Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition



This April 1st issue we offer nineteen new country reports: four ‘Arab Awakening’ nations: Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq; in Western Asia: Turkey, Iran; In South Asia: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India; FSU nations: Russia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan; FYR: Bosnia, Croatia; East Asia: North Korea; ASEAN nations: Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Bangladesh.

Loose Nukes

Whilst there is a US orchestrated concern about the possibility that Iran might one day achieve a weaponised nuclear capability of its own, and may also develop ICBMs for delivery; meanwhile North Korea has publicly flaunted its nuclear capacity, as also with some sort of long distance missile, planned to reach the US west coast. Tensions have continued to escalate in March. Whether it is down to the new untried leadership or not, the fact remains that it has exceeded all previous examples of stridency, including threatening specific nuclear strikes on the US; South Korea and Japan. What is all this ferocity expected to achieve? Our analysis examines this.

SYRIA: It is obvious that readers of this month’s reports on LIBYA, EGYPT, IRAQ, will get a taste of what to expect if SYRIA should go down to the rebel forces that paradoxically the US and some of its allies, including UK and France, (but not NATO) are supporting. Newnations are devoted primarily to the concept of democracy, but looking at the sponsoring nations of the Syrian rebellion, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, neither gives a fig for democracy, certainly neither of them being in the slightest degree democratic, nor prepared to entertain democracy in their homelands-so that was never the issue for them.

These are Sunni, the mainstream Moslems and in their region, at least where Syria lies, have primarily a desire to expel the Alawite ‘heretics’ from power, with the additional political motivation of striking a blow against IRAN. Since the US, UK, and France, share their hostility to IRAN they also originally saw this as a way to damage the Iranian connection through its Arab ally. Nothing admirable about that, but at least it is understandable power-politics. Yet it has destroyed the stability of the only nation in the region with real freedom of religion as a constitutional right. About 30% of Syrians are not Sunni, with several different kinds of Christians there, some since the Christian story began –Assyrians, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Copts, as well as other minority Islamic sects such as Druses, Ismailis, Sufi, all of whom to the Sunni are heretics bound for perdition.

It is unquestionably a religious war about which, as Henry Kissinger observed over a year ago: why, in pursuit of what policy, has the US become involved in taking sides?

That remains an unanswered question, except that of course Syria is bracketed with the ‘supremely evil’ (as we are led to believe) IRAN. But that too can change (see this issue on IRAN). The Syrian fighting, that to many outsiders was initially about downtrodden citizens seeking to overthrow their tyrant, was in fact the latest outbreak, actually a re-run, of the Asad government’s last twenty eight years of being challenged by the (Sunni) Moslem Brotherhood, Syrians who were active enemies and wanted a religious state to overcome the ‘heretics’ in power. So if the present coalition of religious allies can somehow win (there is absolutely no certainty of that), then they will be heavily influenced by the well organised jihadis - acknowleged to be the most formidable and effective of the rebel forces: well-armed and financed, somewhat personally reckless in fighting given their high expectations of 'paradise' with overall a clear-cut objective and with no loyalty to any command, other than their own.

They do not seek a new government - rather a theocracy to be extended to other regional nations. Hence we point to the examples in Egypt of Salafis and the Moslem Brotherhood in terms of trying to run a modern nation state on the precepts of the seventh century.

April sees no let-up, no redeeming features in the terrible situation in Syria. It is true that insofar as western foreign troops are not involved, that is a good thing, but even this may not be true of foreign troops generally, and certainly foreign militias like Hezbollah, as there are disputes and allegations (less than proof), that Iranian Revolutionary guard troops may be involved supporting the government in the fighting – also Qatari and Saudi and other Special Forces assisting the rebels, with not a lot of hard evidence of any of this. What is undisputed is the continuing and growing presence of Sunni foreigners, jihadis of al Qaeda and other non-Syrian radical islamicists – jihadis, including some Europeans, who have rallied to the urgent calls of Dr Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s heir at the top of Al Qaeda.

There are now several radical organisations in the field sharing the same war objective as that articulated by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda: That the corrupt existing rulers of ALL Arab states be overthrown and Islam should acknowledge a Caliph who would be set above governments and would have all of Islam under his rule, according to the precepts of the Quran and the Haddiths.

About a Caliphate
Of course a Caliphate is nothing new, except in our times, but like the Popes of Rome, there have at times been multiple living Caliphs, two, even three on occasions. When a millennium ago most of Spain was Moslem, there was a Caliph in Cordoba, another in Cairo and yet another in Baghdad.


With each of them claiming the supreme role, the religious wars were between different candidates, so today any jihadi thinking to lay his life down in ‘the cause’, is reopening the opportunity for endless further killing on behalf of their group's particular Caliphate candidate, against all others.


Reality says that substantial power goes with the job and where there is power you may well find corruption. Eventually in the historic struggle for superiority between secular and religious powers, the last Caliph lasted right up into the 20th century who co-existed in the person of the Ottoman Sultan, and when after WWI he was deposed by Turkey’s modernisers, the title and function of Caliph went that way also. Earlier the Egyptian Sultans had co-ruled with the Cairo-based Caliph, but the Egyptian state depended for its defence on the Mamelukes, slave soldiers of central Asian stock, who eventually overthrew the Egyptian Sultanate - and incidentally expelled the Christian crusaders from the Holy Land. Their military dictatorship lasted for several centuries more, until Napoleon defeated them at the Battle of the Pyramids, early in the 19th century.


The concept of a supreme priest, as a Caliph is, can best be understood in modern times by the Shia branch of Islam in Iran, where they have an enormous majority, and have their supreme Ayatollah, who rather like a Pope coming from the body of Cardinals, ‘emerges’ from the ranks of Ayatollahs – the top scholars of Mohammed and his teachings (Quran) and sayings, (Haddith). It can be observed in Iran that he and his inner circle of Ayatollahs, Imams and others, then appoint their candidates to the secular positions – president, ministers, etc; by the simple expedient of only allowing their favoured candidates to appear on ballot papers and use exactly the same principle for the public to elect their Members of Parliament.

The West, unlike most of the Arab states, have no religious animus against Syria. In fact it is surprising that next door neighbour Israel seems indifferent to the prospect of their Syrian frontier being patrolled by Islamic crazies seeking martyrdom, as distinct from a settled western orientated regime, which does not seek war, inevitably has learned to have a respect for them, has religious freedom, and is at the least - ‘the devil they know’.

We believe, along with Kissinger that the west has no place, even as cheerleaders, in this religious struggle other than the obligation of developed nations to give succour to the hordes of war refugees, that have flocked into neighbouring countries; and to work for an end to hostilities. Nevertheless covert actions by the CIA and western intelligence services are directed at helping the rebels, in other words, having taken sides, in souping up the fighting, which we regard as flat wrong.

IRAN: The fundamental dislike by the West of Iran, relates to the fact that the Iranians did not accept being colonised by western foreigners for their oil assets and as Americans say, they “stood up,” kicking out their Shah, perceived to be a western puppet. That much is undeniable. Such forces as there were for a democratic successor state had no chance against the religious forces that swept in and ever since have been the government. Again the West could have co-existed with them but the gulf that had opened up was too wide.

Then the Israeli presence came into play. The US and the Europeans had long ago decided to back the westernized state of Israel, a decision reinforced by the admirable way in which this tiny country fought off all of the surrounding Arab nations and became the regional super power, even after this to the extent of being allowed to illicitly develop its own nuclear armoury.

There is no logical reason why eventually Iran might not come in from the cold of western ostracism. Our current IRAN report has within it, suggestions of the seeds of change. The change to which we refer comes at a political level since there is now an acknowledged breach between the Ayatollah and his cohorts, with the non-clerical politicians, including even the man the west has most learned to hate: President Ahmadinajad. Iran has a host of problems relating to the sanctions but is not on its knees economically, due to its ability to continue to find markets for it’s oil.

EGYPT is too big to ignore, but has found itself with a popular uprising that became an Islamic revolution. It urgently needs practical economic measures but instead, receives sermons. Its needs: increasing employment particularly amongst its educated young, the restoration of its formerly buoyant tourist industry, which depends utterly on the perceived safety of tourists. There is so much to do to get back even to where they were, economically under the rule of the army.

LIBYA: Chaos still, as we describe -and as Ghadaffi correctly forecast. Important not only as a large oil exporter, but essential reading as a living example of what Syria might so easily become, if the revolution succeeds and order disappears completely.

IRAQ: Ten years after the US invasion, IRAQ is in a mess politically, and in relation to its disparate ethnicities, specifically the Kurds, and its religious differences, where Shia outnumber Sunni and with Saddam out of the way, operate as a potentially very wealthy oil state, but with considerable instability in government, closely identified politically with IRAN.

TURKEY: Room for optimism here. Amongst the other Middle- eastern nations (excluding Israel), Turkey, a NATO member, stands out as powerful and pragmatic, enjoying considerable economic success. Happily the breach with Israel who foolishly executed nine Turkish ‘peaceniks’ on the Israeli commando raid onto the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, has been resolved, with Obama as the peacemaker. PM Erdogan looks to be on the verge of an even more important breakthrough with the Kurds, following a civil war that has lasted some 30 years, now with every prospect of an end. We had speculated that such an intelligent leader should finally bring the Kurdish problem to a close, before the elections. That has to be good for Turkey, as for the world as a whole.

AFGHANISTAN: Impermanence is now everything in this remote war-torn nation. The US presence is virtually over. Karzai’s plans for his successor are widely debated. It goes almost without saying, in this our 133d monthly report on the nation that even after all the years of US and allied occupation, it will leave behind them a corrupt regime, however constituted. Almost certainly it will be under the threat, or the reality of a resumed civil war with the Taleban, which if the new national army cannot contain it, will lead to a resumed Northern Alliance taking the field. In other words everything just about as it was, back in 2001, except for an awful lot of war-dead. Also Afghanistan’s prominent position is confirmed as the world’s main supplier of heroin, left undisturbed, (which should also confirm that there are no means by which illegal drugs can successfully be prevented at source).

PAKISTAN: After 84 monthly reports, particularly this one, we ask would any sane individual want to be in government for the coming summer? Of course this follows a catalogue of woes that we list of the dire and immediate problems confronting the country, and the need for effective clean government, which was last seen under the regretted President Musharraf.

INDIA: Troubles emanating from Sri Lanka resulted in the government alliance suffering from the defection of its long standing ally, the DMK from Tamil Nadu. This is over India’s stance on the UN resolution against Sri Lanka, on human rights violations during the war against the Tamil Tigers. Problems too with Italy, (repeat Italy) and anger at the Pakistan National Assembly for their ‘soft’ approach to a Kashmiri man convicted of terrorism against India.

RUSSIA: Relations with the US are sour and we blame both sides for this. The US persists in lecturing Russia on democracy. That cannot be other than counter-productive, as Russia responds tit-for-tat with criticisms of the US way of doing things (embarrassingly accurate, some of them). In reality they would both be better off positively seeking agreement rather than continually finding disagreement - driving all else into a downwards spiral. It is true that the Magnitsky case is a shocker, but amongst colleagues even such things can be dealt with, without a storm of public recriminations. The problem of course is that they are in no way friends or colleagues, but they do share responsibility for a working relationship.  The US manages this with numerous other non-democracies, without lecturing them. 

Secretary of State John Kerry ought to address that. Newly appointed he has that great opportunity and it has to be in everyone’s interest that Russia and the US can get along in this complex world. They are not competing any more,there is no reason for either to fear the other. Neither dominates the world, nor is going to, the object of the Cold War. Now concerns are overwhelmingly more economic, than military.

AZERBAIJAN: With an oil industry going back at least to the times of Marco Polo, unsurprisingly this should be a rich nation and also unsurprisingly, the wealth does not trickle down, but continues to remain largely in the hands of the ruling Aliyev family and their immediate cronies. The US and western embassies before every election, lecture them on democracy, obtain assurances and sure enough, nothing changes. But being a big oil producer they are confident the west won’t let them go.

UZBEKISTAN: After many years of reporting here, not for even the tenth time we report that Human rights abuses are par for the course in this Central Asian dictatorship. We look at the Karimov daughter and political heir, who has acquired a less than admirable amount of negative publicity. This is as nearly a complete dictatorship as any on the planet (although we can think of other nominees).

BOSNIA: Perhaps the most unfortunate relict of Yugoslavia: troubles, this time in the form of economic woes, are added to the nation’s complex ethnic political dilemmas. The Croat and Bosniak elements of the population have demonstrated that on the whole they can (and do) co-exist. But the Bosnian Serbs, used to being a ‘cut above,’ are cordially loathed by the others, not least because they make no apology for their loathsome racist outrages and crimes against humanity, back when they controlled the Federal army deployed against, in their turn Croatia, and when rebuffed there, against Bosnia.

CROATIA: Close now to the reality of becoming the EU’s 28th member, generally welcomed by those already on the inside. Unexpectedly came the unhelpful news that surplus Croatian weaponry has been bought by Saudi Arabia, to distribute to its favoured clients amongst the Syrian rebels. That in itself caused Croatia to withdraw their contingent of troops (serving under UN leadership, monitoring the Israeli-Syrian borders, for fear of reprisals).

TAIWAN moves towards a long overdue reconciliation are taking place between the native islanders and the KMT mainlanders, who came here in retreat from the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung. The fact that it is a KMT president that has apologised to the citizens on the 66th Anniversary of a massacre by mainland KMT troops, is commendable. It strengthens the island state’s democratic credentials, except that a continuing outrage is that the previous progressive native-born president of eight years, Chen Shui-bian remains in very poor prison conditions after a kangaroo-court type of procedure that would have been quite unacceptable in any true democracy, put him there.

VIETNAM: Considerable political ructions to do with state-owned firms getting into financial trouble and the rather draconian government measures taken in response. There seems to be a new willingness to allow private investment in some state-owned firms, including the banking sector.

PHILIPPINES: The Church has responded big time to the recent lawmaking on birth control – an obviously necessary measure for a vastly overpopulated nation, where families are divided as millions have no option but to go overseas, to find any chance of employment. The Bishops, Priests and Friars in the forthcoming elections are urging the rejection of those candidates who support legalisation enabling birth control.

BANGLADESH: Here the nation is undergoing agonies re-examining war crimes dating back to 1971 when Bangladesh fought and eventually won independence from the then West Pakistan. Good economic news in that the nation's giant civil engineering project from which the World Bank withdrew, the Padma bridge, is to go ahead with China financing it.

                                                                                                                            Clive Lindley - Publisher






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