Friday, November 30, 2007

Bush Phones Musharraf: Pressure? Congratulations!!

Shocking news from the Associated Press of Pakistan, courtesy of Dawn:

Bush phones Musharraf, congratulates on second term in office
ISLAMABAD, Nov 30 (APP) - American President George W. Bush Friday telephoned President Pervez Musharraf and congratulated him on assumption of the office for the second term, a Foreign Office spokesman said. President Bush expressed the hope that under Musharraf's leadership, Pakistan will continue to make progress in every field.
Maybe not so shocking after all.

Tom Toles: The Power Of Rumors

The technique illustrated here is marvelously adaptable.

Government Tries To Introduce New Evidence Against 'Father Of The Holy War'

A two-day pre-trial hearing has been adjourned in the case of Hassan Abujihaad, with no decision as to whether the government may introduce new evidence which may have been illegally obtained and which appears to be unrelated to the charges against him.

Hassan Abujihaad, formerly of the US Navy, has been charged with giving material assistance, including classified USN information, to an international terrorist network.

During the past two days of hearings, the government has played recordings of secretly recorded conversations and heard testimony from an undercover informant.

The government now says Abujihaad conspired with his former roommate, Derrick Shareef, in planning an attack on a US Navy base in San Diego. No such attack was ever carried out.

Abujihaad served aboard the USS Benfold, a destroyer which was in the Persian Gulf in early 2001.

While serving in the Navy, Abujihaad allegedly communicated by email with Babar Ahmad, the operator of a terrorist website, from which he bought three videos via mail order.

At least one of those videos was delivered to Abujihaad aboard the Benfold, and this does not appear to have caused a problem. But when the distributor, Azzam Publications, was busted in 2004, investigators found a series of email messages from Abujihaad.

According to Dick Destiny, the feds had been looking for Abujihaad ever since 2004, when they found an email in which he called the US military "scary pussies". If so, they weren't looking very hard; they didn't find him until earlier this year, after his former roommate Derrick Shareef was busted trying to trade his stereo speakers for a box of hand grenades. Shareef allegedly planned to detonate the grenades in garbage cans in a shopping mall outside Chicago, but the arms deal was bogus; the dealer was an FBI agent and the grenades were duds. Shareef pleaded guilty to a charge involving weapons of mass destruction earlier this week and faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Hassan Abujihaad had been living and working in Phoenix, and using his newly chosen name (which means "Father of the Holy War") rather than his given name, Paul R. Hall. Since the feds were looking for a man with the remarkable name of Hassan Abujihaad, rather than the more common Paul Hall, it's difficult to imagine how they failed to find him until Derrick Shareef told them where he was.

But that's just one of many aspects of this story which is difficult to imagine.

Here's a look at the most recent coverage of the case:

An introduction to the issues at hand, from the Connecticut Post:

Secret records at issue in terror trial
The use of secret documents in the trial of a former U.S. Navy signalman accused of giving classified information to terrorists will be debated during a series of evidentiary hearings in federal court beginning this morning.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz has set aside several days to hear testimony that will form the basis for the government's case against Hassan Abujihaad, 31, once known as Paul Hall. FBI recordings and a cooperating witness are expected to try to link Abujihaad to a cohort in Chicago who planned a Christmas season attack last year on a suburban mall. That attack was stymied when the FBI arrest the Chicago man.

Abujihaad, of Phoenix, Ariz., also is accused of providing classified information to an al-Qaida support cell in London. The information was sent via computer aboard the U.S.S. Benfold, a destroyer where Abujihaad was assigned, through a web-hosting firm in Trumbull to a site rented by Azzam Publications, a Muslim-based business in London.

The indictment alleges that Abujihaad e-mailed ship movements and personnel of an American Naval battle group headed to the Middle East in the spring of 2001. He is accused of advising the terrorist cell that the ships would be sailing through the Straits of Hormuz on April 29, 2001, under a communications blackout. The indictment alleges he also informed the cell the ships would be vulnerable to an attack using rocket-propelled grenades. However, none of the 10 ships and one submarine in the battle group was attacked.

Abujihaad, who is detained without bond, was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002.

He is represented by Daniel LaBelle and Robert Golger, two court-appointed lawyers from Fairfield County. Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, who are associated with Azzam Publications, are also under indictment and awaiting extradition from England. Kravitz has set Feb. 13 for the start of jury selection in Abujihaad's trial. He has tentatively set aside Feb. 25 to March 14 for the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds is prosecuting the case. FBI Special Agent David Dillon, who has investigated Bridgeport drug gangs, and Senior Special Agent Craig Bowling of the Department of Homeland Security, conducted the probe after uncovering evidence on the Internet following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The New Haven Independent had Abujihaad praising an Islamic hero in secret code:

Ode To Osama
In secretly recorded phone calls that rung through a quiet courtroom, an ex-U.S. Navy sailor laughs with a friend as a sniper tears U.S. soldiers’ bodies apart, and lauds the “psychological anxiety” wreaked on the USA by his coded hero, “Under the Black Leaves.”

“Under the Black Leaves” was a thinly veiled name for Usama (Osama) Bin Laden — the man Hassan Abu-Jihaad was supposed to be fighting with his naval battle group back in 2000 and 2001.

Instead of helping the U.S. fight Bin Laden, government prosecutors charge, the former sailor leaked sensitive information about the Navy’s movements to people involved in a London-based terrorist cell.

Abu-Jihaad, 31, of Arizona, sat quietly in a bright orange prison shirt before Judge Mark R. Kravitz in New Haven U.S. District Court Wednesday as federal prosecutors rolled out phone calls, emails and a star undercover witness to build their case against him. The young ex-sailor, formerly known as Paul R. Hall, was indicted in March on two counts of providing material support of terrorism and giving out classified info related to national defense.

Abu-Jihaad has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Here we also get our first glimpse of the "informant" agent provocateur at the heart of the sting:
After lunch Wednesday, the government rolled out its star witness: A guy from New Jersey who shed his life of crime to befriend and betray suspected terrorists. Jameel Chrisman, in a plaid shirt and tight-fitting skull cap, took the stand Wednesday and described conversations he’d had with Shareef the mall-bomber and others.

Chrisman had been convicted of armed robbery and car theft before the FBI recruited him to their side. He was assigned to befriend Shareef, and ended up moving in with him in Rockford, Ill. He posed as an Islamic extremist to gain Shareef’s trust and then record days’ worth of conversations with him. The trail led him back to Shareef’s childhood mentor, Abu-Jihaad.

The government’s using Chrisman’s testimony in part in effort to establish that Shareef and Abu-Jihaad were co-conspirators in a plot to attack a military recruiting station in Phoenix and a military base in San Diego.

Abu-Jihaad’s attorneys, Dan LaBelle and Robert Golger, argue the new statements garnered from Chrisman should not be admitted as evidence. They characterized the statements as a lot of talk that showed jihadists sympathies, but did not prove any conspiracy.
Jameel Chrisman is referred to as William Chrisman in other accounts.

From the AP, a look at the grounds for Abujihaad's claim that the new evidence is inadmissible:

Hearing Focuses on Ex-Sailor's Calls
[Abujihaad's] lawyers are citing a ruling by a federal judge in Oregon that struck down key portions of the USA Patriot Act as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled the act cannot be used to authorize secret searches and wiretapping to gather criminal evidence — instead of intelligence gathering — without violating the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Bush Administration is appealing the ruling.
A second piece from the Connecticut Post added a few more details and "explains" why the planned attacks never quite came to fruition:

Testimony says former Navy man planned attack
A former U.S. Navy signalman, already under indictment for disclosing ship movements to a terrorist cell linked to al-Quida, also allegedly discussed plans to attack the San Diego Naval base in late Oct 2006. FBI special agent David Dylan testified in federal court Thursday that Hassan Abujihaad, 31, of Phoenix discussed this plan with Derrick Shareef. Dylan said that Abujihaad knew the layout of the base because he had been stationed there. The agent said the plan was to attack a barracks or chow hall to create turmoil and then pick off service men by sniper attacks. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds said the plans were never followed through.

That's the because the prosecutor said Shareef was more intent on lobbing grenades into a suburban Illinois shopping mall during the 2006 holiday season. The testimony came during a hearing Wednesday where U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz was to determine if the prosecution could use alleged uncharged terrorist acts against Abujihaad during his upcoming trial in February....
ABC News had some coverage of the Abujihaad case in their story about the newly guilty Derrick Shareef:

Ill. Mall Bomb Plotter Pleads Guilty
The case against Abujihaad's purports to show a complex nexus of international terrorism, as he allegedly sent the classified information on U.S. warship movements to U.K. terrorism suspect Babar Ahmad [of Azzam Publications].

Ahmad was indicted in the United States in 2004 for allegedly providing material support to Chechen terrorist groups and the Taliban. He is currently battling his extradition to the United States in British courts.

From the late 1990s until 2004, Ahmad allegedly ran Web sites for Azzam Publications, which used to carry propaganda for al Qaeda. The Azzam Web site was a key recruitment and propaganda tool for al Qaeda and mujahedeen fighters.

As for Shareef, it remains unclear how much of a threat he really is, as authorities have maintained their belief that he was acting alone in the Rockford mall plot.

At the time of his arrest last year, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said of Shareef, "If he was being directed by overseas terrorists, he wouldn't have been trading two stereo speakers to buy grenades."
The LA Times had the longest and most detailed article on the first day of the hearings:

Ex-sailor accused of plotting to attack San Diego base
According to a court motion filed by federal prosecutors that was unsealed Wednesday, Shareef and Abujihaad talked in 2003, while they were roommates in Phoenix, of attacking a military recruiting station; in 2004 proposed attacking the unspecified San Diego base with sniper fire; and in 2006 took concrete steps to pursue such an attack.

Prosecutors are seeking to introduce evidence of the alleged plot at Abujihaad's trial, set for early next month. That evidence includes wiretaps, statements from the informant -- himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy -- and "efforts to obtain weapons and ammunition in connection with the proposed sniper attack," said the 123-page motion.

The prosecutors said Shareef and Abujihaad conspired to commit sedition, or to "put down the government of the United States, or levy war against it, or to oppose its force by authority" as well as to attempt to kill officers or employees of the U.S., particularly military members.

At Wednesday's hearing, Dillon and the informant testified for hours that Abujihaad and Shareef had talked frequently about the plot, plans to buy semiautomatic weapons and their anger at the U.S. for its treatment of Muslims worldwide. The court filing includes many snippets of those conversations, but most of the time the two men seem to be talking in code or seeking to avoid discussing details because Abujihaad suspected, correctly, that the FBI was wiretapping them.

In some conversations, Abujihaad appears reluctant to help carry out such an attack, in part because he knew FBI agents were watching him to see if he had relationships with extremists overseas. But in one taped call in November 2006, he told Shareef that he would support the alleged plot with "whatever I can . . . with whatever Allah has instilled me to . . . help out with," the court filing says.

Prosecutors acknowledged that after his arrest last December, Shareef said that his discussions with Abujihaad were "idle talk," but those comments were dismissed as "self-serving."

Prosecutors also acknowledged that in several calls, the informant appears to be initiating efforts to proceed with the plot and to buy weapons. "But that's not the only evidence the government has," said one Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
In normal times, a statement that "the informant [was] himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy" would have been enough to support a defense of entrapment.

But in these twisted times, there is no protection for entrapment victims, especially when their "crime" involves terrorism.

And finally, coverage from Newsday of the hearing's second day:

Government plays more coded calls in sailor terrorism hearing
Federal prosecutors played secretly recorded phone calls Thursday as they tried to show how a former Navy sailor charged with supporting terrorism spoke in code about a plot to attack military personnel.

On the second day of a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court, the government played calls between Hassan Abu-Jihaad and friends last year in which he allegedly talked in code about plotting sniper attacks on personnel and recruiting stations. Some of those calls were with former roommate Derrick Shareef, who was convicted this week in an unrelated plot to attack an Illinois mall with hand grenades.

In one call, Abu-Jihaad used the letter `L' for logistics support, authorities said. Prosecutors say his use of the phrases "cold meal" or "fresh meal" described whether a scheme was outdated or viable.
In one call, Abu-Jihaad, a left-hander, is asking specifically about obtaining left-handed weapons, prosecutors say. He also is heard allegedly pledging support to Shareef in vague terms.

"I'm down, you know what I'm saying ... with whatever I can ... with whatever Allah has instilled me to ... help out with ... if I can do that, then I'm for it ... and I'll say it again, with whatever I can give you that's beneficial I'll give it to you," he said.

But under cross examination, Chrisman testified that Abu-Jihaad never provided logistical support and acknowledged that Shareef complained that Abu-Jihaad was so passive it would take him 20 years to do something. Abu-Jihaad's attorneys also pointed out that he is heard on a call denying that he is a jihadi, an Islamic militant.
For commentary on what all this means, and an excellent overview of the case, please see Dick Destiny's "US NURSES TERROR CASE IN PRESS: Grim prospects for Hassan Abujihaad".

And if you're looking for a moral to the story, try this one: To make sure you get no breaks from the legal system, be a young black Muslim accused of helping international terrorists!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Musharraf Goes Civilian

Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has resigned his post as Army Chief of Staff in order to become a civilian.

In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall and Jane Perlez write that the change of status leaves Musharraf "with vastly reduced powers" though he is "likely to retain much of his old power"... but only for a while... maybe...

For Musharraf, Reduced Power as the President
A day after resigning as army chief, Pervez Musharraf will be sworn in as a civilian president on Thursday, leaving him with vastly reduced powers and Washington with a far more complex Pakistan to deal with...

Though finally stepping down as army chief, he is likely to retain much of his old power as a civilian president, fortified by his emergency decree on Nov. 3, and loyalists he chose at the top of the military, according to Pakistani officials and analysts.

But in fairly short order, Mr. Musharraf, who plunged the nation into political turmoil with his emergency decree and has been a sometimes frustrating partner in Washington’s fight against terrorism, will become a diminished figure, they said, a civilian president in a country where traditionally the power lies with an elected prime minister, or the military chiefs who have overthrown them.
The new military chief is General Ashfaq Kayani [right in photo], a former head of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The NYT continues:
Though General Kayani is considered loyal to the president, the real levers of power will pass to him, and he is believed to favor removing the army from the center of politics, they said. “Kayani is loyal to Musharraf, but also to Pakistan,” one Western military official said.

And as much as Washington has supported Mr. Musharraf, having a chief of the army on the job full time is a change likely to be welcomed. Bush administration officials have already praised General Kayani as someone they can work with.
The phrase "work with" is quite often a euphemism, by the way. And "removing the army from the center of politics" normally means the same as getting the army out of the spotlight.
General Kayani, an infantry commander and a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, which he attended in 1987 and 1988, has been described by Western diplomats and military officials as well liked and by far Pakistan’s most capable commander.

He has already played a prominent role in cooperating with the United States. He was promoted to full general and made vice chief of Army Staff in October. He immediately visited units serving on the front lines in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and said that sorting out the difficulties plaguing western Pakistan was a priority, a Western military official said.
Pakistan's Daily Times cut to the heart of the matter:

Top military change won’t affect war on terror commitment: FO
The Foreign Office said on Wednesday that the change in the top military command would not dent Pakistan’s role in the US-led war on terror.

“There would be no shift in the war on terror due to President General Pervez Musharraf’s doffing of uniform … it has nothing to do with the war on terror policy,” Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said at a weekly press briefing.
Ever since 9/11 the US has been paying Pakistan about $100 million a month to "defer the costs" of fighting the war on terror.

Now the new hand on the tiller -- or is that the till? -- belongs to General Kiyani, who is "loyal to Musharraf" but also "loyal to Pakistan" and also a former head of the ISI and also trained by Americans who now say he's the kind of guy they can work with.

And apparently General Kiyani is telling the Americans: Keep that money coming, and we'll keep spending it for you!

So he certainly is the kind of General they can "work with".

And now that Pervez Musharraf has "doffed the uniform," everyone can see what he had on underneath it.

Guess what?

Big surprise!

A business suit!!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Derrick Shareef Pleads Guilty In Rockford Air Grenade Case

Derrick Shareef, the air grenadist of Rockford, Illinois, has pleaded guilty on one of two counts.

Shareef was arrested last December, 2006, after trading a pair of stereo speakers for a box of mock grenades, a handgun and some blanks.

He pleaded not guilty to two charges in January, but yesterday he changed his plea to guilty on one of the counts, "using weapons of mass destruction", according to Rockford's WIFR (Channel 23, CBS).

Shareef is scheduled to be sentenced March 14, 2008, according to a press release from the National Terrorism Alert Response Center which notes:
At all times Shareef allegedly was acting on his plan between Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, 2006, Shareef was in contact with an acquaintance, who unbeknownst to him was cooperating with the FBI, and an undercover agent who was posing as the cooperating individual’s friend.
WIFR adds:
Shareef could face a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum life sentence.
The press release elaborates:
While there is no plea agreement, the Government anticipates that a remaining count of attempted arson will be dismissed at sentencing.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that Derrick Shareef was caught attempting to acquire four grenades and a handgun, but was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.

Is attempting to acquire the same as using?

Is a hand grenade the same as a weapon of mass destruction?

Yes... and Yes!

We have discussed the relevant laws but that was a long time ago, so let's review:
According to the applicable laws, a "weapon of mass destruction" is defined as anything that gives off poison or pathogens or radioactivity (biological, chemical, and nuclear respectively, as expected) as well as anything that explodes!
Weapon Of Mass Destruction

(2) the term “weapon of mass destruction” means—

(A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
(B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
(C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
(D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life; and
Destructive Device

(4) The term “destructive device” means—

(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
(i) bomb,
(ii) grenade,
(iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
(iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
(v) mine, or
(vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
According to this law, the US invasion of Iraq was justified, and UN arms-inspector Hans Blix is an idiot. Clearly Saddam Hussein had at least one hand grenade; that's a weapon of mass destruction, just the same as any bomb, any mine, and all but the smallest rockets and missiles. In fact this law appears to classify as weapons of mass destruction all weapons which can hurt people from a distance, except for firearms (here we see the long reach of the 2nd Amendment and the even longer reach of the NRA), crossbows and slingshots (and these loopholes will certainly be closed in the next version of the law).
In a fine piece last December, The Polemicist wrote:
Think about the tax payer money being spent so far on Shareef, the dumbest fake terrorist ever. I mean the guy couldn't even think of his own plot. We got the government doing everything for him!
He also noticed how the FBI's Confidential Source (CS) -- clearly the driving force behind this plot -- keeps steering Derrick Shareef in the direction of the mall:
Without precipitation, CS asks Shareef if he thinks it's a better idea to "hit the mall." What the hell? Why is government informant giving the "terrorist" ideas?

Later, Shareef is asked again by CS, "What targets you wanna hit, the mall's good?" Is CS trying to confirm that Shareef will go after the mall? Or, is he encouraging Shareef to hit the mall? After all, wasn't it CS who brought up the idea of the mall? Why does he like the mall so much???
Maybe it has something to do with interstate commerce.

It means Derrick Shareef's case falls under this law:
Use of weapons of mass destruction

(a) A person who, without lawful authority, uses, threatens, or attempts or conspires to use, a weapon of mass destruction —-
(1) [...]
(2) against any person or property within the United States, and
(A) [...]
(B) such property is used in interstate or foreign commerce or in an activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce;
(C) [...]
(D) the offense, or the results of the offense, affect interstate or foreign commerce, or, in the case of a threat, attempt, or conspiracy, would have affected interstate or foreign commerce;
It's kind of slick how all this works, isn't it?

Slick like oil on the water, my friends.


tenth in a series

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tom Toles: The White House Is Changing Its Policy

Evidence of Revision: A Five-Part Video Series On Contemporary American History

I've been trying to watch a video series called "Evidence of Revision", which McJ recommended in a comment ages ago.

And it's tough going; it's a five-part set and each part is an hour and a half or more. But on the other hand it's really good! Or at least the parts I've seen so far have been really good.

Here's the blurb from the distributor:
This is the mind-blowing 5-part video documentary series Evidence of Revision whose purpose is to present the publicly unavailable and even suppressed historical audio, video and film recordings largely unseen by the American and world public relating to the assassination of the Kennedy brothers, the little known classified "Black Ops" actually used to intentionally create the massive war in Viet Nam, the CIA "mind control" programs and their involvement in the RFK assassination and the Jonestown massacre and other important truths of our post-modern time.

The U.S. Government's Orwellian "Office of Public Diplomacy" has been in existence in various forms and under various names since World War ONE.

The union of American governance and American corporate interests began in Abraham Lincoln's day and the massaging of "public truth" began even before the Roman Empire.

The more you know about "real history" versus "official history", the better equipped you are to see behind the lies of our times, even as they are told to you.

Evidence of Revision sweeps "official truth" into the dustbin of history as it may be revised even as it is being written.

Each part is about 100 minutes long' the series runs 8 hours all together. A must see for everyone.
I don't agree with "must see for everyone". In my opinion it's quite advanced. There are long sequences without any context, without any narration, just clip after clip after clip. I've been able to follow it, but then I've wasted my whole life reading about this stuff. At some points I've been thinking "I could annotate this!" ... which is cool, but then again I probably won't ... unless I do!

I don't want to embed all these videos on the home page because then it would take a long time to load, especially for visitors with slow connections. But you can click here to watch the videos ... and if you have questions or comments about the series, please post them here.

Report Says Derrick Shareef Will Change His Plea

Derrick Shareef is in the news again, nearly a year after he was arrested.

He's been in custody since December, 2006, when he traded a pair of stereo speakers for a box of hand grenades, a handgun and some ammunition.

Derrick Shareef had allegedly been planning to detonate the grenades in garbage cans in CherryVale Mall, in Rockford, Illinois, on the Friday before Christmas.

But unfortunately for him, the "arms dealer" he met in a parking lot to do the deal was an FBI agent. And the fellow Shareef was traveling with, in whose car he was placing the grenades when he was arrested, was also working for the FBI.

Anti-terror officials assured the people of Rockford that there was never any danger, as the ammo and the grenades were non-functional. This is one of the benefits of providing the arms dealer.

They also trumpeted their capture of a dangerous terrorist, while saying very little about the slick entrapment scheme they used to collect him. But then again they never talk about such things, because doing so would reduce operational effectiveness.

As we reported here last winter, the affidavit presenting the evidence against Shareef leaves little doubt that the FBI's confidential source (CS) suggested attacking CherryVale Mall; the CS suggested using grenades; the CS drove Shareef to CherryVale twice for reconnaissance, and the CS arranged the bogus arms deal.

According to the affidavit, Shareef didn't have a car, didn't have any money, and couldn't even raise any money; the best he could come up with was a pair of speakers. But that was enough for the CS, and for the FBI's phony arms dealer. It may be enough for a guilty plea, too.

Derrick Shareef pled not guilty in January, and was judged competent to stand trial in May.

His trial is scheduled to begin next month.

But WIFR (channel 23 in Rockford) says he's about to change his plea:

Accused Mall Bomb Plotter Changes Plea
Derrick Shareef is scheduled for a change of plea at 10 AM on Wednesday before a U.S. District Court judge in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago.

Shareef has been scheduled to stand trial beginning December 10, 2007 on federal charges of attempting to damage or destroy a building by fire or explosion and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in connection with alledgedly [sic] planning to set off several grenades in garbage cans at the Cherryvale Mall in Rockford last December.

He is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the [sic] proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
I'll see what I can find out, and I will definitely keep you posted.


ninth in a series

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tom Toles: The Conveniences Of My Lifestyle

Imran Khan Gets It; Do You? Elections Without The Rule Of Law Are Meaningless

The news from Pakistan is full of feel-good stories about the return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was allowed to return Sunday after eight years of exile in Saudi Arabia without being arrested and immediately deported, as he was in September when he first tried to return.

The government arrested thousands of Sharif's supporters shortly before his return, in order to prevent the occasion from getting too joyous, and deployed hundreds of policemen to cordon off the airport and try to prevent anything joyous from happening there either.

But they were unsuccessful, as a crowd estimated at a thousand breached the cordon and greeted the returning hero at the terminal. How poignant!

Nawaz Sharif may not be able to contest the election because of a prior conviction. But who cares?

Or maybe he will be able to participate after all. Pakistani observers have been speculating that Sharif must have made a deal with Musharraf, perhaps one similar to the National Reconciliation Ordinance which granted amnesty to (some) (current and) former politicians and thus allowed Bhutto to return from Dubai last month.

Sharif and Musharraf both deny that any such deal has been made. But the Indian news service DNA has some interesting details about the nonexistent arrangement.

Others have said that Saudi King Abdullah has been calling the shots here; he has hosted Nawaz Sharif ever since Musharraf deposed the former PM in a bloodless coup in 1999. The king also provided an airplane for Nawaz Sharif's return, and has reportedly given him two bulletproof cars and offered him a helicopter for the duration of the campaign.

Musharraf traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, his first trip abroad since November 3, when the President General declared a state of emergency (supposedly because of the threat of terrorism) and imposed de facto martial law (which hasn't stopped the terrorism, as illustrated by the 35 dead from two suicide bombings in Rawalpindi).

Perhaps Musharraf's clampdown has been ineffective because it has targeted judges and lawyers and human rights advocates and political activists, rather than the suicide bombers who are supposedly Pakistan's big problem.

Prior to November 3rd, Musharraf's big problem was the obvious fact that his October 6 "re-election" was illegal -- for at least three different reasons! -- and six petitions against it had been filed with the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The court was apparently about to rule the "election" illegal, and whether or not Musharraf had already been thinking about consolidating his power by declaring a state of emergency, this was clearly the time to do it.

So the President General went to the Supreme Court and asked the justices to support his declaration of emergency. Seven justices (including Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry) refused, and then they were all relieved of their duties and taken into custody. All seven are reportedly still under house arrest.

Sharif and his brother and his wife and Benazir Bhutto are all getting ready to file their papers for the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for early January.

Monday is the deadline for filing and Nawaz Sharif appears to have returned at precisely the last possible moment. Fancy that!

Independent opposition politician Imran Khan isn't buying it.

In his opinion, any politician willing to contest an election under these conditions -- with the Constitution in abeyance and the Rule of Law suspended, with political activists in prison and severe restrictions on what the media can report -- is merely lending support to the ongoing emergency rule.

Imran Khan is prepared to boycott the elections unless the rule of law is restored, the Constitution reinstated, the Supreme Court reconstituted.

And the alliance of democratic opposition parties says they'll call for a boycott of the election unless emergency rule is lifted within the next four days.

There is no indication that a lifting of the emergency is being considered.

But Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and all their friends are filing their papers anyway.

O the bets one must hedge!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If At First You Don't Succeed: Nawaz Sharif Tries Again

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is due to arrive in Pakistan in just a few hours.

He will be trying to re-enter the country for the second time in three months; he was arrested at the Islamabad airport and deported to Saudi Arabia on September 10th. He'll be flying to Lahore this time, traveling with his brother and his wife.

Nawaz Sharif was deposed and sent into exile in 1999 by Army Chief of Staff General Pervez Musharraf, who became President in a bloodless coup.

Speculation from Pakistan suggests that Musharraf may have been summoned to Saudi Arabia last week (his first foreign trip since he declared a state of emergency on November 3) and instructed to admit Nawaz Sharif into the national political process (so that the pro-American Benazir Bhutto would not be the only so-called "opposition" figure in the field).

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto's disastrous homecoming rally in Karachi October 18th, the government has asked Sharif not to do anything similar.

But after his arrest and deportation in September, it's difficult to imagine that his supporters would fail to greet him at the airport in numbers.

Pakistan Times puts it this way:
The workers will make 25th November a historic day by welcoming Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif in an unprecedented way, says Hamza Shahbaz. Addressing a party meeting at PML-N’s office here on Saturday, PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz said the time has come for the workers to welcome their leaders.

He urged all party representatives to mobilize workers in their respective constituencies. He also said the people of this city will prove tomorrow that Lahore is the stronghold of PML-N. PML-N leader Khwaja Saad Rafique said that Sunday will get rise democracy in Pakistan.

He said the PML-N workers will break all barricades on their way to Lahore Airport. The two-time former premier is due to land in Lahore on Sunday afternoon on board a Saudi royal plane, his party said earlier. An official has urged Sharif's party not to organize a mass welcome home rally "because of the current threat of suicide bombings and the law and order situation."
Online News Musharraf won't try to stop Sharif this time:
a senior government official talking to foreign news agency said the government would not obstruct exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s homecoming this time.

"We have no plans to arrest him," the official told foreign news agency.

"The president has said he would provide all political parties an equal chance to participate in the elections."
But the President didn't provide the same assurance to Nawaz Sharif's supporters, as Reuters reports:
Pakistan police detained thousands of supporters of Nawaz Sharif to stop them greeting the former prime minister on his return from exile in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, according to party loyalists.

"There will be no hurdle in his return this time because he's not returning without an understanding," a senior government official said.

Understanding or not, police detained activists from Sharif's party, known as the Nawaz League, before they could come out to welcome him, party officials and police said.

"They have arrested hundreds more people this morning, it must be more than 3,000 more," said Ahsan Iqbal, a party spokesman.

There were several hundred police, carrying riot shields, batons and rifles, at the airport hours before Sharif was due.

"Look at all these men in black," said Imran Abbas Lalika, a 30-year-old marketing researcher, travelling through the airport.

"They are here just to scare people," he said, surveying a concourse swarming with security and with a barbed wire barrier at the international arrivals exit.
Reuters has more.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Howard Out! Gandhi Gone!

The war criminal Australian government led by the war criminal John Howard has been soundly thrashed in parliamentary elections.

Now, George Bush's Australian ally and his band of blood-drenched swine should proceed directly to The Hague for a free and fair trial before their mass execution for crimes against humanity.

But of course that will never happen.

In related news, one of my favorite bloggers has shut down all his blogs, or so he says (for what appears to be the final time).

The Australian writer known as Gandhi began with a blog called "Bush Out", and later shifted his focus to Australian politics and "Howard Out" (and he's been "Riding The Juggernaut" along the way, too).

He's called it quits before, and he has quit -- for a day or two, or even a week -- but this time seems different.

Howard really is out now -- finally! And "Howard Out" is all done too, as of Thursday -- apparently. I'll keep the links to Gandhi's blogs on the sidebar, but I may move them from "news" to "resources" if he really does keep himself away from the blogs.

Somehow I get the feeling that this retirement is more permanent, since rather than just trying to quit blogging, Gandhi's begun work on a book.

It's tentatively called "Gandhi's War", and he says it's
based on my blogging experiences here and at BushOut. It explores the human cost of blogging news that is relentlessly depressing. I know I am not the only one who has suffered these "bloggers blues", and I think it's a story that should be told.

If anyone wants to contribute their own stories, or knows a good publisher, please email me: gazo a@t dodo dot com dot AU.
He gives us a sneak preview, which is definitely worth a read, but we may have to wait quite a while for the rest.

But in the meantime:

Good riddance to Howard!

Best wishes to Gandhi!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pakistan's Nukes May Not Be So Loose After All

The New York Times says:

Pakistan’s Collapse, Our Problem

By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and MICHAEL O’HANLON | Washington | November 18, 2007
AS the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. We need to think — now — about our feasible military options in Pakistan, should it really come to that.

We do not intend to be fear mongers. Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state than in exporting terrorism or nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late.

Moreover, Pakistan’s intelligence services contain enough sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.

The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

All possible military initiatives to avoid those possibilities are daunting. With 160 million people, Pakistan is more than five times the size of Iraq. It would take a long time to move large numbers of American forces halfway across the world. And unless we had precise information about the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials, we could not rely on bombing or using Special Forces to destroy them.

The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size. Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces.

One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place.

For the United States, the safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico; but even pro-American Pakistanis would be unlikely to cooperate. More likely, we would have to settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up (and watched over) by crack international troops. It is realistic to think that such a mission might be undertaken within days of a decision to act. The price for rapid action and secrecy, however, would probably be a very small international coalition.

A second, broader option would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of an ineffective government, seceding border regions and Al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against the leadership. This would require a sizable combat force — not only from the United States, but ideally also other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations.

Even if we were not so committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western powers would need months to get the troops there. Fortunately, given the longstanding effectiveness of Pakistan’s security forces, any process of state decline probably would be gradual, giving us the time to act.

So, if we got a large number of troops into the country, what would they do? The most likely directive would be to help Pakistan’s military and security forces hold the country’s center — primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab Province to its south.

We would also have to be wary of internecine warfare within the Pakistani security forces. Pro-American moderates could well win a fight against extremist sympathizers on their own. But they might need help if splinter forces or radical Islamists took control of parts of the country containing crucial nuclear materials. The task of retaking any such regions and reclaiming custody of any nuclear weapons would be a priority for our troops.

If a holding operation in the nation’s center was successful, we would probably then seek to establish order in the parts of Pakistan where extremists operate. Beyond propping up the state, this would benefit American efforts in Afghanistan by depriving terrorists of the sanctuaries they have long enjoyed in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.

The great paradox of the post-cold war world is that we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before. There was a time when volatility in places like Pakistan was mostly a humanitarian worry; today it is as much a threat to our basic security as Soviet tanks once were. We must be militarily and diplomatically prepared to keep ourselves safe in such a world. Pakistan may be the next big test.
and Pakistan's Daily Times says

US military strike on Pakistan advocated

By Khalid Hasan | November 19, 2007
Two experts have proposed that the US should take pre-emptive action to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons before they fall into the wrong hands.

Frederick Kagan of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute and Michael O’Hanlon of the more liberal Brookings Institution argue in an article published in the New York Times on Sunday that the US simply cannot stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw US forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. While Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state, the same was true of Iran on the eve of the Islamic revolution. Pakistan’s intelligence services, the two writers maintain, contain enough sympathisers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.

Complete collapse: The likely dangers include the complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum, a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda tries to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.

While admitting that all possible military initiatives to avoid those possibilities are daunting, given Pakistan’s size and complexity and the scanty US knowledge about the location of its nuclear weapons, the US would have to act before a complete government collapse, and for that it would need the cooperation of “moderate Pakistani forces”.

Possible plan: One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place. For the United States, the safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico, but even pro-American Pakistanis would be unlikely to cooperate. It would be better for the US to settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up and watched over by crack international troops. It is realistic to think that such a mission might be undertaken within days of a decision to act. The price for rapid action and secrecy, however, would probably be a very small international coalition.

Support army: Kagan and O’Hanlon suggest that a broader option would involve supporting the core of the Pakistani armed forces as they sought to hold the country together in the face of an ineffective government, seceding border regions and Al Qaeda and Taliban assassination attempts against the leadership. This would require a sizeable combat force from the US, other Western powers and moderate Muslim nations. Since the decline of the Pakistani state is likely to be gradual, it will give the US time to act, they argue. “The most likely directive would be to help Pakistan’s military and security forces hold the country’s center - primarily the region around the capital, Islamabad, and the populous areas like Punjab to its south ... If a holding operation in the nation’s centre was successful, the foreign forces would then seek to establish order in the parts of Pakistan where extremists operate. Beyond propping up the state, this would benefit American efforts in Afghanistan by depriving terrorists of the sanctuaries they have long enjoyed in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions ... There was a time when volatility in places like Pakistan was mostly a humanitarian worry — today it is as much a threat to our basic security as Soviet tanks once were.”
but Times of India says

Pak nukes already under US control: Report

Chidanand Rajghatta | TNN | November 20, 2007
Pakistan's nuclear weapons are already under American control even as analysts are working themselves into a lather on the subject, a well-regarded intelligence journal has said.

In a stunning disclosure certain to stir up things in Washington's (and in Islamabad and New Delhi's) strategic community, the journal Stratfor reported on Monday that the "United States delivered a very clear ultimatum to Musharraf in the wake of 9/11: Unless Pakistan allowed US forces to take control of Pakistani nuclear facilities, the United States would be left with no choice but to destroy those facilities, possibly with India's help."

"This was a fait accompli that Musharraf, for credibility reasons, had every reason to cover up and pretend never happened, and Washington was fully willing to keep things quiet," the journal, which is widely read among the intelligence community, said.

The Stratfor commentary came in response to an earlier New York Times story that reported that the Bush administration had spent around $100 million to help Pakistan safeguard its nuclear weapons, but left it unclear if Washington has a handle on the arsenal.

Over the past fortnight, even since the crisis in Pakistan broke and eclipsed every other geopolitical story, including Iraq, US officials and analysts have been speaking in different voices on the subject of a jihadi takeover of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Some officials have expressed deep concern at the possibility and suggested US is ready with contingency plans to defang Pakistan of its nuclear weapons, while others have tried to assuage Islamabad by saying they believe the country's military rulers have good custodial control over their crown jewels.

On Monday, a State Department official once again addressed the issue and hinted that Washington was in control of the situation.

"... ultimately, the major responsibility for that falls with the Pakistani government. They have made public comments to the effect that the arsenal is secure, that they have taken a number of different steps to ensure that," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We ourselves see no indication to indicate to the contrary. It is secure. We obviously have an interest in seeing that it is secure," McCormack added.

Stratfor, too, appears confident that the Bush administration has a handle on Pak's nukes.

Not everyone is so sanguine. In a separate commentary over the weekend that had some US and Pakistani analysts blowing their gasket, two prominent Washington commentators detailed a US military action plan inside Pakistan, possibly with the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces, to seize the nuclear arsenal if there was imminent danger of an extremist takeover.

"As the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss," proposed Frederick Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon, analysts at two Washington DC think-tanks. "One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan's nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands."

Pakistan's own leaders have spoken about the subject -- of nuclear weapons falling into extremist hands --with different emphasis and objectives.

General Pervez Musharraf has suggested continued Western support to his military regime is the best way to prevent the nukes from falling into extremist hands, an "after-me-the-deluge" argument that some analysts see as unabashed blackmail.

The country's opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has also invoked the loose nukes scenario to urge US to abandon the military regime, which she says has given rise to growing extremism and fissiparous tendencies that increase the danger of the nuclear arsenal going awry.

Officially though, Islamabad is touchy about any commentary on its nuclear arsenal, and goes into transports of hysteria to assert that it is a responsible country with good command and control over its crown jewels.

In the latest outburst, the country's out-going foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri asserted that Pakistan is fully capable of securing its nuclear assets and some Western lobbies are busy in creating confusion taking the advantage of ongoing conditions in Pakistan.

The multi-layer security structure of the nuclear assets has a strong command and control system in place and there is no need for anyone at home or abroad to worry about the security of these assets, he insisted.

But judging by the volume of worried commentary and analysis the subject is now getting, there aren't many takers for such assurances and the last word on the matter hasn't been said or written.
I have to go out for a few hours -- not too many, I hope.

In the meantime maybe you can figure out what all this means.

Charges Dropped: Family Appeal For Release Of Rashid Rauf

Family and friends of Rashid Rauf have received some support for their attempt to prevent what appears to be his imminent (and illegal) extradition from Pakistan to Britain.

Rashid Rauf has been called "a key person" in the bogus alleged "Liquid Bombers" plot in which a dozen teams of suicide terrorists were supposedly going to knock a dozen airplanes out of the sky more or less simultaneously, killing "hundreds of thousands of people", using bombs they were preparing to make out of common household liquids.

(As regular readers of this page well know, it was not possible. It was not even remotely possible. For more details see "Uninformed Nonsense: Juan Cole, Rashid Rauf, Liquid Bombs and Whole Cloth" and/or "The Alleged "Liquid Bombing" Plot Revisited -- Maybe It Was Possible After All".)

Cageprisoners dot com:

Illegal Extradition of Rashid Rauf (in full; edited very slightly for clarity)
Rashid Rauf was arrested from Bahawalpur in August, 2006 and shown arrested at Airport Police Station on false charges regarding terrorism on 7th November, 2007.

Rashid Rauf was given a release order on account of being innocent by the Anti Terrorist Court, Rawalpindi, comprising Sakhi Muhammad Khaut.

It was ordered that on 15th November, 2007 he will be released.

His uncle went to receive him on 15th November, 2007. But he was shown a document saying that the British Government is seeking Rashid's extradition, therefore it is apprehended that he is to be implicated under some false offences on the basis of which he could be handed over to the British government.

Newspaper reports suggest that since there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and UK, therefore it would be an illegal act on the part of the Government, to hand him over to Britain.

The spouse of Rashid and two of his innocent daughters have traveled to Islamabad all the way long from Bahawalpur in miserable condition.

They have appealed for Rashid's release and demanded from the government that they should be allowed to meet him. They also pleaded not to hand him over to any other country.

Since he has been released by all Pakistani Courts, and there is no charge against him and that on the basis of false fabricated accusation, no Pakistani national can be handed over to any other country.
Remarkably, mention of Rashid Rauf's case also appears in the International Herald Tribune (from the AP, in full again):
The family of Rashid Rauf, a British Muslim suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, appealed Thursday to Pakistani authorities to drop proceedings to extradite him to Britain and release him from custody.

"Rashid did nothing wrong and he is innocent and this has been proved in the court of law too ... please release him, let him meet his family and his two daughters," said his wife, Saira Rashid.

Rauf, who is of Pakistani origin, was arrested here in August 2006 on a tip from British investigators. He has been described as a key suspect in a purported plot to blow up jetliners flying from Britain to the United States which prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide and increased restrictions on carry-on items.

Rauf was arrested and charged in Pakistan with possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents. But the prosecution later withdrew the case against him, and the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi ordered his release.

Britain had asked Pakistan to hand over Rauf in connection with a 2002 murder inquiry in Britain that is separate from the alleged terrorism plot.

Rashid remains in jail awaiting a decision on the British request.

His lawyer, Hashmat Habib, said he has filed a petition to block the move, saying the two countries did not have an extradition treaty and that Rashid had already been found innocent of involvement in terrorism.

Members of Rashid's family said they also would appeal directly to Pakistan's human rights minister to block any extradition.
The irony in this "legal" battle over Rashid Rauf's future is very thick. One layer concerns the bogus bombing plot.

Another concerns those "chemicals that could be used in making explosives." Rashid Rauf allegedly had 29 bottles of hydrogen peroxide. And rather than explain how peroxide in Pakistan could to be used to blow up airplanes flying to the USA from the UK, the Pakistani authorities dropped the charges.

Under normal rule of law Rashid Rauf would have been released from prison last week.

But this isn't normal; this is Pakistan under emergency rule, and the rule of law doesn't apply anymore.

The President, General Pervez Musharraf, claims his declaration of emergency is necessary to bring the country back to "normal".

This may also be considered ironic.


twenty-fourth in a series

Tom Toles: He's Getting Ahead Of Me!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Imran Khan Released; Musharraf Election Upheld; Commonwealth Suspends Pakistan

UPDATED in several places, with more updates to come. Here are the headlines:

* Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth in the wake of the state of emergency imposed by President General Pervez Musharraf.

* The hand-picked Supreme Court has dismissed the last of the six petitions against Musharraf's clearly illegal "re-election".

* Imran Khan, former cricket hero, now opposition politician, has been released from detention, along with thousands of other political leaders and activists, many of whom were promptly re-arrested. Thousands of political opponents have been newly arrested as well according to some reports.

* President General Musharraf has issued an order saying his declaration of emergency cannot be challenged in any court.

* Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is apparently preparing to return to Pakistan. He was arrested and deported when he tried to do so in September.
KAMPALA: A Commonwealth ministerial committee Thursday decided to suspend Pakistan from the 53-nation bloc pending the return of the rule of law following the imposition of emergency rule earlier this month.

"CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) has suspended Pakistan forthwith from the council pending the return of the rule of law and democracy," Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon [photo] told reporters.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on November 3, placing the chief justice under house arrest, detaining lawyers, rights activists and opposition members and curbing press freedoms.
This report comes to us from GEO TV, which has been forced off the air in Pakistan (and even elsewhere[!]), but whose website is still online.

Graham Usher, writing in Cairo's Al-Ahram Weekly, skips past some of the most vital historical context, and certainly takes the public diplomacy a bit too seriously, but he still manages an insightful analysis:
Prior to Negroponte's coming, the Pakistani leader had given two reasons for martial law. One was to curb a surge of Islamic militancy sweeping from Pakistan's borderlands with Afghanistan to the settled North West Frontier Province. And the second was to purge an "overactive" judiciary that was making governance impossible.

The first reason is spurious. Senior army officers admit martial law grants them no more powers to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda than they had previously. And the second has been accomplished. The US has quietly agreed to gloss over the sacking of Supreme Court judges -- including Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohamed Chaudhry -- so long as Musharraf lifts martial law, steps down as army chief and holds free elections.

But Musharraf is not interested in free elections. He wants to rig them so an absolute majority can indemnify him against actions -- like the imposition of martial law -- he now concedes were "constitutionally illegal". On 16 November, he swore in a caretaker government stuffed with cronies to ensure that end. And on 19 November a new sanitised Supreme Court dismissed five out of six petitions challenging Musharraf's presidential "election" in October.
The sixth petition has been dismissed now too, according to AFP:
Pakistan's purged Supreme Court demolished the last hurdle to President Pervez Musharraf's re-election Thursday, clearing the way for him to become a civilian leader after eight years of army rule.

Loaded with compliant judges since Musharraf imposed a state of emergency nearly three weeks ago, the court took less than an hour to dismiss the final legal challenge to his victory in last month's presidential election.

Officials said he would now honour his repeated vow to quit as army chief and be sworn into office for another five years once his re-election is ratified -- although he would likely wait until early next week to do so.

"The petition is dismissed," Supreme Court chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar ruled.

More from Graham Usher:
[Benazir] Bhutto has filed for political divorce. Asked whether she could resume a dialogue with Musharraf, she answered: "I can't see how I can team up with somebody who talked to me about a roadmap to democracy and [then] imposed martial law".

Instead she is appealing to other opposition leaders -- including her old nemesis ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif -- to forge a "unified front" to foil Musharraf's attempts to hold "fake" elections. But given the enormous distrust sown by her botched tryst with the regime, it's not clear whether the leaders will bite or whether the Americans any longer see her as useful.
The functional understatement in the above passage is, of course, the "not clear".

Nothing is clear in Pakistan at the moment, except the public's feelings for President General Musharraf and his declaration of emergency.

Usher's conclusion seems bang-on:
US officials talk darkly of terminating all aid if their turbulent ward refuses to play ball. But it's more bluster than bang, says Zaffar Abbas, another analyst. "Musharraf's gamble is that Washington needs him more than he needs them."

He may be right. Seventy-five per cent of all supplies to US forces in Afghanistan go through Pakistan. And the more America ratchets up tensions with Iran, Russia and Central Asia the more vital Islamabad becomes as a regional ally. There is only one case where Washington could exert leverage, says Rizvi. "If the opposition could mount street protests against the regime on a sustained basis, this would rattle the army. The Americans could then tell Musharraf to back off or else".

But so far protests have been muted and the army has shown absolute loyalty to their commander. As long as that's so, "Musharraf can hang on," says Rizvi. And America will hang on to him, even though it knows "deeply flawed" elections will do nothing to redress the crisis of legitimacy that assails the Pakistani state and which remains the principle political cause behind the growth of the Taliban. There is of course an irony here.

For six years, Washington placed all its bets on one man, one institution and one military solution to combat Islamic militancy in Pakistan. On 3 November that institution empowered that man to impose that solution -- not against the Taliban but against its own people.
People of goodwill and good cricket all over the world are happy to see Imran Khan free.

As captain of Pakistan's World Cup winning side, then as a philanthropist, and now as a truly independent politician he has inspired hope and goodwill far beyond the bounds of his own country. (He's even chancellor of the UK's Bradford University!)

Imran Khan's release may have been an empty gesture, and he may not be free for long, but I would be remiss not to report this teeny bit of very good news. AFP says:
In a bid to show the emergency is easing, Pakistani authorities freed cricket hero Imran Khan late Wednesday, and said more than 5,000 lawyers, opposition party workers and human rights activists had also been released.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the releases were a "good step" but that more action was required.
Yes indeed, more action is required. Some reports have indicated that the release of thousands of political prisoners was not only timed to generate sympathy for the regime but also to coincide with the fresh arrest of thousands of other political activists, and the prompt re-arrests of some of those who had supposedly been freed.

Arab News has the story about the newly minted ordinance barring any court from challenging Musharraf's declaration of emergency:
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf issued an ordinance saying the emergency rule cannot be challenged in any court. The order was a fresh move to bolster his position ...

Yesterday’s ordinance amends the constitution to specify that the imposition of emergency rule was “validly made,” and “shall not be called in question in any court or forum on any ground whatsoever.”

Dr. Moeed Pirzada writing for India's Khaleej Times from Karachi:
We are all standing, pushing and shoving, outside the offices of Jang, Pakistan's largest paper. This private compound, off the famous II Chundrigarh Road, was packed to the last inch. We are here to protest the continuing ban on country's largest TV network.

Most of us work for either the Jang, The News or the GEO, but I spot faces from the Dawn and the CNBC and other TV channels. Like everyone around me, I had two candles, one in each hand. Flames tremble in Karachi's evening breeze and we struggle to keep them alive; for they are: Flames of Freedom.

Surrounded by cameras and large plasma screens that capture and display our gyrating bodies, we all are singing: “jeenay do, jeenay do, logo ko zinda rahnain do (...let us live, let us live...let people live their lives)". These are the only screens on which we can see ourselves; all the GEO channels — even the sports and entertainment — have been banned. On three sides, the walls of the compound surround us, and towards the only exit: policemen look on, amused. Like the media in Pakistan, we are also under siege.
It's a good column. Hint, hint.

There's a lot going on. Expect more updates soon.