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Monday, August 23, 2010

Are the Taliban and Al-Qaeda poles apart?

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

THE most notorious Islamic militants are ordinarily grouped under two heads: Taliban and Al-Qaeda network. However, there is another group emerging - Salafism- that advocates restoring a Muslim empire across the Middle East and Spain. Salafis have sought inroads in Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Many people are confused about the objectives of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Some think the objectives are similar and some believe they are not. Deeper analysis shows that Talibans in Afghanistan and Pakistan have different objectives than those of Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda promotes holy war to translate its conservative religious ideologies globally; the objectives of Talibans are confined to changing the regimes in AfghanistanPakistan, and in that sense they are local.

Two embattled governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan confront the Talibans without success. The US came to Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban government which supported the Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden living in Afghanistan. The US fears that if Afghan Talibans regain control over Afghanistan, it may invite Al-Qaeda back in the country.

Understanding the differences between the two Talibans is also necessary. When Pakistan army launched an offensive against Talibans in Pakistan, many in the US administration thought incorrectly that the assault was against the Afghan Talibans, against whom the NATO forces, including the US military, are fighting.

Although both groups threaten American interests, the Afghan Taliban is the primary enemy of the US. On 25th December, the Taliban released a video showing an American soldier who was captured five months ago in Afghanistan. Private Bowe Bergdahl, an infantryman, was taken by the Taliban in Paktika Province on June 30th. The Taliban demands for a number of prisoners to be exchanged for Bergdahl.

The recent attacks of the Pakistani Talibans on military and police establishments have strained relations with Afghan Talibans because their hiding place in the Tribal areas in Pakistan is under attack from Pakistan army. They do not approve the way Pakistani Talibans are fighting with the Pakistan government and causing a lot of problems for Afghan Talibans.

The Afghan and Pakistani Talibans are present in the tribal areas on both sides of the Durand Line and the tribal areas have always been autonomous. Anxious to safeguard this autonomy, the tribes resist control by the central government.

The Afghan Taliban is by far the older of the two Talibans, led by Mullah Omar since it was formed in 1994 (believed to be formed under the guidance of Pakistan intelligence agency). It may be described as a genuine national movement incorporating not only a broad network of fighters but also a shadow government-in-waiting. It seeks to regain power it held over most of Afghanistan before being removed by the US invasion after 9/11.

The Pakistani Taliban is a looser coalition united mainly by enmity toward the government in Islamabad. It emerged formally in 2007 as a separate force led by Baitullah Mehsud under the name of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Students' Movement of Pakistan). After the death of Baitullah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud took over as head of Pakistani Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.

Another confusion that has arisen over the Afghan and Pakistan Talibans is that Afghan Talibans have been directing their forces from Pakistan and their leaders are believed to be residing in the border areas of Pakistan. Mollah Omar and his senior colleagues are understood to be in or around the city of Quetta in Baluchistan.

The US-backed Karzai government in Kabul has a tenuous hold on power. The insurgency has spread in many parts of the country, including Kabul itself. The military situation for the US and NATO is worse today than it has been in 2001. At the same time, neighbouring Pakistan has been destabilized. President Asif Ali Zardari, like his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, has to face a public which has become fervently anti-American. To the majority of people in Pakistan, India poses a threat greater than that of the Talibans. Furthermore, the fact that the US has so far failed to persuade India to restart talks with Pakistan and it has been doing little to curb what Pakistan perceives as the undue influence of India in Afghanistan has been unsettling for Pakistan.

Pakistan is expected to hang on to the “Kashmiri freedom fighters” that it has reportedly used as proxies in the Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan possesses 75 to 100 nuclear weapons. The deepest concern for the west is: what would happen with the nuclear weapons in the case of total regime collapse? Will they fall under the hand and control of the Talibans?

Lately Pakistan is fighting back the Talibans in South Waziristan. It is reported that the army has deployed some 28,000 troops to take on an estimated 10,000 militants including up to 1,500 foreign fighters.

As for Afghanistan, many observers suggest there is an urgent need to the establishment of a mechanism consisting of the six countries with contiguous borders with Afghanistan plus the US, Russia and Britain. Such a mechanism will facilitate precision targeting of terrorist groups and minimizing collateral damage. This has to be accompanied by a concerted effort to win hearts and minds through mega-doses of economic assistance.

The author is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva. and

Source: Bangladesh newspaper - The Daily Star, 02 January 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Narrowing opportunities for higher education

Abdul Hamid

Many factors are working as disincentives to higher education in Bangladesh. Opportunities here for higher education have progressively decreased over the years. Hundreds of aspirants vie for a single seat in any of the departments of the Dhaka University. The scene is more or less the same in all other public institutions of higher learning in the country.

Thus, many in the student population with potential for higher education are finding themselves excluded from the opportunity of such education mainly because the number of general public universities and specialised universities has not increased. Furthermore, the capacities in such institutions have not expanded to make it possible for them to admit more students. The private universities that have cropped up, normally charge high fees that cannot be afforded by many otherwise good students. Thus, the way to higher education is narrowing. Such education is also becoming like a commodity to be purchased by students of affluent parents.

Even in the limited number of public universities or specialised centres of higher education, courses get too frequently disrupted by aimless party politics. Frequent violent incidents linked to such politics contribute to undermine the academic atmosphere. The other fall-outs from campus violence -- session jams -- painfully lengthen the time that students have to spend for their graduate and post-graduate studies. The public universities are also found lacking in introducing or providing up-to-date courses and teaching aids. The teachers in them, as a consequences of their involvement in party politics and pulls outside for private teaching assignments, are seen spending less than the expected time to their main teaching posts.

Improving conditions of higher education will require adequate attention to both quantity and quality factors. It is very necessary to substantially increase government's investments in new general universities, specialised universities, engineering universities, science and technology universities, medical colleges, engineering colleges, agricultural colleges and universities, etc. Not only increasing their number, every effort must also be made to impart quality education in them. The resources of the publicly-run institutions of higher learning will need to be increased with greater allocations from the national budget for the purpose. The institutions themselves can reasonably increase tuition fees and other charges to meet increasing costs. Presently, tuition and other costs at public universities are nominal. Guardians will probably not find it hard to pay somewhat higher fees and other charges for the sound education of their young ones from such institutions.

Most private universities also need to progressively meet the criterion to be fully regarded as worthwhile centres of higher education. The deficiency of many of these institutions, in terms of not having their own campus, competent teaching staff and their own spacious premises to provide a healthful academic environment, excessive opportunities to study on a few subjects to the relative neglect of others, etc., do need to be addressed within a time-frame to ultimately overcome them. The operators of private universities do also need to take moves to set up campuses at sites away from Dhaka. Presently, 80 per cent of the existing private universities are located at or around the capital city, Dhaka. Private universities should be set up all over the country to create balanced opportunities for higher education.

Source: The Financial Express - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

Country's food security at risk

Shamsul Huq Zahid

Signs are rather ominous on the horizon as far as global food prices are concerned. The food prices are still well below the unprecedented level reached in the year 2007-08, when higher prices led to severe food crisis in many countries across the globe. But, if not the rice, the current wheat price rise is being considered the fastest in 40 years.

The 2007-08 food crisis that had happened in almost three decades, pushed the prices of food prices to record highs and triggered food-riots in a number of countries.

Experts are of the opinion that the current wheat price rise could lead to hikes in the prices of other crops, including rice, despite the fact the global food reserves this time is much healthier than that of 2007-08. The ongoing global recession is also acting against any possible hike in food prices because of lower consumption.

But experts have expressed the fear that panic buying and export ban of food grains by major producers could fuel prices, trigger speculation and lead the world to a crisis witnessed during 2007-08.

One of the two factors has already come into play in the global food market. Russia has imposed ban on the sale of wheat as fires have been destroying its wheat crops on millions of hectares. The production in Canada

Bangladesh, which has been rated as one of the 'high' risk countries in the Food Security Risk Index 2010, released by risk analysis and rating firm Maplecroft, is a victim of the sudden Russian decision to stop wheat export.

The Maplecroft in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) has developed 12 criteria to evaluate the risks to the supply of basic food staples for 163 countries. The criteria used to calculate the ranking of the countries include the nutritional and health status of populations, cereal production and imports, GDP per capita, natural disasters, conflict and effectiveness of the government.

Bangladesh's move, according to a recent report published in the Financial Express, to import at least, 25 per of its total wheat requirement this year has suffered setback because of the Russian ban. The private importers, reportedly opened letters of credit to import 0.6 million tonnes and the government 0.2 million tonnes of wheat from Russia. Now the import of the food grain from other sources would be costlier.

The East European wheat exporting countries have also hiked the price of the food grain following the Russian ban. Bangladesh cannot afford import of wheat from US, Canada and Australia because of higher prices. However, the quality of wheat grown in these countries is high.

The prices of wheat, for obvious reasons, have gone up in the domestic market. This development has also left an impact on the prices of rice, the main staple. The rice prices instead of going down have recorded rise even after a good boro rice harvest this year. At the retail level, the prices of coarse varieties of rice is above Tk 30 a kg, which is considered high.

Now where does Bangladesh stand in the Food Security Index? The Maplecroft has placed it at 23rd position (lower ranking denotes higher risk) in its Food Security Risk Index. Bangladesh, along with India and the Philippines, two rice exporting countries, has been put in the 'high' risk category.

A total of 10 countries, including the war-torn Afghanistan and nine African countries are in the category of 'extreme' risks. Finland (163) is the country considered least at risk, whilst the other Scandinavian countries - Sweden (162), Denmark (161) and Norway (160) - follow closely behind. Other low risk countries include Canada, (159), USA (158), Germany (156), UK (146) and France (142).

Despite a number of odds, including natural disasters and continuous shrinking of cultivable land, Bangladesh

But it faces problems when the prices of food grains go abnormally up in the international market. The country had a bitter experience in 2007-08 when food prices spiked and food grains became scarce in the international market. Neighbouruing India had promised to export 0.5 million tonnes of rice to Bangladesh at that time. But it had failed to honour its commitment.

The incumbent finance minister of India during a recent visit to Bangladesh has again promised to supply 0.4 million tonnes of rice to Bangladesh. Everybody would expect that India would keep its promise this time. The government, in the meanwhile, is trying to import food grains, including rice, from Myanmar and other sources and build up a healthy buffer stock to face any eventuality. The last boro harvest has been good but not a bumper one. The outlook of the Aman crop this year remains cloudy because of inadequate rain. The rainfall during the current monsoon has been nearly 40 per cent below the normal level.

So, this year's Aman production could prove very crucial as far as the country's short-term food security is concerned and the policymakers would have to chalk out plans to ensure the maximum output by ensuring all necessary inputs, including irrigation. has dropped by almost a quarter because of floods in June last. has achieved the near self-sufficiency in food production. But it has to import a substantial quantity of food grains every year to build up reserve stocks that help the authorities to keep the prices of rice within the reach of the common man.

Source: The Financial Express - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

Will the US soldiers be in Iraq beyond 2011?

Md. Masum Billah

The last US combat brigade pulled out of Iraq on August 19, 2010 at dawn. It came ahead of the planned declaration of an end to US combat operations in Iraq by an August 31 deadline. It shows a key milestone in the withdrawal of American forces more than seven years after the US-led invasion virtually for a wrong decision of Bush administration. Under cover of darkness, the 4th Stryker Brigade , 2nd Infantry Division, crossed into neighboring Kuwait. . It took two days for 360 vehicles and 1200 soldiers to travel from Camp Liberty on Baghdad's outskirts and Camp Taji of the capital. The rest of the 4000 strong brigade left Iraq by air. About 56000 US soldiers remain in Iraq with that figure set to drop to 50000 by September 1, less than a third of the peak level during the surge of 2007.

The jubilant crowds shouted cheerfully. They gave farewell waving their hands. Ahmed Ibrahim 35 years old young man expressed his feeling in this way " No words can describe how I feel today. The occupation stayed in Iraq's hearts for seven years and this is a big occasion that deserves to be a permanent national day in future. The occupiers put me in Bucca prison in Iraq. But now I am free and so is Iraq." Another reveler said, " It has been a long time since the last big celebration. We have now got rid of the occupier and we will not see them again on Iraqi streets. Baghdad needs the peace of the past life back again. We want to regain what we had. But at the same time security forces now have extra duties and responsibilities. And I hope they can carry them out." US administration still raises the question of security of Iraq in absence of US forces. Actually, Iraqis seem to be prepared to tackle their own situation. No occupation can give any reasonable and permanent solution to insurgency. Ordinary people's expressions clandestinely say how far they love their motherland and how much pleased they are today.

Under a security agreement signed between Iraq and US in January, which was enshrined in June milestone. The agreement says that US troops can no longer embark on operation on their own meaning their position has got weaker in Iraq. The Iraqi insurgents have become increasingly sophisticated at fighting US troops and more importantly very adept in concealment. Additionally, many have moved into key positions in the security, military and intelligent networks of the country effectively controlling parts of the mechanisms of control of the government. The US sacrificed ten thousands of soldiers in Vietnam. They could clearly understand that Iraq was going to be the second Vietnam for them. So, it was better to leave with the last respect.

On September 1, the US mission in Iraq will be re-christened ' Operation New Dawn' from ' Operation Iraqi Freedom' To fill the gap left by departing troops, the US State Department is to increase more than double the number of security contractors it employs in Iraq to around 7000.Jeffery takes up his post during political deadlock in Iraq, with no new government yet formed since election in March, and in the middle of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when insurgent attacks typically reached its peak. It is known to the world as the whole world witnessed that as a president candidate Barack Obama campaigned to end the seven-year old war responsibly and as president he has been explicit in his assurances to Americans that no troops will remain in Iraq from January 2012. While violence has dipped sharply since the height of sectarian warfare from 2006-2007 Iraq remains fragile and its leaders have not resolved a number of politically explosive issues that could easily trigger renewed fighting. Iraq's military chief, the former US general who oversaw the training of Iraq's security forces, says a US military presence will be needed beyond 2011. Obama's defense secretary Robert Gates says that they have left the door open to that possibility in comments last week while emphasizing that Iraq's new government still to be formed after an inconclusive election in March, would first have to ask if a new government is formed there and they want to talk about beyond 2011 'we are obliviously open to that discussion.' . His comments were likely not welcomed in the White House. In November tough congressional elections are going to be held. The president will show keeping his promise to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011. There have been more than 4400 US military deaths in Iraq since the US- led invasion in 2003. Americans definitely don't want to loose any more soldiers.

The US -Iraq military pact that came into force in 2009 which provides the legal basis for American troops to be in Iraq. Under the agreement all US troops must be there by 2012. But US negotiator says that even as the pact was being negotiated, it was considered likely it would be quietly revised later to allow a longer -term although much smaller, force to remain. But the opinion polls shows that Americans are tired of nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, any decision to engage US military involvement in Iraq would enormously risky for Obama, who is up for reelection in 2012.

He would almost certainly face a backlash from fellow Democrats in Congress and from the left wing of his party, which is already disenchanted with him. Obama may be unwilling to alienate his party base as he heads into an election year, or he could decide it in his country's strategic interests to keep troops longer in Iraq again, only if a new Iraqi government asks.

The president has proven to be a very pragmatic leader. As conditions change, he has adapted his positions in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, I think he wants to hold his promise until Lieutenant General James Dubik, who oversaw the training of Iraq security forces from 2007 to 2008, says, "A discussion after 2011 is not just what does Iraq need, but what is in our strategic best interest."

Dubik continues, " Post 2011 Iraq would still need US and Western help in modernizing its forces and training them to use MI Abrams, tanks, F-16s and other sophisticated military hardware it is buying from the United States" P.J. Crowley, a spokesman of State Department said in msnbc TV interview," while departure is an historic moment, it is not the end of the U.S. Mission in Iraq. We are ending the war---but we are not ending our work in Iraq. We have a long term commitment to Iraq." The world wants to see that commitment must nod toward real peace and happiness, not to show any greed to grab Middle East liquid gold.
Source: The New Nation - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

Pakistan is in need of help, now

Ban Ki-moon

Standing under leaden skies in Pakistan last Sunday, I saw a sea of suffering. Flood waters have washed away thousands of towns and villages. Roads, bridges and homes in every province of the country have been destroyed. From the sky, I saw thousands of acres of prime farmland - the bread and butter of the Pakistani economy - swallowed up by the rising tides.

On the ground, I met terrified people, living in daily fear that they could not feed their children or protect them from the next wave of crisis: the spread of diarrhea, hepatitis, malaria and, most deadly, cholera.

The sheer scale of the disaster almost defies comprehension. Around the country, an estimated 15 to 20 million people have been affected. That's more than the entire population hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami and Kashmir earthquake in 2005, the 2007 Cyclone Nargis and this year's earthquake in Haiti - combined. An area as big as Italy and larger than more than half the countries in the world - some 160,000 square kilometers, or 62,000 square miles - is under water.

Why has the world been slow to grasp the dimensions of this calamity? Perhaps because this is no made-for-TV disaster, with sudden impact and dramatic rescues. An earthquake may claim tens of thousands of lives in an instant; in a tsunami, whole cities and their populations vanish in a flash.

By contrast, this is a slow motion catastrophe - one that builds over time. And it is far from over.

The monsoon rains could continue for weeks. Even as waters recede from some areas, new floods are affecting others, particularly in the south. And, of course, we know this is happening in one of the most challenged regions of the world - a place where stability and prosperity is profoundly in the world's interest.

For all of these reasons, the floods of August are far more than a disaster for Pakistan alone. Indeed, they represent one of the greatest tests of global solidarity in our time.

That is why the United Nations has issued an emergency appeal for $460 million. That amounts to less than $1 a day per person to keep 6 million people alive for the next three months - including 3.5 million children. International aid commitments are growing by the day. Less than a week after the appeal was launched, we are halfway there. And yet, the scale of the response is insufficient for the scale of this disaster.

On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly will meet to intensify our collective efforts. If we act now, a second wave of deaths caused by waterborne diseases can still be prevented. It is not easy to mount relief operations in such difficult and sometimes perilous places. But I have seen it happen around the world, from the most remote and dangerous parts of Africa to Haiti's shattered cities. And I saw it in Pakistan this week.

A host of UN agencies, international aid groups such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent and other nongovernmental organisations have been supporting the government of Pakistan's response to the emergency. Using trucks, helicopters and even mules to transport food around the country and reach those cut off from help, we have provided one-month food rations to nearly one million people.

Roughly that many now have emergency shelter, and more are receiving clean water every day. Cholera kits, anti-snake venom doses, surgical supply kits and oral dehydration salts are saving growing numbers of lives.

This is a start, but it needs a massive boost. Six million people are short ?of food; 14 million need emergency health care, with a special focus on ?children and pregnant women. And as the waters recede, we must move quickly to help people build back their country and pick up the pieces of their lives.

The World Bank has estimated crop damage to be at least $1 billion. Farmers will need seeds, fertilizers and tools to replant, lest next year's harvest be lost along with this one. Already, we are seeing price spikes for food in Pakistan's major cities. In the longer term, the huge damage to infrastructure must be repaired, from schools and hospitals to irrigation canals, communications and transport links. The United Nations will be part of all this, too.

In the media, we hear some talk of "fatigue" - suggestions that governments are reluctant to cope with yet another disaster, that they hesitate to contribute more to this part of the world. In fact, the evidence is otherwise. Donors are giving to Pakistan, ?and that is encouraging. If anyone should be fatigued, it is the ordinary people I met in Pakistan -women, ?children and small farmers, tired of troubles, conflict and economic hard times and who have now lost everything.

Yet instead of fatigue, I saw determination, resilience and hope - hope and the expectation that they are not alone in their darkest hour of need.

We simply cannot stand by and let this natural disaster turn into a man-made catastrophe. Let us stand with the people of Pakistan every step of the long and difficult road ahead.

(Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations)

Source: The New Nation - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

Afghan imbroglio - will it ever end?

Jonathan Power

Six years ago after we had talked about all manner of jihadists for an hour-jihadists in Kashmir attacking India, jihadists in Afghanistan attacking America, jihadists infiltrating India and jihadists in Pakistan attempting to kill President Pervez Musharraf-I asked the American ambassador in Islamabad, "don't you feel that you spend all your time just picking up the pieces for the wrongheaded policies when the West supported the jihadists as a tool against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan?" He sighed, nodded and replied, "That's right".

Driving away from that conversation I was convinced more than ever that the various terrorist movements unleashed in this corner of the world over the last 20 years have their origins in the policies of Jimmy Carter, that most pacific of all post war American presidents who, prodded by his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, decided to undermine and repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979, by any means necessary, including the funding, training and arming of Islamic militants who burned with anti-communist zealotry much as they burn against the Western or Indian 'infidel' today.

Indeed, later evidence provided by Brzezinski seems to demonstrate that the US actually wanted the Soviet army to invade Afghanistan. "We did not push the Russians into invading", he is quoted as saying in an article in Lahore's Daily Times. "We knowingly increased the probability that they would". The secret operation was an excellent idea. The effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap."

Once the Soviets were in Afghanistan the US then whipped up the West and the Islamic world into joint leadership of a UN majority that went into overdrive to diplomatically and militarily undermine the Soviet Union. Arming the jihads, among whom lurked Osama bin Laden, was one part of it, and many of the major Western powers and Saudi Arabia cooperated on this. Another was to strike fear in the Middle East by attempting to show that the Soviet army's real long-term ambition, if it could quell the Afghani resistance, was to reach a warm water port. The Soviet legions would move down through Iran to the Arabian Sea, and from there seize Iran's oil-laden ships, at that time backbone to the Western economies.

Needless to say, if the Soviets had nurtured that unlikely ambition the last thing they needed to do was to detour through the often impassable, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

If only the Soviets had been left alone to face what would have been a long war of attrition by local forces armed with their own more elementary weaponry, we would probably have never have seen the rise of Al Qaeda from its protected redoubt in Afghanistan. Nor would Pakistan's conflict with India over Kashmir have become so difficult to halt. Pakistan would not have been allowed to become a nuclear weapons' state. Nor would Pakistan be so often on the abyss of political disintegration, undermined by Islamic militancy within. Critics of Pakistan's present day embrace of militant Islam forget that it all began when the then president Ziaul Haq, facing domestic resistance from the secular parties to his alliance with the US, forged an alliance with Sunni extremist groups. This led to the steady Islamisation of many facets of Pakistani life, not least the distortion of Pakistan's legal system and provided militant clergy with unprecedented access to political power.

The worst mistake of all was Carter's policy somersault on Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons. In April 1979, the US administration convinced that Pakistan was secretly building bomb, suspended military aid. In December, after the Soviet invasion, it reversed its decision and persuaded Congress to authorise a large arms aid program. For the next decade Washington puts its telescope to its blind eye.

Not until 1990, the Cold War with the Soviet Union over, did President George Bush Sr. end the annual White House lie of giving assurances to Congress that all was well in Pakistan's nuclear laboratories.

Military sales were terminated. But by then Pakistan was only a turn of the screwdriver away from having its bomb and its chief nuclear weapons' scientist was already deep into secret deals selling his country's sophisticated knowledge and equipment to the likes of Libya, North Korea and Iran.

The West's obsessive anti-Soviet policies during the Cold War meant that the Afghanis, the Pakistanis, the Indians (and the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Angolans, Somalis and the Central Americans et al) paid a high price in war and carnage, whilst we in the West got on with our economic growth and social development.

But now the mistakes of the pro-jihadist, Cold War, warriors, "parents" of the Taleban with their subsequent rapid growth, have come to haunt us all. Are we any more ready than we were then to stop the myopic policies of today's decision-makers breaking the glass for the next generation to have to pick up?

Source: The New Nation - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

Time to terminate western civilization before it terminates us

Unchecked, western civilisation drives us to one of two outcomes, and perhaps both: (1) Destruction of the living planet on which we depend for our survival, and/or (2) Runaway greenhouse and therefore the near-term extinction of our species. Why would we want to sustain such a system? It is immoral and omnicidal. The industrial economy enslaves us, drives us insane, and kills us in myriad ways. We need a living planet, writes Guy R McPherson
ACTUALLY, this review is too late for the many people who have already endured economic collapse. As any of those folks can tell the rest of us, we do not want to receive the lesson after the exam.
   I’ve written all this before, but I have not recently provided a concise summary. This essay provides a brief overview of the dire nature of our predicaments with respect to fossil fuels. The primary consequences of our fossil-fuel addiction stem from two primary phenomena: peak oil and global climate change. The former spells the end of western civilisation, which might come in time to prevent the extinction of our species at the hand of the latter.
   Global climate change threatens our species with extinction by mid-century if we do not terminate the industrial economy soon. Increasingly dire forecasts from extremely conservative sources keep stacking up. Governments refuse to act because they know growth of the industrial economy depends (almost solely) on consumption of fossil fuels. Global climate change and energy decline are similar in this respect: neither is characterised by a politically viable solution.
   There simply is no comprehensive substitute for crude oil. It is the overwhelming fuel of choice for transportation, and there is no way out of the crude trap at this late juncture in the industrial era. We passed the world oil peak in 2005, which led to near-collapse of the world’s industrial economy several times between September 2008 and May 2010. And we’re certainly not out of the economic woods yet.
   Crude oil is the master material on which all other depend. Without abundant supplies of inexpensive crude oil, we cannot produce uranium (which peaked in 1980), coal (which peaks within a decade or so), solar panels, wind turbines, wave power, ethanol, bio-diesel, or hydroelectric power. Without abundant supplies of inexpensive crude oil, we cannot maintain the electric grid. Without abundant supplies of inexpensive crude oil, we cannot maintain the industrial economy for an extended period of time. Simply put, abundance supplies of inexpensive crude oil is fundamental to growth of the industrial economy and therefore to western civilisation. Civilisations grow or die. Western civilisation is done growing.
   Not only is there no comprehensive substitute for crude oil, but partial substitutes simply do not scale. Solar panels on every roof? It’s too late for that. Electric cars in every garage? Its too late for that. We simply do not have the cheap energy requisite to propping up an empire in precipitous decline. Energy efficiency and conservation will not save us, either, as demonstrated by the updated version of Jevons’ paradox, the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate.
   Unchecked, western civilisation drives us to one of two outcomes, and perhaps both: (1) Destruction of the living planet on which we depend for our survival, and/or (2) Runaway greenhouse and therefore the near-term extinction of our species. Why would we want to sustain such a system? It is immoral and omnicidal. The industrial economy enslaves us, drives us insane, and kills us in myriad ways. We need a living planet. Everything else is less important than the living planet on which we depend for our very lives. We act as if non-industrial cultures do not matter. We act as if non-human species do not matter. But they do matter, on many levels, including the level of human survival on Earth. And, of course, there’s the matter of ecological overshoot, which is where we’re spending all our time since at least 1980. Every day in overshoot brings us 205,000 people to deal with later. In this case, ‘deal with’ means murder.
   Shall we reduce Earth to a lifeless pile of rubble within a generation? Or shall we heat the planet beyond human habitability within two generations? Or shall we keep procreating as if there are no consequences for an already crowded planet? Pick your poison, but recognise it’s poison. We’re dead either way.
   Don’t slit those wrists just yet. This essay bears good news.
   Western civilisation has been in decline at least since 1979, when world per-capita oil supply peaked coincident with the Carter Doctrine regarding oil in the Middle East. In my mind, and perhaps only there, these two events marked the apex of American Empire, which began about the time Thomas Jefferson — arguably the most enlightened of the Founding Fathers — said, with respect to Native Americans: ‘In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them.’ It wasn’t long after 1979 that the US manufacturing base was shipped overseas and we began serious engagement with Wall Street-based casino culture as the basis for our industrial economy. By most economic measure, we’ve experienced a lost decade, so it’s too late for a fast crash of the industrial economy. We’re in the midst of the same slow train wreck we’ve been experiencing for more than a decade, but the train is teetering on the edge of a cliff. Meanwhile, all we want to discuss, at every level in this country, is the quality of service in the dining car.
   When the price of crude oil exhibits a price spike, an economic recession soon follows. Every recession since 1972 has been preceded by a spike in the price of oil, and direr spikes translate to deeper recessions. Economic dominoes began to fall at a rapid and accelerating rate when the price of crude spiked to $147.27/bbl in July 2008. They haven’t stopped falling, notwithstanding economic cheerleaders from government and corporations (as if the two are different at this point in American fascism). The reliance of our economy on derivatives trading cannot last much longer, considering the value of the derivatives — like the US debt — greatly exceeds the value of all the currency in the world combined with all the gold mined in the history of the world.
   Although it’s all coming down, as it has been for quite a while, it’s relatively clear imperial decline is accelerating. We’re obviously headed for full-scale collapse of the industrial economy, as indicated by these 40 statistics. Even Fortune and CNN agree economic collapse will be complete soon, though they don’t express any understanding of how we arrived at this point or the hopelessness of extracting ourselves from the morass.
   We know what economic collapse looks like, because we’re in the midst of it. What does completion of the collapse look like? I strongly suspect the economic endgame is capitulation of the stock markets. Shortly after we hit Dow 4,000, within a few days or maybe a couple weeks, the industrial economy seizes up as the lubricant is overcome with sand in the crankcase. Why would anybody work when the company for which they work is, literally, worthless? Even if they show up for a few days to punch the time-clock, the bank will not issue a check, and the banks won’t be open to cash it. It won’t be long before publicly traded utility companies don’t have enough employees to keep the lights on. It won’t be long before gas (nee service) stations shutter the doors. It won’t be long before the grocery stores are empty. It won’t be long before the water stops flowing through the municipal taps.
   There are those who question my credibility, particularly when I make predictions. We’re in the midst of a war to save our humanity and the living planet, and some readers are worried about my credibility, as determined by the power of the mainstream. My responses are twofold: (1) I’m hardly sticking my neck out, unlike when I made my ‘new Dark Age’ prediction in 2007 (at which point the price of oil had yet to exceed $80/bbl, the industrial economy appeared headed for perennial nirvana, and everybody who read or heard me thought I was insane); of the fifty or so energy-literate scholars I read, about half indicate the new Dark Age starts within a year, and a large majority of the other half give us less than two years; (2) Get over it. This war has two sides, finally. This revolution needs to be powerful and fun, and we cannot afford to lose. We cannot even afford to worry about seeking credibility from those who would have us and are having us murder every remaining aspect of the living planet on which we depend for our survival.
   Credibility? Respectability? It’s time to stop playing by the rules of the destroyers. We need witnesses and warriors, and we need them now. It’s time to terminate western civilisation before it terminates us.
   Lesson over. The exam comes within a couple years. And pop quizzes come up every day in this unfair system.
   Countercurrents, August 18. Guy R McPherson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. He now lives in an off-grid, straw-bale house where he puts into practice his lifelong interest in sustainable living via organic gardening, raising small animals for eggs and milk, and working with members of his rural community.
Source: The New Age - Bangladesh newspaper – Date: 23-08-2010

A possible Taliban interlocutor

by Saeed Naqvi 

THE unspeakable tragedy of the floods in Pakistan, on a scale unknown to man, has dwarfed much else in the region: 100 shot dead in three days of political, ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi, the cloudburst in Leh, the Koochi (Pushotoon shepherds) and Hazara clashes, ironically, in Kabul’s Darul Aman or haven of peace.
Before I meander, let me focus on just one image, here in Kabul, which may provide a clue (among other such clues) to the Afghan jigsaw.
Through a maze of contacts, I am invited to meet Mullah Abdus Salaam Zaeef who, at 42, is a veteran of dramatic experiences of a variety that makes fiction riveting. An orphan, he joined the ranks of the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets. He was then 15, fresh from a madrassah in Pakistan where his relatives had fled to escape the ‘Soviets’.
Mullah Omar, whom he even today refers to as Amirul Mu’mineen, or the chief of the faithful, became his mentor and friend. Obviously, he left such an impression on Mullah Omar and others in the al-Qaeda-Taliban leadership that when the Taliban came to power in Kabul in 1996, Mullah Abdus Salaam Zaeef was posted as the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad. There were similar Taliban representations in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but not Washington, leaving the US with suitable deniability of any affiliations with the ‘fundamentalists’. It is another matter that ‘fundamentalist’ delegations made routine beelines to George Bush and his affiliates in Texas. UNICOL, I think, was not quite dead at that stage.
Fast forward to 9/11 and pictures of Donald Rumsfeld at Tora Bora Mountains pointing at the caves, flames leaping out: ‘Do you think they are cooking cookies in there?’ He meant Osama bin Laden was hatching plots in those caves. He probably was.
Zaeef dutifully addressed press conferences outside his embassy in Islamabad. Then, in December, the then Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf made a U-turn, joined the war on terror and remained George W Bush’s ‘most trusted ally’ to the very end.
As a prelude to the Bush-Musharraf romance, the ISI promptly handed Mullah Zaeef to the US forces who ferried him to Guantanamo Bay. His four-year stint at this facility is now a book — in Guantanamo. He then wrote another book on his years with Taliban.
So, here I am at his two-storey house protected by armed guards in an officially provided cabin outside the door.
I am escorted to the terrace, lined with flower pots, a green synthetic carpet spread wall to wall.
Mullah Zaeef is a tall, burly man with a thick, bushy beard, blending with his black turban. There are no chairs. Taliban austerity, I suppose. We recline against colourful, rectangular cushions, bloated with extra stuffing of cotton.
As an opening gambit, I settle for the topic most current: negotiations with the Taliban.
Who will you negotiate with? I ask.
‘When NATO generals and ambassadors ask me that question I say: “Americans should negotiate with the people they are fighting – Taliban.”’
What about President Hamid Karzai? I continue.
‘He is only an instrument of the Americans.’
But General David Petraeus, the US force commander, Pakistan’s General Ashfaq Kayani and President Karzai have been meeting to work out the modalities of negotiations.
‘Negotiations are possible but only with the Americans,’ he persists.
Surely, General Kayani and the ISI will insist on a role. After all, the ISI has invested so much in Afghanistan over the past 30 years.
‘The CIA has invested; the ISI has spent a fraction of that investment,’ he does not even pause to think.
Are you saying that Pakistan has no role in negotiating peace in Afghanistan?
‘None whatsoever,’ he continues. ‘Afghan Taliban are fighting the Americans; Pakistan Taliban are fighting the Pakistan government.
‘Pakistan Taliban or Afghan Taliban have no quarrel with the Pakistan nation, the people. The fight is with their intelligence agency, with their government.’
I come to the point directly. The Pakistan army has been talking to the Haqqani group which is extending its influence in Afghanistan.
‘There are no talks with Haqqani.’ Who knows, General Petraeus may be right that there is no monolithic Taliban group, just a syndicate of groups. For Mullah Zaeef, the ultimate Taliban leader is Mullah Omar. Can I meet Mullah Omar? I ask him.
‘Extremely dangerous these days,’ he says.
Throughout the 90-minute conversation, what comes across is his total distrust of Pakistan. If you wish to see this cool man lose his composure, draw him out on Pakistan’s control on Taliban in Afghanistan.
‘They cannot be trusted. It was from their air bases, that the Americans first struck Afghanistan. They facilitated the US troop movements. And do you think they will let the US leave? Do you know that Balochistan is
the critical supply route for US Afghan operations? Will Pakistan ever give up this source of income and, above all, control on the Americans.’
By now he is virtually frothing in the mouth.
‘Even Israelis are not as harsh with their prisoners as the Pakistanis are. The torture our people have suffered….’ Remarkably, he said all this on TV.
‘First they entertained me as ambassador, then handed me over to the Americans like an ordinary criminal. Why?’ he explodes. The next government in Afghanistan will be neutral between India and Pakista.
For perspective, let me explain where Mullah Zaeef stands in the Taliban hierarchy.
Quite as important as Mullah Zaeef were Taliban foreign minister and representative to the UN Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil and Abdel Hakim Mujahid respectively.
After the September elections, we may hear these names as possible interlocutors, if there are to be negotiations, that is.
Saeed Naqvi is a distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation and senior journalist.

Source: The New Age - Bangladesh newspaper – Date : 23-08-2010

Action, reaction and proliferation: War crimes trial

Manirul Islam

Finally, war crime trial has started - a high risk must-finish project for the government. The hi-tech operation theatre after couple of commissioning glitch has optimistically started treating the cancer cells virulently entrenched in the bloodstream of the nation. Public minds are slowly emerging out of an epoch of disbelief and steadily crystallizing solid around the issue. The issue was doused in the bloodbath of 1975. Soon the alleged war criminals reincarnated in our national politics and walked over the 72 Constitution to the apex of power - un-repented and unforgiving. Even the history of treachery shies away to accept the tragic fact when a group of duplicitous freedom fighters in the Bangladesh Army under the leadership of the decorated liberation war sector commander General Zia toppled all legal and moral barriers and embraced these alleged assassins of 1971 as comrades in arms to impose an about turn in the course of our nation - a total revision of politics, history and even the identity of the nation. Pakistani model of politics based on fundamentalism and military rule was installed. But the curtain of that episode of treachery and tragedy has dropped - if not finally, at least for now. After crossing the perilous hurdles like BDR tragedy and the Hill Tract carnage, we the public could come out of the qualm to believe that the trial of the assassins of 1971 is a reality today.
The messianic leader of the 1971 Gulam Azam is still breathing in fresh air - to everyone's awe. If Jamaat leaders are indicted for war crime, Jamaat needs to be obliterated too from our political landscape for the same crime it has been nurturing and protecting under its wing till today. Individual, business and international intake channels of enormous wealth and logistics of Jamaat must be throttled now. Supreme court's recent landmark verdict of annulment of 5th amendment of the Constitution is a significant excipient to outlaw political manipulation of faith, but the challenge of driving it to reality is the work of the parliament.
The action plan is enormously daunting when the domestic enemy of this plan is a legion of extreme right faith merchants, ready-to-explode cosmic warriors and neo-nationalists. The enemy formation has been mostly same as that of Pakistan era political landscape, only security risk has multiplied exponentially due to the strategic connection of the local jihadi groups with global terrorist network.
In international arena, a seismic change has almost vaporized the camp of allies of our liberation war. Soviet Union, the great superpower and the great ally of freedom struggle of every nation on earth has had a meteoric crash and broke into insignificant fragments, their ideology is now fossil beyond redemption and national liberation struggles are now redefined as insurgency in the vocabulary of the new world order. India, then the torch bearer of global democracy, secularism, social equity and freedom has abandoned that path, welcomed rising Hindu fundamentalism, embraced market economy and since has been serenading and flirting with world's worst dictators and military statesmen for mere business interest. This compromise on founding principle of India apparently worked as collateral for her supersonic transformation into economic power house. To India, Bangladesh is now just another bazaar.
USA, the chief commander of anti-liberation war coalition has not made any significant departure from its pre-cold-war policy on Muslim-intensive countries like Bangladesh. Being constantly haunted by communist phobia, they still depend on lethal arsenals of the Islamic politics to rid the Muslim countries of spores of atheist ideology. Recent prospect of rekindling the spirit of 1971 has refreshed US nightmare of possible reincarnation of some sort of socialism in Bangladesh. As such romance between USA and Jamaat Bangladesh is blossoming again in new colour. Jamaat has been certified by the US Ambassador as a democratic political force in Bangladesh. Recently, when the trial of the perpetrators of alleged war crimes started, the US Embassy and the UK High Commission have demanded in unison totally sanitized handling of this trial and treatments of the war criminals; it must be thoroughly visible, must follow applicable international penal codes, must be partisan politics--proof, must refer to human rights manual A to Z in treating the war criminals. The cruel paradox in US policy is that the perpetrators of war and anti-human crimes always receive highest humanitarian and judicial protection, whereas, victims are treated as the collaterals of war. The encyclopaedia of US wars and expeditions from Vietnam to Afghanistan are the testament of worst form of war crimes and savagery committed, defended and covered up. Saudi Arabia, the most trusted supporter of US policy in the Muslim world, is against a secular Bangladesh. As the employer of the largest Bangalee expatriate community it is holding the golden key to sabotage this trial of their trusted cohorts.
Bangladesh Army, born in the field of 1971 war, by 1973 became overwhelmingly populated by the Bangalee soldiers repatriated from Pakistan, mostly without change of loyalty and by August 1975 it pathogenically transformed into a clone of Pakistan Army; same ideology, same ambition and same command control. In the early morning of August 15, 1975 our army could overrun, without any internal or external resistance, all the outposts of our nascent, famished democracy. The ornate architecture of our political history, with the triumphant facade of liberation war, was brutally raged to the ground amid epic tragedy. Now when this democratic and pro-liberation war government has undertaken the momentous task of house cleaning, success remains conditioned to the basic fact that how effectively our army has been hermetically isolated from the external influence or from their demonic love for power and opulence. Furthermore, how visible the government action will be in doling justice to the diabolic Generals who, in the past, spearheaded direct or indirect martial law using illegitimate and immoral policy; nocturnal lovers, poets and wealth scavengers turn perfect political exorcist in the day light.
By and large Bangalee intellectuals have been the lighthouse in our long political journey in the stormy ocean. It is hard to believe though, at the climax of the war they preferred to stay back totally defenceless and marooned in their own houses in the university campuses, as if they were on a suicidal fantasy. Some of our new generation intellectuals and talk show celebs have been rehearsing and honing their alarmist jargons to match their usual skepticism in measuring the social and political fallout of the war crime trial. This initiative of confusion has percolated the latest hype among handful blog-centric human rights utopians and dotcom Jamaati intellectuals based in the western capitals who often raise tempest in the tea cup in support of this celestial philosophy.
In political front, club of left aristocrats and hermits like CPB, BSD and other bonsai parties who were die-hard crusaders against war criminals now prefer abstinence from actively supporting any action plan of this bourgeois government on this issue. Their intellectual wing, green warriors for the protection of ecology and national natural wealth, has gone further organizing aggressive street protests and an abortive Hartal against this government's so-called sale-out plan of the country and her wealth. In reality they performed fore-work to create inertia for the anti-government movement of BNP led coalition, evidently the main opposition of war crime trial.
We have united, struggled, shredded barricades, shed blood, sacrificed kith and kin and walked the most arduous uphill route to the spectacular summit of victory - 1971. Then we callously failed to retain the gains and soon had the downhill plunge into abyss, fragmented and discordant. Now, we are united and again have started walking to reconnect ourselves with our history, our genesis. The trial of war criminals is the basic imperative to level the ground for the reconstruction of a strong cohesive and monolithic nation. Let us all remain steadfast and rally around the spirit of 1971 to make it a success.

(The writer is based in Toronto, Canada)

Source: Sunday, 22 August 2010 – The Daily Independent – Bangladesh

The future of Internet search

Esther Dyson

Imagine that Googling an address gave you a list of the closest buildings, ranked by distance. Not exactly what you were looking for, most likely. But that is pretty close to what we still accept for most Internet searches. You don't get what you actually want to finish your task; you get a list of pages that might lead you to it.

That is beginning to change. Even as the online world has turned its attention from searching to social networking, search is getting interesting again. Consider the development of online search in the broadest terms. First came Yahoo!, with its carefully cultivated (by human editors) catalogue of interesting web pages. Then along came Google, with co-founder Larry Page's innovative ranking of Web pages not just by their content, but also by the quantity and quality of other pages that link to them.

Social networking brings a new insight. People are likely to buy what their friends recommend, which is why marketers should spend time on social networks and join the conversation, rather than interrupt it with traditional advertising.

But what happens when, influenced by their friends, people actually go to buy something or take some action? That long list of blue links to pages that may or may not contain what they want looks pretty old.

Now, however, something is happening to fix this, and it's not just a prettier background. It's structure - the same sort of context the old Yahoo! catalogue supplied, but this time automatically generated and deeper - and across more than just a few categories such as sports and travel.

For example, what people want (and are now getting) in product search is not a list of pages, but a set of products displayed in some meaningful fashion. They want a map of the product space, not a list. The challenge of course, is that each kind of product has a different structure and a different set of attributes.

Consider wines: you can sort them by price, year, or region of origin, by red, white, or rosé, or by sparkling or still. For clothes, you want sizes and colors - and perhaps some filters depending on your personal characteristics - and of course a "buy now" button.

Some areas, such as travel, are even more complex. To "map" travel properly, the software needs to understand such things as time zones, flight duration, layovers, and the like, along with concepts such as coach or first class, deluxe and standard rooms, double vs. single, and so on. That is why there is a whole separate vertical market for travel, but one that first Bing, and now Google (with the acquisition of ITA Software), may be claiming.

For a long time Google didn't need to do much to remain the leader in Internet search, focusing primarily on the "access" part of its self-proclaimed mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." But runner-up Microsoft went out and bought Medstory in 2007 and then Powerset in 2008. (I was an investor in both of them, so I have been watching these developments with interest, but I have no inside information on either company since the acquisitions.)

Medstory has a deep understanding of health care, including the relationships between diseases and treatments, drugs and symptoms, and side effects. Powerset, a tool for creating and defining such relationships in any sphere of interest, is broader but less deep.

This all happened a couple of years ago - just before Yahoo! gave up on search entirely and handed that part of its business over to Microsoft. Also around that time, Bill Gates uttered one of the smartest things he has ever said: "The future of search is verbs." But he said it at a private dinner and it never spread.

To me, the meaning was clear: when people search, they aren't just looking for nouns or information; they are looking for action. They want to book a flight, reserve a table, buy a product, cure a hangover, take a class, fix a leak, resolve an argument, or occasionally find a person, for which Facebook is very handy. They mostly want to find something in order to do something.

As a result, Bing launched a few forays into vertical integration. And in the last few months Google has begun to react. First, it bought ITA Software, which provides the underlying data to several travel-booking sites (Hotwire and Orbitz) and to Kayak, as well as to Bing. Most resellers, a little nervous about Bing's tool that sends users to book directly with airlines and hotels, are even more concerned about what Google might be up to.

Then, last month, Google acquired Metaweb and its user-generated database Freebase. While Powerset was a tool for understanding natural language and for structuring it "under the covers" (where programmers could see it), Metaweb lets partners and end-users create data structures or add information to structures created by others. For example, Metaweb/Freebase has an extensive structured database of movies, actors who appear in them, and their directors. You can ask (and get the answer) to "movies directed by Roman Polanski" and get only those movies - not those in which he only appeared. Try doing that with Google. You soon will be able to.

Other categories include business (with entities such as employers, industries, and employees), biology, space flight, and many more, and include representations - such as graphs, timelines, and tables - of how they are connected.

Most things don't exist in isolation. They have complex relationships to other things, and by representing that information using verbs - for example, "the company that Google acquired" vs. "the company that Google competes with" - we can represent the world more accurately. And that means better, more meaningful responses when we search. 

Source: Sunday, 22 August 2010 – The Daily Independent – Bangladesh

Iran begins fueling first N-reactor

AP, Bushehr

Iranian and Russian engineers began loading fuel into Iran's first nuclear power plant on Saturday, a major milestone as Tehran forges ahead with its atomic program despite U.N. sanctions.

The weeklong operation to load uranium fuel into the reactor at the Bushehr power plant in southern Iran is the first step in starting up a facility the U.S. once hoped to prevent because of fears over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran's nuclear chief celebrated the plant as "a symbol of Iranian resistance and patience" and said it demonstrated the country's nuclear aims are entirely peaceful - an assertion that many governments around the world seriously question.

"Despite all pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are now witnessing the startup of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters inside the plant.

Russia, which helped finish building the plant, has pledged to safeguard the site and prevent spent nuclear fuel from being shifted to a possible weapons program. After years of delaying its completion, Moscow says it believes the Bushehr project is essential for persuading Iran to cooperate with international efforts to ensure Iran does not develop the bomb.

The United States, while no longer formally objecting to the plant, disagrees and says Iran should not be rewarded while it continues to defy U.N. demands to halt enrichment of uranium, a process used to produce fuel for power plants but which can also be used in weapons production.

On Saturday, a first truckload of fuel was taken from a storage site to a fuel "pool" inside the reactor building under the watch of monitors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. Over the next two weeks, 163 fuel assemblies - equal to 80 tons of uranium fuel - will be moved inside the building and then into the reactor core.

Workers in white lab coats and helmets led reporters on a tour of the cavernous facility.

It will be another two months before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor is pumping electricity to Iranian cities.

Iran denies an intention to develop nuclear weapons, saying it only wants to generate power with a network of nuclear plants it plans to build.

The Bushehr plant is not considered a proliferation risk because the terms of the deal commit the Iranians to allowing the Russians to retrieve all used reactor fuel for reprocessing. Spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used to make atomic weapons. Additionally, Iran has said that IAEA experts will be able to verify that none of the fresh fuel or waste is diverted.

Of greater concern to the West, however, are Iran's stated plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment sites inside protected mountain strongholds. Iran said recently it will begin construction on the first one in March in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

Nationwide celebrations were planned for Saturday's fuel loading at Bushehr.

"I thank the Russian government and nation, which cooperated with the great Iranian nation and registered their name in Islamic Iran's golden history," Salehi said. "

Today is a historic day and will be remembered in history."

He spoke at a news conference inside the plant with the head of Russia's state-run nuclear corporation, Sergei Kiriyenko, who said Russia was always committed to the project.

"The countdown to the Bushehr nuclear power plant has started," Kiriyenko said. "Congratulations."

Iran's hard-liners consider the completion of the plant to be a show of defiance against U.N. Security Council sanctions that seek to slow Iran's nuclear advances.

Hard-line leader Hamid Reza Taraqi said the launch will boost Iran's international standing and "will show the failure of all sanctions" against Iran.