Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition

20 new reports this month including: ‘The Arab Awakening’ nations: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran. The Balkans: Greece; Albania. FSU: Russia; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan. South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Myanmar. East Asia: North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines.

An Intolerant World
So as the summer goes and September arrives, what sort of world is out there? Certainly intolerance prevails, a regular theme in our reports and it is reflected over and again, nowhere more lethal than in religion. It’s all happened before – with Christianity in particular, but currently it’s at its worst in certain Islamic nations. As was discovered on 9/11, no nation can be totally immune from the terrorism which now abounds. But even with the result of the ending of the cold war reducing ‘superpower’ to just one nation, itself in trouble, violence is widespread and war hasn’t gone away.

Considering the twenty country reports included in this issue, it is clear the world is far from peaceful, but then how good is it’s leadership? The only remaining superpower is in the process of deciding that for itself, but actually for most of us. Obama, given a second term, where his main concern can be the judgement of history, might be able to do some of what had been hoped for, when he was first elected: A diplomatic solution- not a war with Iran; a just resolution to the Israel-Palestine situation; a better, more positive, more relaxed relationship with Russia (whatever can be the point of being bad friends), possibly built around responding to Islamic terrorism – an increasing problem for the Russians in terms of their homeland, as our reports make clear. Also, for much of the rest of the world, where what passes for ‘the forces of light,’ are not finding adequate solutions. But Obama has yet to win that second term!

Now that same world watches with trepidation as Mitt Romney, a George.W.Bush rich-kid type of ‘foreign affairs lamebrain’, no matter what his business qualifications, or his not unsuccessful, one-term governorship of Massachusetts , is the man now promoted by the Republican Party for the world’s most powerful job. To say, as he did, when seeking the nomination, that of course “Russia was the number one geopolitical enemy of the US,” has the effect of our wondering where has he been, to be so unaware of the world’s realities?

That kind of ignorance really does create worries that such a man might win in November. We doubt that many at the State Department would applaud that evaluation of Russia, or America in 2012. Yet the accurate readings of several regions do matter, specifically at this time Syria and the mid-East. To what extent is Mrs Clinton in agreement with the Arabists, the experts at Foggy Bottom who know about the Shia and the Sunni, or have they been persuaded that ‘dishing’ Iran is the primary desired outcome here? We thought that the old ‘seer’ Henry Kissinger might have re-set the pendulum on this when he recently wrote an important piece for the NYT, asking effectively, what does US foreign policy have to do with the Syrian conflict, it being primarily  the latest event in a millennium-long religious quarrel for supremacy, between Sunni and Shia? (exactly our position after ten years of monthly analysis and public reports of these nations).

Like all civil wars it is horrible, particularly for non-combatants that are victims of the terrible violence. Over the months, we have witnessed that events there have been greatly influenced by, as al Asad from the very beginning maintained, ”a foreign plot” – Saudi Arabia and Qatar having a clear-cut interest in a Sunni supremacy (and no interest at all in the democracy which motivated dissent in other countries of the Arab Spring), have put up a $100 million fund to pay the FSA and other rebel volunteers. Also as the al Asad  government insisted from the beginning, apart from the Sunni military deserters now in the FSA; plus modern Syrian youth - a minority seeking a secular western-style democracy (incompatible with fundamental Islam) -  the government’s adversaries do indeed include free-ranging “armed bands of foreign terrorists” with their own agenda, a government claim now seen to be true, following the human bombs, and widely observed Al Qaeda surge of Islamists there, as publicly ordered by Dr Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor. They are fighting for their own dream, ultimately the ‘cleansing’ of heretics in Arab lands as instructed by Bin Laden, foremost amongst whom are the Shia - and the re-founding of the Caliphate, last heard of in Ottoman Turkey at the end of WWI.

Our coverage in this issue as usual, includes Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, which between them give a well-informed up-to-date analysis of the region.
Outside the middle east we as always, carry reports on Afghanistan and Pakistan who sadly in August had a violent spat, including an artillery duel on the frontier between them, which caused the downfall of Afghan ministers as we tell and no doubt gave much pleasure to the Taleban, who were not involved.

Leaving aside direct events in Syria; Turkey and Iraq in particular are having difficulties with their substantial Kurdish minorities, Kurdistan not yet an independent nation –although after around 2000 years of existence, it seems perhaps headed in that direction, but sadly not without the spilling of blood. Whatever, we will be hearing more from the Kurds.  What chance a Kurdish state? They have been around for a long time and maybe their moment is coming, but it would be hard for Turkey to agree to give up any part of Turkish territory.  Currently Turkey’s fear is that Syria’s Kurds might declare a UDI to take advantage of the chaos in Syria, leading to Kurds on the Turkish side of the border seeking to join with them – a recipe for much bloodshed, given that Iraq’s Kurds already are not far off fighting with the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Although Baghdad cannot get on with them, Iraq would probably fight, as nations do, to keep their present boundaries.

 Until just days ago, it looked as though Israel’s Likud ministers in power might at any time be despatching the IAF on behalf, they would say of the rest of the world, to seek to interdict Iran’s famous drive towards nuclear ‘independence’. It will be remembered that before the IRAQ war years ago, the Israelis did successfully strike IRAQ’ s nuclear facility at Osirak. The key to that was not just the undoubted skills of the IAF aircrews alone, but that it was ‘a stroke.’ It took place in great secrecy, precisely what has not been the case now with a potential attack on Iran. Indeed, it has seemed that the western world was once more marching reluctantly towards an unwanted war, by actions designed above all by Netanyahu to get the US to do the heavy lifting, with himself as we said he would, ready to use the leverage of the upcoming US elections to commit Washington to making it their fight.

What may well have checkmated this was the very recent clarification by the Saudi government (see our report), that the IAF would NOT be accorded overflying rights if their military planes were headed to Iran. That greatly complicates the logistics for the IAF to be able, over the distances involved, to successfully fly there, strike several difficult targets and recover their planes and crews afterwards. Certainly the IAF will not want to have to plan to combat Saudi’s very advanced warplanes in a second battle, perhaps after fighting off Iranian defences.  Turkey is not going to allow over-flight. Israel, when Tzipi Livni was foreign minister had excellent relations with Turkey, and then Netanyahu’s new Likud government foolishly blew it all away with the international offence of their commandos boarding a Turkish flag vessel, the Marmara, on the high seas, compounded by unnecessarily killing some of the Turkish peaceniks on board.

Turkey is not, as the US is, committed to bringing down its neighbour Iran. Indeed when asked why his nation has not sanctioned Iran, Erdogan shrewdly replied that when the UN requires it (* shades of Iraq), then he will do it. Turkey is a big, proud old power, and  nobody’s satellite. *It may be remembered that their democratically elected parliament  point-blank refused to allow the US to land an army in Turkey’s Mediterranean ports to travel on to attack Iraq, which was a good indication of their independence – and weren’t they right. Friendship between NATO allies is one thing and when the cause is beyond doubt, but subservience is quite another, when the ostensible cause lacked all credibility.

Iraq with a majority of Shias is close to Iran and will not be a party to Israel bombing its neighbour.  The calculation the Israelis must be making is whether Iraq (see our report, currently complaining the US has not delivered its promised order for fighters), has the military means to stop them? That would be another ratcheting-up of risk, which probably Netanyahu’s cabinet colleagues would not go for, let alone his military advisors.  So perhaps at this time, the threatened strike will not take place. If Obama wins a second term he can be much more independent of his political foes, the lobby groups, etc.  He talked before his first presidency of making diplomacy work with Iran, which he has not done much about. Now it’s time to deliver! A new president Romney is unlikely to take the US into a third unwanted middle-eastern war, given the unpopularity and un-win ability of both Iraq, and now Afghanistan in a late phase, which continues.

Egypt under the generals has been geopolitically fairly useless for a very long time. They were always famously available to be bought, most spectacularly to keep the peace with Israel, but they now have had to make way  for the Moslem Brothers, that being the people’s choice. Maybe too soon to make judgements, but so far not bad. Morsi, we were told was the MB’s deputy leader and only second choice for the presidency, but if he continues as he has started, Egypt the most populous of the Arab countries (77million) may once again become involved in regional affairs. Since Sadat, this has led to a long period of peace. Now Egypt looks like becoming a player again. No Egyptian government will seek another war that they would surely lose, as well as the USA’s friendship – and large subventions, so Morsi’s independence is unlikely to put Israel at risk - but he might well politically pressure to get progress towards a just settlement being achieved with the Palestinians.

NAM, something of a throw-back to the cold war, the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran, piqued the world’s interest. The ‘non-aligned’ concept was from a different time but it is far from certain what it now represents, except that it is certainly not aligned with the USA who in middle-east affairs, are in all transnational matters ‘with’ Israel and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia. Since over 120 nations were represented in Tehran it is clearly far bigger than the middle-east alone and since the end of the cold war is mainly a forum, where representatives can sound off, without the US State Dept. standing at their elbow. Israel is somewhat foxed by all this, as are the Americans, not least because, as we now hear, Morsi is trying as a new initiative to get a regional group of powers including Iran, Saudi Arabia with Turkey, to seek a solution to the bloody events in Syria. However, in his Tehran proposal he then roundly condemned al Asad and all his works, which uncompromising initial approach doesn’t offer much, and is unlikely to convince the Iranians to join in his regional group. The Turkish and Saudi positions are already well known, indeed they are supporting or sponsoring the rebel side in the civil war.

The idea of going to Tehran to this non-aligned nations meeting, shocked some–and both Egypt’s president and a senior Saudi Prince were there in a different context. Saudi’s king has offered to establish a study centre to enable his nation and Iran, that is Shia and Sunni to seek common ground for a better relationship. Blessed are the peacemakers. If the intention could be to ‘once and for all’ resolve the quarrel about the succession to Mahomet, twelve centuries ago, then unless like Catholics and Protestants in the Europe of 400 years back, they have arrived at a state of maturity whereby they can accept each other, and agree to disagree, then that isn’t likely to happen. Anyway, even if the resolve were there, the priestcraft would soon takeover. That could take about a century, for generations of aged Shia ayatollahs and Sunni imams to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Probably as with the Christians of Europe it would in the end, be the secular rulers who make the final decisions, allowing a few centuries for the religious to catch up with the realities. King Abdullah is now a very old man whose seniority thankfully allows him to take such interesting and bold initiatives.

Europe only achieved their religious peace four centuries back, in the realisation that all that was left was acceptance of the facts about each nation and the essential need for toleration. What’s left is to accord other peoples and nation states, their own religious space and not try to force change, which is what the foreigners of al Qaeda and the neighbouring Gulf states (plus US; UK; and France) seek to do in Syria.

Can political maturity, as with King Abdullah, do what religious zeal cannot?
* * *

Central Asia –“the Heartland” emerging from a long sleep

Our world continues to be sorely troubled, just as Afghanistan can be seen to be winding down as a theatre of war (not without many complications). Other problems are arising In Central Asia which are capable this time around, of entangling not only the obvious eastern great powers, but because big oil/gas is involved, perhaps the west as well. Our report on Tajikistan describes in a nutshell the components in the conflict that is brewing up… Central Asian FSU republics, massive scale smuggling, warlords, drugs and looming over it all, militant Islam. We have previously drawn attention to the roving bands of Islamists semi-detached from the Afghan fighting and probing the frontiers of the FSU republics (Tajikistan; Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan; Kazakhstan), that lie between them and the troubled southern republics of Southern Russia. There Islamic militancy is now a standard phenomenon, largely inspired by hatred of the imperial power which Moscow answers, as empires usually do, with counter violence. This struggle is likely to be the way of the future whatever else happens, wherever else it crops up.

Depending on what head of steam the militants can conjure up, will depend the degree of risk for the oil and gas, not only from the Caspian basin. FSU Azerbaijan ruled like a private possession by a family, yet historically Moslem, is unlikely to remain immune from the neighbouring Caucasus Russian Federated states, of Chechnya; Ingushetia and others particularly as the regime is unloved; wealth does not ‘trickle down’ unemployment is massive, elections are fraudulent, and the dictatorship shows little sign of winning the hearts and minds of its own citizens.

But to the South east Caspian the FSU Turkmenistan, a petro-dictatorship (which we also report in this issue), shares a border with Afghanistan, as it does with Iran and Kazakstan, another enormous, lightly populated FSU state, threatened by the trickle of Islamic fighters, which could before very long, become a tide surging northwards. Russia which is ultra-aware of what is happening has been leaning on its five former colonies in Central Asia to prepare a military answer. Uzbekistan to a larger extent, but not alone amongst the five FSU republics, is resistant, fearing as they naturally do, that to host a permanent substantial Russian military force would be to revert to the days of the Tsars who colonised them in centuries gone by. The Uzbek dictator enjoys his absolute power and not having to report (and share the wealth) to Moscow. Whatever else, this situation does explain what the Shanghai Co-operation Council is really all about. China can clearly see what is happening in Central Asia. They are likely to be called up in support of Moscow, before their own internal problems with the Uighurs, Kazaks etc; become too much infected by outside militants, within that vast chunk of Central Asia which is Sinkiang, the most westerly province of China, sharing borders with Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan, as well as Tibet.

India’s report is alarming for several reasons, one of which we will be hearing more about, is the insidious black propaganda weapon of ‘cyber-jihad’. New Delhi says that this ugly development comes from Pakistani Islamic militants seeking to destroy existing good community relations by terrifying communities of Moslems in India, who many years, even generations ago spread out throughout the sub-continent.  The computer messages are falsely telling them that massive pogroms of Moslems are happening or about to happen in southern Indian cities, recalling the folk memories of more than sixty years ago at Independence of those awful events, the racial massacres. This apparently has caused millions to panic, abandon their homes, their jobs, etc; to take flight back, mainly to the north east where originally they came from.

The Philippines is another example of that very intolerance which we showed above, relating to certain Islamic nations. In the case of the Philippines it is the very old-fashioned  Filipino Catholic Church, unique probably in the world in its hostility to family planning. We describe how the hierarchy is opposing the government’s new bill using all the pressure they can, including filibustering, to prevent this unexceptional bill (if seen through the prism of any other modern nation), treating it as though carrying it would transform the archipelago into the Devils playground. What is so tragic about this is that the Philippines is grossly overpopulated. It cannot feed its evergrowing population, forcing millions of families to be divided whilst men – who crew much of the world’s merchant marine and women famous as nurses, nannies and the like across the world, are necessarily leaving their families, often their children with grandparents, sending money home and spending most of their working lives far apart from their loved ones. It is tragic that the government who can see their responsibility, are trying to at last stop the growing overpopulation, but it is the bishops who exceed their authority to preach which is their right, by using every available means to leverage the lawmakers, elected by the peoples will, into impotence.
North Korea it is fervently hoped, might be becoming less spikey and a dreadful neighbour, the changes coming about perhaps because of the change of leadership –and it seems pretty clear, a larger involvement with the hermit republic by neighbouring China, which is interpreted in our current report.

Taiwan: this issue deplores the way in which the island nation is turning away from the  democracy, which by hauling themselves up by their own bootstraps, they achieved after many years. That great distinction given their troubled background and continuing tensions with their giant neighbour, was to a large extent achieved during the presidency of Chen Shui-lien. His successor as president Ya Ming-jeou of the Kuomintang, having achieved power, railroaded his elderly, sick, predecessor through a disgracefully unjust trial to a long term of imprisonment, in appalling conditions. Ya is almost singlehandedly destroying the democratic legacy he received from the electors, which extends beyond fair votes and free speech, to include justice in the courts.

Vietnam: this issue tells in some detail of the abuse of power by the rather inflexible Communist government, and of its curious relationships with its capitalist elements.
Myanmar: Large numbers of refugees from the long war by government with Myanmar’s tribals, seeking safety in China, have just been ejected by the Chinese authorities. As many as 60,000, with inadequate means for survival, in an under resourced small nation, with many other problems.

In the Balkans in this issue, we report on both Greece and Albania. Because Greece is suffering from fundamental structural problems –it was admitted to the EU by false accounting, which looked fairly obvious at the time. But the EU admitted them wrongly we believe, just as with Romania and Bulgaria, when all of these nations needed a much longer period of raising their game to a necessarily higher standard, which would have better equipped them for membership. Albania on the other hand was famously backward- the legacy of their own version of communism. As recently as the time of the Kosovo fighting, their main roads outside the capital were still subject to armed brigands raising roadblocks to rob passers-by. They were desperately poor and as an escape from this, the law was sidelined in many ways, not least corruption, at every level of authority. We hope that every country that seeks to join the EU can do so, which of course does not entail joining the Euro currency, which has its own rules of admission. But it is necessary that the commissioners do not accept lower than the minimum standards that apply to new entrants. 

Clive Lindley



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