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How Orientalism Pitted Hindus against Muslims in India?

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The most outstanding feature of Islam is its history; if you study Islamic history, you would come to realize that Islam did not spread by force alone, it was the superior moral appeal of its peerless ethics that won the hearts and minds of medieval masses. For instance: Mongols conquered most of the eastern lands of the Islamic Empire during the thirteenth century, however, the Muslims of those lands did not convert to the religion of the conquerors: that is, the Mongolian Shamanism. Instead, the conquerors adopted the religion of the vanquished, i.e. Islam. Not only the Mongols, but several Turkish tribes also voluntarily converted to Islam. Such was the beauty of Islamic teachings and its sublime moral appeal in ancient times.

During the medieval times, when Europe was going through an age of intellectual and moral regression, Islamic culture thrived and flourished under the Abbasids, Ottomans and Mughals. Muslims ruled over India for more than six centuries; despite that, at the time of the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, Hindus outnumbered Muslims three to one (there were only 100 million Muslims in the population of 400 million Indians in 1947). That’s how tolerant and inclusive Islamic culture was back then. By comparison, the Red Indians of America and the Aborigines of Australia were reduced to a tiny minority of those continents after the European invasions.

The Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire were regarded as benevolent rulers by ancient historians. But when India was conquered by the British Empire, their Orientalist historians deliberately propagated the myth of supposedly “savage and rapacious” rule of Muslims in India in order to sow the seeds of dissension between Muslims and Hindus. In the nineteenth century, the newly established British education system in India deliberately portrayed Muslim rulers of India as marauders, rapists and looters in order to malign them. By contrast, the British rule in India was portrayed in a positive light: that the British Empire built roads and railways and established schools, colleges and hospitals in India.

If we were to compare the British and Muslim rules in India, the Muslim rulers at least resided in India and shared their wealth and fortune with their subjects. The British rule, on the other hand, was a foreign rule; the affairs of the state were run by viceroys and governors on the behalf of the monarchs of England who resided thousands of miles away in London. A small number of European colonizers in India treated their subjects as untouchables; they traded raw materials for pennies and sent finished goods back to the Indian market with huge profits, thus enriching themselves and the British Empire.

Up until 1857, the Hindus and Muslims of India were united enough to rise up in arms together against the British colonizers under the nominal command of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. But after that, the British education system introduced by Lord Macaulay in India entrenched communal divisions and made it virtually impossible for Hindus and Muslims to understand each other, even though both religious communities were the victims of exploitation of foreign rule.

Regarding the notion peddled by the Orientalist historians that Muslims or Islam were somehow foreign to India, we need to settle on the definition of nativity first. If an Indian settles in the US, for instance, how would you define such a first generation immigrant? Since he was brought up in India and subsequently migrated to a Western country, therefore such a first generation Indian-American would have more in common with Indians than Americans, as such. But how would you identify the children of an immigrant who have been brought up and educated in the West? The second generation Indian-Americans, for all practical purposes, would be more American than Indian in their outlooks.

Similarly, although I concede that the invading armies of Muslim rulers from Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran were foreign to India; but once they settled in India, made Delhi their seat of governance, intermarried and gave birth to Indian children, then how come the descendants of such benevolent rulers be labeled as foreign invaders? Excluding a few odd adventurers, like Mahmud of Ghazni, who had his seat of government in Afghanistan but plundered the wealth of India by conducting raids on Somnath, the Muslim rulers of India, particularly the Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire, were as much native to India as the Hindu and Sikh rajas and maharajas.

Notwithstanding, the only true sociological definition of nation is ethno-linguistic group. The concept of modern nation state, particularly in multiethnic federations like India and Pakistan, is an artificial construct which is predicated on nothing substantive but on myths, fables and symbols. Rather than monolithic communities, the Hindus and Muslims of India were more parochial and tribal in character.

The astute Orientalist historians of British India debunked the myth of six centuries’ old Muslim rule in India by calling them “marauders” and substituted it with the fables of the pre-Christ Maurya Empire in order to forge and reify Hindu identity against Muslims. The primary concern of impoverished Indian masses was to earn bread and butter for their families. The metanarratives of Hindu and Muslim nationalism were taught by the British rulers, Hindu elites and Muslim ashrafiya to their subjects in order to distract and exploit them.

Here, let me clarify that I am not giving a free pass to the Muslim rulers of India. Their rule must have been as tyrannical as any other undemocratic, elitist rule throughout the history has been. I am only contending that the Muslim rulers were deliberately singled out and vilified in order to sow the seeds of dissension between the two communities.

After all, if the British rulers who resided in England and ruled over India can be hailed as saviors who built roads and railways and established schools, colleges and hospitals, not by academics but by common Indian citizens, then why can’t the Sultanate of Delhi and the Mughal Empire that ensured peace and stability in India and built architectural wonders in Delhi, Lahore and Agra be granted a similar level of deference?

By the British divide-and-rule policy in the Indian context, it is generally assumed by Indian historians that the British rulers used the Muslim minority against the Hindu majority by giving the former preferential treatment, separate electorates etc. but the fact is often overlooked that the British imperialists in equal measure used the Hindus against the Muslims by vilifying the latter’s culture, rule and religion.

Moreover, the partition of Bengal on religious lines in 1905 was another classic instance of the British divide-and-rule policy through demographic change. In this case, the British imperialists cleverly partitioned the Hindu-majority Bengal province into the Muslim-majority East Bengal and the Hindu-majority West Bengal. As a consequence, the Hindus felt aggrieved and launched a mass movement against the partition; the Raj obliged the Hindus by accepting their demand of reunifying Bengal in 1911 which created a sense of alienation and deprivation among Muslims.

This time around, however, despite unifying the province along linguistic lines, at the same time the British rulers split up Bihar and Orissa province to the west and Assam province to the east; thus, reducing the initial Hindu majority (pre-1905) that included Bihar, Orissa and Assam, in favor of Muslim majority (post-1911) in the reunified Bengal. Additionally, the British rulers also devised separate electorates for Muslims in 1909; thus, pitting one community against the other which had lived peacefully for centuries before the arrival of British in India.

Finally, rather than cultivating inclusive Indian nationalism that would glorify Hindu, Muslim and Sikh identities and histories in equal measure, the British rulers maliciously nurtured exclusionary Hindu and Muslim nationalism in order to divide the communities and prolong the British rule. As several contemporary Indian historians have contended that Muslim nationalism in India was a reaction to exclusionary Hindu nationalism.

The political leadership of India was the product of British education system that forged artificial identities and entrenched communal divisions, therefore it was not possible for them to rise above their communal prejudices and work for the betterment of all Indians as a nation. This self-serving, divide-and-rule policy by the British rulers and their Hindu, Muslim and Sikh collaborators eventually led to a carnage and mass exodus of people on the eve of independence the likes of which history has seldom witnessed.

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North Korea May Be Close to Targeting US With Nuclear Missile

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA on the spot in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 7, 2017

North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs have some analysts worried that the reclusive state may pose a real threat to the rest of the world very soon.

Amid speculations about North Korea attacking the US, analysts expect the state to soon launch its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Based on recently released satellite images of substantial tunnel excavation at the North’s nuclear test site in North Hamgyong Province, analyst Frank Pabian of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and David Coblentz, an environmental science expert at LANL, have concluded that the regime may be preparing an explosion 14 times more powerful than the one it conducted in September.

“The continued tunneling under Mt. Mantap via the North Portal has the potential for allowing North Korea to support additional underground nuclear tests of significantly higher explosive yields, perhaps up to 282 kilotons (282000 tons),” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported, referring to the analysts.

The September 9 detonation by North Korea is estimated to have been a 15,000-20,000 ton yield.

The news comes just a day after Bruce Klingner, a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea, made an alarming statement about Pyongyang being close to developing a ballistic missile that could strike the US.

“We can expect an [intercontinental ballistic missile] test this year, with full capability within the next few years,” he told Fox News on Friday.

During his annual address earlier this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the country was in the final stages of test-launching an intercontinental ballistic rocket, but most experts believe the announcement was meant to intimidate, and that Pyongyang doesn’t actually have that ability. But the North has been making statements like these for years, and for years they seem to have been incrementally improving their capabilities.

Defense experts also warn that North Korea and other rogue states pose unique challenges to the space environment as they don’t have anything at stake in the global economy and therefore no incentives to remain peaceful in orbit.

Last year, North Korea carried out two nuclear tests and more than two dozen test launches of ballistic missile technology. Previously, the United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea for three nuclear tests it carried out in 2006, 2009 and 2013.The UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions imposing restrictions on North Korea in order to make Pyongyang halt its nuclear and missile activities.

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The Korean Crisis, the US’ Next Phase of Pan-Eurasian Containment

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Andrew Korybko

The security situation has markedly deteriorated on the Korean Peninsula in recent days following the North’s latest missile test, which Pyongyang antagonistically said was a drill for striking US bases in Japan in response to the latest US-South Korean military exercises that it rightly views as a sign of hostility.

These surprise launches prompted the Pentagon to speed up its planned deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea, which has drawn the immediate ire of Russia and China who previously warned that it would set the precedent for undercutting their nuclear second-strike deterrent and spy on their territories.North Korea’s latest moves have also led to talk in Japan for a “first-strike option” to complement Tokyo’s militant reinterpretation of its post-war (supposedly) pacifist constitution. Not to be outdone, the Trump Administration ominously reiterated that “all options are on the table”, which Reuters reports could include “a return of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, and even pre-emptive air strikes on North Korean missile installations.” China has frantically sought to cool down the dangerously rising temperatures on the peninsula and kick start a new round of negotiations by wisely calling for the dual suspension of the North’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the US and South Korea putting their joint military exercises on hold.

Neither side, however, seems ready to follow Beijing’s advice, thus running the risk that tensions will only continue to rise for the foreseeable future. This can’t help but work to Russia and China’s overall strategic detriment since the leading Eurasian Great Powers can ill afford for the US to open up yet another containment front against them. On the upside, however, this would serve to strengthen the already rock-solid Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership and accelerate Moscow and Beijing’s previously stated joint efforts to confront THAAD, though both of them are at a loss for how to properly respond to their wayward and increasingly reckless North Korean partner.High Stakes

All of the actors in Northeast Asia have significant stakes in the outcome of the Korean Crisis, not least of which is that they’d all like to avoid the worst-case scenario of a nuclear war. Here’s a brief look at the interests and agendas that the exclusively Asian countries are pursing, followed later by an examination of the US and Russia’s:

North Korea:

Pyongyang has the long-term goal of reunifying the Korean Peninsula under communist leadership, though its short-term motivations are more directly geared towards countering US-South Korean belligerence in staging their inciting war games (which this year happen to be the largest-ever) so close to the DMZ. The North’s nuclear and missile tests are muscle flexing aimed at showing the US that it will not fall victim to a Yugoslav-Iraqi-Libyan-style regime change war, but its predictable knee-jerk reactions feed into US strategy by gifting Washington the excuse for THAAD and other expected future deployments which are tactically much more about subverting Russia and China than North Korea.South Korea:

Just like the North, the South also wants to reunify the peninsula, albeit under capitalist leadership, and its latest moves are responses to what it perceives as (and is led by the US to believe is) the “North Korean” threat, ignorantly unaware of how its own actions play into and actually started this whole escalation cycle in the first place. In regional terms, South Korea endeavors to remain the pivotal economy wedged between its larger Chinese and Japanese neighbors, ideally retaining respectable and positive relations with each, but the country is inadvertently endangering its pragmatic and profitable high-level ties with China because of THAAD and strategically converging with Japan despite Seoul’s historical-territorial disputes with Tokyo (as per the US’ envisioned Northeast Asian NATO plans).

Japan:

This archipelago country hosts the most US troops anywhere in the world at approximately 50,000 and is a key component of the Pentagon’s “Pivot to Asia”. The US and the Abe government aspire to help Japan return to its World War II-era sphere of influence in East and Southeast Asia in order for Tokyo to become Washington’s premier “Lead From Behind” partner in the Asia-Pacific. In pertinence to the problems on the Korean Peninsula, Japan plays the role of an indirect antagonist by giving the US an “unsinkable aircraft” carrier for deploying ever more THAAD-like systems under the cover of ‘responding’ to North Korea but in reality to undermine Russia and China. Tokyo also has personal disputes with Pyongyang over the latter’s alleged abductions of Japanese citizens throughout the years, while North Korea viciously hates Japan for its brutal 35-year-long occupation between 1910-1945.China:

Beijing wants a nuclear-free and stable Korean Peninsula preferably united by peaceful methods and becoming a militarily neutral country. China does not want to see American troops on the Yalu River again under any circumstances, as this would present a national security threat of the highest caliber. Accordingly, it also wouldn’t tolerate pro-American United Korean troops there either. China wants North Korea to act as a buffer between itself and the US military and its proxies, but it recognizes that this said buffer region also carries with it inherent risks as well. Other than the fact that the Kim government is irresponsibly enabling the US to expand its strategically disruptive military footprint in the peninsula, its sudden and unexpected collapse could generate a sweeping flood of millions of “Weapons of Mass Migration” into China which could later be exploited by any pro-American United Korean government to press ancient historical claims in destabilizing this part of the People’s Republic.American Aims

While none of the exclusively Asian participants in the Korean Crisis want a hot war to break out, the US doesn’t necessarily have the same reservations despite having at least 80,000 troops stationed in total in Japan and South Korea, to say nothing of their many dependents (family, contract workers, etc.). The author isn’t suggesting that the US’ one and only goal is to spark a regional war, but just that it comparatively has the least to lose out of any of the countries involved (whether directly or indirectly), and that its military forces are more than capable of obliterating North Korea, although likely with substantial American casualties depending on how long and effectively Pyongyang holds out (which could include a suicidal last-ditch nuclear strike).

Accepting that the above scenario is the worst-case and least-likely one (at least for the time being), it’s much more relevant to discuss the more realistic reason why the US instigated the Korean Crisis. In the larger scheme of things: the US is hoping that its provocations against Pyongyang can drive North Korea into simultaneously providing Washington with the indefinite ‘justification’ for THAAD and thus transforming the country into a troubling security liability for Russia and China. If successful, then Washington could cleverly prompt Moscow and Beijing into taking on the burden of dealing with Pyongyang and consequently making Kim Jong Un the ultimate international pariah by turning his last remaining partners against him.This would amount to skillfully utilizing Russia and China as the US’ ‘cat’s paws’ in handling North Korea, as all parties would by then have a large degree of common ground between them in working towards the same ends (restraining Pyongyang), whether together or separately, no matter which means they go about in attempting to do so (barring of course the unacceptable unilateral use of force by the US). There’s nothing wrong with multilateral cooperation on such a pressing regional security issue as North Korea, let alone one with such profound global implications, so the reader shouldn’t misinterpret this as necessarily being the author opposing this potential eventuality per se, but just that the US certainly has ulterior motivations in prompting this scenario in order to promote its own self-interests.

Russian Recourse to Prevent Divide And Rule

US Interventions in World Politics: Infographic
© AFP 2017/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
It was earlier alluded to how the leading Eurasian Great Powers of Russia and China can ill afford to intensely focus on the Korean Crisis at this moment in time, and the title of the article does indeed refer to the latest events being part of the US’ next phase of pan-Eurasian containment. What’s meant by this select choice of words is that the US has already engineered serious strategic proxy crises against Russia and China in Eastern Europe (Ukraine), the Mideast (“Syraq”), and Southeast Asia (South China Sea), and that yet another major disturbance in a different corner of Eurasia – this time one which borders both Great Powers – would occur at a very inopportune time for them.Moreover, the Korean Crisis is unfolding concurrently with the intensification of the existing containment proxy battlegrounds, with the Balkans boiling, the “Cerberus” coalition of the US-Israel-Gulf teaming up once more against Iran, and Myanmar slipping back into all-out civil war in parallel with Daesh ominously rising in the tri-border Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Understandably, if the incipient Korean Crisis was paired with a Central Asian expansion of the Hybrid War on CPEC, then the entire supercontinent would be embroiled in destabilizing conflicts (or threats thereof), which would surely create the perfect divide-and-rule existential challenge for the emerging Multipolar World Order.

The most realistic recourse against this insidious stratagem is for Russia to leverage its newfound diplomatic balancing role in Asia by urgently staging a diplomatic intervention aimed at calming tensions between the two Koreas in order to stem the American-encouraged spread of pan-Eurasian destabilization. Moscow enjoys excellent relations with Beijing, is in a promising rapprochement with Tokyo, and has unrealized by strong potential to better its ties with both Koreas, so it’s perfectly positioned to liaison and mediate between the four most directly affected actors. While the ongoing “deep state” war in the US has considerably diminished the prospects for reaching a New Détente in the New Cold War, Russia could still find a way to utilize any pivotally forthcoming diplomatic role that it plays in the Korean Crisis to its own bargaining advantage in attempting to secure a holistic and comprehensive ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the US.At the end of the day, since all Eurasian diplomatic roads lead through Russia nowadays and the solution to seemingly intractable conflicts like Syria and Afghanistan is being actively discussed in Moscow, there’s no reason why Russia shouldn’t be at the center of organizing multilateral efforts aimed at resolving the Korean Crisis too and simultaneously strengthening its own “Pivot to Asia.”

Posted in USA, North Korea, South Korea0 Comments

US Rejects Talks over North Korea, Declaring “All Options on Table”… Including War against the DPRK?

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Amid sharply rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the Trump administration has flatly rejected a Chinese proposal for negotiations with North Korea despite warnings from the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, that Washington and Pyongyang were on a collision course. A confrontation looms as huge South Korean-US military exercises are underway, involving over 300,000 troops backed by an US aircraft carrier strike group, stealth fighters and strategic bombers.

China is clearly alarmed at the prospect of war on its doorstep. Speaking in uncharacteristically blunt terms in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned:

“The two sides are like accelerating trains coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way,” he said. “The question is: Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision? Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains.”

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley emphatically rebuffed the Chinese plan for the US and South Korea to halt their annual Foal Eagle war games in return for a freeze by North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs. Speaking after an emergency UN Security Council meeting yesterday, Haley not only rejected China’s “dual suspension” scheme but provocatively declared that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “not a rational person,” effectively ruling out any future negotiations.

Haley told the media that the US was revaluating how to deal with North Korea. “We are not ruling anything out and we’re considering every option that’s on the table,” she said, in a thinly veiled threat that the US could attack North Korea. To emphasise that time was running out, Haley warned: “We are making those decisions now and will act accordingly.” The US ambassador was flanked by her South Korean and Japanese counterparts to highlight their support for Washington’s aggressive stance.

After coming to office, the Trump administration initiated a “comprehensive rethink” of US strategy toward Pyongyang. According to the Wall Street Journal, deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland called for proposals, including those “well outside the mainstream”—ranging from talks with North Korea to “regime-change” and military strikes. Given Haley’s comments yesterday, the White House appears to have ruled out any negotiations and is preparing to embark on a reckless course of action that could potentially plunge Asia and the world into a catastrophic conflict.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that three meetings of National Security Council deputies concluded that “a dramatic show of force, like attacks on the North’s missile and nuclear sites, would probably start a war.” Chillingly, the article did not say that, as a result, the White House had ruled out military strikes.

The US is exploiting North Korean missile launches this week to justify its military build-up in North East Asia, which is primarily directed against China. Foreign Minister Yang yesterday opposed the installation that began on Monday of a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea. “It’s common knowledge that the monitoring and early warning radius of THAAD reaches far beyond the Korean Peninsula and compromises China’s strategic security,” he said.

However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s response to the danger of war—seeking a deal with Washington, on the one hand, and expanding its own military capacities, on the other—only heightens the danger of conflict. A commentary in the official Xinhua news agency warned that THAAD would result in a regional arms race and suggested China would build more nuclear missiles to counter the US anti-missile systems.

The immediate pretext for the escalating US confrontation with North Korea was Monday’s test firing of four intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which flew about 1,000 kilometres before splashing down in the Sea of Japan. The missile launches, which coincided with the war games underway in South Korea, were accompanied by a militarist statement from North Korea. It declared it would “reduce the bases of aggression and provocation to ashes with its invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads” if its territory were attacked. Such reckless threats do nothing to defend the North Korean people. They play directly into the hands of US imperialism and only heighten the danger of war.

Washington’s primary target is not North Korea, but China. During the presidential election campaign, Trump deliberately whipped up anti-Chinese xenophobia, accusing China of stealing American jobs and “raping America.” The White House fired the first shot in trade war measures on Tuesday, by slapping a record $1.19 billion fine on the Chinese technology giant ZTE for allegedly breaching US sanctions.

Having previously made menacing statements over the South China Sea and threatened to tear up the “One China” policy, the Trump administration seems to have settled on North Korea as the means for exerting intense pressure on China. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading for Asia next week for meetings in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing that will focus on “the advancing nuclear and missile threat” from North Korea. The State Department said the discussions would “try to generate a new approach to North Korea.”

Tillerson’s trip will seek to further concretise Japanese and South Korean support for US war planning and exploit the mounting crisis over North Korea to bully the Chinese government into making major concessions—not only over Pyongyang, but the entire range of US demands. The overriding aim of the Trump administration, which is accelerating Obama’s confrontational “pivot to Asia” against Beijing, is to halt the historic decline of US imperialism and subordinate China to its economic and strategic interests.

The risk of war is compounded by the political and economic crisis wracking the US and its allies in North East Asia. The South Korean government is mired in a corruption scandal that has resulted in the impeachment and possible removal of President Park Geun Hye and could lead to an early election. Seoul is backing a belligerent approach to North Korea as a welcome diversion from its domestic strife. Similarly, the Japanese government is exploiting the confrontation with Pyongyang to deflect attention from its stagnant economy and justify its own military rearmament. Senior government figures have called in recent days for Japan to acquire the military hardware to conduct pre-emptive strikes against North Korea or any other potential enemy.

However, the most explosive factor in the profoundly unstable situation is the United States, where the entire political establishment and state apparatus is mired in bitter infighting and recriminations over foreign policy and tit-for-tat hacking allegations. The danger is that the Trump administration, which is guided by fascistic figures such as Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council, will choose the path of provocations and military action against North Korea to distract from the profound crisis at home, and to advance its plans for a confrontation with China, regardless of the potentially disastrous consequences.

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“Afghanistan – As Only Love Could Hurt”

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Notes From A Broken Land

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Afghanistan

WINTER

It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow.

It feels much chillier than it really is.

Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.

Afghans, at home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.

Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth, Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO, 2015).

While officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%, I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.

Statistics are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has been done to this ancient and distinct civilization, once standing proudly at the crossroad of major trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?

How deep, how permanent is the damage?

During my visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse” became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a brave, decent family man in possession of a wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to know, and he didn’t find it important to address the topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but endlessly sad land.

KABUL

One day you and your driver, who is by then your dear friend, are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops. You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin photographing the clogged river below, with garbage floating and covering its banks. Children are begging, and you soon notice that they are operating in a compact pack, almost resembling some small military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.

After a while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa Bridge, which is located in District 6.

Where you are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked up.

You were told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a warzone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has done to the country’. There are no bullets flying here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is still standing around her, cutting and cutting, working in extremely slow motion.

Again, as so many times before, you are scared. You were scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a few countries. In those places, as well as here in Kabul, you are not frightened because you could easily lose your life any moment, or because your safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what you really cannot stomach, are the images of despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt with.

People you see all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily into the distance. Some are urinating publicly. Syringes are everywhere.

Drug dealers living in holes

There are holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human bodies.

First you drive around, photographing through the cracked glass, then you roll down the window, and at the end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed. You have no idea what may happen in the next few seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are throwing stones, but they are too weak and the stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly, without causing any harm.

Then a bomb goes off, not far from where you are. There is an explosion in the 6th District, right in front of a police station. You cannot see it, but you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet powerful bang. You look at your phone.

Explosion in District 6

It is March 1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that several people died just a few hundred meters from where you were working, while several others perished in the 12th District, another few kilometers away.

The smoke begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling and several ambulances are rushing towards the site. Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one after another in the same direction, followed by heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene, and then snapping from some distance a monumental but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.

And so it goes.

*

Tall concrete walls are scarring, fragmenting the city. In Kabul, almost anything worth protecting is now fenced. Some partitions and barriers are simply enormous, almost unreal. There are walls sheltering all foreign embassies and government buildings, palaces, military bases, police stations and banks, as well as the United Nations compounds, even most of the private schools and hotels. The Hamid Karzai international airport is encompassed by perimeters that could put to shame most of the Cold War lines: from the parking area one has to walk almost one kilometer to the entrance of the international terminal, with luggage and through the countless security checks.

Of course Western institutions and organizations have the most impressive fences, as well as the Afghan military and military bases and government offices.

Enormous surveillance drone-zeppelins are levitating above the city.

It could all be seen as thoroughly grotesque, even laughable, but no one is amused. It is all very serious, damn serious here.

Afghanistan has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus. Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy, fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing everything in sight, monitoring each and every movement in the capital city, building taller and taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech cameras at almost every intersection, and above each gate.

*

Not far from the Embassy of the United States of America (or more precisely, not far from the Great Chinese Wall-size fence encompassing it), I noticed a familiar complex of buildings, reminding me of those that used to be constructed in all corners of Eastern Europe and Cuba. I asked my friend to drive into one of the compounds.

This is how I entered “Makroyan”.  We killed the engine, and everything around us was suddenly quiet, almost dormant. Time stopped here. There was a certain mild decay detectable all around the area, but upon a closer look, those old apartment buildings were still looking decent and strong, with very impressive public spaces in between them. Here I felt that I was allowed a rare glimpse of an old, socialist Afghanistan.

I stopped in between two entrances of Block 21: No.2 and No.3. I looked up to the 4th floor. Who is living there now? Who used to live here before, some 25, even 30 years ago?

Makroyan Block 21

A destroyed office chair was standing aimlessly in the middle of a parking lot, and an old, disabled man was crawling desolately on all fours, moving away from the block. There was a Soviet-built school right next to Block 21. It used to be known as Dosti primary school, and I was told that during the war, it was bombed a couple of times and lots of kids died inside it. Now the school is private and it has a new name – it is ‘Alfath’, a high school.

Apart from a few loose, rusty wires and fences, everything looks decent and semi-neat. This is where many members of the diminishing Kabul middle class still prefer to live. Blocks of Makroyan are reassuring; they radiate safety and permanency, while being surrounded by a volatile and frightening universe.

All of a sudden, I imagined a boy and a girl, who perhaps used to live here, so many years ago. As children in all other parts of the world do at that age, they were just slowly beginning to discover life, starting to formulate their dreams and expectations. In those days, the new leafy neighborhood would have been like a promise of a brighter future, of a much better country.

Then suddenly, full stop.

A war. A sudden end to all that the future was promising. Collapse of optimism, or enthusiasm, of confidence. Only death and destruction, and shattered dreams, remained. For those who were at least somehow lucky: a bitterness and then a hasty flight, instead of ultimate misery and death. Full stop. Total reset. Everything collapsed. But life never stops, it goes on, it always does. Things re-composed, somehow, not idyllically, but they did.

For a long time, I kept staring at Block 21. Memories kept coming, as if I used to live there myself, many years ago, when I was a child. I hardly noticed that it was getting very cold. I began to shiver. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Fresh pomegranate juice at a local street stall brought me back to reality, it woke me, but it didn’t managed to warm me up.

GREAT HISTORY, CHANGING CULTURE, AN ON-GOING OCCUPATION AND FEAR

A renowned Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, who used to be, among many other things, the former head of the National Museum, is now bitter about the changes invading the culture of his country:

In the past, we had also many ethnic groups living in this country, but they used to coexist in harmony. Then, our culture got influenced by conflicts and violence.

Before the war, it was the culture that used to represent us in the world. However, during and after the war, our cultures were used to justify the conflict.

Dr. Masoudi told me that he thinks it is wrong when culture falls into the hands of divisive politicians. “If culture is politicized, it loses its essence”, he declared.

I asked him whether he thinks it also applies to Latin America, to the former Soviet Union and China, where (at least to a great extent) ‘politicized culture’ has been playing an extremely important role, determining the course of development. He smiled, replying:

To be precise, politicizing cultures is not always such a bad thing… When it’s done, for instance, in order to achieve social progress or equality, I have nothing against it. But I am outraged when people like some religious leaders; Shia, Sunni or even some extremists, do it… Culture is very broad, and religions are only a part of it. But in Afghanistan, religious leaders have been using the culture for their narrow-minded interests.

In a coffee shop, which is lost somewhere inside the wilderness of an international and United Nations compound called ‘The Green Village’, my Japanese friend and Head of the Culture Unit of UNESCO, Mr. Masanori Nagaoka, explained:

Afghanistan or Ancient Ariana, as many ancient Greek and Roman authors referred to the region in antiquity, can be acknowledged as the multi-cultural cradle of Central Asia, linking East and West via historically significant trade conduits that also conveyed ideas, concepts and languages as a cultural by-product of fledgling international commerce. As a result, contemporary Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society with a complex history stretching back many millennia. The numerous civilizations are attested to in the archaeological record, both indigenous and foreign….

However, he is well aware of the complexities faced by the country and the culture torn apart by lethal conflicts of the last decades and centuries.

Afghanistan is unfortunately also a nation fragmented by a history of protracted conflict, exacerbated by geographic isolation for many communities and limited or unequal access to infrastructure and resources, both regionally and demographically. As a nominal starting point, the ongoing rehabilitation process in Afghanistan needs to address these issues if the nation is to unify under a common objective, fostering a veracious society free from conflict and where ethnic diversity is recognized for its social, cultural and economic benefits rather than, as is often the case, seen as a hindrance to particular developmental objectives. Part of the solution to this problem lies in the campaign of a positive public discussion to promote inter-cultural understanding and to raise awareness of the potential that such discourse has to contribute to the broader goals of rapprochement, peace-building and economic development in Afghanistan.

I flew to the city of Herat, where I witnessed tremendous masterpieces of architecture, from the marvelous and recently restored Citadel (as valuable as the citadels of Aleppo and Erbil), to the Friday Mosque and amazing, unique minarets rising proudly towards the sky.

How familiar all those architectural treasures appeared! On several occasions I approached Nasir, my local friend who was always eager to share the impressive history of his region: “Look, this could be in Delhi… and this in Samarkand!”

Sure enough, the most visited world heritage site in India, Qutub Minar, situated right outside New Delhi, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture, while both Herat and Samarkand were connected by the Silk Road and historically kept influencing each other.

In Afghanistan, the history, the occupation and the on-going conflict: everything seems to be thoroughly intertwined.

Italian troops took over ancient Citadel in Herat City

During my work there, the Citadel of Herat was literally taken over by Italian troops. I was told that some high-ranking NATO officer was visiting the site, and with no shame, a fully armed Italian commando was roaming around, “securing” every corner of the vast courtyard. As if Afghans had lost control of their own country!

De-mining work in Herat

On closer examination, the madrassa of Hussein Baiqara is, in reality, still a minefield. In between four stunning minarets, a de-mining team from local “Halo Trust” was manually searching for unexploded ordinances. I was allowed to enter, but only as a war correspondent and at my own risk, definitely not as a ‘tourist’.

“On this site, we already found two mines and 10 unexploded ordinances”, I was told by one of the Halo Trust experts. “Now this entire area is off-limits to the public. Not long ago, one child was badly injured here; he lost his leg.”

Nothing is peaceful in Afghanistan, not even ancient historic sites.

*

Not much is questioned here.

Positive talk about the ancient history and culture is generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic changes in modern Afghan culture, those that occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard. Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and ‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and systematically into the psyche of most Afghan people.

The culture that was known for long centuries for its passion for freedom and independence seems broken. While Afghans resisted heroically against all past British invasions, while some of them fought the Soviet incursion, there is presently no organized and united (national, not religious) opposition against the Western occupation of the country.

I met academic Jawid Amin, from the Academy of Social Sciences of Afghanistan, in a small guardroom in front of the Museum of Modern Arts in Kabul.

I asked him, whether there is any art, or any group of intellectuals openly critical of the United States, and of the occupation. He replied, sincerely:

We don’t have anyone openly critical of the US or the West here, because it is simply not allowed by the government. I personally don’t like the Americans, but I can’t say more… Even I work for the government. My brother and sister are living in the United States. And about critical arts: nothing could be exhibited here without permission from the government and since Karzai, the government is controlled by the West…

A prominent Afghan intellectual, Omaid Sharifi, explained over the phone: “In the provinces, you can still see paintings depicting killing of civilians by the US drones… but not in Kabul.”

I’m trying to work as fast as possible, meeting people who are helping to shed light on the situation. Eventually, a dire picture begins to form.

I met a Japanese reporter who has been living in Afghanistan for almost a quarter of a century. Her assessment of the situation was to a large extent pessimistic:

Afghans had very little choice… It is 100% true that behind Karzai’s government was the US… Afghans didn’t want to accept foreign intervention, but soon they learned how money plays an important role.  The entire Afghan culture is now changing, even some essential elements of it like hospitality: people don’t want to spend money on it, or they don’t have any that they can spare…

I asked Dr. Masoudi why Afghan culture did not accept Soviets and their egalitarian, socially oriented ideals, while it seems to be tolerating the Western invasion, which is spreading inequality, desperation and subservience. He replied, passionately:

The biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was to attack religion out rightly. If they’d first stick to equal rights, and slowly work it up towards the contradictions of religion, it could perhaps work… But they began blaming religion for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or at least this is how it was interpreted by the coalition of their enemies, and of course by the West.

Now, why is the Western invasion ‘successful’? Look at the Karzai regime… During his rule, the US convinced people that Western intervention was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of countries, as an umbrella. There was a ‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they developed… According to them, they never did anything unilaterally, always by ‘international consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had never slightest chance to explain itself. It was attacked immediately, and on all fronts.

“Opposition to Western occupation? Anti-Western art?” A Russian cultural expert in Kabul was clearly surprised by my question.

First of all, the Taliban destroyed most artistic traditions of this country. But also, the economic and social situation in this country is so desperate, that hardly anyone has time to think about some larger picture. More than 60% of Afghans are jobless. One thing you also should remember: Afghan people are very proud and very freedom loving, as the history illustrated, but they are also extremely patient. Go and see The British Cemetery. It was built in 1879 to hold the dead of the second Anglo-Afghan War, but despite all that the UK did to this country, and despite all recent wars and conflicts, it was never attacked, never damaged.

It is true. I never heard anyone discussing this topic. All horrid British crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan seem to be forgotten, at least for now.

But that’s not all: nobody here seems to have any appetite for recalling those horrors of the last decades, triggered by Western imperialism. Not once I observed any discussion addressing the main topic of modern Afghan history: how the West managed to trick the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in 1979, and how it created and then armed the vilest bunch of religious fanatics – the Mujahedeen. And how, subsequently, both countries – Afghanistan and the Soviet Union – were thoroughly destroyed in the process.

All was done, of course, with “great respect” for the Afghan nation, for its culture and traditions, as well as (how else) religion.

I’d love to be an invisible witness in a modern history class at the American University of Afghanistan, a ‘famed’ institution that is literally regurgitating thousands of collaborators, manufacturing a new breed of obedient pro-Western ‘elites’.

As we drive past Jamhuriat Hospital (Republic Hospital), which had a new 10- story building, with capacity for 350 patients, constructed by China in 2004, my driver, Mr. Tahir, sighs: “This was really a great gift from China to us… the Chinese really work hard, don’t they?”

“They have plenty of zeal and enthusiasm”, I uttered carefully. “Socialist fervor, you know. They sincerely believe in building, improving their country and the world. It is quite contrary to Western nihilism and extreme individualism…”

“They must love their country…”

“They do.”

“Afghanistan is poor”, Mr. Tahir’s face became suddenly sad. “Our people don’t love their country, anymore. They don’t work to improve it. They only work for themselves now, for their families…”

“Was it different before? You know…” I made an abstract gesture with my hand. “Before all this…”

“Of course it used to be very different”, he replied, grinning again.

NOTHING SOCIAL LEFT, NOTHING SOCIALIST WANTED

I stopped several people who were just walking down the street, in various parts of Kabul. I wanted to understand some basics: was there anything social left in Afghanistan? Did Western ‘liberation’ bring at least some progress, social development and improved standards of living?

Most answers were thoroughly gloomy. Only those people who were working or moonlighting for the Western military, for the embassies, the NGOs or other ‘international contractors’, were to some extent optimistic.

I was explained that almost everyone in the countryside and provincial cities were out off work. Unemployment among university graduates stood at over 80%.

In Herat, a city of almost half a million inhabitants, a long and depressing line was winding in front of the Iranian embassy. I was told that tens of thousands have already migrated to the other side of the border. Now Afghans who were attempting to visit their relatives living in Iran were told to leave a 300-euro deposit, in case they decide not to return.

I asked what Herat is producing, and was told, without any irony: “mainly just some washing powder and biscuits”. Tourism from Iran stood at only about 150 people a year! The area between the city and the border has been dangerous, and there are frequent kidnappings.

In most provincial cities, a regular family has to get by on 2.300 – 2.500 Afghanis per month, which is not much more than US$30.

Government supplies run water mainly to the government housing projects. People living elsewhere have to dig their own wells.

Electricity is expensive, and an average family in Kabul is now expected to pay around US$35 per month. Even in the capital, many people have to get by without electricity. Indian ‘investors’ are in partnership with the government. Electricity supplies, and even water, are perceived as ‘business ventures’, not as basic social services.

Counting on a decent public transportation in the past, Kabul is now forced to rely on private vehicles, and on those few ‘city buses’ that are ‘pro-profit’ and mainly privately owned and operated.

There are government schools in Afghanistan, and in theory they are free, but books, pencils, uniforms and other basics are not.

In fact, perhaps the most impressive modern structure in Kabul, is actually the 10-story building to Jamhuriat Hospital, a gift from the People’s Republic of China, not from the West.

One wonders where is that fabled great ‘assistance’ from the United States and Europe really going? Perhaps to the millions of tons of concrete, used for construction of the massive fences? Perhaps money sponsors’ purchases of high-tech cameras and surveillance systems, as well as the high-life of thousands of Western ‘contractors’ and ‘security experts’?

I spoke to more than hundreds of Afghan people. Almost no one was ready to mention socialism. As if this wonderful word disappeared, was erased from the local lexicon.

“They actually remember socialism very fondly”, my Japanese acquaintance based in Kabul once told me. “However, talking about it is not encouraged. It may cause all sorts of problems.”

WESTERN (TEMPORARY) VICTORY

While in Kabul, I was told by one of the local experts working for an international organization:

The National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) for Afghanistan was just drafted… The funding came from the West. Many meetings were held directly at the US embassy and at the offices of the World Bank. The Afghan Ministry of Education had very little say about the curriculum, which was basically dictated by the Western countries…

I cannot quote the source of this information, as she would most probably lose her position for expressing such views.

She later clarified further:

The policy decisions on education are proposed by donor parties, which are mostly Western countries. The Ministry of Education, with limited capacity, has a lesser role in drafting the NESP III policy. Instead of building the capacity of the government, donor countries are taking the leading role in changing the education system and this does not ensure a sustainable education for Afghanistan whatsoever.

As in all client states of the West, education in Afghanistan is manipulated and geared to serve the interests of the West. It is expected to produce obedient and unquestioning masses. Instead of determined and productive patriots, it is regurgitating butlers of the regime, which is in turn serving predominately foreign interests.

Almost all information flows through the channels that are at least to some extent influenced from abroad: social media, television networks as well as the printed media.

The fabled Afghan spirit of resistance and courage has been (hopefully only temporarily) brutally broken, under the supervision of highly professional foreign indoctrinators and propagandists.

Those who are willing to collaborate with the occupation forces are suddenly not even hiding it, carrying their condition proudly as if a coat of arms, not as a shame. Many are now delighted to be associated with the West and its institutions.

In fact, the occupation is not even called occupation, anymore, at least not by the elites who are well rewarded by the system for their linguistic and intellectual somersaults and pirouettes.

And Afghan people keep leaving.

Afghanistan is shedding its most talented sons and daughters, every day, every month, irreversibly.

Ms. Yukiko Matsuyoshi, a former Japanese diplomat, presently a UN education expert, is worried about the current trends in Afghanistan, a country where she spent several years:

Now the social classes have been re-created after the fall of Taliban, but the country seems to have no ideology. People just follow trends that are thrown their way. There is corruption, there is that huge poppy business, and there are palaces. And there is misery in the countryside, hardly any access to information. Afghans are leaving their country. Whoever can, goes: good people, government people…it seems like everyone tries to escape.

All of a sudden, the West is perceived like some Promised Land. Those who make it there are bragging about their new ‘home’, sending colorful images through social media: Disneyland, Hollywood, German castles…

I have seen the other side of the coin, in terrible refugee camps in Greece, in the French Calais camps; people drowning while attempting to cross the sea from Turkey to the European Union.

There is no discussion whether Afghanistan should be capitalist or socialist, anymore. Debate has stopped. The decision has been made, somewhere else, obviously.

The faces of Northern Alliance leaders are ‘decorating’ (or some would say, ‘scarring’) all major roads on which I drove. Ahmad Shah Massoud became a national hero, during the Karzai regime.

I travelled more than 100 kilometers north, to see Massoud’s grave, or a thumb, or whatever that monstrosity they erected above the splendid Panjshir Valley really is. Hordes of people drive there on weekends, some all the way from Kabul, and there are even those who pray to the ‘leader’.

The former “anti-Soviet” and anti-Communist fighter, he is certainly a perfect ‘hero’, whose memory is groomed by the pro-Western regime.

Driving through the Panjshir Valley, I saw several Soviet tanks and armored vehicles, rotting by the side of the road. I also saw a destroyed village, an eerie reminder of the war. It is called Dashtak. Clay houses look like a cemetery, like a horrid monument.

Village in the North destroyed during the war

I took photos and sent them to Kabul, to my friends, for identification. I want to know, I felt that I had to know, who razed this town by the river, surrounded by such stunning mountains.

The answer came in a just few minutes: “I think it was in 1984, by the Soviet Union”. What followed was a link leading to a book published in the West, quoting some former Ukrainian, Soviet adviser to an Afghan battalion commander. The name of the book was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.

The quote did not sound too convincing. “Let’s go back”, I asked my driver and translator. “Let’s talk to people on the other side of the river’.

We found three inhabitants, in three different parts of the village; three people old enough to remember what took place here, some 30 years ago. All three testimonies coincided: Massoud’s forces brought refugees from several other parts of the valley. Before the battle began, all of them left. During the combat, clay houses were destroyed, but no civilians died inside.

There are always many different interpretations of the historic events. However, the analyses of modern Afghan history disseminated by the West and the Afghan regime among the Afghan people, are suspiciously unanimous and frighteningly one-sided. I am definitely planning to revisit this point during my next trip to the country. I see it as essential. The future of Afghanistan certainly depends on understanding the past.

*

There are huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look particularly dreadful.

The air force base is huge. It appears even bigger than Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful lights. If this is not an occupation, then what really is?

Again, my driver is totally cool. I want to photograph this monstrosity, and he drives me around, so we can identify a truly good spot. I’m ‘calculating light’, looking for the correct angle, so during the sunset, those who would be observing us from inside the ‘castle’, would be blinded, and we could get at least a few decent images.

I’m aware of the fact that in Afghanistan, the Empire often kills anything that moves, at the slightest suspicion or without any suspicion at all, as for them human lives of the local people count for almost nothing.

Once the sun goes down, I begin working fast.

Somehow I feel that my visit to Afghanistan would be incomplete, without getting at least some images of the base – one of the most expressive symbols of the occupation.

So this is what Afghanistan became under the Western ‘liberating’ boots! Barbed wires, foreign jet fighters, concrete walls everywhere, battles with the religious fundamentalist elements (invented and manufactured by the West), grotesque savage capitalism, ignorant or shameless collaboration, and guns, guns and guns, as well as misery in almost every corner, and one of the lowest life expectancies and standards of living on Earth! And of course, people escaping, leaving this beautiful country behind – a country, which is suddenly unloved, humiliated, abandoned by so many!

This is all happening only roughly four decades after the heroic attempts to build some great social housing projects, after the implementation of a well-functioning public transportation network, public education and medical care, as well as an attempt to introduce secularism, while building a decent, egalitarian society.

The glorious victory of Western imperialism over one of the oldest and greatest cultures seems to be complete. The Brits tried, on several occasions; they murdered and tortured, but were defeated. They never forgave. They waited for decades, and then returned with their muscular and aggressive offspring. And here they are, all of them, now!

Afghanistan appears to be exhausted and defeated. It is badly injured, and it has been dragged through unimaginable dirt.

But I don’t think it is crushed, by the West or by the religious fundamentalists, or by these two historical allies.

Deep inside, Afghanistan knows better. It already experienced many years of hope; it knows the taste of it. During long centuries and millennia of its existence, it survived several dreadful moments, but it always stood up again, undefeated and proud. I’m certain that it will rise again.

Flying, driving or walking through its magnificent mountains, I often felt that Afghanistan is like a living organism, it was winking at me, letting me know that it is alive, that it sees everything that goes on, that it is not futile at all to struggle for its future.

*

I watched the stubs of the electric contacts that used to hold, some decades ago, those long wires used by the legendary Kabul trolley bus network.

“Those beautiful vehicles came from former Czechoslovakia”, a man, an office worker, whom I stopped in the center of the city, told me. “They were beautiful, and do you know who used to drive them? Some young girls; optimistic women who were for some reason always in a good mood.”

Apparently Kabul had three trolleybus lines, one of them originating (or ending) at the ‘Cinema Pamir’. What color were Kabul trolleybuses? I saw some photos, but those I could find were black and white. When I was a child, growing up in Czechoslovakia, ours were red. The ones in Leningrad, the city where I was born, were blue and green, some red as well. When they were accelerating, it was as if they’d be singing a simple song, or whining, complaining mockingly about their hard life.

I imagined a strong-minded, professional woman, boarding these trolleybuses. Perhaps eager to catch one of those old great Soviet movies at the Cinema Pamir, perhaps “the Dawns are Quiet Here”, or going to work or to visit different parts of the city.  She would snuggle into a comfortable seat in the electric vehicle. It was getting dark, but the city was safe. A woman behind the wheel was really smiling. There were flags flying all around the city. There was hope. There was a future. There was a country to build and to love.

 

Afghanistan can still fly

I had suspected that the Kabul trolleybuses were actually light blue. I have no idea why. It was just my intuition.

*

Suddenly I heard a loud bang, and then the squeaking of brakes.

“Roll up the window!” my driver was shouting. We were getting into a slum inhabited by IDPs. We left the road. Dust everywhere, absolute misery. Bagrani town, now Bagrani slums, just a few kilometers east from Kabul, on the Jalalabad Highway.

I grasped the heavy metal body of my professional Nikon.

My dream about Afghanistan of the 70’s, a gentle and enthusiastic country, abruptly ended. Now all around me were children suffering from malnutrition. I heard excited, accusatory voices of men and women who were forced to come from all corners of Afghanistan. We drove on a bumpy road, towards numerous half-collapsed clay structures and dirty tents.

“We escaped fighting in Shinwar, Helmand Province, from around Jalalabad and Kandahar”, several internally displaced persons living in Bagrani were shouting at me:

We have 1.000 families from Helmand and more than 1.000 families from Kandahar, living here. We lost our houses back in our villages and towns… People around Jalalabad lost their homes, too. Daesh (ISIS) is operating in several parts of the country… Taliban fighters are frequently changing sides, joining Daesh. There is fighting going on everywhere: Daesh, Taliban and the government forces confronting each other.

How involved is NATO in general and the US in particular, I ask, through my interpreter.

Americans are there, of course. Mostly they are fighting from the air, but sometimes they are on the ground, too.

Do they kill civilians?

“Yes, they do… Our sons, our husbands are regularly murdered by them”, shouts a woman clothed in a blue burqa, holding a small child in her arms.

Misery is everywhere, destroying the country, I’m told. And there is almost no help coming from the corrupt and the near bankrupt state.

Ms. Sidiqah, an elderly lady, is shouting in desperation and anger: “We have nothing left, but no one helps us! We don’t know what to do.”

As I photograph, a small cluster of people begin to rock the car. Things are getting tense, but I don’t feel that we are facing any immediate danger. I continue working. This is all becoming very personal. I don’t understand why, but it is…

Then, silently, a small group of people approaches us. Among them are a man with a very long beard, and a girl, with a beautiful and tragic face. She is wearing a t-shirt depicting several cute white mice, but the right sleeve is empty. She is missing her entire arm.

A girl without arm

Her face is striking. She stares directly into my camera, and when I lower the lens, I feel her eyes begin to pierce mine. Without one single word uttered, I sense clearly what she is trying to convey:

“What have you done to me?”

I try to hold her glance for at least a few seconds, but then I lower my eyes. Now I‘m in panic. I want to embrace her, hold her, take her away from here, somewhere, somehow; to adopt her, airlift her from here, give her a home, but I know that there is no way I would be allowed to do it. My glasses get very foggy. I mumble something incoherent. I am tough, I witnessed dozens of wars, I faced death on various occasions. I try to keep calm whenever I’m in places like this; whenever working. What is happening to me here and now happens very rarely, but it does happen.

It is March 4th 2017, Afghanistan. My flight is schedule to depart the next day, late in the afternoon. I know that I will take it. But I also realize, and I silently make my pledge to this tiny girl with the cute mice and an empty sleeve, that I will never fully leave her country.

*

What will happen later is predicable: yet another sleepless night. Everything will be back, play itself like a film inside my brain. Bagrani provisional camp, another camp that is housing evacuees from Kunduz, some active mine fields in the middle of Herat, those hundreds of living corpses vegetating in the middle of District 6 in Kabul, then several explosions, innumerable rotting carcasses of Soviet tanks, the eerie and enormous US air force base near Bagram, Massoud’s bizarre grave, white zeppelin-drones, concrete walls, watch towers, security checks, and hollow muzzles of various types of guns pointing in all directions.

Air force Bagrani base

I’ll be tired, exhausted, but I’ll be well aware that I have no right to rest, not now, not anytime soon.

I’ll keep thinking about Cinema Pamir, about Kabul trolleybuses, and Block 21 in the socialist-style neighborhood of Makroyan … 4th floor, entrance 2 or perhaps 3… I’ll keep imagining what could have taken place there, if life had not been so abruptly and so brutally interrupted.

Afghanistan, a stunning but terribly scarred and injured land has been suffering from a concussion. It has been dizzy and disoriented. It can hardly walk. Still it being Afghanistan, it has been walking anyway, against all odds!

Later that night, I’ll recall what one great Cuban poet and singer Silvio Rodriquez once wrote about Nicaragua. And at one point, only a few moments before the dawn would begin returning bright colors to the world, I’ll replace Nicaragua with Afghanistan, and suddenly realize that it is exactly what I feel towards this beautiful and shattered nation: “Afghanistan hurts, as only love does.”

It hurts like love…

It hurts… terribly. Therefor, it is love.

All that would happen later, hours later. At the end I’ll stop fighting it, and simply accept.

But now, the old Toyota climbs back on the paved road. I can hardly keep my eyes open. The last several days I slept very little.

Mr. Tahir, my driver and now my comrade, looks surprisingly composed and unworried. After all this time working with me, he is clearly ready for any adventure, or any nightmare.

He hands me a bunch of tissues. My left wrist is bleeding, although not too badly. Most likely I hit or scratched something in the slums, without realizing it. My cameras feel increasingly heavy and my notebook looks filthy; I keep dropping it on the floor. My clothes look dirty, too. But we are going, we are moving forward, and that is good!

“It is all fucked up, Mr. Tahir”, I inform him, politely.

“Yes, Sir”, he replies, with an equal doze of respect. We are a good team.

“But we are going”, I remind him and myself.

“We are going, sir.”

Again my head drops on my chest. I open my eyes just a few minutes later. It is already very dark. Kabul all around me; Afghanistan. It feels good to be here. I’m glad I came.

“Where to now, sir?”

“Jalalabad, Mr. Tahir.”

“Sir? Jalalabad is behind… And at this hour…”

He is not saying no. He never says ‘no’ to any of my requests, during all those days. He is just informing me. If I was really crazy enough and insisted, he’d just take me. He knows we’d get fucked, perhaps even killed, but he would not refuse. He’s my comrade and I feel safe with him.

“Sorry, I fell asleep… What I mean: we’ll go to Jalalabad soon, when I return to Afghanistan.”

I am thinking for a few seconds. This drive, just being here, all of it feels right, exactly as it is supposed to be. I’m not certain where exactly I want to go right now, but one thing I know for sure: I have to keep going.

“Please, just drive, Mr. Tahir.”

“Forward?” He asks, intuitively. I know that he knows. We both know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“Yes, please. Drive forward. Always forward!”

Posted in Afghanistan0 Comments

The Dubious Story of the Murder of Kim Jong-nam, Brother of DPRK Leader Kim Jong-un

NOVANEWS
 
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In the West, even among people who consider themselves not susceptible to government-corporate media propaganda, any wild story about North Korea can be taken as credible. We should ask ourselves why that is the case, given what we know about the history of government and media fabrications, often related to gaining our acquiescence to a new war.

The corporate media reports North Korean agents murdered Kim Jong Nam with a banned chemical weapon VX. They fail to add that the US government is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. They rarely note the Malaysian police investigating the case have not actually said North Korea is connected to his death.

The story of his death or murder raises a number of serious questions. North Korea says Kim Jong Nam was not murdered, but suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, required constant medication, and this caused his death. The North Korean diplomat in Malaysia Ri Tong-il “cited the postmortem examination conducted by Malaysian health authorities, claiming that the postmortem showed Jong-nam died of a heart attack.”

Malaysian authorities conducted two autopsies, the second after the first said to be inconclusive in identifying a cause of death, before announcing well over a week later that VX was involved.

What was going on here? And why weren’t the autopsies made open to others besides Malaysian officials?

Why was the South Korean government the first country to come out quickly after Kim’s February 13 death to blame North Korea for murdering him with the VX nerve weapon – before Malaysia had determined anything? The Malaysian autopsy was not complete until February 23, ten days later.

Why did these two women charged with murder travel several times to South Korea before this attack occurred?

Why was the only North Korean arrested in the case released for lack of evidence?

The two women did not wear gloves, but had the liquid directly on their hands.  “The police said the four North Korean suspects who left the country the day of the killing put the VX liquid on the women’s hands.”They later washed it off.  Why did none of them die or even get sickened by it? No reports say they went to the hospital.

“Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu  Khalid said the women knew they were handling poisonous materials during the attack…. leading forensic toxicologists who study murder by poison… question how the two women could walk away unscathed after deploying an agent potent enough to kill Kim Jong Nam before he could even make it to the hospital.”

“Tens of thousands of passengers have passed through the airport since the apparent assassination was carried out. No areas were cordoned off and protective measures were not taken.”

Why, if a highly deadly VX used to kill Kim, did the terminal remain open to thousands of travelers, and not shut down and checked for VX until February 26, 13 days later?

Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said “VX only requires 10 milligrams to be absorbed into the system to be lethal,” yet he added that there have been no reports of anyone else being sickened by the toxin.

DPRK’s Ri Tong-il said in his statement, “How is it possible” the two ladies survived? “How is it possible” no single person in the airport got contaminated? “How is it possible” no nurse, no doctor, no police escorting Kim after the attack were affected?

Why does Malaysia, which acknowledges Kim Jong Nam is Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, make the outrageous demand that Kim’s body won’t be released to North Korea until a close family member provides a sample of their own DNA?

From what we are told, the story does not add up.

Ri Tong-il asked in his same statement “Why is South Korea trying so hard [to blame the DPRK] in this instance? They have a great political crisis inside South Korea [which is quite true] and they need to divert people’s attention,” noting also that the two women involved traveled to South Korea and that South Korea blamed the North for murder by VX the very day it happened.

Stephen Lendman also gives a plausible explanation:

“Here’s what we know. North Korean senior representatives were preparing to come to New York to meet with former US officials, a chance for both sides to discuss differences diplomatically, hopefully leading to direct talks with Trump officials.

The State Department hadn’t yet approved visas, a positive development if arranged.

Reports indicate North Korea very much wanted the meeting to take place. Makes sense. It would indicate a modest thaw in hostile relations, a good thing if anything came of it.

So why would Pyongyang want to kill Kim Jong-nam at this potentially sensitive time, knowing it would be blamed for the incident, talks likely cancelled?

Sure enough, they’re off, Pyongyang accused of killing Kim, even though it seems implausible they planned and carried out the incident, using agents in Malaysia to act as proxies.”

Is possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided to murder his apolitical brother, chosing to do so by using a banned highly toxic agent in public, under video cameras in a crowded airport of a friendly country? Instead of say, doing it by easier means in the North Korean Embassy’s guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur, where the New York Times said his brother sometimes stayed?

We are not supposed to doubt what we are spoon fed, that Kim Jong Un is some irrational war-mongering madman who has instituted a reign of terror. A safer bet is this is a new attempt to beat the drums of war against North Korea and its allies.

 

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The Unknown Truth About Korea: U.S. Sanctioned Death Squads and War Crimes, 1945-1953

NOVANEWS
 Image result for north Korea leader photo

The mostly unknown record of the brutal U.S. occupation and subsequent control of Korea following the Japanese defeat in August 1945, and the voluminous number of war crimes committed between 1950 and 1953, have been systematically hidden under mountains of accusations directed almost solely against the “red menace” of northern Korea. The Korean War itself grew out of U.S. refusal to allow a genuine self-determination process to take root. The Korean people were exuberant in August 1945 with their new freedom after being subjected to a brutal 40-year Japanese occupation of their historically undivided Peninsula. They immediately began creating local democratic peoples’ committees the day after Japan announced on August 14 its intentions to surrender. By August 28, all Korean provinces had created local peoples’ offices and on September 6 delegates from throughout the Peninsula gathered in Seoul, at which time they created the Korean People’s Republic (KPR).

The United States had a different plan for Korea. At the February 1945 Yalta conference, President Roosevelt suggested to Stalin, without consulting the Koreans, that Korea should be placed under joint trusteeship following the war before being granted her independence. On August 11, two days after the second atomic bomb was dropped assuring Japan’s imminent surrender, and three days after Russian forces entered Manchuria and Korea to oust the Japanese as was agreed to avoid further U.S. casualties, Truman hurriedly ordered his War Department to choose a dividing line for Korea. Two young colonels, Dean Rusk (later to be Secretary of State under President’s Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War) and Charles H. Bonesteel, were given 30 minutes to resolve the matter. The 38th parallel was quickly, and quietly, chosen, placing the historic capital city of Seoul and 70 percent, or 21 of Korea’s 30 million people in the “American” southern zone. This was not discussed with Stalin or any other political leaders in the U.S. or among our allies. Surprisingly, Stalin agreed to this “temporary” partition that meant the Russians already present in the country would briefly occupy the territory north of the line comprising 55 percent of the peninsular land area. On August 15, the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) was formed and on September 8, 72,000 U.S. troops began arriving to enforce the formal occupation of the south.

The Korean People’s Republic officially formed just two days prior to the first arrival of U.S. forces was almost immediately shunned by the U.S. who decided its preference was to stand behind conservative politicians representing the traditional land-owning elite. The U.S. helped in the formation on September 16 of the conservative Korean Democratic Party (KDP), and brought Syngman Rhee to Korea on General MacArthur’s plane on October 16 to head up the new party. Rhee, a Korean possessing a Ph.D. from Princeton (1910) and an Austrian wife, had lived in the United States for more than 40 years. To his credit he had detested the Japanese occupation of his native country, but he hated the communists even more. Just before Rhee arrived to begin efforts to consolidate his power in the south, long-time resistance fighter Kim Il Sung returned from exile to begin his leadership in the  north. As a guerrilla leader Kim had been fighting the Japanese occupation of China and Korea since the early 1930s.

Rhee and his U.S. advisers quickly concluded that in order to build their kind of Korea through the KDP they must definitively defeat the broad-based KPR. While Kim, with the support of the Russian forces in the north, was purging that territory of former Japanese administrators and their Korean collaborators, the USAMG was actively recruiting them in the south. In November the U.S. Military Governor outlawed all strikes and in December declared the KPR and all its activities illegal. In effect the U.S. had declared war on the popular movement of Korea south of the 38th Parallel and set in motion a repressive campaign that later became excessively brutal, dismantling the Peoples’ Committees and their supporters throughout the south.

In December 1945 General John R. Hodge, commander of the U.S. occupation forces, created the Korean Constabulary, led exclusively by officers who had served the Japanese. Along with the revived Japanese colonial police force, the Korean National Police (KNP), comprised of many former Korean collaborators, and powerful right-wing paramilitary groups like the Korean National Youth and the Northwest Youth League, the U.S.Military Government and their puppet Syngman Rhee possessed the armed instruments of a police state more than able to assure a political system that was determined to protect the old landlord class made up of rigid reactionaries and enthusiastic capitalists.

By the fall of 1946, disgruntled workers declared a strike that spread throughout South Korea. By December the combination of the KNP, the Constabulary, and the right-wing paramilitary units, supplemented by U.S. firepower and intelligence, had contained the insurrections in all provinces. More than 1,000 Koreans were killed with more than 30,000 jailed. Regional and local leaders of the popular movement were either dead, in jail, or driven underground.

With total U.S. support Rhee busily prepared for a politically division of Korea involuntarily imposed on the vast majority of the Korean people. Following suppression of the October-December insurrection, the Koreans began to form guerrilla units in early 1947. There were sporadic activities for a year or so. However, in March 1948, on Korea’s large Island, Cheju, a demonstration objecting to Rhee’s planned separate elections scheduled for May 1948 was fired upon by the KNP. A number of Koreans were injured and several were tortured, then killed. This incident provoked a dramatic escalation of armed resistance to the U.S./Rhee regime. The police state went into full force, regularly guided by U.S. military advisors, and often supported by U.S. military firepower and occasional ground troops.

On the Island of Cheju alone, within a year as many as 60,000 of its 300,000 residents had been murdered, while another 40,000 fled by sea to nearby Japan. Over 230 of the Island’s 400 villages had been totally scorched with 40,000 homes burned to the ground. As many as 100,000 people were herded into government compounds. The remainder, it has been reported, became collaborators in order to survive. On the mainland guerrilla activities escalated in most of the provinces. The Rhee/U.S. forces conducted a ruthless campaign of cleansing the south of all dissidents, usually identifying them as “communists,” though in fact most popular leaders in the south were socialists unaffiliated with outside “communist” organizations. Anyone who was openly or quietly opposed to the Rhee regime was considered suspect. Therefore massive numbers of villagers and farmers were systematically rounded up, tortured, then shot and dropped into mass graves. Estimates of murdered civilians range anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 by the time the hot war broke out in June 1950.

The hot war allegedly began at Ongjin about 3 or 4 A.M. (Korean time) June 25, 1950. Just how the fighting started on that day depends on one’s source of information. It is mostly irrelevant, since a civil and revolutionary war had been raging for a couple of years, with military incursions routinely moving back and forth across the 38th parallel.

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Dangerous Crossroads: America Threatens China

NOVANEWS

Dangerous Crossroads: America Threatens China, US Deploys THAAD Missile System in South Korea, Beijing Warns of Nuclear Arms Race

 
THAAD_1

The US has begun the installation of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea, provoking an angry reaction from China, which warned that it could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. The provocative move will heighten the already tense situation on the Korean Peninsula as the US and South Korea engage in huge annual war games.

Two trucks, each mounted with a THAAD launch pad, were landed aboard a C-17 cargo plane at the US military’s Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, on Monday night. According to South Korean military officials, more equipment and personnel will arrive in the coming weeks. The THAAD battery installation is likely to be completed as early as May or June.

US officials exploited North Korea’s test launch of four ballistic missiles on Monday morning as the pretext for commencing the THAAD installation. However, the final go-ahead for the THAAD deployment, which was agreed by South Korea last July, occurred last week when the South Korean government acquired the planned site in a land swap deal with the conglomerate Lotte.

Washington also insists that the THAAD placement is purely defensive and needed to counter North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. In reality, the THAAD system is offensive in character. It is an important component of an expanding US anti-ballistic missile system in Asia that is primarily aimed at preparing for nuclear war against China, not North Korea.

US imperialism, which has an estimated 4,000 nuclear warheads, has never ruled out a first nuclear strike and is spending $1 trillion to upgrade its nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Its anti-ballistic missile systems are designed to neutralise the ability of any enemy to retaliate in the event of a US nuclear attack. The Federation of American Scientists estimated that China had about 260 nuclear warheads as of 2015.

The THAAD system is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at high altitude. It consists of a powerful X-band radar system to track missiles at long range, linked to truck-mounted interceptors designed to destroy a hostile missile in flight. In the event of war with China, the THAAD system would not only protect key US military bases in South Korea and Japan. Its X-band radar could detect and track missile launches deep inside the Chinese mainland.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang yesterday reiterated Beijing’s opposition to the THAAD deployment. Geng warned that China would “take necessary measures to defend our security interests and the consequences will be shouldered by the United States and South Korea.”

Russia also condemned the THAAD installation. Victor Ozerov, who chairs Russia’s Federal Defense and Security Committee, branded the deployment as “another provocation against Russia” aimed, if not at encircling Russia, “then at least to besiege it from the west and the east.”

The Chinese government has already taken retaliatory moves against South Korea, closing more than 20 stores owned by Lotte in China on the pretext of safety violations, and has advised travel agents not to sell South Korean packages to Chinese tourists. The state-owned media has suggested a wider boycott of South Korean goods and even the severing of diplomatic relations with Seoul.

A commentary in the official Xinhua news agency warned that the THAAD deployment “will bring an arms race in the region.” Hinting that China would enlarge its nuclear arsenal to counter the US anti-ballistic missile systems, it declared: “More missile shields on one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield.”

The suggestion that China could expand its nuclear arsenal only underscores the reactionary character of the Chinese regime’s response to the escalating economic and military threats by the Trump administration. The Chinese Communist Party represents the interests of an ultra-rich oligarchy, not Chinese workers and the poor. Its military build-up and whipping up of Chinese nationalism heightens the danger of war and divides the working class.

A nuclear arms race between China and the United States would be profoundly destabilising in Asia and the world. An expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal could prompt South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons, and encourage India to enlarge its nuclear arsenal, exacerbating tensions throughout South Asia, particularly with Pakistan.

The Trump administration has targeted China, warning of trade war measures, threatening military action against Chinese-controlled islets in the South China Sea and suggesting it could tear up the “One China” policy that forms the bedrock of US-China relations.

Trump has repeatedly accused China of not imposing crippling sanctions on its ally North Korea to force it to abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles. The White House is currently engaged in a review of US strategy toward North Korea, details of which have been leaked to the media, including proposals for pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea and regime-change operations.

North Korea provides a convenient pretext for the US military build-up in North East Asia against China. The New York Times reported that one option under consideration is the return of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea—adjacent not only to North Korea, but also China.

Trump has already outlined a huge expansion of the US military and has tweeted that the US has “to greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity.” Moreover, the US strategy is shifting from the use of nuclear weapons as a last resort to the active consideration of a limited nuclear war.

North Korea is rapidly emerging as a dangerous global flashpoint. A small incident, either accidental or calculated, has the potential to trigger a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula that would draw in nuclear-armed powers such as China and Russia.

The only social force capable of halting the drive to world war is the international working class, through building a unified anti-war movement based on socialist principles to put an end to capitalism and its outmoded nation-state system, which is the source of war.

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An Open Letter to the Army Chief

NOVANEWS

Image result for Kashmiri RESISTANCE LOGO

– Kavita Krishnan

Dear General Bipin Rawat,

You have warned Kashmiri civilians that if they fail to cooperate with Army operations, the Army will not hesitate to fire on them. You have added, for good measure, that not only those who pelt stones but even those who raise anti-India slogans or display anti-India flags will be likewise treated as “terrorists.”

By doing so, you have admitted that the Indian State is at war with the people of Kashmir. You have admitted that contrary to the claims of the Indian State based on election participation, ordinary Kashmiri civilians are not supportive of the Indian State or Indian Army.

Why do Kashmiri youth and women pick up stones, raise anti-India slogans and obstruct Army operations against militants? Is it simply because they are brain-washed by Pakistan? To find an answer, I read about Waqar Ahmad Moharkan (http://kashmirreader.com/2017/02/21/5-months-jail-psa-20-firs-waqar-loved-india/) and what put a stone in his hands and an azaadi slogan on his lips.

Waqar, now 24 and facing a slew of cases relating to last year’s uprising, says that he “loved India once” but “the word India now makes me mad…I was living in a dreamland till I met with reality of their brutality.”

During a curfew break in the 2008 protests, Waqar went out on his bike to buy milk, and was stopped at a petrol pump by CRPF troopers. “I greeted them politely. I told them curfew has been lifted and I had to buy milk. There were about 12 of them there. They encircled me and beat me up with lathis and gun butts. One of them thrust the barrel of his gun into my mouth so that I wouldn’t shout,” and declared that all Kashmiris were “traitors and Pakistanis.”

He says, “When they finally stopped I got up, parked my bike and for the first time in my life picked up a stone and threw it at them with all my strength and all by myself I said ‘hum kya chahte, azadi.” He then sought out stone throwers to learn the art of stone pelting.

I also read about 13-year-old Saqib in this (https://kafilabackup.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/kashmir-fft-report.pdf) enquiry report into the 2010 mass uprising. Saqib – much like every Kashmiri child I and other members of a solidarity team that visited Kashmir in November 2016 met – was very sure that azaadi for him means self-determination, a choice made between India, Pakistan or an independent Kashmir, a historical commitment that he insists India owes the people of Kashmir.

The team members probed how Saqib imagined azaadi: “What possibly could azaadi mean to Saqib? A major criterion emerges a little while into the conversation: azaadi means in part, to be free of “Major Sharma”, the local army commander who made it a regular routine to swagger into Saqib’s school in the company of other soldiers from his unit – all displaying lethal firearms – to threaten children that they should participate in protest demonstrationsonly at enormous risk to their lives.”

General Rawat, it seems from these testimonies that the stone-pelting Kashmiris are being produced, not by Pakistan, but by the very presence of Indian armed forces in the Valley. The report https://kafilabackup.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/kashmir-fft-report.pdf cited above estimates that there are 90,000 Indian armed persons deployed in Kashmir (for a population of 5 million) on counter-insurgency operations alone (not counting those on patrolling, guard duty, on the Pakistan border and in artillery and air-defence units) – “already close to the number that the British Raj needed in terms of European administrators and military officers in order to control 300 million or so Indians.” The actual number may be much higher: “People in Kashmir believe that there is probably one armed person of the Indian Army and paramilitary for every 12 of them .” Why are Indian Army and paramilitary forces present in such concentration among Kashmiri civilians, if not to suppress and subjugate the will of a civilian population?

Will the fear of being killed by your troops deter Kashmiri civilians from protesting? To the people of Kashmir, it is hardly news that they may be killed during civilian street protests. In 2010, for instance, 112 Kashmiri civilians were killed over 4 months when CRPF and police fired at civilian protests and funeral processions across the Kashmir Valley. Last year, over 100 Kashmiri civilians protesting on the streets have been killed, 1178 received pellets in their eyes (52 of them were blinded, 300 including 150 minors partially lost vision) and 4664 persons received bullet injuries in different parts of the bodies. When Kashmiris know that they can be killed even for demonstrating on streets or mourning in a funeral, why would they be deterred by your threat that they may be killed while obstructing an Army operation against militants?

The sad truth is that you have only given voice to a policy that the Indian State has already been following – and it hasn’t worked. The official line of the Indian State used to be that they are out to “win hearts and minds” of ordinary Kashmiri people while cracking down on “terrorists.” A commentator, writing in robust defence of you, has reminded of the doctrine attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” (https://scroll.in/article/829668/counterpoint-general-rawat-has-only-stated-the-obvious-about-fighting-fire-with-fire-in-kashmir). Well, most Kashmiris will tell you that India has held them by the balls for decades and has still failed to win their hearts and minds.

Many Indians feel that to question the presence of the Indian Army and its right to use lethal force against anti-Indian Kashmiris amounts to an intolerable insult to the patriotic soldiers who are being killed in the Valley.

Can we pause and ask ourselves – how much do we really care, as a country, for the soldiers drawn from amongst the poorest Indians? They are a useful stick with which to beat up dissenters and questioners. They die – and their deaths allow us to be self-righteously and aggressively ‘patriotic’ at their cost. If any of them – like BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav – dares to complain about the indignities to which soldiers are subjected, he is treated just as ruthlessly as other dissenting citizens are treated http://indianexpress.com/article/india/bsf-cancels-tej-bahadur-yadavs-vrs-denies-wifes-claim-of-his-arrest-4504980/.

The Armed Forces of any country are meant to fight wars against enemies. Civilian discontent against a State and even civilian demands for self-determination, for azaadi from a State, have to be recognized as political not military issues. When our political masters refuse to recognize – let alone solve – the political question of Kashmir, they demand that our soldiers risk their lives and peace of mind to suppress the will and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Is this just?

I’m sure you’re aware that of the alarming suicide and fragging rates among Indian soldiers http://www.oneindia.com/feature/suicides-graver-than-enemies-armed-forces-1487700.html. When reasons for these are discussed, one possibility is rarely ever admitted – the fact that being asked to kill and commit atrocities for a cause that you know in your heart is unjust, puts an incredible strain on the human mind and spirit.

For the sake of the Kashmiri people – but also for the sake of Indians deployed in the Armed forces – surely it is time we recognize the Kashmir issue as a dispute; demand a political solution; and seek withdrawal of Indian Army and paramilitary forces from civilian areas of Jammu and Kashmir as a necessary first step towards resolution of the dispute? 

Posted in India, Pakistan & Kashmir0 Comments

75 years later, Japanese Americans recall pain of internment camps

NOVANEWS

Image result for internment camps CARTOON

Seventy-five years ago on Sunday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.

by Melissa Fares

Joyce Nakamura Okazaki was 7 years old in 1942 when her family left their Los Angeles home and reported to a World War Two internment camp for Japanese Americans in California’s remote desert.

She recalls crowded rooms filled with cots and embarrassment that the toilets at Manzanar War Relocation Center had no privacy. “Like Nazi Germany, we Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps,” said Okazaki, now 82, while recognizing that detainees were not killed or tortured.

“We were constantly under threat if we went near the barbed wire fences.”

Seventy-five years ago on Sunday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.

Some 120,000 were held at 10 camps because of fears that Japanese Americans were enemy sympathizers. The United States had entered World War Two after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor about three months earlier.

Photos from the era show their dislocation and loss of freedom: Neatly dressed men in jackets and ties queuing on city streets next to luggage and sacks on their way to camps. A mother cradling a baby as she perches atop a bundle. Dusty and desolate barracks. A detainee driving a tractor in a prison camp field.

To commemorate the period, a year-long exhibition of photos, many by famed photographers Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, and artifacts opened Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Okazaki’s experience is captured in a photograph of her and her sister in their mother’s embrace at Manzanar, an image preserved in a Library of Congress archive.

Okazaki recalls a life of fear in the camp. “With barbed-wire fences and guard towers and sentries with rifles manning them, you become scared,” she said.

Some Japanese Americans see parallels between the internments and President Donald Trump’s executive order last month banning travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“How you react to the Muslim ban today is how you would have reacted to the imprisonment of my grandparents and parents 75 years ago,” Representative Mark Takano, whose family was interned in the World War Two-era camps, said in Congress last month.

TRAVELING UNDER GUARD

Former detainee Kanji Sahara recalls arriving at a camp at Santa Anita Park horse racetrack, just a half hour from his Los Angeles home, when he was 8.

“We were told to report to our local Christian church. There were 10 or 15 buses waiting there for us,” Sahara, now 82, said.

“As I got off the bus, I could see rows and rows of horse stables and barracks in the parking lot. That’s where we lived.”

The track was a temporary “assembly center” for more than 18,000 people, including future “Star Trek” actor George Takei.

After six months, Sahara and his family were transported to their permanent camp in Jerome, Arkansas. This time, they traveled by train.

“There were guards at the end of each car and the shades were drawn,” Sahara recalled of the trip.

But life in Jerome was an improvement.

“That’s the first thing I noticed – how many people lived in a barrack in Jerome compared to Santa Anita where we could barely move,” he said.

“I was like, ‘Hey! We’re coming up in the world.’”

Sahara and his family were allowed to leave the camp when he was 11, in 1945. Okazaki and her family left in July 1944. Their families were required to swear a loyalty oath to the United States to regain their freedom.

Okazaki objects to the term internment and prefers incarceration or imprisonment. “I was not an internee because I am a citizen. The definition of internment refers to enemy aliens in time of war,” she said.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to grant reparations to surviving internees. They received $20,000 and an apology.

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