Pakistan’s ‘Russiagate’ Elections: Imran Khan and the Rational ‘Villains’ the West Loves to Hate

The post-election despair of Pakistan’s Western-oriented elites echoes the American establishment’s moral panic over Russian meddling.

By Junaid S. Ahmad

The fever-pitched aura around this year’s elections in Pakistan was for good reason: a palpable feeling of transition from the old to the new was in the air. Meanwhile, the Western mainstream (and alternative) media, as well as much of the native elite English media, advanced an atmosphere of hysteria and moral panic at what they called “Pakistan’s dirtiest elections” ever.  We were told to believe that the Pakistani military, which undoubtedly has been involved in the political life throughout the country’s history, indeed directly ruling the country directly for half of its history, was the sole factor for which the corrupt and ruthless politicians of the two parties, who believe it is their birthright to play a game of musical chairs with each other, looting and plundering as much as possible before they are removed and get their next turn – were rejected in these elections. 

Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), or the “Movement for Justice,” the political party of the iconic cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, has swept this year’s national elections. They are the single largest political party in the country’s National Assembly, the unquestioned victor as the party that will continue to govern the province of KPK in the Northwest of the country (PTI governed the province for the past five years), and has even made inroads in Pakistan’s major city of Karachi, where they have displaced the once all-powerful Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which operated in a semi-fascist, mafioso-style, with rampant intimidation, ransoms, and murders. The MQM ran the streets and political life of Kararchi since their inception in the 1980s. MQM’s declining fortunes was of course facilitated by a relatively popular demand that the Pakistani military come to the city and deploy rangers to ‘clean up’ the vigilantes of the MQM. The bulging urban youth of Pakistan’s financial heartland seemed to have voted for PTI en masse.

Imran Khan, who founded his PTI political party in 1996, had developed an impeccable reputation in both his leadership of Pakistan’s cricket victory in the World Cup of 1992, as well as his widely-respected social welfare activities in the country, including a cancer hospital for the poor in the name of his late mother. But Khan made a sharp turn in his life, and decided that to truly transform Pakistan, structurally and systemically so that the same rut does not keep reappearing with different (dynastic, feudal, or clan) names, political engagement was essential. Though there are other smaller political parties, including provincial ones as well as a few national religious parties, the national civilian political life of the country has been dominated by two political parties: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family, formed amidst the anti-military dictatorship mass popular movement in the late 1960s, on the one hand, and the Sharif family – who effectively were created out of thin air by the rightwing Zia-ul-Huq military dictatorship. The Sharifs and their Pakistani Muslim League (PML) was established by the military high command to counter and undermine the renewed anti-dictatorship opposition emerging from the PPP. 

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“We Don’t Want To Lose Anymore”: Inside the Complex Peace Process That Helped Syrians Find an End to the Fighting

In war torn areas across Syria, a series of reconciliation deals overseen by the secret fixer of Damascus, Khaled al Ahmad, has given residents a respite from the bloodshed.

By Rania Khalek

This is part 2 of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria. You can read part 1 here.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – Since the Syrian government’s reconquest of its southernmost regions, only two zones remain outside its control. Turkey still occupies parts of Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo in the northwest of the country, relying on proxy militias including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which has changed its name several times. Meanwhile, the US and its allied Kurdish militias occupy the northeast. Khaled al Ahmad, Assad’s secret emissary introduced in part 1 of this series, seems to have played a key role in influencing the final outcome in the latter region.

According to American officials, a series of meetings al Ahmad convened with Kurdish leadership in Moscow last year convinced the Kurds to adopt a more conciliatory posture towards Damascus. American officials who had been working with the Kurds had also pushed them towards pragmatism, urging them to reach their own agreement with the Syrian government to avoid the fate of the rebels of southern Syria, who were abandoned by their foreign sponsors ahead of their defeat in June 2018.

When Trump announced in March 2018 that he wanted to withdraw from Syria “very soon“, it became clear to Kurdish negotiators that they needed to plan for the day after. The Americans told them to see the statement the US issued to the southern rebels, which bluntly informed them that “you’re on your own,” as a message to the Kurds as well.

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Meet the Mystery Fixer Who Negotiated Syria Out of Seven Years of War

How a nearly unknown businessman named Khaled al Ahmad became Damascus’ secret liaison to the West and quietly dealt Syria’s grinding war to a close. 

By Rania Khalek

This is part one of a two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria.  

BEIRUT, LEBANON – After seven years of grinding war, the Syrian government has achieved victory. According to current and former international officials and diplomats as well as UN officials, credit or blame for the Syrian government’s recent victories in East Ghouta and then in the south — along with the tacit acceptance these sweeping military successes received — can be placed on one man.

He is Khaled al Ahmad, a Syrian government emissary and businessman who masterminded the Syrian government’s reconciliation strategy. Al Ahmad is the secret diplomat who has exerted exceptional tolls of energy building bridges with the enemies of Damascus. Despite his central role in bringing one of the worst conflicts since World War Two to an end, he remains almost totally unknown in international media and has scarcely been discussed even among expert Syria observers.

Bashar al Assad’s victory was made clear by the middle of July of this year, when multiple Israeli outlets confirmed that Israel’s government was cooperating with Russia to facilitate the return of Syrian forces and UN observers to the pre-2011 border with the occupied Golan Heights. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself stated that he had no objection to Assad’s rule while his defense minister even allowed for the possibility of diplomatic relations between the two countries. These statements were met with embarrassed silence by the Syrian government and its allies like the Lebanese political party and militia, Hezbollah, but they marked a striking shift in Israeli policy.

With Russian support, Syrian armed forces initiated a march to the southern borders of Jordan and Israel this July. The operation turned out to be a cakewalk. This success followed the recapture of East Ghouta and northern Homs, themselves relatively easy taken compared to the grinding battles of previous years. The reassertion of Syrian government authority over the south has as its final target the reopening of the Naseeb border crossing with Jordan and full restoration of the pre-2011 situation in the south. The US has not objected, and in fact, has even sent a message to its former anti-Assad proxies in Syria informing them that they were on their own. Israel and Jordan, for their part, made it clear they had no objections either, as long the operation was strictly Syrian, with no visible Iranian or Shia militia role in the battles.

The battles in this phase were limited and not as brutal as they have sometimes been elsewhere. Many towns or rebel groups were not involved in the fighting and others quickly agreed to deals. This may have surprised some observers unfamiliar with the events that took place on the ground in 2015 and 2016, when tens of deals were struck secretly with rebel groups in the south. These deals helped thwart the 2015 Southern Storm operation launched by rebels when one of the main factions called Ababil Horan betrayed its allies. It was through this process that al Ahmad laid the foundation for the end of Syria’s war.

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More evidence of Libya blowback: UK Navy rescued Manchester suicide bomber

The UK Navy “rescued” Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi in Libya in 2014. This provides further insight into the original CIA definition of blowback.

By Jake Kallio and Ben Norton

Seven years after NATO allied with Islamist insurgents and violently overthrew Libya’s government, plunging the oil-rich North African nation into a hellish chaos from which it still has not recovered, we are learning more and more about the disastrous blowback this war later unleashed back at home.

The Guardian has reported that the British Navy “rescued” Manchester Arena suicide bomber Salman Abedi in Libya in 2014 — three years before he massacred 22 people at a concert by the pop singer Ariana Grande.

What this Guardian article did not disclose is that the British government is even further implicated in this massive scandal.

Grayzone Project editor Max Blumenthal reported immediately after the May 22, 2017 suicide attack how Abedi’s father had fought in the al-Qaeda-linked extremist militia the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which has extensive ties to US and UK intelligence agencies and had been used to try to assassinate Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi.

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An Exclusive Interview with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

Daniel Ortega claims his Sandinista government has just defeated a US-backed coup. In a candid and lengthy discussion with me in Managua, he discussed the violent unrest and the factors behind it.

By Max Blumenthal

Since the sudden outbreak of protests and violence last April, an uneasy calm had fallen over Nicaragua. President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista government have claimed victory over what they call a coup attempt, but they now face condemnation from the US and its allies, who accuse them of unleashing lethal violence against peaceful protesters.

I spent much of July inside Nicaragua, speaking with supporters of the government and their opponents. I learned that Washington’s narrative of a despised dictator mowing down unarmed demonstrators wasn’t exactly accurate. Across the country, I observed widespread support for Ortega and the Sandinista movement. It also became apparent from the moment I arrived that Western media had covered up the brutality of the opposition, as well as its anti-democratic agenda.

In the midst of what seemed to be a misinformation campaign reinforced by right-wing members of Congress and the Organization of American States, I approached the Nicaraguan government for a chance to hear Ortega’s side of the story. He agreed, granting me one of his first interviews in eleven years.

Here are 13 takeaways from our wide-ranging discussion on July 25 in Managua:

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How Washington and Soft Power NGOs Manipulated Nicaragua’s Death Toll to Drive Regime Change and Sanctions

Did Nicaragua’s Sandinista government really kill 300+ peaceful protesters? A forensic analysis of the death toll exposes the claim as a dangerous lie.

By Max Blumenthal

A detailed study of the death toll that has been recorded in Nicaragua since a violent campaign to remove President Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista government shows that at least as many Sandinista supporters were killed as opposition members. The study, “Monopolizing Death,” demonstrates how partisan local NGOs conflated all deaths that occurred since April, including accidents and the murders of Sandinistas, with killings by government forces. Washington has seized on the bogus death count to drive the case for sanctions and intensify pressure for regime change.

The manipulated death toll was the centerpiece of a July 25 harangue by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the House floor. While drumming up support for a bipartisan resolution condemning Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for supposedly ordering the massacre of demonstrators, Ros-Lehtinen declared, “Mr. Speaker, four hundred and fifty! That is how many Nicaraguans have been killed by the Ortega regime and its thugs since April of this year.”

The congresswoman’s portrayal of a dictatorial regime gunning down peaceful protesters like helpless quails in a canned hunt was designed to generate pressure for an attack on the Nicaraguan economy in the form of sanctions packages like the Nica Act. Her narrative was reinforced by Vice President Mike Pence, who condemned Nicaragua’s government for “350+ dead at the hands of the regime,” and by Ken Roth, the long-serving executive director of Human Rights Watch, who also suggested that Ortega had personally ordered the killing of “300 demonstrators against his corrupt and repressive rule.”

Throughout the past two weeks, I have been in Nicaragua interviewing scores of victims of the US-backed Nicaraguan opposition. I have met police officials who saw their colleagues gunned down by well armed elements while being ordered to stay in their stations, Sandinista union leaders whose homes were burned down, and average citizens who were kidnapped at tranque roadblocks and pulled out of their homes to be beaten and tortured, sometimes with the assent of Catholic priests. It was clear to me that the Nicaraguan opposition was anything peaceful in its bid for regime change.

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An Open Letter To The Guardian On Its Wildly Inaccurate Coverage of Nicaragua

This Guardian’s editor-in-chief received the following letter but has refused to publish it, even in shorter form.

For the past three months, there has been a political crisis in Nicaragua, with opposing forces not only confronting each other in the streets but fighting a media war. The Guardian should be at the forefront of balanced and well-informed reporting of these events. Instead, despite plentiful evidence of opposition violence, almost all your 17 reports since mid-April blame Daniel Ortega’s government for the majority of deaths that have occurred. One of your most recent articles (“The Nicaraguan students who became reluctant rebels”, July 10) leaves unchallenged an opposition claim that theirs is “a totally peaceful struggle.” Only one article (July 4) gives significant space to the government version of events.

While most of the recent violence is associated with opposition barricades erected across the country, you still refer to a “wave of violence and repression by the government” (June 24). Not once do you refer to the numerous deaths of government supporters or the 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries suffered by the police, including the killing of four policemen observing a “peace” demonstration on July 12. Nor did you report the only attack on a member of the “national dialogue” set up to try resolve the crisis, when student leader Leonel Morales was shot and left for dead on June 12; he is a government supporter. Your report from Masaya (June 12) failed to mention that the protestors had burnt down public buildings, ransacked shops and destroyed the homes of government officials. Nor did you record the kidnapping of hundreds of long-distance lorries and drivers, who spent a month in effective captivity despite efforts by their ambassadors and international mediators to secure their release (eventually achieved by the government on July 8). Your report of the shooting of a one year-old boy in “the latest round of government repression” (June 25) does not mention video evidence that he was killed by opposition youths.

The author of several articles, Carl David Goette-Luciak, openly associates with opposition figures. On July 5 he blamed the police for the terrible house fire in Managua three weeks earlier, relying largely on assertions from government opponents. Yet videos appearing to show police presence were actually taken on April 21, before barricades were erected to prevent police entering the area.

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Ukraine Attacks Journalists Who Reported Israeli Weapons Flow to Its Neo-Nazi Militia

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel attacked Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal by name, along with The Real News and Electronic Intifada, spreading false accusations after they reported on Ukrainian neo-Nazis using Israeli weapons.

By Ben Norton

Ukraine’s embassy in Israel has attacked Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal by name and indirectly implicated this writer, Grayzone contributor Ben Norton, for reporting on Israel’s arming of Ukrainian neo-Nazis.

While the Ukrainian government has falsely accused us of spreading “fake news,” it has ironically spread fake news itself, incorrectly alleging that Blumenthal has been writing under the pseudonym “John Brown” — based on a “quick search on the internet.”

The Ukrainian government has also denied that Israel has armed Ukraine’s neo-Nazi militia the Azov battalion, even after Azov posted a video on its own YouTube channel showing it using unmistakably Israeli weapons.

On June 10, the Ukrainian embassy in Israel published an open letter to Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of the major Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Kiev condemned Haaretz for publishing a June 9 news report titled “Rights Groups Demand Israel Stop Arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine.”

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Ukraine President’s Adviser Writes ‘Heil Hitler’ Neo-Nazi Symbol on Facebook

Yuri Biryukov, who advises Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and defense minister, wrote a Facebook post using the neo-Nazi symbol “1488,” which combines a white supremacist slogan with “Heil Hitler.”

By Ben Norton

An adviser for Ukraine’s president and defense minister wrote a neo-Nazi symbol on Facebook that means “Heil Hitler.”

This comes at a time when neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine, some of which have received direct support from the Ukrainian government, are terrorizing ethnic minorities from the Roma and Jewish communities.

Ukraine’s billionaire oligarch President Petro Poroshenko, who is known as the “Chocolate King” due to his time in the confectionery industry, has campaigned for Kyiv to join NATO.

Since coming to power in 2014, the pro-Western Ukrainian leader has been advised by Yuri Biryukov, an extreme-right nationalist who also advises Ukraine’s defense minister.

Ukraine’s Glavred Media reported that Biryukov posted a neo-Nazi slogan on his personal Facebook page, where he has nearly 150,000 followers.

Biryukov wrote the Nazi symbol “1.4.8.8.” The latter half of this symbol, 88, is code for “Heil Hitler” (with H being the eighth letter of the Latin alphabet). The former half is a reference to the white supremacist slogan known as the “14 Words” (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

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Clint Watts’ World: How America’s top Russian disinformation expert pushes disinformation to justify censorship

When I challenged the high tech flim-flam man behind the Hamilton 68 Russian bots tracker, he ducked my questions. Then his fans asked me if I was a Russian asset.

By Ilias Stathatos

“Nothing is as evil as what Russia manages to pull off… We [Americans] just focus on extremists. Everything I have seen is democracy promotion. I haven’t seen the US creating fake personas.”

These were the words of Clint Watts, a self-styled counter-terror expert who has emerged through the passion play of Russiagate and hailed as “the pre-eminent experts on Russian influence operations via social media.” Watts has warned that computational propaganda has placed America on the verge of civil war, and suggested before a Senate panel that censorship of online media might be necessary.

“America’s war with itself has already begun,” Watts proclaimed earlier this year. “We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.” 

Watts is currently on a book tour that has seen him earn fawning prime time treatment from Bill Maher while avoiding uncomfortable questions from the public about his work. In fact, Watts has not encountered a single critical question since he released his book, “Messing With the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News,” this May.

And he should have, given his record. Watts was the moving force behind the Hamilton 68 Russian bot tracker, which maintains a dashboard claiming to expose Russian influence on everything from the NFL’s anti-police violence protests to the anti-fracking movement to the Parkland shootings.

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