February 27, 2010

BANGKOK CONFERENCE: Governance in Balochistan

by Wendy Johnson (thebaluch.com), Feb 22, 2010

Below is the text of paper presented by Ms.wendy Johnson at Bangkok conference, title "Governance in Balochistan"

Three images I have seen cross my website over the past few years abide in my memory. One is a photo of students in Quetta—dressed in white dress shirts and black slacks, lying on the street, protesting the lack of places for them at a university. Another is a video of a woman with ropes over her shoulders, dragging something. As the camera follows her, in what appears to be a desert, it soon becomes apparent—and this video is very cinematic—that she is laboriously drawing water from a well. This is 2009, mind you. A third image is a photo of a woman, her face an expression of anguish—resting her cheek against posters depicting the disappeared and the dead in Balochistan.

What these people have in common is a desperate need for a solution to their troubles—a decent and representative government.

When my friends and I interviewed Khan Suleiman Daud in 2006, he noted that after World War II, there were winners and there were losers and that the Baloch were amongst the losers. The Baloch, however, have endured more than just the short-end of realpolitik. Pakistani rule in the province has been characterized by gross human rights violations. The disappearances and murders of Baloch citizens and activists are all well-documented, though not common knowledge outside of Pakistan. In addition to political loss and loss of life, the Baloch suffer another type of turning of the screw, as it were.

Author and activist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur recently published an article regarding the sale of vast tracts of farmland in Balochistan province to Middle Eastern countries: “Reports indicate that the Gulf States have acquired more than 150,000 hectares of land in Balochistan near Mirani Dam to begin mechanized farming.” Mir Mohammad notes that $2 billion will be spent to hire a security force of 100,000 men to “stabilize the investment environment.”

Now since 1948 the Baloch have fought five insurgencies against Pakistan in an effort to secure their rights and gain autonomy or regain independence. So while the Pakistan central government is supposedly negotiating with the Baloch province to end this latest insurgency, what does it do? It sells Baloch land to foreign investors. In the US, in manslaughter murder cases, provocation is defined as an act that would cause a reasonable person to lose control. If these sales do not constitute provocation, I don’t know what does. This sale is evidence of the depraved indifference by which the Pakistan federal government regards the Baloch. The Baloch are amongst the poorest citizens of Pakistan. If the Pakistani government were actually representing the interests of its citizens, it would’ve helped local Baloch irrigate that land so they might instead produce and sell food to those who need it in the Middle East. A legitimate government would not sell the very territory the Baloch have fought five insurgencies to secure. http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\02\07story_7-2-2010_pg3_4)

The irony, of course, is that Pakistan is a signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The third paragraph of the Declaration states that human rights should be protected by rule of law so that people are not compelled to rebellion against tyranny. I would argue that actions by successive Pakistani governments would compel any reasonable person to rebel—and many of these acts are even more provocative than those that drove the American states to “collectively [determine] that the British monarchy, by acts of tyranny, could no longer legitimately claim their allegiance.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolution)

So if Pakistan has proved incapable of claiming the allegiance of the Baloch in its 60 years of rule, what alternatives do the Baloch offer?

I don’t speak Balochi and my Urdu is weak. I therefore can’t read what is being proposed as solutions within Balochistan in the local languages. As far back as 1957, the National Awami Party (which at various times was comprised of members like Khair Bakhsh Marri, Ataullah Mengal, Ghaws Bakhsh Bizenjo and Gul Khan Nasir, and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti), called for progressive items like land reform, nationalization of industry, etc. And when the party came to power in 1972, it tried during its 9 months in power to implement some dramatic changes like abolishing the sardari system. (Paul Titus: Knights, Not Pawns, pg. 51, 59-61) At present, In English, I see calls for full autonomy or independence, but as an outsider, what is missing for me is a plan for the peace—What happens when the dust settles? What will peace look like? Producing a clearly articulated plan is important for a number of reasons:

  1. One can say ‘We are suffering a slow-motion genocide, we want our independence back’ but that approach doesn’t offer potential allies any clues as to how or where their NGO or organizations might fit in to help you realize your goals.

  1. A plan for the peace gives insiders and outsiders a reason to believe that the average Baloch will be better off than under Pakistani rule. After all, if this is not the case, it hardly matters who is ripping off the Baloch. My friend who works for a labor NGO recently returned from Nicaragua. There she met a cab driver who was a former Sandanista guerrilla. He was adamant about voting Daniel Ortega out of office. He said in no uncertain terms, while waving his hands at the poverty around him, ‘THIS--THIS is not what we fought and died for.’

  1. There is a lot at stake in Balochistan, especially with regards to untapped resources. In the absence of a framework, and understanding, of how these will be managed, there is a chance you will find that when the dust settles those who supported the sharing of all resources for the purpose of development will suddenly have a different understanding of what it means to ‘share.’

    The world is rife with evidence that resources do not guarantee development and prosperity. More often than not, resources enrich only a very very few elites. I have just read a fascinating article about how Mongolia plans to tackle its newfound problems in relation to resource management and I can share this with you later.

And the intrigue over these resources won’t originate just from within; it will come from without, as well. Absent a clear framework that citizens are enthusiastic to see enacted, and more importantly expect their leaders to adhere to, it is very possible that in this fog, outside forces will peel the Baloch off one-by-one, as the British and Pakistanis have so successfully done in the past. For since the British became involved in Balochistan in the early 1800s, and since Pakistan strong-armed and cajoled some Baloch areas into joining Pakistan, Balochistan has known nothing but intrigue and subterfuge on the part of outsiders. Every outside actor has worked directly or indirectly to undermine any unity your largely autonomous and independent Baloch tribes enjoyed. For English readers, these machinations are well-documented in Martin Axman’s recent book ‘Back to the Future,’ in Khan Ahmad Yar Khan’s ‘Inside Baluchistan,’ in Taj Mohammad Breseeg’s ‘Baloch Nationalism, Its Origins and Development’ and in Paul Titus’ excellent article, “Knights, Not Pawns: Ethno-Nationalism and Regional Dynamics in Post-Colonial Balochistan.” (Intl. J. Middle East Studies, 32, 2001, 47-69)

We witnessed just recently a very bald example of outside pressure. When Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Raisani canceled an agreement with Tethyan Copper, a joint venture with Barrick Gold and Antofagasta, within days, US Ambassador Patterson called on the Pakistani govt to pressure the Baloch provincial govt to honor that agreement. Now this agreement was drawn up with a company the Swiss firm Covalence described in a Jan 2010 report as the 12th least ethical company in the world. The 12th least ethical company in the world. WHY would Pakistan and the US object to the Baloch trying to cut a better and more environmentally sound deal for themselves?

  1. Lastly a plan for the peace provides the Baloch with a chance to introduce yourselves to the world—on your terms. To take some control of your profile, as it were. At present, to the outsider, the Baloch appear as victims. Your lives and desires and characters have been painted for the world by British colonialists and the Pakistani military and govt—and they have willingly, avidly, described you as a backwards tribal province that doesn’t develop because it prefers to be ruled by autocratic sardars who line their pockets vs. develop your province. That this is not the case was clear even in 1957 when the NAP, who members were comprised of many from sardar families, called for the most radical reforms. Additionally, you are at the mercy of the Western media who generally lumps you in with those living in the troubled tribal AfPak theater—identifying you mainly as the hideout of the Quetta shura. Balochistan has the misfortune of being surrounded by countries with no human rights records of note. At least Haiti’s proximity to the US ensures that social and political activists have often visited and are aware of what has transpired in that country. When Haiti suffered its earthquake, activists were quick to jump on board to monitor how the shock doctrine advocates would try to take advantage of the situation. You have no one in your backyard to do this for you.

B. Raman writes that the US is being sucked into Pakistan’s world of illusions. (Bahukutumbi Raman, Feb 8, 2010, South Asia Analysis Group). The question for the Baloch is how to do a creative end-run around those illusions that the Pakistani govt weaves for the US? How to land on the world stage and reveal to the West that you are PLU—people like us? The world by now has a better picture of the Pakistan government and military’s duplicitous nature vis a vis the Taliban, but it has an incomplete picture of Balochistan. It does not understand what the Baloch are trying to escape. You can paint this picture for them.

A couple months ago in NY I attended a lecture by the famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I’ll paraphrase what he said: ‘We are really living in cynical times, forced to act as if we are free. We have choice, but no background. In other words, most of us don’t have access to the full information needed to make the best decisions. Nevertheless, I think it is possible to reach some general agreement on the overarching goals of an autonomous or independent Balochistan which can then be communicated to the court of world opinion.

How to craft such an agreement?

My suggestion would be to hold a constitutional convention in Balochistan. A type of shahi jirga, if you like—as Khan Suleiman Daud called in 2006 to discuss the ICJ case. I would not draft a declaration of independence—you don’t want to invite a military crackdown. Rather this should be a convention designed to discuss issues related to a constitution, rule of law and resource management. All of these are legitimate topics of discussion given that negotiations are already ongoing in the province with the central govt over issues of autonomy.

I would invite representatives from each and every political and armed group to speak—all chiefs, activists, lawyers, labor leaders. Every single village should have an voice at this convention, whether it be through a political party or a municipal organization. The diaspora leaders and groups can phone in via skype or internet conferencing. Each representative in this roundtable should have a chance to present his ideas related to the agenda. This meeting should be held over a period of days so that at the end of each day, representatives can report back to their respective groups via phone or internet regarding what was said.

After all have spoken, each representative should have a second chance to speak, having heard all the presentations and had time to consult with party members, villagers at home, etc., in order to gather additional data to bolster his message, or to throw his weight behind better ideas.

At the end of this process, the convention should elect a team of lawyers to draft a working agreement for wide dissemination and discussion. At a later date, regroup to offer amendments, and follow this with a vote.

At that point, I am assuming we will all be looking a quite progressive document. How do you take it to the court of world opinion when so far you haven’t been able to get the media to come to you? Publish this text. Take out a full page ad in the New York Times. Tell the readers of one of the most widely read newspapers in the world what you are trying to accomplish in the mess that is AfPak. This would win the attention of honorable international players. It educates. It removes a negative and can claim a huge positive—distinguishing Balochistan from Pakistan, on your terms.

Two of the most important elements in this agreement should relate to rule of law and management of resources.

If Balochistan wants to develop swiftly, it can’t have a patchwork of laws and methods of enforcing them that vary from tribal area to tribal area. As Attaullah Mengal said in 2006, “A tribal system or tribal chieftan will only help as far as the struggle is concerned. After that it has to be again, reshaped into the modern democratic system as prevailing in the international world. We don’t have to go back to the stone age again and pick up the remains or pieces from there. We have to switch straight away into a democratic system.”

One needs uniformity and transparency if one is going to do business in the international arena.

I have had first hand experience with what happens when a system isn’t trusted. When I helped Begum Jamila Daud build a website to, in part, raise money for Baloch internally displaced persons, we had tremendous difficulty finding a method for her NGO to receive donations. Amazingly (or not) PayPal will not do business in Pakistan. PayPal will do business in Albania, but not Pakistan. At present, your small start-up businesses—the enthusiastic young entrepreneurs who can help jump-start an economy—they can’t compete in the world market. Rather they waste a lot of time on workarounds that cost them business. The internet has ushered in some intriguing ways for inventors to make money through a concept called crowd sourcing. Without global standards related to banking and law, your young creatives just can’t participate.

Equally important is the subject of resource management. Chief Minister Raisani recently called for full autonomy and full Baloch control over resources. My question as an outsider—What does Chief Minister Raisani mean by ‘control?’ Who will control the resources in an autonomous or independent Balochistan? This is not a simple question.

I have spoken to Baloch from all walks of life. There is not one who does not envision and hope for a progressive state with features like Social Security, unemployment insurance, education, universities, health care, technology centers, eco-tourism, etc. The only way this is going to happen is with revenue from your resources. Now some Baloch believe that all resources (above and below ground) should be nationalized. They want to emulate a Norway which tops every single list in the world that measures standard of living metrics.

Others believe that the control of resources should return to those on whose land they sit, with a generous percentage of revenue then contributed to federal coffers.

While this latter may be a practical solution, it will probably not lead to the speediest development—the most important reason being—it doesn’t allow for efficient planning and it leaves negotiations in the hands of individual property owners—many of whom will be more or less skilled negotiators. In practical terms, it is a transparency and monitoring nightmare. And if the control of resources does not revert to individual landowners--how might they he be compensated so that one doesn’t feel dispossessed?

Such complex matters could benefit greatly from research into how other countries have resolved these issues. How did land use issues unfold in Norway? How were the Indian Princely states brought on board when they joined India? This is where Baloch lawyers, educators and students can step up to the plate. All students have to write papers—here is an opportunity for university students to produce work, policy papers, that can help contribute to the building of a nation.

Ultimately, no one should regard control of resources as a means to getting rich. If not well-managed and shared, it is possible these resources will leave a legacy of only a few more SUVs for a few more people. And when the resources run out, Balochistan is finished if it has developed no options other than to rely on its land for income.

A rationale for adopting a Norwegian shared model is this: right now a sardar or landowner may possess copper that is worth a lot in the present market. His neighbor may have nothing—maybe only desert that is fit for goats to graze on. But perhaps that copper has to travel over his neighbor’s land to reach Gwadar. Without use of his neighbors’ property and without that port sitting on the property of his coastal neighbors, that copper is useless. And one day, his copper will be exhausted. For ex., some say the Chinese will empty Saindak copper mine in 10 years, vs. 19 as originally planned. One day that copper owner may have nothing but desert.

If, however, the resource had been managed by the state—that landowner may now have a pension or social security that is paid by the Baloch government. His children will have jobs that were generated when Balochistan put its development into high gear. His descendents will not have to rely on land as a source of income.

If people think long-term vs. short-term profits and gains, Balochistan has a chance to emulate an eastern Norway, with sunny beaches to boot.

Once there is some general agreement as to how a Baloch government would operate, teams can be organized to reach out to international groups who can help realize your goals.

Before coming here, I did a search on eco-friendly mining. Not easy. Some say impossible. Nevertheless, I found a company that is absolutely worth exploring. This company has developed a process by which they can extract minerals without using precious water resources. The representative I spoke to was really enthusiastic about the idea of working in Balochistan. If the Baloch could unite behind a plan for the peace and agenda, establish teams to crunch numbers and research the issues that need resolution, when a situation like Tethyan arises, and the US pressures you to work with a company like Barrick Gold, you can announce to the court of world opinion—We want to do business with an eco-friendly company. We don’t want to sacrifice our environment for a couple schools and a clinic that Tethyan will provide—we can build those ourselves if we get a fair price for our minerals and our environment isn’t destroyed in the process. Environmental activists would jump on board. Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Oceana—they would all be more than willing to help you write policy.

These research teams could also start to form relationships with environmental monitors. Pakistan recently said in relation to the environmental degradation and lack of oversight at Chinese-run Saindak Copper that “The option of engaging some international firm for the scheme was not considered because of the high costs.” Saindak generates billions of dollars in revenue. This argument is disingenuous at best.

In all of this, the most important element is transparency, checks and balances.

And now, with technology advances, it is even possible to engage the average citizen in a transparent way. I would like to see a central Baloch government develop (or buy) a database that is accessible by computer from every village. That computer could be in a tea shop or a library, wherever there is a central location. And I would like to see that lady, who so laboriously drew water from that well, to be able to type in (and have the education to type in) a suggestion regarding her need. And this database should be searchable by others. That way, in a village 400 miles away, someone who has a similar need can maybe coordinate to lobby their local and federal government to solve the issue. Additionally, maybe this database is linked to one of these crowdsourcing databases where people are plying their inventions. Maybe the Baloch govt could form an entire department populated by students who ply these crowdsourcing databases for innovative technical solutions to Baloch problems.

And though I believe that Zizek is right—we are living in cynical times. However, there are still enormous quantities of good will out there. And that good will is there to engage. Awhile back I got a Baloch landowner to volunteer to contribute land for wind generation. Our plan was to put up wind turbines on land that wasn’t at present in use. All the profits from the wind generation would go to build schools and clinics in Balochistan. I contacted a friend of mine at 3M in the US. He started to research turbines and solar technologies that could function in the Baloch environment. That is where idealism butted up against reality. First, it was tricky to find accurate and current wind maps of the area. Then there were technical issues related to wind turbines and sand. Anyone who has visited parts of Balochistan knows that the wind carries much more than blue skies. Beyond that—questions of how to connect to the electrical grid—which does NOT criss-cross Balochistan in any convenient or accessible pattern—in order to sell the electricity. All these problems have technical solutions, but they may not yet be practical or they may be costly.

Developing Balochistan will take patience, diligence and foresight. There is no get-rich quick scheme here. And the only way this is going to happen is by returning to your cultural roots.

I was fascinated to learn in Martin Axman’s book that Baloch tribes, unlike Pashtun tribes, were not originally related by blood. Rather, the varieties of ethnic groups (Jats, Baloch, Brahui, etc.) who gathered in this area—this no man’s land—they formed tribes. A man contributed to a tribe—to its wellbeing and defence—and in return, received land—a tribal version of the Latin phrase “Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno "One for all, all for one”. This type of collaboration is what will turn Balochistan into the modern state that so many wish for.

What is clear in Martin Axmann’s book, despite his descriptions of individual foibles, is that the Baloch have, throughout history, worked really really hard to stay independent. At times, some have even been willing to undermine the unity of a greater Balochistan, in an attempt to secure their own autonomy. What is equally clear is that the British and Pakistan have worked very very hard to undermine Baloch unity when it served their purposes.

Nevertheless, this is not the time to run a truth commission. Rather, it is a time to win people over. Your tribal inheritance makes you well-suited to concepts of majority rule and sharing. I don’t think you need to focus at this point on the failings of individuals. They are only one voice in a majority rule system.

In closing, I would like to say this. In relation to the complex issues that lie waiting for resolution, I was reminded of a quote when reading about Agha Naseer Khan in Martin Axmann’s history. Following the Standstill Agreement, Balochistan’s Khan Ahmad Yar Khan issued Kalat’s Declaration of Independence. Kalat’s constitution called for a Lower House of Commons. There was, however, at the time, no election machinery in place in Kalat state. The philosopher Zizek says that when we are in a deadlock, we are forced to invent something. So how did one creative soul solve this problem? Agha Naseer went to each area in Jhalawan and had local jirga elders be the electorate. He went to every tehsil (or district) and conducted elections and Kalat’s first House of Commons came into being—within a week (Axmann, ps. 228). As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” What lies within the Baloch has the power to transform a society and educate the world, and inspire your provincial neighbors. Many Baloch, to paraphrase a Greek proverb, have already chosen to plant trees in whose shade they will never live in. Let’s do our creative best to honor their memories.

Sham el-Sheikh in New Delhi

Source: Daily Pioneer

Chandan Mitra

The dialogue of the deaf last Thursday had one clear winner, Pakistan, and one comprehensive loser, India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh capitulated again and will live to regret it

Last week India talked to ‘Pakistan’ amid much fanfare and media hype. I say Pakistan within quotes because that country cannot be described as a composite nation-state in the conventional sense. And, on issues relating to India, Pakistan is divided into many segments, at least five. First there is the Army, which controls Pakistan’s political, economic and military destiny whether formally in power or nominally in the barracks. Next is the ISI, the all-encompassing superpower in the Pakistani establishment, which functions as a state within the state. Third is Pakistan’s civilian Govern- ment, an insecure entity that has little popular legitimacy, is powerless against the Army and ISI and hopelessly divided within. The fourth consists of jihadi groups, both overground and underground, including the Pakistan Taliban, armed anti-India terror outfits like LeT, its public face Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h, others like JeM that share the same ideology and methodology, and the Afghan Taliban sheltered and nurtured by ISI. Finally, there is a small, elite civil society comprising well-heeled, English-educated socialites, more comfortable waxing eloquent on Indian TV channels when they are not busy sojourning in London. Each is at loggerheads with the other. They do not fuse into a collective entity except, may be, when Pakistan is at war with India.

Given this reality, what Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao did last Thursday was to talk with the designated representative of one-fifth of Pakistan, namely its civilian Government, the second-most fragile component of the Islamic Republic after its fledgling civil society. No significant outcome was expected and none happened. So, it may well be asked why get agitated over something that predictably did not rise above ‘time pass’?

The Delhi talks may have ended as a non-event but there were disconcerting developments in the run-up while the aftermath too will be no less damaging for India. First, India visibly capitulated for a second time since the grisly 26/11 attack in the face of joint Pakistani and American bullying, the first being the shameful genuflection at Sharm el-Sheikh. There it succumbed to Pakistani bluster by admitting Balochistan in the Joint Statement — a grave blunder that has allowed Islamabad to triumphantly bracket its most disturbed province to counter India’s plea to stop cross-border terror in Jammu & Kashmir.

This time, the brow-beating by Washington was so severe that India scurried to call Islamabad to the table a day after Home Minister P Chidambaram appealed to them to do “something, just something” to progress the 26/11 cases Pakistan has been stonewalling. To add insult to irony, the very day India invited Pakistan to talks, JuD and other assorted terrorists held a rally in the heart of their capital where Abdur Rehman Makki declared that Pakistani farmers were ready to march across the border and “drink India’s blood” if more water was not allowed to flow into their fields.

More water has since flowed down the rivers of Punjab. Apart from Pakistan’s Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s cocky remarks against India in New York, its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi offered a “blank cheque” to China on his visit to Beijing, urging it to become the “third party” and help resolve Indo-Pakistani issues, knowing fullwell how that would irritate New Delhi. As the talks date neared, Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the mass murders in Mumbai, thundered “Ek Bombay se kya hota hai?” thereby inciting his fanatical killer squads to perpetrate more such acts.

In sum, while we talked to one-fifth of Pakistan, that is its civilian Government, the country’s other components derisively ignored the dialogue — the Army offering to bail out the US from Afghanistan provided India was held in leash by Washington, the jihadis declaring their resolve to intensify the bloodbath, the ISI sheltering and training terrorists to infiltrate across the LoC or strike cities like Pune, and even elements in the civilian Government speaking the language of hate.

Meanwhile India cut a sorry figure, ignored at the Afghan talks in Istanbul, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna made to sit in a second row chair at the London Conference where Pakistani officials strutted around as bridegrooms at a wedding, and rapped on the knuckles by Uncle Sam for hesitating to put out the other cheek for Pakistan to administer another resounding slap. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quite candidly acknowledged on the eve of the Delhi talks that the Obama Administration had “encouraged” India to get back into the dialogue mode with its tormentor.

Anyway, judging by the official Indian briefing last Thursday, both countries reiterated their stated positions face-to-face in Hyderabad House. India handed over three fresh dossiers to Pakistan, something that could well have been mailed by diplomatic bag the same way as the last six were sent post-Mumbai but never acted upon. Pakistan raised Balochistan; we said their concerns were baseless. They made a song and dance over river waters; we said the Indus Water Treaty had stood the test of half a century. We mentioned beheading of Sikhs by Taliban; they said ‘very bad, very bad’. We told them about Ilyas Kashmiri and 17 Indian Mujahideen killers basking in the Pakistani sun; they said they would try to find out if that were true. We pleaded with them to restrain the fire-breathing Hafiz Saeed; they lied, saying their laws did not permit action against his utterances.

From all appearances it was a dialogue of the deaf. But we were, clearly, the losers. That’s because we abandoned a cardinal weapon aptly described by BJP leader Arun Jaitley as the “diplomatic option of not talking to a hostile country”. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir can go back home and credibly assert he stood his ground and managed to add water and Balochistan on the agenda apart from pressing for a “solution” to the Kashmir issue (by which Islamabad means handing over the Valley to them). Bashir also spent last Wednesday evening confabulating with three separatist Kashmiri leaders although he was frustrated by their insistence on meeting him separately, presumably to run down one another and seek enhanced funding for their respective outfits. Their Foreign Minister can now feel vindicated; he claimed last fortnight Pakistan had succeeded in dragging a whimpering India to the negotiating table.

Watching from the sidelines, the entire drama that played out seemed surreal. It was like a neighbour walking into your house saying ‘You have a lovely lawn. Give it to me.’ You refuse. He slaps you hard and keeps assaulting or insulting you endlessly. Finally, you get so scared you invite him over for tea. He walks in, reiterates his claim and adds a few more items to his wish-list. He has, meanwhile, mobilised the local dada who stands guard, intimidating you further. Obviously you can’t accept the preposterous demands. So he slaps you again and walks out threatening more violence. You cower into a corner, tremulously awaiting the next assault!

IRAN: MKO Gravely Affected by Rigi's Arrest

TEHRAN (FNA)- The plots hatched by the anti-Iran terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) for stationing troops alongside Iran's eastern borders were defused after Tehran arrested Abdolmalek Rigi, the most notorious terrorist ringleader at its eastern borders, an Iranian lawmaker said Saturday.

"The MKO's members were hopeful that after expulsion of the group from Iraq, they could establish a joint den of corruption in the eastern Iran in coordination with (Abdolmalek) Rigi, but this plot fell flat with the capture of Rigi,"
Mohammad Reza Khabbaz told FNA.

Last Tuesday, Iran announced that it has arrested Abdolmalek Rigi after intensive intelligence and security operations.

Rigi on June 2 admitted receiving assistance from the MKO, but relations between the two anti-Iran terrorist groups had surfaced a long time ago when US started plans to coordinate anti-Islamic Republic moves.

In August, the Jundollah terrorist group warned the Baghdad government that it would retaliate against the closure of a main camp of MKO by the Iraqi forces.

"…the Iraqi government should know that its hostile measures against the residents of Camp Ashraf who are Iranian immigrants in this city are not and will not be in the interest of the Iraqi government,"
Jundollah said in statement.

The MKO, whose main stronghold is in Iraq, has been in the country's Diyala province since the 1980s.

Six years after toppling Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, the country's security forces took control of the training base of the MKO at Camp Ashraf - about 60km (37 miles) north of Baghdad and changed the name of the military center from Camp Ashraf to the Camp of New Iraq.

The Iraqi government and parliament have both voiced strong determination for expelling the group from the country.

The MKO started assassination of the citizens and officials after the revolution in a bid to take control of the newly established Islamic Republic. It killed several of Iran's new leaders in the early years after the revolution, including the then President, Mohammad Ali Rajayee, Prime Minister, Mohammad Javad Bahonar and the Judiciary Chief, Mohammad Hossein Beheshti who were killed in bomb attacks by MKO members in 1981.

The MKO is behind a slew of assassinations and bombings inside Iran, a number of EU parliamentarians said in a recent letter in which they slammed a British court decision to remove the MKO from the British terror list. The EU officials also added that the group has no public support within Iran because of their role in helping Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi imposed war on Iran (1980-1988).

Many of the MKO members abandoned the terrorist organization while most of those still remaining in the camp are said to be willing to quit but are under pressure and torture not to do so.

A May 2005 Human Rights Watch report accused the MKO of running prison camps in Iraq and committing human rights violations.

According to the Human Rights Watch report, the outlawed group puts defectors under torture and jail terms.

The group fled to Iraq in 1986, where it was protected by Saddam Hussein and where it helped the Iraqi dictator suppress Shiite and Kurd uprisings in the country.

The terrorist group joined Saddam's army during the Iraqi imposed war on Iran (1980-1988) and helped Saddam and killed thousands of Iranian civilians and soldiers during the US-backed Iraqi imposed war on Iran.

Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the group, which now adheres to a pro-free-market philosophy, has been strongly backed by neo-conservatives in the United States, who also argue for the MKO to be taken off the US terror list.

Basij Commander Blasts West's Support for Rigi

The West is supporting such notorious terrorists as Jundollah's ringleader Abdolmalek Rigi under the cover of defending human rights in Iran, a senior Iranian commander said on Saturday.

"There are countless instances like Abdolmalek Rigi in the world who are conducting the most severe behaviors in various countries through the supports provided by the hegemonic states,"
Commander of Basij (volunteers) forces Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi said on Saturday.

"Such individuals are operating in Latin America and East Asia under the support of the western states," Naqdi stated, reminding that there are a large number of people who have gone missing or sustained great losses from such acts of terrorism.

The comment by the Basij commander came a day after the ringleader of the Jundollah terrorist group, Abdolmalek Rigi, confessed that the United States offered to provide him with military aid to wage an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

RUSSIA: Simmering Stalinist Passions

February 26, 2010

By Roland Oliphant

Russia Profile

Plans to Put “Stalin Booths” On Moscow’s Streets Have Stirred Up A Perennial Quarrel, But May Not Be Realized

On Wednesday, February 18 city hall announced that “information stands” about Stalin’s role in the Second World War would be on the streets of Moscow for the 65th anniversary of the 1945 victory. Liberals – and Boris Gryzlov of all people – responded with predictable outrage. The Memorial human rights group has said it will launch counter posters detailing Stalin’s crimes. Can Russia have a debate about Stalin – and should it?

The city government’s Committee for Advertising, Information and Decorations broke the news on Wednesday. While trumpeting its time table for Victory Day posters (three waves of posters, building facades and “large-scale panels on military themes” will be unleashed on the city on April 1, 15 and 20 respectively, RIA Novosti dutifully reported), the committee’s press service also let slip that “information stands explaining the role of Stalin” would be dotted around the city in “places the People’s Militia was mustered.”

The People’s Militia was a home-guard style outfit formed of elderly and infirm men initially ineligible for the draft. Formed shortly after the German invasion in 1941, they received little training and suffered horrendous casualties when they were sent into action. There will apparently be just ten stands, a meter to a meter and a half in size (though no one seems sure whether that refers to length, breadth or depth) and locations will include the Poklonaya Hills, the square in front of the Bolshoi Theatre and the square in front of Gorky Park, between May 1 and 9.

The outcry was immediate. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the veteran human rights activist, told RIA that “Stalin was a criminal and it’s a shame to advertise his regime that killed millions of people.” Meanwhile Interfax bagged Mikhail Gorbachev (“Stalin made mistakes, especially ahead of the war and at the start of it”). And Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin issued a stinging statement on his party’s Web site: “the ominous image of the executioner should not befoul Victory Day.” Even Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the State Duma and a senior member of the United Russia Party, which has often been accused of going soft on the Soviet dictator, said that it was wrong put up the posters because of “the ambiguous role Stalin played in the life of our country.”

On Friday the chairman of the committee, Vladimir Makarov, addressed some of the criticisms, claiming that city Hall was only responding to repeated requests from the veterans themselves. “And we should respond to the majority of veterans rather than to exploding young politicians,” he said darkly (young is a relative term here: Gorbachev turns 79 in March; Gryzlov will be 60 in December). And rather than “advertizing Stalin” with individual portraits, the dictator would appear in photographs alongside partisans, war-industry workers and at the 1945 victory parade. “Stalin was the main military commander of the victorious country, and to blacken his name is not right,” RIA Novosti quoted Makarov as saying.

And Makarov is not without the support of his own “exploding young politicians.” Gennady Zyuganov, 65, the leader of the Russian Communist party (KPRF), called the plans “undoubtedly correct and courageous.” Zyuganov has long championed Stalin’s memory, and last December his party called for a moratorium on criticizing the dictator out of respect for his 130th birthday.

Stalin in rehab?

Whether or not Makarov is right that most veterans support the move, there is certainly a sizable pro-Stalin constituency in Russia to counter his enemies, and quarrels between the two have been a recurrent theme in Russian public life over the past few years. In 2008 television viewers voted him the third greatest Russian of all time (even though he was Georgian), and a new text book was criticized for calling him a “good manager.” Last year the Kurskaya Metro station reopened with a line from the Soviet National Anthem praising Stalin restored to its original place, and the journalist Alexander Podrabinek was forced into hiding after comparing Second World War veterans to gulag guards and NKVD (Stalin’s secret police) blocking battalions.

“There is a definite movement to rehabilitate Stalin,” said Vyacheslav Bityutsky, a historian with the Memorial, which campaigns to on behalf of victims of Stalinist repression, opposes the information booths. “There are several factors. On the one hand you have the KPRF pushing him as a hero; on the other hand there’s this sense that supporting Stalin is a protest against the excesses of modern Russia, the oligarchs and so on.”

But doesn’t Makarov have a point? Whether you like Stalin or not, one has to accept he was the man giving the orders. Shouldn’t his role be examined? Bityutsky immediately dismissed this by citing Stalin’s blunders, such as the purging of the officer corps in the late 1930s, that brought the Soviet Union to the brink of defeat in the early years of the war.

But Vyacheslav Borisyonok, editor of the historical magazine Rodina, sees the arguments as a sign of healthy pluralism rather than the result of state-driven attempts to clear Stalin’s name. “Since 1991 every citizen of the Russian Federation has been able to choose his own ideology. There are people who actively hate Stalin, and there are some who love him more than anything else. And of course there are media that express their point of view – the nationalist writer Alexander Prokhanov praises Stalin’s genius in every issue of the Zavtra newspaper,” he noted.

He also argues that the restoration of Kurskaya metro station was a matter of restoring a historical building to its original condition, and that as for the text book is concerned, children should be presented with all points of view before they can choose their own opinions.

Perhaps. But not everyone can see Stalin’s name written in gold letters in a public building, or exonerated on a page, and think of it as historical curiosity. Memorial says the organization has already been contacted by a great number of people whose relatives were executed or sent to the gulag under Stalin who are “shocked” by the plans, and the organization is already busy writing letters and gathering signatures for petitions. And they may well have their way. In Voronezh, where Bityutsky is based, an earlier proposal to put such stands on the street came to nothing. “I don’t honestly think its going to happen,” said Borisyonok. “In the ends they’ll have to find something more neutral to put on the streets.”

Chinese Foreign Policy: A Chronology April – June 2009

Defence Academy of the United Kingdom

Chinese Foreign Policy: A Chronology April – June 2009

Catharine Melvin

Pakistani Newspaper Attributes Mystical Powers to Diplomat



Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir smiling, cautiously, in New Delhi, India on Thursday.Harish Tyagi/European Pressphoto AgencyTake a good look at my face.” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in New Delhi, India on Thursday.

In advance of talks in New Delhi on Thursday between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir — which touched on a number of sensitive issues — a Pakistani newspaper suggested that Mr. Bashir’s delegation included a secret weapon: a diplomat “who can read the faces of people and predict what they are actually thinking and feeling — an art known as physiognomy.”

The News, a Pakistani broad sheet, reported on Wednesday that Afrasiab Hashmi, the director-general for South Asia in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, “is an expert in judging a person’s character or personality from that man’s facial characteristics and structure.” The News added:

Physiognomy and its practice dates back to the ancient Greece but was abandoned later.

Hashmi is said to have harboured this skill by birth, not learning through any special courses. It becomes very difficult to hide one’s inner-self in front of Hashmi, people close to him say, though he gives his frank opinions only to frank friends. The Foreign Office spokesperson confirmed Hashmi’s mastery in face reading. [...]

His initial posting after joining the foreign service was in the United Nations where his accurate predictions caught many by surprise. He also has some skills in predicting the immediate future.

While The News went on to say that Mr. Hashemi had used his skills as a reader of faces the way some read palms, to make predictions — of, for instance, the untimely death of Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military ruler in the 1980s — there does seem to be some scientific support for the idea that people’s faces can contain clues to emotions they are trying to hide.

In 2002 Malcolm Gladwell wrote, in “The Naked Face,” a New Yorker article on the scientific work of psychologist named Paul Ekman, an expert on facial expressions:

Something in our faces signals whether we’re going to shoot, say, or whether we’re lying about the film we just saw. Most of us aren’t very good at spotting it. But a handful of people are virtuosos.

Mr. Ekman explained in an interview with The Times in 2003 that he discovered in 1965 that human facial expressions can be read across cultures:

I showed pictures of facial expressions to people in the U.S., Japan, Argentina, Chile and Brazil and found that they judged the expressions in the same way. But this was not conclusive because all these people could have learned the meaning of expressions by watching Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne. I needed visually isolated people unexposed to the modern world and the media.

I found them in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. They not only judged the expressions in the same way, but their posed expressions, which I recorded with a movie camera, were readily understandable to people in the West.

Robot to detect and decontaminate landmines


Mrigank Tiwari, TNN, Feb 26, 2010, 11.02pm IST

ALLAHABAD: For war ravaged third world countries like Afghanistan and Iraq battling with casualties and serious injuries to civilians on account of undetected landmines and for security personnel taking on the naxals in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand, the news would certainly be a welcome one.

The scientists from Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (IIIT-A) are on course to developing a robot which can detect landmines and decontaminate them easily. Moreover, what is heartening to note is that the prototype of the robot is already on the verge of completion which means that once tested successfully it would make way for the production of the said robot on a large-scale.

The project entitled `Designing an Intelligent Robot for Explosive Detection and Decontamination' funded by MHRD, government of India, taken up by a student, Ashish Kumar Agarwal under the guidance of Prof G C Nandi, explores the design and development of classifier based on statistical methods and soft-computing based approaches, which is capable of identifying the mines and non-mines using various clustering, classification and rules establishment algorithms as to compare the algorithm on the basis of complexity and accuracy.

Talking to TOI, Ashish said, "If we already know about the upcoming hazards, it is very easy to find the way to abolish it. My objective is to predict whether at a particular point of working area is occupied by mines or not, with some confidence parameter. The robot is being designed to move toward these predicted areas to decontaminate the mines. These mines occupied area can be known before initiation of robot movements or can be predicted dynamically, so to design an obstacle-free path for robot is another aspect beyond the domain of this module."

He added, "Designing such a classifier is a big challenge because data is not linearly separable and since it has overlapping features, it is not possible to design a classifier with 100 per cent accuracy. This project deals with PVC tubes, wood piece and copper cylinders as non-mine data in addition to data of various mines. The basic idea of the classification is based on a fact that it is safe if the non-mines data is predicted as mine, but it is not the case when we predict mines data as non-mines. So the unsupervised learning based ART algorithm divides the data into several clusters which are merged on the basis of above fact. The data may be given in image form or some tabular form having all numeric or categorised attributes.

Exuding confidence that the robot would go a long way in reducing incidents of deaths due to hidden and undetected landmines, the research coordinator, Prof G C Nandi said, "Anti-personnel landmines are a significant barrier to economic and social development in a number of countries, so we need a classification system that can differentiate a mine from metallic debris on the basis of given data. This data is generated by some highly accurate sensors."

He added, "All the eight different algorithms have been implemented to compare the results. This classifier is giving result with 80 per cent accuracy. The best result is being given by ART and genetic algorithm. Fuzzy C-mean and Gustavson Kessel is also good because of membership values for each class. This module can differentiate between the PVC tube, wood piece, brass tube, copper cylinder (non-mine data) and the mine data obtained from various sources. On the basis of this prediction, path designers develop an obstacle-free path to decontaminate these mines.

Baloch Hal Closed: Malik Siraj writes


Malik Siraj

The Baloch Hal was the dream of a few young educated Balochs. They wanted to make a difference for their oppressed and repressed people. The online paper got extraordinary national and international attention. Launched by three young Baloch based in three different locations yet simultaneously coordinating to put the online paper together, the team approached anybody who was somebody to seek help to sustain this paper.

The paper was the brainchild of a young Baloch daughter who had never visited Balochistan but was deeply in love with her motherland. Yet, we wanted to tell our people that change was not impossible if we worked with commitment. The Baloch Hal, without a penny in its accounts, did what government ministries with a budget of several million rupees could not do. We literally went to the homes of every Baloch and non-Baloch friends of Balochistan, including scholar, leader, bureaucrate, intellectual and told them why the Baloch Hal was important and why it deserved to be helped. Everyone billed it “excellent” and “extraordinary” and suggested to “keep it up” but no one reached for help. No one owned this national newspaper. We are sure that you would also acknowledge that you did not help in individual capacity too even though we said a rupee contribution or a single piece of writing would make a big difference.

In four months, the Baloch Hal got 6782148 hits and 2522083 hits from over 60 countries of the world. We put together, 711 news reports/ articles and attracted 114 comments from our readers, which is unprecedented in the media history of Balochistan.

In the meanwhile, we saw that our readership came from very very powerful quarters such as western diplomatic missions, think-tanks, NGOs, media watch-dogs, political parties and the country’s military establishment. Expectations rose too high from the Baloch Hal. Our readers reminded us why certain stories run in The New York Times or Dawn newspaper in Pakistan were often missing in The Baloch Hal (a newspaper that was put together by three people sitting in three different countries and doing part time job to make a living). We did not want to remain like many other web sites to copy and paste material from other newspapers yet we lacked the resources to meet the very high expectations of our readers.

No Baloch scholar or journalist or those who live elsewhere but write on Balochistan agreed to write for Baloch Hal “free of cost”. We pleaded them again and again that it was not a corporate initiative. We needed them to write for this paper. We reminded them again and again. No prominent writer agreed to write for us ‘freely’ while we did not have the resources to pay our contributors. We realized the level of intellectuals’ greed only after working on this project.

The only reason due to which we do not hesitate in admitting that we were looking for donations and financial help from everyone was because we thought the Baloch Hal collectively belonged to the people and the friends of Balochistan. Therefore, we reached everyone and said please help your own paper. This project is extremely essential for our coming generations. The fight was too fierce, challenges were tough. There is this extraordinarily high amount of money coming from Arab countries and the country’s security establishment to radicalize the Baloch society. Religious schools are mushrooming in Baloch areas to churn out religious militants. Billions are being spent to push our younger generation into drug addiction. A much larger amount is being spent to crush the secular and nationalist forces in the province. All that we needed was a very little amount only to sustain this project. The Baloch Hal was not a misadventure because it delivered more than even the provincial ministry of information. Truth about Balochistan was leaked at the Baloch Hal when a complete shutter down strike was observed in Mekran during the visit of Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani to sign the NFC award. The whole national media declined to report it because their journalists were taken on official expenses to cover the event but the Baloch Hal and some other Baloch media outlets refused to jump on the bandwagon.

The Chief Minister of Balochistan would have helped us to a great extent, as he had wished to do at one point of time, provided that we refrained from writing our our editorials ” Raisani must be kidding” and ” Gillani and Shutter-down meet each other in Gwadar”. Yet, the paper could have sustained if the progressive friends of Balochistan agreed to help us. They did not. The reward for putting our lives in danger while running this project was paid to us when we were told that “Baloch Hal has become a tool in the hands of the Military Intelligence.”

We have decided to put the Baloch Hal offline because we do not have the resources to carry on. Our own people have unleashed a campaign against us. The Baloch Hal grew so prominent in four months that international publications like The National and Dawn began to quote it. The government accused us of being financed by India and its intelligence agency RAW while our own people thought were working on an ISI and MI agenda.

Lastly, we would like to deeply thank the ‘only’ donor to the Baloch Hal. This donation of Rs. 3500/ was given to the Baloch Hal by a Punjabi widow who admired the work and said that she could not donate more for this project but she still believed that Baloch Hal was desperately needed. As we “3 idiots” decide to put the shutters down, we thank Mr. Bari Baloch, a regular contributor, Mazhar Ali Khan, who agreed to share his photographs on daily basis and our two regular columnists Siddiq Baluch and Amjad Hussain. A special word of thanks to Ejaz Raisani, our most active citizen journalist and Ms. Seema Hassan who agreed to write for us when we were in the process of encouraging people to write for the Baloch Hal. We are grateful to Asad Rahman who agreed to exclusively write twice for the Baloch Hal.
The Baloch Hal Team

China, Iran and the United States

Expert Comment, 22 February 2010

Dr Kerry Brown, Senior Fellow, Chatham House

The following article is from the forthcoming March 2010 issue of The World Today.

Where does China stand on Iran and its nuclear plans? The two are tied together by huge energy deals. But Beijing is not best friends with Washington just now, so feels little pressure to help in its dispute with Tehran. Can it continue to stay on the diplomatic sidelines?

The announcement in late January that Iran is China's third largest supplier of crude oil underlined for many the real heart of the relationship between these two countries. Despite all the warm words at the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, established by China almost a decade ago to bring together central Asian states and Russia about their close political and diplomatic links - which Iran attends as an observer - energy supply is the one thing that consistently appears in assessments of what holds China back from supporting tougher sanctions through the United Nations on Iran's nuclear programme.

The figures are well known. A 25-year deal between China and Iran in 2004 for liquid natural gas. A $100 billion contract the following year for supply from the Yabaravan field. In January last year a further $1.75 billion Chinese deal signed to develop the North Azedegan oil field, and, only a few months later, $5.2 billion for the South Pars natural gas field. China is Iran's biggest export partner, and sells it back refined oil. This is just the most visible part of the pipeline.

Fuel for the People

Relations with Iran fit into the larger picture of China's burgeoning international energy diplomacy. With soaring energy needs, it cannot be too choosy in the partners it keeps. Beyond Iran, deals with African countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have brought international condemnation.
As always, internal matters explain Beijing's outward behaviour. With a government which places economic growth at the centre of its legitimacy, and which needs to pump out eight percent gross domestic product increases at least for the next five years, having the energy to achieve this is crucial. The Communist Party will be finished if it fails to improve the economic lot of its people.

The critical importance of energy security was only underlined by the final establishment in January of a national energy commission, headed by Premier Wen Jiabao, pulling together all the different administrative, corporate and financial parts of the state in this critical area. This is not the first time China has tried to systematise its approach to this, cutting across internal vested interests, and supplying unity where frequently there is all too much territorial conflict.

Because of its energy and resource needs, diplomatically, China likes friends. It sticks to diplomat Robert Cooper's observation that 'it is easier, and cheaper, to have friends than enemies.' Perhaps alone among the major powers, it preserves good relations with Middle East Islamic states, but also with Israel. And it almost totally avoids the political flack that gets chucked at America or European powers over claims of meddling in the region, despite the fact that it has such huge investments and interests there.

Some might suspect that China is perfectly happy to see this region as a zone of United States interest, and keep well away from its complex political issues. But as in so many other areas, it is learning that having assets and supply sources abroad almost inevitably brings demands to take a firmer position and get involved with difficult foreign disputes. China's celebrated stance of non-intervention is likely to be tested to exhaustion in the coming months and years, with Iran as the most pressing current case.

Big Background

Ironically, China's energy profile was also one of the key aggravators in the current clashes with the US. China is 75 percent dependent on fossil fuels. This lies behind its environmental problems. US State Department figures say that 25 percent of the air pollution in California is traceable to China. A recent Chinese government survey shows that its own figures for domestic water pollution were understated by as much as fifty percent. And yet the commitment to economic growth, whatever the environmental cost, continues.

China's stance at the December Copenhagen Climate Change summit typified to many other countries its self-interested behaviour. Arguing that the largest responsibility for controlling emissions should go to the US and the European Union, one witness at a negotiating session claimed it stripped out all meaningful targets and benchmarks in any final agreement, leaving the much-criticised accord as the end product.

Wen's perceived snub of US President Barack Obama, sending a junior official to talk to him at a critical part of the negotiations, was taken as a continuation of China's arrogant treatment of him when he went to Beijing and Shanghai at the end of November. But it was also seen as a sign that China was simply shirking its responsibilities. This caused criticism from developing countries too.

Sales of military equipment to Taiwan in January - amounting to over $6.5 billion - deepened the problem. The row over China's currency policy has become a particular target for opprobrium from an America just emerging from recession. There is great anger over the perceived distortion in the international system, with claims China's undervaluation of its exchange rate has created further massive trade deficits.

To make things worse, a clamp-down on dissidents in China, with one of the best known imprisoned for eleven years on Christmas Day, and Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama in Washington, all happening in quick succession. This is the big background within which the issue of Iranian sanctions is set.

Foot Dragging

Speaking in New York in late January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that it was in China's long-term best interests to support sanctions against Iran and stop it developing a nuclear weapons capacity. This suggestion that Beijing look beyond the current situation might have some traction.

The Chinese government has largely been a supporter of non-proliferation. After all, it has four nuclear powers on its borders: Russia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. It has been a proactive supporter of non-proliferation arrangements and treaties. It certainly does not want to see outcomes in the Middle East that would affect it stable supply of energy. Conflict with Iran would impact on this badly. And it doesn't want to be internationally diplomatically isolated. That Russia is bending towards supporting a UN Security Council resolution and tougher sanctions will figure in China's calculations. Going it alone is simply not Beijing's current style.

So despite the poor atmospherics between the US and China at the moment, and despite what is said publicly in Beijing, the likelihood is that China will passively support tougher action on Iran. It will try to preserve its good relations with the regime there by taking a back seat, dragging its feet until the last moment, and then grumbling while falling in line to show Iran that it is doing this against its will, and that, at heart, it is still a good friend. As with other areas, Beijing will show in this way that it can not only have its cake, but also eat it.

But the longer-term question remains. It is one that bedevils China's diplomatic development and will do so as it continues to become one of the world's most powerful economies. How much longer can it continue to keep its head down and be all things to all people throughout the developing world, despite the fact that it has increasing assets and interests to preserve in these areas?

How long can it continue not to take a leading role in the resolution of international issues, even when it would clearly be in its interests to be more actively involved? And most worrying of all, how long will it be before countries like Iran start looking towards China not just for economic backing, but for diplomatic support, in their clashes with the US? Those are the questions that are starting to become clear through the current issue of sanctions and China's support for Iran.