JFP News 10/12: U.S. Brokers Iran Nuclear Deal
Just Foreign Policy News
October 12, 2009
Feingold Calls For Flexible Timetable to Draw Down Troops in Afghanistan
Senator Feingold urges an accounting of the cost of sending more troops; argues that more troops could be counterproductive by causing more people to join the insurgency and by destabilizing Pakistan; points out the folly of expending a disproportionate share of U.S. resources on war in Afghanistan, compared to other challenges.
Obama Begins Meaningful Engagement With Iran
Many were alarmed by the Obama Administration's apparent "saber-rattling" around the revelation of Iran's nuclear enrichment facility at Qom. But more significant than how vigorously the Administration was pounding the table was the fact that it was pounding the table in pursuit of realistic, achievable goals - like the introduction of inspectors at Qom, which Iran had in fact already agreed to - rather than the pie-in-the-sky goal of ending Iranian enrichment of uranium.
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1) A deal brokered largely by the United States aims to buy time for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions, reports Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post. If it works, Iran will end up with fuel necessary to treat desperately ill patients - and greatly reduce its stock of low-enriched uranium. Obama administration officials say the deal should be viewed as both a confidence-building measure and a test of Iranian intentions. Under the plan Iran would supply its own stock of uranium to Russia to fuel its research reactor. Iran would have to give up about 80 percent of its stockpile; at current production rates, it could take Iran as long as two years to replace that material. [Thus, the deal, if successful, would set back the clock on any clandestine Iranian nuclear program as significantly as most estimates for a U.S. or Israeli military attack - JFP.]
2) The Obama administration is considering outbidding the Taliban to persuade Afghan villagers to lay down arms, the London Sunday Times reports. One official said the key emphasis in White House meetings had been to identify options that would prepare the way for US troops to leave. Apart from training more Afghan troops, the focus has shifted to accepting a political role for the Taliban, while also trying to weaken them by winning some over. Paying Taliban foot-soldiers to switch sides could spare US lives and save money, say its advocates. A recent report by the Senate foreign relations committee estimated the Taliban fighting strength at 15,000, of whom only 5% are committed idealogues while 70% fight for money - the so-called $10-a-day Taliban. Doubling this to win them over would cost just $300,000 a day, compared with the $165m a day the US is spending fighting the war.
3) Afghanistan is a proxy war, with the main protagonists in the United States, writes Andrew Bacevich in the Boston Globe. The real dispute is not about Afghanistan or Al Qaeda, but whether counterinsurgency, open-ended war, and military might will dominate U.S. foreign policy. If Obama agrees to McChrystal's request, the message is that "change" is impossible.
4) The latest attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul will likely intensify the India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. "Kabul is the new Kashmir," says Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid.
5) The IMF is considering creating a mission for itself as a "global lender of last resort," notes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. But it doesn't make sense to give this power to an institution that is still using its leverage to impose pro-recession policies in developing countries - the opposite of the policies employed in the developed world.
6) The White House has been presented intelligence estimating Taliban-led forces battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan have nearly quadrupled since 2006 and are increasingly independent of leaders in Pakistan, Reuters reports. Some of Obama's advisers see a more concerted crackdown by Pakistan on militants on its side of the border as key to turning the tide in Afghanistan, but U.S. intelligence agencies see little correlation.
7) The de facto Honduran government is listening to the wrong people, says the New York Times in an editorial. It should ignore Republicans suffering from Cold War nostalgia and pay attention to what they are being told by every democratically elected government in the hemisphere: President Zelaya must be reinstated to office now.
8) Armenia and Turkey signed an agreement to establish diplomatic ties, after a dramatic last-minute intervention by Secretary of State Clinton to keep the event from falling apart, the Washington Post reports. The accord was brokered by the Swiss over the past two years, with the help of French, Russian and U.S. officials. The protocols signed Saturday would open the border between Turkey and Armenia. Turkey won a commitment from Washington to step up its efforts to settle the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
9) Villagers and local officials say that more than two months after the end of active combat, reconstruction has yet to begin in the upper Swat Valley, the New York Times reports. It was a sense of near-total abandonment by the government that opened people to the Taliban to begin with, they say, and the longer people are left to fend for themselves, the greater the chance of a relapse.
10) A former Marine is a key witness in a lawsuit seeking billions of dollars in compensation from the U.S. for illnesses that Vieques residents have linked to the Navy's bombing range, AP reports. The federal government has moved to dismiss the suit, claiming sovereign immunity. A 2004 study by a former Puerto Rico health minister that found the cancer rate was 27 percent higher for people on Vieques than the Puerto Rican mainland. The military experimented with napalm, depleted uranium and agent orange at Vieques, AP says.
11) Argentina's Senate overwhelmingly approved and President Fernandez signed a law that attacks private concentration of the media dating back to the dictatorship, AP reports. The new law preserves two-thirds of the radio and TV spectrum for noncommercial stations. It forces Grupo Clarin, the country's leading media company, to sell off many of its properties. It also requires cable TV companies to carry channels operated by universities, unions, indigenous groups and other non-governmental organizations.
1) Iran Seeks Deal For Reactor
U.S. Sees Diplomatic Benefit in Helping Medical Treatment
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Sunday, October 11, 2009
Iran four months ago discreetly contacted the United Nations-affiliated agency for nuclear energy to outline a worrisome situation: A research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes that detect and treat the diseases of about 10,000 patients a week will run out of fuel by the end of 2010. Iran also had a request: Can you help us find a country that will sell us new fuel?
On the face of it, Iran's query was a plaintive plea from a country under deep suspicion over its nuclear ambitions. But it also carried an unstated threat: If no country was willing to sell a stash of medium-enriched uranium to Iran, Tehran could say it had no choice but to produce the nuclear fuel itself - in effect putting it one step closer to obtaining weapons-grade fuel. The research reactor uses uranium enriched to 19.75 percent - a huge boost from the 3.5 percent enriched uranium created by Iran.
Now the Iranian request is at the center of an unusual deal, brokered largely by the United States, that aims to buy time for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions. If it works, Iran will end up with fuel necessary to treat desperately ill patients - and greatly reduce its stock of low-enriched uranium. But critics question why the United States would be assisting a nuclear pariah - and giving it fuel that is even more enriched than its current holdings - without even an agreement that Iran stop operating a uranium enrichment facility in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Obama administration officials counter that the deal should be viewed as both a confidence-building measure and a test of Iranian intentions. They say that if Iran fails to follow through with the agreement - tentatively reached when Iranian diplomats met with major powers in Geneva on Oct. 1 - then it will have demonstrated that it has little interest in working with other nations for even the most benign humanitarian purposes. Further details of the arrangement, including a timetable, are to be worked out in a meeting in Vienna on Oct. 19.
"This is a real confidence-building measure," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. "If they say they need it for medical purposes, we are offering it to them. If they accept it, it is LEU [low-enriched uranium] coming out. If they reject it, it is another data point that says, 'Look, these guys are not serious.' "
The reactor was built for Iran by the United States more than 40 years ago and initially supplied with weapons-grade uranium (enriched to 93 percent). But after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the United States refused to provide any more fuel; Iran insists that the United States still owes millions of dollars for fuel that was not delivered. In 1987, with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran reached an agreement with Argentina to convert the reactor core to use nearly 20 percent enriched uranium; in 1993, about 50 pounds of the fuel was shipped from Argentina to Iran.
Now the Argentine-supplied fuel is running low. An Iranian news report in 2007 said the reactor produces a number of isotopes used in X-rays and the treatment of thyroid disorders.
When U.S. officials learned of Iran's interest in new fuel, they realized the potential threat. At an enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran has accumulated a stockpile of 3,300 pounds of low-enriched uranium, enough for a single nuclear weapon if it were enriched to weapons-grade levels. Every day the stockpile grows by 4 1/2 pounds, so U.S. officials thought it would be a disaster if Iran found an excuse to enrich the uranium even further.
So the Obama administration conceived of a plan under which Iran would supply its own stock of uranium to another country - Russia - in order to fuel the research reactor. Iran essentially would have to give up about 80 percent of its stockpile to get back the same amount of uranium supplied by Argentina in 1993 - and at current production rates, it could take Iran as long as two years to replace that material.
The IAEA and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, were intimately involved in the plan and kept in touch with the Iranians. Obama discussed it with ElBaradei before the critical Oct. 1 meeting in Geneva.
2) Barack Obama Ready To Pay Afghan Fighters To Ditch The Taliban
Christina Lamb, London Sunday Times, October 11, 2009
The Obama administration is considering outbidding the Taliban to persuade Afghan villagers to lay down arms as it struggles to find a new approach to a war that is fast losing public and congressional support.
One official said the key emphasis in the White House meetings had been to identify options that would prepare the way for American troops to leave. Apart from training more Afghan troops, the focus has shifted to accepting a political role for the Taliban, while also trying to weaken them by winning some over.
Afghans are known for changing sides back and forth during their long years of war - there is an old saying that "you can rent an Afghan but never buy one" - and battles have often been decided by defections rather than combat.
Paying Taliban foot-soldiers to switch sides could spare US lives and save money, say its advocates. A recent report by the Senate foreign relations committee estimated the Taliban fighting strength at 15,000, of whom only 5% are committed idealogues while 70% fight for money - the so-called $10-a-day Taliban. Doubling this to win them over would cost just $300,000 a day, compared with the $165m a day the United States is spending fighting the war.
The tactic was used to good effect in Iraq where the US government put 100,000 Sunni gunmen on its payroll for about $300 a month each.
3) Afghanistan - The Proxy War
Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston Globe, October 11, 2009
No serious person thinks that Afghanistan - remote, impoverished, barely qualifying as a nation-state - seriously matters to the United States. Yet with the war in its ninth year, the passions raised by the debate over how to proceed there are serious indeed. Afghanistan elicits such passions because people understand that in rendering his decision on Afghanistan, President Obama will declare himself on several much larger issues. In this sense, Afghanistan is a classic proxy war, with the main protagonists here in the United States.
The question of the moment, framed by the prowar camp, goes like this: Will the president approve the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander General Stanley McChrystal? Or will he reject that plan and accept defeat, thereby inviting the recurrence of 9/11 on an even larger scale? Yet within this camp the appeal of the McChrystal plan lies less in its intrinsic merits, which are exceedingly dubious, than in its implications.
If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:
- Anoint counterinsurgency - protracted campaigns of armed nation-building - as the new American way of war.
- Embrace George W. Bush's concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label "global war on terror").
- Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo.
Hawks understand this. That's why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly - it's either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It's also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately.
Yet people in the antiwar camp also understand the stakes. Obama ran for the presidency promising change. The doves sense correctly that Obama's decision on Afghanistan may well determine how much - if any - substantive change is in the offing.
If the president assents to McChrystal's request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That "keeping Americans safe" obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.
If the Afghan war then becomes the consuming issue of Obama's presidency - as Iraq became for his predecessor, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson, and as Korea did for Harry Truman - the inevitable effect will be to compromise the prospects of reform more broadly.
At home and abroad, the president who advertised himself as an agent of change will instead have inadvertently erected barriers to change. As for the American people, they will be left to foot the bill.
This is a pivotal moment in US history. Americans owe it to themselves to be clear about what is at issue. That issue relates only tangentially relates to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or the well-being of the Afghan people. The real question is whether "change" remains possible.
4) Kabul Attack May Intensify India-Pakistan Proxy Battle
Emily Wax, Washington Post, Sunday, October 11, 2009
New Delhi - Across Afghanistan, hundreds of Indian workers and engineers are repairing disintegrated roads and constructing highways. India is building the country's new parliament building. It is running medical missions and training Afghan police officers, diplomats and civil servants, part of a hearts-and-minds offensive to strengthen old ties in a rough neighborhood.
Like archrival Pakistan, India sees Afghanistan as a strategic prize, but its efforts to establish a big footprint there have been set back twice in 15 months by suicide bombings aimed at its widening presence.
In some ways, India and Pakistan have been waging a quiet battle inside Afghanistan, and experts say the latest attack, on Thursday outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, is bound to intensify that rivalry.
Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, has long had deep ties with elements inside Afghanistan, but large numbers of Indian intelligence operatives are also in Afghanistan to counter Pakistan's influence and to act as a check on Taliban militants, Indian and Pakistani security experts say.
"This is where the real proxy war between the two countries is being fought," said Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani author of "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."
India's active opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan dates to the 1990s, when the New Delhi government joined Iran and Russia in supporting the Northern Alliance against the Islamist movement. Now, India is spending $1.2 billion in health-care, food and infrastructure aid to Afghanistan, its largest foreign assistance program.
Experts say there is a growing rift between Pakistan's civilian government and its military, and between the military and the ISI. Those apparent rifts are not lost on Indian diplomats, who realize the limits of Pakistan's government to see through diplomatic promises.
In recent years, Pakistan's government has been increasingly wary of India's influence in Afghanistan, including New Delhi's close ties to the government of President Hamid Karzai, who studied in India, as did most of Afghanistan's leadership.
An Indian air base in Tajikistan, the first one outside the country, also has increased Pakistan's worries about India's growing strategic reach in the region. The air base is a transit point for security forces and material to Afghanistan.
In the past few years, India has sent mountain-trained paramilitary forces to protect its workers in Afghanistan from kidnappings and attacks. About 500 Indian police officers are deployed there.
India has opened consulates in Herat and Mazar-e Sharif; it also reopened two in Jalalabad and Kandahar that had been shut since 1979. In January, India completed the Zaranj-Delaram highway near the Iranian border. In May, an Indian-made power transmission line brought 24-hour electricity to Kabul, the capital.
"I always say that Kabul is the new Kashmir," said Rashid, the Pakistani author, referring to the disputed Himalayan region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan.
5) The IMF's misguided new mission
The IMF wants to expand its role in the global economy and be the world's lender of last resort. We shouldn't give it more power
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Thursday 8 October 2009 20.00 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/oct/08/imf-meeting-global-economy
Rescued from a state of near-irrelevance by the world recession and an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars (mostly from the US, Europe and Japan), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now thinking of expanding its role into previously uncharted territory.
In Istanbul for the annual meeting of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director, said: "Given the costs associated with reserves accumulation, there is clearly a need for reliable emergency financing and hence for a global lender of last resort. The Fund has the potential to serve as an effective and reliable provider of such insurance."
Strauss-Kahn is correct to point out that developing countries pay a substantial price for accumulating foreign exchange reserves in order to "self-insure" against a financial crisis. But can the IMF play this role of a world's central banker?
Contrary to much news reporting, the IMF has not historically played the role that a national central bank plays as lender of last resort. The US Federal Reserve, for example, provides liquidity to the financial system in a time of crisis, in order to prevent a more generalised collapse - as it did with hundreds of billions of dollars in a series of interventions after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year.
But the IMF did not play this role in the major developing-country financial crises that preceded this most recent one: eg the east Asian financial crises of 1997-98, or the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002. More often it has tried to assist foreign creditors in collecting their debt, as in the above mentioned crises, as well as attaching various, often unpopular and sometimes harmful conditions to its lending.
To its credit, the Fund has this year made available for borrowing some $283bn to all member countries. While most of this is allocated to the rich countries who will not need or use it, a substantial part will go to developing countries, with some $20bn to low-income countries (although most of the latter cannot really afford to take on more debt). This move is unprecedented in IMF history, since the loans are without conditions, and it does bring the IMF closer to the central bank function of lender of last resort, providing liquidity during a deep world recession.
But the problem remains that most of the IMF's lending is not of this type. My colleagues and I looked at 41 countries that have current loan agreements with the IMF. We found that in 31 of those countries, the agreements had imposed what economists call pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies. That is, as these countries' economies were slowing sharply or falling into recession, the agreements called for tightening fiscal policy (eg cutting spending) or tightening monetary policy (raising interest rates or curtailing money supply growth).
These are policies that we in the US or other rich countries would not adopt in a downturn (witness the 11.2% of GDP budget deficit in the US and near-zero policy interest rates). Nor does the IMF recommend such policies in the high-income countries.
The Fund has privately told others that its policies should be judged not on whether they made the downturn worse in borrowing countries, but on whether these countries would have been even worse off if they didn't get any aid at all. This seems too low a bar. If you go to a doctor with an badly infected foot, and he saves your life by amputating it, you are better off as a result of the treatment. But if you could have been cured by available antibiotics, this is not competent medicine.
And in some countries - for example Latvia, where the IMF projects a GDP decline of 18% this year - the people probably would have been better off refusing aid and allowing the currency to devalue. Current policy, supported by the IMF and EU, is dedicated to maintaining the country's fixed, overvalued exchange rate. This is very important to western European creditor banks, who have loaned enormous amounts in euros to Latvia and other central and eastern European countries.
Maintaining the exchange rate means that the country's current account deficit must be adjusted through shrinking the economy (and therefore imports) and real wages. This is the same mistake that the Fund supported in Argentina in its deep recession from 1999-2002. After the peso collapsed and Argentina defaulted on most of its foreign debt, the economy contracted for just three months before entering a six-year period of rapid (more than 60%) growth.
6) Taliban growth weighs on Obama strategy review
Adam Entous, Reuters, Friday, October 9, 2009 6:57 PM
Washington - The White House has been presented intelligence estimating Taliban-led forces battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan have nearly quadrupled since 2006 and are increasingly independent of leaders in Pakistan, officials said on Friday.
A U.S. intelligence assessment, showing the number of fighters in the insurgency has reached an estimated 25,000 from 7,000 in 2006, spotlights Taliban gains and the tough choices facing President Barack Obama in trying to reverse the trend.
Some of Obama's advisers see a more concerted crackdown by Pakistan on militants on its side of the border as key to turning the tide in Afghanistan, but U.S. intelligence agencies see little correlation, citing the Afghan insurgency's autonomy and increasing home-grown sophistication, officials said.
Though dominated by hard-core Taliban loyalists, the 25,000 figure also includes affiliates who are less committed to the fight, officials said. The White House believes some of them can be split off from the Taliban to weaken the insurgency.
A counterterrorism official said the latest intelligence provided only a rough estimate of the insurgency's size, citing the difficulty of assessing forces that mainly operate in small units and use hit-and-run tactics. "You're not talking about fixed formations that rely solely on full-time combatants. Numbers ebb and flow. Bands of fighters appear and vanish," the official said.
Searching for ways to improve U.S. fortunes, White House national security adviser James Jones has seized on the importance of Pakistan eliminating all militant "safe havens" on its territory. "If that happens, that's a strategic shift that will spill over into Afghanistan," he said.
But when U.S. intelligence analysts tested that assumption during Pakistan's recent crackdown in the Bajaur region near the Afghan border, they found no corresponding drop in militant infiltrations and attacks on U.S. forces across the border, a defense official said.
"It goes to the idea that Afghanistan is a very resilient and a very flexible insurgency. And by the very nature of insurgency, you do not need a lot of insurgents to inflict a lot of damage, because they are able to choose the time and the place to engage," the defense official said.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said Pakistani crackdowns on militants were "helpful" but added: "The Taliban, unfortunately, have already strengthened their presence - in numbers and in organization - inside Afghanistan, so what happens on the other side of the border isn't particularly relevant to many of their operations."
7) Wrong Advice
Editorial, New York Times, October 10, 2009
The de facto Honduran government of Roberto Micheletti is listening to the wrong people. Since the military deposed the president, Manuel Zelaya, in June, Micheletti and his aides have received two American Congressional delegations - all Republicans - and they are getting additional free advice from former Republican officials who are clearly nostalgic for the cold war.
Those days are over. Micheletti should instead pay attention to what he is being told by every democratically elected government in the hemisphere: President Zelaya must be reinstated to office. Nothing else will do.
Time is running out. If Micheletti and his backers expect the next Honduran government to be recognized as legitimate by the international community, it must restore Zelaya to office now.
8) Armenia, Turkey Reach Accord
Swiss Broker New Diplomatic Ties,
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Sunday, October 11, 2009
Zurich, Switzerland, Oct. 10 - Armenia and Turkey signed a landmark agreement Saturday to establish diplomatic ties, after a dramatic last-minute intervention by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to keep the event from falling apart.
The accord, aimed at ending a century of hostility stemming from Ottoman Era massacres, was brokered by the Swiss over the past two years, with the help of French, Russian and U.S. officials. Clinton had been in frequent contact with the two sides in recent months to help seal the deal.
But just as she arrived at the University of Zurich for the signing at about 5 p.m. Saturday, Clinton heard that the Armenian side was objecting to a Turkish statement prepared for the ceremony, officials said. Clinton's motorcade made a U-turn and raced back to the hotel, where a U.S. diplomat was talking to the Armenians.
In the hotel parking lot, Clinton sat in her black BMW sedan in a soft rain for about an hour, talking on one phone to the Armenian foreign minister and on another to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Finally, she went into the hotel to invite the Armenian foreign minister, Edward Nalbandian, to drive with her to the university, where his Turkish counterpart was waiting.
Once there, further hours of negotiating ensued with a broader group of international diplomats, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, before the documents were signed. In an apparent compromise, neither the Turks nor the Armenians made a statement at the ceremony.
The two protocols signed Saturday would establish diplomatic relations, open the border between Turkey and Armenia that was closed in 1993 and establish committees to work on economic affairs, the environment and other bilateral issues.
The protocols do not explicitly mention the genocide controversy, which would go to a committee of historical experts for study.
In pursuing the accord, Turkey won a commitment from Washington to step up its efforts to settle the dispute over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in the Azerbaijan, officials said. Azerbaijan is an ally of Turkey's. About 30,000 people have been killed in fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
9) Racing Time And Taliban To Rebuild In Pakistan
Sabrina Tavernise and Irfan Ashraf, New York Times, October 11, 2009
Nazarabad, Pakistan - The fighting is over and the villagers have returned, but life here remains suspended. Villagers' buffaloes are gone, and their harvests are spoiled. Power is still out in many areas. Schools, blown up by the Taliban, lay in heaps. Even the bricks have been sold. "We are orphans," said Akbar Khan, a school principal. "No one has come to ask about us."
This is the upper Swat Valley, ground zero for the Taliban in northern Pakistan. While urban areas farther south are bustling and back to life, the real test of Pakistan's fight against the Taliban in Swat will take place here, in the impoverished villages where the militant movement began.
But more than two months after the end of active combat, with winter fast approaching, reconstruction has yet to begin, and little has been accomplished on the ground to win back people's trust, villagers and local officials say.
The lag, they argue, is risky: It was a sense of near-total abandonment by the government that opened people to the Taliban to begin with, they say, and the longer people are left to fend for themselves, the greater the chance of a relapse.
"I'm really worried," said Javed Iqbal, the chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, where Swat is located. "We do not have the luxury of time. "If you don't start showing something more tangible," he continued, "I wouldn't be surprised to see the state of anarchy returning."
Pakistan's government says it is tending to the needs of the people of Swat, an aid effort that was estimated last month to require $1.2 billion. The country's largest donor, the United States, is about to pump billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan, and there have been international conferences to gather funds.
But money for reconstruction in this battered area is still almost nonexistent, officials say, and aid organizations, encumbered by security rules, have been slow to respond. "The government thinks people are slowly getting back to normal lives," said Pervez Tahir, chairman of the economics department at Forman Christian College in Lahore. "The reality is, the poor were ignored before, and the poor are ignored after."
10) Former Marine Becomes Face Of New Vieques Battle
Mike Melia, Associated Press, Sunday, October 11, 2009 12:02 AM
Isabela, Puerto Rico - The headaches began just after Hermogenes Marrero arrived on Vieques, the small Puerto Rican island where the young U.S. Marine guarded stores of Cold War-era chemical weapons.
The retired sergeant, now 57 and terminally ill with cancer and other ailments, blames exposure to toxins released while he was stationed there from 1970 to 1972. By coming forward to support similar claims by island residents, he has become the public face of a new and bitter battle over Vieques, the Navy bombing range-turned-tourist destination off the U.S. territory's east coast. "I've been sick since I left Vieques," said the wheelchair-bound Marrero, who now lives in an apartment cramped with life-support equipment in this small town in northwestern Puerto Rico.
Marrero is a key witness in a lawsuit seeking billions of dollars in compensation for illnesses that past and current Vieques residents have linked to the bombing range, where the U.S. and its allies trained for conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq.
The range closed in 2003 after years of protests over the environmental risks and the death of a Puerto Rican civilian guard who was killed in 1999 by an errant bomb. Many had long complained about clouds of smoke and dust wafting toward populated areas and explosions echoing across the hilly, 18-mile-long island of less than 10,000 people.
The U.S. has denied any link between illnesses and weapons that rained down on the island for six decades. With independent studies suggesting otherwise, however, a federal health agency recently began a new analysis of the situation.
The military also experimented with napalm, depleted uranium and agent orange, besides the millions of pounds of ordnance that Navy aircraft and ships dropped annually on Vieques. A cleanup began in 2005 to clear thousands of unexploded munitions from the former training range site that is now a Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, and the island has placed new emphasis on tourism.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Washington in September 2007 and transferred to U.S. district court in San Juan in March. It has been challenged on national security grounds by the federal government, which argues it should be dismissed because the U.S. had sovereign immunity in Vieques. The Navy and the Justice Department declined to discuss the lawsuit or Marrero's claims.
The main evidence for Navy critics is a 2004 study by a former Puerto Rico health minister that found the cancer rate was 27 percent higher for people on Vieques than the Puerto Rican mainland. The study, which found no significant differences in lifestyle between the two groups, also detected a higher prevalence of other illnesses, including diabetes, asthma and epilepsy.
11) Argentine Senate overwhelmingly approves media law
Mayra Pertossi, Associated Press, Sat Oct 10, 4:46 pm ET
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Argentina's Senate overwhelmingly approved a law that will transform the nation's media landscape on Saturday, and President Cristina Fernandez quickly signed it into law.
Senators voted by a surprisingly high 44-24 margin for the law, celebrating the end of dictatorship-era rules that enabled a few companies to dominate Argentine media. Opponents say it instead gives the government too much power and will curtail freedom of speech.
The new law preserves two-thirds of the radio and TV spectrum for noncommercial stations, and requires channels to use more Argentine content. It also forces Grupo Clarin, the country's leading media company, to sell off many of its properties.
"The initiative is moderate and democratic," said Sen. Miguel Angel Pichetto, a ruling party leader, during nearly 20 hours of uninterrupted debate that ended Saturday morning. "It allows for companies to have an adequate position, but not a dominant one."
Most affected is Grupo Clarin, one of Latin America's leading media companies. Within one year, it must sell off radio stations, television channels and part of its dominant cable TV network to comply with new ownership limits.
The new law imposes more frequent licensing approvals, and requires that at least 70 percent of radio content and 60 percent of television content be produced in Argentina. It also requires cable TV companies to carry channels operated by universities, unions, indigenous groups and other non-governmental organizations.
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