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A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

Pakistani TV Coverage of Abbottabad

Pakistan's Geo TV shows what appears to be the wreckage of an American helicopter from the Abbottbad raid. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- There is some interesting coverage on a few of the global Pakistani satellite channels (if you comprehend Urdu to a degree) of the Abbottabad raid. Highlights include what appears to be the tail of the downed Navy SEAL chopper and former President Pervez ‘Mush’ Musharraf talking about how the raid was a clear violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistan's Geo TV shows bin Laden's Abbottabad compound going down in flames. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

One of the more interesting things about it was the mood of the Pakistani public across a spectrum of their news sites. I did not see a single comment of anyone appearing overjoyed about this. Most seemed to find the notion of a foreign military power making a deadly raid deep inside their territory utterly humiliating. Many comments I came across, not untypical for that part of the world, seemed to say the raid was wrong not only for violating Pakistan, but because they believed the jury on bin Laden to still be out. Many in Pakistan seriously believe that the United States did not have a clear-cut enough case to kill bin Laden. Having personally been on all sides of the War on Terror short of spending the night in the dark prison at Bagram, I can kind of understand where this view comes from but I am sure no one else in America will.

The insecurity I see playing on in the comments on some of these news site forums stems directly from Pakistan’s defeats over the decades at the hands of its Indian nemesis and/or brothers. It is almost as if the United States stood in for the hated Indian military in this scenario.  Some in Pakistan may not want to condemn bin Laden simply as a residual emotional kneejerk held over from eight years of awful neoconservative unilateralist policy in South and Central Asia. On the other side of the Radcliffe Line/Line of Control, many in the Indian media and defense establishment are already no doubt gloating that Pakistan is the nexus of terror that they have been insisting it was all along. On the other side of the Durand Line, Afghans will no doubt be interpreting what all of this means for them as many fear the Karzai regime would simply crumble without Western support. There will be those in the West, particularly anti-militarists in the oh-so-subtly anti-American European left, who will now suggest even more forcefully that their self serving politicians can no longer in any way justify their respective participation in the American-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan, following the Dutch model. Let’s see what, if any, palpable immediate changes take place.

Iran’s Elections: Green Team!

June 12th, 2009 No comments

 

Moussavi at the polls after casting his vote.Photo: Newsha Tavakolian/Polaris, for The New York Times

Moussavi at the polls after casting his vote.Photo: Newsha Tavakolian/Polaris, The New York Times

We’re all on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of today’s elections in Iran. If Ahmadinejad wins a second term, either genuinely or by manipulation, it may be for Iranian voters what the second Bush term was for a lot of Americans in November of 2004. In other words, defeat and crushing disappointment.  The Green Team, what I’m Mir Hossein Mousavi’s fervent supporters, decked often head to waist in brilliant green had been surging in pre-election activity in hopes Mousavi could perhaps “Obama-ize” Iran (not likely!). The tone in Washington has been that Ahmadinejad’s popularity has sunk as of late due to the economy and draught of reform and that the Expediency Council is not pleased with some of his international antics. Results are being counted this moment.

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A Fallacy of Inheritance: Obama and the Missile Strike Policy

January 30th, 2009 No comments

Barack Obama is in office. Guantanamo is closing (though not immediately), America’s interest in Iraq seems to finally be fizzling and the new President gave a distinctive address to the people of the Middle East via al-Arabiya, al-Jazeera’s quietist rival. However one particularly disastrous bit of foreign policy President Obama has neither rebuffed nor assuaged the “Muslim world” are the missile strikes launched by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have been unleashed on ungoverned spaces in Pakistan’s hinterlands. These pilotless planes buzz high in the sky above their targets waiting to launch Hellfire missiles on the inaccessible, mud brick compound of the CIA’s choice.

Although the aerial attacks have taken out several “high value targets” (a term used to create dissonance between the alleged terrorists and their humanity), they have also killed scores of Pashtun peasants in the Tribal Belt. The strikes create more problems than they solve for several reasons. The militant leaders and their acolytes know that the Pakistani government has let its sovereignty be eroded by both the Bush White House and the new administration in its infancy. As the death toll mounts, Islamabad is further emasculated in the eyes of furious tribesman who feel their own government does not have the bravado to directly confront them. While Pakistani ground forces have failed miserably to dislodge Taliban elements and the notorious Haqqani family from their ideological trenches, the fact that American forces cannot enter Pakistan (though it is understood they have occasionally done so) through an announced legal framework makes the air strikes a viable option. Almost…

Through the lens of Pashtunwali, the regional code of rigid masculinity and hospitality, the drones circling overhead are birds of cowardice. Obama is immediately stuck in a policy vice grip. He campaigned for renewed diplomacy and outreach yet must still smash his progressive fist somewhere on some godforsaken poor people in order not be ridiculed as a throwback to an exaggerated moment of appeasement that has never been relevant. It is a scenario that requires a studied rethink. American forces cannot effectively enter northwestern Pakistan en masse. Pakistani forces have sustained immense casualties when they have attempted to enter the region from the east meeting heavy resistance. Meanwhile, the current policy of war by video game is inflaming Pakistani public opinion and national pride. The Americans have had, with limited success, obliterated some of their long sought enemies. The overwhelming outcome of these attacks is more of the “smoking ‘em out” sort with negligible intelligence benefits.

Obama made waves in his campaign by stating he would be (possibly) willing to negotiate with contrarian states like Iran and Syria in order to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and Palestine. What he did not say, however, is whether he would be willing to talk to non-state actors like the Taliban in order to achieve a modicum of regional stability in the Afghanistan-Pakistan cross border region known colloquially as Pushtunistan. In a term formerly reserved for the Kurds of the northern Middle East, Peter Bergen has said that the Pashtuns are in fact the world’s largest group of people without a state. Dealing solely with states is so twentieth century as we have painfully come to learn at the outset of the twenty-first. Ugly as it may be, the Taliban do represent some genuine Pashtun interest which has only more recently grafted with ideas of globalist holy war. The Taliban rose to power as a militant Pashtun nationalist movement with rather narrow domestic objectives under a democratically elected Bhutto administration in the mid-1990s in next door Pakistan. The UAVs will never accomplish a long term strategic reordering of Pushtunistan or eliminate al-Qaeda ideology from its mountain hideouts and humming online servers.

Pakistan is in a very fragile state with regard to its own domestic consciousness. Militants have killed so many innocents in the last few years, that while it may be difficult for people in the West to sympathize, normal Pakistanis live in fear from the day to day actual, unrelenting terrorism that has turned the public deeply against these barbaric groups. The other side of the equation has Urdu and English language national satellite new channels showing yet another missile impact killing children in the Frontier that Pakistanis are well aware their own elected government does not have the technological capability to carry out. The civilian population of Pakistan has something in common with President Obama. Both are in situations desperately in need of a third way. Escalating the overt war in Afghanistan and the covert war in Pakistan is a tired paradigm without a visible shift on the horizon.

Far more destructive to the confines of militant thought would be the financing of new roads and schools in a joint Pakistani-American venture, perhaps with the blessing of enlightened members of the local ulema (religious councils). The people of Pushtunistan would likely welcome decent state healthcare for their children and the financing of at least minimal infrastructure in the region if it was not peppered with condescending, Punjabi dominated governance. Doing the necessary work in Pakistan’s deteriorating northwest would require a long and perhaps initially dangerous commitment. Hearts and minds cannot be won with Hellfire.