Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A ceasefire allowing helicopters and trucks to be used to bring aid to flood victims is the way to win to save lives and win hearts and minds

Survivors of the floods in Pakistan face hunger, lack of clean water and exposure to the elements. A ceasefire could allow more of the helicopters being used in Afghanistan and some of the 5,000 truckloads a month of supplies going to NATO troops there to be used to rescue supply flood victims - saving lives and winning hearts and minds - Picture - AFP/Getty Images via CNN

With tens of millions of people without food or clean water after the floods in Pakistan; and the UN urgently requesting more helicopters for the aid effort; NATO governments should declare an immediate unilateral ceasefire in Afghanistan and re-direct many of their military helicopters and supply trucks from the war to the relief effort (1) – (4).

This could save large numbers of lives and win large numbers of hearts and minds which cannot be won by continuing the war, especially as the flood hit areas include some with large Pashtun populations, the same group which most Taliban on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border come from.

If the Taliban agree to a ceasefire then some of the vast quantities of ammunition and fuel currently being shipped to Pakistan and then through passes into Afghanistan for NATO forces could be replaced by aid shipped and trucked to flood survivors, with the operation placed under the command of charities, not military commanders.

Currently 5,000 truckloads a month of supplies are shipped to Pakistan then trucked through Pakistan and Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass to NATO forces there. Yet enough labourers and trucks have been hired to re-open routes that NATO spokespeople say “There’s no disruption that would influence any of our operations at that sort of level.”. (5) – (6).

If the Taliban continue attacks on NATO forces during a ceasefire called to help other Afghans, Pashtuns and Muslims they will lose support as a result.

I’m personally in favour of withdrawing from Afghanistan, but of course as long as we have troops in Afghanistan we have a duty to keep them supplied with enough food, ammunition, fuel and transport to avoid un-necessary casualties – so the aid redirected could not include the use of all the helicopters in Afghanistan or the redirection of all supply trucks to carry aid instead.

However if all military offensives were suspended by a ceasefire the troops would require far less supplies for purely defensive operations. The message sent  by helicopters and supply trucks being sent to save Muslims would have an immense impact on the view of NATO governments held by ordinary Afghans, Pakistanis and Muslims worldwide; just as many flood survivors have been turned towards Islamic fundamentalist groups by receiving aid from them. More importantly it could save huge numbers of lives.

It could also help build trust for a peace agreement which will have to come sooner or later in a war in which US intelligence reports show 90% of the people fighting NATO are neither Taliban nor Muslim fundamentalists (7).

The war in Afghanistan has been extended to Pakistan by the Obama administration on a much greater scale than under Bush, with more unmanned drone strikes (causing many civilian casualties), more US military aid to the Pakistan military dependent on them fighting the Pakistan Taliban and more US Special Forces leading Pakistan ‘counter terrorism’ units as they, for instance, round up suspected Taliban, torture them and shoot them in the head. Dozens of tortured bodies were found in the town of Swat for instance, after a US led offensive by the Pakistan military. Later a bomb set there killed 3 US special forces trainers. Swat is one of the areas hit by flooding. (8) – (13).

The Taliban on both sides of the border have committed plenty of murders of their own, including murdering a woman who made her living by dancing and stoning women accused of adultery to death.

This does not make torture and summary execution without trial of anyone suspected of being a Taliban, without any trial, somehow better though, especially since it will result in the torture and murder of many people who turn out to be innocent.

So far some victims of the floods say they have had more help from Islamic political parties like that of former Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif and from more extreme groups linked to the Pakistan Taliban than they have from their own government or foreign governments (though some have actually welcomed any help, including from US forces). If this continues it will both cost a lot of civilian lives – far more than terrorism – and win a lot of hearts and minds – for the Taliban and similar extremists (14).

If NATO continues to use helicopters, ships and trucks which could be helping flood victims to send more fuel and ammunition to fight a war in Afghanistan while millions of Pakistanis starve or die of waterborne diseases due to lack of clean water though, the message to them will be clear : that NATO governments don’t really care about saving their lives, nor about winning their hearts of minds by any means except force or the threat of it. This will be especially so as the trucks bringing supplies to NATO troops in Pakistan via the passes on the border in North-West Pakistan will be passing through flood hit areas on their way.

Currently the US military have provided 19 helicopters out of at least 225 that they have based in Afghanistan and have rescued thousands of people from drowning (15) – (18). (They have far more helicopters than this in total worldwide but the majority are being repaired and maintained at any one time. The British military, much smaller, has 500, though most aren’t suitable to carry troops and many have to be repaired and refitted at any one time (19)). This is great to hear and has saved thousands from drowning, but a pretty small contribution for the second largest economy in the world and the only superpower, particularly compared to the hundreds left devoted to the war in Afghanistan.

NATO also promised to send ships and planes with aid. So far that seems to have amounted to just three planeloads from the whole of NATO (much of it from Slovakia, one of the poorest and smallest countries in NATO) and one US navy ship carrying 1,000 marines. Again this aid is welcome and important and saving lives, but compared to the resources devoted to killing people in Afghanistan, it’s very small stuff, especially coming from an organisation which includes the largest military in the world and two of its wealthiest economies – the EU and US – not forgetting Canada (20) – (23).

NATO’s website boasts of having “transported more than 421,000 pounds of emergency supplies”, with pounds presumably chosen as the unit of measurement because if you translate that to tonnes it comes out at just 186 tonnes – a small fraction of the amount supplied to NATO troops in Afghanistan over the same period (24).

By 25th August the UN said it had just 13 helicopters for the flood rescue effort – and for the supply of food and clean water to refugees on a scale that dwarfs the rescue effort (25).

 It’s not much good rescuing people from drowning if you then let them and a thousand times as many others die of hunger, exposure or water borne disease.

The US’s defence budget for the financial year 2010-2011 is  $637 billion (a billion being a thousand million here). Spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 already exceeds $1 trillion (i.e 1 million million dollars).US government spending on the war on Afghanistan for the same period is estimated to come out at around $41 billion (41 thousand million). It’s pledge for aid to Pakistan flood victims stands at 150 million, which, while it’s the most pledged by any government so far, works out at less than 0.4% of it’s budget for the Afghanistan war this year. Even if you compare total US aid to Pakistan each year, at $7.5 billion over 5 years, or $1.5 billion a year, it comes to under 4% of spending on the war on Afghanistan per year, despite education and employment being far more effective ways to reduce terrorism and the overlap of sectarian violence with crime (26) – (27).

British government priorities don’t seem to be much better – one helicopter for instance being used to carry British Prime Minister David Cameron about on a public relations and vote getting exercise – and another used to let Deputy PM Nick Clegg do the same a few days later. Apparently this use of a helicopter was more important than either transporting troops in Afghanistan or saving drowning or hungry or ill people in Pakistan. The main debate in the media was over whether security against the Taliban shooting Cameron’s helicopter down was good enough or not (28) – (29).

Far more money and effort is being invested in getting ammunition and fuel to NATO forces to continue the war than to save any civilian lives in Afghanistan. This is exactly how you lose a war for the hearts and minds of the majority of the population.

(1) = UN General Assembly 19 Aug 2010 ‘General Assembly Calls for Strengthened Emergency Relief to Meet Pakistan’s Urgent Needs after Massive Destruction Caused by Unprecedented, Devastating Floods ;Secretary-General Briefs on Visit, Says Disaster Test for Global Solidarity; World Must Act, So ‘This Natural Disaster Does Not Become a Man-Made Catastrophe’, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/ga10969.doc.htm

(2) = BBC News 20 Aug 2010 ‘UN says Pakistan urgently needs more aid helicopters’,

(3) = BBC News South Asia 25 Aug 2010 ‘Pakistan floods: Aid effort needs more helicopters’,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11080542 ; ‘The aid operation in Pakistan urgently needs at least 40 more helicopters to help an estimated 800,000 people trapped by flood waters, the UN says. The warning comes as the country's prime minister said he was "seriously concerned" about potential epidemics of water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.

(4) = Reuters 25 Aug 2010 ‘U.N. appeals for more helicopters for Pakistan flood aid’, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/22/20100825/tts-uk-pakistan-floods-ca02f96_2.html ; ‘"We have got thirteen helicopters right now. We would like another 37 because more are needed," said U.N. humanitarian spokesman Maurizio Giuliano. "We are using aid drops. It's not the best way of doing it, but it is the only way."....The World Food Programme urged Pakistan's government to quickly help the 800,000 people who can only be reached by air. "The fear is they may die of hunger or any (disease) outbreak," WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal told Reuters.

(5) = NATO Source Alliance News Blog ‘NATO Supply Route to Afghanistan Disrupted by Pakistan Floods’,http://www.acus.org/natosource/nato-supply-route-afghanistan-disrupted-pakistan-floods ; ‘Pakistan is the major supply route for equipment destined for 141,000 Nato forces in Afghanistan, with some 5000 lorries a month travelling through the Khyber pass on their way to the border and Kabul beyond... A spokesman for the American embassy in Islamabad said supplies were still getting through and that the floods would not affect the safety of service personnel in Afghanistan...“There’s no disruption that would influence any of our operations at that sort of level,” he said.’

(6) = New York Times24 Aug 2010 ‘Pakistan Flooding Disrupts Afghan War Supplies’,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/world/asia/25pstan.html ; ‘Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for United States Transportation Command, which oversees logistics for the war, said that the flooding had slowed supply lines but had not stopped matériel from getting to American troops in Afghanistan. ...“The bottom line is that stuff is moving,” Captain Aandahl said. He said he did not know the extent of the slowdown, but that goods were still crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan via the two main border crossings.

(7) = Boston Globe 09 Oct 2009 ‘Taliban not main Afghan enemy - Few militants driven by religion, reports say’, http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2009/10/09/most_insurgents_in_afghanistan_not_religiously_motivated_military_reports_say/

(8) = NYT 28 Feb 2009 ‘Obama Expands Missile Strikes InsidePakistan’ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/21/washington/21policy.html

(9) = New Yorker 26 Oct 2009 ‘The Predator War’,http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_mayer ; see especially final section, beginning ‘Predator drones, with their superior surveillance abilities

(10) = CBS/AP 12 Feb 2010 ‘Obama Has Increased Drone Attacks’,http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/12/politics/main6201484.shtml

(11) = Reuters 23 Aug 2010 ‘US Drone strike kills 20 people in Pakistan’,http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSSGE67M0M320100823Missiles fired from a U.S. pilotless drone aircraft killed 13 militants and 7 civilians in Pakistan's North Waziristan on Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.They said the missiles were fired at a militant hideout. Most of the militants killed were members of the Afghan Taliban. Four women and three children were among the dead, said the officials. (Reporting by haji mujtaba)

(12) = NYT 14 Sep 2009 ‘Pakistan Army Said to Be Linked to Swat Killings’,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/world/asia/15swat.html

(13) = ABC News 03 Feb 2010 ‘3 U.S. Special Forces Die in Pakistan Bombing’,http://abcnews.go.com/International/us-military-die-pakistan-bombing/story?id=9734681&page=1

(14) = guardian.co.uk 06 Aug 2010 ‘Pakistan floods: Storms ground US supply helicopters’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/06/pakistan-floods-storms-supply-helicopters ; ‘Also helping the relief effort are Islamist charities including the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, which western officials say is linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The charity's head, Hafiz Abdur Rauf, said the assistance of the US army was welcome..."This is a difficult situation for us. Every helping hand and donation is welcome," he said, adding that his group was running 12 medical facilities and providing cooked food for 100,000 people every day. The foundation helped out after the Kashmir earthquake under a different name.’

(15) = Reuters 12 Aug 2010 ‘U.S. triples helicopters for Pakistan flood relief’,http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N11218798.htm ; ‘Defence Secretary Robert.... Gates said the USS Peleliu, with about 19 helicopters on board, was already off the coast of Karachi. Six helicopters initially sent to Pakistan to assist relief efforts would return back to neighboring Afghanistan, he said.’

(16) = CNN 14 Aug 2010 ‘U.S. helicopters arrive in Pakistan to assist relief efforts’,http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/14/pakistan.floods/index.html#fbid=3s6cdZ_IS9U&wom=false ; ‘Two U.S. Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters arrived Saturday to assist with humanitarian and rescue efforts in flood-ravaged Pakistan....A statement from the U.S. State Department says the two aircraft are part of the contingent of 19 helicopters, ordered to Pakistan on Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates....Seven of the 19 craft are now in the country....Twelve Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters will arrive over the next few days.... Since August 5, U.S. military helicopters have rescued more than 3,500 people and transported more than 412,000 pounds of emergency relief supplies, according to the State Department.’

(17) = US Air Forces Central 19 Aug 2010 ‘Additional U.S. Helicopters Arrive for Relief Ops, U.S. Cargo Planes Deliver Aid’, http://www.afcent.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123218332

(18) = Time magazine 27 Oct 2009 ‘Why Flying Choppers in Afghanistan Is So Deadly’, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1932386,00.html#ixzz0y1vtP6nQ ; first sentence of 5th paragraph reads ‘The U.S. has over the past year doubled its number of helicopters based in Afghanistan to about 225, but troop numbers have risen even faster, making for a more acute chopper shortage.’

(19) = Hansard – House of Commons - Written Answers for 17 June 2009, column 338W,http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090617/text/90617w0013.htm

(20) = Telegraph 13 Aug 2010 ‘US Marines arrive to help Pakistan flood efforts as Zardari finally arrives’,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/7941984/US-Marines-arrive-to-help-Pakistan-flood-efforts-as-Zardari-finally-arrives.html ; ‘The USS Peleliu arrived off the coast near Karachi on Thursday along with helicopters and about 1,000 Marines....The helicopters will fly to flood-hit areas and rescue stranded people and deliver food and other supplies.’

(21) = Reuters 20 Aug 2010 ‘NATO to provide planes and ships for Pakistan aid’,http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE67J1GN.htm ; ‘NATO said on Friday it would provide ships and aircraft to transport aid to flood-stricken Pakistan, a day after Islamabad warned that militants were trying to exploit the disaster. A statement from the Western military alliance, which is battling Islamist militants in Pakistan's neighbour Afghanistan, said a NATO aircraft would fly in power generators, water pumps and tents donated by Slovakia on Sunday.

(22) = NATO Source 20 Aug 2010 ‘NATO to airlift aid to Pakistan’,http://www.acus.org/natosource/nato-airlift-aid-pakistan ; ‘In response to a request by the Government of Pakistan, the North Atlantic Council decided today to provide airlift and sealift for the delivery of aid donated by nations and humanitarian relief organizations. A NATO aircraft will conduct a humanitarian relief mission to Pakistan on Sunday 22 August 2010 in support of the flood humanitarian efforts in that country. A Trainer Cargo Aircraft of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (AWACS) will transport relief goods donated by the Republic of Slovakia. The flight will depart Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany to Islamabad with goods including power generators, water pumps and tents.

(23) = Dawn (Pakistan) 27 Aug 2010Nato sends two more aid planes to Pakistan’,http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/06-nato-sends-two-more-aid-planes-to-pakistan-rs-01

(24) = CNN 14 Aug 2010 ‘U.S. helicopters arrive in Pakistan to assist relief efforts’,http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/08/14/pakistan.floods/index.html#fbid=3s6cdZ_IS9U&wom=false ; Since August 5, U.S. military helicopters have rescued more than 3,500 people and transported more than 412,000 pounds of emergency relief supplies, according to the State Department.’

(25) = See (4) above

(26) = Reuters / NYT 25 Aug 2010 ‘U.S. to give more flood aid to Pakistan’,http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/08/25/world/international-uk-pakistan-floods.html ;  ‘The United States will divert $50 million from a development package for Pakistan towards relief funds, the top U.S. aid official said on Wednesday after touring a flood victims camp supplied by a charity with suspected links to a militant group on a U.S. terrorist list....After touring a camp for flood victims set up in a school, Shah told a news conference that $50 million would be diverted from a five-year, $7.5 billion development package for Pakistan to help the flood relief effort.’

(27) = Congressional Research Service 16 July 2010 ‘The cost of Iraq Afghanistan and other global war on terror operations since 9/11’, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf ; see Summary

(28) = Guardian 27 Aug 2010 ‘Taliban give details of thwarted plan to attack David Cameron’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/27/david-cameron-taliban-attack-plan

(29) = guardian.co.uk 31 Aug 2010 ‘Afghan campaign turning the corner, says Nick Clegg, as Oxfam withdraws from remote area’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/31/afghan-campaign-corner-nick-clegg

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