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June 2006 Country Archive

PUBLISHERS OVERVIEW JUNE '06

OPIATE OF THE PEOPLE

The 'Peace' to which we refer is not about the nuclear confrontation being all over. In our monthly updated report, full of interesting and in some cases promising developments, that unfortunately is what is missing. But we tell how the US is floating an idea, that they just might agree to a new initiative - to offer talks on a formal peace treaty, as a quid pro quo, if Pyongyang returns to nuclear talks. A peace treaty for a conflict that finished half a century ago may not seem such a great reward, but it is something that has been on North Korea's 'demand list' for a very long time. Curiously, neither Japan or Russia, both big players in the current situation, would be involved in such peace talks as neither was officially a combatant in the Korean War. Indeed South Korea never signed the 1953 armistice either, but no doubt observer status could deal with such problems. 

THE OPIATE OF THE PEOPLE
It is a source of wonder that rising five years into the AFGHANISTAN story, (21st century edition), we find that Allied soldiers lives and nations' treasure, are being expended in a country whose principal contribution to the world was to have been the base HQ and training centre to the terrorists of 9/11; which remains the world's prime source of opiates, and whose citizens are grouped into tribal and religious factions that hate each other - almost as much as they hate foreign soldiers on their soil. The end game from the point of view of the west, is to stay until the fledgling democracy is secure, the terrorist threat is no more and, well, hopefully not until they all love one another. Is it just irony to observe that the Taleban government, (pre 9/11) in their final year 2001, under some persuasion no more, from the west, had reduced the poppy harvest to a mere74 tonnes? Last year with US and NATO forces in country, a new national army and all manner of inspectors and mercenaries tasked with destroying the crop in the ground, the harvest ran out at about 4,500 tonnes, just 2.4% down on the previous year. It is true that alternative crops have not been forthcoming and that the farmers just have no other crop. That problem needs bigger brains working on a permanent solution than seem currently to be deployed, because the billions squandered on a clearly failed mission might be better used in intervention purchasing to keep the farmers alive, whilst alternative crops are propagated. 
The Afghan Ministry of the Interior are alarming donors and UN agencies alike, as they appear to be enabling the involvement of the police in the trafficking of narcotics. But no preventive breakthroughs seem likely, when as we report, the president himself with his protection of the key Ministry of the Interior appointees, is suspected of permitting the country's only serious export to continue to flourish. So much is it now accepted as a part of the fabric of Afghan life that as can be seen, the statistics are included under agriculture and exports. 

IT TAKES ALL KINDS!
In the context of the Taleban, discussed in our INDIA report, we cover a meeting between a PAKISTAN delegation led by the leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Prior to that, Rehman's delegation had met India's National Security Advisor N.K.Narayan, and discussed an interesting proposition. That the Taleban had perhaps been misperceived and deserve to be reappraised, because it had set an example of good governance in Afghanistan, prior to the post 9/11 involvement of the US in their ongoing civil war with the Northern Alliance. It does seem inevitable that some rapprochement with the Taleban will need to take place to achieve anything resembling a permanent peace in Afghanistan. President Karzai was open to discussions with their non-belligerent wing, but then of course the presence of the Northern Alliance 'great ones' in his cabinet made that difficult. But as we report in AFGHANISTAN, his new cabinet appointments have changed that situation, with the Tajik / Uzbek former Northern Alliance contingent being somewhat put out, at what they say is Karzai's continuing Pashtunisation of his administration. The ultra-smooth, westernised Foreign minister Abdullah, the most senior remaining minister of those forces that occupied Kabul in 2001, was replaced by Dafar Spanta a former Maoist (and sometime member of the German Green Party).


CIVIL OR RELIGIOUS WAR? IN IRAQ IT'S AN INTERNAL FIGHT
IRAQ
continues to dismay. It is not immediately obvious why US and British politicians and officials are obviously under orders to vehemently deny that there is a civil war in progress. The rate of bombings and murders of other kinds have long seemed overwhelmingly directed by one section of the community against the other - the Shia and the Sunni being the primary targets for each other's assassins and mosque bombers. One could 'split hairs' and say it is a war of religion within one set of borders, but it is undeniably projected inside the country rather than at any outside targets. Alliance troops are obviously always considered fair game and targeted by stray terrorists and the militias of both factions. Probably, they rank as the highest priority targets to the third and smallest element, the non-Iraqi al Qaeda incomers, but no they longer appear to be the primary targets for the main protagonists.

BALKANISATION
SERBIA and MONTENEGRO
are to separate. It means that we will, once all is formalized, split our monthly reporting and analysis, according to each nation its own space. MONTENEGRO has had a sense of nationhood for centuries.The Ottoman Empire that reigned supreme in the Balkans for four centuries, never quite conquered Montenegro. On its lower slopes it was subject to the pashas, but this hardy and large framed race of mountain slavs, as necessary, just retreated up their impregnable heights (as in fact they turned out to be) and the Turks never pressed home their disadvantage, probably on the basis that mountain tops anywhere have little in the way of loot.
It was indeed recognized as a nation in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin. Later it was subsumed by the great powers into the first failed attempt at unification, Yugoslavia - the Kingdom - which was in place when WWII commenced, but did not survive the peace. Tito took a second shot in 1946, this time a federated Yugoslavia of six republics ideologically communist, but strenuously independent of Moscow, whose Comintern agent he had once been. Yugoslavia became a leader in the non-aligned movement of nations. He was absolutely the boss in his lifetime and most of the first generation of republican leaders had been his generals during the spectacular partisan war they had fought against Nazi occupation. It was characteristic of Tito that several were for a time imprisoned by him for excessive republican chauvinism, which he recognized was the greatest threat to his holding the federation together. After his death it could no longer be done. Now all six are independent and Kosovo may become so - a decision expected before the end of this year. 
Montenegro is spectacular at its fjord-like access to the sea as new generations of tourists will discover, but its primary importance to Serbia was that without it they are landlocked, their ports restricted to the Danube, with its outfall on the Romanian Black Sea coast far, far away. No doubt Montenegro will continue to happily provide port facilities to Serbian customers, but it is a little as though France had to do all its seagoing trade through Belgium. 

PIGGY-BANK RELIEF
ALBANIA
has been granted $13.8 million by the US Millennium Challenge Corporation to 'help the country reduce corruption,' as the citation has it. Hard not to laugh, thinking of the inventive ways in which that substantial sum will probably be deployed by this resourceful and utterly amoral society, as its record (over centuries), shows it to be. Perhaps if that sum is treated as the piggy-bank to be dipped into, then the state funds might get a breather. Only a few years ago, an Albanian minister of the interior drove to Greece to meet his Greek opposite number, except that going through the border check-point, it embarrassingly became clear to the Greek border police that the minister's Mercedes was a car stolen in Germany. 

TURKEY - GREECE
Bad luck about the midair collision of a Greek and Turkish F16 fighter planes, certainly for the Greek pilot who died, but also for the delicate but continually improving relationships between these nations. Both GREECE's Karamanlis and TURKEY's Erdogan, as is evident in our reports show a mature judgement in their dealings with each other. Inevitably the shared history - more than four centuries of it - as it was between colony and imperial power has been anything but helpful. It has taken right up to this generation of politicians and the overarching presence of the EU, to smooth the path that such neighbours need at the centre of their foreign policies. The spats that arise between them from time to time, usually have to do with maritime territorial rights and airspace over this or that tiny island or rock, in a sea they share where such are scattered like stardust. Continuing maturity and strength of purpose, one might think could finally resolve those questions of sovereignty, where deals could be done on both sides, brokered perhaps by the UN, to put this fissionable territorial material to bed once and for all time. 

MAN OF STEEL 
Just as the world had got used to the idea that RUSSIA produced oil and gas - and that was it, we must now become familiar with the name of Severstal, RUSSIA's largest steel manufacturer. We hear now that if the Arcelor 'poison pill' resistance to India's Mittal Steel comes off, Severstal's boss, one Alexei Mordashov, a Russian steel oligarch of the classic kind, might take over Lakshmi Mittal's crown as steel king of the world - the proposed merger would create the world's largest steel group with Mordashov as by far the largest single shareholder. Aged forty, which means he was only twenty five when the USSR dissolved, he is in the classic mould of Russian oligarch. He came up through the St Petersburg group and was a 'discovery' of that astonishing grey eminence, Anatoly Chubais, the prime mover in Putin's transfer from St Petersburg to Yeltsin's Kremlin, back in the nineties. This June issue describes more about Chubais's brilliant career. Putin has approved the merger and reportedly told Mordashov that the strategy of Severstal to widen its influence in the world coincided with what he wanted for Gazprom, (our RUSSIA issue this month looks at this vast organization, more closely). So at last, RUSSIA's manufacturing sector will get a look in, on world business reports, as well as its hydrocarbons. But wait! This is a deal that may not happen. We describe in this month's RUSSIA, the arguments of the opposition to it. 

POLITICAL INCORRECTNESS AS A WEAPON 
As a side issue, it is sometimes thought that France's top managers with their elite mandarin education, can like those of Japan, be interchangeable and equally at home as top industrialists, top civil servants or top politicians. But Guy Dolle, CEO of Arcelor, (naturally an alumni of L'Ecole Polytechnique), who resembles a WWI Marshal of France without the gold braid, isn't soon going to make a diplomat. In rubbishing the bid for his company from Mittal, with a sneer and a pronounced 'boo' in his voice, he referred disparagingly to them as "a company of Indians," (boo); who were proposing to pay in "monkey money" (for his fine European company). Severstal, to the probable delight of Putin, he described as "another fine European company". Well, that's alright then, for when President Chirac next visits INDIA

LIBYA, THE NEW MR CLEAN 
We describe the convolutions in WDC to get LIBYA taken off the Terrorist sponsor list. Big Oil won out, unsurprisingly. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia have forgiven Ghadaffi for the 'unproven' assassination attempt on Crown Prince Abdullah last year. Now he is the King, he must feel secure enough to let bygones be bygones, but whether that extends to the Libyan Lt. Colonel (spooks division), who was arrested in Saudi, and presumably no longer with finger nails, confessed to being there to organize this change in the dynastic order, has not been made clear. LIBYA is complaining that there has been no apology forthcoming from the US on the 20th anniversary of the aerial bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi on 15 April 1986, but does the US 'do' apologies? It was one recalls, a tit-for- tat payback provoked by the Libyan terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Germany, frequented by US servicemen. 

SYRIANA
We comment on the political ham-handedness of SYRIA's assassins (if it was their people) in murdering Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri, which has cost them the support of their only European ally France, now firmly aligned against them with the USA, and co-sponsor with the US of the UN resolution 1680, (telling them in effect, to butt out of Lebanon and to stop trying to fix things there as if it were their colony). It all pushes SYRIA even further into a corner. But the demonizing of Damascus from Washington loses its impact because we have heard it all before, except that the villain was then called IRAQ. One cannot escape this suspicion that Washington's illogical, deep-seated antagonism to SYRIA is somehow acting for and on behalf of Israel, when it seems obvious that diplomatic solutions could be available and would be welcomed by SYRIA

Our summary of the situation in SYRIA does explain the balance of power there - the four minority sects and religions ruling under the now rather meaningless title of the Baath: Ismailis, Christians, Druses and Alawites, who between them hold down the 70% Sunni majority. It is certainly not democratic, but the majority opposition are called the Moslem Brotherhood and up until now they don't appear to be any kind of democratic answer. Except that a coalition outside the country of an exiled Moslem Brethren leader with an escaped former Baath vice president, both elderly gentlemen, seems to have set up a reconciled opposition grouping, which just might have something to offer. 

BEING BEASTLY TO IRAN
The US is without question highly resourceful when it feels it has to be unpleasant to one or another country. In fact we ourselves follow on our pages at least four countries in that category, which whilst no longer including IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN or LIBYA, who have been 'seen to,' certainly characterizes their relationship with SYRIA, BELARUS, NORTH KOREA and IRAN. In the last named case, the US seems to ask others that, which in similar circumstances it would not do itself. This of course refers to anything affecting oil and gas supply from states who are assessed by different criteria than those set for non-oil producers. Venezuela for example is a considerable irritant to the US, constantly giving cheek as it were, although apart from insults, nothing really more tangible. But it is also a major oil supplier to the US and that supply is more important than actually swatting a buzzing insect to their south, or horror of horrors, refusing to buy their product. Not so IRAN, which of course has not been a supplier to the US for 30 years or more. But IRAN is a major supplier to Japan. Washington requested Japan to stop work on the Iranian Azadegan oil field, but Japan, well aware that China would be delighted to pick up on anything they were leaving, naturally declined. PAKISTAN has been asked to abandon the IRAN-PAKISTAN-INDIA gas pipeline project but is less than likely to agree. In our IRAN report this month, we observe that the Bush administration is honing new ways of putting pressure on, by targeting financial institutions which in terms of Security resolution 1540, 'co-operate' with countries in breach of the non-proliferation treaty. Its main effect would be against US corporations, but would have wider ramifications. If that's all it took to have IRAN give up its nuclear ambitions, then who wouldn't support it, but that is not the way that proud and ancient nations, (let alone one with a fanatical populist president), respond to that kind of marginal aggression - particularly if like IRAN they have just enjoyed a record year for oil revenue, reaching $45 billion. 

THE LAST DICTATOR 
Alexandr Lukashenka certainly knows how to act in character. Accused quite rightly of being Europe's last dictator, under wide criticism for his fraudulent re-election as president condemned for its dishonesty by the neutral OSCE. Attacked by the Free World's media for locking up the protestors against his bogus re-election. And what does he do? He unveils a bronze statue of 'Iron Felix', a copy of the one torn down by Russians in Moscow as one of the first actions in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Felix Dzerzinsky was the founder of the Soviet secret police, severally named over time as CHEKA, NKVD, OGPU, KGB but always the rod and staff of repression and the police state. As we comment of the KGB in our BELARUS report, there is no more infamous name in history, but Lukashenka maintains the name and the repressive force in his small republic, at a strength of 150,000 operatives. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

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