Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pakistan United against the wrong enemy

Pakistan has made a modest start against the likely culprits of the Mumbai killings. But fulminating against India is more fun


IF PAKISTAN’S leaders had ever united against Islamist militancy as they have against India over the past three weeks, their country would not be the violent mess that it is. Ever since India alleged, with subsequent corroboration from America and Britain, that Pakistani terrorists carried out last month’s mass murder in Mumbai, the country’s politicians, generals and fire-breathing journalists have been declaring themselves ready for war—if that’s what India chooses.

India’s government, despite huge pressure from its own bellicose media, has been more restrained. It has said it does not intend to attack its neighbour. But it has demanded that Pakistan dismantle an anti-Indian militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), that has carried out numerous atrocities in India, apparently including the outrage on Mumbai. It has so far relied on diplomacy, particularly through America and Britain, to make this point.

But India is frustrated. Pakistan has taken some steps against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), an Islamist charity that is a front for LET, which was formally banned by Pakistan, under American pressure, in 2002. But it is not clear at this stage how far they go. On December 11th, a day after the UN Security Council banned JUD, Pakistan said it had also banned it. It has since arrested the group’s leaders, including Hafiz Saeed, a professor of engineering, who founded LET and JUD in the 1980s. It has also arrested many JUD activists, sealed scores of the charity’s offices and stopped publication of at least six JUD newspapers.

Initially, it also said it would take over the group’s many hospitals and schools—allegedly including over 170 schools in Punjab province alone. But it has since seemed to backtrack on this. According to one minister, the government will set up a new charity to run these services. According to a senior official in Punjab, some of JUD’s facilities may be left in the same Islamist hands.

They may include a vast jihadist citadel that JUD operates in Muridke, a town close to the Indian border (its entrance is shown in our picture). It contains two schools, for 1,000 children, an Islamic college and a hospital that sees 100 outpatients a day. The campus’s manager, a courteous Islamist called Abu Ehsan, said 66 local villages depend on the services it provides, and he trusted that the government would not disrupt them. Shortly after JUD was banned, local police turned up on the campus. But they soon left and Mr Ehsan said he had heard no more from them.

So, for now at least, the schools at Muridke remain free to teach what Mr Saeed has preached for two decades: jihad against Hindu India, especially to drive it from the contested region of Kashmir. It was for this purpose that LET was founded, with support from the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). For two decades, as the army’s proxy, it has waged an insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir that has cost over 40,000 lives. Though the ISI appears to have cut back its ties to LET since it was banned, its armouries and military training camps in Pakistan-held Kashmir have remained in place.

The bearded and purposeful men who patrol the campus in Muridke with pyjama trousers hitched halfway up their shins might be graduates of these camps. They have an imposing bearing not usually acquired during teacher training. On the campus, a 12-year-old boarding student, Hamza Nazir, says he likes his school, “because we get Islamic education and we learn how to deal with our enemies.” Asked to elucidate, he offers an Urdu proverb: “A hint’s enough for a wise man.”

Foolishly, then, many Pakistanis, including some of the country’s most senior officials, are claiming that JUD is being victimised. “No JUD office is recruiting people for jihad,” says one of those responsible for closing the group down. Many also say they fear a violent backlash. Others fret that it will be difficult to make a case against JUD’s detained leaders, even if India supplies Pakistan with the evidence of their responsibility for the Mumbai attacks that it claims to have. These are legitimate worries. Yet, especially to Indian ears, they are starting to sound like familiar excuses.

In the current spirit of nationalism, it is hard to avoid an impression that many Pakistanis are relieved to be unified against the one enemy they can all agree on, India. By contrast, many remain deeply sceptical about their need to tackle terrorism and a Taliban insurgency at home, despite over 50 suicide bomb blasts in Pakistan last year. To explain these conflicts—though it is a stretch—it has become increasingly fashionable in Pakistan to blame them on India. The army seems convinced that India is supporting the Taliban. This makes Pakistanis especially loth to crack down on LET, historically at least their trustiest weapon against India.

This is worrying. So far, Pakistan should consider itself fortunate to have received such gentle handling after Mumbai. In the event of another catastrophic attack, India might be less cautious. Even as it is, great damage has been done. Pakistan really cannot afford anything less than peace with its neighbour. Facing a long war on its north-western border, it cannot keep up its decades-old readiness on the eastern one. Moreover for its moribund economy to grow, it needs urgently to improve trade and investment relations with India.

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s commercially minded president, seemed to recognise this. He had been trying to coax life back into the once successful but now stagnant diplomatic effort to normalise relations between the two countries. But on December 14th India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, suggested that so long as Pakistan’s vicious sometime proxies remain unchecked, this will be impossible.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Somalia's Islamists

The rise of the Shabab

Dec 18th 2008 | KIUNGA
From The Economist print edition

Islamist fighters are taking over swathes of Africa’s most utterly failed state

FOR all its paradisal waters, golden dunes and swanky “eco-lodges”, life in Kenya’s coastal district of Kiunga, just a few miles from the border with Somalia, is hard. The place is remote, hungry and thirsty. The harvest and the wells have failed again. Fishermen have no boats, only frayed nets cast from shore. Their catch rots for want of refrigeration. But what makes the village elders more nervous than anything is their proximity to Somalia.

During a war in the 1960s between Kenya and Somali bandits, known as “shifta”, who were egged on by Somalia, Kiunga was evacuated. These days a rough track, impassable during the rains, barely connects the two countries. The border has been closed since December 2006, when jihadist fighters in Somalia retreated headlong from Mogadishu, the capital, and Kismayo, a southern port, into the mangrove swamps around Ras Kamboni, just inside Somalia. There they were shredded by Ethiopian artillery and American air raids.

An attack on Kenya by Somali jihadists based near the border is unlikely. Resurgent fighters still train there but look north. They belong to the Shabab (Youth), the armed wing of the former Islamic Courts Union that was all but wiped out two years ago. The presence of hated Ethiopian troops in Somalia, together with a corrupt and hapless transitional Somali government, gave the Shabab a chance to regroup.

Money and arms from Eritrea, which wants to use Somalia to hurt Ethiopia, as well as from some Arab countries, enabled it to recruit. Several thousand have signed up in the past year. They attend large training camps in southern Somalia where one of the instructors is said to be a white American mujahideen. They are expected to disavow music, videos, cigarettes and qat, the leaf Somali men chew most afternoons to get mildly high. Thus resolved, they wrap their faces in scarves and seek to fight the infidel. In return, they get $100 a month, are fed, and can expect medical treatment and payments if they are wounded, as well as burial costs and cash for their families if they are killed.

The Shabab now controls much of south Somalia and chunks of Mogadishu. It took Kismayo a few months ago. The port of Marka, which takes in food aid, fell more recently. Many fighters are loosely grouped around two older jihadist commanders with strongholds near Kenya’s border, Mukhtar Robow and Hassan Turki.

Mr Robow celebrated the recent festival of Eid al-Adha by hosting prayers in Mogadishu’s cattle market. How sweet it would be at Eid, he told the gathering, if instead of slaughtering an animal in praise of Allah, they would slaughter an Ethiopian. On a visit to Marka he was only slightly less belligerent. He urged reconciliation—except with enemies of Islam. There are many of those, it seems. Hundreds of Somali aid workers, human-rights campaigners and journalists have been killed or exiled. Foreigners have been shot and kidnapped, in two cases just across Somalia’s border, in Kenya and Ethiopia. Where it cannot exert control, the Shabab excuses banditry. Borrowing tactics from Afghanistan’s Taliban, it spreads chaos to build a new order.

The Shabab has learnt from its mistakes in 2006, when it was overwhelmed in a few days by the Ethiopian army. It is now more pragmatic and more aggressive. This time round, it is apparently not picking fights with wealthy qat merchants. Men can chew what they like—but won’t be “clean enough” to get a lucrative job in Kismayo’s port. Education is encouraged. Girls can go to school. Charcoal burning is forbidden for the sake of the environment.

But the Shabab has also tightened its own security. Alleged spies for the transitional government or for Ethiopia are routinely beheaded with blunt knives. Mr Turki, the jihadist leader who lives mostly in the bush near the Kenyan border, sleeps in different houses when he is in a town. Public floggings and executions strike fear. So do masked faces. “Before, we knew who killed our relatives,” says a Kismayo merchant. “Now we don’t even know that.”

Most tellingly, the Shabab has learnt how to get hold of money faster. It concentrates its fighters in towns where there is money to be earned. The aim is to create an army that puts Islamist identity above divisive clan loyalties. Shabab commanders say a pious state will emerge once weaker militias have been disarmed. Some reckon that the Shabab shares some of the ransoms earned by pirates who operate out of the central Somali port of Haradheere. Those in Puntland, farther north, are apparently beyond the Shabab’s reach.

Ethiopia says it will withdraw its troops within weeks, once ships evacuate the 3,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers under the African Union’s aegis holed up in Mogadishu. Somalia’s transitional government looks even feebler than before. This week the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, an ageing warlord, sacked his prime minister, Nur Hussein, blaming him for what the president called a corrupt, inept and traitorous government. Mr Hussein refused to resign, and won a vote of confidence in parliament. Mr Yusuf went ahead and appointed his own prime minister anyway. More factional fighting beckons.

The UN says Somalia is the world’s worst humanitarian emergency. Some 3.2m people are said to need aid. The UN, which says 40,000 Somali children could soon starve to death, expects fighting over food to break out, another reason the Shabab wants to control the ports. Pirates make it hard to deliver aid. Their activities may be curtailed after the UN Security Council this week let foreign governments chase pirates in Somalia itself as well as at sea. But the piracy will probably continue as long as the catastrophe on land does.

George Bush’s administration backed some of Mogadishu’s worst warlords as part of its war on terror. President Obama will have to take a new tack. The AU force has proved ineffective but a bigger or more robust intervention, by America or any other country, is not expected; this week Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state, called in vain for UN peacekeepers to be sent. A new American administration is unlikely to urge negotiation any time soon with the Shabab; it is still listed as a terrorist group by the Americans and may indeed shelter al-Qaeda people. It may have sleeper agents in Kenya and even in Britain. It has certainly become stronger

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The left's resignation note

Dec 11th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Why the left in Europe is not benefiting from the economic crisis

Illustration by Peter Schrank

SOCIALISM in Britain died in 1983. Its demise can be dated to that year’s Labour Party election manifesto, branded “the longest suicide note in history”. This document combined ideological purity (highlights included the creation of a planning ministry, withdrawal from the European Community, exchange controls to stop capital fleeing overseas and unilateral nuclear disarmament) with a lunatic disdain for what voters wanted.

Today questions are being asked about the health of the European left, as the deepening recession fails to boost Socialist parties across the European Union. This baffles many. After all, the Anglo-Saxon obsession with untrammelled markets has been exposed as madness—or so leftist bigwigs claim. Across the capitalist world, once-strutting tycoons are begging for state bail-outs. Yet voters are not flocking to mainstream centre-left parties. A recent column in LibĂ©ration, a leftish French newspaper, moaned that this was not just a “paradox” but an “injustice”.

For a clue to what is going on, consider the manifesto adopted earlier this month by the EU’s centre-left parties for next June’s European election. It is punchy enough, accusing conservatives of “blind faith in the market”. Under the banner of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the left touts lots of new regulations on finance, including limits on “excessive risk-taking and debt”. (Just how regulators would detect “excessive” risk in advance is left unexplained—plenty of banks would love to know the answer.)

A motif runs through the PES manifesto, offering a move away from “unregulated markets” towards the regulating wisdom of public authorities. And there lies the left’s problem. For the real argument is not one of markets v state. Even before the crash, that was a false choice: every capitalist economy has a mix of regulation and liberalism. Now the boundary lines are blurred everywhere, as banks are nationalised and cash is shovelled to favoured industries. Instead, the big divide is over globalisation, and whether to resist or embrace competition between different countries. On that front, the PES manifesto is a muddle. Indeed, it could be dubbed one of history’s longer letters of resignation.

As successive European economies tumble into recession, the thing that most frightens and angers workers is the risk of losing their jobs to lower-cost rivals. The PES manifesto dances around this issue. It talks of “managing” globalisation for the benefit of all and using Europe’s combined size and wealth as a labour market to defend “high social standards”. But it does not promise to stop factory closures or lay-offs.

This silence has two explanations. First, Europe’s centre-left parties are split over how best to protect jobs. At a meeting in Madrid to draft the PES manifesto, some west European parties wanted language about limiting the free movement of workers within the EU, says Denis MacShane, a British parliamentarian who represents the Labour Party in the PES. But representatives from new, lower-cost EU countries like Hungary, Poland and Lithuania rejected these ideas, insisting “free movement is one of the best things about the EU.” In the end, PES leaders fudged it, with a clause saying merely that reduced social standards and wage cuts should not give one country a “competitive advantage” over another “at the expense of workers”.

In Britain and the Nordics, centre-left politicians have moved away from protecting existing jobs towards protecting individual workers (through things like retraining if they are made redundant). Elsewhere, socialists still claim that the might of the state can be used to shield workers directly. In France some want laws to ban companies that are in profit from making workers redundant. Portugal, one of the four EU countries with a majority centre-left government, has unveiled plans to subsidise wages in the car industry for up to a year, as production lines are idled.

Such strategies are, alas, fated to collide with the second explanation for the PES’s silence: that efforts to resist globalisation rarely work for long. In their guts, European voters know this. When factories are earmarked for closure, workers may protest, and may even hope that leftist leaders will join the picket lines. But the factories tend to go anyway.

Driving the social model into the ground

The proudest trophy of the left is the European social model, a web of labour and welfare laws offering a “high degree of social protection”. The model emerged during the post-war boom, when living standards soared across western Europe. In his book “Postwar”, Tony Judt, a New York-based British academic, lists many causes: governments turned away from protectionism, people started having lots of babies, energy was cheap and Europe had much catching up to do (in 1957 only 2% of Italian homes had a refrigerator, but by 1974 94% did).

Crucially, the European social model also enjoyed an amazingly low degree of external competition. In 1960 a West German car worker had little to fear from Eastern Europe or Asia. Skodas and Nissans were pretty horrid; Chinese workers were lost to the madness of Mao. When China, India and the ex-Soviet block joined the capitalist world three decades later, the global labour pool grew from 1.5 billion to 3 billion: an explosion called the “great doubling” by Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist.

Never again will west European workers live in a world with so little competition. Honest European politicians know this—and so, deep down, do most voters. That is why trade unions are still shedding members. It is why the mainstream left cannot credibly promise to reverse globalisation, preferring instead to blame the crisis on ill-regulated markets. But attacking market follies is hardly a distinctive position (listen to Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s supposedly centre-right president). Europe’s centre-left is struggling because its 20th century rationale is dying. If it cannot find a less muddled message that explicitly embraces globalisation, this economic crash could deliver it a fatal blow.

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