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The acceleration of the war in Afghanistan by the new administration is well publicised, representing a greater surge in the war against terrorism, with the use of unmanned drones playing an increasing role. What is slightly less known is the use of these technologies in neighbouring Pakistan.

The first Predator was rushed to Afghanistan just four days after September 11th 2001 as part of the U.S.’s remarkably rapid mobilisation. Since then unmanned aircraft have become integral to U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now increasingly, in Pakistan. Military claims of greater accuracy and technological superiority, together with likely benefits in reducing military casualties, have resulted in drones gradually replacing F-16’s over the battlefield.

The Air Force is currently spending $3 billion a year in procurement and operation of the aircraft, and now holds more than 7000 units in its arsenal.[1] The most commonly used drones are the Predator and the Reaper; both equipped with hellfire missiles and manufactured by General Atomics.[2] Operated from ground bases in either Afghanistan or the United States, pilots have access to multiple computer screens displaying live video feeds, high definition cameras and various other logistical intelligence. These capabilities, according to military analysts, allow pilots to be a lot more accurate in their strikes and reduce civilian casualties.  This claim may possibly explain why the Obama administration has carried out more attacks with the technology in its first ten months than the previous administration did in its last three years.

Since the first U.S. invasion force landed in Afghanistan in late 2001, insurgent forces have sought shelter in the bordering state of Pakistan, particularly in the inaccessible regions of North Waziristan.[3] The issue of preventing raids and attacks from outside the field of war has understandably been a difficult one for coalition forces. Without a remit for war against the Pakistani state, justifying ground force troop deployment has been impossible. Instead, the United States has been forced to use its relations with the government to ensure that the Pakistani military exerts pressure against Al-Qaeda strongholds. This method has had at best, mixed success.

The U.S. therefore simultaneously launched its own covert offensive against Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan using drones. The avoidance of ground troops in this programme enables greater detachment from issues of legality, as well as allowing the United States to fluidly adjust the pace of its campaign. Success on this new front has been praised by news outlets for killing scores of militants over the last few months, including 12 in a single attack recently on what was once a religious school. The total estimated death toll runs as high as 700 for this campaign in Pakistan, with many questioning the proportion of these which are connected to Al-Qaeda.

Whilst the government in Pakistan has been co-operating to a certain degree with the United States, the reactions of its citizens has made the relationship difficult. As attacks under the Obama administration have increased, the Pakistani government has increased its demands, both public and private, to the Americans. A surge in attacks at the start of this year lead to public Pakistani pressure for its own drone force to defend against militant incursions.[4] [5] Privately, certain analysts argue that the U.S. has been able to maintain its campaign by adding to its list of suspects, enemies of the Pakistani government.[6]

The inability to confirm such assertions is maintained by the fact that the Pakistan drone offensive is not directed by the U.S. Air Force, but instead by the C.I.A. . As such, the list of suspect targets is confidential, together with the terms of what constitutes a militant target. As the government has also justified its use of force in this region as the only direct method of tackling the militancy, some might also ask where they are gaining the intelligence on which to base their attacks, if not from ground sources.

The attacks are justified under the legal framework of the Bush Administration, which sidestepped the U.S. ban on assassinations. Instead, terrorism was re-classified from a crime, to an extension of war, enabling forces to retaliate to attacks anywhere as a new front in their war on terror.

The C.I.A.’s lack of experience in direct military offensives, together with the ease with which these new aircraft can be piloted, has led to significant outsourcing within their campaign. Some of the practical operations have been assumed by civilian contractors, raising significant questions of legality in the assassinations of foreign nationals.

The drone war in Pakistan certainly represents a novel development in the field of warfare, it remains to be seen whether the costs of subduing suspected militancy outweigh the ‘complications’ of civilian casualties.

Chris Bowles


[1] Drone pilots have a front-row seat on war, from half a world away

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-drone-crews21-2010feb21,0,5789185,full.story

[2] U.S. drone crashes over Pakistan

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/01/us-drone-goes-down-over-pakistan-again/

[3] U.S. Unleashes Unprecedented Number of Drone Attacks in Pakistan

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,293,583001,00.html

[4] Zardari asks US to transfer drone technology to Pakistan

http://news.rediff.com/report/2010/jan/08/zardari-asks-us-to-give-drones-to-pak-forces.htm

[5] U.S. to supply Pakistan 12 drones

http://www.thehindu.com/2010/01/23/stories/2010012359791000.htm

[6] Jane Mayer on Predator Drones and Pakistan

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2009/10/jane-mayer-predators-drones-pakistan.html

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The Dalai Lama this week expressed concern that there was little likelihood of improvement for the Tibetan cause, despite relaxing his demands in recent years. Facing huge crowds in Dharamsala on 10th March after a series of protests and demonstrations, he gave his annual commemoration speech, marking the 51st anniversary since the failed Tibetan revolt. The date is also the 2nd anniversary of the 2008 riots in which dozens were killed by Chinese security, in the largest scale protests against the regime in 50 years.

The Tibetan spiritual leader reiterated his position that he does not intend to assume a political role if his country achieves autonomy or independence, the same being said for the government in exile. [1]

Despite links and meetings with numerous foreign political figures, most notable recently both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, sufficient diplomatic and popular pressure has yet to develop. He decried the security situation in the country which he claims treats Tibetans as second class citizens and is trying to annihilate Buddhism:

“They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism.” [2]

China continues to denounce the Dalai Lama’s position as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, prohibiting his adoration and labeling him as merely a “political monk”. They contend that the existence of a constitution for the Tibetan “government-in-exile” undermines the movement’s claims that it is not seeking independence. Officials describe the Tibetan region as “an inalienable part of China” which has benefitted both socially and economically from its integration over the last 50 years.[3]

China first invaded Tibet in 1950 and, following a failed uprising in March 1959, the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans fled into exile in India. During the years of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, there followed a characteristic policy of assimilation and “patriotic re-education”.[4] The Tibetan language, culture and history were replaced in both education, and official society, by those of China. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were also encouraged to settle throughout the plateau, resulting in ethnic majorities in certain regions, most notably Lhasa.[5] The latter policy inevitably assisted in the operation of the former, as China has been surprisingly successful in permeating its “history” of shared culture and unity.

Tibetans’ dogged loyalty to their own past has led to fierce repression over the last 50 years in which an estimated 90% of their cultural heritage has been destroyed. Following the 2008 protests, in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics, the security situation has been further tightened.

Apart from exceptions for visits of foreign journalists, military patrols are a regular feature of Lhasa’s streets.[6] Tibetan visitors to the capital are also required to provide three pieces of documentary evidence to avoid detention. These include: their identity card, a temporary residence permit and a letter of introduction allowing them to be in Lhasa.[7] Ethnic Han Chinese are not stopped for these checks.

China argues that it introduced democratic reforms in 1959 which have brought great social and economic progress for ordinary Tibetans, and that current security in the region is merely intended to ensure peace. [8]

China has invested some 154 billion yuan ($21 billion) in the territory over the last decade on infrastructure and various other development projects. They appreciate that the large-scale nature of many of their previous initiatives has done little to win over the minds of ordinary Tibetans. In recent years they have therefore changed their approach, focusing on local communities and encouraging tourism and small-scale industry. Although many remain skeptical, the process appears to be bearing fruit, as posters of Mao Zedong and President Hu Jintao have begun to appear on walls.[9]

Amongst the exile community, an awareness of the superiority of China has affected both official policy and individual interpretations. The Dalai Lama has switched his stance from full independence to greater rights and autonomy for Tibetans within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Exiles, who tend to follow the path of their spiritual leader, concede the advantages of a harmonious relationship with their neighbor.

This shift in demands following the defeats of 2008 may mark an end of hope for the Tibetan cause. Relations will probably normalise over time, but with Tibetan culture likely further subsumed within that of China. The examples from the UK in this regard are particularly poignant.

The successful conquest of the neighbouring states of England saw Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland all become integral parts of a greater Kingdom. Local culture and language was repressed and often prohibited, mass migrations were encouraged to dilute indigenous populations and the histories of the regions were suitably altered. Although Ireland eventually broke away, the others have remained, as they understand the impracticality of attempting to stand in the world without their richer neighbour. Relations are now normalised and, having made sacrifices to become anglicised, the possibilities of separation seem remote. [10] [11] [12] [13]

The history of the “United Kingdom” bears an interesting template perhaps for the future of Tibet as a state.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/himachalpradesh/Dalai-Lama-says-he-will-not-take-political-position-in-Tibet/Article1-517342.aspx

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[3] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[5] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[6] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7056345.ece

[8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[9] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[10] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3972485.ece

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_nationalism

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language

[13] http://www.theclearances.org/clearances/main.php

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Last week the Indian government secured Cabinet approval for a new agreement which aims at promoting greater privatisation of agricultural services and increased collaboration between American agribusiness and the Indian farm sector.[1]

The agreement comes as one of a package of six pacts signed between the two countries as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).  Most publicised for its focus on counter-terrorism, the MoU also covers issues as diverse as education, health, green development and in this instance, agriculture. Viewed as representative of stronger links between the two nations, Obama has described their growing relationship as, “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”[2] Indeed P.M. Manmohan Singh’s reception in Washington as the first foreign leader hosted as the State Guest by the 10 month old administration acknowledged his country’s heightened significance.

The proposed Indo-U.S. pact on agriculture is intended to widen the opportunities for private investment in the farm-sector and reciprocal trade. The agreement includes a bilateral policy dialogue and agribusiness-to-business collaboration between the two countries. Practically, this will involve assistance in weather forecasting in order to improve crop management and marketing, and food security co-operation. This latter focus will be increasing the quality and quantity of “diversified and fortified foods”. Greater co-operation in technological and expertise exchange through private enterprise and international agribusiness partnerships should allow for modernisation and efficiency benefits in the farm sector. The nature of this technological exchange will be in the form of the commercialised extension of genetically modified foodstuffs.[3]

There have already been those who have raised their concern at these developments.  Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign has argued that although farmers would benefit from enhanced weather prediction models, the MoU will also give the U.S. access to the great genetic diversity ofcrop plants for commercialization in their interests. “The opening of food security policy dialogue is also a matter of concern as it will impose on India the U.S. model of agribusinesses and vertical integration of food chain, impacting diversity and consolidating monopolies,”[4]

These fears appear to be borne out by the one-sided appearance of the agreement. The various arrangements on the subject of agriculture appear to almost exclusively benefit India. The receipt on the part of the farm sector of greater technology, expertise and developmental intelligence is unlikely to come without significant reciprocal exchange. It would be naïve to assume that the donation of such assistance would not be part of a program of investment intended to deliver returns.

The investment by U.S. firms in the Indian farm sector has been growing since the turn of the 21st Century. Monsanto first released its pest-resistant BTCotton in 2002 and both Monsanto and Cargill have been on the board of the U.S.-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI) since 2008. The firms have played a strong role in the collection of data on crop performance and the publication of reports on the benefits of GM seeds through the channels of the AKI and state departments.[5]

Despite the distinguished reports coming from official levels, the development of BTCotton in particular appears to have somewhat less success on the ground. Commercial cultivation throughout the six states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu revealed low levels of performance when compared against non-GM strains. The average yield of Bt cotton was found to be lower in all categories of land holdings, whether they were irrigated, good quality soils or poor quality red soils in the rain fed areas. In fact, 60 % of the farmers cultivating Bt cotton were not even able to recover their investment and incurred losses averaging Rs. 80 per acre.[6] Added to this have been reports that prescriptions requiring barriers of non-GM crops surrounding BTCotton fields have been ignored. This may result in insects developing resistance to the anti-pest gene, and hence becoming a greater threat to farmers.

Monsanto has become a name associated in both North America and Europe with the powerful marketing of inefficient and sometimes dangerous crops, and vigorous law-suits against farmers who breach their patents.  Their poor performance history in the Indian market to date will be little to belay fears of a continuation of their domestic commercial practices.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?670025

[2] http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?670025

[3] http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article112297.ece

[4] http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article112297.ece

[5] http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/india_knowl_init/AKI_bdmtg6_042008.asp

[6] http://www.genecampaign.org/Publication/Article/BT%20Cotton/Failure_Monsanto-BtCotton.pdf

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh


[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

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The U.S. and N.A.T.O. led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was hailed for attacking, not only the Taliban’s terrorist capabilities, but also their cultural and religious presence. The group’s Islamic fundamentalist doctrine had not only placed them at loggerheads with the West, but had also led them to play a powerful role in gender politics. Laws defended by many as protecting women’s rights and dignity more often resulted in their freedoms being  limited. The rights to education, to own property and to move around freely as an individual were all banned.

The triumph of the Western forces in ousting the Taliban from power was celebrated by women’s rights activists within the country and globally. The attempt to introduce liberal democratic practices seemed to offer the prospect of greater freedom and equality under the law. In 2003 the national conference of Women for Afghan Women presented ‘The Afghan Women’s Bill of Rights’, outlining reforms such as the increase of the marital age to 18 and the freedom to vote.  The mere fact that the conference was able to present this draft Bill of Rights to the President Hamid Karzai seemed to demonstrate that the situation of women was improving.

However, this success did not go unrecognised. Conservative forces throughout the country have maintained a consistent opposition to any progression of female liberty.  The intensity of this protest has increased in the years since the invasion to the extent that some now claim that they fared better under the Taliban.  Whilst oppression was institutionalised under the Taliban, this has now been accompanied by random brutality.  Traditional punishments of shootings and stonings for women believed to have acted impiously have been added to by attacks involving poison and acid. These punishments can be delivered for actions so simple as attending school or failing to fully veil. Although female education and more liberal dress codes are now permitted under the law, reactionary opposition within the country have prevented many from benefitting from the reforms. Only 5% of Afghan women attend secondary school and female illiteracy is still as high as 87%.

The most recent culmination of conservative opposition to the new prospects of women’s rights came in late March when the President signed the contentious ‘Shia Family Law’. Although only applicable to the Shi’te population which make up around 15% of the population it is seen as representing a shift in tolerance and equality.  The law includes stipulations that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands and can only seek work, education or a doctor with their husband’s approval.  A protest by 300 women against the new law met with violent resistance from both men and women who spat and threw stones until the protestors had to be rescued by police.  Although the UN and Human Rights groups have openly condemned the motion by the Afghan government, many have responded that it is an ‘internal affair.’

The awareness of many within Afghanistan, both male and female, about women’s rights generally appears very low. In an interview at Kabul University most were unaware of the existence of the Shia Family Law. Many consider women’s rights to be bound within religion rather than as a cultural condition which can be changed. Attempts to reform restrictions on freedoms and liberties are naturally seen as a challenge to Islam, and one originating from the largely Christian nations of the West. Governments are often criticised for putting pressure on countries to alter decisions which they have made through a democratic process. Instead it may be the role of Charities and other organisations to educate and build change from a grassroots level.

Chris Bowles

http://www.alertnet.org/db/an_art/47985/2009/03/17-164310-1.htm

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