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January 2010 Country Archive


The Nightmare that is Afghanistan
A few weeks after Obama made his dispositions on his foreign war, we review in our 96th monthly report on Afghanistan, quite how dreadful the situation there is. We really strongly recommend readers to read this objective report, which exposes the truth about President Karzai, just how bad corruption actually is and how he governs the country.

After eight years of US and Allied tutelage, the acknowledged corruption monitors, Transparency International, finds them second to worst in the world, in corruption terms, only just behind Somalia, a state which has no government! They rank 138th out of 150 in our own World Audit Democracy rankings, which as well as corruption, takes into account: human rights, political rights and freedom of the media. Consider the implications of that!

This nation is still the worlds leading supplier of heroin and other opiates, their only export. There is no penalty for trafficking, so long as you have the right connections with the government!

A bill introduced ‘under the congressional radar’, providing $1.3 bn to reintegrate surrendering Taliban, will almost certainly be used, as in the recent past, to pay off Taliban leaders who give up hostilities. Objectively, this is as likely to succeed as any other measure available to the allies, even if in so doing Afghanistan is reduced to a ‘beggar country.’

Our recent Special Report on the Afghan National Army on which so much depends, has we believe punctured that myth, at least in any short-term time frame.

If as many expect, when the western troops finally pull out, then Karzai would last at the top for about ten minutes. It might well be by that time, that a military leader might be strong enough to be able to take over, but with the explosive tribal mix that might also mean a different type of civil war.

Not a good year for the middle- east Peace Process

Our SYRIA report looks at the Israel-Palestine peace process and concludes that President Obama has so far changed little in the middle- east Dynamic – the peace process is as dead as ever! Unsurprising then that the US has not weaned SYRIA away from its alliance with IRAN, although US ties with SYRIA have improved.

Here then is a project for 2010, since the US government has been unable to make any progress with peacemaking and the formation of a Palestinian state. It would be to pressure Israel to resume the Golan Heights negotiations, which Natanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s PM had been conducting with Damascus

Until Netanyahu put his coalition together, Turkey had been hosting these negotiations between Israel and Syria, which had been making progress. The key issue is that Syria seeks the return of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory which had been captured by Israel during the war in late 1967.

The Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu, once elected in 2009 immediately suppressed these talks. He sees no reason to return captured territory – a doctrine which if followed in Europe would have seen Russia refusing to give up East Germany or any part of Central and Eastern Europe, militarily conquered by them, or the USA refusing to allow Japan to ever again become independent after 1945.

Of course his approach is about Israel blocking any policy that creates a Palestinan State out of the Israeli occupied territories- a status quo of more than half a century. But Syria, unlike occupied Palestine is already a nation state. It has the capacity to facilitate peacemaking in Palestine and to play a positive role in the region. Justice demands that territorial war booty of so long ago should be returned, and by all means be demilitarised if Israel is concerned about that.

What to do about IRAN-A fresh Approach?
IRAN is progressing steadily towards nuclear ownership which they calculate will make them proof against invasion, (but who was going to invade them anyway?) They see themselves competing with nuclear Israel as the regional power, who of course also have the guarantee of US support. As signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty IRAN has an unquestioned right to create a civil nuclear industry. They accept oversight from the IAEA and will be obliged to continue to do so. If however they bar the IAEA’s inspection rights then they are in breach of the treaty. The conventional response is to put in place painful sanctions but the only one realistically likely to work is to ban their oil and gas exports, and that is unlikely to gain sufficient support to be effective. Japan obtains a substantial part of its requirements and is contracted to take a large part of IRAN’s output. Anyway deducting Iran’s oil from the world supply would enormously increase world prices, it would be a self- inflicted blow to world economic recovery .

It can be seen that sanctions that only affect certain bystander countries and not others, are unsustainable. Other sanctions might be uncomfortable for Iran, but not painful enough to be effective.

Israel’s alternative proposal to bomb IRAN’s capacity to make nuclear weapons, however would guarantee a new middle eastern war, which would conceivably close the Persian Gulf, with enormous impacts on exports of Saudi, Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil exports, let alone those of Iran.
Neither Iran nor anybody else, would believe that Israel had done such a thing without the US sanctioning it, and so would regard US targets as ‘fair game’ and much more available. Also since Israel itself has the status of a covert nuclear power (authorised only by its allies), there can hardly be a moral nuclear argument that distinguishes between them and Iran. An IAF ‘surgical strike’ aimed at Iran’s nuclear capacity, which logically will by now be well dispersed around that large country, is highly unlikely to do more than delay a useable nuclear weapon, but with at that time much more angry reason to seek to use it.

A military invasion of Iran is unfeasible. Quite apart from there being a total lack of international support for it, any study of the IRAQ-IRAN war shows the astonishing degree of self-sacrifice that Tehran would demand of its Shi-ite citizen-soldiers. Also the Gulf would be closed to shipping at Hormuz by the Republican Guard with incalculable losses to the oil exports of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait and the shortage of supply would drive world prices up again, to some dizzy and inflationary level.

It can be seen that one avenue after another is blocked off by political or military unfeasibility. So what remains?

We are coming to the view that the emphasis should move towards “No First Use,” a doctrine to which ALL the nuclear armed nations should subscribe, (and watch them wriggle, confronted with that proposition).

Consider, who would IRAN threaten with a newly acquired weapon -
Israel? Not unless they were committing national suicide. Israel has a large nuclear force and the best airforce in the region, capable, were it to be employed, of the effective destruction of Iran’s economy, whose one or two basic weapons not yet available, but eventually possibly there for attacking Israel, would be completely outclassed.

The Sunni nations that surround them?
Pakistan: has the nuclear arms and airforce to destroy Iran in a nuclear war. Saudi Arabia: There is little doubt that Sunni Pakistan would threaten nuclear reprisals, if Sunni Saudi Arabia, financial patrons of Pakistan were threatened by Shia Iran.

This is what we would propose: Iran is entitled to continue with its civil nuclear program, subject to continuing supervision and positive reports by the IAEA.

If Iran expels the IAEA or otherwise inhibits their supervision, then that should trigger a warning that expulsion of IAEA can only mean and would be interpreted by the UN, as a conversion to a military program. This should be followed by the US offering Saudi Arabia a nuclear umbrella. Israel would also be offered a nuclear umbrella – an automatic strike against any first use by Iran or anyone else.

So if Iran is really determined to have its own nuclear weapon in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, of which it is a signatory, on top of international sanctions against them, there should be a warning that any first use by them would be suicidal and bring down on them a nuclear response.

The Copenhagen report – No plan B “
We had our say on this mid-month which debate continues at our BLOG.
We also now refer readers to our January report on the realities in BANGLADESH where many of the events forecast and feared in global warming are actually happening now.

Drugs money
The UN Drugs Tsar, head of that office on drugs and crime told a British newspaper that drugs profits were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. The sum involved was $352 billion of drugs profits, absorbed into the economic system as a result. The story was about bank liquidity, not the incredible amounts of money generated by illegal drugs, but we want to focus on this rare peep into the sheer scale of illicit drugs .

These sort of stats are usually not available, but it does raise the question that since illegal drugs can make untaxed profits of $352 billion for organised crime, isn’t it time that the whole question of legalising them came front and centre for public debate? Mind altering drugs are, it seems, a portion of the human experience and although to some addicts it is a way of life, to many others it seems to be more a rite of passage. Either way, the criminals are way ahead of the game. When one considers the reality of drugs - that are not going to go away, is it beyond the wit of man (the good guys) to decriminalise the whole business and regulate it, indeed take state revenues from it, rather than the sorry set-up we have at this time?

As our AFGHANISTAN reports make clear, that country has no other export. It’s illicit nature allows enormous amounts of ‘black’ money to suborn the government of the state. Neighbouring states, Kyrgyzstan and Takjikistan are both drugs transit states, have their governments and judiciaries distorted by the black money that follows the passage of the drugs, to wider markets. That also applies to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. Similar stories can be seen in South and Central America; and SE Asia.

Criminalising drugs clearly doesn’t work.

To the stellar profits quoted as the benefit for organised crime, add the cost of police work, coastguard, airport security, etc; in seeking to prevent the illicit trade. How many centuries experience will it take, before some courageous government breaks ranks, and insists on comprehensively reviewing the illegal narcotics trade with a view to decriminalisation? But then, given this report we quote, would the world’s banks for their own reasons, be in favour of maintaining the status quo?

Who’s for ‘Gulfo’
Our SAUDI ARABIA report tells of the move to set up an alternative to the $US sponsored by Saudi, Bahrein, Qatar, and Kuwait. The name is indirectly a tribute to the EU ‘s central bank with its currency, the Euro, which is quite admired. The Gulf with its hydrocarbon wealth is not happy with the $US whose ups and downs often are the results of events not at all associated with the Gulf states. There are those players who recognise that economic harmonisation is essential to a joint currency. The Euro was set up by a stable political association of mature states, whilst the Gulf has always to contend with the Shia-Sunni dangers of conflict; with Iran’s possibly becoming a nuclear ‘rogue;’ with the presence of Al Qaida in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere in the region, dedicated to the overthrow of existing regimes, none of which is conducive to interstate stability.

The UK Iraq Enquiry
It amuses. It fascinates, but as an enquiry committed to discovering the truth behind the IRAQ invasion it is failing to impress. After only a few days, the absence of cross examination to what appear to be well rehearsed, established positions and careful statements by the senior diplomats and officials in and around the big decisions, is becoming a source of discontent by those who are sceptical of the British Establishment’s ability to examine itself.

Back from the Brink - Again
IRAQ meanwhile has fended off its collision course with its Kurdistan component. The national elections originally mooted for January will now take place in March. The sticking point for the Kurds was the status of the city of Kirkuk with, let it be said, it’s enormous adjacent oilfields. In timely fashion, the USA has stepped in, and their preparedness to broker a deal with Baghdad has been accepted by both sides. It will be fascinating to see how Washington will deploy the wisdom of Solomon, or something like that, to get a fair deal in this vexed problem.

The December oilfield competition in IRAQ has again gone against US oil companies of whom it is said that they are not winning, because they don’t at all like the terms on offer. That is their commercial judgement…. But, they are not winning!

Thinking back to when we and many others, assumed that Richard. S. Cheney’s REAL interest in the Iraq invasion was to get the US oil companies well established on top of Iraq’s vast oil reserves, so big as to be comparable with next-door Saudi Arabia. Well, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way. The most successful oil companies have been oriental – Malaysia’s Petronas, Chinese and Japanese companies, and recently Russian.

Kazakhstan’s Whitewash
One of the most daring examples of chutzpah in international circles is the campaign which Kazakhstan fought and won to become the chair of the prestigious OSCE, as of January 2010. The appointment has of course been attacked by international liberals and media and criticised by the diplomatic corps of several member nations, to which Astana’s response was to commission at great expense, lobbyists and Washington PR operatives to write testimonials. These can do little better in real terms than to observe that they “are going in the right direction”. Even that is in doubt.

OSCE was set up as and is expected to be, one of the international guardians of democracy in world terms. Kazakhstan is a very large, thinly populated Central Asian country, formerly Soviet and its only president after 19 years as an independent republic, was himself, previously in charge as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. “L’etat cest moi,” as Louis XIV is said to have observed.

What are the democratic credentials this nation has to show to lead this world body? Quite the reverse to ‘democratic’, is the reality. Apart from the presidency enjoying absolute power, since it controls all the government machinery, there has never been a convincing election for the top post, nor is there likely to be. As to competition for the top job, one optimistic candidate who had declared, was discovered soon afterwards in his home, shot through the heart once and twice though the brain. This agile feat of destruction the investigating Kazakh police detectives found to be suicide, so there was never any murder to be investigated – and understandably, there is now a shortage of presidential candidates.

It seems clear that the president wanted Kazakstan (effectively himself), to have the prestige of being taken as a serious player amongst the nations. His case was greatly strengthened by the fact that his nation has massive reserves of oil and gas, and lies athwart the pipeline routes between the Caspian and China, and is expected to be a part of the NABUCCO scheme to pipe gas into the EU.

That explains the big boys going along with this and since President Nazarbayev has only ever experienced ‘command politics’, he appears not to have realised that this could all turn out to be a big mistake. The world attention he seeks, could turn out to be that of contempt. Moreover OSCE itself more seriously, is being devalued and degraded by this appointment.

The president’s party, the successor to the communist party controls every seat in the national parliament. The OSCE’s own election monitoring observers refused to endorse the results of the last Kazakh election. There is no freedom of the press or the media, and no political opposition. It ranks 125th out of 150 nations, in the current World Audit Democracy ‘league tables,’ a score resulting from surveys of political rights and human rights, freedom of speech and the presence of public corruption.

Turkey’s Problems with the EU
This relates to Cyprus where new problems have surfaced. It may be remembered that the EU ‘took a view’ and accepted Greek Cyprus into EU membership, leaving Turkish Cyprus out in the cold. Thus they discarded the leverage that they previously had when the Greeks voted against the UN plan for reunification of the island whilst the Turks dutifully supported it (against the wishes of their traditional leaders), thus rewarding the fissiparious Greeks! It should be pointed out that there are two different stories about the Greek and Turkish militaries, being involved in the politics of this small island - with it’s two populations and long history of injustice, one ethnicity on another, and the present situation certainly does not do justice to the Turks.

Turkey Azerbaijan & Armenia
We continue our scrutiny of the complex and changing relationships between TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN and ARMENIA.
Turkey and Azerbaijan have close historic and cultural links, helped by the mutual intelligibility of their languages and are both ‘soft’ Moslem states. Neither country enjoys good relations with Armenia, nor probably has for a thousand years. However, Turkey is now seeking to normalise relations with Armenia, much to the concern of Azerbaijan.

History haunts all three states. The Armenians go back nearly a century to 1915, when at least a million and a half of them died at the hands of the Turks. Around the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Armenians with Russian help grabbed back Nagorno-Karabakh, their enclave in Azerbaijan, and the Lachin corridor, an Azeri swathe of land between it and Armenia . One and a half million Azeris were made homeless. Azerbaijan and Turkey imposed a trade embargo on Armenia. It is still in force, until the Armenians vacate the disputed lands in question and allow the return of the dispossessed.

Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers on October 10 signed a set of agreements under which Ankara and Yerevan would set up normal diplomatic relations and reopen their land border. The deal, if ratified by the parliaments of the two neighbours, would effectively end decades of hostility. But it complicates Turkey’s relations with Azerbaijan and there are wider implications involving the USA and the EU, as our update explains.

Elections: Ukraine Romania, Albania
Elections – forthcoming and recent – continue to dominate the news in parts of Eastern Europe. UKRAINE is in the thick of a vital presidential campaign that could decide the fate of the nation. The first round of the elections is on January 17. The incumbent, President Viktor Yanukovich, is unlikely to win. For Ukraine, times have been very grim. It has felt the full force of the global economic crisis. The two main contenders are the Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich, the leader of the pro-Russian Party of the Regions, who has the backing of Moscow.

Meanwhile ROMANIA has been holding elections to the presidency. They have been bitterly contested. In the first round in November the incumbent, Trajan Basescu, had 32.43% of the vote, while Social Democrat Mircea Geoana had 31.16% and Liberal Crin Antonescu was third with 20.02%. In the second round, Basescu won by the slenderest of margins, 50.33% to Geoana’s 49.67%. Earlier, exit polls had predicted victory for his Social Democrat rival, Mircea Geoana. He alleged the second round of the presidential elections on December 6 was rigged and contested the result. The constitutional court ruled on December 14th that Basescu had won the most votes in the run-off, despite opposition claims that it was rigged. The election authorities re-examined 138,000 voided ballots and decided the result of the election was unchanged. Geoana has reluctantly conceded defeat and asserted the court had ignored extremely clear evidence of fraud.

A welcome measure of political stability has therefore returned to Romania. The economy is expected to have shrunk by eight percent in 2009 but a huge international aid package currently blocked may now be delivered once a new government is formed.

In contrast, the result of the summer elections in ALBANIA has not been accepted by the opposition Socialist Party. It has demanded either a recount of the vote or that another election is held. Socialist Party leader, Edi Rama, has accused Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party, of rigging the parliamentary elections. Berisha's Democrats now hold 70 seats in the 140-seat parliament, and the Socialists 66. The Democrats rule with support from four Socialist Movement seats.

The Socialists have refused to enter parliament unless a number of ballot boxes, ruled irregular by election authorities, are opened. The Socialists claim the votes inside would give them victory overall. Berisha has so far refused to comply with their demands.

The Toxic Uzbekistan
Our update on UZBEKISTAN highlights yet again the toxic brew of Central Asian power politics. The autocratic government’s crack down on human rights activists before last December’s parliamentary election was reported by Human Rights Watch who criticized the West for staying silent. UZBEKISTAN this year mended ties with the West that had been almost severed in May 2005, after its harsh suppression of a riot in Andizhan where hundreds died, according to witnesses. The West and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have recently praised Uzbekistan for progress on human rights!

However, Human Rights Watch said in a statement late on December 10 that the Uzbek government was attacking and harassing rights campaigners and that the praise was “wholly undeserved." The European Union is clearly willing to sideline human rights issues when its wider economic and strategic interests are involved. It has been trying to improve ties with Central Asian states to help secure future energy supplies and diversify away from Russian gas and oil. Also Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan, and allows the transit of non-military supplies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The EU and the US are far from being the only players in the Central Asia power game. Our update on KAZAKHSTAN shows the Chinese are very well aware of Kazakhstan’s vast potential, especially in the energy sector. Beijing has stepped up its presence in ex-Soviet Central Asia by handing out billions of dollars in loans, snapping up energy assets and building an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan. President Hu Jintao has just visited KAZAKHSTAN and TURKMENISTAN on December 12-14 to open a historic gas pipeline. It travels from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to China across an 11,000km distance.

Balkans Rapprochement
In the Balkans, we learn of encouraging developments in relations between CROATIA and SLOVENIA. The Croatian parliament has ratified a deal with Slovenia for international arbitration to resolve a border row between the two countries that blocked Zagreb's bid to join the European Union previously. The agreement involves Slovenia acquiring access to the Adriatic and removes the last big obstacle to CROATIA’s EU membership.

Balkans division
But Kosovo’s declaration of independence from SERBIA is the subject of the first ever case of territorial secession brought before the International Court of Justice. Thirty countries will present their various arguments. The issue appears straightforward: Did Kosovo's declaration of independence comply with international law? We will of course be reporting on this.

Clive Lindley

Up-to-Date January Reports on all of the above, plus many more


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