In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It's hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
It's worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased -- though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn't extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan's recent election.
It's unclear if the country's new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he'll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif's comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif's rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment -- which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s -- and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today's announcement, though? It's nothing new.
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Update: The streak continues. Arvind Mahankali, 13, won the 2013 national spelling bee with the German-Yiddish word "knaidel" on Thursday night, making him the sixth Indian-American winner in as many years.
When, in 2010, Anamika Veeramani correctly sounded out the letters to "stromuhr" (I hadn't heard the word before either) to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she captured the hearts and minds of the Indian and U.S. media alike. This was partly thanks to her inspiring performance -- and also because she had become the third Indian-American in as many years to win the prestigious competition. "Spelling champ's victory hat-trick for Indian-Americans," gushed, the Hindu, an English-language daily in India.
Indian-Americans have maintained their Scripps dominance ever since, having now won the title of America's best speller for five consecutive years. In fact, 10 of the last 14 winners have been Indian-American.
With the competition's finals coming up Thursday at 8 p.m., the world will soon learn if this domination will continue. Indian-Americans represented around a third of this year's semi-finalists, and two of them were siblings of past winners.
Just what accounts for this astounding success? As it turns out, we're not the first to ask this question. "Is it because of India's colonial history with Britain", wondered the Hindu back in 2010, "or is it something at the level of genetic programming?" The answer is neither as Darwinian as genetics nor as deterministic as colonialism.
Part of the explanation does have to do with education. In India, education tends to be more rote, with an emphasis on memorization. The Wall Street Journal quotes Sharmila Sen, a former English professor at Harvard, as saying:
The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information - spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge.
In addition to bringing this educational emphasis to the United States, highly skilled immigrants tend to enroll their children in more academically oriented extracurricular pursuits, as Forbes notes. (As a first-generation American, I can attest to this, having parents who pushed piano and quiz bowl over organized sports).
But the phenomenon may have as much to do with where immigrants are going as it does with where they're coming from. As Sen went on to tell the Journal, the spelling bee represents a way for Indians to assimilate. George Thampy (winner in 2000 for the comparably easy word "demarche") echoed this sentiment, calling spelling "an American tradition that stresses diligence and studying."
Immigrants also tend to concentrate in specific fields, benefiting from existing networks and internal assistance. And Indian-Americans aspiring to the national spelling bee have definitely benefitted from one such network. As Slate puts it, Indian-Americans "have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit" -- the North South Foundation (NSF):
The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans-there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking-and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.
Originally conceived as a way for young people to gain access to Indian-American communities and educational resources, "in the last decade North South Foundation has transformed from an SAT prep course into a training ground for Scripps," according to Slate.
Spelling bees are an historically American-British sport (Slate, which deserves a nod for its stellar spelling bee coverage generally, has an amazing list of alternative contests that includes a Chinese speed-dictionary competition). But bees have slowly gained international traction. It's no surprise that India is among the countries that now boast regional spelling bees.
So will an Indian-American claim the crown again this time around? If past years are any indication, not even a fainting fit can stop a determined winner:
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Glee, the hit U.S. TV show, has won fans the world over for its ability to tackle the hard issues of adolescence -- homosexuality, bullying, teen pregnancy -- through the ever-accessible music of Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. And it seems Pakistani television producers have taken note. As AFP reports today, the country will release its own version of the show, Taan, this fall. The news agency has more on the 26-episode series, which will include music from artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (the photo above shows a rehearsal for the program):
'Taan' follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.
Taan - which is a musical note in Urdu - tackles subjects considered off limits in Pakistan's deeply conservative Muslim society.
For example, a love affair "between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl" promises to give Rachel and Finn's tortured romance a run for its money. And even more controversial is a planned storyline depicting a gay relationship.
The show's creators have come up with creative ways to avoid angering authorities. Take the aforementioned plotline of two male lovers. "Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other," explains director Samar Raza, particularly since homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan. "So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.'" This third conservative character will theoretically enable Raza to discuss homosexuality while evading censorship.
Concern about censors isn't the only factor distinguishing Pakistan's version of Glee from its U.S. inspiration. As the Telegraph points out, Taan will include a dark side that isn't exactly applicable to the lives of U.S. tweens:
One of the characters, Annie Masih is described as losing all her family in the 2009 attack on a Christian enclave in the town on Gojra, a real episode in which seven people were burned alive.
Another storyline involves Fariduddin, a member of the Pakistan Taliban intent on blowing up the academy before he is eventually seduced by music.
Then again, Glee hasn't shied away from the dark side of life either.
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With Pakistan's election just around the corner on Saturday -- and amid a month-long campaign of violence that local papers have dubbed the "reign of terror" -- the New York Times reported Friday that Pakistan's Interior Ministry has demanded that the paper's Islamabad bureau chief, noted journalist Declan Walsh, leave the country. From the Times's report:
The ministry gave no explanation for the expulsion order, which was delivered via a two-sentence letter by police officers to the bureau chief, Declan Walsh, at 12:30 a.m. Thursday local time at his home.
"It is informed that your visa is hereby canceled in view of your undesirable activities," the order stated. "You are therefore advised to leave the country within 72 hours." The timing of the order means Mr. Walsh must exit Pakistan on the night of the elections.
Walsh has reported from Pakistan for the past nine years for the New York Times and the Guardian, and his journalism is characterized by an eye for detail and a knack for making a frequently perplexing country comprehensible. For the past month, his reports have focused on the run-up to Pakistan's May 11 election: political maneuvering and rivalries, patronage networks, and the string of attacks that have punctuated the campaign. We've collected some of his greatest hits from recent weeks below.
From his May 8 article on Pakistan's feudalistic patronage networks:
As a result, Multan has been transformed, residents say. The city is ribboned with new roads and expressways, while a modern airport, capable of accommodating wide-body jets, is near completion. The railway station has been overhauled, some neighborhoods have new sewerage and young students have been awarded generous scholarships.
A giant billboard outside Mr. Gilani's house lists his achievements: 34 major development projects, costing more than $280 million, all financed by Pakistani taxpayers. "Multan has become like Paris for us," said Muhammad Bilal, a 28-year-old laborer and enthusiastic Gilani supporter, at a rally last week....
Mr. Gilani, for example, was in jail from 2001 to 2006 during the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf on a charge of arranging 600 government jobs for his constituents during a previous administration in the 1990s. "If giving jobs is a crime, then I am a criminal," he told voters at one rally, to loud cheers.
In fact, the practice is institutionalized: The government gives each Parliament member, no matter the party, about $200,000 a year to spend on "development" -- effectively, a patronage slush fund.
He writes a riveting lede, like this one from his May 5 article about Pakistan's hardline Islamist candidates:
Dust swirled as the jeep, heralded by a convoy of motorcycle riders and guarded by gunmen in paramilitary-style uniforms, pulled up outside the towering tomb of an ancient Muslim saint.
Out stepped Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani, a burly cleric with a notorious, banned Sunni Muslim group. Thanks to a deft name change by his group, he was now a candidate in Pakistan's general election, scheduled for Saturday.
Or this intro from his April 21 article on the Pakistani Taliban's intimidation tactics:
When Shahid Khan started talking, his gunmen clambered onto a school's rooftop, scanning the surrounding hills with flashlights, anticipating a possible attack.
In the past 10 days, militants have carried out five attacks against Mr. Khan's party.
Below them, Mr. Khan, a candidate for his region's provincial assembly, addressed potential voters - poor farmers and village traders, gathered on a cluster of rope beds outside the school, listening raptly to his promises. Then, after wolfing down snacks offered by his hosts, he abruptly left.
"They say it's not safe around here," said Mr. Khan, as he leapt into a waiting car, trailed by a bodyguard. "We'd better get going."
No stranger to Pakistan's extremist groups, Walsh profiled Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, in February:
...Mr. Saeed lives an open, and apparently fearless, life in a middle-class neighborhood here.
"I move about like an ordinary person -- that's my style," said Mr. Saeed, a burly 64-year-old, reclining on a bolster as he ate a chicken supper. "My fate is in the hands of God, not America."
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has written to the Pakistani interior minister protesting the decision, and journalists and analysts have voiced their support on Twitter.
100+ already dead in Pakistan election violence; 600k security to be deployed this wknd. Hence Pak expulsion of NYT reporter @declanwalsh.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) May 10, 2013
Walsh, for his part, has so far only tweeted out the Times article about his enforced departure:
On eve of Pakistani elections, been asked to leave:nytimes.com/2013/05/11/wor…— Declan Walsh(@declanwalsh) May 10, 2013
With Pakistani elections looming on May 11, it seems like every day brings a new report about destabilizing attacks in the country. The unrelenting violence, which Pakistan's Express Tribune has dubbed the "Reign of Terror," includes assassinations that have delayed elections in several districts and left a staggering number of casualties. Bloomberg has compiled the most thorough timeline of the attacks and estimates that, in the past month, "at least 118 people have been killed and 494 injured."
Terrorists -- mostly from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but also Baluchi separatists -- have pursued politicians in particular, and candidates have been gunned down in the streets. On May 3, Saddiq Zaman Khattak, a parliamentary candidate for the secular Awami National Party (ANP), was shot and killed along with his three-year-old son while returning from Friday prayers in Karachi. Gunmen ambushed ANP candidate Muhammad Islam on April 27, killing his brother in the attack. And Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party in Hyderabad, was assassinated by the TTP on April 11.
Bombings, some of which have targeted candidates, have also indiscriminately killed their supporters. The deadliest blast killed at least 20 individuals at an ANP rally on April 16. The attacks have targeted election events, but also included car bombings and bomb and grenade attacks on campaign offices and potential polling places. Just today, gunmen abducted Ali Haider Gilani, a provincial assembly candidate for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after killing his bodyguards. It is the first time a candidate has been kidnapped in the rash of attacks.
"It is pretty clear that this is the most violent election I have witnessed in 23 years" of election monitoring in Pakistan, Peter Manikas of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs told the Washington Post. "It's a different type of violence in trying to disrupt the election as a whole. It makes everything unsafe."
Early in April, the TTP singled out three political parties -- ANP, MQM, and PPP -- as the targets of their attacks, but in the past week, not even the fundamentalist Jamiat-e-Ulema (JeU) party has been spared. On May 6, a JeU rally was bombed in Kurram, killing 25, though a TTP spokesman was quick to assert that the Taliban didn't oppose the party so much as the candidate, "who they said had betrayed Arab fighters to U.S. agents," according to Reuters. The next day, a suicide bombing in Hangu targeting another JeU rally killed 10. In a new statement quoted by Reuters, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud expressed opposition to the political process as a whole, writing, "We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy."
The worst violence may in fact be yet to come, as Pakistanis head to the polls this weekend. TTP pamphlets posted in Karachi are warning potential voters to stay home, the Telegraph reports. "If you stay away you will protect yourself," one reads. "If not you are responsible for your fate.... If you go there you will be responsible for the loss of your life and your loved ones." In anticipation of attacks, more than 600,000 security personnel will be on duty for the elections, with five to ten guards at each polling place, according to the Associated Press.
It's a far cry from the atmosphere you'd hope for to mark the first time in Pakistani history that a democratically elected civilian government has finished its term.
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Last time we checked in with Pakistan's falcon population, we reported on the surprising, feel-good story of how the Taliban have saved the fearsome birds in the tribal areas by fueling violence that has scared off poachers. Now there's a new wrinkle when it comes to the status of falcons in this troubled region.
On Monday, Indian security forces recovered a dead falcon that had been outfitted with a camera and an antenna (see photo above) near the fort city of Jaisalmer. According to Agence France-Presse, the wired bird has spooked Indian military officials, who say that while it may just be the work of hunters, "the possibility of it being an espionage attempt from Pakistan cannot be ruled out at this stage."
So, is Pakistan turning its great falcon glut into a low-tech drone fleet as part of its ongoing confrontation with India? Fueling suspicions in this case is the fact that the bird was recovered in an area used by the Indian military for war games. As recently as April 2012, India massed 50,000 troops in the area for joint exercises between its army and air force. A falcon would seem like the perfect countermeasure, no?
As it happens, this isn't the first time Indian authorities have insinuated that Pakistan is enlisting avian henchmen to spy on its nemesis to the south. In 2010, Indian authorities placed under armed guard a pigeon suspected of delivering messages across the border. The pigeon, police said, may have been on a "special mission of spying."
Could this also be part of a regional trend of using feathered friends to outwit high-tech aerial defenses? In 2011, Saudi authorities detained a vulture on charges that it was spying on behalf of Israel after learning that it bore a tag reading, "Tel Aviv University." And while officials eventually cleared the bird -- named R65, for its identification code -- on charges of espionage, is it too much to hope that, somewhere in the Pakistani hinterlands, an army of falcons-turned-surveillance drones is gathering strength?
Stay safe out there, feathered friends.
Two nuclear-armed countries conducted missile tests this past week -- and neither of them was North Korea. Instead, the missile launches came from nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.
Last Sunday, India fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable Agni-II missile. The missile, which has a range of over 1,200 miles, was launched successfully from Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal. Then, on Wednesday, Pakistan tested its own Hatf-IV/Shaheen-I missile. Pakistani officials said the missile successfully hit its target at sea, and demonstrates the country's ability to deliver a nuclear payload with a range of more than 500 miles.
The dueling missile tests aren't cause for alarm, though, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "These tests are frequent with Islamabad and New Delhi keeping each other informed," he told FP. "Both governments have lowered the rhetoric recently. Pakistan is pausing for elections. So expect no officially sponsored crises."
"Missile tests by India and Pakistan are relatively routine and frequent," added Gary Samore, a former Obama administration WMD czar and now executive director for research at Harvard's Belfer Center. "We don't pay much attention to them." So we can all breathe easy -- for today at least.
In India, elephants are revered as the living incarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh -- but that doesn't mean Indians want the huge animals showing up at voting booths. State elections are slated to take place across the country this year, and the Hindu reports today that 68 polling stations are thought to be "vulnerable for elephant attacks."
To address the proble, the country's election commission has enlisted the help of the Forest Department, whose buses will cart election staff to "areas where man-elephant conflict is rampant" -- mainly polling stations in Alur, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpur. The department will also teach officials and police officers the "dos and don'ts" of avoiding an elephant encounter in the region.
The Forest Department has been protecting poll-goers in this manner ever since the big mammals began disrupting elections in the 1990s. In April 2009, for instance, the department sent guards to the northeastern region of Meghalaya to protect voters after a rampaging elephant killed four people there the month before, according to the Times of India. The guards were armed with "self defense weapons" -- drums, cymbals and even some elephants of their own.
In one of the odder reasons we've come across for stonewalling a politician's bid for office, a voter has formally objected to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif's candidacy in Pakistan's May 11 elections, citing the absence of his beard. Pakistan's Geo TV reports:
[The voter] claimed that the former chief minister didn't follow Sunnah [teachings of the prophet] and teachings of Islam. The applicant said Mr Shahbaz didn't grew a beard as per Sunnah so his nomination papers be rejected and be disqualified from contesting election.
While beards are prevalent among Muslim politicians, they are certainly not a requirement -- particularly in Pakistan, whose former and current presidents, Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf, both boast clean-shaven jaws. As Sharif tweeted on Thursday, "Never thought beard would be relevant to contesting elections."
The politician, a former chief minister of Punjab, isn't just facing opposition over his facial hair, however. As the Pakistani paper Dawn reported on Thursday, the country's National Accountability Bureau has also objected to the candidacy of Shahbaz and his brother Nawaz (a former prime minister), who "have been accused of accumulating money and assets beyond their declared means of income by misusing authority." Perhaps, then, the main issue is not Shahbaz's lack of a beard, but rather the man behind it.
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Ahead of Pakistan's May 11 general election -- the first time in the country's history that an elected government is expected to (peacefully) hand over power to another elected government -- the British Council has conducted a survey of Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 and 29 -- a demographic that makes up 30 percent of the electorate and will play an important role in the upcoming election.
The May election is expected to test Pakistan's democracy, but the survey results do not bode well for the country's democratic future: Only 29 percent of those surveyed think that democracy is the right political system for Pakistan, while 38 percent favor Islamic sharia law and 32 percent prefer military rule.
A whopping 94 percent of those surveyed think that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
This is a dramatic change from 2007, when 50 percent of young people in the country were similarly bearish. For some context, in the United States last week, 57 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen think that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
This doesn't mean, however, that Pakistani 18- to 29-year-olds are going to throw up their hands in resignation. According to the report, "A substantial majority of the youth still believe that they will have a role in changing the country for the better." The question is, will democracy have a place in that "better future"?
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The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.
Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.
Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.
An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."
Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."
For the first time in Pakistan's history, a democratically elected civilian government has successfully finished its five-year term -- despite a flurry of anti-government protests. But what does that success look like?
Foreign direct investment collapsed after President Asif Ali Zardari's government came to power in 2008, and has continued declining since, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, foreign aid from the United States spiked, more than doubling under the new government to over $4 billion a year before tapering off again in 2011.
The country's relative political stability has paid off in some respects. Child mortality is down. School enrollment has continued to improve as well, rising three percentage points between 2008 and 2011 (admittedly not as impressive as the 14-percent increase over the course of the previous five years). On the other hand, since 2009 the ratio of girls to boys receiving a primary or secondary education has declined, indicating that enrollment is increasingly skewing toward boys. Pakistan may have fallen from ninth to 13th place in the Fund for Peace's annual ranking of failed states between 2008 and 2012, but the slightly better finish was still pretty dismal (as Robert Kaplan's "What's Wrong with Pakistan?" article for FP's Failed States package last year attests).
Domestic security under Zardari's government got off to a rough start, but has started to improve more recently. Domestic suicide bombings surged in the last year of Pervez Musharraf's government -- from the single digits through the first half of the decade to 57 in 2007. Terror attacks hit their peak with 90 suicide bombings in 2009, but the number fell to 32 attacks in 2012.
For what it's worth, in the last five years there have also been 353 U.S. CIA airstrikes against terrorist targets that killed at least 2,376 individuals, compared to 12 strikes with a minimum death toll of 159 people from the start of the CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan in 2004 through 2007.
That figure does not include the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in May 2011 -- for which President Obama famously did not give advance notice to the Pakistani government because of concerns about al Qaeda sympathizers in the Pakistani military and intelligence service. At an event at the Brooking Institution last month, retired CIA analyst and South Asia expert Bruce Riedel speculated that bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is also being sheltered by the Pakistani military. If the civilian government is slowly finding its sea legs, it has a long way to go.
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In light of the recent brutal gang rape on Dec. 16, which led to the death of a 23-year-old medical student in India, there have been substantial criticisms of the government for not doing enough to protect women. Protestors say they will continue till they are satisfied that real action is being taken.
But in demanding action, the protesters should keep in mind the people who they're appealing to. According to a recent report, a shockingly high number of members of India's national parliament (MPs) and members of state-level legislative assemblies (MLAs) have actually been accused themselves of crimes against women, including rape.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (an affiliate of the Indian Institute of Management) compiled the report, using the affidavits filed by candidates as part of their nomination papers that are submitted to India's Electoral Commission. In other words, this was all public information at the time these members were elected.
According to the report, in the past five years:
These were hardly the only crimes listed in the report. Other included: assault, murder (one man had 8 charges of attempted murder), defiling a place of worship, promoting enmity between different groups, rioting and dacoity (banditry). Many of these crimes also included violence against women.
The Association for Democratic Reforms has advocated that "cases against MPs and MLAs should be fast tracked and decided upon in a time based manner." This presumably would be similar to the recently inaugurated fast track rape courts created to deter tragic incidents like Dec. 16. Though, in typical fashion, police were late to submit evidence on time (something about difficulty in using a thumb drive).
But with so many accused rapists in government, it's little wonder that it has taken so long for rape to be taken seriously as a problem.
Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/GettyImages
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was arrested Monday morning on Fares-Maathodaa island after failing to show up for two trials within a week. Nasheed defied a court order to remain on the capital island of Male and left on Oct. 1 to campaign for the upcoming 2013 elections. In light of these events, the court awarded police the power of arrest to produce Nasheed for his trial on October 9.
Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP,) is particularly concerned given the controversy surrounding his resignation as president. In February, Nasheed stepped down -- he says he was ousted -- following a violent protest by supporters of the former authoritarian leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, following his order to arrest a High Court judge for corruption. Nasheed is currently being tried for abuse of power for this arrest order.
There is some dispute about the level of force used in arresting Nasheed. According to a MDP statement "at 9:45 a.m., 50 heavily armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of a house where President Nasheed and his campaign team were staying and took him into custody." They also claimed that the masked police stormed the house, spewing obscenities and that former ministers also in the residence were pepper-sprayed and violently dragged out. The party has been tweeting and posting photos of the damage done to the house during the arrest.
President Mohammed Waheed Hassan's spokesman agrees on the count that police were dressed in riot gear for protection, but claims that they did not use force, expletives, or pepper spray. He asserted that Nasheed was not dragged out and was not even handcuffed.
The U.S. Embassy in Colombo is urging all sides to remain calm but also denies that it has had a hand in the arrest of Nasheed following allegations on Twitter that U.S. trained troops were responsible for the crackdown on opposition activists. If found guilty in Tuesday's trial, the former president could be jailed for up to three years, banished to one of the remote islands and fined to an amount not exceeding MVR2,000. This would disqualify him from running for president.
Photo by Haveeru
The recently deposed president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed was scheduled to be tried Monday, Oct. 1, under charges of abuse of power. Instead of making an appearance, he skipped his trial and left in a fishing boat to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Nasheed was previously put under "island arrest," on Sept. 25, which restricts his travel to Malé, the 2 square mile capital of the 1,192 island archipelago. The current government cites this as standard procedure following charges where Nasheed has been accused of misusing his office to order the arrest of a senior judge, Abdullah Mohamed in January.
Nasheed, a former democracy activist who was arrested over 20 times as an opposition leader, became president in 2008. His presidency marked the end to 30 years of rule by autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed claims that his resignation and Feb. 7 transfer of power was a politically motivated coup d'état orchestrated by Gayoom supporters. In a March article for Foreign Policy, Nasheed detailed the violent situation prompting his resignation and how his warrant for judge Mohamed's arrest was made on charges of corruption in an effort to overhaul the governance of Maldives. He was replaced by former Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, who was involved in the "coup" but will hold elections in 2013. Nasheed's recounting of his coerced resignation directly contrasts with a Commonwealth supported government inquiry which has accepted the resignation as legal though does acknowledge the occurrence of a police mutiny. The United States also accepts the transfer of power as legal.
Prior to the abuse of power charges filed in July, the "Mandela of the Maldives" took a trip to the United States where he made a case for efforts to combat climate change, while also trying to bring attention to the political situation in Maldives. In a particularly frank exchange on The Daily Show in April, Nasheed joked that with coverage by Jon Stewart, "hopefully they won't murder me." With the travel ban in place, it will very difficult for Nasheed to campaign for the upcoming 2013 election. Members of Nasheed's legal team have also claimed that the three judges presiding over the trial have been picked in violation of legal norms. A conviction would also bar him from being a presidential candidate.
In addition to criminal charges he also faces two defamation lawsuits to be tried in the future. Nasheed's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has taken the stance that it will not adhere to court rulings till there is a reform of the judiciary system in accordance with international recommendations.
Photo by AFP/Stringer/Getty Images
After trouble in the South and East China Seas, Chinese fisherman have caused new waves in the Indian Ocean. On Aug. 5, Sri Lanka's Navy captured two Chinese fishing trawlers off the eastern coast of Arugambay in the Indian Ocean on charges of illegally entering sovereign waters. The 37 crew members, including two Sri Lankan nationals, were escorted by the Eastern Naval Command to Trincomalee Harbor where they were turned over to local police "for legal action."
China Daily's initial coverage of the arrests has been noticeably less dramatic than its typical response to maritime disputes. Early reports cited the Chinese embassy's urging of "Sri Lankan authorities to handle the issue in accordance with the law, sort out the truth and release the Chinese fisherman as soon as possible."
In a bizarre twist, Chinese state news service Xinhua later announced the fisherman's release, blaming the disturbance on a miscommunication and claiming locals had confused "Sri Lankan vessels as Chinese ones, due to the old Chinese logo on the body of the ship." Sri Lankan Navy officials initially denied that report, telling Reuters, that the fishermen would "appear in court tomorrow," but Xinhua seems to have predicted the inevitable and the crew was released to Chinese Embassy early this morning.
The incident comes as China looks to improve relations with the island nation. Strategically located in the northern Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has been courted by the United States, India and China as a commercial and military foothold since the government defeated rebel group Tamil Tigers in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war and restoring the island as a viable trade partner. The Chinese government has funneled hundreds of millions into infrastructure projects in recent years, financing a variety of projects including a new airport and a heavily flawed power station. Though China watchers have speculated that Beijing intends to transform Sri Lanka's Hambantota port into a naval base, President Mahinda Rajapaksa laughed off the rumors and insists he remains committed to the nation's historical non-alignment.
Chinese officials were caught Friday with their pants down when the Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands-- waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a "routine patrol," the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal.
The "thoroughly stuck" grounded ships are an awkward reminder of growing aggression in the South China Seas. The Chinese Defense Department's terse statement Friday was released just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach agreement in Phnom Penh and were forced to conclude without a customary joint statement for the first time in the organization's 45 year history.
ASEAN officials are pointing fingers at China, who they accuse of blindly denying the organization the right to mediate maritime disputes and refusing to participate in negotiations at large. In open defiance of the five-day conference, 20 Chinese shipping vessels returned to disputed waters Wednesday as state papers reminded readers that "China is considering setting up a legislative body in the newly established city." Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seemingly innocuous proposal that "the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threat, and without use of force" was decried by the state-run China Daily as "inappropriate and ill-intentioned."
Despite the harsh words, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi concluded the conference by reminding reporters of his desire to establish "win-win" U.S.-Sino cooperation. Considering their actions this week, it might be at another state's loss.
Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.
The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008. The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.
The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.
This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.
However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum. Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category. Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy. The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.
*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)
India's rising economic stature has brought millions of its citizens into the ranks of the middle class. It seems another boom is on for some of Mumbai's poorest residents as a result of a large spike in real estate prices.
The New York Times' India Ink blog had a story today about the sudden paper wealth that has come to many of the residents of the Dharavi, Mumbai, Asia's largest slum. Dharavi, featured in the 2009 Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, came into the global spotlight following the film's critical and commercial success. The last areas of growth within Mumbai now lie within Dharavi, which was built on a former mangrove swamp. The article detailed the unique set of circumstances facing the residents:
Her 200-square-foot shanty, in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, in the Dharavi neighborhood of Mumbai, has faulty electrical lines, no water supply and a non existent sewage system. Still, Ms. Vaidya's house is her most prized possession. "If I decide to sell it, it will fetch me more than Rs 10 lakh" rupees, or about $24,000, she estimates, based on the offers she has been getting.
Ms. Vaidya isn't alone. Many of Mumbai's slum dwellers, some 60 percent of the city's 21 million people, are living in hovels that suddenly command high prices.
"Shanties as small as 120 square feet, located on the 90 Foot Road that is perpendicular to the Bandra Kurla Link Road, are as expensive as $93,000," says Dinesh Prabhu, who owns a construction company and has conducted an extensive survey of Dharavi real-estate prices. The 90 Foot Road has commercial outlets spilling out onto the streets, frequent cattle blockages, and old worn-out buildings just behind the shanties.
The National Geographic covered a story several years ago about life in the slum, including its complex economy which featured recycling, liquor distilling and plastic production. A new conflict is brewing between the government and private companies, who are attempting to redevelop the highly lucrative land, and residents who see it as a threat to their way of life. Further threats from scam artists and shady real state agents selling fake identification papers will only serve to complicate the situation further.
In the past, India's poorest have faced neglect from corrupt officials, and shoddy state planning which has failed to alleviate the gripping poverty in their lives. Efforts such as the National Identification Scheme, run by Nandan Nilekani, to give agency to the poorest may be the solution to creating wealth and improving the lives of millions.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
She's young, stylish, sharp and pretty, and Indians are falling for her. Yep, it seems that Pakistan's new 34-year-old foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, has accomplished what years of tense diplomacy haven't been able to -- create some genuine goodwill between the two constantly sparring nations. In her first official visit today to India since taking over the foreign ministry last week, Khar met with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. The two agreed to boost security, trade, transportation, travel, and cultural links between the countries -- in what analysts called some of the most productive talks between the two sides since Pakistani militants killed 166 people in Mumbai three years ago. But it's her youth and glamour that are credited with creating a "fresh start atmosphere." She later met with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But who really cares what happened behind closed doors. More importantly: she got high marks for wearing Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, classic pearl and diamond jewelry, a blue designer dress, and toting an Hermes Birkin bag. And thus ladies and gentleman, a glamour icon is born. We give it three months before Vogue comes calling... wait, maybe two.
Indian papers and news programs today gushed over Khar, praising her beauty and style. The Times of India headlined their front page story: "Pak Puts On Its Best Face." The Navbharat Times said the country was "sweating over model-like minister." The Mail Today said she had brought a "Glam touch to Indo-Pak talks" and asked, "Who says politicians can't be chic?" These are not the usual superlatives Pakistani diplomats are used to getting in the Indian press.
Of course, not everything was picture perfect. The Indian press did attack her for meeting with a Kashmiri separatist group later in the day.
But overall, it was hard not to sense the generational shift as Khar spoke about "a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis [who] will see a relationship that will hopefully be much different from the one that has been experienced in the last two decades" after meeting with the Indian foreign minister who -- through no fault of his own, save for his misfortune of being born 79 years ago -- did totally look like her grandfather.
As Seema Goswami, a leading Indian social commentator, put it, "She's incredibly young pretty, glamorous and has no fear of appearing flash. She wore pearls when she arrived and diamonds for the talks. We're so obsessed with her designer bag and clothes that we forget she first held talks with the Hurriyat [Kashmiri separatists]. She could be Pakistan's new weapon of mass destruction."
AFP/ Getty Images
The fallout from this weekend's Chinese bullet train crash -- in which 39 people died when a train was immobilized after being struck by lightning on a bridge, then rammed by another train from behind, derailing several cars -- continued today. The government fired three senior railway officials and is reviewing safety on the country's four-year-old high-speed rail system. While there was justifiable anger at Chinese officials for trying to keep details of the accident out of the public, China's rail safety is far better than that of its fellow emerging economy -- India.
Journalist Lloyd Lofthouse, compared the numbers going back to 2007 for India, China, and the United States. He found that out of the 177 rail accidents during that period, 20 percent of them actually occurred in the United States, 15 percent occurred in India, and only 4 percent occurred in China. But the death toll in India was far greater.
In the period Lofthouse reviewed, 66 people were killed in U.S. train accidents, about 141 in Chinese accidents, and "hundreds" in Indian rail accidents.
Last year alone, there were at least 17 crashes in India. And, in the past month, three incidents killed more than 100 people. According to Bloomberg News:
In the early hours of July 7, 38 people were killed and at least as many injured when a train collided with a bus carrying members of a wedding party at an unmanned level crossing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Then, on July 10, at least 68 people were killed and more than 250 injured when 15 bogies of the Howrah-Kalka Mail careered off the tracks, again in Uttar Pradesh, while the train was travelling at more than 60 miles per hour. That evening, six coaches of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed in Assam after a bomb was set off on the tracks, injuring more than 100 people.
India has one of the largest railway system in the world, carrying about 19 million passengers every day on about 7,000 trains. It's called the "lifeline to the nation." Unfortunately, that often means trains are jam packed.
Given the spate of recent crashes, anger has mounted against the government-run system. Newspapers have editorialized about the system's persistent safety failures and "systemic decay."
The Deccan Chronicle, an Indian paper, said the increasingly accident-prone system could be blamed on the addition of "more trains on nearly every route, mainly to suit the whims or political compulsions of railway ministers, and raising their speed without commensurate upgrading of tracks and other equipment needed to bear the extra load." The Times of India wrote that the railway authority "failed to meet targets it had set for itself in the corporate safety plan ... indicating the low priority it gave to passenger safety." According to the Indian Express, "There is a real danger that the frequency of train accidents in India might soon desensitize people as ‘yet another' instance of what has become thoughtlessly, mind-numbingly commonplace."
Part of the problem is politicians have tried to keep fares as low as possible to keep voters happy, which has turned the system into a "financial disaster," according to the Indian Express, meaning trains are old and not properly cared for -- a deadly combination.
AFP/ Getty Images
The May 2nd Navy Seal raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad led to a crisis in relations between the United States and Pakistan that is still being felt. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in Islamabad now, is the latest high level envoy sent to try to mend fences. Officials say he is on a mission to "bridge the trust gap and repair ties" with his Pakistani counterparts in the intelligence world. But, as part of its fence-mending initiative, did the United States really promise Pakistan's government they wouldn't take a similar unilateral action again in the future?
That's what Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, is claiming in an interview today with the Guardian.
"They have assured us in future there will be no unilateral actions in Pakistan, and there would be co-operation between both agencies," he said, identifying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as personally pledging that to him.
Pakistan's President made a similar -- though less explicit -- statement after he met with Secretary Clinton back in May. He said, both sides agreed to "work together in any future actions against high-value targets in Pakistan."
No similar statements have come from the American side, however. In fact, public comments from Clinton and others would seem to contradict Pakistan's understanding. After the raid, Clinton told CBS News, "We've made it clear to people around the world that if we locate someone who has been part of the al Qaeda leadership, then you get him or we will get him."
President Obama has also said, given similar circumstances, the United States would act the same way.
"Our job is to secure the United States," he told the BBC in May. "We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan. But we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies' people."
In his interview with the Guardian, Gilani said the United States could have trusted Pakistan's intelligence service to help in May's raid, but since that didn't happen, the country "had a lot of reservations" about the operation.
He told the Guardian any future operation in its territory would be "totally unacceptable."
Public opinion would further aggravate against the United States and you cannot fight a war without the support of the masses. You need the masses to support military actions against militants.
Perhaps as a sign of the fraying relationship, last night Gilani told an audience of British and Pakistani business leaders in London that China -- not the United States -- was his country's most important foreign relationship.
"China is a rising power and Pakistan's all-weather friend. This is a relationship that has no parallel. Uniquely, there are no downs but only ups in Pakistan-China relations. China is a source of pride and strength for us," the prime minister said.
You can't even blame this one on Murdoch (we think). The Taliban denied today reports that its leader, Mullah Omar, had died. Spokesmen for the group said their mobile phones, email accounts, and a website they operated had been hacked into, and false messages were sent to media outlets.
Text messages sent from phone numbers belonging to Taliban spokespeople said, "Spiritual Leader Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid has died" and "May Allah bless his soul."
The Taliban in recent years has expanded its media presence with websites, mobile phone ring tones and social media accounts. The group updates its websites frequently and sends messages to media outlets in several languages publicizing their attacks, according to Reuters.
"This is the work of American intelligence, and we will take revenge on the telephone network providers," a Taliban spokesman told Reuters.
A statement said that the "technical workers of the Islamic Emirate's Information and Cultural Commission" were looking into the matter. Yes, apparently the Taliban has an IT department.
The group also said there would be an investigation into the hacking. Hopefully, they will do a better job than Scotland Yard.
Hamid Karzai's younger half brother, Ahmad Wali, was a master of balancing various powerful forces in southern Afghanistan -- tribal leaders, U.S. and NATO military and intelligence interests, allegedly even powerful drug lords. It's what made him such a valuable asset to his older brother.
He was also a link for President Karzai to the murkier side of Afghan politics -- tribal power. Karzai may have won the presidency through elections, but he maintained power the way politics in Afghanistan has always been played -- through patronage and tribal links.
Moreover, Ahmad Wali managed the troubled southern city of Kandahar, keeping it in his brother's political sphere. As Vali Nasr, a former senior advisor to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, put it, "Afghan politics is all about power brokers and their webs of relationships. The bigger your web, the more powerful you are."
His assassination -- which the Taliban has taken credit for -- leaves a number of tricky questions for Karzai and the United States.
Did the Taliban just send a message about negotiations?
Just last month, Hamid Karzai said peace talks with the Taliban are "going well." As relations between Karzai and the United States have become more contentious -- and the U.S. drawdown begins -- the Afghan president has grown more open in public to reestablishing relations to the Taliban.
As far as negotiating tactics go, killing the leader's brother isn't exactly a way to send a positive signal. Even if they didn't kill him, as Matthieu Akins suggests, they are still taking credit.
"It would suggest they are not in a reconciliation mood," Nasr told Foreign Policy.
President Obama has seen political negotiations as necessary to ending the war. Karzai's death may have just delivered a severe blow to those hopes.
"It puts the burden on the United States and the Karzai government," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. "Will we suspend talks with the Taliban because they claimed credit for something like this? The burden is on Karzai. He's been calling them his ‘brothers,' talking to them, and encouraging them to make peace."
Who fills the sizable power vacuum in Kandahar?
Ahmad Wali was an easy figure to criticize -- a man with murky ties and no clear political ideology -- but his absence will be felt in Kandahar, a city key to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
"Good or bad, he was nevertheless Karzai's most important instrument and pillar of authority in Kandahar," Nasr said. "Without him, we'll have a much more dangerous time dealing with that city."
Now, who will manage the complex web of tribal power brokers there? Potentially the Taliban, said Nasr. But expect some battles between aspiring warlords over his turf.
Karzai will surely try to fill the breach with someone else. But there's no guarantee his new man -- whomever that may be -- will be able to keep the lid on the city with quite as much success.
What does his death mean for the United States?
The United States could never seem to make up its mind about the younger Karzai. They acknowledged his vast corruption and dirty dealings, but also seemed to realize his brand of Afghan power politics was necessary, to a degree. He was regarded by U.S. intelligence officials as "indispensable," according to the Washington Post, even if he "has long been viewed with mistrust by American military officers, who describe him as an obstacle in their efforts to fight corruption and bolster the rule of law."
Last March, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told his subordinates to "stop saying bad stuff about" the younger Karzai and to work with him.
Karzai had ties to the CIA (some reports say he was on their payroll in exchange for security forces and providing safe houses around Kandahar). But many in Washington also believed he was tied to the opium trade and other illicit activities.
Still, Khalilzad said that when he was ambassador, the United States dealt with him effectively on a number of security issues, as well as facilitating engagement with local leaders. "He was seen as being helpful," he said.
However, another former U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry called Ahmad Wali Karzai an obstacle to U.S. efforts, according to a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks.
"One of our major challenges in Afghanistan [is] how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt," he wrote. The memo singled out Ahmad Wali as "widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker."
Good or bad, his death surely complicates efforts to bring peace to the southern region of Afghanistan -- and clearly highlights the lack of security for the highest echelons of the government there.
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
The price tag for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since the 9/11 attacks is somewhere between $3.7 and $4.4 trillion, according to a new report released today. The staggering figure is nearly four times higher than the U.S. government estimate. Just last week, President Barack Obama pegged the cost over the last decade at $1 trillion.
The new estimated cost provided by a research project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, is also much higher than most previous attempts to quantify the operations.
A March 2011 Congressional Research Service report estimated the war funding at $1.4 trillion through 2012 and the Congressional Budget Office pegged the cost from 2001 through 2021 at an estimated $1.8 trillion, according to Reuters.
A 2008 report by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, however, put the estimated combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between $5 and $7 trillion. They included interest on debt, future borrowing to pay off debt, the cost of a continued military presence, and health care and counseling for veterans.
Catherine Lutz, a professor of anthropology at Brown and one of the project's directors, told Foreign Policy her group also took into account future costs, such as obligated expenses for injured soldiers in the decades to come.
According to a White House spokesperson, the number disparity between the trillion-dollar figure the president used this month and the Brown report comes down to methodology -- and what you choose to include. The administration is counting only the "direct costs of war," the spokesperson said, which includes just the money appropriated for the budgets of the Pentagon, State Department, and intelligence community. Officially, the White House says the "total amount appropriated for war-related activities" is $1.3 trillion, which could rise to $1.4 trillion in 2012.
Nora Bensahel, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said it's fair to include more than just the cost of current operations when coming up with the "total cost" of the war -- including things such as veteran care.
"There are people who are being injured today who will need health care for a long time after the conflict ends," she said. "That's not part of the current cost, but it's certainly directly related."
Bensahel, who has not read the entire report, said other expenses mentioned in the press were less fair -- including factoring in lost opportunity costs.
"I don't think that's an appropriate cost to include because every expenditure of money includes some trade-offs," she said.
According to the report, the United States has already spent between $2.3 and $2.6 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan. The project also looked at the cost of war in terms of human casualties. The number of total deaths it calculates (225,000) is "a very conservative estimate," said Lutz.
"Seeing the death toll, how many of the allied uniform folks have died and seeing the civilian numbers was the biggest shock for me," she said.
31,741 uniformed allied soldiers and contractors -- from U.S., Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani security forces, as well as contractors -- have been killed. And the report claims that at least 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Journalists and humanitarian workers accounted for between 434 and 521 deaths.
The goal of the project was to give the public "a fuller sense of what's at stake," Lutz said. "I think it's the case that we've had an atrophying of public information sources [looking into these questions]. Journalism is in a challenged state and there's a real heavy spin machine out there. Whatever one's political project, it's accompanied by a heavy dose of misinformation. We really feel it's important for foreign policy and domestic policy decision-making to know this information."
For the past several days, Afghan officials and the country's former central bank governor have been trading allegations over who is responsible for the worst financial crisis in Afghan history. Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, who ran the Afghan Central Bank, fled to the United States this week, saying his life was in danger after accusing politically powerful people of bearing responsibility for financial malfeasance at Afghanistan's largest commercial bank, where last year about $900 million went missing. In turn, Afghan officials issued an arrest warrant for Fitrat, charging him with fraud and saying that -- as the country's chief banker -- he failed to oversee and correct the illicit dealings at Kabul Bank.
The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that nearly $900 million dollars disappeared, the majority of which is not likely to be returned. Kabul Bank is the largest private bank in the country, responsible for upwards of 80 percent of the government's payroll, including the salaries of soldiers and police officers. In September, after the extent of the fraud was uncovered, a rush on the bank resulted in a panic that nearly crippled the economy (a long Ramadan holiday weekend may have actually been what saved it). Fitrat and others outside Afghanistan allege that the bank operated as a defacto pyramid scheme, in which politically connected people -- such as President Hamid Karzai's businessman brother -- were given large, interest-free loans at the expense of the lowly depositor. Most of that money was then invested overseas in places like Dubai, where they bought things like expensive villas.
"There was no political will on the part of the Afghan government to get to the bottom of it," said Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan program at the United States Institute of Peace.
When the Dubai housing market imploded in 2008, the extent of the problems at Kabul Bank became clear -- and the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pushed the Afghan government to take action. As a result, the central bank, headed by Fitrat, took over Kabul Bank and fired its top management.
WHO IS ABDUL QADEER FITRAT?
Depending whom you ask, he's either a hero who stood up to some of the most powerful people in the country or an incompetent bureaucrat who idly watched while Afghan's banking system fell into almost into total financial collapse. The former IMF and World Bank consultant was appointed governor of Afghan's central bank by Karzai in 2006 with a mission of fighting corruption and fraud. The central bank is supposed to oversee and supervise all the private banks in the country -- much like the Federal Reserve in the United States. Fitrat had the strong backing of the international community, given his experience in international financial institutions. In the wake of the scandal at the Kabul Bank, he was pushed to get to the bottom of it, and ultimately he publicly accused several important Afghan officials -- including the vice president, Qasim Fahim, and Karzai's brother -- of being involved.
This past Monday, he told reporters he heard from credible sources his life was in danger and had to flee the country. He landed in the United States, where he resigned as head of the central bank.
The Afghan government says that it was Fitrat's responsibility, as governor of the central bank, to oversee financial institutions and that he failed to respond to the problems at Kabul Bank. Rumors about the improprieties had been circulating since 2006; but until the crisis bubbled to the surface, Fitrat did nothing, the government says.
"It would be as if you were the chief of a fire station and reports came that there was a fire, but you said you couldn't go because I'm not supposed to be in that neighborhood," Torek Farhadi, a former economic advisor to Karzai and advisor to the central bank, told Foreign Policy. "It was his job to know something was irregular."
But Fitrat says he didn't know about the irregularities -- and even if he did, he wouldn't have been able to do anything, since it involved the most powerful people in the country.
"On the one hand, he's being pressured to investigate thoroughly and get to the bottom of it," said Wilder. "On the other hand, the people he's being asked to pursue are among the most politically powerful in the country. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place and ultimately he decided northern Virginia was a better place than Kabul."
HOW COULD SO MUCH MONEY BE LOANED OUT WITHOUT INTEREST AND NO ONE ASKED ANY QUESTIONS?
Newt to Obama: ‘Tide of war' isn't receding
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked President Barack Obama's assertion in his June 22 speech announcing the troop drawdown in Afghanistan that the "tide of war is receding." He said the country is facing a "tsunami of violence building offshore," according to Politico.
"I want to challenge the president to withdraw the phrase because it totally misleads the American people, and presents a delusional version of the world," he said at a Maryland Republican Party dinner in Baltimore.
Gingrich said the White House should have taken stronger action against Pakistan after it reportedly arrested CIA informants who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden.
"We should have taken extraordinary actions against Pakistanis -- within 24 hours," Gingrich told the crowd. "We should have said if you don't release those people you can assume we have no relationship and we'll chat with you from India."
He also accused the president of "sleepwalking" through the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Romney to fundraise in London
One of Mitt Romney's favorite knocks on Obama is that he is too European. In the words of the GOP frontrunner, the president takes "his inspiration not from the small towns and villages of New Hampshire but from the capitals of Europe." So, it might strike some people as a little surprising that Romney is planning to travel to London next month -- which, after all, is one of those "capitals of Europe" -- to attend a fund-raiser, according to the Boston Globe. Very few presidential candidates have held fundraisers on foreign soil. Rudy Giuliani was the first in 2007 -- also in London -- and Obama held one in the London home of Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elizabeth, in 2008.
According to the Globe, suggested contributions for the July 6 party at Dartmouth House -- "a building not far from Hyde Park that has marble fireplaces, Louis XIV walnut paneling, and a painted ceiling by Pierre Victor Galland" -- is $2,500 a person.
Santorum and Beck discuss Israel
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was on Glenn Beck's Fox News show yesterday, and the pair discussed more than just kissing "on the mouth" -- though they did discuss that too.
Israel -- and specifically efforts to delegitimize Israel -- came up. Santorum said the United States should not force Israel to take part in negotiations since the "Palestinian Authority [and] others in the Middle East refuse to accept Israel's right to be there."
"Do you think America has enough courage to turn the tide on Israel," Beck asked the presidential candidate."
"If we had a strong leader who had the respect of the world," Santorum said. "We see now...a president backing away, who is an internationalist, someone who sees his role as almost transcending the presidency...and sees his role as to work with the international community to their ends. Not to the ends of the national security interest of our country. Not to the end of supporting allies who are strategic for us. But to the ends of some greater goal."
Whenever the two get together, the Middle East seems to come up. In April, they agreed that there is a coalition of "Sunni, Shia, socialists, and Islamists and jihadists working together [to form] a caliphate," Santorum said. Beck said the caliphate "begins with Turkey, Egypt and Iran."
The New York Times is reporting today that a cell phone recovered from Osama bin Laden's safe house "contained contacts" to the militant group Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), which has longstanding ties to Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The implication is the spy agency, or elements of it, may have had a hand in sheltering bin Laden.
While the revelation about the cell-phone contacts are interesting, there's nothing new about the group's longtime connection to bin Laden's terror network.
The links go all the way back to the founding of al Qaeda. Fazlur Khalil, one of HUM's leaders, even signed bin Laden's fatwa in 1998 calling for attacks on the United States and U.S. citizens around the world as part as the "World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders." And when the United States launched retaliatory airstrikes against al Qaeda after the embassy bombings in East Africa that same year, some of those missiles struck a HUM training camp in Afghanistan, killing 11 of its militants. At the time, the Clinton administration said the camps were "part of a terrorist network run by Osama bin Laden," according to a Times story from 1998.
According to Robert Grenier, the former CIA station chief in Islamabad, it's not clear if HUM and al Qaeda "shared camps on an organizational level," but there were definitely personal links forged at HUM camps between fighters of both groups.
The State Department put the group on its list of foreign terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (its precursor group, which went by a different name, had been placed on the list in 1997).
WikiLeaks offers more evidence of a connection. In one leaked threat assessment document about a detainee at Guantánamo with ties to HUM, an "analyst note" says: "Kamran Atif, a terrorist who was recently arrested by the Pakistani Crime Investigation Department (CID) Police revealed that [HUM] has links with Al-Qaida and that [HUM] and AQ are ‘in complete contact with each other.'"
In a threat assessment for another detainee with ties to both groups, HUM is described as "a Pakistani extremist group known to help al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan."
HUM is also tied to the 2002 kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed in Pakistan, reportedly by al Qaeda's 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. According to a report released this year on the kidnapping from the Center for Public Integrity and Georgetown University, the mastermind of the operation, Omar Sheikh, had ties to HUM, among other militant groups in Pakistan.
Also, Pearl's remains were found in a shed owned by Saud Memon, reportedly HUM's chief financial backer who was later killed, according to the Associated Press.
The Times article says that Khalil, HUM's leader is living "unbothered by Pakistani authorities on the outskirts of Islamabad."
When the Associated Press called Khalil on his cell phone last month, he said that reports that he was in touch with bin Laden in Abottabad were "100 percent wrong, it's rubbish."
As President Barack Obama prepares to announce the scale of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, one headache for Washington policy makers has been the increasingly incendiary and downright hostile statements coming from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
His latest attack came Saturday:
You remember a few years ago I was saying thank you to the foreigners for their help; every minute we were thanking them. Now I have stopped saying that... They're here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they're using our soil for that.
Even as Karzai's rhetoric has turned sharply anti-Western and anti-American, it's not clear he actually wants foreign troops to withdraw, a step that could endanger his government's stability.
Still, his language has frustrated U.S. officials, who feel that he is undermining the war effort. "At the point your leaders believe that we are doing more harm than good, when we reach a point that we feel our soldiers and civilians are being asked to sacrifice without a just cause, and our generous aid programs dismissed as totally ineffective and the source of all corruption," outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eichenberry said, in response to Karzai's latest verbal barrage. "The American people will ask for our forces to come home."
So what's behind Karzai's anger? A chorus of officials and analysts think he has simply become unhinged -- U.S. intelligence reports have reportedly voiced the theory that he is "manic-depressive."
But others believe that Karzai is calculating that anti-American statements will burnish his nationalist credentials and curry favor with the Afghan population.
"He doesn't want to be seen as a lackey of the United States, he cultivates a sense of separateness," said Vali Nasr, who served in the Obama administration on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy until this spring. "My read of him is he doesn't trust our strategy and doesn't believe we have a commitment to him."
The contested 2009 presidential election, during which he was accused of vote fraud by many observers, represented a turning point in his relationship with the United States, Nasr said.
"In the past two years, he's come to doubt our commitment and strategy," he said. "And he sees what we demand of him as counter-productive to his political ambitions. So he lashes out."
Still, Karzai is running the risk of undercutting support for the military intervention that is crucial for him to fend off the insurgency. Polls indicate that Americans are losing patience with the Afghan war. And when Afghanistan's leader vociferously condemns American soldiers as occupiers, their impatience only grows.
"He's systematically been creating the impression that we are wasting our time over there," Nasr said.
Below, Foreign Policy compiled some of Karzai's most notorious recent statements.
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