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Currents

Issue 376

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AFGHANISTAN

Daughters for debts
'Jihad' against opium poppies
claims child brides

ZEVA'S eyes filled with tears as the 10-year-old's father took her by the arm and handed her to the moneylender. 'I cannot pay you in any other way. Take my daughter,' said Gul Miran, a farmer in Nangarhar province. Like many other farmers in Afghanistan, Gul Miran had planned to pay back his loan of 50,000 Afghanis (around $1,000) with the proceeds from his crop of opium poppies, which would eventually be turned into heroin. But as part of its stepped-up effort to combat the drug trade in the country, the Government has ploughed under his fields, leaving Gul Miran with nothing.

The moneylender, Haji Naqibullah, accepted the offer. 'We had an agreement. He would [pay me back] regardless of whether his crops were wiped out by the weather or by the Government. In a year or 18 months I will marry [the girl] off to my youngest son. He is 19 years old and has been married to his first wife for two years but has not had a child yet.'

Despite the enormous amount of international aid being pumped into Afghanistan - an estimated $14 billion over the last three years - the money is not reaching many who need it. As a consequence, the people are turning back to the cultivation of opium poppies. A recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime report estimates that 356,000 Afghan families were involved in opium poppy cultivation in 2004: a 35 per cent increase on the previous year. Their poppy fields produced a staggering 87 per cent of the world's opium last year.

Last December, two days after being sworn in as Afghanistan's first popularly elected president, Hamid Karzai called on his country to wage holy war against the opium trade. But poppy grower Payenda Gul, who gave his 17-year-old daughter to a 38-year-old divorced man in order to pay off his debt, sets out the conundrum facing the Government: 'They cannot do anything about the big drug dealers [so] they come and plough up the small farmers' poppies.'

An official with the International Committee on Human Rights says: 'Unfortunately many of these women who are used as payment for opium debts either end up addicted to the drug or commit suicide. It's a very sad situation. However, there is little that the organization can do unless official complaints are lodged.'

And that is unlikely. As Syed Jafer Muram, deputy director of the Nangarhar narcotics-control section, explains: 'Cases like this don't come to the notice of officials. If a father tried to get help for his daughter he would be arrested for opium trading.’

Haytullah Gaheez in Jalalabad for the Institute for
War & Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net)

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Stats from the race for cyberspace
• 771,000: The number of visitors to JohnKerry.com during the week of the US Democratic Convention.

• 3.5 million: The number of visitors during the week of the US Democratic Convention to the website of Japanese soccer star, Hidetoshi Nakata.

• 23-60 million: The number of unique visitors to pornography websites per day.

• 2-3 million: The number of unique visitors to the five largest news sites. (Unique visitors are individuals who may visit once or more, but are only counted on their first visit)

• 8: The number of the 20 most visited websites (other than porn) that are based in the US.

• 11: The number of the 20 most visited sites that are based in Asia.

Matters of Scale, Worldwatch (www.worldwatch.org)

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Death threat to global justice activists
Walden Bello, a prominent activist in the global justice movement and frequent contributor to the NI, has been included on a hitlist issued by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its paramilitary wing, the New People's Army. The list of 15 people condemned as 'counter-revolutionaries' appeared in the December 2004 issue of Ang Bayan, the principal organ of the CPP. Two of those on the list, Arturo Tabara and Filemon Lagman, have already been assassinated while another, Ricardo Reyes, has been forced into hiding. Among the others still under threat are internationalist activist Lidy Nacpil and Etta Rosales, head of the human rights committee of the Philippines House of Representatives.

Bello is executive director of Focus on the Global South and a long-standing campaigner for social justice and against US intervention. He won the 2003 Right Livelihood Award (or Alternative Nobel Prize) for 'outstanding efforts in educating civil society about the effects of corporate globalization, and how alternatives to it can be implemented'. The CPP now charges him with being an agent of US imperialism, while the global justice movement worldwide is described as a front for capitalism.

The CPP charges are ludicrous, emerging from narrow sectarianism, but the death threats are very real. The NI joins its voice to other civil-society groups the world over in deploring not only this specific threat but the use of assassination in any circumstances, whether deployed by rebel groups or by governments.

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The language of oil...

think-tank n. Israeli policy advisor

lobbyist n. Palestinian demonstrator

freedom-fighter n. terrorist with good PR

democratize v. to force people to choose to elect their leaders

forefather n. foreign policy based on revenge

approximate n. qualified friendship between world leaders, based on a mutual dislike of someone else.

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SOLOMON ISLANDS

Peace faces the axe
Large-scale logging destabilizes the
Solomon Islands

WHEN a delegation of over a dozen Solomon Island chiefs boarded the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior late last year they were seeking global support to save the Marovo Lagoon - dubbed 'the eighth wonder of the world'. They pointed to the forested hills around Marovo. They recounted stories from the 1990s when transnational logging interests came to their island with grand promises, but instead extracted the natural wealth of the land and left the local people with their forests destroyed. They remember how the fish stocks halved in Marovo Lagoon because of the run-off and pollution from logging operations. And they warn that it is happening once more.

Lobi (pronounced Lombi) is one of the few villages on Marovo Lagoon that practises sustainable forestry. Its portable sawmill returns good income to the community without destroying the forest. But just across the way a Malaysian company has set up shop and signed a large-scale logging agreement with 'landowners': people whose rights to the area the Lobi villagers dispute.

As a consequence the hills around Lobi - like those on many islands surrounding Marovo - are being rapidly denuded. In fact the Solomons are being logged at a rate faster than anywhere on earth: a rate driven by the demand for timber products from China and other booming Asian economies.

Investors who fled the country during the four years of civil unrest between 1999 and 2003 are now back in force. Now that a multinational police force led by Australia has rebuilt the local constabulary and taken guns off the streets in the capital, Honiara, logging companies feel safe to return for the plunder. The irony is that the last round of discontent and civil unrest was fuelled by the environmental destruction and the loss of sustainable livelihoods caused by large-scale logging and other resource extraction, like gold mining on Guadalcanal. Unchecked, logging activity can destabilize this country again.

Many new industrial logging concessions have recently been allocated in the
Provinces. In the capital, some progress has been made to root out some of the
corruption that was endemic to the forestry business before the crisis. However, it may
be too little, too late. Back at Marovo Lagoon, the chiefs tell the story of a struggle on
Vangunu Island. When landowners took matters into their own hands and blockaded
a logging operation that they said was illegal, it was they who were arrested for
disrupting the peace. In the international effort to stabilize the Solomons, the calls by
these chiefs for community-led sustainable business models remain largely ignored.

Danny Kennedy

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Zimbabwe targets international NGOs
Despite international condemnation, a new law criminalizing foreign funding of NGOs has passed the Zimbabwe Parliament and, as the NI goes to press, is awaiting President Robert Mugabe's signature.

The Bill is the latest addition to a number of laws that have chipped away citizen rights as the Government steps up political control ahead of this month's parliamentary polls. Zimbabwe has more than 3,000 NGOs whose economic, development, political and social programmes touch the daily lives of Zimbabweans by providing much-needed humanitarian and food aid. More than three million Zimbabweans are currently in need of food: a political reality that the Government stands accused of using by withholding food aid from supporters and sympathizers of the opposition Movement for Democracy.

Already the Bill is crippling developmental programmes as some operations are currently stalled. In addition, NGOs such as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the vocal National Constitutional Assembly, Amani Trust, and the Justice for Agriculture are seen as targeted for closure once the Bill becomes law.

Busani Bafana
(Read about the creative and humorous ways in which
some brave Zimbabwe activists are challenging the Mugabe
Government on page 33.)

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Indonesia's enterprising army
Army chief of staff General Ryamizard Ryacudu has revealed that army businesses, particularly those which are part of foundations, 'only' generate 30 billion rupiah ($3.28 million) per year: 'That's if [we're] lucky. Perhaps this amount could decline further in the future.' Speaking personally, Ryacudu said while this amount represents a large amount of money, it has little meaning for individual soldiers. 'After it is divided among the soldiers it translates into 100,000 rupiah ($10.93) per person per year,' he said.

Dimas Adityo/Tempo (Translated by James Balowski)

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"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969), Second World War General and US President 1953-61.

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Seriously... True tales of the absurd

Gulf War III -
Rise of the Machines
Of all the Hollywood visions of the future that could end up coming true, you have to hope the Terminator films will not be among them. Is there anything more terrifying than an invulnerable robot blowing people away with a sawn-off shotgun and uttering one-liners like 'Hasta la vista, baby!' in an Austrian accent?

Well, as always, the military and scientific communities are on the fast track to making such nightmares a distinct possibility. In a joint venture, the British Ministry of Defence and the US Carlyle Group (closely associated with the Bush family) have developed a series of tactical robot soldiers called SWORDS - Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems. The US military is already planning to deploy 18 of the one-metrehigh killing machines in Iraq in the next few months.

The robots are operated by soldiers near the battlefield using videogame- style controls. Work is currently under way to enhance the experience by adding 'virtual-reality goggles', confirms one enthusiastic engineer.

'It's a premonition of things to come,' says GlobalSecurity.org director Jonathan Pike. 'It makes sense. These things have no family to write home to. They're fearless. You can put them places you'd have a hard time putting a soldier in.'

Scientists meanwhile are working on ways to graft living tissue on to robotic skeletons. Recently, scientists at the University of California Los Angeles have successfully combined muscle-tissue from rats on to robotic parts, creating small 'bio-bots' that could move around on their own. ' They're absolutely alive,' says the project leader, Professor Montemagno. ' I mean the cells actually grow, multiply and assemble - they form the structure themselves. So the device is alive.'

Cut to Terminator 3.

'Kate Brewster: So what's his story? [points to Terminator]

John Connor: He's a robot from the future. Living tissue over a metal skeleton. He means you no harm.’

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IRAQ

The death of Hadi Saleh
Iraq's internal politics is killing off civil society

Hadi Saleh WHEN they came for Hadi Saleh, they found him at home in Baghdad with his family. First they bound his hands and feet with wire. Then they tortured him, cutting him with a knife. He finally died of strangulation, but apparently that wasn't enough. Before fleeing, his assailants pumped bullets into his dead body.

No group claimed credit for his assassination on 4 January this year. Nobody knows for sure who carried it out. But for many Iraqis, the manner of his death was a signature.

Iraq has never been a very safe place for trade unionists, socialists or democraticminded people. In one of the few times when Iraqi progressives seemed to be on top (in 1958) they finally threw out the king. For a few years, organizing unions and breaking up the big estates were not just dreams but government policy. Oil was nationalized and the revenue used to build universities, factories and hospitals. That vision of Iraq shaped the political activists of Saleh's generation and still holds their loyalty today.

The growth of Iraqi labour and women’s organizations is being attacked by both Iraqi insurgents and the US occupation. These workers in the State Leather Factory in Baghdad are explaining how hard it is to survive on the wages dictated by the US occupation. Photo: David Bacon
The growth of Iraqi labour and women's organizations is being attacked by both Iraqi insurgents and the US occupation. These workers in the State Leather Factory in Baghdad are explaining how hard it is to survive on the wages dictated by the US occupation. Photo: David Bacon

Some 35 years ago, Saleh's vision led to his being arrested, accused of being a trade unionist and a 'red' by the Ba'athist Government that Saddam Hussein would one day lead. Narrowly escaping execution, he spent five years in prison. On his release he joined many of his compatriots who'd already fled into exile, where he lived for over 30 years.

When Saddam Hussein and the Ba'athists finally fell, Saleh and his friends returned to reorganize the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. He became its international secretary. And even under a brutal US military occupation, they began seeking ways to turn into reality that old dream of a progressive Iraq.

In two years the IFTU has organized 12 national unions for different industries and successfully challenged the US occupation's low-wage regime. But success has had its cost. Saleh's murder is the latest in a series of attacks on workers and unions: a response to their increasing activity. Attacks come from US troops and the Iraqi Government as well.

By making him a bloody example, Saleh's murderers had two objectives. For the Ba'athists among the insurgents, the growth of unions and organizations of civil society - from women's groups to political parties - are dangerous deviations. Their hopes of returning to power rest on a military defeat for the US without a corresponding development of popular progressive organizations that can govern a postoccupation Iraq.

Trying to stop those organizations from using the elections to organize a support base is a second objective. None of Iraq's new unions support the armed resistance and they all call for an end to the occupation. But even progressive Iraqis disagree about the elections.

Some, like the Union of the Unemployed, boycott the process as a charade organized by the occupation. But others on the Iraqi Left think a mass-based political party with a radical program could win the actual power to implement it once the occupation is gone. Organizations from the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), to which Saleh belonged, to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq of Shi'a Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani see elections as a vehicle for winning power. That is why in exile the ICP condemned the war and US invasion but when the occupation started it joined the Governing Council. Indeed, two of its members were ministers in the Allawi interim government.

The armed resistance doesn't want them around. And, despite talk of democracy, another dependable dictator would be more palatable to the Bush Administration than popular resistance to the free market plan. Saleh's assassination makes plain the extreme lack of security of Iraqi leftists caught between the two.

David Bacon

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