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Archive | July, 2013

Mukhatar Mai: Ten Years Later, Justice Denied

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Mukhatar Mai, Pakistan rape victim

Mukhatar Mai, Pakistan rape victim

On April 22nd, 2011 Pakistan’s Supreme Court struck a death knell to the rights of women in a country whose rape rates jumped by double digits last year. In the face of overwhelming evidence, hundreds of witnesses, and even a signed confession, the court, all men, acquitted five out of the six men convicted of the gang rape of a lone woman. The decision marked a bitter end to the victim’s decade long struggle for justice, during which time she endured harassment, illegal detainment, and psychological torture.

Today, I write as a Pakistani mother’s son to voice my outrage over Mukhatar Mai’s case. This story is personal for me, and is personal for all sons who have mothers, and all brothers who have sisters. The story of Mukhtar Mai is that of all women-and men-who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence.

Mukhtar Mai comes from a dusty farming village in Punjabi, a province which straddles the dividing line between India and Pakistan. Home to most of Pakistan’s military and civilian elite, Punjab is the wealthiest and most densely populated region in the country. It is also an area steeped in cultural tradition; it is this culture, on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, that often encourages suicide as a fitting response by a rape victim to her plight—it is, after all, a way to save her family’s honor.

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Nigeria: Post Election Violence Follows Familiar Pattern

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Goodluck Jonathan addressing the UN Security Council. Eskinder Debebe/UN

Fears were realized in Nigeria when hundreds were killed in post-election violence. Not withstanding the post-election period, many observers have noted the peaceful nature of the presidential contest. Despite the violence that followed, this year’s election took place under favorable conditions and the election was considered fair and free by many. Observers have noted that voters had registered in historic numbers and the process had gone relatively smoothly. Ballots were delivered on time and the process was relatively free of violence which has marred many of Nigeria’s past presidential elections.

“I welcome the spirit of calm and restraint that characterized the conduct of the April 16th presidential election in Nigeria which appears to be the most credible election since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. I also congratulate the Nigerian people for their determination in exercising their right to vote for the democratic future of their country,” the European Union’s Catherine Ashton said following the election.

A peaceful presidential election and post-election period could have derailed a circular process of violence and vote rigging that has marred past presidential elections since the country emerged from 12 years of military dictatorship. Further, by winning a presidential contest that was relatively free of violence, Mr. Jonathan would conceivably have enjoyed legitimacy that was denied to his predecessors because they were elected under murky conditions including voter intimidation, ballot stealing and polling lists which were considered fraudulent.

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NATO’s Unending Mission in Libya

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testify at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on operations in Libya at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 2011

As anti-government rebels make incremental advances NATO is recognizing that achieving success in Libya will require increased involvement. A concerted assault against Qaddafi’s forces by the rebel forces, supported by coalition warplanes, is the only available option in order to remove the regime from power. NATO is in an awkward position because U.N. Resolutions 1970 and 1973 do not instruct NATO and others to pursue regime change. However, in order to avoid a protracted stalemate, Qaddafi either must step down or be forcibly removed.

Despite some setbacks, the rebels have made concrete gains in Benghazi, the Tunisian/Libyan border town of Dhiba, Ajdabiya and Tobruk. However, in Misrata, due to a lack of coalition air cover, there has been heavy shelling by Qaddafi’s forces that has resulted in the deaths of Restrepo director Tim Hetherington and Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer Chris Hondros.

Under pressure from European allies, Obama has authorized the use of Predator drones against Qaddafi’s forces. This increased U.S. involvement places the United States in a striking capacity against government forces. Until recently, the U.S. chose to remain in a support capacity after handing off control of the Libyan no-fly zone to NATO. However, after Qaddafi’s forces readjusted their tactics to avoid air strikes by coalition warplanes, the U.S. military command recommended the deployment of armed unmanned drones.

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Focused Approach to Somali Piracy

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Somali pirates being apprehended by the U.S. military

Piracy off the eastern coast of Africa has become a profitable business for many Somalis whose average yearly income used to rarely exceed a few hundred USD. By some estimates, in 2010 pirates were able to generate roughly $238 million in revenue typically through ransoms paid by private citizens, corporations or by states.

The pace of piracy has risen exponentially since 2005 when there were 35 attacks compared to 219 in 2010. Piracy affords high risks but is a very profitable source of income for many Somalis who are unlikely to better their standard of living through conventional means. The 1991 fall of Siad Barre’s regime has been followed by two decades of civil war leaving Somalia a “failed state” as clan warfare consumed Mogadishu and surrounding areas.  The international community largely chose to ignore Somalia. The country is essentially divided into Somaliland, Puntland and Central Somalia. The internationally supported Transnational Federal Government controls only a small area in the capital, Mogadishu.

At the end of 2010, it is estimated that 1,181 people were being held hostage off the coast of Somalia. Despite some incidents when hostages were killed during rescue attempts or through abuse and neglect, several hundred have been released once their employers paid large ransoms. Currently, there are approximately 760 hostages still being held typically on their ships moored off the Somalia coast.  The mode of operation for many pirates is not particularly complicated. They operate from small skiffs that approach ships in the Gulf of Aden. These skiffs are launched from larger pirate vessels known as mother-ships. Once the pirates commandeer a vessel they often sail the vessel closer to shore.

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Damascus finds support in Tehran

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Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arriving for an official dinner in Damascus. Image: SANA

Amid the unrest in Damascus it has come to light that Tehran has been funneling weapons and other support to President Bashar Al-Assad’s government to insure that a revolution will not overthrow the government. Tehran’s motives appear to be driven by the desire that its regional partnership with Damascus remains in place. Tehran has been offering assistance in tracking down the leaders of the protest movement in Syria and they have also shipped the government crowd control gear such as tear gas and riot gear.

“We believe that there is credible information that Iran is assisting Syria,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in reference to evidence of tertiary and direct support from Tehran to Damascus. Tehran is uniquely qualified to assist Syria in putting down dissent. Iranian unrest following the widely panned 2009 presidential election and recent unrest following the turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya demonstrates the abilities of the Iranian government to squelch dissent. Iran has been successful in cutting off Internet access to Facebook and Twitter which were especially useful to the protest organizers in Egypt. Further, Tehran worked quickly to arrest opposition leaders following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

Syria’s domestic turmoil began following the downfall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in February of this year. After Mubarak’s exit, small demonstrations began throughout Syria. The demonstrations were quickly dispersed by a larger number of police who converged on the demonstrators. However, the situation began to change in March following the arrest of several schoolchildren for defacing property with graffiti expressing outrage directed at the Assad regime. Following the protests in Dara over the arrest of these schoolchildren, the protest movement spread to other cities. By April, according to reports compiled by human rights groups, the death toll resulting from government crackdowns numbered in the hundreds.

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Europe Rising, French and British Engagement in Africa

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France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy greets British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace in Paris April 13, 2011. Source: Reuters

In the past, Europeans and Americans have viewed the efficacy of hard power versus soft power in starkly different terms. British and French military intervention in Libya and French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire demonstrates that Europe is willing to reconsider the use of military power to achieve stated objectives. Western European views about the use of hard power are evolving. Rather than participating in the Libyan no-fly zone, Germany withdrew tertiary support and instead offered to increase its presence in Afghanistan. It was announced that several hundred German personnel are to be transitioned to Afghanistan to offset the NATO efforts in Libya.

“This will alleviate NATO and it’s also a political signal of solidarity in the alliance with respect to the mission in Libya,” Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s defense minister argued in defending Germany’s decision. “It must be possible in an alliance that you can have differing opinions on individual questions or that you don’t take part in certain activities…You can’t take part a little bit, either you take part or not at all.” Germany, along with Russia and China abstained on the U.N. Security Council authorizing the no-fly zone.

Outside of Europe’s limited spheres of influence, instances of European abstention in military interventions outnumber examples of European participation in military operations. Compared to continental Europe, the British have been more willing to consider the use of hard power as a realistic option to deal with threats. Through Tony Blair’s decade in power he developed very clear lines of distinction when hard power should be used and under what circumstances.

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Washington Politics: Possibility of a Government Shutdown Looms

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President Barack Obama meets with Congressional Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House to discuss ongoing efforts to find a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, July 13, 2011. Pictured, from left, are: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama meets with Congressional Leadership in the Cabinet Room of the White House to discuss ongoing efforts to find a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, July 13, 2011. Pictured, from left, are: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Pete Souza/White House

Republicans and Democrats have forgotten the adage “politics is the art of compromise” or as Economist Donald Wittman observed, “That is what good politicians do: create coalitions and find acceptable compromises.” President Obama and his liberal base have refused to accept across the board cuts to Democratic policy priorities and the Tea Party Caucus in the House has refused or made it increasingly difficult for Speaker Boehner to compromise with Democrats. The middle ground has proven to be increasingly elusive.

Because President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner failed to reach a compromise during a White House meeting on March 5th over how to fund the government for the next six months, a government shutdown is likely. A shutdown means that except for essential services, government services will cease operations and/or face noticeable delays.

The current disagreement over funding the government for the next six months is an appetizer for the coming debate when an agreement will have to be reached in order to pass the FY2012 federal budget. However, Americans do not face an apocalyptic landscape if a shutdown occurs.

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Exploring the Obama Doctrine

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President Obama speaking at Cairo University in 2009. Chuck Kennedy/White House

President Obama speaking at Cairo University in 2009. Chuck Kennedy/White House

Doctrines often guide chief executive’s foreign policy decision-making. The Bush Doctrine assumed the right of anticipatory self-defense and that preventive war was justified when a perceived threat to the United States existed. The Iraq War was a result of the Bush Doctrine. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was viewed as a threat and preemptive war was necessary. Therefore, the U.S. military overthrew the regime and replaced it with another.

The most widely cited doctrine, the Monroe Doctrine, posited that the Americas were in the American sphere of influence and force would be used to keep it free of external actors. Both the Monroe and Bush Doctrines rationalized when it was prudent to use hard power to achieve objectives. While the Monroe and Bush Doctrines relied on projections of force that depended largely on realist assumptions, the Obama Doctrine, as it evolves, uses realism but also relies on pragmatic assessments and humanitarian criteria to determine when the United States can and should intervene.

Essentially, under Obama, the U.S. will rely on soft power and other tools to avoid direct American intervention into troubled regions of the world. These efforts will be aided by an assessment of situations on the ground as they evolve. However, when situations reach the point that American intervention might be necessary the U.S. will intervene multilaterally.

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