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January 2011 Country Archive



IN 2011?

So in the first week of the year 2011, what do we know about the worlds problems? Very few people seem to be worrying about ‘the Iranian menace’ except (we are told), some politicians in Israel. Is it going to all be seen as a ‘got-up’ story to consolidate Israel’s military domination in the middle-east? The flames of that of course being well stoked by the infamous US military (build another carrier group) - industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us of?

The inconsistencies of how IRAN, if they should ever achieve a rudimentary bomb, could dominate the US and Israel, respectively the first and third largest nuclear powers in the world are absurd. We may not (don’t) like the posturing Ahmadinejad or the political priests of Iran who are his bosses, but they must be capable of doing the nuclear arithmetic too. Being a shi’ite cleric does not mean that you immolate yourself and volunteer your families and fellow countrymen to be nuclear victims. If they do actually seek a bomb, which they consistently deny, would it not be because it is the one certain ultimate insurance, that their country will never be invaded? Why else have Britain and France after the Cold War retained a nuclear capacity? Even more obviously, why did Israel ever acquire it? It’s called, not for nothing, ‘deterrence.’ For forty years it stopped the Cold War becoming Hot.

We will conscientiously keep on monitoring Iran and matters Iranian in 2011. Anyway, Iran has promised a statement soon that will take the heat off them and out of all of us - but don’t hold your breath!

Outside of South Korea, people are not unduly worried about North Korea who actually have nuclear weaponry and are a spiky and mean-minded militaristic dictatorship. Korea after all is a long way away, unless you live in North East Asia. But fifty years ago there was a serious and terrible war there, which sucked in US, British, Turkish, Australian and the troops of many nations, fighting under the blue flag of the then new United Nations. The current Korean not-quite-a-crisis, whilst probably manageable, really could become a threat now, not just in the future - far more so than Iran. Our monthly take on NORTH KOREA can be relied upon to accurately assess the situation as time goes by.

What about the money?
Economically, we see that post-crisis hardship is less than universal. Few entirely avoided the set-back but as our reports show, several nations have come well out of it. RUSSIA as our report tells, is one of them. During the past year we have consistently complained about the necessary measures not being taken to prevent a re-run of financial catastrophe. After the dust has settled for a while, it really looks as though the banks are going to ‘come back’ as before, with few governments prepared to take them on – particularly in the US whose Republican legislators are just as opposed to regulation as ever they were.

It seems clear that the new Republican majority in the House as well as those in the Senate are not going to legislate to restore anything approaching the Glass Steagal act, which prevented licensed deposit-holding banks from speculating in casino-type investments. Nor will they enhance the powers of the regulators...nor yet monitor hedge funds, or control the industry’s party tricks, like the piratical ‘short selling’.

Does this all mean that the American political system is deeply and hopelessly corrupt?

We read of ten lobbyists brandishing chequebooks for every elected member of the Congress; and that the Republicans were prepared to sacrifice anything and agree to whatever, so long as the tax breaks were maintained for the countries richest citizens.  Does this mean, as we would assume in a lesser country, that these legislators are therefore on the payroll of lobbyists’ special interests, or the billionaires who are the richest one percent of the population?

One dependable country to follow in these matters is Germany which has been far more surefooted in its financial oversight. The UK and France certainly were caught flatfooted and have still not enacted the kind of drastic laws that appear to be called for.

So it seems safe to assume that the US and therefore the world will eventually be revisited by financial crises, even though we are not yet out of the woods of this one. The will to change this simply does not exist, whilst the will to make grotesque amounts of money by whatever questionable means, dominates.

What now for the Holy Land?
As pretend shepherds and proto-angels are put back into store for a year, the world of geopolitics looks again at the reality of what is known as the Holy Land. Historically it was that area of the middle-east roughly delineated by a big chunk of present day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and bits of Egypt. It predated the idea of the nation state and is of course a European Christian concept which idea gained currency when the crusaders carved out a feudal ‘Kingdom of Jerusalem’ and hung in there in attenuated form, for a hundred and ninety one years(1100 to 1291). It all ended as it had begun, in a massive effusion of blood. It was never a Holy Land to most of the world’s religions, apart from the Christians, whose story was enacted there; Jews, who had a historical claim (which was never consolidated from the diasporas of Roman times, until the middle of the 20th century), and the Moslems who claimed alongside the others, a religious stake in Jerusalem.

So these three, the Abrahamic religions that share a sizeable portion of their written scriptures, have long had an on-off relationship with the territory, now of course packaged into nation states – Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the misfit Palestine.

The problem of course is that these nation states have to consider Palestine, scheduled for sixty years to also be a nation state, but in fact never getting beyond being an occupied territory, controlled by Israel and now punctuated by an archipelago of numerous Israeli settlements connected by a military road network.

The status of the Palestinians as untermenschen has led over the post WWII years to armed resistance by some of them in groups that are labelled terrorist, a suitable epithet for freedom fighters here, as the equivalent Israeli Groups: the Stern Gang and Irgun Zvai Leumi were once so labelled before their people achieved statehood.

The Palestinians were told they would get their own state as a result of the Arab states who spoke up for them, in a United Nations declaration, made at the same time as the foundation of the State of Israel. Yet they still don’t have it a lifetime later, and principally, but not only, this is because of Israeli intransigence. The present US administration is trying again to get the Palestinians a state of their own. The major question is where would the borders be? That is complicated by the reality of numerous Israeli settlements, initially seized by Israeli citizens, then protected by their formidable army.

The problem goes much deeper than just the fate of this relatively small piece of real estate. The early days of illegal settlements were winked at by the only western nation able to do anything about it. To Americans it was all understandable. Were the Palestinians not equivalent to the Red Indians their forefathers in North America had evicted and displaced?

But for quite a long time now the connection has been made between the plight of Palestine and the reality of Islamic terrorism, as exemplified by the events of 9/11. Has this not been a motor for the indoctrination of immature, religious Islamic youth, as bin Laden speeches and many suicide videos attest? US government during the early years of the George W Bush regime were content to depute the US interest to Ariel Sharon - his office and that of Vice-president Cheney were in daily contact. That changed after Sharon was incapacitated and later, as Obama reflected a widespread US sentiment, to bring the matter to its proper conclusion and finish the job of creating the promised state of Palestine.

The Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu lacked the credibility on past performance to make a permanent peace. The Likud, after all is not about fair play for Palestinians. There are Israeli politicians who could do it, but they don’t have a majority of the votes in the Knesset. Netanyahu has certainly lived down to expectations, surprising few with his lack of results. It was remarkable to see how much the US government were prepared to bribe Israel to remove their legislative roadblock- asking for very little in return, but Israel is now so used to getting hand-outs from the US that they were unmoved and refused, perhaps expecting more later.

Over much of the sixty or so years of the State of Israel, western public opinion used to regard Israel as something of a shrimp among nations, yet a plucky, admirable little fighter deserving of all possible support. Now it is reputed to have the third largest nuclear force in the world exceeded only by the US and Russia, and having as it does, state-of-the-art weaponry and the best air-force in the middle east, the shrimp has been replaced by a giant armoured lobster that entirely dominates the Holy Land, and given half a chance, much of rest of the middle east. It no longer appeals to any sense of fair-play. It’s governments are no longer admirable. It’s reputation is more that of a bully than a victim, whilst there are no shortage of real victims resulting from their policies. There are it is true, many Israelis and Israel supporters around the world who despair of their right wing politicians and their dangerous brinkmanship, but the influx of newer settlers are not interested in the finer points of liberal democracy - they had never experienced anything like it in the FSU. Like new settlers anywhere, they just want the room to grow – tough luck to the indigenous dispossessed.

Iraq: The Tragedy Continues
Bordering on the edge of farce, IRAQ stumbles on. Were it not so tragic it would be funny. The authoritarian former PM al Maliki anticipating also being the next one, had been given until December 25th by the (Kurdish) President to form a government. He managed it with a few days to spare winning a unanimous vote and all his ministers voted in. So after most of 2010 being without a government IRAQ now has got one. Two cheers!

His main opponent, Alawi who actually came top in the election, in western democracy should be the leader of the government, but was sidelined, since he did not seem to be able to command a majority. On him rested the hopes of the minority Sunni, and the even smaller minority secular vote which used in the days of Saddam to be the norm. Alawi who could not manage to get sufficient parliamentary support appears to have personally been squared, as he did not vote against it. Now the question becomes: how long can this coalition hold together?

The damage the US invasion did to this country is daily exhibited by the mismatch of the politicians to the concept of running a democratic state. The dire thing is that there is no end in sight. This month’s IRAQ report tells that unless all US forces are out of the country by December 2011 - a key player in the coalition, arguably the most consistent of Iraqi pols - the black-bearded, black-turbaned Moqtar as Sadr, will pull his MPs out of the coalition, and thus render it majority-less. It is fair to say of Sadr that he has been an exemplary Iraqi patriot, utterly consistent where the US forces are concerned. He has never stopped referring to it’s presence as the invasion that it was. Understandably he is a folk hero (as were his father and grandfather, both murdered by Saddam Hussein), able to call out onto the streets a numerous well-armed militia. He undoubtedly has strong links to Iran which is hardly surprising since, unlike most of the other Iraqi politicians, he stayed in Iraq during the Saddam years, receiving some sustenance from co-religionists in neighbouring IRAN, to which he could escape when things got too hot for him in IRAQ.

Taiwan: the disgraceful KuoMinTang
Much of this January report explains the KMT, which is now in government and for those who don’t know it, their story as probably the world’s richest political party, tells you in that single fact, much of what you need to know about them. Their elite it is, who seek to deliver TAIWAN back to mainland China where they believe themselves individually to belong, at or near the top, although according to polls that is not what the people of Taiwan want. We have reported the disgraceful mockery of a trial of the former president Chen Shiu Bian, following the KMT forming a government, the latest on which is in this month’s report, but the fact that he is known as the ‘Father of Taiwan’s Democracy’ explains why the KMT have arranged for him to go to jail for such an extraordinarily long number of years. We can only hope that Western governments will point out to the Taipei regime how tarnished their international image has become, in manipulating the court and procedures of justice, to lock up this potent political adversary. We quite recently hailed Taiwan as one of the world’s new democracies, this was achieved under the now imprisoned Chen Shiu Bian, marvellous because it was not imposed - they themselves had opted for it from an original authoritarian KMT regime of earlier times, but they didn’t stay ‘up there’ for long. Like in the game of snakes and ladders, Taiwan has gone on a long slide. The KMT meanwhile has amply shown that it is the same old, same old……..

Pakistan – A sad case
As our monthly reports follow each other - this is our fifty ninth consecutive report on the story of PAKISTAN - which continues to deteriorate. Now it appears that the only real power in the land is the C in C of the armed forces, of which the infamous ISI is a part. The much maligned ISI sees its role as the undercover guarantor of their country’s ‘greatness.’ That seems to be their only criterion, no matter the trouble it causes or the evil it does, like the probable ISI involvement in the awful Mumbai slaughter of the innocents – bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The sad thing is that many in this country would wish for democracy under the constitution that they inherited on independence from Britain, the same model basically under which their unloved rivals INDIA have made such a success, although confronted at the outset by much bigger problems than PAKISTAN. The big difference perhaps is that PAKISTAN is an Islamic state with all the problems that brings, in trying to square the fundamental religious instructions appropriate to a world of 1400 years ago, with the needs of a modern state. Here the deep religious establishment and its faithful adherents see no need to compromise.

This month’s report brings a by now familiar story of the failing state propped up by international aid which has, as we explain, by now passed its zenith; an utterly discredited president; a sinister leader of the opposition, menacing judges, an army with the power, but which understandably wants to stay out of the business of political decision-making (how they must regret losing the firm hand of Musharraf).It is a breeding ground for religious activists, including terrorists – no wonder that cricket has such a big following.

Iran and China
It turns out that the leaked cables that proclaimed that Saudi had encouraged the US to use a military solution against IRAN, also if less dramatically, show that Saudi had tried to persuade China to drastically reduce the quantities of oil it imports from Iran, promising in return to guarantee to supply their needs for ever. The Chinese did not go for this and our report on Iran this month explains the inducements Iran gives to keep them ‘loyal’.

Afghanistan: Declare victory and leave?
We consider the options, (one of which as in our caption, has its supporters), as no doubt the White House and every Nato country with troops there is doing right now. It has predictably turned out to be a gruesome quagmire. The reality is that AFGHANISTAN is not going to produce an uncorrupt government; the Pakistani army is not seriously going to interdict the Taleban safe havens; and whilst there are widely varying reports on the preparedness of the newly trained Afghan army, it seems pretty clear that they are going to be put to the ultimate test, sooner rather than later.

Karzai, of all people, is trying to convince prospective investors in Afghanistan’s future – mining and gas/oil, that there will be transparency in the bidding for state concessions – this after the controversial bidding for the Amchak copper mine! His case isn’t helped that at the same time that he made this announcement, he used his presidential powers to quash an indictment against one of his aides by a US-supported investigation into corruption, and ordered him released. More on this in our AFGHANISTAN report;

Korea 2010 – a poor year for the peninsula
Reviewing the year it has certainly not been uneventful, the anointing of a new Kim as the next leader- which cannot of course be guaranteed, but is the most likely outcome, if the currently ruling Kim for whatever reason, is no more. Two major acts of violence, the first the sinking of a South Korean corvette which remains about 5 % contentious and 95% obvious. Another violent incident, the North Korean artillery barrage laid down on a small island, significant only that it was South Korean, near to the Northern coast. Diplomatically no progress to speak of, except that tensions in the south unsurprisingly are growing under unspecified threat from the ‘beggar-mugger’ of the north, and there is a growing demand to drop the policy of diplomatic inaction and to re-engage the NORTH KOREANS via the group of Six.

Russia: The Roller Coaster economy
Fascinating to see that RUSSIA is weathering the world economic crisis better than many. It is of course not the only time that Russia’s economy has moved in a different direction to that of the world’s established democracies - the US and Europe particularly.

In the run-up to the crisis, Russia, relative to spendthrift countries like Spain, Ireland or Ukraine, was running huge budget surpluses — thus, withdrawing stimulus that would have otherwise amplified the private sector’s euphoria with a veritable explosion of aggregate demand. It also saved the oil windfall for the most part, so that it had a comfortable cushion to soften the blow when the global crisis erupted in late 2008. Other countries like Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia that had no choice but to turn to the International Monetary Fund for support, surely wished that they might have had Russia’s self-insured financial mattress, to help survive the crisis. More on this in January’s RUSSIA Update.

“Unpredictability : thy name is LIBYA”
One of the major factors in all of the uncertainty in LIBYA is the question of the succession, when, if that is conceivable, the Colonel should be no more. This year end/ beginning issue looks at some of the differences between two of his sons, active in different ways in the polity:- Sauf Ul-Islam who has consistently been identified with progressive measures, he is the moderniser. Mu’tasim al Qadhafi on the contrary, is associated with the ‘old guard,’ the ultraconservative element. As of now Sauf seems to have suffered some reverses. We give some examples of the way things have been going in this important North African state and also of the Colonel’s new attitude towards oil extraction.

Philippines: Good news at the New Year
After several years of reporting the PHILIPPINES we could never before have used such a heading. We had become very used to the dismal story of big time corruption at every level of authority:- gratuitous violence, police murder – not for nothing has this country the worst record in the world for the murder of journalists. Trade Union organisers have shorter career prospects here than anywhere in the world. Power at regional level is positively feudal with local ‘barons’ exercising the powers of life and death over their subjects.

At the advent of a new presidency, Benjy Aquino, the scion of a respected political family, is shaping up well to tackle the accrued political filth which has followed the regimes of successive, mainly establishment power figures. The nation pays a big price for far too high a birth rate, thanks to the inflexible pressures of the powerful church here, who regard contraception as an unmitigated evil. They still maintain a grip on the population that is only a distant memory in so many other Catholic nations. The consequence has been for many years that very many citizens can never find work in their own country, so a sizeable proportion have to work overseas. It certainly brings in vast foreign currency remittances, 9.1billion USD this year, up 7 per cent on the previous best, whilst Filipinos crew the world’s ships and Filipinas are the rich-world’s housekeepers and nannies, to say nothing of staffing the wards of the world’s hospitals. They have the work but usually at the cruelly high price of a life lived without their families. Our January report tells more.

SYRIA in the market for Alliances
The hoped for, probably by both sides, rapprochement between Syria and the USA has really failed to happen. Syria was by-passed in the recent abortive Palestine-Israel negotiations and since what Syria really wants is to get back the Golan Heights, which cause has made no progress, it feels its friendship with the US is based on thin commons. What the US wants in fact, is for Syria to repudiate Iran and not act as agent or conduit for arms from Iran to Hezbollah. That done, Syria seems to believe the US has very little further interest in them.

Consequently, a disappointed SYRIA is looking for other friends and allies, perhaps regional rather than at world level. Subsequently Saudi Arabia and Turkey appear clear candidates, both of them amongst the saner countries in the region. This issue looks closer at this topic. Syria is reshaping its trading objectives with geographical criteria which are described as its ‘Five Seas Policy’, namely countries that border on the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Caspian and the Persian Gulf.

India looks closely at Africa
The name of this particular game is coal. In an energy hyper-conscious world, INDIA is heavily dependent on coal and has identified coalmines in southern Africa in which to invest. New Delhi meanwhile has become the chosen destination for the world’s leading statesmen this past year with visits from the presidents or prime ministers of UK; France; USA; Russia and China in close succession. In each case, the statesmen have been accompanied by jumbo-jet loads of leading business executives, ready willing and able to sign flurries of trade deals. Of course this reflects India’s consistent success story, whilst so much of the world is in recession. India is also making it clear to all these significant world leaders that it is no longer acceptable that it should continue to be excluded from the worlds leading authority, the UN Security Council which we have long proposed should now be replaced by the G20 organisation.

Saudi Arabia’s curious relationship with IRAN
This issue says that there is an effort being made by both sides to  improve relations with IRAN. Whether the changes relate to the change
of Iran’s foreign minister is not known, but the kind of explosive reaction
the world half expected from Iran, after the wiki-leaks revelations – that
Saudi was urging the US government to take military action against Iran, has not happened.

SAUDI ARABIA is disturbed by military incursions from Yemen to their  south where the local Al Qaida franchisee (AQAP)are causing problems.
The Yemenis appear to have had help from Iran which is a good reason
for Saudi to become on good enough terms with Iran to stop this.

Given the advanced age of King Abdallah, there is obviously growing  speculation about the succession, which we consider. The Saudi king is  not quite an absolute monarch, but as near as makes no difference.

Successors are looked for amongst brothers who share the same father, the original King Abdul Ibn Saud. There are few of them left – well  known names mostly of a considerable age, but grandsons there are a- plenty.

Turkey and the EU
Turkey's EU accession talks risk imminent failure due to the Cyprus dispute and France's opposition to full membership for Turkey. Without a breakthrough, the process will come to a halt at the end of 2011. However, the new coalition government in UK is supporting the application. Much of the Turkish public has already lost interest. The EU's decision to offer visa-free travel to almost all Balkan countries but not including Turkey has frustrated Turks and deepened their belief that their country will never enter the EU. Of all the candidate countries, Turkey remains the only one without a formal EU roadmap towards visa-free travel. A key obstacle, say EU officials, is the absence of an EU-Turkey re-admission agreement. Under the re-admission agreement, Turkey will be obliged to take back citizens found to be residing illegally in an EU state, as well as third-country nationals and stateless persons found to have entered the EU via Turkey.

With visa liberalisation, it is reckoned that Turkey would increase co-operation with the EU on security issues, and also further improve its human rights situation and non-discrimination policies. EU courts would not have to grant asylum to Turkish citizens, because there would no longer be any need. It would also restore confidence and revive the EU process.

Greece is supporting the process. The Greek Foreign Minister recently said that the EU should hold a summit with Turkey after its 2011 parliamentary elections to adopt a new roadmap for the country's accession to the 27-nation bloc. He added that the EU nations had to make their minds up about what their expectations are concerning Turkey.

Ukraine’s Ugly Squabbles
In February this year Premier Yulia Tymoshenko lost the presidential election battle to pro-Russian Victor Yanukovych, leading her to step down as prime minister in early March and go into opposition. Since then, she has accused Yanukovych of repeated attempts to silence her and sharply criticised his policies, particularly his efforts to build closer relations with Russia. Tymoshenko was placed under investigation and ordered not to leave Kiev on December 15th. She is being investigated for ‘abuse of power and duties in her tenure of office’.
The order represents the most serious legal trouble for Tymoshenko since she was forced out of her post after the victory of the Kremlin-friendly Viktor Yanukovych in presidential elections, earlier in 2010. Analysts say Yanukovych's government is preparing to tackle new unpopular reforms and wants to make sure the former premier does not take people onto the streets to rally against the authorities.

Central Asia
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
We feature TAJIKISTAN, a small but strategically important country, in this month’s update. It borders AFGHANISTAN, UZBEKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN and China, and is a major transit hub for drugs flowing out of AFGHANISTAN and for weapons flowing in. In recent years, young disaffected men have also been crossing the border from TAJIKISTAN into AFGHANISTAN to join the Taliban, and the internet has strengthened relations between poverty-stricken Tajiks and Islamic extremists in other parts of Central Asia, PAKISTAN, IRAN and other parts of the Middle East. Consequently, the Tajik government has launched a campaign to bring back Tajiks studying in madrassas and Islamic universities abroad. Some have already come home from IRAN, EGYPT and PAKISTAN.

The country is still recovering from a five-year civil war (1992-1997) between the Moscow-backed government and the Islamist-led opposition, in which up to 50,000 people were killed and over one-tenth of the population fled the country. The economy remains in tatters. And almost half of Tajikistan's GDP is sent back to the country by remittances from migrants working abroad, mostly in RUSSIA, their closest ally.

TAJIKISTAN is also a major player in Central Asia's battle for resources. Located in the Pamir Mountains, it supplies water to its lower lying neighbours, especially UZBEKISTAN. It allows UZBEKISTAN to have water in exchange for natural gas. But in winter, the water in TAJIKISTAN is mostly frozen in the mountains, what little flows down is kept in reservoirs to generate enough hydroelectric power to keep itself going.

When UZBEKISTAN became independent from the Soviet Union it did not upgrade its crumbling irrigation system. TAJIKISTAN is currently building a new hydroelectric power station at Rogun which it is hoped will triple the amount of electricity it can generate, allowing it to export power to AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN. However, UZBEKISTAN argues that the launch of the hydroelectric plant will ruin agriculture across the region because the dam is being constructed in an earthquake zone. There is a risk that earth tremors would devastate other hydroelectric plants and sweep over areas inhabited by five million people in UZBEKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN and AFGHANISTAN. RUSSIA is financing the construction of Rogun but if it withdraws from the project it stands to lose its cut in planned electricity exports. If it goes ahead RUSSIA will antagonise UZBEKISTAN which has the strongest economy and military might in Central Asia after KAZAKHSTAN.

TURKMENISTAN is also involved in another energy project, fraught with political and logistical difficulties. Proposals to build an on-off–on again $7.6 billion natural gas pipeline, known as TAPI, running from TURKMENISTAN through AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN to INDIA, have been rejuvenated with New Delhi throwing its weight behind the scheme. The four countries have just signed agreements to move forward with the complex and high-risk plan to build the pipeline across rugged territory plagued by war and terrorism. The 1,680 kilometre TAPI gas pipeline, scheduled to be completed by 2013-14, would bring 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan's gas fields to Multan in Central PAKISTAN and end in Fazilka, an Indian city near the INDIA-PAKISTAN border. The route would go through insurgency-wracked areas of AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN, but if it proceeds to completion the project is expected to bring millions of dollars in transit fees for both AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN and probably no small sum to local brigands for providing ‘security’ ie abstaining from wrecking the pipeline.

Meanwhile, KAZAKHSTAN is the current co-chair of the OSCE, the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, opened on December 1 in Astana the first Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) summit in 11 years. He called the gathering a "triumph of common sense" and urged the Heads of State and Government from the 56 OSCE participating States to "advance together towards a secure future for our peoples". Of course many leading states sent representatives rather than their actual leaders, considering it to be an ego trip for Nazarbayev.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev, urged the participating States to "show the wisdom and courage of true leaders and reach consensus on the important issue of strengthening security and co-operation. It would be a first step in implementing Kazakhstan's initiative to create a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian community of common and indivisible security,” (whatever that might mean). “Such a result of the Astana Summit would meet the hopes of our peoples for a safer and better world.” This kind of sentiment of course coming out of a dictator state is a pious expression of hope, it cannot normally stand up to rigorous scrutiny. Unless it is followed by practical measures, it remains firmly in the area of aspiration. Unsurprisingly, the post-conference announcements were deficient in practical steps to be taken.

There is little security in KYRGYZSTAN, which may be on the brink of yet another political and social crisis that could destabilise the country further. This could threaten US operations in Afghanistan and give China the opportunity to further extend its influence in Central Asia, although Moscow watches its FSU countries closely. Since the general election in October, attempts to form a coalition government have failed. At the same time, several of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev's aides are currently on trial, accused of ordering the militia to fire during the revolution in the capital Bishkek last April. Others are accused of fuelling ethnic violence in the south of the country, which killed up to 2,000 people last June. The trials, which opened at the beginning of December, have raised tensions across the country. A bomb went off in a manhole in Bishkek on the day that the trial of those accused of ordering and executing the violence during the revolution opened. Two police officers were injured in the explosion. The authorities blamed Islamic militants and linked the bombing to a raid on the banned Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahir. In November, Kyrgyz security troops had carried out a special operation to quash Hizb-ut-Tahir, in the Southern city of Osh. The authorities said that the group was suspected of plotting a wave of bombings to destabilise the country. In the operation, three members of the Islamic organisation were killed and one blew himself up.

The Balkans: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia
Citizens of Kosovo now independent, formerly a province of SERBIA, went to the polls on December 12th to choose their representatives in the 120-seat parliament. It was the first general election since Kosovo declared independence from SERBIA in 2008. About 1.6 million people were eligible to vote. The election was called after former President Fatmir Sejdiu stepped down in September, triggering the collapse of the ruling coalition.

Twenty-nine political parties, coalitions and citizens' initiatives, including eight representing Kosovo Serbs, competed in the race. According to the Kosovo Electoral Law, Serbs are guaranteed ten of the 120 seats in parliament, regardless of turnout. More than 30,000 observers monitored the election process. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's party won the most votes, although the vote was marred by allegations of ballot stuffing.

But Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosovo, or PDK, will need coalition partners to govern. It was not immediately clear whether Thaci's rivals would accept the election results. The new government will have to boost the ailing economy and launch new talks with SERBIA, which does not recognize Kosovo's independence.

In SERBIA itself, President Boris Tadic of SERBIA is making a very serious attempt to reconcile the Croats and the Serbs. Earlier this year, he went to BOSNIA to commemorate more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered by Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995. Moreover, Tadic has become the first Serbian leader to pay his respects to Croatian victims of the notorious 1991 Vukovar massacre. During a visit to a memorial to 260 people murdered there, he gave a statement expressing his "apology and regret".

Mr Tadic was welcomed by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic. The two men went together to the memorial at Ovcara and laid wreaths at the site of the mass grave. CROATIA has described the event as an attempt to relax relations between the two countries. But a number of Croatian right-wing parties and war veteran groups objected to the visit.

Blessed are the Peacemakers
BOSNIA in this issue pays our final respects to Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat par excellence, who was the main diplomatic player in ending the frightful Balkans war and was trying to achieve the same goal in AFGHANISTAN. As ‘Le Monde’ said: “L’Amerique perd un diplomate de legende”. He was the kind of man that ultimately gives America a good name, admired despite no shortage of countervailing influences.

South Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia
RUSSIA hosted a new round of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations in Moscow on December 9, in an apparent bid to salvage the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts on the sidelines of a regular gathering of ex-Soviet states. The talks came after the Presidents of ARMENIA and AZERBAIJAN failed to reach agreement at the OSCE summit held in Astana in December. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had expressed hope that they will iron out their remaining disagreements on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the Russian, U.S. and French mediators. However, the two Presidents only pledged “more decisive efforts” at Karabakh peace in a joint statement with Medvedev, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, GEORGIA has decided to pull out of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS), which comprises several states that belonged to the former Soviet Union - the three Baltic states never joined. At a Moscow press conference in December, President Medvedev asserted that GEORGIA had lost out by abandoning the organisation. Georgian analysts meanwhile think that this statement by Medvedev “proves that Moscow cannot fully digest Georgia’s move. President Saakashvili took the decision to withdraw from CIS when Russian troops were attacking Georgian villages and Russian aviation was bombing a sovereign country’s territory” (but as they don’t say, this following Saakashvili’s abortive attempt to militarily repossess South Ossetia). "Furthermore a CIS member country was occupying the territory of another CIS country." The biggest benefit of CIS membership for GEORGIA was access to the Russian market. But starting from 1999, Russia blocked this by introducing a visa regime between the countries and, from 2006, closed its market to Georgian agricultural products, wines and mineral waters. So, while the Russian market was and still is closed for Georgian products, the markets of other CIS countries are open to GEORGIA, courtesy of bilateral agreements.

The New Nations January 2011 report includes the latest country updates from:

Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan

Clive Lindley

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