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November 2013 Country Archive
 

On November 1ST 2013

AS THE YEAR ENDS.....


 

Syria

Focusing on Geneva II, the chance of a failure to happen is very strong. In theory, it should be held in November but the date is still unofficial.  There is no unity among the different bands of rebels, particularly between jihadists and the rest.  They are making impossible demands and preconditions to even attend. Nothing has guaranteed that the Conference will end a war whose toll already exceeds more than 100,000 deaths and several millions of refugees, that are destabilising the region as a whole. One problem, certainly for the rebels, is that Bashar al-Assad can afford to be intransigent, emerging ‘undefeated’ from the averted confrontation with the United States. He has been cleared to continue to pursue the counter-insurgency through any means, so long as they are not chemical. Assad has also opened the doors of Syria’s arsenal to international inspectors but chemical disarmament does not stop the fighting. Assad has granted world media many interviews, appearing affable and reasonable (as few dictators ever have). That impression is compounded by the fact that the disunited opposition forces appear as non-credible as ever, offering no solutions and certainly no prospects of democracy. In this context, Assad can freely discuss conditions needed to ensure the success of the peace conference. One of those is for the opposition forces to attend the conference in order to represent those Syrian people in revolt, rather than the foreign powers that support them. (Go to Syria)

 

Libya

The kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in early October, while brief, has only confirmed the instability and lawlessness that persists in Libya two years after Muammar al-Qadhafi’s demise. The episode has also demonstrated the extent to which the various militias have taken over control – the actual power in Libya today – since the fall of the ‘Brother Leader’. The kidnapping of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in early October, while brief, has only confirmed the instability and lawlessness that persists in Libya two years after Muammar al-Qadhafi’s death. It cannot yet be excluded that Libya might fall to a determined Islamic push for power.  (Go to Libya)

 

Russia

Russia is baring its teeth over the Greenpeace demonstration against Arctic oil exploration; putting the squeeze on Lithuania ahead of trade talks between the EU and six former soviet states; and losing its supremacy in oil production. At home, anti-immigration riots threaten to further fracture Russia's multi-ethnic society. Internationally, Russia has played a key diplomatic role in tackling the Syrian mess, specifically avoiding US involvement in another mid-east war.  (Go to Russia)

 

India

October was an eventful month for India not just diplomatically but also in terms of its technological advancement. India and China reached a comprehensive border defence agreement to avoid tensions and army face-offs along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

PM Manmohan Singh visited Moscow to strengthen India’s strategic partnership with Russia, which had come under relative strain on nuclear power sharing. The two sides signed five commercial contracts and discussed the possibility of setting up a gas pipeline from Russia to India.

Ongoing (Pakistan border) skirmishes, one of which proved to be the longest anti-infiltration operation in recent history, saw military operations taking place along the Keran sector of the LoC. Seven militants were killed and six Indian soldiers were seriously injured. Finally, in a major leap forward for it’s Space aspirations – India will be sending a mission to Mars.  (Go to India)

 

Bangladesh

Bangladesh's two main parties hurtled towards a showdown that could delay or even derail elections due by January 2014. As the Awami League (AL) government headed by PM Sheikh Hasina refused to step down, in order to let a caretaker government run the country until the elections take place, the key opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called for a massive anti-government rally. The political standoff not only promises a spree of bloodshed but has also impacted business severely.

In the politically charged atmosphere, former Grameen Bank Managing Director and Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus, obviously concerned about corruption for which this country is infamous, severely criticised the government's move to bring the microfinance institution under Bangladesh Bank supervision, and has warned of thwarting the attempt.

Bangladesh's garment factory owners are planning an increase in minimum wage by about 50 to 80 per cent and will ask retailers to pay more to defray the cost, as the Hasina government tries to end a wave of strikes that hit nearly a fifth of workshops last month. However, if the demands failed to satisfy the labour unions then the strikes may continue. On the diplomatic front, Foreign Affairs minister of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni, undertook an official bilateral visit to push forward the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. (Go to Bangladesh)

 

Pakistan

The main success of the Sharif government so far has been the improvement of relations with Washington, mainly thanks to Islamabad’s role of facilitator in contacts with the Afghan Taliban. On the economic front, where the expectations were greatest, so far Sharif has little to show, apart from successfully signing up to more loans to pay existing debts. But on the political front for now, Sharif appears in a very solid position, with none of his rivals able to mount a serious challenge. General Musharraf is still confined. (Go to Pakistan)

 

Afghanistan

The 2014 elections are fraught with uncertainties and risks. It does not seem very likely, or even possible, that a strong, legitimate national leader will emerge from this process. The question then is who will steer the country through its most difficult phase since 2001? As the various political factions continue to be worried about the distribution of the spoils among themselves, rather than with getting ready to face the future, there is no obvious answer.  (Go to Afghanistan)

 

Iran

Speculation on a forthcoming grand bargain between Teheran and Washington is beginning to appear in the media, but so far little concrete progress has been made on the Iranian nuclear programme. The Syria peace conference is anticipated to provide opportunities for informal exploratory US-Iran talks. The Rowhani government is beginning to have an impact on the economic situation, although mostly in terms of an improved mood and optimism over the future. Unsurprisingly IRAN’s Arabic foes and Israel, are fulminating at the prospect of a US-Iran rapprochement, when they had hoped for a US military intervention to humble Iran, and preclude their having a dominating presence in the region.  (Go to Iran)

 

Turkey

A new report from Amnesty has revealed the breadth and scope of police brutality during the Gezi park protests. Turkey has courted controversy with plans to purchase a multi- billion dollar missile defense system from China, an act largely incompatible with its status as a NATO member. A relatively promising report from the European Commission has seen accession talks scheduled to re-open.   (Go to Turkey)
 
 

Kazakhstan

China is fast proving itself to be a valuable customer and investor in Kazakhstan, pushing out competition from Russia and India. But Astana still relies on trade with the EU to keep it in petrodollars, even though talks between the two sides are strained over Kazakhstan's human rights and justice record.   (Go to Kazakhstan)

 

Bosnia

The divided state of Bosnia continues to find high level political decision- making difficult. Despite cajoling from the EU, the nation failed to come to an agreement on how to remedy its controversial issues of ensuring complete political representation for all of its citizens. A recent census has been the focus of much debate about how a nation whose past has been characterized by ethnic conflict, can establish a peaceful political direction for the future of all its citizens.   (Go to Bosnia)

 

Philippines

Summary: President Aquino is having a dream run! While the rest of Asia appears to be in the economic doldrums, dragged down by its overdependence of exporting to the major economic drivers of the USA and Europe (as well as China of course), all of whom are facing major problems; the Philippines is starting to look good. Three credit rating agencies have now raised the Philippines out of the junk category and both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have each given their own stamp of approval.   (Go to Philippines)

 

Taiwan

While Taiwan’s export-oriented economy continues to languish in the doldrums, President Ma Ying-jeou appears to be single-mindedly focused on building a legacy for his presidency defined in terms of the cross-straits issue, and building the relationship with China, rather than in giving support to his domestic constituents. With a popularity rating that last month plummeted to single digits and the Asian Development Bank now blaming poor governance for the root cause of Taiwan’s economic backtracking, some observers believe that Ma has taken a leaf from the Roman Emperor Nero by (metaphorically)‘ fiddling while Taiwan is burning’.   (Go to Taiwan)


                                                                Clive Lindley. Publisher

 

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