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August 2007 Country Archive


The EU, the USA and all the member states of the world’s oil seeking community now can pile in to LIBYA seeking the normal commercial objectives, as pariah status has once more been lifted (the first time was the voluntary surrender of nuclear research status in December 2003). ‘Normalisation’ is dearly looked for and is achievable both by LIBYA and the R-O-W. Indeed already a memorandum of understanding has been signed with France, for the construction of a nuclear reactor for water desalination it was announced on 26th July. Whilst the six medical hostages have been subject to Qadafi’s mercy, diplomatic representations could be made, assistance programs for the AIDS victims set up, but every one involved had to watch what they said, so as not to exacerbate the plight of the hostages. 

The first reaction is to thank everyone of the nations and their politicians who got involved for whatever motives, in finally getting the medics back to Bulgaria, and whoever and however the blood-money was put up which critically appeased the Benghazi families – we discuss this point. The next realization is that the truth can now be told! Our reports on BULGARIA which have monthly told of their plight over the years of captivity; and on LIBYA, where again we have campaigned for the medics in all 45 of our previous monthly Updates, tell the story from different perspectives. But freedom extends now so that the harsh truth can be told about the monstrosity of a regime that could so distort justice, and take away from these hapless professional medical workers eight years of their lives, to cover up for a disgraceful failure of management, and a failed medical system of their own. 

The medics were imprisoned and twice tried and sentenced to death by Libyan courts, which would not allow them to produce evidence or witnesses in their defence. These six dedicated medical professionals who came to work under contract, to supplement Libya’s backward medical services, were accused of DELIBERATELY infecting with AIDS, 438 children in their care, originally the accusations went, at the instigation of the CIA! (That line of approach was dropped after the post-nuclear rapprochement with Washington). The outbreak of AIDS had already started in the Benghazi hospital before they arrived and had spread, due to the prevailing insanitary conditions. The parents and families of these children rightly wanted justice – but instead of pointing to the inefficient and corrupt direction of this hospital, Ghadafi’s people opted to use the contract workers, ‘the foreigners,’ as scapegoats, and so seek to appease the Benghazi families who had lost their children to this plague. 

The nurses and the one doctor were tortured – how, is now being told in some detail to the media in BULGARIA - in order for the authorities to get the paperwork right on their “confessions”. When the nurses were first able to whisper to the outside world about these ‘confessions’ being extracted by torture, Libyan policemen were quickly put on trial, nothing unpleasant, like explaining attaching electrodes to the doctor’s genitals, you understand - and so just as quickly they were proclaimed innocent, with the ‘good enough’ defence that since torture was illegal in LIBYA, then obviously it couldn’t have happened there. It goes on! Alice in Wonderland was never so bizarre, but this is Ghadafi-in-Oil-Land, which now hopes to achieve massive inwards investment to supplement the oil and gas exploration boom. 

That will require western corporations seeking to place their executives and specialists into LIBYA who will rightly fear becoming hostage-fodder. Given recent history, it will be like asking them to place their heads inside the mouth of a decidedly eccentric and vicious lion. 

The Libyan Intelligence operative imprisoned for the Lockerbie killings, as we report may well receive a new trial. But whatever the outcome of that, apart from Lockerbie we know that LIBYA was guilty by the same method of secreting a bomb on board, of bringing down the French UTA flight 772 in 1989, for which, like Lockerbie PanAm flight 103 in 1988, they agreed to and have paid compensation to families of the victims. The destruction of these two civilian airliners took the lives of nearly 500 innocent passengers. Nobody has wanted to ‘rock the boat’ whilst the Bulgarians were hostages, but can anybody really believe that such profound international acts of state terrorism could have happened in this or any dictatorship, without the knowledge and sanction of the dictator? 

It is a powerful reflection on the inadequacy of the global rule of law and of existing world governance in our time, that here is a man who should be arraigned for mass murder, but will not be because he controls an oil state. He will be able to shrug off these events and carry on with ‘business as usual’. 

The aged Solzenyitsin, whose views nobody can dismiss, has spoken up in support of Putin saying that he has restored RUSSIA - which seems about right, whilst also observing, that ‘of course,’ RUSSIA is not yet a democracy. Again we couldn’t quarrel with that, given the implication that it may eventually become one in the fullness of time. Nobody doubts that this will be later rather than sooner. It might be more appropriate and timely to now recast Putin’s image in the west, rather as we have collectively done with the other later Russian leaders. The well-regarded in the west – in Russia he was long in danger of being lynched - Gorbachev, who made it all possible; Yeltsin, who had the bull-like courage and steely qualities to abolish the USSR, and then take on and beat the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – and if he took a drink in his declining years, then what of that? Putin, the ice-cold machine man, who after seven years in office can be seen, like the very different others, to have been the ‘irreplaceable man’ in his own time, given what he had to do for his nation. The point is that now his presidential term is within sight of its end, what comes next both for RUSSIA and for Putin? We take a look at both him and his nation, and speculate about the future. 

That is of course if we all politely forget that Bush/Cheney absolutely would not countenance Clintonesque across-the-table negotiations. Only when Condi’s views prevailed in the light of the White House’s other world-wide diplomatic failures, did, last Christmas, one-on-one secret negotiations take place within a festive Berlin. Since then, we have chronicled the success story so far, of which the first phase is rounded out in this month’s report. Yongbyon, the nuclear site, appears to have been closed and the terms of the Berlin deal seem to be being followed. There is a long way to go as we explain, and plenty of space for upsets – the position of Japan in all of this, as we tell, is a big problem - but in a complex geopolitical world, let us celebrate whatever little or large progress is being made, wherever that might be. 

There is no news of IRAQ however, that can lighten up the Oval office. More and more within the USA, parallels with Vietnam are gaining currency. What now IS the mission? An elected government of sorts is in place, presiding over a lethal shambles where factional hatred and thus fear, is the strongest element in political and civic life. If the US, each year leaching its young military lives, stays for a further ten years, that central fact is not going to change. The White House knows this well enough, but until BIG OIL effectively has taken control of the Iraqi oil industry, for which the enabling legislation is painfully slow, they are not going to start the pull-out. As we observe with LIBYA (above) it is a reminder of the truism that access to oil & gas, and only oil & gas, is the ultimate determinant of modern geopolitics. We review the developments of July and what is anticipated to follow. 

A “President Cheney White House,” were that scary scenario ever to arise, might well initiate a military program against Teheran. He seems to be itching to do so. This would be a virtual ‘no-loss-of-personnel’ assault, using the US’s vaunted airpower, not a matter of boots on the ground. First and foremost smash up IRAN’s capacity to retaliate. Destroy or damage everything known about and accessible by bombing in Iranian nuclear engineering. Proclaim a victory! 

This hornet’s nest however is not an al Qaeda – an outlawed shadowy group with slender resources. This is an ancient state of seventy million, lacking none of the latent fanaticism of an al Qaeda (the Iranians ‘invented’ suicide bombing - big time), but also with the manifold resources of a nation state. If ‘taken out’ in such a summary fashion, they would undoubtedly attract the sympathy and support of many of the world’s nations, including many in Europe. 

It is no IRAQ, which when invaded, was already an international pariah on account of its invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War, a consequence of which was that Saddam really had no friends or allies. IRAN has friends - it has long been a major oil supplier to US ally, Japan. China is courting Teheran on account of its vast reserves of oil and gas. RUSSIA is on terms, as are INDIA and PAKISTAN. IRAN has observer status with the Shanghai Co-operation Council, who could be expected to rally around in the event of such an overt act of aggression. That would be a speedy reversion to East -v- West! 
Shia Moslems around the world look to this, the one nation where their branch of Islam is in charge, and would regard it as a direct assault on their faith – a foretaste of how that would play is in progress in IRAQ daily. 

No doubt the State Department and CIA and others have evaluated the risks as much more serious then these broad ‘heads’ above. Foggy Bottom must also be encouraged by the progress made on NORTH KOREA since diplomacy got the go-ahead. Hardly anyone outside - and probably only a minority of the US’s 300 million population, remember much of the detail of the nearly thirty year- old spat that caused the break-down of relations with IRAN, involving quite different players to those of today. It may be a well-worn platitude, but is nonetheless valid for IRAN - why not, at long last, give diplomacy a chance?

Meanwhile, we report this month on the continuing, for western countries, loss of opportunities in IRAN for new international business. About 240 state owned companies have been announced as available for privatization, 21 of which are active in the oil sector. That leaves a further 750 to be announced later. The oil ministry are admitting that they are finding it hard to attract the necessary levels of investment to develop oil fields, in the light of sanctions. It is also becoming clear though, that they expect that China is likely to fill the vacuum so they will get what they need, but the partnerships will be with China. 

The temporary government of technocrat Ministers, which supported by the armed services is cleaning the Augean stables of Bangladesh in preparation for the next general election (when it eventually comes), is doing a pretty good job, many friends of the South Asian country will aver. There used to be a joke about a competition for the world’s most corrupt nation short-listed down to Nigeria and Bangladesh. When Nigeria was declared the most corrupt nation on earth, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister was asked to comment. “Well actually”, she said, “Bangladesh had really won the title, but we paid Nigeria to take it on.” The ‘she’ reflects that both the last prime minister and the last leader of the opposition (the positions were interchangeable) were the best that this country could offer for leadership, by virtue of one being a daughter, the other a widow, of two of the country’s long term leaders. They so loathe each other, it is said, that they will not speak to each other even if in the same room, which cannot improve the chances of the country dealing with its manifold problems. Of course, as with Pakistan’s civilian politicians, they are leaders of major clans with regional constituencies, who have to be ‘looked after’ first, with which ever of the two ladies in power had the big gifts to hand out. The sheer scale of these benefits encouraged enormous electoral fraud – principally in voter registration. This was the primary reason that the president intervened and that the army supported him. Both of these political ladies have been above the law - until now. We tell this month how the most recent former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been arrested on a charge of extortion, following a complaint made by a businessman. Her ‘opposite number’ Begum Khaleda Zia, twice prime minister, is we report facing a reform plan within her party that excludes her from power. Of course some newspapers, controlled by or heavily leaning towards the ancien regime, are shouting ‘foul’ and several leading politicians, many of whom inevitably are tarred with the same brush, (and worried about the scandal reaching them), are volubly protesting against the army and the interim government. But to outside observers, it does seem that Bangladesh at last has just a chance of getting it right, in terms of democratic governance and the rule of law. The overwhelming need now is for some new political players who can command international respect, as well as confidence at home. 

The August Update of AZERBAIJAN shows that in the corruption stakes, despite Nigeria and BANGLADESH’s commanding position in the world’s most corrupt nation stakes (see above), the scale and magnitude of Azeri corruption is truly awesome. We tell what we know. Prepare to be astonished! 

Despite the fact that Indira Gandhi, daughter of the great Nehru, was an early prime minister of this vast nation, it is nevertheless a cause for celebration that Pratibha Patil, former governor of Rajasthan and INDIA’s first woman president, has just taken office. It was not a walkover, but a race which she won - whilst it could have done her no harm at all to be the preferred candidate of Sonia Gandhi. 
There is something very reassuring about modern INDIA’s constant reminders to the world, that it is indeed a genuine democracy and rightly enjoys the confidence of very many of the worlds leading countries. It is of course, just too big to be ignored and is moving towards magnum status in economic terms as well. Some, like us, welcomed what appeared to be a friendly grouping of southern giants Brazil, SOUTH AFRICA and INDIA, all of which are in the category of having immense regional clout and again are just too big to be ignored. There is in the east the Shanghai Co-operation Council where China and RUSSIA hold sway over a group of mainly former Soviet satellites, with a few other nations holding observer status (see Kyrgyzstan below). The key characteristic of its core members is that none of them are democracies. It is a quasi-military affair and it’s primary purpose is to be against something – in this case US military expansion, which they fear. But the linkages between the three southern giants are constructive and seemingly friendly to all, certainly not directed against either east nor west in old- fashioned terms, whilst each seems firmly committed to being a bulwark of democracy in their region. In a world suffering from a pronounced leadership deficit given the present inhabitants of the White House, these powerful emerging nations should be aware that in certain matters needing the smack of firm leadership, such as the role and future direction of the United Nations, they might well have that to offer to the world as well. 

Bishkek in August is to be the venue for the annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCC) the main agency of collaboration between RUSSIA and CHINA, whose joint purpose is to resist US hegemony in their world, with a short-term goal of having the US bases in Central Asia close down. Other nations include KAZAKSTAN, TAJIKISTAN, and UZBEKISTAN, as well as the host, KYRGYZSTAN. They are under pressure from the big players in the SCC to close down the airbase facility they lease to the US forces. There was a initially a quick and positive response to the US request for bases, once they entered the AFGHANISTAN civil war on the side of the Northern Alliance, but now the SCC claim that the current military activity in AFGHANISTAN does not justify the continuing use of these facilities. In short, whilst the small countries enjoy the rent money they receive, the big players want the US ‘the hell out of their back-yard’. We shall update on this in our September issue. 

No survey of this nation can be completed without similarly considering Lebanon and Palestine, and by one short remove, Israel, even by extension to IRAN. Together with greater Palestine it is unquestionably the cockpit of the middle-east, the proof of which is that until there is a just resolution and settlement here, the confrontations between the world’s Islamic enthusiasts and the west will continue. SYRIA is on record as seeking a resolution with Israel, requiring its Golan Heights to be returned, which should not be beyond the bounds of reason for an Israel seeking a settlement. Notwithstanding, as in this issue, we are constantly picking up strong rumours of a Syrian invasion of Israel, which someone is churning out, but since SYRIA would be certain to lose any conventional military confrontation, we regard that as absurd. SYRIA’s big problem, apart from a nasty hangover of Baathist thuggery in the senior levels of the al Asad ruling family (which effectively means that stories of Syrian involvement in the frequent assassinations in Lebanon, cannot just be dismissed as incredible), have to do with its involvement (direct sponsorship or at least ‘active tolerance’ – take your choice), of the two anti-Israeli Islamic military groups, the shi-ite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the sunni Hamas in Palestine. SYRIA at least is a secular state, indeed the al Asad regime’s greatest internal political danger has long been the sunni Moslem Brotherhood, pledged to destroy it in favour of a sharia-law theocracy.

The young President al Asad in our view is no warmonger, probably not even a man of violence - his chosen career as a London ophthalmologist before he was dragooned into the leadership by the unexpected death of his heir-apparent brother, and finally that of his father, hardly fits. But he must be well aware of the manifold currents swirling about the leader–any leader of today’s SYRIA, given the geocomplexities of interlocking power-plays, misinformation and ‘dirty-tricks’ coming from various directions, including of course his own people in Damascus. This month’s issue looks again at the current situation and currently finds little ground for optimism. 

Similarly, the challenging Saudi offer to lead Arab League efforts to make a binding peace with Israel is bogged down, largely we would say because the US did not warm to the notion. But also because of the events in Gaza, where the Saudis had developed links to Hamas, no doubt finding them some funding. But following the violence there and subsequent dismissal of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, as Palestine prime-minister, with the effective fragmentation of the Palestinian authority, they are not it seems prepared to do business with Fatah in Ramallah alone. Reasonably enough, the problems of brokering a peace treaty with Israel were difficult enough before there were, as now, two Palestines. It must be remembered that Haniyeh’s party was quite recently democratically elected by a pan-Palestinian electorate, largely fed up with the corrupt and ineffective Fatah who now appear to carry all the hopes of the USA and Israel – but that simply will not do! A Unity government is a sine qua non of a peace deal and we report Saudi efforts to that end. 

The more genuine ‘two-state formula’ political forces in Israel welcomed the Saudi initiative, at least as a platform for bargaining, but whilst few were to rubbish it entirely, it is clear that there are plenty of others who think they can eventually impose a solution more to their advantage - and liking, upon the Palestinans. The Saudi king took what many in the world believe to have been the right initiative, and it is to be hoped that unless dramatically another solution is quickly to be found, that an incoming US Democratic administration in January 2009 may be able to pick up that ball and run with it. 

Another great problem in which they are inevitably involved is IRAQ, whose spokesman has been attacking SAUDI ARABIA for allowing Islamic terrorists to cross into IRAQ – they say 45% of all foreign militants there have come from Saudi. Given the length of the desert borders between them and the ‘jihadi conditioning’ effect on the idealistic youth of such a blinkered, religion-based society as there is in ‘The Kingdom’ – how could it be otherwise? Such publicity will be unwelcome in the office of vice-president Cheney, who would have preferred the public to believe that it is secular SYRIA that is willfully dumping terrorists onto its Iraqi neighbour. 

The August Update reviews the undoubted democratic (and of course economic) success story that is TAIWAN. July ‘07 marked the twentieth anniversary of the end of nearly forty years of martial law. Democracy emerged here after these long years of military dictatorship. This was not removed on their behalf by the actions of a liberating friendly power, nor yet by armed insurrection, but entirely due to their own civic efforts. Democracy is sustained, because it has proven with all its blemishes, to be just the best and the most effective form of governance for a nation which had earlier achieved such outstanding economic success. It is tempting to see some sort of a model here, which one day may apply to the giant motherland across the Taiwan strait. The PRC is a one-party state and that party has more than 70 million members, which is a massive vested interest towards keeping it that way. But China also has upwards of a 200 million and growing, middle-class. They are not only allowed but are now used to making choices, about every element of their lives, except those that are determined by political forces. We have long predicted that so long as the story of growth and economic success continue, that situation is hardly likely to change. But in the face of reversal and the start of a decline, which can of course be due more to world economic events rather than those just of China, then the decision making middle-class, will want, perhaps even insist, on being a part of the decision making process. That would be the beginning of the end for the CCP monopoly of power. With more than a million long-term China-based Taiwanese businesspeople now living there, the Taiwan experience may then come to be seen as highly relevant to compatriots in greater China. 

The Philippines Republic is unquestionably a flawed democracy and we report this month on the activities of the nation’s Supreme Court which has said it will use its rule-making power under the constitution to protect and enforce constitutional rights, which the elected government is failing to do. We observe that under the Arroyo administration, the country appears to be locked into a zero sum game where economic progress which we are delighted to report, is inextricably linked to political backsliding and the erosion of civil liberties – particularly the right to life! 
We have recently reported on this country’s unparalleled and lethal election violence, but this is against the background of a massive number of extra-judicial killings, for which the police and military are widely believed to be mainly responsible. The Human Rights Commission has placed the number of victims as 403, since President Arroyo took office in 2001. The NGO human rights alliance Karapatan, has reported double that, at 803 deaths. It is more likely to be down to a lack of will by the government than their active complicity. Most likely is that the president just does not have control over the rogue police and military elements, who for so long have done much of this kidnapping and killing with such impunity. She must be very aware that the civilized outside world has a depressingly negative view of her country - which has called itself a democracy for so long – but which can be seen to be murdering its own people. 

Chief Justice Puno claimed that the executive and legislative branches of government had been inept in defending human rights. “The scale of shock (amongst the Filipino people) has been anaesthetised”, he said, “by the escalation of the killings and disappearances”. 

July 22nd returned the soft Islamic government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power as he deserved – and with a strong majority by which two significant developments are settled. The first is that he has the power (if he so chooses), to resist the military in their politically risky desire for hot pursuit of the rebel Kurds (PKK) who hide and emerge from their bases in the mountains behind the Iraqi border. We do not know his intentions in this, but with 340 of the 550 parliamentary seats, his majority seems unassailable and reflects his support in the country. Secondly, and for the first time, the Kurdish minority now have genuine and significant representation in the Turkish parliament with 23 elected members.

The big outstanding question however is that of the presidency. We explain the diminishing time-scale and the dilemmas. Erdogan has shown himself to be an outstanding leader – his party is religious to about the same extent that the German Christian Democrats are religious, in other words not a throw-back to an impossible clash with the secular. What a brilliant statesman-like move it would be if he could nominate an acceptable president (a largely but not wholly honorific role), from outside those who are notable Islamic figures. That could solve the problem in one move and massively enhance his personal stature with the Turkish military and in the outside world. 

But the rest of the story is ugly enough. In July, the US authorities released their estimates that the 457,000 acres harvested for the poppy crop this year, seems to have increased by 12% on the previous year, despite the Kabul government claiming to have eradicated 50,000 acres from the previous year. The US authority make the case that the most serious are the areas controlled by the Taleban (now there’s an admission for you), long enough at least for the growing /harvesting cycle, and wish to step up aerial spraying (shades of Vietnam and agent Orange). We do point out a paradox that last years eradication efforts were most successful where the Taleban are not active, like northern Balkh, where almost none are being grown nowadays – in contrast to Helmland, the epicenter of the insurgency which alone accounts for 46% of the harvest. That suggests that current eradication strategy has worked where the Taleban are not, and failed where the Taleban are. 

Another important development for the Afghan economy is that both IRAN and PAKISTAN seem to be very serious about returning some millions of Afghans who either entered these neighbouring countries as refugees or as illegal immigrants – it has already commenced. The country already has an official unemployment rate of 30%, so these mostly unskilled workers face a bleak prospect back home.

As was fully predictable, Musharraf’s decisive action over the Red Mosque siege in his capital of Islamabad, has been both praised – and condemned, in his country and overseas. The issue was that the mullahs leading this madrassah had come right out challenging the secular constitutional law, which they regard as merely profane, by seeking to implement their very own sharia law defying the police and using school-children, boys and girls under their influence, for the purpose. These children are mostly from poor and backward rural areas of the country, whose parents let them come to the big city in order to get them an education, albeit Islamic, that they wouldn’t otherwise have received. Called to account by the police, the mullahs took refuge in the mosque where they inevitably had a supply of weapons and their followers, and issued their blood-curdling threats. Other moslem counties have had this happen – a famous precedent was in the Holy city of Mecca, where the Saudi authorities had to besiege and storm a mosque where many were killed. But Pakistan has a relatively free press and so many contrary opinions were available to be published. It was a tragedy, but many neutral observers would say the blame seems to be on the two fanatical mullahs who used children in their charge in this way. The rule of law is either upheld - or it is abandoned, and that seems to have been the choice for Musharraf, for whom of course it was no choice at all. 

A spate of stories in this month’s issue about who is investing where. Since GEORGIA’s ‘Rose Revolution,’ KAZAKSTAN has become the biggest inwards investor. New investors there include the UAE, via the little known emirate of Ras-al-Khaima; also the CZECH REPUBLIC. That leading central European state itself has attracted much investment from Germany, which we describe. In UKRAINE, companies from France that entered UKRAINE late are now moving up the FDI lists. An intriguing bi-lateral collaboration is that between down-at-heel MOLDOVA, Europe’s poorest country together with Luxemburg, probably per capita, Europe’s richest. That could be really good news for MOLDOVA, which doesn’t see a lot of that! We describe developments on the above in these countries. 

When the popular press in France and UK started to run ‘scare’ stories about the proverbial Polish Plumber invading their nations, many householders in Paris and London reacted with a “Yes Please,” and wondered how they could get hold of one. Now as we report this month, POLAND is suffering from a massive labour drain following EU entry. They are now worrying about the conjunction of the UEFA 2012 soccer tournament partly in Poland; and the 2012 Olympics in London and the competing demands for stadium-building labour in the building industry. The upshot is likely to be heralded by Ukrainian and Moldovan plumbers in Warsaw, although (see above), Moldovans are more likely to now congregate in Luxembourg.

Clive Lindley 

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