JFP 10/26: Ramos-Horta: Talks with Taliban Essential for Afghan Stablity

Just Foreign Policy News
October 26, 2009


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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Bringing all Afghan parties, including the Taliban, into talks is essential to long-term stability in Afghanistan, writes East Timor President and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta for the Wall Street Journal. The Taliban is strong enough to make Afghanistan ungovernable for the U.S. indefinitely. The U.S. is strong enough to keep the Taliban from ever cementing its hold on the country if the US wants to do so. In East Timor and elsewhere, a stalemate opened the door to dialogue and compromise. The U.S. should use this moment to explore ways for a transitional arrangement that allows the Taliban to share power, brings an end to the fighting and provides for the timely exit of U.S. forces.

2) The Obama administration is moving toward a hybrid strategy in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. One scenario under consideration calls for deploying 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. reinforcements primarily to ramp up the training of the Afghan security forces. With 10,000 to 20,000 troops, "You'd be trying to buy time" for the Afghan security forces, said one official. "In effect, you'd narrow the counterinsurgency part of the campaign down to training up the Afghans as fast as possible."

3) A U.S. military "hit list" of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against foreign troops, the Washington Post reports. The U.S. military and NATO officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list. The list is thought to include people with close ties to the Afghan government and others who have served as intelligence assets for the CIA and the U.S. military. Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts said he worried foreign troops would act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial. The Afghanistan director for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned against extrajudicial killing.

4) The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in January 2008 was 26,607, notes Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. Over the next six months, the total rose to 48,250. In February, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops into the country. Over the past 18 months, troop levels in Afghanistan have almost tripled. Sending an additional 40,000 troops would mean an over 300 percent increase in U.S. troops since 2008. It is not dithering to try to figure out why previous increases have not worked and why we think additional ones would.

5) General McChrystal isn't asking for a "surge" - a temporary increase - but a permanent escalation, writes Robert Haddick in Foreign Policy. McChrystal's initial assessment does not define a discrete time period during which he would need the additional troops - the request is open-ended.

6) Turkey's prime minister Erdogan "poured cold water" on western accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, the Guardian reports. Erdogan dismissed Israeli claims that Turkey was in danger of harming its relations with the US: "I don't think there is any possibility of that. America's policy in this region is not dictated by Israel."

7) President Obama's vision of global cooperation is in for a crucial test when he begins sending a series of treaties to the Senate, where skepticism among Republicans and some Democrats will make approval exceedingly difficult, the Boston Globe reports. The Obama administration says it will seek ratification of three major pacts aimed at reducing nuclear weapons, including a new treaty with Russia and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Honduras
8) Honduras' Tourism Minister is telling foreigners not to visit Honduras, Time Magazine reports, saying the conditions for tourism don't exist under the coup. At present, Ricardo Martínez says, "we are still a state without individual guarantees. The police can come into your house without court order, you can be arrested without reason, and there's no freedom of movement."

Afghanistan
9) Hundreds of angry protesters in Kabul burned an effigy of President Obama on Sunday, acting on rumors US troops had desecrated the Koran, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Western military coalition said a joint investigation by Afghan and Western officials had found the allegations groundless. The incident pointed to a strong undercurrent of anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, the LAT says. Sunday's rally in the capital was the largest of what has been a wave of smaller protests elsewhere in the country over the alleged incident.

Uruguay
10) Socialist senator José Mujica emerged the clear winner of Sunday's election for president of Uruguay but did not muster enough votes to avoid a November runoff, the New York Times reports. The governing Broad Front coalition had 47.5 percent of the votes; the National Party was trailing with 28.6 percent and the Colorado Party had 16.7 percent. Mujica pledged to continue and strengthen the government's social programs.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) A Plan for Afghanistan: Talking to the Taliban is key for a durable solution.
Jose Ramos-Horta, Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2009, 2:05 P.M. ET
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704335904574496104102259672.html

[Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, is president of East Timor.]

President Barack Obama is currently wrestling with the question of troop escalation in Afghanistan, against an upsurge of violence in the country and enormous complexities obscuring a clear path of action. In the cacophony of opinions being circulated, few have mentioned what would have to be an element of any plan - bringing all Afghan parties, including the Taliban, into talks to figure out how they can live side by side without killing each other.

As controversial as such negotiations will be, they're necessary to long-term stability in the country. Otherwise the United States and the Taliban will find themselves in a dangerous deadlock. The Taliban is strong enough to make Afghanistan ungovernable for the U.S. indefinitely. Yet the U.S. is strong enough to keep the Taliban from ever cementing its hold on the country if Washington wants to do so.

That deadlock need not continue, however. As we learned in East Timor and from observing similar conflicts, a stalemate such as this in the political field or battlefield can open the door to dialogue and compromise. The U.S. should use this moment to explore ways for a transitional arrangement that allows the Taliban to share power, brings an end to the fighting and provides for the timely exit of U.S. forces.

The goal of negotiations should be a settlement whereby each side achieves its main objectives: for the U.S., depriving al Qaeda of a launching pad and cementing the democratic gains in Afghanistan since 2001; for the Taliban, securing the departure of the U.S. Washington must clearly state the conditions for a U.S. troop withdrawal, including the dismantling of al Qaeda bases, the detention or expulsion of all its insurgents from the country, and the guarantee of an end to the persecution of Afghan women and children.

Whoever wins the upcoming second-round election will be the legitimate leader of the country. With the support of the U.S. and the international community, they should initiate dialogue with the Taliban to establish a power-sharing framework. Such an arrangement could last from three to five years, until the situation in the country is stabilized and new elections are held. In the next elections the Taliban, like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, would participate in the democratic process. The U.S should communicate that if the Taliban wishes to participate peacefully in the government, the U.S. will support such a desire.
[...]

2) Troop-Boost Plan Gains Backing
Peter Spiegel and Yochi Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2009
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125632862358004497.html

Washington - The Obama administration is moving toward a hybrid strategy in Afghanistan that would combine elements of both the troop-heavy approach sought by its top military commander and a narrower option backed by Vice President Joe Biden, a decision that could pave the way for thousands of new U.S. forces.

The emerging strategy would largely rebuff proposals to maintain current troop levels and rely on unmanned drone attacks and elite special-operations troops to hunt individual militants, an idea championed by Biden. It is opposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Kabul, and other military officials.

One scenario under consideration, according to an official familiar with the deliberations, calls for deploying 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. reinforcements primarily to ramp up the training of the Afghan security forces. But Gen. McChrystal's request for 40,000 troops also remains on the table.
[...]
The emerging U.S. strategy would change the tactics of conventional forces on the ground to a less-aggressive strategy aimed at winning support among Afghans, while shifting assets needed to go after terror groups - helicopters, unmanned drones, and other surveillance equipment - from Iraq to Afghanistan to step up the targeting of al-Qaeda-linked militants.

"You can't do one without the other," said a military official with recent experience in Afghanistan. "It's really just a question of which you decide to dial up and which you decide to dial down."

Such a hybrid does not guarantee Gen. McChrystal will get all the troops he has requested, and administration officials continue to insist that Obama is still weeks away from a final decision.

The outstanding question is how large an increase, and how those forces will be used.

A rapid increase in the size of Afghan forces has already been broached with Afghan defense officials, according to U.S. military officials, and a new three-star general - Lt. Gen. William Caldwell - was recently nominated to oversee the project at the request of Gen. McChrystal.

With 10,000 to 20,000 troops, "You'd be trying to buy time" for the Afghan security forces, said an official familiar with the deliberations. "In effect, you'd narrow the counterinsurgency part of the campaign down to training up the Afghans as fast as possible."
[...]
The election, marred by fraud, rekindled questions within the Obama administration over whether the U.S. should continue to commit troops and money to support a central government wracked by corruption.

The alternative is equally fraught, however: focusing on local tribal leaders outside of Kabul and empowering them to secure and govern their local areas independently of the capital. In southern Afghanistan, where most of the current violence has raged, this would require partnering with Pashtun tribes that have frequently allied with the Taliban.

Whether allied forces can identify and peel off Taliban leaders and incorporate them into a friendly governance structure has been one of the most contentious issues within the administration deliberations, according to people familiar with the talks.

Several senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have publicly said that while certain Islamist elements of the Taliban may be objectionable, they do not present a direct threat to U.S. security and could be co-opted.


"The terrorist threat from al-Qaeda or any other group or movement is not to be equated with control over a particular piece of real estate by the group itself, or by the friends and patrons of that group," said Paul Pillar, a CIA veteran who worked on Middle East and South Asian intelligence issues in the Bush administration.
[...]

3) Afghans Oppose U.S. Hit List Of Drug Traffickers
Public outrage feared, justice system will be undermined, officials say
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, Saturday, October 24, 2009
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/23/AR2009102303709.html

Kabul - A U.S. military hit list of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against foreign troops.

The U.S. military and NATO officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list, which was drafted within the past year as part of NATO's new strategy to combat drug operations that finance the Taliban. The list is thought to include people with close ties to the Afghan government and others who have served as intelligence assets for the CIA and the U.S. military, according to current and former U.S. and Afghan officials.

Afghan counternarcotics officials expressed frustration that U.S. and NATO military leaders have refused to divulge the names on the list, a decision that they said could undercut joint operations to hunt down opium traffickers.

Gen. Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts, praised U.S. and British special forces for their help recently in destroying drug labs and stashes of opium. But he said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial. "They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes," Daud said. "We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own."
[...]
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Afghanistan director for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said the decline represented a one-time opportunity to make a permanent dent in production levels. He said NATO's help in going after drug labs and stockpiles had proven effective, but he cautioned the military against taking the fight a step too far. "Extrajudicial killing is not something you want to see," Lemahieu said. "Let's be very, very clear. Don't expect the military to do the job of a police officer. It won't work."
[...]
"We have some people, powerful people, inside and outside government, who can freely smuggle drugs," said Nur al-Haq Ulumi, a member of the Afghan parliament from Kandahar. "If we had an honest government, the government could track down and arrest these people - everybody knows this."

But Ulumi said it would make things worse if coalition troops began to kill drug dealers. "Already, people feel that foreigners didn't really come here to reconstruct our country," he said. "They think the foreigners just came here to kill us."
[...]

4) Think Before Surging
Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, Monday, October 26, 2009
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/25/AR2009102502042.html

Dick Cheney has accused Barack Obama of "dithering" over Afghanistan. If the president were to quickly invade a country on the basis of half-baked intelligence, would that demonstrate his courage and decisiveness to Cheney? In fact, it's not a bad idea for Obama to take his time, examine all options and watch how the post-election landscape in Afghanistan evolves.

The real question we should be asking about Afghanistan is: "Do we need a third surge?" The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in January 2008 was 26,607. Over the next six months, the total rose to 48,250. President Bush described this policy as "the quiet surge," and he made the standard arguments about the need for a counterinsurgency capacity - the troops had to not only fight the Taliban but also protect the Afghan population, strengthen and train the Afghan army and police, and assist in development.

In January, 3,000 more troops, originally ordered by Bush, went to Afghanistan in the first days of the Obama presidency. In February, responding to a request from the commander in the field, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops into the country. Put another way, over the past 18 months, troop levels in Afghanistan have almost tripled. Sending an additional 40,000 troops would mean an over 300 percent increase in U.S. troops since 2008. (The total surge in Iraq was just over 20,000 troops.) It is not dithering to try to figure out why previous increases have not worked and why we think additional ones would.

In fact, focusing on the number of additional troops needed "misses the point entirely," says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander Obama put in place this summer. "The key takeaway" from his now-famous assessment "is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate." The quotes are from the third paragraph of his 66-page memo. These changes in strategy have just begun.

To understand how U.S. troops had been fighting in Afghanistan, consider the Battle of Wanat. On July 13, 2008, a large number of Taliban fighters surrounded an American base in that village, in the southeastern corner of Afghanistan. After a few hours of fierce fighting, nine American soldiers lay dead, the largest number killed in a single engagement in years. Former Post reporter and defense expert Tom Ricks points out that Wanat is in a mountainous region with few people, many of them hostile to outsiders. So, he asks, "Why are we putting our fist in a hornet's nest?"

McChrystal has since pulled U.S. forces out of Wanat. The Post's Greg Jaffe, reporting on the town a year later, concluded recently that "ceding territory to the Taliban is more effective than maintaining small, vulnerable bases in forbidding terrain.
[...]

5) General Casey's Doubts
Afghanistan and some unmentioned strategic risks
Robert Haddick, Foreign Policy, October 23, 2009
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/23/general_caseys_doubts

Left unmentioned in all the discussion of America's interests in Afghanistan are several risks that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional soldiers, if implemented, would create. McChrystal is asking for a permanent escalation in Afghanistan that would commit U.S. ground forces to a larger open-ended effort. Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, fears that the size and duration of this commitment could eventually break the all-volunteer Army. One strategic risk is that the United States would not have enough ready ground forces for another sustained contingency elsewhere. Finally, the funding that is diverted to sustaining ground-force intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could be creating risks in the space, air, and naval dimensions that will unpleasantly appear in the next decade and beyond.

The Bush administration's surge in Iraq was a strategic gamble. The increase from 15 to 20 brigades in Iraq tapped out the last of America's ground combat power. In addition, the required deployment schedule - 15 months in combat followed by 12 months back home - was considered a temporary, emergency measure. It was for this reason that the Iraq "surge" was a temporary measure - it was not feasible to indefinitely sustain 20 brigades in Iraq.

In these terms, McChrystal's troop request is not a surge but an escalation. McChrystal's initial assessment does not define a discrete time period during which he would need the additional troops - the request is open-ended.

In May, prior to the Obama administration's latest review of Afghan policy and McChrystal's report, Casey declared the current deployment practice of "12 months deployed, 12 months home" unsustainable. The Army now considers a routine of 12 months deployed, 24 months home sustainable in the long run. The Army believes it can implement this routine if it limits its commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq to no more than 10 brigades.

But according to this open-source estimate of the current U.S. order of battle in Afghanistan, one Marine and six Army brigades are currently serving in Afghanistan. These seven brigades are part of the 68,000 U.S. troops in the country. McChrystal's 40,000-soldier increase would bring the U.S. brigade count in Afghanistan to at least 11 and probably more.

Assuming the U.S. really does evacuate all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Army and the Marine Corps would find a way to sustain the larger effort in Afghanistan while also increasing home-station time - assuming that this would be McChrystal's final escalation of the war.
[...]

6) 'Iran Is A Friend': Turkish PM Exposes Nuclear Rift In Nato
- 'Iran is our friend,' says Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan
- We have no difficulty with Ahmadinejad - Erdogan
Robert Tait, The Guardian, Monday 26 October 2009
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/26/turkey-iran1

Istanbul - With its stunning vistas and former Ottoman palaces, the banks of the Bosphorus - the strategic waterway that cuts Istanbul in half and divides Europe from Asia - may be the perfect place to distinguish friend from foe and establish where your country's interests lie.

And sitting in his grandiose headquarters beside the strait, long the symbol of Turkey's supposed role as bridge between east and west, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had little doubt about who was a friend and who wasn't.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's radical president whose fiery rhetoric has made him a bête noire of the west? "There is no doubt he is our friend," said Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister for the last six years. "As a friend so far we have very good relations and have had no difficulty at all."
[...]
He poured cold water on western accusations that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, saying: "Iran does not accept it is building a weapon. They are working on nuclear power for the purposes of energy only."

Erdogan has overseen a dramatic improvement in the previously frigid relations between Turkey and Iran, which was viewed with suspicion by the pro-secularist high command of the powerful Turkish military. Trade between the two countries last year was worth an estimated £5.5bn as Iran has developed into a major market for Turkish exports.

Erdogan's views will interest US foreign policy makers, who have long seen his AKP government as a model of a pro-western "moderate Islam" that could be adopted in other Muslim countries. They will also find an audience with President Barack Obama, who signalled Turkey's strategic importance in a visit last April and has invited the prime minister to visit Washington. They are unlikely to impress Israel, which has warned that Erdogan's criticisms risk harming Turkey's relations with the US.

Erdogan dismissed the notion, saying: "I don't think there is any possibility of that. America's policy in this region is not dictated by Israel."

He insisted that the Turkey-Israel strategic alliance - which some AKP insiders have said privately is over - remains alive but chided the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who he said had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Gaza.

7) Obama May Face Fight On Treaties
Some Democrats among skeptics; 67-vote majority needed in Senate
Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, October 25, 2009
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/10/25/obama_may_face_fight_on_treaties

Washington - President Obama's vision of global cooperation - symbolized by his surprise Nobel Peace Prize - is in for a crucial test in the months ahead when he begins sending a series of treaties to the US Senate, where skepticism among Republicans and some Democrats will make approval exceedingly difficult, according to government officials and specialists.

Marking a major reversal from the Bush administration, which considered most treaties to be too restrictive of US sovereignty, the Obama administration says it will seek ratification of three major pacts aimed at reducing nuclear weapons. It also will seek approval of a set of regulations to manage use of the oceans and, by the end of the president's first term, a new treaty to combat global climate change.

Starting in early 2010 with a new deal with Russia to reduce nuclear arms, Obama's agenda will have to overcome opposition on Capitol Hill, where it will be a daunting task to secure the two-thirds Senate majority re quired for treaty ratification.
[...]
But Obama's commitment to arms control treaties is central to his plan, unveiled in a speech last spring, to take steps toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons and deemphasizing US reliance on them.

In awarding him the Peace Prize last month, the Nobel judges attached "special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons" and lauded him "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

Some of the nuclear weapons goals will be sought under a new treaty, now being negotiated with Russia, that would substantially reduce the number of each country's arms. Designed to replace START II, the arms reduction pact ratified in 1991, the follow-up treaty could reduce the number of warheads on each side to 1,500 and the number of missiles to carry them to 500, including those launched from underground silos, ships, or aircraft.

Already, Republicans are outlining a series of demands that could hold up ratification. For example, the Senate Republican Policy Committee, an advisory group that formulates GOP positions, said in a 16-page report issued last month that a "prerequisite to any reduction" must be "a comprehensive plan to modernize the US nuclear weapons complex."

Senate Democrats have also expressed concerns over the proposed, but unspecified, cuts to land-based nuclear missiles. "We would strongly oppose a reduction below the current force structure of 450 missiles," 11 senators, more than half of them Democrats, wrote last month to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

After START II, the administration's next pitch will be for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty outlawing nuclear weapons testing, which has been signed so far by 180 countries and ratified by 145. Nine countries must still join, including the United States and China, before it can take effect.
[...]

Honduras
8) Honduras' Tourism Minister: 'Don't Visit My Country!'
Tim Rogers, Time Magazine, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1932100,00.html

San Salvador - A vacation in Honduras can conjure up visions of spectacular destinations: the Mayan ruins of Copán, cloud forest after cloud forest filled with exotic flora and fauna, the gorgeous beaches and the dolphin-filled waters off the island of Roatán. But that's not what tourist-industry reporters saw when the country's Minister of Tourism, Ricardo Martínez, presented a video at a recent convention in neighboring El Salvador. With a sound track of revolutionary music, it showed supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya clashing with riot police in the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Martínez, who was ousted from the government along with Zelaya after the country's June 28 coup d'état, was apologetic but unflinching about showing the video. "I'd like to tell everyone to come to Honduras and that it's a tranquil place and everything is beautiful, but you think I'd be successful with that message?" he says. "Of course not." Acting Honduran Tourism Minister Ana Abarca, appointed by the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, and other representatives of Honduras' de facto tourism institute were prohibited from attending the Central American Travel Market, the region's largest international tourism trade show of the year. Much of the world, including the U.S. and all of Honduras' neighbors, have refused to recognize the Micheletti regime.

Tourism was the country's main economic motor, but since the coup, says Martínez, Honduras' tourism industry - which grew by a robust 9% in 2008 - has plummeted 70%. The 7% tourism growth projections for 2009 are now expected to dip into the red. And the 155,000 Hondurans employed by the tourism industry are, in the words of Martínez, "suffering violently." Several TACA airlines flights to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, which used to bring hundreds of tourists to Honduras every day, have been canceled. A project to build an international airport at the Copán ruins was suspended, and charter groups from Europe are backing out. Overall, it is estimated that Honduras' economy has been set back 10 years over the past three months.
[...]
Despite Honduras' string of misfortunes, Martínez remains optimistic that the country's political situation will normalize and that tourism will help pull it out of the hole. Several big projects, such as Carnival Cruise Lines' tourism dock, under construction in Roatán, and a $15 million golf course-beach resort in the north of the country are still moving forward - a sign, Martínez says, of future recovery. "It's a matter of recuperating our international image, and I think that can happen overnight - just the same way we moved from positive to negative, we can jump from negative to positive," he says hopefully.

In the meantime, says Martínez, "we are still a state without individual guarantees. The police can come into your house without court order, you can be arrested without reason, and there's no freedom of movement." He wants tourism to come back to Honduras, just not on Micheletti's watch. "I'm not saying I am encouraging travel to Honduras, because I have shown you that the situation [for tourism] does not exist," Martínez told the journalists in El Salvador. "But what I am saying is, Please don't forget us, because we are going to solve this crisis. And once we do, we are really going to need your help."

Afghanistan
9) Afghans Protest Rumored Desecration Of Koran By U.S. Troops
Hundreds of protesters in Kabul burn an effigy of President Obama, a sign of rising religious conservatism and anti-Americanism in the country. The U.S. military denies any sacrilege took place.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2009
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghanistan-koran26-2009oct26,0,2243260.story

Kabul - Hundreds of angry protesters in Afghanistan's capital burned an effigy of President Obama on Sunday, acting on rumors that American troops had desecrated the Koran.

U.S. military officials emphatically denied that any copies of the Muslim holy book had been mishandled, and they accused the Taliban of spreading falsehoods to incite hatred against Western forces.

The protest - reminiscent of similar demonstrations in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world in recent years - showed how easily passions involving religious sensitivities can be stirred up even with a dearth of evidence.

The incident also pointed to a strong undercurrent of anti-American sentiment at a politically fraught time in Afghanistan, less than two weeks before a runoff to settle a divisive, fraud-tainted presidential election.
[...]
Against this political backdrop, the Koran protest reflected a rising religious conservatism even among some members of Afghanistan's educated elite, such as the university students who made up most of the crowd of about 1,000 demonstrators.
[...]
Several marchers insisted they were certain that a Koran had been desecrated by U.S. troops in Wardak province, just outside the capital, even if they could not provide particulars of the incident, such as when it was believed to have taken place. "Muslims were disrespected!" said Zabiullah Khalil, an engineering student. "The foreigners shot the Koran, and then they burned it. They should be tried for this."
[...]
Larger grievances against the West also flared into the open. Law student Najibullah Hassanzadeh said he opposed an open-ended stay by foreign forces. "There should be conditions. They shouldn't be staying here without any limits," he said. "And the perpetrators of this action should be prosecuted and punished."

The Western military coalition said the reports of desecration, which originated last week in Wardak after an American convoy hit a roadside bomb, were groundless. It said Afghan and Western officials had carried out a joint investigation before reaching their conclusion. The statement shed no light on how the rumors had begun, or whether there had been an altercation with local people in the blast's aftermath that could have given rise to a distorted version of the incident.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force said in a statement that it "condemns any behavior that disrespects Islam or the people of Afghanistan." Western officials enlisted the aid of the provincial governor and local religious authorities to try to quell the reports.

Sunday's rally in the capital was the largest of what has been a wave of smaller protests elsewhere in the country over the alleged incident.

Uruguay
10) Ex-Guerrilla Ahead in Uruguay Vote
Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, October 27, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/world/americas/27uruguay.html

Montevideo, Uruguay - A Socialist former guerrilla fighter known for speaking his mind emerged the clear winner of Sunday's election for president of Uruguay but did not muster enough votes to avoid a November runoff, in what analysts said was a referendum on the current leftist government.

José Mujica, a Socialist senator who spent 14 years in prison for waging an urban guerilla war against the military dictatorship here, was the candidate of the governing Broad Front coalition, whose tenure has improved economic conditions here. The Broad Front's incumbent president, Tabaré Vázquez, remains popular and Mujica was considered the front-runner.

Mujica's top challenger was Luis Alberto Lacalle, a conservative former president and the candidate of the National Party.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, the Broad Front had 47.5 percent of the votes; the National Party was trailing with 28.6 percent and the Colorado Party had 16.7 percent, according to the Electoral Court of Uruguay.

Mujica needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on Nov. 29. Voters on Sunday also rejected a much-discussed initiative to remove amnesty for human rights abuses under the 1973-85 dictatorship.

Under President Vázquez, the Broad Front coalition led Uruguay out of a deep economic funk earlier this decade. Broad Front was the first leftist movement in Uruguay to break the hold of a two-party system under which either the National or the Colorado party held power for more than 150 years.

Broad Front quelled the fears of Uruguayans and foreign investors by charting a pragmatic path closer to those followed by the governments in Brazil, Chile and Peru, than to those of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, which nationalized industries and made conditions less favorable for foreign investors. "Uruguay fits into the consolidated left of the hemisphere and will probably stay there for the foreseeable future," said Riordan Roett, who chairs the Latin American Studies program at Johns Hopkins University.

Vázquez, a doctor, has a 60 percent approval rating, opinion polls show, a credit to his steady handling of the economy. Uruguay's Constitution does not allow for re-election, and Vázquez, in contrast to leaders like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela or Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, did not push for a referendum to loosen term limits.

But Uruguayans seemed inclined to give Broad Front a chance to deepen its program. "Five years is not a lot of time, and this government has done a lot of good things with the economy in very little time, but there is much more to do," said Analia Chocho, 33, who attended the final rally for Mujica on Thursday in Pando, a small city just outside of Montevideo.

Vázquez followed a prescription of raising taxes on the wealthy to finance social programs for the poor and working class, like major construction of low-income housing and an expansion of health care to all workers and their children.

Since the financial crisis of 2002, Uruguay's unemployment rate dropped by half to about 7 percent and the percentage of people classified as poor fell to about 20 percent from 35 percent, government figures show.

Uruguay's race pitted Lacalle, a neo-liberal who wants to eliminate the income tax and favors privatizing state firms and shrinking government, against Mujica, who believes in more state involvement in industries and has said he would continue to deepen social programs.
[...]

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Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.

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There are some talks that are worthwhile. That is also the reason why some people tend to look at it as a good idea.

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