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...but in battalions.
A brace of articles on the Pakistan-Afghanistan al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus from Asia Times. Prospects of a 'united front' against Musharraf are particularly disturbing, since if Pakistan falls to a Taliban-style revolution or civil war, then the US, India and China may come to blows over what to do about it. And scary things are happening, such as a plague of child bombers. (Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Suicide attackers with nothing to lose)
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Another stiff test for Musharraf
KARACHI - From the mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas to the capital Islamabad and up to the insurgent coastal belt of Balochistan province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, pan-Islamists are developing a united front ultimately to take on the West and its allies in the region.
The immediate target, though, is the administration of West-leaning President General Pervez Musharraf. Islamists of all hues are coming together. These include those believing in tribal traditions (the Islamic Emirates of the Waziristans and the Taliban of Afghanistan); global jihadis (al-Qaeda), proponents of Islamic democracy (the Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan and the newly organized United Islamic Front of Afghanistan), and madrassas (seminaries) led by the Lal Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad).
These groups plan to join hands next Tuesday in a mass sit-in protest in Islamabad against Musharraf.
Here is the author's assessment on Musharraf's options:
Musharraf has few choices. He can continue the impossible fight against Islamists, at the behest of Western forces, all the way from the mountains of the Waziristans to the southern port city of Karachi and the deep seas of Gwadar, or switch sides and make a major compromise that could eventually support the emergence of a green crescent in Southwest Asia.
The wily Musharraf, though, has survived many challenges to his rule since taking power in a coup in 1999.
The final article deals with the newly-joined battle in NWFP. Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan crosses a dangerous boundary
Comprehensive analysis of Gwadar from Pakistani point of view.
The News - International
Just when I thought I had the most terribly original thesis topic, The Economist goes and hijacks it - even the title. At least it shows I'm onto something.
It's impossible to disconnect the whole India-Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus, partly because Pakistan is a very artificially-constructed nation and Afghanistan has never really been a natural state at all. It's all very complex, with India close to Afghanistan and meddling in Pakistan's internal conflicts, yet needing Pakistan on side for the pipeline projects. And with China and the US thrown into the mix, the geopolitical implications could be immense.
India and Afghanistan | The Great Game revisited | Economist.com
India has an obvious interest in a stable Afghanistan. It hopes the country will one day accommodate transmission lines bringing electricity from Central Asia, as well as a pipeline for oil and gas from the region. There are two competing gas-pipeline projects: “TAPI”, running from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and on to India; and another from Iran through Pakistan to India. Instability in Afghanistan is a big impediment to the first, but America opposes the second. For now, Pakistan refuses to allow Indian goods to cross its territory. But India also hankers after direct trade routes with Central Asia.
A Chinese-Pakistani joint-venture port at Gwadar in Baluchistan, which had its ceremonial opening this week, is matched by an Iranian-Indian venture to develop the “free port” at Chabahar in the Gulf of Oman. Both would require road links across Afghan territory. Indian engineers are currently connecting Afghanistan's ring road to the Iranian border. The Indian press blamed the abduction and killing in 2006 of an Indian engineer working on the project on Pakistani intelligence, after the Taliban denied involvement.
Pakistan would also benefit from Afghanistan's becoming the land bridge between India and Central Asia. But until a final resolution of its dispute with India, its calculations will be more cynical. Afghanistan is no longer, as it was under Taliban rule, a client of Pakistan. But “an unstable Afghanistan is the second-best option to a stable one ruled by your friends,” says Mr Rubin. “Both are certainly preferable to an Afghanistan ruled by your enemies.”
Iran's nuclear shenanigans have wider repercussions for near neighbours such as India, which may find itself in a diplomatic confrontation with the US.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - India grapples with energy issues
A prominent US legislator, Congressman Tom Lantos, who is head of the House of Representatives' Committee on International Relations, has introduced a bill that, if passed, will ensure that India and Pakistan are not able to proceed with their gas pipeline connecting to Iran.
The legislation, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, seeks to target companies investing in Iran's energy sector by ensuring that deals with Iran worth more than $20 million will bring the investors under US sanctions.
According to reports, the US government has been quietly warning foreign energy companies, including Europe's Shell and Repsol and Malaysia's SKS, as well as the governments of China, India, Pakistan and Malaysia, that penalties are possible if they pursue energy deals with Iran.
Also worth noting is the concept of a 'South Asian Energy Ring':
The SAARC, for which energy is a very high priority for cooperation, comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Key SAARC nation Pakistan has welcomed the energy-ring concept. Amanullah Khan Jadoon, minister for petroleum and natural resources, said Pakistan is a strong advocate of energy cooperation in South Asia.
Bob Hope and no hope, and I believe that Bob Hope is no longer available for USO performances in any case. But seriously, the idea of a 'military hotline' from Washington to Beijing is reminiscent of Cold War thinking. Could the US be implicitly acknowledging a bipolar structure and China's counter-hegemonic status?
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | US urges China military openness
"You don't have to agree or disagree with any particular country's objective," he continued, "but it's very helpful to understand what those objectives are and why they're going in that direction."
He said he urged Beijing to be more open about its military budget.
All you need to know.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan port opens new possibilities
Some analysts see an operational Gwadar port as China's first foothold in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as providing road and rail links to the economic powerhouse. Beijing wants Gwadar to be the gateway port for its western region, as its eastern seaboard is 3,500km from Kashgar, the main city in the far west of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, whereas the distance from Kashgar to Gwadar is only 1,500km. This makes it feasible and cost-effective for China's interior regions to carry out trade through this port. That is why China expressed interest in helping Pakistan to develop Gwadar into a full-fledged deepwater commercial port, capable of handling cargo ships of up to 50,000 tons or more.
Energy-hungry China is eyeing Central Asia's oil and gas reserves and is increasingly looking to Pakistan for oil and gas supplies. Beijing plans to run at least five oil and gas pipelines to Gwadar from the Central Asian republics and wants to turn the facility into a transit terminal for Iranian and African crude-oil imports.
Gwadar is expected to play a key role in China's energy security, as its strategic location gives it greater scope as a free oil port in the region, and it will be the endpoint of all gas pipelines from Central Asian states, Iran and Qatar. Pakistan and China have also held talks on the construction of the strategic pipeline from Gwadar to China's borders, enabling it to import oil from Saudi Arabia.
What to do? Protestors on the streets, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighting it out, not to mention America's Afghanistan war and a possible attack on Iran. Not a happy opening for Gwadar, was it?
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Shaky Musharraf holds only the military card
Musharraf has dismissed the idea of declaring an emergency or deploying the army, despite the fact that all armed-forces intelligence agencies have reported the failure of the civilian administration and the police to handle the protests. The agencies say that probably the only way to contain the protests would be the deployment in sizable numbers of paramilitary forces such as the Pakistan Rangers.
The crisis is being compounded by other developments. According to latest reports, the Pakistani Taliban have seized control of settled areas such as Tank in North West Frontier Province, and the leader of the Awami National Party, Isfandyar Wali, revealed on television that the Taliban now control Frontier Region (FR) Kohat, just 15 kilometers from the provincial capital, Peshawar. "I am constantly saying that Taliban are very rapidly getting powerful in the North West Frontier Province, but nobody is listening to me," said Wali...
The crisis has thus severely eroded the credibility of the Musharraf government, and when the dust settles, both he and the military will find themselves on shaky ground.
Compounding the situation are regional developments. The Taliban are about to launch an offensive in Afghanistan, and a US attack on Iran is not out of the question. These events could propel stronger Iraqi resistance to the US-led occupation there, and set shock waves in motion from Pakistan to Israel. As a major US ally in a region where anti-US forces are calling the shots, any weakening of the Pakistani leadership would have far-reaching ramifications.
It would seem that the military card is the only one Musharraf has left to play. He is truly between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Pervez Musharraf's sincere thanks to the Chinese FM.
Associated Press of Pakistan - Chinese assistance helped realize dream of Gwadar Port: President
General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday said the dream of the Gwadar Port was realized with China’s assistance and said its continued involvement will help in further improvement of the facilities and infrastructure at the country’s first deep-sea port.Talking to Chinese Minister for Communication Li Shen, the President said the two countries enjoy an all weather and strategic partnership that will continue to grow for the mutual benefit of the two people.
He said there was a need for greater long term involvement between the two countries to make the Port an important Container and Energy hub for the region.
The Chinese Minister said that with the completion of the second phase, the Gwadar Port will be able to handle the world’s biggest ships and more infrastructure can be added to enable it to serve as an energy hub for the region.
Today would be a good day to attack Gwadar, and the authorities know it.
Reuters AlertNet - Pakistan steps up security ahead of port opening
GWADAR, Pakistan, March 19 (Reuters) - Pakistan tightened security around a coastal town in Baluchistan province on Monday, a day before the opening of a port authorities hope will bring prosperity to the remote and troubled region.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is due to open the Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea on Tuesday along with Chinese Minister of Communications Li Shenglin.
China financed 80 percent of the initial development costs of the $248 million project in Baluchistan province, 70 km (45 miles) east of the Iranian border and on the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes.
Thousands of soldiers and policemen guarded the coast and roads to the port on Monday while fishermen were told to stay well clear.
It could well be a slip of the pen, but note the writer's words here. Pakistan's FM is pushing for the Karakoram pipeline as a "contingency plan". Contingency for what, exactly? And it shows the pipeline is still very much on the table.
Pak bends over backwards for Beijing, offers oil backup-Rest of World-World-NEWS-The Times of India
BEIJING: Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, on Monday offered to build oil reservoirs and lay gas pipelines in his country's territory across the Chinese border to help Beijing prepare a contingency plan.
Kasuri, who is here on a four-day trip, is pushing Beijing to set up an energy corridor linking the Chinese-built Gwadar port in Pakistan to western China.
The Gwadar port in Baluchistan, located at the entrance of the Gulf and about 460 km west of Karachi, is due to be opened on Tuesday.
It will be operated by the Port of Singapore Authority, which has obtained a 40-year contract to run it.
"The most important thing is the trust that exists between China and Pakistan. The energy corridor will pass through a friendly country, which will be a big advantage for China,"Kasuri said in an interview to the official media in Beijing.
Probably too early to pass judgment on the current situation, but many commentators are calling the protests about the sacking of a prominent judge the biggest challenge yet to Musharraf's authority. It looks like he has made a serious miscalculation here, which is not a terribly good idea in what is supposed to be an 'election year'.
On the other hand, at least the anti-government protest groups appear to represent elements of civil society, a far more positive sign than bands of Islamists on the streets.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Blood and batons spur Pakistan row
A simple constitutional matter of referring the country's most senior judge to be investigated by the appropriate judicial body is getting bigger, nastier, and potentially more dangerous for the present government by the day. And it would appear that it is a problem of the government's own making.
Essentially, a few hundred lawyers in half a dozen cities was all the opposition amounted to in the beginning.
If they had been allowed to shout slogans and wave their fists in front of courts, that would probably have been the end of the matter.
But local administrations chose to pit their police forces against the protesting lawyers. Bloody scenes in Lahore last Monday unified the lawyers like never before and hardened their stance.
They have taken to the streets again on Saturday. And the police have got their batons out. Result? More blood being spilt, more publicity.
Anyone would think China has a policy of encirclement...
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - China moves into India's back yard
China is all set to drop anchor at India's southern doorstep. An agreement has been finalized between Sri Lanka and China under which the latter will participate in the development of a port project at Hambantota on the island's south coast.
An agreement on the Hambantota project was among eight that were signed during Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's recent visit to China. Even as the Sri Lankans were finalizing the deal with the Chinese, they clinched an agreement with the Americans. In Colombo, officials reached agreement on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US.
The agreements come at a time when India is already watching with concern the growing Pakistani influence in Sri Lanka.
The Hambantota Development Zone, which the Chinese will help build, will include a container port, a bunkering system, an oil refinery, an airport and other facilities. It is expected to cost about US$1 billion and the Chinese are said to be financing more than 85% of the project.
The Economist is jolly excited about a new law being passed on private property rights. In fact, the law is merely a rubber stamp on what is already going on (in China these days, they tend to make the laws to suit conditions rather than try to shape conditions to suit the laws - a much better system if you ask me.)
It's yet another sign that the Party really ought drop the word 'Communist' once and far all.
Governing China | Caught between right and left, town and country | Economist.com
Many of the law's provisions are contained in other regulations issued in recent years. But supporters of the bill say that combining these elements into one law enacted by the country's top legislature would give them additional weight. Yin Tian of Peking University says the law will be a mark of the government's respect for private property and could help to reinforce social stability by reducing disputes. The draft tries to streamline the registration of property sales and make it easier for interested parties to check details. The difficulty buyers have in getting such information results in frequent ownership wrangles after deals are completed.
Farmers, whose main concern relates to land-ownership rights, would also have something to gain. The good news is that the latest draft, unlike the 2005 version, gives farmers the right to renew their land-use leases after they expire. Unlike urban land, which is state-owned with usage rights granted for periods of between 40 and 70 years, rural land is “collectively” owned. Farmers are given 30-year leases (though often no supporting documents) to use plots of land. But the law will put no new limits on the government's powers to appropriate land. It also says that village committees represent the collective. These are supposedly democratically elected but party regulations still give unelected party chiefs the final say over village affairs. Most important, the ban on mortgaging farmland will remain.
During 2000, Peter Howard was my boss at Jane's Navy International, and I couldn't have asked for a better editor and mentor in my early years. He will be missed.
His family's nominated charities are The British Lung Foundation and The Gurkha Welfare Trust, and donations would be appreciated.
Peter's obituary from The Times reprinted below.
Continue reading "Goodbye, Peter" »
Not one but two articles in today's Asia Times highlight the difficult geopolitical position of Pakistan, sandwiched as it is between both Iran and Afghanistan.
In the first, the author notes that the Balochistan issue is a common problem for Iran and Pakistan, while not forgetting that Iran is in truth a more fractured society than it would appear. Morover, the IPI pipeline gets into it too. How the US will deal with this is anyone's guess:
The moot point is to what extent Musharraf is willingly cooperating with US regional policy against Iran. He is skating on thin ice. He may endear himself to Washington as a brave leader in the Muslim world, but Pakistani public opinion is averse to serving the US agenda over Iran. This contradiction is fraught with dangers. It can only further accentuate Musharraf's isolation within Pakistan and add to the country's overall political uncertainties.
Washington could be miscalculating that only the Shi'ites in Sunni-dominated Pakistan will feel alienated by Musharraf's unfriendly attitude toward Tehran. The fact is, in emotive terms, the average Pakistani citizen is bound to view US hostility toward Iran as yet another instance of Washington's "crusade" against the Islamic world.
But Washington, on its part, can draw satisfaction that it is killing two birds with one stone. It may become difficult to advance the Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project when a thick cloud of distrust threatens to engulf Pakistan-Iran relations.
Musharraf's problems do not end there, with the US and NATO now threatening to extend the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan's NWFP:
"It was not an option for Pakistan to carry out any operations on its own, as Washington has completely shown its mistrust in Pakistan's ability to conduct any credible military operations against militant hideouts," a top security official told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "There was only one demand: that Pakistan allow NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] troops the right of hot pursuit of al-Qaeda in Pakistani territory, or NATO would force its own way in."
Will they really go in 'hot pursuit' of al-Qaeda and the Taliban across the Durand Line? To do so could well further destabilise an already shaky Islamabad. It just goes to show that the GWOT, energy and the nexus of world instability (what I may begin to call the Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan or IPA triangle) are intimately connected.
A military spending rise of... er... American proportions.
Asian arms race fear as Beijing raises spending | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
"In recent years, China has steadily increased defence spending based on its economic development," Mr Jiang said. "China has neither the wherewithal nor the intention to enter into an arms race with any country, and China won't constitute a threat to any country."
Yes, thanks for that, Mr Jiang. But China's economy is going up by 10% a year, not 17.8%, the amount of the spending increase. And we all know that in reality it's much more.
Such assurances are unlikely to convince its near neighbours Japan and India. Both countries have increased their defence budgets in what is increasingly looking like an Asian arms race.
In the short term, however, it is Taiwan that has the most to fear from a Chinese military build-up. The island is viewed in Beijing as a renegade province. Hundreds of missiles are aimed across the strait and communist leaders have repeatedly warned that they are prepared to reunite the two sides by force if necessary.
I'd say they've got five years.
Ironic. To all intents and purposes, the Pakistani government and ISI created and armed the Taliban in the 1990s. Now the beast is biting the hand that fed it.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Taleban spread wings in Pakistan
Some in NWFP say the Pakistani military establishment has deliberately allowed the Taleban to expand their area of influence.
This, they say, provides the government with the argument that the Taleban phenomenon is a spontaneous development which is difficult to control in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.
NWFP Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai seemed to be arguing this way when he told journalists last month that the Taleban movement was "developing into some sort of a nationalist movement, a sort of liberation war against coalition forces".
But senior administration officials in Peshawar say the government is not colluding with Taleban.
Instead, they say, the government simply lacks the capacity to counter an increasingly aggressive Taleban force both on the border with Afghanistan, and in the provincially-administered Frontier Regions (FRs), those areas that separate the border tribal regions from NWFP.
Could it get any more geopolitical? In the space of two paragraphs, we basically drag in everything that's going on in the region and join the dots. All we need now is some Kiplingesque figure with a peg leg and a name that rhymes...
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban
One-legged Mullah Dadullah will be Pakistan's strongman in a corridor running from the Afghan provinces of Zabul, Urzgan, Kandahar and Helmand across the border into Pakistan's Balochistan province, according to both Taliban and al-Qaeda contacts Asia Times Online spoke to. Using Pakistani territory and with Islamabad's support, the Taliban will be able safely to move men, weapons and supplies into southwestern Afghanistan.
The deal with Mullah Dadullah will serve Pakistan's interests in re- establishing a strong foothold in Afghanistan (the government in Kabul leans much more toward India), and it has resulted in a cooling of the Taliban's relations with al-Qaeda.