Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Wannabe ISIS Fighters Arrested in NYC: Chickens Coming Home

Originally published by ANewDomain:

As a frequent traveler to and author of several books about the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, I was surprised by the news that the FBI arrested a citizen of Kazakhstan along with two men from Uzbekistan for attempting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Although Kazakhstan has a majority Muslim population, it is a highly secular culture where radical Islamism has had less success attracting adherents than in neighboring countries. Walk the streets of major cities like the capital of Astana and the intellectual center Almaty and you will see casinos, bars, men smoking and drinking beer and vodka, and countless women in miniskirts and tightfitting blouses.

These troubling arrests – they practically fit the dictionary definition of entrapment, the federal government’s definition of “material assistance to a terrorist organization” is overly broad, and anyway, why should it be illegal to go and fight for a foreign army that isn’t legally at war with the United States? – are still a developing story, so what follows necessarily relies upon speculation.

Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, is the youngest of the three. The feds intercepted him at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City early Wednesday morning, while trying to board a flight to Istanbul. Turkey is a typical transit route for would-be ISIS recruits trying to get into Syria.

My off-the-cuff assumption was that his radicalization must have been influenced by his fellow suspects, both of whom are from Uzbekistan, particularly his roommate and former fellow restaurant worker, 24-year-old Abdurasul Juraboev. But that may not be the case.

Saidakhmetov is from the southern Kazakh city of Turkistan. He left for the United States at age 16 and has not been back.

According to the Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry, however, he is listed as an ethnic Uzbek.

The third man, Abror Habibov, 30, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida.

FBI ISIS ARREST -Ted Rall NYDailyNewsdrawing-nydailynews.com

If the Uzbek connection turns out to be a central thread in the three men’s desire to join the Islamic State, a Taliban-style attempt to reboot the caliphate eliminated at the end of World War I and establish a medieval interpretation of sharia law in the Middle East, it would not be surprising to those of us who pay attention to Central Asia. When I heard that the three were all ethnic Uzbeks, I immediately thought:

Fergana Valley.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Islam Karimov.

The Fergana Valley is a mountainous geographical knot connecting Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Long a hotbed of Islamic extremism, particularly among ethnic Uzbeks, Fergana is the center of power of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The IMU, whose members attended Afghan training camps during the Taliban era in the late 1990s, is dedicated to the overthrow of Islam Karimov, the authoritarian dictator of Uzbekistan.

Given their ages, it’s unlikely that any of the three men, including Habibov, were members of the IMU. In the age of radical jihad, however, self-radicalization is inspired by the ideology in the air around you. If you’re fundamentalist and Muslim and radical in Uzbekistan, or still have ties to that country, the IMU comes with the territory the same way that growing up Irish and Catholic in the 1970s, and resenting the British occupation forces, necessarily leads one to embrace, if not join, the IRA.

All of the Central Asian republics are seriously screwed up, and all of them are run by authoritarian despots, but none are nearly as heinous or universally despised by their citizenry as Karimov.

Karimov, a Communist Party boss who kept his job after the fall of the USSR, runs one of the most violent and corrupt dictatorships in the world. Among other atrocities, he has personally supervised the massacre of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and ordered political dissidents to be either boiled or frozen to death. Central Asia watchers have long expected Karimov-related blowback.

When I traveled in Uzbekistan, everyone I met – secular or religious, regardless of ethnicity, wherever they stood on the spectrum of political ideology, young and old, male and female, rich or poor – despised Karimov, and wished for his speedy painful death. Unfortunately for the people of Uzbekistan, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. That’s because he is one of America’s best friends in the so-called global war on terror.

It is not difficult to imagine three young Uzbek men, struggling to make their way in New York City, feeling resentment against the West and in particular against the United States, which has long propped up a regime which has looted spectacular amounts of wealth from and abused their countrymen. Was this a case of chickens coming home to roost, or simply three guys who were led astray?

Sooner rather than later, I suspect that we will find out. Whatever the case, US foreign policy has contributed to radicalization in a Central Asia that, after 1991, could have easily gone the other way had we simply let their domestic political situations sort themselves out, rather than insist upon supporting a group of ruthless tyrants who were wildly unpopular among their own people, simply to cut deals for cheap oil or natural gas or to lease airfields for American military operations.

“Although Central Asian governments have attempted to crack down on extremism within their borders, analysts suspect that ISIS has effectively targeted Central Asian nationals for recruitment,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. That’s what happens when you alienate people by giving them nothing to lose: the beneficiaries are inevitably the most extreme groups, like the Islamic State. “A report published last month by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group claimed that up to 4,000 recruits from Central Asia had joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Many of these recruits are from the Fergana Valley, an ethnically diverse region that includes eastern Uzbekistan. The Kazakh National Security Committee estimates that about 300 from that country, about half of them women, are fighting in Syria for ISIS.”

Heckuva job.

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Autographed Copies Now for Sale! Revised/Updated 2014 Edition of “Silk Road to Ruin”

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East is OUT NOW. You can order it from Amazon or scroll below to order an autographed copy directly from me. Signed copies come with a personal sketch and can be dedicated to anyone you want. And most of the money goes to me, unlike Amazon, which pays authors about a buck a copy.

The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

To order an autographed copy:


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Silk Road to Ruin: 2nd paperback edition

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East comes out April 1, 2014. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

I will sell personally signed copies of the book through my website. Please use the contact form if you’d like me to add you to the mailing list and I will get in touch as soon as I have copies to sell — probably around May 1st. (The Amazon copies will ship first, though.)

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Real Reason to Impeach Obama

Why Is the FBI Helping a Monstrous Dictator?

Forget the IRS, AP and Benghazi. The real scandal this week — the corrupt politicization of the nation’s top law enforcement agency — is President Obama’s decision to carry water for one of the world’s most evil dictators.

In a little-noticed move, Obama’s FBI has arrested Fazliddin Kurbanov, a 30-year-old Uzbekistani political dissident who, were this 1983, would be dubbed a “freedom fighter.”

Kurbanov faces the generic catchall charges used since 9/11 by the feds against low-level Islamists: conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization — in this case, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and conspiracy to provide material support to (individual) terrorists. As usual, the “material support” charge doesn’t amount to much: the indictment alleges that he researched and made videos about how to make IEDs to use in Uzbekistan.

Major plot point: Kurbanov’s “terror plot” did not target the United States.

Nearly as important: the IMU is not at war with the U.S.

Originally based in rural Tajikistan and southern Kyrgyzstan, the IMU’s goal is to overthrow Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov, the most brutal of the dictators that have run the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Karimov’s regime brooks no dissent: torture and murder of political opponents (and of businesspeople who refuse to pay bribes) is widespread. Officialdom is breathtakingly corrupt, sucking the oil- and gas-rich republic dry. Universally feared and reviled, Karimov is best known for boiling dissidents such as Mazafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov to death (details and a gruesome photo of the 2002 boilings can be found in my book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?“), and for personally orchestrating the 2005 Andijon Massacre, in which at least 400 civilians were slaughtered by Uzbek security forces.

After Andijon, even the ethics-deficient Bush Administration decided that enough was enough, pulling U.S. forces out of Kashi-Khanabad airbase, which it had leased since 2001, and slashing military aid.

Which did nothing to rein in the tyrant. “The Uzbek constitution imposes a two-term limit, but Karimov was elected to a third term…His government engages in routine torture of citizens and has subjected dissenters to forced psychiatric treatment,” reports Parade magazine. All three of Karimov’s “opponents” in the 2007 election campaigned on his behalf.

Even by the cynical standards of international realpolitik, Karimov is radioactive — the kind of over-the-top despot Americans normally consider targets of “regime change” or at least trade sanctions. No civilized country should maintain diplomatic relations with Karimov, a tyrant whose abuses equal or exceed those of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi.

“Radioactive” is an unfortunate choice of words, since Uzbekistan’s uranium mines (along with vast reserves of Caspian Sea natural gas, oil, and a pipeline and refinery network strategically linked to its petroleum-rich neighbors Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) is part of the reason the United States is sucking up to him.

Rather than targeting Karimov with drones or cruise missiles, Obama has the butcher of Andijon on speed dial, reaching out in 2011 to ask the Uzbek leader for permission to ship war materiel through his benighted country into U.S.-occupied Afghanistan. In 2012, despite a Human Rights Watch report that found that life under Karimov had gotten worse since Andijon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama agreed to restore Karimov’s billion-dollar aid package.

Even in this economy, it seems, a billion bucks only goes so far. To further ingratiate the U.S. to Karimov, the White House has targeted the IMU. Bear in mind, the IMU has never attacked the U.S. Even though a U.S. airstrike killed an IMU founders in 2001, the group has never declared its intent to attack the U.S. Its beef is with Islam Karimov; its goal is to establish an Islamist state in Uzbekistan.

The IMU’s misfortune has been to fall on the wrong side of the “enemy of our friend is our enemy” equation. We’re in bed with Karimov and his fellow Central Asian dictators. Our icky prisoner-boiling pals hate the IMU.

No doubt, the IMU is a violent insurgent group. During one of its periodic summer offenses, the IMU kidnapped four American mountain climbers in early 2000 — an offense that prompted Bush to declare the group a State Department-designated terrorist organization. But the fact that the climbers were American appears to have been unrelated to their capture. IMU offensives also swept up Tajik and Kyrgyz civilians and soldiers, and four Japanese geologists. (Kyrgyz security forces claim to have disrupted a 2003 IMU plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Bishkek, but such claims, often ploys to attract U.S. foreign aid, should be met with skepticism.)

Like many radical Muslim groups in Asia, some members of the IMU — a small cadre of fighters estimated to number between 300 and 500 men — trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. After the 2001 U.S. invasion they fled across the border into Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, where they established alliances with and fought alongside various Pashtun Islamist groups. IMU fighters have clashed with U.S. occupation forces in Waziristan and Afghanistan. But the IMU has shown no sign of bringing the fight to the U.S. IMU ideology is local and regional, limited to spreading Sharia-based governments first and foremost in Uzbekistan, and in countries like Pakistan if possible. No one — not even the FBI — alleges that the IMU plans to attack the U.S.

The U.S. government is at war with radical Islam. The question for Americans is: In a conflict between a monstrous dictator and a small group of would-be revolutionaries trying to overthrow him, should we take sides — especially the side of the dictator?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: U.S. Double Standard: Gaddafi Bad, Karimov Good

The US shows its hypocrisy by accusing “tyrants” of human rights abuses while not owning up to supporting dictators.

“After four decades of brutal dictatorship and eight months of deadly conflict, the Libyan people can now celebrate their freedom and the beginning of a new era of promise,” President Obama said last week. The capture and death of Moammar Gaddafi prompted him and other U.S. officials to congratulate the Libyan people on their liberation from a despot accused of terrible violations of human rights, including the 1996 massacre of more than 1200 prison inmates.

The kudos were as much for the U.S. itself as Libya’s victorious Transitional National Council. After all, the United States played a decisive role in Gaddafi’s death. First President Obama put together the NATO coalition that served as the Benghazi-based rebels’ loaner air force. When the bombing campaign was announced in February, Gaddafi’s suppression of the human rights of protesting rebels was front and center: “The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people,” Obama said at that time. “That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression.” (No word on how police firing rubber bullets at unarmed, peaceful protesters at the Occupy movement in Oakland, California fits into that.)

And in the end, it was a Hellfire missile fired by a Predator drone plane controlled by the American CIA—in conjunction with an attack by a French fighter jet—that destroyed the convoy of cars Gaddafi and his entourage used to try to escape the siege of Sirte, driving him into the famous drainage pipe and into the hands of his tormentors and executioners.

American officials and media reports were right about Gaddafi’s human rights record: It was atrocious. They cautioned the incoming TNC to make human rights a priority: “The Libyan authorities should also continue living up to their commitments to respect human rights, begin a national reconciliation process, secure weapons and dangerous materials, and bring together armed groups under a unified civilian leadership,” Obama said. (No word on how Gaddafi’s execution fits in to that.)

Yet the very same week the United States was cozying up to another long-time dictator—one whose style, brutal treatment of prisoners, and notorious massacre of political dissidents is highly reminiscent of the deposed Libyan tyrant.

Like a business that maintains two sets of records, one for the tax inspector and the other containing the truth, the United States has two different foreign policies. Its constitution, laws and treaty obligations prohibit torture, assassinations, and holding prisoners without trial. In reality there are secret prisons like Guantánamo. Similarly, there are two sets of ethical standards in America’s dealing with other countries. Enemies are held to the strictest standards. Allies get a pass. This double standard is the number-one cause of anti-Americanism in the world.

In yet another display that exposes American foreign policy on human rights as hypocritical and self-serving, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Uzbekistan to establish closer ties to the Central Asian republic’s president for life, Islam Karimov. Even as her State Department was ballyhooing the bloody conclusion of Gaddafi’s 42-year reign as a victory for freedom and decency, the former First Lady was engaged in the cynical Cold War-style of one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: How the US Media Marginalizes Dissent

The US media derides views outside of the mainstream as ‘un-serious’, and our democracy suffers as a result.

“Over the past few weeks, Washington has seemed dysfunctional,” conservative columnist David Brooks opined recently in The New York Times. “Public disgust [about the debt ceiling crisis] has risen to epic levels. Yet through all this, serious people—Barack Obama, John Boehner, the members of the Gang of Six—have soldiered on.”

Here’s some of what Peter Coy of Business Week magazine had to say about the same issue: “There is a comforting story about the debt ceiling that goes like this: Back in the 1990s, the U.S. was shrinking its national debt at a rapid pace. Serious people actually worried about dislocations from having too little government debt…”

Fox News, the Murdoch-owned house organ of America’s official right-wing, asserted: “No one seriously thinks that the U.S. will not honor its obligations, whatever happens with the current impasse on President Obama’s requested increase to the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.”

“Serious people.”

“No one seriously thinks.”

The American media deploys a deep and varied arsenal of rhetorical devices in order to marginalize opinions, people and organizations as “outside the mainstream” and therefore not worth listening to. For the most part the people and groups being declaimed belong to the political Left. To take one example, the Green Party—well-organized in all 50 states—is never quoted in newspapers or invited to send a representative to television programs that purport to present “both sides” of a political issue. (In the United States, “both sides” means the back-and-forth between center-right Democrats and rightist Republicans.)

Marginalization is the intentional decision to exclude a voice in order to prevent a “dangerous” opinion from gaining currency, to block a politician or movement from becoming more powerful, or both. In 2000 the media-backed consortium that sponsored the presidential debate between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush banned Green Party candidate Ralph Nader from participating. Security goons even threatened to arrest him when he showed up with a ticket and asked to be seated in the audience. Nader is a liberal consumer advocate who became famous in the U.S. for stridently advocating for safety regulations, particularly on automobiles.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Libya: Another War We Shouldn’t Believe In

Why Won’t Obama Explain His Third War?

U.S. forces fired 110 cruise missiles at Libya on the first day of the war. Each one cost $755,000 to build; $2.8 million to transport, maintain and shoot. Austerity and budget cuts abound; there’s no money for NPR or teachers or firefighters. Note to union negotiators: the government has lots of money. They’re spending it on war.

For people too young to remember Bosnia, this is what a violent, aggressive, militarist empire looks like under a Democratic president. Where Bush rushed, Obama moseys. No one believed ex-oil man Bush when he said he was out to get rid of the evil dictator of an oil-producing state; Obama, the former community organizer, gets a pass under identical circumstances. Over the weekend, also the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq quagmire, there were few protests against Obama’s Libya War, all poorly attended.

I spent the weekend in New York at Leftforum, an annual gathering of anti-capitalist intellectuals. “What do you think about Libya?” people kept asking. What passes for the Left is ambivalent.

In part this waffling on Libya is due to Obama’s deadpan (read: uncowboy-like) tone. Mostly, however, the tacit consent stems from televised images of ragtag anti-Qadafi opposition forces getting strafed by Libyan air force jets. We Americans like underdogs, especially when they say they want democracy.

Still, the President is not a dictator. He can’t declare war. And while he might be able to lie his way into one, he and his party will pay at the polls if he fails to explain why we’re attacking a nation that poses no threat to the United States.

There are a lot of questions we—and journalists—should be asking Obama. Obviously, we’re broke. Our military is overextended, losing two wars against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. How can we afford this?

Also:

1. Whom are we helping?

The U.S. and its allies are destroying Libya’s air force in order to tip the balance in the civil war in favor of anti-Qadafi forces. A similar approach, aerial bombardment of Afghan government defenses, allowed Northern Alliance rebels to break through Taliban lines and enter Kabul in 2001. It could work again in Libya.

But who are these anti-Qadafi forces? Rival tribes? Radical Islamists? Royalists? What kind of government will they establish if they win? What are their ideological and religious affiliations? If anyone in the media or the White House knows, they’re not telling.

Or perhaps, as in Iraq, the White House doesn’t have a governance plan for post-Qadafi Libya. Which, as in Iraq, could lead to chaos. No nation should go to war without considering the long-term consequences.

Before we pick sides in a conflict, shouldn’t we know for whom we are going billions of dollars further into debt?

2. Does Qadafi have the right to defend himself?

From Shea’s Whiskey Rebellion to Confederacy to the Red Scares to the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, the U.S. government has violently suppressed armed rebellions. How then can the U.S. claim moral authority to prevent other governments from doing the same thing? (“The U.S. is more moral than Libya” is not an acceptable response. Obama murders and tortures more people than Qadafi.)

3. What about self-determination?

If the Libyan people rise up and overthrow Qadafi, an authoritarian despot well past his expiration date, that’s great. Shouldn’t that struggle be a Libyan matter, to be settled between Libyans? Isn’t a government that emerges from indigenous internal struggle more likely to enjoy widespread support than one that results from outside intervention?

“Free men set themselves free,” said James Oppenheim. Can a people truly feel emancipated when they owe their freedom—and later, inexorably, their oil and gas—to a foreign superpower?

4. Why are we OK with some dictators, but not others?

Since the Middle East began blowing up we’ve heard a lot of talk about Obama’s dilemma: How do we reconcile American values with American strategic interests? In a good country—at least a non-hypocritical one—they are the same.

Obama is employing circular logic. “Why strike only Libya, when other regimes murder their citizens too?” asks Chris Good in The Atlantic Monthly. “Obama’s answer seems to be: because the UN Security Council turned its attention toward Libya, and not other places.” But the UN reacted in response to the U.S.

In other words: We’re agreeing to a request that we made ourselves.

Ideology and policy must be consistent to be credible. If we have a policy to depose dictators, then all dictators must be targeted. We can’t just take out those in countries with lots of oil. We ought to start with tyrants for which we bear responsibility: our allies and puppets. At this writing the U.S. supports or props up unpopular authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

5. Is Libya our geostrategic business?

The United States has no substantial historical ties with, innate cultural understanding of, or geographic proximity to, Libya. Even under the imperialist doctrine of “spheres of influence” that governed international relations during the Cold War, Libya falls under the purview of other would-be interventionists. Italy, and to a lesser extent Britain and France, are former colonial masters. The Arab League and African Union have interests there. Even if you buy the sentimental argument—”Are we going to stand by and watch Qadafi slaughter his own people?”—why us? Why not the Africans or Europeans?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: A Tsunami 100 Times Worse Than Japan

Apocalypse Looms in Landlocked Central Asia

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last week has killed at least 10,000 people. It is terrible. It may be a sneak preview of something 100 times worse.

The next Big Flood will probably be the worst natural disaster in history. It could easily be avoided.

Yet no one is lifting a finger to save the lives of one to five million people.

Lake Sarez, in the eastern Pamir mountains of eastern Tajikistan, is known to Central Asians as the region’s “Sword of Damocles.” A mile wide and 600 feet deep, Sarez is one of the biggest high-altitude bodies of water on earth, at an elevation of 11,200 feet.

Lake Sarez was created just over 100 years ago in a remote corner of what was then czarist Russia. On February 18, 1911 a 7.4-scale earthquake, common in the Pamirs, shattered a mountain adjacent to the Murgab River. The resulting landslide formed a half-mile high natural dam that blocked the river. Today the lake is 37 miles long.

Geologists have been warning about the Sarez threat since Soviet times. Now it’s urgent. Due to climate change the clock on the Sarez time bomb runs faster every year. During the 1990s the water level was rising eight inches a year. Now it’s one or two yards.

Scientists say the dam is going to burst. Whether a quake dislodges a rockslide that creates a wave that crests the dam, or melting glaciers brings the water to the top, computer models predict a devastating inland tsunami sooner rather than later.

Seventeen cubic kilometers of water will be instantly released. A wall of water 800 feet high will cascade down a series of river valleys in four countries.

In 2007 I trekked up to Sarez in order to research a magazine article for Men’s Journal. The following is from that piece:

“The 75-mile Bartang Valley, cultural and spiritual heartland of the Ismaili Muslims, would lose 30 villages and 7,000 people. The Bartang empties into the Pyanj, a large river that marks the border with northern Afghanistan, then Uzbekistan, then Turkmenistan. Six hundred miles downstream from Lake Sarez, the flood would cross into another time zone. Even this far downstream, Scott Weber of the U.N. Department for Humanitarian Affairs told New Scientist in 1999, ‘the wall of water would still be as high as a two-story house.'”

“The city of Termiz in southern Uzbekistan is home to 140,000 people, the Uzbek-Afghan Friendship Bridge that the Soviets used to invade Afghanistan, and currently a German airbase with 3,000 NATO troops. Termiz would be obliterated. The water would keep going. The Pyanj is a tributary of the Amu Darya, which Alexander the Great knew as the Oxus. The flood path would continue along the Amu Darya, roughly marking the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, before emptying into the shrunken Aral Sea, 1,200 miles downstream of Sarez.”

“Five million people—mostly residents of landlocked deserts that routinely reach 125 degrees—would be drowned by snow melt.”

That will only be the beginning of the misery.

Most of the arable land in Central Asia will be destroyed by silt. Tens of millions of Turkmen, Uzbeks, Afghans and Tajiks could starve.

This might happen in 10 years. Or next week. It could be happening now.

We can prevent it.

The dam can be shored up. A bypass to release pressure can be tunneled through bedrock around the left flank of the natural dam. Liberal cost estimates of such an engineering project run around $2 billion.

Tajikistan is desperately poor. Over a third of its GDP comes from Tajiks who have moved to other countries and send money back home to their families. The Tajik government doesn’t have the cash.

However, $2 billion is small change to Western countries. The U.S. spends that to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for one week.

When Men’s Journal published my piece on Lake Sarez in 2008 I hoped it would prompt the U.S. to act. Aside from preventing the worst natural disaster ever, couldn’t we use five million new best friends in the Muslim world?

I sent copies to Presidents Bush and Obama, members of Congress, the U.N., the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other international organizations. No one replied.

Interestingly, Japan is one of the few donor countries to have taken interest in Lake Sarez, having coughed up a few million dollars for a monitoring station. But there’s still no way to evacuate people living downstream in the event of a breach.

Why don’t the U.S. and other wealthy countries care about Lake Sarez? Maybe they’re just not paying attention. Also, the Tajiks don’t have oil or natural gas.

Whatever the reason, a flood that will make the current disaster in Japan look tiny by comparison is becoming increasingly likely. And it will be mostly our fault.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Face of Revolution

After Tunisia and Egypt, the World

From the British newspaper the Independent: “Like in many other countries in the region, protesters in Egypt complain about surging prices, unemployment and the authorities’ reliance on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.”

Sound familiar?

Coverage by U.S. state-controlled media of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is too dim by half: they say it’s an Arab thing. So it is. But not for long. The problems that triggered the latest uprisings, rising inequality of income, frozen credit markets, along with totally unresponsive government, span the globe. To be sure, the first past-due regimes to be overthrown may be the most brutal U.S. client states—Arab states such as Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Central Asia’s autocrats, also corrupted by the U.S., can’t be far behind; Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, who likes to boil his dissidents to death, would be my first bet. But this won’t stop in Asia. Persistent unemployment, unresponsive and repressive governments exist in Europe and yes, here in the U.S. They are unstable. The pressure is building.

Global revolution is imminent.

The first great wave of revolutions from 1793 through 1848 was a response to the decline of feudal agrarianism. (Like progressive historians, I don’t consider the 1775-1781 war of American independence to be a true revolution. Because it didn’t result in a radical reshuffling of classes, it was little more than a bunch of rich tax cheats getting theirs.)

During the 19th century European elites saw the rise of industrial capitalism as a chance to stack the cards in their favor, paying slave wages for backbreaking work. Workers organized and formed a proletariat that rejected this lopsided arrangement. They rose up. They formed unions. By the middle of the 20th century, a rough equilibrium had been established between labor and management in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Three generations of autoworkers earned enough to send their children to college.

Now Detroit is a ghost town.

The uprisings we are witnessing today have their roots in the decline of industrial production that began 60 years ago. As in the early 1800s the economic order has been reshuffled. Ports, factories and the stores that serviced them have shut down. Thanks to globalization, industrial production has been deprofessionalized, shrunken, and outsourced to the impoverished Third World. The result, in Western countries, is a hollowed-out middle class—undermining the foundation of political stability in post-feudal societies.

In the former First World industry was supplanted by the knowledge economy. Rather than bring the global economy in for a soft landing after the collapse of industrial capitalism by using the rising information sector to spread wealth, the ruling classes chose to do what they always do: they exploited the situation for short-term gain, grabbing whatever they could for themselves. During the ’70s and ’80s they broke the unions. (Which is one reason average family income has steadily declined since 1968.) They gouged consumers in the ’90s and ’00s. (Now their credit cards are maxed out.) Now the banks are looting the government.

Now that the bill is due, they want us to pay. But we can’t. We won’t.

It’s bad enough during a cyclical recession, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs and getting evicted from their homes. When the government’s response to an economic holocaust is not to help these poor people, but instead to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to the giant banks and insurance companies causing the firings and carrying out the foreclosures, it’s crazy.

And when the media tells the one in four adults who is “structurally” (i.e. permanently) unemployed that he and she doesn’t exist—the recession is over! recovery is underway!—it’s obvious that the U.S. is cruising for revolution. Not the Tea Party kind, with corny flags and silly hats.

American Revolution, Tunisian/Egyptian style.

Late last year I wrote a book, The Anti-American Manifesto, which calls for Americans to revolt against our out-of-control plutocracy and the corrupt political biarchy that props it up. I expected the Right to react with outrage. To the contrary. While the desire for revolution is hardly universal among Americans, it is widespread and distributed across the political spectrum. Revolution, when it occurs here, will be surprisingly popular.

Criticism of my Manifesto centers not on its thesis that the status quo is unsustainable and ought to go, but on my departure from traditional Marxist doctrine. Old-school lefties say you can’t (or shouldn’t) have revolution without first building a broad-based popular revolutionary movement.

“We are still in a time and place where we can and should be doing more to build popular movements that can liberate people’s consciousnesses and win reforms necessary to lay the foundation for a transformed society without it being soaked in blood,” Michael McGehee wrote in Z magazine. “All this talk about throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails is extremely premature and reckless…”

Maybe that used to be true. I think things have changed. Given the demoralized state of dissent in the United States since the 1960s and the co-opting of radical activists by the cult of militant pacifism, it would be impossible to create such an organization.

As I argue in the book, anyone who participates in the Official Left as it exists today—the MoveOns, Michael Moores, Green Party, etc.—is inherently discredited in the current, rapidly radicalizing political environment. Old-fashioned liberals can’t really help, they can’t really fight, not if they want to maintain their pathetic positions—so they don’t really try. America’s future revolutionaries—the newly homeless, the illegally dispossessed, people bankrupted by the healthcare industry—can only view the impotent Official Left with contempt.

Revolution will come. When it does, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt, it will follow a spontaneous explosion of long pent-up social and economic forces. We will not need the old parties and progressive groups to lead us. Which is good, because they aren’t psychologically conditioned to create revolution or midwife it when it occurs. New formations will emerge from the chaos. They will create the new order.

In my Manifesto I argue that old-fashioned ideologies are obsolete. Left, Right, Whoever must and will form alliances of convenience to overthrow the existing regime. The leftist critic Ernesto Aguilar is typical of those who take issue with me, complaining that “merging groups with different political goals around an agenda that does not speak openly to those goals, or worse no politics at all, is bound for failure.”

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may well be destined for failure—but it doesn’t look that way now. So far those popular insurrections have played out exactly the way I predict it will, and must, here in the United States: set off by unpredictable events, formed by the people themselves, as the result of spontaneous passion rather than organized mobilization.

In Egypt, an ad hoc coalition composed of ideologically disparate groups (the Muslim Brotherhood, secular parties, independent intellectuals), has coalesced around Mohamed ElBaradei. “Here you will see extremists, moderates, Christians, Muslims, all kinds of people. It is the first time that we are all together since the revolution of Saad Zaghloul,” a rebel named Naguib, referring to the leader of the 1919 revolution against the British, told Agence France-Press. ElBaradei’s popularity, said Tewfik Aclimandos of the College de France, is due to the fact that “he is not compromised by the regime; he has integrity.”

This is how it will go in Greece, Portugal, England, and—someday—here. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won’t make any difference. Just get ready to recognize revolution when it occurs, then drop what you’re doing and then organize.

What will set off the next American Revolution? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the liberation of the long-oppressed peoples of the United States, and the citizens of nations victimized by its foreign policy, is inevitable.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: WikiLeaks: The Devils We Know

Cables Reveal Background of Pro-Dictator U.S. Policy

After the Soviet collapse in 1991 U.S. policy toward Central Asia was transparently cynical: support the dictators, screw the people.

As the U.S. stood by and watched, corrupt autocrats looted the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Dissidents were jailed, massacred—even boiled.

Well, actually, the U.S. was anything but passive. They negotiated deals for oil and gas pipelines. They rented airbases after 9/11. They poured in tens of millions of American tax dollars—all of which wound up in secret bank accounts belonging to the dictators and their families. Meanwhile, average citizens lived in abject poverty.

During trips to Central Asia the locals constantly ask me: “Why doesn’t America stop supporting [insert name of corrupt dictator here] so we can kill him and free ourselves?”

Poor, naïve people. They believe our rhetoric. They think we like democracy. Actually, we’re all about the looting. Dictators are easier to deal with than parliaments. One handshake and a kickback, that’s all you need with a dictator.

Central Asia only had one democratically elected president, Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan. George W. Bush ordered the CIA to depose him in a coup.

Americans who care about human rights have long wondered: Is the State Department stupid and/or naïve? Or did the diplomats in Tashkent and other capitals of unspeakable misery understand the brutal and vile nature of Central Asia’s authoritarian leaders?

An examination of the WikiLeaks data dump answers that question: Yes.

Hell yes.

Like those from concerning more prominent countries, the WikiLeaks cables on the Central Asian republics can be funny. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, a U.S. “ally in the war on terror” who seized power in a palace coup following the death of Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, is described as “the ‘decider’ for the state of Turkmenistan.” This is true. Turkmenistan is an absolute dictatorship in which millions starve while Berdimuhamedov’s inner circle feasts on the profits from the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.

A December 2009 cable describes America’s pet autocrat as “vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, ‘a good actor,’ and vindictive.”

According to an unnamed source, the outwardly conservative dictator has a Russian mistress named Marina, with whom he has a 14-year-old daughter. Though Berdy’s power may be limitless, his intellect is not. “Berdimuhamedov does not like people who are smarter than he is,” says the cable. “Since he’s not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people.”

No one’s perfect. Least of all America’s allies in Central Asia.

On the other side of the steppe in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev presides over the world’s largest oil reserves with an iron fist. Among his greatest hits: the convenient “suicides” of his top two political opponents a few months before a presidential “election.” The two men apparently shot themselves in the back of the head, then bound their own hands behind their backs and dropped into a ditch outside Almaty.

Needless to say, Nazarbayev is another valuable U.S. ally in the war on terror.

But that doesn’t stop American gossip. Nazarbayev’s defense minister, says an embassy staffer in Astana, “appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo sovieticus’ style—i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor.” But alcoholism isn’t illegal. Graft is—and the president is public enemy number one.

“In 2007, President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, celebrated his 41st birthday in grand style,” explains an April 2008 cable. “At a small venue in Almaty, he hosted a private concert with some of Russia’s biggest pop stars. The headliner, however, was Elton John, to whom he reportedly paid one million pounds for this one-time appearance.” How did he come up with all that coin? “Timur Kulibayev is currently the favored presidential son-in-law, on the Forbes 500 list of billionaires (as is his wife separately), and the ultimate controller of 90% of the economy of Kazakhstan,” states a January 2010 missive.

Membership has its privileges. The U.S. has never spoken out against corruption or human rights abuses in Kazakhstan.

So it’s clear: American diplomats have no illusions about their brutal allies. Interestingly, Central Asia’s overlords have a dismally accurate view of corruption in the U.S. government.

“Listen, almost everyone at the top [of the Kazakh regime] is confused,” First Vice President Maksat Idenov told the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan early this year. “They’re confused by the corrupt excesses of capitalism. ‘If Goldman Sachs executives can make $50 million a year and then run America’s economy in Washington, what’s so different about what we do?’ they ask.”

No response was provided.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

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