NATO commanders insist that their mission in Afghanistan is one of reconstruction, but that combat is an inevitable byproduct. Now, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is under pressure from its Afghan hosts to reduce mounting civilian deaths, even as member nations such as Canada face renewed pressure to withdraw completely. Italy’s ADNKronos says a NATO bombing run gone awry killed nine Pakistani civilians on the Afghan border, including three women and four children — prompting the suicide of the 70-year-old patriarch of the family. The Associated Press reports that U.S. commanders don’t feel any procedural changes in military operations are required, however, asserting that current measures help “minimize” the civilian toll. A Pentagon spokesman also vehemently denied that NATO troops are killing more civilians than the Islamist militants they are fighting.
Even as President George W. Bush authorized a controversial plan to centralize government powers in the White House following any large-scale national disaster, a closed group of government officials and scholars studied “contingencies” for dealing with nuclear terrorism in the United States. “The Day After,” a meeting hosted by the Preventive Defense Project, was staged behind closed doors in Washington, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The group addressed a variety of issues, including health and shelter concerns, as well as the imposition of martial law and the eventual restoration of civil liberties. Terrorism fears turned inward in Alabama, where the state’s Homeland Security office was found to host a Web site that listed anti-war and gay rights activist groups among possible terror suspects. The site was taken down following protests.
Even as President Pervez Musharraf’s dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry continues to shake up Pakistan, Islamists along the fractious border with Afghanistan are extending their territory and evading government efforts to bring them to heel. In Lahore on May 6, tens of thousands turned out to greet Chaudry, who critics say was ousted for refusing to support Musharraf’s bid to extend his military rule. But bloody street fighting erupted in Karachi six days later in advance of Chaudry’s speech before the Karachi Bar Association, taking the lives of 48 opposition party members. Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif claimed that the killings were “masterminded” by Musharraf and his allies in the Muttahida Quami Movement, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports. Egypt’s Al Ahram Weekly says that the MQM is the party of ethnic north Indians who immigrated to Karachi after 1947, and were involved with “communal wars” there that left “thousands” dead in the 1980s.
Thousands of Iraqi children earn $3 to $7 a day making bombs, cleaning guns and transporting weapons for Shiite and Sunni militias in Baghdad. The chlorine bombs burn the children and sometimes detonate, but insurgents say they can’t be blamed for something that parents have consented to. Iraqi parents blame a lack of work, or say their children are threatened if they don’t follow orders. One father justified sending his sons to make bombs by saying it puts food on the table and helps fight the Americans. In India, militias are recruiting hundreds of child soldiers to fight rebels along the India-Myanmar border.
Underfunded, living in illegal camps and turned away from Arab and Israeli borders — the lot of the Palestinian grows ever more dire. In the Palestinian territories, a Western aid boycott against the Hamas government has led to a strike last week by tens of thousands of government workers who haven’t been fully paid since the Islamists came to power. In Syria, Palestinians refugees from Iraq have been held at the border in a camp with only one doctor, and little shelter from winter floods and summer heat. Other refugees from Iraq are permitted free entry to Syria, but the U.N. news service reports that Syrians feel they already have “enough” Palestinians. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees make up some 10 percent of the population, and about a quarter-million live in unregistered camps.
Writing in the Guardian, columnist Henry Porter says Western forces may have triggered the violence in Iraq, but that “the great majority of casualties are caused by Arabs killing Arabs.” In particular, he condemned “the Muslim world” for silence over Islamist use of chlorine gas in civilian attacks, which turns to acid when contacting the skin, lungs, eyes, throat and nose. Accountability is topic No. 1 in Canada as well, where critics called for the resignation of Defense Minister Gordon O’Connor after reports blamed Canadian troops for the torture of more than 30 Afghan prisoners. O’Connor says he will investigate, but his detractors say that government awareness and acceptance of torture is equivalent to complicity in “war crimes,” the Canadian Broadcast Service reports.
Newspaper Web sites around the world are rife with rumors of new aggression in the Persian Gulf. Russia’s national news agency say U.S. military exercises in there are not just a show of strength, but also a warmup for an April 6 attack on Iranian nuclear sites, and that U.S. naval forces in the Gulf match levels prior to the Iraq invasion. The Israeli Web site DEBKA quotes “Arab sources” who say that Bahrain is being used as a staging ground for Patriot anti- missile units, hotels there are filling up with U.S. military personnel, reporters are arriving in “packs,” and that American businesses are being advised to leave the country. Some rumors claim that the attack will be a joint operation with Israel, and will also target Syria and Hezbollah. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said no such plans are in the works.
President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs will fail unless the United States cracks down on arms sales to drug smugglers, Mexican officials say. Not only do drug cartels get the majority of their weapons from U.S. dealers — they also net between $10 and $30 billion a year in sales to American drug users. That cash buys more arms used to attack Mexican police and politicians, the Associated Press reports. Calderon’s drug fight is also complicated by corrupt officials. Last week, an American jury convicted Ricardo Gonzalez Camacho, a Mexican police officer, of smuggling 55 pounds of cocaine into the United States.
A bill that would grant amnesty to warlords and militants, including government officials accused by human rights groups of war crimes, is advancing through Afghanistan’s legislature. The Telegraph reports that 25,000 former militants came to Kabul for a peaceful demonstration in support of the amnesty call, which the newspaper says was “triggered” by the execution of Saddam Hussein. But more than two decades of invasion, jihad and civil war have taken their toll. According to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, some members of Parliament walked out to protest the vote, and citizens on the street are in a similar mood. “Parliament is a shelter for criminals,” a Kabul shopkeeper told the IWPR.
Observers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s plan to return every Baghdad home to their original owner within 15 days, or have displaced families prove they have permission to be there, will drive another wave of refugees. One man interviewed by the U.N. news service says his family was placed by Sunni politicians in a new home after being “purged” from his old neighborhood by the Mahdi Army.