Weekly Letter to President Obama
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
Dec 9, 2011
Mr. President: The Bonn Conference on Afghanistan opened on Monday,
December 5th and three bombs went off on Tuesday -- in Kabul,
Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar, and another one
Wednesday. The toll has been horrendous. Over 150 injured and at least 55
killed in Kabul alone. No one wishes to accept responsibility for the
carnage, particularly as it targeted Shia pilgrims mourning the death of the
prophet's grandson, Hussein. The Taleban condemned it blaming it on the
invading enemy attempting to sow dissension. Whoever the culprits, the
glaring incidents floodlight the instability there.
Pakistan has closed the southern supply line delivering over half the
supplies to our forces - most likely until tempers cool; the Russians are
threatening the northern supply route as leverage against our missile shield
plans in Eastern Europe.
On November 2nd, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan met in Istanbul and
issued a joint declaration calling for the withdrawal of all American troops in
2014, i.e. no stabilizing force of 20,000 or so left behind as envisioned by us.
Some are now saying the two-hour strike on the border posts last week was
our response to this. One hopes not. For if true, we seem to have become a
2-year old venting anger in frustration instead of a reasoned player
defending strategic interests.
The border post killings cost a year's work setting up the Bonn Conference,
where President Karzai himself admitted there can be no peace in
Afghanistan without Pakistan. So what's the next move to get out of this
The climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa is headed for a stall.
China and the U.S. are blamed. The Kyoto protocol expires next year and
China wants it renewed. We want China's exemptions as a developing
The Maldives Environment Minister, Mohamed Aslam, says if anyone has
doubts about climate change, he should visit his country. The sea is rising
and reclaiming it. Many islands including the particular small one where he
was born (small enough that a person standing at one end could see another
at the other) are now submerged.
The chief Indian representative has implied the developed countries are
using tactics designed to sidestep her.
As the squabbling continues, the most serious problem facing the planet will
continue to be shelved while bankers' shenanigans and the latest crisis
thereof continue to be headlined.
After spending trillions, we are leaving Iraq and hopefully Afghanistan. The
condition of women has worsened dramatically in Iraq. Women used to be
engineers, doctors, lawyers, architects -- even famous ones like
London-based architect Zaha Hadid. Now women's roles are increasingly
circumscribed. The same is likely to happen in Libya. And women have
fallen a long way in Afghanistan from where they were in the 1960s and 1970s
before the Mujaheddin, in one form or another, took over.
In Vietnam, decades after our departure, only 3 percent of the worst affected
areas have been cleared of land mines. Clearing the whole will cost $200
million and, at the present rate, take 50 years. Casualty rates have varied
from 1200 to 3000 per year.
A new book, "The Future of Power" by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., focuses on "soft
power" and "smart power". The question is, who is going to lead in that