Tag Archives: Obama

Free Burma Now- Propaganda Sunday (but its Wednesday, I know)

You can probably see that the artist is Shepard Fairey of the Obama “HOPE” poster fame. It refers to the struggle against a military regime for the freedom for political change and freedom from imprisonment of many of the would-be elected political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi (a Nobel Peace laureate). Though multiparty elections were held in 1990, the military regime ignored how Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won with an overwhelming majority. The military has been in control since 1962.

I suppose this is the ‘good propaganda’ poster… if one can call it that. Fairey’s work is always beautiful and politically and socially charged and has entered into the canon  of pop culture and internet memes.


The media and the manhunt

The media buzz around the death of OBL on May 2, 2011. Published in The Friday Times, 6 May, 2011.

With the first five months of the year, a plethora of changes have happened making world politics unrecognizable from one year before.  One of the biggest was the on May 2 when news of the capture of Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad exploded on TV screens and in newspapers. The facts that Western media has focused on have been that the US led operation focused on one of Bin Ladens trusted couriers and a protégé of one of the architects of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (New York Times, ABC News, US Government). The compound where Bin Laden was hiding was valued at $1 million and had 12 to 18 foot walls with barbed wire. And was 8 to 10 times larger than surrounding houses.

Senior US officials initially told news agencies that Bin Laden’s body would be disposed of in accordance with Islamic tradition, which involves ritual washing, shrouding and burial within 24 hours, and Bin Laden was buried at sea (LA Times, Washington Post). The Guardian was of the view that US concern over Bin Laden’s burial place turning into a shrine were probably unfounded, since the Wahhabi/Salafi tradition rejects such things. “Burial at sea is rare in Islam, though several Muslim websites say it is permitted in certain circumstances. One is on a long voyage where the body may decay… The other is if there is a risk of enemies digging up a land grave and exhuming or mutilating the body – a rule that could plausibly be applied in Bin Laden’s case,” reported the paper.

The news was celebrated in many foreign capitals with crowds gathering outside the White House to celebrate and spontaneous celebration all over the US. French Foreign Minster Alain Juppe called it a “victory for all democracies fighting the abominable scourge of terrorism”. British Prime Minister David Cameron said it would “bring great relief to people across the world” (Express Tribune). The US had warned of possible threats of retaliation (CNN). In UK Heathrow airport has stepped up security and many other countries fear protests. In Pakistan US and UK embassies have put their citizen on high alert.

Headlines across America and Europe on May 2 were ‘The most wanted face of terrorism’ (New York Times), ‘A day for justice’ (Chicago Tribune), ‘An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth’ (Der Spiegel) and ‘Born to privilege, he dies a pariah (Wall Street Journal). Local newspapers however have been skeptical of the facts (Dawn News), and the Television media will undoubtedly resort to more fact digging and speculation.

The Taliban in Afghanistan had no immediate official reaction, though a local commander in Paktia said the killing “will affect their morale and will trigger the violence” and a commander in Baghlan promised revenge (NYT, Guardian). Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula confirmed bin Laden’s death and called it a catastrophe (AFP).

Reports say that officials in the Middle East did not have immediate reactions, and responses were “mixed” on the Arab street (CNN, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times). However Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the killing and described bin Laden as a “holy warrior” (CNN).

The coming weeks will of course clarify more facts about the operation as well as create more controversies. Dawn News for example said on May 2 that Bin Laden might not have been killed by US forces but his own guard. The paper quotes a Pakistani official who visited the site after the US assault team left, “From the scene of the gun battle it doesn’t look like he could have been killed at point blank range from such a close angle, while offering resistance.”

The western media sees the proximity of a military academy to Bin Laden compounds as an obvious proof of Pakistani military and intelligence being involved in hiding him and other leaders of the Al-Qaeda (BBC, CNN). This reaction is not just isolated to the media but world leaders as well. Israel has called this the “liquidation” of Bin Laden. India lashed out at Pakistan, saying that terrorists find sanctuary in Pakistan (Express Tribune, AFP).

There will again be a reevaluation of the US-Pakistan relationship not only but the respective governments but also by the media. Shuja Nawaz writes for Foreign Policy saying that the Pakistani military’s official reaction to the death of Bin Laden will be telling. If the operation was carried out in close cooperation then the trajectory of this declining relationship may be reversed. Even though Obama has acknowledged the role of Pakistan in the war against terrorism, it is not clear what that role has been with regards to the capture. Foreign media has generally reviewed Pakistan unfavourably and credit for the capture has solely been awarded to the US.

The general consideration of the western media is that only one of head of the Al-Qaeda hydra has been cut off. Der Spiegel is of the view that Bin Laden has left behind one of the most resilient and effective terrorist networks the world has ever seen. The death will weaken Al-Qaeda but for some time now others have been in charge of planning global terrorism. “I suspect the al-Qaeda senior leadership will splinter… this will create a vacuum,” said Marc Sageman, a former CIA analyst as when Al-Qaeda leaders became consumed with mere survival, other groups will try to pick up the slack.

The future of terrorism may still be secure. The Taliban is entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorist groups in Yemen, Algeria and Iraq have adopted the Al-Qaeda brand and in Somalia, al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists are growing. Ayman al-Zawahiri is expected to be number one on the FBI’s most wanted list (ABC News). Reports say that the power balance will shift to Yemen (Der Spiegel). John Brennan, US Chief of Counterterrorism may have spoken too soon when he said that that “Al-Qaeda is something in the past.”

Everybody hates Raymond

Raymond Davis has been the subject of widespread speculation since he opened fire on two men who had pulled up in front of his car at a red light on 25 January. Pakistan’s authorities have charged him with murder but the Obama administration insists he is an administrative and technical official with diplomatic immunity. US government has admitted that he is a CIA contractor and was keeping this information secret for his safety. As a security contractor and not a CIA employee, I doubt he has a valid recourse to diplomatic immunity… but I guess its a matter of politics and not of law (!). And check out the bling on these guys. ‘Rational’ is not how Pakistani’s roll.

The revelation may legally complicate American efforts to free Davis, who insists he was acting in self-defence against the pair of suspected robbers who were both carrying guns. There is no doubt that Davis’ reaction was excessive in light of the threat. He fired 10 shots and got out of his car to shoot one man twice in the back as he fled.

Nice training CIA!

Davis is confirmed to have served in the US special forces for 10 years becoming a security contractor. He is also believed to have worked with Xe, the firm formerly known as Blackwater (Guardian, Feb 19) (The plot thickens!). The New York Times (Feb 20) reported that Davis was part of a CIA operation tracking Islamic extremists in eastern Pakistan such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The babies in the Obama administration have threatened to withhold $1.5 bn in annual aid, but fine, its your money USA. “This is not the work of a diplomat. He was doing espionage activities,” said the Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah.

The drama has been getting increasingly intense with Foreign minister Qureshi losing his job, the widow of the victim killing herself with rat poison, Obama himself asking for Davis’ return and cries of revolution (everybody wants one) against Pakistan’s weak government and America’s imperialistic arrogance.



Salmaan Taseer: Last man standing

Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer was laid to rest at the Cavalry Ground graveyard in Lahore on Wednesday, January 5. Earlier, thousands of Pakistanis braved the
tense security situation and attended Taseer’s funeral after the country’s most high-profile assassination in three years.

His coffin, wrapped in the green and white national flag, was then flown the short distance by helicopter to the graveyard in the military cantonment in Lahore, where it was lowered into the ground by uniformed rescue workers. Lahore was shut down and authorities deployed security forces to guard against possible unrest after dozens of PPP supporters took to the streets to protest against the killing.

The 66 year old provincial governor had been Pakistan’s strongest voice against religious extremism and one of Pakistan’s foremost progressive leaders. His murder has horrified moderate Pakistanis and supporters of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The silencing of a temperate and liberal voice has been welcomed by members of the powerful religious right and does not bode well for a already shaky government.

On Tuesday, January 4, Salmaan Taseer was shot in daylight multiple times at close range as he was getting into his car in Islamabad at the Kohsar Market.Investigations are now focused on whether the police commando who confessed to killing Taseer because he opposed the reform of blasphemy law or acted alone, or as part of a wider conspiracy.

According to the preliminary autopsy report, Taseer’s body had 29 bullet wounds, puncturing his vital organs. The assassin Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was a government-trained commando assigned to the governor on at least five or six previous occasions.

“I am a slave of the Prophet (pbuh), and the punishment for one who commits blasphemy is death,” he told a television crew from Dunya TV that arrived at the scene shortly after the killing, according to Nasim Zahra, the director of news at the channel.

“We want to know who put his name on the duty list. We know he visited the police supervisor to get his name on the list,” Interior Minister Reman Malik told reporters. The supervisor and his deputy are among more than ten people taken into custody for interrogation.

Taseer used Twitter and public appearances to speak out boldly against the blasphemy law, vowing not to back down despite pressure from his ruling PPP and threats to his life from fanatics. He had been vocal in defending Aasia Bibi, the Christian mother-of-five who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, declaring that he was confident she was innocent.

“I was under huge pressure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing,” reads one of his tweets.

“It is a loss to progressive forces; he stood up for what he believed in,” said PPP lawmaker Sherry Rehman. There are now fears the safety of Sherry Rehman, who has proposed a private member’s bill in parliament seeking to soften the blasphemy law. Salmaan Taseer’s murder will be taken as a warning to any politician who speaks out against the religious parties and their agenda and may end attempts to amend the blasphemy laws in the near future.

The response of the right wing has been intriguing. While JUI-F and Jamaat e Islami have condemned the attacks, several religious groups have termed it as victory for those who want to protect the blasphemy law. After Taseer’s murder, a few zealots created Facebook page in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri which was later taken off.

On January 4, the PML-N added to the federal government’s woes, giving the PPP a three-day deadline, extended for three more days in the wake of the assassination, to accept a list of demands to avert a no-confidence vote. These included a reversal of recent fuel price increases, cuts in spending of 30 percent and the enforcement of a series of court verdicts against governing party officials for corruption.

According to the New York Times (Jan 5) the Obama administration worries that even if Pakistan’s government survives the upheaval, the ongoing turmoil could kill any chance for political and economic reforms. The assassination, one official said, leaves not only the repeal of the blasphemy laws in doubt, but also possible reforms to increase tax collection. Under pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintonand other US officials, the Pakistani government submitted a new tax law in Parliament. But it may abandon the push as a way to lure back coalition partners.

In a statement, Secretary Clinton called Taseer’s death “a great loss”and said she “admired his work to promote tolerance.” Presidential spokeswoman, Farahnaz Ispahani, spoke tearfully about the Governor’s death and invoked the legacy of Pakistan’s secular founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, using the popular title for him, Great Leader: “Show me another party where the leaders are being murdered, and why is that? Because we are standing up for Quaid-i-Azam’s Pakistan, and against extremism and terrorism.”

Declan Walsh writing for The Guardian (4 Jan) said, “Taseer’s death deprives Pakistan of a colourful politician with unusual reserves of pluck. More significantly, it signals a worrying reduction in the public space for public figures, who cannot even count on their own police to protect them. The country’s liberals have not felt so isolated since the dark years of the Zia dictatorship in the1980s.”

The Friday Times, 7th January, 2011