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Archive for June, 2011

Gains in Western Libya

June 27th, 2011 No comments

New York- I have become increasingly interested in the gradual opening up of large swaths of western Libya in the peaks and valleys of the Nafusa Mountains. Until recently, this Berber populated area was one of the more under reported parts of the war there. The rebels must be controlling a particular border crossing with Tunisia that I have been looking into as journalists have begun to trickle into the region. The rebels have been making some bit of progress toward Tripoli but there is still a long way to go. The Leader still controls the key Saharan towns of Ghadames and Sebha as well as obviously Tripoli itself and the coastal border with Tunisia. I’m toying with the idea of heading to Nalut, the main town of the Nafusa, which from some of the reports I’m seeing is fairly accessible from the border. Below is a report from Al Jazeera English:

TWD’s China in Africa

June 8th, 2011 No comments

New York- I have the feature piece in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about China’s most visible entry into the African sphere so far–the construction of the new African Union by Beijing–at no up front cost to the Africans. Lots of interesting machinations going on in that part of the world, the resource economy’s last unbridled frontier. Click below for more.

Syed Saleem Shahzad’s Last Interview

June 7th, 2011 No comments

New York- The brief spotlight that the assassination of Asia Times Online’s Saleem Shahzad brought to the danger journalists face on a daily basis has faded here in the United States for now until the next tragedy. Here in New York, the philandering of absurdly egotistical, warring pro-Israel politicos is a lot sexier (though in no way actually sexy) in terms of ratings and other nonsense. I wanted to post this interview Shahzad did shortly before his death with the Canadian Real News Network. Shahzad speaks truth to power in this Skype interview which is exactly why I am putting it up as ‘the story has moved on’ which they love to say here in NYC. No stranger to controversy, Shahzad talks about the long trumped up notion of cleaving the Quetta shura from the FATA-based (or KP or Punjab?) AQ  which much of Petraeus exit strategy for American forces in Afghanistan relies on. In this respect Shahzad is accidentally in line with Gates who said in 60 Minutes interview that it was too soon to tell if the killing of ObL was a ‘game changer.’ The killing of Shahzad will not be forgotten. Not in the journalism community and not by readers of Asia Times. Pakistanis now effectively have their own Anna Politikovskaya. Telling the truth in backward quasi-democracies like Pakistan and the Russian Federation can be a death sentence in an environment where human life often feels to have little value. Journalists like these are key torch bearers in damaged societies where it is a constant struggle to keep them relatively open. The next tier down in my un-calculated freedom index would be Burma and Turkmenistan and nobody wants that except for Than Shwe and Berdy.

“The Ink of the Scholar Is More Sacred Than the Blood of the Martyr”

June 1st, 2011 No comments

New York- Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s flagship journalist, was brutalized and murdered. Though it may be some time until the details seep up from the seamy underworld that did him in, many both inside and outside Pakistan are quickly pointing fingers at the ISI for the tragedy. Here’s what I’ll say: if it were a terrorist group that assassinated him, of which Pakistan seems to have more than one can count, it is unlikely they would have used the old ‘kidnap in place x and dump body in place y’ method. That tired, vulgar routine is more in line with the country’s security services over which the supposedly reformed kleptocrat Asif Ali Zardari has virtually no influence–the Hayatullah Khan case immediately comes to mind.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistans and Lashkar-e-Jhangvis of that dark realm tend to either employ highly targeted suicide bombings using boys often as young as 12-13 or the kidnap-and-make-youtube-hostage-video routine. Saleem Shahzad was an incomparable journalist whose bylines are irreplaceable. Other journalists often seemed envious of his scoops and placed suspicion on his sources. Some thought he was too close to the story, whether it be the ISI, the Quetta shura, the TTP, or AQ. In some people’s eyes, they believed he didn’t play by the rules because his sources were too good, dangerous, or a mix of the two. They were jealous, I supposed when I heard such talk.

What Saleem Shahzad was was someone extraordinarily interested  in shining light on a dark world. Asia Times will carry on and journalism will carry on but we have lost a key interlocutor into one country’s desperately important downward spiral. A country to which 170 million souls call home and the United States cannot extricate itself from her ally’s affairs. Just before Saleem Shahzad was brutally killed by those far less civilized, he finally released a book called Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11 which will leave behind a written legacy of an era much of the world would like to forget.