The Year Ahead
Well, it's that time again - as the year 2007 draws to a close, we look to the future. And one thing is for sure: the primary foci of this weblog, Pakistan and China, were hardly out of the news this year and won't be in 2008 either.
For China especially, 2008 is the crunch year. The Olympics have acquired a kind of existential significance, and their success or failure have become intertwined with China's contemporary sense of its national identity.
Unfortunately, I can't see the games being the resounding success that the CCP hopes for. Chinese athletes will probably haul in the most medals, but with the enormous pressures upon them there will inevitably be doping scandals. Other athletes will scorn the terrible pollution; tourists will be messed about, pushed, shoved and spat around (most Beijingers will behave admirably, but it'll still be the negatives that get remembered); and journalists will lament the restrictions on free reporting. Few Chinese yet realise how things will be perceived, and it will come as a shock.
Most of all, this most political of sporting events will inevitably be deeply politicised. There will be incidents: medal-winners standing up for Tibet, Taiwanese declarations, perhaps even Uyghur violence. Expect 888 to be a very interesting moment in the definition of the new China.
Turning to Russia, there Putin will remain in control, despite the appointment of a new president in Medvedev - little more than a deputy, really, But I have confidence in Putin: he is not stupid, and will not wish relations with the EU and NATO to deteriorate further. Things were getting silly, what with all this missile defence rubbish, not to mention Litvinenko and Lugovoi, and in 2008 Russia will attempt to repair some of the damage - though not with Britain, who will be the main losers.
Meanwhile, it will be a period of reflection for the EU itself, as the member states attempt to digest the implications of the Lisbon Treaty. Expect at least one ratification to fail.
There is at least reason to positive about the Middle East. Iraq has calmed in 2007, though of course it's not the end by any stretch of the imagination. We are also thankfully unlikely to see action against Iran either. Bush desperately needs a positive legacy to speak of, so with elections in full swing at home he and his cronies may attempt at least to broker a compromise solution. Does he have what it takes? We shall see.
But there are clearly going to be fireworks in Pakistan. Far too early to tell how things will pan out, but it probably won't be good. This writer is already predicting a Balkanisation of the country: that may be going too far, but with the conflicts in NWFP and Balochistan likely to gain pace as society fractures after the elections then the prospects for stability are low. Great map too - worth examining to see what it suggests about Iran and Iraq and all
It is almost certainly the end of the road for Musharraf, and with Bhutto gone there will be a power vacuum. Power vacuums mean conflict, as we have seen in Iraq. But the West and India have meddled enough in Pakistan - it is up to them.