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Edward Said Discusses the Cycle of Violence

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Just as the Afghanistan’s new provisional government was preparing to take power last week, offering a possible end to decades of violence, President Bush announced that 2002 would still be a “war year” for the United States. Echoing a statement he made at the beginning of his campaign against al-Qaeda, the president warned that the “war on terrorism” had only just begun and was likely to spread to other corners of the globe. While Bush has not yet confirmed any targets, he has hinted, along with his advisers, that Somalia, Yemen or even Iraq could be next.

Well, just a few moments ago, we heard Pakistani peace activist Zia Mian speak of war as a kind of “midwife of history,” bringing latent conflicts to life. If this is the case, then how are we to view the United States’ expanding “war on terrorism”? What children will it deliver? And what child has it already bore?

Scholar and author Edward Said addressed this question recently in a speech he gave at a conference on the escalation of the Middle East conflict. The speech begins broadly with a discussion of the U.S. “war on terrorism” and then moves more specifically into the case of Israel and Palestine.

Edward Said, who is a professor of comparative literature at Columbia, was born in Jerusalem in 1935, before partition, and has been an eloquent voice for justice throughout the Palestinian struggle. We go now to his speech for the rest of the hour.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Just as the Afghanistan new provisional government was preparing to take power last week, offering a possible end to decades of violence, President Bush announced that 2002 would still be a “war year” for the United States. Echoing a statement he made at the beginning of the campaign against al-Qaeda, the president warned that the so-called war on terrorism had only just begun and was likely to spread to other corners of the globe. While Bush has not yet confirmed any targets, he has hinted, along with his advisers, that Somalia, Yemen or Iraq could be next.

We turn now to professor Edward Said talking about the conflict in the Middle East. He’s a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, was born in Jerusalem in 1935, before partition, and has been an eloquent voice for justice throughout the Palestinian struggle. Professor Edward Said.

EDWARD SAID: In any case, I’d like to speak about the general situation in which we find ourselves after September the 11th, and then I want to focus specifically on the Middle East. As somebody from West Asia, I’m pleased to be addressing a forum organized by South Asians. And since I don’t believe in artificial divisions of that sort, nevertheless, perhaps geographical identifications are not useless all the times.

But as a child of war myself, I’ve been born into — having, you know, been born into a war contest, being an adolescent in one, and then maturing in others, I’ve always seemed to — I’ve always felt that wars are never a solution. They seem to often beget other wars, as was the case with World War II, which produced colonial wars elsewhere. And certainly in my part of the world, we’ve had our share of those, plus, of course, civil wars, insurgencies and so on.

So I think the general situation of belligerency — can you hear me well, or not? No, sorry about that. Yeah. Yes, louder. Is this better? Right. I was simply saying that wars have always seemed to me to produce other wars. And they really are deeply unsatisfactory solutions to problems and issues that arise and seem inevitably to lead to war, such as September the 11th. I don’t think this is an exception, the war that we’re in now and other wars that we may be heading towards.

A few days ago, I received a letter from an admired friend of mine, a retired professor of history, who is certainly one of the greatest scholars produced in this country. In his letter, he wrote me the following: “In the current madness of our nation and the world it seems determined to conquer, it seems to me that never in the many political crises that I’ve experienced, beginning with the Wallace campaign, have I felt so pessimistic about the country and so impotent. There seems to be no stirring of a movement, no social and cultural base from which an opposition could grow. The way in which Sharon is imitating Bush to eliminate the Palestinian government and consolidate Israeli domination, with nothing but anti-colonial men of desperation left to express the aspirations of the Palestinians, it is too horrendous. I wait for the U.S. to invade Iraq next.”

Now, these are certainly sentiments that I share in many ways, that many of us who are Americans from the Islamic and Arab world also share. There’s no point here in stressing what everybody in the world has already stressed endless times, that the dreadful September 11th terrorist attacks have had a profound effect not only on the city where we all live and which so many of us have found to be a refuge from an old world of war and misery, as well as a superb place to work and study and teach and bring up children, but also has had terrible effects on the world not at all in finally salutary ways. There’s no need at all now for me to try to compete patriotically with all the uncounted zillions of words that have been uttered or written expressing shock, outrage, anger, sorrow at the events of September the 11th.

But there is a need, I think, to go beyond and think reflectively and critically — something which, alas, the present environment hasn’t been so hospitable to. As a nation, we risk, I think, entering into an anti-democratic, triumphalist phase. And this, which is huge power unopposed or unchallenged on grounds of fear or of angering the majority or of seeming unpatriotic, this would be a national and moral catastrophe of great proportions. We need always to be asking ourselves what events mean, what they represent, and who and what any particular speaker represents, who and what constituency, and for what purpose and interests they speak for. That is the type of debate which is the real health of democracy to which we all must remain committed.

Now, as a deeply secular intellectual who has always suspected and made clear my disagreement and discomfort with religious politics, I find that the current war, not just against terrorism, which must always be critically analyzed and distinguished into types and kinds, but against what has been characterized vaguely as a kind of metaphysical evil, has been an extremely problematic one, first of all because, as Americans, we have taken on the role of righteous avengers, which, with the enormous military and political and economic power wielded by the U.S., has made for scenes of awful destruction and unforeseen circumstances all over the world, as well, of course, as creating vast new abstractions both to be for and to be against.

Now, as a deeply secular intellectual who has always suspected and made clear my disagreement and discomfort with religious politics, I find that the current war, not just against terrorism, which must always be critically analyzed and distinguished into types and kinds, but against what has been characterized vaguely as a kind of metaphysical evil, has been an extremely problematic one, first of all because, as Americans, we have taken on the role of righteous avengers, which, with the enormous military and political and economic power wielded by the U.S., has made for scenes of awful destruction and unforeseen circumstances all over the world, as well, of course, as creating vast new abstractions both to be for and to be against.

Islam and the West, or America, I’ve said repeatedly, are generalizations I find difficult to follow blindly. I’m not one of the people, though, who ever had any time for Islamists or fundamentalists or the religious right anywhere that they have fought. They have brought nothing but deception, disappointment, tragedy and waste, wherever they’ve preached their gospel of indiscriminate war, in the case of the Islamists, against the kuffar. And I have no regret in seeing the demise of the Taliban regime and the Qaeda. But I think it’s incumbent on us to have equally critical assessments of all so-called faith-based politics, whether in the Muslim world or elsewhere. Bombing abortion clinics and preventing the teaching of evolution on religious grounds are as reprehensible here as imprisoning or abusing women at home there, and, for that matter, discriminating against non-majority religions in places whether in like — whether like Saudi Arabia or Israel, where I think such practices have to be opposed.

The trouble with the present time, though, is that majority opinion seems to be represented not only by the government, which, in its search for unity, must appear to speak with one voice, I suppose, but also all or most of the other voices, those of the media, in particular. I have found that this idea of unity, the political image of the government and the media — which has acted mostly without independence from the government — is what is being projected now. There really is a feeling being manufactured by the media and the government that a collective “we” exists and that we all act and feel together, as witnessed perhaps by such unimportant surface phenomena as flag flying and the use of the collective “we” by journalists in describing events all over the world in which the U.S. is involved — “We bombed,” “We said,” “We decided,” “We acted,” “We feel,” “We believe,” etc., etc.

Of course, this is only marginally to do with the reality, which is far more complicated and far less reassuring. There’s plenty of unrecorded or unregistered uncertainty and skepticism, I think, lots of questioning, even outspoken dissent here and there, but it seems hidden by overt patriotism. So, American unity is being projected with such force as to allow very little questioning of U.S. policy, which in many ways is heading towards a series of more complex events after Afghanistan, the meaning of which many people will not realize until far too late.

In the meantime, American unity needs to state to the world that what America does and has done cannot brook serious disagreement or discussion. Just like bin Laden, Bush tells the world, “You are either with us or you are with terrorism, and hence against us.” So, on the one hand, America is not at war with Islam, but only with terrorism, and, on the other hand, in complete contradiction with that, since only America decides who or what Islam and terrorism are, we are against Muslim terrorism and Islamic rage as we define them.

I’ve been astonished at how much cant and zeal and phony expertise there has been on the media, with a few exceptions. I mean, I’ve never seen a situation quite like this one. Leaving aside all the military experts, or, as The Economist has called them, all the justly retired military analysts, the experts on Islam, people like the ever so arrogant and vulgar Thomas Friedman, with his dreadful letters — I’m going to come back to him in a minute — as well as the ponderously vindictive and shallow Fouad Ajami and Daniel Pipes and the extraordinarily falsehood-mongering Bernard Lewis — I wish I had time to go over some of the stuff he says in that article he did a couple months ago in The New Yorker, which I don’t read anymore — all of them have been unanimous in their shallow generalizations, their gratuitous, uncritical repetition of clichés, their unhelpful and uninformed denunciations of a world that they have willfully turned into essentially a satellite of Osama bin Laden’s crazed mind.

There are — we need to remind ourselves, there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. There are many, many languages, many traditions, many peoples, many histories, all of them claiming to be Muslim. But none of them is collapsible into things like rage or militancy or extremism.

Then there’s the — to go back to Friedman for a second, and I don’t really want to waste too much time on him, but, I mean, he keeps repeating this ridiculous thing about how Islam needs a reformation. Well, how many reformations were there? There was one. Spain never had a reformation. Why doesn’t Spain get preached at for having produced the ETA terrorists?

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to professor Edward Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. And we’ll be back with his speech in just a minute here on The War and Peace Report. And you can go to our website, as well, to find out more information at democracynow.org. That’s www.democracynow.org.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Mao Tse Tung Said,” A3, here on The War and Peace Report, as we return to a speech by professor Edward Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, author of numerous books, articles and essays, a voice for justice throughout the Palestinian struggle. Professor Said.

EDWARD SAID: Turn now from the general situation to one specific situation, namely the Middle East, which during the course of the war against terrorism, since September the 11th, both the U.S. government, in the persons of the president and Colin Powell, secretary of state, and the British government, in the person of — persons, rather, of Blair and Jack Straw, the foreign minister, have made specific reference to the need for a Palestinian state. In the meantime — as something important to keep the coalition together. In the meantime, the situation on the ground, partly as a result of September the 11th, but, you know, going back in time way before it, has gotten worse. And what I’d like now to spend the rest of the time doing is talking about the situation in Palestine, as a quite different situation from that of Afghanistan.

I wanted to remind you that there was a wonderful poem written in 1982, which — by the leading Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It’s a poem that begins, “The world” — and he wrote it, I should mention, in September of 1982. “The world is closing in on us, pushing us through the last passage, and we tear off our limbs to pass through.” Then he says, “Where shall we go after the last frontiers, where should the birds fly after the last sky?” I use that line, “after the last sky,” as the title of a book I wrote in 1986 with the photographer Jean Mohr.

It’s now 19 years later, 2001. The Palestinian situation is much the same as it was in 1982, although it’s worse because it’s happening in Palestine, not Lebanon. Once again, Ariel Sharon and his military have surrounded an overwhelmingly civilian population of Palestinians. This time they are besieged and imprisoned inside the West Bank and Gaza, which was occupied by Israel since 1967, of which 28% of the West Bank and 60% of Gaza have been allowed Palestinians since the Oslo process. The rest of the land has been taken over by 400,000 Israeli settlers in 145 settlements, including those on Palestinian land around Jerusalem.

Since the Intifada began last September, Palestinians have been shut up by the Israeli military in villages, towns, cities and farms into no less than 220 discontinuous little ghettoes, blockaded, imprisoned for 15 straight months, in addition to curfews inside the towns from time to time, often for weeks at a stretch. No one, young or old, sick or well, dying or pregnant, student or doctor, can move without going through hours at the barricades, manned by rude and purposely humiliating Israeli military searches. At this moment, 200 Palestinians are unable to receive kidney dialysis just because the Israeli military won’t allow them to go to medical centers because of “security reasons.” There must be thousands and thousands of young Israeli conscripts who are abusing an entire population like this for months on end, with only a few refusing this demeaning and sadistic service.

And one question that comes to mind is: Have any of the legions of foreign media personnel who cover the conflict, which is about as one-sided as any in history — have any of them done a story about these brutalized young Israelis trained chiefly to punish Palestinian civilians collectively as the main part of their military duty in the name of the Jewish people on the land of Israel? Compare this, please, with the enormously well-covered sins of the fundamentalist Taliban.

As the Islamic Conference foreign ministers’ emergency meeting opened on December the 10th in Qatar, Yasser Arafat was not allowed by Israel to leave his office in Ramallah. His speech was read by an aide. Fifteen miles away from Ramallah, in Gaza, the airport and the two aging Palestinian helicopters were destroyed a week earlier by Israeli planes and bulldozers with — this is very important — with no one and no force to check, much less prevent, the daily tank incursions by Israel of which this particular feat of military daring was a part. Gaza airport is the only airport — is the only, rather, port of entry directly into Palestinian territory, and the only civilian airport in the world destroyed wantonly since World War II.

Periodically, Israeli F-16s, generously supplied by the United States, have bombed and strafed, Guernica style, Palestinian towns and villages. These, by the way, jets were never used by South African apartheid to bomb the townships in South Africa under apartheid. They’re used regularly by Israel against the Palestinians in their towns and villages, during which, of course, vast amounts of property are destroyed and lost, many civilians and police officials killed. There is no Palestinian army or navy or air force, and certainly no air or any other kind of defense to protect the people, and all of this is done at will.

Apache attack helicopters, again supplied by the U.S., have missile murdered 77 Palestinian leaders, allegedly for terrorist offenses, past or future, with a group of unknown Israeli intelligence operatives holding decision-making powers for these assassinations, presumably also approved by the Cabinet and, of course, by the U.S., which has tacitly approved of the practice of self-defense. The helicopters have also done an efficient job of bombing Palestinian Authority installations, police as well as civilian.

During the night of December 5th, the Israeli army entered the five-story offices of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah, carried off the computers, every file and every report, then destroyed the building in an act of theft and vandalism designed to efface as many of the significant traces of collective Palestinian life as possible. In 1982, the same army, under the same commander, entered West Beirut, carted off documents and files from the Palestinian Research Center, then flattened the structure. A few days later came the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.

The suicide bombers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have, of course, been at work, as Sharon knew perfectly well that they would, since after a 10-day lull in the fighting in late November, Sharon suddenly ordered the murder of a Hamas leader, a man called [Mahmoud] Abu Hanoud — an act designed quite consciously to provoke Hamas into retaliation and then enable his army to resume their butchery of Palestinians.

Eight barren years of discussions, of peace discussions, have brought Palestinians 50% unemployment, 70% rate of poverty, which means that people are living — 70% of the population is living on less than $2 a day per person, and a 60% increase in the number of settlements. And, of course, the endless suffering of basically unopposable house demolitions and the unspeakably cruel Israeli practice of destroying trees and orchards have left residents of the Occupied Territories with no real options.

Yet Sharon has the gall to keep repeating — and this is why I want to speak about it this evening — he keeps repeating that Israel has suffered the same terrorism as that meted out by bin Laden in the United States, even as five or six Palestinians to one Israelis have been killed in the last few months alone, with over 30,000 direct Palestinian casualties.

Under the liberal regime of Ehud Barak, there was a 60%, as I said a moment ago — a 60% increase in settlements, along with a dramatic expansion of the road system for Jewish drivers only. I mean, if you’re non-Jewish, you cannot drive on these settlement roads. The Oslo process made movement nearly impossible for most Palestinians. And as for entry from the West Bank into Arab East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel, that, too, has been forbidden for the last several years. Palestinian universities, hospitals, clinics and schools have regularly been closed, with scarcely a note of it made of it by the Western media, which has been busy chronicling violence through lenses provided by the Israeli military.

The crucial point in all this — and I really cannot insist on it more strongly — is that Israel has been in military occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967. This is the longest such occupation in history and the only occupation anywhere in the world today. This is the original and continuing violence against which all the Palestinian acts of violence have been directed. Yet there has never been any narrative of this occupation or of the enormous amount of Palestinian suffering in place before either the Israeli or the world public. And in this, I think the media play an incredible part, under, obviously, pressure from the Zionist lobby.

I’ll give you an example. Yesterday, in the Sunday New York Times in the Week in Review, there was a long article by James Bennet about how Israel is becoming like Lebanon. And throughout the entire article, which goes — started on page one and continues for several columns on an inside five — page five, there isn’t a single mention of the fact that the violence on the West Bank is in occupied territory. So, if you don’t happen to know it, you just get the impression that Palestinians are just doing violence because they just hate Jews and they want to kill Israelis and so on and so forth. So the actual condition of military occupation is simply effaced from the narrative, and you don’t get an impression at all that there is anything particularly wrong. It’s just that, you know, Palestinians like to kill Israelis.

On December the 10th, for instance, two children, aged 3 and 13, were killed by Israeli bombs in Hebron. Yet, at the same time, an EU delegation, along with the U.S., was demanding that Palestinians should curtail violence and terrorism. On December the 11th, five more Palestinians were killed, all of them civilians, the victims of helicopter bombings of Gaza’s teeming refugee camps.

To make matters worse, as a result of the September 11th bombing, the word “terrorism” is being used to blot out acts of resistance against military occupation, something Israel has been doing in its propaganda since the 1970s, to call everything that Palestinians do as resistance against military occupation — call it all terrorism and to make it impossible for there to be any causal or even narrative connection between the dreadful killing of civilians — which I’ve always opposed — and the terrible suffering of 35 years of collective punishment that gives rise, direct rise, to suicide bombings.

What every Western pundit or official who pontificates, as they all do, about Palestinian terrorism needs to ask is how simply forgetting or overlooking the very existence of the military occupation is supposed to stop terrorism. Of course, it can’t. That was because of frustration and poor advice. Arafat’s great mistake was in trying to make a deal with the occupation, which was what I think the Oslo peace process was all about. And it was always about Israeli security. Not a word was ever said — because the Israelis are so powerful and the U.S. support them, that not a word was ever said about Palestinian security and the need for a Palestinian state. And indeed, that bizarre obsession with Israeli security, to the exclusion of nearly everything else, has become the valid international idiom through which General Zinni, the former Marine commander, who has been in Palestine and Israel for the last couple weeks, and then has been recalled, and Javier Solana preach at the PLO while remaining totally silent about the occupation. It’s absolutely grotesque.

Since 1992, the Israeli mistake has been to imagine that by conning Arafat and his coterie into interminable discussions and tiny concessions, that they were going to get general Palestinian acceptance, which, like most of Israel’s gambles, over time have proved to be failures. All official Israeli policies thus far have proved to be worse rather than better for Israel than before. Anyone can prove what I’m saying by simply asking the question: Is Israel more secure and more accepted now than it was 10 years ago? And the answer has to be no.

The terrible and, in my opinion, stupid Hamas suicide raids against civilians in Haifa and Jerusalem over the weekend of December 1 and 2 should be condemned, yes. But in order for these condemnations to make any sense, they must, in my opinion, be bracketed with the Israeli assassination of Abu Hanoud earlier in the week, along with the killing also earlier in the week of five Palestinian children by what has been admitted to be a deliberately planted Israeli booby trap in Gaza, to say nothing of the 20 houses destroyed, the miscellaneously killed Palestinians throughout Gaza and the West Bank villages, the constant tank incursions and the endlessly detailed grinding down of Palestinian life and the consequently blocked realization of Palestinian independence, minute by minute, for the past 35 years.

In the end, desperation only produces poor results, none worse than that George W. and Colin Powell seem to have given Sharon a green light while he was in Washington on December the 2nd, just as Al Haig gave him a green light in May of 1982. The instructions seem to have been: You can do anything you like, because Bush is so obsessed with terrorism, and he considers Palestinian terrorists. So he told Sharon, “Do anything you like, but don’t kill Arafat.” And with this support, with the usual ringing declarations about ending the violence and fighting terrorism, so that the people under occupation for almost four decades and their hapless, inept leader were suddenly turned into worldwide aggressors required to bring to justice their very own criminals, even as the Israeli army was systematically destroying the entire Palestinian police structure, which was supposed to do the arresting. I have no doubt that Sharon and his people are by now so habituated to their own fabrications that they actually believe they are not the poor bastards whose lives they’ve been making miserable since 1948 are the victims.

In effect, then, Arafat is hemmed in on all sides, a perhaps ironic result of his appetite for being all things Palestinian to everyone, enemies and friends alike. This makes him both a tragically heroic and a kind of bumbling figure. No Palestinian today is going to disavow Arafat and his leadership, for the simple reason that, despite all of his mistakes, he is being punished and humiliated because he is a Palestinian leader, and in that capacity his mere existence offends people like Sharon and his American backers.

I think Arafat’s situation is largely a result of the occupation, and his mistakes have come from the occupation. But I think one has to look at the Sharonian view of the world, which has no place in it at all for Palestinians or for Arafat, whom he has been calling all sorts of terrible names for the past several years, partly, I think, because Sharon has no ideas as such, and partly because of his immense bulk. He finds it, therefore, natural to do what he has always done: kill Palestinians, either by the bullet or by stifling them, the way the large pachyderm does to nasty little animals that happen to be there. Sharon has always held — this is very important, I think, also to understand, that Sharon has always held the notion that by dispensing with Arafat, he could then make a series of independent agreements with local warlords, rather the way the British in 19th century Africa —

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to professor Edward Said of Columbia University giving a speech on the Middle East conflict. And that does it for today’s program. Democracy Now! in Exile is produced by Lizzy Ratner, Kris Abrams, Brad Simpson, Miranda Kennedy. Anthony Sloan is our engineer and music maestro. You can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’re still looking for end-of-the-year holiday gifts. You can give your money to a nonprofit as opposed to the Pentagon. Go to democracynow.org. We are broadcasting in exile from the embattled studios of WBAI, the studios of the banned and the fired, the studios of our listeners. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

[End of Hour 1]

AMY GOODMAN: From Ground Zero Radio, this is Democracy Now! in Exile.

ZIA MIAN: What we’re seeing, in my opinion, at least, is we have rewound the clock back to the beginnings of the Cold War, before the Soviet Union became a power able to counter that of the United States. So we’re back to the late 1940s and the early 1950s.

AMY GOODMAN: A Pakistani anti-nuclear scientist talks about the impact of the so-called war on terrorism on South Asia. As Arafat is banned from attending midnight Mass in Bethlehem, a new leader rises from the street. We’ll hear a rare interview with a Palestinian leader in hiding. But first, activist Charlotte Bunch setting the record straight on the lessons of the World Conference Against Racism. All that and more, coming up. Welcome to The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Two Palestinians and an Israeli soldier died yesterday when Palestinians ambushed an Israeli patrol on the Jordanian border. The ambush followed a holiday weekend in which Israel arrested six Islamic militants on the West Bank and the ceasefire ordered by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared to be crumbling. After Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defied the Christian world by barring Arafat from attending midnight Mass in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Arafat delivered a “heavy-hearted” speech on Palestinian television, which was relayed live to a subdued crowd in Manger Square, where a large banner read “Sharon assassinates the joy of Christmas.” But barely 12 hours later, the leaders announced that negotiations for a ceasefire would continue.

Early this morning, Israeli troops entered the Palestinian-controlled village of Azzun and arrested 17 people. Five of those arrested were Palestinian policemen, this according to the town mayor.

After intense pressure from the U.S. and India, authorities in Pakistan yesterday said they arrested the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the organization a militant Islamic group that Indian officials blame for a recent attack on the Indian Parliament building. The detention of Masood Azhar is the most significant step taken by Pakistan’s military government to clamp down on those accused of staging the attacks to end Indian rule in Kashmir. Indian and Western intelligence agencies say Azhar has close links with the Taliban, as well as Pakistan’s intelligence service.

Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have escalated since an armed assault on the Parliament left 14 people dead, including the attackers. Troops exchanged heavy fire today along the Line of Control, which partitions the Pakistani- and Indian-controlled sectors. We’ll have an analysis of the situation between India and Pakistan with Pakistani scientist Zia Mian in a moment.

Thousands of Pakistani troops have been clambering up the ragged border peaks southwest of Islamabad for more than a week to seal off isolated escape routes out of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan’s Tora Bora region, U.S. commandos and Afghan guerrillas still poke through the caves and bunkers where fighters from the al-Qaeda organization made their last stand. But after two-and-a-half months of bombing and a manhunt aided by the world’s most advanced intelligence-gathering devices, Osama bin Laden is still not in anybody’s gun sights.

Interrogations of captured al-Qaeda members in Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to have provided little as to who leads al-Qaeda and who might still be on the run in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Pakistani soldiers and border guards have arrested about 300 al-Qaeda members in that area over the last week and turned them over to Pakistani intelligence officers, who are interrogating them intensely in cooperation with the CIA and FBI officers on the scene. So far, they have turned up no trace of bin Laden.

On Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban Christmas, tribal elders and warlords gathered in Kabul to stress that Afghanistan remains an Islamic state. Afghan elders in flowing beards and robes, who came to Kabul for the inauguration of the new interim government a few days ago, filled the ruined city. But on the day of peace in the war zone, British and U.S. soldiers could be seen eating a Christmas lunch in the center of Kabul. Strangely, shops were doing a roaring trade in Christmas trees. And for the first time since the Taliban came to power, the only Christian church in Afghanistan was not empty of worshipers on Christmas.

And this news from Zimbabwe: The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, known as MDC, accused the government of intensifying intimidation, blaming it for the deaths of three of its members over the last four days. The MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said he believed the deaths marked the beginning of a new campaign of violence and intimidation against the MDC in the run-up to the presidential election in March. Meanwhile, the government has accused the opposition of mounting terrorist attacks.

This news from Russia: A Russian military journalist who exposed nuclear waste dumping by the Russian Navy was convicted yesterday of treason and sentenced to four years in prison, a case that critics said illustrates the risks of antagonizing the military. Although the judge threw out nine counts of treason against Grigory Pasko, he was found guilty of collecting information on secret military exercises with the intention of passing it on to Japanese journalists.

And finally, the man who authorities say hid explosives in his shoes and tried to ignite them during a transatlantic flight this past weekend has been placed under a suicide watch pending a psychological exam. Authorities said they were still trying to determine a motive for his actions and have not ruled out possible links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, though they say they have no information for sure. While his identity remains unconfirmed, his passport bears the name [Richard] C. Reid. British authorities believe the passport is valid.

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Part 2: Zia Mian on the Impact of the War in Afghanistan on South Asia

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