Monday, June 30, 2008

Swan Song

Observing President Bush's farewell tour of Europe reminded me of Cynthia Heimel's ode to toxic relationships, Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye!

Old Europe might have wished for a low-key, dignified, and not quite bittersweet parting with the arrogant troublemaker who brought it so much trouble.

However, students of Bush psychology will not be surprised that our lame duck prez insisted on one last degrading service from our European allies in order to demonstrate he still had the upper hand in the waning days of the dysfunctional partnership.

In this case, Britain and the EU meekly gratified President Bush on the issue of Iran sanctions.

On June 16, standing with President Bush, Gordon Brown announced that the EU foreign ministers' meeting that afternoon would impose new sanctions on Iran's Bank Melli.

Trouble is, he was wrong.

The EU foreign ministers meeting announced no new sanctions against Iran that day.


Because they didn't want to.

The Financial Times' Westminster blog explained the problem:

[T]he EU agreed (some weeks ago) on what action to take against Bank Melli. This is a significant step. But they have not agreed on when to take it. Downing St argue this is a formality and the sanctions will be imposed in coming weeks. Yet this gap is important, particularly as the EU has made a new offer to Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme in return for economic and political support. The Iranians have yet to respond. Mr Brown effectively punished Iran with the stick before Iran decided whether to take the carrot... it is hard to imagine the negotiators welcomed this surprise announcement, or relished explaining it to the Iranians. A decision like this is announced with the agreement of 27 EU foreign ministers, not after a UK/US bilateral. Unexpected moves like this do not help to build trust.

The FT quoted a diplomat as ranking this blunder as “a seven on a scale of ten”.

Was it a blunder? Or a piece of sabotage?

On June 21, the LA Times' Borzou Daragahi provided an interesting and circumstantial account of a deal that EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana carried to Tehran on June 14: a six week freeze on sanctions while Iran continued to operate its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz without adding new capacity, to be followed by a six month freeze on all enrichment operations while negotiations took place.

Despite reports that the US "signed off" on the EU package, such a proposal would directly contradict the Bush administration’s bedrock position that Iran has to cease all enrichment before any negotiations can take place.

The money line from Daragahi's account:

[T]he proposal's 7 1/2 -month time frame would ride out the term of the Bush administration, which has repeatedly threatened military action to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an apparent maneuver by the EU to move the Iran issue out from under George Bush's (and Dick Cheney's) baleful shadow, and kick can down the road to (hopefully) a Barack Obama administration.

President Bush's riposte: to kick the props out from under the EU proposal by armtwisting Gordon Brown to pre-emptively repudiate the key confidence-building measure at its heart: no new sanctions.

Faced with this embarrassing situation, the EU scrambled to accommodate President Bush while trying to maintain some semblance of credibility (and dignity) with Iran as a negotiating partner.

A week later, on June 23, the EU announced sanctions on Bank Melli, but trying to straddle the problem, according to Kuwait's Arab Times:

The EU official stressed the sanctions were based on measures agreed by the UN Security Council and that six powers — the five permanent members of the Council plus Germany — still sought an answer from Iran to their incentives offer. “We are continuing with the double-track,” the official said of the carrot-and-stick policy.

Correctly reading the signal that the EU wants them to keep cool, the Iranians oblige.

From the June 30 Tehran Times:

PARIS (IRNA) - Iran's Ambassador to France Ali Ahani said that the European Union (EU) decision to impose sanction on Iran's Bank Melli indicates lack of goodwill on the part of European side and such attempts are unacceptable.

Ahani made the remark in a meeting with Head of Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council Luise Maria Deping, adding that Iranian officials are studying a package of proposals from the Group 5+1, and that according to the common points in packages of proposals exchanged by Iran and Group 5+1, both sides can reach consensus during negotiations.

It seems apparent that Iran realizes that, despite US and Israeli demands for militancy, the EU can be cajoled and mollified at least until the Bush administration is out of office.

The only riposte left for the Bush administration is for John Bolton to spread dire warnings of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities between the November elections and the January inauguration (presumably only if Barack Obama is elected; I assume the Senator McCain's “bomb bomb bomb Iran” chant is proof against any doubts of his fortitude), threats which I imagine are rather empty but are not doing oil prices or our reputation in Europe a world of good.

Aside from Daragahi's excellent piece, the reporting I came across on this new round of sanctions seemed, in general, to disregard some key points that I will take the liberty of making:

First, the United States is trying to impose a US anti-Iran sanctions regime on Europe that goes beyond explicit UN sanctions. US-led coalitions of the willing going beyond the UN have a rather bad reputation in Europe. Outside of France's President Sarkozy, nobody even professes to like them. The only way we get Europe to go along is through blatant arm-twisting and sub voce threats of dire actions against European banks by our Treasury Department if they continue to do business with Iran.

In other words, we don't intimidate, punish, or sanction Iran, with whom we have absolutely no relations. We intimidate, punish, and sanction our allies. Inside the US, for reasons that bewilder me, nobody seems to see this as a problem.

Second, the sanction was a partial sanction, much less than the wholesale sanction of the entire Iranian banking sector that the US has been threatening. It's virtually meaningless.

Reportedly, Iran pulled $75 billion out of Europe as a precaution against a major sanctions action and I have a feeling the European banking system is going to miss that $75 billion more than Iran is going to miss Bank Melli's operations in Paris, London, and Hamburg.

Thirdly, the Europeans are not keen on sanctions because they understand that following Washington's lead is driving Iran's money, business, and strategic focus away from Europe and toward Asia in general and China in particular. I covered this matter in considerable detail in a piece I wrote for Japan Focus, but here I will confine myself to quoting from the Arab Times on the consequences of Iran sanctions:

"[The sanctions'] impact (will be) more expensive imports," Iranian analyst Saeed Laylaz said of the impact on Iran of the move against Bank Melli, a key supplier of export guarantees. "The economy of Iran will be more dependent on Chinese markets," he added of a growing shift in Iran's focus to Asia that has seen Europe's share of the Islamic Republic's trade dwindle to 25-30 percent from twice that five years ago.

In summary, the EU is trying to extricate itself from a misconceived, ineffective, and financially costly sanctions regime.

For his farewell appearance in Europe, President Bush didn't try to accommodate the concerns of the European governments. Instead, he undercut and humiliated them with a pre-emptive announcement in an attempt to make their negotiations with Iran founder.

That's a good-bye kiss that would leave a bad taste in anybody's mouth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


The Passion of Tenzin Tsundue

On June 21, the Chinese government was able to claim a victory of sorts, at least in terms of the semiotics of state power, by orchestrating an incident-free, albeit truncated Olympic torch relay through Lhasa.

Almost contemporaneously, a 1300-kilometer, ninety day march through India to the Tibetan border organized by the Tibetan People's Uprising Movement (hereinafter TPUM) fizzled to a miserable conclusion as its last few dozen members were arrested as they tried to peacefully shoulder their way past a blockade of 200 Indian police in the remote border town of Dharchula. The marchers were released—and subsequently dispersed--amid international indifference.

These two processions, so different in intention and effect, are not unrelated.
There's been a certain resistance in the Western press to assessing the significance of—or even reporting the existence of—TPUM, its long march, or its possible role in the unrest that roiled ethnic Tibetan regions of the People's Republic of China in March 2008.

But an answer may be held in the burned hands of Tenzin Tsundue, the charismatic author and activist who is trying to remake the Tibetan exile movement, seemingly by force of his individual will.

In March of this year, as riots spread across the Tibetan areas, Tsundue languished in an Indian prison, burning his hands with cigarettes--in frustration? in expiation?--as the movement he had struggled to create careened out of control, and the grand gesture he had orchestrated was crushed by geopolitical realities.

Tsundue midwifed TPUM. His energy, ideas, and prestige were apparently indispensable in helping conceive TPUM, create its underlying coalition, and define its mission.

If bulletin board chatter is to be believed, he was also instrumental in securing his ally Tsewang Rigzin's election as president of the Tibetan Youth Congress late last year—mounting what one poster characterized as “a giant campaign”—thereby securing the commitment of that group's resources and prestige to TPUM:

TPUM is a coalition of five leading NGOs in the Tibetan exile movement: the Tibetan Youth Congress, a relatively militant Tibetan independence advocacy group; the National Democracy Party of Tibet, its political arm; the Tibetan Women's Association; Gu-Chu-Sam, an organization of monks who were ex-political prisoners inside the PRC; and Students for a Free Tibet (India). Tsundue was at one time the General Secretary of SFT (India).

TPUM was established in November of last year in an atmosphere of great urgency. The PRC was responding to the aging Dalai Lama's overtures with cynical temporizing. The 2008 Olympics looked to be a showcase for China's economic and political progress, and a chance to assert its leading role throughout Asia at the expense of Tibetan aspirations. The opening of the railroad to Lhasa presaged the further integration of Tibetan areas into the PRC and dilution of Tibetan identity and nationalist fervor.

TPUM, while professing to respect the Dalai Lama's stature as the embodiment of Tibetan culture, repudiated his political concessions (he had abandoned calls for Tibetan independence in favor of autonomy) and his conciliatory tactics (he supported the Beijing Olympics and discouraged confrontational anti-PRC positions and statements).

Early this year, TPUM issued a defiant manifesto and video appeal calling for Tibetan independence and the stripping of the Olympics away from Beijing. It announced a march of activists “to Tibet” from India.

And, most problematically—and ambiguously—TPUM seemed to call for corresponding direct action from sympathizers inside Tibet.

The manifesto called for a “global movement of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet taking control of our political destiny by engaging in direct action”.

The video appeal included the statement “we must rise up and resist and bring about an even greater Uprising. An Uprising that will shake the Chinese government to its core.”

And somehow, on May 10, in Lhasa, on the 49th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, something happened.

A large group of monks emerged from their monasteries that evening and appeared in Lhasa's central square to engage in a silent protest.

Then, somebody on the monk side or the public security side lost their cool, arrests were made, and the situation deteriorated into a nasty car-burning, store-torching, people-beating riot conducted by Tibetan citizens of Lhasa against the detested Chinese interlopers.

Sympathetic demonstrations and actions spread to multiple locations inside the PRC Tibetan areas and triggered a crackdown, a disputed number of deaths, a slew of arrests and—in response to an avalanche of negative press, opinion, and demonstrations in the West that threw the Olympic torch relay into chaos—a stream of vociferously nationalistic and abusive articles in the Chinese press concerning the role of TPUM and the Tibetan Youth Congress in fomenting the disturbances.

Western media outlets—apparently loathe to abet China's crude play of the “outside agitator” card when widespread domestic discontent against PRC rule was patent in the Tibetan areas—didn't take the bait.

And on the one occasion I could find in which a Western outlet solicited a comment from TPUM, Tsewang Rigzin—the leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress and TPUM’s main organizational muscle—denied any role in the protests inside China.

However, I don't think it's necessarily that simple.

As a matter of self-preservation, TPUM has to be coy about organizing or encouraging any activities inside Tibet.

Currently, India is a lot more interested in managing relations with China than accommodating the dreams of the Tibetan exile community. If there's a whiff of suspicion that Tibetan groups inside India are working to destabilize PRC rule in ethnic Tibetan regions, arrest, prohibition, or even deportation are the likely fates awaiting TPUM and its members.

Even if TPUM had gone beyond hoping and wishing to actively planning or encouraging a manifestation in Lhasa on May 11, either directly or through cut-outs, plausible deniability would have to be maintained if the organization were to continue to enjoy its safe haven in India.

To gain a better understanding of the goals and activities of TPUM, it might be revealing to take a look at TPUM's guiding light.

That's apparently not Tsewang Rigzin of the relatively large (30,000 member) and high profile Tibetan Youth Congress, who is the public face of the Tibetan independence movement.

It's Tenzin Tsundue, who lives the life of an impoverished, itinerant Tibetan independence activist, currently holding no position as far as I can tell in TPUM or its constituent NGOs.

Tenzin Tsundue is a prolific author of poetry and prose who has earned his place as the spokesman for the younger generation of Tibetan exiles, born outside their homeland, frustrated and radicalized by their eroding identity and the political impotence of their elders.

He won an Indian literary prize for a piece of anguished non-fiction, My Kind of Exile, describing the profound alienation of young Tibetan exiles.

One passage provides an interesting perspective on his remarkably strong feelings about the Olympics:

In October 2000 the world was tuned in to the Sydney Olympics. In the hostel, on D-day we were all glued to the TV set eager for the opening ceremony to begin. Halfway into the event I realised that I couldn't see clearly anymore and my face felt wet. I was crying. No, it wasn't the fact that I dearly wished I was in Sydney or the splendour of the atmosphere or the spirit of the games, I tried hard to explain to those around me. But they couldn't understand, couldn't even begin to could they? They belong to a nation. They have never had to conceive of its loss, they have never had to cry for their country. They belonged and had a space of their own not only on the world map but also in the Olympic games. Their countrymen could march proudly, confident of their nationality, in their national dress and with their national flag flying high. I was so happy for them.

'Night comes down, but your stars are missing'

Neruda spoke for me when I was silent, drowned in tears. Quietly watching the rest of the show I was heavy and breathless. They talked about borderlessness and building brotherhood through the spirit of games. From the comfort of home they talked about coming together for one humanity and defying borders. What can I, a refugee, talk about except the wish to go back home?

Tsundue cemented his renown by two high-profile actions targeting high Chinese officials visiting India, which started with daring climbs up skyscrapers to unfurl pro-independence banners, and concluded with his arrest and triumphant release.

He credits the pusillanimous response of the Tibetan government in exile to his harassment by the Indian authorities for catalyzing the five NGOs to come together to form TPUM.

Tsundue cultivates the air of an ascetic—a restless wanderer, owning little more than the clothes on his back, supporting himself by selling books of his poetry from a rucksack--whose holy cause is Tibetan independence.

His signature affectation is a red headscarf bandana that he has vowed not to remove until Tibet is free. He's worn it for eight years now, raising interesting questions of hygiene, mechanics, and textile engineering. The smooth-pated and tidy Dalai Lama apparently greeted him by asking “Don't you feel hot and sweaty on your forehead?”

The picture is of a lone warrior. However, as a recent interview in the Indian magazine Tehelka reveals, Tsundue moved beyond individual action to organizing.

Tsundue was interviewed in the context of the March to Tibet, which sputtered along ignominiously until it ended at the Indian border on June 18, continuously harassed by the Indian authorities but not in a manner heavy-handed enough to attract international attention and sympathy.

Describing his central role in the formation of TPUM, Tsundue said:

His Holiness and the Tibetan government-in-exile don't want confrontation, so some of us began to work on creating internal unity. We worked on bringing the five key Tibetan NGOS together. There has never been a common programme between them. The Youth Congress, which is the largest outfit, is committed to total freedom, while the Women's Association, which is the second largest, is closer to His Holiness' 'middle way' position and wants only autonomy. It took months of discussion before we presented an idea which brought people together. The idea was to march back to Tibet. We were going back to our own country. ...So on January 4 this year, we announced the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement and the march to Tibet. Right up to February, the government said it was disassociating itself from the NGOs. But there was such a swell in public mood they were forced to say they are willing to work with us. This is a major turn of events.

As noted above, Tsundue apparently took a pro-active role to ensure that Tsewang Rigzin, sympathetic to his strategy, was elected head of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

In the article, Tsundue repeatedly affirms his commitment to non-violence, stating that this is one point on which he and the Dalai Lama are in agreement.

However, in a 2005 New York Times Sunday Magazine profile, The Restless Children of the Dalai Lama, (which also notes in passing his already strong preoccupation with the Beijing Olympics) he indicated to a sympathetic interviewer that he did not consider nonviolence as a Buddhist imperative he was bound to honor under all circumstances. His commitment to non-violence is less than absolute and, in a certain light, looks rather situational:

One evening at the Peace Cafe, [Tsundue] told me that he could not rule out violence as a last resort. "Seeking Buddhahood," he said, "is one thing, and freedom for a country is another. We are fighting for freedom in the world and not freedom from the world."


Tsundue ...said that he could not identify Tibetan culture exclusively with Buddhism and that the preference for nonviolent politics could also become an excuse for passivity and inaction. "Our leaders quote Gandhi," Tsundue said. "But Gandhi saw British rule in India as an act of violence and said that resistance to it was a duty. I see the Chinese railway to Lhasa as a similar act of violence. What's wrong with blowing up a few bridges? How can such resistance be termed wrong and immoral?"

In the 2008 Tehelka article, he returns to the issue of non-violence, drawing a distinction between the Dalai Lama's commitment to non-violence and non-confrontation with Gandhi's willingness to confront the British.

And Tsundue went a step beyond Gandhi.

Asked to name his influences, he cited Gandhi...and Bhagat Singh.

A scramble to Wikipedia reveals that Bhagat Singh was a fire-eating advocate of Indian independence martyred by the British at the age of 24 in 1931, entitled to the title of Shaheed, and a posthumous hero to militant pro-independence Indian youth.

Singh, an atheist-anarchist-socialist, had rather shaky non-violent credentials. He threw a bomb into the Indian assembly, apparently to attract attention but not wanting to hurt anybody.

However, after arrest he was tried and executed by the British for a previously botched assassination he had committed, botched unfortunately not in the way of not succeeding, but in killing the wrong police administrator in trying to avenge the beating death of a leading activist during a non-violent protest.

The waters are further muddied by apparently unsubstantiated allegations by militants that Gandhi didn't employ his enormous influence with the British Raj to commute Singh's sentence, instead allowing him to go to his death.

Readers are welcome to unpack the parallels: Singh/Tsundue vs. Gandhi/Dalai Lama as they see fit. One author went the distance and spiked the metaphorical ball in the end zone, declaring Tsundue the Tibetan independence movement's “Che Guerva [sic]/Gandhi love child.”

An injudicious interview by the TYC's Tsewang Rigzin with Corriere della Serra in March reinforces a sense of TPUM's ambivalence about non-violence, describing pacifism as “a blind alley”, international sympathy as useless, and an alternate future in which Tibetan emigres turn to Palestinian-style violence.

It appears that Tsundue's doctrine does not involve simple non-violence. It involves non-violent confrontation with the option for righteous violence in self-defence if the opponent escalates the situation.

And that would fit in with a risky maneuver to encourage Buddhist monks in Lhasa to stage a courageous, non-violent, silent protest that would perhaps trigger a confrontation and widespread unrest throughout the Tibetan areas of the PRC—and provide an electrifying context, perhaps including a flood of refugees surging toward India, for the appearance of a brave band of Tibetan independence activists marching toward their homeland just as the eyes of the world are on China and its painstakingly choreographed Olympic torch photo-op in Lhasa.

I'm just speculating, of course. TPUM never set objectives for the March to Tibet, preferring to respond ad hoc to the facts on the ground.

In the event, the situation inside the PRC descended into violence so quickly—and with enough enthusiastic participation by anti-PRC Tibetans—to utterly obscure any potential narrative of a courageous, non-violent confrontation by the monks of Lhasa.

And the Chinese swept aside any political agenda for the confrontation, framing the unrest in terms of riot, sedition, and terrorism, and undoubtedly putting irresistible pressure on the Indian government to rein in Dharmsala and let TPUM and its march wither on the vine.

A question from Tehelka's reporter prompts an interesting revelation from Tsundue concerning his state of mind during the march:

How did you get these burns on both your hands?
Cigarettes. I did it to myself in jail a few weeks ago. I had a very troubling time. We had started on our march from Dharamsala, we were arrested on the fourth day. ... What was most frustrating was that while we were hearing that the whole of Tibet was rising up and the Chinese police was butchering them, I was supposed to be in a free country but I was in jail and couldn’t do anything. We were in jail for 14 days; all 14 days, people were being killed in Tibet. It was a most frustrating time. I urged our leaders to call a hunger strike so things would go out of hand and the police would have to release us. But they thought this would further aggravate the situation and create tension. I said, this is the time to create tension, but they said it would lead to more problems. So it was a very difficult time.

But why burn yourself? Was that to internalise the anger?
Yes, I think so (Long silence). It's not just anger but also how to maintain peace (Laughs).

The picture I get is not of peace. Or for that matter, anger.

I see despair.

The despair of a man who has tried to will a viable independence movement into existence by the force of his intellect, energy, and personality...but who now finds himself humiliatingly incarcerated in an Indian jail while a longed-for confrontation inside Lhasa, instead of yielding catharsis, unity, and triumph, quickly descended (no doubt with a helpful shove from the Chinese) into chaos and bloodshed.

I wonder how Tsundue felt on June 21, after the PRC government was able to conduct its Olympic torch run through Lhasa.

Three days earlier, the Long Marchers, shrunk to a core of 57 people, tried to enter the Indian border town of Darchula opposite Tibet. Surrounded by Indian police, the marchers broke into groups of four and tried to enter the town.

They were arrested by Indian police and subsequently released. The March to Tibet was over.

Tsundue was apparently not there. He was embroiled in legal proceedings in the city of Dehra pertaining to his arrest in the early stage of the march.

Despite brave talk of the value of the March to Tibet as a consciousness-raising exercise, it looks more like a demoralizing defeat, whose most dire consequences will be felt by the Tibetan exiles themselves, and not the PRC.

It turns out the Dalai Lama had asked the marchers to abandon their action and they rebuffed him, exacerbating the existing division between young militants and older moderates, no doubt to Beijing's delight.

One can probably add to that problem fresh fissures within the pro-independence coalition itself as the costs of the quixotic exercise are tallied up, and the strategy, tactics, and judgment of the movement's leaders are called into question, perhaps even by the leaders themselves.

The burns on his hands may not be the only scars Tenzin Tsundue carries away from this ordeal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dharna For None

A funny thing happened at the climax of the lawyers’ Long March to Islamabad to demand restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary.


To widespread dismay and confusion, Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, announced on June 14 that the marchers would disperse from their positions near the parliament building instead of staying on to conduct a dharna.

Dharna is loosely translated as a sit-in. More accurately, it refers to a public fast conducted in an appointed place to demand discharge of a defaulted obligation such as a monetary debt.

In the case of the Long March, a dharna before parliament would carry the implication that the lawyers were not petitioning the government—they were demanding that the legislature enact the explicit undertaking of the Murree Accord between the victorious opposition parties to restore the judiciary within 30 days of the seating of the National Assembly after the February 19 general elections..

As such a dharna would represent an overt challenge to Asif Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP, the man who had broken his promise to restore the judiciary and was instead attempting to bury the issue in a welter of prevarication, obfuscation, bluster, and convoluted counter-proposals.

Maybe that’s why Aitzaz Ahsan hesitated. He is, after all, a leading member of the PPP and perhaps shrank from issuing a mortal political challenge to the head of his party.

There are even anxious rumblings that Ahsan may abandon the judges and accept a deal on the PPP’s terms with less than full restoration of the judiciary.

Whatever the reason, Aitzaz Ahsan’s sudden attack of the collywobbles on the biggest day of his political life has given Asif Zardari a much needed political breather as the campaign to oust President Musharraf—and claim its political dividend--enters its endgame.

The Long March could have been a political disaster for Zardari.

His non-stop political maneuverings to consolidate his position within the PPP and on the top of Pakistan’s political heap since the general election have occurred at the expense of two things that Pakistan really wants—a quick, unambiguous restoration of the judiciary and a decisive, coordinated move by the coalition to oust Musharraf and transition to civilian rule.

Instead, Zardari has willfully squandered the unity of the democratic opposition and alienated a broad and influential spectrum of Pakistani society both inside and outside of his party by doing everything to secure his power and nothing to restore the judiciary and remove Musharraf.
At a crucial juncture in its history, Pakistan is divided, confused, and--beset by extremism, a hot war on its western border with Afghanistan, and the continuous intereference of the United States in its domestic politics--afraid.

A well-organized, politically and media-savvy confrontation in front of parliament would have highlighted Zardari’s shortcomings, the broad-based and principled character of the opposition to his policies, and the failure of his leadership--and perhaps given Pakistan's civil society a chance to rediscover the unity of purpose and exhilaration it experienced during the electoral struggle against Musharraf's government that culminated in the triumph of the February general elections.

Fortunately for Zardari, what he got instead was Aitzaz Ahsan.

Ahsan has shown a penchant for impulsive and unwise gestures—he resigned and unresigned as head of the Supreme Court Bar Association within 24 hours after a lawyer-related fracas last month—but the decision to pull the plug on the Long March without consultation, advance warning, or even a symbolic, two-hour dharna to reward and placate his loyal followers takes the cake.

When Ahsan suddenly announced there would be no dharna, he cited as justification that the movement lacked the funding and facilities to support a prolonged stay in Islamabad.

A confession that he had no idea how to feed and shelter his people when they showed up in Islamabad doesn’t say much for Aitzaz Ahsan as a political leader, or even as an event planner.

Don’t just take my word for it.

From The News:

A leader of the lawyers' movement and member of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Hamid Khan, on Monday termed not staging a sit-in at the Parade Ground a setback to the lawyers' movement that benefited President Musharraf and his aides.

“The decision taken by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan at the 11th hour not to stage a sit-in after holding a successful long march was a setback to the lawyers’ movement and no doubt it had benefited President Musharraf and his aides,” he told a news conference here at the Supreme Court.

Answering questions, Hamid Khan said earlier they had an understanding that the lawyers would stage a sit-in at the Parade Ground till June 14; however, it was changed at the last moment though majority of the lawyers had opposed it.

Dawn helpfully relayed some of Khan’s more pointed comments:

Hamid Khan said the decision to “hastily conclude the march was taken by one individual who announced it … without taking the implementation committee that was overseeing the event into confidence”.

He said that members of the committee were under the impression that lawyers would stage “at least a day-long sit-in but its (sudden) termination should be construed as an honest mistake”.

“Many bar associations went away fuming over the lost opportunity to force the government to reinstate the deposed judges,” Mr Khan said.

However, Ahsan’s embarrassing dilemma highlights the special character of the “color revolutions” that the Long March only superficially resembled.

When a “color revolution” of the sort that displaced unpopular regimes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan is whipped up, there are certain ingredients necessary for success.

When the colorful little forests of tents spring up in the main square, they are funded by George Soros or some other pro-democracy NGO. Food and money are funneled in by local and foreign sympathizers anticipating a profitable change in the political climate. Favorable media coverage is in place, often by outlets funded by the US or NGOs. The International Republican Institute comes out with a poll showing widespread popular support is for the demonstrators, and detestation of the current regime. The local US embassy and the State Department keep the media pot boiling and put pressure on the government with statements urging it “obey the will of the people”. Maybe behind the scenes foreign governments pony up cash and promises to grease the skids for the targeted government to vacate the premises.

And there’s toilets, as a thoughtful commentator pointed out:

I was greatly concerned about the logistical bottle necks when I learned that there was going to be a 48 hour sit-down. A crowd that large would excrete almost two thousand metric tons of urine every twelve hours, not to mention 37500 kilograms of poop over a twenty four hour period. So even if food and water could somehow be made available, what comes out the other end had nowhere to go.

Aside from favorable coverage in the liberal quadrant of the Pakistani press, the Long March enjoyed none of the international support or institutional advantages (and sanitary facilities) a professional “color revolution” requires.

No, the Long March was a genuine, indigenous “people power” political event: amateurishly planned and incompetently organized.

Despite the brave talk that the huge demonstration energized Pakistani public opinion against Musharraf and in favor of the restoration of the judiciary, it is easy to believe that Aitzaz Ahsan’s heretofore sterling reputation as a popular leader is tarnished, and the next time he calls for a demonstration, people are going to be less eager to hit the bricks.

Ahsan compounded his error by dropping from the media radar and neglecting to provide a clear explanation either of what had happened, what he thought had been accomplished, or what he planned to do in the future, leading critics and bewildered supporters to wonder if he was simply overwhelmed by the situation, party to some sordid deal, or had suddenly repudiated the action he so energetically championed in horror at its unforeseen, undesirable political consequences.

The PPP has jumped into the vacuum to ceaselessly belittle the demonstration and denigrate the lawyers’ movement, and to press its patently self-serving and not very accurate narrative that the PPP and Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and not the lawyers’ movement and the struggle for an independent judiciary, are at the center of Pakistan’s democratic revival.

From Dawn:

LAHORE, June 16: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari mocked the lawyers’ long march on Monday and declared his party would soon control the presidency.... “We know what to call a long march. We know when to call a long march. We know how to conduct a long march. And when the People’s Party calls a long march, then Pakistan will see what a long march really is....The day is not far off when... presidency will be held by the PPP. The time is not far when People’s Party will have a gathering like this in the President’s House and jiyalas will dance. And the walls will reverberate with “Long live Bhutto, Long live Bhutto”

The News held its tongue firmly in cheek while reporting Zardari—who is not an appointed or elected official of the government and owes his position to Benazir Bhutto’s political will and not to any democratic party process—described his central role in the genuine exercise of Pakistani democracy:

LAHORE: PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday made it clear that he would not accept dictation on when the judges should be restored, adding he was the one who would decide the issue....

“Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for democracy and not for deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry,” Asif Zardari said and added he would himself decide when to restore the deposed judges.

And who’s to gainsay him? The only legacy the Long March seems to have left behind is confusion.

In a mark of the bewildering fug of incompetence that hangs over the Long March, nobody even knows how many people showed up.

Opposition optimists claim 500,000 people showed up in front of parliament on the last night. The PPP-led government sneeringly low-balled the crowd at 20,000.

Sober observers believe that somewhere around 150,000 to 250,000 people were there—perhaps the largest demonstration in Islamabad in the history of Pakistani politics.

The government has consistently labored to downplay the size of the crowd and its significance. The befuddled lawyers’ movement has by inaction given it a free hand to redefine what happened.

Pictures that give an idea of the size of the crowd are virtually impossible to come by.

Nobody on the lawyers’ side made the effort to make sure that this historic event was properly documented. No press releases, no estimates, no aerial shots, no panoramas from the tops of buildings, nobody climbed up a light standard with a camera.

Plenty of shots of little bedraggled knots of demonstrators and groovy political street art, however, courtesy of a blog set up just for the march.

The most likely outcome of the Long March’s embarrassing fizzle will probably be the return of politics as usual to Pakistan—where the parties are opportunistic, patronage-driven assets of powerful political bosses.

Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, a bossman of the old school, had nevertheless hitched his wagon to the lawyers’ star, believing that an issue-driven modern political party could profit in Pakistan’s current environment.

As the march wound through Sharif’s Punjab stronghold on the way to Islamabad, he provided them with rhetorical and infrastructural support. When the lawyers gathered in the capital he obliged with a vein-popping, sweat-soaked oration declaring that Musharraf should be hanged.

Then, though the claim has been disputed, Sharif reportedly advised Aitzaz Ahsan behind the scenes to drop the dharna.

Perhaps Sharif realized that any attempt to sustain a mass sit-in before parliament with inadequate preparations in 100-degree weather was doomed to failure.

Or he calculated that Zardari would respond to the challenge of a successful dharna by finally pulling the trigger and pushing out Musharraf and restoring the judiciary, thereby robbing Sharif of a key and favorable differentiating issue.

And maybe Sharif decided it was better to let the Musharraf and judiciary issues fester to the PPP’s detriment, and return to his fiefdom of Punjab to consolidate his control and plot his strategy for provoking—and winning—the next parliamentary election.

One thing is clear. Once the Long March reached Islamabad, Sharif did not believe the time was ripe to overtly put the institutional, political, and financial resources of the PML-N behind a dharna to openly challenge Zardari and force the PPP to yield on the issues of Musharraf and the judiciary.

Conspiracy theorists (and the PPP) anxious to drive a wedge between Sharif and the lawyers are floating the idea that Sharif and Zardari have made a side deal involving a modified restoration of the judiciary, and pulling the plug on the dharna was part of the quid pro quo.

But it would seem unlikely that Sharif would lightly discard a useful political weapon—like a massive, highly energized popular movement—against Zardari, who views him as a deadly political rival, for the sake of an unpopular compromise on the judiciary.

Zardari and Sharif are currently meeting in Lahore for some tortuous negotiations on the fate of Musharraf and the judges.

Sharif is undoubtedly leveraging the facts on the ground as revealed by the Long March.

By virtue of his participation, his PML-N is now in a good position to exploit widespread dissatisfaction nationally and within the PPP toward Zardari’s policies (a PPP insider stated, perhaps hyperbolically, that 80% of the PPP members of the National Assembly would have joined the Long March if not for Zardari’s opposition).

For the PML-N, a satisfactory outcome may be to compel Zardari’s public support of Sharif’s high profile, uncompromising, and politically defining vendetta against Musharraf as the price of endorsing what pundits are already describing as an impending and highly unpopular “shady compromise” on the judiciary.

In any case, the Long March, which could have been a triumph for believers in democratic, civilian rule, has turned into an acrid, bewildering disappointment and a harbinger of politics as usual.

An opinion piece by journalist Anjum Niaz gives an idea of the glum mood among progressives:

Once more the people have been cuckolded. They dreamt of a soft revolution in front of the parliament house. They dreamt of a positive change. They dreamt of jumpstarting Pakistan's destiny to make it move forward. In sum, you and I dreamt of days ahead to be free of bad laws, bad men, bad judges and bad governance. We hoped things would be different this time around. Instead, what did the day after look like? It looked like exactly the day before the long march. Flaccid, impotent and obsessive.

Nawaz Sharif says "hang [Musharraf];" Asif Zardari says, "PPP will drive him out."We live in a country that has been cuckolded by its leaders for the last 60 years. The people have been deceived, cheated, betrayed and deluded in their partnership with their leaders--civilian and military.

"Tell us something we don't know," the readers may easily turn around and say. I have nothing new to add.

JFYI “Dharna for None” is a play on the song title “Dharma for One” a 1969 effort by prog-rock Methuselahs Jethro Tull.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Snake vs. Tiger!

Asif Zardari, the Wily Snake from Sindh...

Faces Off Against...

...the Tiger of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif...

..In a No Holds Barred Battle...

... to Force Pervez Musharraf From Office!

.. The Prize: Bragging Rights as the Savior of Pakistani Democracy!

If Pakistani politics honored its striking kinship with the rivalries, bombast, and chair-throwing brio of professional wrestling, it might be able to attract U.S. attention to what’s going on over there.

Pakistan’s democratic crisis may well come to head in Islamabad on Thursday.

That’s when the “Long March” of lawyers and political activists led by deposed Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudry and Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan reaches the capital to stage a sit-in in front of parliament and demand restoration of the judiciary.

Interestingly, in contrast to America’s heartfelt interest in seemingly hopeless causes such as humanitarian intervention in Burma and independence for Tibet, this important and broadly supported exercise in people power in one of the most populous and strategically vital nations in the world is attracting little attention in the United States.

Maybe the problem is that the designated flag-bearer of freedom, Asif Zardari’s PPP, isn’t reading from the democratic script and our least-favorite political force, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, is joining the sit-in with the demonstrators.

In Pakistan’s general elections on February 19, the public handed the opposition parties an unambiguous mandate to take power and finish the job the lawyers’ movement had begun: restore the judiciary and remove terminally unpopular president Pervez Musharraf from office.

Once it won power, the PPP didn’t deliver.

Just the opposite, in fact.

Instead, the new government—the government of the PPP and Asif Zardari—is refusing to support the lawyers’ march, has hauled in 40-foot shipping containers to block the approaches to parliament and set up sandbag positions, and, in a worrying harbinger of what methods might be brought to bear to derail the protests, raised the specter of “terrorist attacks” as a justification for obstructing the march.

In February, by contrast, the way appeared clear. All that was necessary was a parliamentary resolution restoring to their previous positions the members of the judiciary who had been unconstitutionally removed on November 3 because they were poised to challenge Musharraf’s unconstitutional re-election as president.

Prior to the general election, the leaders of the two leading opposition parties, Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and head of the PPP and Nawaz Sharif, head of the PML-N, met and concluded the “Murree Accord” promising that they would restore the pre-November 3 judiciary within 30 days of taking office.

Zasrdari promptly reneged on the deal, first playing semantic games: thirty days should be counted from the swearing in of the cabinet, not the speaker of the national assembly; then thirty days after the provincial assemblies took the oath of office; finally he simply said he “didn’t believe in timetables”.

Explanations—mostly leaked from the Zardari camp—abounded as to why he didn’t want to restore the judiciary. They included: intense pressure from the United States to protect its client Musharraf; longstanding resentment at the ill-treatment had meted out to Zardari in the past by unfriendly judges; profound concern over an excessively independent and activist judiciary.

A less-flattering explanation was that Zardari had availed himself of the good offices of the post-November 3 judiciary multiple times to quash cases against him running the gamut from corruption to murder, so that a newspaper could, with perhaps a touch of irony, describe him as “the cleanest man in Pakistan”.

Matters reached a nadir of sorts in April as the new government applied to the complaisant judiciary to strike down the requirement that candidates for the National Assembly be college graduates. This appeal was not so much triggered by the PPP’s commitment to democratic egalitarianism as by the embarrassing revelation that Zardari—whose political options including succeeding to his wife’s NA seat in a by-election—had lied about his educational achievements and, indeed, claimed a degree from a college that didn’t even exist.

However, the most likely explanation for Zardari’s inaction on the judiciary issue is his addiction to political maneuvering.

Zardari is an unpopular and allegedly unsavory character who owes his position as co-chairman of the PPP to his wife’s political will, and not election by the PPP rank-and-file or its central committee.

His overriding priority has been to discredit and marginalize the numerous political forces inside Pakistan whose credibility and popularity surpass his own.

Zardari’s first key test as the PPP leader was to humiliate and sideline Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who was not only Bhutto’s number two and anticipated political heir (he was beside Bhutto when she died in Rawalpindi, while Zardari was overseas in Abu Dhabi); as the head of the PPP’s electoral organization, he was the legal choice for prime minister. Fahim was dumped and a compliant placeholder, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was put in the prime minister slot instead.

Zardari then turned his attentions toward the lawyers’ movement, led by PPP member Aitzaz Ahsan, which is responsible for much of the reputation that the post-Bhutto PPP enjoys as a principled, popular, and national force, and not just a Sindhi-controlled political machine.

Zardari openly belittled the lawyer’s movement and Ahsan and rather ludicrously claimed that it was the PPP that had enabled the lawyer’s movement, when it was clear that the national uproar over Musharraf’s war on the judiciary beginning in March of 2007 had driven the president’s approval down into the 30s and compelled him to accept Bhutto’s return under US mediation at the end of the year.

Zardari’s fingerprints may or may not be on an extremely nasty effort by friends of Musharraf to discredit the movement to restore the judiciary and minimize its political impact by using provocateurs to foment violence in incidents that can be blamed on the lawyers, but his defense of the lawyers has been half-hearted at best.

Zardari professed that it was the PPP, and not the lawyers, that was the sole arbiter of the fate of the judiciary. He then spent the next few months energetically muddying the waters by floating numerous proposals and finally proposing a complex and probably unworkable grab-bag of constitutional amendments as his “solution” to the judiciary problem.

The most dangerous challenge to Asif Zardari’s political pre-eminence is, however, Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the PML-N, whose personal and electoral symbol is the tiger.

When the US arranged for Bhutto (and Zardari) to return, Saudi Arabia insisted that Sharif be allowed to come back, too. Sharif has had traditionally close ties to Saudi Arabia—he spent his exile there after Musharraf ousted him from the prime ministership in a coup—and it’s possible that the Saudis were simply looking after a capable and useful asset.

However, unlike Bhutto and Zardari, Sharif is not beholden to the United States and has little interest in confronting Islamic extremists and al Qaeda elements inside Pakistan primarily in order to save the West’s bacon in Afghanistan. Riyadh may have been favoring Sharif as part of its plan to try to achieve an accommodation with extremism and redirect the region toward a more conventional—and cooler—great power rivalry with Iran.

In any case, Sharif reappeared in Pakistan with a new image (he invested in hair plugs and a new wardrobe to compete with the ultra-charismatic and telegenic Bhutto) and a progressive, nationalist message that included whole-hearted support for civil society and civilian rule as epitomized by the lawyers’ movement.

Sharif was already a powerhouse in Punjab—his home province and Pakistan’s demographic, political, and economic heart—and his new message resonated nationwide and even within the PPP. Zardari was forced to accept an electoral alliance with Sharif’s PML-N, which enshrined in the Murree Accord the central demand that the pre-November 3 judiciary be restored. The PML-N roared to victory in Punjab, winning control of the provincial government, a large number of seats in the National Assembly, and important portfolios in the cabinet as a member of the ruling coalition.

Sharif, admittedly a late convert to the merits of an independent judiciary (while he was prime minister, his supporters organized a rent-a-riot against the judiciary to punish it for some rulings he didn’t like), has played his democratic cards astutely while consolidating his dominant position in the critical province of Punjab.

When all the Murree Declaration deadlines had passed, Nawaz Sharif pulled his people out of the cabinet. However, he didn’t enter the opposition and pledged that the PML-N would vote with the government on key issues, retaining the PML-N’s progressive credentials while sparing it the onus of bringing down the popularly-elected civilian government.

This unavoidably left the PPP as the dominant party in the ruling coalition.

And that’s the way Asif Zardari wanted it. Indeed, it was rumored that his delays and evasions over the last four months on the judiciary had no higher purpose than to force Sharif to quit the coalition.

Now, Zardari held the political initiative and could maximize and aggrandize the sole political credit for removing Musharraf from office.

So far, so good.

Signs are that Musharraf’s support in the Pakistani military and in Washington have fallen away, and the prize is within Zardari’s grasp.

But things are still a little tense.

Despite numerous hints to Musharraf not to let the door hit his behind on the way out of the presidential palace, he’s still hanging on.

Unsurprisingly, Musharraf wants a political indemnity that shields him from criminal charges related to his unconstitutional acts.

Unsurprisingly, Nawaz Sharif is letting Musharraf—and Zardari--twist in the wind by insisting that any indemnity is unacceptable.

Most worryingly, the lawyers’ movement has finally lost patience with Zardari and his unwillingness to follow through on the popular mandate for restoration of the judiciary, and has begun its long-threatened Long March to Islamabad to demand that parliament reinstate the judges—a move that is seen as ineluctably leading to Musharraf’s impeachment or resignation.

The PML-N is supporting the lawyers’ march wholeheartedly, and has vowed to join the lawyers in a sit-in before parliament.

This places the PPP in the unenviable position of siding with a few small coalition partners and the hated PML-Q (Musharraf’s faction) in opposing the march.

On Wednesday, the government was forced into an embarrassing climb-down, with Prime Minister Gilani’s advisor stating awkwardly, “We will not put up any sort of resistance”, and agreeing to let the lawyers rally in sight of parliament while cordoning off the area right in front of the building to forestall the efforts of the ubiquitous “miscreants” who wreak so much havoc in Pakistani politics.

So Zardari’s window of opportunity—during which he can claim a clear political victory by forcing out Musharraf, instead of absorbing a high-profile and embarrassing political setback by explicitly blocking the lawyers’ movement—is sliding shut.

He might still put it off.

In fact, he has to.

He’s alienated the core elements of the PPP, the lawyers’ movement, the PML-N, and a pretty wide swath of public opinion with his antics.

If Zardari comes out of this looking like Musharraf’s defender, the opponent of progressive forces inside Pakistan, and, most importantly, a loser, his party could fragment into factions that would reject his leadership and perhaps even align with the PML-N.

This is a matter of political survival for Zardari, and one can expect him to battle with the considerable resources of intelligence, guile, ruthlessness, and power at his command.

The battle between the snake and the tiger—it’s not over yet.

A Firefight in Pakistan

In the “interesting developments” file, NATO forces from Afghanistan operating inside Pakistan killed thirteen members of the Pakistan Frontier Corps, including a major, and wounded about a dozen more.

The fatalities were not the result of a stray mortar round or a Hellfire missile fired more on the basis of hope rather than solid intelligence.

A nightlong series of USAF airstrike carried out by two F15s and a B1 bomber supported by a surveillance drone plastered the Pakistani battlefield during a firefight between US and Afghan forces and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

That’s not quite precision firepower.

To me, the incident looks less like an accident than a message—that NATO operations inside Pakistan on behalf of the Afghan government take precedence over Pakistani concerns over sovereignty and even lives.

It may also be a signal that the United States has abandoned the hope of coordinated operations with the Pakistani army under Musharraf against the Taliban, and shifted to a risky strategy of unilateral incursions instead.

Pakistan’s The News reported a detail that neatly illustrates the nasty political fallout we can expect from this operation:

Almost seven hours after the attack, two Pakistan Army choppers were sent to the troubled tribal region to bring the bodies of the soldiers and injured to Peshawar. However, the choppers flew to troubled spot after waiting for hours at Ghalanai, the regional headquarters of the Mohmand Agency, to let the situation become normal and allow the US planes to return to their bases in Afghanistan.

Seven hours. That’s a long time to keep an ally from evacuating his dead and wounded from a battlefield.

Nevertheless, the US military got a sympathetic hearing from AP:

Whoever was to blame, the U.S. airstrikes that may have killed friendly fighters in Pakistan have inflamed relations between the countries and could undermine the struggle to stem violence along the Afghan border.

Teasing through Pakistani news reports, it appears that there was more to the incident than the usual fog o’ war/hot pursuit/bang bang angle the AP is pushing.

Prior to the confirmed reports of Pakistani casualties, Dawn carried this item:

Tension mounted along the Pakistan-Afghan border after Nato-backed Afghan National Army entered the Pakistani area in Mohmand agency on Tuesday.

The Afghan troops wanted to set up a checkpoint in Speena Soka and Sargai Gandove area.

ISPR director-general Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said the dispute between the two sides over the Afghan move was resolved through negotiations.

“They were setting up the post opposite the Pakistani post on the hilltop of Gora Payo, but were not allowed to do so,” he said. Sources said that Nato and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban militants near the Upper Mohmand region.

As background, the Afghan/Pakistan border is a British imperial artifact, the Durand Line, which is disputed by both sides and the NATO/Afghan forces perhaps thought they were within their rights to set up a checkpoint.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Afghan forces would try to set up a checkpoint and establish unilateral control over a piece of real estate that Pakistan, our ostensible GWOT ally—would consider its own turf, apparently with the knowledge and support of NATO.

There’s no love lost between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the issue of border disputes and, if NATO let Afghan troops go into an area controlled by Pakistan to try and set up a checkpoint, it was a rather inflammatory move.

While the Pakistanis told “the Afghans” not to set up their checkpoint, there was more going on than a negotiation. The dispute apparently occurred within the context of a running battle inside Pakistani territory between NATO forces and the Taliban militants they had pursued across the border that went on all day, climaxing with some pretty big airstrikes.

Judging by The News’ later and more circumstantial account, the whole episode looks very little like a “hot pursuit”, which is currently the only acknowledged justification for NATO operations inside Pakistan without prior Pakistani approval, and more like a planned incursion:

Around 80 US and Afghan soldiers earlier on Tuesday had moved towards Speena Sooka (White Peak) in the contested Sheikh Baba area, where Pakistan and Afghanistan for the past several years had wanted to set up a security check-post.

Both the neighbouring counties have been claiming the ownership of this strategically-important mountainous area, which on various occasions in the past resulted in violent clashes between the troops of the two countries.

However, the US troops backed by gunship helicopters and unmanned drones on Tuesday set up a military post on the disputed land and reportedly fired shots at the Pakistani security personnel when they offered resistance.

US military officials have reportedly complained that militants often use the same mountainous spot to infiltrate into Afghanistan to attack the allied forces.

The sources said the presence of the US forces in the volatile area provoked both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and consequently they attacked them.

The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani militants affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reportedly sandwiched the US troops when they respectively attacked them from both sides of the border.

The US troops reportedly asked for air support from their military airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan.

The sources, while quoting senior US military officials, said two US Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle planes dropped 4,500-pound precision-guided bombs on the Pakistani territory, about a half-mile inside the border, about 12 miles south of Asadabad, the provincial headquarters of the bordering Kunar province.

Kunar, by the way, is the site of a newly established NATO base just a few kilometers from the Pakistan border that is central to the strategy of taking the battle to the Taliban’s heretofore safe havens in Pakistan’s frontier territories.

The incident looks like a pre-planned interdiction operation, one that involved establishing some kind of armed presence at a crucial chokepoint inside territory claimed and controlled by Pakistan (I’m guessing they planned to leapfrog in front of some Taliban fleeing toward their Pakistani haven and give them that Aha! moment), and calling in air support if and when things got too hairy, which apparently they did.

The way the thing blew up into a rather major clusterf*ck entailing the killing and wounding of a couple dozen soldiers of a friendly power on their own soil seems to provide a lesson in why cross-border operations need to be conducted cooperatively, instead of unilaterally.

But that doesn’t look like a conclusion that the US is prepared to accept.

The Pakistanis are undoubtedly furious and appalled at the extent of the US airstrikes, which apparently went on all night, seemed to go far beyond the immediate needs of force protection, and killed or injured a goodly number of friendlies in addition to Taliban fighters:

The Pakistani villages that came under attack included Suran, Bahadur Kalley, Guloona and Speena Sooka. Also, an FC post at Gora Paro was attacked where around 50 soldiers were deputed.

According to sources, besides the FC personnel and villagers, several militants were also killed in the US air strikes that continued till Wednesday morning.

The News pointed out the diplomatic fallout:

Speaking here at the National Assembly on a point of order by Engr Amir Muqam, the prime minister said: “We strongly condemn this attack,” adding that no one would be allowed to carry out such attacks on Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the American Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson was summoned to the Foreign Office on Wednesday and a protest over the incident was lodged. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir conveyed the resentment of the government to the ambassador, said Foreign Office officials.

The foreign secretary told Patterson that the attack was unprovoked and a gross violation of international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. “The senseless use of airpower against a Pakistani border post by the coalition forces is totally unacceptable,” he said, adding that it (the attack) constituted a blatant and willful negation of the huge sacrifices that Pakistan had made in its endeavour to combat terrorism.

And, in a development that should be closely noted, even if the injury to tender Pakistani sensibilities is disregarded, unleashing the American colossus to brush aside the meddling Pakistani army and mete out condign punishment to the Taliban inside Pakistan may not turn out to be the trouble-free panacea that American military planners have been fantasizing about:

Maulvi Omar, TTP spokesman...claimed that their fighters had captured eight soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

Zabeehullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, also called this correspondent from an undisclosed location and claimed they had shot down a US chopper at Sarkano area in Kunar.

He also claimed that the Taliban had killed 20 US paratroopers when they parachuted in Kunar on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mujahid said 11 Taliban were killed and seven others were injured in the clash with the US troops on the Pak-Afghan border.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s incident, the Frontier Corps has been characterized as a “paramilitary force” with the implication that they are a bunch of undisciplined and perhaps disloyal dingbats who might even have joined in the battle on the Taliban side and pretty much deserved what they got.

The Frontier Corps is, ironically, something of a US creation and last year there was an effort to depict it in the noble tradition of the “Sunni Awakening” paramilitaries doing the anti-al Qaeda dirty work in Iraq.

The Times of India reported:

The United States has set up a program to train and equip a Pakistani paramilitary force recruited from tribal areas to try to counter Islamist militants, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Washington would supply equipment like helmets and flak vests to the tribal force, known as the Frontier Corps, but would not provide weapons or ammunition, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters. The plan also calls for the involvement of US Army trainers. He said the United States government believed that the tribal force was best-suited to fight militants who are believed to be behind a surge in violence in Pakistan's lawless mountainous regions bordering on Afghanistan.

"They are locally recruited and have local knowledge, language skills and most of all credibility with the people who live in those areas," he said. Asked about concerns that tribal fighters may not be reliable allies and may have ties to militants, Morrell said: "I don't think we would be proceeding with a plan of this nature, of this cost, unless we had some degree of confidence that it would be fruitful." He said that the corps was a legitimate part of Pakistan's security forces and the Pakistani government fully supported the plan.

The Pentagon came up with a non-apology concerning the deaths of eleven members of our erstwhile Frontier Corps allies.

Interestingly, it came via the same Geoff Morrell who had touted the advantages of the Frontier Corps last November.

He delivered a sterner message today. And it’s shouldn’t be surprising. Once the nature and extent of the US operation inside Pakistan is known, it’s hard to shrug off the prolonged and extensive bombing of Pakistani territory as an unfortunate accident.

The U.S. and Pakistan have "a vitally important relationship in an extremely dangerous part of the world," said [Pentagon spokesman] Morrell. "It is incumbent upon both of us not to let an incident like this or any other interfere with that fundamental shared goal of making sure the FATA (Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas) is not a refuge for terrorists who may be plotting attacks against the Pakistani government, the United States government, or any of our allies."

Actually, I think the fundamental goal of Pakistan is not having its citizens blown to pieces by American munitions, especially while it as attempting to broker a peace settlement with said citizens.

So Morrell’s implication that what’s important here is giving NATO forces a free hand to chase terrorists, even if it involves rather sizable collateral damage in terms of Pakistani lives, is not going to be appreciated over there.

And I also think it means that the United States has given up on its previous strategy—a Taliban-crushing pincer movement of NATO forces to the west and Musharraf-commanded Pakistani forces to the east.

With the civilian government anxious to reach an accommodation with the border tribes, it looks like the NATO alliance believes that open season against the Taliban inside Pakistan—despite what the Pakistan government wants and is trying to accomplish in its truce negotiations with border militants—is a military necessity to forestall the spring offensive the Taliban is expected to unleash against Karzai’s vulnerable government in Kabul.

An important indication of how important these operations are to the United States—and how far it is willing to go in affronting the Pakistani government—can be seen by the deployment by the ultimate weapon in Bush administration rhetoric: the threat of an al Qaeda attack on the United States.

The AP article concludes:

As recently as Monday, Mullen said that planning for the next attack against America is going on among insurgents in the border region.

"I'm not saying it's guaranteed it will happen, or that it is imminent," said Mullen, who has visited Pakistan three times since February. "We know that planning is taking place. ... That is a threat to us that must be dealt with."

This is a rather dishonest gambit, since the people we are chasing and killing in West Pakistan are largely Taliban threatening the Afghan government, rather than al Qaeda types plotting terrorist attacks against the United States.

But this invocation of the security of the American homeland and the value of American lives means that Pakistan is being put on notice that Pakistani sovereignty will be violated and Pakistani lives will be sacrificed with greater impunity in the months to come in pursuit of our strategic objectives in South Asia.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Iranian Gas Pains—for American Policy

Via the estimable Laura Rozen, a report on another effort to put paid to the Axis of Evil by cutting off Iran’s imports of gasoline, this time via a nonbinding bipartisan Congressional resolution proposed by Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York and Republican Mike Pence of Indiana.

It’s being floated at the AIPAC conference.

As we sweat through a summer of $4 gas, it certainly is infuriating to see Iran sucking up seven million gallons per day of the precious juice from the international market—and selling it for less than a buck a gallon at the pump in downtown Tehran.

But it appears likely that futility and frustration will continue to stalk the United States in our gas war with Iran.

There was a spasm of hope in the US foreign policy community last year when Iran tried a free market solution to dealing with its citizenry’s overconsumption of subsidized gas—it raised prices. Some gas stations were burned down, raising the specter of a righteous petrocarbon revolution.

However, the government backed down—guaranteeing a monthly ration of gas at the ridiculously low price—and the mollified protesters returned to their gas guzzlers.

The issue returns whenever the United States casts around for another way to pressure Tehran.

Previous efforts to cut off the flow through something I would characterize as “moral suasion plus”—the threat of US Treasury sanctions against banks that handle gasoline letters of credit—led to one of those irritating free market reactions: the Iranians shifted their purchases to cash at slightly higher prices on the Singapore market early this year.

The Ackerman-Pence resolution specifically excludes military action. That means the only additional measure open to the Bush administration would be to explicitly threaten financial reprisals against—well, that’s the problem right there.

It’s a good bet that the second-tier banks that Iran has turned to for cash transactions have minimal U.S. presence and therefore are relatively impervious to the big stick in Treasury’s arsenal—the threat that an offending bank will be cut off from the U.S. financial system.

If the bank isn’t intimidated enough to self-enforce the ban on Iranian transactions, then the U.S. has to detect and trace murky cash transactions in violation of national bank secrecy laws, threaten multiple jurisdictions and institutions with punitive sanctions, and basically risk the danger of appearing like Elmer Fudd shooting a the global financial house to pieces while he’s chasing Ahmadinejad’s Bugs Bunny.

The classic story of sanctions is Action: Meet Reaction.

Even as the U.S. government labors to exploit Iran’s gasoline import vulnerability, Iran is preparing its riposte.

And that means we have to prepare a riposte to their riposte.

An outfit called the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security provides an interesting insight into where a single-minded commitment to escalation can take one.

In a December 2006 report entitled Ahmadinejad’s Gas Revolution: A Plan to Defeat Economic Sanctions, IAGS authors Anne Korin and Gal Luft take aim at Tehran’s diabolical plan to reduce its dependence on imported gasoline, decrease its energy costs, and improve the environment... by converting automobiles to liquefied natural gas.

In its conclusions, the report warns darkly:

If Ahmadinejad’s plan for energy independence is implemented, within five years Iran could be virtually immune to international sanctions.

The solution, in Korin and Luft’s view: more sanctions, sabotage, economic warfare, and punitive US actions to strangle the Iranian LNG demon in its cradle.

If the Iranians switch to bicycles, I suppose the next step will be a war on gravity.

But for the time being, I suppose we can take solace in the fact that the Iranians are so stupid they don’t build sufficient domestic refining capacity to turn their own crude into mogas.

Well, maybe not.

Iran is aware of the problem.

Maintenance and expansion of their Shah-era refineries have been crippled by US sanctions--sanctions whose likely purpose in part is to prolong Iran's vulnerability to the "gasoline weapon". As a result, the product mix includes only 17% gasoline, about half of what a reasonably well-run refinery can achieve. If Iran could get those existing refineries up to capacity, they might not have to import any gasoline at all.

The government has bitten the bullet and decided to drop Euros 2.2 billion on a contract with China’s Sinopec to expand triple the gasoline output of two of its key refineries.

But there’s a good reason why the Iranian government has been reluctant to pull the trigger on these large, vulnerable, delicate, and ridiculously expensive facilities.

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculation, not building refineries makes perfect sense for Iran—at least in the context of socialist fiscal policy.

Currently, Iran pumps crude at a cost of let’s say $20/barrel and sells it for north—way north, today-- of $120 a barrel. Let’s assume a profit of about $100/barrel. Gasoline costs about $140/barrel wholesale. To make things simple, let’s say that Iran has to export 1.4 barrels of crude to net enough money to import one barrel of gasoline. Cost to Iran of that barrel of gasoline: $28 dollars in crude production costs. 42 gallons per barrel. Divide $28 by 42 and ta-da~! you get a cost of 67 cents a gallon, about the price it’s selling for at the pump in Tehran.

In other words, by the mathematics of a crude-based planned economy, Iranian motorists are getting gasoline roughly at cost.

How ’bout that.

Of course, from the a centrally-planned economy point of view, there should be better ways to spend Iran’s oil wealth than creating a thick brown haze over Tehran—and generating that ineffable sense of car-fueled freedom that is supposed to be the exclusive birthright of secular, capitalist free market economies.

As to the supposed no-brainer of building a refinery inside Iran to meet its gasoline needs, refineries are supposed to be built in major consumption centers, not production centers.

With a population of 50 million, Iran can stake a claim to be the Middle East’s major consumption center.

However, there is a 25 million ton surplus of gasoline production capacity in the Middle East already.

And here’s what’s happening in Saudi Arabia:

They already have 8 refineries with a throughput of 2.1 million barrels per day.

They are expanding local capacity by 25% to 2.5 million barrels per day at a cost of $12 billion.

Looking at the local glut, the Saudis have recognized that further refinery growth has to be near consumption centers, and they are putting another 800,000 barrels worth of capacity in China.

Long story short, there’s extra gasoline in the Middle East, and the Saudis are leading a charge to put in even more capacity.

Extra Iranian refining capacity is not really needed.

In refined products, they’ve lost the regional race to Saudi Arabia, and if Iran puts a refinery anywhere, it should be in Asia.

From a comparative advantage point of view, the Iranian government should be concentrating on pumping crude and using the proceeds to import gasoline and buy other nice infrastructure and technology that will be useful to Iran after the crude is gone.

The only reason for Iran to expand its refining capacity is the political factor, not the economic factor.

In other words, U.S. sanctions are distorting the free market in trade and investment in the Iranian petroleum industry.

On the whole, we’re the ones fighting the invisible hand of market economics, not Iran.

And maybe that’s why it seems we’re losing the sanctions fight.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Burmese Junta’s NGO Problem

One doesn’t have to be a paranoid Tatmadaw (Burmese army) jefe to believe that the United States, France, and the UK and the international NGOs would be perfectly happy to see the Myanmar government’s prestige and authority swept away as collateral damage as foreign personnel, money, and attitudes flood into the Irrawaddy delta after Cyclone Nargis.

Even under normal conditions, international NGOs are a calculated risk for a socialist dictatorship.

They provide assistance and international engagement, but they provide an alternate concept of how social services can be provided, how capable and well-funded these services can be—and who should deliver them.

And, since they have foreign ties, NGOs can’t be pushed around as easily when they conflict with the government’s priorities.

So, in socialist states like China and Burma, only apolitical NGOs like the Red Cross—that accept a subordinate role within the command and control structure of the state—need apply.

When a colossal disaster like Nargis strikes, it’s a mortal challenge for the government to assert its relevance, authority, and control as international aid tries to stampede into the death zone and even compliant local NGOs threaten to slip the leash.

Therefore, as I’ve argued before, the Burmese military is not sitting on its hands as the “refusing aid” reports might lead one to believe.

Instead, it’s buttoning up the delta, accepting dump-and-go aid, and energetically imposing a socialist disaster relief narrative on the situation to compete with the Western insistence that only a massive international effort far beyond the government’s capacity is a practical and moral necessity.

An June 4 article in the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar offers the local perspective on the extent of destruction of paddy fields in the delta:

A total of 0.18 million acres in Ayeyawady Divsion was destroyed by the storm. The number of destroyed acres in Ayeyawady Division is equivalent to 0.009 per cent of the cultivation acreage of the country and 0.036 per cent of the cultivation acreage of the Ayeyawady Division.

That number is, of course, acreage destroyed—presumably land that ceased to exist as the Nargis storm surge remade the landscape—and not land “affected” i.e. temporarily flooded, salinated, and clogged with corpses and debris, which the FAO estimates to be about 15% of Myanmar’s total paddylands

And that number might be a combination of wishful thinking and government BS.

But it offers an interesting rebuttal to the Western reporting on the issue which, through inattentive reading, might give the impression that 65% of Burma’s agricultural capacity has been destroyed. (I might add that, based on the experience of the Boxing Day tsunami, fields contaminated by sea water are effectively desalinated by the kind of abundant monsoon rainfall Burma is now experiencing, and can return to full production by the next planting.)

The Myanmar government’s recipe for disaster relief looks a lot like what China did in the fifties and sixties: downplaying the human magnitude of the crisis; lots of mass mobilization, suck-it-up and back-to-work rhetoric; very little hand-holding in the refugee camps; and no admission that international aid is necessary, and not just welcome.

Looking ahead, it should come as no surprise that the junta is getting ready to deal with challenges to its rule and settle a few scores.

The media outlet Mizzima is an opposition site, but this piece of tittle-tattle about Maung Aye—the junta’s number two man behind octogenarian Than Shwe and the guy who’s been doing the heavy lifting in the delta--has the ring of truth:

The regime has reversed its promise to cooperate with international aid agencies and will restrict their activities in the coming weeks, according to reliable sources in the Burmese army. "The Americans and the INGOs [international non-governmental organizations] are intent on enslaving our country, they do not want to help our people," General Maung Aye told government ministers in charge of reconstruction earlier this week. Local community organisations are also to be targeted, as they are seen as slaves to donors, the source said

Two days ago in the regional capital, Pathein, Maung Aye told ministers charged with co-ordinating the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort that the government had "declared war on the INGOs and local groups who received donations money from donors".

Maung Aye has long been suspicious of the activities of international aid agencies. When then military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt was arrested in October 2004, Maung Aye was dismayed when he discovered the extent and access international NGOs had got – especially in Shan state. He feared that their work in the predominantly ethnic areas would destabilise government efforts to disarm the ethnic rebel groups that had ceasefire agreements with the government.

"Maung Aye may also have been shocked at the extent of the relief efforts being carried out by local Burmese community groups, like those of Zargana and Kyaw Thu," the independent Burmese academic, Win Min told Mizzima. "The army's efforts by comparison would seem insignificant," he added.

It’s a little premature to go after the NGOs and their domestic sympathizers now, when the junta is still trying to gauge how much disaster relief and reconstruction aid can be extracted from the international community.

I imagine that we will see an increase in stories in New Light of Myanmar extolling military relief efforts and denigrating NGOs in a month or so, when the last load of plastic sheeting and water purification tablets has been unloaded at Yangon airport.

Then the junta will be ready to roll the dice on the key event that will determine the success of its disaster strategy and perhaps its political survival: bullying and cajoling the shell-shocked farmers of the delta to return to their shattered fields and plant the crucial monsoon paddy.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Turning the News Upside Down

Covering Secretary Gates’ Statements on Myanmar

I was rather surprised to read that US SecDef Robert Gates had publicly blamed the Myanmar junta for causing the deaths of tens of thousands.

His speech at the Asia Security Conference in Singapore was extensively covered, and produced dozens of headlines such as: Myanmar’s Delay on Aid Cost tens of thousands of lives: Gates; Myanmar junta’s obstruction cost tens of thousands of lives: Gates; Myanmar Aid Stonewalling left tens of thousands dead. Und so veiter.

After all, as I saw it, Gates’ mission in Asia is to advance the image of the United States as an apolitical, disinterested regional humanitarian and security force.

Publicly accusing the Myanmar government of mass murder—even if he privately considered it the case—would seem to be a big step into turbulent political waters for Gates and the US military.

Not to worry. Just lazy headline writing.

From Gates’ prepared remarks:

As you know, American ships and aircraft diverted their earlier Cobra Gold operational plans to help provide, once country approval was received, rapid relief to victims of cyclone Nargis in Burma. Our ships and aircraft awaited country approval so they could act promptly to save thousands of lives – approval of the kind granted by Indonesia immediately after the 2004 tsunami and by Bangladesh after a fierce cyclone just last November. We worked with both nations to alleviate suffering, while fastidiously respecting their sovereignty.

With Burma, the situation has been very different – at a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Many other countries besides the United States also have felt hindered in their efforts. Despite these obstructions, we continue to get help into Burma and remain poised to provide more. Indeed, we have shown in recent weeks our determination to give our entire support to save lives, using every channel to get relief to the victims. We welcome ASEAN’s leadership, and look forward to the quick emergence of a mechanism that can help international assistance reach those who need it.

Note that Gates carefully ascribes the loss of life to “the situation” and uses the passive voice—countries have “felt hindered”—to avoid directly accusing Myanmar of killing thousands of its own citizens.

As for the post-speech Q&A, AP reported:

Gates' comments came a day after he made his strongest public condemnation of the Myanmar government at the conference, saying that Myanmar's rulers "have kept their hands in their pockets" while other countries sought to help cyclone victims.

Gates’ actual remarks make it clear he was characterizing Myanmar’s response to American initiatives, not its disaster relief activities.

``We have reached out to Myanmar multiple times during this crisis in very direct ways,'' Gates said. ``It has not been us that have been deaf and dumb. We have reached out; they have kept their hands in their pockets.''

New York Times headliners committed a similar transgression with the headline “Gates Accuses Myanmar of ‘Criminal Neglect’”.

What he really said:

When asked whether the Myanmar government’s actions were tantamount to genocide, Mr. Gates stopped short of that accusation. “This is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect,” he said.

I’m not saying that, in his heart, Robert Gates doesn’t think that the Myanmar regime was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, that the junta kept their hands in their pockets instead of helping their people, or that they were guilty of criminal neglect or, for that matter genocide.

But he didn’t say it.

He said something else, and it was important.

The most important takeaway from the Singapore conference was Gates’ affirmation of the importance of sovereignty and his refusal to provide rhetorical justification or concrete support for humanitarian intervention.

In fact, Gates made it clear that all aid from the U.S. military had been predicated upon acquiescence by Myanmar junta and, when he didn’t obtain it after repeated representations, Gates determined that the U.S. Navy probably has no options left but to steam away.

Gates affirmed again there is unanimous opposition in the international community to forcing aid to the Myanmar people suffering in the wake of the devastating cyclone that struck in early May.

"There is great sensitivity all over the world to violating a country's sovereignty," Gates said. "Particularly in the absence of some kind of U.N. umbrella that would authorize it."

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that even when the decision is made to pull the four U.S. Navy ships off the coast, the vessels will move away slowly enough to turn back if there is an unexpected change of heart by the Myanmar government.

All in all, a judicious and measured performance by a civil servant who has absorbed the military and diplomatic lessons of Iraq and is unwilling to consider unilateral intervention unless vital American interests are at stake.

The headline could have—should have—read US Turns Away from Humanitarian Intervention in Myanmar: American Ships to Depart.

But it didn’t get reported that way.

A small point, perhaps, but to me an indication that that the media indignation mill has an insatiable demand for grist that accurate reporting simply can’t provide.

Can't Stop Thinking About Bo Diddley

Update: Thanks to JC at American Footprints for unearthing the famous Bo Diddley performance on the Ed Sullivan show discussed below. It includes Mr. Sullivan mangling the introduction in his inimitable defective-robot style. CH, 6/4/08

“I look like a farmer...but I’m a lover; can’t judge a book by lookin’ at its cover”

There was more to Bo Diddley than bomp ba bomp bomp...bompbomp.

Beyond pounding that riff into the ground in a dozen classic songs, his fascination with doo wop ( I’m Sorry and the heavenly You Know I Love You), nonsense pop (Diddy Wah Diddy), electric blues a la Jimmy Reed (Before You Accuse Me), rock (Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover), novelty (Road Runner), rockabilly (Cadillac), surf guitar (Mumblin’ Guitar), unhinged violin lounge (The Clock Strikes Twelve) and unique, majestic mashups of rhythm and harmony (Josephine) created a body of work unrivalled in American popular music for its genius and variety.

Bo Diddley built his own guitars—not just the distinctive shapes, but also the custom electronics—and his incendiary stage shows were so legendary, Chuck Berry reportedly developed his characteristic duck walk in self-defense, in order to hold his own on the package tours they shared. Bo Diddley also claimed Elvis had been smuggled into the wings during one of his shows to pick up some tips on showmanship from “The Originator”.

Bo Diddley’s enormous talent intersected with the post-World War II economic, media, and artistic explosion that mixed country, rockabilly, pop, rhythm and blues and created the musical and business paradigm of American pop that rules the world today.

Bo Diddley mixed and mastered virtually every key element of 1950s American music. It’s an amazing achievement for a young man who, by the time he was 26, had exchanged his birth role as a sharecropper in Mississippi for the life of a rock star.

He apparently recorded his experience on a home movie camera that he carried with him on tour. His footage would no doubt create a fascinating document of American pop culture in the 1950s, although there may be difficulties—the only reference in print to Bo Diddley’s filmmaking activities that I’ve seen relate to Etta James’ account of him filming an orgy in (I think) a Philadelphia hotel room.

Bo Diddley’s pride, self-confidence, enthusiasm, and restless, exploring intelligence are palpable in his music—and his prickly relations with the people on the business side of his music.

Famously, Bo Diddley commemorated a major milestone in his career—an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1955—by refusing to play his cover version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s old chestnut “Sixteen Tons” as Sullivan instructed, and knocking out his defiant anthem “Bo Diddley” instead. provides an amusing recap of the show’s context:

“Dr. Jive's Rhythm and Blues"> --Bo Diddley - "Bo Diddley"
--LaVern Baker - "Tweedlee Dee"
--The Five Keys - "Ling Ting Tong"
--Willis "Gater Tail" Jackson & his Band (instrumental song with saxophone solo)
Note: The above acts were all part of a revue of rhythm & blues acts introduced by Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls, a New York disc jockey. ("Dr. Jive's Rhythm and Blues" was a revue at New York's Apollo Theater.)

Additional guests:
--Film clip from "Big Knife" with Rod Steiger & Jack Palance
--Ted Lewis (bandleader-singer) - "How Long Is He Gonna Last?" & "Me And My Shadow"
--Suzanne Brooks & Ted Lewis - "After You've Gone"
--Jack Carter (comedian, stand-up routine)
--Caesari Siepe (of the Met opera) - "Na Voce'na Chetarra" (in Italian) and & "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing"
--Wandy Tworek (Danish violinist, does a comic musical act)
--Vicente Escudero (69-year-old Spanish Flamenco dancer)
Audience bows: Helen Hayes, Robert Dowling, Farley Granger

In today’s terminology, Bo Diddley blamed what we would today call a “repertoire malfunction” for the misunderstanding.

John Collis continues the story in The Story of Chess Records (Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 1998):

An argument ensued during which Sullivan accused Bo of being the first ‘colored boy’ to double-cross him, an insult that earned him an attempted right hook.

To complete the day, Bo was forced to sign for his fee, $750, and then give the cheque straight back. For a ‘colored boy’ it was apparently considered enough to simply appear on Sullivan’s show...

Bo Diddley has spoken at length about his financial travails at the hands of Chess.

Collis quotes from a Rolling Stone interview:

Well, Bo Diddley ain’t got sh*t. If Chess Records gave me, in all the time that I dealt with them [about 20 years and 20 albums—ed], if they gave me $75,000 in royalty checks, I’ll eat my hat...Somebody got the money—everybody in this business has big mansions and stuff...I got a log mansion. When I left Chess Records, they said I owed them $125,000.

At Bo Diddley’s nadir, he sold the rights to his songs back to Chess.

On my shelf I have a copy of an undated promotional CD, executive producer Marshall Chess, entitled Bo Diddley is a Songwriter, issued to the trade by Arc Music to flog the great man’s music to licensees, a consideration that Chess apparently saw unfit to extend while Bo Diddley still owned the rights to his songs and could profit from them.

Bo Diddley never uncorked a series of perfect records like his labelmate at Chess, Chuck Berry, was able to do.

He never charted No. 1 and his biggest hit was Say Man, a throwaway insult session between the bandleader and his maraca player (I was walking down the street with your girl...and the wind blew her hair into my face...and the wind blew her hair in her face...and the wind blew her hair in the street!) enlivened by a magical piano riff from Chess’s legendary sessionman Lafayette Leake.

Nevertheless, his genius for songwriting, performance, and innovation and his titanic influence place him in the first rank of American musical geniuses of the 20th century.

Bo Diddley aka Otha Ellas Bates aka Ellas McDaniel 1928-2008 RIP