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Challenges & Responses to Conflictual Politics

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The writer is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Development Studies at the University ...
UN Security Council vote on Syria, February 4 (Source: AP The failure of a recent UN ...
STOCKHOLM AMERICA’S stated goal is to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. The United ...
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The president is far more vulnerable than he thinks on foreign policy. In an American election ...
    Members of the Free Syrian Army set up a fire to obscure Kurdish militants' vision ...
The histories of many lands have repeatedly demonstrated two patterns in the relationship of extremism ...
In that last few years there have been numerous mass demonstrations which lead to changes ...
  Pakistan's military said Afghan and U.S. forces have failed to take action against a Taliban ...

Archive for February, 2012

Syria’s Assad: What Do I Do Now?-Moisés Naím

Posted by admin On February - 28 - 2012 Comments Off on Syria’s Assad: What Do I Do Now?-Moisés Naím


This must be the question that the Syrian tyrant asks himself every day. While the world’s democracies have discussed long and hard the options for bringing a stop to the slaughter, far less time has been spent identifying the options that remain for Assad himself. I imagine him contemplating his possibilities while he looks at two photographs taken last year. One of his lovely wife Asma in a flattering report that appeared in Vogue magazine, and the other of the dead body of Muammar Gaddafi. The first reminds him of a life and alternatives that he no longer has, while the second brutally illustrates his possible future. The hope, symbolized by Vogue’s flattering article, that Assad might be able to reform the murderous dictatorship he inherited from his father, is now gone forever. The thousands of innocent people he has killed put an end to that. In which case, what possibilities remain? I see three:


Subscribe1. Kill. Assad can continue, as he has up until now, to kill rebels, protesters and their families. This is what Gaddafi tried to do. The Libyan leader was stopped by NATO, but Assad knows that the Western powers will not go to war in Syria.

And each time they toughen the sanctions, he steps up the killing. But he also knows that repression by itself offers no way out, and that he cannot maintain it indefinitely. Too many countries are arming and supporting the rebels, who grow in numbers daily. At any moment, an important faction within the armed forces could turn on him, as could China and Russia. So, killing may continue but it is not the way out of his dire situation. Something else needs to happen.

2. Negotiate. The problem is, who with? The opposition is an ever-changing amalgam of different groups whose only commonality is their total commitment to getting rid of Assad. He could try talking to the outside world: the UN; the Arab League; the European Union; the United States… In return for international mediation Assad could promise to implement a series of political reforms that would involve giving up part of his power. But it would be naïve to imagine that the outside world would believe him and that they would not impose stringent demands and guarantees. What’s more, not even Assad himself believes this is an option anymore. He knows that giving up a little power means significantly increasing the likelihood of losing it all (see Hosni Mubarak). Gaddafi’s stubborn refusal to make concessions was based on the same understanding of power.

But, surely the Syrian leader has asked himself, if Gaddafi had known where his intransigence would lead him, would he have clung on to power as he did? In the end, Gaddafi and his sons desperately sought a way to negotiate a ceasefire that would allow them to hold on to some form of power. But by then it was too late. The lesson to be learned from Libya is that negotiations have to start before defeat. The lessons of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen is that authoritarian regimes do not share “a little” of their power: in that part of the world it’s all or nothing.

3. Exile. Surely it is better than death. Or jail. The Mubarak, Hussein, and Gaddafi families, among others, understand this. The Assad family is also likely to have thought about this. But where could they go? The International Criminal Court awaits them in Europe, and hundreds of organizations have documented the regimes’ atrocities. Iran is a possibility, as are China and Russia. The challenge, then, becomes who else to include in the exile-bound airplane? Assad’s brother is in charge of the regime’s apparatus of repression, while his sister is a vocal exponent of the hard line. Then there are the generals, the heads of the security services, along with other collaborators and their families. One of the more plausible rumors doing the rounds at the moment is that in the event that he should opt for exile, Assad’s collaborators have already created a well-organized network to make it hard for him to travel anywhere without including many others.

The end of the blood-spattered Syrian dynasty approaches, but nobody knows whether it will be a question of days, weeks, or months. Assad has only few, and poor, options left. And while it is true that the great leaders create new ways to move forward that nobody else could have imagined, Assad is anything but a great leader. Perhaps all that is left open to him is to hope that his wife, who prior to the recent killing Paris Match described as “an element of light in a country filled with shade” can discover a shining path that will save thousands of lives, including that of her husband.

‘Iran’ as a weapon of subordination-Vijay Prashad

Posted by admin On February - 28 - 2012 Comments Off on ‘Iran’ as a weapon of subordination-Vijay Prashad

The United States has taken steps to pressure its allies outside Europe to move away from imports of Iranian oil. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland specifically mentioned India and China when saying on February 21 that her government was “having talks with countries around the world about the implications of the [sanctions/embargo] legislation with regard to our expectation that countries will increasingly wean themselves of dependence on Iranian oil.”

Asked about an opinion piece from former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who wrote that India’s decision to continue trade with Iran “isn’t just a slap in the face for the US – it raises questions about its ability to lead”, Nuland brushed Burns off as “a private citizen”.

The commercial pressure on India has begun to show. The Indian Export Credit Guarantee Corporation, which underwrites the risk


of Indian exporters, said that it would not halt insurance cover for exports to Iran but that it is become “very cautious” and “will try to keep our exposure at the minimum level.”

With the Turkiye Halk Bankasi unable to provide third-party financial intermediation and with Dubai-based middlemen unable to easily deal with Iranian firms, about US$3 billion in Iranian arrears against Indian traders have built up since December 2010. These commercial headaches have soured India-Iran business relations.

On February 24, SWIFT, the main financial messaging service for international money transfers, threatened to cut Iran out of its network. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (as SWIFT is less commonly known) deals with about 10,000 member banks and transmits 17 million financial messages per day. In 2010, 19 banks and 25 financial institutions in Iran transmitted 2 million messages through the SWIFT network.

Based in Brussels, SWIFT is vulnerable to the upcoming European embargo of Iran. Its corporate leaders, Yawar Shah (Citigroup) and Stephan Zimmermann (UBS), are ingrained in the Atlantic financial architecture and unwilling to stand up to the political pressure from their capitals. Avi Jorisch, a former US Treasury official told Bloomberg, “This is a financial equivalent of warfare.” SWIFT has never before expelled a country in this fashion.

Commercial fears among Indian traders and political pressure from Washington has moved the Indian government to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Assistant Minister for Petroleum Affairs Abdul Aziz Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz came to India and met India’s Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas, R P N Singh, on February 23. Abdulaziz noted that Saudi would be glad to increase sales of oil to India, and that if India were to approach Saudi Aramco, its needs would be covered.

India has already begun to “wean” itself off Iran’s oil – it imported 22 million tonnes in 2009-10 and 16 million tonnes in 2010-11. India’s imports from Iran spiked in January because crude to China had to be redirected over a market price dispute. In the short term, India will continue to buy from Iran because its refineries are adjusted to Iranian crude. It will require a financial and technological investment to alter the refining designs. There has been as yet no public discussion about this problem.

IAEA’s “serious concerns”
Pressure on India ramped up after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team returned from Tehran and delivered its report on February 24. The report does not offer any smoking gun. Iran continues to enrich uranium, which it is technically allowed to do by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), “under Agency safeguards”. The problem lies in “Iraq Territory”: “Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, about which the Agency has regularly received new information.”

The IAEA finger points to one location: Parchin, only 20 kilometers southeast of Tehran (not an ideal place to have a nuclear weapons testing site). The IAEA caviled, “Iran did not provide access to Parchin, as requested by the Agency during its two recent visits to Tehran.”

The IAEA director general’s report is disingenuous in its silence on the previous visits of inspectors to Parchin, as Gareth Porter has noted. (See The cadence behind Iran’s atomic block, Asia Times, February 25). The November 2011 report pointed out that an undisclosed source said that the Iranians have conducted tests at Parchin since 2000. In January and in November 2005, IAEA teams visited Parchin, took environmental samples and left satisfied that the complex did not have any relationship to nuclear weapons. After the second visit, the IAEA noted that there was “no relevant dual-use equipment or materials in the location visited”. Yet, the bugbear of Parchin remains.

Until 1992, the IAEA was a modest investigatory and verification body in the UN system that made sure that nuclear materials in NPT states did not slip from energy production to the making of nuclear weapons.

Article IV of the IAEA Treaty guarantees that a member state might “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

At a Security Council Summit in January 1992, the Atlantic powers dragooned the IAEA into becoming its “nuclear watchdog”. Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons became its main goal, and not twinned with nuclear disarmament. In other words, the IAEA operated within the confines of “nuclear apartheid”, no longer challenging the nuclear weapons states to roll back their nuclear arsenals.

In addition, the IAEA investigations began to question the right of certain countries to enrich uranium for energy purposes.

The US-EU position is to deny Iran its own enrichment and reprocessing infrastructure, even if it fulfills the IAEA safeguard requirements for verification. Iran’s deliberations with the IAEA are part of an attempt to keep some room for it to negotiate around the maximalist demands of the Atlantic powers.

Fearmongering about military strikes might be theater for the intensification of the sanctions regime into a full-blown embargo. White House spokesperson Jay Carney’s interpretation of the IAEA report is that Iran has refused “to abide by international obligations”. Actually, it has refused to accept the maximum demands of the Atlantic powers.

The White House does not seem keen on military action on Iran, with the director of national intelligence telling a Congressional committee on January 31 that Iran has no designs to weaponize its nuclear program. The Obama administration has, however, used dangerous rhetoric (“all options on the table”) to hornswoggle countries like India into the embargo that it wishes to set up by the summer of 2012.

Burns’ statement that India does not show its “ability to lead” is a threat that the US might not endorse India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This is a political game, with “Iran” used as a weapon to subordinate countries like India to the economic and political domain of the US. The US is playing with fire, pushing the “Iraq option” in Iran not for regime change necessarily, but in a Cold War against the emergent states (Brazil, Turkey, India, China).

Vijay Prashad is Professor and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, United States. This spring he will publish two books: Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press) and Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today (New Press). He is the author of Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New Press), which won the 2009 Muzaffar Ahmed Book Prize.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd

How the Catholic Church is Preparing for a Post-Castro Cuba-Victor Gaetan

Posted by admin On February - 28 - 2012 Comments Off on How the Catholic Church is Preparing for a Post-Castro Cuba-Victor Gaetan

Religion and Rebuilding on the Island
The Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Havana. (Kimli / flickr)

When Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba next month, he will once again reinforce a strategy that the Vatican has allowed the local Catholic Church there to pursue for more than three decades: diligently avoid any political confrontation with the Castro regime, collaborate with Havana to combat the U.S.-led embargo, and support the Cuban government’s incremental economic reforms. In exchange, the Church has been able to maintain a certain amount of autonomy on the island, allowing it to rebuild its presence and position for the possible post-Castro economic boom times to come.

It is a controversial balance. Cubans in the exile community vigorously criticize the Church because they think Church leadership on the island should challenge the dictatorship. But the Vatican takes the long view. Rather than overtly push for change, the Church has come to pursue a strategy of “reconciliation.” It has inserted itself as mediator between the regime and its most daring opponents, both those imprisoned and those out in the streets. The Church is present and persistent, but it is nonpartisan. The attitude harkens back to the ostpolitik it practiced during the Cold War — in most communist countries, especially in those where Catholics were a minority, clergy hunkered down, ministered to the faithful, and survived. Today, in countries ranging from Albania and Montenegro to Romania and Ukraine, Catholic communities are thriving.

According to Vatican sources engaged with Cuba, the Church remembers its experience helping to steer a peaceful transition from communism to democracy in Poland. The Church has a storied past on the island. Think back to Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Cuba in 1998. The occasion marked a milestone — it was the first time a pope ever set foot on the island — but the underlying history was tragic: After taking power, Fidel Castro jailed, killed, or exiled 3,500 Catholic priests and nuns. His regime confiscated seminaries and nationalized all Catholic properties. The first Cuban cardinal, Manuel Arteaga y Betancourt, took refuge in the Argentinian embassy. From 1959 to 1992, Cuba was officially an atheist state.

Then, with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, Castro lost his massive subsidies from Moscow. Facing near starvation and isolation, he decided to pursue John Paul II, visiting him at the Vatican in 1996 and inviting

him to Cuba. By opening to the Church, Castro hoped to gain recognition and trade. The pope won approval to build a new seminary, and, in addition to offering mass in four cities, he declared, “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”

In the years since, the Catholic Church in Cuba has been resurrected. It has nearly doubled the number of priests and nuns in the country, most of them moving in from abroad. Today, Havana regularly grants the Church permits and allows purchase of rationed construction materials to renovate churches. The Church provides everyday services such as daycare centers and care for the elderly. It teaches religion and computer skills, and screens foreign films for teenage groups. As long as the Church restricts its activities to its property, it gets relatively free reign. The Church even opened a new seminary a few miles south of Havana in November 2010, the first church constructed since the revolution. And alongside a large American Catholic delegation, President Raúl Castro attended the dedication.

Next month, Pope Benedict XVI will make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern end of the island, to visit the shrine of the Virgin of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint. Benedict aims to highlight the long history linking the Church with Cuba, as well as its current rapprochement: Raúl Castro will greet the pontiff in Santiago, then meet with him later in Havana. The pope will offer two outdoor masses, in Santiago and Havana, both in “Revolution Squares.” Hundreds of thousands of worshippers are expected.

In many ways, this pilgrimage is a continuation of John Paul II’s visit: a reaffirmation of the Church’s love for Cuba and a gesture designed to bless its future. That might seem pointless to secular analysts, but it is the essence of a “pastoral” visit: The leader comes to encourage a weary population. For Fidel and Raúl Castro, aged 85 and 81, respectively, it is the end of a biological era, and the Jesuit-educated brothers seem to be embracing their natal identity despite branding it imperialist during the revolution. Washington, and the Cuban exile community, are watching to see if the pope will meet with opposition figures, although local Church leaders have been famously cold to them.

Orchestrating the visit is Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the 75-year-old archbishop of Havana. Named bishop by John Paul II in 1978, archbishop in 1981, then Cuba’s second cardinal in 1994, Ortega’s life reflects the trials of the Church: He studied for the priesthood in Cuba and Quebec, then was forced to work in an island labor camp between 1966 and 1967. Ortega has pioneered the Church’s reconciliation strategy on the island, and accordingly, his tenure has proved a sort of political tightrope walk.

Ortega’s most intense struggle of late came in 2010, after the death of Orlando Zapada Tamayo, a political prisoner who had been on a hunger strike for 85 days. Zapata’s death galvanized the opposition in Havana, including the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of female relatives of many political prisoners. (After Sunday mass every week, dressed in white, they march to a park, where they silently protest. Their walks are one of the capital’s most visible symbols of peaceful resistance.) After Zapata’s death, the Damas enlarged the protest to downtown streets, where thuggish mobs (suspected of being government connected) assaulted, shoved, and spat on the women. When the Damas returned to their silent protests, the mob followed and blocked them from walking. What had started out as a small, daring public testimonial to private suffering had morphed into a gender-based riot. Then more prisoners joined the hunger strike. Projected around the world, the images suggested a Cuba on the verge of violent change.

Ortega stepped in. By his telling, he wrote a letter to Raúl Castro in May asking that the Damas de Blanco be allowed to march peacefully.

Just three days later, government officials called him to arrange a meeting with the women, and the Damas had a chance to request their sick relatives either be released or moved closer to home. Ortega continued to negotiate with the government until July, when he announced he had struck a deal with Castro to release prisoners.

But in the end, Ortega diluted the opposition’s victory with some tough rhetoric. Not long after the prisoner release announcement, he visited Washington to receive a $100,000 prize from the Knights of Columbus. In his acceptance speech, he astounded Cuba watchers by referring to the jailed democracy activists as “convicts,” who were — in words that were clearly soothing to ears in the Castro regime — “considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.”

Then he did the rounds in Washington. He briefed U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela. The prelate even spent more than an hour in a secret meeting with Newt Gingrich, presumably to press for support and discuss the former speaker of the House’s upcoming bid for the White House. Ortega argued that prisoner release should pave the way for closer U.S.-Cuban relations, including lifting the trade embargo. Within six months after his visit, the White House had lifted restrictions on travel for academic, religious, and cultural groups. Through the end of the year, Havana set free more than 100 political prisoners — provided they accept exile.

Playing the role of holy reconciler has afforded the Vatican three advantages. The Church has gained physical and operational space to expand its presence on the island. Second, Ortega has brokered conflict, which fulfills the Church’s mission (“Blessed be the peacemakers,” the Bible reads) and gives it a recognized role, both in the country and outside. And lastly, and perhaps most important, in taking the long view, the Vatican is laying the groundwork so that it help facilitate a nonviolent post-Castro transition.

According to Vatican sources engaged with Cuba, the Church remembers its experience helping to steer a peaceful transition from communism to democracy in Poland. That process was a negotiation between the regime, the Church, and its allies in a daring lay Catholic movement, the Solidarity movement, which was the trade union at the vanguard of political change. But the analogy is weak because the Cuban Church has failed to foster an authentic grass-roots democracy movement. Since the late 1990s, a devout Catholic, Oswaldo Paya, has led a democracy movement inspired by the Polish example called the Varela Project. Some even call Paya “the Walesa of Cuba,” alluding to the Polish visionary Lech Walesa. Paya has been received by John Paul II and awarded the Sakharov Prize for human rights by the European Union. Yet despite his growing reputation, the Cuban Church has done nothing to support or encourage him or his movement.

The Church is also trying to inch the Castros along the path to liberalizing the lifeless Cuban economy. It offers classes in accounting and small business skills. It is co-sponsoring an M.B.A. program in Havana with a Spanish university. The elite below Castro have their own game plan, though, betting on a bigger bang. Anticipating a future transfer of wealth much like the Russian post-communist experience when the apparatchiks became oligarchs, Castro relatives and army brass run tourism, energy, foreign trade, and real estate sectors.

When Washington looks at Cuba, however, it does not see 1980s Poland as much as a unique twenty-first-century American problem. Of course, in Poland, Washington worked closely with the Church and a lay movement toward democracy. Today, the White House supports individual bloggers and has focused on reducing travel and financial barriers between the island and the United States. Although Ortega will continue to advocate for an end to the embargo, it is not likely as long as Cuba holds an American in jail and a large opposition in the U.S. Congress holds firm.

The risk the Church runs in a post-Castro future is that it will be castigated for having made a pact with the devil. After the democratic transition in Poland, some 15 percent of the clergy were accused of cooperating with the communists. They were subsequently sidelined. Likewise, the next generation in Cuba might not take the time to acknowledge the Church’s sacrificial role. On that score, the Church will have to reconcile its own position.

Arm Syria’s Rebels-ROGER COHEN

Posted by admin On February - 28 - 2012 Comments Off on Arm Syria’s Rebels-ROGER COHEN

Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Members of the Free Syrian Army

LONDON — Here are some home truths about Syria. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Nobody can put this genie back in a bottle. This is the mother of all proxy fights.

The remorseless Assad regime is finished, when it dies being the only question.

Nations get to freedom from tyranny by different routes. When Communism fell, some glided from the Soviet empire into the West as others agonized. Yugoslavia — a beautiful idea that never worked — is one of several nations being invoked as possible exemplars of Syria’s bloody fate; others include Lebanon and Iraq.

The ingredients are familiar: Syria is a multiethnic state ruled with an iron fist by one minority — the quasi-Shiite Alawites — and including Christian, Druze and other minorities that between them compose about a quarter of the population. The majority is Sunni. When the iron fist comes off in countries like this, liberty is more readily seen as getting free of each other than uniting in the give-and-take of a new liberal order.

So it has proved for a year now in the Syria of Bashar al-Assad who, taking a leaf from his father’s book, has attempted to suppress through mass slaughter the quest of a broad uprising to be free of the family stranglehold. Assad is a doctor by training! No doctor ever trampled so brazenly on the Hippocratic Oath.

The Assads are a mafia, a minority (the family) within a minority (the Alawites) within a minority (the Mukhabarat secret police). They co-opted others — notably the Sunni merchant class — through imposed stability, but in essence, like every tyrant dislodged in the Arab Spring, they have ruled a nation as if it was their personal fiefdom, a plaything to be passed from father to son for the benefit of cousins and cronies.

Well, that’s over. Aleppo is the not the new Marrakesh after all. Those lovely tourism posters on London buses have been packed away. Arabs have had it with their Godfathers.

I said it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The Syrian compact is broken; a new compact under the Assads is inconceivable. Wider interests are in play. Iranian Shiite theocracy, increasingly isolated, is defending the regime against a Free Syrian Army funded in part by Saudi Sunni theocracy: that’s the proxy war.

Vladimir Putin, fearful of Russian Springs in his own neighborhood, has with signature cynicism opted to defend an old ally against U.S. demands that Assad go, an objective not pursued with any coherence until now by the Obama administration. Israel knows Assad, who helps arm Hezbollah but is a predictable and largely passive enemy. It does not know what may lie beyond a security state whose habits it can predict.

In short, Syria is dangerous. But that not a reason for passivity or incoherence. As the Bosnian war showed, the basis for any settlement must be a rough equality of forces. So I say step up the efforts, already quietly ongoing, to get weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Train those forces, just as the rebels were trained in Libya.

Payback time has come around: The United States warned Assad about allowing Al Qaeda fighters to transit Syria to Iraq. Now matériel and special forces with the ability to train a ragtag army can transit Iraq — and other neighboring states — into Syria. This should be a joint effort of Western and Arab states.

At the same time, mount a big U.N.-coordinated humanitarian effort centered on enclaves for refugees in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere, establishing, where possible, safe corridors to these havens.

Push hard to bring Russia and China around: They will not defend Assad beyond the point where that defense looks like a liability for other bigger interests in the United States, the Gulf and Europe.

I hear the outcry already: Arming Assad’s opponents will only exacerbate the fears of Syria’s minorities and unite them, ensure greater bloodshed, and undermine diplomatic efforts now being led by Kofi Annan, a gifted and astute peacemaker. It risks turning a proxy war into a proxy conflagration.

There is no policy for Syria at this stage that does not involve significant risk. But the only cease-fire I can see that will not amount to an ephemeral piece of paper is one based on a rough balance of forces. For that, the Free Syrian Army must be armed.

In the end, this course will support, not undermine, Annan’s diplomacy and perhaps open the way for the sort of transition outlined by the Arab League. In return, the divided Syrian opposition must provide a firm commitment to respect the rights of minorities. The treatment of minorities — like that of women — is one of the many pivotal tests of the Arab Spring.

If Assad falls, Iran is critically weakened.

Tehran’s established conduit to Hezbollah disappears. Choosing between engineering the downfall of Assad and bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is really a no-brainer: The former is smart and doable, the latter is folly. Assad’s wife has been buying property in London: Make her use it and make the Syrian people free.

You can follow Roger Cohen on Twitter at twitter.com/nytimescohen.

Is Rohrabacher wrong on Balochistan? – Pervez Hoodbhoy

Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on Is Rohrabacher wrong on Balochistan? – Pervez Hoodbhoy

The writer teaches physics and political science at LUMS. He holds a PhD from MIT and taught at Quaid-e-Azam University for 37 years.
Dana Rohrabacher’s resolution in the US Congress states that the Baloch people “have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country”. Expectedly, this unleashed a torrent of anger in Pakistan’s government and media which overwhelmingly saw this as a conspiracy to break up the country. Pakistan-US relations have descended another notch; attempts by the US State Department, as well as the currently visiting group of Congressmen, to distance themselves from the resolution have not worked.

Rohrabacher is easy to criticise. This extremist Republican has defended the use of torture, advocated the induction of warlords into the Afghan government, thinks trees cause global warming, and wants subsidies for rain forests to be cut down. Last July, while visiting Baghdad, he raised a storm by suggesting that Iraq pay back the United States the billions it spent after the 2003 invasion.

But this right-wing nut — obviously motivated by domestic politics rather than human rights — may actually have done Pakistan a favour by focusing world attention upon the horror of today’s Balochistan. Predictably, Baloch leaders are enthusiastically endorsing Rohrabacher’s statement, “The political and ethnic discrimination the Baloch suffer is tragic and made more so because America is financing and selling arms to their oppressors in Islamabad.”

For decades, the Baloch have complained of ill-treatment. They say their natural wealth has been expropriated by Punjab and that Balochistan’s natural gas reached remote Punjabi towns long before it was available in Quetta — and then only because an army cantonment needed it. Baloch representation in the civil and the military bureaucracy remains close to zero.

But rather than assuage national grievances, both real and imagined ones, the Pakistani establishment used the iron fist. In 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reinvigorated an army defeated by India in 1971 by sending it to quell the Baloch uprising. Thousands died. In 2006, under General Pervez Musharraf the Army claimed the killing of 80-year old Nawab Akbar Bugti as yet another victory, saying this would end the insurgency. But it turned out otherwise, and Bugti’s murder was yet another thread torn loose from the unraveling national fabric.

Vengeful Baloch nationalists now target non-Baloch innocents and have murdered, among others, Punjabi and Mohajir teachers.

Pakistani security forces deny any wrongdoing and General Kayani claims that military operations are no longer being carried out against Baloch nationalists. But newspaper accounts suggest that the abduct-torture-kill-dump formula may be officially sanctioned from above. Mutilated bodies are strewn across roadsides and found in garbage dumps.

Worried about further internationalisation in the wake of Rohrabacher’s bill, Interior Minister Rehman Malik is scurrying around offering palliatives and promises. But the Baloch Republican Party’s exiled chief, Brahamdagh Bugti, whose sister and niece were mysteriously murdered in Karachi earlier this month, says that “America must intervene in Balochistan and stop the ethnic cleansing of Baloch people”.

Such open appeals, in my opinion, are short-sighted because they invite heightened repression. Moreover, America’s betrayal of Kurdish national self-determination should not be forgotten. In 1975, the Kurdish Peshmerg discovered to its horror that American support suddenly vanished after Richard Nixon chose to side with the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussain.

The official Pak istani response to Rohrabacher

is still more flawed. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar termed the tabling of his bill “a violation of UN charter” and of Pakistan’s sovereignty. But this line of defence could forfeit Pakistan’s moral right to criticise other states, Syria and India included.

Consider the fact that on February 17 Pakistan voted for an Arab League-sponsored resolution in the UN General Assembly which calls upon Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step down. This surely constitutes interference in the internal matter of a sovereign country. But Pakistan did well. In a civilised world national sovereignty must come second, and human rights first.

Pakistan has also long criticised India — and justly so — for its human rights abuses. But more people are dying in Balochistan today than in Kashmir. For all their brutality against stone-throwing Kashmiri boys, the Indians have not yet used helicopter gunships and fighter jets against Kashmiris. Pakistan, on the other hand, uses airpower as a matter of course in Balochistan and Fata.

Is there a way out? Maybe so, but for that Pakistan must hear what Baloch nationalists are saying — and then act. In 2008, Sanaullah Baloch, who had then just quit the Pakistan Senate, wrote that “Islamabad’s recent move to grant religious self-rule to the Taliban in Swat and the denial of political autonomy to the people of Balochistan are beyond comprehension”.

Sanaullah’s list of demands — still unmet today — were not unreasonable: a) end the military operation and halt construction of military and paramilitary cantonments; b) withdraw security forces; c) repatriate and rehabilitate displaced persons; d) cancel civil/military land allotments; e) demilitarise the area; f) ensure equal wellhead prices for Baluchistan’s gas, and h) abandon torture camps and establish a “truth and reconciliation commission” for trying those involved in killing Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri.

A similar list by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur was published in 2008 wherein he rhetorically asked: a) Will the new airport in Gwadar be handed over to the CAA to ensure that a military base is not established there? b) Will Saindak’s unjust income-sharing formula be reversed to give Balochistan 48 per cent and the centre two per cent? c) Will they refrain from using Hingol National Park as a testing ground for the air force?

The Rohrabacher show will roll off the stage soon but Balochistan’s situation shall remain. More people will disappear, and the heap of mutilated corpses shall keep mounting. For now, the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps can ensure that there is no independent Balochistan. But their actions cannot lead to peace and reconciliation.

Men like Rohrabacher are no friends of the Baloch. But what can stop their meddling? The answer can only come once we dump the myth of Pakistan being one nation, one people. The Baloch cannot agree with ‘what is yours is mine, what is mine is mine’. If Pakistanis value the people of Balochistan rather than the wealth under their ground, they must make every possible compromise to draw them into the mainstream.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.

Why China Will Have an Economic Crisis-Michael Schuman

Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on Why China Will Have an Economic Crisis-Michael Schuman

A passenger passes a photo montage of the Shanghai skyline in a subway station in Pudong, the financial district of Shanghai, on Feb. 3, 2012The view in most of the world is that China is indestructible. Shrugging off the crises multiplying elsewhere, China seems to surge from strength to strength, its spectacular growth marching on no matter what headwinds may come. It appears inevitable that China will overtake a U.S. mired in debt and division to become the world’s indispensable economy. Those businessmen and policymakers looking to the future believe China’s “state capitalism” may be a superior form of economic organization in dealing with the challenges of the modern global economy.

All sorts of subsidies, for energy, exports and

so on, are dished out. Banks are not commercially oriented but act to a great degree as tools of government-development policy. All of these methods funnel money, private and public, into industrialization, creating the astronomical growth rates we see again and again in Asia.

The problem here is that prices can’t stay wrong indefinitely. There is a good reason why classical economists are always so focused on allowing markets to find the correct price level. In that way, markets send the proper signals to potential investors on where money should or should not go. If those price indicators are skewed, so is the direction of resources. The Asian model, by playing around with prices, eventually creates tremendous distortions, in which money is wasted and excess capacity is generated. Subsidized companies don’t have to generate returns in the same way as unsubsidized firms, and that leads them to make bad investment decisions to build factories and buildings that are unnecessary and unprofitable. As a result, loans go bad and banking sectors buckle. That’s exactly what happened in both Japan and Korea. Though their crises were tipped off in very different ways — the bursting of an asset bubble in Japan, an external shock in Korea — the reason both countries collapsed was the same: weak banks, indebted companies, silly investments.

China is indulging in all of the same excesses as Japan and Korea, and then some. The level of investment in China, at nearly 50% of GDP, is lofty even by Asian standards. The usual argument made in defense of such astronomical investment in fixed assets is that China is a large developing country that needs all of the buildings and roads it is constructing. Qu Hongbin, the very smart chief China economist at HSBC, made that very argument in a recent study:

There is a popular view in the market that China has overinvested and therefore can no longer rely on investment to sustain its growth. We disagree. China’s investment-to-GDP ratio is indeed very high (46%) … [But] China is only half way through the process of urbanisation and industrialisation. It still needs to invest more to cope with the rising demand for rail, hospitals and industrial plants. The recent infrastructure boom has boosted the country’s transport capacity, but China’s railway network is still shorter than that of the US in 1880 … In economic terms, we estimate that China’s capital stock per worker is only about 8% of that of the US and 15% of that of Korea. In other words, China’s capital accumulation is still far from reaching the stage of having diminishing returns; we believe the country needs to invest more, rather than less.
I completely agree. Yet the issue is not whether China needs more investment. The issue is whether China is getting the types of investment it requires. The fact that investment levels can be so high and yet the economy is so deficient in certain key aspects makes me think the answer is no. We can see that in the continued problem of excess capacity in China, in which companies go hog wild building too many factories in certain industries, often with borrowing from state banks. That has happened in steel and solar panels, for example. The country is investing hundreds of billions in high-speed railways even though ticket prices are beyond the reach of most Chinese, while many major Chinese cities don’t have subways.


A good part of this misdirected investment seems to be headed into the property sector. Real estate development has become the key driving force of Chinese economic growth. In theory, China’s very rapid urbanization makes such construction a necessity — but that depends on what is being built. In Wenzhou, a real estate agent recently offered free BMWs to anyone who bought a high-end apartment — a clear sign of overbuilding — while there is an obvious shortage of housing affordable for most Chinese. On either side of my Beijing apartment building are three big malls that hardly ever seem to see real shoppers. Rents for top-quality office space in Beijing are now pricier than in New York City — despite the fact that China’s capital is one big construction zone. Many of the buildings going up are of a quality unsuitable for major corporations.

Even worse, much of the investment in China is being financed with debt. The level of debt in the Chinese economy has been rising with frightening speed. Rating agency Fitch estimates bank credit in 2011 was equivalent to 185% of the country’s GDP — an increase of 56 percentage points in a mere three years. Though that surge has not yet had a significant negative impact on China’s banks, many analysts fret that banks will eventually experience a rise in nonperforming loans. In an indication of what is to come, the Financial Times reported recently that the government has ordered banks to roll over the $1.7 trillion of loans owed by local governments. If true, this tells us two key things: 1) these governments invested money raised from banks in projects that are not generating the returns necessary to pay them back and 2) the quality of loans on the banks’ books are more questionable than official statistics suggest. On top of that, the fact that local governments amassed so much debt in the first place shows a complete lack of rule of law in China’s financial sector. Technically, local governments aren’t permitted to borrow money at all. Meanwhile, as government entities run up loans they can’t pay, many small companies, especially private ones, are unable to raise sufficient funds and remain starved of capital.

So we can see the pieces of a crisis falling into place: excessive, misguided investment, including a giant property boom, propelled on by debt and the decisions of government bureaucrats. Sound familiar? A crisis, of course, is not inevitable — if China’s leadership takes action and reorients the direction of the economy. The positive thing is that at least some top policymakers understand the need to change. In policy pronouncement after policy pronouncement, the government pledges to reform. The problem is that China’s government is not taking its own advice. The economy needs to rebalance away from investment and exports to a more consumption-driven growth model with a primary focus on quality of growth, not high rates at any cost. That’s not happening, or not happening quickly enough. Yes, the Chinese consumer is gaining in global importance, but savings in China remains too high and consumption as a percentage of GDP still way too low. Steps that the government could take to spur on the needed rebalancing — reducing lofty taxes on many imported goods, for example — are nowhere to be found. More importantly, the government is doing nothing to set prices right. The currency remains firmly controlled, interest rates unreformed. So investors within China are still acting based on the wrong price signals.


Why won’t China’s policymakers pursue more fundamental reform? They are afraid that growth might slip. Sure, the latest five-year plan targets 7% annual GDP growth, but it seems to me that every time growth drops under double digits, the leadership goes into panic mode and revs up the economy again. GDP surged 8.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011, but that’s not fast enough for China’s leaders. They’ve already started loosening credit again — slathering yet more debt onto the economy.

When I bring up these issues with China watchers, I’m usually scolded — Beijing’s policy mandarins have it all figured out, I’m informed. It is true that China’s policymakers have done a superior job managing the rapidly changing economy in recent years. But as any stock investor knows all too well, past performance does not ensure future performance. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, analysts in the West considered Japan’s bureaucrats near supermen as well. Now the stodgy Japanese bureaucracy is considered one of the main impediments to an economic revival. Chinese bureaucrats today suffer from the same problem that led Japanese bureaucrats astray — they believe the economy can be managed by fiat. The tools of classical economics — getting prices right — are secondary. Why guide an economy with abstract measures like interest rates when you can just tell the banks what to do?

That attitude is what killed Japan’s economic miracle, and now I see China slipping toward the same fate. Japan could not escape the forces of basic mathematics. China can’t either, no matter how brilliant its policymakers might be. When would a meltdown happen? It is interesting to play with a bit of history. Both Japan and Korea suffered their crises roughly 35 years after the Asian development model was switched on — the early 1950s to ’89 in Japan, and 1962 to ’97 in Korea. That puts a China crisis at around 2014-15 or so. I’m not predicting a firm date here. What I am saying is that China is running out of time to fix the problems of its economy.




Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on How to Beat Obama-KARL ROVE AND ED GILLESPIE

The president is far more vulnerable than he thinks on foreign policy.
In an American election focused on a lousy economy and high unemployment, conventional wisdom holds that foreign policy is one of Barack Obama’s few strong suits. But the president is strikingly vulnerable in this area. The Republican who leads the GOP ticket can attack him on what Obama mistakenly thinks is his major strength by translating the center-right critique of his foreign policy into campaign themes and action. Here’s how to beat him.

First, the Republican nominee should adopt a confident, nationalist tone emphasizing American exceptionalism, expressing pride in the United States as a force for good in the world, and advocating for an America that is once again respected (and, in some quarters, feared) as the preeminent global power. Obama acts as if he sees the United States as a flawed giant, a mistake that voters already perceive. After all, this is the president who said, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Voters also sense he is content to manage America’s decline to a status where the United States is just one country among many. As he put it, his is “a U.S. leadership that recognizes our limits.”

The Republican nominee should use the president’s own words and actions to portray him as naive and weak on foreign affairs. Obama’s failed promises, missed opportunities, and erratic shifts suggest he is out of touch and in over his head. For example, before he was elected, he promised to meet with the leaders of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela “without precondition.” Nothing came of that except a serious blow to the image of the United States as a reliable ally. During the 2008 campaign, he also argued that Iran was a “tiny” country that didn’t “pose a serious threat.” How foolish that now seems.

At the same time, the Republican candidate should not hesitate to point out where Obama has left his Republican predecessor’s policies largely intact. He will be uncomfortable if the nominee congratulates him for applying President George W. Bush’s surge strategy to Afghanistan, carrying through on the expanded use of drones, reversing course on the handling of terrorist detainees, and renewing the Patriot Act after previously condemning it as a “shoddy and dangerous law.” Such compliments will give the Republican candidate greater ability to be critical of Obama’s many fiascoes — not only his proposed outreach to tyrants in Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, but also the disastrous “reset” with Russia, mismanagement of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, politicized timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and neglect of important traditional allies such as NATO, Canada, and Mexico, as well as key rising powers like India.

Obama recognizes that he’s seen as “cold and aloof,” and the Republican nominee should hammer this point home.

The president has few real friends abroad (excepting, of course, Islamist Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he told Time magazine’s Fareed Zakaria). The Republican nominee should criticize Obama for not understanding that the U.S. president’s personal engagement is essential for effective global leadership. Obama’s lack of regular close contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which has destroyed relationships with America’s erstwhile allies, is simply the most jarring, inexplicable example of this president’s hands-off approach.

Because the fall campaign must be devoted to promoting the Republican message on jobs and the economy, the GOP nominee must share his big foreign-policy vision no later than early summer. Giving voters a sense of where he wants to take the country is important to cementing his image as a leader worthy of the Oval Office. Merely projecting the right image is not enough.

The Republican candidate must address at least four vital areas. The most important is the struggle that will define this century’s arc: radical Islamic terrorism. He should make the case that victory must be America’s national goal, not merely seeking to “delegitimize the use of terrorism and to isolate those who carry it out,” as Obama’s May 2010 National Security Strategy put it. As in the Cold War, victory will require sustained U.S. involvement and a willingness to deploy all tools of influence — from diplomacy to economic ties, from intelligence efforts to military action.

Second, the Republican candidate must condemn the president’s precipitous drawdown in Afghanistan and his deep, dangerous defense-budget cuts. Both are viewed skeptically by the military: The former emboldens America’s adversaries and discourages its allies; the latter is of deep concern to veterans and other Americans who doubt Obama’s commitment to the military.

Third, the Republican candidate should focus on the dangers of rogue states, particularly Iran and North Korea. The upcoming three-year anniversary of the stolen June 2009 Iranian presidential election is a particularly opportune moment for the Republican nominee to meet with Iranian exiles and offer a major speech drawing attention to Obama’s weakness and naiveté in dealing with this belligerent power.

In part because of how he has mishandled the Iranian threat, Obama has lost much political and financial support in the American Jewish community. His approach to Israel must be presented as similarly weak and untrustworthy. The Republican candidate must make clear the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran — not only because it will lead to a better policy, but also because it will reduce the president’s support among this key voting bloc in the critical battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The fourth line of attack must be about America’s fragile economy and how to restore it. Many voters think Obama’s stewardship of the economy has been inconsistent and even counterproductive. This makes it imperative for the Republican candidate to make the case for promoting trade and greater international economic engagement. Obama’s failure to match other countries in aggressively opening markets for exports and jobs should be tied to his responsibility for high domestic unemployment and an anemic recovery.

Undoubtedly, Obama will attempt to preempt criticism of his foreign policy by repeating endlessly that Osama bin Laden was killed on his watch. By campaign’s end, some voters will wonder whether the president personally delivered the kill shot. The best response is to praise the president. In doing so, however, Obama’s opponent should be sure to praise all the drama’s actors, especially the Navy SEALs whose courageous assault killed the terrorist leader and the tireless CIA analysts whose hunches convinced then-Director Michael Hayden in 2007 to unleash a massive effort that eventually led to the compound in Abbottabad. In the end, voters know that Obama did not kill bin Laden — SEALs did.

Absent a major international crisis, this election will be largely about jobs, spending, health care, and energy. Voters do, however, want a president who leads on the world stage and a commander in chief who projects strength, not weakness.

A November 2011 survey conducted by Resurgent Republic showed that 50 percent of voters (as well as 54 percent of self-identified independents) think America’s standing in the world is worse under Obama, while only 21 percent believe it is better. This represents a sharp drop from April 2010, when 50 percent of voters (and 49 percent of independents) believed Obama had improved America’s standing.

That’s because Obama has failed to become a strong international leader, and the Republican nominee must reinforce this message — one most Americans already believe. Foreign policy is a weakness for this president, not a strength.
Karl Rove served as deputy chief of staff and Ed Gillespie as counselor to U.S. President George W. Bush.

The European Union’s Counterproductive Iran Sanctions-Rory Miller

Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on The European Union’s Counterproductive Iran Sanctions-Rory Miller

Camera crews stake out the Iranian Embassy in central London before Britain’s call for stronger economic sanctions on Iran. (Ki Price/Courtesy Reuters)

By signing on to wide-ranging sanctions against Iran in late January, the European Union made a bet that harsh economic penalties would finally push Iran to  comply with its international obligations, especially that it end its efforts to enrich uranium to weapons-grade level and accept a verifiable inspection regime under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is a long way from the “critical dialogue” framework the European Union favored throughout the 1990s, when it aimed to normalize ties with Tehran as a way of fostering domestic reform and empowering moderates. It is also a departure from the so-called EU-3 diplomacy of the last decade, whereby France, Germany, and the United Kingdom looked to negotiate a compromise with Iran on its nuclear program on behalf of the wider international community. In the past, even when Brussels threw its full weight behind UN sanctions — for example, in December 2006 — European officials were quick to follow up with statements highlighting their preference for diplomacy and engagement. (By January 2007 officials were calling for a “negotiated long-term solution.”) This time, however, Europe seems more decisive. As European Council President Herman Van Rompuy explained earlier this month, “More pressure on Iran, more sanctions on Iran” is now the order of the day.

Despite what Iranian officials claim, the United States is not behind Europe’s new stance. In fact, over the past two decades, the European Union has been surprisingly resistant to U.S. pressure. It regularly rejected the demands of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to embrace Washington’s strategy of neutering the Islamic Republic through economic and political isolation. In 1996, for example, the Clinton administration passed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILA), which imposed mandatory penalties on any foreign country that invested more than $20 million in Iran. In response, the European Union, through its then trade commissioner, the former British Cabinet Minister Sir Leon Brittan, stated its adamancy that the United States was “not entitled to impose their will on us” and lodged a note of formal noncompliance with the ILA at the World Trade Organization. To drive home the point, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry expressed the view that the “U.S. follows the wrong path.” At the same time, France even publicly thumbed its nose at Washington, declaring that it would make upgrading ties with Iran a major foreign policy objective. The country’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yves Doutriaux, was even more explicit. The U.S. move, he said, “Is one nation telling the rest on earth what they can and can’t do. Is that right?”

The European Union has its own reasons for acting now — with the unanimous support of all 27 member states — only a year after a much less extensive list of sanctions put forward by the EU-3 failed to gain full backing. The first is anger over Iran’s failure to reply formally to a letter the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, sent last October offering to restart nuclear talks. Ashton wrote on behalf of the P5 plus 1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany), but the snub was felt most sharply in Europe, which has worked to cultivate a role as the main point of contact between Iran and the international community.

Europe wants to force concessions from Iran before the upcoming U.S. presidential election potentially ushers in a Republican president committed to stopping Iran’s nuclear program through military means. The timing of the new sanctions is also a function of the upcoming elections in Iran and the United States. Before Iranian parliamentary elections in March, the European Union wants to send a message that it is willing to adopt as tough a line as Washington takes in the hopes of convincing the Iranian electorate to express its dissatisfaction with the current regime at the ballot box. It also wants to force concessions from Iran before the U.S. presidential election potentially ushers in a Republican president committed to stopping Iran’s nuclear program through military means. Not only do many EU policymakers hold an ideological aversion to war, they fear that it would play havoc with world oil supplies and might even result in an Iranian-sponsored terror campaign on European territory.

More broadly, Europe’s new aggressiveness stems from an IAEA report published last November, which claimed that Iran was looking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Other reports published this year have made the case that Iran is making progress in enriching uranium to weapons-grade level at military sites. Taken together with the IAEA report and its own assessment of Iran’s goals and capabilities, the union has come to realize that although positive diplomacy has made some headway toward improving Iran’s human rights record, it has been an ineffective instrument for stopping Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. And the time is right to try something else: The European Union is convinced that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites is a real possibility in the coming year.

And that could lead to the nightmare scenario of a full-scale regional war on Europe’s borders.

For all these reasons, Europe has made a priority of defusing tensions and quieting talk of war, which could set back its own economic recovery and destabilize the Middle East for decades. To that end, it is willing to sacrifice its prized spot as Iran’s number-one trade partner in non-petroleum products. The European Union, which imported about 450,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day in 2011, is also prepared to absorb the economic cost of a pre-emptive Iranian ban on oil sales to Europe before the European oil embargo starts in July 2012. Earlier this month, Tehran cut off oil to France and the United Kingdom. That was bad enough: It pushed the price of gasoline in the United Kingdom to £135.39 ($212.62) per liter, up from £132.25 ($207.70) at the beginning of January. It also resulted in near-record oil prices across Europe. The damage will be much greater if Iran extends its ban to Greece, Italy, and Spain — the EU countries most vulnerable to the ongoing financial crisis and most dependent on Iranian oil.

Given the potential economic downside of the move and the European Union’s past failure to act in a united manner on highly charged international issues, the union deserves credit for banding together. In the last few years, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed for an increasingly tough line on Iran, even accusing U.S. President Barack Obama of being too soft in the early years of his presidency. But his efforts fell on deaf ears. The EU-3’s success in getting the rest of Europe on board this time shows that, given the right set of internal and external circumstances, the uni

on can act together in a forceful way on major international issues. No less important, the push against Iran points to the failure of Tehran’s long-time efforts to exploit the gap between European and U.S. policies.

None of this is lost on Iran — note the country’s pre-emptive oil-export bans and condemnation of the European Union’s move as “psychological warfare.” Meanwhile, Tehran also finally responded to Ashton’s letter through its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, expressing a readiness for dialogue and “new initiatives.” Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has also promised new talks with the P5 plus 1. In no small part because of Europe’s new posture, Iran is feeling the heat.

Despite these successes, Europe has failed to demonstrate to Iran and the international community that, if it acts in a united and decisive fashion, it can get other key players to follow suit. Japan and South Korea are nonplussed by the European Union’s sudden turn, and Russia and China have dismissed the new strategy out of hand. Instead of bowing to European pressure, India, which recently overtook China as the number-one buyer of Iranian oil, is more interested in lecturing the European Union on the importance of diplomacy and organizing trade delegations to Iran to capitalize on the European Union’s de facto withdrawal from Iranian markets. And to add insult to injury, China, India, and Japan have all proved grudgingly willing to cut their oil imports from Iran by about ten percent in the face of pressure coming from the United States. In other words, they do not see European hawkishness as mattering all that much.

The failure to bring other world powers along undermines the European Union’s efforts to present itself as the lead international mediator on Iran. Ultimately, if the sanctions policy does not yield Iranian concessions or if Europe cannot make its case to its international partners, it might marginalize the European Union as leader of the P5-plus-1 process. Despite its faults, the union used to play an important role in balancing the extreme positions of the United States on the one hand and China and Russia on the other. If it can no longer play this part, the prospect of an internationally negotiated settlement to the Iran crisis would be far dimmer. A failed sanctions policy could also lead some EU states to conclude that the only remaining option is the military one.

This would result in a potentially irreparable split in the European Union that might even signal the end of the union as a credible player in international affairs.

In order to avoid losing influence and hastening the journey toward war, the European Union should work to rebuild trust and cooperation with Iran even as it pursues sanctions. The EU-3 — the initiators of the hard-line policy — could encourage smaller member states to play a bigger role in trust building. In other words, the EU-3 could double down on pressure while the rest of the union tries diplomacy. Ireland, a champion of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) since the early 1960s, and Sweden, an outspoken proponent of positive diplomacy with good bilateral relations with Iran, could drive home the merits of cooperating with international institutions, as well as the benefits of a renewed focus on trade and development ties with Europe.

Notwithstanding the European Union’s current belief in the power of sanctions, Europe has generally proved most effective in conflict resolution when playing the role of state builder. It should capitalize on its experiences in the Balkans and the Palestinian territories to help develop Iran’s infrastructure in return for Tehran’s cooperation on the nuclear front. In doing so, it can draw on the vast expertise of European firms that were deeply involved in Iran’s various economic redevelopment plans following the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. The European Union has already proven that, armed with its very generous export guarantee mechanism that shared credit risk with banks financing European firms selling to Iran and provided the firms themselves with protection against losses, it can dominate key sectors of the Iranian economy, including machinery, transportation, manufactured goods, and food. Now, it should move beyond the pursuit of profit and look to develop these sectors and others to help a faltering Iranian economy and to build confidence between Europe and Iran. 

The European Union should also take seriously Salehi’s statement on February 19 that his country wants future talks to provide a “win-win” solution to the current impasse. After determining what winning means from an Iranian perspective, Brussels could use the political capital it has gained in Washington from taking a hard line to bring the United States on board for negotiations. There is every chance that this approach would be viewed as evidence of European indecision and weakness in Tehran and Washington. But the alternative is a strategy that consists of ratcheting up sanctions and rhetoric until Brussels has squandered all its influence on Iran and much of its credibility with the rest of the international community. That would be bad for Europe and even worse for the chances of a peaceful resolution to the Iran crisis.

Jane Austen portrait on show at Bodleian Library for World Book Day-Maev Kennedy

Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on Jane Austen portrait on show at Bodleian Library for World Book Day-Maev Kennedy



World Book Day will see Bodleian Library in Oxford display ‘new’ Jane Austen portrait and sampler – for one day only
Jane Austen as pictured in the portrait discovered by Dr Paula Byrne.

Photograph: BBC
A newly discovered portrait claimed to be of Jane Austen, and a sampler worked in slightly wonky stitches by the author as a girl, will go on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford for just one day to celebrate World Book Day on Thursday.

The claim that the pencil drawing of a beaky nosed woman was the first genuine portrait of Austen as an adult author made international headlines late last year. The picture was given to Dr Paula Byrne, author of a new book on Austen, by her husband – and apart from the inscription on the back reading “Miss Jane Austin”, Byrne said she immediately recognised “the striking family resemblance”, particularly the long, straight Austen nose.

The only authenticated portrait of Austen is a charming if amateurish watercolour sketch by her sister Cassandra, which was then adapted as an even more sentimental portrait when her novels were published.

The portrait was the subject of a BBC documentary and the attribution has been passionately debated by Austen scholars – and Richard Ovenden, deputy librarian at the Bodleian, expects it and the sampler to provoke a lot more debate among visitors to the library.

The sampler is being loaned for the day by another private collector.

The sampler is a prayer, signed Jane Austen 1787 – the stitching is frayed so that it now appears to read 1797 – and was worked when she was about 11. A note on the back says an early owner was related to Austen and given it as a memento.

Austen created an equally uncertain young needlewoman in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney says to Catherine Morland that he has had time to read more novels: “I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!” Catherine responds ruefully: “Not very good I am afraid.”

• Jane Austen Revealed, free at the Bodleian, Oxford, Thursday 1 March

Violent Uproar in Afghanistan Casts Shadow on U.S. Pullout-MATTHEW ROSENBERG and THOM SHANKER

Posted by admin On February - 27 - 2012 Comments Off on Violent Uproar in Afghanistan Casts Shadow on U.S. Pullout-MATTHEW ROSENBERG and THOM SHANKER

An American soldier guarding the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan last year. Korans from the library at Parwan were mistakenly incinerated at the Bagram base last week.

WASHINGTON — American officials sought to reassure both Afghanistan’s government and a domestic audience on Sunday that the United States remained committed to the war after the weekend killing of two American military officers inside the Afghan Interior Ministry and days of deadly anti-American protests.

But behind the public pronouncements, American officials described a growing concern, even at the highest levels of the Obama administration and Pentagon, about the challenges of pulling off a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan that hinges on the close mentoring and training of army and police forces.

Despite an American-led training effort that has spanned years and cost tens of billions of dollars, the Afghan security forces are still widely seen as riddled with dangerously unreliable soldiers and police officers. The distrust has only deepened as a pattern of attacks by Afghan security forces on American and NATO service members, beginning years ago, has drastically worsened over the past few days. A grenade attack on Sunday, apparently by a protester, wounded at least six American soldiers.

Nearly a week of violent unrest after American personnel threw Korans into a pit of burning trash has brought into sharp relief the growing American and Afghan frustration — and, at times, open hostility — and the risks of a strategy that calls for American soldiers and civilians to work closely with Afghans.

The United States now has what one senior American official said was “almost no margin of error” in trying to achieve even limited goals in Afghanistan after a series of crises that have stirred resentment.

The official said the unrest might complicate but was unlikely to significantly alter the overall plan: to keep pulling out troops and focus instead on using Special Operations forces to train the Afghans and go after insurgent and militant leaders in targeted raids while diplomats try opening talks with the Taliban.

At the same time, the administration plans to continue negotiations on a long-term framework to guide relations with Afghanistan after the NATO mission through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ends in 2014. Officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies are to begin meeting this week to hammer out details of the various efforts, and to work out the size of the next round of withdrawals, which President Obama is expected to announce at a NATO summit meeting planned for May in Chicago.

Those immediate talks, officials say, could be most affected. What only weeks ago was an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in Afghanistan is now a palpable fury, and if the situation continues to deteriorate at its current pace, plans could be altered, the official said. “There’s a certain impatience — I mean, there are people who don’t see how we succeed under the current conditions, and their case is getting stronger,” the official said.

Hundreds of American military and civilian advisers have already been pulled out of the Afghan ministries and government departments in Kabul, the capital. While that move has been described as temporary, the official declined to speculate about what kind of long-term changes could be envisioned. The official and others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the crisis with Afghanistan.

Another administration official said the unrest was “going to have a really negative effect” on all the initiatives but added that much remained unclear and that the focus was on damage control.

Regardless of the challenges, and possible setbacks to vital negotiations, senior American officials said on Sunday that the mission had to go on. “This is not the time to decide that we’re done here,” the American ambassador in Kabul, Ryan C. Crocker, said in an interview on CNN. “We have got to redouble our efforts. We’ve got to create a situation in which Al Qaeda is not coming back.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed regret for the burning of the Korans but said it should not derail the American military and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan. “We are condemning it in the strongest possible terms,” she said in Rabat, Morocco, “but we also believe that the violence must stop, and the hard work of trying to build a more peaceful, prosperous and secure Afghanistan must continue.”

Another administration official said, however, that there was recognition that the commitment was most likely to carry a greater political cost. “There is no less a commitment to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan,” the official said. “But is there a concern now that many will question the need to stay? Yes — especially in an election year.”

A leading Republican candidate for president did appear to strike a more measured tone on Sunday in speaking about the crisis in Afghanistan while urging that the United States stay on its course.

Mitt Romney, speaking to Fox News, said: “It’s obviously very dangerous there, and the transition effort is not going as well as we’d like to see it go. But certainly the effort there is an important one, and we want to see the Afghan security troops finally able to secure their own country and bring our troops home when that job is done.”

He did, however, reiterate his opposition to the administration’s setting a public timetable for drawing down American forces in Afghanistan. And he and his main rival in the Republican field, Rick Santorum, on Sunday continued their harsh criticism of Mr. Obama’s apology for the Koran burnings.

On ABC News’s “This Week,” Mr. Santorum said the president’s apology showed weakness. “There was nothing deliberately done wrong here,” he said.

Even before this crisis, the Obama administration was scaling back American ambitions in Afghanistan, abandoning previous goals that focused on nation building, even if the result was just “Afghan good enough” — a pejorative phrase often used as shorthand for the low expectations many Westerners held for Afghanistan. Administration officials have described a current aim of leaving behind a relatively democratic government secure enough to keep Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for Al Qaeda and other militants who threaten the West.

But their often unhappy partner in that enterprise, President Hamid Karzai, has been the source of growing impatience for American officials. The Afghan leader is in a tight spot, needing to balance his domestic political considerations against his long-troubled relations with his Western backers, upon whose support his government survives.

Still, some officials have been complimentary of his repeated call for calm during the current crisis. In some past cases, Mr. Karzai was seen as trying to stoke his people’s anger against the Americans.

“So far, they’re saying the right things,” a senior defense official said. “Now it’s a matter of them doing the right things.”

The official and others said that in addition to policing the protests — which the Afghan security forces have, for the most part, done well — the Afghan government needed to do a better job of vetting its soldiers and police officers to help stem attacks on alliance troops by Afghans.

“The Afghans have to do their part as well,” the official said. “Our will to pursue the mission is strong but could ebb if the Afghans don’t follow through quickly on their end of the deal.”

One immediate fallout of the violence was a decision on Sunday by two senior Afghan national security officials — Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi — to delay a joint visit to Washington that had been set for this week.

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said efforts were under way to reschedule the visit, adding, “We believe that we can surmount recent challenges by working closely with our Afghan and ISAF partners to redouble our shared commitment to the sustained progress we’ve achieved together.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from Rabat, Morocco.

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