Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crisis in Pakistan: Introduction

Part 1 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

Ever since the shocking, saddening events of September 11, 2001, U.S. policy has been dominated by an array of initiatives known collectively as the “war on terror.” Though enacted with good intentions, the “war on terror” has generated more controversy than it has palpable results. It has embroiled the United States in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has left it increasingly isolated in international affairs.[1] It has undermined the foundations not only of American ideals but of American law as well.[2] All the while, Islamic extremism has arguably gained in popularity, and the very groups that are responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks – Al Qaeda and the Taliban – have eluded destruction and are more powerful than ever.

How ironic it would be if the most direct consequence of the “war on terror” was the overthrow of a government by Muslim extremists and the destabilization of a nuclear-armed country. With the Taliban gaining full control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan last February[3] and advancing to within 60 miles of Islamabad just a few months ago[4] – moving much faster and over a wider area than in any of their previous incursions – such a catastrophe seems to be looming just over the horizon.

Pakistan has long been the geopolitical thorn in the side of the “war on terror.” The South Asian Muslim nation had been the Taliban’s most valuable supporter[5] prior to the September 11th attacks, and after the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, the remnants of the Taliban were able to avoid total destruction by migrating across the porous Afghan-Pakistani border and finding refuge in the mountainous, loosely governed regions of Pakistan’s northwest.[6] Although the United States was able to coax an ambivalent Pakistan into supporting its “war on terror,” the Pakistani Army was unwilling and unable to launch a concerted offensive to eradicate the Taliban once and for all.[7] As a result, Taliban militants were able to regroup and begin their expansion inside Pakistan that now has brought them within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital.

[1] http://www.icosgroup.net/modules/reports/chronic_failures_war_terror/exec_summary
[2] http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/26684res20060906.html
[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/16/AR2009021601063.html
[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/22/AR2009042200863.html
[5] http://www.cfr.org/publication/10551/
[6] http://www.cfr.org/publication/14905/troubled_afghanpakistani_border.html
[7] http://www.cfr.org/publication/14905/troubled_afghanpakistani_border.html

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Crisis in Pakistan: The Rise of the Taliban

Part 2 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

Although the Taliban had no presence in Pakistan before 2001, the radical Muslim Pashtun group did have several advantages upon arriving in Pakistan that would make it easier for the group to reorganize and spread within the country. It had a much better knowledge of the mountainous terrain than did NATO forces or Pakistani forces and officials, most of who came from Punjab or Sindh, far from the northwest. It also had the support of local Pashtuns, who lived on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Such knowledge and support was crucial in enabling the Taliban to escape into Pakistan and find relative security and support upon arriving.[1]

After settling down and regrouping, the Taliban set about expanding ever deeper into Pakistan. With over a decade of experience in building grassroots support and in governing gained through their rise and time in power in Afghanistan and with nearly two decades of experience in guerilla warfare gained fighting the Soviets and other Afghans during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Afghan Civil War, respectively, Taliban militants were skilled at taking over a country from the bottom up.[2]

In addition to using their stringent religious doctrine to appeal to die-hard Muslims, members of the Taliban have been able to prey off growing popular dissatisfaction with the corruption and incompetence of local and national Pakistani officials, the inefficiency of domestic institutions like the judicial system, and the gap between the rich and the poor, among other things, by offering themselves and their law as suitable alternatives to the current structure of Pakistani government and society.

Although the Taliban’s rule seems iron-fisted and strict, it at least seems efficient and consistent with some sort of doctrine (albeit a radical one). By contrast, the Pakistani government seems inefficient and corrupt, and its primary purpose seems to be to serve the interests of those in power; the two most powerful politicians in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, as well as Zardari’s famous widow (and claim to fame) Benazir Bhutto, were all indicted on corruption charges at some point in their lives.[3] Considering that the two most powerful parties in Pakistan – the PPP and the PML-N – have been headed since their inception by the Bhuttos (from Sindh) and the Sharifs (from Punjab),[4] respectively, Pakistani elections seem more like instruments of dynastic rivalry than a mechanism of popular sovereignty.

The inefficient and biased local and national judiciary systems are just a couple of examples of Pakistan’s domestic institutions being hampered and distorted by the rampant favoritism and corruption in the Pakistani government. Indeed, most proponents of a Sharia Law system are not in favor of the Taliban’s extreme interpretation of Islam but rather view such Islam-based courts as a practical alternative to the current judicial mess.[5]

The same families that control the political parties control most of the wealth and land of Pakistan as well.[6] The Sharifs, for instance, were some of the first and are now some of the richest industrial magnates in Pakistan, owning the large Ittefaq conglomerate based in Lahore.[7] Most of the other Pakistanis live in poverty in the poor rural areas or the slums. The corrupt political system seems to perpetuate the dominance and wealth of the semi-aristocratic families at the expense of everyone else.[8]

The great many poor and dissatisfied people in Pakistan have provided fertile ground for Taliban recruitment and expansion for the past seven years, to the point that the Taliban now poses a serious challenge to the existence of the Pakistani state. The degree of Pakistani discontent and the ruthlessness with which the Taliban has exploited such dissatisfaction have been matched by Pakistan’s inability to definitively roll back or crush the Taliban at any stage of its expansion. The Pakistani Army, more concerned with India and unwilling to commit troops to a thorough counterinsurgency campaign, has only sporadically fought the Taliban.[9] Left with little muscle to resist the Taliban, local and national officials have had to resort to making truces with the Taliban in order avoid total capitulation.[10]

Such a cyclical process of Taliban aggression, brief Pakistani retaliation, and truce has been immensely frustrating for the United States, as it has undermined the true front line of the U.S. “war on terror.” Out of each cycle, the Taliban has emerged stronger, with more land, more recruits, and more confidence.

[1] http://www.cfr.org/publication/14905/troubled_afghanpakistani_border.html
[2] http://www.cfr.org/publication/10551/
[3] http://www.newstatesman.com/200206030017
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/magazine/05zardari-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine
[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/09/AR2009050902518.html
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/world/asia/17pstan.html?pagewanted=1
[7] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/pakistan/sharif.htm
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/world/asia/17pstan.html?pagewanted=1
[9] http://spectator.org/archives/2009/05/12/the-pakistan-army-reluctant-wa
[10] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/16/AR2009021601063.html

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Crisis in Pakistan: Limitations of the United States in Pakistan and of the Pakistani Government

Part 3 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

The events of the first half of 2009 seem to follow the pattern of the Taliban expansion cycle, with the Taliban transgression into Swat, the truce, and the subsequent Taliban incursion into Buner. But the swiftness and forcefulness of this latest Taliban offensive, as well as its proximity to the Pakistani capital, are troubling even by Pakistani standards. President Obama, to his credit, has acknowledged the gravity of the worsening situation in Pakistan and has realized that someone somewhere must do something to stop the advance of Taliban militants, lest they reach Islamabad by year’s end.

However, President Obama is also beginning to realize that the United States has very limited options with which to influence the situation in Pakistan, none of which have worked well lately. U.S. drone aircraft strikes in Northwestern Pakistan and NATO raids across the Afghan border – either of which could be considered an overstepping of U.S. authority and a violation of Pakistan’s territorial integrity – have done little more than anger the locals and encourage the Taliban to advance into the heart of Pakistan.[1] There has been almost no way for the United States to monitor or control billions of dollars in aid it has sent to Pakistan,[2] and neither money nor harsh words have been able to compel the Pakistani government into sustained or predictable action.

The lack of cohesion between the different wings of Pakistani authority has made it very difficult for Pakistan to carry out any such sustained or predictable action against the Taliban. The Pakistani government, headed by President Zardari, would very much like to prevent the Taliban from reaching the seat of government in Islamabad. However, unlike General Musharraf’s previous administration, the current government does not have the unquestioned loyalty of the Pakistani Army,[3] which makes it very difficult for the government to force the army to take action against the Taliban. Unfortunately for the government, the Pakistani Army would rather not launch operations against the Taliban, being more concerned with India to the east, particularly in light of heightened tensions with India after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. Indeed, it seems unclear if the army would defend the current government if it came close to being overthrown as long as the likely successor was not pro-Indian.[4]

In addition to the government and the army, the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (incidentally the agency which originally supported the Taliban)[5] has its own agenda, specifically concentrating on undermining the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir.[6] To this end, the ISI has covertly supported militant Punjabi groups operating in Kashmir. Such groups have been hard to control, though. The group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was one such group.[7] Others are suspected to have links to the Taliban.[8]

With so many different branches of government working at cross-purposes, it is no wonder that the money and rhetoric of the United States have had little success in compelling Pakistan to counter the Taliban.

As grim and as frustrating the situation is, there have been some encouraging signs as of late. The Taliban seems to have moved too fast and too forcefully in its latest push, as it has generated a lot of public backlash recently. A video of a woman getting publicly flogged for a minor crime has sparked particular anger among Pakistanis this past year.[9] In addition, the Pakistani government, alarmed at the proximity of the Taliban to the capital and embarrassed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assertion that it was “basically abdicating to the Taliban,”[10] has gone off on every limb available to get the army to retaliate against the Taliban. For the moment, whatever the government did seems to be working: for nearly a month the Pakistani Army has carried out operations in the Swat Valley against the Taliban, including in Mingora,[11] Swat’s largest city.

It is unclear how long the current Pakistani counteroffensive will last, though, as the Pakistani Army has never sustained a campaign against the Taliban for more than a few months. Indeed, much of the fighting has been done by Pakistani paramilitary forces, which is a sign that the Pakistani Army may not be ready or willing to commit to a long fight. Moreover, the fighting in Swat has caused over 2 million people to become refugees,[12] and if the government does not adequately accommodate such people, then they could become the Taliban’s newest recruitment pool.

It is critical, then, for the United States to try to compel Pakistan to not let this window of opportunity close as previous ones have but rather to take advantage of such opportunity to turn the tide against the Taliban.

[1] http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TNVGGJDT
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/pakistan.usa
[3] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/pakistan/army.htm
[4] http://spectator.org/archives/2009/05/12/the-pakistan-army-reluctant-wa
[5] http://www.cfr.org/publication/10551/
[6] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/kashmir.htm
[7]http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/world/asia/08terror.html
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/world/asia/14punjab.html?pagewanted=all
[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/02/taliban-pakistan-justice-women-flogging
[10]http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/us/politics/23clinton.html
[11] http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/113/article_3894.asp
[12] http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/113/article_3894.asp

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Crisis in Pakistan: A Marshall Plan for Pakistan?

Part 4 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

In order to begin to permanently roll back the Taliban, the Pakistani government must give the Pakistani people confidence that it can effectively provide for them and can rule fairly and efficiently.

The capitalist governments of Western Europe faced similar challenges after WWII, when Communist parties were growing in appeal among disillusioned Europeans in the wake of the war’s utter devastation. At this critical juncture in history, the United States undertook a massive aid operation known as the Marshall Plan in which it funded reconstruction programs designed by individual Western countries. In this fashion, the United States helped Britain, France, Italy, and most other European countries to rebuild their infrastructure and lay the foundations for future prosperity. In enacting such recovery plans, the Western European governments regained the confidence of their citizens and halted the spread of Communism.

President Zardari has requested on occasion for Pakistan to receive a Marshall Plan of its own.[1] But what President Zardari envisions is largely an extension of the existing aid sent to Pakistan – aid that disappears off the radar once in Pakistan. What distinguished the original Marshall Plan from subsequent aid programs – and which has also made it by far the most successful of such programs – is that it required each European government to come up with its own specific recovery plan and means of implementing such a plan.[2]

A true replica of the Marshall Plan – in which the Pakistani government would design its own specific development program and detail exactly where and when money would be spent before receiving U.S. funding – may be exactly what Pakistan needs. The responsibility of having to come up with and execute plans for reform and development could compel the Pakistani government to root out corruption and increase efficiency. Holding the Pakistani government to a specific, detailed spending program, perhaps with inspections or Congressional benchmarks, would allow the United States to ensure that its aid was being put to its intended uses.

If designed and implemented correctly, this new Marshall Plan would not only help develop and reform Pakistan but would also help alleviate the discontent among the Pakistani public that the Taliban has been able to benefit so greatly from. The sight of the Pakistani government actively developing and reforming its country would greatly improve its standing among its people, who are unaccustomed to such action from its government. If the government became less corrupt and more efficient in the process of designing and executing such development and reform programs, it would also improve its standing among Pakistanis, who have grown cynical in the wake of past and ongoing government corruption. The positive economic impact such programs would have and the influx of jobs they would likely provide would also ease the discontent of the Pakistani public and may make them have more faith in the current system and be less enthusiastic of looking for a new system, which the Taliban has been offering.

Such a plan, provided it is done right, would be in the interest of many powerful figures and institutions in Pakistan. President Zardari should be very receptive to such a plan, as it would allow him to regain credibility with the public that he has all but lost in the wake of the episode with Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Nawaz Sharif last March.[3] The Pakistani Army should also support such a plan, as it would increase the legitimacy and popularity of the government, which would lessen the chance of insurrection; as non-chalant as its attitude toward the government is, the last thing the Pakistani Army wants to deal with is a full-blown rebellion or civil war. Moreover, if the Taliban attacked government workers trying to work on development projects, it would greatly harm the Taliban’s reputation among the Pakistani people and would provide easy justification for further retaliation against the Taliban.

Getting powerful regional leaders, particularly Nawaz Sharif – the “Lion of Punjab”[4] and President Zardari’s chief political rival – to approve of a Marshall Plan for Pakistan would be more difficult, as President Zardari would likely want to use his own people to execute the programs he designs so as to undercut his regional rivals. When reviewing such programs, then, the United States should insist on having some regional authorities carry out such programs as a condition for providing funding.

There is no better way of undermining the Taliban in the long term than to alleviate the discontent of the Pakistani public. A true Marshall Plan for Pakistan would do just that.

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/World/Pakistan/Zardari-seeks-aid-like-Marshall-Plan-for-Pakistan/articleshow/4412121.cms
[2] http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2008/May/20080522120728WRybakcuH0.1443598.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/magazine/05zardari-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/magazine/05zardari-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine

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Crisis in Pakistan: Working with China and Russia

Part 5 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

In addition to trying to set up a Marshall Plan for Pakistan, the United States should also strive to work together with other regional powers, such as China and Russia, to put more forceful pressure on Pakistan and to jointly try to counter the Taliban. It is in interest of all three countries to prevent the Taliban from toppling the Pakistani government. A major Taliban victory in Pakistan may spur on Muslim extremist groups in China, who are mainly Uyghurs fighting for an independent nation in Xinjiang,[1] a region that has been independent from China for most of history and has been part of modern China for barely 60 years.[2] To this point, Muslim extremism in China has been relatively low-key, serving more as an excuse for Chinese crackdowns in the region than as a legitimate threat to Chinese security.[3] However, a major Taliban victory could provide momentum and encouragement to Uyghur Muslim extremists, and should Taliban militants manage to take control of the Chinese border with Pakistan, they could send support through to Xinjiang – the part of China that borders Pakistan – and could help the Uyghur Muslim extremists become a formidable force. In addition, a civil war in Pakistan could lead to refugees pouring into China from Pakistan. China does not even want to entertain such possibilities, and so should be willing to work with the United States to stop the Taliban. As Pakistan’s steady ally since the Cold War, China should have a fair ability to compel Pakistan to counter the Taliban.

Although perhaps it should not be as worried as China, Russia should nevertheless be concerned about the growth of the Taliban and the possibility of the collapse of the Pakistani government. Muslim extremists in Chechnya and other Russian-controlled Caucasian regions could be encouraged by a major Taliban victory. In addition, the destabilization of Pakistan by the Taliban could lead to a further destabilization of Afghanistan by Afghani Taliban, which could cause refugee flows and headaches for the neighboring Central Asian states, which Russia would like to retain as its sphere of influence. Indeed, Russian troops stationed on the Tajikistan border could get caught up in a mess in neighboring Afghanistan.

The United States should reach out to China and Russia on the basis of having a common interest in defeating the Taliban and try to facilitate cooperation and joint action in the region to stop the Taliban. For starters, the United States, China, and Russia should put pressure on India to ease tensions with Pakistan that have been especially high since the Mumbai attacks. As India’s steady ally since the Cold War, Russia should have a fair amount of influence over India, and surely the last thing India wants is for a radical Muslim group to take over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons. Getting India to do as little as tone down its rhetoric and assure Pakistan it has no intentions of war and wants friendship and cooperation could help diffuse tensions. Getting India to restart talks on Kashmir would have an even greater effect at lowering tensions. If tensions between India and Pakistan could be reduced, then the Pakistani Army would feel more comfortable about moving troops away from the Indian border (where most of them are now stationed) to Pakistan’s northwest to fight the Taliban.

The United States should also try to get an alternate supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and the Central Asian states. The United States could make the point to Russia that the more powerful the Taliban is in Afghanistan, the more powerful it will be in Pakistan. With the Taliban now in control of most of Northwestern Pakistan, it is able to threaten the current supply routes into Afghanistan, which pass through Pakistan. With the help of Russia, who has considerable influence over the Central Asian states, the United States would probably be able to get a new supply route through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan into Afghanistan, or perhaps through some other route in the same general region.

The United States should also try to get China and Russia to apply joint diplomatic, rhetorical, and possibly economic pressure on Pakistan. The combined weight of these three powers may be more effective than unilateral U.S. pressure in compelling Pakistan into action against the Taliban. China and the United States in particular could orchestrate joint economic sanctions or incentives to try to put more pressure on the Pakistani government.

Most importantly, the United States, China, and Russia, along with India, should go about sharing intelligence to try to pinpoint the location and status of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the four should also consider devising a coordinated strategy to eliminate such weapons or confront a new Pakistani regime if the worst should befall the current Pakistani government. The last things any of these countries want are more unaccounted-for nuclear weapons, particularly when they or their allies could be potential targets.


[1] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/directive-08142008114700.html
[2] http://muslimvillage.com/story.php?id=2713
[3] http://www.atimes.com/china/CK15Ad01.html

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Crisis in Pakistan: Conclusion

Part 6 of a 6 part essay on the growing threat of the Taliban in Pakistan and how to combat it

There are some who believe that the Taliban has no chance of toppling the Pakistani government. There are others who believe that it is only a matter of time before Taliban militants follow in the footsteps of the other great revolutionaries of history and take over all of Pakistan. Both views are inaccurate, and resigning to either is a disservice to the victims of the September 11th attacks and the thousands of others who have died trying to prevent Muslim extremists from ever threatening the United States again. The reality is that, over the course of the past decade, the Taliban has grown stronger and stronger in Pakistan to the point that, despite still controlling a minority of Pakistan, the Taliban now poses a serious threat to the existence of Pakistan. It is also true that the Pakistani government, for a variety of reasons, has been unable to effectively counter the rise of the Taliban up to this point.

The United States must realize that, in the next few years, there is a realistic chance that the Taliban could destabilize or even take over Pakistan. It must recognize the international repercussions of either event, particularly the possibility of unaccounted-for nuclear weapons, and must begin to think about how to react to either event. However, President Obama and the United States must also continue to recognize that a Taliban takeover is not imminent, nor is it certain, and the United States must also realize that, while its influence is not as great in Pakistan as it is in other countries, it is not non-existent either. President Obama must exhaust every reasonable, feasible option to prevent the Taliban from going the extra 60 miles to Islamabad. He must be tenacious and resourceful, yet smart; he must be wary of damaging long-term relations and should not address this problem unilaterally, as did his predecessor. He must act within U.S. limitations, but he must act now; the window of opportunity provided by the Pakistani Army may not last long, and given how far the Taliban has come, it may be the last one.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Tale of Economic Hardship: Human Rights First and the Madoff Fallout

I know I do not need to remind anyone of the bleak state of the economy: the impact of the current global economic downturn has been hard-felt and all-encompassing. Indeed, not too long ago, someone in my immediate family lost her job, victimized not by any fault of her own – in fact, she is the most capable and hardworking person I know – but by number-crunching and panicking management, the most potent foes in this deepening recession.

Needless to say, non-profit organizations and foreign policy interest groups have been hit hard by the current downturn; failed investments and less willing donors have damaged their budgets at a time when people are less willing than ever to donate money to fight for issues that do not directly concern them.

Among all these groups, one particular victim stood out to me recently.

Given the current policymaking environment, one would think that Human Rights First (HRF) and other human rights groups would be greatly encouraged. In some of his first executive orders, President Obama ordered the closing of Guantanamo Bay within a year, granted enemy combatants the protections listed in the Geneva Conventions, and required those interrogating enemy combatants to follow the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines.[1] Such a dramatic reversal in policy is unprecedented in the human rights movement, and for human rights activists it is not only a victory to be celebrated but also an invaluable opportunity to ensure the success of and the prolonging of such policy.

In normal economic times, HRF would be in a great position to encourage and build on such policy. But HRF has not seen normal economic times for a while now; last December, HRF was met with a nasty surprise when it learned that two of its most generous donors, the JEHT Foundation and the Picower Foundation,[2] had their funds managed by Bernard Madoff, who had recently admitted that his firm and the $50 billion it managed was a giant Ponzi scheme.[3] As a result, both foundations were forced to dissolve and had to rescind their annual contributions to HRF.[4][5]

The loss of this funding has left HRF with a $1 million budget deficit for this year, about 10% of its annual budget. Worse yet, HRF was also granted additional funds from the now defunct JEHT foundation for 2010 and 2011, and the Picower Foundation was a regular annual donor, so these losses leave HRF with a $3 million shortfall over the next three years.[6]

HRF’s Refugee Protection Program will likely take one of the biggest blows, as it expected to receive $250,000 from the Picower Foundation this year.[7] It will be a shame if this program needs to be trimmed; the program has been a tremendous help for refugees seeking asylum in the United States, providing them not only with legal representation but also with useful information about the communities they hope to move into, such as the location and contact numbers of public places. This program is one of the largest of its kind in the United States and perhaps does the most practical good out of all of HRF’s initiatives.[8]

HRF is not the only advocacy group experiencing financial trouble in these tough economic times; indeed, the JEHT Foundation, in addition to its grants to HRF, also provided funding to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and numerous other advocacy groups.[9] With such advocacy groups struggling in this downturn, it will be interesting to see just how the political climate in Washington will be affected, in particular how much such groups will be able to monitor President Obama’s agenda of change, both here and abroad.

If you would like to help out HRF and make a donation, click here.

[1] http://www.whitehouse.gov/executive-orders-to-date/
[2] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2009/01/from-all-iraqi.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/business/12scheme.html?_r=1
[4] http://www.jehtfoundation.org/news/
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/20/business/20foundation.html?ref=business
[6] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2009/01/from-all-iraqi.html
[7] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2009/01/from-all-iraqi.html
[8] http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum.htm
[9] http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/funderprofile.asp?fndid=5267&category=79

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What it Takes to be an Island: The Ukrainian-Romanian Dispute Over the Status of Snake Island

The following is the second of two potentially groundbreaking cases concerning maritime delimitation and island sovereignty that were pending in the International Court of Justice in 2008.

Dictionary.com defines an island as “a tract of land completely surrounded by water, and not large enough to be called a continent.”[1] The international community, by contrast, has had a hard time finding and agreeing upon a definition as straightforward or as universal.

In this era of fixed national boundaries, bountiful maritime resources, and global naval trade, adequately defining an island and distinguishing between an island and, say, a pile of rocks are more important than ever, with the extent of a nation’s maritime boundaries – and, by extension, its exclusive economic zones – hanging in the balance: Article 121, Section 3 of the Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 (LOSC) – the most recent attempt to establish an international consensus on the definition of an island and other naval guidelines – states that, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.”[2]

This clause was the centerpiece of a long-standing dispute between Romania and Ukraine over the status of Snake Island, which was recently resolved in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Snake Island, if it can be called an island, is a small, X-shaped landmass made of limestone in the middle of the Black Sea, right near the maritime border between Romania and Ukraine. Around 100 people[3] live on the landmass in a town called Bile Village,[4] and Odessa National University has a permanent scientific expedition on the landmass. In addition, Snake Island has a helicopter platform, radio and cell-phone towers, a lighthouse, a bank, and a post office, among other things.[5]

In ancient times, the landmass was best known as the final resting place of the Greek heroes Achilles and Patroclus. In modern times, it has become an important and controversial piece of the ever-changing Black Sea maritime boundaries. For nearly 150 years, Snake Island alternated between Russian and Ottoman rule, as it was located near the maritime border between the two empires; indeed, it was even the site of a naval battle between the two – the Battle of Fidonisi. In 1878, the landmass became part of a new, independent, Romanian state in the aftermath of another clash between the Russians and the Ottomans. Snake Island remained part of Romania until after WWII, when the Soviets, after having occupied it during the war, compelled Communist Romania to cede it to the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, custody of Snake Island fell to Ukraine.[6]

As it became clear that Snake Island itself would not be in its possession again, Romania began to argue, first with the Soviet Union, then with Ukraine, about how the landmass affected maritime boundaries. As tensions on the issue began to heat up in the mid 1990s, Romania and Ukraine agreed to take the case to the ICJ if they had not reached a separate agreement in 2 years; Romania would finally file the case in 2004. With the discovery of oil and natural gas in the seabed around the island – albeit only 2-3 years worth – the stakes are now arguably higher than ever.[7]

Throughout the case, Ukraine maintained that Snake Island was, in fact, an island, arguing that the small village and modern development of the landmass were indicators that the “human habitation” and “economic life” stipulated by Article 121 of the LOSC were taking place on the landmass, making it qualify as an island.[8]

Romania, by contrast, argued that Snake Island’s lack of fresh water and arable soil – it’s composed primarily of limestone – rendered it incapable of supporting “human habitation” on its own, which, therefore, made it a cliff, not an island. Furthermore, Romania accused Ukraine of building up and populating the landmass, thereby violating an earlier agreement with Romania where Ukraine would consider the landmass “uninhabited.”[9]

In reviewing this case, the ICJ had a chance to set a far-reaching precedent in international law about maritime delimitation. In interpreting Article 121 of the LOSC, the ICJ had a chance to establish the first clear international definition of an island.

The competing interpretations of Article 121 result in significantly different definitions of an island and would have very different implications for maritime delimitation. At first, Romania’s opinion may appear more reasonable: if a landmass cannot, by its own virtue, support human life, then it would seem illogical to consider it an island under the LOSC.

But, then again, even if Snake Island did have arable land and fresh water, would its size permit it to have enough of either to sustain human life on its own? Surely there are many tiny islands scattered across the globe that have vegetation and fresh water but still rely on outside aid to maintain its human population. By this logic, one could argue Ukraine is simply being practical by developing and supplying Snake Island from the mainland.

Ruling in favor of Ukraine would send a dangerous message to the rest of the world, as it would encourage other countries to populate and develop any of their remote landmasses in order to argue that it is sustaining human habitation and should therefore qualify as an island. In this fashion, countries could use the island status to claim a larger exclusive economic zone, potentially enabling them access to more resources and naval trade. Such a “development race” could play out on a grand scale in the Pacific Ocean, where numerous countries have claimed numerous stretches of ocean with many small landmasses that may or may not be already considered islands.

Yet ruling in favor of Romania could have an opposite but equally potent impact on maritime delimitation. Instead of building up islands to try to gain a larger portion of a sea or ocean, countries could instead question the validity of the status of numerous landmasses throughout the world’s oceans and seas, which could roll back the existing maritime boundaries of some countries to the benefit of others.

Rather than to set either of these precedents, the ICJ dodged the issue, making no ruling on the status of Snake Island but granting Romania 80% of the disputed Black Sea waters.[10] While this latest dispute seems to have been resolved, the controversy over the definition of an island and what having the status of an island means for maritime delimitation remains unresolved. With many more maritime disputes in other regions likely to come, the ICJ may not be able to dodge the island question forever. International lawmakers would do well to use this time to consider what the answer should be, for it will have implications on maritime boundaries for years to come.


[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/island
[2] http://www.globelaw.com/LawSea/ls82_3.htm#article_121_regime_of_islands
[3] http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Cities/SnakeIsland.html
[4] http://www.mfa.gov.ua/mfa/en/publication/content/8214.htm
[5] http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Cities/SnakeIsland.html
[6] http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Cities/SnakeIsland.html
[7] http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Cities/SnakeIsland.html
[8] http://www.mfa.gov.ua/mfa/en/publication/content/8214.htm
[9] http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Cities/SnakeIsland.html
[10] http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/romania-resolves-snake-island-conflict-ukraine/article-179141?Ref=RSS

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Latest Israel-Hamas Conflict and Where Israel Should Go From Here

Last December, 2008, after a renewed rocket barrage from Hamas ended hopes of an extended ceasefire, Israel launched a large-scale retaliatory air and ground assault on the radical Muslim group in Gaza.

Three weeks, 1300 Palestinian deaths, and $2 billion worth of devastation later[1], not much seems to have changed, other than potential election gains for some.[2] Hamas may be weakened, but it is not broken, and its rocket attacks have not stopped.[3] Moreover, Hamas still has the support of the majority of Gazans.[4]

Indeed, if anything, the situation seems to have gotten worse for Israel, not better. Moderate Arab governments, particularly those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are under more intense pressure than ever to defy Israel and support their Arab brothers in Gaza.[5] Support for Israel across the world has further plummeted as a result of the deadly scale of the operations in Gaza.[6] Worst of all, support amongst Palestinians for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the government that Israel had hoped to bolster as a moderate alternative to Hamas, has all but evaporated, with Palestinians increasingly associating Fatah with Israel and thinking, perhaps rightly so, that Fatah does not have their best interests at heart.[7]

Although Israel demonstrated in the recent conflict that it can and will not hesitate to muster overwhelming military might, it has also shown that it can not achieve its goals through such force.

The fact that Israel had to intervene militarily in Gaza to try to fulfill its goals is indicative of the failure of its two-year-long attempt to isolate Hamas by blockading Gaza. In the short run, Israel had hoped that the blockade would cut off Hamas from its funding and weapons smugglers. In the long run, Israel had hoped that the blockade would make living conditions awful enough in Gaza for the Gazans to shift their support from Hamas to Fatah and maybe even to rebel against Hamas.

This complete blockade has not advanced either of Israel’s goals. It has not enabled short-term peace and has in fact worsened long-term prospects for peace: as the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project stated in its recent publication, Changing Course: A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim World, “Israel’s… isolation of Gaza… undermine[s] security for all” and has ended up “encouraging extremism.”[8]

Israel should seek to change its current strategy rather than to continue to compensate for its failure by making more incursions into Gaza. Egypt, too, should strive for a more effective strategy, as it fears the growing influence and appeal of Hamas and its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, amongst Egyptians. In the coming weeks and months, particularly after the new Israeli government takes over, Israel should work together with Egypt to jointly lift sanctions on purely economic products and activities that cross the Gaza border while intensifying crackdowns on weapons smuggling, especially the smuggling tunnels that bypass the Egypt-Gaza border. The Egyptians should improve their enforcement of their section of the Gaza border to ensure maximum efficiency, perhaps by raising the salaries of border guards, giving bonuses to guards for each tunnel they find and destroy, or through some other means. Perhaps an international peacekeeping force could help police the border as well. In addition, the Israeli and Egyptian navies might do well to enlist the help of other navies, perhaps the U.S. navy, to help make sure no weapons are smuggled into Gaza from the Mediterranean Sea.

Lifting some economic sanctions does not mean completely opening the border or leaving it unguarded. Indeed, Israel and Egypt should maintain all of the checkpoints that guard the Gaza border and should conduct thorough checks on anything and everything that passes through to ensure that no weapons get in or out. Nor should Israel and Egypt lift sanctions on absolutely everything; they should use export control models like those of the United States or some other country to determine whether a certain product or material could possibly be used in a weapon or have other military applications.

With these conditions in place, it would not seem so perilous for Israel and Egypt to allow economic activity into and out of Gaza. Such activity would have great long-term implications for Gaza and Israel, slowly, but surely lifting Gazans out of poverty and giving them some semblance of a normal life, which they would think twice about risking simply for the sake of radical, lofty goals of jihad and the overthrow of Israel. Moreover, if Israel were to allow economic activity into and out of Gaza and refrain from constantly invading it, Gazans would have a chance at prosperity and a better life, and perhaps then Gazans would not blame Israel and the West for whatever problems they might have and might develop a more favorable view of Israel.

Such a shift toward a prosperous, moderate Gaza would do more harm to Hamas than all of the bombs and troops Israel has ever sent its way. The bulk of Hamas’ support comes from Palestinians dissatisfied with their poverty and mistreatment by Israel but also with the corruption of past Palestinian governments; indeed, one of Hamas’ earliest functions was garbage collection, which had been largely neglected by the Palestinian Authority.[9] If Gazans were allowed a chance to prosper and were free from periodic devastation from Israel, they would probably be more hesitant to support a group whose stated goal is to wipe out the state of Israel, regardless of any other services it provides, for fear of losing their wealth and security.

When Gazans start to believe that they can obtain better lives through moderate means, then they will stop pursuing radical goals and supporting radical groups, like Hamas. If the Israeli government has the courage (in light of the view of much of the Israeli public) to encourage this idea, it will pay off in the long run. With a new American administration in place and a new Israeli one to come, and with Israeli operations finally at an end, for now, this may be as opportune a moment as ever for Israeli policy to shift toward this goal – and long-term peace.

[1]http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1057132.html
[2]http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1873084,00.html?iid=tsmodule
[3]http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1232100165159&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
[4]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2009/01/23/ST2009012303518.html
[5]http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/10/world/middleeast/10cairo.html?fta=y
[6]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/13/gaza-israel-war-crimes
[7]http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CEFDC1F3CF936A25752C0A96F9C8B63
[8]http://www.usmuslimengagement.org/storage/usme/documents/Changing_Course_-_A_New_Direction_for_US_Relations_with_the_Muslim_World.pdf (p. 41)
[9]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/hamas-plays-on-its-welfare-credentials-in-historic-elections-488243.html

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Mumbai Attacks and the Future of Indian-Pakistani and U.S.-Pakistani Relations

With tensions between India and Pakistan escalating in the wake of last November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Barack Obama need not look any further as to where his first test as President will come.

Relations between the two South Asian nuclear powers have deteriorated to their worst level since the beginning of the decade – that time also a result of a terrorist attack in India – with enraged Indian officials and defensive Pakistani officials trading accusations and retorts and people in both countries protesting in the streets against their South Asian rival, and although both countries deny they want war, each seems to be moving closer toward it, the most ominous sign being Pakistan’s recent redeployment of troops from the Afghan border to the Indian border.[1]

Upon taking office, Mr. Obama should pressure Pakistan with all of the means at the United States’ disposal to withdraw its troops from the Indian border and to ensure that a credible investigation into the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani Muslim extremist group allegedly responsible for the attack,[2] particularly how the group was able to evade Pakistani authorities, goes to completion. Although it is important that India does not further agitate the situation, evidence of Pakistan’s negligence and even alleged support of Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as Pakistan’s recent mobilization along the Indian border seem to point to Pakistan as the main instigator of the current crisis, so it seems that compelling Pakistan to back off is essential in diffusing the renewed tensions between the two South Asian rivals.

In being more forceful toward Pakistan in this situation, Mr. Obama should not only seek to repair relations between India and Pakistan, but should also use the opportunity to redefine U.S relations with Pakistan. Under the Bush Administration, the United States was far too lenient with regard to Pakistan, providing it with fairly unconditional support to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and to safeguard of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from extremist groups. While these goals are important to pursue, the Obama Administration should make it very clear to Pakistan that it can not hope to receive the same amount of aid and favorable treatment from the United States that it has enjoyed for the past eight years if it does not adequately use them to fulfill the said goals and that the United States is willing, however reluctantly, to relinquish such aid and treatment if the job is not done adequately. In acting accordingly, Mr. Obama will be able to demonstrate that he truly does mean to be an agent of change, and internationally as well as domestically.

One of the best tools at Mr. Obama’s disposal for influencing Pakistan is the sheer weight of America’s annual Pakistani military aid package, which totaled $5.4 billion in February 2008.[3] As U.S President, Mr. Obama should explain to Pakistan that the United States will not continue to give the Pakistani military billions of dollars intended to help with the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Waziristan only to have Pakistan station its troops along the Indian border, hundreds of miles away from the Islamic militants it is being subsidized to fight. Furthermore, Mr. Obama should expound on how the ability of an Islamic extremist group like Lashkar-e-Taiba to operate within Pakistan and from there strike abroad is an indication that the Pakistani military has not been able to effectively suppress the Islamic radicals within its country.

While Mr. Obama should not immediately halt aid to the Pakistani military, he should hint that he is not afraid to resort to such a measure, explaining how in these tough economic times, when the U.S. government is running a budget deficit of over $1 trillion,[4] the United States is looking to cut costs wherever money is not being well spent and that, given the circumstances in Pakistan, it appears that such money given to Pakistan has not been well spent.[5] In order to continue to receive aid then, he should continue, Pakistan should demonstrate that such money is being well spent. A good start would be to redeploy the troops stationed along the Indian border back to the northwestern provinces and to investigate how Lashkar-e-Taiba was able to operate within Pakistan and make adjustments accordingly.

Hopefully other methods will be able to convince Pakistan to stop mobilizing troops along the Indian border and to conduct a thorough investigation into Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Mumbai attacks, but should the United States resort to threatening to reduce or halt military aid to Pakistan, it is likely that not only the civilian government but also the Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the two main beneficiaries of the U.S. aid,[6] would be in agreement to redeploy Pakistani troops away from the Indian border.

At any rate, under the Obama Administration the United States should develop an alternative strategy for being able to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan as well as to prevent Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of radicals that does not involve providing billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistani military. Such a contingency plan would make the United States more confident about threatening to cut off aid to Pakistan.

It is hard to say exactly what the best arrangement might be. Perhaps the best strategy would be fairly similar to the current one – in which Pakistan would support the United States in its conflict with the Taliban and Al Qaeda – but just with different mechanics. The current strategy is not built for long-term success: by giving money to the military, the United States is merely perpetuating the dominance of that institution over the civilian government that has existed throughout modern Pakistan’s history, as evidenced by the various civilian governments that have been overthrown by military dictators like Generals Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.[7] Furthermore, it is almost impossible for the United States to control how the Pakistani military spends its funds, which is a recipe for waste and misuse.[8]

A strategy that dealt directly with the civilian government may be more efficient than the current one and might move Pakistan in a better direction for the long run. Perhaps a favorable trade arrangement with Pakistan in return for military action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda instead of direct military aid would at least be less of a waste of money and might even strengthen the Pakistani economy and, by extension, the civilian government.

Placing more emphasis on the civilian government has its own risks, though. Pakistani civilian government has been more known for corruption than efficiency or democracy: indeed, the last three prime ministers with effective control – Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Yousaf Raza Gillani, currently in office – have been indicted on corruption charges at some point in their careers.[9] It would take a very dedicated, skillful, and accountable civilian administration indeed to rule effectively over the country and the military, and Pakistan may not have that for a while.

While Mr. Obama should keep these considerations for long-term U.S.-Pakistani in mind, for the moment he should confine them within the context for the current crisis; diffusing tensions and averting war between India and Pakistan should be the Mr. Obama’s immediate goal in the region, for a large-scale and potentially nuclear war that would destabilize the region is in no one’s interest.

[1]http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/29/world/asia/29india.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=India+no+clear+diplomatic&st=nyt
[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/world/asia/29intel.html?scp=1&sq=Lashkar+responsible+Mumbai&st=nyt
[3]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/pakistan.usa
[4]http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/business/economy/08deficit.html?hp
[5]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/pakistan.usa
[6]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/pakistan.usa
[7]http://www.newstatesman.com/200206030017
[8]http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/27/pakistan.usa
[9]http://www.newstatesman.com/200206030017

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