And in non-census-related news…

A 20-year old letter allegedly written by Iranian “Green revolution” leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi to Iran’s then-president President Ali Khamenei is causing a lot of chatter within Tehran-watching circles this week. The letter was published on the website of the now-exiled past President of the Islamic Republic Abolhassan Banisadr and appears to expose a long-denied international assertion against the Iranian regime. The letter references the type of activity that suggests that Iran has participated in foreign terrorist attacks and has been fighting an aysymmetric proxy war against its enemies for quite some time now. Not that this is such a stunning revelation to anyone, but it is interesting nonetheless that internal government documents have come to light from within that acknowledges this.

Here is the letter, and I’ve reprinted a Google-translated excerpt below:

“After the plane is hijacked, we become aware of it. When the machine gun in a street opens in Lebanon and the sound turned it everywhere, we will know the case. After the discovery of explosives from our pilgrims in Jeddah, I’m aware of it. Unfortunately, and despite all the loss that the country has realized this move, yet like every time the operation can be called anytime the state occurs”

Our troops in Afghanistan are fighting an asymmetric battle against non-state actors in the south of that country. We’ve known for some time that factions within the Pakistan military have been sympathetic and supportive of Taliban fighters and we’ve known the same about Iran’s support as well. If the letter is valid, it helps the Iranian regime lose face over a lie it has laughably maintained among the international community. Though, such a “revelation” will come as a shock to no one. Iran for example provides billions of dollars in annual support to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Facing mounting opposition from opposition forces, Ahmadinejad has taken a hard-line stance to bolster his support among hardliners within his base. This, of course, is underscored by the development of a nuclear program to assert Iran’s independence, defense and dominance over the region. However, a nuclear program, while couched in anti-Semitic and bellicose terms, is at minimum state-to-state posturing.

The release of the letter that internally confirms that the regime has long participated in state-sanctioned proxied asymmetric attacks against not only foreign soldiers but against civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon among other countries, may simply be yet another element for fodder for an opposition posturing against a hard-line regime losing favour at home. This further suggests to Iranians that their leadership has been occupied with tangential foreign issues while domestic strife rises and quality of life diminishes.

To that point, this is also about two rival political factions blaming each other for failures in Iran’s history as an Islamic republic. Washington’s Daily Beast picks up on this thread,

“This letter has historical significance now,” Banisadr told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “At the time of its initial publication it was significant, too, because it clearly stated that the Iranian regime was involved in terrorist activities abroad; that these actions were not sporadic, but that it was the Iranian government that was engaged in terrorist activities.”

Neither Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has commented on the letter. But people in Iran speculate that the letter re-emerged at this moment because Mousavi was threatening to reveal secrets in connection with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, having been accused by current Iranian authorities of losing the war. And some hope that Mousavi’s secrecy standoff with the government might cast light on another dark moment in Iran’s history–the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, which reportedly cost the lives of thousands of people. Within Iran, the executions are a taboo subject. But last month, Mousavi alluded to them, suggesting that his cabinet was kept in the dark.

The Mousavi letter also seeks to establish the credentials of the opposition leader as someone who was in government and who was an insider to the regime’s history. This contrasts with Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran who had little to no experience.

What’s on the agenda for G8/G20?

China
Prior to the G8, Prime Minister Harper will hold bilateral with President Hu from China on June 24th who is in Canada for a state visit. The visit will mark 40 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China. Bilateral trade now stands at $50 Billion between the two countries. It is expected that PM Harper will raise the importance of China’s role in helping to bring stability and security to the Korean peninsula as one of the few nations that talks to North Korea and as a permanent member nation of the UN security council.

India
On June 27th, PM Harper will host bilateral with Indian PM Singh in Toronto. PM Harper will look to build upon agreements signed during last meeting in India which addressed economic partnership and energy cooperation.

Focus of the G8 for the government of Canada:
– focus on achieving 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (halving extreme poverty levels, cutting the spread of HIV/AIDS)
– nuclear non-proliferation and continuing work achieved at non-proliferation treaty review conference in NYC and Nuclear Security Summit in DC. Focus specifically on keeping nuclear arms out of the hands of terrorists.
– Recognition that Iran and North Korea continue to pose threats to global security.
– International cooperation on fighting Latin American, Caribbean, West African and Asian transnational criminal networks.
– Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health.
– Progress in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in the Middle East on combatting terrorism and its link to organized crime and drug trafficking
– G8 leaders will join seven African leaders as well as the leaders of Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica in order to discuss the interlinkages of crime and terror networks.

G20 priorities for Canada:
– G20 should restore public finance while maintaining economic growth in order to achieve global economic recovery.
– Canada implores G20 nations to tackle fiscal consolidation, reduce debt, reduce deficits and for countries to return to balanced budgets
– address root causes of global economic crisis
– fully implement stimulus plans
– prepare fiscal consolidation measures
– resist protectionism
– promote open markets
– continue reforms to financial and regulatory systems
– continue governance reforms to international financial institutions and multilateral development banks
– call upon the international financial institutions and multilateral development banks

Musharraf at 15%, Pakistan’s future on the edge

In early December, I received correspondence from the International Republican Institute in Washington inviting me to participate as a short-term election observer as part of that group’s mission in Pakistan. The NGO is headed by US Senator John McCain and provides democratic infrastructure assistance to emerging democracies. I was to travel to Islamabad via Dubai on January 2nd to connect with the group there to coordinate with them in establishing a legitimate international presence in that country to judge the free and fairness of those elections. While the Canadian government via Elections Canada declined to send observers due to Musharraf’s imposition of what amounted to Martial law, NGO observation was still necessary in order to make the call on the legitimacy of the elections even though most everyone that has been following the situation highly doubted that those elections would be run with any semblance of the democratic ideal. Yet, helping people secure the principles of democracy is a worthwhile cause even if it happens slowly and even if it comes via an international well-document fact-based shaming of any government if and when it holds insincere elections.

During my Christmas break, having my flight itinerary in hand and my letter of offer sent from DC, I trekked out to the Pakistani consulate in northern Toronto to have my visa application processed. Having no family in Pakistan or any education or business interests there, the consular officers were initially skeptical of the papers I was presenting them. One gentlemen who was waiting with his son who was visiting to visit his ancestral home for the first time asked me why I was going to Pakistan. I told him about my plans to help observe the elections there and he seemed sincerely pleased that I was going. Pakistan was recently ejected from the Commonwealth, yet despite this fact it has a close history in the Western democratic tradition. Because of this fact, I have a sincere hope that Pakistan is still fertile soil for a slowly growing democracy, even if there are elements there that are actively salting the earth either for sake of power or for terror.

Needless to say, my trip was canceled by IRI shortly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as the election, to take place January 8th was postponed to late February. The group, that has been in Pakistan for years, was recently told to clear out its expat staff by Musharraf’s government. The opinion polling done by IRI in Pakistan are considered to be the most accurate measure of popular opinion there and the government was not probably not pleased that this expression of popular opinion was hurting their electoral prospects. If Musharraf’s government seeks to suppress the publication of popular opinion in this way, I fear how they will act when it is expressed during an election. IRI expats are still packing up their offices in Pakistan and they’ve released a final poll to mark their departure. President Musharraf has 15% popular support in that country and it’s likely to slide further. Musharraf’s power has been sustained by a precarious balance between the military (which has pockets of sympathy for the Taliban and al Queda) and enough of the electorate. The former general gave up his stars to appease popular concern over his position as the top military officer and effective head of state. That said, I was shocked with the offhand ease and ignorance of Stephane Dion’s recent musings about putting NATO troops in Pakistan. Such talk about an intervention would only serve to further destabilize a country that is dangerously pivoting between anarchy and stability.

The people of Pakistan are expected to express their will soon. If Musharraf’s party loses in the upcoming elections (if they are held), the outcome is uncertain. Let’s hope that the government and military respects their decision.

On the record: Harper and Dion on Pakistan

Here is a video from Mike Duffy Live that shows Dion’s comments on Pakistan, and Stephen Harper’s response.

Please see my previous posts on this topic:
Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday? (1/17, 5:32am)
Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader (1/17, 3:55pm)
Pakistan condemns Dion’s foreign policy ignorance (1/17, 6:23pm)
Thoughts about the Pakistan story (1/18, 4:59pm)

Thoughts about the Pakistan story

Often when writing this blog I try and wear two hats: one of a reporter and one of a conservative critic. If I get whiff of a good story, I’ll do my best to investigate and be first to put it out there for public consumption. As an advocate of blogging as a new reporting medium, I will say that I am thrilled when I see big stories break on blogs before the so-called mainstream media goes to air/print.

Last night, I received word from someone that works in media that a press release from the High Commissioner was just starting to hit the email boxes of fellow reporters in Ottawa. As I’m not usually on the press contact list of most organizations, I called the Pakistani High Commission to confirm the story. They referred me to the press officer who had already gone home for the evening. Likely expecting a number of media calls that evening, the commission passed on the officer’s home number which I called. When speaking with the press officer, I only inquired as to whether a statement or release had been authored concerning “Mr. Dion’s remarks on Pakistan and NATO” and requested that a copy be emailed to me. They informed me that they had in fact just penned a release and that they would email me a copy.

Some people have emailed me with concerns that by calling the High Commission, I brought attention to a news story of which they would have otherwise not been aware. This is laughable and quite insulting to the professionalism of diplomatic staff whose job it is is to track the host country’s political scene in order to report developments which concern their government. Stephane Dion’s statements regarding NATO and possible “forces” being introduced into Pakistan were already published in the Ottawa Citizen and I’m quite certain that the diplomatic staff reads the papers (and watches the news. The story was on both Mike Duffy and Newman last night). I did nothing to suggest to the Pakistani High Commission that Mr. Dion’s statements were inappropriate; I simply expressed to them that I wanted to be cc’d on the release that they were only starting to send out.

I believe that I was the first to publish the release. Minutes later on his blog, David Akin published it too. My blog beat the CP wire by an hour on a breaking news story. The story’s value was “very high” as Canada has important security interests in central Asia and that a man seeking the office of the Prime Minister had apparently taken a new track on proposed Canadian foreign policy. While I may have been first to break news of the release, it is unfair to say that the mainstream media was negligent or uninterested in reporting on the story. After I posted on the story last night, I benefited from discussions with one of Ottawa bureau chiefs and two other Ottawa reporters. To Peter Mansbridge’s credit, the CBC anchor used a scheduled Mansbridge One-on-One taping the same day to press Dion (and hard) on his statement and to ask him about Pakistan’s condemnation of Dion’s remarks.

As for the partisan statements that I made on this blog concerning the release: I do believe in what I wrote. In fact, much of it mirrors and complements what I have previously said. I think that Canadians should set a very high standard for their applicants to executive and legislative powers, especially when it comes to matters of national defense and foreign policy.

As for Conservatives “taking advantage” of Mr. Dion’s statements or positions? This does nothing to hurt foreign relations as Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister and such high level diplomatic/military transactions cross his desk and not that of Mr. Dion. Despite this, it is the responsible duty of our party-based political system to discuss/debate and sometimes ridicule the positions of opponents. As Canadians, we charge our elected representatives with pursing our interests and those of Canada, and anything less than challenging a new proposed track on foreign policy would be irresponsible and a betrayal to our principles of informed debate, the foundation of our democracy. Parties are the method by which discussion is focused and made effective. Rather than having 308 independent and non-cohesive message tracks, we more effectively debate a handful at a time. It is the duty of parties to propose new ideas and the duty of other parties to put those ideas through the test of intense debate.

The Conservatives can hardly be blamed for both debating what appeared to be Mr. Dion’s divergent foreign policy proposal, and they cannot be blamed for taking the Liberal leader at his literal word. Now Mr. Dion has said that he means “diplomacy” and not “force” even though he called for considering “NATO forces” in Pakistan. Either one of two things then happened. Mr. Dion either realized the faults of his proposal and climbed down in the face of being battered on an already weak file of his. Or the Liberal leader misspoke, which is known to happen. However, misinterpreting Dion’s intent based on his words has really only been known to happen in English. Is it possible that Mr. Dion made a gaffe in French about an issue that was on the top of his mind (he had just come back from his first trip to Afghanistan)? It’s possible, but its not probable. I believe that Mr. Dion was proposing a new track even if it’s a proposal for others to help develop his ideas. And in this, I honestly believe that this is where one of Mr. Dion’s political faults lies; he takes an academic approach which is better suited to the safe environment of a “what-if” university seminar. Such an environment is the incubator to under-developed ideas and untested policy proposals. The national stage is no place to “spitball” ideas.

Some will say that they’ve found it refreshing to hear a Canadian politician “tell it like it is on Pakistan” and “say what we’ve all been thinking”. Pakistan has been a laggard when it comes to taking care of the radical elements in its western province. Like most Canadians, I am concerned about our inability to address this problem directly. Yet, Pakistan is a sovereign country that has the jurisdiction over its own security. Most Canadians would agree that the only scenarios that would allow military presence within Pakistan’s borders would be either with the permission of the Pakistani government, or with a broad international consensus to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government is not about to allow any western nation to put our soldiers on the ground there (this is a well known sentiment of the Musharraf government – so it is surprising that Mr. Dion suggested this). Further, the UN is not on the verge on granting any military the authority to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Mr. Dion’s statements were ill-conceived and more theoretical than practical in nature.

For Canadian security in central Asia, Pakistan needs a stable administration. If it’s democratic, all the better. But, the “nuance” here is that if Western troops go in, it’ll tip the population of Pakistan away from Musharraf, and away from Bhutto’s PPP and towards radical elements. Having Americans in Saudi Arabia supposedly radicalized Osama bin Laden against the West, so suggesting something half-baked (but on the very surface, quite logical until you dig deeper) is irresponsible of Dion and especially for a man who is supposedly advised on these matters. As a privy counselor, former member of cabinet and leader of the Opposition, Dion receives security briefings. Since Pakistan stability is a key buttress against the whole of central Asia collapsing, Dion made an unfortunate error in making such a weakly-considered statement as the Pakistani media picked up comments from the Canadian opposition leader, named him as the likely winner of the future election and claim that his policy musings will be the Canadian agenda in a matter of weeks or months.

Dion, of course has the right to make such statements however inappropriate they may be. But it is the duty of partisans of all stripes to put his ideas through the machinations of public debate in order for Canadians to be best served.

Pakistan condemns Dion’s foreign policy ignorance

I just got off of the phone with the press officer for the Pakistan High Commission here in Ottawa after asking for Pakistan’s response (if any) to Mr. Dion’s comments regarding his proposal that NATO expands their mission into Pakistan.

Here is the official release:

PRESS RELEASE

We are dismayed by the statement of the leader of opposition, Mr. Stephane Dion about NATO intervention in Pakistan. It shows a lack of understanding of the ground realities. We have, at the highest level, made it clear that Pakistan will not allow any foreign forces to operate within its territory under any circumstances. The sovereignty of the state will not be compromised at any level as the government and people of Pakistan are fully capable of handling their security matters themselves.

Pakistan is a peace-loving country and has joined the international community in the war against terrorism as an equal partner. The contribution made by Pakistan in this regard has been recognized throughout the world.

The price paid by Pakistan being a frontline state cannot be undermined by certain irrational comments.

Pakistan has been saying all along that the problem lies inside Afghanistan and the solution should come from there too. It is because of the security situation there that Pakistan is facing heat across the border.

Dion needs to tell Canada, Afghanistan, Pakistan and our NATO allies if he maintains his position of NATO escalation into Pakistan, or if he is simply ignorant of foreign policy and whether that ignorance lies within his understanding of what NATO is, or that Pakistan is a sovereign nation, or that NATO is in Afghanistan (and not Pakistan) with the blessing of the UN. I hope that he is not clueless on all of these facts.

UPDATE: The Liberals have clarified that this is not what their leader meant. So, he’s just ignorant of foreign policy.

UPDATE: This isn’t good. The following was printed in The Daily Times (Pakistan) (h/t catherine in the comments):

Dion, a leader of the Liberal Party likely to win the elections this year, said NATO could be forced to take action inside Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf’s government failed to stop the movement of terrorists to Afghanistan.

I’m not concerned that they think Harper will lose the upcoming election (we’ve got a better vantage point here in Canada). I’m concerned that they think that Dion will be Prime Minister and that this would be the policy of a future Canadian government. I think that Dion ought to emphasize his position himself, with clarity. It’s that important.

UPDATE 1/18: Dion, in his own words calls for “diplomatic intervention”. CBC reports that Dion moved to distance himself from the suggestion that NATO should be deployed in Pakistan.

FURTHER READING FROM ST.CA: Previous Post – Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday?

Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader

During the 2000 election, one of the greatest “blunders” that Stockwell Day made during the campaign was to compare the Canadian “brain drain” to the flow of the Niagara River, which as it turns out flows north, not south as Day was trying to imply.

“Surely a man who doesn’t know the flow direction of the Niagara River is unfit to lead this country” became the narrative of the journalist pack that covered the race.

Fast forward to yesterday and Stephane Dion’s musing that NATO should expand its mission into Pakistan. Not only has the Liberal leader changed his position on Canada’s most significant foreign policy direction a number of times, he’s now spitballing under-developed ideas which no serious policy analyst would responsibly suggest.

This is a man who will soon be running in an election to lead our country. Where is the scrutiny that we have come to expect from our easily offended geography buffs in the Canadian media?

The Parliamentary Press Gallery complains that there’s never a microphone around the Prime Minister or any ministers when they’d like. Conservatives have long since learned that in the Canadian media environment any sniffle becomes a sneeze. While members of the press try to pin down conservatives (in power or not) with a barrage of microphones, conservatives worry that there isn’t a press mic powerful enough to pick up any sound that comes from the Liberal leader who is showing that he just may be unfit to lead a serious discussion on Canadian foreign policy on the national stage.

Read my previous article on Dion’s Pakistan thought experiment

Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday?

Yesterday, Stephane Dion made an unfortunate declaration regarding Canada’s foreign policy and amends his position on Canada’s military role in central Asia.

QUEBEC – Any attempt to counter terrorists in war-torn Afghanistan will not succeed without an intervention in neighbouring Pakistan, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Wednesday.

Dion hinted NATO could take action in Pakistan, which has a porous border with Afghanistan, if the Pakistani government doesn’t move to track terrorists.

“We are going to have to discuss that very actively if they (the Pakistanis) are not able to deal with it on their own. We could consider that option with the NATO forces in order to help Pakistan help us pacify Afghanistan,” said Dion in Quebec City, commenting after his two-day trip to Afghanistan last weekend. “As long as we don’t solve the problem in Pakistan, I don’t see how we can solve it in Afghanistan.”

Photo:Massoud Hossaini/AFPThe suggestion that NATO could put boots on the ground in a country whose administration is already unstable due to tensions between civil society and fundamentalist Islamic elements within its own military and intelligence service – not to mention rising tension from the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – is outright irresponsible of the Liberal leader. While President Musharraf is a reluctant ally, or at best one who must walk a fine line to maintain a delicate order, the very suggestion that Canada is ready to introduce a destabilizing element into the mix is enough to tip the balance there in an unpredictable way. The nuclear nation with a thick streak of radicalism that permeates its power structure and that has elements sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, is not the foreign policy sandbox for a Canadian opposition leader who is constantly refining (or rather redefining) his position on international security.

Could Pakistan be doing more to help the UN mandated NATO mission in Afghanistan? In a hopeful and unrealistic world where dreams come true, this could happen. Then again, France, Germany and Italy could be doing more to support our operations in that country wedged between Pakistan and Iran. However, the political systems of our European allies are not on the verge on catastrophic collapse. In the past, Mr. Dion has been critical of Canada doing all of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan. However, if NATO were to expand the theatre of operations to Pakistan, wouldn’t this further test our soldiers by spreading NATO assets even thinner?

Frankly, while Dion’s position is under-developed, it is surprisingly bellicose. However, it comes as no surprise that the Liberal leader has changed his position again this time after just recently visiting the nation on which he has so inconsistently opined.

After all, as a member of Chretien’s cabinet, Dion voted to authorize the use of Canadian force in that country. Dion has expressed unambiguous support for the mission in the past:

“It’s a very important mission and we want to be there” — Stephane Dion, March 2006

“We will succeed in Afghanistan if we show a lot of determination … We need to be resolute and to succeed.” — Stephane Dion, March 2006

“We need to be there. Canada is a good citizen of the world. We are very courageous. We have been in Yugoslavia. We are ready to be in tough situations.” — Stephane Dion, 2006

“There is no way that Canada will be an occupying force. I’m supporting the mission because I’m still convinced that most of the people of Afghanistan want our protection.” — Stephane Dion, October 10, 2006

Dion however voted against extending the mission in May 2006 and continues to oppose the current mission believing Canada should do less fighting. Dion has explained that our troops must withdrawal “with honour”. Further, it has recently been Dion’s position that “The combat mission in Kandahar must end in February 2009.”

As you can see here, Dion’s many positions on the Afghan mission have been dizzying.

Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, there is no room for on-the-job training when it comes to foreign policy positions that a Prime Minister must take.

The only federal leaders who have been consistent in their positions have been Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. With a mission started by Chretien’s cabinet, moved to Kandahar by Martin’s cabinet, and which is now receiving on-again-off-again support from a hapless Liberal leader who now suggests escalation and expansion into Pakistan, Canada would be rudderless internationally under Prime Minister Stephane Dion.

Will Stephane Dion one day be in a position to make a critical decisions regarding Canada’s deployment of its military?

ABC News: Suicide bombers being sent to Canada

ABC News is reporting that a “graduation ceremony” for suicide bombers was held along the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan on June 9th. Some of the bombers are intended for striking within Canada.

Large teams of newly trained suicide bombers are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

Teams assigned to carry out attacks in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

A Pakistani journalist was invited to attend and take pictures as some 300 recruits, including boys as young as 12, were supposedly sent off on their suicide missions.

abc_canadian_070618_ssh.jpg
ABCNews.com photo caption: “These recruits stand ready to target Canada.”

Of course, this may simply be a propaganda campaign by al Queda and the Taliban. It is not certain if the Taliban has the means to strike within Canada and individual suicide bombing has not been common in North America (I cannot think of one incident). Further, a suicide bomb strike within Canada would only strengthen the relatively shaky resolve that Canadians have in the Kandahar mission, an outcome that wouldn’t seem to be consistent with Taliban objectives. Of course, this quote from a Taliban commander indicates that their objective may simply be revenge:

“These Americans, Canadians, British and Germans come here to Afghanistan from faraway places,” Dadullah says on the tape. “Why shouldn’t we go after them?”