A Surfeit of Challenges
We include amongst our nineteen reports, five 'Arab Awakening' countries, all of which are in a sorry condition as their individual reports demonstrate.
It is only the fact of the existence of a Syrian state in this brutal civil war holding firm, against the miscellaneous rebels - the most successful being foreign Islamist jihadists, that is saving that nation from an extended future of total chaos (see Libya). Sadly the west have miscalculated in their enthusiasm to separate IRAN from its only Arab partner and we believe are backing the wrong side, (happily not with western 'boots on the ground).
The serious issue of the use of weaponised gas, the case arising only days ago, is waiting for the allegations and whatever evidence exists, to be verified.
A major problem is that there is no obvious referee, a detached power to help the 'newly awakened' on the ground. The Arab League is predominately Sunni. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are a part of the problem, so are incapable of fair refereeing.
The US is trying to get over long unhappy military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and don’t want to be distracted from dealing with domestic economic woes. They seem in no mood for military adventures and don’t see it as particularly their problem.
The EU is hardly detached, having shown their hostility to Syria's government. Turkey could do it, but memories of the many centuries of Ottoman rule over all these nations persists, and Turkey too took the side of the rebels in Syria.
That leaves the UN which was always intended for such a purpose, but after its ineffective military role in the Balkans (remember Srebrenica), needs new thinking and new rules, to avoid such a tragedy recurring.
Syria: Despite the possibility of sarin gas being used in the conflict –the big story of last week, it seems that President Obama, quite properly suspicious of being stampeded into some form of US military intervention, needs to be satisfied that the implied evidence will stand up. The failure of US and UK intelligence (supported by Israeli intelligence) on their assessment of WMD’s in IRAQ, abetted by the political enthusiasm of the new president and ‘neocons’ to exercise the massive US military muscle, resulted in an invasion and a war, the dire effects of which on Iraq (see below), are still with us!
When President Obama talked in terms of ‘red lines’ and ‘a game-changer’ he must have been aware that superficial information alone would not do in establishing the facts. It is reassuring that this US President is not ‘shooting from the hip’ like his predecessor. The Iraq experience where the US and UK intelligence agencies wrongly advised that Iraq had a concealed nuclear weapon and other WMD’s, makes it imperative that this time there must be no such false prospectus. President Asad is due to stand for re-election next year. Whatever else, the west could most usefully set out to seek and promote a credible secular candidate for the presidency and enable acceptable supervision via the UN for such an election.
Iraq: The media generally seemed to have picked up on the strong possibility of a civil war that we have consistently warned about. In fact there are two separate strands that could lead to that dire outcome; the Shia- Sunni tensions, exacerbated by the events in neighbouring Syria, but with long lasting roots in Iraq’s modern history; and the powerful currents set in motion by the Kurdish province of Iraq, more and more going its own way. Both of these situations are described in our report. We have been following Iraq for ten years – this is our 120th monthly report; and we urged from the beginning that the US should have reconstructed Iraq as a Federation (not as a unitary state), which with a suitable constitution could have avoided much of its present problems.
North Korea: The one arguably ‘mad’ nuclear dictatorship is insisting on being recognised as a nuclear power, before any ‘talks’ (about de-nuclearisation) may commence. The West’s sensible reaction is to get the AA missiles in place and to always talk calmly and reasonably. We review the current situation in this strange country which has recently grabbed more than its normal share of publicity with its war-talk, and conclude that the objective is, as they hope, not one or the other but both ‘guns’ and ‘butter.’
Russia has continued with its dreary policy of intimidating and punishing those non- conformist citizens who clearly, by wanting ‘democracy now,’ are an irritant to Vladimir Putin. The Boston Marathon bombing has drawn the response from Putin effectively: “we told you so” for those in the west who objected to Russia’s longstanding heavy-handedness against their Chechen republic. Aside from that reaction it does rather emphasise what we have been arguing for some time, that it is more important to have a really close liaison with the Russian government, particularly their intelligence services, as East and West need each other in this fight (which you may have noticed we are not winning), against Islamic extremism.
Scolding Moscow for their lack of democracy, only produces a negative reaction. They regard it as a challenge. It is quite in order in our view, an obligation indeed, that the democratic west should continue to report through its media on all such undemocratic (or worse) events, but that western statesmen in their interaction with regimes like that of Russia, of which they may not personally approve, should nevertheless seek first of all, to make good working relationships with their opposite numbers. After all, the Russians invariably counter the high level criticism of their set-up, by pointing out uncomfortable truths: that the US routinely tortures prisoners (‘waterboarding’); steals people off the streets and ‘disappears’ them (“extraordinary rendition”); long imprisonment without either charge or trial (Guantanamo); assassinates its enemies (drones) and has highly suspect elections (2000 Florida): where with the narrowest of results, the supposedly independent Supreme Court ordered the recounting of votes to stop, thus handing victory, and the presidency, to George.W.Bush.
No one is without ‘sin’ in these matters but in the interest of combatting world terrorism, manifestly close co-operation is necessary and appropriately enough there is a very suitable lesson, in the words of the NewTestament: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Afghanistan looks highly likely to see continued fighting after western withdrawal. Already the Taleban are systematically returning to where NATO forces have withdrawn to more central locations in many provinces.
We note a tendency for foreign jihadists who have fought alongside the AfghanTaliban forces, to seek to now establish bases in the soon to be unchallenged Taliban areas. In this issue we point to ‘The Islamic movement of Uzbekistan’. Previously we have noted other such organisations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba aimed at India – the group responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks – now seeking sanctuary in East and South Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban. It will be recalled that al Qaida itself was being given a safe base by the then Taliban government when the al Qaida 9/11 attacks took place, precipitating the NATO invasion of Afghanistan and the present situation. Since these organisations named are also jihadists, this repetition of events, could result in some future re-run of the dismal events of the past decade? Western armies have allowed a corrupt government to survive in Kabul, but the object of the war was to destroy al Qaida, because of their international attacks on US property and people. It all went wrong because the Islamic militants are stronger than ever. Go to our Special Report “ISLAMIC HOLY WARRIORS – Where is Terrorism Going”.
Pakistan: It seems, issue following issue that we find the situation becoming worse in this important nuclear armed state, possessor of the ‘Sunni Bomb’. It still doesn’t get any better.
The Pakistan Taliban have issued a list of those political parties they will ‘allow’ to stand in the election. Most of their targets are secular parties and the Taliban have said they will kill candidates and party workers of whom they don’t approve. They also want to kill former President Musharraf –see below.
We see the arrest of former President Musharraf who re-entered the country to seek to put himself before the electorate, as a sad outcome, since Musharraf’s seven years in charge seemed to have promised a continuing improvement –for example he was instilling a philosophy of ‘enlightened moderation’ in all spheres of life in this nation of religious extremism, and was hot in pursuit of corrupt officials, a sine qua non amongst politicians and officials then, as it is again now. The absurd charge against Pervez Musharraf as the then president, is of failing to fully protect Mrs Benazhir Bhutto, assassinated during her election campaign, who literally ‘put her head above the parapet,’ in this case the roof of the armoured car in which she was being driven away, after holding a mass rally. If it were not for the tragedy involved, and the prominence of the victim, it would be generally dismissed as an issue involving the victim’s courage or foolhardiness, and the evil assassin. Any politician who addresses mass rallies in this country can expect to have attempts made on their life, if their political line is disapproved by the Taliban’s rule of terror, and that of other extremists. Much courage is required.
More to the point the Judges, as a part of the problem who were at that earlier time challenged, have reacted ‘according to form’ by turning on Musharraf. There are signs, for example in the popularity ‘of a clean pair of hands’ (belonging to Imran Khan), that do hold some hope, but Pakistan has wallowed in so much mismanagement in the past, that it will take an immense effort to get the nation on an even keel, politically and economically. Musharraf, as a former Commanding general, may have been the best hope of national salvation. He freely came back from self-imposed exile to offer himself for election, but the Courts rushed to disqualify him and put him behind bars.
Tunisia: Where the Arabs first ‘awoke’! In the first of the ‘awakening states’ a creeping Islamist outcome is in our view the likely outcome of the sad fall-out of the original high minded overthrow of the long-time dictator. Self-immolation, as we report, remains the desperate outcome for young serially unemployed men. The jasmine of the Jasmine Revolution, sadly has rotted away!
Bangladesh: There are threats of new Islamic terror at nation-state level when as we report, a new radical group Hefajat-e-Islam can muster half a million citizens in the capital city-centre, calling for the death penalty for ‘blasphemy,’ against Islam of course, and other horrendous demands and penalties. These demands are contrary to the constitution of this nation, whose Prime minister has to her credit, responded to them that fact and that this is a secular state. There will be more to come.
Egypt: The largest Arab nation is in deepening trouble, given its revolutionary character. The Moslem Brotherhood president is ruling by decree, with no parliamentary debate. At the same time the economy is in a tailspin, with an economic crisis looming that can only be assuaged by the IMF, who are imposing politically suicidal cuts in return for the necessary loan. There is little that is clear-cut in the Egyptian ‘awakening’.
Iran is asserting itself and like every other middle-eastern state feels entitled to ‘mix-in’ in its neighbourhood, and perhaps join Israel, India, Pakistan and N.Korea, the newer members of the so-influential nuclear club, although they say, not so. A well informed report explains the current political set-up with the supreme ruling priesthood of the Ayatollahs failing to engage positively with the political class, and this is about to be tested via a general election. It now looks as though the politicians, including the US’s bête noir, Ahmadinejad, are ready to sign a deal with the US in return for normalising relations; in particular calling off the economic and other sanctions, whilst apparently the ruling priesthood is not ready for any such compromise.
Turkey looks like a success story in terms of PM Erdogan, who has been the subject of criticism here and elsewhere, but who now seems to have brought about agreement with rebellious ‘Turkish’ Kurds to stop the 30 year old civil war. There is a good deal of ‘holding of breath’ over the relationship with Israel, following Netanyahu’s schooled apology for the death of nine Turkish peaceniks by Israeli commandos, on the MV Marmara. There is trouble for Erdogan from IRAQ, for Turkey having done a big oil deal direct with Iraq’s Kurdish province, rather than though the capital Baghdad.
Libya: The one nation in the Arab Spring where NATO intervened on the side of the anti-Qadafi rebels. It was an intervention theoretically of enforcing a no-fly zone but in fact the NATO airforces in reality, seamlessly became for all intents and purposes, the rebel airforce. This is the model that certain western nations would like to apply to Syria, but unlike LIBYA, Syria has much better air defences and almost certainly would impose casualties on an attacking airforce. A car bomb exploded outside the French embassy evoking the attack against the US Consulate that killed the US Ambassador last September. The story of present day Libya is a sad one as our report makes clear.
India: We have an account of the recent global BRICS summit from India’s viewpoint, held in South Africa attended by the 4 giant founder states: Brazil, Russia, India, China – a grouping of which the world will hear more in years to come. We are reminded that India is still not a member of the UN Security Council, nor is there any Latin American or African state represented at that political level. That surely cannot last? BRICS jointly agreed to subscribe and set up a $100billion contingency fund to tackle financial crises in the developing world. New Delhi and Beijing initiated a high level counter-terrorism dialogue aimed particularly at the Afghanistan situation.
Kazakhstan has recently hosted nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers in which they flaunted the fact that on the collapse of the USSR they voluntarily (and in return for substantial folding money) returned those nuclear weapons to Moscow that had been stockpiled in their country. That perhaps gives them the status to preach, although it is unlikely that IRAN would be moved just by their example, to also turn away from becoming a nuclear power. This remote Central Asian country is blessed with deposits of just about every mineral known to man, but are cursed by having an illiberal regime with a nasty record of abuses against many of its citizens.
Turkmenistan: With the 4th largest global gas resources and one of the world’s most remote locations, this FSU republic’s wealth does not ‘trickle down’ from the coffers of the dictator, with arguably the longest name of any head of state: Gerbanguly Berdymukhammedov. He is one of the richest men in the world as a result. The nation is likely to remain a major player in the supply of gas and oil and is regularly being courted from Asia, Russia and the West, Having a frontier with Afghanistan sounds like bad news but during the Taliban –Northern Alliance civil war, the Taliban that had been fighting in north Afghanistan used to come across the border into the eternal desert, for Islamist-style R&R, however that might work.
Taiwan inching, millimetering perhaps, towards full democracy. We give due praise for some of the actions of President Ma Ying-jeou for making some inroads into corruption, but all the time the evidence of his own failing as a leader is that his former Taiwanese opponent as president before him, is suffering from ‘Ma’s revenge’ as a prisoner in jail. Chen Shui-bian is now an old man with effectively a life sentence, after going through a disgraceful trial that would not have been possible in any real democracy, under the rule of law. He was a successful president and very much a Taiwanese, rather than one of the overseas Kuomintang mainlanders like President Ma. Until this wrong is righted, Taiwan will not rank amongst real democracies.
Philippines: is now benefitting from the relatively clean Aquino government but with a lot of history still to overcome. The unresolved matter of the law affecting family planning is still to be settled, as the government is seeking to do, in the face of extraordinary opposition from the Catholic Christian church which has been extremely powerful in this archipelago, way back since the Spanish conquest. It is the church’s only real bulwark in the Asia/Pacific region with a huge number of bishops and senior clergy and although the islands are desperately overcrowded with far more people than jobs, nevertheless the Church has insisted on some doctrine equating the (illegal) use of contraception with infanticide!
The result has been massive over-population, that millions of both men and women have to leave home to travel anywhere in the world to find a job, to be able to send remittances home to keep their families alive. The nation just cannot sustain the level of its present population and has not been able to do so for many years.
Georgia: There is a fierce rivalry between President Saakashvili and his elected successor, Ivanishvili. The latter beat the former in presidential elections but it will be Christmas before Saakashvili’s term is complete. Meanwhile the outcome of these elections is a tense political situation, as of course it extends equally to their respective parties. One, whose time is up. The other whose time is ordained to come, but not for more than half a year.
Vietnam is not succeeding economically, It is a member of ASEAN and there are fairly obvious problems which the government has undertaken to address. It doesn’t help that it is a strict police state and remains a communist country, one of only five such in the world. ASEAN economic integration is planned for less than two years time, and it is a big question whether Vietnam will be ready for this.
Clive Lindley - Publisher
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