride and prerogatives.

Bilour declared after his (September 20th ) Eid prayers that those who were still engaged in their Ramadan fasts were “following the Rabwahites” instead of following Medina and Mecca.

As the version was retailed throughout Pakistan and the world, Bilour’s invective was taken to mean that Pakistanis who kept the fast on the 20th and celebrated Eid on the 21st were “standing with the Qadianis”.

As pkpolitics put it:

Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has said those who are fasting on Sunday stand by the side of Qadianis and ‘we’ can only be Muslims if we celebrate Eid with Saudi Arabia… He was of the view it was a grave sin to fast on Eid Day.

Reflecting what might be a growing impatience with the nettlesome Pashtuns and their fundamentalist brand of Islam, some Pakistani websites hastened to place the least favorable construction on Bilour’s statement.

The liberal-minded website Let us Build Pakistan helpfully pointed out:

In fact the belief is that on Eid only Satan keeps the fast. The NWFP government joined its ulema in making the rest of the country look like the followers of Satan.

So what’s a Qadiani? And where is Rabwah?

Qadiani are a branch of the Ahmadyya sect of Islam. Ahmadis revere Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839-1908). His teachings arose from the same ferment of embattled, anti-colonial Islam that produced the Deoband school. While the Deobands practiced a rigorous, back to basics brand of Islam that came to form a basis for the ideology of the Taliban (and the guiding theology for an extensive network of madrassahs in the NWFP), Ahmad went in the other direction, claiming he had received divine revelation, eventually declaring himself both the Mahdi and the last avatar of Vishnu.

Not surprisingly, the Qadiani are reviled by fundamentalist Muslims as nothing more than pseudo-Muslims.

Deobandi theologians of Peshawar have inveighed against the Ahmadite sect since the 1950s in order to assert their identity as the definers and protectors of Islamic orthodoxy in Pakistan.

In response to Deobandi agitation and in order to assert its pretensions as protector of Islam, in 1974 the government of Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto’s father constitutionally stripped Ahmadists of the right to call themselves Muslims, quote the Quran, or make the hajj to Mecca.

Ahmadists routinely serve as metaphorical and literal punching bags for politicians and clerics seeking to flaunt their orthodox credentials. Sunni bigots lead confrontational marches through the town of Rabwah, a center of Ahmadist observance in Pakistan’s Punjab.

There is an assiduously propagated rumor that ex-President Musharraf’s wife is an Ahmadist. Supposedly, this would taint Musharraf himself with apostasy and make him a non-Muslim. Conspiracy theorists go the extra mile to talk of a “Qadiani conspiracy” centered on Musharraf, hostile to Islam and in league with Israel and the United States.

Bilour’s screed was, therefore, conceived as a provocative orthodox statement meant to endear him to devout Muslims of Pakistan, or at least to appreciative Pashtun chauvinists of the NWFP.

Unfortunately for him, most of Pakistan apparently chose to construe it as a national insult.

Bilour found himself on the wrong side of a public relations debacle.

It was also pointed out that much of the NWFP observed Eid on the 21st, including the JUI Islamicist party, holder of the Deoband/Taliban brief, which decided to honor its electoral alliance with the PPP at the central level instead of supporting the NWFP RHC.

Bilour clarified that what he was saying was that those who fixed Eid on the 21st, not the vast majority of Pakistani Muslims who kept the fast on the 20th (some 150 million people) were actually doing Satan’s work.

Subsequently Bilour further walked back his statement; he had merely intended to insult the central RHC, and not all Pakistanis. Or maybe he wasn’t trying to insult anyone. Maybe all he wanted was for Pakistan to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead in fixing Eid al Fitr.

Finally, Bilour tried to turn his dilemma upside-down. He denounced the national committee for stirring up trouble and called for its head—apparently a less than impressive figure and Musharraf-era relic, Mufti Munibur Rahman--to resign and be replaced by the head of the NWFP RHC:

PESHAWAR: Federal Minister for Railways and the leader of Awami National Party (ANP), Ghulam Ahmad Bilour calling Mufti Munibur Rahman as the remnant of Musharraf, demanded dissolution of the existing central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and suggested the appointment of Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai of Masjid Qasim Ali Khan as the new chairman.

Bilour’s demand was briskly dismissed by the central government and apparently did little more than generate sympathy for the hitherto unnoticed and unloved mufti.

In light of the slanders concerning Musharraf, note the description of Rahman as a “Musharraf remnant”, dovetailing with the Rabwahite canard to reinforce the idea of Pakistan’s heartland being in thrall to apostates and thirsting for the spiritual refreshment of Taliban-esque Deoband orthodoxy.

Politicizing the Eid dispute serves as an example of the ANP's traditional pandering to Deoband clerics in the NWFP.

Letting the argument slop onto the national stage by allowing the ANP’s top federal official to act as spokesman represents, perhaps, a new low for the ANP, founded as an avowedly secular, democratic, and inclusive party but inclined toward political alliances with vociferous and prominent NWFP clerics and forced by the challenge of the Pakistani Taliban to present itself as the political face of Pashtun chauvinism.

Although the province it rules is known officially as the North West Frontier Provinces, the ANP refers to the NWFP in its party communications as Pakhtunkwa, the Pashtun homeland. The NWFP provincial government website also refers to Pakhtunkwa and occasionally attempts to employ the term at the National Assembly, provoking walkouts led by the PML-N.

Suspicious conservatives in the Pakistan security establishment use these demonstrations of Pashtun pride to accuse the ANP of conniving at more than its stated commitment to autonomy and working with India to combine the NWFP and FATA with the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan to create a united, independent Pashtun state.

Although it is unlikely that the ANP chiefs wishes to trade their positions as ruler of a province of Pakistan for citizenship in an impoverished and landlocked failed state under the gun of the Taliban, the ANP’s moves to position itself as champion of the Pashtuns are a justifiable source of concern.

The ANP lobbied the government vigorously for the disastrous institution of sharia law in the Swat valley in order to steal fundamentalist thunder.

It has contributed to the heightening of tensions in Karachi—the sprawling port city of in which Pashtun immigrants form an immense and aggrieved underclass—by threatening to mix things up with the thuggish MQM party that runs things there on behalf of the Mujahir majority and export political chaos to Sindh.

Ghulam Bilour himself is an unlikely champion of Islamic fundamentalism. He attracts scorn on message boards for the racy, un-Islamic programming he apparently permits at the theaters he owns in the NWFP.

Bilour, a pillar of the ANP with decades of service in the cause of Pashtun aspirations, is a member of one of those immensely wealthy grandee families that inevitably send their sons and daughters into politics in Pakistan. One brother, Bashir, is a senior minister in the NWFP; another, Ilyas, is a prominent local businessman.

The Bilour brothers appear skilled in the art of making enemies.

As the main power broker in the NWFP, the Bilour family should have been able to choose the chief minister of the province from its own ranks when the ANP won control of the provincial legislature in alliance with the PPP in 2008.

However, members of parliament on the PPP side adamantly refused to accept anybody from the Bilour family because of its suspected role in the murder of a PPP leader.

In 1997, Ghulam Bilour’s only son was killed in a vote-fraud fracas outside a polling station. The blood feud persisted, despite a personal intervention by Benazir Bhutto. Ten years later, his family was accused of orchestrating the revenge killing of the person they considered responsible.

The victim was no ordinary poll-watcher; it was the PPP’s senior vice president in the NWFP, Qamar Abbas. His murder created an undeniable awkwardness in Bilour’s relations with the PPP.

To Bilour’s displeasure, Ameer Haider Hoti was chosen as Chief Minister over Bilour’s brother, Bashir.

Hoti is the grandson of two founding ANP stalwarts, and also the nephew of the current ANP president, Asfandyar Wali—whom, it is rumored, Bilour intends to succeed as president of the ANP.

Election-related violence seems to dog the Bilour family, as this account indicates:

Both the influential political families of Peshawar city, agreed on exhibiting restrain and non-aggression against each other in future here on Monday. The conciliation between Bashir Bilour and Abdul Mannan was made due to the efforts of a traditional Jirga.

The two families were at the throat of each other since the killing of a nephew of Haji Abdul Mannan allegedly by the supporters of Bashir Ahmad Bilour during election campaign of February 18, 2008. The family of Haji Abdul Mannan and Bashir Ahmad Bilour are staunch political rivals and contest elections against each other.

It is interesting that two weeks prior to the reconciliation on March 24, 2009 Bashir Ahmad Bilour was the target of an unsuccessful bloody botch of an assassination attempt that killed six, including three bystanders—one that the provincial government publicly averred was not an instance of Taliban-on-government violence.

Beyond his wealth and sharp elbows, Bilour’s primary political calling card today appears to be his promotion of Pashtun chauvinism—a trend that has become more marked as the traditionally secular and progressive ANP struggles to compete with the Taliban.

Pandering to Deoband-inspired Islamic fundamentalism, even in the name of Pashtun pride, is immensely risky in Pakistan.

It’s not just an issue of picking on the tiny and persecuted Ahmadist/Qadiani minority.

As two high-profile outrages in 2009 demonstrated, religious practice and the power structure in Pakistan’s heartland provinces of Sindh and Punjab are strikingly vulnerable to assault by the Taliban under the flag of Deoband orthodoxy and working through Pashtun émigrés and assets.

The Punjab and Sindh are Sunni, like the NWFP, but largely practice Sunni observance on a foundation of Sufi evangelism.

In the 12th through 14th centuries, independent Sufi missionaries preaching a message of toleration, egalitarianism, and ecstatic mysticism offered the inhabitants of the Indus River valley an attractive alternative to the rigidities of the Hindu caste system and won the region for Islam.

Sindh and Punjab are dotted with purportedly miraculous Sufi shrines that attract hundreds of thousands of adherents to their festivals and serve as the focus of near-idolatrous worship and prayers for intervention and assistance. Influential local families descended from the Sufi saints—called pirs--derive local spiritual and political power and national influence from their control of these shrines.

Benazir Bhutto’s family is closely associated with the cult of Qalandar, in Sindh.

When Nawaz Sharif returned from exile to contest Pakistan’s general elections in 2007, he made a point of distancing himself from his austere Saudi patrons by paying a high profile visit to the tomb of Punjab’s pre-eminent Sufi holy man, Ali Hujwiri, at the Data Durbar complex in Lahore.

Although the Deobandi movement is Sufi in its traditions--as is Mullah Omar’s (himself a graduate of a Deobond-affiliated madrassah) exercise of charismatic leadership--Deoband practice represented a conscious effort to prevent the extinction of the minority Muslim faith within British India by asserting a distinct, separate Muslim identity through emphasis on adherence to sharia law and the orthodox Prophetic canon of Quran and Sunnah, and by purging the indigenous popular Sufi form of Islamic observance of corrupting non-Islamic elements.

Writing in a collection of essays entitled Sufism and the “modern” in Islam, (Martin van Bruinessen, Julia Day Howell, I.B.Tauris, 2007) Yoginder Sikan described the relation of Deobandi fundamentalism to popular Sufism:

Also branded as “un-Islamic” and occupying a central place in what Ilyas saw as “un-Islamic” customary tradition, was the entire domain of popular Sufism. This included practices related to worship at the shrines of saints, such as prostration at their graves, musical sessions, and unrestricted mixing of the sexes.

Equally condemnable was a range of beliefs and social practices relating to the authority of the Sufis, whether living or dead. The notion that the buried Sufis were still alive and could intercede with God to grant one’s requests was fiercely condemned as
un-Islamic” and as akin to shirk, the sin of associating partners with the one God.

Ilyas’ reformed Sufism…had crucial implications for the constitution of religious authority…[T]he TJ directly challenged the authority of the custodians of the religious shrine (sajjada-nishin)…who were seen as having a vested interest in in preserving popular custom for their own claims to authority rested on these.

[Ilyas] therefore effectively dismissed as ultimately of little worth the claims to authority of the sajjada-nishin, based on the reports of the miracles (karamat) performed by the saints whose shrines they tended. He stressed that punctilious observance of the sharia, and not karamat, was the only way to rise in God’s eyes.

In 21st-century Pakistan, the Deoband’s adversary is not only the cultural legacy of Sufism; there is an opposing school of Islamic jurisprudence as well.

Sufi-tinged Islamic religious practice in non-Pashtun areas of Pakistan—and indeed, in much of South Asia--is formalized in a largely pacifist and mystical strain of orthodox Sunni Islam known as Barelvi, named after the town of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, India..

Like the Deoband school, Barelvi observance emerged as an expression of religious thought in response to British colonial rule and the perceived crisis of Islam in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century India.

The Barelvi school’s founder, Ahmad Raza Khan guaranteed lasting hostility between his school and the Deobands by issuing fatwas declaring them--and for good measure Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis--to be apostates. describes the striking ethnic divide between the Deobandi practices of the Pashtun areas with the Sufi and Barelvi-related practices of Punjab:

The non-Pakhtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan. By one estimate, in Pakistan, the Shias are 18%,Iismailis 2%, Ahmediyas 2%, Barelvis 50%, Deobandis 20%, Ahle Hadith 4%, and other minorities 4%. … By another estimate some 15 per cent of Pakistan's Sunni Muslims would consider themselves Deobandi, and some 60 per cent, are in the Barelvi tradition based mostly in the province of Punjab.

Although the Deobandi school may only represent the religious observance of one out of five Pakistanis and is concentrated in the poorest frontier regions, it presents itself as the arbiter of Islamic orthodoxy and legitimacy inside Pakistan.

The anonymous author of the Global Security profile stated:

…some 64 per cent of the total seminaries are run by Deoband is, 25 per cent by the Barelvis, six percent by the Ahle Hadith and three percent by various Shiite organisations.

Sufi and Barelvi practices that Deoband-affiliated Pashtun militants consider heretical--and the local power structure they support--present a tempting target to the Taliban as it seeks to capitalize on the poverty and anger roiling the immense underclass of Pakistan’s heartland.

In other words, the Deoband practice of Islam, especially in its harsh, militant, and politicized form in NWFP, and the widespread, Sufi-oriented Barelvi popular religion of Pakistan would seem to be on a collision course.

One of the most disturbing developments in a year full of disturbing developments in the NWFP was the bombing of the tomb of Rehman Baba, the province’s most revered Sufi saint, in March 2009. This explicit attack on a religious institution that had no strategic significance but was one that the Taliban consider heterodox, may well be a harbinger of violence—and politics of division-- to come.

If the conflict comes, the Barelvi are likely to be outgunned.

The Pashtun Deobandi are militant, supported by zakat (Islamic charity contributions) from Saudi Arabia, and have numerous friends and supporters within Pakistan’s security apparatus.

The pacifist, underfunded, and underorganized Barelvi—with the exception of the reliably violent MQM in Karachi—appear to be reliant upon Pakistan’s rickety and equivocal civilian government to take the battle to the Taliban.

When the Barelvi attempt to stand up to the Taliban themselves, bad things happen.

A brave Barelvi cleric and head of one of the largest madrassahs in Pakistan, Dr. Sarfraz Hussain Naeemi, organized twenty Barelvi Sunni organizations into Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz (TNRM). TNRM was intended as a counterweight to the Deobands and to support Pakistan’s civilian government in its military campaigns against the Taliban in Swat and in other sections of the NWFP and FATA.

On June 12, 2009, Dr. Naeemi, who had coordinated a committee of Islamic clerics that declared suicide bombing as haram or forbidden by Islamic law (he had already issued a fatwa against suicide bombing in 2005 in his individual capacity), was himself murdered by a suicide bomber in his office at his madrassah in Lahore after Friday prayers.

Baitullah Mehsud’s Pakistan Taliban organization, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the murder, and for a near simultaneous suicide attack that pancaked a mosque in a garrison town near Peshawar and killed five.

The security lapses surrounding Dr. Naeemi’s death were described by the Pakistan Tribune in sufficiently circumstantial detail to give the impression that the government was, at best, asleep at the switch.

The police sources also confirmed to our sources lapses in providing security cover to the respected cleric. Police sources, requesting anonymity, disclosed that one ASI and 10 constables were sent to Jamia Naeemia every Friday to provide security cover to the worshippers. However, this Friday only two constables of the Muhafiz Force had been deployed there.

… according to sources, the police later wrote a fake report in the Roznamcha (official diary) of the Police Chowki Bibi Pak Daman…

… Dr Sarfraz had been receiving threatening calls for the past many days and ironically no security was provided to him as well as the place where he lived…

According to the Jamia administration, only two policemen were deployed outside the Madrassa for frisking the visitors coming for the Juma prayers. Both the policemen left the place right after the Juma prayers, providing the attacker an opportunity to enter the premises unchecked, alleged the administration.

Dawn’s report on Dr. Naeemi’s funeral provides the requisite ironic coda:

Strict security measures were taken in and around Nasser Bagh with the deployment of 1,000 policemen, while 5,000 cops were put on alert across the city to avoid any untoward incident. No politician or top government official attended the funeral reportedly because of security concerns.

While the demands and priorities of the Deoband establishment receive anxious attention from the federal government, the Barelvi appear to be ignored.

Dr. Naeemi’s ally and head of the Islamic JUP party, Sahibzada Fazal Karim, was one of the few voices to speak out against the proclamation of sharia in Swat, to no effect.

After the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistan Taliban has evinced a temporary disinterest in igniting sectarian religious strife in Punjab and Sindh by attacking Barelvi and Sufi-based leaders, institutions, and practices. This is no doubt attributable in part to the resilience and strongly-rooted local identity of the Belvari Sunnis in Punjab and Sindh and the potential for a national backlash against the Taliban.

However, Taliban reticence probably also relates to Mullah Omar’s tactical insistence on keeping a lid on things in the Taliban’s rear areas in Pakistan while he concentrates on the ultimate prize—Kabul.

If the Taliban acquires a politically secure position inside Afghanistan in the next few months, either through conquest or accommodation, it may find the temptation to mobilize the Pashtun diaspora (there are four million Pashtun in Karachi alone) to disrupt Pakistan’s non-Deobondi power structure irresistible.

This subtext makes Bilour’s posturing on Eide more worrisome.

It looks like something more than a simple attempt to pander to the NWFP’s provincial pride or curry favor with its Deoband religious establishment.

It also looks like an attempt to keep the ANP from appearing out of step with its main political competitor for Pashtun loyalty—the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan—by ostentatiously lining up with the Eid al Fitr policy of Saudi Arabia, the chief patron of fundamentalist Islamic orthodoxy.

Finally, Bilour’s inflammatory Eid statement probably represents his attempt to position himself as a rock-solid champion of conservative Pashtun religious forces both within the NWFP and on the national stage when he makes his move to assume the presidency of the ANP.

By inserting not only the ANP party but the NWFP government into the Eid debate—and by taking the dispute national with an attack on the central RHC committee--Bilour also threw the NWFP’s political and ethnic weight behind the Deobandi.

Perhaps inadvertently, Bilour ratcheted up tension and the stakes in the simmering confrontation between Deoband and Barelvi and raised the specter of a national conflict fueled by a convergence of ethnic mistrust, religious bigotry, and political calculation.

In the war of words after Bilour’s statement, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rahman acidly remarked that the ANP had converted from a secular to a religious party, and they might as well put the head of Masjid Qasim Ali Khan, Shahabuddin Popalzai, in charge of the ANP.

In response, Bilour declared: “I’m a worshiper of Allah but proud to be secular, nationalist and progressive.”

It remains to be seen what additional turmoil Bilour’s cocktail of religious, ethnic, and political opportunism will bring to Pakistan.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hamid Karzai, Najibullah’s Ghost, and the Gold of Bactria

Do not be naïve about what you are facing. They will bring a destruction you cannot imagine.

In the opinion of America’s counterinsurgency boffins, there are no bad doctrines—only bad clients.

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration’s response to the rather dire situation in Afghanistan is to blame ineffectual and corrupt governance, rather than NATO’s hitherto halfassed and under-manned campaign against the ferocious Taliban.

The United States’ desire to give Hamid Karzai the boot has been unambiguously conveyed and much will no doubt be made of the electoral shenanigans Karzai apparently committed in the recent presidential elections.

Whether the United States really believes that its favored candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, will emerge as savior of the NATO enterprise, or Karzai is simply being eased out so Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or someone like him can be lured out of the insurgency and into the central government as the indispensable Pashtun strongman remains to be seen.

In any case, I don’t share the easy contempt and condescension so many observers express for Hamid Karzai, the “mayor of Kabul”.

Karzai’s father, a leading Pashtun political figure, was murdered by Taliban assassins when he started to organize opposition to Taliban rule. After 9/11, Karzai recklessly entered Afghanistan with a handful of followers; instead of being welcomed with flowers, collecting a swelling train of followers, and leading a triumphal procession into Kabul a la Napoleon's 100 days, he became the target of a Taliban manhunt and barely and ignominiously escaped back into Pakistan.

On his second trip in, Karzai was under direct U.S. sponsorship. In a moment of what he probably considers bizarre symbolism, Karzai narrowly escaped death from a misdirected American airstrike while talking face to face with his CIA liaison.

As president, Karzai’s continual efforts to slip the U.S. leash, build alliances with warlords and tribes outside the core of the Taliban, and ignore the diktats of the ever-infallible Zalmay Khalilzad—the Afghan-borne supremo of America's Central Asian foreign policy who midwifed the creation of compromised, unpopular bourgeois pro-U.S. regimes from Baghdad to Islamabad and reportedly covets the presidency of Afghanistan for himself—seemed to reflect an understanding that a regime that relied on U.S. backing rather than local power had no future.

As he stands revealed as a superfluous great power client and embodiment of unpalatable on-the-ground realities, Karzai probably also remembers the fate of Muhammad Najibullah, who was the last president of the Soviet-backed Republic of Afghanistan.

When the Taliban entered Kabul in 1996, they dragged Najibullah from UNICEF compound where he had taken refuge three years before when a deal to extract him from Kabul collapsed, tortured him for hours with the special ingenuity that Afghani warlords apparently can always bring to bear on such situations, and hung his castrated corpse from a lamppost.

Najibullah is routinely reviled as a despot and a torturer.

Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Najibullah stood for secularist, socialist, and pro-Soviet policies that suppressed Islamic fundamentalism with extreme violence and a certain degree of success. Like Hussein, Najibullah was destroyed by the United States, with rather grisly consequences for his nation.

Najibullah was well-educated, and perfected his English during his years of confinement in Kabul. A career UNICEF official, Alan Brady, came to Kabul just before the city fell to the Taliban, and wrote an eerie, evocative account in the Virginia Quarterly Review of a call he paid on the fallen dictator in 1995 shortly before his death.

During the two years I was working in Afghanistan, I had become fascinated by the story of Najibullah. Here was a man of great intellect, educated as a doctor and pediatrician to “do no harm.” He was at the same time a political activist who received training in the Soviet Union. In 1981, he returned to Afghanistan to head the KHAD, a Secret Police organization notorious for torture and executions. Five years later, he emerged as president of his country during times of vicious conflict. Undoubtedly, there was blood on his hands.

Yet many people described him as enlightened. My colleagues who had worked with the Najibullah government from 1986 to 1992 spoke highly of his leadership and support for the country’s social development, especially public health and education. It was an anomaly, throughout the 1980s, that the West was empowering mujahideen groups who were burning down schools, banning girls from being educated, trying to cut women off from basic opportunities or even health care, and preaching ideologies of xenophobic hatred. The CIA and others did all of this in the interest of bringing down a government that, in the areas of social development at least, stood for secular and progressive Western values. The fight against Communism made for many strange bedfellows for more than four decades, perhaps nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.

For a long time, I had harbored a curiosity about Najibullah and what changes might have occurred in him as he sat in that UN house in Kabul with nothing to do except read and reflect. Did such reflection give him second thoughts about the life he had lived and the things he had done? …

To say that this man was pleased and charmed by our arrival would be a grave understatement…Before I knew it, each time he spoke, he would start with the words, “dear Alan.” Over many cups of tea, sitting together on the couch, sharing chocolates from the newly opened box on the table before us, he spoke honestly and freely about what he had been going through, and then his complaints about the UN and how it had betrayed him.

At last I got up the courage to ask the questions that were on my mind. It is not an easy subject to broach, this question of his role as head of KHAD and the blood he must have had on his hands…

I could see the look in his eye change as my question sank in… Like the flexing of a relaxed muscle, the power and charisma at the core of this man reappeared in sharp relief, and with a loud shout of “NO!” his fist came down with an explosive sound on the table before us, sending teacups flying upward.

“Dear Alan,” he was saying. “Do not be naïve about what you are facing. They will bring a destruction you cannot imagine.”

His message to me, at our New Year meeting in 1995, was one of no regrets for whatever he had done to stand against the Islamists. He was absolutely clear about that; he would do it again.

In the quiet of that evening, he laid out for us what the lines of conflict would be, in a world where Communism was finished. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said, “I wrote to Bush. I explained all of this, I told him that the Reds are finished, and the enemy of the United States is no longer the Reds, it is the Greens. I offered to work together with him.”

The “green” that Najibullah was referring to was the green flag of the Islamists, and the Bush he wrote to was the first President Bush—George H.W. He never received an answer.

The secularist Najibullah was probably responsible for saving the “Bactrian Hoard”-- a collection of 20,000 gold artifacts from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past that dated to before the Common Era and symbolized the country's traditional role as the crossroads of Central Asia--from looters and the Taliban.

The trove was discovered by Soviet archaeologists in six burial mounds of Bactrian nomads in northern Afghanistan.

When the Taliban approached and Afghanistan fell into chaos, Najibullah apparently arranged for the treasures to be removed from the Kabul Museum and hidden in the vaults of the National Bank of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai eventually assisted in effecting their rediscovery.

Wikipedia tells the story:

The doors of the vault were locked with seven keys which were distributed to trusted individuals who were based abroad. The vault, which could only be opened if all the keys were available, provided security to the Bactrian Hoard, protecting it on numerous occasions from attempts by the Taliban to steal it. During the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces, the Taliban, who were unaware that all seven keys were needed in order to open the vault, made one last attempt to get their hands on the treasure by planting bombs on the vault door. Before they could detonate the bombs, American troops arrived at the central bank and the militants were forced to flee…

In 2003, after the Taliban was successfully defeated, the new government wanted to open the vault, but the keyholders (called "tawadars") could not be summoned because their names were purposefully unknown. Hamid Karzai had to issue a decree authorizing the attorney general to go ahead with safecracking. But in time, the seven key-holders were successfully assembled and the vault opened.

An exhibition of the Bactrian artifacts is currently touring the United States. It will finish up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on September 20, 2009.

National Geographic’s website has further information and a photo gallery of some of the artifacts.

As Karzai is surrounded by his American advisers and Afghan enemies, I expect he also reflects on the fate of Afghanistan’s previous secular ruler, the pervasive violence, destruction, and intolerance that seem impossible to escape, worries about the non-stop battering that his nation and the Afghan people and society are enduring, and wonders what kind of legacy he might leave his country.

Image of Bactrian artifact from website of Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Torture, Inc.

America’s torture dilemma boils down to three letters: CAT.

They stand for the "United Nations Convention Against Torture", a treaty that the United States ratified and made part of U.S. law under Statute 2340.

Under U.S. law, the United States is obligated to prosecute its torturers. The door is also open for other nations to detain and prosecute alleged torturers under the principle of "universal jurisdiction".

Certain do-gooder states such as Spain have even asserted their right to try torturers in their courts even if offenses weren’t committed against their own nationals.

That’s awkward.

Because the United States did, by its own admission, torture during the first administration of George W. Bush.

And the people we tortured-especially the so-called 20th hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani--would appear to have the right to their day in court.

This has created some embarrassment for the Obama administration as well.

The U.S. detention system has produced significant suffering, both through design and abuse, for foreigners detained during the Global War on Terror at Guantanamo, camps and jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in black site prisons around the world. Physical and psychological maltreatment were (and apparently still are) employed as a "control measures" to render detainees cowed and compliant; to soften them up for interrogation; and during the interrogation process itself.

Sometimes the methods, crudely and zealously applied with the tacit or express approval of superiors, resulted in the death of detainees.

Fortunately for the guards and interrogators who screamed, slapped, punched, kicked, clubbed, and pepper-sprayed their way through the Global War on Terror, CAT exempts ordinary brutality-- a.k.a. "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"-from its purview.

However, what the United States did to high-value al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo rose to a higher level: torture.

CAT defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession".

Under the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation techniques", U.S. government behavioral scientists working under General Geoffrey Miller at Guantanamo developed and applied a program of intense physical and psychological coercion, fully documented by meeting minutes and logs and acknowledged by Bush administration in the intensive efforts by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to provide a legal color to the proceedings.

A statement by a CIA functionary during one of the meetings called to design the program gives an idea of where things were headed:

If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong…Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of this spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. (Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes, October 2, 2002 cited in Guantanamo and Its Aftermath, Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, Nov. 2008 Appendix A)

Mohammed al-Qahtani was apparently the guinea pig for this program. The United States totally went to town on this guy and gave him 40 days of hell.

A 2007 article by Steven Miles in the American Journal of Bioethics drew upon interrogation logs to describe what was done to Qahtani during five weeks of interrogations in December 2002 and January 2003. It should be quoted at length to give a full idea of the program, in terms of its severity and also its systematic and planned character.

Connoisseurs of bureaucratic mil-speak will note the creation of standardized DoD gobbledy-gook (Pride Down; Ego Down) to describe the psychological strategies that, if successful, would presumably be applied to conduct subsequent interrogations (and advance careers) inside the American Gulag.

The Interrogation of Prisoner 063

According to the Army investigation, the log covers a period in the middle of al-Qahtani’s interrogation that began in the summer of 2002 and continued into 2003. For eleven days, beginning November 23, al-Qahtani was interrogated for twenty hours each day by interrogators working in shifts. He was kept awake with music, yelling, loud white noise or brief opportunities to stand. He then was subjected to eighty hours of nearly continuous interrogation until what was intended to be a 24-hour recuperation. This recuperation was entirely occupied by a hospitalization for hypothermia that had resulted from deliberately abusive use of an air conditioner. Army investigators reported that al-Qahtani’s body temperature had been cooled to 95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 36.1 degrees Celsius) and that his heart rate had slowed to thirty-five beats per minute.

While hospitalized, his electrolytes were corrected and an ultrasound did not find venous thrombosis as a cause for the swelling of his leg. The prisoner slept through most of the 42-hour hospitalization after which he was hooded, shackled, put on a litter and taken by ambulance to an interrogation room for twelve more days of interrogation, punctuated by a few brief naps. He was then allowed to sleep for four hours before being interrogated for ten more days, except for naps of up to an hour. He was allowed 12 hours of sleep on January 1, but for the next eleven days, the exhausted and increasingly non-communicative prisoner was only allowed naps of one to four hours as he was interrogated. The log ends with a discharge for another sleep period.

Medical Treatment during Interrogation

Clinicians regularly visited the interrogation cell to assess and treat the prisoner. Medics and a female medical representative checked vital signs several times per day; they assessed for dehydration and suggested enemas for constipation or intravenous fluids for dehydration. The prisoner’s hands and feet became swollen as he was restrained in a chair. These extremities were inspected and wrapped by medics and a physician. One entry describes a physician checking for abrasions from sitting in the metal chair for long periods of time.

The doctor said everything was good. Guards, medics and a physician offered palliative medications such as aspirin to treat his swollen feet.

Intravenous fluids were regular administered over the prisoner’s objection. For example, on November 24, the prisoner refused water. A Captain-interrogator advised him that the medic can administer IV [sic: the log’s contraction for intravenous fluids of an unspecified volume is used throughout this article] fluids once the Captain and the Doctor on duty are notified and agree to it. Nine hours later, after taking vital signs, medical personnel administered two bags of intravenous fluids. Later that day, a physician evaluated al-Qahtani in the interrogation room and told him that he could not refuse medications or intravenous fluids, and that he would not be allowed to die.

The next day, interrogators told the prisoner that he would not be allowed to pray if he would not drink water. Neither a medic nor a physician could insert a standard intravenous catheter, so a physician inserted a temporary shunt to allow an intravenous infusion. The restrained prisoner asked to go the bathroom and was given a urinal instead. Thirty minutes later, he was given three and one-half bags of IV [sic]?and he urinated twice in his pants. The next day, the physician came to the interrogation room and checked the restrained prisoner’s swollen extremities and the shunt. The shunt was removed and a soldier told al-Qahtani that he could pray on the floor where he had urinated.

From December 12 to 14, al-Qahtani’s weight went from 119 to 130 pounds (54 to 59 kilograms) after being given six IVs. On December 14, al-Qahtani’s pulse was 42 beats per minute. A physician was consulted by phone and said that operations could continue since there had been no significant change. Al-Qahtani received three more IVs on the December 15 and complained of costophrenic pain. A physician came to the interrogation cell, examined him, made a presumptive diagnosis of kidney stones and instructed the prisoner to take fluids. The next day blood was drawn in the cell.

Psychological Treatment During Interrogation

In October 2002, before the time covered by the log, Army investigators found that dogs were brought to the interrogation room to growl, bark and bare their teeth at al-Qahtani. The investigators noted that a BSCT psychologist witnessed the use of the dog, Zeus, during at least one such instance, an incident deemed properly authorized to exploit individual phobias. FBI agents, however, objected to the use of dogs and withdrew from at least one session in which dogs were used. Major L., a psychologist who chaired the BSCT at Guantanamo, was noted to be present at the start of the interrogation log. On November 27, he suggested putting the prisoner in a swivel chair to prevent him from fixing his eyes on one spot and thereby avoiding the guards. On December 11, al-Qahtani asked to be allowed to sleep in a room other than the one in which he was being fed and interrogated. The log notes that BSCT advised the interrogators that the prisoner was simply trying to gain control and sympathy.

Many psychological approaches or themes were repetitively used. These included: Failure/Worthless, Al Qaeda Falling Apart, Pride Down, Ego Down, Futility, Guilt/Sin Theme (with Evidence/Circumstantial Evidence, etc. Al-Qahtani was shown videotapes entitled Taliban Bodies and Die Terrorist Die. Some scripts aimed at his Islamic identity bore names such as Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Judgment Day, God’s Mission, and Muslim in America. Al-Qahtani was called Unclean and Mo [for Mohammed]. He was lectured on the true meaning of the Koran, instruction that especially enraged him when done by female soldiers. He was not told, despite asking, that some of the interrogation took place during Ramadan, a time when Moslems have special obligations. He was not allowed to honor prayer times. The Koran was intentionally and disrespectfully placed on a television (an authorized control measure) and a guard intentionally squatted over it while harshly addressing the prisoner.

Transgressions against Islamic and Arab mores for sexual modesty were employed. The prisoner was forced to wear photographs of sexy females and to study sets of such photographs to identify whether various pictures of bikini-clad women were of the same or a different person. He was told that his mother and sister were whores. He was forced to wear a bra, and a woman’s thong was put on his head. He was dressed as a woman and compelled to dance with a male interrogator. He was told that he had homosexual tendencies and that other prisoners knew this. Although continuously monitored, interrogators repeatedly strip-searched him as a control measure. On at least one occasion, he was forced to stand naked with women soldiers present. Female interrogators seductively touched the prisoner under the authorized use of approaches called Invasion of Personal Space and Futility. On one occasion, a female interrogator straddled the prisoner as he was held down on the floor.

Other degrading techniques were logged. His head and beard were shaved to show the dominance of the interrogators. He was made to stand for the United States national anthem. His situation was compared unfavorably to that of banana rats in the camp. He was leashed (a detail omitted in the log but recorded by investigators) and made to stay, come, and bark to elevate his social status up to a dog. He was told to bark like a happy dog at photographs of 9/11 victims and growl at pictures of terrorists. Some psychological routines referred to the 9/11 attacks. He was shown pictures of the attacks, and photographs of victims were affixed to his body. The interrogators held one exorcism (and threatened another) to purge evil Jinns that the disoriented, sleep deprived prisoner claimed were controlling his emotions. The interrogators quizzed him on passages from a book entitled, What makes a Terrorist and Why?, that asserted that people joined terrorist groups for a sense of belonging and that terrorists must dehumanize their victims as a way to avoid feelings of guilt at their crimes.

Yes, that’s torture.

And in 2008 the Bush administration itself let the torture CAT out of the bag:

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Jan. 14, 2009

The Bush administration had been acutely aware of the legal jeopardy involved, both to the interrogators and to the administration officials-all the way up to the president-who reviewed and authorized the program.

Unwilling to take the political step of withdrawing from the CAT or attempting to repeal its enabling U.S. statute, the Bush administration turned its lawyers loose on the problem, resulting in the notorious memos of 2002.

Beyond asserting a special, protected role for the president of the United States to disregard U.S. law as commander in chief in time of war, the primary purpose of these memos was to raise the bar for the definition of torture-and for legal jeopardy of U.S. personnel-so high it would never be cleared.

The Department of Justice’s Jay Bybee obligingly defined torture as "not the mere infliction of pain or suffering on another, but is instead a step removed. The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result."

Also, according to the logic of the Department of Justice lawyers, anything an interrogator did still wasn’t torture unless it met the also rather subjective criterion that it was inflicted for the purpose of gratuitous recreational sadism, and not to extract information.

In the words of the Bybee memo:

"…because 2340 requires that a defendant act with the specific intent to inflict severe pain, the infliction of such pain must be the defendant’s precise objective…If the defendant acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was reasonably likely to result from his actions, but no more, he would have acted only with general intent."

"Further, a showing that an individual acted with a good faith belief that his conduct would not produce the result that the law prohibits negates specific intent…A good faith belief need not be a reasonable one." [emph. added]

The clear intent of the Bush administration was to create a definitional muddle that would hamstring any efforts to accuse anybody of torturing, let alone prove it.

Apparently these tortured rationales were unpersuasive to the FBI and significant elements inside the Department of Defense (the CIA and its contractors apparently had fewer qualms), especially since the tormented detainees were apparently producing little in the way of useful intelligence.

During the second Bush administration, the effort to establish "enhanced interrogation techniques" as the official norm for dealing with important detainees apparently collapsed.

The legal mess-and the fear of interrogators and bureaucrats that they could be hailed into court for prosecution on torture charges--remained for the Obama administration to try to clean up.

The Obama administration has, rather commendably, decided to make an effort to repair America’s international standing by officially acknowledging the obvious fact that the United States had tortured-and by promising never to do it again.

However, it does not wish to alienate the U.S. national security apparatus or a sizable portion of the U.S. electorate by handing over Bush administration authorizers or practitioners of torture to courts at home or abroad.

Mr. Qahtani, by the way, is unlikely to obtain his day in court to sue his abusers. He is still under extralegal detention while the FBI works to build a "clean" case that will obtain his conviction without using information obtained or tainted by his torture.

President Obama has refused to endorse an independent truth commission to investigate torture.

On April 16, 2009, the Department of Justice issued a statement indicating that government employees who followed the flawed Bush administration guidelines in good faith had nothing to fear from the Obama Department of Justice.

Quite the contrary, in fact:

Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.

The Attorney General has informed the Central Intelligence Agency that the government would provide legal representation to any employee, at no cost to the employee, in any state or federal judicial or administrative proceeding brought against the employee based on such conduct and would take measures to respond to any proceeding initiated against the employee in any international or foreign tribunal, including appointing counsel to act on the employee’s behalf and asserting any available immunities and other defenses in the proceeding itself.

To the extent permissible under federal law, the government will also indemnify any employee for any monetary judgment or penalty ultimately imposed against him for such conduct and will provide representation in congressional investigations.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

Attorney General Eric Holder, recently portrayed on the cover of Newsweek magazine standing on a Washington street corner in an attitude of befuddled nobility, has, in the form of a classified report by the CIA’s inspector general, powerful documentation of U.S. torture that he finds difficult to ignore.

Holder would like to prosecute American torturers who exceeded even the Bush guidelines in their mistreatment of detainees.

However, the Obama administration doesn’t even want to go there.

The torturers’ defense would undoubtedly involve an excruciating parsing of the torture memos. This would expose both retired and serving government bureaucrats to embarrassment or worse.

Court proceedings would inevitably involve the presentation of evidence that other national courts might seize upon on the principle of universal jurisdiction, especially if the U.S. courts acquitted (or even worse, the Obama administration pardoned) offenders in an attempt to secure what CAT is specifically designed to preclude: legal impunity for torturers.

The Obama administration is working overtime to pre-empt the possibility of foreign prosecution of American torturers. For the most part, the European countries have been obliging.

Certainly, the German government under Angela Merkel was unwilling to countenance a war crimes indictment against U.S. government and military officials.

In a 2007 decision quashing a war crimes suit filed by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo victims against Donald Rumsfeld et. al., the Prosecutor General at Germany’s Federal Supreme Court availed himself of the excuse that, although the purpose of the law was to compel war crimes prosecutions when the home jurisdiction declined to do so, the German courts could still decline to pursue the case if they decided ahead of time that they couldn’t convict:

[I]t is necessary to counteract the danger that complainants will seek out certain states as sites of prosecution-like Germany in this case-that have no direct connection with the acts complained of, simply because their criminal law is favorable to international law (so-called forum shopping; Kurth, ZIS 2006, 81, 83; Ambos, NStZ 2006, 434, 435), and in this way force investigative authorities into complicated, but ultimately unsuccessful investigations.

The Spanish government, with the joint approbation of the United States, Israel, and China, is seeking to rein in its National Court, which is investigating 16 cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity under the principle of broad "universal jurisdiction" i.e. when no Spanish link exists, including two Guantanamo cases.

However, the universal refusal of national courts to hear war crimes cases against American officials cannot be assumed. There is always the threat of what Jay Bybee referred to as "rogue prosecutors".

And there is the danger that persuasive documentation of actual abuses during interrogations will sway public opinion and the courts in some country to push for indictment of American government officials.

Under these circumstances, it would not appear prudent for the Obama administration to provide carefully-vetted, U.S. government-endorsed evidence of torture that could be used in foreign courts.

Therefore, the White House appears determined to deny foreign courts the hard evidence of actual torture that they would need to conduct meaningful prosecutions.

In CIA Director Panetta’s declaration opposing the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act request for information concerning "enhanced interrogation techniques" or EITs, he makes the awkward but necessary distinction that it was one thing to release the Office of Legal Counsel memos detailing "EIT descriptions in the abstract" but records of actual "EITs as applied" "must continue to be classified TOP SECRET".

The Obama administration has demonstrated that it has no stomach for an emotional and divisive debate that forces it to stand with decency and tortured foreigners and puts it on the wrong side of the national security and sovereignty equation.

The Newsweek article itself, while presenting Eric Holder as a decent and capable Attorney General, clearly communicated the idea that he was out of step with the White House on the torture issue and he would be hung out to dry if he persists on the issue.

In the best "going forward" tradition, the United States will be happy to say that "torture happened".

However, as to "who did what, where and when and to whom", it doesn’t look like the victims-or the American people-will get many answers for now.