Focal Points Blog

Pakistan’s K — as in Kashmir — Street

India has long maintained the upper hand in lobbying for a pro-India unification with Kashmir in Washington. Supporters of the Indian position often wield significant clout by making substantial campaign contributions to the members of Congress. On the other hand, Pakistan seems far behind in pushing for a pro-Pakistan stance in the U.S. capital, which is often complicated by the bumps in U.S.-Pakistan relations in recent years. However, the recent discovery of Pakistan’s decades-old secret efforts in funneling money from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) to tilt policy in the U.S. Congress and the White House provides a twist to the story.

The executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit group Kashmiri American Council (KAC), Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai, together with his aide Zaheer Ahmad who mainly works in Pakistan, has been receiving funding from ISI to “buy” the hearts of U.S. Congress members in the form of campaign contributions to promote the cause of self-determination for Kashmir—a region over which both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty. The grand strategy of the KAC is to offset the Indian lobby by targeting members of Congress who work on foreign affairs with private briefings and events that would draw media attention.

According to an FBI estimate, the group received up to $700,000 per year from the Pakistani government. Prosecutors said that Ahmad recruited people to act as straw donors to the KAC when the money was actually from the Pakistani government. Federal Election Commission records indicate that under Fai’s leadership, at least $30,000 has been donated to campaigns and political parties in the United States, including a $250 donation to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.

The biggest individual beneficiary is Indiana Congressman Dan Burton, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and reportedly received about $10,000 since 1997. Burton, founder of the House Kashmiri caucus, has traveled to Kashmir on multiple trips sponsored by the KAC. He is an outspoken advocate for the Kashmir issue and has appealed to Presidents Clinton and Obama to get more involved in attempting to mediate a settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. In 2003, because of his overly staunch pro-Pakistan stance, Burton could not win the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on South Asia.

According to FBI, Fai coordinated the KAC’s activities with ISI handlers and often communicated in coded emails.

“You are aware that we have been working together for the cause for over a decade now,” wrote Fai in an email to a senior ISI official in 1995. “All these years, I have closely worked with you and others who came before you. It has taken us much time, energy, dedication, strategy and planning to achieve our common cause.”

The Justice Department also revealed that the Pakistani government had been approving speakers and giving Fai talking points to highlight at the annual Kashmir Peace Conference at the Congress, which Fai is best known for organizing. Fai was arrested Tuesday under charges of being an unregistered agent of a foreign government and faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The Obama administration has decided to return the $250 to the KAC, and Burton will transfer the donations he received from the KAC to the Boy Scouts of America.

This incident complicates the already strained U.S.-Pakistan relationship in the wake of the U.S. unilateral raid on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the Obama administration’s declaration of a massive reduction in aid payments to Islamabad. The marriage between the U.S. and Pakistan is indeed a bad one, and it is getting worse. However, divorce is not an option. Despite a series of recent crises, Washington and Islamabad still need each other in the struggle against the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan. In the meantime, the United States cannot achieve success in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s help. The lobbying scandal is an embarrassing affair, but the two sides must now work even harder to save the marriage.

Shiran Shen is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Human Trafficking in the Gulf Not What It Seems

Pardis Mahdavi(Pictured: Pardis Mahdavi.)

(Cross-posted from Jadaliyya.)

Earlier this month, the US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, an inventory of the world’s efforts at combating the global trade in people. The 2011 report marks a turning point of sorts for US foreign policy. For the first time ever, the new TIP includes an assessment—if predictably positive—of Washington’s own attempts at battling trafficking at home. More encouraging still, the report reflects the explicit recognition that trafficking is not only about the forced prostitution of women but represents the problem of coerced labor of both women and men around the world. Despite these progressive shifts, however, the new report is not without its critics. Some contend that Washington’s commitment to fighting forced labor remains subordinate to the larger dynamics of American interest and that the discourse driving US policy particularly disadvantages Muslim-majority nation-states.

Understanding how this discourse shapes both policy and the lived experiences of foreign workers in the Gulf region is of central concern in Pardis Mahdavi’s Gridlock, a new book on trafficking and migrant labor in Dubai. In it, Mahdavi interviews sex workers, taxi drivers, construction workers and domestic servants laboring under the Gulf’s kefala sponsorship framework—a legal architecture that largely determines the contours of Dubai’s formal and informal political economy. The portrait that emerges upends conventional understandings of trafficking—which often equate the phenomenon with sex slavery—to reveal a vastly more nuanced, complex, and often messy reality of migrant life in the emirate.

I recently spoke with Mahdavi about some of these issues, her new book more broadly, and the possibility for reinvigorated discourses and policies that privilege labor rights while narrowing the trafficking debate exclusively around instances of “force, fraud, and coercion.”

MB: I was hoping to begin by asking you to unpack the book’s title. What is the “gridlock” in attempting to understanding labor, migration and human trafficking in Dubai?

PM: It’s funny you mention that. The original title of the book was actually “Traffic Jam.” It was basically intended to convey the fact that the issue of trafficking involves the interplay of so many different factors and that the topic involves such a messy intersection between policy, discourse, and lived reality. That’s what I was trying to convey with a title like “Traffic Jam.” I think Gridlock—which was chosen by my editor—similarly conveys this powerful nexus where these issues are gridlocked in any number of ways. At the same time, it also speaks to those who have spent time in the Gulf, or anywhere in the Middle East. The experience of just sitting in gridlock should be familiar, and it says a lot about the field, the title was chosen to invoke the field.

I was struck by your very frank discussion in the book of those aspects of your research that continue to unsettle you: specifically, the questions of how you talk about trafficking without falling into the very traps you identify and criticize and how you talk about sex work without making the experience seem glamorous or worthy of pity. Can you talk a bit more about those challenges, where they come from, and how they affected the approach you adopted to your research as a result?

I think it makes sense to address the second part of the question first. In terms of my approach, I think that any of us who write about trafficking have to be very careful, because it is a very loaded term. Oftentimes, when you use the word “trafficking,” people see red. They think sex, they think sex trafficking. It evokes the images that I’m very critical of in my book, like those coming from movies like Taken and Call and Response. This idea of a thirteen-year-old girl chained to a bed—this is what “trafficking” evokes for people. There are a lot of feelings that debates about trafficking provoke. And sometimes those feelings, those knee-jerk reactions get in the way of having more robust conversations, and honest conversations about what trafficking is and is not. It’s that same impassioned sentiment that undergirds deeply flawed and uncritical and developmentalist efforts, the “rescue efforts” which have been constructed in a knee-jerk way—“let’s rescue these poor women.” We need to recognize what that rhetoric entails, how it can take away agency, and also the ways in which it paints this image of the moral decay of the global south.

Your first book, Passionate Uprisings, looked at the sexual counterculture in Tehran amongst youth there resisting the sociopolitical structures of authoritarian rule in Iran. This new book shares some overlap with its predecessor, but it generally looks to be a distinct break from your previous work. Is this a fair assessment, and if so, how did this new project come about?

That is definitely a fair assessment. The theme that underlies both of the books is that of moral anxiety, moral panic. In the first book, you have the moral panics surrounding young people and sexuality—youth gone astray—and this is what I am critical of in my writing. And in the new book, you have a different type of moral panic. Here it’s an anxiety about the movement of bodies, a panic specifically about gendered bodies, gendered migration. So in both works, there’s a concern with what James Scott has termed “moral economies” or Stanley Cohen’s “moral panics.” That’s the driving theme that links the two books. At the same time, you’re absolutely right to say that Gridlock is somewhat of a departure from the first book. I have a very complicated relationship with that work, as I think many people do with their first project. There was a lot more of me in that first book, and I was much more a part of it, putting myself out there in ways that I don’t really like, in ways I don’t think I would do again.

How so?

Well, I appear in the first book—and this was at the encouragement of several people—much more as a character than I do in Gridlock. And also as an Iranian, as an Iranian-American, my relationship to Iran is very different from my relationship to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And during the writing of the first book, I encountered a lot of problems to the point where I basically can’t go back to Iran. So that right there necessitated a new field site, obviously!

But actually, my interest in this current project came about before all of that. In 2004, I started working with sex workers in Tehran. I started living with, spending time with women who were engaged in the sex industry. They actually don’t appear in the first book, because I couldn’t figure out a way of bringing the issue of sex work into Passionate Uprisings in a way that wouldn’t detract from the main argument that I was making. And so I did a lot of research with sex workers that just didn’t appear at all. But it was through my research with sex workers in Tehran that I became interested in the new project. So much so that I started following women who were in the sex industry in Tehran who would go to Dubai for x-number of months a year, engage in the sex industry there, make a lot of money, and then come back.

From there, I started meeting women who were not sex workers in Iran but who would also go to Dubai, engage in the sex industry, make a lot of money, and come back. And I started to follow them to Dubai, where two things became very obvious to me. Number one, the narratives about these women were scripted by EuroAmerican discourse which considered them “trafficked” because they were going into the sex industry. They themselves would not describe themselves this way at all! They would describe themselves as enterprising agents making money to support their families back home. At the time, I was still a graduate student at Columbia, and one of my advisors, Carol Vance—a prominent scholar on trafficking—influenced my thinking dramatically, as did the conversations she and her colleagues were having. They did a lot of work on trafficking discourses that emanated from the United States and Europe and I had all this in the back of my mind which helped make me aware of this disconnect.

Second, I noticed—and in fact anyone who goes and spends time in Dubai will notice—the hordes of male construction workers and male migrant workers. I started talking with some of these workers and noticed that they had actually undergone experiences of force, fraud or coercion which is the very definition of human trafficking. But when we speak of men, they are often imagined as being outside of the trafficking paradigm which tends to focus disproportionately on the sex industry. What that does, in turn, is eclipse the experiences of abuse suffered outside of the sex industry.

Speaking of male laborers, I was surprised to learn from your book the extent to which the Emirates depend on the importation of law enforcement. Can you talk about why this is, how this produces unique tensions that result from the interface between migrant law enforcement and those migrants laboring in both the formal and informal economies, and what, if any, effects the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report have had on the situation?

The UAE is quite reliant on importing law enforcement and often they are not able to train migrant police at the rate at which they need to. This creates a number of problems. First of all, if they are untrained, this makes it very difficult for them to interface with women that they are ostensibly “rescuing,” who are often held in detention. As I mention in the book, a large number of women are abused at the hands of these imported police officers.

As to the issue of the TIP report, it seems clear that the report has exacerbated the problem. The UAE gets a bit of a bad rap. It gets blamed for everything going wrong which presents it with a tough situation. Before the TIP the UAE was looking into increasing the number of labor inspectors. If you want to stop trafficking, you need to have labor inspectors to actually take a look at what’s going on with the country’s various employees. The TIP report, however, very explicitly says “You need to increase the number of police officers and decrease the practice of prostitution,” which is in line with the TIP’s focus on prostitution and of which many people, including myself, are very critical. That became a very tough situation for the UAE to deal with because unlike Iran, say, or places like North Korea, the UAE really does not want to be on Tier Three [the TIP’s lowest possible ranking] or the Tier Two “Watch List.” The UAE is vested in maintaining a good image, and so here comes this TIP report making these recommendations that aren’t necessarily going to improve the situation because if you increase the number of imported policemen, you’re going to increase the problem itself if they are one of the sources of abuse. Basically, the trafficking issue took away from the focus on migrant rights, which is really at the heart of all this. I think the UAE wanted to get—was on the track towards getting—more labor inspectors and looking at the issue of migrants rights, but the concern over “trafficking” took center stage with the appearance of the TIP report.

Some analysts have registered frustration with what they see as academic hyperscrutiny on the doom and gloom of migrant life in the UAE, when in fact the real story is largely one of success and economic opportunity. You have a very specific agenda in mind in your research that leads you to examine potential pitfalls facing those working within the kefala framework. But I’m curious: do you agree with this assessment, and if, why do you think there’s such an emphasis on the “dark side” of Dubai in studies on migration to the Emirates and less on its positive and transformative impacts?

Another thing I focus on in the book is the presence of Islamaphobia and the post-9/11 rhetoric around the notion of “the backwards Islamic country.” The idea that a country in the Middle East could be making such progress as the UAE has works against this clash of civilizations rhetoric that characterizes the post-9/11 period. I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s a focus on the gloom and doom, why there’s a desire to examine the so-called “dark side” of Dubai of which I’m very critical. I’m really tired, actually, of this focus on the “dark side.” And while I’ve been critical of the kefala system, I’ve also tried to point out ways in which the problems that take place in Dubai also stem from outside discourses. As I said, the Emirates are being put in a really tough position by policies like the TIP report. People try to hold their feet to the fire. I actually think that they are vested in improving their image, they are vested in addressing the issue of migrants rights. But here’s the thing: unilateral policies are not going to work. If the Emirates come up with a policy, it is not going to work unless there is bilateral or multilateral support from both sending and receiving countries. A global policy would be the ideal. I think the UAE wants to join the global dialogue about how to improve the situation. But the challenge they’re up against is this clash of civilizations climate, which makes things difficult.

You outline a number of recommendations in Gridlock’s final chapter for immediate action that could be taken to remedy some of the discursive problems you identify as well as be of help to migrant laborers. Can you briefly outline some of these, and talk about what you see as possible roadblocks getting in the way of their being realized?

Well, my recommendations are all directed at aligning policies more closely with the lived experiences of migrants, at better understanding what migrant workers actually need, and how it is we can best address that. If that means, for example, that there need to be more labor inspectors, then the TIP should recommend more labor inspectors! I mean think about the TVPA, and its focus on prosecution. T visas are only issued if victims agree to testify against their traffickers. This is a very problematic framing of the situation. If you ask someone, “Who is your trafficker?” in many instances the answer is a member of their family. The family sent them over. This idea, this obsession, with prosecution—while I understand where it comes from—is really not serving the needs of migrants. Neither is the obsession with sex trafficking. It serves no one’s interest either. So we really need a reconceptualization of trafficking, and a realignment of policy with the actual experiences of workers.

But I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I recognize that the TIP is a powerful tool. The question is how it can best be used to get migrants what they actually want and need. I think the biggest barriers are discursive, certainly, and the rhetoric around Islamic countries. If we look at a movie, like Taken, for example, the villains are dark-skinned men with Middle Eastern accents. And so it’s no surprise at the end of the movie—spoiler alert!—it’s these wealthy Arab sheiks, living in the Gulf, who are trying to buy and sell these White virgins. And so you have to ask yourself: what does this do to the conversation? I’m up against this sort of thing daily. When I give talks about my work, I constantly get students saying, “But I heard that the price the price for virgins was such-and-such.” This is not a robust conversation.

So some of the challenges are certainly discursive. But others exist at the policy level. The TIP is written by a group of people that don’t have the time to go spend more than a few days in these countries. So we have to ask ourselves about ways in which they can work with academics, how we can use our skills to help reframe the TIP more productively. And then there’s the neoliberal economic world order which produces an oversupply of flexible labor, which is also part of the problem. Specifically, there’s a reliance on it to mitigate the risks of capitalism, where the risks are pushed down onto this pool of flexible labor which in turn creates a situation where force, fraud and coercion can occur.

Finally, the 2011 TIP report was just released a few weeks back. I was hoping you could talk about your reaction to it with reference both specifically to the UAE as well as more generally.

Well, I think it’s a matter of “one step forward, two steps back.” The UAE got a Tier Two ranking this year, which is good. But as one of my interlocutors in the book points out, where the UAE is ranked each year is dependent on how good its trade relations are with the Washington. So it’s probably not a coincidence that as the UAE moved up to Tier Two, trade between it and the United States dramatically increased in the last year. But who knows?

As for more generally, there are some very good things that the latest TIP has done. First of all, the United States is now ranked. This is a good effort compared to earlier reports where the US simply didn’t rank itself, which is obviously problematic. Also, the new TIP is committed to going beyond the sex trafficking framework and looking more at migrant workers, which is a great development.

However, they also took two steps back. The report is still very much an extension of US foreign policy. Again, Muslim majority countries are castigated, the language used to describe them is very problematic. And in Secretary Clinton’s introduction to the report in its opening pages, she talks again about the girls who need to be saved. But there’s also a real slippage of numbers. On the one hand, Secretary Clinton notes that there are twenty-seven million people being trafficked yet when you go and actually look at the chart of numbers of people—worldwide!—identified as having been trafficked last year, the number doesn’t even hit 27,000. And again, there’s also the problem of the opaque nature of the report’s compilation. So, we do have some real improvements in this year’s report—and I think that Luis CdeBaca should be commended for the big steps forward that the TIP has taken—but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

U.S. and Mexican Governments Continue to Brush Aside Perspectives of Drug War Victims

Guatemalans marching for Cabral(Pictured: Guatamelans marching after murder of Facundo Cabral.)

On July 8, the “war on drugs” claimed another victim, the songwriter Argentine Facundo Cabral, the victim of an ambush in Guatemala. Cabral, a tireless pacifist, was killed when three carloads of gunmen ambushed the vehicle in which he was riding. This is an irreparable loss to the Argentine and Latin American people.

The victims of this drug war have mostly been anonymous, from the perspective of the global media. But the war has begun to claim some famous people, like Cabral. In Mexico the murder of the son of renowned intellectual Javier Sicilia has led to the emergence of a strong and important social movement calling for an end to the war on drugs. This movement forced President Felipe Calderon to initiate a dialogue with society: an imperfect dialogue but dialogue at least.

Despite this social message, on June 22, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Guatemala that the U.S. government would spend nearly $300 million this year helping governments in Central America confront the mafias that smuggle cocaine to American consumers. At the same event, President Felipe Calderon called for more resources from the international community to fund this ill-advised strategy to combat crime. He dismissed the notion of a symbolic contribution, “because this is not about charity,” and asked for an amount equal to the billions of dollars received by criminals to run their operations.

Ironically, the next day, Calderón met with Javier Sicilia in México for a dialogue that seemed to have deaf ears. Sicilia said to the Mexican president, “Watch carefully our faces. Search carefully our names. Hear our words. We represent innocent victims. Do we look like collateral damage or statistics?” He asked Calderón to apologize for the 40,000 deaths caused by the struggle against organized crime. The president responded that he wouldn’t apologize for having pursued the offenders. “Javier, you’re wrong,” he said. “I regret not having sent federal forces in earlier.”

For more than three decades, the “war on drugs” has been a constant concern for the United States and has shaped relations with various governments in Latin America. Some of them, like Mexico or Colombia, have completely followed U.S. foreign policy, as with Plan Colombia launched in 1999 or the Merida Initiative for Mexico in 2008. Others failed to cooperate with the United States and established independent drug control strategies, like Venezuela, which stopped receiving U.S. financial support in 2005.

Despite these efforts, the strategy has totally failed. In human costs, according to a report of the U.S. Congress, homicides in Latin America have increased from 19.9 per 100 000 people in 2003 to 32.6 per 100 000 people in 2008. In terms of strategy, from 1980 to 2008, the U.S. government has spent $13.1 billion dollars. This money has done little, as the same report notes: “Temporary successes in one country or sub-region have often led traffickers to alter their cultivation patterns, production techniques, and trafficking routes and methods in order to avoid detection.”

Fighting violence with violence only begets more violence. Additionally, it has profoundly damaged the social fabric and has damaged institutions. Public confidence in the army, which has killed civilians as part of “collateral damage,” has declined considerably. The same applies to the judiciary. Victims now prefer silence for fear of reprisals or because they consider official complaints to be a waste of time. According to the Report on the Americas, 73 percent of Latin Americans perceive corruption among public officials as a widespread problem.

Governments and policymakers say that they are acting in line with democracy, human rights and public opinion. But, in reality, they are not willing to listen to the demands of society. In the context of the “war on drugs,” they are unable to guarantee human rights or even the right to live.

The deaths of Cabral and Juan Francisco Sicilia are not more important than the other casualties of this war. But they have inspired major social reactions. Latin American and U.S. governments must start to listen to these reactions. If they don’t, they will have another war on their hands – with their own enraged citizens.

What Does Lowballing the Number of Dead Iraqi Civilians Tell Us About Ourselves?

As the executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies, in 2006 John Tirman commissioned Johns Hopkins scientists to conduct a study to determine how many civilians had been killed in the Iraq War up to that point. (He’s also the author of the just-released book “The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars.”)

As you may recall, even though the scientists utilized state-of-the-art epidemiological practices, the figure of 650,000 that they came up with was subject to derision in many quarters. On July 20, at AlterNet, John Tirman writes:

I’ve puzzled over this habit of reaching for the lowest possible estimates of the number of Iraqis who died unnecessarily since March 2003. The habit is now deeply entrenched. Over a period of about two weeks in May, I encountered in major news media three separate references to the number of people who had died in the Iraq war. Anderson Cooper, on his CNN show, Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times Magazine and Brian MacQuarrie in the Boston Globe all pegged the number in the tens of thousands, sometimes adding “at least.” . . . The “tens of thousands” mantra is peculiar because even the most conservative calculation—that provided by Iraq Body Count, a British NGO—is now more than 100,000.

Tirman provides reasons why officials and the media prefer to cite figures so low that, far from being moderate as they no doubt believe, in fact beggar credulity to anyone who followed the Iraq War. One reason:

Make the rounds of right-wing blogs and think tanks and you’ll find a constant refrain: the war, despite its many difficulties, was worth it to get rid of Saddam Hussein. As Richard Miniter of the Hudson Institute put it last September, “The death tolls in the Saddam years were far higher than in the years following liberation; hundreds of thousands disappeared into mass graves.”

But that does not, Tirman writes, “explain why the elite media bury the mortality issue. A half-dozen reasons explain their indifference to accurate reporting.”

First, many of these news outlets had endorsed the war. … acknowledging that you’ve been hoodwinked by the Bush administration and then seeing that error magnified by … perhaps a million dead is a hard pill to swallow.

Second, the Bush White House worked overtime to decry any of the high estimates, and the Murdoch media machine. … trashed [the Hopkins study in the Wall Street Journal as] a “political hit.”

Now here are the two reasons that hint at my reasons why officials and the media lowball the number of dead civilians in Iraq.

Journalism in the Iraq war tended to focus on the Bush administration’s foibles and the chaotic political wrangling in Baghdad. The attention to civilians and the violence of the war quickly fell into a few reliable tropes: the Shia-Sunni fratricide, spectacular car bombs rather than the quotidian reality of violence. …While Iraqis were reporting … that 80 percent of the violence was due to the U.S. military … this perspective rarely found its way into major news media in the United States.

Then, of course, there’s “the troubling matter of racism.” I personally suspect that much of the American public felt, in retrospect that, no, we should never have invaded Iraq. But at least we gave them their freedom from tyranny. What did they do with it? Those savages butchered each other. Our utter contempt for Iraqis made it easy to wash our hands of violence to civilians. (Though, if you follow that reasoning, we shouldn’t have any problem with the numbers. The higher the number of dead, the more proof of what a sorry lot those Iraqis were.)

Finally, though, many officials and those in the media may have treated the subject of hundreds of thousands (many believe millions today) Iraqi civilians dead as a conspiracy theory. God knows how far, on government cover-ups of that immensity, that bunch runs to distance themselves from anything but the official version of the truth. For instance, even when just asked – alternative narratives aside – to simply inspect 9/11 evidence that undermines the official story, they refuse to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

To most officials and those in the media, not to mention the public itself, their perceived credibility rating is second only to their credit rating. They feel that they can’t afford for it to be devalued not only because of their careers, but to avoid shunning by the group.

Lagarde’s Victory: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Christine Lagarde became the first female to head the IMF on July 5 2011. Since the IMF was established, it has been dominated by Europeans and men. Only six of 30 senior executives and 21.5 percent of all managers have been women, and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) control only 10.8 percent of IMF votes. In this context, Lagarde’s position in the IMF is a great victory for women, but it still leaves developing countries with little power.

If the position had gone to the Mexican central bank leader Agustin Cartens, who is also well qualified for the position, he could have brought in a new perspective to the organization. Today many in the developing world continue to be frustrated with the IMF’s structure since it doesn’t reflect the shifting power balance in the global economy. As the Latin America News Dispatch characterized the situation, “Carstens, who gained the backing Latin American nations like Chile and Peru as well as Australia and Canada, believes that emerging markets need to play a much larger role in setting the agenda of the IMF.”

I recently attended the National Organization for Women’s conference in Florida where participants debated the lack of female leaders. Female role models in positions of power could change this situation. Therefore Lagarde’s victory has given me a sense of hope that women can be as ambitious as men. Not only is she the first female leader of the IMF, but she is also the first non-economist to lead the IMF. One of her goals during her term is to increase the presence of developing countries in the organization. She has vowed to give China the third-strongest voice in the organization and to give more voice to countries like Brazil and South Korea.

Not only does she want to create more culture diversity but also gender diversity. Thus, she could bring a new sensibility to the IMF in terms of its policies toward women. She believes that a gender-dominated environment is not healthy. She often says that “too much testosterone” is a problem for the financial sector. Therefore, we can expect Lagarde to enhance women’s position and rights in the IMF.

Although Lagarde promises to diversify the organization, I still believe as a Ghanaian citizen that the position should have been given to a non-European, in particular a woman from a developing country.

One possible candidate is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the recently appointed finance minister of Nigeria and a former managing director of the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala was notable for being the first female minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003-2006. Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University and earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from MIT. She helped Nigeria obtain its first sovereign debt rating and helping slash Nigeria’s debt by almost $30 billion. Today she is a role model for many Nigerians and Africans at large, in particular women, and the IMF would do well to consider her for its next leader.

Esther Ohrt is a Foreign Policy in Focus intern.

Freedom Flotillas Will Sail Until Blockade of Gaza Is Lifted

The French-flagged ship, Dignité – al Karama, was halted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) en route to the shores of Gaza on July 19. The small vessel was boarded and reportedly towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod. There were 16 people on the boat, with French, Greek, Tunisian, Canadian, and Swedish passengers among them. As coalition organizers stated, “It is now the representative of the entire Freedom Flotilla II.”

The ten passengers, three crew, and three journalists, including the respected Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, Greek coalition representative Vangelis Pissias, al-Jazeera television, and a French member of parliament, were in frequent contact with land teams until being cut off by Israeli forces.

The boat was stopped while still in international waters and before entering Gazan waters (let alone Israeli waters, which the flotilla has never planned to enter).

It became the sole representative of the flotilla to escape the clutches of the Greek coast guard when it was able to depart from the island of Kastelorizo late Saturday and head towards Port Said, Egypt on Monday.

The ship did not dock in Egypt (for fear of being trapped by yet another government bowing to U.S.-Israeli pressure), but rather anchored in international waters off the Egyptian coast overnight – precluding the threat of another predawn raid like the IDF pulled last year – to set sail in the morning for Gaza.

Before embarking on their final Tuesday morning run, the activists had previously sent messages from the Mediterranean exclaiming, “Morale here is like the sky and sea, very good …. Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!”

As Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon announced Monday, “If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law (sic!), and tries a provocative act — yes, we shall intercept it… But I assure you we shall try our best to make those on board very comfortable.” Clearly, the Israeli government is still smarting from the public relations drubbing Tel Aviv suffered last year in the wake of its state murder of 9 flotilla passengers. Yet so incongruous was the promise to be gentle that it was difficult not to read it more as some sort of ironic threat. When a mafia don offers you tea and biscotti, do you relax?

The Dignité set off around 6 AM local time this morning. The French-flagged vessel would have been due to touch down on the sandy beaches of the Gaza strip around noon.

First contact by the IDF was made while the small craft was still some 50 miles out. Organizers lost contact with the boat at 10:10 AM, as the IDF began jamming the boat’s communications systems, while it was in international waters, north of Arish, Egypt. The boat was reportedly some 40 miles from Gaza and surrounded by four Israeli naval warships when communication was cut. The French vessel then received direct contact from Israeli forces initiated around 10:30 AM.

The Israeli naval tracking of the ship and initial radio encounter – in which the Dignité can be heard declaring their unwavering intention to sail to Gaza – was recorded by the IDF.

Israeli naval authorities claim the boarding of the ship by Israeli commandos, known as the Shayetet 13, occurred when the Dignité was some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Initial reports have thankfully not indicated abusive treatment thus far of the nonviolent activists.

Israeli authorities asserted that the area off the shores of Gaza was under “a maritime security blockade.” The leading Israeli establishment news site, YNet, reports that the Israeli government considers the Dignité members to be “effectively entering Israel illegally.” Anyone who can contemplate how it is possible to illegally enter Israel for attempting entry into Gaza while also believing that Israel does not occupy Gaza is indeed a skillful practitioner of the Orwellian arts of double-think.

The Israeli commandos demanded to know if the boat full of peace activists was armed, maintaining the necessary ruse with presumably straight faces and appropriate earnestness. Doubtless the small pleasure craft was a grave security threat to the mighty warships flanking it.

In another IDF recording, commandoes can be seen boarding the ship from Zodiac boats. One must appreciate a power so smugly out of touch that it obligingly posts footage of its own misdeeds. Passengers were apparently escorted off their ship and onto a naval craft for the journey into detention ashore.

The AP notes that, “Israeli naval commandos… report[ed] no resistance during the takeover in international waters.” A great surprise, to be sure.

Israeli forces have since towed the Dignite to the port at Ashdod, Israel.

I was certainly not alone among the many passengers now returned to our home countries who avidly watched with great enthusiasm the progress of the little yacht, as it finally compelled the Israeli government to enforce its cruel blockade directly, rather than through hapless intermediaries.

Though English language television coverage was, to my knowledge, careful to studiously avert its gaze from the unfolding events, social media came to the rescue. Although I have been a casual user for some time, I confess to having never much relied upon Twitter for news. That changed last night.

As I mastered the finer points of hashtags and compulsively refreshed my #Dignité browser tab, I was scarcely able to look away long enough to pour a new cup of coffee. I was filled with Twitter-fueled, anxious excitement for our Flotilla’s free boat. I relate these feelings only as an indication of the enormous bonds of solidarity we in the Freedom Flotilla have forged amongst ourselves.

A steady stream of updates began issuing forth in the early morning hours on the U.S. East Coast. Messages such as “3:36AM EDT – AthenianDemocra Athenian: #BREAKING #DIGNITE israeli Warships asked for destination-answer #GAZA RT #flotilla” fed the drama. A selected digest of the late-night tweets on the travails of the blockade-running French ship is available online. Through one of the last communications with the outside from the boat, we were able to chart its position in the Mediterranean Sea at the time.

It would be a serious error to judge the success of the Flotilla simply by its movement through the Mediterranean. The true goal is to raise global awareness of the horror of the blockade upon the youthful population of Gaza, whether that entails physically reaching Gaza or not. Yet there was an undeniable element of emotional satisfaction to be had in seeing the Dignité make a run for it.

“The Freedom Flotillas will keep sailing until the illegal blockade of Gaza is ended,” vowed Dylan Penner, a passenger from the Canadian boat, the Tahrir.

Nor is the detention of the Dignité the end of this flotilla. The departure of the French boat, loaded with representatives from across the Flotilla coalition, “prov[es] that the will of global civil society cannot be intimidated.”

Moreover, organizers declared, “the remaining ships in Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human are regrouping to fulfill our obligations to the besieged people of Gaza and to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who funded and organized this act of solidarity. As long as the illegal blockade of Gaza remains in place, ships will sail to confront it.”

The call has already gone out for people to mobilize immediately at the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate to protest the stopping of the French boat. Protests were announced for later today in cities in Canada, France, and Greece almost as soon as the boat was seized.

Messages of support can be sent to the passengers of the Dignité here (though, as they are now under detention, there is no telling when they will see them).

Meanwhile, the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, continues to languish in indefinite detention in a military port outside Athens – punishment for challenging the Greek government’s complicity in Gaza’s collective punishment. As the Greek authorities are ultimately acting under instruction from the U.S. and Israel, we are calling for all citizens to apply continued pressure to Washington, through daily phone calls to the U.S. State Department.

The movement of international solidarity has emerged stronger from our time in Athens. And we’re only getting started!

Steve Fake was a passenger on the U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope in Athens. He is co-author of The Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA (Black Rose Books). He currently lives in New Orleans.

Haiti’s Recovery Ultimately Contingent on Education

Katya(Pictured: Katya.)

Log #1 — July 15, 2011

This morning I woke up after the best night’s sleep I think I’ve had in a while. There’s absolutely nothing compared to being home. I landed in Haiti yesterday afternoon. The hustle and bustle of the people and the sights and sounds of the streets is something I missed dearly. With that, however, came the tent cities, the NGOs, and ridiculous amount of traffic. It is something that after a while, you get used to seeing.

This afternoon I went to a summer program where I used to be a counselor before I moved from Haiti. The program is called Rescue One. It works with children from underprivileged neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince and organizes a huge summer camp for them every year. The children make arts and crafts, get some schooling, and just be children. When I arrived the kids were in the middle of doing their arts and crafts. There was one girl who wanted me to take a picture of what she had made. It was a stitching of a heart made out of yarn and paper.

As she held the picture out in front of her, it made me think of the Haitian youth and how important they are to Haiti’s future. As a young Haitian myself, I recognize the need for the youth to be engaged in Haiti’s rebuilding process. We are fresh and young, unfettered by the old establishment and its cycle of corruption and inefficiency. If Haitian youth were given the chance to rise to their full potential, Haiti’s future would look much brighter than it does now. Out of all the investments being poured into Haiti right now, none of it seems to be going to educate the Haitian youth. Most NGOs and even the Haitian government are too busy trying to meet basic needs. But no struggling nation can ever be great without planning for the future. Invest in education. Invest in woman and girls. Invest in the youth. The youth are the heart of Haiti, and they need to be given a pulse.

Tania Smith, a student at the American University School of International Service, is a Foreign Policy in Focus intern.

Iran Missile Tests Timed to Capitalize on Gates’s Acknowledgment U.S. Tired of War?

Iran missile tests: domestic and geopolitical probes and the key to disarm it

Recently, Iran has publicly stated that it launched two ballistic missiles with medium-range capability at least months three months after the fact. This perhaps to break the silence about the experiment in, literally, untested Indian Ocean waters, which was contrary to in-house desert test in Iran. Had the rest of the world not noticed this unusual break with tradition? Iran’s military technological aspirations have long been ignored in the West where confidence in the tight international sanctions reigns supreme. Abolghasem Bayyenat notes this characteristic skepticism in his July 6th piece “The politics of Iran’s space program” published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

As Bayyenat notes, Iran’s technological progress cannot be ignored. With regard to its recent military exercises, these couldn’t have gone unnoticed by US spy planes operating in the region, but they were not acknowledged publicly by American authorities. But not the British though: William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary told parliament two weeks ago that these tests included testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload. This, he said, was in contravention of U.N (Security Council) resolution 1929 that enshrines a number of sanctions, which among other things ban Iran from such ballistic missile tests. As such, this announcement that came close on the heels of a ten-day military exercise of the elite Guards was a denial of British accusations about nuclear capability experiments.

Military fetes – a domestic politics diversionary tactic?

What this means is that Iran is playing a whole different, multiple hands ball game. On the one hand, it hopes to distract the West from the real story in Iran. That is, the simmering dissatisfaction with the government there since the 2009-2010 elections. There is no doubt that both the launch of what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called “the ambassador of death” – a long-range bomber drone – in August 2010 and the missile tests between January and February 2011 were calculated to drown the groundswell of disgruntled Iranians. At the same time, Iranian leaders faced with domestic turmoil are harking to that old foreign policy ploy of attempting to create diversion through these military fetes. Tehran streets, however, did not bite the bait hence the series of protest, which began on February 14 that dovetailed with the general surge of citizen demonstrations in most parts of North Africa and the Middle East around the same time. Diversionary military showmanship having failed and faced with rabid heat from the streets, the government turned to mass arrests including those of the two main leaders of the Iranian political reform, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, which has temporarily fixed the problem. This security-enforced lull in the streets has emboldened the powers that be to up the stakes through more sabre rattling the latest one coming at the end of June.

By jove, the Americans are er…tired

If the US isn’t keeping tabs on the Iranian public, Tehran’s thumb is on the former’s public pulse. It may have been a coincidence but the latest round of missile tests came seven days after the outgoing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that Americans were “tired of a decade of war.” This came a day before President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan amid concerns about the cost of the war – on the economy and casualties. In addition, Tehran must have also plucked some extra courage from US engagement with NATO in Libya since March, thus aware of how stretched the American military is at this time. Tehran is aware that the US cannot afford, logistically and economically, to continue policing the world, promote democracy or secure its interests abroad militarily. This reality’s an invitation for Iran to play even where it hasn’t ventured. Analysts see the launch of missiles from northern Iran into the mouth of the Indian Ocean as a demonstration of being able to attack US interests in the Middle East or its bases in East Africa. While appreciating the danger posed by nuclear proliferation in Iran, there is need to pursue nonproliferation less hawkishly. If there’s any lesson that can be drawn from the miracle of the Arab Spring, it is the need for American alertness with regard to the state of domestic democracy around the world and to foster it through peaceful change.

Leading by example

For this to happen, the US must lead by example: this will entail promoting forces of democracy through more acceptable tools such as cultural and educational channels as Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies argues in her News Eagle piece of March 2011. As such, there ought to be less emphasis on military spending, which is currently fiscally hemorrhaging the US. Disarming Iran literally will entail much more than the threat of a military intervention. This, instead, must involve allying itself with democratic forces that have demonstrated the quest for change and have paid the price in the process.

Nicholas Kariuki Githuku is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Myanmar May Be Closer to Becoming Burma Again Than You Think

As a concession to demands for reform, the generals of Myanmar’s ruling junta permitted elections in 2010. Rigged, though, they resulted in a victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. While long-time junta chief Than Shwe stepped aside, the new president is his former adjutant Thin Sein. In other words, a junta by any other name.

But, at least the brutal Than Shwe was sidelined, right? Turns out, operating in the shadows only gives him more leeway to get into even more mischief.

At Dictator Watch, Roland Watson writes that Than Shwe is “continuing his quest for nuclear arms, as the May interdiction by the U.S. of a North Korean ship bound for Burma illustrates. … The WMD program is in no way sidelined.”

While that’s a distant threat, more to the point, “Setting up a puppet government has freed him to focus on the war” against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. But, “the Burma Army is becoming stretched, and suffering large-scale casualties. Further, these casualties are more frequently extending into the officer ranks. Than Shwe doesn’t give a damn about rank and file soldiers, but he relies on mid and upper level officers for his support.” However, “An important issue with the Civil War is how much Than Shwe’s orders are being followed. … As they are increasingly targeted by the resistance, and die, the survivors will become less likely to follow his orders.” In fact

The Tatmadaw [Myanmar government army] is already having a hard time with the Karen, Shan and Kachin [ethnic minorities, as are those listed next]. Will its commanders agree to open even more fronts, against the Wa, Mongla and Mon, especially since the morale of the rank and file, already low, must be plunging even further?

Strike while the iron is hot? Watson again.

Some people are calling for the hostilities throughout all of Burma to cease. This too is a mistake. The Tatmadaw is [an] invading army, a colonizing force, in the ethnic areas. It should be treated as such, and fought against tooth and nail. The goal should be to inflict as many casualties as possible. Then, not only is there a good chance that the commanders will ignore Than Shwe’s orders; the coherence of the Tatmadaw itself may crack, leading to its downfall.

As for Aung San Suu Kyi

Is she a pacifist true-believe … or is her position more pragmatic, to avoid conflict if at all possible? … With the Civil War escalating, the pro-democracy movement’s commitment to nonviolence is being reexamined. … Her recent remarks in the BBC’s Reith Lectures have clarified her position. From the first lecture, in response to a question:

It’s possible because I have said in the lectures that I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for practical and political reasons, because I think it’s best for the country. And even Ghandiji, who is supposed to be the father of non-violence, said that between cowardice and violence, he’d choose violence any time.”

Finally, writes Watson

Simply put … the Tatmadaw cannot win the Civil War in Burma. Given the terrain, and their tenacity, the ethnic resistance armies can never be summarily defeated. [In fact] the expanding conflict in Burma is a good thing. It can be the “short burst of violence” that Daw Suu finds acceptable. If the ethnic armies can continue to wear down the Tatmadaw, and the people find a way to renew their protests … Than Shwe can be expelled.

Will Fukushima Survivors Be Doubly Victimized With Radiation Sickness and Stigmatization?

Watching ARS: Fukushima, the sequel to Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS): Hiroshima and Nagasaki, play out on the world stage spurred me to view an actual drama about radiation sickness. Black Rain, the 1988 film by Shohei Imamura, begins with, and occasionally flashes back to, the bombing of Hiroshima. It depicts the lives of a group of survivors five years later when they begin to succumb to ARS.

As you may be aware, radiation sickness was a stigma to many in post-war Japan. A primitive response, to be sure, but one which served as a coping mechanism. Film reviewer Roger Ebert provided some insight into how it works shortly after Black Rain was released in the United States (emphasis added).

The immediate impulse of the Japanese in the aftermath of such a cataclysm, Imamura shows in his film, is to re-establish the rhythms and values of traditional life. By returning to old ways, the wound can be healed and even denied. That’s the act that metastasizes the illness by guaranteeing its perpetuation as an infection on society.…

Imamura’s anger in “Black Rain” is directed not so much at those who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima as at the way his Japanese characters immediately started behaving as if somehow it has been their own fault. [They] seem almost to be apologizing for having been beneath the fallout.

This syndrome is embodied in the inability of an attractive young woman, Yasuko, to hold on to suitors when they learn that she was exposed to the nuclear fallout encapsulated in the grimy raindrops that fell on her shortly after the bomb dropped. It resurfaced in a story originally thought to be an Internet myth. On June 11, at the Australian, Rick Wallace reported:

It was supposed to be a lifetime highlight, but the wedding plans of a bride-to-be from Fukushima have turned into a nightmare thanks to the new post-crisis phenomenon of radiation discrimination. her plans turned to ashes when her future mother-in-law blurted out: “What if we don’t have a healthy child because of the radiation?”

Among other such incidents

The government of the city of Tsukuba, just northeast of Tokyo, was forced to apologise after forcing Fukushima area refugees who had sought shelter to obtain “radiation-free” certificates or undergo screening. The Mayor of Minamisoma, a town of 71,000 that lies 25km from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said this week … “I was told by a mother with some children that when they went to a different area of Japan, they were warned by other children: ‘You are contaminated don’t come near me.’

But Wallace reminds us that, for the most part, “Japanese society’s cohesion and strength has shone through during this disaster.”

Though still a somewhat insular society, especially considering its international status, Japan has become far too modern to regress to the kind of prejudice it demonstrated against the radiation sickness victims of World War II. But visions of racial purity, dormant since World War II, may re-emerge. In addition, radiation sickness may be responded to as HIV often is, with the attendant fears about contact with bodily fluid. One just hopes that the vast majority of Japanese swallow those fears and leave them unvoiced in polite company. And God knows – stereotype alert – the Japanese are polite.

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