AP Interview: Karzai welcomes Gitmo 5 into peace discussion
By KATHY GANNON
Thursday, November 1
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who still wields considerable influence in today’s Afghanistan despite being out of office for four years, said Thursday he welcomes the entry of five Taliban leaders who were freed from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2014 into peace negotiations.
Karzai, who led the country from 2001-2014, also said he now supports talks between the Taliban and the United States — but only as a step toward direct talks between the insurgents and a negotiating team representing Afghans from across society.
He spoke to The Associated Press on the grounds of the presidential palace, where he lives with his young family and meets regularly with tribal leaders, Afghan government officials and foreign notables. Just last week the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan stopped by Karzai’s office, where Karzai attached several conditions to Washington’s efforts to find a negotiated end to the protracted conflict.
He also has met with Washington’s new peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Since Khalilzad’s appointment last month, peace efforts have accelerated.
The five former Guantanamo Taliban detainees __ some of whom have disturbing pasts and all of whom were close to the hard-line founder of the Taliban movement, Mullah Mohammed Omar __ have come out of the shadows to join the insurgent group’s political office in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar where they will be involved in peace negotiations. They were released in 2014 in exchange for captured U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The co-founder of the Taliban movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was released from a Pakistani jail where he had been since his arrest in 2010 in a joint U.S. and Pakistan operation. His release had long been demanded by the Taliban. It came following Khalilzad’s trip to Pakistan last month, his first as a new peace envoy.
Baradar was reportedly arrested after seeking to start peace talks with Karzai without Pakistan’s involvement. In the interview, Karzai accused both the U.S. and Pakistan of foiling talks with Baradar at the time. He also said he made repeated attempts to gain Baradar’s release, but his efforts were thwarted by both the U.S. and Pakistan.
Karzai’s final term in power was marked by a prickly relationship with the United States. He bitterly criticized Washington for steamrolling ahead with development plans, without consulting Afghans, who often found projects unusable or impossible to maintain. He openly fought with the U.S. military over tactics, like night-time raids that infuriated Afghans, secret prisons and the use of drones, saying it strengthened the Taliban and weakened his government.
Karzai said he still has reservations about Washington’s intentions as it seeks to find a negotiated exit to 17 years of war, but welcomed Khalilzad in the role of peace maker.
“I believe he has all the right tools to conduct this if he is given freedom by the U.S. government to act toward peace and peace building in Afghanistan,” he said.
Karzai has a history with Khalilzad, who was U.S. President George Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan following the 2001 collapse of the Taliban-ruled government. Khalilzad, who later served as the U.S. ambassador, was a strong proponent of Karzai for president of the first post-Taliban government.
Still, Karzai told The AP that Afghans are watching this latest peace initiative.
An opponent of direct U.S. talks with the Taliban when he was Afghanistan’s president, Karzai now sees it as a necessity because the Taliban today control large swaths of the country. In a report released Thursday, Washington’s own Special Inspector General on Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the government has ceded even more territory to insurgents and now controls just over 50 percent of the country.
“The Taliban are Afghans and no doubt they control a great part of Afghan territory and that’s a fact of life,” said Karzai. “Afghanistan and the rest of the world must live with that, therefore a negotiation with them is necessary and good. Let the Americans talk to them.”
Draped in his traditional green-striped coat, Karzai spelled out the conditions he said he laid out “with clarity” for many U.S. officials who have made a visit to his office, including Khalilzad.
Foremost among them is a warning to Washington against making deals with neighbor Pakistan, which most Afghans blame for many of their troubles and whom they accuse of aiding and giving sanctuary to Taliban insurgents.
Even as president Karzai loudly accused Washington of being in cahoots with Islamabad to keep Afghanistan destabilized to further their own interests — Washington to keep an eye on its foes Iran, Russia and China and Pakistan to keep Afghanistan as a client state.
“We will in an extremely forceful way oppose any deals between the U.S. and Pakistan on Afghanistan and Afghan destiny,” said Karzai adding that peace negotiations also need to involve regional powers, most notably Russia and China as well as neighbors including Iran.
“Afghans just want peace and a sovereign country and they want to be left alone to their own, to make a living and to do better in their lives,” he said.
Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan to leave country
By MUNIR AHMED and ASIM TANVEER
Thursday, November 1
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan after eight years on death row for blasphemy plans to leave the country soon, her family said Thursday, and authorities said they arrested two prisoners last month for conspiring to kill her.
Radical Islamists mounted rallies across the country for a second day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court in a landmark ruling overturned the 2010 conviction against Asia Bibi for insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in this majority Muslim nation.
Bibi’s acquittal posed a challenge to the government of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power this summer partly by pursuing the Islamist agenda. He asked protesters not to “test the patience of the state.”
On Thursday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government was avoiding the use of force against demonstrators to resolve the issue peacefully.
Bibi remained at an undisclosed location Thursday, where the 54-year-old mother of five was being held for security reasons, awaiting her formal release, her brother James Masih told The Associated Press.
Masih said his sister simply would not be safe in Pakistan.
“She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he said. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum.
Also on Thursday, jail officials said two inmates were arrested last month at an undisclosed detention facility for planning to kill Bibi by strangling her. They said the men were still being questioned.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
A female commando who is part of a team of police and paramilitary troops deployed to protect Bibi, told The Associated Press that Bibi was reading a Bible when the news about her acquittal was conveyed to her.
Bibi was wearing green and orange traditional Pakistani dress and a scarf when an AP reporter saw her at the facility.
According to the female commando, who asked to remain unidentified as she was not authorized to speak to media, Bibi upon hearing news of her release said the judges gave her a new life and she was grateful to them.
Officials said Bibi is at a safe facility but that she still fears for her life and has trouble sleeping, fearing someone might harm her.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, had returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her to join them, the brother said.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Islamists blocked a key road linking the capital Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, demanding Bibi be publicly hanged. Authorities deployed paramilitary troops, signaling they could move in to clear the roads.
Hundreds also blocked another key motorway, linking Islamabad with major cities such as Lahore and Peshawar, chanting slogans against Bibi and demanding her execution.
Later on Thursday, lawyer Ghulam Mustafa filed a petition in the Supreme Court requesting the judges review the acquittal as the government began talks with rally organizers to end their protests, which led to dozens of vehicles being torched.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers in parliament called Thursday for reforming the judicial system and Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law — so that innocents like Bibi wouldn’t spent years languishing in jail.
Hafiz Saeed, a radical cleric wanted by the United States, urged followers to hold rallies across Pakistan on Friday to condemn Bibi’s release. Saeed is the founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba group, which was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
Protesters, rallied by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, also set up roadblocks and burned tires in the southern port city of Karachi while hundreds clashed Thursday with police in various parts of eastern Punjab province.
Many parents kept their children from school, fearing more violence.
The Islamists also called for the killing of the three judges, including Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who acquitted Bibi.
The three are on the hit list of Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, which has demanded a public execution for Bibi. Rizvi has managed to turn out tens of thousands of supporters in the past, often forcing authorities to bow to his demands on religious matters.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik claimed Thursday that two of its supporters were killed by police fire during overnight clashes in Karachi. No government official could immediately confirm any casualties.
In his televised speech, Prime Minister Khan warned the Islamists: “Let me make it very clear to you that the state will fulfill its responsibility.”
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, has gone into hiding as the extremists had threatened his life as well.
On Wednesday, cleric Afzal Qadri, with Rizvi by his side, urged a crowd of supporters outside the Punjab provincial parliament in the city of Lahore to revolt against army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and overthrow Khan’s government.
Bibi’s acquittal, however, has been seen as a hopeful sign by Christians in Pakistan, where the mere rumor of blasphemy can spark lynchings. Religious minorities, who have been repeatedly targeted by extremists, fear the law because it is often used to settle scores and to pressure minorities.
Bibi was arrested in 2009 after she was accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two fellow female farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of insulting Islam’s prophet, leading to her 2010 conviction.
Bibi’s family has always maintained her innocence and says she never insulted the prophet.
Tanveer reported from Multan, Pakistan
WHY THE BRAZILIAN ELECTIONS MATTER
By J.P. Linstroth
This past Sunday, on October 28th, Jair Bolsonaro, was elected as the 38thPresident of Brazil from the Social Liberal Party, a conservative leaning party. His critics call him the “Brazilian Trump.”
Indeed, Bolsonaro’s election is symptomatic of a worldwide trend toward “right-wing populism” and “neo-nationalism,” or popular sympathies favoring political candidates on the far right of the political spectrum. For example, in recent elections this year in Italy and Hungary, and last year in Austria, neo-nationalist parties have been on the rise and in control of those countries’ parliaments. This inclination in autocratic governance may continue in Western Europe and elsewhere.
So, what has inspired this political trend? Why are such politicians with far-right leaning tendencies being elected to political office?
We are seeing anti-civil rhetoric, especially racism and the incitement of racist violence, as hallmarks of these political trends. Such hatred is being directed at immigrants, women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community in general, thereby poisoning overall civility.
Why is this happening? Among the commonalities favoring right-wing populism are a general downturn in the world economy; the lack of job opportunities; general fears about immigrant populations; and general fears about the disappearance of so-called traditional lifestyles.
In places like the United States and Western Europe, the economy has not recovered enough from the “Great Recession” of 2008 to offer enough stability for the middle class, and so anxiety persists. Many affected in that way also believe immigrants are responsible for taking away their jobs. Some believe average tax payers will be forced to provide social services for such newly arrived populations.
Furthermore, people in general see their traditional values eroding. To some, the LGBTQ community is the ultimate pariah. To many in this popular mythology, so-called gay lifestyles are being openly taught in schools and have become popular on television and in society as a whole. For the religious right, especially in America, this move away from traditional values—heterosexual marriage, church attendance, and a kind of wholesomeness from some mythological bucolic time of the 1950s, or beforehand—when America was supposedly greater, and certainly more white-dominant—all point to a kind of social crisis.
Brazil is no exception to any of these recent trends toward right-wing populism and its adherent mythologies. In fact, Jair Bolsonaro, seemed to take a page out of Donald J. Trump’s political playbook in manner in which he ran his campaign, mostly through social media outlets as Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter.
On Sunday, in the run-off election against the left-leaning candidate, Fernando Haddad, of the Workers’ Party, Bolsonaro garnered 55 percent of the popular vote and won.
For the past decade, Brazil has become sick and tired of the Workers’ Party, the political party of the popular president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) and its corruption. Lula’s hand-picked successor, President Dilma Rousseff, was later impeached by the Brazilian Congress because of her cabinet’s bribery and corruption scandals known as “Operation Car Wash.” The scandals not only implicated members of Rousseff’s cabinet and the Workers’ Party but also members of the Brazilian Congress and the state-run oil company, Petrobras. And now, Lula himself is in jail on corruption charges.
To many Brazilians, it was unacceptable for the country to become another “Venezuela”—where socialism under President Hugo Chávez and now President Nicolás Maduro have failed economically.
Many of the same fears seen in America and Western Europe are also evident in Brazil. A down-trending economy from years of recession, a lack of jobs, the rise of crime, and the so-called erosion of traditional values are all manifestations of a Brazilian drift toward supporting a popular right-wing candidate like Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro began his career in the military and has been generally supportive of the past military dictatorship period in the country (1964-1985). He has vowed to bring back the military and clean up crime and put the army in the streets again.
Moreover, he has made his political career on making outrageous statements to the media and to the public. Such vitriolic rhetoric is loved by his supporters as much as it is adored by Trump’s devotees.
He has famously said he would not employ women equally, nor give them equal pay to men. In 2014, he shoved a fellow woman lawmaker and said he would not rape her because she was not worth it and too ugly.
Bolsonaro has likewise made outrageous homophobic statements such as iterating that he would rather have his son be a drug addict than gay.
He has said he will prosecute the leftist parties in the country and put them in jail or force them into exile. In 2016, in his impeachment vote against former prisoner Dilma Rousseff, he declared that vote was in honor of the memory of her torturer, Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra.
Yet, what is perhaps most alarming of all is his promise to persecute Brazil’s endangered indigenous Amerindian population. Bolsonaro has vowed to eliminate the demarcation of Native territories in Brazil and open up the Amazon to economic development. If this comes to pass, there may not be any Brazilian Indians left living in the Amazon much longer. What is more, there may no longer be an Amazon in its natural state. A man-made environmental catastrophe of this sort would have devastating consequences not only for Brazil but for the world as well. The Amazon jungle has been referred to as the “lungs of the planet,” for its role in absorbing carbon and emitting oxygen.
In sum, what recent presidential elections in Brazil demonstrate are the fragility of democratic institutions. What happened in Brazil with Bolsonaro’s election to the presidency is a microcosm for world trends toward right-wing populism and neo-nationalism.
If such political trends continue we may see more sinister aspects of society coming to the fore and tearing society asunder with the rise of fascism once more.
This is a historical consequence nobody wants revived—a nightmare beyond any Halloween fantasy of evil zombies and ghouls and the rise of the dead. It is not an overstatement to say it may be the end of civil society as we know it.
J. P. Linstroth is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford. His first book is: Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).
Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression
Tom Steyer: Radical Without a Cause?
By Erin Mundahl
Last week was a busy one for liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. Not only are the 2018 races reaching their final days, in which he is a key financial player, but Steyer was also one of the prominent liberals who received a suspicious package from the Florida bomber. And on top of that, President Trump on Sunday lashed out at Steyer on Twitter, characterizing him as “wacky” and predicting that Democrats would not support him as a presidential candidate.
“He comes off as a crazed & stumbling lunatic who should be running out of money pretty soon. As bad as their field is, if he is running for President, the Dems will eat him alive!,” Trump tweeted.
The tweet came after Steyer gave an extensive interview to CNN’s “State of the Nation,” during which he harshly criticized the president and pushed for impeachment.
“If you actually look at what Americans think, almost 80 percent of registered Democrats want this president impeached and removed from office,” he said. “If you ask Americans broadly — Democrats, Republicans and independents — more people are in favor of that than aren’t. … What we have is a movement asking for a different America.”
Trump wasn’t the only one to criticize Steyer. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also posted a tweet complaining that Steyer, along with fellow liberal billionaires George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, were trying to buy the election. McCarthy deleted the tweet after accusations that it was anti-Semitic by critics who mistakenly assumed Steyer is Jewish (His father was a non-practicing Jew and Steyer himself is an active Episcopalian.)
But Steyer’s place on the list of Republicans’ least favorite liberal donors reflects the prominent role he’s playing in national politics and the dramatic transformation of this former hedge-fund manager with major investments in carbon-heavy industries into one of America’s leading progressive activists.
Worth $1.6 billion, Steyer earned most of his fortune running Farallon Capital, an investment firm he founded in 1986. As head of the firm, he was known for his willingness to take risks on distressed assets and volatile markets. The final decision on investments rested with Steyer, and one anonymous Farallon investor told Reuters in 2014 that his philosophy was to do “whatever it will take to make money.”
This often meant investing in fossil fuels. Steyer and Farallon poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the coal industry across Asia, helping boost mine production by 70 million tons. Another 2009 investment in an Australian mine set the project on a course to produce up to 13 million tons of coal per year for the next 30 years.
Steyer stepped down from Farallon in 2012 to focus on advocating for clean energy, divesting his own fossil fuel investments. But by that time, his carbon investments had already made him a billionaire.
Now, Steyer is using that money to reshape American politics. He founded NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) in 2013 to give the environmentalist movement both capitol and manpower. One year later, he was America’s single largest individual campaign spender, donating $74 million hoping to make climate change a key issue in the elections.
His efforts were largely unsuccessful. Only one of the candidates he backed in a competitive race actually won. As National Journal reported: “Tom Steyer spent $74 million on the election. He didn’t get much to show for it.”
After the 2014 election cycle, Steyer continued to push for green policies like limiting gasoline use and promoting the development of clean energy. He also continued to donate vast sums to Democratic candidates — $87 million in 2016 alone. He toyed with running for California governor in 2016, before deciding against it. And he has openly discussed his interest in a presidential bid.
This year, he has donated more than $41 million, a sum second only to Republican moneyman Sheldon Adelson.
Steyer’s newest cause is impeachment. He launched “Need to Impeach,” a high-profile campaign to generate support for impeachment. The website, which lists what it claims are nine impeachable offenses, has collected more than 6 million digital signatures and the organization has held town halls and voter registration drives in swing states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Steyer’s goal is to link the broad, national energy behind the pro-impeachment movement to local elections.
Steyer said in an interview with Rolling Stone that a populist appeal is the only way to make Republicans break ranks and vote to impeach the president.
“If Republicans never, ever, ever break partisan ranks, regardless of what’s happened, impeachment can’t happen mathematically. I understand that,” he said. “I’ve always felt that the only thing that would make them break ranks is the American people. Which is why we are not soliciting Nancy Pelosi, not soliciting senators — we’re going to the American people.”
Trump has limited his sparring with Steyer to Twitter. For the other billionaire, fighting the president and his policies has become an increasingly all-consuming task.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Erin Mundahl is a reporter with InsideSources.com.