« July 2006 |
| September 2006 »
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Rebel killing raises stakes in Pakistan
By killing Bugti, the president has now earned the permanent enmity of not just the Baloch rebels but the wider Baloch population who may not believe in taking up arms, but are still frustrated with Islamabad for its failure to develop the province.
He may have seriously underestimated the power of Baloch nationalism which has led to four wars with the Pakistan army in the past.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistan rebel death sparks riots
In one of his last interviews - with the BBC's Urdu Service in July this year - Mr Bugti was asked why a peace deal between his tribes and the government had not been implemented.
"They say that I am intransigent, I don't listen to them, I don't bow before them," he said.
"They say that I should bow before them and salute them, and give up my weapons, and then everything will be all right."
His vision for Balochistan has never been achieved but the insurgency he led has been one of the biggest headaches for President Pervez Musharraf in recent years, our reporter writes.
The main question now is whether or not his death will provoke more violence from the separatists, he adds.
Chavez woos China with pledge - Business - International Herald Tribune
"In 2009, we'll reach half a million barrels a day, and in the decade after that we'll see a million barrels," Chavez said.
The left-leaning Chavez, a strident critic of Washington, wants to reduce Venezuela's dependence on oil exports to the United States and sees China as an important alternative. Venezuela is the fifth-biggest oil exporter over all and currently ships 1.5 million barrels of a day to the United States. This is about two-thirds of its oil exports.
BBC NEWS | Business | Communists join Wal-Mart's ranks
Chinese President Hu Jintao is reported to be keen to see party-controlled unions established in Wal-Mart stores across the country, as part of increased efforts to unionise employees at foreign-owned companies operating in China.
Staff at at least 17 Wal-Mart stores in the country have formed unions since July, according to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | US interventions have boosted Iran, says report
A report published by Chatham House said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had removed Iran's main rival regimes in the region.
Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and its invasion of Lebanon had also put Iran "in a position of considerable strength" in the Middle East, said the thinktank.
Unless stability could be restored to the region, Iran's power will continue to grow, according to the report published by Chatham House.
Caption competition - tell me what Mao is thinking here and win a year's supply of chicken feet.
Seriously, if you ever needed evidence of the growing contradictions of Chinese society, look no further than today's BBC News.
On the one hand, there is this:
At least 18 million people have been affected by China's worst drought in 50 years, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
The south-western region of Chongqing has been worst hit, but areas of Sichuan and Liaoning are also affected.
In Chongqing there has been no rain for more than 70 days, and two-thirds of the rivers have dried up, Xinhua said.
Residents in some mountain villages are having to walk up to 2km (1.25 miles) to get water.
Then on the other:
China used to be seen as a country with a lean population, but not any more.
Today a fifth of the world's overweight and obese people live in China - and the numbers are rising dramatically.
Professor Wu Yangfeng said this posed a considerable health problem, calling on the Chinese authorities to act now to prevent further increase.
There seems to be a range of underlying causes - from changes in diet to reduced levels of exercise and a rapid increase in the use of cars.
China has become a land of enormous and striking inequalities. The facts - none of which are suppositions from Western journalists (one story is from Xinhua, the other from a Chinese contributor to the BMJ) - speak for themselves.
OK, there's a problem. What do we do about it?
BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Analysis: Taking on extremists
The 7 July London bombings have been a catalyst for the emergence of a class of new, young, professional British Muslim leaders. But the fact is that none of them can say with any certainty that they are in any position at present to contain radicalisation.
A year on, and in the wake of the latest anti-terrorism raids, many communities feel increasingly under the spotlight, labelled and viewed with suspicion. Many young Muslims feel that for every genuine suspect picked up, there are others being criminalised for having brown skin and a beard.
However, the difference from 12 months ago is that almost all community leaders admit that radicalisation is a big problem - although they remain divided over where it comes from and why it exists.
China's rise leaves West wondering
The Bush administration came to power convinced that China was America's strategic competitor. But then came 9/11. To Beijing's enormous relief, Washington's focus shifted to terrorism, and there was less attention on China's discreet military build-up.
Nevertheless, Pentagon planners are concerned about developments, and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said much of China's arms spending is being concealed.
Ambassador Sha responded strongly to the allegations. "It's better for the US to shut up," he said. "Keep quiet. It's much, much better."
This is a crucial question for China's future. Will it be just an economic superpower content to sell the world shoes and washing machines? Or will it have the military muscle to protect its new interests around the world?
Due to moving house in Amsterdam and the entailing period offline, there will probably be few posts between now and the beginning of September. Normal blogging should resume about then.
BBC NEWS | Business | India to put $1bn in African oil
China is involved in Sudan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe... now India gets in on the act.
"India and China - because of their population demands, economic growth and increasing prosperity - need energy security, plus they have money to invest now," said Mr Khatua, India's ambassador to Ivory Coast.
However, India's desire to invest comes as Ivory Coast remains unstable following a civil war that ended in 2003.
"India has identified this market and it believes this crisis will be resolved soon and that it will then be able to penetrate deeper into the market," said Mr Khatua.
BBC NEWS | UK | Web firms criticised over China
Businesses such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo blocking some information was "morally unacceptable", the Commons foreign affairs committee said.
The MPs also called on the government to put pressure on China to relax its restrictions on the internet.
Their comments came in a wide-ranging report on east Asia which also attacked China's record on human rights.
Marking an anxious birthday in Cuba | Economist.com
The United States hopes that the only bastion of communism in the Americas might be toppled by people power, as in the revolutions in central Europe in 1989. But the Cuban authorities may hope for a different transition model: China's. The People's Republic survived the death of its towering founder, Mao Zedong, and then eventually flourished by liberalising its economy while keeping strict one-party control over the state.
Cuba may attempt to do the same. Raúl Castro, Fidelâs brother, has 'temporarily' taken over the most important jobs of party leader, president and commander-in-chief of the army. Previously he was the world's longest-serving defence minister. As in China, the army is not only the 'defender' of the revolution, but an active player both in politics and business. The slightly younger Castro is said by some to be more intolerant of opposition than his brother, but he is also thought to have been responsible for the limited liberalisation of Cuba's economy in the 1990s.
Just when I thought I was done with my essay on faith and the state, a paper which concentrates on the relationship between terrorism and the political alienation of European Muslims - especially Pakistani-origin young men in Britain - along comes this:
The most disconcerting aspect of the foiled terror plot is that British-born Muslims are its chief suspects. At least that was what initial reports have suggested. If true, it underscores the reality that British Muslims - especially the young generation that is as British as fish and chips or the game of cricket - should be integrated into British society, not just economically, but also politically and culturally. This is something that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has failed to accomplish. A plan of action in that direction is sorely needed.
Writing in Asia Times Online the defence consultant Ehsan Ahrari is almost bang on the same wavelength as me when it comes to this. The key to preventing similar attempts of this nature is to get these guys into the political mainstream in some way that will let them be heard without taking recourse to violence.
He notes that the spin about delinking the pursuit of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is pure bunk; it's these two factors that make young Muslims so angry. He also points out that alienation from the mainstream, both cultural and political, is a major source of dissent.
However, the author then begins to drift off track:
There is little doubt that all three themes explaining Muslim alienation, frustration and even anger are valid and generally accurate. However, the root cause of their alienation may be directly related to their continued economic marginalization - especially related to a general absence of upward economic mobility among Muslims in most Western societies, with the United States being an exception - as well as the unwillingness of Muslims to come out of their self-created cultural cocoons.
While some Muslims in Britain are undoubtedly economically marginalised, this is partly down to them. If the Indians and Chinese can make it then why can't they? There is an element of choice in there - it's not just racism and victimisation.
Ahrari does go on to focus upon this, and lays the blame squarely at the feet of foreign Islamic instructors who have no concept of the societies in which the young men have to live:
When Muslim youngsters are exposed to such sources of religious education, no wonder they evolve frameworks of reference of their own that are characterized by rigidity, cultural chauvinism and a lack of tolerance for deviation from strict Islamic precepts. What also reinforces that frame of reference is the fact that those youth see their parents remaining culturally separate from Western society. This may have nothing to do with any feelings of alienation or contempt. More often than not, immigrants are too busy making ends meet and have little time for anything else.
Thus there's a combination of factors; the external geopolitical ones; the uneasy contrast between East and West; and the rigidity of some interpretations of Islam. It's a recipe for disaster:
Add to these frames of reference of alienation and religious intolerance the highly contentious political issues of the era after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, when Islam is under constant scrutiny and criticism and is frequently a target of derisive verbal assault, and you have the making of a person who, if he is not a potential recruit for al-Qaeda, has ample sympathy for it.
The author's solution, however, smacks of 're-education' and all the Orwellian undertones that brings with it. I fear that that won't work, and for many of Britain's young Muslims the damage has already been done.
Continue reading "Faith in the State" »
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - India's foray into Central Asia
It is Tajikistan's geographic location that has drawn India to this former Soviet republic. Tajikistan shares borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. A narrow stretch of Afghan territory separates Tajikistan from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The significance of this region for India's security is immense. It is close to areas where scores of camps for jihadist and anti-India terrorist groups are based, and it is in the proximity of territory where Pakistan and China are engaged in massive military cooperation. Besides, Tajikistan is in Central Asia, a gas-rich region in which India has growing interests.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Pakistan arrests in 'bomb plot'
Pakistan has made a number of arrests in connection with an alleged UK plot to blow up planes flying to the US.
"There were some arrests in Pakistan which were co-ordinated with arrests in the UK," said Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman for Pakistan's foreign ministry.
Pakistan had played a very important role in the investigation, she added.
In '69 they got Woodstock. This is what we get.
The average death toll per day in Iraq is hitting 60. The NATO operation in Afghanistan is faltering, and looking like the biggest shoot-up for the British Army since Korea. In Lebanon, Israel will not bend to international pressure but is instead gearing up for the big push. And on our own ground, there was a plot to blow up nine planes.
Sure, in '69 they were heading off the Tet offensive. But we don't even get a seminal rock concert to appease us. They had Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendix. We get Bob Gelfof and Bono. Some trade off. We even get a defender for England captain. Fantastic.
It's one of those ironies of cross-cultural understanding between China and the West. Aside from fears of internal unrest, one reason for the all-encompassing media censorship is to promote a wholesome image of China to the outside world. Outside China, few really take its image-building seriously, and in my view it's entirely counterproductive.
But if China were to truly open up and allow free and accurate reporting, then this action would engender just that very respect it craves. Organisations such as Reporters Sans Frontiers are already campaigning for a boycott of Beijing 2008, and such a move would cock them a very large snook.
In a long opinion article in Comment is Free, Jonathan Watts is correct to state that 2008 is a make-or-break moment for China's international reputation - but the question is whether the authorities are sufficiently in tune with the perceptions and sensibilities of the outside world to capitalize upon the opportunity.
I'm not convinced, however, by Watt's assertion that the PRC really will be able fix Beijing's problems even for the short Olympics month. It may have the authority to demand everything of its citizens, but it still can't do magic:
A series of miracles will take place exactly two years from today in Beijing. The putrid yellow smog that usually cloaks the city will suddenly lift to reveal a glorious blue heaven. The thick traffic that almost permanently clogs the roads will dissolve for an entire fortnight. Quaint, dusty, brick-walled hutong alleyways will disappear behind awe-inspiring monuments to modern architecture. And, wonder of wonders, a proudly down-to-earth population of spitters and smokers will - at least temporarily - give up the habits of a lifetime.
It may sound outlandish, but this is not the prophesy of a deranged fortune-teller. It is the vision of Beijing's Olympic planners and I, for one, have no difficulty at all in believing it will come true.
One also wonders if there might be a little accident:
Far worse treatment is meted out to ethnic Chinese journalists and their sources. Ng Han Guan, an Associated Press photographer was clubbed and his camera smashed by plain-clothes security personnel when he took a picture of a colleague being manhandled by police after the Asian Cup final in 2004. BBC producer Bessie Du and cameraman Al Go were strip-searched by police after they visited a riot scene at Dingzhou village in Hebei province last summer. Fu Xiancai, a land rights activist, was left paralysed in June this year after a beating he received on the way home from a police station, where he had been warned for giving an interview to ARD, a German TV channel. Police say Fu broke his own neck.
What would happen, for example, if a Chinese-American reporter were to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? Would he be treated as a Chinese or as a foreigner? The average baton-wielding copper might not just twig the subtle difference until a couple of cracks around the head too late.
Furthermore, the Olympics has historically been a stage for political protests - for example the Black power salute at Mexico 1968. It wouldn't take much for an independent-minded medal-winner to take to the stage and reveal a 'Free Tibet' T-shirt, and any national body that were to ban or criticize such an action would draw considerable flak from the public and media.
At the end of the day, the ball is in Beijing's court:
Changes inside China today are so rapid that what seems outlandish today can sometimes be achieved tomorrow. Given the fact that the rules are already widely ignored, a permanent lifting of travel restrictions would cost the government very little, but the gains would be enormous. It would help to show that China is not just living up to global standards, it has ambitions to set them.
Change is not the kind of thing that can easily be reversed; if the party were to loosen its grip in 2008, it would be hard for it to go back to the way it was before.
Indeed, an Olympian task is looming. Read the article below, and see also this entry from the Tenement Palm (via Peking Duck).
Continue reading "Make or Break in 2008" »
Comment is free: The end of the beginning
Lots of observation but little analysis, punditry or general smart-arsery from Dan Plesch, associate at the SOAS IR school. However, he does agree with other commentators that current events are part of the big picture:
Both the Iranian and US governments regard the fighting in Lebanon and Israel as related to their own conflict. President Bush made the end of Iranian and Syrian support of Hizbullah a condition of any ceasefire, though he has since softened his stance at the UN. Condoleezza Rice remarked that "we do know that this is more than just Hizbullah in Lebanon. This is an extension of Iranian power through a proxy war."
Many useful links also provided. I disagree that this is the end of the beginning: I think that it is merely the middle of the beginning. But sooner or later, we'll be at the beginning of the middle.
Elizabeth Mills at Asia Times Online seems to think that the whole $200bn Gwadar port project could end up a massive disaster due to the security situation in Balochistan.
This could well be correct, but let's stand back for a moment and consider it from a strategic point of view. Gwadar is of great significance to the Pakistan-China-India nexus for a number of reasons:
The Pakistani government is positioning Gwadar as "an energy port and hub for storage and refining".
No country knows the strategic value of the port more than India, which is unsettled at the prospect of having at the very least a possible Chinese listening post so close to home and at worst a possible Chinese naval presence on the Indian Ocean.
And bear in mind the following:
Consider also the possibility that the security situation is now so poor in the area surrounding the port - and more widely in the surrounding province of Balochistan - that even the port's authorities are reportedly questioning whether the facility can become operational in the near term.
Couldn't Gwadar and Balochistan thus become the scene of a proxy conflict between China-Pakistan and India? It may already be so, with the Pakistani regime mainly propped up by the Chinese and its military supplied with Chinese weapons, while there have been accusations of India supplying arms to the Baloch.
Continue reading "The White Elephant of Gwadar?" »
Reports of the Baloch insurgency's demise appear to have been greatly exaggerrated.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Balochistan gas pipeline blown up
A spokesman for the Sui Southern Gas company said the pipeline was located some 350km (218 miles) south of the regional capital, Quetta.
Pipelines are targeted regularly in this gas-rich province where tribal groups are pushing for greater autonomy.
The attack will affect supplies to Karachi and areas of Balochistan.
The director of the gas company, Naeem Akhwand, told the BBC that major infrastructure consumers, like the Water and Power Development Authority, Karachi Electricity Supply Company and Pakistan Steel Mills would be affected by the attack.
The First Post : China: Africa’s new imperial power
There is ultimately no difference between having China mine your mineral wealth and having a Western nation do it. The African nations have the right to cosy up to whoever they want. Signing energy deals with China does not represent a pact with the Devil, and the effect of these deals on African nations is probably no more culturally and morally destructive than the relentless torrent of ill-directed aid money and the corruption that routinely follows close behind. It would certainly be better to have China manage your energy industry than have Simon Mann and Mark Thatcher do so. The Chinese, at least, will be there to stay, and in return for their vast profits will offer renovated infrastructure, skilled labour and technological advancement.
The Beeb's Paul Reynolds takes a brief and orderly look at what's at stake in the current round of Middle East crises (Lebanon invasion, Palestine troubles, Iraq violence, Iran's nukes). Summarized from my own point of view below, it's all (as always) about interests:
Israel - credibility, not only to its own people but to arch enemies in Iran and Syria. Let's be honest here: Hizbollah is a disruptive and lethal nuisance, but it is not a threat to Israel's very existence any more than al-Qaeda is capable of toppling the entire Western world and creating a global Islamic caliphate. We need to be reasonable, and looking at this from a distance it's as much about Israel than it is about the extremists.
Lebanon - continued progress towards true independence and democracy. Lebanon needs to remove all foreign influences from its borders, not just Iran's proxies Hizbollah. It succesfully ejected Syria from the political scene last year, but the current conflict could see them creep back in. Lebanon will surely want assurances from Israel that it will not occupy its territory or manipulate its government as it has done. For Lebanon, national survival truly is at stake.
Hizbollah - their survival is not in doubt, and in fact the situation could be manipulated to strengthen them further, whether via new recruitment or extra supplies via Iran and Syria. As with all terrorism, their objectives are nebulous to say the least, and the conflict has now gone way beyond the release of a few prisoners.
Iran - nothing less than regional hegemony. With instability everywhere, Iran is on the rise and it knows it. The nuclear issue is closely related to this and if the West does not deal with it effectively then Iran will stack its deck even more. It's a win-win situation for Tehran. Even if airstrikes do take out its nascent nuclear capability, such an action would rally support throughout the region, not to mention the wider Dar-el-Islam (despite Iran's minority Shia faith).
Syria - in a sense is caught between a rock and a hard place. It would like to regain influence but may be relegated to the position of a junior partner to Iran in all this.
Palestine - also caught in a tricky situation. Israel's recent withdrawal from the Gaza strip and the election of Hamas have made a volatile situation even more delicate: the best the Palestinians should hope for is that the status quo remains and a deal can be brokered regarding the West Bank too. Unfortunately, the actions of Hizbollah and Iran reflect indirectly on Palestine too and they could end up victims of others' bravado.
United States - despite the plummeting credibility of this administration, it still clings to the dream of spreading democracy in the Middle East. Yet the lack of assistance to Lebanon and Palestine shows the qualified nature of this doctrine, since both of these entities are weak but de facto democracies that conceivably could become an alternative to the Iran-Syria-Hizbollah nexus. However, in order to retain credibility at home and abroad, the US is obliged to stand by Israel and its own War on Terror strategy, which is now leading it into a blind alley. The oil factor mustn't be forgotten either, since a more powerful Iran means more expensive oil and ultimately a poorer American economy. And what America does in the Levant also affects its standing in Iraq, and vice versa. It has to be seen to be strong and fair more than any other state.
Europe - Tony Blair looks increasingly ineffectual, while France is one of the few nations to have come of this smelling of roses. The weakened Blair will eventually bow down, and France will resume its authoritative position in the EU just as it has always wanted. However, as the Middle East situation drags on, the overall schism in the EU might grow even wider.
Russia and China - both will be watching very closely to see who ends up as the final victor in the battle for Middle East hegemony - the US via Israel or Iran. Both will probably be counting on Iran. If the Middle East should slide towards the Islamists, Russia would profit from the better energy security it can offer Europe as an alternative to the Mullahs, while China will be able to access Middle East energy more safely through its influence over Iran.
United Nations - make or break. Probably the very last chance the UN has to demonstrate its relevance and credibility, before it is either crippled or dissolved.
That's my two-pennorth. Original report below. See also the Winds of War briefing and also at at Security Watchtower.
Continue reading "A Tangled Web" »
BBC NEWS | Middle East | Stressed out and anxious in Beirut
Many Lebanese readily agree that Hezbollah gravely miscalculated when they captured those two Israeli soldiers on 12 July - but now they go on to say: "We were never Hezbollah. But we are all Hezbollah now. The Israeli response is completely unjustified."
I have met some who curse Hezbollah, and who say the Israeli bombardment is understandable. Some, but not many.
And I don't think "But we are all Hezbollah now" is just talk. The more Israel destroys, the more supporters Hezbollah will be able to recruit.
We're all going to die. I make it 2012, when China gets involved, but I'm sure other people have other predictions.
There are also those, for example Emma Brockes in The Guardian, just feel enveloped by gloom:
One night last week, the main item on the 10'clock news was Israel sending troops into Lebanon. It was accompanied by footage of tanks throwing up dust and people crawling out of bomb damaged housing. The second item was news of three British soldiers being killed in an ambush in southern Afghanistan and nine hundred more British troops being committed to the region, bringing the total to 4,500. The third item was that Corporal Matthew Cornish, a 29-year-old British soldier, husband and father of two young children, had died in a mortar attack in Basra, bringing the total number of deaths in Iraq that day to 60, which the reporter pointed out was slightly below average, and the death toll over the past two months to nearly 6,000.
At this stage, the shelf starts to buckle. Embedded in these stories was speculation about Iran's nuclear threat, a reminder that Gaza is still under siege, analysis of Tony Blair's fallout with his cabinet and footage of his joint press conference with George Bush, which when it was shown the first time round - Blair frowning powerfully, Bush sinisterly jocular - was a tipping point into despair for lots of people. The final item on the news that evening couldn't have been more symbolic if it had shown the ravens leaving the Tower of London. Fidel Castro, the one constant in all our lives, was on the blink. That's when I reached for the phone and -
OK, in seriousness, a number of small-to-medium wars at the same time is nothing new, but their interconnectedness is what is disturbing - oil, Islamic extremism, anti-Americanism/Israelism/Westernism, the environment (Emma Brockes forgets to mention the recent incredible heatwave, the latest in a veritable spate of them), the rise of India and China and the massive drain on resources this entails etc. etc..
The question is when will these reach critical mass?
Original article below.
Continue reading "Omens of a Second Coming?" »
The Economist dares to say it in this week's leader - this is not just a war between Israel and Hizbollah, or even Israel and Iran, but between American and Iran. And while we're at it, let's tie in Iraq and the US strategy to spread 'freedom and democracy' in the Middle East:
That makes it much harder to resolve, not least because the superpower, so far from being a mediator, is in effect a protagonist, competing with Iran for domination of the post-Saddam Middle East, and to some extent tempted in this war to use Israel as a proxy.
And not forgetting the 'War on Terror' too:
Even al-Qaeda, which detests Shias and murders them in Iraq, has felt obliged this week to join the fray. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, popped up from his cave to say that Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine were now just one seamless front of warfare between Islam and the Jews and crusaders.
Fantastic. The whole thing is now not lots of small disasters but one big mess that crosses the entire region. Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, the Taliban, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Hamas, Hizbollah... everything is connected.
But the current US administration, not to mention the terminally weakened Tony Blair, basically doesn't have the intellectual or moral stature to do anything about it it:
One idea gathering pace among some American foreign-policy realists—in opposition to the neoconservatives—such as Henry Kissinger is to seize this opportunity to bring about the “grand bargain” that has been mooted for years between America and Iran. Since all the region's quarrels—Iran's bomb, Iraq's future, the isolation of Syria, the Hizbullah state inside Lebanon and the unrequited cause of the Palestinians—are interlinked, why not think now about starting to sort out the lot of them?
It certainly would not hurt, after a week in which the Security Council has again told Iran to stop enriching uranium, for America to emphasise again the political and economic benefits Iran stands to gain by complying with this demand. America and Iran must talk. All the same, a bargain this grandiose may be beyond the reach of even the most creative diplomacy.
The Economist concludes by stating the obvious - that at the rotten core of this there is one big infection. It's the Israel-Palestine conflict:
In the end, it is only Israel that can give the Palestinians their state, and only the Palestinians can give Israel the legitimacy it craves in the Middle East. In a region of conflict, it is these two peoples whose interests coincide most closely. Solving that problem remains the best of all ways to promote a wider peace.
Idealistic as this sounds, it is of course absolutely correct. My solution (I know no-one asked me) would be this. A temporary ceasefire agreement is brokered and is backed by massive international force.
The first side to breach the ceasefire - whether Palestine or Israel - is completely cut off by the international community. If the ceasefire isbreached a second time, the international force hits them with everything they've got. It's not pretty, but if it can get this problem nearer to a solution then everything else will eventually follow.
Continue reading "A Proxy War" »
Useful summary of links and information on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.
...only makes me stronger, and since the likelihood of Hizbollah being wiped out by the weekend looks remote then this is the situation that Israel and the US may have to face.
Far from being annihilated by the continued offensive, yesterday Hizbollah fired 230 rockets into Israeli territory, though causing relatively little damage or loss of life.
This is the ultimate, then, in asymmetric warfare - the deaths of 19 Israelis so far has brought the deaths of 900 Lebanese. Perhaps 3,000 are injured and hundreds of thousands are on the move. There is no symmetry in that at all.
What next? Asia Times' reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, who claims to be the first into the Baalbek area (which is next on the Israeli target list), managed to speak to a Hizbollah fighter who indicated that there could be grave strategic implications to the current round of fighting:
Further Israeli attacks in the Baalbek area, though, throw the shadow of war directly over Syria. Baalbek and the Eastern Mountains are the main supply lines of the Lebanese resistance from Syria, which would be very concerned about the Israeli military operating just across its border.
Similarly, this area is a virtual outpost of the Iranian revolution. Each and every village square and the walls are decorated with portraits or posters of Iranian revolutionary leaders. All major hospitals, shopping malls and education centers are named after Iranian clerics and leaders and run by Hezbollah.
Thus the next few days will be crucial, as the Baalbek area is not only the strategic capital of Hezbollah, it is also a strategic back yard of Syria and Iran.
The Economist would appear to agree. It is now reporting that this 'Sixth War' (the embryonic conflict has yet to attain a recognizable name), far from breaking the grip opf Hizbollah is the best thing that's happened to Islamist extremism since 9/11:
Increasingly, this conflict has come to be seen by the combatants as one of survival. For Hizbullah, the aim is not just to bloody the nose of a more powerful adversary but to thwart the perceived evil intention of Israel’s staunchest backer, the United States, to dominate the region.
This notion of a wider dimension has taken hold around the region. To many it is a proxy war between Hizbullah’s main sponsor, Iran, and America. But it may also herald the re-emergence, after a decades-long trend among Israel’s neighbours to accommodate the Jewish state, of a broad rejectionist front, this time inspired by pan-Islamist feeling rather than the pan-Arab nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s.
So far, so bad then. Not only this war it making heroes of Hizbollah, not only is it dragging down the international image of the US, UK and Israel axis of denial, but it is even diminishing the status of the friendly Muslim states:
“May God inflict on the children of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia what He has inflicted on the children of Lebanon,” said a placard brandished by a protester in Beirut, pointing to America’s closest Arab allies as complicit, by virtue of silence and inaction, in Israel’s crime.
So the King of Jordan, for example, has had to step off the fence and condemn the war. As ever a voice of reason, he recognises that it has weakened his own moderate stance and further reinforced the extremists. President Mubarak of Egypt now faces daily demonstrations that threaten to reduce his own legitimacy and will have to act too.
Should either of these leaders fall Shah-of-Iran style, unlikely as it is, then we truly will be up to our necks in it. And it does look like times running out for Lebanon's elected and moderate leader too:
Lebanon’s shaky coalition government, hamstrung by sectarianism, has been weakened by its physical impotence in the face of Israel’s onslaught and by its failure to win diplomatic support for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. Many think the prime minister, Fouad Siniora, brave and capable but doomed by too close an association with the West. Even if Hizbullah emerges militarily weaker, it may become more popular and more extreme, empowering those who now condemn Mr Siniora and his allies as traitors.
Only a year ago, after the assasination of his predecessor and the ejection of Syria from Lebanese affairs, Siniora was the great hope for democracy in the Middle East. Now look at him. What happened to the ideal that democracies don't go to war with each other - since this is looking more like a war on Lebanon rather than a war on Hizbollah?
The saddest thing is that, just like the Iraq war, it was so predictable. You don't need a doctorate in strategic studies to understand that bombarding a light guerilla movement like Hizbollah with conventional force is going to be ineffective. It was blatently obvious that the civilian population was not going to turn against them, as was hoped, but would turn against Israel and their own government - and would gain the support of Islamists across the world.
Yet Olmert, Bush and Blair could not be persuaded - even though they'd seen exactly the same thing happen in Iraq. All three need now to be removed before this current crisis expands to swallow us all.
Economist report below.
Continue reading "What Does Not Kill Me..." »
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China hit by rising air pollution
Last week, the Associated Press news agency reported that researchers on the west coast of the US were monitoring the impact of pollution from China.
The report said that the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that on certain days nearly 25% of pollution in the skies above Los Angeles could be traced to China.
Mr Li dismissed the claims and said further study was required.
"Those reports saying 25% of pollution in Los Angles comes from China are not objective and are irresponsible and the conclusion is also doubtful," he said.
Of course. Anything that doesn't come from China can't be objective, can it?
What's going on in the Middle East is a perfect example of the interconnectedness of various actors and issues. On 31 July, the UNSC finally got together and ordered Iran to close down its nuclear programme. What are the implications?
Well, The Economist takes a look at this from the viewpoint of how it affects the Lebanon crisis. Basically, while Iran needs to be confronted in some fashion, Syria ought to be engaged and the nexus thus broken somehow.
Asia Times Online's perspective is more detailed still. The author, an acknowledged Iran expert, looks at a number of different scenarios, the first being a relative victory for Israel.
I'm not clear how a Hizbollah defeat would threaten Iran directly, but this is what some are thinking (or want others to think):
...there are strong voices of concern within Iran's ruling establishment, some claiming the war in Lebanon as a victory for Israel, with serious negative ramifications for Iran's "national security and even her territorial sovereignty", to quote Ali Montaseri, an Iranian penning in Baztab.com, a website closely linked to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
It's a matter of credibility more than territorial integrity, I believe. Syria also comes into the equation. Here's the key paragraph:
Whereas a stalemate or even quagmire may benefit Iran's position with respect to the nuclear crisis, the obverse possibility of Hezbollah's substantial weakening, not to mention the squeeze on Damascus, will translate into a more vulnerable Iran confronted with the distinct possibility that Phase 1 of a multi-stage conflict with the US and Israel has already started in Lebanon and Gaza.
There's no concrete conclusions on the main questions: Will Iran cut Hezbollah loose and stay out of it? What will it do about the threat of sanctions? These will only be answered after more time unfolds. But at least we know when D-Day is going to be - 31 August. Watch this space.
Continue reading "The Iran Question" »
Compare and contrast these two reports, one from the Financial Times, the other from the China Daily:
Franklin Lavin, undersecretary for international trade at the US Department of Commerce, highlighted the “good news” of rapidly expanding US exports to China but struck a cautionary note on Beijing's approach to investment and standards.
“There is also ... potential for policy drift, which we would not view as helpful, a policy drift towards the direction of economic nationalism and interventionism,” Mr Lavin told a briefing.
Referring to counterfeiting in China, Lavin told reporters in the motor shop on Saturday that the Chinese Government is taking many effective measures on intellectual property rights (IPR) this year and "we are working closely" to resolve the issue.
Almost as if there were two different visits. Even better, take a look at an earlier story from China Daily:
Lavin will be discussing limits to U.S. businesses and services in China, among the barriers he said that help create the damaging perception in America that China doesn't play fair...
"If the Chinese market is perceived as unfair, if it's perceived as closed and we have a substantial trade deficit, these two factors together can feed an anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, which I feel is unhealthy for both countries," Lavin said.
I'm saying nothing new about media manipulation in China here, and it may well be that edgier Chinese-language publications such as Cai Jing have a more objective view that the government-issue toilet paper.
It's just that the nationalistic tone of the China Daily highlights the precise concerns of the Financial Times that China is indeed not playing fair. And with no WTO legitimacy to enforce true liberalisation, what can we expect?
Financial Times story below.
Continue reading "Same Man, Different Story" »
Battleground Balochistan - HindustanTimes.com
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Tariq Azeem levelled this charge at a joint press conference with Major General Shaukat Sultan, the director-general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
"The weapons recovered from miscreants in Balochistan are sophisticated, expensive and modern, which is a strong indication of involvement of a foreign hand," The News quoted him as telling the media.
He did not initially name India. What began as an innuendo about a "foreign hand" became a direct reference to New Delhi when pressed by reporters.
He said: "Everyone knows why India has opened its consulates in Afghanistan near Pakistani borders.
India could be in a better position to explain the reasons for opening of consulates in Afghanistan near Pakistani borders."