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May 2010

05/11/2010

Shahzad and his possible connection to the Taliban

I don't presume to know anything Attorney General Eric Holder doesn't, which is why his insistence that Times Square bomber Aisle Shahzad was a tool of the Taliban in Pakistan is so confusing. I'm not suggesting that Shahzad had no contact with the Taliban, or that he didn't aspire to join some anti-American terror group, but the evidence that he succeeded just isn't there.
 
With brutal and ruthless regularity, the TTP, or Pakistani Taliban proves they know well how to build bombs that kill people. They sometimes fail to detonate, so do bombs and missiles built by American defense contractors, but never is there a bomb that doesn't have the proper components to do plenty of damage.
Taliban bombs don't use propane or fertilizer or m-88's, all ingredients found in Shahzad's SUV. In fact, it would be hard to find any anarchist website that would suggest so rudimentary and ineffective a device.
The Attorney General suggests that Shahzad had "training" from the Taliban, perhaps months of it. But, there is nothing about this bomb that suggests there was any training behind it, no one who knows how to build a bomb would use these components the way Shahzad did.
 
So why point this out? Clearly, Shahzad intended to kill Americans, clearly he wanted to strike at the Crossroads of the World. Why does it matter if he was guided by the Taliban or simply inspired by them?
The terror groups operating here in Pakistan, and there are many, have varying agenda's. Some seek to trigger a war with India and eventually overtake it. Some seek to overtake Pakistan and install a fundamentalist, Islamist government. Some just want to help the Afghan people expel Americans. Some have ambitions of imposing Sharia, or Muslim law over the whole world. But all of them share this: A venomous hatred for The United States. Their ambitions overlap in this one area alone, and they are determined to strike America here and, if possible, on American soil. In this way, they are inspired by September 11th and al Qaeda. As a woman who studies terror groups operating here in Pakistan told me, they are planning as we speak.
 
If we look at this pedestrian, inept effort by Faisel Shahzad as all that these groups are capable of, than we are doomed to be victims of them. They are smarter than this, they are more capable than this, and when they decide to strike with all of their resources and sophistication, we need to be ready. It would be a shame if Faisel Shahzad's failure lead America into a false sense of security, if we believed that there will always be a vendor who sees the smoke, there will always be a cop who calls in the bomb squad. When the real terrorists decide to strike, the only smoke we will see will be from the explosion. The challenge is to make sure they don't get that far. And pinning our hopes on "see something-say something" slogan will not be sufficient.
 

05/08/2010

Pakistan and the crack epidemic

"We believe the U.S. Is responsible for all of our miseries," the tall, educated Pakistani man said in clear English. And to add emphasis, "We believe this." Maybe more than any White paper or State Dept analysis, this explains the inexorable problem in South Asia. False helplessness.
Extremists operating in Pakistan today, have the expressed goal of, variously, taking over India and turning it into a Muslim nation (remember, Pakistan was carved out of India to give Muslims a place free from Hindu persecution), taking over Afghanistan and re-installing the Taliban, overthrowing the Pakistani government to install a theocracy, and in the case of al Qaeda, to take over the world and force all people to become Muslim (can't fault them for setting modest goals.)
The people who have these goals are a minority, even a small minority. But because moderate Pakistani's are afraid to do anything, and because they consider it India's or Afghanistan, or America's problem, they do nothing. They are simply victims of collateral damage, refugees from a war not of their own design.
The military of the United States can't defeat extremists, but it can cause a bucket load of pain, pain that is felt far beyond the invisible border of the extremists. The pain is shared by moderates like the man who believes America causes his misery. Well,yeah. The pain is shared not just nation wide but throughout the region.
So who can defeat the extremists who wish to take over the world and install a false and harsh interpretation of Islam?
In the 1980's, crack was ravaging New York's neighborhoods and some across the country. Mayor Giuliani and police commissioner Bill Bratton are given credit for ending that surge, but the truth is more complex. Street by street, person by person, people began to see the carnage and horror crack was leaving in their families and neighborhoods. As people turned against crack, they started ratting out the dealers and users and, yes, Bratton was there with a complex and effective strategy to help the good people who wanted safe streets. It worked, and murder and robbery plunged as a result.
Only moderate Muslims, working together to reign in or defeat the extremists can really free the world of the terror of religious extremism. And time is running short. How many Mumbai's will India tolerate before they send troops across the border? And both nations have nuclear weapons prepped and waiting on a hair trigger. Will that be the U.S.'s fault too? 
Joe and I visited a remote, dusty village near the forbidden tribal areas  yesterday. We had no security, and felt we needed none. We were invited to sit and discuss America and Pakistan with a group of village men.  To a person they hated America, blamed us, cursed us, implored america to see the pain we were causing with our military. And then they made a magnificent feast of chicken and pastries and tea  for joe and me, two americans. We broke bread together with these men who hated America but whose religion and human goodness called on their basic civility.  We embraced and shook hands in a grand and beautiful display of how moderates behave.
Its like 2:30 in the morning here in Pakistan and my internet went out hours ago, so I can't look up who said "all it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing." And, yes, I should know it anyway, and maybe would if I hadn't been up for 68 hours straight. But his sentiment is crucial here, and not understanding his wisdom could literally cause armageddon some day.

Blame a distant nation, or clean up your own back yard. These are the choices. The stakes are high... And time is running short.

Jim Dolan

Click here to watch Jim's reports from Pakistan

05/03/2010

Aftershocks



As Mike mentioned in a previous post, we have been sending
back video to New York
over the internet. I was monitoring this afternoon’s upload when there
was the faintest of rumbles and a sudden jerk. I could feel the desk move. 
Just like that it was over. A quick check verified that this was another
aftershock (actually another earthquake to be exact).
 
Last night after our 11pm remote we felt a similar tremor—a
4.0. It’s unsettling to us; I can only imagine what it does
to the frayed nerves of those who lived through the 7.0 quake in January. 
It also explains why so many people feel safer sleeping outdoors even if their
house is intact or sustained only minimal damage. As if life in Haiti isn’t
hard enough, knowing the ground is still moving makes it especially difficult.
 
 

05/01/2010

Beep Beep



 
Beep Beep
 
On Friday afternoon Mike and I enjoyed a little levity after
a few long days of getting stories in Port-au-Prince
and beyond. There have been way too many seemingly endless car rides. The last
thing we were looking forward to was another lengthy trip.
 
We were headed to our live location, the Project Medishare
field hospital near the airport. Under ideal conditions the drive takes about
40 minutes. However, conditions are hardly ever ideal in Port-au-Prince. Roads were bad
pre-earthquake, now there are people walking in the streets to avoid piles of
rubble. There are few intersections with traffic lights. Stop signs?
Haven’t seen one yet. The sound of horns blaring is the symphony of the
streets.
 
So we decided to count the number of times our driver Franz
honked his horn. Franz is a taxi driver by profession and has been doing a
great job getting us around. Like a conductor wielding his baton, Franz drives
with his palm strategically placed—always ready to deliver a well-timed
strike.
 
Traffic was especially bad and the ride took 58 minutes. 
During that span Franz hit the horn an impressive 82 times! But that only
tells part of the story. 
 
Attached is the score sheet. The asterisks indicate
prolonged beeps; the circled ones were really
long. The one with a ‘6’ denotes a rat-a-tat series of baby ones. 
And the check marks? Well those are two times Franz didn’t honk. He
stuck his head of the window and yelled at the other driver. An hour car ride
never went by so fast.
franz.jpg

Where Do You Even Begin?



When discussing the Haiti’s recovery one of the
first questions people ask is, “What’s being done with the billions
of dollars that’s been pledged in relief aid?” I don’t
presume to have the answer, because quite frankly, I don’t think anyone
has really come up with a solution.
 
It’s true that Haitians need help now. Most were
living with crushing poverty before the quake. One aid worker told me that for
some, living in the tent camps (now with portable toilets and food
distribution) is a step up from their previous standard of living. 
That’s mind boggling. 
 
But there has to be a long term fix. On the streets
industrious workers are demolishing damaged structures with pickaxes and
sledgehammers. My photographer Mike Thorne and I marveled at how quickly a
retaining wall was being built by workers using nothing but their bare hands. 
Heavy stones were carried by men toiling in the burning sun, some in bare feet.
 
Though the circumstances are entirely different, we used
9/11 as a reference point. It took highly skilled workers using the finest
heavy machinery months of round-the-clock work to clear the World Trade
Center site. That was an
area of a few blocks. This is an entire city in ruins. And the devastation
isn’t limited to Port-au-Prince.

 
Then there are the other needs that must be addressed for
the nation to recover and to have a chance to thrive: education, economic
development, political stability. That’s why it’s sad to ask the
next question, “Where do you even begin?”
 
Marcus Solis