January 19, 2008

Musharraf on Balochistan: QUOTABLE QUOTES

State of the Union January/February 2008

Source: Atlantic Monthly

A report from the new Middle East—and a glimpse of its possible future

by Jeffrey Goldberg


And let’s not forget Pakistan, whose artificiality I was reminded of by Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani dictator, during an interview in the garrison city of Rawalpindi some years ago. At one point, he took exception to the idea that the Baluch, the quasi-nomadic people who inhabit the large deserts of Pakistan’s west (and Iran’s southeast), might feel unattached to the government in Islamabad. In so doing, he undermined the idea of Pakistan as a naturally unitary state. “I know many residents of Baluchistan who are appreciative of Pakistan and the many programs and the like that Pakistan has for Baluchistan,” he said, referring to one of his states as if it were another country. He continued: “Why [is Pakistan] thought of as artificial and not others? Didn’t your country almost come to an end in a civil war? You faced larger problems than we ever have.”

Musharraf also made passing reference to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the so-called Durand Line. It was named after the English official who in 1893 forced the Afghans to accept it as their border with British India, even though it sliced through the territory of a large ethnic group, the truculent Pashtuns, who dominate Afghan politics and warmaking and who have always disliked and, accordingly, disrespected the line. Musharraf warned about the hazards of even thinking about the line. “Why would there be such a desire to change existing situations?” he said. “There would be instability to come out of this situation, should this question be put on the table. It is best to leave borders alone. If you start asking about this and that border or this and that arrangement …” He didn’t finish the sentence.

All of this is very confusing, of course. Many Americans (including, until not so long ago, President Bush) do not know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni, let alone between a Sindhi and a Punjabi. Just try to imagine, say, Secretary of State Podhoretz briefing President Giuliani on his first meeting with the leaders of the Baluchistan Liberation Army, and it becomes obvious that we may be entering a new and hazardous era.

After Iraq: New Middle East—and a glimpse of its possible future

State of the Union January/February 2008

Source: Atlantic Monthly

A report from the new Middle East—and a glimpse of its possible future

by Jeffrey Goldberg

Not long ago, in a decrepit prison in Iraqi Kurdistan, a senior interrogator with the Kurdish intelligence service decided, for my entertainment and edification, to introduce me to an al-Qaeda terrorist named Omar. “This one is crazy,” the interrogator said. “Don’t get close, or he’ll bite you.”

Omar was a Sunni Arab from a village outside Mosul; he was a short and weedy man, roughly 30 years old, who radiated a pure animal anger. He was also a relentless jabberer; he did not shut up from the moment we were introduced. I met him in an unventilated interrogation room that smelled of bleach and paint. He was handcuffed, and he cursed steadily, making appalling accusations about the sexual practices of the interrogator’s mother. He cursed the Kurds, in general, as pig-eaters, blasphemers, and American lackeys. As Omar ranted, the interrogator smiled. “I told you the Arabs don’t like the Kurds,” he said. I’ve known the interrogator for a while, and this is his perpetual theme: close proximity to Arabs has sabotaged Kurdish happiness.

Omar, the Kurds claim, was once an inconsequential deputy to the now-deceased terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Omar disputed this characterization. By his own telling, he accomplished prodigies of terror against the pro-American Kurdish forces in the northern provinces of Iraq. “You are worse than the Americans,” he told his Kurdish interrogator. “You are the enemy of the Muslim nation. You are enemies of God.” The interrogator—I will not name him here, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment—sat sturdily opposite Omar, absorbing his invective for several minutes, absentmindedly paging through a copy of the Koran.

During a break in the tirade, the interrogator asked Omar, for my benefit, to rehearse his biography. Omar’s life was undistinguished. His father was a one-donkey farmer; Omar was educated in Saddam’s school system, which is to say he was hardly educated; he joined the army, and then Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda–affiliated terrorist group that operates along the Iranian frontier. And then, on the blackest of days, as he described it, he fell prisoner to the Kurds.

The interrogator asked me if I had any questions for Omar. Yes, I said: Have you been tortured in this prison?

“No,” he said.

“What would you do if you were to be released from prison right now?”

“I would get a knife and cut your head off,” he said.

At this, the interrogator smacked Omar across the face with the Koran.

Omar yelped in shock. The interrogator said: “Don’t talk that way to a guest!”

Now, Omar rounded the bend. A bolus of spit flew from his mouth as he screamed. The interrogator taunted Omar further. “This book of yours,” he said, waving the Koran. “‘Cut off their heads! Cut off their heads!’ That’s the answer for everything!” Omar cursed the interrogator’s mother once again; the interrogator trumped him by cursing the Prophet Muhammad’s mother.

The meeting was then adjourned.

In the hallway, I asked the interrogator, “Aren’t you Muslim?”

“Of course,” he said.

“But you’re not a big believer in the Koran?”

“The Koran’s OK,” he said. “I don’t have any criticism of Muhammad’s mother. I just say that to get him mad.”

He went on, “The Koran wasn’t written by God, you know. It was written by Arabs. The Arabs were imperialists, and they forced it on us.” This is a common belief among negligibly religious Kurds, of whom there are many millions.

“That’s your problem, then,” I said. “Arabs.”

“Of course,” he replied. “The Arabs are responsible for all our misfortunes.”

“What about the Turks?” I asked. It is the Turks, after all, who are incessantly threatening to invade Iraqi Kurdistan, which they decline to call “Iraqi Kurdistan,” in more or less the same obstreperous manner that they refuse to call the Armenian genocide a genocide.

“The Turks, too,” he said. “Everyone who denies us our right to be free is responsible for our misfortunes.”

We stepped out into the sun. “The Kurds never had friends. Now we have the most important friend, America. We’re closer to freeing ourselves from the Arabs than ever,” he said.

To the Kurds, the Arabs are bearers of great misfortune. The decades-long oppression of Iraq’s Kurds culminated during the rule of Saddam Hussein, whose Sunni Arab–dominated army committed genocide against them in the late 1980s. Yet their unfaltering faith that they will one day be free may soon be rewarded: the Kurds are finally edging close to independence. Much blood may be spilled as Kurdistan unhitches itself from Iraq—Turkey is famously sour on the idea of Kurdish independence, fearing a riptide of nationalist feeling among its own unhappy Kurds—but independence for Iraq’s Kurds seems, if not immediate, then in due course inevitable.

In many ways, the Kurds are functionally independent already. The Kurdish regional government has its own army, collects its own taxes, and negotiates its own oil deals. For the moment, Kurdish officials say they would be satisfied with membership in a loose-jointed federation with the Shiite and Sunni Arabs to their south. But in Erbil and Sulaymani, the two main cities of the Kurdish region, the Iraqi flag is banned from flying; Arabic is scarcely heard on the streets (and is never spoken by young people, who are happily ignorant of it), and Baghdad is referred to as a foreign capital. In October, when I was last in the region, I called the office of a high official of the peshmerga, the Kurdish guerrilla army, but was told that he had “gone to Iraq” for the week.

The Bush administration gave many reasons for the invasion of Iraq, but the satisfaction of Kurdish national desire was not one of them. Quite the opposite: the goal was, and remains, a unified, democratic Iraq. In fact, key officials of the administration have a history of indifference to, and ignorance of, the subject of Kurdish nationalism. At a conference in 2004, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated, “What has been impressive to me so far is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq.” As Peter Galbraith, a former American diplomat and an advocate for Kurdish independence, has observed, Rice’s statement was disconnected from observable reality—shortly before she spoke, 80 percent of all Iraqi Kurdish adults had signed a petition calling for a vote on independence.

Nor were neoconservative ideologues—who had the most-elaborate visions of a liberal, democratic Iraq—interested in the Kurdish cause, or even particularly knowledgeable about its history. Just before the “Mission Accomplished” phase of the war, I spoke about Kurdistan to an audience that included Norman Podhoretz, the vicariously martial neoconservative who is now a Middle East adviser to Rudolph Giuliani. After the event, Podhoretz seemed authentically bewildered. “What’s a Kurd, anyway?” he asked me.

As America approaches the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the list of the war’s unintended consequences is without end (as opposed to the list of intended consequences, which is, so far, vanishingly brief). The list includes, notably, the likelihood that the Kurds will achieve their independence and that Iraq will go the way of Gaul and be divided into three parts—but it also includes much more than that. Across the Middle East, and into south-central Asia, the intrinsically artificial qualities of several states have been brought into focus by the omnivorous American response to the attacks of 9/11; it is not just Iraq and Afghanistan that appear to be incoherent amalgamations of disparate tribes and territories. The precariousness of such states as Lebanon and Pakistan, of course, predates the invasion of Iraq. But the wars against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and especially Saddam Hussein have made the durability of the modern Middle East state system an open question in ways that it wasn’t a mere seven years ago.

It used to be that the most far-reaching and inventive question one could ask about the Middle East was this: How many states, one or two—Israel or a Palestinian state, or both—will one day exist on the slip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River?

Today, that question seems trivial when compared with this one: How many states will there one day be between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River? Three? Four? Five? Six? And why stop at the western bank of the Euphrates? Why not go all the way to the Indus River? Between the Mediterranean and the Indus today lie Israel and the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Long-term instability could lead to the breakup of many of these states.

All states are man-made. But some are more man-made than others. It was Winston Churchill (a bust of whom Bush keeps in the Oval Office) who, in the aftermath of World War I, roped together three provinces of the defeated and dissolved Ottoman Empire, adopted the name Iraq, and bequeathed it to a luckless branch of the Hashemite tribe of west Arabia. Churchill would eventually call the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq one of his worst mistakes—but by then, there was nothing he could do about it.

The British, together with the French, gave the world the modern Middle East. In addition to manufacturing the country now called Iraq, the grand Middle East settlement shrank Turkey by the middle of the 1920s to the size of the Anatolian peninsula; granted what are now Syria and Lebanon to the French; and kept Egypt under British control. The British also broke Palestine in two, calling its eastern portion Trans-Jordan and installing a Hashemite prince, Abdullah, as its ruler, and at the same time promising Western Palestine to the Jews, while implying to the Arabs there that it was their land, too. As the historian David Fromkin puts it in A Peace to End All Peace, his definitive account of the machinations among the Great Powers that resulted in the modern map of the Middle East, the region

became what it is today both because the European powers undertook to re-shape it and because Britain and France failed to ensure that the dynasties, the states, and the political system that they established would permanently endure.

Of course, the current turbulence in the Middle East is attributable also to factors beyond the miscalculations of both the hubristic, seat-of-the-pants Bush administration and the hubristic, seat-of-the-pants French and British empires. Among other things, there is the crisis within Islam, a religion whose doctrinal triumphalism—Muslims believe the Koran to be the final, authoritative word of God—is undermined daily by the global balance of power, with predictable and terrible consequences (see: the life of Mohammed Atta et al.); and there is the related and continuing crisis of globalization, which drives people who have not yet received the message that the world is now flat to find solace and meaning in their fundamental ethnic and religious identities.

But since 9/11, America’s interventions in the region—and especially in Iraq—have exacerbated the tensions there, and have laid bare how artificial, and how tenuously constructed, the current map of the Middle East really is. By invading Iraq, the Bush administration sought not only to deprive the country of its putative weapons of mass destruction, but also to shake things up in Iraq’s chaotic neighborhood; toppling Saddam and planting the seeds of democracy in Iraq would, it was hoped, make possible the transformation of the region. The region is being transformed; that transformation is just turning out to be a different, and possibly far broader, one than imagined. As Dennis Ross, who was a Middle East envoy for both Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, and is now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, puts it, the Iraq War has begun to produce “wholesale change”—but “it won’t be the one envisioned by the administration.” An independent Kurdistan would be just the start.

Envisioning what the Middle East might look like five or 10 or 50 years from now is by definition a speculative exercise. But precisely because of the scope of the transformation that’s under way, imagining the future of the region, and figuring out a smart approach to it, should be at the top of America’s post-Iraq priorities. At the moment, however, neither the Bush administration nor the candidates for the presidency seem to be thinking about the future of the Middle East (beyond the immediate situation in Iraq and the specific question of what to do about Iran’s nuclear intentions) in any particularly creative way. At the State Department and on the National Security Council, there is a poverty of imagination (to borrow a phrase from the debate about the causes of chronic intelligence failure) about the shifting map of the region.

It’s not just the fragility of the post-1922 borders that has been exposed by recent history; it’s also the limitations of the leading foreign-policy philosophies—realism and neoconservatism. Formulating a foreign policy after Iraq will require coming to terms with a reshaped Middle East, and thinking about it in new ways.

Unintended Consequences

In an effort to understand the shape of things to come in the Middle East, I spent several weeks speaking with more than 25 experts and traveling to Iraq, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. Many of the conversations were colored, naturally, by the ideological predispositions of those I talked with. The realists quake at instability, which threatens (as they see it) the only real American interest in the Middle East, the uninterrupted flow of Arab oil. Iranophobes see that country’s empowerment, and the threat of regional Shiite-Sunni warfare, as the greatest cause for worry. Pro-Palestinian academics blame Israel, and its friends in Washington, for trying to force the collapse of the Arab state system. The liberal interventionists lament the poor execution of the Iraq War, and wish that the Bush administration had gone about exporting democracy to the Middle East with more subtlety and less hypocrisy. The neoconservatives, who cite the American Revolution as an example of what might be called “constructive volatility,” see no reason to regret instability (even as they concede that it’s hard to imagine a happy end to the Iraq War anytime soon).

Some experts didn’t want to play at all. When I called David Fromkin and asked him to speculate about the future of the Middle East, he said morosely, “The Middle East has no future.” And when I spoke to Edward Luttwak, the iconoclastic military historian at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, he said there was no reason to engage the subject: the West is unable to shape the future of the Middle East, so why bother? “The United States could abandon Israel altogether, or embrace the general Arab cause 100 percent,” he said, but “the Arabs will find a new reason to be anti-American.”

Many experts I spoke to ventured that it would be foolish to predict what will happen in the Middle East next Tuesday, let alone in 2018, or in 2028—but that it would also be foolish not to be actively thinking about, and preparing for, what might come next.

So what might, in fact, come next? The most important first-order consequence of the Iraq invasion, envisioned by many of those I spoke to, is the possibility of a regional conflict between Sunnis and Shiites for theological and political supremacy in the Middle East. This is a war that could be fought by proxies of Saudi Arabia, the Sunni flag-bearer, against Iran—or perhaps by Iran and Saudi Arabia themselves—on battlefields across Iraq, in Lebanon and Syria, and in Saudi Arabia’s largely Shiite Eastern Province, under which most of the kingdom’s oil lies. In 2004, King Abdullah II of Jordan, a Sunni, spoke of the creation of a Shiite “crescent,” running from Iran, through Iraq, and into Syria and Lebanon, that would destabilize the Arab world. Jordan, which is an indispensably important American ally, is a Sunni country, but its population is also majority-Palestinian, and many of those Palestinians support the Islamist Hamas movement, one of whose main sponsors is Shiite Iran.

There are likely second-order consequences, as well. Rampant Kurdish nationalism, unleashed by the invasion, may spill over into the Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran. America’s reliance on anti-democratic regimes, such as Egypt’s, for help in its campaign against Islamist terrorism could strengthen the Islamist opposition in those countries. An American decision to confront Iran could have an enduring impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process—a tenuous undertaking to begin with—because the chief enemies of compromise are the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Then there are third-order consequences: in the next 20 years, new states could emerge as old ones shrink, fracture, or disappear. Khuzestan, a mostly Arab province of majority-Persian Iran, could become independent. Lebanon, whose existence is perpetually inexplicable, could become partly absorbed by Syria, whose future is also uncertain. The Alawites who rule Syria are members of a Shiite splinter sect, and they are a tiny minority in their own, mostly Sunni country (the Alawites briefly ruled an independent state in the mountains above the Mediterranean). Syria, out of a population of 20 million, has roughly 2 million Kurds, who are mostly indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to the government in Damascus.

Kuwait is another state whose future looks unstable; after all, it has already been subsumed once, and could be again—though, under another scenario, it could gain territory and population, if Iraq’s Sunnis seek an alliance with it as a way of protecting themselves from their country’s newly powerful Shiites. Bahrain, a majority-Shiite country ruled by Sunnis, could well be annexed by Iran (which already claims it), and Yemen could expand its territory at Saudi Arabia’s expense. And the next decades might see the birth of one or two Palestinian states—and, perhaps, the end of Israel as a Jewish state, a fervent dream of much of the Muslim world.

And let’s not forget Pakistan, whose artificiality I was reminded of by Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani dictator, during an interview in the garrison city of Rawalpindi some years ago. At one point, he took exception to the idea that the Baluch, the quasi-nomadic people who inhabit the large deserts of Pakistan’s west (and Iran’s southeast), might feel unattached to the government in Islamabad. In so doing, he undermined the idea of Pakistan as a naturally unitary state. “I know many residents of Baluchistan who are appreciative of Pakistan and the many programs and the like that Pakistan has for Baluchistan,” he said, referring to one of his states as if it were another country. He continued: “Why [is Pakistan] thought of as artificial and not others? Didn’t your country almost come to an end in a civil war? You faced larger problems than we ever have.”

Musharraf also made passing reference to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the so-called Durand Line. It was named after the English official who in 1893 forced the Afghans to accept it as their border with British India, even though it sliced through the territory of a large ethnic group, the truculent Pashtuns, who dominate Afghan politics and warmaking and who have always disliked and, accordingly, disrespected the line. Musharraf warned about the hazards of even thinking about the line. “Why would there be such a desire to change existing situations?” he said. “There would be instability to come out of this situation, should this question be put on the table. It is best to leave borders alone. If you start asking about this and that border or this and that arrangement …” He didn’t finish the sentence.

All of this is very confusing, of course. Many Americans (including, until not so long ago, President Bush) do not know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni, let alone between a Sindhi and a Punjabi. Just try to imagine, say, Secretary of State Podhoretz briefing President Giuliani on his first meeting with the leaders of the Baluchistan Liberation Army, and it becomes obvious that we may be entering a new and hazardous era.

Mapping the New Middle East

“Nobody is thinking about whether or not the map is still viable,” Ralph Peters told me. Peters is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and intelligence expert who writes frequent critiques of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. “It’s not a question about how America wants the map to look; it’s a question of how the map is going to look, whether we like it or not.”

In the June 2006 issue of Armed Forces Journal, Peters published a map of what he thought a more logical Middle East might look like. Rather than following the European-drawn borders, he made his map by tracing the region’s “blood borders,” invisible lines that would separate battling ethnic and sectarian groups. He wrote of his map,

While the Middle East has far more problems than dysfunctional borders alone—from cultural stagnation through scandalous inequality to deadly religious extremism—the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region’s comprehensive failure isn’t Islam but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by our own diplomats.

Peters drew onto his map an independent Kurdistan and an abridged Turkey; he shrank Iran (handing over Khuzestan to an as-yet-imaginary Arab-Shiite state he carved out of what is now southern Iraq); he placed Jordan and Yemen on a steroid regimen; and he dismembered Saudi Arabia because he sees it as a primary enemy of Muslim modernization.

It was an act of knowing whimsy, he said. But it was seen by the Middle East’s more fevered minds as a window onto the American imperial planning process. “The reaction was pure paranoia, just hysterics,” Peters told me. “The Turks in particular got very upset.” Peters explained how he made the map. “The art department gave me a blank map, and I took a crayon and drew on it. After it came out, people started arguing on the Internet that this border should, in fact, be 50 miles this way, and that border 50 miles that way, but the width of the crayon itself was 200 miles.”

Given the preexisting sensitivities in the Middle East to white men wielding crayons, it’s not surprising that his map would be met with such anxiety. There is a belief, prevalent in the Middle East and among pro-Palestinian American academics, that the Bush administration’s actual goal—or the goal, at least, of its favored theoreticians—is to rip up the existing map of the Arab Middle East in order to help Israel.

“One of the most evil things that is happening is that a bunch of people who are fundamentally opposed to the existence of these nation-states have gotten into the control room,” Rashid Khalidi, who is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, told me. “They are irresponsible and highly ideological neoconservatives, generally, and they have been trying to smash the Arab state system. Their basic philosophy is, the smaller the Arab state, the better.”

Neoconservatives inside the administration deny this. “We never had the creation of new states as a goal,” Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy, told me, and indeed, there is no proof that the administration sought the breakup of Iraq. On the contrary: shortly after the invasion, I saw Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and I told him I had just returned from Kurdistan. Maybe he was just feeling snappish (a few minutes earlier he had had a confrontation with Al Franken that ended with Wolfowitz saying “Fuck you” to the comedian), but Wolfowitz looked at me and, as though he were channeling the Turkish foreign minister, said, “We call it northern Iraq. Northern Iraq.”

Peters said he noticed early on as well that the administration was committed to a unified Iraq, and to the preexisting, European-drawn map of the Middle East. “This is how strange things are—the greatest force for democracy in the world has signed up for the maintenance of the European model of the world,” he said. “Even the neocons, who look like revolutionaries, just want to substitute Bourbons for Hapsburgs,” he continued, and added, “Not just in Iraq.” (Peters acknowledged that neoconservatives outside the administration were more radical than those on the inside, like Feith and Wolfowitz.)

So just what did the neoconservatives, the most influential foreign-policy school of the Bush years, have in mind? Feith, whose (inevitable) book on the invasion and its aftermath will be published in March, told me that the neoconservatives—at least those inside the administration—did not hope to create new borders, but did see a value in “instability,” especially since, in his view, the Middle East was already destabilized by the presence of Saddam Hussein. “There is something I once heard attributed to Goethe,” he said, “that ‘Disorder is worse than injustice.’ We have an interest in stability, of course, but we should not overemphasize the value of stability when there is an opportunity to make the world a better or safer place for us. For example, during the Nixon presidency, and the George H. W. Bush presidency, the emphasis was on stabilizing relations with the Soviet Union. During the Reagan administration, the goal was to put the Communists on the ash heap of history. Those Americans who argued for stability tried to preserve the Soviet Union. But it was Reagan who was right.” Feith had hoped that the demise of Iraq’s Baath regime would allow a new sort of governance to take hold in an Arab country. “We understood that if you did something as big as replacing Saddam, then there are going to be all kinds of consequences, many of which you can’t possibly anticipate. Something good may come, something negative might come out.”

So far, it’s been mainly negative. The neoconservatives’ big idea was that American-style democracy would quickly take hold in Iraq, spread through the Arab Middle East, and then be followed by the collapse of al-Qaeda, who would no longer have American-backed authoritarian Arab regimes to rally against. But democracy has turned out to be a habit not easily cultivated, and the idea that Arab political culture is capable of absorbing democratic notions of governance has fallen into disfavor.

In December of 2006, I went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington for a ceremony honoring Natan Sharansky, who had just received the Medal of Freedom from President Bush. Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident, had become the president’s tutor on the importance of democratic reform in the Arab world, and during the ceremony, he praised the president for pursuing unpopular policies. As he talked, the man next to me, a senior Israeli security official, whispered, “What a child.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s not smart … He wants Jordan to be more democratic. Do you know what that would mean for Israel and America? If you were me, would you rather have a stable monarch who is secular and who has a good intelligence service on your eastern border, or would you rather have a state run by Hamas? That’s what he would get if there were no more monarchy in Jordan.”

After the ceremony, I spoke with Sharansky about this critique. He acknowledged that he is virtually the lone neoconservative thinker in Israel, and one of the few who still believes that democracy is exportable to the Arab world, by force or otherwise.

“After I came back from Washington once,” he said, “I saw [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon in the Knesset, and he said, ‘Mazel tov, Natan. You’ve convinced President Bush of something that doesn’t exist.’”

A War about Nothing?

t is true that the neoconservatives’ dream of Middle East democracy has proved to be a mirage. But it’s not as though the neocons’ principal foils, the foreign-policy realists, who view stability as a paramount virtue, have covered themselves in glory in the post-9/11 era. Brent Scowcroft, President George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser and Washington’s senior advocate of foreign-policy realism, told me not long ago of a conversation he had had with his onetime protégée Condoleezza Rice. “She says, ‘We’re going to democratize Iraq,’ and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing, that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for 50 years, and so on and so forth. But we’ve had 50 years of peace.” Of course, what Scowcroft fails to note here is that al-Qaeda attacked us in part because America is the prime backer of its enemies, the autocratic rulers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

It is conceivable, if paradoxical, that the actual outcome of the recent turmoil in the Middle East could be a new era of stability, fostered by realists in this country and in the region itself. This might be the most unlikely potential outcome of the Iraq invasion—that it turns out to be the Seinfeld War, a war about nothing (except, of course, the loss of a great many lives and vast sums of money). Everything changes if America attacks Iranian nuclear sites, of course—but the latest National Intelligence Estimate, which came out in early December and reported that Iran had shut down its covert nuclear- weapons program in 2003, makes it unlikely that the Bush administration will pursue this option. And the next one or two U.S. presidents, who will be inheriting both the Iraq and Afghanistan portfolios, will probably be hesitant to attack any more Muslim countries. It’s not impossible to imagine that, in 20 years, the map of the Middle East will look exactly like it does today.

“We tend to underestimate the power of states,” Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. “The PC way of looking at the 21st century is that non-state actors—al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, general chaos—have replaced states as the key players in the Middle East. But states are more resilient than that.” He added that a newfound fear of instability might even buttress existing states.

Jordan is an interesting example of this phenomenon. While it would seem eminently vulnerable to the chaos—Iraq is to its east, the Palestinians and Israel to its west, and Syria to the north—Jordan is, in fact, almost tranquil, in part because it is led by a savvy king (scion of a family, the Hashemites, who are quite used to living on the balls of their feet) and in part because most of its people, having viewed from orchestra seats the bedlam in Iraq, want quiet, even if that means forgoing all the features of Western democracy.

Jordan might be an exception, however. Even a passing look at a country like Saudi Arabia suggests that internally driven regime changes are real possibilities. In Egypt the aging Hosni Mubarak is trying to engineer his unproven younger son, Gamal, into the presidency. It does not seem likely, at the moment, that Gamal would succeed in the job. Egypt was once a country that could project its power into Syria; now its leaders are having trouble controlling the Sinai Peninsula, home to a couple hundred thousand Bedouin, who are Pashtun-like in their stiff-neckedness and who seem more and more unwilling to accept Cairo’s rule. America, of course, continues to embrace Mubarak, seeing no alternative except the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. This pattern is familiar in American diplomacy; President Bush’s long embrace of Musharraf comes to mind, and there are various, bipartisan antecedents—such as, most notably, Jimmy Carter’s support for the Shah of Iran.

Beyond Realism and Neoconservatism

n the years since his Iraq project fell into disrepair, President Bush has acted like a realist while speaking like a utopian neoconservative. He has touted the virtues of democracy to the very people subjugated by pro-American dictators. This is probably not a good long-term policy for managing chaos in the Middle East.

The problem is that Iraq has already proven—and Iran continues to prove—that Americans cannot make Middle Easterners do what is in America’s best interest. “Whether the Middle East is unimportant or terrifically important, when it comes to doing anything about it, the actions undertaken are all ineffectual or counterproductive,” Edward Luttwak told me. “In the Middle East, it doesn’t help to be nice to them, or to bomb them.”

A first step in restoring America’s influence in the Middle East is to accept with humility the notion that America—like Britain before it—cannot organize the region according to its own interests. (Ideologues of varying positions tend to quote for their own benefit the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on the proper use of American power—but perhaps what the debate needs is a version of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the courage to change the regimes I can, the grace to accept the regimes I can’t …”) What’s called for is a foreign policy in which the neoconservative’s belief in the liberating power of democracy is yoked to the realist’s understanding of unintended consequences.

Of course, winning in Iraq—or at least not losing— would help fortify America’s deterrent power, and check Iran’s involvement in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. America’s situation in Iraq is not quite so dire as it was a year ago; the troop surge has worked to suppress much violence, and there have been tentative steps by both Shiite and Sunni leaders to prevent all-out sectarian war. To be sure, very few experts predict with any assurance an optimistic future for Iraq. “Ten years is a reasonable time period to think that the sectarian conflict will need to play out,” Martin Indyk, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told me. “The parties will eventually exhaust themselves. Perhaps they have already, although I fear that the surge has just provided a break for Sunnis and Shias to better position themselves for further conflict when American forces are drawn down. There’s no indication yet that the Shias are prepared to share power or that the Sunnis are prepared to live as a minority under Shia majoritarian rule.”

Erstwhile optimists about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, myself included, have been chastened by recent events. But the U.S. would do well not to abandon the long-term hope that democracy, exported carefully, and slowly, can change reality. This would be not a five-year project, but a 50-year one. It would focus on aiding Middle Eastern journalists and democracy activists, on building strong universities and independent judiciaries—and on being discerning enough not to aid Muslim democracy activists when American help would undermine their credibility. If Arab moderates and democrats “begin this work now, in 10 or 15 years we will have a horse in this race,” said Omran Salman, the head of an Arab reform organization called Aafaq. “We’ve sacrificed democracy for stability, but it’s a fabricated stability. When someone’s sitting on your head, it’s not stable.” Salman, a Shiite from Bahrain, said he opposes Western military intervention in certain cases, preferring American “moral intervention.” The Americans “have to keep pressure on regimes to force them to make reforms and open their societies. Now what the regimes do is oppress liberals.”

One problem is that American moral capital has been depleted, which only underscores the practical importance to national security of, among other things, banning torture, and considering carefully the impact an American strike on Iran would have on the typical Iranian. After 30 years of oppressive fundamentalist Muslim rule, many of Iran’s people are pro-American; that could change, however, if American bombs begin to fall on their country.

The Next Phase

here is a way to go beyond merely managing the current instability, and to capitalize on it. I’m aware that this is not the most opportune moment in American history to disinter Wilsonian idealism, but America does now have the chance to help right some historic wrongs—for one thing, wrongs committed against the Kurds. (There are other peoples, of course, in the Middle East that the U.S. could stand up for, if it weren’t quite so committed to the preservation of the existing map; the blacks in the south of Sudan—one of the most disastrous countries created by Europe—would surely like to be free from the Arab government that rules them from Khartoum.)

Iraq has been unstable since its creation because its Kurds and Shiites did not want to be ruled from Baghdad by a Sunni minority. So why not remove one source of instability—the perennially oppressed Kurds—from the formula? Kurdish independence was—literally—one of Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points (No. 12, to be precise), and it is quite obviously a moral cause (and no less moral than the cause that preoccupies the West—that of Palestinian independence). There is danger here, of course: Kurdish freedom might spark secessionist impulses among other Middle Eastern ethnic groups. But these impulses already exist, and one lesson from the British and French management of the Middle East is that people cannot be suppressed forever.

For the moment, the Kurds of Iraq are playing the American game, officially supporting the U.S. and its flawed vision of Iraqi federalism, in part because the Turks fear Kurdish independence. Turkey has been an important American ally except for the one time when Turkey’s friendship would have truly mattered—at the outset of the Iraq War, when Turkey refused to let the American 4th Infantry Division invade northern Iraq from its territory. The U.S. does not owe Turkey quite as much as its advocates think. The Kurds, on the other hand, are the most stalwart U.S. allies in Iraq, and their leaders are certainly the most responsible, working for the country’s unity even while hoping for something better for their own people. “If Iraq fails, no one will be able to blame the Kurds,” said Barham Salih, a Kurd who is Iraq’s deputy prime minister.

he next phase of Middle East history could start 160 miles north of Baghdad, in Kirkuk, which the Kurds consider their Jerusalem. One day, in the home of Abdul Rahman Mustafa, the Kurdish-Iraqi governor there, I learned about the mature position the Kurds are adopting. Over the course of its 20 years, Saddam’s regime expelled Kurds from Kirkuk and gave their homes to Arabs from the south. The government now is slowly—too slowly for many Kurds—reversing the expulsions. A group of dignitaries had come to see the governor on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. To reach the governor’s office, you must navigate an endless series of barricades manned by tense-seeming Kurdish soldiers. The house itself is surrounded by blast walls. Kirkuk has a vigorous Sunni terrorist underground, and an enormous car bomb had killed seven people the day before.

I asked the governor, who is an unexcitable lawyer of about 60, if “his people”—I phrased it this way—were seeking independence from Iraq. “My people,” he said, “are all the people of Kirkuk.” The men seated about his living room nodded in agreement. “My job is to help all the people of Kirkuk have better lives.” More nodding. “My friends here all know that we will have justice for those who were hurt in the regime of Saddam, but we will not hurt others in order to get justice.” Even more nodding, and mumblings of approval.

Four men eventually got up to leave. They kissed the governor and then left the house. The governor turned to me and said, “One of those men is Arab. Everyone is welcome here.”

I told him I would like to ask my question again. “Do your people want independence from Iraq?”

“Yes, of course my people, most of them, want a new, different situation,” he said. “I think—I will be careful now—I think that we will have what we need soon. Please don’t ask me any more specific questions about what we need and want.”

I asked, instead, for his analysis of the situation—did he think the Sunni-Shiite struggle would become worse, or would it burn out? He laughed. “I cannot predict anything about this country. I would never have predicted that I would be governor of Kirkuk. This is a city that expelled Kurds like me until the Americans came. So I couldn’t predict my own future. I only know that we won’t go back to the way it was before.”

He went on, “I listen to television about the future, but I don’t believe anything I hear.”

Later that evening, as I was looking over my notes of the conversation, I recalled another comment, made by a man who thought he understood the Middle East. A little over a year ago, I ran into Paul Bremer, the ex–grand vizier of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the man who disbanded the Iraqi army, among other achievements. We were at Reagan National Airport; it was the day after the Iraq Study Group report was released, and I asked Bremer what he thought of it. He said he had not yet read it. I told him that from what I could tell, the experts were already divided on its recommendations. Bremer laughed, and said, with what I’m fairly sure was a complete lack of self-awareness, “Who really is an Iraq expert, anyway?”

The URL for this page is http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200801/goldberg-mideast.

Critical Questions: The U.S.-Iranian Naval Incident


On January 6, five small Iranian boats, likely from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), approached three U.S. Navy ships that were transiting the Strait of Hormuz. The navy ships warned the boats to remain clear; however, the five small boats engaged in aggressive maneuvering and came as close as 200 yards from one of the vessels. During the encounter, one of the small boats placed what appeared to be small, white floating boxes in the path of the three U.S. ships. Also during the event, a threatening radio transmission could be heard on a commonly used maritime radio frequency saying, “You will explode in a few minutes.” Whether this transmission was made by Iranian forces in the small boats, an Iranian command post ashore, or by some distant third party who simply wanted to stir things up (all are plausible), the U.S. ships received the communication and perceived an imminent threat.

Q1: Was this an intentional Iranian provocation?

A1: It may have been. The timing—just before President Bush’s arrival in the Gulf—suggests the incident could have been intended as a signal to Arab Gulf states that Iranian forces are not intimidated by massive U.S. military power in the Gulf. Given close ties between elements of the Iranian leadership and the IRGC, it is difficult to dismiss it merely as a rogue operation or an innocent misunderstanding. Iranian intelligence is known to survey U.S. government facilities in times of tension, and this incident suggests that surveillance has extended to the seas.

Q2: Did Iran learn something from the incident?

A2: Absolutely. Both sides already know how to get along in the Gulf. There is routine interaction between U.S. Navy ships and both the IRGCN and the regular Iranian Navy that normally involves professional and predictable radio communications. This helps ensure safety of navigation for both sides in a relatively confined body of water. By engaging in close-in maneuvering with five small boats, Iran seems to have been testing how the United States would respond to an increasingly imminent threat. The deployment of the seemingly innocuous floating boxes is especially ominous, as it could seek to understand how the U.S. Navy would respond to drifting mines or some form of maritime improvised explosive device (IED) in the future. Additionally, the Iranian leadership must have been chagrined by news reports indicating that the U.S. ships were just seconds away from opening fire. Iran learned how close they came to precipitating a lethal response from the U.S. Navy as well as how strongly the most senior levels of the U.S. government will react to such activity.

Q3: Will there be more of this kind of action?

A3: There may be some, but it will probably be more cautious. Iran cannot win a conventional confrontation with the United States, and even an unconventional confrontation would likely leave Iran badly battered. At the same time, Iran is likely to seek to reinforce an image of military fearlessness in front of the Arab Gulf states. The longer-term Iranian goal is certainly to assert more influence in the Gulf while the United States exerts less, and that is a strategy that requires patience to execute.

As long as Iran is testing limits, however, the potential for an armed confrontation—and its unpredictable aftermath—will remain elevated. The U.S. chief of naval operations, Admiral Gary Roughead, highlighted a lack of operational communication when he told the Boston Globe recently, “I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy. I don’t have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or Guard.” The relatively irregular nature of the IRGCN makes military-to-military contacts especially difficult to institutionalize and is exacerbated by the IRGC’s role as an anti-American bastion inside the Iranian security establishment.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

Russia ready to use nuclear weapons if threatened - army chief

14:01 | 19/ 01/ 2008

MOSCOW, January 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's top military commander said on Saturday that the country is prepared to use its nuclear weapons to defend itself and allies in the event of a severe external threat.

The Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, told a conference at the Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow: "We do not intend to attack anyone, but consider it necessary that all our partners clearly understand, and that no one has any doubts, that the Armed Forces will be used to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, including preventative action, and including the use of nuclear weapons."

Baluyevsky's comments come amid growing tensions between Russia and NATO over the alliance's expansion into the former Eastern Bloc, the United States' plans to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic, and Moscow's increasingly assertive military stance.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, and on December 12, 2007 imposed a unilateral moratorium on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a key arms reduction pact.

Baluyevsky said that in order to protect Russia's interests, military force "can and must be used" when "all other means prove ineffective."

Programs to develop Russia's military must be closely linked to national fiscal planning, "taking into account the state's economic resources," he said

Indian airports on high alert after hijack warning

By Sanjay Singh, IANS

New Delhi : The Indian government has asked airports around the country to adopt "heightened security measures" after an intelligence tip off that the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) may attempt to hijack an aircraft to free their colleagues from jails.

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) has alerted airports in the four metros, the northeast, as well as in Hyderabad, Bangalore and some international airports like in Amritsar as potential targets ahead of Republic Day.

The threat from any other terrorist outfit also cannot be ruled out, said a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official.

According to a BCAS official, the Ulfa hijack attempt could likely be in the northeast.

"The Ulfa is prepared for this daring act to draw the attention of the international community," said a senior official in the union home ministry.

"As the Ulfa has not acted so far, they could well do it even now. They haven't given up. They may be looking for a suitable moment to strike," said a senior BCAS official.

Over 600 Ulfa militants are in jails around the country. A few of them were "masterminds" arrested during the raid on their camps by the Bhutan government in 2002.

Official sources confirmed that a red alert has been sounded in airports across the country. Paramilitary forces have been deployed at all airports, especially in the north east, and army units near the airports asked to stand by.

Emergency anti-hijacking measures and multi-layered security arrangements have been put in place at most of the crucial airports in the northeast. This is the third such warning against the Ulfa from BCAS. Two earlier warnings were issued in 2004.

The DGCA has issued an advisory to all states to beef up security at vital installations, while the union home ministry has asked states to take special measures to protect VIPs and other distinguished people at airports.

The government regularly issues advisory to states, especially before Republic Day, Independence Day and major religious festivals, to remain on alert and take measures to thwart attempts of militant organisations and Maoists.

The threat to Air India is always higher compared to the private airlines, admit officials.

Reviews by airline authorities and intelligence agencies have revealed major security lapses at airports, which are generally guarded by state police. About 25 airports are manned by the Central Industrial Security Force personnel

January 18, 2008

Israel, Russia and the Iranian Nuclear Program

11:32 | 18/ 01/ 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's visit to Moscow may not be the easiest for the Russian side because of Iran.

The sides are going to discuss the non-proliferation of sensitive technologies in association with the Iranian nuclear program, and Arab-Israeli settlement in the Middle East. But if contradictions between the Israelis and the Arabs have become commonplace, the situation with the Iranian nuclear program underwent cardinal changes in the end of the past year and not in Israel's favor. Israel is accusing Russia of engineering this change. What's the gist of the problem?

It revealed itself last December. In general, many events linked to the Iranian nuclear program took place in that month. To begin with, U.S. secret services published a report on the Iranian nuclear program, which caused controversial responses by all interested parties - Iran, Israel, Russia and the United States. The report said that Iran had discontinued its military nuclear program in 2003.

In Israel's opinion, the publication of the report was a disservice on behalf of the U.S. secret services. Tehran instantly used the opportunity to confirm its right to uranium enrichment because the closure had been proved. It even sent a letter to the UN Secretary General, insisting that the UN Security Council stop discussing its nuclear file and return it to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Israel believes that the report could facilitate Moscow's decision to supply Russian nuclear fuel to the Iranian nuclear station in Bushehr.

Indeed, in mid-December Russia sent the first, and two weeks later, the second consignment of low-enriched uranium to the station. This was all but a shock and not only to Israel. American experts are analyzing scenarios where a year after the station's commissioning, Iran will have highly-enriched plutonium - almost good enough to produce up to 20 nuclear charges.

Moscow's opinion on the much-publicized report is diametrically opposite. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has never had any information on the presence of a military component in the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, Moscow does not even agree that Iran stopped it in 2003 - it had never been launched.

Lavrov has again saved Tehran from a lot of trouble. Iranian diplomacy is a special art form, but it is not flawless. Each time Tehran quotes the report's conclusions about the closure of its military program in 2003, it thereby confirms that it opened it some time. In this context, Tehran's arguments that it cannot develop the program because of Islam and the behests of Iranian religious leader Khomeini appear doubtful.

Moscow certainly had the right to supply the fuel. Even George W. Bush does not deny this, but there is one "but" - the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which does not favor the presumption of innocence. In the spirit of the treaty, its signatories (Iran in this case) must prove the peaceful nature of its program - something it is exactly not doing. In practical terms, nuclear fuel supplies will bring Iran closer to nuclear weapons unless it gives up its bid for uranium-enrichment cycle.

Israel's attitude to the Iranian nuclear program is well known. Israel does not doubt that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Considering that Tehran is permanently threatening Israel, the latter is very sensitive to all events around the former's nuclear program, particularly Russian-Iranian nuclear and military-technical cooperation.

This attention is explained by Russia's role in resolving the whole package of problems around the Iranian nuclear issue. For this reason, at the talks in Moscow, Tsipi Livni is likely to discuss Russia's responsibility for starting the supplies of enriched uranium to Iran.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

January 17, 2008

Beyond Web 2.0: How the Next Tech Revolution will Change the World

Nov 29th, 2007

The New School - New York, NY

Dr. Hiroshi Tasaka discusses Beyond Web 2.0: How the Next Tech Revolution will Change the World.

Dr. Hiroshi Tasaka, Professor at Tama University in Tokyo, and President of Thinktank SophiaBank, has authored numerous books on the philosophy of working, management theory, business strategy, the Internet revolution and knowledge society, as well as paradigm shifts in human society.

A specialist in complexity systems, Dr. Tasaka will explore how next technology revolution will further empower the individual, blending the monetary and voluntary economies to create a new system of Capitalism. Dr. Tasaka will also discuss ways in which technology will help build bridges between the U.S. and Japan, as well as among countries in Asia in the emerging post-knowledge society - Imagining Global Asia

Hiroshi Tasaka is the President of Thinktank SophiaBank, and a Professor at Tama University in Tokyo. He graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo with a Ph.D in nuclear engineering. He worked as a visiting researcher at Battelle Memorial Institute from 1987-88 and established the Japan Research Institute in 1990. In 2000, he founded Thinktank SophiaBank, which is a thinktank fostering and supporting social entrepreneurs and proposing new visions, policies, strategies to innovate Japanese society. In 2003, he furthered his work in this field by establishing the Japan Social Entrepreneur Forum (JSEF) to promote collaborations among social entrepreneurs in Japan. In 2006, he started SophiaBank Radio Station by Internet as the first radio station by thinktank in Japan.

Tasaka is developing the theory and application of complex systems ideas applied to management and strategy of business and has actively promoted the incubation of new industries by building networks of producers and consumers. Combining theory with practice, he has established 20 consortia involving over 700 companies.

Is the EU letting the world down on climate change?


The European Commission is set to unveil its climate change and energy proposal on Wednesday, which is likely to be universally disappointing.

The proposal had initially been scheduled for December but was kicked back to January 23 due to the “complex nature” of the policy. Although Europe's leaders agreed upon ambitious CO2 emissions and renewables targets last year amid a flurry of backslapping and self-congratulation, they are now doing everything possible to get out of sharing the burden. A draft version of the proposal has been criticised from all possible sides:

Environmentalists warn of the adverse environmental and socioeconomic impacts in the developing world if the proposal sets a mandatory biofuels target.

Businesses and trade unions warn of drastic job losses in the EU’s energy intensive industries as they might relocate to regions with less stringent environmental standards.

The UK government has already indicated that it is unlikely to meet the targets set out at last year’s Spring summit.

Spain and Germany have written to the Commission condemning the proposed trading mechanisms for green power certificates as destructive to already existing national incentive schemes.

Sweden and France have requested special consideration for their heavy use of renewables and nuclear energy respectively, which they argue limits their ability to boost renewable energy and decrease emissions.

Belgium and Luxembourg have asked for special exemption arguing their small size prevents them from drastic energy reform.

And finally, the new Central European member states claim that reducing their carbon footprint at this crucial juncture in their economic development would undermine their long-term prospects and prosperity.

The Commission has already made some concessions, such as promising to review the proposed biofuels target and to consider a carbon levy on imports from heavily polluting countries, but knows that the bloc's international credibility is at stake. None of this will satisfy the growing number of critics and Brussels is running out of options and time to develop a compromise that is acceptable to all.

In order to achieve a minimum consensus, Brussels will have to water down its proposal and may even backtrack on the original targets. Despite early promise, it may be a miserable end to a very short and unsuccessful European leadership effort in the fight against climate change.

Siberian riches


With the population of 0.03 persons per square kilometre in some parts and temperatures plunging well below minus 50 degrees Celsius in the winter, East Siberia is Russia's next up-and-coming oil province.

In fact, developing the remote eastern lands -- formerly home to many of Russia's notorious Gulag labour camps -- is no longer a choice but a necessity, thanks to Russia's booming economy, growing exports obligations and colossal ambitions to become a truly global supplier of energy. The advancing maturity of the country's main producing fields in Western Siberia means that an alternative must be found before supply becomes a real issue.

East Siberia and the Russian Far East (RFE) rose on the government agenda rapidly, propelled primarily by geopolitical considerations. The region's proximity to the Asia-Pacific, tensions in energy relations with Europe and the resultant desire to diversify export outlets -- not least to raise its bargaining power with Europe -- have made East Siberia and the RFE the preferred candidate of the Russian government to succeed -- or better still, complement -- West Siberia.

Targets for the development have already been set:

President Vladimir Putin proclaimed in 2006 that the share of Russian oil exports to the Asia-Pacific region would increase from the current 3% to 30% in 2020. This would require an output increase from the current 1.5 million tonnes of oil per annum to 30 million by 2011.

Annual exports of gas to China and South Korea have been set at 50 billion cubic metres (bcm), while those to the rest of the Asia-Pacific at 28 bcm. Domestic deliveries from the eastern provinces are planned at more than 100 bcm.

Even with developed social and transport infrastructure, the scale of the task would be clearly enormous. However, East Siberia and the RFE have historically been the least developed parts of the country. The situation was exacerbated in the 1990s by the collapse of industrial production, the end of wage differentials to create incentives for settlement and the resulting population outflow. The latter has, in turn, created a national security problem, with Moscow fearing a gradual takeover of Siberia by Chinese migrants.

Russia is looking to develop East Siberia in the same way and at the same breakneck pace that the Soviet Union developed West Siberia in the 1960s-70s. Yet the challenges presented by the east of the country are even more colossal on a number of criteria such as climate, geology, infrastructure and workforce. Moreover, Russia today is not a command economy, and it will be harder to allocate the necessary funds to the region's development. And yet the ongoing squeezing of foreign investors, the uncertainty over legal rights and delays to passing the subsoil law will discourage foreign companies from investing in virgin lands. The more developed provinces that are closer to the traditional exports markets in Europe will remain more attractive for both foreign and domestic investors.

A massive but frequently ignored problem is that of under-exploration in East Siberia. Despite setting targets, the Russian government has no clear idea as to the reserves potential of East Siberia and the RFE. The estimates presented by Gazprom differ considerably from those of the Russian Academy of Sciences:

Gazprom forecasts the maximum annual production from the region at 207 bcm of gas and 48 million tonnes of oil.

The Academy of Sciences estimates gas production at no more than 150 bcm, but oil at a whopping 95 million tonnes.

Meanwhile, the Russian Energy Strategy to 2020 constructs a pessimistic and an optimistic development scenario, in which annual production ranges between 3 million and 80 million tonnes for oil, and between 55 bcm and 110 bcm for gas.

Clearly, in the absence of hard geological data on what is actually available, setting hypothetical targets is unlikely to prove productive.

Moscow stakes much of its international prestige on accomplishing this grand project. But the enormity of the task means that the government will take shortcuts, focusing on the development of natural resources without due attention paid to environmental and social issues. If so, East Siberia and the RFE will remain a raw materials appendix of Russia, supplying not only the country itself but also the neighbouring regions with oil, gas, copper, coal, zinc, lead and timber. If pursued conscientiously, however, the development of East Siberia and the RFE will prove one of the most challenging projects in Russia’s history.

Serbia: pride versus progress


Serbia's presidential election on Sunday will be crucial for its future orientation.

As Kosovo's new government inches toward a unilateral declaration of independence, Serbs are facing something of a Sophie's Choice: grimly hold onto the breakaway Albanian majority province and sever ties with the European Union, or accept the humbling reality of Kosovar independence and embrace a new future within the EU.

Two men, two visions

If Serbs feel they cannot countenance the loss of Kosovo, which they celebrate as the medieval cradle of their national identity, it will mean a stronger turnout for Tomislav Nikolic, the presidential candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS).

Nikolic, who is nicknamed the 'gravedigger' -- a reference to his earlier career as a cemetery operator -- has made Kosovo a matter of national pride, saying he is willing to sacrifice EU membership if the bloc insists on recognising Kosovo.

Yet Nikolic is unlikely to bury the Western-leaning incumbent, President Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party (DS) in the first round on Sunday. Tadic, second to Nikolic in the latest polls but seen as having a slight lead in a decisive February 3 second round, is more conciliatory over the emotive Kosovo issue, and has made joining the EU a priority.

Nikolic has claimed that his hardline nationalism will not cut Serbia off from the rest of Europe. Tadic has a harder task. He needs to hang on to the liberal vote, while also persuading supporters of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's moderate nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to vote for him. He cannot advocate letting Kosovo go -- only the Liberal Democrat candidate Cedomir Jovanovic is bold enough to push such an unpopular course publicly -- but is trying to argue that Serbs can keep Kosovo without sacrificing closer ties with the EU, a trick which is almost impossible to pull off. What he can do is paint Nikolic as a reactionary, taking Serbia back into the isolation it escaped from when Slobodan Milosevic was deposed in 2000.

Political calculus

Nikolic is likely to come out in front on Sunday, but fall short of the 50% of the votes that would prevent a second round run-off. According to a poll conducted by the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CeSID) on December 25-31, 21% of voters will support Nikolic and 19% Tadic. However, the poll suggests a switch in the run-off, with 33% backing Tadic and 27% Nikolic, and the remaining 40% not voting.

Tadic needs most of those voting for the seven eliminated candidates to pass over to him. On February 3, three-quarters of pro-reform Liberal Democrats and G17 Plus supporters should transfer their votes to Tadic, according to CeSID; however, only 43% of those voting for the New Serbia candidate, Velimir Ilic, are likely to do the same.

Kostunica's DSS is backing Ilic in the first round. But whoever receives Kostunica's endorsement for the second round may well emerge as the Serbia's next president. But this means that the election will also decide whether the DS and DSS can continue governing Serbia in coalition. If Kostunica deserts Tadic on February 3, the DS may feel it cannot carry on in partnership with the DSS.

A low turnout might swing the election Nikolic's way. CeSID reckons that if only 3.2 million of the 5 million registered electorate vote, 1.2 million loyal SRS supporters will carry the day.

If Nikolic wins, and the DSS-DS government falls, Belgrade will oppose Western policy on Kosovo as far as it dares, probably severing diplomatic relations with those leading EU capitals that back Kosovo's independence.

If Tadic wins, it will mean that Serbs have decided that economic progress and good relations with Serbia's neighbours are more important than the illusion that Serbia simply cannot exist without forcing Kosovo's Albanian majority into accepting rule from Belgrade once again.

Pakistan's Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War

Edited by Mr. Henry D. Sokolski.

This book, completed just before Pakistani President Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November 2007, reflects research that the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center commissioned over the last 2 years. It tries to characterize specific nuclear problems that the ruling Pakistani government faces with the aim of establishing a base line set of challenges for remedial action. Its point of departure is to consider what nuclear challenges Pakistan will face if moderate forces remain in control of the government and no hot war breaks out against India.


Middle East: Bush flies away, but promises to be back

18:57 | 17/ 01/ 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maria Appakova) - President Bush has completed his Middle East tour, but he promised to be back soon to continue his quest for peace in the region.

The final stage of his tour was marred by some tragic developments: a record number of victims in the Israeli military operation in Gaza and a terrorist attack targeting Americans in Beirut, not to mention the weakened positions of the Israeli government and more blasts in Iraq.

Even so, George Bush was pleased with the results of the visit and even called it a success. On face value, he has something to show for it. He visited six countries and the Palestine National Authority, was accorded a warm welcome by Middle East leaders and did a lot of sightseeing. He said all he wanted to say about peace, democracy, the Iranian threat and oil prices. In addition to leaders, he met with young people, women and businessmen who lent him an attentive ear. Indeed, Bush's trip was unprecedented for the region in terms of the number of talks, the range of the problems discussed, the possible scale of future economic deals and strategic alliances.

As for the immediate fallout from the trip, it depends on who had been expecting what.

Washington diplomats warned that the visit would not bring any dramatic change to the region even before the President boarded his plane to the Middle East. But surely they hoped to get high-profile and promising statements from local leaders, above all the Arabs, on three things: support for the Arab-Israeli peace process, the creation of an anti-Iranian coalition and the prospect of more stable oil prices. Measured by these criteria, the most that can be said is that Bush's interlocutors did not disagree with him.

Unlike the high-ranking officials, the majority of people in the region felt that the U.S. President's words about a future peace sounded hollow against the background of intensified Palestinian bombardment of Israel and the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, which did not stop even during Bush's visit. On the day that the U.S. President bid farewell to the Middle East, Israel expected new strikes and Gaza was burying its dead. Nineteen people died in a single day - that was a kind of end-of-the year record timed for the Bush visit.

An opinion poll showed that 17% of Israelis fear that the U.S. President's trip will worsen the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and 77% think that it will make no difference. The Arab public opinion is also skeptical, judging from the media.

Yet despite the popular mood and the deteriorating situation, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders have agreed to continue the peace talks to resolve all the issues.

That surely owes much to American pressure, but can Washington keep it up? The decision to continue talks already cost Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert an ally in the government coalition; the Israel, Our Home party, led by Minister Avigdor Lieberman, joined the opposition. It has not yet brought about a crisis or a cabinet resignation, but it further undermined the prime minister's already shaky position.

Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, never managed to achieve a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, stumbling on differences within the Israeli and Palestinian camps. Given the character of the current president, he is likely to ignore the obvious facts that stand in the way of his goal.

Bomb blasts and a government crisis? But did anyone promise that the road to peace would be easy? In Iraq, terrorist attacks happen almost every day and it takes more than a year to get a law passed. So what? Washington declares that the situation in the country is gradually improving, that there is progress in the security sphere and in moving toward reconciliation within Iraq.

In Lebanon, the government paralysis which has lasted more than a year and constant terrorist attacks do not prevent the Bush Administration from claiming that the country is moving towards genuine democracy. But for the pernicious influence of Syria and Iran, everything would be fine, according to Bush.

But as regards Iran, he drew a blank. He failed to piece together an Arab coalition against Iran. El-Riyadh thus summed up the response to Bush's calls: "Tehran must abide by international law as regards its nuclear program and avoid escalation in the region, but we don't harbor any evil for Iran. It is our neighbor and an important regional player." That is the shared Arab position.

Similarly, the Saudis were speaking for all the Arabs when they said that the Arabs had already done everything possible to promote a Palestinian-Israeli settlement when they came up with a peace initiative in 2002, which later became part of the "road map" developed by the Quartet of international mediators (the U.S., Russia, the EU and the UN). Now the Arabs need proof that Israel is genuinely committed to peace, but the continued settlement policy and military operations on Palestinian lands prove the opposite.

The Arab world's reaction to all of Bush's calls was generally lukewarm, including his call on the OPEC countries made in Riyadh to increase oil supplies to world markets to decrease prices. "We will increase production when the market warrants it. That is our policy," said the Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi.

All this may suggest that the Bush visit was a total failure. However, as he told the ABC, "history will tell." The interview mentioned that Bush's approval rating inside the U.S. was at an all time low (32%) and that in the Middle East he had the reputation of a "warmonger."

Whether or not the trip was useless will be known in a year's time because Bush has promised that a Palestinian state will appear on the world map before the end of his presidency. If that happens, success may overshadow everything else, at least for a while. Winners are not judged.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Russia as a safe haven

12:34 | 17/ 01/ 2008

MOSCOW. (Financial analyst Anatoly Gorev for RIA Novosti) - The future is bright for the Russian economy and stock market, according to Alfa Bank analysts. "Investors who bring their money to the Russian market, even without choosing specific shares, will profit by about 30%," they say in their forecast.

Alfa-Banking Group is one of Russia's largest privately owned banking groups in terms of equity, assets, branches, retail deposits and funds under management.

This is a good but not extraordinary profitability, especially compared with the past three years, when the Russian Trading System (RTS) stock exchange grew by 70% annually. But the promised growth of 30% may nevertheless make Russia a safe haven for foreign investors.

"Safe haven" is one of the terms that have been especially widely used in the past decade. It is increasingly interpreted as "a financially secure offshore bank or country during times of extreme uncertainty, or when domestic banks are suspected of becoming insolvent."

It should be not only safe, but also sufficiently large to offer a high level of liquidity. Investors search for such havens during global financial crises, such as the 1997-1998 Asian crisis, which began in Southeast Asia and later spread to Russia and Latin America, where it provoked defaults and created precedents for the devaluation of national currencies.

Another relevant example is the dotcom crisis in the United States in late 2000, which pushed the American economy into recession and slowed down the economic growth of its main trading partners in the European Union.

The latest shock to the global financial system came from the mortgage crisis in the United States, which froze stock markets and put into question the efficiency of bank refinancing mechanisms.

The difference between the above three crises is that in the latter case Russia was seriously considered as a safe haven. This is logical, as the 1997 Asian crisis provoked a default on domestic, and partially foreign, state debts in Russia, and an unprecedented plunge on the stock market and a subsequent economic depression.

At that time, Russia was viewed as a troublemaker rather than a safe haven. Although investors' attitude to Russia improved slightly in the early 2000s, none viewed the country as a suitable refuge during the dotcom crisis. Russia was unanimously considered unpredictable and vulnerable. However, the 57% average growth of the Russian stock market in 2001-2006 forced investors to revise their attitude, both to the market and the Russian economy as a whole.

Analysts say that Russia is now in a unique position to benefit from the current economic climate. It is safely insulated from the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, and continues to benefit from high - and growing - oil prices, which will definitely exceed the ceilings stipulated in the Russian budget.

Forecasts promise continued economic growth in Russia, of 6.5% annually, and a 15% increase in its gold and foreign currency reserves, to a total of $535 billion.

The consumer boom is also expected to push the Russian economy to new highs, while international investors will seek to insure their risks by moving funds from American and European assets to highly profitable and safe instruments. The latter include Russian shares, especially the stock of mining companies, bank securities, and the like.

Alfa Bank's analysts say political stability in Russia is one of the positive strategic factors. Along with the majority of experts, they do not believe that the upcoming presidential elections will produce major quakes in Russia's political life. A radical change in its economic policy also seems unlikely after the elections.

"The election of [First Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev as president of Russia appears to be the most probable scenario, in which case [President] Vladimir Putin will agree to become prime minister. This promises four more years of political stability in Russia," the bank's forecast says. "If this scenario is followed, we expect accelerated implementation of priority national projects in infrastructure development, housing construction, healthcare and agriculture, as well as redoubled efforts to encourage growth in manufacturing."

However, even a country that claims the role of a "safe haven" cannot be absolutely free from economic trouble. Alfa Bank's analysts single out inflation as Russia's biggest worry. It exceeded planned levels in 2007, and with neither the prices of commodities nor the influx of petro dollars likely to subside, the government may also fail to restrain the growth of prices in 2008.

But this does not scare potential investors.

The only thing that can seriously darken Russia's prospects is that it is not the only country vying for the role. Competition comes from the rapidly growing economies of China and India, and possibly some Arab countries, which, like Russia, are prospering from record-high oil prices.

International investors' interest in them is growing, yet, say the analysts, Russia looks attractive even against this background, because its economy is more diversified and banking system better developed.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

U.S., Thailand, Singapore prepare for Exercise Cope Tiger

1/17/2008 - HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AFPN) -- Aviation and ground units from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps, Royal Thai Air Force and Army, and Royal Singapore Air Force will participate in the Exercise Cope Tiger 2008 field training exercise in Thailand Jan. 26 to Feb. 5.

Cope Tiger is an annual, multilateral large force exercise conducted in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only multilateral field training exercise held in Thailand. It takes place at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base near the city of Nakhom Ratchasima (commonly called Korat), 110 miles northeast of Bangkok, and Udon Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base.

More than 1,400 people will participate in the exercise, including approximately 700 U.S. servicemembers and 700 servicemembers from Thailand and Singapore forces. The exercise includes 121 aircraft and air defense units: 35 aircraft and 11 air defense artillery weapons and sensors from RTAF; 10 ADA weapons and sensors from RTA; 22 aircraft and 11 ADA weapons and sensors from RSAF; and 28 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps.

Participating U.S. Air Force units include the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Wainwright, Alaska; 3rd Wing's 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; the 51st Fighter Wing's 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, South Korea; the 18th Wing's 909th Air Refueling Squadron, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, and 18th Communication Squadron, Kadena AB, Japan; the 15th Airlift Wing's 535th Airlift Squadron, Hickam AFB, Hawaii; the 374th Airlift Wing's 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota AB, Japan. Participating U.S. Marine Corps units include Marine Air Group 12, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan; and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, MCAS Futenma, Okinawa.

U.S. aircraft participating in Cope Tiger 2008 include A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, E-3B Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems, KC-135 Stratotankers, C-130 and KC-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, and F/A-18C Hornets.

Cope Tiger 2008 is a Thai- and U.S.-sponsored multilateral joint and combined field training exercise, and humanitarian/civic assistance exercise. Cope Tiger enhances combined readiness and interoperability, reinforces U.S. commitment to the Southeast Asian region, and demonstrates our capability to project combined and joint forces strategically in a multilateral environment.

Pakistan short of everything except crises

Source : Asia Times Online
January 18th 2008

By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

QUETTA, Pakistan - There is a crisis of crises facing Pakistan. While the political crisis centering on President Pervez Musharraf and the future of general elections scheduled for February 18 dominate the headlines, this country of 160-plus million people faces a tangle of escalating problems, extending from energy shortages to soaring wheat prices to a cotton industry facing meltdown.

Not least, there is a crisis of confidence among foreign investors and a leadership crisis among political activists after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27.

Climbing prices of wheat, and therefore of flour, an essential component of everyday diet, is hurting the general population, a power crisis is eroding industrial growth and so hitting the whole economy, bringing losses in revenue and exports.

The political uncertainty in wake of Bhutto's killing has caused an outflow of foreign portfolio investment from the equity market. By January 8, the cumulative outflow reached US$37.163 million, leaving only $2.594 million invested. According to figures from Pakistan's central bank, United States and United Kingdom investors withdrew $13.3 million from the equity market on January 8.

Over $2.499 billion came into the country during the current fiscal year from July 1, 2007 to January 8, 2008, little more than an outflow of over $2.496 billion during this period. In the current fiscal year, US investors pulled out $1.183 billion, British investors $885 million, Swiss investors $56 million, Sri Lankan investors $63 million, Hong Kong investors $188 million and Australian investors $48 million.

The stock market quickly recovered from a 10% decline in the wake of Bhutto's killing on December 27, but sentiment remains negative and the country's law and order situation is discouraging for foreign fund managers. On January 14, 12 people were killed and many injured as bomb exploded in Karachi's industrial area of Landhi. A suicide attack in Lahore on January10 killed at least 25 people, including 19 policemen.

The prevailing political and law and order situation and concern raised by the head of UN atomic watchdog on whether Pakistan's nuclear assets could fall into extremists' hands helped to weaken the confidence of foreign investors, raising local analysts fears that the remaining $2.59 million of foreign portfolio investment could evaporate before the end of current fiscal year.

Power crisis

Industry is meanwhile battling with a power deficit of up to 3,600 megawatts (MW)due to low water levels at hydropower dams and damage to two main power lines attacked during the three days of violence that erupted after Bhutto's assassination.

Two main power transmission lines were blown up on January 1 in Sindh province, creating a shortfall of 1,000 MW. The business community complain that lopsided and unplanned shutdowns have resulted in closures in almost all industries. Subsequent production losses will be reflected in further pressure on exports and lead to increased imports.

Water levels have fallen by up to 32% in comparison with last year, according to the Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO). Pakistan's current installed capacity is around 19,845 MW, of which around one-third is hydroelectric. Much of the rest is thermal, fueled primarily by gas and oil. PEPCO also blames independent power producers (IPPs) for the power crisis, as they have been able to give PEPCO only 3,800 MW on average out of 5,800 MW of confirmed capacity. Most of the IPPs are running fuel stocks below the required minimum of 21 days.

All the steel-melting plants and re-rolling steel units were closed on January 2 by order of the government, which also instructed hundreds of textile mills to reduce operations to conserve power. The government believes this will help save 850 MW of electricity. The closure of steel units, according to the mill owners, could cause huge losses to the industry as it affects about 100 steel melting units and 500 auxiliary re-rolling units.

The power crisis that started with the new year has raised prices of steel products 25% and caused a loss of revenue to the government, which receives 1.28 billion rupees (US$20.5 million) monthly in terms of sale tax on production from the industry.

Pakistan has a steel market of 7.2 million tons, including 4.5 million tons for rolled and 2.7 million tons for flat products. A few operational units in the country face raw material shortages due to the closure of melting units. The damage extends to the construction industry, while also threatening unemployment of 140,000 skilled and more than 250,000 unskilled employees in 127 melting and 350 re-rolling units.

The reduction in operations of textile mills is a further blow to an industry already showing a dismal performance due to increasing costs, competition from China and a shortfall in the cotton crop. Textile exports, which make up 65% of the country's total exports, grew only 2.5% in first quarter of the present fiscal year compared with 14.3% during the same period a year earlier.

Flour crisis

The price of wheat flour has shot up amid a meagre supply of wheat, smuggling to Afghanistan and hoarding by local millers, driving the price of a 100-kilogram bag of wheat up by 300 rupees to 2,100 rupees. The suspension of cargo transportation in the wake of riots in Sindh after the killing of Bhutto further curbed wheat supply.

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the federal cabinet has now decided to import an additional 0.5 million tons of wheat on top of an earlier agreement of 1 million tons. The Planning Commission of Pakistan estimates that the next wheat crop will fall 3 million to 4 million tons short of its previous 24 million ton target, possibly coming in at 21 million to 22 million tons.

Wheat imports during the current fiscal year of about 2 million tons will place an extra burden of more than $1 billion on the national kitty.

The failure to meet the 2007-08 wheat production target of 24 million tons comes after the 2006-07 harvest of 23.5 million tons beat that year's benchmark. According to official sources, growers retained 13.5 million tons for their own consumption and 1 million tons for use as seed. About half a million tons was exported and about 1 million tons was bought by millers.

The government purchased 4.3 million tons and the remaining 2.7 million tons was with the private sector, of which about 1 million tons have crossed the country's borders. The government believes that at least 1.7 million tons of wheat is still available with the private sector.

In an effort to release wheat hoarded by the private sector, the ECC has asked the State Bank of Pakistan to strictly monitor credit given to the private sector for wheat operations and to withhold refinancing after the end of this month. Commodity traders meanwhile say the wheat problem started emerging in May last year before assuming crisis proportions by August.

Wheat inflation in Pakistan has been aggravated by drought in Australia, one of the top three exporters of the grain, driving up global prices for the commodity by as much as 40% last year as the world's stockpiles fell towards a 26-year low. Oil prices that have risen to $100 a barrel, higher transportation costs and growing security concerns in the region are also fueling higher prices. In neighboring Afghanistan, the price of flour shot up to 40 cents a kilogram in December last year from 28 cents a kilogram in January 2007.

Economics and the election campaign

Economic issues loom large over the election campaign for next month's parliamentary elections, as former prime minister Shaukat Aziz is being blamed by his political opponents for damaging food security and messing up the national power generation capacity.

Though in power for under eight years of power, Aziz as prime minister and finance minister helped push through his economic policies to drive up gross domestic product to $137 billion from $71 billion. At the same time, he failed to introduce a significant power generation project to feed the fast-growing economy.

Only in June last year, a few months before leaving office, his government announced construction of the 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project in the budget for the fiscal year 2007-08, allocating 10 billion rupees.

Last month, a contract for the $1.5 billion power project in Kashmir was awarded to a consortium comprising China Gezhouba Group Company and China Machinery Export Corporation. The project will be executed by 2015. Critics say it should have been a higher priority for the former government in view of the looming energy crisis. The project was scheduled to start in July 2002 and be completed in June 2010, yet it remained in the doldrums for six years.

Critics also attack the Aziz government for failing to adopt a more serious approach to developing the huge coal deposits at Thar, in Sindh province.

China's Shenhua Group started work on the Thar coalfield in 2002 and spent over $100 million to conduct two viability studies. After preparing a feasibility report, the group was set to construct power plants before quitting the project amid tariff rate disputes for which critics hold the government responsible.

The former government is also accused of mismanaging the wheat crisis by allowing the export last year of 1.5 million tons of wheat, resulting in a shortage when official estimates of a 24 million ton bumper crop proved wrong. For the past six months, failure to curb hoarding and smuggling of wheat to Afghanistan has deepened the crisis.

With high inflation, extreme economic inequalities and growing trade and current account deficits, the government formed after the scheduled February 18 general election will not be short of problems.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider, sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com, is a Quetta-based development analyst. He is the author of six books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004.