United Nations says whooping cough epidemic in northern Afghanistan largely contained
Thu Jan 23, 3:53 AM ET By MARK KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - A whooping cough outbreak that threatened 40,000 children in a remote snowbound corner of northeast Afghanistan has been largely contained by U.N. and Afghan health officials, the United Nations said Thursday.
Health officials have reached and treated residents of 71 villages out of an estimated 189 potentially affected villages in Badakhshan province, said Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. No new outbreaks have been reported.
"We do not yet have an official number of fatalities," Almeida e Silva said.
Data from November indicated that at least 61 children had died from whooping cough this winter in the region, adjacent to Tajikistan.
The team is expected to soon reach another 30 villages in Darwaz and Khwahan districts to further contain the disease and prevent complications such as pneumonia.
Some 78 volunteers and 15 medical staff are treating hundreds of children a day with antibiotics.
In addition to treating whooping cough — a highly contagious disease that can cause weeks of severe coughing — officials have been combating other vaccine-preventable illness such as polio and measles.
Access to the region has been hampered by snow. Some 2,000 Afghans with snow gear have been employed to help clear key roads and passes in the mountainous northern regions.
Rain, meanwhile, has been heavy in the southeast, southwest and south of Afghanistan.
Torrential rainfall has been reported in five provinces — Herat, Farah, Helmand, Nimruz and Kandahar. There have been no reports of major floods.
Almeida e Silva said the rains have brought optimism to residents of the south. "They are hoping for a productive harvesting year of the winter rain-fed crop," he said. So far, it has rained five times in the south and more rain is anticipated.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture said the level of rain in the south, southwest and southeast had not yet been enough to improve the drought situation, although the levels of water in the north and east were more positive.
There is Taliban-like movement in Iraq's Kurdish area: daily
Wednesday, January 22, 2003 10:03 AM EST
TEHRAN, Jan 22, 2003 (Xinhua via COMTEX) There is a Taliban-like movement in Iraq's Kurdish area, and the name of this movement "Ansaar al- Islam" was first publicly heard when its leader Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmed was arrested, Farsi-language newspaper Iran reported on Wednesday.
After the Sept. 11 event, Faraj Ahmed tried to enter Iran, the paper said. But his attempt was rejected, so he was forced to head for Holland where he was arrested upon arrival.
This movement had some 300 members early last year, but now the number has increased to some 1,000, the paper quoted informed sources as saying.
About 150 of its members are Arabs and Afghans. The Arabs went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to help fight the Soviet troops. After the Soviet withdrawal, they stayed and joined the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the sources said.
Experts on North Iraq issues said that after the Taliban and Al- Qaeda were overthrown in Afghanistan, many fled Afghanistan and join this movement.
There have been reports saying that the movement gets its financial help from some Mosques in European countries. Some of their financial supporters used to aid the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, because there are many ideological similarities between Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and this group.
Well-educated Afghans back to home country under aid program By Cao Weiguo and Sun Wen
Thursday, January 23, 2003 3:29 AM EST
KABUL, Jan 23, 2003 (Xinhua via COMTEX) Rahmatullah Neyazmal was a physician working at a private clinic in Peshawar, Pakistan, when he came back to Afghanistan in March, 2002, with the expectations of contributing to the reconstruction of his home country, and starting a new dignified life of his own.
"After living in a foreign country for 23 years, finally I've come back to my own country," said the 28-year-old doctor, who at present works as a medical advisor at the Afghan Ministry of Rural Development.
"Because it is my country, I must come back to do something for her, who had suffered from so many disasters and humiliations in last two decades," he said.
Neyazmal left Afghanistan at the age of 5 when his family fled their hometown in a Kabul suburb in 1979 after the former Soviet Union's invasion. He graduated from a Pakistani medical college with a doctor's degree three years ago.
With all of his family members still living in Pakistan, Neyazmal said his family would return to Afghanistan later this year to join him if he could rebuild their war-damaged house in Kabul.
Earning no salary from the ministry, Neyazmal said he received a one-time resettlement grant of 300 US dollars and could get a monthly subsidy of 400 dollars from an international aid organization, which is operating a program to encourage well- educated Afghans in foreign countries to come back to serve their home country.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 400 Afghan professionals so far have returned to Afghanistan from 23 countries, including Pakistan, the United States, Iran and European countries, under its Return of Qualified Afghans program. IOM was originally established over 50 years ago in Geneva to help European migrants around the world after the World War II.
Most of the returned people were placed at key positions at various ministries, local offices of international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the country.
The program, launched in December 2001 when the new government formed in Afghanistan, aimed to boost the country's rehabilitation efforts in post-Taliban era through progressive transfer of know- how of Afghan expatriate professionals to their home country, IOM' s representative in Kabul Daiva Vilkelyte told Xinhua.
Any Afghan person who was living in a foreign country with the minimum education background of a university diploma could apply for the repatriation assistance from the program, she said.
Qualified Afghan professional workers came back to serve their country under a contract basis with a term up to 12 months, said Vilkelyte, adding that IMO expected that these people would be able to integrate into their own society within one year.
She said IOM had a plan to help with the short- and long-term employment, return and integration of 1,500 Afghan professionals by 2004.
However, with security concern remaining and the lack of living and communication facilities even in this capital city, where even the Internet service is a luxury thing only found at United Nations agencies and selected governmental offices, few Afghan professionals who have well-paid jobs and comfortable lives in foreign countries, especially in western countries, would like to come back.
"It is very difficult for all the Afghans who are abroad in western countries to return back," said Deputy Minister of Education Dr. Moin Marastial, who himself returned from Australia in December 2001.
"We cannot provide the same living conditions here (as in western counties), no electricity, no green area, no clean houses.. .
"But this is my country, I want to live in my country whatever it is, it is important for me to come back to work for the people, " said Marastial, who had lived in Australia for six years and run a partnership business there.
Border province breeds potential Afghan revolt A low-paid, poorly trained force in Afghanistan's northeast struggles to secure the province against a regrouping of Islamic guerrillas
Wednesday, January 22, 2003 4:44 PM EST
ASADABAD, AFGHANISTAN, Jan 23, 2003 (The Christian Science Monitor via COMTEX) As a former Islamic guerrilla against the Soviets, Najibullah remembers watching the long lines of Russian tanks, artillery, and disciplined soldiers coming to take over the Konar province.
In 1989, with just a few thousand men armed with Kalashnikovs, grenades, and antiaircraft missiles, he and fellow resistance fighters liberated Konar, the first state to be returned to native Afghan control.
Now the tables have turned. The former rebel is himself in charge of securing the northeastern province, which borders Pakistan, against Islamic guerrillas. But, with a poorly trained force of 1,800 men, and with none of the necessary resources or arms to secure the peace - Najibullah is worried. His men earn just $1 a month - enough for a few rounds of tea - and they haven't been paid in six months. Meanwhile, all around him, in rural areas and border towns, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Islamic guerrillas - from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and from Afghan religious parties - prepare for their moment to strike.
"How can we defend against this staggering number of enemies?" he says in exasperation. "We can't trust our own men. Somebody could offer them thousands of rupees, and I can only offer them 10. It's possible for even 300 men to take everything from us, not just the city but the province."
About 10 miles south of the province's capital, Asadabad, is a US base manned by Special Forces, estimated to number about 500 soldiers. They conduct joint patrols with local Afghan soldiers, looking for weapons in the homes and properties of supposed Taliban sympathizers, and watching the Afghan-Pakistani border for Al Qaeda infiltrators.
But the real enemy, Afghan officials say, is already within the province. Konar remains a base for the radical Islamist party Hizb-I Islami, led by the anti-Soviet hero Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Afghan intelligence sources say Mr. Hekmatyar, who helped topple the Soviet-backed government in 1992 only to help destroy the country by fighting with rival guerrilla groups for control of Kabul, is now regrouping in Konar and recruiting leading Afghan commanders and political leaders for a coming revolt.
"In this region, Hizb-I Islami is very strong, because the local people fought with Hekmatyar against the Soviets," says Sher Hassan, the local deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence agency Amniat. But Hekmatyar and his party would be nothing without money, he adds, and Amniat believes Hekmatyar is receiving money from "neighboring countries."
"All the bordering countries are interfering in our affairs, sometimes in their own interests and sometimes in the interests of their friends," says Mr. Hassan. "China has always had good relations with Pakistan. All the weapons we used during jihad [the Soviet war] came from China, but they have not given them directly to us. They gave the weapons to Pakistan. Now it is working the same way, with weapons and money going to Hekmatyar.
"They [Hekmatyar and his party] haven't started any big attacks, just some guerrilla attacks on the US base," says Hassan. "But if they are backed by foreign countries, they can do anything, they can even take Konar from us."
Hekmatyar appears to be rallying his main party organizers, top-level leaders, and commanders of Hizb-I Islami, say Afghan officials both here and in Kabul. In addition, Hekmatyar's party is rallying public sentiment against US forces and the Karzai government through leaflets and mobile radio broadcasts from both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Gul Adad, chief of the Afghan border security force at Nawa Pass checkpoint, says his men often listen to Hekmatyar's speeches on their radios. The range of their radios is only 12 kilometers, which suggests that the mobile radio station is quite close to the border.
Both China and Pakistan vehemently deny supporting Al Qaeda terrorists, or other enemies of Afghanistan. As evidence of its loyalty in the war on terrorism, Pakistan touts the more than 400 alleged terrorists captured on its soil since the fall of the Taliban - all of whom have been handed over to American law-enforcement officials. More than 340 of these accused terrorists were captured in the Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border, says Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman for the Pakistani military and for President Pervez Musharraf.
"There is very close logistical and intelligence cooperation between the US and Pakistan," says General Qureshi in a phone interview. "Some people say that Al Qaeda is hiding in the tribal areas, but every time a foreign reporter has been there, they find nothing there."
Yet Afghan, Pakistani, and US military authorities have repeatedly cited shadowy "training camps" along the 1,500-mile Afghan-Pakistani border as posing the greatest challenge in routing terrorism in the region.
In Asadabad, Security Chief Najibullah can only tick off the cities and areas that he doesn't control. In Barikot, a border city north of Asadabad, there are reports of more than 300 foreign fighters receiving refuge in the hometown of a top Hizb-I Islami commander, Kashmir Khan. Similarly, Dangam, Asmar, and Narai are in enemy hands, even though the appointed leaders there still talk of supporting the Karzai government. "Up there, they are against the government, and against us," says Najibullah. "And the reason they are against us is that we haven't brought them anything. No hospitals, no doctors, no roads, no security. Nothing has changed, only the faces of the leaders."
A group of US Army civilian affairs personnel, which had been stationed in Asadabad to begin the reconstruction of schools, hospitals, and roads, has been withdrawn to Kabul due to ongoing rocket attacks against the US base there.
The atmosphere of uncertainty in Konar leaves many citizens with a sense of foreboding. "I am sure that in the very near future, this province will be the center of a big clash of two regimes," says Mohammad Nasser, a shopkeeper in Asadabad, who says he welcomes US forces and the new Afghan government. "On one side are the old radical Islamists of the Taliban, and on the other side are the new liberal Muslims. And I am not sure which side will win."
Blasts Rock Southern Afghanistan Near Pakistan
CHAMAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Residents of southern Afghanistan said Thursday an Afghan military vehicle had been destroyed in a rocket attack near the border with Pakistan.
They were speaking after people in the Pakistan border town of Chaman reported hearing and feeling loud explosions on Wednesday evening.
Local Afghan officials confirmed the blasts but declined to say what had caused them.
Residents in the area said an Afghan military vehicle had been rocketed, caught fire and been completely destroyed. The fate of the soldiers in the vehicle was not immediately known.
Witnesses in Chaman told Reuters Thursday they had heard loud explosions from across the border and seen black smoke in the sky at sunset. They said they had later seen U.S. aircraft flying in the area.
Remnants of the ousted Islamic Taliban movement and al Qaeda network have increased attacks on Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces in recent months, especially in Pashtun-dominated areas of southern Afghanistan.
There have been several hit-and-run rocket attacks on military bases used by the coalition forces as well as bombings.
Pakistan gas restored after attack
Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 09:47 GMT BBC News
Long queues formed for compressed gas fuel
Gas supplies in Pakistan were returning to normal on Thursday following a rocket attack on a pipeline that caused huge disruption nationwide.
Two pipelines were set ablaze on Tuesday night in the south-western province of Balochistan cutting supply to 2.2 million consumers.
The attack was blamed on local tribesmen.
The areas worst affected by cuts were the Punjab, the capital Islamabad and parts of North-West Frontier Province.
The rockets struck the 5,215-km Sui pipeline near Dera Bugti, 650 kilometres (400 miles) south-west of Islamabad.
The pipelines supply 55% of the country's gas.
A spokesman for Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited, Naeem Khan, said supplies had been restored in one line and a second was close to being restored.
Three separate investigations are under way into the incident, the interior ministry said.
Security officials in Balochistan had said that Bugti tribesman fired the rockets in a deliberate act of sabotage after authorities cut off their electricity supplies because they had not paid their bills.
However, on Thursday they said the rockets may have hit the pipelines accidentally during a clash between the Bugtis and the rival Mazari tribe.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Paramilitary troops have been deployed to guard the pipelines.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali, speaking in Balochistan's capital Quetta, urged the desert tribes to end their feuding.
Many were unable to cook or heat homes
Affected consumers had to turn to coal, wood and kerosene oil for cooking and heating in temperatures close to zero.
The situation was particularly bad in northern parts of the country.
Hotels and restaurants had to close in Lahore and bakeries ran out of white bread.
In Islamabad, fuel stations turned away drivers desperately seeking compressed natural gas for their vehicles.
''I cannot afford to buy petrol, so I will return home empty and God knows what will happen tomorrow," said taxi driver Khurshid Ahmed.
Afghan Man Killed in Firefight With U.S.
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) - An Afghan man was shot and killed during a firefight with U.S. Special Forces troops near a U.S. base in central Afghanistan, a military spokesman said Thursday.
The shooting took place Wednesday outside the town of Deh Rawood.
There was no indication of the dead man's identity.
It was at Deh Rawood last July 1 that a U.S. gunship attacked what turned out to be a wedding, killing about 30 people, most of them women and children. At the time the U.S. military said its aircraft had come under fire from the ground, but no antiaircraft weapons were found.
On Tuesday, a 107 mm rocket landed outside the U.S. headquarters at Bagram and several observation points at the base were attacked a few minutes later by gunfire.
U.S. bases across Afghanistan are frequent target of rockets and small-arms fire. Often, the unknown assailants launch their weapons and then disappear before U.S. forces can respond. The base at Bagram - home to some 8,000 troops - is no exception.
"I would say that we have at least get one incident once a month for probably last four or five months where we had been some type of small arms fired directed at the perimeter of the base," Col. Roger King said at Bagram.
Authorities seize large quantity of heroin-making acid in eastern Afghanistan
Wed Jan 22, 3:55 AM ET AP
JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Afghan soldiers working with U.S. forces Wednesday seized more than 1,000 containers of a type of acid used to make heroin in a remote mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan , an intelligence official said.
The barrels and cans of acetic anhydride — a chemical used in turning opium into heroin — was found about 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Jalalabad, said Bakhtiar Malang, intelligence chief of Nangarhar province.
Malang said the acid was being used for heroin production in Shinwari district, which is near the Pakistan border and is known as an opium poppy growing area.
Nangarhar police have raided three places in the Shinwari area in the last two months and destroyed some heroin factories, he said.
Afghanistan's hardline Islamic Taliban rulers, who were ousted in 2001, forced poppy growers to stop production, but opium cultivation was revived after the regime's overthrow.
During their rule, the Taliban had destroyed 37 factories in the Shinwari area.
Afghanistan last year harvested more than 3,000 tons of opium, making it the world's biggest producer of the drug.
The Great Trade Game.
Far Eastern Economic Review. January 23.2003 Ahmed Rashid in Kabul.
Landlocked Afghanistan moved closer to its goal of becoming a major trade hub between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia after signing a raft of favourable trade agreements with its neighbours in recent weeks. But Pakistan, gateway for Afghan imports and exports for more than half-a-century, has been left out in the cold and analysts reckon Islamabad has largely itself to blame as its main regional rivals, India and Iran, prepare to cash in at its expense.
Pakistan's own ambitions of opening up trade routes with Central Asia appear to have fallen victim to its ambiguous policy toward the government in Kabul and its hostility toward India, which are reflected in the obstacles it has raised to trade with its western neighbour. These include hiking freight fees for Afghan exports and refusing to forge a new transit-trade deal. "Pakistan is losing out because its myopic policies place countering India above trade and stability in Afghanistan," says a Western ambassador in Islamabad.
Senior Afghan officials, including Commerce Minister Sayed Mustafa Kazemi, meanwhile, have been busy laying the groundwork for the new direction in Afghan trade over the past two months. In early January Kazemi signed a deal with Iran that will give Afghan import-export merchants the right to use the port of Chabahar on the Indian Ocean with a 90% discount on customs and port fees for nonoil goods and a 50% discount on warehouse charges.
Afghan-registered vehicles, moreover, will be allowed full transit rights on the Iranian road system. Consumer goods and construction materials are likely to make up the bulk of the trade headed toward Afghanistan, while mainly agricultural exports and carpets will head towards the port. On January 5, at another meeting in Teheran, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed an agreement to give Indian goods heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan similar preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. New Delhi, which is barred from trading with Afghanistan through Pakistan, agreed to finance the upgrading of the dirt road linking the port with the southwest Afghan town of Dilaram via the border post of Zaranj.
Existing road networks link Dilaram to Turkmenistan, via the western city of Herat, and to both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan via Kabul. The road through Zaranj will also open up one of the poorest and most isolated regions of Afghanistan, diplomats and officials note.
India, in a memorandum of understanding with Iran, also agreed to build a line linking Chabahar to the main Iranian railway network. Iran will then extend its railway to the western Afghan border town of Islam Qaleh. Iranian officials said they wanted to develop Chabahar as the major port for Afghanistan and Central Asia.
"Chabahar opens up Central Asia to the Gulf and Afghanistan becomes the hub," says Saad Mohseni, director of Moby Capital Partners, an Australian-Afghan investment house based in Melbourne and Kabul. "Both India and Iran are ready to invest in the infrastructure to develop this trade route which will benefit Kabul."
Afghanistan may not have considered such a course had it not been for the ambiguity of Pakistan policy toward the new government in Kabul, which is dominated by members of the former Northern Alliance-long backed by Iran, India and Russia. Islamabad had openly opposed the alliance until it ousted the ruling Taliban in late 2001. And while Pakistan promises aid and trade to President Hamid Karzai's regime, the Afghan government complains that Islamabad does littleto expel Taliban leaders and anti- Kabul warlords from sanctuaries just inside Pakistan.
Western diplomats in Islamabad say Pakistan's powerful military intelligence service, which dominates Pakistan's Afghan policy and supported the Taliban, appears more preoccupied with trying to counter Indian and Northern Alliance influence in Kabul than improving trade ties. "The Afghan government was left with no choice but to pursue new trade routes because of the intransigence of the Pakistan government," says businessman Mohseni.
This intransigence was reflected in a host of obstacles raised by Pakistan to trade with Afghanistan in the past six months. First it doubled the rail-freight charges from the Afghan border to the port of Karachi, through which most Afghan exports have flowed for decades. Then it refused to implement a new transit-trade agreement with Kabul and placed new restrictions on Afghan goods.
The result, says United States businessman Steve Shaulis, is that "exportcargoes have shifted to being routed through Iran, where transit rates are half the cost and the service much faster and less restrictive." Shaulis, who has been exporting Afghan dried fruit and cotton for a decade, adds that "most Afghan shippers are perplexed by Pakistan's attitude." The American, who is developing a major agro-business in Afghanistan, now sends his exports through Iran.
Pakistan says the failure to forge a new transit-trade agreement with Afghanistan is due to Kabul's unreasonable demands for the import of unlimited duty-free goods through Karachi. Officials in Islamabad say many Afghan-bound duty-free consumer goods-such as TVs, vehicles and air-conditioners-are smuggled back into Pakistan.
Kazemi, however, asserts that the pact has not been finalized because "the Pakistani authorities over the last few years have introduced new restrictions that have had an adverse impact on goods destined for Afghanistan-we are trying to eradicate such restrictions." The talks are continuing.
But Islamabad's stance promises only to reward its rivals for regional influence. Kabul's ties with Teheran had been getting closer even before the January trade agreements. Iran has already pledged to provide electricity to western Afghanistan and meet the $16.5 million cost of installing transmission cables. Iran and Turkmenistan, meanwhile, recently agreed to provide natural gas to Herat.
preferential trade partner
Western diplomats in Kabul say the growing ties with Iran were partly responsible for prompting U.S. President George W. Bush to designate Afghanistan on January 13 as a preferential trading partner. The move will allow the country to export about 5,700 products to the U.S. without tariffs. The irony is that Afghan exports will likely travel through Iran.
Kabul is also moving swiftly to open trading routes and receive concessions from neighbouring Central Asian republics. In late December Gen. Mohammed Daud, commander of Kunduz in northeast Afghanistan, led an official trade delegation to nearby Tajikistan.
Despite its lack of resources, Tajikistan agreed during the visit to provide electricity to Kunduz and reduce tariffs for Afghan goods, such as cotton and dried fruit, transiting Tajikistan. It also offered 200 scholarships for Afghan students in technical subjects and pledged to build more bridges across the Amu Darya River that divides the two countries. There is currently one bridge spanning the river between the neighbours, and that was only built in November.
Meanwhile Gen. Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord in northern Afghanistan and a member of the government, has tied up similar deals with Uzbekistan allowing for greater trade, reduced tariffs and the provision of electricity to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, according to senior officials in Kabul. But the central government had no role in forging these accords. For its part, Afghanistan says it would be happy to improve its trade ties with Pakistan and the country's leaders support the idea of forging multiple trading routes rather than depending on one. President Karzai says he would like to develop similar trade ties with Pakistan. "We have no preferences, no favourites, as long as Afghanistan can benefit all round," he tells the Review.
Gunmen kill anti-Taleban writer
A strict Islamic code applies in the author's province
Paul Anderson BBC correspondent in Islamabad
Police in northern Pakistan say unidentified attackers have shot dead a writer whose work was viewed as critical of fundamentalist Islam.
The 40-year-old writer, Fazal Wahab, was shot at a local shop.
Fatwas, or religious edicts, declaring his work un-Islamic had been issued by senior clerical figures after the publication of two books challenging the role of mullahs.
Police say three or four gunmen burst into the shop in the town of Mingora, in North-West Frontier Province, where Mr Wahab was sitting.
The gunmen opened fire indiscriminately, killing Mr Wahab and the shop owner on the spot.
The attack will be a test of the mullahs' power
A teenage shop assistant died on his way to hospital.
Police established checkpoints quickly but have so far made no arrests.
Two of Mr Wahab's books were critical of the Taleban, the role of the mullahs and Osama bin Laden.
It is not clear whether the fatwas called for his death.
Mr Wahab, who was married with five children, called a press conference last month to say he was receiving death threats.
He was reported to have applied for a visa to the United States, with a view to seeking political asylum, but this was rejected.
He was not well-known nationally, but locally was engaged in a hostile debate with Islamic leaders through his writings.
After provincial and national elections last year, North-West Frontier Province came under the control of an alliance of religious parties.
The provincial government has begun imposing strict interpretations of the Islamic code - much as the Taleban did in Afghanistan - on dress, women's freedom of movement and public entertainment.
The attack will be an early test of the new government's future intentions; whether to pursue the attackers or allow the killings to go unpunished.
The latter would send a strong message to clerical leaders that they have broad freedom to operate as they wish.
The Return of John Rambo Smoking Out Bin Laden
Counter Punch By KURT NIMMO 1/22/03
If Bush can't kill bin Laden in real life, he might as well have Rocky do it in the movies. Showbiz reporter for the UK Sun Online, Jacqui Smith, says the 56 year old Sylvester Stallone will once again bring the Rambo character to life, this time to fight the forces of evil, namely the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Stallone was so keen to see bin Laden brought to justice something Bush is unable or unwilling to do he wrote the script himself. Initially, the aging Sly was scripted to kill the Evil One all on his lonesome, but he had second thoughts because, as a Hollywood type told the Sun, the actor "thought that was beyond the imagination," which is to say, I suppose, the idea of a middle aged Rambo doing what the US military was unable (or not permitted) to do in the span of more than a year is "beyond the imagination."
Nonetheless, Americans need closure on the bin Laden thing, and if the US military can't deliver justice maybe Hollywood can, at least on the big screen. Millions of Americans will trek enthusiastically to mall cinemas far and wide to indulge vicariously in the murderous and patriotic rampages of John Rambo (who in an earlier movie went back to Vietnam to finish what Johnson and Nixon didn't have the balls to see through). Rambo will slaughter the straggling Taliban and al-Qaeda bad guys Rumsfeld overlooked. No laser-guided missiles or JDAMs needed, no bunker busters or cluster bombs designed to resemble food packages required Rambo will do the job himself and not one innocent citizen will fall victim to "collateral damage." Rambo will hunt down and smoke out the Omars of this world and kill each and every last one with his bare hands, no pansy-ass Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles needed. It will be justice delivered 70mm cowboy style. No doubt Miramax, makers of the original Rambo movie, are anticipating handsome returns at the box office.
Stallone and Miramax, however, are a little behind the curve. In the months since 911, bin Laden has slipped under the Bushite radar screen, especially now that they have their sights fixed on Iraq and its bounteous oil fields. If Hollywood is sincerely interested in producing a topical movie, they'd have Rambo parachuting into Baghdad under the cover of darkness with a grenade launching AK47 slung over his shoulder, bayonet clenched between his teeth, and his naked chest crisscrossed with teflon hollowpoint cartridge belts (a few depleted uranium shells thrown in for good measure). Rambo would sneak into one of Saddam's many palatial residences and slit his throat while he dreams of Nebuchadnezzar. But then, considering no intelligence service or covert op team has been able to get anywhere near the slippery Iraqi dictator not with Saddam's al-Bu Nasir praetorian guards lurking about this scenario may be even more "beyond the imagination" than the idiotic bin Laden idea. But then idiotic movies are Hollywood's stock and trade.
But why stop with Rambo in Afghanistan or Iraq making toast and just deserts of America's enemies? Miramax may want to hire a swarm of scriveners to write any number of "prequels" to the bin Laden bedtime story. How about "Bill Casey Goes to Afghanistan," a movie about how the CIA and Pakistan's ISI single-handedly created the Mujahideen trained them by the thousands in the art of bomb-making (some lucky enough to make it to the CIA's retreat in Virginia) and financed them handsomely and then turned the wild-eyed Muslim fanatics loose not only on the hapless Soviets but the world of infidels at large. Or maybe an epic on Bush Senior's first Iraq attack is in order. Imagine John Rambo blowing up the An Nasiriyah chemical warehouse in Iraq in advance of US ground troops arriving, thus saving thousands of red-blooded American boys and girls from Gulf War Syndrome. Maybe casting would be able to entice April Glaspie into a cameo role. Or Tarek Aziz. Somebody needs to see if Tom Clancy's available to write the script.
Truly, we Americans live in a land of unending absurdity and ignorance. Hollywood knows its game well enough to understand that a movie where bin Laden and assorted al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives are hunted down and killed by a lone wolf all-American mercenary will be a good investment (no matter if Stallone is pushing 60; John Wayne was offing various gooks, injuns, and mobsters on the big screen well into his 60s). Just as the mild antiwar second thoughts of the soldiers portrayed in Mark Bowden's book Black Hawk Down were cut when Hollywood made it into a movie, Miramax's effort will be devoid of any historical or political context or appraisal. Americans do not cotton to such glaring realities in their blood-drenched fantasies where the Good always prevail and the Bad are brought to justice. Nor will there be scenes of disemboweled wedding guests near the village of Deh Rawud, no portrayals of slaughtered Taliban prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif, no sweeping pans of starving refugees massed at the borders of Pakistan and Iran seeking to escape US military bombardment. In the Great American Fantasy, the Good and the Bad slug it out on the tundra (or deep within remote jungles), far away from babies, grandmothers, and humanitarian workers. Of course, as in a previous John Rambo movie, a peacenik or two might get slugged in the face. Serves 'em right for going up against the Good and Righteous.
As John Rambo represents a grotesque cardboard personage, so does the unelected and increasingly acerbic (and detestable) president George W. Bush. Junior told the American people in his dim-witted and unimaginative way a few short months ago the perps of 911 are "wanted dead or alive" and would be hunted down and smoked out like renegade Comanche who terrorize womenfolk and scalp god-fearing sodbusters. Go forward a few months in time. Now bin Laden's name is never mentioned and the half-ass dictator Saddam Hussein (when compared to any number of US-supported dictators, say Indonesia's Suharto or Chile's Pinochet) has inherited bin Laden's iniquitous cloak of unquestionable evil. The former CIA asset bin Laden served his purpose for Dubya and his clatch of empire-mad neocons who are attempting to create their own renovated version of Manifest Destiny on a global scale. Only this time the natives will not stay on the reservation. This time around they will not be easily cowed into pitiful submission.
If Bush is allowed to bring his war to the people of the Middle East (and Central Asia, South America, and wherever else people resist the brutal encroachment of empire) the ensuing cataclysm will be of truly historic proportions. Our children will not sing great songs, as the neocon Richard Perle would have it, but mournful laments. Not only will oil wells burn and millions of people die horrible deaths in far away lands but war will spread like wildfire to the tinderbox shores of America. The police state Bush has in mind for the American people will not stop it. No way are there enough Marines, Army Rangers, Delta Forces, Seal Teams, Special Forces, CIA operatives to contain its spread and wrathful violence.
Not even John Rambo will make America feel good about itself in the aftermath.
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