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Friday, June 17, 2011

Al-Qaida and Pakistan: An Easy Alliance?

The question of who will succeed Osama bin Laden as the leader of Al-Qaida has been answered. It is Ayman al-Zawahri, the #2 man in the international terrorist organization.

As with most of Al-Qaida's leadership, al-Zawahri is living somewhere in Pakistan. And that should tell you something about our so-called "ally" in the fight against terrorism. Along with al-Zawahri four other key members of Al-Qaida are believed to be in Pakistan:

Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian believed to be a top-ranking member of Al Qaeda. The US is offering $5 million as a reward for his capture. Like al-Zawahri, Adel was indicted by the US for an alleged role in the African embassy bombings in 1998.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, an Egyptian with a $5 million reward on his head, Abdullah is supposedly a member of Al Qaeda’s top council. US intelligence thinks he is in Pakistan after fleeing Nairobi following the embassy bombings.

Rashid Rauf, a dual British-Pakistani citizen, Rashid Rauf is considered a key Al Qaeda operative and is suspected of involvement in a 2006 attempt to blow up aircraft leaving London with liquid explosives. He is also wanted in Britain as a suspect in the 2002 murder of an uncle. He was in Pakistani custody at one point, but "escaped" in 2007 when his guards allowed him to say prayers in a mosque.

Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani from Kashmir. While not on the FBI’s most-wanted list, he is believed to be behind some of the deadliest attacks in India and Pakistan, including a 2009 suicide attack on Pakistan’s spy agency and cross border attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.

Al-Zawahri and his cronies are like the arsonist who is invited to stay in the neighbor's house.

"Aren't you worried that he will burn down your house?" asks a concerned friend.

"Why would he burn down a house of the person that is giving him shelter?" responds the homeowner.

"Because he is an arsonist."

The homeowner dismisses the neighbor's concern and not long afterwards his house burns to the ground.

Allowing al-Zawahri and his cohorts to remain in Pakistan is just about as foolish--especially since al-Zawahri is on record as saying that he wants a jihadist takeover of a Pakistani state or territory so al-Qaida can have a permanent base of operations.

Al-Zawahri has allied himself closely with Pakistani extremist groups and married into a local tribe along the Pakistani-Afghan border, thus cementing his ties to like-minded Pakistanis.

And there are apparently many who support al-Qaida and its mission to destroy the democratic nations of the West, eliminate non-Muslim religions and bend the world to its iniquitous will.

Al-Zawahri, 59, who carries the title of "emir," assumes power of al-Qaida at a time when Pakistani-U.S. relations are at their lowest point in decades.

That was evident when Pakistani authorities arrested five persons it says aided the CIA and the U. S. Navy Seal team in their successful raid on the compound where Osama bin-Laden was hiding just a short distance from a Pakistani military base.

Why Pakistan would arrest individuals who aided in the capture of the world's most wanted terrorist has left many U.S. officials scratching their heads.

There is little doubt that Pakistani military authorities were piqued that Washington did not inform it of its plans to raid the bin-Laden compound. In fact, the Pakistani government remains embarrassed by the incursion of the Seal team and the killing of bin-Laden. Pakistan considers the raid a violation of its sovereignty and many Pakistanis are angry with their own Army - the country's pre-eminent institution - for failing to intercept the US Navy SEALs who carried out the raid.

American officials have said privately that telling the Pakistanis about the raid would have led to bin-Laden's escape.

"There are too many people in the Pakistani military and government who sympathize with al-Qaida," one CIA analyst said. "Over there, many people are in bed with al-Qaida. They are radical Muslims first and political allies second."

Top Pentagon officials say the U.S. military will capture and kill al-Qaida’s new leader and that he will meet the same fate as Osama bin Laden. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon al-Zawahri will face challenges as al-Qaida’s new leader, saying he lacks what Gates referred to as bin Laden’s “peculiar charisma.”

However, authorities in Pakistan have failed to expedite the entry of CIA officers into the country, despite agreeing two weeks ago to form a new joint intelligence-sharing team to hunt al-Qaida. The joint team was intended to rebuild trust on both sides that was badly damaged by fallout from the May 2 raid deep inside Pakistan.

The recent arrests of CIA informants has further eroded whatever trust exists between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Just back from Pakistan, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said it is "time to start putting more pressure on Pakistan to do the right thing," and he predicted the US would set new "benchmarks" for Pakistan to prove it is holding up its end in counter-terror cooperation.

Rogers said he'd had "frank discussions" with Pakistan's intelligence chief, as well as Army chief Gen. Asfaq Parvez Kayani over his suspicions that elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence service had helped shelter bin Laden, though he said there was no evidence the leadership was aware.

Rogers also questioned them on reports that the US shared the location of two bomb-building sites in Pakistan's frontier provinces with bad results. Two US officials told the Associated Press in early June that they'd shared the satellite information of the location of two Haqqani network bomb-making factories as a confidence-building measure while working on the formation of a joint intelligence effort with the Pakistanis.

But within 24 hours, the officials say they watched the militants clear out the sites - proof to the Americans that the Pakistanis had shared the information with US enemies, the officials said.

Despite such obvious treachery the U.S. continues to funnel some $2.5 billion a year into Pakistan--almost $20 billion since 2001.

Given the kind of duplicity we are seeing from our so-called Pakistani allies in the fight against al-Qaida one has to wonder how much of that money is actually being used in the war on terror.

Perhaps it is going into an al-Qaida pension fund.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Should Al Jazeera English be available to American TV Audiences?

A few years ago I was among the chorus of Americans who would not have supported the idea of allowing the Arabic-language, Qatar-based satellite news channel or its sister network, Al Jazeera English, to broadcast in the United States.

Who can forget the skewed coverage after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington? I can still see Al Jazeera footage of Palestinians cheering wildly in the streets after those attacks killed some 3,000 people. I can recall how Al Jazeera seemed to be in bed with Al Qaeda when it allegedly broadcast the beheadings of Americans such as Daniel Pearl and Nick Berger.

Like many Americans this was the last straw for me. Al Jazeera deserved nothing less than a black out in the U.S.

Today, we know that in fact, Al Jazeera never did broadcast beheadings of Americans or of anybody else.

And now, in hindsight, those video feeds of Palestinians whooping it up probably were not a bad thing for Americans to see. For one thing, they drove home to us just how polarized much of the Arab world is vis-à-vis the United States. For another, it was only doing its job--providing post 9/11 coverage from the Middle East.

And while much of that coverage may not have been what we as Americans wanted to see, it was nevertheless, a case of a news organization doing what it should be doing in a part of the world that American news organizations largely ignored for years except when there was a war or a terrorist attack.

As a journalist it is problematic for me to say that any news organization should be banned or censored in the United States. That runs counter to the First Amendment which guarantees, among other things, a free press. And by the way, the First Amendment was not created to protect the press; it is there to protect the public from government censorship.

For the same reason, I find it wrong when people talk about "hate speech." I agree with the ACLU (not something I often do) when it says there is no hate speech, only free speech--and the way to defeat what some consider hate speech is to push for more free speech.

Yet there are many Americans representing the Political Correctness police who want to ban anything that they feel smacks of hate speech--including, of all things, Mark Twain's classic 19th Century novel Huckleberry Finn. They are upset because the book has the word "nigger" in it multiple times--a word, distasteful as it may be, that was part of the lingua franca when Twain penned his novel. For that reason, they insist, the book is unsuitable for use in schools unless the offensive "N" word is stricken from its pages. Never mind that Huckleberry Finn is an American classic, if not The Great American Novel, and condemned slavery throughout.

Sanitizing Huckleberry Finn in this manner is akin to forcing the Louvre Museum in Paris to put a bra on Alexandros of Antioch's Venus de Milo statue or the Academia Gallery of Florence to put jockey shorts on Michelangelo's statue of David because one shows a woman's breasts and the other a man's penis.

But let's not stop there. What about Uncle Tom's Cabin published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe which contains many stereotypes of black people but which was an anti-slavery tome that did much to create the abolitionist movement? Or Joseph Conrad's The Nigger of the 'Narcissus': A Tale of the Sea about a West Indian black sailor aboard a ship called The Narcissus who is cared for by white sailors when he falls ill on a voyage from Bombay to London? Both of these masterpieces have already been purged from some school libraries by the PC police.

Where does this kind of censorship stop? Think about that for a minute. There are thousands, if not millions of books that contain passages the PC police deem offensive. Ironically, it is the liberal left that appears to be pushing this agenda the most, not the conservatives among us.

Which brings me back to Al Jazeera. In the United States, Al Jazeera English is available through the Galaxy 19 (and Galaxy 23 C-band) satellites. However, it is unavailable to cable viewers in the US, with the exception of those in Toledo, Ohio; Burlington, Vermont and Washington, D.C. This is effectively a "black out".

I am sure there are editorial positions that Al Jazeera takes that I am opposed to. And I may not like some of the stories it does out of the Middle East. But I am convinced that the more information Americans have regarding this troubled part of the world, the better off we will be.

We don't have to agree with the editorial commentary, but the fact is, some 1.6 million viewers in the U.S. streamed Al Jazeera English online when hundreds of thousands of people jammed Cairo's Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak regime. Why? Because Al Jazeera was providing some of the most consistent coverage of this historic event.

I believe there is no "bad information," just a "lack of information." In other words, when faced with propaganda the best way to counter it is to provide more information just as the most effective way to deal with so-called "hate speech" is to allow more free speech.

The problem for Al Jazeera English seems to be its Arab-language sister network's journalism which has generated a broad base of anxiety, if not outright enmity among Americans.

I am not sure what you can do about that. Does Al Jazeera have an Arab predisposition? Quite probably. Should it be banned because of that? Should we ban Spanish language broadcasts or Korean, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese or Vietnamese broadcasts because someone on air speaks critically of the United States?

The answer to those questions is "no" for the same reason that the PC police should not be purging literary classics from school libraries and thus depriving students of the opportunity to understand the realities of their country and its history.

Similarly, Americans understand too little about the Middle East. That was apparent when Benjamin Netanyahu provided President Obama and the nation with some perspective about Israel and its Palestinian nemesis during his U. S. visit recently.

Not all Americans may have agreed with the Israeli prime minister and his perception of the Middle East, but one thing his visit did is make me realize that Americans need a lot more information from this part of the world--even information provided by Al Jazeera English.

And it strengthened my conviction that censorship of any kind is a slippery slope that will lead us all to a place we don't want to be--a country where we are afraid to disparage authority, write critically or speak our minds openly.