Saturday, July 31, 2004

So much hot air, still no balloons 

Could this possibly the highlight of the Democratic convention?

You can listen
here to the convention centre director Don Mischer losing it:

"Jesus, we need more balloons. I want all balloons to go, goddamn. No confetti. No confetti. No confetti. I want more balloons. What's happening to the balloons? We need more balloons. We need all of them coming down... balloons.

"Go balloons, balloons... what's happening balloons, there's not enough coming down. All balloons - where the hell - there's nothing falling," Mr Mischer said, before finally exploding: "What the fuck are you guys doing up there?"
This indeed seems to be the problem with the Democrats: too much confetti, not enough balloons.


Friday, July 30, 2004

What will those American imperialists think of next? 

Bloody Yanks; they think they own the whole world. Invade one Third World country, exploit another one economically, dump toxic waste in yet another. But this, surely, is the new low:

"A man from the US state of New Hampshire has played a round of golf - using Mongolia as his course. Andre Tolme completed the vast 18-hole course he mapped out across the country in 12,170 shots. He left the US in May with the goal of walking 1,300 miles across Mongolia, golfing all the way."
Alas, the conspiracy mongers will be disappointed: while Bush and I'm sure many other neocons are avid golfers, the true reason for invading Iraq never had anything to do with turning the country into a giant American golf course. Sadly, too many bunkers.


Still spinning in their graves 

I mentioned this Phillip Adams column a few days ago as a brazen example of the left's attempt to white-wash Saddam, if not completely (that might be impossible) then at least white-wash him enough to make Bush and Blair look just as bad. You see, not many bodies have been recovered so far from the Iraqi mass graves, ergo Saddam hasn't killed as many people as previously thought, ergo even the human rights case for going to war is now starting to look shaky.

Now, the ever-dependable
Chris Hitchens rips into Adams over his "no big deal" defence of Saddam:

"[W]hen I stood on the mass grave at Hilla, near Babylon, about a year ago, I was upset not just by the huge number of cadavers, which by the way ran into the thousands. I was upset by the relatives who'd had to wait a decade to inspect the place, and who had found that the water table had washed a lot of the bodies away. A possible shred of clothing, or fragment of an identity card, is not much consolation in these circumstances. Indeed, many of the relatives had acted against their own interests, here as elsewhere, by rushing to the site as soon as the murderer had fallen, and by digging with their bare hands."
But, as we all know, it's only bad when the Americans do it, and even if they don't do it, they can still be made to look responsible for it.


No one left to save 

Sudan - just as Iraq in the 1990s, only worse:

"The United States watered down proposals for a UN resolution yesterday after Muslim states refused to threaten sanctions against Sudan for failing to curb Arab militias accused of ethnic cleansing.

"The US, backed by Britain, dropped the word 'sanctions' from a draft resolution in order to secure broad agreement on a text that could be adopted by the UN Security Council today. The move will give Sudan more time to comply with demands from the UN, which described the situation in the western region of Darfur as the world's worst humanitarian crisis."
So, in the name of "consensus", the international community is once again prepared to take the courageous step of sitting on its hands. Giving Sudan more time to comply will UN demands effectively means that the Darfur problem will be solved the same way the Rwandan problem was a decade ago: by a fait accompli on the ground. Because pretty soon the Arab ethnic cleansers in Darfur will achieve their aim, and the UN, faced with the impossible task of unscrambling Sudanese eggs, will instead move on to mismanage some new international crisis.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Médecins sans Frontières blames America first 

Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Frontiers), the well known international humanitarian organisation, is pulling out of Afghanistan and - you guessed it - blaming the Americans. The lead paragraph in the London "Independent" will give you some idea of the left's glee:

"It survived Soviet occupation, civil war, the Taliban and US-led invasion. But after 24 years of aid work, Médecins sans Frontières has been forced by the American military to flee Afghanistan."
Forget for the moment the not-so-subliminal message that the American military is worse than the Red Army and the Taliban; simply ask yourself how did they Yanks manage to chase MSF out of the country?

"US military tactics have made it too dangerous to operate there... MSF claimed the American military had endangered the lives of humanitarian volunteers by blurring the distinction between soldiers and aid workers. Five MSF workers were killed last month."
No, they weren't killed by the American soldiers, but by the parties unknown; either Taliban remnants or opium growers. But the US is to blame because as Kenny Gluck, MSF's operations director, says:

"The US-backed coalition has consistently sought to co-opt humanitarian assistance to build support for its own military and political ambitions... MSF denounces attempts to use humanitarian aid to win hearts and minds. That jeopardises the aid to people in need and endangers the lives of humanitarian aid workers ... These soldiers are often out of uniform. It's hard to know what nationality they are."
In other words, no one knows who killed the MSF personnel or why they were killed - but they must have been obviously targeted because they were mistaken for American soldiers doing humanitarian work. But the article gets even worse:

"Aid groups' concerns centre on the actions of combat troops trying to win over villagers in areas afflicted by guerrilla warfare. Despite years of work by organisations such as MSF in the country, many villagers now confuse aid workers and soldiers, Mr Gluck claimed. 'We have seen military people with weapons and in white cars providing health care. How can you expect Afghans to distinguish?'

"Aid workers particularly criticise US special forces teams who sometimes operate clinics to win over local populations or distribute sweets and toys to village children."
Those damned American soldiers doing their humanitarian work! How dare they!

Of course, it's another no-win situation for the US; if they don't do anything but simply engage in military operations, the critics will accuse them of losing "hearts and minds"; if they do try to win "hearts and minds", the critics will accuse them of ulterior motives and undermining "genuine" humanitarian efforts.

And to answer Mr Gluck's question: the MSF people are the ones without guns. We could expect Afghans to distinguish that.

Funnily enough, that well known pro-American propaganda-sheet
"New York Times" chose to focus on another reason for the MSF withdrawal: the organisation is said to be pulling out "in protest of the [Afghani] government's failure to arrest the culprits in the killing of five of its staff members in June." And: "The killings and a string of threats from the Taliban directed specifically at the agency led to the decision to leave." [my emphasis]

Ordinary Afghanis, according to Mr Gluck, can't distinguish MSF from the US Army. The Taliban obviously don't have the same problem. But it's all America's fault anyway.

Update: Blackfive relates his own MSF experience back in 1991 in Kurdistan.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

That's what allies are for 

The governments of Spain and Philippines are annoyed at Australian's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer who stated the obvious, namely that their decision to pull troops out of Iraq (in response to a terrorist attack and a kidnapping respectively) only encourages further terrorist acts. The Spaniards found the comments "unacceptable"; the Philippine ambassador in Australia Christina Ortega said "We feel very hurt because we thought we were allies."

That's one definition of being an ally, I guess: not criticising your friends, even if they are wrong. I prefer another: not running away on your friends in the first place.

Update: Mohammed at Iraq the Model thinks that it's Spain and the Philippines who should be apologising to Australia, not to mention everyeone else: "I doubt that we can forgive you [Spain and the Philippines] all for your cowardice, stupidity and hypocracy just as we’ll never forget the sacrifices and the help of the Americans, Australians, British, Italians, Japanese and all the other coalition members."


Terror in the Aussie skies 

Australia experiences its first major airline scare, as an United Airlines Flight 840 from Sydney to Los Angeles turns back hour and a half into its flight after a standard issue sick bag is discovered in one of the toilets with the word "BOB" scrawled on it.

"BOB" most commonly can stand for "bomb on board." It can also stand for
"best on board", according to Flight Attendants' Association of Australia international division secretary Michael Mitjatov, "referring to the most attractive male or female passenger" on the flight.

As it transpired, there was no bomb onboard. We don't know whether there was a particularly good looking person onboard either.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Spinning (in) the mass graves 

Watch the left dance and sing as it tries to knock the last untouched pillar - the moral and humanitarian one - supporting the case for war in Iraq:

"We now know that the public was misled over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But have we also been misled over the even more emotive issue of Iraq's mass graves," writes
Brendan O'Neill in the "Guardian". This, because according to another "Guardian" story:

"Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered."
The doyen of the Australian leftie commentariat, Philip Adams, is already celebrating:

"Yes, that's 5000 too many, but 395,000 short of Blair's body count. Of course, the other 395,000 might turn up, like those missing weapons. But to say that they've already been discovered is just the latest in the litany of lies. Yes, Saddam gassed the Kurds. Yes, an unknown number of Iraqi citizens were tortured and slaughtered."
But, as always, there's more indignation over Bush's and Blair's "lies" then over Saddam gassing all those Kurds and torturing and slaughtering an "unknown number of Iraqis." By that stage we're not too far off arguments that maybe Saddam wasn't quite that bad, after all. Look at him now, the poor soul, stuck "in solitary confinement tending a garden, writing poetry and reading the Quran," all "depressed and demoralized." He might have been a bit naughty in the past, but Bush/Blair were worse/just as bad/nearly as bad/not good either - take your pick, depending how far you lean to the left. Saddam - he was a son-of-a-bitch, but he was our, anti-American son-of-a-bitch.

But what's with those mass graves?

Both the "Guardian" piece and Philip Adams acknowledge the fact that only 55 out of 270 previously identified mass graves have been examined. Even based on the current ratio of 5,000 bodies from 55 graves, the other 215 should give us another 20,000 corpses. But that, of course, would be just guessing, or "lying" as the left would have it. Never mind that half a century on we still don't know exactly how many people Stalin had murdered. Estimates vary from about 50,000 on the Holocaust denying far left, all the way to 50 million plus according to other calculations. We've got a far better idea about Hitler's toll but only because Nazis were so meticulous at record keeping.

Were we all overzealous, and God forbid, unkind towards Saddam, to suggest that somewhere between 300 and 400 thousand Iraqis lie buried around the country? Just as with Stalin, we don't know the exact number of victims, but the estimates vary from tens to hundreds of thousands. All those bodies have to buried somewhere.

In the end, arithmetic is no substitute for moral judgment. But this won't stop the left from trying to downplay the "genocide" angle. Beside, as we all know, if there were human rights abuses in Saddam's Iraq, the United States is complicit. As O'Neill writes:

"Saddam's brutal attacks on the Kurds in the 1980s occurred as part of the Iran-Iraq war, during which the Reagan administration supported and armed his regime. When that war ended in 1988 Saddam sought to consolidate his rule at home; in the Anfal campaign he sent forces to quell the Kurdish uprising in the north (supported by the Iranians), again with US consent. The massacre of the Shias in 1991 took place after they were encouraged by the first Bush administration to rebel following the first Gulf war, and then abandoned to their fate."
Or Adams:

"[M]ost of these deaths - including the massacre of the Kurds - occurred when Saddam was one of Washington's best friends in the Middle East, being armed and encouraged in his war on Iraq."
That's actually Iran, but never mind. The objective assessment of the Saddam-US relationship during the 1980s is beyond the scope of this post, but even assuming that Reagan and Bush Sr were Saddam's best buddies, how is it possibly any worse than Roosevelt cosying up to Stalin? I can't think of many on the left damning FDR for his close relationship and cooperation with the worst genocidal maniac in history, just as I can't think of many on the left excusing Stalin's crimes because at that time he was "one of Washington's best friends", "being armed and encouraged in his war" on Nazi Germany. Double standards? Yes. Unexpected? Sadly no.

Evil, in many ways is more than sum of its parts. Arguing that Saddam didn't in the end have any (recent) WMD and/or didn't have connections to international terrorism and/or didn't kill as many people as we thought will not make him any more appealing a person. Just as Hitler without the Holocaust would still stand condemned and Stalin without the collectivisation would still be a criminal, there is simply too much filth clinging to Saddam for him to be washed clean by the left's crocodile tears.


French cultural imperialism fails 

A Zen riddle to rival the one about tree falling in the forest:

"A French author promoting her novel in Hong Kong suffered the embarrassment of holding a book-signing that nobody attended."
Give that author some clapping. With one hand.

"[O]rganisers blamed the no-show on a lack of promotion by the French consulate here and by the Alliance Francaise, which promotes French culture overseas."
Obviously not very well.

At least the American culture can take care of itself without the help of any special organisation.


Things to do in Canberra when you're dead 

There's one for our great national capital:

"Perhaps it's the cold weather, but certain people in the nation's capital appear to be having more sex than anyone else [in Australia]. According to a survey by FHM magazine, nine per cent of Canberrans claim to have sex on a daily basis."
Or perhaps it's the fact that (no offence to my friends and readers in the capital) Canberra is a boring little town with nothing else to do during those long nights.

And in the Middle Earth, it seems that the Kiwis have to always try to outdo us Aussies...

"The findings left Australian well behind their trans-Tasman cousins in the shagging stakes, with New Zealand respondents claiming to have sex between four and six times per week."
...at least in the lying stakes. Then again, the sheep may be pretty docile over there.

Do any of the American readers know if people in Washington also have more sex than those outside the Beltway? (anecdotal evidence from
Wonkette and Washingtonienne not allowed). While I haven't been to Washington, I'd venture a guess that it's more interesting than Canberra, so maybe not.


Not funny enough 

"USA Today" doesn't find Ann Coulter funny. I have to say I don't always either, but there has to be someone out there to counterbalance the buffoons like Michael Moore or Al Franken of this world.

Ann was hired by "USA Today" to cover the Democratic convention; Michael Moore will do likewise to the Republicans. But when she submitted her first column, the paper editors found it "not funny" and "unusable." As Coulter says, "My guess is [the editors] will 'get' [Moore's] humor." Probably a correct guess. In the meantime,
Jonah Goldberg will fill in at the Dem love fest in Boston.

Here's Coulter's
column. And here it is with "USA Today"'s editorial comments - which make the editor/s look like idiots.

Unlike leftie cry-babies like
Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and Michael Moore, who think that the First Amendment makes everyone else obliged to listen to them, the right tends to be more accepting of the fact that private media outlets have the right to publish - or not to publish - whoever they want. However, the right also tends to point out that the media seem to be a lot more eager to indulge the left. But maybe it's just my twisted perception of things.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Good news from Afghanistan, Part 2 

Note: This second part of "Good news from Afghanistan" is also available online at the "Opinion Journal". Once again, great many thanks to James Taranto for his support of blogdom and helping to spread the good news in the mainstream media (also appearing online at the Winds of Change). For the first installment see the link at the top of the side-bar. And while you're there, check out the links to all the "Good news from Iraq".

"We are becoming hopeful day by day. We cannot develop our country, in which the fighting existed for 23 years, within two years. We had lots of problems in the past but they are being solved day by day." So says
Ghalib Shah Azizi, the head of Afghanistan's Northern Chamber of Commerce.

If there is one place where good news is harder to come by than Iraq, it's Afghanistan. For that we should partly blame our poor understanding of Afghan realities, and consequently, unrealistic expectations. An isolated, poor, largely rural country with harsh landscapes and limited natural resources, Afghanistan has been for the past quarter of a century cursed with constant violence and oppression. Good news from Afghanistan will not in any foreseeable future mean mushrooming shopping malls and health care clinics in every village. For the people who have suffered so much for so long, relative peace and absence of theocracy are a good start.

But, as is the case with reporting from Iraq, we shouldn't let the media off the hook so easily, either. For all the fashionable talk about Iraq distracting the Bush Administration from the war on terror, it's largely been the media who have ignored Afghanistan except for the occasional story about another skirmish with the Taliban remnants or the explosion in opium cultivation.

CBS's veteran journalist,
Tom Fenton, recently had this to say about the work of his media colleagues:

"You know the old saying: No news is good news. But in the news business, it is just the opposite: Good news is no news - which is why you have been hearing so little from Afghanistan recently.

"Iraq has been grabbing the headlines. Even the most confirmed optimist would find it hard to see a ray of light there today. But there is a growing body of evidence that things are beginning to improve in Afghanistan. To see why, you need to travel around Afghanistan a bit. That's something the media find hard to do in Iraq now - many news crews rarely venture out of their hotels in Baghdad."
Not to mention in Kabul. If they did, they would arguably find more stories like these:

DEMOCRACY: The Afghanis eagerly await their chance to participate in free and democratic elections. These are people like the Qaimi family: "Olya Qaimi reached into her purse and proudly pulled out her ticket to Afghanistan's future: a laminated card saying she is registered to vote in the nation's first post-Taliban election. 'The sun is rising in Afghanistan and we have a chance for a very good future,' said Qaimi's husband, Wasi, who has also registered to vote. 'This time we will settle our struggle with politics in place of tanks and guns'." The Qaimis and millions of others will get their chance in October, when after some inevitable delays they vote for President, and early next year, in the parliamentary elections. Even the Afghanis still living in Pakistan and Iran will be able to participate in the poll.

Women, in particular, are keen to seize the opportunities that until very recently were denied to them:

"[I]n spite of repeated warnings from the Taliban that women should neither register nor stand for office, 2.1 million women have now registered to vote, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the body overseeing the process. This means that 38% of the current electorate are women, overturning predictions that few would register."

The Afghanis are growing increasingly optimistic about the future of their country and approving of its current political direction. According to a poll conducted by Chaney Research, AC Nielsen India Org-Marg and the Afghan Media Resource Center for the Asia Foundation, Hamed Karzai remains popular in Afghanistan, enjoying favorable opinion of 62% of those polled. The interim government's performance gets a tick of approval from 57% of Afghanis. In other results from the same poll, 64% of Afghanis believe that their country is moving in the right direction (versus only 11% who think Afghanistan is moving in the wrong direction). More significantly, two thirds of those polled support the United States, and only 11% still favor Taliban. 81% plan to vote in the coming elections, although majority expresses concerns whether the poll will be completely fair.

Another recent poll, conducted by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium, paints a similar picture. Some of the highlights include:

- 92% of those polled now feel safe walking around their town or village; 83% feel more secure now than they felt three years ago with Taliban still in power; and 78% think that Afghanistan will be still more peaceful a year from now.

- 94% of respondents said it is now easier for their children to go to school then it was three years ago; 83% also think that health care has become more accessible.

- "The level of awareness about the constitution-drafting process and the national elections was high - 70% and 69% respectively." 87% of those polled intend to vote in national elections.

- Very importantly, 72% thought that "women should be involved in community decision making. When asked why, many responded either that it was their right under Islamic rule, or simply because they were humans who made up half of the population."
In many ways, the public sentiment in Afghanistan remains significantly more positive and optimistic than in Iraq, which is surely a good sign for Afghanistan.

In the north of the country, too, optimism prevails about the future and the direction of the country. Ghalib Shah Azizi, whom I quoted at the start of the article, has this to say about the Afghani president: "I believe Hamed Karzai is an intelligent and proper person to be selected as a president for Afghanistan. He will be able to rule the government and ensure peace and stability in the country."

Religious authorities too, throw their support behind the efforts to build the new Afghanistan: the Afghan Ulema Council, composed of the nation's eminent religious scholars, has called on the Afghani people to give up their weapons and end "the rule of the gun," which has spread across the country over a quarter of a century of conflict. The scholars also called on people to support the government, and on religious leaders in towns and villages to encourage Afghanis to participate in the disarmament programme.

SOCIETY: Afghani refugees continue to vote with their feet: "The pace of return to Afghanistan remains strong, with thousands of refugees going back daily. So far this year, we've seen some 450,000 refugees repatriate." Of those, more than 242,000 came from Iran, surpassing the previous source of returning refugees, Pakistan, with some 210,000 Afghanis coming back from there since January. "In all, some 3.5 million Afghans have gone home since the UNHCR-organized return movements started in 2002, including more than two million from Pakistan, 900,000 from Iran and more than 440,000 displaced persons, while tens of thousands of other exiles have gone back on their own." This is surely the greatest humanitarian good news story of the last few decades.

For too long an international shame, the status of women in Afghanistan continues to improve: "Women's role has changed, but burqas still prevail yet the status of women has improved since Taliban times. Women can walk around, unaccompanied by males, and they are allowed to work. They are free to roam in public without fear of being arrested or beaten for wearing high heels or seeming to walk in a provocative manner." Women, for so long denied educational opportunities, are slowly winning their struggle for a better future:

"Before workers could lay the first stone for a new school in this rural village, a deeper foundation took shape in a showdown with mullahs who insisted that no girls would set foot in the classrooms. 'The easiest way to stop a school is to talk about girls,' said Greg Mortenson, a Minnesota native who has spent the past decade creating schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 'Culturally, women have been chattel here.'

"Mortenson's team won. The school is rising from a mountainside plot. Girls have been invited to attend when it opens this fall.

"The power struggle over this eight-room school is being replayed village by village as official Afghanistan strives to liberate women who were prisoners in their own homes before the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Although many remain sequestered by their families, the transitional government has set a top priority on getting them into classrooms, the workplace and the polling booths."
And the government seems to be succeeding: "Now, a good share of the women have shed the burqa the Taliban forced on them and instead wear scarves draped loosely around their faces. Many have gone back to work in the capital, Kabul. More than 2 million have registered to vote, and a few hold high-level government positions."

State Department's recently released Report to Congress on U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children, and Refugees shows that "reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have inspired Afghan women to assume roles they never dreamed possible, in government, in politics, in the market place, in the police, in agriculture, in politics and in the media." Mentioned in the report are the 187 new and ongoing humanitarian projects to assist Afghani women and children, including "[s]ome 24 job creation projects are teaching women how to make and market honey, textiles, rugs, clothing, pasta, cement blocks and countless other products." Also in the report, the fact that of 5.8 million people who have returned to schools this year, 35% are women. There is also a reminder of the new Constitution, approved in January this year, which gives equal rights to Afghani men and women.

In this changing political and cultural climate, more and more women are becoming active in the civic life of Afghanistan. Read this profile of Malalai Joya, 25, who runs an orphanage and health clinic, and despite frequent threats to her life, continues her crusade against "warlords and criminals" who engage in rape and looting and are involved in drug trafficking across the country. Read also this story of Dr Massouda Jalal, 41-year old lecturer in paediatric medicine at Kabul University who intends to run against Hamed Karzai for the presidency. This, from another profile: "Dr Jalal has addressed several election meetings in Kabul and also in other towns. 'I usually get gatherings of about 500 to 1,000 people,' she says. She has spoken at meetings in schools, universities, mosques and at other places where gatherings have often been organized by local women."

And two women, Robina Muqimyar, who will run in the 100 meters, and Friba Rezihi, who will compete in judo, are set to become the first women athletes to represent Afghanistan at the Olympic games in Athens.

After the puritanical Taliban rule, Afghanis are enjoying an entertainment explosion:

"Najeeb said he's doing a booming business selling DVDs in the centre of Kabul.
'Every day I sell between 20 and 30 DVDs,' he said. 'It's a good business.'

"With pirated copies of the latest releases readily available for as little as 50 afghanis, or about one US dollar, and inexpensive Chinese-made DVD players flooding the market at 40 dollars each, many see no reason to pay 19 afghanis, or about 35 cents, for a ticket to a cinema.

"In addition, many shish-kebab restaurants and ice cream shops now play music videos and foreign films on DVD, giving new meaning to the idea of dinner and a movie. And unlike the films shown at both government and privately owned theatres, these films are uncensored and can be seen in the evenings."
Much is happening in the radio-centric Afghani society: "Radio Arman, the first independent station, was launched in 2003. Some conservatives were outraged that 'young girls can be heard laughing on the air,' according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders." In addition there are now 14 government radio stations across Afghanistan. 37% of the population listen to the radio, and the US Army last year distributed further 200,000 free radio sets. In a country that is still largely illiterate and lacking much basic infrastructure, radio remains the most useful and popular medium of education and raising political awareness.

With that in mind, and with a $2.5 million grant from the Italian government, "UNESCO has undertaken the project to completely upgrade and rehabilitate distance education services in Afghanistan." As part of the work, the headquarters of the Educational Radio and Television Centre of Afghanistan's Ministry of Education have been fully renovated and is again operational after being completely destroyed during the war. Also, a new radio and TV programme, supported by the UNESCO, will aim to reach out to those in remote areas, the sick, the infirm and the home-bound, to ensure that educational opportunities are available to everyone in Afghanistan.

RECONSTRUCTION: In a huge vote of confidence and a sign of optimism, the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce is formed in Kabul: "Three hundred people were expected; 2,500 showed up to vote. Obvious was their energy, their enthusiasm, their pride and their strength. They were creating one of those institutions that becomes a pillar of a free society, an economic power independent of the state."

The trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan stood at just $20 million two years ago, but today it's $700 million. Pakistani Finance Minister estimates that the trade between the two countries will reach $1 billion later this year. Among signs of increased economic cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, "the resumption of air flights, functioning of Pakistani banks in Afghanistan, contribution of Pakistani laborers and contractors in reconstruction of Afghanistan, construction of highways between the two countries."

Western companies are slowly coming in too, like the Utah-based internet business Overstock, which aims to bring the work of Afghani craftsmen, many of them handicapped in war, to the world market.

In banking news, "Afghanistan International Bank (AIB) was officially opened at a ceremony attended by shareholders, management, and about 150 guests from the international and local business and diplomatic communities in Kabul."

In energy news, a Sofregaz-led consortium along with Energy Markets Ltd, financed by the Asian Development Bank, has just completed a Natural Gas Master Plan for Afghanistan. The Plan, based in part by research conducted by the Soviet geologists during the occupation in the 1980s, aims to assess Afghanistan's hydrocarbon reserves. Also, India has now "decided to construct a transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul in Afghanistan for import of power from Uzbekistan." Says the Indian energy minister: "The project will enhance India's image as a major partner of Afghanistan and will introduce its capability in a new area of activity with potential future commercial spin offs."

And as the country rebuilds, more opportunities open up for women: the Self-Employed Women's Association, an NGO which helps women gain economic independence and become self-reliant, is sending management consultants, insurance team, research team and the rural development team to assist Afghani women in setting up micro-businesses. Some of the businesses to be introduced include craft making such as "miniature paintings, jewellery, carpet weaving, shoe-making and embroidery" as well as "food processing units making jams, pickles and cookies." In a country where so many women have been widowed over the years of conflict, particular efforts are being made to help those with little other support:

"Muslima cradles a scared chicken in her arms, tending to it with all the careful treatment due a precious object. She gently hands it to her teacher, Farima, who is lecturing a roomful of about 25 women on the best way to care for the bird. Farima's students, all widows, are eagerly attentive.

"Although long past school age, these women - most of whom have children of their own - have never been to school themselves. This dark, mud-walled room in Muslima's home is their first classroom. They sit on the floor leaning against the walls, their faces lined in concentration. This poultry-raising class has the potential to guide them from unemployment to self-sufficiency."
To the Western eyes these seem like very small things, but they make a huge difference on the ground in Afghanistan.

Lastly, read this story about Ghulam Sediq Wardak, a 62 year old semi-literate and self-taught Afghani genius with 341 inventions to his credit. His latest project, a car powered solely by the solar energy. A few more people like Sediq, and Afghanistan's future might be a lot more brighter.

HUMANITARIAN AID: A number of Afghanistan's regional neighbors contribute to the reconstruction effort. Turkey is sending Provincial Reconstruction Teams to the Takhar area of the country; the teams consist of 200 people, including 80 military personnel and are expected to stay on location for 3 to 5 years. Turkey has also recently renovated two hospitals seriously damaged during past conflicts, re-equipped and reopened them under the name of Turkish-Afghan Friendship Hospitals. 300-400 patients are being treated there every day. A third hospital is currently undergoing the same treatment, and mobile health clinics are starting to reach less accessible areas. Meanwhile, Indian Army's Military Engineering Services are set to commence work in Afghanistan on construction of roads and housing within the next six months.

The Coalition forces, in addition to providing security, also work on a number of other important projects. These are soldiers like Sgt. Gary Feldewerd and other Army Reservists from Minnesota's 367th Engineer Battalion who are involved in a titanic struggle to rid Afghanistan of the estimated 10 million landmines and other unexploded ordinance strewn across the country.

While governments continue to provide aid and assist in reconstruction, many NGOs and individuals also contribute on a grass roots level. You might remember Djamshid Popal, a 9 year old boy with a heart defect, whose story so touched a Canadian resident Saddique Khan, that he personally financed bringing the child over for a life-saving operation. Unfortunately, Djamshid's condition has proved to be more serious than previously thought; fortunately, the hospital itself is charging only half of the usual fee, and a mystery benefactor has now stepped in to cover these costs. Read also this story of the efforts by a joint American-Jordanian medical specialist team to save the life of a little Afghani girl in one of the remote villages.

In Michigan, John Dark, a high school student from Western High School in Parma is trying to raise $30,000 by October to build a playground for Afghani kids at the Abdullah bin Omar School in the Paghman district, east of Kabul. "We were thinking about the basic needs of kids... They've seen a war-torn country all their lives. We decided one of the basic needs is to learn how to be a kid," says John. Read the whole story to see how you can help.

Meanwhile, Operation Shoe Fly continues with their great efforts to provide Afghani kids with much needed shoes. And Care USA runs numerous aid projects on the ground in Afghanistan. Please visit both website if you want to assist in their valuable projects. Give2Asia, a nonprofit organization founded by The Asia Foundation to promote philanthropy to Asia, has also been active in Afghanistan spending $500,000 to fund education opportunities for Afghani women (visit them here).

Afghanis living in the West are too contributing to the reconstruction of their homeland. In the section of Fremont, in Marin County, California, known as "Little Kabul," Humaira Ghilzai, president of the 2-year-old Afghan Friends Network, now spends 20 hours a week on her project to establish a sister-city relationship between Hayward, "home to the Bay Area's largest Afghan mosque, and Ghazni, a city of 35,000 residents, 70 miles southwest of Kabul":
"This month, she gave her frequent-flier miles to the governor of the province of Ghazni, Asadullah Khaled, so that he could fly to Hayward and tour a medical clinic, Tyrrell Elementary School and Cal State Hayward.

"Children in Ghazni and Hayward have become pen pals, and a fund-raiser here netted enough money to buy 150 tables and chairs for a school in Ghazni. Hayward kids learned from the governor that few families in Ghazni have cars and that schools are bare of computers; sometimes a classroom is just children sitting under a tree."
Khadija Omar, 74, and her daughter, Hassina, of Denver, Colorado, are meanwhile raising money to buy wheelchairs for thousands of Afghani children who have lost their limbs to landmines. In June this year they delivered 70 wheelchairs already. Click on the link above to learn how you can contribute to their project.

SECURITY: For the Coalition troops things seem a lot calmer than in Iraq. "People are more apprehensive about us in Iraq... Here, they stare at us like we're a circus act, but they accept us," says Michael Englert, a Navy bomb-disposal expert who travels with the Marines to help detect roadside explosives and mines.

Meanwhile, the new US-trained Afghan Army continues to grow steadily, and it now numbers 13,000 men. In addition, to further military training objectives, "[t]eams of officers from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and officers from the Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan are working closely with their Afghan counterparts in the country's defense ministry to establish the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and model it after West Point."

The crucial cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Coalition forces continues as military and diplomatic representatives meet to discuss the troubled border region between the two countries. Says Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, deputy commanding general, Combined Joint Task Force 76:

"We will continue to work with the Afghanistan and Pakistan security forces in any way that serves our common objectives of defeating terrorism, denying sanctuary and strengthening cooperative security... The coalition will continue its aggressive operations and reconstruction efforts on the Afghanistan side of the border as the Pakistan military continues its operations within its own borders."
The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are also signing a Memorandum of Understanding targeted at controlling the illegal drug trade across the region's borders. And Great Britain is providing Afghanistan with 100 million pounds funding to help combat drug cultivation and trafficking.

The UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme continues across the country. In the western Herat province, for example, another 750 ex-Mudjahedin turned in 550 pieces of light and heavy arms to the government. In Herat itself, 2,000 fighters have laid down their weapons recently; Safiullah was one of them:

"Safiullah dreams of being a farmer, but up until now the 22-year-old Afghan militiaman has only ever known a life of fighting. 'I picked up my brother's gun after he was killed by the Taliban. I had to finish the war he had begun,' he said, cradling an ancient AK-47. 'I'm tired of carrying weapons. I want to go into civilian life, but I also want the government to help me'."
Now, at least, there is some hope that the circle of violence will finally be broken for Safiullah and tens of thousands like him. Other ex-fighters are finding new work - dangerous one, but of immense importance to their country:

"Many former combatants are now joining de-mining agencies as part of the UN-backed disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme. More than 700 such ex-combatants throughout the country have so far joined the United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (UNMACA) project."
Let's never forget that none of this would have been possible without the United States and allies who two and half years ago helped to bring peace and freedom to the long-suffering people of Afghanistan. Let's hope that, with the world's help, the Afghanis will now make the most of it.


Dar al Islam - meet Dar al Jihad 

Anthony Browne writes in the "Spectator":

"A year ago I had lunch with an eminent figure who asked if I thought she was mad. 'No,' I said politely, while thinking, 'Yup.' She had said she thought there was a secret plot by Muslims to take over the West. I have never been into conspiracy theories, and this one was definitely of the little-green-men variety. It is the sort of thing BNP thugs claim to justify their racial hatred.

"Obviously, we all know about Osama bin Laden's ambitions. And we are all aware of the loons of al-Muhajiroun waving placards saying 'Islam is the future of Britain'. But these are all on the extremist fringe, representative of no one but themselves. Surely no one in Islam takes this sort of thing seriously? I started surfing the Islamic media."
What Browne has found surprised him (which is rather scary, seeing that he is a correspondent for London "Times"), but as he notes, there is no conspiracy or secret plot - the desire of many (majority? overwhelming majority?) in the Islamic world to see the rest of the world converted to their religion is quite in the open. And quite understandable - after all, in its sentiment it's no different then the great missionary push of the 19th century, which saw a massive effort on the part of virtually all Christian denominations to convert the "heathens" of Africa, Asia and the Pacific. There are some differences, though, as Browne points out:

"Christendom has - by and large - stopped conquering and converting, and indeed in Europe simply stopped believing. Even President Bush's most trenchant critics don't believe he conquered Afghanistan and Iraq to spread the word of Jesus. It is ironic that by deposing Saddam, who ran the most secular of Arab regimes, the US actually transferred power to the imams.

"I believe in a free market in religions, and it is inevitable that if you believe your religion is true, then you believe others are false. But this market is seriously rigged. In Saudi Arabia the government bans all churches, while in Europe governments pay to build Islamic cultural centres. While in many Islamic countries preaching Christianity is banned, in Western Christian countries the right to preach Islam is enshrined in law. Christians are free to convert to Islam, while Muslims who convert to Christianity can expect either death threats or a death sentence. The Pope keeps apologising for the Crusades (even though they were just attempts to get back former Christian lands) while his opposite numbers call for the overthrow of Christendom.

"In Christian countries, those who warn about Islamification, such as the film star Brigitte Bardot, are prosecuted, while in Muslim countries those who call for the Islamification of the world are turned into TV celebrities. In the West, schools teach comparative religion, while in Muslim countries schools teach that Islam is the only true faith. David Blunkett in effect wants to ban criticism of Islam, a protection not enjoyed by Christianity in Muslim countries. Millions of Muslims move to Christian countries, but virtually no Christians move to Muslim ones."
How the world, both Islamic and Western, will manage and try to resolve these problems will surely be one of the great tests for humanity in the twenty first century.


The shame of Darfur continues 

Since the start of the Darfur conflict (although it's pretty obscene to call something this one-sided a conflict), about 30,000 non-Muslim Sudanese are estimated to have been killed by the Arab militias; about 1 million have been displaced from their homes by the ethnic cleansers and a further 2 million people are in desperate need of food (other reports put the number killed at 50,000 and displaced at 1.2 million).

Meanwhile, this strong 
response of the world community:

"The United States and Europe on Sunday stepped up warnings of sanctions unless Sudan halts a conflict in its Darfur region."
Didn't step us action, didn't even step up sanctions - stepped up warnings of sanctions. That should do the trick. Mind you, the usual war-mongers among the international community are again showing some spine: "Australia is looking to send troops to restore peace to Sudan" - but the "Sydney Morning Herald" just can't help itself - "more than a century after 750 New South Welshmen arrived in the west African nation as Australia's first military expeditionary force." As if the intervention in Darfur to stop the humanitarian catastrophe there would be some sort of a neo-imperial adventure. Great Britain, which - God help us - has a much more extensive colonial history in Sudan, is also prepared to send in troops.

Just in case the world community (aside from Australia and Great Britain) gets some strange ideas about actually doing something, as opposed to stepping up warnings, the government in Khartoum has this to say (in the words of
Ibrahim Ahmad Omar, secretary-general of the ruling National Congress):

"Anybody who contemplates imposing his opinion by force will be confronted by force. Any power that intervenes in Darfur will be a loser."
So far the only losers are the non-Arab and non-Muslim Sudanese being ethnically cleansed by the "militias", which have absolutely nothing to do with the radical Islamic government in Khartoum. But that's probably the point:

"Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir has brushed off mounting international concern over the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, accusing the West of using the issue to 'target Islam'...

"Mr Beshir said the 'real aim' of such moves was to stop the spread of Islam in the northeast African nation... He said his national 'salvation' Government, as its supporters refer to it, would continue to adhere to Islamic law, 'set an example for social cohesion and bring humanity out of darkness to the light of Islam'."
I'm all for freedom of religion as well as freedom of missionary activity (including Muslim missionary activity), but I tend to draw the line if the attempt to achieve "social cohesion and bring humanity out of darkness to the light of Islam" involve 50,000 violent deaths and over a million refugees. Call me intolerant.

And as always, you can't go wrong reading this column by
Mark Steyn in today's "Australian":

"I see the next decade's 'Never again' story is here. Just as we all agreed the 1994 Rwandan genocide should never be allowed to happen again, so - in a year or two - we'll all be agreed that another 2004 Sudanese genocide should never be allowed to happen again.

"But right now it is happening, and you can't help wondering where all the great humanitarians are. Alas, Sudan doesn't seem to have much appeal to them, lacking as it does the crucial Bush angle and affording little opportunity for use of words such as 'neocons' and 'Halliburton'."
But Mark, you spoke too soon: there is a Bush angle - but this time it's "inaction":

"The Bush administration has resisted calls to declare Arab militia attacks on African villagers in Sudan genocide, a label that would pressure the United States to do more to stop the violence."
Bush, of course, can't win internationally, whether he does something (Iraq) or doesn't do something else (Darfur). The genocide reference, by the way, is to the fact that under the 1948 UN convention on genocide the signatories are obliged to intervene to stop it. But even if the situation in Darfur is so designated, don't hold you breath waiting for the left to urge the United States to intervene militarily. I certainly won't.


Around the world in 24 blogs 

In Australia, with Tim Blair away in America, Gnu Hunter reports that the Labor opposition leader Mark Latham smoked pot. But did he inhale? And does the media care?

In the tradition of yours truly's "Good news from Iraq",
Yobbo starts "Good news from America." With the Northern American quagmire well under way, I'm not sure he'll be able to find enough material to fill an average post.

Douglas at
Mangled Thoughts writes about the bitumen laid on the road to surfdom.

Azazel at
Boils My Blood defends violent computer games. I know Azazel. I respect his views. I also know he's got a sniper rifle buried in his backyard.

Public Media Watch analyses how our dear public broadcaster ABC covers Sheik Taj El-Din Al-Hilaly, the Mufti of Australia. I'm not sure which is more staggering, the ABC coverage or the amount of research that went into this post.

Is the United States becoming a Nazi state?
Dean Esmay looks at the actual Nazi Party platform from 1920.

John Hawkins from
Right Wing News provides his list of top 40 favourite blogs - as well as other bloggers' rankings.

"Former Clinton Administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger admitted 'inadvertantly' stuffing highly classified documents and notes into his pants, absent-mindedly removing them from the national archives on five occasions, accidentally mailing them to DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe, who mistakenly buried them in the World Trade Center excavation site." This is why, kiddies, you should always read
Iowa Hawk.

Clayton Cramer muses on Europe's hatred of America.

Blackfive has a story about Samir, the guy who pulled Saddam out of his presidential hole in the ground.

Pejman reviews Bill Clinton's autobiography (first draft of which is still lost somewhere down Sandy Berger's pants).

And Peter Schramm at
No Left Turns talks about Kerry and the 911 Report.

In West Indies, Helen at
Carib Pundit has some reflections on the "American Idol" reject William Hung and the American Dream.

Behind the enemy lines in the occupied Zeropa,
Ne Pasaran reports on how French cycling fans are treating Lance Armstrong. Disgusting stuff.

In another "behind the enemy lines" news - Barcepundit now has an English-language edition in addition to the Spanish one, so all of us in the Anglosphere can check out what's been happening in the socialist-occupied Iberia. Check out in particular the latest news on the Madrid massacre.

At Oxblog, Josh Chafetz has more thoughts about politicised artists and freedom of speech (pretty much in line with yours truly's
contribution). And Canada's very own Damian Penny has more. And so does Robert Alt as No Left Turns. And guess what? So does Southern Conservative - what is it about bloggers and the First Amendment issues - not to mention stupid celebrities?

In South Korea,
John Kennett, the avid CNN-watcher that he is, notes a rather unfortunate title of a special about John Kerry.

In Mesopotamia, at
Iraq the Model, Mohammed visits a barber shop in the die-hard Saddamite section of Baghdad.

Ethiopundit writes that Soviet-style agriculture is alive and well in Ethiopia: "Ethiopians live with food insecurity so that their rulers won't experience political insecurity."

And as always, don't forget
Homespun Bloggers, the collective (dare I say it) of those of us who do it for love, not money. If you're a blogger in that category (are there many who aren't?), check out the site and contact Tom to join in and increase your exposure - many friends of Chrenk already did. Also, every Sunday night check out the weekly round-up of the "best of" Homespun members.


Sunday, July 25, 2004

Crusaders threatened 

The local branch of that well known multinational, the so called "Al Qaeda in Europe" (or Tawhid Islamic Group to its friends), is threatening Australia in a statement released on the internet (hat tip Athena of Terrorism Unveiled):

"We call upon you to leave Iraq before your country turns to pools of blood... We will shake the earth under your feet as we did in Indonesia, and lines of car bombs will not cease, God willing."
The statement also reminded Italy of the group's previous warning:

"We advise you to accept our offer and if you don't, you will see the lines of cars laden with explosives hit your towns and turn your nights to mornings, God willing."
All rather unoriginal and repetitive. Al Qaeda in Europe has also threatened Poland and Bulgaria earlier on in the week:

"To the crusader Bulgarian government which supports the Americans, we ask you for the last time to withdraw forces from Iraq or we will turn Bulgaria into a bloodbath... To Poland and the Prime Minister Marek Belka, withdraw your forces from Iraq or you will hear explosions ripping through your country when we want."
I get a feeling that every few days an intern at Tawhid's headqaurters sits down at a computer, opens up Microsoft Word, goes to "Templates" folder, chooses a pro-forma threat, tidies us all the "please insert the name of the crusading infidel country here", alternatively changes "bloodbaths" to "lakes of blood" and "lines of cars laden with explosives hitting your town" to "explosions ripping through your country", and puts it on a fax for tomorrow's media cycle deadline.

To add insult to injury, Polish Arabist Michal Nowak, is of the opinion that the threat hasn't even been written by an Arab (my translation): "The text contains many basic grammatical and stylistical mistakes, which indicate that its writer, while using Arabic, comes from somewhere in Europe and has only recently started learning this language." You thought I was joking about the intern?

You might also be amused to find out (the link, again, unfortunately in Polish) that the website, which hosted the threats against Poland and Bulgaria, as well as al Zarqawi's threats (www.ansarnet.ws), is no longer in operation, after Polish journalists informed its server, Micfo Group of Houston, Texas, about the site's contents. The plot thickens, however - the domain name Ansar Net was originally purchased from the address at 184 High Holborn in London. This happens to be the headquarters of HH Research and Marketing, owned by the Saudi Prince Faisal. Now, the firm is denying any knowledge of and association with the jihadi website, and are threatening legal action against whoever used their address to register the domain. Anonymous sources inside HH Research and Marketing told the Polish journalists that they think the registration payments for Ansar Net were being made from Copenhagen. Funnily enough, the 184 High Holborn address has also been used to register the website which carried the video of Nick Berg's beheading (another Polish link).

Returning to our newest threat, the Australian government will tell Tawhid to get stuffed, just as the 
Polish and Bulgarian ones already did (there's a bit of collective memory about appeasement floating around Eastern Europe). Poles, by the way, aren't too impressed with "Fahrenheit 9/11" either (hat tip Andrew Sullivan). Maybe Michael Moore should threaten that unless the Poles rush to cinemas to watch his masterpiece, they will "hear explosions ripping through their country." And when you can hear Moore's footsteps, you know he's not too far off, and it won't be pretty. I know - I remember the last time Poland hosted a fat, obnoxious anti-American buffoon was when Leonid Brezhniev paid a state visit in the 1970s. Believe me, it's not worth provoking Michael Moore.


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