Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:55:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 As Iran talks Progress, US, Iran forces cooperate in taking Tikrit Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:40:25 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

By now the Iraqi government has a long history of claiming areas are “liberated” when the local picture remained mixed. This is the sort of thing that occurred recently in
where Tikrit, where PM Haydar al-Abadi went on television and declared Tikrit no longer in the hands of Daesh (ISIL or ISIS).

In fact, whole neighborhoods appear still to be Daesh territory and some 400 fighters ffrom that group remained in the city Friday evening. In any case, the difficulty the government had in taking Tikrit had to do not so much with the number of fighters but with the booby traps Daesh had set everywhere.

Still, the Iraq press thinks it is only a matter of time before Tikrit does fall entirely.

A notable development in Tuesday’s advances, which saw the Tikrit-Samarra highway reopened, was that the Shiite militias–the Badr Corps, the League of the Righteous, and an organization termed “Iraqi Hizbullah” fought Daesh with US Air Force close air support. Some of the militia had announced that they would not fight alongside the USA. But all seem gradually have moved into the city with the help of US precision targeting of enemy positions.

This battle is a milestone in the sense that Iraq’s Shiite militias are also being supported on the ground by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps advisers. Thus, de facto the US Air Force is giving close air support to Iranian forces

The Tikrit campaign is thus unprecedented in modern times in combining US, Iranian and Iraqi forces. You’d have to go back to the Baghdad Pact of 1955 to find such an alliance, and it was short-lived, ended by the 1958 Iraqi nationalist revolution of Abdel Karim Qasim.

Although French fighter jets have also flown against Daesh in Tikrit, apparently Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries have not joined in. For them, the spectacle of Shiites taking Sunni Tikrit is too painful, and it is not clear that they think Daesh is greater threat than Iran. Obama certainly does think that. Thus we see the great divergence between US and Saudi policy in Iraq and to some extent Syria.

Related video:

CNN: “Iraqi official: Tikrit has been liberated from ISIS

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Barghouthi: “Joining ICC A Significant Move To Strip Israel’s Illegal Immunity” Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:00:37 +0000 By IMEMC News | –

Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, stated that by joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), Palestine would be able to file cases against Israel and its commanders for war crimes against the Palestinian people, and to strip Israel of its illegal immunity that allowed it to continue its war crimes.

Dr. Barghouthi said the fact that Palestine became an official member of the ICC, Tuesday, is an important step towards stripping Israel of its illegal, and immoral, immunity that enabled it to continue to commit war crimes against the Palestinians, their lands, property and holy sites, in direct violation of International Law.

“For the first time since 67 years after the establishment of Israel in the historic land of Palestine, there will be a tool, and a means to hold it accountable,” he said, “Israel’s government, its generals and soldiers who continuously commit war crimes against the Palestinians, and Arab nations, must be brought to justice.”

The Palestinian official further stated the Israeli crimes were escalating, including Israel’s repeated aggression on the civilians on Gaza.

He added that Israel’s continued construction and expansion of colonies since 1967, is also a crime that has even been condemned by the International Court of Justice ten years ago, as settlements violate International Law.

He also stressed that it is essential to prepare and submit to the ICC all needed files and cases that document Israel’s ongoing crimes, especially settlements, and war crimes against the civilians in the Gaza Strip.


AFP: “Palestinian Authority and expert comment on joining ICC”

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Half of all new Energy world-wide last year was Green Wed, 01 Apr 2015 05:49:50 +0000 By Sean Buchanan | –

ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS) – Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.


Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014.

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year. However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris

Licensed from IPS

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Afghanistan’s China Card Wed, 01 Apr 2015 05:31:59 +0000 By Dilip Hiro | ( –

Call it an irony, if you will, but as the Obama administration struggles to slow down or halt its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is performing a withdrawal operation of his own. He seems to be in the process of trying to sideline the country’s major patron of the last 13 years — and as happened in Iraq after the American invasion and occupation there, Chinese resource companies are again picking up the pieces.

In the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was the focus of “the Great Game” between the imperial powers of that era, Britain and Czarist Russia, and so it is again.  Washington, the planet’s “sole superpower,” having spent an estimated $1 trillion and sacrificed the lives of 2,150 soldiers fighting the Taliban in the longest overseas war in its history, finds itself increasingly and embarrassingly consigned to observer status in the region, even while its soldiers and contractors still occupy Afghan bases, train Afghan forces, and organize night raids against the Taliban.

In the new foreign policy that Ghani recently outlined, the United States finds itself consigned to the third of the five circles of importance.  The first circle contains neighboring countries, including China with its common border with Afghanistan, and the second is restricted to the countries of the Islamic world.

In the new politics of Afghanistan under Ghani, as the chances for peace talks between his government and the unbeaten Taliban brighten, the Obama administration finds itself gradually but unmistakably being reduced to the status of bystander. Meanwhile, credit for those potential peace talks goes to the Chinese leadership, which has received a Taliban delegation in Beijing twice in recent months, and to Ghani, who has dulled the hostility of the rabidly anti-Indian Taliban by reversing the pro-India, anti-Pakistan policies of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

How to Influence Afghans

Within a month of taking office in late September, Ghani flew not to Washington — he made his obligatory trip there only last week — but to Beijing. There he declared China “a strategic partner in the short term, medium term, long term, and very long term.” In response, Chinese President Xi Jinping called his Afghan counterpart “an old friend of the Chinese people,” whom he hailed for being prepared to work toward “a new era of cooperation” and for planning to take economic development “to a new depth.”

As an official of the World Bank for 11 years, Ghani had dealt with the Chinese government frequently. This time, he left Beijing with a pledge of 2 billion yuan ($327 million) in economic aid for Afghanistan through 2017.

The upbeat statements of the two presidents need to be seen against the backdrop of the twenty-first-century Great Game in the region in which, after 13 years of American war, Chinese corporations are the ones setting records in signing up large investment deals. In 2007, the Metallurgical Corporation of China and Jiangxi Copper Corporation, a consortium, won a $4.4 billion contract to mine copper at Aynak, 24 miles southeast of Kabul. Four years later, China National Petroleum Corporation in a joint venture with a local company, Watan Oil & Gas, secured the right to develop three oil blocks in northwestern Afghanistan with a plan to invest $400 million.

In stark contrast, 70 U.S. companies had invested a mere $75 million by 2012, according to the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. What Washington policymakers find galling is that China has not contributed a single yuan to pacify insurgency-ridden Afghanistan or participated in the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in that country, and yet its corporations continue to benefit from the security provided by the presence of American soldiers.

In the other equally important realm of soft power, when it came to gaining popularity among Afghans through economic aid, New Delhi outperformed Washington in every way. Though at $2 billion, its assistance to Kabul was a fraction of what Washington poured into building the country’s infrastructure of roads, schools, and health clinics, the impact of India’s assistance was much greater. This was so partly because it involved little waste and corruption.

Continuing the practice dating back to the pre-Taliban era, the Indian government channeled its development aid for the building of wells, schools, and health clinics directly into the Afghan government’s budget. This procedure was dramatically different from the one followed by the U.S. and its allies. They funneled their aid money directly to civilian contractors or to approved local and foreign nongovernmental organizations with little or no oversight. The result was massive fraud and corruption.

By funding the building of a new parliamentary complex on the outskirts of Kabul, the Afghan capital, at the cost of $140 million, India provided a highly visible example of its generosity. This gesture also served to set it off publicly from its regional rival, Pakistan. It has, after all, been a functioning multiparty democracy since independence (except for a 19-month hiatus under emergency rule in 1975-76). In contrast, the military in Pakistan has overthrown its civilian government three times, administering the country for 31 years since its founding in August 1947 following the partition of British India.

That partition took place in the midst of horrendous communal violence between Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other, resulting in an estimated 750,000 deaths and the migration of 12 million people across the freshly delineated borders between the two newly formed countries. Within two months of this unprecedented bloodletting, war had broken out between the new neighbors when the Hindu Maharaja of the Muslim-majority native state of Kashmir joined predominantly Hindu India.

A United Nations-brokered ceasefire came into effect in January 1950. By then, India controlled about two-fifths of Kashmir and repeated its earlier promise that, once normal conditions returned to the disturbed province, a plebiscite would be held in all of Kashmir in which its inhabitants could opt for either India or Pakistan. That plebiscite did not take place because of subsequent Indian foot-dragging. Pakistan’s attempts in 1965 and 1999 to alter the status quo in Kashmir militarily failed. Little wonder that relations between the two neighbors, which openly declared themselves nuclear powers in 1998, have remained tense to hostile, punctuated by periodic exchanges of fire across the heavily militarized border in Kashmir.

A Great Game in the Neighborhood

After the U.S. drove the Taliban regime from Kabul in 2001, a contemporary version of the great game emerged in Afghanistan, as Pakistan and India became involved in a proxy war there. Most of the Taliban’s leaders fled to Pakistan, then ruled by General Pervez Musharraf who was also the chief of army staff. In Pakistan, they were protected by the military’s intelligence service, the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. Following the almost wholesale diversion of Washington’s military and intelligence resources to invade and occupy Iraq in March 2003, the Taliban leadership, headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, started rebuilding its movement.

The direct election of Hamid Karzai in 2004 as president of post-Taliban Afghanistan buoyed New Delhi. Karzai had spent seven years in India as a university student. During his stay, he became fluent in Urdu and Hindi, as well as an addict of Bollywood movies and North Indian cuisine. He also came to admire the country’s democratic system. Within two months of assuming the Afghan presidency, he paid a state visit to India.

As the Afghan Taliban, led by its Pakistan-based leadership, regrouped and rearmed, and its insurgency against the Kabul government gathered momentum, relations between Karzai and Musharraf turned testy. To defuse the situation, they met in Islamabad in February 2006. Karzai handed the general a list of Taliban militants, including Mullah Omar, allegedly living in Pakistan. When no action followed — with Musharraf later claiming that most of the information was old and useless — his government leaked the list to the media.

On his part, Musharraf started complaining about an anti-Pakistani conspiracy being hatched by the Afghan defense and intelligence ministries, each run by pro-Delhi figures. In an interview with Newsweek International in September, Musharraf claimed that Mullah Omar was actually in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, which meant that “the center of gravity of this [Taliban] movement is in Afghanistan.” Karzai retorted, “Mullah Omar is for sure in Quetta in Pakistan… We have even given [Musharraf] the GPS numbers of his house… and the telephone numbers.”  And so it went.

Last month, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Musharraf, now confined to a villa in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, pointed out that India and Pakistan were then in a proxy war on Afghan soil that fed the conflict there. The role his government and the subsequent ones played in nurturing the Taliban and allied militant groups operating in Afghanistan, he argued, was a legitimate counterweight to the acts of rival India. “There are enemies of Pakistan that have to be countered,” he said. “Certainly if there’s an enemy of mine, I will use somebody [else] to counter him.”

Given this zero-sum relationship between the two leading South Asian nations, the increasingly bitter quarrel between Karzai and Musharraf (and his successors) proved music to the ears of policymakers in New Delhi. They were also aware that their country was already far ahead in the Afghan popularity sweepstakes. According to a 2009 opinion poll done by the Afghan Centre for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research, for example, 91% of Afghans had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Pakistan. The corresponding figure for India was 21%.

During his second term as president, Karzai capitalized on this popular sentiment. In October 2011, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and he signed an agreement for a “strategic partnership” in which India was, among other things, to “assist, as mutually determined, in the training, equipping, and capacity-building programs for Afghan National Security Forces.”

Pakistani leaders, who regard Afghanistan as their country’s backyard, were alarmed. Their apprehension increased when a news item in the Dubai-based newspaper, the National, cited a report in Jane’s Defense Weekly that up to 30,000 recruits from the Afghan security forces were to be flown to India for training over a three-year period. There, they would be equipped with assault rifles and other small arms. Later, rocket launchers, light artillery, and even retrofitted Soviet T-55 tanks might be transferred to them.

There was great anxiety in Islamabad at the prospect of future Afghan commanders being indoctrinated by its mortal rival when Karzai had rejected repeated Pakistani offers to train Afghan army cadets at its military academy. This drove Pakistan’s military strategists to firm up their plans for a worst-case scenario: a two-front assault on the country from India in the east and an Indian-Afghan military alliance in the west.

To their relief, the figure mentioned by Jane’s Defense Weekly proved to be wildly inflated. During a Karzai visit to India in December 2013, the two governments announced that the 350 army and police personnel then being trained there annually would be raised to 1,000 in the future and that the focus of their training would be on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. Islamabad was no less relieved to learn that, facing increased security risks in Afghanistan, a consortium of Indian companies had scaled back its investment to mine iron ore there from a projected $10.3 billion to $1.5 billion.

On the China front, invited by President Xi, Karzai attended the summit conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing in June 2012. There the two leaders issued a joint statement on a “China-Afghanistan Strategic and Cooperative Partnership.” Three months later, China’s internal security chief, Zhou Yongka, visited Kabul and signed a range of Sino-Afghan economic and security agreements that included the training of a modest 300 Afghan police officers over the following four years.

A year later, during another Karzai visit to Beijing, Xi announced a grant of 200 million yuan ($32 million) to Afghanistan for 2013 and offered to host the annual 14-nation regional conference on Afghanistan, the first of which had been held in Istanbul in November 2011.

And so the stage was set for a major twist in both the Great Game in Asia and its limited version being played in Afghanistan. 

The China Card

A telling irony is that Afghan President Ghani has been America’s favorite, especially given the spats that Washington had with Karzai, who regularly denounced U.S. air strikes, banned night raids in his country, and refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would keep U.S. forces there for up to a decade or more.  On taking office, Ghani promptly signed the agreement, and then tried to neutralize its impact by actively courting China and Pakistan.

As a start, Ghani made sure to arrive in Beijing just before the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan began on October 31, 2014. In his talks with Xi, he reportedly expressed his readiness to confer with the Afghan Taliban and urged the Chinese leader to encourage the Pakistani government to pressure the Taliban’s leaders into peace talks with his administration. He evidently got a receptive response.

Unlike Washington, which has had wildly fluctuating relations with Islamabad, Beijing has a lot more leverage there. Pakistan regards China, its main supplier of arms, as an all-weather ally of the first order. In May 2011, when Pakistan protested that Washington hadn’t given the slightest hint that it would launch its clandestine operation to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, there was silence in capitals across the planet — except in Beijing. It supported Pakistan’s complaint. This led that country’s ambassador to China, Masood Khan, to describe Sino-Pakistani relations in the most laudatory of terms. “We say it is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey, and so on.”

China has its own security concerns. It is increasingly worried about Islamist radicalism among its Uighur population in the autonomous region of Xinjiang adjoining Pakistan. Menacingly, the Islamic State has vowed to “liberate” Xinjiang. Beijing is eager to see training camps run by Uighur Islamist terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistan border shut down, which can only be done with the active cooperation of the Afghan Taliban and its ally, the Pakistani Taliban.

In line with his foreign policy of giving first priority to neighbors, Ghani traveled to Islamabad in late November. There, after meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he broke diplomatic protocol by calling on General Raheel Sharif, the powerful chief of army staff, who has the last word on matters of national security. His gesture alarmed the pro-India lobby in Afghanistan, but was applauded by Pakistan’s officials and media.

Later Ghani suspended an order for heavy weapons Karzai had placed with India. In a further sign that he was disengaging himself from India’s embrace, he has so far shown no interest in visiting New Delhi. “Ashraf Ghani is a balanced man,” remarked Musharraf, adding, “I think he’s a great hope” for Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif has responded positively, altering a long-held Pakistani policy of encouraging the Taliban to stick to a hard line on peace talks. The December 16th killing of 132 Pakistani students, most of them the children of army officers, at the Army Public School in Peshawar helped this process. The leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a homegrown organization close to the Afghan Taliban, masterminded the massacre. In its wake, Sharif declared that there were no longer “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists.”

Ghani welcomed that statement. Reversing Karzai’s policy, he ordered his security forces to begin working closely with their Pakistani counterparts to pacify the badlands along the Afghan-Pakistan border. General Sharif reciprocated by visiting Kabul and holding high-level talks with Afghan officials.  Ghani then further changed his country’s policies by sending a symbolic six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan’s military academy for training.

In this way, Ghani seems to be creating an environment conducive to the holding of formal peace talks with the Taliban later this year. If so, a new chapter could unfold in war-torn Afghanistan in which the Chinese role would only grow, while the United States might end up as a footnote in the long history of that country.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of 35 books.  His latest, The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry between India and Pakistan, has just been published by Nation Books.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Dilip Hiro



Related video added by Juan Cole:

RFE/RL: ” RFE/RLive: Can China Help Rebuild Afghanistan?”

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War with Iran, by the Numbers Tue, 31 Mar 2015 04:41:21 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Sen. John McCain and others on the American Right are in favor of dropping those pesky negotiations with Iran and just bombing their nuclear enrichment sites. Doing so, however, would only set them back a year or so, and would certainly put Iran on a war footing with the USA. Those who think such bombing runs would be the end of the story, however, are fooling themselves. Bombing Iraq in 1991 and the no-fly zone had a lot to do with taking the USA down the path to a ground war in 2003. Bombing now will almost certainly lead to a similar ground war.

Iran is 2.5 times more populous than Iraq and much bigger geographically. It is likely that Iran war numbers would be three times those of Iraq, at least.

Casualties from a strike on Bushehr Nuclear Plant: Hundreds of thousands.

Likely US troop deaths: 15,000

Likely US troops lightly injured: 270,000

Likely US troops more seriously wounded: 90,000

Direct cost of war: $5.1 trillion

Cost of caring for wounded troops over lifetime: $9 trillion to $18 trillion

Likely Iranian deaths: 300,000 to 1 million

Likely Iranian injured: 900,0000 to 3 million

Iranian displaced: 12 million (out of 75 million)

Opportunity cost to US: $23 trillion of infrastructure, health care improvement


Related video:

CNN: ” Nuclear dangers as Iran deal deadline nears”

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Lynching Farkhunda: Birth of Gender Equality and Accountability in Afghanistan? Tue, 31 Mar 2015 04:25:25 +0000 By Solaiman M Fazel | (Informed Comment)

The brutal murder of a 27 year old Afghan female student, Farkhunda, at the hands of an angry mob in front of the Shah-e Do-Shamshira Mosque near downtown Kabul was not only a heinous crime, but it also reveals the collective irresponsibility and ineffectiveness of the police officers who were present at the scene.

Farkhunda’s abysmal death has ignited tense debates amongst Afghans about the trajectory of civil society and the ideals that shall govern public sphere in the country. The debates are heavily polarized between what some perceive as the espousal or rejection of enlightenment values to the detriment of entrenched practices. Islamist ideals also continue to shape the ongoing civil society discussions.

Many who fuel these debates form a part of Kabul’s new generation. Young, dynamic and driven by success. These urbanites are typically linked to social media, desire a civil society based on the principles of Human Rights, Civil Law and individual dignity regardless of the mosaic of gender, ethnicity, sect and class based lifestyle that defines much of Afghan society.

The solidarity walks and vigils for Farkhunda that have taken place within and outside of Afghanistan are magical moments for the country’s citizens because they transcend the usual gender and ethno-sectarian fault lines. Fault lines that have politicized the actions and conducts of practically everyone in the population. Her death is the awakening of a civil society that eagerly wants to acknowledge the unalienable rights of every Afghan man and woman.

The demonstrations by protesters from all walks of life who stood shoulder-to-shoulder are the fruit of the tireless labor of social activism by intellectuals, bloggers and community leaders who risk their lives and careers on daily basis in order to empower their co-patriots in hopes of creating a more just and accountable future in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s population is tired of the fruitless ethno-sectarian politics and domestic conflicts that have dominated the political arena while transforming it to one of the least developed and most impoverished societies. As a result, the cultivation of a progressive ideals and systems of knowledge has been hampered. Will Farkhunda’s lynching can be a turning point for a safer, more woman- friendly and productive streets, bazaars and workplaces in Kabul?

Farkhunda has been given the honorary title of “symbol of gender equality” by her co-patriots. Her merciless death at the hand of bigots has led to the closure of fortune teller stores by pretentious clerics. Thousands have also urged the Kabul municipality to rename the busy Shah-e Do-Shamshira intersection in her honor. Her death has consolidated, reinvigorated and expanded the contours of the Civil Society, which profusely pushes back against the social ills of extremism (domestic and imported), sexism, and discriminations that has plagued the progress of society.

Farkhunda’s supporters and humanitarians have carved out a much needed space that has given voice to the voiceless women who are not part and parcel of the political elite. Citizens continue to play an active role in formation of a just and robust society and have put relentless pressure on President Ashraf Ghani’s Unity Government for swift and responsible reforms. The recent event is a pivotal moment for the Unity Government to show their resolve for gender equality, justice and the rule of law so females could walk on the streets and go to school, gym and work without the fear of sexual assault or being burned to ashes. Afghan women, like every other woman in the world, have the right to be dynamic actors in today’s knowledge-based global economic market. And it is the responsibility of the state to protect them.

In the meantime, people remain hopeful that perpetuators of Farkhunda’s death and those who publicly condoned this crime will be brought to justice in a transparent and timely manner. Will the Unity Government seize the moment to bridge the state-to-society distrust or will this be another missed opportunity like the Kabul Bank thievery, the election frauds and the abduction or the recent abduction of 31 Hazara citizens on the Kabul-Qandahar Highway? One things is now certain, Farkhunda’s tragic death has reawakened even the most docile in the population. Her lynching seems to have united a fragmented people that now wish to forge a future based social justice and universal ideals.

Solaiman M. Fazel holds an MA in History and is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Afghans demand justice for Farkhunda”

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What’s at Stake in Nuclear Talks for Ordinary Iranians Tue, 31 Mar 2015 04:16:08 +0000 By Saideh Jamshidi

Iran’s new round of nuclear negotiations with the United Nations is expected to be completed by March 31, today. But one thing is clear: Leader Ali Khamenei wants to gain as much as he can from this political dilemma. He might be the only one who can end to this political comedy after 37 years. But if he doesn’t, it will be Iranians who suffer.

On a recent weekend, I was having a Persian breakfast– virtually a ritual in my family.

There was a lot to eat at the table. But everybody was paying extra attention to the honey, coated in its delicious honey-wax that my mom brought it from Iran.

“How much did you pay for this maman,” I asked my mom, in Iranian culture are called “maman,” a French word imported during the 1920s.

“About 105,600 Rials,” she said.

“How much is it in the U.S. dollars?” I asked.

“About $3.00,” she replied.

“Oh, it is not too bad,” I said.

“But I paid about $1.00 one and half years ago,” maman said.

Honey is a luxury food in Tehran, and the inflation rate goes up in Iran on a daily basis.

Eggs used to cost 2 cents each. They are about 50 cents now. My mom said that in 2013, a pound of red meat cost $3. She paid $7 for a pound of red meat in Iran late last year.

There is one important thing that the Iranian government, Americans and the world should know: The Iranian people are suffering, and difficulty with putting food on the table is just one of the ways.

Any time Iran is included in the world community, it has acted with more civility.

Currently, we are dealing with the brutality that ISIS imposes on Muslims and non-Muslims in the region. Iraqis and Syrians are dealing with chaotic circumstances.

Iranian people like my mom are acutely aware of the region’s problems.

They understand their government’s propaganda against the West. They have tasted sanctions in every fiber of their stomach. They have observed Iran’s decisions on Syria’s Asad by supporting Asad’s regime in its most brutal sense. They know how the Iranian government is using the Palestinian cause to suppress its own people. They know their own government has come up short in solving domestic problems, let alone its global nuclear ambition.

Ali Khamenei, who makes final decisions on all important matters, understands Iranians’ dissatisfaction over his handling of the domestic and global politics. He knows that people are angry at him for his blunt support of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency. He doesn’t want another Iraq or Syria for his administration. He knows that people have lost their faith in and trust of the clergy. And he knows that people will blame him for his decisions on the nuclear deal. It is in his own best interest to end the circus.

If you ask the Iranian people, they want to see the stream of US green notes in their banking system.

The Iranian people don’t need a war or more sanctions. They need open doors and more relations with the West. For the Iraanian government to back away from key areas of agreement at the last minute is not a political maneuver, it is simply foolish.

Saideh Jamshidi is an Iranian-American journalist, and founder of Goltune, an online digital magazine focusing on Muslim women.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Reuters: “Iran nuclear talks in final stretch”

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Saudi airstrike on Yemen Refugee Camp kills 45 Tue, 31 Mar 2015 04:14:34 +0000 RT | –

45 people were killed and another 65 injured in an airstrike by a Saudi-led coalition at a refugee camp in Houthi-controlled northern Yemen on Monday, the International Organization for Migration (IMO) said.

The bombardment took place in the vicinity of the Mazraq refugee
camp, Joel Millman, IMO spokesman told Reuters, citing the
organization’s staff on the ground.

It was not immediately clear how many of the casualties were
civilians and how many were armed personnel, he added.

Earlier, a humanitarian official told the agency that the
airstrike had targeted a military installation not far from the

“(@elbahkali) March
30, 2015

Yemen’s Defense Ministry, which is controlled by the Houthis,
said on its website that 40 people, including women and children,
were killed and another 250 people received injuries.

“Saudi warplanes targeted one of four refugee camps in the Harad
district, which led to the death and injury of several of its
residents,” the ministry said. The airstrike targeted camp 1 in
the Mazraq region, which houses around 4,000 refugees, leaving
over 40 people dead, including women and children“ and over 250
others injured.

Yemen’s exiled foreign minister, Riyadh Yaseen, has blamed the
Houthis for the deaths of people at the Mazraq refugee camp.

The blast was not caused by the coalition, but by “artillery
which the rebels are responsible for, Yaseen told
journalists in Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The Mazraq region, near the Saudi border, hosts a cluster of
camps, in which thousands of displaced Yemenis and East African
migrants reside. Around 750 families have been forced to flee to
the camps from the Houthi heartland region of Saada in northern
Yemen since the Saudi-led operation began.

The air strikes also have targeted the Houthi forces advancing on
the port city of Aden, the last bastion of the Saudi-backed
president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Witnesses told Daily Sabah paper that the coalition bombarded
rebel-controlled military sites near Mount Nuqum in eastern part
of capital Sanaa, with the Houthis replied with anti-aircraft

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Saudi-led operation, Ahmed
Asiri, said that the coalition naval forces have besieged Yemen’s
ports, AP reported.

Naval forces are blocking the movement of ships to prevent
weapons and fighters from entering or leaving the country, Asiri

Monday saw the fifth day of Yemen being subjected to airstrikes
by the Saudi-led coalition, aiming to weaken the Shia Houthi
militia, which took control of the country after the resignation
of president Hadi in January.

The rebels in Yemen are supported by Iran, but the Houthis have
denied that they are receiving weapons from Tehran.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is set to join the Saudi-led coalition of
several Gulf States, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco in their fight
against the Yemen rebels, a senior Pakistani government official

“We have already pledged full support to Saudi Arabia in its
operation against rebels and will join the coalition,”
official said, as cited by Reuters.

The situation in Yemen was previously very fraught, but the
Saudi-led airstrikes have contributed to turning the country into
“something of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Joe Stork,
deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North
Africa Division, told RT.

It’s really hard to see what good can possibly come out of
this campaign. I think, frankly, this is a political question,
not a human rights question, but it’s really difficult to see how
the government of Hadi could possibly be restored under this
he said.

Stork believes that there’s “little indication that there’s a
which has been developed by the coalition, and it
still seems unclear what the endgame might be for the Yemen

In August 2014, Houthi rebels swept down from their stronghold in
the mountains, demanding economic and political reforms.

In the following months, they seized key state installations in
capital Sanaa and forced both the president and PM to resign.

After announcing their grasp of power in Yemen, the Houthis
continued advancing to the south of the country, seizing cities
one after the other.

Via RT


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Yemen: Air strike kills at least 40 people at camp, say aid workers”

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