Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Opium Problem in Afghanistan

Posted: February 4, 2010 in Politics
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Afghanistan shot into prominence the day after 9/11, not that it wasn’t so before with the Taliban and their rule that made headlines for reasons altogether different. Considered part of the ‘Golden Crescent’ that supplies narcotics to the world, the country has always been in news. A source of revenue to its people has now become the favored resources for the Taliban’s who are running a sophisticated financial network to pay for all their insurgent operations. Millions of dollars are raised from extortions, kidnappings, illicit drug trades and foreign donations from sympathizers across the globe. Futile attempts have been made in the past to cut off this flow and have been unsuccessful so far. They have been very savvy with the way the financial dealing have been diversified and non-traceable sometimes. It continues to produce 90% of the world Opium processed into heroin that gets sent out into Europe and Russia. Afghan Opium kills 100,000 people world over. Most of the farmers depend on this crop for their livelihood and stopping this cultivation will result in an economic catastrophe since the economic downturn after 2001 found more people automatically moving towards Opium production. It is estimated that 52% of the nation’s GDP, amounting to $2.7 billion annually, is generated by the drug trade. There are no alternative development programs that could supplement income for the people as there is extreme poverty and discontentment in several indigent areas in the country. In addition there is also a large population addicted to the drug who would like to see it continue.

The Taliban’s and their financial worth are estimated to be in the millions per year. Their illicit drug trade is supposedly in the range from 70-400 million a year according to the US officials. The Middle East is a continuous source of foreign aid. The NATO officials are equally confounded and unable to stem this flow. With all this in mind the Obama administration is in a fix as to how to deal with this problem. What started off as an anti-terrorism squad and an ‘eliminate Osama-Bin-Laden and the Al Qeada’ venture has veered into unknown territories. The administration is dithering over wanting to send more troops, another 40,000 to combat the insurgency. Trying to suppress Opium production might not be the answer to the problem either since it is easy for the local people to train insurgents cheaply or people might start looking for alternate ways to sustain their living and might inadvertently get pushed into becoming insurgents for the financial gains.

The insurgents stand to gain at every step of the Opium production. Right from the start where they extort ‘protection money’ from the farmers to the processing units, the operators, smugglers, transporters are all part of the nexus that may be forced to add to the coffers of the Taliban. Several of the insurgents also work in the fields to supplement their income. Drug traffickers at the border between Pakistan are also paid hefty chunks.

A UN report that was issued in August claims that some of the Opium trafficking guerrillas had secretly stockpiled more than 10,000 tons of illegal opium worth billions of dollars and maybe enough to satisfy two years of world demand. These stockpiles are enough to last them in the long run and will boost their efforts in obtaining funding for expanding their activity.

If the US were to try to stem the financial flow from foreign lands they would need an elaborate counter-network of intelligence to figure out where and how the cash is flowing in. Richard Holbrooke the special representative of the Obama administration for Afghanistan and Pakistan has re-iterated that Opium is not the only source of revenue for the Taliban’s. It is said from unnamed sources that the Taliban’s have received close to 106 million dollars from outside donors. So essentially stemming Opium trade is not a conclusive solution until the foreign aid to the insurgents is cut off. There are several suspects in the foreign aid sector including Pakistan but has been vehemently denied.

Most of the donors world-wide have become very savvy in the way the donations are made and hiding their tracks well. Sanctions alone haven’t worked very well either.

Another major source of financing for the Taliban is criminal activity such as kidnappings and protection payments from legitimate businesses that might want to operate on Taliban territory. The problems are larger than what is envisioned by the world and not a typical counter-insurgency program that can be mounted with success.

The US has created two new entities that might disrupt the drug trafficking and financing. The Afghan Threat Finance Cell located in Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. The second group, the Illicit Finance Task Force based in Washington that aims to identify and disrupt financial networks that support all nefarious activities in that part of the world.

With all this going on and the Hamid Karzai election run off in the waiting, the ‘pot’ has been stirred and the noxious fumes emitting is sure to hang around for a long time to come. Another case of ‘can’t swallow it and can’t spit it out’ for the US. Tie in Pakistan to this equation and we have a potpourri of political instability in that part of the world, a disaster waiting to happen.


Afghan Rape Law?

Posted: December 22, 2009 in Politics

There was a hue and cry this week world-wide over a bill that was recently passed in the Afghan parliament. The intention of this bill was to give the Shia community which is a minority certain powers. But the disclosures leaked out and the whole world arose to the news that the Bill also included a rather dehumanizing and demeaning law against the rights of women. The bill would give powers to a husband to rape his wife even if she said “no” and the law also commands she has to have sex with her husband once in four days. Basically the law would be promoting ‘marital rape.’

Sounds barbaric. In the 21st century we are hearing such despicable and mindless drafting of laws leaving me astounded just as it did the rest of the world. Did Hamid Karzai even sign such an atrocious bill? It is beyond anybody’s comprehension and a matter that needs to be delved into. The Bill would also strip Shia women of their simple rights of leaving the house without permission from a male relative. In countries where there is extreme fanaticism and religious intolerance of basic human rights it is usually the women and children who are the first victims.

Karzai in an interview defended the Bill saying that it was grossly mis-interpreted by Western journalists and that he would never be party to any such laws. He said he would review the law with the Muslim clerics and put forth a new one though it sounds very tricky considering the delicate political setup in Kabul. Amnesty International have expressed their concerns about women’s rights getting severely undermined and whatever little progress was made after the Taliban could be lost soon. The Shia community is a minority (10 to 15%) in the predominantly Sunni country and they have been practicing their form of Islam for centuries in Afghanisthan and believe that they need to have a governing Islamic law for Shias alone that is recognized by the central government. This new Bill would be appeasing them in toto.

 Obama in his speech during his European tour (NATO Summit in France) made it very clear that he would not collaborate on any such laws that would affect the human rights of people of that country. He re-iterated that he would initiate dialogues and make sure that the basic precincts of human rights were upheld in the country in which the US has invested heavily militarily. Recently Vice President Biden in an interview also assured that he would make sure that the US policies with Afghanistan would ensure basic human rights as a necessity while dealing with peace and bilateral agreements in the region. The Italian government is considering removal of troops from the area as protest. The Canadian government has also expressed their abhorrence to the law which was secretly passed.

 Before we go onto ripping Muslims or their religion and culture we should be aware that in countries where politics is so closely linked to religion it is very hard for Western countries to exert or dictate or demand changes even if the world perceives it as a case of human rights. If we were to study the issues that hound the Muslim world the fundamental question arises as to how can we delink religion and politics and bring about a semblance of order. It is easy to get on a high horse and put down another country; before anyone does we ought to remember that in the U S every 2 minutes a woman is raped so we cannot really sit in moral judgment without correcting our own problems. If this can happen in a developed country with all kinds of protective laws in place it is not surprising that it is happening in a less developed country were laws of the land are dictated by religious heads who want to uphold their religion at whatever costs even if it means subjugation of women and trampling their rights, which to them is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things and the lowest requirement in their ‘worry ladder’ compared to survival. But nowhere in the Quran does it say ‘disrespect women and treat them as a commodity.’

For that matter in several parts of Africa ‘genital mutilation’ of women is still a practice which originated 2000 years ago as a cultural practice and the world has largely maintained a silence albeit some social organizations and human rights council raising objections. It all boils down to ‘moral issues’ what the West perceives as archaic and un-acceptable (rightly so) and the Middle Eastern/African countries and their interpretation of their own religion.  America went through history before slavery was abolished here so they have had their own issues too.

 Basically it is a conflict between religious laws and fundamental human-rights. Without going over the deep end or throwing abuses at any religion we should be aware that over time religion and its interpretations were always left to the priests who handed them down to the public as the law and Muslim laws revolved around their interpretation of the Quran by Mullahs. Several of these laws have been handed down over the generations’ not through rational thinking or determined by people who thought through these with a moralistic approach to promote or develop a society. It has always been a case of endorsement of what the wise men say to bring about their own establishment of superiority, dictums, and their understanding of the Holy Scriptures and to bring some kind of order in their own perceived terms in society.

 To put it in perspective, what in our perspective might appear barbaric and trampling the human rights might not even surface in their thinking since it so closely bound to religion. Just like with the hardcore Taliban it is hard to make them realize that what they are doing is not accepted the world over as normal code of ethics or standard of living.

 No country can walk into another country and force their opinions on them or try to change their fundamentalist religious ideologies. Having said, that no country in the world should sit around ignoring basic human rights violation and macabre rituals that might be passed on in the name of religion or ethnic cleansing in another country. The ‘killing fields of Cambodia’, the genocide could have been stopped earlier by the world. Idi Amin could have been made to alter his views earlier than the worst happened and so on and so forth. The world definitely needs to raise their voice when this is perceived, instead of waiting for the worst to happen and then hauling the chiefs to the International War tribunal to get punished for war crimes and such but can be done by peaceful negotiations and world opinions being discussed before any military options are taken.

 The point I am trying to make here is the world can come together and initiate dialogues with a nation to bring everyone on the same page regarding acceptance of what is perceived as human-rights violation. Nothing can be forced on anybody just as much as ‘raping your wife’ cannot be a law. For countries to realize that this form of religious overtones to political ruling of their own land will be subjected to strict international scrutiny if not anything else. Sanctions and economic help are usually the first form of retractions of world-wide support. So at this point the US and other allies should convince the world that they will not stand as innocent bystanders and see human-rights violation being carried out in the countries they are allies with. Specially when they have a bigger stake in that country in terms of bilateral relationship which might be akin to courting the worst and providing assistance, no matter what goes on there, in return for favors from that country when they are planning to initiate dialogues or negotiate deals with groups such as the Taliban, just as Pakistan is trying to do in the Swat valley to bring peace. But peace at what cost must be the primary question?