New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 October 2015
• Forget Benghazi, What About Libya?
By DAVID TAFURI
• Jerusalemites need to be empowered not collectively punished
By Daoud Kuttab
• Iran’s corruption and human rights overlooked
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
• Kunduz did not happen overnight
By Helena Malikyar
Forget Benghazi, What About Libya?
By DAVID TAFURI
OCT. 23, 2015
Inside the Beltway, Libya is the name of a scandal, not a country. But right now, Libya the country has a chance to right its course in its difficult transition to democracy. United Nations talks among the warring factions have come close to yielding a new unified government. For this achievement to produce meaningful results, Libya will need help from the international community, including the United States. But is anyone in Washington paying attention?
There is the House Select Committee on Benghazi, of course. But Thursday’s spectacle, in which former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified, focused on events that occurred three years ago. None of our leaders in Congress or in the administration seem to acknowledge the need to help Libya right now. And as the leading Democratic presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton isn’t providing much guidance either, despite her commitment in the past. Instead she’s fending off partisan attacks from her Republican antagonists.
Libya is of crucial strategic importance to the United States. Geographically, it is a gateway to and from Africa. The Islamic State is beginning to establish a foothold there, and if it gets hold of the country’s enormous oil wealth, the results will be disastrous. Libya can either be a helpful, stable ally to the United States or a failed state, awash with displaced persons and a base of operations for terrorists.
As the Washington lawyer and adviser for the Libyan opposition during its struggle against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, I worked with Christopher Stevens, then the United States envoy to the Libyan opposition. Chris was a tireless advocate for supporting Libya. After the fall of Colonel Qaddafi, he was rewarded for his commitment and named the United States ambassador to Libya.
The last time I met with Chris was in the embassy in Tripoli in July 2012, just a couple of months before he was killed. He spoke about how fragile the transition was in Libya and how much he worried about the growing unrest in Benghazi. He knew the risks involved in traveling there, but went because he felt he needed to remain engaged.
The loss of Chris Stevens was a double blow to United States policy. First, he was the most knowledgeable United States official on what was happening. Second, in the aftermath of the attack that took his life, Libya became radioactive in Washington circles. Nobody wanted to touch it. When I visited the embassy in Tripoli shortly after Chris’s death, the embassy staff had shrunk to single digits, guarded by 150 Marines. It was a fortress, not a facility for engagement.
United States policy never recovered. Though Mrs. Clinton must continue to defend herself against the select committee’s charges, she could and should pivot to a discussion of policies on Libya that will better protect American interests in the future.
Mrs. Clinton has much to be proud of. As she pointed out in the CNN debate, she was one of the chief architects of the NATO intervention that saved tens of thousands of lives and freed Libya from the grips of Colonel Qaddafi’s brutal 42-year dictatorship. That would have been a signature foreign policy achievement for Mrs. Clinton and President Obama had the United States not disengaged in Libya. Mr. Obama conceded this in his recent speech to the United Nations: “Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.”
But Libya is not a lost cause. The United Nations talks are close to an agreement with the various factions. A majority of Libyans still yearn for stability and democracy, as a recent poll shows. Yet Libya needs outside help to institute the reforms necessary to make a new government a success. Most important, the United States must coordinate assistance from the international community and ensure that regional players in the Middle East are not supporting militias and other forces that destabilize the country.
The United States can also strengthen the capacity of the government by providing training programs and advisers for key ministries, especially those that need to rebuild the economy and restore legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Along with NATO, the United States should help train and equip Libyan security forces to keep the peace and stave off the growing presence of the Islamic State. A failure by the United States to lead now could mean that Libya moves closer to a failed state and becomes the home that the Islamic State is looking for in Africa.
Do not expect the investigations and recriminations over what happened in Benghazi to end soon. But isn’t it fair to ask our politicians, so driven to find the truth about Benghazi, to dedicate some of their attention to developing a strategy for the United States to help Libya get back on course?
David Tafuri is a partner at Dentons, a law firm, and a former State Department official. He was legal counsel to the Libyan opposition and then Libyan government from 2011 to 2014.
Iran’s corruption and human rights overlooked
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
23 October 2015
While Iran’s nuclear deal continues to hold the spotlight, two other critical issues demand much more attention than they are receiving. Despite President Hassan Rowhani’s pledges to the contrary, corruption and human rights continue to pose a huge challenge.
According to Transparency International, Iran ranks 136 out of 175 countries. The scale of corruption has not changed significantly when comparing Rowhani’s presidency with that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A considerable part of the economy and financial systems are owned and controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Since they enjoy the final say in decision-making, Rowhani and his cabinet do not have the power to tackle corruption.
However, often figures across the political spectrum, including members of the president’s office, engage in corruption for their political and financial benefit. Corruption in Iran is ingrained in the political and financial institutions that are the country’s backbone.
Embezzlement and money-laundering within the banking system are prime examples of corruption. In addition, corruption takes place by granting loans, financial benefits and fellowships to relatives of senior officials or those who show their loyalty.
From time to time, the judiciary might bring a political or business figure to court on charges of corruption. Most recently, billionaire Babak Zanjani has been put on trial, accused of embezzling $2.7 billion from the government-owned petroleum company.
The rare occasions when cases are brought to court are not part of a concerted effort to fight corruption. Instead, they appear to be a facade put on to alleviate people’s frustration over the economic difficulties they face, which are exacerbated by corruption.
Normally such cases are closed, or the sentences are kept secret after months of trial with no legal explanation. These cases can also be due to political disagreement between factions of the system and the defendant, thereby used as a tool to warn or punish.
If the government really wanted to fight corruption, the first step would be to properly enforce article 142 of the constitution, which states: “The assets of the Leader, the President, the deputies to the President, and ministers, as well as those of their spouses and offspring, are to be examined before and after their term of office by the head of the judicial power, in order to ensure they have not increased in a fashion contrary to law.”
The government claims to be working to improve Iran’s human rights records, but many have observed that Rowhani’s promises have not even begun to be fulfilled.
His office appears to have chosen not to challenge the three major institutions that set the boundaries for human rights, civil liberties and social justice: the IRGC, Iran’s intelligence (Etela’at) and the judiciary.
The judiciary recently executed a juvenile convicted for the death of her husband. According to a recent release by the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed: “These executions are disturbing examples of surging execution rates and questionable fair trial standards.” Iran “must comply with its international law obligations and put an end to the execution of juvenile offenders once and for all.”
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. He can be contacted at: Dr.Rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu, or on Twitter: @MajidRafizadeh
Jerusalemites need to be empowered not collectively punished
23 October 2015
Israel’s continued punishment for the people of Jerusalem will do little to de-escalate the tensions, but will certainly contribute to widening them. Isolating neighborhoods and demolishing Palestinian homes is considered a collective punishment and a violation to the IV Geneva Conventions.
What Israel needs to do immediately is to empower Palestinians in East Jerusalem by allowing local leadership to rise.
Israel has full control over East Jerusalem (unlike the rest of the occupied territories) and has created a wall separating to further isolate the city from its natural Palestinian cities and leadership.
The Israeli obsession to weaken the national aspiration of Jerusalemites by cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine has meant that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has no leverage on fellow Palestinians.
Palestinian institutions like the Orient House and the Chamber of Commerce have been ordered closed by the emergency regulations despite opposition of the international community.
Today, Jerusalem’s 350,000 Palestinian Arabs are political orphans and totally leaderless. Israel physically separated the Palestinians of East Jerusalem from their natural connections to their brothers and sisters in outlaying areas, in Ramallah and Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Political leaderships have been regularly imprisoned and any connection to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has been outlawed. This has reached such ridiculous levels that included Israeli decisions to ban a children's puppet festival or the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City simply because it received funding from or through the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
The Palestinians of Jerusalem are totally stateless. Unlike the rest of Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are prevented from holding a Palestinian passport. Most carry a Jordanian passport without having Jordanian citizenship.
Some Palestinians in Jerusalem have opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, an option available to them after Israel's unilateral annexation of the city in 1967. Instead of understanding this move as a desperate one aimed at anchoring Palestinians in Jerusalem, Israelis have argued that this is proof that Jerusalemites prefer Israel over Palestine.
The few Palestinians holding any sort of symbolic leadership position, such as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or religious leaders are regularly hauled to the Israeli police station for questions, short-term arrests and are sometimes forbidden to enter Islam's third holiest mosque, Al Aqsa Mosque. Four Jerusalemites elected to the Palestinian legislature are fighting for their right to stay living in Jerusalem.
As a result of this systematic Israeli effort to deny Palestinians any form of recognized local leadership, various forms of alternative, often unknown, groups have sprouted to fill the vacuum left because of the absence of genuine leaders, often along tribal or family structures.
At times, thugs and hooligans reign in certain areas earned often by these gangs through physical turf wars in which switchblades and sheer physicality decide who wins.
The attacks on Al Aqsa have also encouraged newly unrecognized leaders of sorts. The Tahrir Party is now one of the strongest in terms of sheer presence in the mosque. Another group that has drawn the attention and anger of the Israelis is the Islamic movement from the north of Israel, which is headed by Sheikh Raed Salah. He is often imprisoned or denied for months entry or even proximity to the Old City of Jerusalem.
While Israel regularly denies it, these Judaization attempts are synchronized by the Israeli government, police, courts, Jewish settlers, radical groups and Knesset members, with each group doing its part.
Israel and its supporters (sometimes using U.S. tax exempt foundations) use the carrot and the stick to takeover Palestinian people's houses through suspicious deals, turning the lives of those who refuse to sell are made hell while vigilante settlers and their supporters are constantly protected.
Housing permits are routinely denied because they are not part of a zoning plan. Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods have purposely not been planned, leaving the local communities to build illegally and then to suffer regular house demolitions for violating city laws. At the same time Israel builds settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of international law.
Meanwhile, a nine-storey building, built illegally (by Israeli law) in Silwan continues to house rowdy Jewish settlers without any attempt to execute equal justice.
The Israeli high court denied in 1978 a Palestinian, Mohammad Burqan, the right to repurchase his own house in the Moghrabi quarter, adjacent to the Jewish quarter, because the now expanded Jewish quarter has "special historical significance" to Jews, and this "supersedes all other claims by non-Jews".
Of course, Jews now live in all quarters of the Old City and in all Palestinian neighborhoods outside the walls. And it was exactly in one of those homes that Ariel Sharon had bought in the Al Wad neighborhood just outside al Aqsa mosque that the initial stabbing took place on September 13th.
The violence that is taking place today in Jerusalem is one result of the Israeli policy of denying Palestinians their rights and refusing to include Jerusalem in serious talks. Israel's policy of creating facts on the ground and quietly changing the status quo of Al Aqsa Mosque will not work because when pushed, people have their own ways of survival. The answer to the Jerusalem question is political and doesn’t need any more counterproductive security solutions or collective punishments.
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.
Kunduz did not happen overnight
23 Oct 2015
Drapsaka was the site from which Alexander the Great launched his military campaign into Central Asia in 329 BC. By the 16th century, the Hellenistic garrison came to be known as Kuhandijh, the Ancient Citadel. Today, Kunduz encapsulates all that has gone wrong in Washington's Afghanistan war.
The world acted surprised when the Taliban stormed Kunduz city on September 27. So did the Afghan government. Even the Taliban's sponsors, Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISI), did not expect such an easy success.
The insurgents, however, did not appear at the gates of Kunduz city at once. For at least nine years - and under the watch of US and international security forces - they infiltrated the province village-by-village and district-by-district.
Still, it was not their might or strategic prowess that made Kunduz an easy victory. Rather, it was a complex and sustained set of faux pas made by the Afghan government and the US-led international forces that facilitated the event.
Whatever the causes, in the aftermath, harsh accusations of ethnic games are circulating. In reality, Kunduz and other northern provinces have fallen victim to Kabul politicians' need to raise their leverage, and local strongmen's lust for greater influence.
For a while now, the ethnic card has been played cunningly by the ISI and foolishly by Afghan statesmen and politicians.
The stage for this game was set in the mid-1980s when the Pakistani government became the conduit for distributing US aid to the Afghan mujahideen. Pakistan had presented a simplified and neatly compartmentalised ethnic landscape of the Afghan resistance groups to their US benefactors. In this picture, the Pashtuns and the Tajiks were set in an historic and perpetual opposition.
Ethnic rivalries and grievances did exist in prewar Afghanistan, as in many multiethnic developing nations. But the 1960s and 1970s had set the course for a more egalitarian state, where the concept of national unity began to solidify.
The Islamist political parties that later morphed into jihadist organisations were formed in the 1960s as national outfits drawing membership from all ethnic groups and modelled after the pan-Islamic ideology of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Among them, Jamiat-e-Islami, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Hizb-e-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, received the bulk of US funds and developed the largest networks in Afghanistan.
During the resistance, and especially after their victory in 1992, ideological struggle gave way to a raw fight for supremacy and control of resources. By then, mujahideen leaders and commanders had mastered the skills of playing the ethnic game to mobilise their constituencies.
In Kunduz, like in most other parts of the country, power shifted from the traditional elite to foreign-funded commanders who led armed militias. But, the new elite's warrior mentality and lack of governance knowledge made control of resources and expansion of influence their only goals.
Kunduz is one of the truly multiethnic Afghan provinces, with the Pashtuns constituting the largest group, followed by Uzbeks, the Tajiks and the Hazara, as well as smaller numbers of other ethnicities.
Prior to the Soviet war, a number of Pashtun landowners were at the top of the province's power structure. Kunduz prospered through pioneering efforts in agro-industry, and influential families of other ethnic groups also benefited from its prosperity.
The mujahideen victory in the 90s struck the first chord of factionalism in Kunduz. The local commanders of Jamiat and Hizb and other jihadist groups were now vying for control of the province's districts.
This was an extension of the infighting over the "throne of Kabul" mainly between Hekmatyar and Rabbani. The latter's mostly Tajik commanders finally achieved a slight edge before they were routed by Taliban forces in 1997. With Jamiat dislodged, Hizb commanders either integrated into the Taliban forces or remained neutral.
Many local commanders returned to prominence after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. While some Hizb members received official appointments, greater security posts were given to Jamiat commanders.
The Jamiat commanders and sub-commanders felt entitled to claim the lion's share of power as they served as ground forces during the 2001 US military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Pashtuns of the province felt sidelined and saw it as Tajik powerbrokers' revenge for the atrocities that the Taliban had committed when they had conquered Kunduz.
Land became another point of contention. As the refugees returned from exile, they found their properties confiscated by commanders and their cronies. The Pashtuns particularly were left without recourse, while others were accommodated or absorbed in the power elite's patronage system.
Several former Taliban sub-commanders who were no longer a part of the insurgent group tried to secure the support of international players (particularly the German military that was in Kunduz as the Provincial Reconstruction Team) on land ownership issues and on acquiring contracts for development projects. They were refused in favour of the militia commanders.
With the resurgence of the Taliban, which arguably was aided by some disgruntled locals, in 2009 the US and the Afghan government launched programmes to create local militia forces as an auxiliary to the developing Afghan National Security Forces.
This supplied a perfect occasion for many political players in Kabul to fortify their influence in the provinces. The programme essentially legalised existing militiamen whose loyalties were with their local commanders.
While a more discrete militia programme had been running by the National Directorate of Security, the intelligence service, the Ministry of Interior launched the US funded Afghan Local Police (ALP) programme.
The bulk of the initial 1,125 ALP positions for Kunduz went to pro-Jamiat commanders and a handful of others who were little more than thugs and allegedly involved in narcotics and arms trade.
Several national and international organisations have documented a summary of killings, tortures, beatings, looting, kidnapping and even sexual violations committed by the militias, especially those in northern provinces.
Prior to the attack, the new governor, handpicked by President Ashraf Ghani to implement his reforms, had faced fierce opposition from militia commanders. Having failed to deliver on the reform program since his appointment last December, the governor insisted on disbanding mercenary forces.
Ironically, the ALP and other militia forces were among the first units that fled Kunduz city when the Taliban attacks began last month.
Some non-Pashtun politicians now claim that as part of a top-secret programme, the National Security Council, the president's advisory body, has armed Pashtun commanders in northern provinces to check both the Jamiat's and the Taliban's influence in the region.
If there is any truth to this allegation, Kunduz demonstrated that the NSA had overestimated its skills in Machiavellian games. Moreover, Ghani's vision and strategies for improving subnational governance would have a better chance of success sans the kind of Byzantine politics that became the hallmark of Hamed Karzai's administration.
Spinning the domination games of Kabul politicians or Rawalpindi generals as ethnic tensions will not benefit Afghanistan nor its international partners. At the grassroots level, Afghans don't buy into it. Kunduz is no longer Drapsaka and Afghanistan must never again serve as a springboard for domestic or foreign greed.
Helena Malikyar is an Afghan political analyst and historian.