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.

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.”

The 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?

CBC and China

The CBC has recently come under fire for rescheduling and retooling a Falun Gong documentary at the 11th hour. The state-funded broadcaster admitted to reacting to requests by the Chinese government to pull the doc and provide ‘balance’, however, anyone that watches CBC aired documentaries knows that, at previous times, this hasn’t concerned the execs on Front st.

Now, consider this recent news story concerning the popular children’s toy “Aqua Dots” published on the CBC website (byline is CBC)

7 more children fall ill after ingesting Aqua Dots beads

Last Updated: Friday, November 9, 2007 | 4:06 PM ET
CBC News

U.S. officials said Friday there are seven more reports of children falling ill after ingesting Aqua Dots toy beads containing a powerful chemical that metabolizes into a potent date-rape drug.

The children were treated in hospitals in Texas, Delaware, New Hampshire, Illinois and Utah after ingesting beads from Aqua Dots craft kits, said a spokeswoman with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. On Thursday, U.S. officials had confirmed two associated cases of children being hospitalized.

Toronto-based Spin Master has issued a recall of 4.2 million Aqua Dots toys in North America.Toronto-based Spin Master has issued a recall of 4.2 million Aqua Dots toys in North America.

Officials in North America and Australia pulled the toys, called Bindeez in Australia and Aqua Dots in North America, after testing showed the toys’ beads contained 1,4-butanediol, a potentially harmful chemical that can cause seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

The packaging says the toy contains 1,5-pentanediol, a non-toxic chemical commonly used in glue, according to Australia’s Minister for Fair Trading.

In Australia, four children were hospitalized after ingesting beads from the Bindeez toys. No illnesses have been reported in Canada.

Toronto-based distributor Spin Master Ltd. has issued a North American recall of about 4.2 million Aqua Dots toys.
With files from the Associated Press

A critical piece of information is missing from this article. There is no mention of China being the source of these chemically infused children’s toys. Why?

It isn’t Australia, Bindeez, or Spin Master that has a history of defective and toxic products. There is, however, a history of this sort of thing happening in products originating in China.

(ie. pet food, toothpaste, lead in toys etc.)

In the news media, this is called “relevance”. I don’t know why this would be left out of the news story, especially since Canadian consumers need to make informed decisions about the products that they buy for their families.

Even though the CBC is funded by our government, it should never bow to the pressure of it or any other. The omission that I point out above may or may not have been actively made by the broadcaster and it may or may not be a function of institutional bias and culture at the CBC.

Consider this story that came to light last week from Gazette reporter Elizabeth Thompson,

OTTAWA — The RCMP spied on CBC and Radio Canada employees for years and was convinced at one point that communists had infiltrated the CBC in Montreal, according to secret documents that have just been released.

Moreover, it appears that senior CBC managers knew that the Mounties routinely investigated the political views of staff members such as Rene Levesque and kept such “adverse records” in personnel reports on file long after the employees had left the broadcaster.

In one heavily censored 1958 report marked “secret” and titled “CBC Montreal — Collaboration of Officials with Known Communists” the force says conclusively that there were communists working for the public broadcaster.

“If the present report serves no other purpose, it does establish beyond reasonable doubt the presence of Communists in the CBC and their active conspiracy to use its facilities for Communist purposes,” wrote the author, whose name was blacked out. “It would, therefore, give some measure of reassurance to the Minister that there is at least a proven intended threat to security on the part of such persons as (blacked out) and perhaps others as yet unknown to us.”

UPDATE 11/12: Lorne Gunter asks some tough questions about the CBC too.

UPDATE: A CBC employee registers their discontent and frustration at CBC censorship at China’s request.

Maybe the CBC has it online? No, the show “was pre-empted for a timely documentary about Pakistan and President Gen. Musharraf.” Nothing to do with the Chinese at all, you see. And nothing at all to do with our Olympic broadcast in 2008. Be sure to tune into Canada’s Own Network this summer!

Stonewalled again. And I still don’t have the information I need to make an informed decision about Falun Gong or the Chinese government, let alone a good blog post on the subject.

Hold on, am I allowed to blog about it? The answer is not clear. Isn’t my site blocked inside the CBC? To be safe, maybe I should check with the Politburo.

Er, I mean, my supervisor.