Archive | February 24th, 2016

Haiti to Sell Offshore Island La Gonâve to Foreign Capital, Transformed into a Tax Haven

NOVANEWS

Fraud and Corruption: Invalidate the Decree

Global Research
haiti-flag

Editorial Comment

Has Haiti’s 38-square-mile offshore island, Ile de La Gonâve been sold outright to foreign interests or transformed into a tax haven where Haiti maintains ownership only of the territory?

Neither of these. Not if we fight. On January 7, 2016 Michel Martelly published a decree to cede this island with about 80,000 residents to a poorly defined entity called the “Gonave Island Financial Center.” It is possible that Michel Martelly, a fraudulently installed occupation president, signed this decree while his son was being threatened with actions related to alleged charges that have apparently been sealed. Whether or not this is so, given the contents of the decree, Martelly and any other signatory deserve to be prosecuted by Haitian justice for treason.

To the United States and France, which are certainly behind this deal, I ask: what do you call former slave-owners that connive to rip off the so-called “poorest country in the western hemisphere?” Let this become part of your names in perpetuity.

All is not lost. Haiti is not its president’s fiefdom, and Martelly never had the authority to sell part of the country. Any contract involving the Haitian State must be presented to the population, and it must be discussed, amended as required for its legality and other aspects, and ratified by the parliament.

It therefore behooves the Haitian population, now more than ever, to remain firm in its insistence that the August 9 and October 25, 2015 legislative election results must be verified. The parliament, which is being qualified as a den of rogues by Haitian rights organizations, should be rid of the criminals who are currently hiding in it because of the immunity it confers on them against criminal prosecution.

For a credible story about La Gonâve, I contacted Professor Beguens Theus, a political scientist and socio-demographer who was La Gonâve’s Representative to Haiti’s Lower House from 2011 to 2015. Mr. Theus was born and raised in Ile de la Gonâve, where he currently resides. He provided me with the following text of a lecture that he recently gave to a group of law students of the Bar Association of the city of Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti.*

Dadi Chery

Haiti Must Invalidate Decree to Cede La Gonave

Professor Beguens Theus

La Gonâve, with its geo-economic-touristic configuration, insularity, hospitable people, healthy climate, beautiful sea, appetizing seafood, delicious coconuts, beautiful sands and attractive shores, offers enormous endogenous potential for its development and that of Haiti. One has only to add the necessary infrastructure that it lacks for it to become the jewel of Haiti and the eco-touristic center of the world. With respect to its investment needs, however, should we accept everything even if it robs us of our rights and freedoms? Let us briefly examine the main points of the January 7, 2016 Decree with 111 articles, some of which are like poisoned candy and others of which are unconstitutional.

100127-N-9303D-002 ILE DE LA GONAVE, Haiti (Jan. 27, 2010) Firecontrolman 3rd Class Brad Morgan, assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), gives candy to a young girl during an assessment and assistance visit to Ile De La Gonave, Haiti. Normandy is supporting Operation Unified Response following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that caused severe damage in Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy Photo by Culinary Specialist 2nd Class George Disario/Released)

1. Land ownership

The decree to establish the Gonave Island Financial Center, in its Article 4, stipulates that “To achieve its mission, the Center may acquire all property, movable and immovable; execute all works or major works that it needs and act as the owner… pledge, give as security, mortgage, give as a guarantee its properties with the permission of the Board of Directors. “And,” on the territory available to the Center, it will be free to subdivide or parcel out, grant farming and rental rights to its residents, receive dues and provide for its needs…” according to Article 6. “Companies or other entities established by the Center may be fully owned by persons or entities who are not nationals or residents of Haiti,” declares Article 56.

Articles 4, 6 and 56 give to foreigners of the Center ownership of all the property of the land area in question for free and without compensation to the local population.

Further, Article 55 says, “Money and other property belonging to entities of the Center or the entire company, persons established or residents in the Center and/or the Financial District are not subject to nationalization procedures, expropriation and/or other restrictions with regard to personal property.”

So this is a perpetual contract granting to the said Center the local land, which in the future may not be nationalized, expropriated or subjected to any form of restriction by the State.

Baturricodefiaje-LaGonave-d

2. Petroleum exploitation

The Center can, not only dispose of movable and immovable property of the terrain, but also eventually of petroleum products of the subsoil via facilities and oil refineries. “The entities of the Center… will not do or allow anything that would be likely to affect the scope of the Financial District, be it installations or oil refineries, toxic residues or wastes,” says Article 57.

Thus, any 5-year-old child understands that the wealth belongs only to the owner and that it can dispose of this wealth without any restriction, as previously wanted by the preceding Articles 4, 6, 55 and 56.

CBertel-LaGonave-a

3. Tax exemption

The entities and employees of the Center are exempt from taxes, fees and customs duties. “The entities and employees of the Center are not subject to the payment of taxes, customs duties or other taxes or duties relating to their activities at the Center and the Financial District. However, Haitian personnel who reside in Haiti and work in the Center are subject to payment of income tax in Haiti,” says Article 54.“International Financial Companies (SFI #1) are exempt from all taxes on the structure of their capital and can choose the most appropriate structure…” says Article 96. “The International Financial Company (SFI # 1) is not subject to capital gains tax or withholding taxes on dividend distribution or payment of interest on loans granted to third parties or subsidiaries,” concludes Article 98.

This latest scandal here wants that only the Haitian staff pay taxes. Not even any compensation is provided to the victims of expropriation in this poisoned treaty that grants to the new foreign owners the wealth of the soil and subsoil of the island under the guise of a project that will bring happiness to all.

To summarize the treaty: everything for them, nothing for us.

BenWaldman-LaGonave-a

4. Unconstitutionality

First, all languages are made official by this decree. “The languages used by the Center are the official languages of the Republic of Haiti, meaning Haitian Creole and French, and the language of the international financial community, that is to say English and any other language that may be necessary for the proper development of business” (Article 7).

When all languages are accepted here, then we can accept and drink the poison as the remedy. Even in the United Nations with more than 190 States, all languages are not allowed.

Second, contrary to the Constitution, which reserves to the State the ownership of the wealth from the subsoil, the decree grants to the foreign owners of the Center, for an unlimited period, the movable and immovable wealth from the soil (Articles 4, 6, 55, 56) and subsoil (oil) wealth of La Gonâve (Article 57), simultaneously undermining the national territorial integrity.

Recall that only one fuzzy section of the Guantanamo lease of February 23, 1903 was enough for the United States to take ownership of this Cuban territory in perpetuity. This article says that the Cuban-American treaty (lease) can only be terminated with the consent of the US or both contracting parties. Contrary to simpletons who believe that from the January 7, 2016 Decree will come the happiness of the island, one should keep in mind that now the wealth of the soil and subsoil would belong in perpetuity to the owners of the Center and may not thereafter be nationalized or expropriated or become the objects of any restriction (Article 55).

Baturricodeviaje-LaGonave-a

5. Recommendations

It is up to the Haitian parliament to clean up the said decree by deleting the poisoned-candy Articles 4, 6, 7, 54, 55, 56, 57, 96, 98 before entering into, if possible and still viable, the implementation of the ambitious project therein, on one hand; and adding a renewable maturity period into the “lease” and a more meaningful integration of the local population, on the other hand.

Baturricodeviaje-LaGonave-b

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Fallujah and Ramadah: Ugly Scars of War and Destruction

NOVANEWS
By RT
Turkish invasion of Iraq

Abandoned houses, shelled vehicles, and ruins everywhere were the desolate remains of cities and towns that an RT crew witnessed while flying over areas ravaged in the war with Islamic State militants in Iraq.

The first place RT’s crew viewed by helicopter was the city and suburbs of Fallujah in Anbar province. Once a prosperous place called “a city of mosques,” it now appears to be completely deserted. Cars caught in shelling and dilapidated buildings where people once lived and prayed now look like scenes from a post-apocalyptic movie.

The main battles have been taking place to the northwest of Fallujah, reports RT Arabic correspondent Ashraf Al Azzawi.

Watch exclusive video footage here

The crew also came to the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province, 50 kilometers from Fallujah. The city was seized by IS militants in May of 2015 after about a week of fighting with governmental forces, but the Iraqi military managed to partially liberate it in December

RT’s camera managed to capture the houses – or what was left of them – blasted by Islamic State terrorists. Some of the buildings are still mined, and thus very dangerous.

In Al-Madiq, a Ramadi suburb that also experienced bloodshed during fighting with Islamic State militants, not a stone had been left unturned. RT’s crew took video showing the positions and tunnels built by the jihadi extremists, which they had to abandon after fierce battles with Iraqi security forces.

Islamic State emerged in Iraq in 2013 as an Al-Qaeda affiliate. In 2014, the terror cell attacked Kurdish-held territory in the northern part of Iraq and seized territories in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit. By August of 2014, IS controlled nearly a third of Iraq.

However, Iraqi security forces have been making gains recently with the help of the US-led coalition’s air support.

On February 12, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi claimed that Iraq had won back half of the IS-controlled territory.

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I$raHell is Crumbling under Your Watch…The State’s Social Fabric is being Torn Apart

NOVANEWS

Open Letter to Prime Minister Naziyahu

Global Research
Image result for Netanyahu, CARTOON

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

I write this letter to you with a heavy heart as it pains me deeply to see the beautiful dream of a strong and proud Israel, the country that was expected to embrace what is virtuous, moral, and just, now losing its reason for being—as a free and secure Jewish state living in peace and harmony with its neighbors.

The state’s social fabric is being torn apart by political divisiveness and economic injustice. The country is increasingly isolated, degenerating into a garrison state surrounding itself with walls and fences, vilified by friends and reviled by enemies.

As the Prime Minister who served longest in this position, the country is virtually crumbling under your watch. The question is, where are you leading the people, and what will be in store for them tomorrow as Israel is now at a fateful cross-road and facing an uncertain future?

Certainly you and those who follow you in good faith will disagree with my analysis, but I urge you to look carefully into the dire issues I am raising here as they unfold, for which you are now more responsible than any of your predecessors.

You conveniently surround yourself with a corrupt political elite—ministers with no morals, no compunction, and nothing but an insatiable lust for power. They are consumed by their personal political agendas and absorbed in domestic corruption and intrigues.

You have several such ministers—among them a Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, who endorsed the idea that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” which is nothing short of a call for indiscriminate killing that will include “its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its properties and its infrastructure”; an Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, who wants to annex most of the West Bank without giving a single thought to the ominous danger that such an ill-fated scheme would inflict on Israel; and a Cultural Minister, Miri Regev, who is out to stifle freedom of the arts and expression—who make a mockery of Israel’s democratic foundation and institutions.

You backed three draconian bills: one would suspend Knesset members who deny Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; the second would withdraw funding from cultural institutions deemed “not loyal” to Israel; and the third would require leftwing NGOs who receive foreign funding to label themselves as such in any publication (while exempting privately-funded right-wing NGOs). You are enveloped in an ideological siege with a ghetto mentality and selective religious precepts, supported by a blind chorus of parliamentarians that only echoes your distorted tune.

You manipulate the public with national security concerns and falsely connect security to borders, only to usurp more Palestinian land and defend the ruinous settlement policy.

You delight in facing an inept political opposition—relegated to a permanent state of suspension—and are thrilled to see them decaying with no political plans to challenge you to find a solution to the endemic Palestinian conflict on which you politically thrive. With these lame opposition parties sitting on the fringes of political despair, they have now become easy to co-opt in support of your misguided domestic, foreign, and Palestinian-targeted policies, all in the name of national unity.

You still boast about Israel’s economic prowess, when in fact the economy as a whole is in a state of stagnation and labor productivity is the lowest among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and a handful of billionaires control the financial heart of the state while tens of thousands of families are scrambling to survive.

More than 1.7 million Israelis are living in poverty—775,000 of whom are children—while hundreds of millions of dollars are siphoned off to spend on illegal settlements and hundreds of millions more are spent to protect the settlers, leaving Arab villages and towns with mostly Middle Eastern Jews to rot.

The gulf between the rich and poor is widening. The top 10 percent of the population earns 15 times that of the bottom 10 percent, making Israel one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. Tourism is diving, foreign investments are plunging, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is gaining momentum.

The corruption and criminality among top officials is staggering; more than 10 ministers and at least 12 members of the Knesset have been convicted of crimes over the past 20 years alone. Former President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were sentenced to seven years and 19 months in prison, respectively. Scores more were indicted, but escaped punishment through various legal loopholes often accorded to top officials.

You discriminate against Israeli Arabs (who constitute 20 percent of the population) with your government’s policy of unequal treatment, and then question their loyalty to the state.

Radical Zionists like you claim that a multi-culturist Israel cannot survive – that apartheid, or something like it, is the only viable alternative – essentially repeating the argument which was used in earlier European history against the Jews themselves.

I might add with deep sorrow that discrimination is not confined to the Israeli Arabs, but extends to Middle Eastern and Ethiopian Jews four generations after the establishment of the State of Israel. The May 2015 violent clashes between police and Jews of Ethiopian origin only reveal the depth of Israel’s social disparity.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, from your own Likud Party, could not have made the reality more painfully clear than when he stated, “Protesters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv revealed an open and bloody wound in the heart of Israeli society. This is a wound of a community sounding the alarm at what they feel is discrimination, racism and disregard of their needs. We must take a good hard look at this wound.”

Demographically, the country is facing a grave danger. The number of Israelis emigrating from Israel is roughly equal to the number of those who immigrate to Israel. Nearly one million Israelis, representing 13 percent of the population, emigrated from Israel in the past 20 years. Several polls consistently show that given the opportunity, 30 percent of Israelis would consider leaving the country, mainly for economic reasons and the lack of a prospect of ending the debilitating conflict with the Palestinians.

In particular, the immigration of young American and European Jews to Israel is consistently trending downward. Many of them have lost the sense of pioneering spirit and excitement that gripped their earlier counterparts who wanted to be a part of a historic enterprise unmatched by any in contemporary human experience.

The PalestiniansYou treat the Palestinians in the territories like objects, to be used and abused contingent on the call of the hour. You violate their human rights with brazen impunity and never came to grips with the debilitating and dreadful impact of nearly 50 years of occupation.

You scornfully claim, “The Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.”  You never wanted to understand the meaning of being utterly overpowered by another, of having one’s house raided in the middle of the night, terrifying women and children, one’s village arbitrarily divided by the building of fences, one’s home destroyed, and of losing the sense of having any control over one’s life.

Invoking memories of the Holocaust as if to justify the mistreatment of the Palestinians only debases the historical relevance of this unprecedented human tragedy. One would think that those who suffered as much as the Jews would treat others with care and sensitivity. That the victim can become a victimizer is painful to face, but it is a reality nonetheless. Having suffered so much does not give you the license to oppress and persecute others.

US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, no less, put it succinctly when he said, “…too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities…Too much vigilantism [in the West Bank] goes unchecked, and at times there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one for Israelis, and another for Palestinians.”

Not that I exempt Palestinians of their role, but by you and your ministers’ own actions and policy toward the Palestinians, you are inciting hostility and ultimately fostering violent extremism. You use national security to justify your prejudicial policies, including the mistreatment of the Palestinians and the expansion of settlements that became the mantra of Israel’s domestic policy, using old and tired talking points about national security which are dismissed as empty, self-convincing gospel.

You speak in support of a two-state solution, but you have never lifted a finger to advance it; your actions only point to the opposite direction. Yes, although the Palestinians have made scores of mistakes and are likely to make many others that will severely undermine their own national interests, they are here to stay.

Israel must determine its own destiny and not leave it to the Palestinians’ whims. You claim that the Palestinians do not want peace, but by being the far more powerful party, you can take a calculated risk, and assume the responsibility to pave the way for eventually reaching a peace agreement instead of further entrenching Israel in the occupied territories. This will make the conflict ever more intractable when coexistence is inevitable under any circumstance.

Time is not on Israel’s side, and even though they are suffering, the Palestinians can wait. You cannot freeze the status quo, and given the regional turmoil, violent extremism targeting Israel will only increase.

Without a carefully thought-out plan to gradually disengage from the occupied territories, there will likely be a million settlers within a few years. This will amount to a de facto annexation of the West Bank, from which Israel will be unable to extract itself without perpetual violent confrontations with the Palestinians and risking a civil war, should a decision be made to evacuate a substantial number of settlers.

Ending the occupation is not a charitable gift to the Palestinians. Only by accepting their right to a state of their own will Israel remain a Jewish and democratic state enjoying peace and security, instead of being drawn toward an abyss from which there is no salvation.

Israel is the only country in the modern era that has maintained, in defiance of the international community, a military occupation for nearly five decades. The Israelis’ complacency about the occupation is adversely affecting Jews all over the world, and as long as the occupation lingers, anti-Semitism will continue to rise.

What has added potency to the substantial rise in anti-Semitism in recent years is your disregard of the international consensus about the illegality of the ettlements, the policy of the continuing occupation, and your disregard of the Palestinians’ suffering and right to self-determination.

Did you consider what would be the ramifications of what you said during the last election, which I believe reflects your true position, that there would be no Palestinian state under your watch? There will be no peace with the Arab states, Jordan and Egypt (regardless of how they feel toward the Palestinians) may well abrogate their peace treaties with Israel under mounting regional and public pressure, the wrath of the EU will be immeasurable, the US will lose patience (if it hasn’t already) and no longer provide Israel with automatic political cover, and the world will blame Israel for feeding into the region’s instability; much of this is already happening.

Israel will constantly live in a state of violence and insecurity, but perhaps this is precisely what you want—to spread fear and use scare tactics to foment public anxiety by painting every Palestinian as a terrorist, as if the occupation has nothing to do with Palestinian extremism.

On foreign policy a sound and constructive foreign policy is foreign to you, which is consequently alienating Israel’s allies and bewildering its friends.

You wantonly discard diplomatic conventions and protocol; you willfully undercut President Obama by addressing a joint session of US Congress, challenging him on the Iran deal only to fail miserably, baffling Democratic and Republican leaders alike.

You clashed with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro for criticizing Israel’s policy in the West Bank, and condescendingly

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Presstitutes At Work: “Dangerous Lies Pumped Out by the US Media”. This is “Democratic” America…

NOVANEWS
Global Research
fox-news-disinformation

This morning I was stuck in front of a Fox “News” broadcast for a short period and then with a NPR news program. It was enough to convince me that Nazi propaganda during Hitler’s Third Reich was very mild compared to the constant stream of dangerous lies that are pumped out constantly by the American media.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and a couple of think-tank types were represented on NPR. They delivered the most crude propaganda imaginable and questioned no US government statement.

Did you know that all the trouble in Syria is due to the Russians and Assad?

The US has no blame whatsoever. The US is trying to fight ISIS (which the US created, aids and abets), but the evil Russians and Assad are fighting the innocent “democratic rebels” who are trying to bring democracy to Syria as a replacement for a “brutal dictator” (elected by a large majority vote).

The Russians are also bombing schools and hospitals, “collateral damage” when the US does it but war crimes when the Russians are accused of doing it.

The accusers had no evidence for their accusations against Russia beyond the unverified claims of the US government. Despite nonexistent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction,” nonexistent Iranian nukes, and nonexistent use of chemical weapons by Assad “against his own people,” the talking heads continue to accept without question whatever the US government says. I was especially disappointed in Karen DeYoung. As a young reporter she aggressively covered the neoconservatives’ misadventures in Nicaragua. However, to become the Washington Post’s senior foreign affairs reporter she had to give up and join the presstitutes.

Did you know that China was militarizing the South China Sea by building up atolls to accommodate runways and by placing weapons on the site?

It is not militarization when the “exceptional country” allocates 60% of its large fleet to the Pacific, declares the South China Sea, which is thousands of miles from America, to be an area of “American national interest,” and sends warships to patrol the sea. That’s simply “countering the Chinese threat.”

Did you know that the clamor by the British people for UK exit from the European Union has nothing to do with preserving UK national sovereignty and the legal protections of British civil liberty? It is all to do with rejecting refugees, a sign of racism.

Fox “News” informed us that due to his great service to our nation, Justice Antonin Scalia was lying in state in the Supreme Court to be paid homage by both the government representatives and public victims of the police state of which he was an architect. Under Republican leadership the Supreme Court has helped the executive branch elevate its authority above that of the US Constitution, refusing to even hear challenges to indefinite detention. Among Scalia’s accomplishments are:

— Stopping the Florida vote recount in order to install George W. Bush as President

— Kentucky v. King: police should have greater leeway to break into homes without a warrant

— Florence v. Burlington: allowing jail officials freedom of action is more important
than protecting American citizens from debasing strip searches.

Like the Supreme Court the presstitutes have aligned themselves with the rich and powerful. Fox “News” reported that Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, declared that to make the poor rich requires making the rich poor and we shouldn’t make the rich poor. Apparently, Fox “News” believes that aligning Rubio with the One Percent is helpful to his political career. Fox showed Rubio’s audience cheering and applauding his defense of the One Percent.

This is “democratic America” where the people have no representation.

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I$raHell is on the Brink of a Tyranny of the Majority

NOVANEWS
Israel is on the Brink of a Tyranny of the Majority
President Reuven Rivlin (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) cast as Nazis by an online user (YouTube screenshot)
NAZI’S OF TODAY ‘SHOAH’

By discrediting and disenfranchising Palestinian parliament members, Israel’s democracy is being exposed as a facade.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv is drafting legislation that ought to resolve in observers’ minds the question of whether Israel is the democracy it proudly claims to be. The bill empowers a three-quarters majority of the Israeli parliament to oust a sitting MP.

It breathes new life into the phrase “tyranny of the majority”. But in this case, the majority will be Jewish MPs oppressing their Palestinian colleagues.

Mr Netanyahu has presented the bill as a necessary response to the recent actions of three MPs from the Balad faction of the Joint List, a coalition of parties representing the often-overlooked fifth of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian.

He claims the MPs “sided with terror” this month when they visited Palestinian families in occupied East Jerusalem who have been waiting many months for Israel to return their relatives’ bodies.

The 11 dead are among those alleged to have carried out what are termed “lone-wolf” attacks, part of a recent wave of Palestinian unrest. Fearful of more protests, Israel has demanded that the families bury the bodies in secret, without autopsies, and in plots outside Jerusalem.

There is an urgent moral and political issue about Israel using bodies as bargaining chips to encourage Palestinian obedience towards its illegal occupation. The three Palestinian MPs also believe they are under an obligation to help the families by adding to the pressure on Mr Netanyahu to return the bodies.

Israel’s Palestinian minority has a severely degraded form of citizenship, but it enjoys more rights than Palestinians living under occupation.

When a video of the meeting was posted online, however, the Israeli right seized the chance to attack and disenfranchise the MPs. A parliamentary “ethics” committee comprising the main Jewish parties suspended the three MPs for several months. Now they face losing their seats.

This is part of a clear trend. Late last year, the government outlawed the northern Islamic Movement, a popular extra-parliamentary political, religious and welfare organisation.

Despite Mr Netanyahu’s statements that the movement was linked to “terror”, leaks to the Israeli media showed his intelligence chiefs had advised him weeks before the ban that there was no evidence to support such accusations.

At the time many Palestinians in Israel suspected Mr Netanyahu would soon turn his sights on the Palestinian parties in the parliament. And so he has.

Balad, which decries Israel’s status as a Jewish state and noisily campaigns for democratic reform, was always likely to be top of his list. In every recent general election, an election committee dominated by the Jewish parties has banned Balad or its leaders from standing, only to see the Israeli courts reverse the decision.

Now Mr Netanyahu is legislating the expulsion of Balad and throwing down the gauntlet to the courts.

It won’t end there. If Balad is unseated, the participation of the other Joint List factions will be untenable. In effect, the Israeli right is seeking to ethnically cleanse the parliament.

For those who doubt such intentions, consider that two years ago the government raised the electoral threshold for entry to the parliament specifically to exclude the Palestinian factions.

The intention was to empty the parliament of its Palestinian representatives. But these factions put aside their historic differences to create the Joint List.

Mr Netanyahu, who had hoped to see the back of the Palestinian parties at last year’s general election, inadvertently transformed them into the third biggest party. That was the context for his now-infamous campaign warning that “the Arabs are coming out in droves to vote”.

The crackdown on Palestinian parties may finally burst the simplistic assumption that Israel is a democracy because its Palestinian minority has the vote.

This argument was always deeply misguided. After Israel’s creation in 1948, officials gave citizenship and the vote to the few Palestinians remaining inside the new borders precisely because they were a small and weak minority.

In exiling more than 80 per cent of Palestinians from their homeland, Israel effectively rigged its national electoral constituency to ensure there would be a huge Jewish majority in perpetuity.

A Palestinian MP, Ahmed Tibi, summed it up neatly. Israel, he said, was a democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for its Palestinian citizens.

In truth, the vote of Palestinian citizens was only ever meant as window-dressing. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, assumed that the rump Palestinian population would be swamped by Jewish immigrants flooding into the new state.

He miscalculated. The Palestinian minority had a far higher birth rate and maintained a level of 20 per cent of the population. None of that would matter had the Palestinian representatives quietly accepted their position as shop-window mannequins.

But in recent years, as Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has grown ever weaker, confined to small enclaves of the West Bank, the Palestinian MPs in Israel have taken up some of the slack. That was why the Balad MPs met the Jerusalem families. The PA, barred by Israel from East Jerusalem, can only look on helplessly on this issue.

This month Mr Netanyahu said he would surround Israel with walls to keep out the neighbourhood’s “wild beasts”. In his view, there are also wild beasts to be found in Israel’s parliament – and he is ready to erect walls to keep them out too.

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Video: Vladimir Putin on the Ceasefire in Syria

NOVANEWS

“I Have Just held a Phone Conversation with President Barack Obama”

Global Research
Vladimir_Putin

Translated from Russian

GR Editor’s Note: This speech by Vladimir Putin was barely been covered and commented by Western mainstream media

“Dear friends, I have just held a phone conversation with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. The conversation was initiated by Russia, however interest toward dialogue was undoubtedly mutual.

We have agreed on common grounds of understanding for a ceasefire in Syria. Preceding this discussion was the intensive work of Russian and American experts. We were able draw upon previous experience, such as our combined efforts in eradicating chemical weapons from Syria.

Previously, our negotiators held a number of closed consultations. As a result, we were able to reach a concrete decision. We have agreed on ceasefire to take place from midnight of 27th February 2016, Damascus time.

Video with English subtitles

The requirements are as follows. Until midday on the 26th of February 2016, all warring parties in Syria must show either to ourselves or to our American partners their dedication to stopping the war. Russian and American personnel can together pinpoint on a map where exactly such groups are operating.

The Syrian Arab Army, the armed forces of the Russian Federation, as well as the US-led coalition, will not carry out military operations against these opposition groups. In response, oppositioners must cease all military activity against the Syrian Arab Army, and parties supporting them.

As for ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other terrorist groups (as confirmed by the United Nations Security Council) these parties are excluded from the agreement. Military operations against terrorists will continue.

It is critical that the US and Russia put into practice a mechanism for the realisation of this ceasefire, ensuring that military activity from the Syrian government, as well as its opposition, stops. We will set up a “hotline” and a working group, as required, for the exchange of information between parties. Russia will work closely with Damascus – with the legitimate president of Syria. We consider, that the United States will do the same with the groups that they support.

I am assured that our cooperation with the United States can radically change the critical situation in Syria. Finally, we have a chance to stop this ongoing bloodshed and torture. All routes and avenues for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Syria must be freed up.

Very importantly, we are launching a long-term, political consultation process for pan-Syrian discussions in Geneva, to be overseen by the United Nations. Recent history has shown that one-sided actions, that are carried out without a UN resolution, and geared at short term political benefits, lead to tragic results. These examples are on everybody’s tongues; Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen.

It is with this background that we approach the current situation. Russian-American negotiations and efforts to coordinate between all parties, have the potential to become a leading international precedent. This ceasefire is based on principles of international law and the guidelines of the United Nations. It reflects the efforts of the international community in the fight against international terrorism.

I would like to hope that the Syrian government, our partners in the region and further abroad, will all support the given plan of action.”

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Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

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Joint Statement of the United States and the Russian Federation

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The United States of America and the Russian Federation, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and seeking to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis with full respect for the fundamental role of the United Nations, are fully determined to provide their strongest support to end the Syrian conflict and establish conditions for a successful Syrian-led political transition process, facilitated by the UN, in order to fully implement the Munich Statement of the ISSG on February 11th, 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the 2015 Vienna Statements and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.

In this regard, and in furtherance of the February 11th decisions of the ISSG, the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, announce the adoption on February 22, 2016, of the Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria attached as an Annex to this statement, and propose that the cessation of hostilities commence at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016. The cessation of hostilities is to be applied to those parties to the Syrian conflict that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of its terms. Consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the statements of the ISSG, the cessation of hostilities does not apply to “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

Any party engaged in military or para-military hostilities in Syria, other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council will indicate to the Russian Federation or the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG, their commitment to and acceptance of the terms for the cessation of hostilities by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016. In order to implement the cessation of hostilities in a manner that promotes stability and protects those parties participating in it, the Russian Federation and the United States are prepared to work together to exchange pertinent information (e.g., aggregated data that delineates territory where groups that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of the cessation of hostilities are active, and a focal point for each side, in order to ensure effective communication) and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities. Military actions, including airstrikes, of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Armed Forces, and the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition will continue against ISIL, “Jabhat al-Nusra,” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council. The Russian Federation and United States will also work together, and with other members of the Ceasefire Task Force, as appropriate and pursuant to the ISSG decision of February 11, 2016, to delineate the territory held by “Daesh,” “Jabhat al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council, which are excluded from the cessation of hostilities.

In order to promote the effective implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, co-chaired by the United States and Russia, has been established under UN auspices, including political and military officials from the co-chairs and other Task Force members; the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE) serves as secretariat. The primary functions of the Task Force are, as provided in the ISSG Statement of February 11, to: a) delineate the territory held by “Daesh”, “Jabhat-al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the United Nations Security Council; b) ensure communications among all parties to promote compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions; c) resolve allegations of non-compliance; and d) refer persistent non-compliant behavior by any of the parties to the ISSG Ministers or those designated by the Ministers to determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements of the cessation of hostilities, and the protection it affords them.

The United States and Russia are prepared, in their capacities as co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force and in coordination with other members of the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force as appropriate, to develop effective mechanisms to promote and monitor compliance with the ceasefire both by the governmental forces of the Syrian Arab Republic and other forces supporting them, and the armed opposition groups. To achieve this goal and to promote an effective and sustainable cessation of hostilities, the Russian Federation and the United States will establish a communication hotline and, if necessary and appropriate, a working group to exchange relevant information after the cessation of hostilities has gone into effect. In addressing incidents of non-compliance, every effort should be made to promote communications among all parties to restore compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions, and non-forcible means should be exhausted whenever possible before resorting to use of force. The United States and Russia as co-chairs of ISSG Ceasefire Task Force will develop such further modalities and standard operating procedures as may be necessary to implement these functions.

The United States and the Russian Federation together call upon all Syrian parties, regional states and others in the international community to support the immediate cessation of violence and bloodshed in Syria and to contribute to the swift, effective and successful promotion of the UN-facilitated political transition process in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, the February 11 Statement of the ISSG, the 2015 Vienna statements of the ISSG, and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.

ANNEX

TERMS FOR CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES IN SYRIA

The nationwide cessation of hostilities is to apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

The responsibilities of the Syrian armed opposition are set out in paragraph 1 below. The responsibilities of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic are set out in paragraph 2 below.

1.  To take part in the cessation of hostilities, armed opposition groups will confirm – to the United States of America or the Russian Federation, who will attest such confirmations to one another as co-chairs of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26 2016 – their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:

  • To full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, ‑ including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
  • To cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and any associated forces;
  • To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
  • To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
  • To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.

2.  The above-mentioned commitments will be observed by such armed opposition groups, provided that the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic have confirmed to the Russian Federation as co-chair of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016 their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:

  • To full implementation of UN Security Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
  • To cease attacks with any weapons, including aerial bombardments by the Air Force of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation, against the armed opposition groups (as confirmed to the United States or the Russian Federation by parties to the cessation of hostilities);
  • To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
  • To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
  • To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.

The Russian Federation and the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, are prepared to work together to ensure effective communications and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities.

All parties further commit to work for the early release of detainees, particularly women and children.

Any party can bring a violation or potential violation of the cessation of hostilities to the attention of the Task Force, either through the OSE or the co-chairs. The OSE and Co-Chairs will establish liaison arrangements with each other and the parties, and inform the public generally about how any party may bring a violation to the attention of the Task Force.

The United States and the Russian Federation as co-chairs confirm that the cessation of hostilities will be monitored in an impartial and transparent manner and with broad media coverage.

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Syria: Does This “Cessation Of Hostilities” Allow Attacks On Jaish al-Fatah?

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Joint Statement of the United States and the Russian Federation, as Co-Chairs of the ISSG, on Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

… Consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the statements of the ISSG, the cessation of hostilities does not apply to “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

There is a word missing in the above when compared to the relevant part of UNSC Res 2254:

… specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, …

The “associated” with Al Qaeda are not mentioned in the cessation document. In Idleb and other parts on north Syria Jaish al Fatah is the major terrorist alliance:

The Army of Conquest (“Arabic: جيش الفتح‎) or Jaish al-Fatah, abbreviated JaF, is a joint operations room of Islamist Syrian rebel factions participating in the Syrian Civil War.

At its founding, Jaish al-Fatah contained seven members, three of them — al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa are directly connected to Al-Qaeda or have a similar ideology. With Ahrar ash-Sham being the largest group, al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham together were reported to represent 90 percent of the troops. Another prominent Islamist faction in the operations room included the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria linked Sham Legion (Faylaq Al-Sham). Jaish al-Fatah collaborated with more moderate Free Syrian Army factions such as Knights of Justice Brigade.

Leaving out the “associated” in the cessation of hostilities declaration gives room for Ahrar al-Sham and a few others, which are clearly “associated” with al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in their Jaish al-Fatah alliance, to take part in it.

There are conditions to that. From the “Terms For Cessation Of Hostilities In Syria attached to the Joint Statement linked above:

The nationwide cessation of hostilities is to apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

To take part in the cessation of hostilities, armed opposition groups will confirm – to the United States of America or the Russian Federation, who will attest such confirmations to one another as co-chairs of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26 2016 – their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:

  • To full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, ‑ including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
  • To cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and any associated forces;
  • To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
  • To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
  • To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.

The same condition plus a cessation of aerial bombing apply to the Syrian government side.

It is “proposed”(?) that the cessation of hostilities commence at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016.

The immediate estimates of various observers of the war on Syria on how long a cessation of hostilities under these conditions would hold varied between 30 seconds and 4 weeks.

The big problem is of course that al-Qaeda is so intermingled with the “moderate rebels” that the U.S. even tried, contrary to UNSC Res 2254, to get the cessation of hostilities applied to it.

Let us assume that Ahrar al-Sham agrees to the cessation of hostilities and follows its terms. The Syrian and Russian intelligence suddenly get good information about the location of the joint operations room of al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa.

Now would that joint operations room or headquarter be a legitimate bombing target under the cessation of hostilities agreement? In my view bombing it would obviously be allowed because al-Nusra/al-Qaeda is there. But the “moderate” terrorists, the U.S. and their other sponsors would scream bloody murder about such bombing.

That is why I believe that this cessation of hostilities, should it come in force at all, will hold no longer than one week.

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UN Security Council Silence on Homs, Damascus Terror Attacks, Who Was Behind Them?

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The International Community’s Double Standards

Global Research

Failure to condemn terrorist attacks in Damascus’ southern Sayeda Zeinab district and Homs last Sunday, killing scores, injuring hundreds, causing enormous damage shows US/Russia negotiated cessation of hostility terms won’t stop future incidents.

In letters to Ban Ki-moon and Security Council president (Venezuelan UN envoy) Raphael Ramirez, Syria’s Foreign Ministry condemned the body’s silence, its failure to denounce flagrant terrorism, encouraging future incidents by irresponsible inaction – especially encouraging Ankara and Riyadh to continue supporting ISIS and likeminded groups waging war on Syria.

The letters demanded action, punitive measures imposed on state-sponsors of terrorism – not forthcoming.

Washington, Britain and France block it, partnering with Ankara and Riyadh, continuing support for ISIS and other terrorist groups, assuring endless conflict – foiling US/Russia announced cessation of hostilities terms before their implementation.

Expect no meaningful change for the better on the ground ahead.  Obama’s war on Syria continues, its objective unchanged – destroying Syrian sovereignty, replacing it with another US vassal state, looting its resources, exploiting its people, eliminating an Israeli rival, isolating Iran ahead of targeting its independence the same way.

Washington deplores peace and stability. Achieving them defeats its imperial objectives. All its post-9/11 wars since October 2001 continue raging – with no resolution in sight, a key indication of what to expect in Syria going forward.

On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was less than optimistic, saying ceasefire “is going to be difficult to implement. We know that there are a lot of obstacles, and there are sure to be some setbacks.”

Moscow and Damascus vow to continue combating terrorists responsible for gruesome atrocities, wanting Syrian sovereignty destroyed, caliphate authority replacing it.

They’re irresponsibly blamed for doing the right thing – UK Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond, speaking for Britain, America and their rogue allies lied, saying:

Cessation of hostilities “will only succeed if there is a major change of behavior by the Syrian regime and its backers.”

“Russia, in particular, must honor this agreement by ending its attacks on Syrian civilians and moderate opposition groups, and by using its influence to ensure the Syrian regime does the same.”

Moscow and Washington will work with pro-Western UN envoy to Syria Steffan de Mistura, a US-appointed stooge, aiming to assure all parties abide by ceasefire terms.

So far, no meaningful mechanism was established to mediate reported violations, no enforcement procedure, nothing to hold violators accountable.

Putin expressed optimism after years of failure to end violence, bloodshed and chaos – at the same time stressing “(s)trikes will continue to be carried out against” terrorist groups. They’re excluded from terms agreed on.

The deal calls for opposing parties to decide by Friday whether they’ll comply with cessation of hostility terms – terminology short of a formal, more binding, durable ceasefire.

A White House statement released after Obama and Putin spoke on Monday was guarded, welcoming the agreement with no assurance of success – maintaining the pretense of phony US war on ISIS.

Reality on the ground belies hope for achieving a breakthrough toward conflict resolution after years of failure.

It bears repeating what other articles stressed. Washington wants war, not peace. Obama didn’t launch it to quit.

Resolving it requires calling off his dogs, ending support for ISIS and other terrorist groups, cutting them off entirely, reigning in Ankara and Riyadh, deciding his Syria policy failed and moving on.

Realpolitik has no Hollywood endings. War in Syria rages with no end in sight.

 

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Opium in Afghanistan: How a Pink Flower Defeated the World’s Sole Superpower

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America’s Opium War in Afghanistan

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Note from the editor of Tom Dispatch: In October 2001, the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan largely through proxy Afghan fighters with the help of Special Operations forces, American air power, and CIA dollars.  The results were swift and stunning. The Taliban was whipped, a new government headed by Hamid Karzai soon installed in Kabul, and the country declared “liberated.”

More than 14 years later, how’d it go? What’s “liberated” Afghanistan like and, if you were making a list, what would be the accomplishments of Washington all these years later?  Hmm… at this very moment, according to the latest reports, the Taliban control more territory than at any moment since December 2001.  Meanwhile, the Afghan security forces that the U.S. built up and funded to the tune of more than $65 billion are experiencing “unsustainable” casualties, their ranks evidently filledwith “ghost” soldiers and policemen — up to 40% in some places — whose salaries, often paid by the U.S., are being pocketed by their commanders and other officials.  In 2015, according to the U.N., Afghan civilian casualties were, for the seventh year in a row, at record levels.  Add to all this the fact that American soldiers, their “combat mission” officially concluded in 2014, are now being sent by the hundreds back into the fray (along with the U.S. Air Force) to support hard-pressed Afghan troops in a situation which seems to be fast “deteriorating.”

Oh, and economically speaking, how did the “reconstruction” of the country work out, given that Washington pumped more money (in real dollars) into Afghanistan in these years than it did into the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II?  Leaving aside the pit of official corruption into which many of those dollars disappeared, the country is today hemorrhaging desperate young people who can’t find jobs or make a living and now constitute what may be the second largest contingent of refugeesheading for Europe.

As for that list of Washington’s accomplishments, it might be accurate to say that only one thing was “liberated” in Afghanistan over the last 14-plus years and that was, as TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy points out today, the opium poppy.  It might also be said that, with the opium trade now fully embedded in both the operations of the Afghan government and of the Taliban, Washington’s single and singular accomplishment in all its years there has been to oversee the country’s transformation into the planet’s number one narco-state.  McCoy, who began his career in the Vietnam War era by writing The Politics of Heroin, a now-classic book on the CIA and the heroin trade (that the Agency tried to suppress) and who has written on the subject of drugs and Afghanistan before for this site, now offers a truly monumental look at opium and the U.S. from the moment this country’s first Afghan War began in 1979 to late last night. Tom

*      *      *

How a Pink Flower Defeated the World’s Sole Superpower

America’s Opium War in Afghanistan

By Alfred W. McCoy

After fighting the longest war in its history, the United States stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How can this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for 15 years, deploying 100,000 of its finest troops, sacrificing the lives of 2,200 of those soldiers, spending more than a trillion dollars on its military operations, lavishing a record hundred billion more on “nation-building” and “reconstruction,” helping raise, fund, equip, and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies, and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations? So dismal is the prospect for stability in Afghanistan in 2016 that the Obama White House has recently cancelled a planned further withdrawal of its forces and will leave an estimated 10,000 troops in the country indefinitely.

Were you to cut through the Gordian knot of complexity that is the Afghan War, you would find that in the American failure there lies the greatest policy paradox of the century: Washington’s massive military juggernaut has been stopped dead in its steel tracks by a pink flower, the opium poppy.

 

For more than three decades in Afghanistan, Washington’s military operations have succeeded only when they fit reasonably comfortably into Central Asia’s illicit traffic in opium, and suffered when they failed to complement it. The first U.S. intervention there began in 1979. It succeeded in part because the surrogate war the CIA launched to expel the Soviets from that country coincided with the way its Afghan allies used the country’s swelling drug traffic to sustain their decade-long struggle.

On the other hand, in the almost 15 years of continuous combat since the U.S. invasion of 2001, pacification efforts have failed to curtail the Taliban insurgency largely because the U.S. could not control the swelling surplus from the county’s heroin trade. As opium production surged from a minimal 180 tons to a monumental 8,200 in the first five years of U.S. occupation, Afghanistan’s soil seemed to have been sown with the dragon’s teeth of ancient Greek myth. Every poppy harvest yielded a new crop of teenaged fighters for the Taliban’s growing guerrilla army.

At each stage in Afghanistan’s tragic, tumultuous history over the past 40 years — the covert war of the 1980s, the civil war of the 1990s, and the U.S. occupation since 2001 — opium played a surprisingly significant role in shaping the country’s destiny. In one of history’s bitter twists of fate, the way Afghanistan’s unique ecology converged with American military technology transformed this remote, landlocked nation into the world’s first true narco-state — a country where illicit drugs dominate the economy, define political choices, and determine the fate of foreign interventions.

Covert Warfare (1979-1992)

The CIA’s secret war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s helped transform the lawless Afghan-Pakistani borderlands into the seedbed for a sustained expansion of the global heroin trade. “In the tribal area,” the State Department would report in 1986, “there is no police force. There are no courts. There is no taxation. No weapon is illegal… Hashish and opium are often on display.” By then, the process had long been underway.  Instead of forming its own coalition of resistance leaders, the Agency relied on Pakistan’s crucial Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and its Afghan clients who soon became principals in the burgeoning cross-border opium traffic.

Not surprisingly, the Agency looked the other way while Afghanistan’s opium production grew unchecked from about 100 tons annually in the 1970s to 2,000 tons by 1991. In 1979 and 1980, just as the CIA effort was beginning to ramp up, a network of heroin laboratories opened along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier.  That region soon became the world’s largest heroin producer. By 1984, it supplied a staggering 60% of the U.S. market and 80% of the European one. Inside Pakistan, the number of heroin addicts went from near zero (yes, zero) in 1979 to 5,000 in 1980 and 1,300,000 by 1985 — a rate of addiction so high the U.N.called it “particularly shocking.”

According to the 1986 State Department report, opium “is an ideal crop in a war-torn country since it requires little capital investment, is fast growing, and is easily transported and traded.” Moreover, Afghanistan’s climate was well suited to this temperate crop, with average yields two to three times higher than in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region, the previous capital of the opium trade. As relentless warfare between CIA and Soviet surrogates generated at least three million refugees and disrupted food production, Afghan farmers began to turn to opium “in desperation” since it produced such easy “high profits” which could cover rising food prices. At the same time, resistance elements, according to the State Department, engaged in opium production and trafficking “to provide staples for [the] population under their control and to fund weapons purchases.”

As the mujahedeen resistance gained strength and began to create liberated zones inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, it helped fund its operations by collecting taxes from peasants producing lucrative opium poppies, particularly in the fertile Helmand Valley, once the breadbasket of southern Afghanistan. Caravans carrying CIA arms into that region for the resistance often returned to Pakistan loaded down with opium — sometimes, the New York Times reported“with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance.”

Once the mujahedeen fighters brought the opium across the border, they sold it to Pakistani heroin refiners operating in the country’s North-West Frontier Province, a covert-war zone administered by the CIA’s close ally General Fazle Haq. By 1988, there were an estimated 100 to 200 heroin refineries in the province’s Khyber district alone. Further south in the Koh-i-Soltan district of Baluchistan Province,Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s favored Afghan asset, controlled six refineries that processed much of the opium harvest from the Helmand Valley into heroin. Trucks of the Pakistani army’s National Logistics Cell, arriving in these borderlands from the port of Karachi with crates of weaponry from the CIA, left with cargos of heroin for ports and airports where it would be exported to world markets.

In May 1990, as this covert operation was ending, the Washington Post reported that the CIA’s chief asset Hekmatyar was also the rebels’ leading heroin trafficker. American officials, the Post claimed, had long refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by Hekmatyar, as well as Pakistan’s ISI, largely “because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.”

Indeed, Charles Cogan, former director of the CIA’s Afghan operation, later spoke frankly about his Agency’s choices. “Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets,” he told Australian television in 1995. “We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade. I don’t think that we need to apologize for this… There was fallout in term of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”

The Afghan Civil War and the Rise of the Taliban (1989-2001)

Over the longer term, such a “clandestine” intervention (so openly written and bragged about) produced a black hole of geopolitical instability never sealed or healed thereafter.

Lying at the northern reaches of the seasonal monsoon, where rain clouds arrive already squeezed dry, arid Afghanistan never recovered from the unprecedented devastation it suffered in the years of the first American intervention. Other than irrigated areas like the Helmand Valley, the country’s semi-arid highlands were already a fragile ecosystem straining to sustain sizeable populations when war first broke out in 1979. As that war wound down between 1989 and 1992, the Washington-led alliance essentially abandoned the country, failing either to sponsor a peace settlement or finance reconstruction.

Washington simply turned elsewhere as a vicious civil war broke out in a country with 1.5 million dead, three million refugees, a ravaged economy, and a bevy of well-armed warlords primed to fight for power. During the years of vicious civil strife that followed, Afghan farmers raised the only crop that ensured instant profits, the opium poppy.  The opium harvest, having multiplied twentyfold to 2,000 tons during the covert-war era of the 1980s, would double during the civil war of the 1990s.

In this period of turmoil, opium’s ascent should be seen as a response to the severe damage two decades of warfare had inflicted. With the return of those three million refugees to a war-ravaged land, the opium fields were an employment godsend, since they required nine times as many laborers to cultivate as wheat, the country’s traditional staple. In addition, opium merchants alone were capable of accumulating capital rapidly enough to be able to provide much-needed cash advances to poor poppy farmers that equaled more than half their annual income. That credit would prove critical to the survival of many poor villagers.

In the civil war’s first phase from 1992 to 1994, ruthless local warlords combined arms and opium in a countrywide struggle for power. Determined to install its Pashtun allies in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Pakistan worked through the ISI to deliver arms and funds to its chief client Hekmatyar.  By now, he was the nominal prime minister of a fractious coalition whose troops would spend two years shelling and rocketing Kabul in fighting that left the city in ruins and some 50,000 more Afghans dead. When he nonetheless failed to take the capital, Pakistan threw its backing behind a newly arisen Pashtun force, the Taliban, a fundamentalist movement that had emerged from militant Islamic schools.

After seizing Kabul in 1996 and taking control of much of the country, the Taliban regime encouraged local opium cultivation, offering government protection to the export trade and collecting much needed taxes on both the opium produced and the heroin manufactured from it. U.N. opium surveys showed that, during their first three years in power, the Taliban raised the country’s opium crop to 4,600 tons, or 75% percent of world production at that moment.

In July 2000, however, as a devastating drought entered its second year and mass starvation spread across Afghanistan, the Taliban government suddenly ordered a ban on all opium cultivation in an apparent appeal for international recognition and aid. A subsequent U.N. crop survey of 10,030 villages found that this prohibition had reduced the harvest by 94% to a mere 185 tons.

Three months later, the Taliban sent a delegation headed by its deputy foreign minister, Abdur Rahman Zahid, to U.N. headquarters in New York to barter a continuing drug prohibition for diplomatic recognition. That body instead imposed new sanctions on the regime for protecting Osama bin Laden. The U.S., on the other hand, actually rewarded the Taliban with $43 million in humanitarian aid, even as it seconded U.N. criticism over bin Laden. Announcing this aid in May 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised “the ban on poppy cultivation, a decision by the Taliban that we welcome” and urged the regime to “act on a number of fundamental issues that separate us: their support for terrorism; their violation of internationally recognized human rights standards, especially their treatment of women and girls.”

The War on Terror (2001-2016)

After a decade of ignoring Afghanistan, Washington rediscovered the place with a vengeance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Only weeks later, in October 2001, the U.S. began bombing the country and then launched an “invasion” spearheaded by local warlords. The Taliban regime collapsed, in the words of veteran New York Times reporter R.W. Apple, with a speed “so sudden and so unexpected that government officials and commentators on strategy… are finding it hard to explain.” Although the U.S. air attacks did considerable physical and psychological damage, many other societies have withstood far more massive bombardments without collapsing in this fashion. In retrospect, it seems likely that the opium prohibition had economically eviscerated the Taliban, leaving its theocracy a hollow shell that shattered with the first American bombs.

To an extent not generally appreciated, for the previous two decades Afghanistan had devoted a growing share of its resources — capital, land, water, and labor — to the production of opium and heroin. By the time the Taliban outlawed cultivation, the country had become, agriculturally, little more than an opium monocrop. The drug trade accounted for most of its tax revenues, almost all its export income, and much of its employment. In this context, opium eradication proved to be an act of economic suicide that brought an already weakened society to the brink of collapse. Indeed, a 2001 U.N. survey found that the ban had “resulted in a severe loss of income for an estimated 3.3 million people,” 15% of the population, including 80,000 farmers, 480,000 itinerant laborers, and their millions of dependents.

While the U.S. bombing campaign raged throughout October 2001, the CIA spent $70 million “in direct cash outlays on the ground” to mobilize its old coalition of tribal warlords to take down the Taliban, an expenditure President George W. Bush would later hail as one of history’s biggest “bargains.” To capture Kabul and other key cities, the CIA put its money behind the leaders of the Northern Alliance, which the Taliban had never fully defeated. They, in turn, had long dominated the drug traffic in the area of northeastern Afghanistan they controlled in the Taliban years. In the meantime, the CIA also turned to a group of rising Pashtun warlords who had been active as drug smugglers in the southeastern part of the country.  As a result, when the Taliban went down, the groundwork had already been laid for the resumption of opium cultivation and the drug trade on a major scale.

Once Kabul and the provincial capitals were taken, the CIA quickly ceded operational control to uniformed allied forces and civilian officials whose inept drug suppression programs in the years to come would, in the end, leave the heroin traffic’s growing profits first to those warlords and, in later years, largely to the Taliban guerrillas. In the first year of U.S. occupation, before that movement had even reconstituted itself, the opiumharvest surged to 3,400 tons. In a development without historical precedent, illicit drugs would be responsible for an extraordinary 62% percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003. For the first few years of the U.S. occupation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “dismissed growing signs that drug money was being funneled to the Taliban,” while the CIA and the U.S. military “turned a blind eye to drug-related activities by prominent warlords.”

In late 2004, after nearly two years in which it showed next to no interest in the subject, outsourcing opium control to its British allies and police training to the Germans, the White House was suddenly confronted with troubling CIA intelligence suggesting that the escalating drug trade was fueling a revival of the Taliban. Backed by President Bush, Secretary of State Powell then urged an aggressive counter-narcotics strategy, including a Vietnam-style aerial defoliation of parts of rural Afghanistan. But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad resisted this approach, seconded by his local ally Ashraf Ghani, then the country’s finance minister (and now its president), whowarned that such an eradication program would mean “widespread impoverishment” in the country without $20 billion in foreign aid to create “genuine alternative livelihood[s].”

As a compromise, Washington came to rely on private contractors like DynCorp to train Afghan manual eradication teams. However, by 2005, according to New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall, that approach had already become “something of a joke.” Two years later, as the Taliban insurgency andopium cultivation both spread in what seemed to be a synergistic fashion, the U.S. Embassy again pressed Kabul to accept the kind of aerial defoliation the U.S. had sponsored in Colombia. President Hamid Karzai refused, leaving this critical problem unresolved.

The U.N.’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 found that the annual harvest was up 24% to a record 8,200 tons, which translated into 53% of the country’s GDP and 93% of the world’s illicit heroin supply. Significantly, the U.N. stated that Taliban guerrillas had “started to extract from the drug economy resources for arms, logistics, and militia pay.” A study for the U.S. Institute of Peace concluded that, by 2008, the movement had 50 heroin labs in its territory and controlled 98% of the country’s poppy fields.  That year, it reportedly collected $425 million in “taxes” levied on opium traffic, and with every harvest, it gained the necessary funds to recruit a new crop of young fighters from the villages. Each of those prospective guerrillas could count on monthly payments of $300, far above the wages they would have made as agricultural laborers.

In mid-2008, to contain the spreading insurgency, Washington decided to commit 40,000 more American combat troops to the country, raising allied forces to 70,000. Recognizing the crucial role of opium revenues in Taliban recruitment practices, the U.S. Treasury also formed the Afghan Threat Finance Celland embedded 60 of its analysts in combat units charged with launching strategic strikes against the drug trade.

Using quantitative methods of “social network analysis” and “influence network modeling,” those instantcivilian experts would often, according to one veteran analyst, “point to hawala brokers [rural creditors] as critical nodes within an insurgent group’s network,” prompting U.S. combat soldiers to take “kinetic courses of action — quite literally, kicking down the door of the hawala office and shutting down the operation.” Such “highly controversial” acts might “temporarily degrade the financial network of an insurgent group,” but those gains came “at the cost of upsetting an entire village” dependent on the lender for legitimate credit that was the “vast majority of the hawalador’s business.” In this way, once again, support for the Taliban grew.

By 2009, the guerrillas were expanding so rapidly that the new Obama administration opted for a “surge” in U.S. troop strength to 102,000 in a bid to cripple the Taliban. After months of rising troop deployments, President Obama’s new war strategy was officially launched on February 13, 2010, in Marja, a remote market town in Helmand Province. As waves of helicopters descended on its outskirts spitting up clouds of dust, hundreds of Marines sprinted through fields of sprouting opium poppies toward the town’s mud-walled compounds. Though their target was the local Taliban guerrillas, the Marines were in fact occupying the capital of the global heroin trade. Forty percent of the world’s illicit opium supply was grown in the surrounding districts and much of that crop was traded in Marja.

A week later, U.S. Commander General Stanley McChrystal choppered into town with Karim Khalili, Afghanistan’s vice president, for the media rollout of a new-look counterinsurgency strategy that, he told reporters, was rock-solid certain to pacify villages like Marja. Only it would never be so because the opium trade would spoil the party. “If they come with tractors,” one Afghan widow announced to a chorus of supportive shouts from her fellow farmers, “they will have to roll over me and kill me before they can kill my poppy.” Speaking by satellite telephone from the region’s opium fields, a U.S. Embassy official told me: “You can’t win this war without taking on drug production in Helmand Province.”

Watching these events unfold nearly six years ago, I wrote an essay for TomDispatch warning of a defeat foretold. “So the choice is clear enough,” I said at the time. “We can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome… or we can help renew this ancient, arid land by re-planting the orchards, replenishing the flocks, and rebuilding the farming destroyed in decades of war… until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, we can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.”

By attacking the guerrillas but ignoring the opium harvest that funded new insurgents every spring, Obama’s surge soon suffered that defeat foretold. As 2012 ended, the Taliban guerrillas had, according to the New York Times, “weathered the biggest push the American-led coalition is going to make against them.” Amid the rapid drawdown of allied forces to meet President Obama’s December 2014 deadline for “ending” U.S. combat operations, reduced air operations allowed the Taliban to launch mass-formationattacks in the north, northeast, and south, killing record numbers of Afghan army troops and police.

At the time, John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector for Afghanistan, offered a telling explanation for the Taliban’s survival. Despite the expenditure of a staggering $7.6 billion on “drug eradication” programs during the previous decade, he concluded that, “by every conceivable metric, we’ve failed. Production and cultivation are up, interdiction and eradication are down, financial support to the insurgency is up, and addiction and abuse are at unprecedented levels in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, the 2013 opium crop covered a record 209,000 hectares, raising the harvest by 50% to 5,500 tons. That massive harvest generated some $3 billion in illicit income, of which the Taliban’s tax took an estimated $320 million, well over half its revenues. The U.S. Embassy corroborated this dismal assessment, calling the illicit income “a windfall for the insurgency, which profits from the drug trade at almost every level.”

As the 2014 opium crop was harvested, fresh U.N. figures suggested that the dismal trend only continued, with the areas under cultivation rising to a record 224,000 hectares and production at 6,400 tons remaining near historic highs. In May 2015, having watched this flood of drugs enter the global market as U.S. counter-narcotics spending climbed to $8.4 billion, Sopko tried to translate what was happening into a single all-American image. “Afghanistan,” he said, “has roughly 500,000 acres, or about 780 square miles, devoted to growing opium poppy. That’s equivalent to more than 400,000 U.S. football fields — including the end zones.”

In the fighting season of 2015, the Taliban decisively seized the combat initiative and opium seemed ever more deeply embedded in its operations. The New York Times reported that the movement’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was “among the first major Taliban officials to be linked to the drug trade… and later became the Taliban’s main tax collector for the narcotics trade — creating immense profits.” After months of relentless pressure on government forces in three northern provinces, the group’s first major operation under his command was the two-week seizure of the strategic city of Kunduz, which just happened to be located on “the country’s most lucrative drug routes… moving opium from the poppy prolific provinces in the south to Tajikistan… and to Russia and Europe.” Washington felt forced to slam down the brakes on planned further withdrawals of its combat forces.

Amid a rushed evacuation of its regional offices in the threatened northern provinces, the U.N. released a map in October showing that the Taliban had “high” or “extreme” control in more than half the country’s rural districts, including many where they had not previously been a significant presence. Within a month, the Taliban unleashed offensives countrywide that aimed at seizing and holding territory, threatening military bases in northern Faryab Province and encircling entire districts in western Herat.

Not surprisingly, the strongest attacks came in the poppy heartland of Helmand Province, where half the country’s opium crop was then grown and, said the New York Times, “the lucrative opium trade made it crucial to the insurgents’ economic designs.” By mid-December, after overrunning checkpoints, winning back much of the province, and setting government security forces back on their heels, the guerrillas came close to capturing that heart of the heroin trade, Marja, the very site of President Obama’s media-saturated surge rollout in 2010.  Had U.S. Special Operations forces and the U.S. Air Force not intervened to relieve “demoralized” Afghan forces, the town and the province would undoubtedly have fallen. By early 2016, 14-plus years after Afghanistan was “liberated” by a U.S. invasion, and in a significant reversal of Obama administration drawdown policies, the U.S. was reportedly dispatching“hundreds” of new U.S. troops in a mini-surge into Helmand Province to shore up the government’s faltering forces and deny the insurgents the “economic prize” of the world’s most productive poppy fields.

After a disastrous 2015 fighting season that inflicted what U.S. officials have termed “unsustainable”casualties on the Afghan army and what the UN called the “real horror” of record civilian losses, the long, harsh winter that has settled across the country is offering no respite. As cold and snow slowed combat in the countryside, the Taliban shifted operations to the cities, with five massive bombings in Kabul and other key urban areas in the first week of January, followed by a suicide attack on a police complex in the capital that killed 20 officers.

Meanwhile, as the 2015 harvest ended, the country’s opium cultivation, after six years of sustained growth, slipped by 18% to 183,000 hectares and the crop yield dropped steeply to 3,300 tons. While U.N. officials attributed much of the decline to drought and the spread of a poppy fungus, conditions that might not continue into 2016, long-term trends are still an unclear mix of positive and negative news. Buried in the mass of data published in the U.N.’s drug reports is one significant statistic: as Afghanistan’s economy grew from years of international aid, opium’s share of GDP dropped steadily from a daunting 63% in 2003 to a far more manageable 13% in 2014. Even so, the U.N. says, “dependency on the opiate economy at the farmer level in many rural communities is still high.”

At that local level in Helmand Province, “Afghan government officials have also become directly involved in the opium trade,” the New York Times recently reported. In doing so, they expanded “their competition with the Taliban… into a struggle for control of the drug traffic,” while imposing “a tax on farmers practically identical to the one the Taliban uses,” and kicking a portion of their illicit profits “up the chain, all the way to officials in Kabul… ensuring that the local authorities maintain support from higher-ups and keeping the opium growing.”

Simultaneously, a recent U.N. Security Council investigation found that the Taliban has systematically tapped “into the supply chain at each stage of the narcotics trade,” collecting a 10% user tax on opium cultivation in Helmand, fighting for control of heroin laboratories, and acting as “the major guarantors for the trafficking of raw opium and heroin out of Afghanistan.” No longer simply taxing the traffic, the Taliban is now so deeply and directly involved that, adds the Times, it “has become difficult to distinguish the group from a dedicated drug cartel.” Whatever the long-term trends might be, for the foreseeable future opium remains deeply entangled with the rural economy, the Taliban insurgency, and government corruption whose sum is the Afghan conundrum.

With ample revenues from past bumper crops, the Taliban will undoubtedly be ready for the new fighting season that will come with the start of spring. As snow melts from the mountain slopes and poppy shoots spring from the soil, there will be, as in the past 40 years, a new crop of teenaged recruits ready to fight for the rebel forces.

Cutting the Afghan Gordian Knot

For most people globally, economic activity, the production and exchange of goods, is the prime point of contact with government, as is manifest in the coins and currency stamped by the state that everyone carries in their pockets.  But when a country’s most significant commodity is illegal, then political loyalties naturally shift to the clandestine networks that move that product safely from fields to foreign markets, providing finance, loans, and employment every step of the way. “The narcotics trade poisons the Afghan financial sector and fuels a growing illicit economy,” John Sopko explains. “This, in turn, undermines the Afghan state’s legitimacy by stoking corruption, nourishing criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups.”

After 15 years of continuous warfare in Afghanistan, Washington is faced with the same choice it had five years ago when Obama’s generals heli-lifted those Marines into Marja to start its surge. Just as it has been over the past decade and a half, the U.S. can remain trapped in the same endless cycle, fighting each new crop of village warriors who annually seem to spring fully armed from that country’s poppy fields. At this point, history tells us one thing: in this land sown with dragon’s teeth, there will be a new crop of guerrillas this year, next year, and the year after that.

Even in troubled Afghanistan, however, there are alternatives whose sum could potentially slice through this Gordian knot of a policy problem. As a first and fundamental step, maybe it’s time to stop talking about the next sets of boots on the ground and for President Obama to complete his planned troop withdrawal.

Next, investing even a small portion of all that misspent military funding in rural Afghanistan could produce economic alternatives for the millions of farmers who depend upon the opium crop for employment. Such money could help rebuild that land’s ruined orchards, ravaged flocks, wasted seed stocks, and wrecked snowmelt irrigation systems that, before these decades of war, sustained a diverse agriculture. If the international community can continue to nudge the country’s dependence on illicit opium down from the current 13% of GDP through such sustained rural development, then perhaps Afghanistan will cease to be the planet’s leading narco-state and just maybe that annual cycle can at long last be broken.

Posted in AfghanistanComments Off on Opium in Afghanistan: How a Pink Flower Defeated the World’s Sole Superpower

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