army suicide rate could top nation’s this year

“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said. “This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”

as obama escalates the war in south asia, we will be spending more on defense and less on fixing domestic problems. as the economy deflates further and unemployment rises, military enlistment is going to jump up. an untenable vicious circle. something will have to give.

here is the full article from cnn.

holbrooke’s appointment

holbrooke’s appointment is a positive step. he is a brilliant diplomat and someone of his caliber is what we need in south asia. however, where his appointment falls short is the breadth of his portfolio. we choose to focus on the apparent “problem children” in the region without any reference to the big daddy of south asia – india. btw here is a great article about how that came to pass.

the pakistan-india conflict is at the epicenter of much of what we see today and kashmir is what keeps that conflict boiling. if some kind of pakistan-india accord could be brokered it would take the steam out of the pakistan army, the ISI and the whole concept of asymmetric warfare that gave birth to the taliban. it would strengthen pakistan’s civilian government.

another thing that would help of course, would be our abandonment of the latin american model of supporting military dictatorships in pakistan. the time has passed for that approach.

what obama should do in pakistan

from “what obama should do in pakistan” by malou innocent, huffington post, jan 23, 2009:

…U.S. missile strikes prove tactically problematic for three reasons.

First, missile strikes undermine the authority of sitting Pakistani leaders. The August 19th resignation of former army general Pervez Musharraf demonstrated how the burden of assuming a pro-American stance can prove a political liability for “war on terror” allies. Aligning with pro-U.S. policies is one reason why Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s new president, is reviled by many of his countrymen, while opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who has been openly critical of U.S. actions across the border in Afghanistan, has seen his popularity soar.

A second reason to be skeptical of relying almost exclusively on missile strikes is that they encourage Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) militants to lash out against their closer enemy, Pakistan, causing disastrous ripple effects that further damage the already weakened country. Suicide bombers are striking Pakistan’s large urban centers with increasing frequency and are signals of the spreading insurgency engulfing the Islamic Republic.

The final, and most important, reason to be circumspect about escalating military force in the tribal areas is that it will almost certainly fail. The clans, subclans, and extended families that weave the complex fabric of Pashtun tribal society have endured hundreds of years of foreign invasions. Time and again, Persian, Greek, Turk, Mughal, British and Soviet invaders have discovered these peoples to be virtually unconquerable. Pashtun social values include loyalty (wafa), honor (nang), and badal, the Pashto word for taking revenge. Vendettas, personal and collective, have been known to last for generations. While U.S. missile strikes can certainly extinguish high-value targets, they also trigger collective armed action throughout the tribal agencies.

The dilemma for President Obama is that as long as militants continue to infiltrate the hundreds of unguarded checkpoints along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the security environment in Afghanistan will continue to decline. While Obama is correct to argue that we have no choice but to attack militants inside FATA as long as we remain in Afghanistan…

(here on i stopped agreeing with ms innocent – she doesn’t realize that she just stated the problem – “as long as we remain in afghanistan” – exactly, we need to get out!)

u.s. drone attacks kill 17 in waziristan: first obama-era strikes

the latest u.s. attacks inside pakistan are deeply disturbing.

they are a continuation of the same lazy, ineffective and arrogant warfare ushered in by the bushies. however targeted these air strikes might be, based on whatever “actionable intelligence” might be available to americans living on the other side of the globe, they overwhelmingly result in the killing of poor villagers. and i am sick of hearing about “collateral damage” so let’s not even go there – it’s just convenient linguistic whitewash.

i read this analogy somewhere and it really struck home. if we had actionable intelligence that a serial killer was hiding in an apartment in manhattan, would it be ok to bomb that entire block? is that how we go after criminals? no, of course not, this would be unthinkable. civilian life is too precious. collateral damage would be too high. how can collateral damage be then justified in waziristan? we are not at war with pakistan.

on to more practical considerations. will killing a few militants (if that can ever be achieved and properly confirmed) mean an end to terrorism? for every militant who’s killed, for every villager in a wedding party who’s bombed to shreds, there will be ten more people who will become radicalized and will want to strike back.

there is direct correlation between u.s. bombings in pakistan’s northern areas and suicide attacks all over pakistan. suicide bombings are completely new to pakistan and they too have been v “targeted”. hafiz gul bahadur, a militant leader in north waziristan, warned that his men would launch suicide attacks on foreigners and government targets across the country unless the raids stop. and so it has been – police stations, army depots, the islamabad marriott where many government dignitaries and foreigners can be found, the list goes on. the pakistan army and government are thought to be complicit in america’s war on the people of pakistan and they have therefore sustained historic numbers of casualties.

on the one hand obama wants to stabilize and engage that region but on the other hand his military strategy will only create more hatred, violence and chaos in south asia. pakistan is already feeling the strain. there are power outages in islamabad and major cities like lahore and karachi, every other hour. food is so expensive that it’s becoming increasingly hard for people not to starve. as the pakistani people are pitted against their own government and army, many see civil war around the corner.

things are so bad right now that the only intelligent thing for us to do is to GET OUT. nothing even remotely good has ever come out of u.s. presence and aggression in that region.

ten things you can do about the war in congo

the war in congo is horrific. for some historical perspective watch “king leopold’s ghost” by pippa scott (on netflix). for the devastating effects of the war on women watch “the greatest silence: rape in the congo” by lisa f. jackson (an HBO doc).

we should educate ourselves about what’s going on in the congo. here is a good way to start.

ten myths about pakistan

hope president obama will talk to some people who know something about pakistan (for real, not just from books by people who spent a weekend there once or flew over pakistan on their way to another country) before deciding to escalate the war in afghanistan.

Ten Myths about Pakistan by Mohammed Hanif (The Times of India, January 4, 2009)

Living in Pakistan and reading about it in the Indian press can sometimes be quite a disorienting experience: one wonders what place on earth they’re talking about? I wouldn’t be surprised if an Indian reader going through Pakistani papers has asked the same question in recent days. Here are some common assumptions about Pakistan and its citizens that I have come across in the Indian media…

Pakistan controls the jihadis: Or Pakistan’s government controls the jihadis. Or Pakistan Army controls the jihadis. Or ISI controls the jihadis. Or some rogue elements from the ISI control the Jihadis. Nobody knows the whole truth but increasingly it’s the tail that wags the dog. We must remember that the ISI-Jihadi alliance was a marriage of convenience, which has broken down irrevocably. Pakistan army has lost more soldiers at the hands of these jihadis than it ever did fighting India.

Musharraf was in control, Zardari is not: Let’s not forget that General Musharraf seized power after he was fired from his job as the army chief by an elected prime minister. Musharraf first appeased jihadis, then bombed them, and then appeased them again. The country he left behind has become a very dangerous place, above all for its own citizens. There is a latent hankering in sections of the Indian middle class for a strongman. Give Manmohan Singh a military uniform, put all the armed forces under his direct command, make his word the law of the land, and he too will go around thumping his chest saying that it’s his destiny to save India from Indians . Zardari will never have the kind of control that Musharraf had. But Pakistanis do not want another Musharraf.

Pakistan, which Pakistan? For a small country, Pakistan is very diverse, not only ethnically but politically as well. General Musharraf’s government bombed Pashtuns in the north for being Islamists and close to the Taliban and at the same time it bombed Balochs in the South for NOT being Islamists and for subscribing to some kind of retro-socialist, anti Taliban ethos. You have probably heard the joke about other countries having armies but Pakistan’s army having a country. Nobody in Pakistan finds it funny.

Pakistan and its loose nukes: Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under a sophisticated command and control system, no more under threat than India or Israel’s nuclear assets are threatened by Hindu or Jewish extremists. For a long time Pakistan’s security establishment’s other strategic asset was jihadi organisations, which in the last couple of years have become its biggest liability.

Pakistan is a failed state: If it is, then Pakistanis have not noticed. Or they have lived in it for such a long time that they have become used to its dysfunctional aspects. Trains are late but they turn up, there are more VJs, DJs, theatre festivals, melas, and fashion models than a failed state can accommodate. To borrow a phrase from President Zardari, there are lots of non-state actors like Abdul Sattar Edhi who provide emergency health services, orphanages and shelters for sick animals.

It is a deeply religious country: Every half-decent election in this country has proved otherwise. Religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote. Last year Pakistan witnessed the largest civil rights movements in the history of this region. It was spontaneous, secular and entirely peaceful. But since people weren’t raising anti-India or anti-America slogans, nobody outside Pakistan took much notice.

All Pakistanis hate India: Three out of four provinces in Pakistan – Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP – have never had any popular anti-India sentiment ever. Punjabis who did impose India as enemy-in-chief on Pakistan are now more interested in selling potatoes to India than destroying it. There is a new breed of al-Qaida inspired jihadis who hate a woman walking on the streets of Karachi as much as they hate a woman driving a car on the streets of Delhi. In fact there is not much that they do not hate: they hate America, Denmark, China CDs, barbers, DVDs , television, even football. Imran Khan recently said that these jihadis will never attack a cricket match but nobody takes him seriously.

Training camps: There are militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan but definitely not in Muzaffarabad or Muridke, two favourite targets for Indian journalists, probably because those are the cities they have ever been allowed to visit. After all how much training do you need if you are going to shoot at random civilians or blow yourself up in a crowded bazaar? So if anyone thinks a few missiles targeted at Muzaffarabad will teach anyone a lesson, they should switch off their TV and try to locate it on the map.

RAW would never do what ISI does: Both the agencies have had a brilliant record of creating mayhem in the neighbouring countries. Both have a dismal record when it comes to protecting their own people. There is a simple reason that ISI is a bigger, more notorious brand name: It was CIA’s franchise during the jihad against the Soviets. And now it’s busy doing jihad against those very jihadis.

Pakistan is poor, India is rich: Pakistanis visiting India till the mid-eighties came back very smug. They told us about India’s slums, and that there was nothing to buy except handicrafts and saris. Then Pakistanis could say with justifiable pride that nobody slept hungry in their country. But now, not only do people sleep hungry in both the countries, they also commit suicide because they see nothing but a lifetime of hunger ahead. A debt-ridden farmer contemplating suicide in Maharashtra and a mother who abandons her children in Karachi because she can’t feed them: this is what we have achieved in our mutual desire to teach each other a lesson.

The writer is the author of ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’

the country was made ours

this article by cenk uygur (the huffington post, jan 21) articulates many of my own feelings. here it is:

The Country Was Made Ours

I know I have emphasized this theme before, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have the Reign of Error over (I don’t know who to credit for that turn of phrase; I saw it on the internet somewhere and thought it’s perfectly appropriate). I love that Obama was inaugurated today. But I have to confess that I think I loved Bush leaving more. That was the world’s greatest helicopter ride out of town.

I was even more relieved when they swore Joe Biden in, knowing that Dick Cheney could not torture one more man, break one more law or invade one more wrong country.

I feel released from the oppression of one more injustice or one more grave error around the corner. What will they do next? What heinous or negligent act lies ahead for us? But, now it’s over. It feels like a burden has been lifted off of me. I feel liberated.

The liberation of America has begun!

The reason for my relief is not my abiding faith that Obama can do no wrong or will make no mistakes. It rides on one single idea – he will do his best. Unlike Bush, he will be diligent, intelligent, responsible and caring. And that makes all the difference.

It’s not that Bush didn’t care about anybody. I’m sure he loves his family and thinks he loves his country. What I mean is that he didn’t care to do the job right. He didn’t take his responsibility seriously. It didn’t keep him up at night. He didn’t diligently think through his actions. He didn’t appreciate the consequences of his decisions. He was careless with our well-being.

Obama might not always do right, but I believe he will at least try with all his might. That is the new faith I have in our president and in our country.

And in that light, let me end on this note. I wasn’t sure the Roosevelts, the Kennedys or the Bushes really represented me. Not that they were all bad presidents, because they surely weren’t (not all of them at least). But because I wasn’t sure they were one of us.

Were they from a different class of people? Were they part of a different group I didn’t have a chance of joining? Did they rule us instead of lead us?

Bill Clinton was genuinely middle-class. He seemed to show that a real American without any connections or privileges could make it to the top. But you always wondered. Was there something we didn’t know about Clinton’s connections to the world of the powerful?

With Obama those doubts have been erased. Obama wasn’t born as anybody. Obama didn’t know anybody. Obama became somebody. It turns out there are no secret elites that exist above us. We are truly a democracy. Any of us can make it.

With this inauguration, this country was made ours. For the first time – as much as I have loved it before – I feel like it is truly our own now. Any one of us can really be the first among equals. The hope that America actually stands for what it proclaims has been realized. That is not to be underestimated. And that is part of why so many people were out in Washington, DC today. Because they came to their inauguration.

America was made real today.

from the ashes of gaza

from the ashes of Gaza, by Tariq Ali, guardian.co.uk, December 30, 2009

In the face of Israel’s latest onslaught, the only option for Palestinian nationalism is to embrace a one-state solution

The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely, as Neve Gordon has rightly observed, to help the incumbent parties triumph in the forthcoming Israeli elections. The dead Palestinians are little more than election fodder in a cynical contest between the right and the far right in Israel. Washington and its EU allies, perfectly aware that Gaza was about to be assaulted, as in the case of Lebanon in 2006, sit back and watch.

Washington, as is its wont, blames the pro-Hamas Palestinians, with Obama and Bush singing from the same AIPAC hymn sheet. The EU politicians, having observed the build-up, the siege, the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza, the targeting of civilians etc (for all the gory detail, see Harvard scholar Sara Roy’s chilling essay in the London Review of Books) were convinced that it was the rocket attacks that had “provoked” Israel but called on both sides to end the violence, with nil effect. The moth-eaten Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt and Nato’s favourite Islamists in Ankara failed to register even a symbolic protest by recalling their ambassadors from Israel. China and Russia did not convene a meeting of the UN security council to discuss the crisis.

As result of official apathy, one outcome of this latest attack will be to inflame Muslim communities throughout the world and swell the ranks of those very organisations that the west claims it is combating in the “war against terror”.

The bloodshed in Gaza raises broader strategic questions for both sides, issues related to recent history. One fact that needs to be recognised is that there is no Palestinian Authority. There never was one. The Oslo Accords were an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians, creating a set of disconnected and shrivelled Palestinian ghettoes under the permanent watch of a brutal enforcer. The PLO, once the repository of Palestinian hope, became little more than a supplicant for EU money.

Western enthusiasm for democracy stops when those opposed to its policies are elected to office. The west and Israel tried everything to secure a Fatah victory: Palestinian voters rebuffed the concerted threats and bribes of the “international community” in a campaign that saw Hamas members and other oppositionists routinely detained or assaulted by the IDF, their posters confiscated or destroyed, US and EU funds channelled into the Fatah campaign, and US congressmen announcing that Hamas should not be allowed to run.

Even the timing of the election was set by the determination to rig the outcome. Scheduled for the summer of 2005, it was delayed till January 2006 to give Abbas time to distribute assets in Gaza – in the words of an Egyptian intelligence officer, “the public will then support the Authority against Hamas.”

Popular desire for a clean broom after ten years of corruption, bullying and bluster under Fatah proved stronger than all of this. Hamas’s electoral triumph was treated as an ominous sign of rising fundamentalism, and a fearsome blow to the prospects of peace with Israel, by rulers and journalists across the Atlantic world. Immediate financial and diplomatic pressures were applied to force Hamas to adopt the same policies as those of the party it had defeated at the polls. Uncompromised by the Palestinian Authority’s combination of greed and dependency, the self-enrichment of its servile spokesmen and policemen, and their acquiescence in a “peace process” that has brought only further expropriation and misery to the population under them, Hamas offered the alternative of a simple example. Without any of the resources of its rival, it set up clinics, schools, hospitals, vocational training and welfare programmes for the poor. Its leaders and cadres lived frugally, within reach of ordinary people.

It is this response to everyday needs that has won Hamas the broad base of its support, not daily recitation of verses from the Koran. How far its conduct in the second Intifada has given it an additional degree of credibility is less clear. Its armed attacks on Israel, like those of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or Islamic Jihad, have been retaliations against an occupation far more deadly than any actions it has ever undertaken. Measured on the scale of IDF killings, Palestinian strikes have been few and far between. The asymmetry was starkly exposed during Hamas’s unilateral ceasefire, begun in June 2003, and maintained throughout the summer, despite the Israeli campaign of raids and mass arrests that followed, in which some 300 Hamas cadres were seized from the West Bank.

On August 19 2003, a self-proclaimed “Hamas” cell from Hebron, disowned and denounced by the official leadership, blew up a bus in west Jerusalem, upon which Israel promptly assassinated the Hamas ceasefire’s negotiator, Ismail Abu Shanab. Hamas, in turn, responded. In return, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states cut funding to its charities and, in September 2003, the EU declared the whole Hamas movement to be a terrorist organization – a longstanding demand of Tel Aviv.

What has actually distinguished Hamas in a hopelessly unequal combat is not dispatch of suicide bombers, to which a range of competing groups resorted, but its superior discipline – demonstrated by its ability to enforce a self-declared ceasefire against Israel over the past year. All civilian deaths are to be condemned, but since Israel is their principal practitioner, Euro-American cant serves only to expose those who utter it. Overwhelmingly, the boot of murder is on the other foot, ruthlessly stamped into Palestine by a modern army equipped with jets, tanks and missiles in the longest-armed oppression of modern history.

“Nobody can reject or condemn the revolt of a people that has been suffering under military occupation for 45 years against occupation force,” said General Shlomo Gazit, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, in 1993. The real grievance of the EU and US against Hamas is that it refused to accept the capitulation of the Oslo Accords, and has rejected every subsequent effort, from Taba to Geneva, to pass off their calamities on the Palestinians. The west’s priority ever since was to break this resistance. Cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority is an obvious weapon with which to bludgeon Hamas into submission. Boosting the presidential powers of Abbas – as publicly picked for his post by Washington, as was Karzai in Kabul – at the expense of the legislative council is another.

No serious efforts were made to negotiate with the elected Palestinian leadership. I doubt if Hamas could have been rapidly suborned to western and Israeli interests, but it would not have been unprecedented. Hamas’ programmatic heritage remains mortgaged to the most fatal weakness of Palestinian nationalism: the belief that the political choices before it are either rejection of the existence of Israel altogether or acceptance of the dismembered remnants of a fifth of the country. From the fantasy maximalism of the first to the pathetic minimalism of the second, the path is all too short, as the history of Fatah has shown.

The test for Hamas is not whether it can be house-trained to the satisfaction of western opinion, but whether it can break with this crippling tradition. Soon after the Hamas election victory in Gaza, I was asked in public by a Palestinian what I would do in their place. “Dissolve the Palestinian Authority” was my response and end the make-believe. To do so would situate the Palestinian national cause on its proper basis, with the demand that the country and its resources be divided equitably, in proportion to two populations that are equal in size – not 80% to one and 20% to the other, a dispossession of such iniquity that no self-respecting people will ever submit to it in the long run. The only acceptable alternative is a single state for Jews and Palestinians alike, in which the exactions of Zionism are repaired. There is no other way.

And Israeli citizens might ponder the following words from Shakespeare (in The Merchant of Venice), which I have slightly altered:

“I am a Palestinian. Hath not a Palestinian eyes? Hath not a Palestinian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that … the villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

harold pinter dies at 78

one of my heroes, harold pinter, died last week on dec 25th. he was a man of uncommon intellect and integrity. he was also, of course, a man who understood the power of words.

in “weasel words” by john lahr (new yorker, dec 19, 2005) lahr talks about pinter’s obsession with the “psychological truth that he continued to explore brilliantly for half a century: mankind’s passion for ignorance. blindness, as pinter has dramatized it over the years, is something internal. the habit of not seeing is for his characters a sort of narrative device, an evasion of self-awareness that allows them to sustain their stories of themselves; the very syntax of their speech carries them ever farther from a real understanding of their emotions”.

profound – and, in this age of linguistic manipulation, so very relevant.

here is democracy now’s tribute to harold pinter.

9 is not 11: (and november isn’t september)

amy goodman interviews arundhati roy on democracy now.

many of the things arundhati says make a lot of sense to me. the idea of expanded terrorism (especially in south asia) is not in spite of but because of the “war on terror”. violence and chaos have spilled into pakistan and india, from an increasingly volatile afghanistan. india’s alignment with america and its aggressive super-power policies with only create a world of hopelessness and therefore more terrorism. terrorism results from the elimination of all prospects for non-violent change, it is a sign that recourse to justice is a sad illusion.

i also agree with her assessment of the situation in pakistan. the 180 degree turn in american policy in the region has taken a toll on pakistan. pakistan is the crucible in which dangerous experiments have been conducted with american and saudi money -indocrinating and recruiting jihadists from all over the world in the 1980s, then hunting down and exterminating those same jihadists in the 2000s. pakistan’s army and its intelligence agency, the isi, have acquired so much power in pakistan that elected governments hold little sway over them. the country is on the verge of civil collapse. do we want to stabilize pakistan by strengthening its elected government and pushing for human development or do we want to go it alone in “capturing and killing” the terrorists? bombing pakistan will only destabilize a country of 170 million people (the world’s 6th largest population). we have already destabilized iraq. afghanistan has ceased to exist as a viable state. do we want to expand this area of lawless, militant anarchy? and do we even care about the human cost?

you can read arundhati roy’s complete essay, “9 is not 11: (and november isn’t september)” here.

arundhati roy

howard zinn on “american empire”

as i screen my film “the muslims i know” on more and more campuses, and engage with students on how to solve the problems of the world, my mantra has become more and more clear-cut. we must aspire to try something new in the face of fear and hostility, use human development to connect with people rather than bomb those we suspect of being different, fall back on our common humanity when in doubt and not give in to indiscriminate violence. that same message is echoed beautifully by the end of this video – “a people’s history of american empire by howard zinn”:

“the pakistan test” by nicholas kristof

here is an excellent article by nicholas kristof, the new york times, november 22, 2008:

Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year will very likely be here in Pakistan. A country with 170 million people and up to 60 nuclear weapons may be collapsing.

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

“There is real fear about the future,” notes Ahmed Rashid, whose excellent new book on Pakistan and Afghanistan is appropriately titled “Descent Into Chaos.”

The United States has squandered more than $10 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, and Pakistani intelligence agencies seem to have rerouted some of that to Taliban extremists. American forces periodically strike militants in the tribal areas, but people from those areas overwhelmingly tell me that these strikes just antagonize tribal leaders and make them more supportive of the Taliban.

One man described seeing Pashtuns in tribal areas throwing rocks in helpless frustration at the American aircraft flying overhead.

President Asif Ali Zardari seems overwhelmed by the challenges and locked in the past. Incredibly, he has just chosen for his new cabinet two men who would fit fine in a Taliban government.

One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.

Then there is Pakistan’s new education minister, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered him arrested for allegedly heading a local council that decided to solve a feud by taking five little girls and marrying them to men in an enemy clan. The girls were between the ages of 2 and 5, according to Samar Minallah, a Pakistani anthropologist who investigated the case (Mr. Bijarani has denied involvement).

While there are no easy solutions for the interlinked catastrophes unfolding in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are several useful steps that we in the West can take to reduce the risk of the region turning into the next Somalia.

First, we should slow the financial flow to Pakistan’s government and military. If the government wants to stop the Talibanization of Pakistan, its greatest need isn’t money but the political will to stop sheltering Taliban leaders in the city of Quetta.

Second, we should cut tariffs on Pakistani agricultural and manufactured products to boost the economy and provide jobs. We should also support China on its planned export-processing zone to create manufacturing jobs in Pakistan.

Third, we should push much harder for a peace deal in Kashmir — including far more pressure on India — because Kashmir grievances empower Pakistani militants.

Fourth, let’s focus on education. One reason the country is such a mess today is that half of all Pakistanis are illiterate.

In the southern Punjab a couple of days ago, I dropped in on a rural elementary school where only one teacher had bothered to show up that day. He was teaching the entire student body under a tree, in part because the school doesn’t have desks for the first three grades.

One happy note: I visited a school run by a California-based aid group, Developments in Literacy, which represents a successful American effort to fight extremism. DIL is financed largely by Pakistani-Americans trying to “give back,” and it runs 150 schools in rural Pakistan, teaching girls in particular.

Tauseef Hyat, the Islamabad-based executive director of DIL, notes that originally the plan was to operate just primary schools, but then a group of 11-year-old girls threatened to go on hunger strike unless DIL helped them continue their education in high school. Ms. Hyat caved, and some of those girls are now studying to become doctors.

Mr. Obama should make his first presidential trip to Pakistan — and stop at a DIL school to remind Pakistan’s army and elites that their greatest enemy isn’t India but illiteracy.

further comments by kristof on the response to his article:

My Sunday column is from Pakistan, which is a mess. A scary mess, particularly in Peshawar and the tribal areas. Some Americans have pinned their hopes on President Zardari and the new army commander, General Kayani, but I don’t see much reason for hope there. As I note in the column, Zardari just chose a cabinet member who believes that burying girls alive is an honorable tradition, and another who believes in seizing little girls and handing them over to enemy clans as a way of resolving feuds. As for General Kayani, don’t forget that he headed the I.S.I. intelligence agency as it was busy protecting and supporting the Taliban.

At a personal level, I found little sign of change when I applied for my visa. The old president, Pervez Musharraf, detested me and at times denied me visas, but usually grudgingly granted them. I figured that the new government, which had always cheered my criticisms of Musharraf, would be no problem. But it took months and months to get one; my visa finally arrived on the very day I was leaving on the trip, and then it was only good for Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad (although nobody seemed to pay attention to that in Pakistan). When I applied to the president’s office by email for an interview with Zardari, the press secretary tried to forward my message to someone named Khalid whom he asked something like: Isn’t this guy Kristof blacklisted? Unfortunately, instead of hitting “forward” on his blackberry, he hit “reply,” so it came right back to me.

The larger challenge is that the Pakistani military still prepares itself for fighting India, when the country’s greatest threat is poverty, illiteracy and extremism in the west. And Pakistani elites are not typically very concerned with ordinary citizens (the former Supreme Court chief, still barred from power, was an important exception, yet the lawyers’ movement never received adequate U.S. support), so the state education system is a disaster.

In the column, I lay out some suggestions for how the U.S. might help, such as cutting tariffs to encourage jobs and manufacturing industries. I also cite Developments in Literacy, a wonderful group trying to educate girls in rural areas, as an example of what we need more of — do check out their website (it’s also an example of Pakistani elites tackling poverty, in a way that we need much more of). And I’ve previously written about the extraordinary work of Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. I’d welcome your thoughts, particularly from Pakistanis, about other steps for the future.

(An Update: Many Indian readers are taking me to task over my suggestion that the U.S. put more pressure on Kashmir. Let me clarify that this is not just to “appease” Pakistan, but because India’s own behavior in Kashmir has often been shameful. Paying more attention to Kashmir and to human rights violations (in both Kashmirs) is not only geopolitically correct, but it’s also the right thing to do. Incidentally, I heard on this trip that Islamabad is now again allowing more Pakistani militants to infiltrate across the border into Indian Kashmir, which, if true, is a disaster that will aggravate Pakistani-Indian tensions and focus attention away from issues like education.)

proud to be american!

november 4th 2008 will go down in history as the day when america reasserted its leadership role in the world, by living up to its promise and showcasing the full force of democracy. a door was opened and we leapt into the future – a future unencumbered by skin color and genealogy and energized by youth and diversity. the differences between what had been and what could be were clear. you just had to look at the crowd that booed mccain’s concession speech and that which was assembled at grant park – we were saying no to racism and small-minded, parochial nationalism by making it irrelevant.

but this is no time to rest on our laurels. harry belafonte said it best on tavis smiley and i quote:

“well, i think of all the people in this country who have earned the right to celebrate, none have earned that right more than the african american community. however, it is not a standalone community, and i think that we have been here before. when slavery was overthrown in the great civil war and we went into the post-civil war period and elected black officials to our congress and our senate, it was not too long after that that we introduced 100 years of apartheid – the cruelest and the most oppressive segregation system known to the world was introduced, and lingered.

we’ve had other occasions when at the end of the second world war, when we all came back with a great sense of hope for america’s future and the fact that we’d defeated fascism and that white supremacy should have no place in the mix of civil society, we went into this period of mccarthyism and emmett till and all the violence and all of the pain and oppression that evoked the need and the hope for a dr king, who came to service.

so i think that although we’ve earned the right to celebrate and we should celebrate, i think we must also understand that we’ve been here before, and now is the time when we are most required to be vigilant and most required to stay the course, because this thing that we have just achieved could be easily taken away from us.

[…] america has always been in a place of great dichotomy. the very inception of this nation, founded by the founding fathers – what a magnificent document they wrote in the creating of the constitution. how ironic that the very same men who wrote that constitution and spoke so passionately about democracy and governance should have been the very same men who were the holders of slaves and who supported the slave tradition.

it was a split in our character, in our personality, in our morality. and all through the years, america’s shown this duplicity, has shown this double standard. i think we’re still the same america with the potential to go wrong very much in our midst. it is up to us to learn from that history and to know that we have another opportunity knocking at our door to turn this country around and to make the world the place the world very much wants to be.”

let’s stay the course this time and live up to our full potential!