December 22, 2007

Modi Madness


Arijit Sen

We...bow to him ...with the manly, unbroken pride of the ancient Norsemen who stand upright before their Germanic feudal lord. We feel that he is greater than all of us, greater than you and I. He is the instrument of the Divine Will that shapes history with fresh, creative genius." The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich---William L Shirer

Narendra Modi will either win or lose Gujarat elections. But win or lose, he will surely be there to influence what India thinks today. Modi has ideas and Modi has vision. These are attributes often absent in many leaders. At the National Development Council in New Delhi Modi was very clear that India knocking on 2008 should talk about economic criteria not religion. His presentation was that of a man who knows his economics. He was hitting out at Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's plans to earmark 15 per cent of funds under the 11th plan for minorities. He saw it as a move just to make Muslims happy. People were impressed with Modi's speech and Modi's attack. And he spoke on a lot of issues, about investment, development, education. Those present saw the visionary in Modi---the posterboy of Gujarati Asmita and beyond. This huge support that Modi enjoys is something that was not with him before. Many intellectuals had opposed him after the post-Godhra riots. Now they have realised that bygones should be bygones. And why not? Big industrialists are putting in their money and building their projects in Gujarat. And if they are doing that there must be a reason. The economic health of the state apparently is fantastic. Non-resident Gujaratis love Gujarat. And business is in the DNA of Gujarat. So who really wants to latch on to Godhra when economic benefits are there for everyone to see. "Move on" is the mantra. That seems to be practical at a time when the stock markets are doing good. Because then that would make everyone happy. That everyone includes everyone from economists who believe in growth models to daily wage earners.

Many people say that Narendra Modi is a man of simple demands. Apparently he loves watches and pens, expensive ones. But it ends there. Rest is all about himself, his world, his goals, his principles, his vision. This kind of commitment is a rarity these days. And probably this is also what led to the sudden realisation, why not Modi? True, very true. Some might say that since Modi enjoys the support of many ( even if he loses) that does not mean one should forget the crimes committed apparently with his tacit support during post-Godhra anti-Muslim riots.

But some also are saying all this talk about democracy and secular rule is something that only exists in lecture halls, or in some adda. So why punish a man who is leading Gujarat and industrial houses in a friction-free business environment? Probably they are right. and increasingly it looks like if someone shouts, "show me the money", Narendra Modi might just reply, "Come to Gujarat". So Narendra Modi's vision, lose or win, is the toast of many in India. He will stay Narenbhai to many and many millions would flock to Gujarat to pay their respect to him, many would probably die to touch him once.

What happens to many who oppose him? They should try and understand that there are ways to make everyone happy. Happiness is a warm Gujarat and it's happiness for all and that's irrespective of Modi winning or losing. For many, Modi, the "mard mukhyamantri" is a winner all the way and they are willing to bow to him.

The 'Modi'fied Indian

There are several reasons why we consider Gujarat to be the epicentre of Indian destiny. The greatest share of this expectation is because of the phenomenon called Narendra Modi. To the modern Indian voter, Modi remains an impossible event which nevertheless happened in India: an honest, capable man being at the right place, at the right time with the right outlook to lead India's economic engine, Gujarat to greater heights of prosperity, order and justice. No wonder, we cannot wait for him to move beyond Gujarat into the national level as the PM.

A small wonder that he has been one of the most charismatic personalities to grace Indian polity. A bachelor with an incorruptible image and with a very ascetic style of living, few can deny the messianic halo that cloaks the man as he marches to his destiny for the greater good of all Indians: Hindus, Muslims, Christians and anyone who considers India to be their motherland and wish her to live long and prosper.

Now don't get me wrong, but the so called secular, left brigade's attempt to crucify him at the altar of pseudo-secularism has failed utterly. Modi successfully turned the tables on his opponents at every turn of events. No matter the baloney, no matter the absurdity of the allegations hurled at him, he remained and remains untouched by the filth of the lies spoken by his enemies and they know it.

The Indian Hindu middle class is slowly waking up to the truth written on the wall. The truth has been written with the blood of the slain millions in the past millennium, the blood still being shed today, and covered up with the holy grail of appeasement of minority sensibilities. They have begun to understand that the so called secular, Indian state has abandoned them to their wretched fate in an attempt to court minority vote banks.

So is there any doubt left? As the comments section of any article doctored by the English media would attest, we consider only Modi to have a stature capable to stemming the rot in modern India, to prevent the catastrophic collapse just up ahead.

We are completely correct about our estimation of his leadership. A lion is known by it's roar and Modi's roar has been loud enough to set the alarm bells of his distracters jingle 24/7. Every action of his, every word, every gesture is now analysed to gain every hint of meaning, every shred of insight into his enigmatic mind, charismatic soul and no nonsense attitude.

It's not enough to say Modi is the perfect answer to the problems we face today. A fairer interpretation would be that Modi is the only answer to the problems we have today. A capable administrator with a sound mixture of pragmatism and wisdom, Gujarat as an example of his administration has become a beacon of hope in a region crumbling apart rapidly in light of the misrule committed by his political opponents.

Again the writing is written very clearly upon the wall. This time not in blood, but with the wax from the candle of hope the modern Hindu beholds in Modi. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our civilization not to betray him in his difficult journey ahead.

In Modi, we have found the perfect man to lead us through the troubled times ahead. It's time we make it clear to everyone, it's time we say: Get behind Modi or get out of his way!

Say it loud and proud, people! Narendra Modi is India's Winston Churchill and FDR rolled into one!

Gujarat Polls 2007 - Narendra Modi wins


CNN-IBN is projecting the BJP to return to power in Gujarat.

While we await the detailed results from the Election Commission, Offstumped focuses on the the big picture of this BJP victory in Gujarat by Narendra Modi.

If the prognosis by the media and every commentator across the spectrum was that this election was about Modi versus Modi then the results must be interpreted as a strong referendum on the need for a Strong Executive. In fact the only politician in recent memory who came anywhere close to what Mr. Modi did in Gujarat was Mr. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.

So where did Modi go right that Naidu went wrong ?

The big difference between Modi and Naidu is that Modi made believers of his electorate in his reform agenda that even his worst detractors admit delivered on its promise while Naidu had few believers outside of Cyberabad. In this sense Mr. Modi has more in common with a Tony Blair and a Nicolas Sarkozy both of who defied conventional wisdom on populism and entitlements to make a majority of the voters believers of their agenda. A feat no Indian Politician has been able to accomplish to date, not even Manmohan Singh who merely pushed policy while failing to build a succesful political platform.

This win is also a strong vote of no-confidence in the mainstream media which has been pushing an anti-Modi agenda as highlighted by Offstumped on multiple occassions. This is a warning signal to the Barkha Dutts, Rajdeep Sardesais, Vir Sanghvis in the media that if they dont bring a sense of balance to their reportage and opinion making the risk losing consumers and sponsors. They cannot expect the people and corporations to subsidize their discredited agendas any longer.

Some in the media from Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express to Bhupendra Chaubey in CNN-IBN are attempting a new spin of absolute “secular consolidation” as a fallout of the Modi victory.

This is absolute bunkum and is a lame attempt by the media to be in the game by raising the bogey of secularism. The Congress will be in serious denial if it gets carried away by this spin while looking to find a silver lining for its heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi as dark clouds hover over the Sonia Gandhi presidency.

A hard look at the political reality state by state exposes this spin for what it really is.

A Modi victory will not cause Jayalalitha to back the Congress, will not stop the LDF from fighting the UDF in Kerala, will still make Gowda a political untouchable in Karnataka, will do little to stop the Naidu YSR abuse-fest, will not paper over Chaggan Bhujbal’s enstrangement with Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, will not cause Naveen Patnaik to embrace the Congress in Orissa, will not make Nitish Kumar best friends with Lalu Yadav, will do little to suppress the ambitions of Mayawati in the heartland or make Mamata forget Nandigram in West Bengal, will not stop the AGP from fighting the Congress in Assam and Om Prakash Chautala from fighting the Congress in Haryana.

So what “secular consolidation” are these idiots fanatasizing over, perhaps one that unites the psuedo-intellectuals across the media to fight for survival as the inevtiable prospect of being rendered irrelevant stares them in the face.

The Modi win in Gujarat sets the stage for an interesting 2008 as Offstumped had predicted earlier in the year that the unraveling of the UPA Left axis of evil will likely beging with a BJP win in Gujarat.

Offstumped Bottomline: The Narendra Modi victory in Gujarat marks the first succesful battle in the War on Social Justice. Mr. Modi stands out as the first politician in recent memory who defied conventional wisdom on anti-incumbency. He did not pander to special interests, he did not yield to populist temptations. He dared the all pervasive Culture of Entitlment by coming out strongly in favor of the spirit of Enterprise.

His victory amongst other things reflects the deep and fervent desire in a cross-section of the society for a Strong Executive that no longer has the patience for executive paralysis, fragmented legislatures.

This victory is also a vote of non confidence on the leftist agenda pursued by the psuedo-intellectual liberals in the mainstream media.

While this is moment of vindication and celebration for Mr. Modi it is also an opportunity to mend fences and heal wounds from the riots of 2002. Offstumped while congratulating Mr. Modi also calls on him to deliver Justice for all from a position of strength.

Gujarat Polls 2007 - If Narendra Modi wins…
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CNN-IBN is projecting the BJP to return to power in Gujarat.

While we await the detailed results from the Election Commission, Offstumped focuses on the the big picture of this BJP victory in Gujarat by Narendra Modi.

If the prognosis by the media and every commentator across the spectrum was that this election was about Modi versus Modi then the results must be interpreted as a strong referendum on the need for a Strong Executive. In fact the only politician in recent memory who came anywhere close to what Mr. Modi did in Gujarat was Mr. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.

So where did Modi go right that Naidu went wrong ?

The big difference between Modi and Naidu is that Modi made believers of his electorate in his reform agenda that even his worst detractors admit delivered on its promise while Naidu had few believers outside of Cyberabad. In this sense Mr. Modi has more in common with a Tony Blair and a Nicolas Sarkozy both of who defied conventional wisdom on populism and entitlements to make a majority of the voters believers of their agenda. A feat no Indian Politician has been able to accomplish to date, not even Manmohan Singh who merely pushed policy while failing to build a succesful political platform.

This win is also a strong vote of no-confidence in the mainstream media which has been pushing an anti-Modi agenda as highlighted by Offstumped on multiple occassions. This is a warning signal to the Barkha Dutts, Rajdeep Sardesais, Vir Sanghvis in the media that if they dont bring a sense of balance to their reportage and opinion making the risk losing consumers and sponsors. They cannot expect the people and corporations to subsidize their discredited agendas any longer.

Some in the media from Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express to Bhupendra Chaubey in CNN-IBN are attempting a new spin of absolute “secular consolidation” as a fallout of the Modi victory.

This is absolute bunkum and is a lame attempt by the media to be in the game by raising the bogey of secularism. The Congress will be in serious denial if it gets carried away by this spin while looking to find a silver lining for its heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi as dark clouds hover over the Sonia Gandhi presidency.

A hard look at the political reality state by state exposes this spin for what it really is.

A Modi victory will not cause Jayalalitha to back the Congress, will not stop the LDF from fighting the UDF in Kerala, will still make Gowda a political untouchable in Karnataka, will do little to stop the Naidu YSR abuse-fest, will not paper over Chaggan Bhujbal’s enstrangement with Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, will not cause Naveen Patnaik to embrace the Congress in Orissa, will not make Nitish Kumar best friends with Lalu Yadav, will do little to suppress the ambitions of Mayawati in the heartland or make Mamata forget Nandigram in West Bengal, will not stop the AGP from fighting the Congress in Assam and Om Prakash Chautala from fighting the Congress in Haryana.

So what “secular consolidation” are these idiots fanatasizing over, perhaps one that unites the psuedo-intellectuals across the media to fight for survival as the inevtiable prospect of being rendered irrelevant stares them in the face.

The Modi win in Gujarat sets the stage for an interesting 2008 as Offstumped had predicted earlier in the year that the unraveling of the UPA Left axis of evil will likely beging with a BJP win in Gujarat.

Offstumped Bottomline: The Narendra Modi victory in Gujarat marks the first succesful battle in the War on Social Justice. Mr. Modi stands out as the first politician in recent memory who defied conventional wisdom on anti-incumbency. He did not pander to special interests, he did not yield to populist temptations. He dared the all pervasive Culture of Entitlment by coming out strongly in favor of the spirit of Enterprise.

His victory amongst other things reflects the deep and fervent desire in a cross-section of the society for a Strong Executive that no longer has the patience for executive paralysis, fragmented legislatures.

This victory is also a vote of non confidence on the leftist agenda pursued by the psuedo-intellectual liberals in the mainstream media.

While this is moment of vindication and celebration for Mr. Modi it is also an opportunity to mend fences and heal wounds from the riots of 2002. Offstumped while congratulating Mr. Modi also calls on him to deliver Justice for all from a position of strength.


WINS : 1
LEADS : 114

WIN : 0
LEAD : 64

Gujarat polls: Early trends favour BJP

Zeenews Bureau

Ahmedabad, Dec 23: Counting for the much awaited Gujarat elections that will decide the fate of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi started at 8 am Sunday. Early trends indicate that BJP has the upper hand and is leading in most seats for which trends are available. The first result is expected to be out by 10 AM. As political parties kept their fingers crossed for the outcome which may alter the political landscape in the country, for the BJP and the Congress it’s a make or break elections not just in Gujarat but even at the Centre.

Exit polls by TV channels projected that Modi will return to power but with a reduced majority. A hung assembly was also not being ruled out. In the outgoing 182-member House, BJP and Congress had 127 seats and 51 respectively.

The Election Commission has set up 37 counting stations throughout the state to tally votes polled in electronic voting machines in the two-phased elections. The counting is to commence at 8 AM.

Gujarat polls have for the first time attracted countrywide attention with Modi acquiring a larger than life image during the acrimonious poll campaign which saw him involved in a slugfest with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The EC officials said all arrangements regarding the counting of votes have been completed. "About, 8,000 staff will be involved in the process but they will come to know on which counting table they are stationed on the morning of the counting day," state EC official A H Manek said.

"Every table will have a Central government officer as an observer. After completion of each round of counting the observers will randomly select two EVMs and recheck the votes polled for party on those EVMs," Manek said.

The EC has developed a special software this time by which the data will be fed from the counting centres to the official website of the EC for public viewing, Manek said.

The Gujarat results will decide the fate of contestants, including those from the BJP, the Congress and the BSP.

The final phase of polling was held on December 16. Out of the total 18.7 million electorate, 63 to 65 percent exercised their franchise in the 95 constituencies of the total 182 seats spread over eleven districts in the central and northern parts of the state.

Around 60 percent of the Gujarat electorate voted during the first phase of polling, which was held on December 11. Voting was held in 87 constituencies of the 182-member state Assembly. Of these, 58 constituencies were located in the Saurashtra and the Kutch regions, and 29 in south Gujarat.

The BJP had fielded candidates for all the 87 constituencies while the Congress fought elections in 82 seats. The BSP had fielded 78 candidates, NCP four, Communist Party of India and CPI (M) one each.

The poll campaign witnessed acrimonious debates with Congress Party Chief Sonia Gandhi dubbing Narendra Modi-led state government as "Merchants of Death" and Modi wooing voters with a pronounced pro-Hindu stance to the extent of justifying the encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in November 2005.

In the last Assembly elections, the BJP won 127 of the 182 seats, while the Congress party was able to win 51 seats. The Janata Dal (United) and independents won two seats each.

Tight security arrangements have been made to maintain the law and order. Apart from police and home guards, 180 companies of Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) have been deployed.

December 21, 2007

America: potentially conflicting scenarios concerning the development of biofuels and alimentary rights

America: potentially conflicting scenarios concerning the development of biofuels and alimentary rights

On the occasion of the General Assembly of the United Nations held in Geneva in October, Jean Ziegler, special speaker on alimentary rights, asked for a five-year moratorium on the use of biofuels. He supported that the production of energy from products which should be used for food leads to an increasing price that prevents poor people from access to foodstuffs and therefore favours the additional development of world hunger.

Cristiano Maugeri (21 December 2007)

Alternative energy
The industrialised world has been trying for some years to substitute traditional energy sources. Geopolitical issues are linked to the environment and to the availability of resources.From here, increasing investments which have been directed in the last years towards so called 'biofuels', meaning products resulting from agriculture, which cut down the cost of production and extraction and diversify away from risk and dependence on some unstable geographic regions.This reality is already acknowledged and is imposing itself as one of the most likely alternatives for the future.

The two most important discoveries reached up to now are Bioethanol and Biodiesel, which can be extracted from different kinds of materials.Starch contained by some commodities such as sugar cane, sweetcorn and potatoes are used, which produce alcohol and bioethanol through fermentation, while biodiesel comes directly from the reactions of oil contained in products such as soya and peanuts.The potential scenario of production is huge and diversified, while the idea is attractive that 'clean energy' calls off all the energetic problems linked to development and the environment.As well as this, there are great expectations concerning the range of possibilities for access to more economic energetic supplies for 1.6 billion people who still don't have electricity in their houses and for an even larger number of those producing energy through the so called traditional biomass, namely burning dung or straw. Other benefits could also come from the use of agricultural machinery at a lower cost and the job opportunities that the conversion of products would create.

The world is moving in this direction
Incessantly increasing oil prices and the attitude that certain countries which export hydrocarbons have (e.g. Russia) as well as the general instability of energetic markets have suddenly boosted interests towards new forms of energy.The EU foresees that 5.75% of cars circulating in Europe will be using these new fuels by 2010. President Bush is pushing farmers to increase their annual production, and the immediate target is to produce 35 billion gallons of biofuel per year. Both the US and EU are both strongly supporting this sector.It has therefore been calculated that in order to reach 10% of the expected target for 2020, Europe should use 70% of the land fit for cultivation to produce specific commodities for fuels, while US should utilize their overall soya and sweetcorn production.The question is now emerging over who will be able to satisfy the constantly growing demand for energy, which is no longer a characteristic of Western countries, but also of the new dominators of international markets.

In terms of output/yield/experimentation, Brazil is the leading country and following this is the USA which plays an equally important role.Brazil and the US are actually jointly producing 72% of the worldwide output of ethanol. The Latin American giant is already a huge consumer of biofuels which power lots of recently made cars. Sugar cane suits the production of biofuels more than sweetcorn, which is used in the USA. In fact, sugar cane is the product whose price has increased the most in recent years. Up until now it is possible to say that the production of agrofuels (probably a better definition than generic “biofuels”) is now dominated by America.

The role of strong powers
One of the main targets for those countries wishing to build their energetic assurance in the next years is to find alternative energetic sources. This is a strategy which the USA have been working on for quite a long time from many viewpoints.In 1992 G. W. Bush Senior's external advisor, Paul Wolfowitz (who then became the World Bank President) developed a series of suggestions for a safeguarding strategy for energetic sources in the future.The renewed interest in agriculture showed in the last years can be seen from this viewpoint. An amount worth 12% of the loans given by the World Bank is attributed to agriculture which is a fundamental tool for development before being a means for energetic production. Some observers have made hypotheses about Wolfowitz (who is particularly careful to security issues and international relations) having become the leader of the international financial organization due to the importance that the issue has in the USA.In December 2006 the Inter-American Commission for ethanol was established in Miami, presided over by Jeb Bush, the President's brother and Governor of Florida, the Brazilian ex minister of agriculture of Lula's first mandate, Roberto Rodriguez, and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank, branch of the World Bank in Latin America.An important protocol agreement on the issue was created during the meetings of Bush and Lula, the first held during Bush's Latin American tour and the second directly at Camp David.

Brazil and the USA could constitute together a kind of OPEC for agrocarbons which would allow Latin Americans to maintain their role as leaders in the sub continent and increase its contractual capacity on the global level. As well as this, the USA would guarantee themselves renewable energetic sources becoming independent from the unstable areas in the world and denting the anti-American front which has been rising in Latin America in the last few years and which once again is basing its power on energetic resources.

A difficult proposal
Faced with this scenario of geopolitical exchange, the intervention of strong powers and vital economic issues to their popular path of development, stand Ziegler's declarations.The thesis of the Swiss sociologist is that the increase in price due to the rise of the demand will finally lead to a certain amount of problems for the country due to:

single cultures;
exploitation of land;
vast use of fertilizers and chemical products to support production;
malnutrition, famine and diseases;
increases in migratory flows.

According to estimates, an increase in prices such as those registered in the last year would lead 1.2 billion people to fight for survival by 2025, compared to the current 854 million calculated by FAO for 2007, which is completely against the UN most important millennium target.The use of agriculture products in vast quantities (the production of 50 litres of fuel requires 200 kg of mais, which are enough to feed a person for one year) and the increase of price that this will lead to is violating, in Ziegler's words, the alimentary right in all its main principles.

If prices continued to rise at a speedy rate (OSCE calculates that, for an equal demand, the price of necessary foodstuffs will rise from 20 to 50% in less than 10 years), that food availability, access and use will soon become a privilege that a few people could have.Ziegler's hypothesis is demonstrated by the fact that despite the food production per capita has very much increased in the last 15 years, according to FAO, the growth has not reached the underdeveloped countries, particularly in Africa.The World Food Programme (WFP) foresees that the biofuel demand will increase by 170% in the next three years.

In the areas of the world which are still developing these products are fundamental for nutrition and the growth in wages do not correspond to an equal growth in prices, meaning that this gap will worsen the food problems for the countries classified as Low Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs).

The proposal of Ziegler and his staff underlines that the positive effects that the use of food to produce energy will very likely have, are counterbalanced by an even larger number of negative consequences. The West and the main industrialised countries will keep on having high development rates and a high standards of living. This will have very bad consequences on the underdeveloped or developing countries, increasing the number of victims of malnutrition and of migrants searching for food assurance.

The old opposition development vs. sustainability is also repeated in the field of biofuels. The major risk could be the fact that, as Ziegler states, the search for energetic stability will soon become a 'receipt for disaster'.

Translation by Michela Mogavero

Pakistan's secret war in Baluchistan
President Musharraf is resorting to mass arrests, torture and assassinations to crush the Baluch people

Peter Tatchell

All Peter Tatchell articles

December 21, 2007 4:00 PM |

Pakistan launched a renewed military offensive against the people of Baluchistan on December 6, with the aim of crushing the nationalist movement and suppressing protests against Islamabad's recent murder of the Baluch national leader, Mir Balach Marri.

The often indiscriminate attacks on civilian settlements are taking place mostly in the Kahan and Dera Bugti regions, and involve the deployment of heavy artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships.

Pakistan's attacks have reportedly, so far, resulted in deaths of at least 100 men, women and children. More than 200 houses and other buildings, including schools and clinics, have been bombed and burned to the ground. Many farm animals were also killed in the attacks, depriving already poor people of their livelihood.

Faced with this state terrorism by the dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, thousands of Baluch people have fled into the mountains to escape the military onslaught.

Baluchistan was granted independence by Britain in 1947. Less than a year later, in 1948, Pakistan invaded and annexed the country. Ever since, Islamabad has suppressed (pdf) the nationalist movement and ripped-off Baluchistan's gas, oil, coal, copper and gold resources; leaving most of the population impoverished and living under the tyranny of military occupation.

The current onslaught by Pakistani forces is just the latest of many violent assaults and human rights violations in Baluchistan by the Musharraf dictatorship, as documented by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan has sealed off the regions where the military operations are taking place and is blocking phone lines. But according to a message smuggled to me by Baluch rights campaigner Anjuman Ithehad Marri, who said:

"The Pakistani army used helicopter gunships and carpet-bombed innocent Baluchs in the Kahan, Taratani and Kamalan Kech areas. Dozens of innocent Baluchs, most of them shepherds and farmers, were shot dead by Pakistan's terrorist army. In addition, hundreds of houses were burnt and livestock killed.

Pakistan's terrorist army arrested over 400 innocent Marri Baluch people in Kohistan Marri, including women and children, and took them to unknown places. No one knows about their whereabouts. Twenty-five of those arrested were tied to trees and shot dead.

We appeal to international peace-loving communities and organisations, including the Red Cross, United Nations and Amnesty International, to send a fact-finding team to Baluchistan to see Pakistan's barbarism with their own eyes."

Another report bought out of Baluchistan by human rights campaigners states:

"The Pakistan army is operating a shoot-to-kill policy. Around 500 innocent civilians, mostly women and children, were kidnapped by the Pakistan army and transferred to detention camps, where they are being treated inhumanely. Over 2,000 people from these areas have had to abandon their homes to take shelter in mountains and caves to save themselves from the firepower of the Pakistani military. Currently most of the affected areas remain encircled and closed off by the military.

Nobody from the outside world is allowed into the region to witness the atrocities. The operation is ongoing and continues unabated, bringing more suffering and further loss of innocent Baluch life. This new intense military operation is an attempt to silence and demoralise the rightful struggle of the Baluch people for their freedom. It comes in the aftermath of the killing of Baluch national hero, Mir Balach Marri, and the arrest of Mir Hyrbyair Marri (the exiled Baluch nationalist) in the UK."

On my Talking With Tatchell online TV programme, I recently interviewed Mehran Baluch, the Baluch representative to the UN human rights council, about Pakistan's neo-colonial occupation of Baluchistan. He has asked me to circulate this appeal to the international community about the latest military offensive:

"These brutal, indiscriminate military tactics violate the ethics of warfare; involving despicable and atrocious war crimes. The condemnation of these crimes against humanity is a duty of the civilised world ...

We request human rights organisations to visit the region and witness the slaughter for themselves. We also strongly urge the UN human rights council to send a fact-finding mission to Baluchistan to investigate these attacks.

Pakistan is determined to kill the Baluch people and has deployed its entire state machinery to crush and eliminate the Baluch nation. This is state terrorism and is in contravention of international human rights laws.

We hope the international community will not ignore the situation in Baluchistan in the way that it stood back and allowed the genocide in Rwanda.

Under the regime of Musharraf and his military chief, General Kiyani, the people of Baluchistan will always be abused as the enemy. The right to self-determination is the only solution for Baluchistan.

The escalated military offensive is no coincidence, but part of a pre-planned strategy to crush the Baluch people. It coincides with the killing of the legendary Baluch patriot, Balach Marri, in the Sarlat area of Naushki in a military operation on November 21 2007, and in the arrest of his younger brother Hyrbyair Marri and fellow Baluch patriot Faiz Baluch in London on December 4 2007."

Last weekend saw protests in London by Baluch refugees against the military assault on their country. They feel a sense of immense frustration, demoralisation and anger at Britain's failure to press the Pakistani regime to halt its abuses in Baluchistan.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, appears to take the view that we need Pakistan as an ally in the so-called "war of terror" and therefore we should look the other way when confronted with evidence of Islamabad's human rights violations and neo-colonial despotism. This sleazy realpolitik, whereby Britain colludes with dictators, needs to change. It is doing great damage to the UK's international standing and betraying the just cause of the people of Baluchistan.

Hotbeds of separatism in modern Europe

22:59 | 19/ 12/ 2007

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti) - The Kosovo issue has been forwarded to the UN Security Council. The Russian Foreign Ministry suggests that Belgrade and Pristina should have another chance to come to terms. A decision on Kosovo's cessation from Serbia will create a precedent and violate international law.

Today, Europe is the venue of both integration and separatist processes. Experts have calculated that in the 21st century more than 10 new states may emerge in Europe.

Basque Country is the most traditional example of European separatism. In Spain, about two million Basques live in three provinces of what is called Basque Country. It has broader powers than other Spanish regions; the living standards are above the average; and Basque is recognized as an official language. But despite this devolution deal, the advocates of secession from Spain (to be merged with the Basque-populated part of France) are not going to stop at that.

Francisco Franco was responsible for the growth of separatism - the Basques were not allowed to publish books and newspapers; conduct instruction in Basque (native name - euskara); give children Basque names or put out their national flag. Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom") was set up in 1959 as an anti-Franco party. Franco has long been dead and the Basque country has received the autonomous status, but this does not prevent the Basque terrorists from fighting. More than 900 people have fallen victim to the struggle for "independence."

Catalonia, an autonomous province in the north-east of Spain is also a headache for Madrid. Having their own language and culture, the Catalans have always stressed their separate identity in Spain. Their province enjoys extensive autonomy in Spain, a constitutional monarchy. Relations with the central government in Madrid are being regulated by a separate charter. In 2005, the new version of the charter said that the Catalans are a separate nation. However, there are dozens of parties and public organizations in the region, mostly left-wing, which are advocating cessation from Spain. Their goal is to hold a referendum on independence until 2014.

Another Spanish province, Valencia, received a new autonomous status in July 2007.

France has a long-standing experience of resisting separatism and extremism on its territory, above all in the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The Corsican national groups clashed with the French army in the middle 1970s. The Corsican Nationalist Union and the Movement for Self-Determination are the biggest and most influential among these groups. Both have combat units. In the last 25 years, the island's status was upgraded twice - in 1982 and 1990 the local authorities were given increasingly broad powers in the economy, agriculture, energy industry, transportation, education, and culture. Several years ago, French parliament recognized the existence of the Corsican nation. This decision was later cancelled as contradicting the Constitution of the French Republic.

The Breton Revolutionary Army (BRA) has operated in Bretagne, a north-western French province, since the early 1970s. The descendants of the Celts, who once came from the British Isles, do not identify themselves fully with the French, or consider themselves special among other French citizens. During censuses, many of them call themselves Bretons although put French as their native tongue. The BRA (apparently named by analogy with the Irish Republican Army - IRA) belongs to the extremist wing of the nationalist movement Emgann, which is fighting against the "French oppressors."

In Italy, the separatist attitudes are strong in the industrially advanced northern regions. The influential League of the North has so far given up its demand of secession and insists on Italy becoming a federation. There are also people wishing to see South Tirol, which Italy received after WWI, reunited with Austria.

Belgium may separate into northern Flanders (whose residents speak Dutch and are leaning towards the Netherlands) and southern French-speaking Wallonia. This confrontation between Belgium's two linguistic communities is rooted in the beginning of Belgium's independent history when the Walloons and the Flemish formed a union against the Netherlands. Having once united in the name of freedom, they have been trying to break apart for almost two centuries. Appeals for independence are growing stronger and stronger - the economically advanced Flanders does not want to "feed" the Walloon Region. The polls show that more than 60% of the Flemish and over 40% of the Walloons believe that Belgium may disintegrate.

In Britain, the separatist attitudes have moved from Ulster to Scotland. The recent Scottish parliamentary elections were won by the supporters of the formation of a new independent state from the Scottish National Party (SNP). The head of the Scottish government Alex Salmond declared that Scotland may become independent within a decade. So far, only 23% of Scots support the idea of their independence (as compared with 30% a year ago). However, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (the current British Prime Minister) warned in the press that Britain would be threatened with "Balkanization" if the 300 year-long union between England and Scotland continued weakening.

Denmark's Faeroe Islands are a semi-autonomous territory, living on the government's subsidies of almost $170 million a year. This fact is a restraint for the local separatists, although five years ago they tried to conduct a referendum on independence.

Quiet Switzerland also has its own separatists. The Front for the Liberation of Yura has been demanding this canton's independence from the confederation for over 30 years. At one time, Yura inhabited by French-speaking Catholics was transferred to the canton of Bern with its predominantly German-speaking Protestant population. The Front's leaders admit that their chances of success are minimal.

Vojvodina is a Serbian autonomous region located some 35 km (22 miles) away from Belgrade. The Alliance of Vojvodina's Magyars, whose representatives control almost 70% of the region's territory, demand a republican status for the region, a referendum on secession from Serbia and a confederation with Hungary. Late last March, the Association asked the European Union to send a mission to study the situation. Hungarians now account for more than 40% of the region's population.

A similar scenario is developing in Romanian Transylvania (in 1940-1945 it belonged to Hungary; in 1919-1939 to Romania; and before that to Austria-Hungary). The percentage of Hungarians there already exceeds 45%. The Union for the Revival of Hungarian Transylvania, set up under Ceausescu, has already held referendums on territorial autonomy in three Transylvanian districts late last March. The local Hungarians expressed themselves for the maximal autonomy from Bucharest and independent relations with Budapest.

The "anti-colonial" raids have become more frequent in Italian Sardinia, and in the Austrian provinces of Stiria and particularly Carinthia, mostly populated by the Croatians and Slovenians. The South Albanian Greeks and the residents of the Portuguese Azores have also become increasingly active in demanding autonomy.

Background information.

GUJARAT ELECTION : When bias is passé , exposing dirty Indian Media

Daily Pioneer

Jaya Jaitly

Issues before the common man were ignored by the national 'liberal' media in Gujarat in shameless pursuit of an agenda that divided the State far more than what a fundamentalist group could achieve

Five years ago, during the last Assembly election, I was in a small town in Gujarat and visited an old socialist, the editor of the local newspaper. The Election Commission of India had tightened spending by candidates. I learned from the saddened editor that to circumvent the old method of paying for published schedules of public meetings of leaders of parties, money was now being accepted 'under the table' so that the expenditure did not have to be disclosed as election expenses.

Money was given to newspaper owners, who, in turn, had meetings 'covered' by their reporter and published as news. It is a well-known fact that some regional newspapers in Gujarat enter into deals with major Opposition parties during election, charging Rs 2 crore for not writing against it, and an additional matching amount for writing about it in positive terms. A Chief Minister lost his throne for not going through with one such agreement. During the current Assembly election in Gujarat, local cameramen of some television channels were offering 10-second slots for Rs 30,000.

Apart from localised incidents in Gujarat, there is a marked disconnect between what the observer of the political scene saw first-hand in the recent Assembly election and the matter that readers were offered in national newspapers.

An 'atmosphere of fear' was a phrase bandied about by secular badge-wearers well before the election. The Election Commission rightly responded by offering to put up booths exclusively for Muslims to vote in areas where they were supposed to be terrorised. The Muslim population at large was courageous enough to reject the offer and declared that they would stand in line along with everyone else. However, the media told exactly the opposite story. When Congress president Sonia Gandhi screamed "fear and death stalk the State", the media obliged with large headlines.

A full report appeared about secret voting by Muslims because of "underlying fear", yet while campaigning for a Muslim candidate in Jamnagar on behalf of the Samata Party, I asked a 2,000-strong audience of largely Muslims that had gathered spontaneously whether there was an atmosphere of fear around them. They laughed out loud and unitedly responded "nahin" ("no"). I was led to this meeting place in a musical procession with women supporters (both Hindu and Muslim) dancing on the streets as if at a wedding. Fear? Purdah? Hostility? Communalism? Hatred of Mr Narendra Modi or Muslims? I saw nothing of these. However, none of the media present wanted any of it.

The entire drama about the "merchant of death" was not a subject of discourse at hundreds of meetings everywhere. It was Ms Sonia Gandhi's grandstanding for headlines outside Gujarat and to frighten the majority of Muslims who have been leading normal lives and had localised views and allegiances just like everyone else. Neither Mr Modi nor Ms Gandhi loomed on the horizon. The petition by Mr Javed Akhtar before the Supreme Court or Ms Teesta Setalvad's complaints to the Election Commission were complete waste of time for the real voters and only entertained an elite readership.

The election in Gujarat was fought on a completely different plane from what was conjured up for the readership outside Gujarat by the media who had become a dice-thrower at the chequer board of the election, betraying their own professional tenets, not to mention their readers. Whoever wins or loses there, communalism will not have been the issue.

Embedded journalism has come to stay since scores of media are flown in helicopters to selected election meetings or to accompany the feudal-style outings of the crown prince, ludicrously termed "road shows". Full-paged advertisements are placed in most newspapers throughout the year by a host of Congress-ruled States, prominently propagating dynastic images and the UPA chairperson who has no constitutional authority to justify such expense from the public exchequer.

Soon this becomes the norm for every party, and the media is effectively co-opted while editorialising about the freedom of the Press. Honourable exceptions only show the others more starkly. Readers struggle to find some meaningful news between pages of semi-clad starlets, six-pack hunks, and front pages taken up with the current cricket match or BCCI battle, the Bachchan family's latest trip to a temple, or Shilpa Shetty's take on world harmony. Many media watchers, including from within the media, have already admitted to the steady encroachment of froth into what should be a serious and noble domain. But they do not allude to the real causes. Some of it may be understandable in the era of the market and eyeball grabbing commercialism. But it becomes another matter when it enters the political spaces.

A recent Delhi High Court judgement made headlines for attempting to define the parameters of investigative journalism, specifically sting operations. The sad fact is that the state of journalism today is far worse than demonstrated by the black brushes of stings alone. The Editor's Guild and the National Broadcaster's Association have expressed dismay over the judgement.

Self-regulation seems to be taking a long time coming and it is not clear whether the entire Press would agree to commit itself to the commonly laid-down guidelines or whether each would want to push its own envelope to the edges to explore grey areas, as was famously declared by the Kings of Stings at the Commission of Inquiry set up to explore, among other things, the methodology of the sting operation itself after the so-called defence expose of 2001. With injured innocence they squealed that investigating their methodology for accuracy and ethics was like shooting the messenger. No one has yet convinced the public that the all such messengers have indeed done anything other than create sensational entertainment.

We engage with our newspaper like a trusted friend that is expected to be faithful in its reporting, meticulous in its quest for truth and accuracy, and be of unswerving integrity so that its credibility is not compromised. If the Press Council and the Editor's Guild did a thorough self-appraisal (maybe even some internal sting operations), they would be surprised at how corrupted and biased the system has become.

-- The writer is a columnist and former President of Samata Party

For any comments, queries or feedback, kindly mail us at

Muslims let down by 'secular' media

The other voice: M Burhanuddin Qasmi (Pioneer, Dec. 22, 2007)

They riled Modi, practically demonised him for his 'communalism' , but ended up sharpening the division between Hindus and Muslims. It would have been better if they questioned his claims on development and exposed the suffering of the common Gujarati

I am afraid this time our national media has unwittingly helped Mr Narendra Modi consolidate Hindu majority votes on issues not in the interest of nation. Hordes of journalists and byte-reporters descended on Gujarat to batter Mr Modi as a "communal leader". But the campaign backfired. Today, the Muslims of Gujarat are wondering whether they need these so-called secularists after all.

A simple question should strike our minds, especially those in media: How did the Gujarat election campaign derail from issues of the common man and degenerate into a Modi versus Sonia affair? The so-called political analysts in their long columns and 24X7 'direct to home' channels did gross injustice to their professional responsibilities. They portrayed a common politician as either a filmy villain or as a hero- "Gujarat ka gaurav". In the process, they ended up helping that particular individual politically

It is notable that in the present globalised world, fame of any kind, good or bad, helps people. For instance, both American President George W Bush and American invention, Osama bin Laden, (let's not forget that he was "discovered" by the Americans as quite useful in the Afghan theatre against the Soviets) are enjoying the fruits of the fame game. Our Bollywood filmmakers are well aware of the prospects of getting free publicity by weaving one or two spicy scenes (or objectionable lines) into the script. Once the requisite hype has been generated (and enough cars burnt), they excise these scenes and laugh their way to the bank.

The 174-page State Government publication, Gujarat: Beyond the Obvious -- A Report on Initiatives for Inclusive Growth never became a serious issue for the national media. The hired agency, Ernst & Young, prepared the report to showcase the "successes" of the State Government over the past five years. The Gujarat Government published it two months ahead of the election. Very few of the national newspapers questioned the morality of hiring an expensive multinational consultant that eventually produced nothing more than a colourful compilation of daily press notes sent out by the state information department. But, none of the 'busy' channels, to my knowledge, organised a debate putting the report on the table.

Ernst & Young protected its reputation by putting a 'disclaimer' that it neither recommended nor endorsed any specific initiatives, projects or programmes mentioned in the publication. It also declined to assume "liability or responsibility for the outcome or decisions taken as a result of any reliance placed on this publication. " This caveat from the 'author' itself put a big question mark on the Modi regime's tall claims of development. The national media, with all its intelligent people, could easily have put Mr Modi on the dock over this. But, instead of alleviating the level of the discourse, they pandered to the lowest common denominator. Then, by supreme irony, the media started accusing Mr Modi of raising "emotive issues"!

The lives of ordinary people in Gujarat are plagued by environmental degradation. The Modi Government's reckless industrialisation based on chemicals and petrochemicals has ruined the environment. Thousands of people have been forced to migrate because of these polluting industries. While the rich are making billions, the common Gujarati is suffering. The Gujarat Government acts as if the environment is a central subject. The national media could have focussed on this issue given its importance in the present time when there is much talk of global warming and climate change. But they did not bother. They were content with sharpening communal divisions.

Mr Modi is undoubtedly popular. But, it is time to ask - who is responsible for this popularity? I would suggest that his popularity is rooted in his communal and emotional slogans. The media is so obsessed with this aspect that it allows him to get away with all the half-truths and untruths he produces. He goes to meetings of industry associations and claims things like "Gujarat leads the country in power generation". The State purportedly has more than 18,000 villages with uninterrupted power supply. When asked about in education, he claims that the dropout rate among children is down to three per cent. Water is supposed to have reached every village.

To my surprise, the national media does not find the time to make a serious examination of these claims of the Modi Government. The Gujarat media, meanwhile, acts like an extension of the State Information Department.

The mandate of the Gujarat election is now lying sealed in the EVMs. All exit poll surveys conducted by various media suggest that the BJP improved its performance towards the end of the campaign and is likely to return with an impressive performance in the second phase of polling.

Mr Modi is a formidable icon for Hindutva politics in India. His defeat or victory would have implications on national politics. This fact is known in the country's intellectual forums. It is the media that originally helped construct this fact. In 2007, we saw the media becoming part and parcel of Mr Modi's message for the country.

-- The writer is a Director of Markazul Ma'arif Education & Research Centre, Mumbai

http://tinyurl. com/3azltv

December 20, 2007

PAKISTAN : The army won’t return to barracks

Le Monde diplomatique.

Pervez Musharraf wants to impose an authoritarian presidential system on Pakistan in which the army preserves the dominant role. His people want a civilian government and the rule of law. That – not Islamic militancy – is the crux of the crisis in Pakistan

By Graham Usher

A year ago Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf commanded a growing economy, international support and a docile political opposition. There were squalls – a separatist insurgency in Baluchistan, a Taliban redoubt on the border with Afghanistan – but these were on the outer limits of the state, remote from Islamabad, the sanitised, whitewashed capital. For a procession of US envoys, Musharraf’s Pakistan was the epitome of a moderate Muslim nation in transition to democracy. It was almost a light in a landscape darkened by Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today Pakistan is stricken by its fifth bout of martial law in five decades. Political and civic dissidents are in jail, the judiciary has been purged and a relatively free media muzzled. What tipped Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” into repression? There were two overlapping crises. One was an inevitable clash between eight years of military rule and a restive civil society, spearheaded by an independent judiciary. The other was a native, Talibanised insurgency, arching from the Afghan borderlands to settled districts like Swat in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), just 300km from the capital.

But the cause of the fall – and the link between the crises – is the institution that has ruled Pakistan directly for most of its existence and indirectly for the rest. The Pakistani army commands 600,000 men and women and perhaps 50 nuclear warheads. Under Musharraf’s tutelage, it has become a leviathan: worth $20bn in assets, controlling a third of all heavy manufacturing and owning 12m acres of land. Hundreds of military officers have civilian jobs in ministries and state corporations. Deeply politicised intelligence agencies fix elections (which has long been their prerogative), and build and un-build coalitions for the “president”.

The fact that Musharraf stood down as army chief of staff, became a “civilian” president on 29 November and promised to lift martial law on 16 December does not change this reality; the aim, rather, is to sanctify it. “We used to say ‘army back to barracks’. I’m not sure it’s possible any more,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, the best account of the burgeoning military empire (see “Soldiers of good fortune”). But Pakistanis – rich, poor, urban, rural, “moderate”, “extremist” – want the army to return to barracks. That is why there is a crisis.

Civil society

Popular rejection of military rule can be dated with precision. On 9 March Musharraf, in uniform and surrounded by intelligence heads, sacked Pakistan’s chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. The ostensible charge was misconduct. The reality was that he challenged the army’s illegal acquisition of state power.

Chaudhry had issued decrees that struck at the heart of Military Inc. He ruled illegal a privatisation policy that sold off state assets cheaply to former army officers and their lackeys in Pakistan’s business elite. He tried manfully to hold accountable Pakistan’s ghostly intelligence agencies, especially the army’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) directorate.

For the previous six years, ever since Musharraf switched sides in the “war on terror”, the ISI had “disappeared” hundreds of Pakistanis. This was said to be because of their ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban, and in return for bounty from the CIA, a lucrative trade confirmed by Musharraf in his autobiography In The Line Of Fire (Simon & Schuster, London, 2006). In fact many of these “disappeared” had nothing to do with militancy. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) confirmed that those held were mainly “journalists, Baluch or Sindh nationalists, workers and labour activists”; “they were regime dissidents, not jihadists,” said HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir.

Chaudhry also made clear that Musharraf could not constitutionally retain his dual position of president and army chief beyond the expiry of his term on 15 November. “That’s why he was sacked,” said a government insider.

It turned out to be the blunder of Musharraf’s political life. In a wholly unforeseen reaction, lawyers took to the streets in protest, buoyed by a resurgent civil society, assertive judiciary and campaigning media. Raised by this tide, a reinvigorated Supreme Court restored the chief justice on 20 July. For most Pakistanis it was the first time the judiciary had looked at the army and not blinked. Musharraf retreated, stunned.

“The lawyers’ movement was a remarkable event,” said political scientist Rasul Baksh Rais. “It was non-violent, it was popular and it echoed the sentiments of the middle classes and the other new classes forged by modernisation: that we need the rule of law.” But it also exposed the venality of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, particularly the largest, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the ex-prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

She had been in self-exile since 1999, fleeing a number of corruption cases arising from her two stints in government. She viewed the lawyers’ movement through the prism of her own rehabilitation. Aware that it had exposed the frailty of military rule in Pakistan, she offered to save Musharraf on behalf of the army and the US. In return for an amnesty and a third try at the premiership, she broke an all-party alliance against the army’s involvement in politics and pledged the PPP to back another five-year Musharraf presidency. The only political condition was that Musharraf should remove his uniform.

The United States wrote the script, convinced that Bhutto and the PPP could somehow deliver to Musharraf and the army the civilian legitimacy they lacked. The tryst dissolved when it became clear that the Supreme Court would probably rule unconstitutional Musharraf’s “election” as president on 6 October. For the second time in eight years Musharraf slammed martial law on Pakistan, casting his deal with Bhutto to the wind.

Islamic militancy

This January female seminary students occupied a public library in protest at government plans to demolish a part of their madrasa in Islamabad’s Red Mosque compound. Over six months that struggle headed an Islamic challenge to the state, right next door to the presidency and ISI headquarters and an hour’s drive from Kohatu, the site of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. DVDs and CDs were seized and destroyed, brothels raided and sharia law proclaimed. The mini-uprising ended in July when commandos recaptured the mosque after a siege lasting six days; 100 people were killed.

The Red Mosque takeover was unique only in that it happened on Islamabad’s mulberry-lined avenues and before the world’s media. In its attempted projection of Islamic rule it mirrored a strategy applied right across the Pashtun belt in the NWFP and Afghan borderlands. The strategy is Talibanisation and the forces behind it are Islamic militants like those who fought at the Red Mosque. The leaders were clerics, inspired by Osama bin Laden but schooled in the Sunni sectarian madrasas nurtured under the Islamist and pro-US dictatorship of Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988); 70% of the students, male and female, were from the NWFP and border areas, raised on a toxic mix of tribalism, Pashtun grievance and a Talibanised Islam.

The fighters were from banned jihadist militia like Jaish Mohammed (JM). Once employed by the ISI to fight Pakistan’s proxy wars in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir, they saw Musharraf’s post 9/11 abandonment of the Taliban and advocacy of peace with Delhi as apostasy. If anybody had links with al-Qaida and/or rogue ISI officers, it would be these jihadists, say sources.

But what do they want? The aims of Pakistan’s Islamic militants are as diverse as their composition. The Taliban’s priority appears to be to preserve the tribal areas as a base for the insurgency in Afghanistan. The tactic of radiating out from there, even as far as Islamabad, has as much to do with deterrence as conquest. “The Taliban invades the settled areas because the army and Nato invades the tribal areas. If the armies withdrew, so would they,” said a contact with ties to the Pakistan Taliban leadership.

The aim of JM and foreign fighters, such as Uzbek Islamists, with links to al-Qaida may be more ambitious. They seem to want to carve out territorial enclaves within Pakistan that are off-limits to the army and stretch all the way from the tribal areas to Indian Kashmir. “It’s a policy of establishing small independent emirates,” said one veteran jihadist.

Clerics like the Red Mosque’s Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Swat’s Maulana Fazlullah proselytize a violent sharia in the conviction that “the Islamic system takes action wherever the state fails”. But it’s the Taliban and fighters that give them the firepower to preach.

Hostility to the army

What clenches all these fingers into a fist is hostility to the army. Military analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi said this was new: “The militants define Musharraf the same way they define [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai: as an agent of America. What’s different is that they see the army the same way. Previously there was a kind of understanding. The militants were given some autonomy for not attacking Pakistan. But now they are taking on the army within Pakistan.”

Since the Red Mosque seige, 600 people have been killed, including 200 soldiers, mostly in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, through Iraqi-style suicide bombings, and roadside and rocket ambushes. In the past common soldiers would have endured the worst of this, but now the despised officer class is being attacked too. On 4 September and again on 24 November, suicide bombers killed more than 35 ISI officers on buses in Rawalpindi, the main garrison town. On 13 September, 20 Special Services Group (SSG) commandos were blown up while breakfasting in the officers’ mess. The SSG executed the Red Mosque raid. The ISI was seen as the brain behind it. The militants have turned on their makers.

And so has much of the public. In the Pashtun areas there was almost satisfaction at the attacks. There is a feeling that the army is at war with its own people, in the tribal areas or Islamabad, in the pay of the US. Officers in Peshawar and other frontier cities are told it’s better not to go out in uniform. “We’ve never been so hated,” said a retired general.

This has had consequences. One is demoralisation. On 30 August Pakistani Taliban tribesmen took nearly 300 soldiers hostage. Officially the army said they were captured. Unofficially, the message was that the soldiers had surrendered without firing a shot. Siddiqa said this could be a sign of worse to come. “The nightmare has always been that Islamist generals mount a coup and somehow get hold of Pakistan’s nukes. But this is far fetched. A more likely scenario is what we are witnessing today – cracks in the army where soldiers simply refuse to obey orders. They resist what is widely seen as America’s war by deserting or going over to the other side.”

Another consequence is “collateral damage”. On 20 November the army announced it was mobilising 20,000 troops to remove Fazlullah and perhaps 500 militants from Swat. This will mean bombing, civilian flight and deaths. The army resorts to such blunt knives for the same reasons as US and Nato soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – because it’s scared and hopeless at counterinsurgency. Journalist Rahimullah Yousefzai said such punitive policies are counterproductive. “All it does is drive people to the Taliban.”

Military rule

Musharraf is using martial law to complete a new presidential system in Pakistan, modelled more on the authoritarian Arab regimes to Pakistan’s west than on India’s chaotic but functional democracy to the east. Musharraf contrasts this “real democracy” with the “sham democracy” of a parliamentary system. But it’s a military dictatorship in all but name, in the same mould as Zia-ul-Haq, Mubarak and other pro-US juntas.

Martial law has only confirmed that such a regime cannot coexist with an independent judiciary, a free media and fair elections. Musharraf has appointed caretaker governments packed with cronies to ensure the polls on 8 January are as rigged as they were in 2002. He has sacked most High Court judges and installed a new militarised legal system that allows officers to try civilians for treason. And he has decreed that all decisions taken by him during the “emergency” are inherently valid and cannot be contested by any court of law or other forum.

But no number of military decrees will resolve the crisis of legitimacy that assails the Pakistani state. And they do nothing for the struggle against Islamic militancy other than render it more illegal and, in the eyes of many Pakistanis, more illegitimate. Can the order be resisted? Some see hope in civil society and a nascent student movement that has taken to the streets for the first time since 1968. But there are immense obstacles, not least the West’s enormous political and economic backing of Musharraf. The US contributes about $1bn a year, 90% of it in military aid.

But it’s not only aid that needs revision, Rais believes. “The West’s primary interest in Pakistan is defeating militant Islamic forces,” he said. “We too would like to defeat them. But I don’t believe you can do so by strengthening the armed forces as an institution that is also responsible for political governance.

“In Muslim societies, where religion is part of the social fabric, you cannot use strong-arm tactics to deny Islamists political opportunities. They will only come back with greater vigour and legitimacy. They have to be defeated by democracy and constitutionalism.”

This means the army has to return to its constitutional role as defender, rather than arbiter, of the state. It also means mainstream parties should resolve their differences politically rather than by recourse to the army, as so often in the past. But, short of mass agitation and international sanctions, it is difficult to see the army loosening its grip on the state. And, as Bhutto’s fling with Musharraf demonstrated, Pakistan’s political culture is still feudal rather than democratic. “A basic feature of feudalism is that power is important. Principles are not,” said Rais. This “makes for the death of politics other than those managed by the military,” said Siddiqa. And that is dangerous. “It leads to popular contempt, and contempt will find other outlets.”

After martial law, Islamic militants took over much of the scenic valley of Swat. Black and white Taliban flags were hoisted over government buildings. Thousands of civilians fled and those who stayed did not welcome the austere, retrograde Islam they were about to endure. But the police had gone, local government had fallen and local leaders had run to Islamabad. The militants brought cash, protection and a parallel system of justice. “In the absence of any justice, the roughest will do,” said Siddiqa. This is how Talibanisation prevails, as it did in Afghanistan: not in contest with the state but through the state’s failure.

In Pakistan the cause of failure is not Islamic militancy, an irresponsible media or an overactive judiciary. It is the political dominance of the institution the West remains convinced holds the country together – the army.

Iran, Italy to Sign Gas Export Agreement

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran and Italy would ink an initial agreement on gas export in the near future, the National Iranian Gas Export Co. (NIGEC) managing director said here Wednesday.

Nosratollah Seifi said the company had held talks with Italian officials and the two parties would soon sign a memorandum on export of Iran's gas to the European state, Moj News Agency said.

Talking about the gas transmission route, the NIGEC head added the commodity would pass through Turkey and Greece before reaching the Italian territory.

Despite the US pressures and threats, different states are expanding their cooperation and ties with the Islamic Republic.

IRNA also reported that Khomein Petrochemical Complex and Italian company Basell signed a 20 million euro contract on the transfer of technology.

China's top refiner Sinopec Corp. will nearly triple its imports of Iranian crude next year, increasing Beijing's reliance on the OPEC producer.

Its state-owned parent Sinopec Group has agreed to buy 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran next year, up from this year's 60,000 bpd, two sources familiar with the supply negotiations told Reuters last Thursday.

Including a separate pact, agreed earlier between China's state-run Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp. and National Iranian Oil Company, China has contracted to buy 400,000 bpd of Iranian crude for next year, roughly 6 percent of China's total crude demand.

The supply deal comes days after the state-run Chinese oil giant finalized a $2 billion pact to develop Iran's huge Yadavaran oilfield, after nearly three years of negotiations, part of Beijing's plan to help ensure a stable, secure supply of oil for the world's second-largest consumer.

Analysts saw the deal as a further sign of a long-term strategic relationship between China and Iran.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said the French oil company Total had voiced its preparedness to make a 12 billion dollar investment in Iran's liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

He added Indian companies had voiced preparedness to launch oil exploration operations in 17 Iranian oil blocks.

"I would like to say it in a straightforward manner that sanctions have left no impact on the production sector of this industry and our production capacity has grown from 4m to 4.150m barrels per day," he said.

Royal Dutch Shell, French giant Total, and Spain's Repsol have stakes in Iran's other two main LNG projects, as well.

Manager of Total Christophe de Margerie said the giant energy group would press on with talks on Pars LNG, Iran's first liquefied natural gas export terminal, a project which requires a $15 billion investment, adding Total would look at the political situation only once a deal is ready.

Paulo Scaroni, the Italian company Eni's chief executive, told the Financial Times that Eni had 'no intention' of pulling out of Iran.

Other companies are, however, taking a bolder stance when it comes to Iran LNG. Union Fenosa, the Spanish energy company, says its subsidiary, Socoin, was awarded a 32.5 million euro engineering contract for Iran LNG in August. OMV, the Austrian oil and gas company, in April signed a preliminary agreement with Tehran for a stake in Iran LNG, but this is yet to be finalized. "Our interest in the Iran LNG project lies on the table," it said.

Dietrich Gerstein, head of E.ON's LNG purchasing unit, said E.ON was interested in natural gas from Iran.

The last round of negotiations on peace pipeline between Iranian and Pakistani delegations ended here last night.

The two sides finalized the details of the gas contract.

Iran and Pakistan discussed all articles of the contract in different expert-level sessions in Islamabad and Tehran.

Chairman and Chief Executive of Austrian Oil and Gas Group (OMV AG) Wolfgang Ruttenstrofer said talks were underway on a project on transfer of liquid gas from Iran to Austria.

The Austrian daily Uberstreichen Nachrichten quoted Ruttenstrofer as saying that Iranian gas fields were the biggest in the world and his company would undertake a part of an exploration project on which it was highly skilled.

A $30 billion contract was signed between OMV AG and National Iranian Oil Company for transfer of liquid gas from Iran to Austria.

Iranian Offshore Oil Company (IOOC) managing director said Oman had offered its initial proposal on imports of Iran's gas and would submit its final proposal next month.

Mahmud Zirakchianzadeh talking to PIN expressed hope Tehran-Muscat negotiations would bear fruit by March 2008 and added, "Following good Iran-Oman cooperation and oil ministers' recent meeting on the sidelines of the 14th meeting of OPEC, the two sides underlined the investment in, development of, and transfer of gas from Kish field."

He added Oman would help derive two billion cubic meters of gas from Kish field per day, out of which one billion cubic meters would be exported to Oman and one billion would be used inside the country.

Oman had already suggested a two-billion-dollar investment in the development plan of Kish gas field, Zirakchianzadeh said.

He added that the suggestion included the establishment of a joint investment company and gas exports to the neighboring country.

The IOOC head said oil ministers of the two states had also underlined the necessity to develop the jointly-owned Hengam field.


Source: Le Monde Diplomatique

Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan sign Caspian gas pipeline deal

15:48 20/ 12/ 2007

MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed on Thursday an agreement to build a natural gas pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, the region's major gas producers, agreed on May 12 to build a pipeline along the Caspian coast to pump 10-20 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe via Russia's pipeline network.

The pipeline deal is seen as a major blow to U.S. and European Union efforts to build an alternative pipeline under the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russia, to pump Central Asian gas to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Putin, who attended the signing ceremony, said the project would boost Europe's energy security.

"The creation of this new energy artery will allow large-volume gas supplies in the long-term to our partners and will become a new major contribution by our countries to improved energy security in the Eurasian space, and in a larger context, for our consumers in Western Europe," Putin said.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, who signed the deal on behalf of Moscow, said the Caspian pipeline would be launched before the end of 2010.

"All project and investment decisions will have been taken by the end of 2008 and we expect the pipeline to go into operation no later than the end of 2010," Khristenko said.

Russian commander says strategic bomber patrols to continue

15:23 20/ 12/ 2007

MOSCOW, December 20 (RIA Novosti) - There are no technical obstacles to the continuation of long-distance patrols by Russian strategic bombers, the commander of the Air Force's strategic aviation said on Thursday.

Commenting on media claims that Russian bombers had severely worn-out engines, Major-General Pavel Androsov said: "The pilots and technicians' training, as well as the condition of the aircraft, permit us to carry out our assigned tasks in full."

Russia's strategic bombers have carried out since August more than 70 patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans, as well as the Black Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights on August 17, saying that although the country had halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, and that this compromised Russian national security.

Androsov had earlier said that bomber crews had practiced early detection and identification of potential targets and counter-intercept measures.

"Every patrol flight included elements of a tactical aerial engagement," he said.

He also said at least 120 NATO interceptor aircraft had escorted Russian bombers during almost all their patrols, which had a total duration of over 40 hours.

Although it was common practice during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to keep nuclear strategic bombers permanently airborne, the Kremlin cut long-range patrols in 1992. The decision came as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing economic and political chaos.

However, the newly-resurgent Russia, awash with petrodollars, has invested heavily in military technology, and the resumption of long-range patrols is widely seen among political commentators as another sign of its drive to assert itself both militarily and politically.

According to various sources, the Russian Air Force currently deploys 141 Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers, 40 Tu-95MS Bear bombers, and 14 Tu-160 Blackjack planes.

Global Gas Battle Opens New Front in Algeria

Source: Kommersant

A new front, the Algerian one, has opened in the global struggle for energy supply diversification. That became absolutely clear after The Wall Street Journal reported with reference to Sonatrach president Mohamed Meziane that the cooperation pact signed by Sonatrach and Gazprom in August 2006 has expired. A little earlier, Algeria emitted, accidentally or not, leakages that it is dissatisfied with the quality of military equipment supplied from Russia. Most surprisingly, the criticism was coming not from the immediate customers in the Algerian armed forces, who seemed to be satisfied, but from President Bouteflika’s civilian associates.

These events are obviously interlinked. Especially if taking into account the high stakes in the strategic partnership between Algeria and Russia. Due to their natural resources, these two countries would have been able to control up to 40 percent of natural gas supplies to the EU, had they made joint efforts. So, European consumers decided to stake on Algeria and Libya in an attempt at neutralizing Gazprom’s growing pressure. The struggle for energy supply diversification, initiated by the EU so eagerly, makes Gazprom’s presence in those countries unacceptable for the gas consumers. The U.S. feels similar anxiety: it hopes to keep bringing its own, and not Russian, gas from Algeria.

So, the anti-Russia consensus among Algeria’s chief Western patrons, the EU and the U.S., has become inevitable. Things got even worse for Russia when the outer pressure on Algeria was complicated by the clan struggle between different influence groups inside the country. Here again, energy resources are to blame. The end of war and growing oil and gas export revenues led to rapid redistribution of political weight from the ‘army elite’ to the ‘energy lobby’. Bouteflika, staying neutral for several years, eventually sided with the energy officials, which brought him a positive approval by Western partners, the U.S. first of all.

This repartition of influence could not help affecting the cooperation with Russia, especially in the military equipment sphere. The army and power agencies were gradually edged out from the economy, then from the domestic policy-making, and from the foreign policy at last. Meanwhile, Russia’s politics in Algeria has been built on confidential relations with the most influential power officials, who are now moved to the background. That is why Russia should not expect good news from the Algerian front now.

Still, Gazprom-Sonatrach relations are not completely ruined. Although Russia and Algeria are far from mutual understanding yet, and the ‘gas cartel’ was termed as utopia, Sonatrach and Gazprom have become working well for each other. Despite everything, both monopolies are slowly but steadily moving towards a common aim: towards increasing the role and the share of exporter countries in the international gas market.

Andrei Maslov, director of the RosAfroExpertiza Center

America Hits Russian Policy with Dollar


// Senate allocated funds for democracy needs to the Department of State

The U.S. Senate ratified the country’s budget for 2008, allocating around $402 million for post-Soviet space programs which make up a considerable part of the expenditure estimate of the U.S. Department of State. Major part of the money is to be used for counteracting Moscow’s policy on the former USSR space, for creating energy supply routes detouring Russia, and for making the Russian society more democratic.

Senate Directive

The U.S. Senate ratified America’s new budget late on Tuesday night by vast majority of votes: 76 senators for, and just 17 -- against. Expenditure articles of the main state agencies are outlined in a most general way. Inter alia, senators sanctioned allocating around $401.9 million to the U.S. Department of State for supporting former USSR republics (except Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which are classed in Eastern Europe). The budget, however, touches very briefly upon specific expenditures. It just says that some part of the money should be spent on settling the conflicts in Abkhazia and Nagorny Karabakh, and at least $8 million – on “securing human rights, building a democratic society, reconstruction works in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and North Ossetia”. At last, the Department of State will allocate $500,000 more to the U.S. Forest Service for the program “for preserving wild animals and forests” in Russia’s Far East.

However, senators are going to grant even more help to the post-Soviet space. The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations attached a covering note to the budget’s draft, naming far more serious and specific purposes. Although the budget was officially presented by Foreign Operations Subcommittee head Nita Lowey, some sources said it was partially inspired by Moscow’s long-standing opponent –House Foreign Affairs Committee head Tom Lantos.

The Appropriations Committee justifies the necessity to spend money on the post-Soviet space mainly by the current situation in Russia. The covering note first underlines “a huge importance of the U.S.-Russia relations” and “strong wish of the U.S. to see Russia develop as a stable, prosperous, market-based and democratic state”. So, as senators believe, the Department of State should strengthen the American-Russian Fund for Economic Progress and Law-Governed State, making “the support for law-based state, civil society, transparency, and access to information” the fund’s key priorities.

The Senate has also underlined the important role of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in “promoting democratic changes in the independent states of the former USSR”, and suggested continuing giving financial support to these activities. Moreover, the note’s authors also urged to finance the Moscow School for Political Studies (MSPS) which “has done a lot to teach young Russian professionals to honestly govern their country”. At last, senators urged the Department of State to actively support the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), saying that “in the last decade, the foundation was helping to give a constructive direction to the research activities of former Soviet scientists dealing with weapons development”.

Thus, the major part of the money allocated by the Senate is to be spent on making Russia more democratic, as the authors see it. The Senate underlined the purpose’s special importance by demanding that the Department of State should create a new position in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, -- a sort of human rights envoy. Senators think there should be a high-ranking diplomat in the embassy’s staff to supervise “the situation with securing human rights in Russia, respect to the law on NGOs, the U.S. support for human rights activists and journalists, as well as support for civil society organizations”.

Most organizations mentioned by the senators have been acting in Russia for some years already. Moreover, their purposes have been making the Russian authorities watchful since long ago. So, USAID top officials openly admit that “the agency’s activities are coordinated with the U.S. Secretary of State in order to achieve the aims of U.S. foreign policy worldwide” and is aimed at “promoting the ideals of democracy and human rights” and at supporting foreign NGOs. Meanwhile, the MSPS, financed by the Department of State and the EuroCommission among others, declared its purposes as “creating in Russia an open society based on the supremacy of law, having strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and independent mass media”. However, MSPS executive director Denis Sokolov said: “We do not deal with politics, and that is why we do not encounter difficulties either with Russia’s special services or with other state agencies. Our project is purely educational, while USAID money is not political.” Anyway, Sokolov said “the school might shift to mostly Russian sources of financing already next year”.

Detouring Move

However, the Department of State is going to do much more on the post-Soviet space than just struggle for human rights. The covering note to the Senate-ratified budget also asks to turn attention to “Russia’s persisting attempts at controlling the energy flows and manipulating the energy supplies in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, including those flows which are important for U.S. allies in Europe”. So, the senators urge the Department of State “to provide diplomatic support for developing alternative energy sources and energy transporting routes uncontrollable by the Russian Federation”.

The Department of State has actually begun taking steps in that direction already in August, when Washington allocated a grant of $1.7 million to develop a feasibility study of two energy supply routes detouring Russia. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Sullivan explained the money would be spent on developing a feasibility study for the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, aimed at transporting natural gas from Central Asia to Europe, detouring Russia, and oil pipelines along the Caspian Sea bed – for bringing Kazakh oil to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Moscow regards its launch as nearly the chief anti-Russia project in the post-Soviet space. Both these projects seemed very interesting to the presidents of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan [see Kommersant as of November 26], which froze the Caspian Shore Pipeline project, lobbied by Russia, for four months. However, some sources said the technical agreement on the issue will be signed in Moscow today in the presence of presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Active U.S. diplomacy on the post-Soviet space has already created significant difficulties for Moscow. In November, Gazprom had to agree to a higher purchasing price of Turkmen natural gas in the second semester 2008. The price has been raised from $100 to $150 per 1,000 cubic meters. Gazprom head Alexei Miller believes it was precisely the EU and the U.S. who recommended to Ashgabat to raise it.

Serious Plan
Anti-Russia orientation of some articles in the new U.S. budget might seem unexpected at first sight only. In spring 2007, the Department of State published three program documents in which Washington attacked Moscow with unprecedented criticism. The loudest among them was the report headlined “U.S. support for human rights and democracy in the world” published in early April. The Department of State directly proclaimed in the report that “carrying out democratic elections in Russia in 2007 and 2008” is one of its top priorities [please see Kommersant as of April 7]. Russia’s State Duma, the Federation Council, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry responded stormily to the report, and the flow of angry comments lasted for almost a week.

Apparently, the policy of toughly counteracting Moscow’s steps in the post-Soviet space was formed in Washington several months ago. The current directive, unpleasant for Moscow, from the Senate to the Department of State telling where to apply the budget money, means just one thing: all plans of the Department now have strong financing.

Evidently, Moscow realizes it now. “The U.S. has been frequently setting purposes like that recently,” said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the ministry’s information and press department announced it will not react yet.

Alexander Gabuev
All the Article in Russian as of Dec. 20, 2007

Photo of the day

Rape a 'weapon of war' in eastern Congo

Epidemic of brutal sexual violence plagues the region where women are being raped with impunity. From IWPR.

By Lisa Clifford and Charles Ntiricya in Goma for IWPR (20/12/07)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where thousands of rapes are committed each year and sexual violence is the norm, Marie Jeanne's story is all too familiar.

She was raped three weeks ago in the Rutshuru district of the eastern North Kivu province by four soldiers from the Congolese army. "I lost my virginity. I don't know whether I have AIDS. And who's going to marry me?" said the 19-year-old from a hospital in the provincial capital Goma.

Marie Jeanne still has the support of her family, unlike Jeanette, 20, who was raped one evening by a member of the local militia in her village. Jeanette’s family have rejected her, saying she offered herself to her attacker.

An epidemic of brutal sexual violence is plaguing the eastern Congo where women like Marie Jeanne and Jeanette are being raped with impunity by all sides in the conflict between a renegade general, rival militias and the Congolese army.

"Sexual violence is being perpetrated by all armed groups," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It is clear that women are completely unprotected at the moment. No one can claim they are unaware that rape is being used as a weapon of war in eastern Congo."

Justine Masika works for a Goma-based NGO that helps victims of sexual violence in North Kivu. She joined the group, Synergie des femmes pour les victimes des violences sexuelles (SFVS) after being asked to help an 80-year-old woman who had been raped. The woman later died of her injuries.

Masika estimates there have been 14,000 rapes in North Kivu since 2004, around 1,400 in the past six months alone. SFVS - which arranges counseling, morning after pills and operations on injuries like fistulas, rips in the vaginal wall caused by rape - has helped thousands of rape victims including a ten-month old baby.

Most are rural dwellers, attacked while they are working in the fields or fetching water but young boys have also fallen victim to the violence, with Masika's group documenting nearly 40 boys raped this year in North Kivu.

The rapists are attempting to weaken or destroy communities, she says, using sexual violence to terrorize or implement their own agendas. "It's a strategy of war," said Masika.

Though rape has long been a tactic of Congo's warring parties, Masika says the problem is worse now than in the past. Though the vast majority of rapes are committed by members of armed grounds, Masika says civilians are increasingly responsible for sexual violence, some of whom are demobilized militia members.

"During the wars of the Nineties there was rape but the perpetrators were severely punished, expelled from their communities," she said. "But in areas where there has been so much conflict impunity has set in. Civilians now see it as behavior they can get away with."

NGO workers say that rather than being driven from communities as they would have been in the past, it is now common for the families of victims and perpetrators to instead work out compensation deals. "Rapists give the family of their victims two goats in compensation," said Masika.

Chantal, a 28-year-old mother of six, was raped by nine soldiers in a field in the Masisi district. She says the men were soldiers loyal to the Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, who controls the area and is fighting the Congolese army in the province.

She was taken to a hospital in Goma where she remains, in terrible pain, abandoned by her family. Chantal says her tormentors are still walking free - she fears raping other women. "What have I done to deserve this pain?" she asks.

Chantal, like most Congolese rape victims, sees no point in turning to the country's courts for redress. Masika says Chantal’s lack of faith in a system where justice is available to the highest bidder is typical. Only 200 of the thousands of women she has helped have dared to legally pursue their attackers.

Another major problem is lack of access to the legal system. There are courts in the North Kivu towns of Goma, Butembo and Beni, but most women are attacked in rural areas, miles from the nearest police station, court house or lawyer.

Rejusco, a European-funded organization to help resurrect the ailing justice system in Congo’s east, estimates only two per cent of sexual violence victims have access to legal assistance. Dirk Deprez, coordinator at Rejusco in Goma, says a new law on sexual violence passed by parliament in 2006 and designed to speed up the prosecution of rape cases and impose stiffer penalties has had little effect.

"It was an ambitious law in an understaffed and underequipped system," said Deprez. "It was a symbolic victory for those working on sexual violence, but we don't see a lot happening in the field since the law came out."

Van Woudenberg agrees the deck is stacked against women who want to bring charges of rape. "The investigation is never properly conducted," she said. "There are hardly any women magistrates or investigators. Women are treated so badly when they raise these issues and when they go through court proceedings."

In a recent report, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women said the scale and brutality of the sexual violence in the Congo amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Individual acts of rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and any other form of sexual violence constituting a grave breach or serious violation of the Geneva Conventions can be prosecuted as war crimes, if they occur during either international or internal armed conflict.

That could be where the ICC comes in. With the Congolese legal system in chaos, it will likely be the Hague-based court that will hold to account some of those accused of sexual violence in North Kivu and elsewhere in the country.

Masika sends her evidence on sexual crimes committed in North Kivu to the court, which is in the process of selecting its third investigation in Congo. If that will be in North Kivu is not yet known. However, the ICC said recently that it is gathering information on crimes committed by all sides there including rape, forced displacement, killings and enlisting child soldiers.

Beatrice Le Frapper Du Hellen, the head of the ICC division working with governments to secure cooperation, told IWPR that the court is aware of the culture of sexual violence in the eastern Congo, which she described as "massive, massive shocking brutality."

"It is being used absolutely routinely with such brutality, even against very young children, that there has to be an objective in such brutality," she said.

The ICC has one Congolese militia leader in custody - Germain Katanga - accused of sexual slavery, among other things.

In Uganda, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti from the Lord’s Resistance Army are charged with rape and sexual enslavement while two Sudanese indictees - Ahmed Harun and Ali Kosheyb - are accused of 51 crimes against humanity and war crimes including rape. In the ICC's ongoing investigation in the Central African Republic, allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings.

"With our case against Katanga we have said very clearly that sexual violence is prosecuted by the ICC," said Le Frapper. "If anybody though that sexual violence is a crime that isn't going to be prosecuted, look at Katanga, look at the Central African Republic, look at Joseph Kony, look at Harun."

Lisa Clifford is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Charles Ntiricya is an IWPR contributor in Goma.

This article originally appeared in Reporting Central Asia, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).