Posted on 22-06-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

These are difficult times for Pakistan and its citizens. Since the 1980’s Pakistan’s military rulers have ridden the tiger of Islamic radicalism to bleed arch-rival India and install pliant regimes in Afghanistan.  However, Pakistan is now discovering how hard it is get off the tiger.  In recent years jihadists have slaughtered innocents in Pakistan’s cities, countryside, mosques, schools and even military bases.  Then came the national humiliation of the American military attack that killed Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani cantonment town of Abbotabad, a stone’s throw from its national military academy.

The raid that eliminated Bin Laden was a double humiliation: First, because the most wanted man in the world was found ensconced comfortably in the heart of Pakistan (leading to suspicions he was protected by Pakistan’s secret service agency the ISI).  Second, because the Americans launched a military raid deep into Pakistan without the Pakistani army’s knowledge or without them being able to do anything about it.

Not given to deep introspection, the military establishment has focused on the latter and has made ham handed to warn the Americans about future Pakistani cooperation against the Taliban by playing the China card.  Unfortunately for the generals, more humiliation was to come.  The Bin Laden raid was followed by a daring terrorist attack on a naval base, possibly with inside involvement.

All of this has severely dented the credibility of the Pakistani military establishment, previously immune from domestic criticism.  Yet criticism of the military can be fatal.  Shortly after writing about Al-Qaeda infiltration of the Pakistani navy, journalist Saleem Shahzad was found beaten to death – allegedly in ISI custody.  Which brings us to the indomitable Asma Jahangir.

Along with her sister Hina Jalani, Jahangir has been one of Pakistan’s foremost human rights advocates who bravely stands up for women’s right in the face of fundamentalist neanderthals.  In the clip below she boldly eviscerates the Pakistani military for sheer incompetence, impotence and venality.

For those of you who do n0t understand Urdu a rough translation from the blogger Beena Sarwar is provided below:

I don’t need to get a medal for patriotism especially from those who belong to the establishment. We must talk harshly and realistically. I remember during the Bangladesh war, we heard the same discourse. People said that those who criticised the army action in Bangladesh were not patriots. My father was imprisoned; many people we know called me the child of a traitor. But I know that the army’s policy – they are duffers, political duffers (idiots). If you go along with their policy the way we have been doing, Pakistan will not progress. I don’t care what people in America or Africa think. I want our people to be saved from the army. They have put us in a situation where terrorism is cropping up at every corner and neighbourhood. They encourage and support it, detract from debate. They’ve got a whole propaganda machinery going. I am not saying that this goes for all soldiers, but for these generals who play golf and laugh, and keep an eye out for plots. What happened in Karachi – there was a wedding hall at that sensitive place. They’ve made us their slaves. It is time to say please, with folded hands, go back to your barracks, let our children live here. We don’t want bloodshed. If you want acclaim, go and fight – and win — a war. You fought Kargil, killed the Light Infantry soldiers. You’ve become used to making young boys into human shields. You can’t fight, or run the country, or make policy. You are the ‘qabza group’ (land grabbers) of this country. Politicians and everyone should say this clearly. If you ask me, I can give several examples of their stupidity. We need to take out a procession on Mall Road, with folded hands, to say please go home, you ‘eating drinking’ party.”

 

Brave words against a military establishment whose raison d’être has been anti-India hostility, towards which end it leeches off a quarter of impoverished Pakistan’s budget in a unwinnable military race with its far larger and stronger neighbor.  In the process the army lost Pakistan its eastern wing in 1971.  And 3 out of its remaining 4 provinces (not counting the so-called Azad Kashmir) are seething with discontent at domination by the Punjabi majority.  It is a pity that Pakistan’s venal civilian politicians are incapable of fulfilling the promise of its brave human rights activists like Asma Jahangir.  Until a competent civilian leadership emerges, Pakistan will continue to be dominated by its incompetent uniformed thugs.

 

 

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Posted on 18-05-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

For all those who have wasted hours on one of the most addictive games in recent history:

 

Somehow seems appropriate that an Israeli comedy show came up with this.

 

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Posted on 22-03-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After weeks of refusing to get involved in Libya with the war-mongerers Stateside accusing him of dithering, Barack Obama turned on a dime and endorsed military action in Libya.   The push for war was largely driven by the French and the British and cloaked with legitimacy by the Arab League’s call for a no-fly zone over Libya.  The French intervention appears driven by a desire to restore their tarnished prestige following a series of diplomatic blunders with respect to the Arab uprisings.  In my opinion Obama’s shift can be explained by the following:

  • Nobody likes Muammar Gaddafi (other than Hugo Chavez) and everybody was excited at the thought of his imminent departure.
  • But Gaddafi has proved surprisingly resilient and his opposition hopelessly disorganized.
  • Last week as Gaddafi’s armor reached Benghazi there was the sudden unpalatable realization that Gaddafi was about to win.
  • Gaddafi went on television once again promising wholesale slaughter, conjuring up memories of the failure to prevent the massacres at Srebrenica in 1995 and of the Iraqi Shiites in 1991.
  • Even though he stood at the brink of victory, Gaddafi’s armed forces are weak and his advance was easily stopped.

It is interesting to speculate whether the UN would have acted if Gaddafi had not broadcast his genocidal intentions to the world.  The broadcasts may have been enough to prevent Russia and China from vetoing intervention in Libya (ironic given the willingness of both those regimes to slaughter their people in Chechnya and at Tiananmen respectively).  Yet the old fault lines are obvious.  The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and Germany all abstained at the vote.  The Arab League whose support lent legitimacy to the operation promptly flip-flopped when the bombs started to fall.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the war was a half-baked attempt to stop a Gaddafi victory.  To his credit Barack Obama is aware (unlike many of his domestic critics) that the United States no longer has the credibility to initiate an armed intervention in the Arab or Muslim world.  Unlike the coalition of the billing that accompanied the United States into Iraq, this is a true (if disorganized) coalition with NATO allies doing heavy lifting and a few Gulf monarchies sending their fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone.  Gaddafi’s unpopularity on the Arab street has muted some of the reflexive anti-American voices.  People still carp that this is “about oil.”  That makes no sense since Gaddafi’s legitimization in the last decade was followed by the entry of western oil companies into Libya.  Getting rid of Gaddafi was no longer a prerequisite to get Libyan oil.

The problem is that nobody has explained the end-objective of what is likely to be an open-ended military commitment.  Nobody has any idea what the disorganized Libyan opposition stands for.  Various parts of the coalition differ on the wisdom or legality of killing Gaddafi with a military strike.  Other NATO allies are showing marked reluctance to being involved in the operation and the United States is on record wanting to hand off the baton to someone else.  With the rest of the world used to freeloading on US leadership and the casting stones at the United States for “causing civilian deaths,” it is difficult to see who that would be.  There has been no debate within the United States about what American strategic goals are and how this war will be paid for.

Basically the allies are gambling that elimination of Gaddafi’s air and armor advantage will allow the opposition to sweep into Tripoli.  The precedents for this exist in the success of the Bosnian Muslims and Croats after NATO’s bombing of Serb positions.  Aerial bombardment and limited special forces involvement enabled the Northern Alliance to sweep the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001.  Yet key differences exist.  The Bosnian and Northern Alliance forces had been tempered by years of war and had an organized command structure.  The Libyan opposition is hopelessly out-gunned by even Gaddafi’s ramshackle army and mercenaries.  On the flip side the ramshackle nature of Gaddafi’s military and regime makes it unlikely that his generals will want to go down shooting for him.  There is a rumor that a kamikaze attack by a Libyan pilot may have killed one of Gaddafi’s sons.  Combined with rumors of members of the regime seeking exit strategies, Gaddafi’s rule may be cracking.

The quickest solution to this military dilemma would be for the Egyptian army to march west.  Even if it is bloated and inefficient, the Egyptian army would probably sweep aside Gaddafi’s forces.  Such an intervention would probably play well with the Egyptian street that is suspicious of the Generals’ commitment to democracy.  But the Egyptians are playing coy and their aid to the rebels has been under the table.  Their Generals have some cause for worry that an invasion of Libya could trap their army in an unwinnable occupation of a failed tribal entity with a national flag (See: Ethiopian intervention in Somalia – 2006-2009).

This is a war where the ends will unfortunately justify the means.  The quick fall of Gaddafi (even though regime change is not a declared purpose of the war) with minimal bloodshed will vindicate Messrs. Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron.  If Gaddafi holds on and the result is a long drawn civil war and military stalemate the intervention will ultimately be seen as a failure.  The fall of Gaddafi followed by chaos will probably be seen as a failure as well.

For now we cross our fingers and wait….and hope.

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Posted on 28-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As Muammar Gaddafi digs in for his final stand, mockery of the brutal dictator is spreading across the web.  A couple of samples are below:

  • The clip below “Zenga Zenga” by Israeli musician Noy Alooshe mocks the dictator’s speech last week.  The video has garnered over 1.6 million views and is a hit in the Arab world.  Using Autotune to turn an excerpt of his speech to song the dictator promises that he will clean Libya “inch by inch, house by house, room by room, alley by alley.”  At the edges bikini clad women gyrate to the music.  The Israeli origins of the video have not prevented it from becoming a hit in the Arab world.

Enjoy…

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Posted on 28-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pervez Hoodbhoy has this pessimistic take on the perils of a nuclear-armed failing Pakistani state.  For all the opprobrium it received for the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has still not brought the attack planners to justice or commenced dismantling its terror infrastructure.  Incredibly the bankrupt Pakistani state appears to be betting all its chips on the nuclear shield.  So a state which survives on financial aid is risking an arms race with its larger and stronger neighbor that will make its fragile condition even worse.

Hoodbhoy is probably right in that another attack on India is only a matter of time.  How will India then react to the rogue state on its western border?  Indians have noted that the Bush doctrine allowed the United States to invade Afghanistan, but the United States limits the Indian response to its terrorism sponsoring neighbor.  This perpetuates the Pakistani faith in its nuclear deterrent as a shield for any foreign misadventures.

It must be noted that the second and less appreciated part of Pakistan’s shield will eventually disappear.  The US will get out of Afghanistan and will no longer need Pakistan as a supply route for its troops.  Similar to 1989, it will be far easier for Washington to cut Pakistan loose after it withdraws from Afghanistan.  With China already sponsoring North Korea and Burma, will it want the Pakistani basket case in its lap?  Given its size, location and the size of its nuclear arsenal, the collapse of Pakistan will be a far greater geopolitical nightmare than the fall of the rickety regime in Pyongyang.

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Posted on 25-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

I posted earlier in the week that Gaddafi’s Latin American friends other than Daniel Ortega were not sticking their necks out for him.  The silence of the garrulous Chavez was particularly unusual.  The Caudillo finally broke his silence a few hours ago on twitter by embracing Fidel Castro’s theory that this was an American plot to invade Libya.  Tweet below:


Vamos Canciller Nicolás: dales otra lección a esa ultraderecha pitiyanqui! Viva Libia y su Independencia! Kadafi enfrenta una guerra civil!!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

The tweet translates as follows: “Minister Nicolás [Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro]: Teach the far right yankee lovers” a lesson! Long live Libya and its Independence! Gaddafi is facing a civil war!”

Some context:  “pitiyanqui” literally translates to little Yankee.  It is an insult Chavez created to mock opponents he deemed to be Yankee lovers.  The tweet followed a statement by Maduro echoing Castro’s theory that the United States was creating a movement to topple Gaddafi.

Even a blowhard like Chavez cannot bring himself to openly support Gaddafi like Nicaragua’s Ortega did.  So he wraps himself in his reflexive anti-Americanism to try to mask his support for Gaddafi. Kinda pathetic.

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Posted on 24-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Robert Fisk of the Independent files this report.  Given the regime’s threats against journalists, hope he stays safe.  Excerpt below:

There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania. But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populace. Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya’s capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish.

But this is an illusion. Petrol and food prices have trebled; entire towns outside Tripoli have been torn apart by fighting between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In the suburbs of the city, especially in the Noufreen district, militias fought for 24 hours on Sunday with machine guns and pistols, a battle the Gadaffi forces won. In the end, the exodus of expatriates will do far more than street warfare to bring down the regime.

I was told that at least 30,000 Turks, who make up the bulk of the Libyan construction and engineering industry, have now fled the capital, along with tens of thousands of other foreign workers. On my own aircraft out of Tripoli, an evacuation flight to Europe, there were Polish, German, Japanese and Italian businessmen, all of whom told me they had closed down major companies in the past week. Worse still for Gaddafi, the oil, chemical and uranium fields of Libya lie to the south of “liberated” Benghazi. Gaddafi’s hungry capital controls only water resources, so a temporary division of Libya, which may have entered Gaddafi’s mind, would not be sustainable. Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. “We thought Saif was the new light, the ‘liberal'”, a Libyan businessman sad to me. “Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father.”

If he cannot feed his mercenaries, time is running out for Gaddafi.  Time for the world to start freezing his assets.

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Posted on 24-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi was expected to appear on state TV to deliver his latest rant.  But instead of appearing live he called in the latest paranoid delusions.  Even though he appears to have locked down Tripoli, the dictator’s failure to make a live appearance makes it seem he is afraid to appear in public.  Video below:

Also worth seeing is this survey by Vanity Fair of Gaddafi through the years in full sartorial splendor.  He will not be missed, but Gaddafi’s fall will make state summits really drab.

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Posted on 23-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.
–    Roman Emperor Septimius Severus to his sons just before his death.

Keeping your soldiers happy and loyal has been the surest way to a ruler’s survival since antiquity.  The Roman Republic ultimately collapsed because the the oligarchs in the Senate could not control the loyalty of the troops in the field.  When rulers like the Byzantine Emperor Michael VI forgot this maxim (on the advice of his bureaucratic cabal the emperor publicly humiliated his generals) the military coup and fall promptly followed.

In most of today’s dictatorships the armed forces occupy a favored position.  Business contracts are steered towards the generals.  The troops are showered with generous fringe benefits not available to the general populace.  Above all, since an army “marches on its stomach” it never ever starves.

It appears that the crumbling North Korean regime is losing the ability to feed its soldiers.  People have noted that decades of starvation has stunted the growth of North Koreans – who are now markedly smaller than their South Korean kin.  Now it appears that North Korea has had to lower the height requirements for military recruits who still remain malnourished.  Were he alive today, Prussia’s King Frederick William I would have shuddered at the sight of North Korea’s diminutive and underfed soldiers.

Which begs the question posted above.  At what point do hunger pangs (and the worse experience of their families) trump the decades of brainwashing North Korea’s soldiers have undergone?  Starvation helped speed along the German collapse in World War I which toppled the Kaiser.  Will the same occur in the Hermit Kingdom?  And what will be the spark that triggers the uprising to sweep aside North Korea’s obese rulers?

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Drowned out by the tumult in the Middle East, is the news of the crumbling North Korean autocracy.  The rogue regime has spent the last few months begging for food.  However, with its track record of diverting aid to the military, donor states are unwilling to prop up a crumbling regime.

North Korea’s starving population increasingly appears willing to protest conditions in the Stalinist state.  Even more unsettling for the regime is the willingness of the most brainwashed citizenry in the world to mock its leaders.  A few months ago the ailing Dear Leader commenced preparations for the eventual succession of his 28 year old son Kim Jong-un.  Even though state media started the usual absurd propaganda to buttress the thin resume of one of the few pudgy young men left in the country, the public appears to have greeted the new heir with derision.

A popular children’s song “Three Bears” about a cute bear family with a chubby papa bear, a slim mommy bear and a cute baby bear in a house was modified to mock the Kims:

Three bears in a house, pocketing everything; grandpa bear, papa bear and baby bear.  Grandpa Bear is fat, Papa Bear is fat, too, and Baby Bear is a doofus.

Meanwhile the cash starved regime is struggling to provide its people and elite with the usual bribes and gifts distributed to mark Kim Jong-il’s birthday.  Starved of cash, food and oil the military capacity of its million strong army is an open question.  Even with its diminished capacity, North Korea is still as unpredictable and dangerous as ever.

However, its ability to manage a second dynastic succession is in doubt.  Kim Jon-un faces a dynastic rival – his older, fatter and discredited brother Kim Jong-nam.  From his Chinese exile Jong-nam has criticized the planned succession.  There are rumors about his connection with North Korea’s benefactor China, who has reason to be irritated with the ruling Kims.  However, it is not clear that Jong-nam plans to give up his comfortable subsidized hedonistic lifestyle to rule a crumbling impoverished failed state.

The world is frighteningly unprepared for a North Korean collapse.  China which does not want a flood of refugees across the Yalu continues to prop up the regime.  It may also not want to share a border with a united and democratic Korea.  South Korea (particularly its left) parrots the cause of eventual unification but may not want to inherit or pay for such a basket case.  The cost of Korean reunification will dwarf the cost of unifying Germany.  With no media access into the country, it is hard to estimate when North Korea will reach its tipping point.

So for now we wait and watch as the Hermit kingdom crumbles and starves.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

With his back to the wall, his army crumbling and parts of his navy defecting to Malta, Muammar Gaddafi has lashed out at his people with little restraint.  This presents his pals abroad with a dilemma.  After providing an open embrace to Libya’s leader for the last decade, what do they do when he resorts to large scale bloodletting.

Other than the usual pro-forma comment accusing the US of hypocrisy in Egypt and plotting to take over that country, Venezuela’s caudillo has been uncharacteristically quiet.  He cannot be happy at the repeated rumors (angrily shot down by both sides) that Gaddafi fled to his country (or the ease with which people like me made the assumption).

But two of his ideological comrades have finally spoken out.  Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega called Gaddafi to express support.  The former Sandinista dictator had no words of sympathy for a populace assaulted by its own head of state.

Fidel Castro appears to have been a bit more circumspect, largely focusing on the alleged upcoming NATO invasion of the country. He avoided taking a position on the atrocities based on the difficulty of deciphering the news coming out of Libya thanks to Gaddafi’s military blackout.  Much easier to fall back on anti-American paranoia than condemning a dictator who just went on state TV promising to kill his countrymen.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has come closest to a critique of his former buddy by issuing a pro forma statement of concern for the loss of life.

The dilemma facing Gaddafi’s Latin American friends highlights the risk of embracing rogues merely because they are enemies of your real or perceived enemies.  For countries that spend so much time criticizing the United States, it is a pity they did not learn from the harm to America’s reputation abroad for supporting apartheid South Africa, Zaire’s Mobotu Sese Seko and other third world dictators under the banner of anti-communism.  It is a lesson that Hugo Chavez, who actively seeks out the embrace of despots, and his acolytes need to learn.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After a quixotic appearance on state TV yesterday night with his umbrella (clip in post below), the beleaguered Muammar Gaddafi made an appearance on state TV for a long rambling paranoid harangue that went on for over an hour.  The speech contained many ominous overtones as he promised to kill the “drugged” youth who rose in revolt against him.

Some of the quotes compiled by Al-Jazeera are listed below:

Muammar Gaddafi is not the president, he is the leader of the revolution. He has nothing to lose. Revolution means sacrifice until the very end of your life
Muammar Gaddafi is not a normal person that you can poison.. or lead a revolution against
I will fight until the last drop of blood with the people behind me
I haven’t even started giving the orders to use bullets – any use of force against authority of state will be sentenced to death

Also below is a video of a portion of the harangue.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The die is now cast.  Gaddafi will fight to the bitter end.  May that be soon.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The slide is complete.  Libya is now in civil war as Muammar Gaddafi pulls out all the stops in desperate attempts to hold on to power.  The Libyan air force has been ordered to strafe the country’s two largest cities and a few pilots defected by flying off to Malta.  Earlier today there were reports of Libyan navy ships opening fire on Tripoli.  Its been a long time since a ruler indiscriminately strafed his own capital from the air (Gaddafi’s son claimed they were targeting ammunition depots) or the sea, let alone had such a gambit keep him in power.  Later in the day came a declaration from some Libyan officers asking their troops to switch sides.  Whether this will have any effect is still unclear.

Libya’s diplomatic outposts appear to think that the die is cast.  From New York to New Delhi the regime’s ambassadors are turning in their papers refusing to obey the diktats of a ruler willing to massacre his own people on a scale not seen since Tiananmen or perhaps even since Syria’s Hafez Assad blasted his own city of Hama (mention must be given to the Soviet pulverizing of Grozny, though the Chechens at the time were in open revolt and would have angrily denied suggestions that they were part of Russia).

On Monday, Khaled Al Ga’aeem, under-secretary of Libya’s foreign ministry, phoned Al Jazeera to create a Baghdad Bob moment in stating all was well in Tripoli.  Video below:

Also on Monday night, Gaddafi himself made a very brief and odd appearance on state TV with his umbrella to deny that he had fled Tripoli for the welcoming embrace of his buddy Hugo Chavez.  Video below:

The usually impotent UN Security Council is expected to huddle behind closed doors on Tuesday to figure out an international response to the situation.  Ironically, Libya is currently on the Security Council but no longer has any lackeys in New York willing to obey the beleaguered Gaddafi.  Other than the usual platitudes, travel bans and sanctions there are two things that the UN could do.  One is direct military involvement.  The obvious candidate for such an action would be Egypt’s bloated but well equipped army.  I think that outcome is unlikely.  The other would be to declare a no fly zone over Benghazi and Tripoli that would restrict Gaddafi’s ability to draw blood.  Whether China (which is actively censoring news of Middle East unrest) or Putin’s Russia will allow such action remains to be seen.

It is hard to imagine Gaddafi surviving this revolt.  If by some miracle he does wade through rivers of blood to hold on to power, his regime would revert to North Korea type pariah status.  Having tasted the lures of international acceptability the last few years, would Gaddafi’s henchmen be willing to put up with this?

If the insurrection does succeed, Libya is likely still headed for turmoil.  United by the Italian conquest of the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica in 1912, Libya like Iraq (the fusion of the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Mosul and Baghdad) is very much an artificial creation of the colonial era.

Ottoman provinces that make up modern Libya

Tribal loyalties are still paramount and Gaddafi’s long rule has largely been a tribal balancing act instead of an exercise in nation building.  One of the few things that were probably accurate in Gaddafi’s son’s incoherent rant yesterday is that a post-Gaddafi civil war cannot be ruled out.

Libya's ethnic quilt

Post Gaddafi Libya will have to devise means to balance the interests of its tribes and ethnicities without Gaddafi’s brutality and cronyism.  The oil hungry countries of the world looking to harvest Libya’s oil wealth will be watching this exercise intently.  But before we can flesh out the post Gaddafi scenarios, the tyrant still has to fall.

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Posted on 20-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The regime of the longest ruling non-royal in the world is crumbling and the amount of blood likely to be spilled in its death throes should easily surpass that shed so far in the other Arab states.  Used to pariah status in the west, Muammar Gaddafi was always unlikely to bow to international pressure of the type that cowed Baharain’s al-Khalifas.  True to form, his regime reacted to protests this week with bullets.  With limited media and internet access, distinguishing fact from fiction in Libya is hard.  But it does appear that the regime’s forces shot to kill and the death toll was high.

And then things appear to have spiraled out of Gaddafi’s control.  Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is still a tribal society.  Gaddafi’s tribal balancing act appears to have collapsed when he ordered his troops to open fire.  Reports indicate that parts of his army switched sides enabling insurgents to seize control of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and the fighting has now spread to Gaddafi’s home turf of Tripoli.  The Warfala tribe, one of Libya’s largest, may have turned on Gaddafi as well.

The cornered dictator sent the respectable face of his regime, his son Saif, on state television to broadcast paranoid stories of foreign attempts to split Libya and the impending civil war.  That civil war appears to have already begun.  There may be no Saudi (or as rumored Venezuelan) exile for Libya’s long time autocrat.  He has indicated that he will fight to the “last man standing.”

Western countries who allowed the lure of Libya’s oil reserves to seduce them into rehabilitating Gaddafi can only sit and watch as this bloody denouement plays itself out.  The fall of Gaddafi would be truly momentous and will cause more and more Arab autocrats to doubt the fealty of their armies.  A sign of the times is a letter sent by senior commanders of Iran’s revolutionary guard to their commanding officer promising not to open fire on demonstrators.  If true, and if it holds up, Iran’s rulers may soon be faced with a popular revolution instead of the reformation sought by the Green Revolution two years ago.  In the latest bout of Iranian protests, the vitriol is increasingly directed at the true leader of Iran’s autocracy, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, instead of the President Ahmadinejad.

Protests also appear to have spread to Morocco.  The still popular King Mohammed VI once allegedly indicated that he wished to emulate Spain’s democracy bringing King Juan Carlos rather than his own father King Hassan II.  While Morocco may have eased up on the worst excesses of Hassan’s reign, it is time for the still absolute monarch to emulate his political idol more completely.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s worried rulers have promised to support the al-Khalifas of Bahrain.  The nature of that support is still unclear and for now Bahrain appears to have walked back from the brink.

With the Middle East convulsing, it will be interesting to see if the virus of unrest casts a wider web.  China’s rulers are on edge and Venezuela’s caudillo appears to be uncharacteristically quiet.  The next wobbly domino should emerge soon.

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Posted on 19-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

There may yet be hope for Bahrain.  The Persian Gulf kingdom ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty has been rocked by protests in recent days from its Shiite majority underclass.  King Hamad then responded to peaceful protests by sending in the goons and using helicopters to strafe mourners at funerals.

And now the police have been abruptly withdrawn.  Pearl Square in downtown Manama, the heart of the protests like Tahrir Square in Cairo, now belongs to the protesters.

Like many if the Middle East dictatorships the al-Khalifas appear to have been split among the hardliners (led by the King’s uncle and long time Prime Minister) and the moderates (led by the crown prince and perhaps the King).  The tensions between the two camps were documented by the WikiLeaks cables.  Now the balance seems to have veered sharply towards the moderates, possibly helped along by admonishments from President Obama.

If the good news holds it appears that the virus of democracy is proving harder to suppress than previously thought.  The inbred royals ruling Bahrain’s neighbors must be looking at this in alarm.  People tend to discount the value of social networks in the recent bout of Arab unrest.  Personally, I think YouTube deserves far more credit.  Without the horrifying videos of police brutality, it is unlikely that Bahrain’s hardliners (who still value their ability to be integrated into world society) would have backed down so quickly.  The absence of such videos in Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia (no to mention the greater willingness of those despots to shed blood) poses a bigger challenge to regime change in those countries.

Next up Algeria?  Yemen?  Who knows….we live in interesting times.

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Posted on 14-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The fall of the Pharaoh raises the question whether the Middle East tumult will subside, or if this is the beginning of an avalanche not seen since Eastern Europe in 1989. While it is easy to get carried away, regime change in Tunis and Cairo occurred because the men with the guns did not act against the protesters. As Iran showed a couple of years back, unfortunately that is not always true. When the generals obey their masters and when the grunts obey the generals, democratic hopes come to a bloody end.

It is also still not clear whether Tunis and Cairo were soft coups, where the public face of the regime changed but little else did. However, some local despots do need to be more scared than others.  On cue the days of rage have commenced in three of the most vulnerable autocracies in the middle east.

  • Iran – When Egypt erupted, the mullahs hypocritically cheered the right of Egyptians to protest.   They should have known that their restive masses were looking at Cairo and drawing encouragement.  Now the embers of the Green Revolution are reigniting.  The opposition leaders are already in preventive house arrest and the riot police are cracking skulls.
  • Algeria – Algeria was the rare Arab country that held free elections in the early 1990s.  When it appeared the Islamists won, the military quashed the results (taking their cues from the Burmese junta who made the similar error of not rigging their elections a couple of years before).  The next few years saw a brutal and bloody civil war.  Though violence died down the last few years, unrest has always simmered underneath.  Now it has erupted.
  • Bahrain – The Gulf monarchy’s presence in this list may seem unusual to people who do not follow the Middle East, but the Sunni monarchy ruling a 70% Shiite population has had periodic bouts of unrest.  After promising to respect peaceful rallies, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has opted for bullets.  Warning:  Violent video below.

The protests in all three countries already highlight one huge difference with Tunisia and Egypt.  These autocracies are willing to spill blood.  The men with guns and batons will have to refuse to take orders for these tyrants to fall or give way.  The list above is also not exhaustive.  Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and to a lesser extent Syria (where you have to frankly be foolhardy to publicly protest) have faced protests.  Then there is the longest ruling autocrat in the region who has seen his fellow dictators on either side of his country fall.  The recent cables leaked by Wikileaks revel how the 41 year regime of Muammar Gadaffi has been tarnished by his licentious progeny.  Even Libya may be facing the unthinkable, public protests.

It is very likely that no more dominoes will fall this go around, but the yearnings for freedom and respect on the Arab street will be harder to bottle up again.  And if one can dream, if Egypt actually manages to create a constitutional democracy the clock will start running out for the remaining autocracies in the region.  The 1990s saw the demise of assorted military juntas in Latin America.  Even though the Chavezs and Ortegas are threatening democracy in the region, by and large military rule is passe in the region.  Lets hope this decade sees similar change from the Maghreb to the Fertile Crescent, and beyond.

As a final note, do notice how quiet the murderous thugs of Al-Qaeda have been at the sight of the Pharaoh being toppled without suicide bombers.

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Posted on 11-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Talk about timing…barely 30 minutes after blogging about Mubarak refusing to go, the tired old dictator leaves. An inspiring moment for Egypt and the World. Hopefully this does not signify an attempt to perpetuate the Nasserite military dictatorship. Suleiman can help by keeping his promise to repeal the 30 year emergency law and not running for reelection. May the Ayatollahs be next.

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Posted on 11-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

That was anti-climactic.  With Egypt convulsing from the after-shocks from the Maghreb triggered by the self-immolation of a frustrated Tunisian fruit seller, rumors of Hosni Mubarak’s impending departure spread rapidly.  And then Mubarak doused cold water on those hopes with a vague rambling speech (blaming foreign influences) announcing that he was delegating unspecified powers to his man Friday, new Vice President Omar Suleiman.  The crowd’s displeasure is evident in the video below, particularly at the 12:30 mark where Mubarak tries to identify himself with the young people out in the streets.

Suleiman on whom the Obama administration has placed its wishful hopes for a transition to democracy the proceeded to rile the crowd by asking the protesters to go home.  The Egyptian army which has played a two faced role in this crisis has endorsed Mubarak’s plan, and Mubarak does seem to have handed some powers over to Suleiman.

So what now?  Nobody knows.  The White House was evidently blindsided by Mubarak’s defiance and has limited leverage on the situation.  Ultimately this is a crisis that must be resolved by the Egyptians.  Washington’s efforts should be focussed on preventing the army from initiating the type of bloody crackdown that crushed Iran’s Green Revolution two years ago.

With no obvious opposition candidate in the wings, Egypt faces a period of prolonged uncertainty and probably instability. A big concern in Egypt is a silent military coup, of the type that may have overcome Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.   Suleiman is deeply tied to Mubarak’s repressive regime and in his 70s is unlikely to be a long term solution in any case.

Concerns have been raised that elections could result in the Muslim Brotherhood to power.  If the United States truly believes its pretensions of being the “defender of the free world”, it needs to come to grips with the reality that democracy can result in unfriendly governments.  For too long Washington has supported autocrats like Mubarak who provided “stability” in the form of stagnation and decay of their countries institutions, economies and societies.  After some hesitancy the Obama administration seems to be veering towards support for a democratic transition.  Here’s hoping that the Egyptians can pull it off (and by their example reignite Iran’s Green Revolution).

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Posted on 07-02-2011
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It is time to update the world map.  As expected South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede from the largely Muslim and Arab northern part of the country.  With Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir promising to respect the results, fears of a North-South civil war have receded.

The extremely impoverished new nation (whose name has not been formalized) faces a daunting task ahead.  It is riven with feuds, has almost no infrastructure and the desire to be free from Khartoum appears to have been the only glue that held its warring factions together.  It is blessed and cursed with an abundance of natural resources (and oil).  Mineral wealth has generally been the bane of developing countries.  Getting it out of the ground creates few jobs but generates a lot of revenue for venal kleptocrats to siphon into Swiss bank accounts.   Revenue sharing arrangements with the North have to still be negotiated and Khartoum will be eager to exploit any rifts that appear.

The creation of South Sudan could provide added impetus to secessionist movements across Africa.  The African Union has avoided opening up the Pandora’s box of redrawing colonial borders.  The sole exception to the rule, Eritrea could claim that it had been a separate Italian colony before being annexed by Ethiopia after World War II.  Now the genie is out of the bottle and secessionist claims in places like (oil rich) Southern Nigeria could re-emerge.

Maybe my pessimism is unjustified.  Having midwifed the creation of the new country (with the active encouragement of right-wing evangelical groups) it is likely that the United States will remain involved in the region and discourage mischief.  Equally or more likely the combination of a weak resource rich state surrounded by unscrupulous resource poor neighbors could result in another Congo.

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Posted on 09-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Daniel Larison’s column discussing Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s dreams of permanent security council membership notes the following:

The more interesting question is whether the U.S. is able to acknowledge that major and rising powers do not share its preoccupations and to adjust expectations of their cooperation with U.S. policy accordingly. Washington isn’t likely to abandon its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program, but it should give the administration some pause that it has just publicly endorsed permanent Security Council status for what is, in fact, one of the chief “rogue” nuclear states in the world. This is not a criticism of the administration’s engagement of India. On the contrary, the administration’s correct dealing with India stands as a rebuke to the administration’s Iran policy. Further, the favorable treatment shown to nuclear-armed India confirms that states that never join and flatly ignore the requirements of the NPT and go on to build and test nuclear weapons are not censured or isolated in the least. Instead, they are rewarded with good relations and high status.

The assignment of “rogue” status to India and Iran based on pursuit of nuclear weapons is a false equivalency.  For one major reason – India refused to sign the NPT because of its arbitrary limitation of nuclear powers to the five who got there first.  Iran (and North Korea – which has since withdrawn from the treaty) signed the NPT and by pursuing nuclear weapons violated its treaty obligations.  Larison fails to explain why a country falls into rogue status for not abiding by the requirements of a treaty it never accepted in developing its own nuclear weapons.  I make the distinction because non-signatory Pakistan earned its rogue status not for testing its own nukes, but for selling them to North Korea and Libya.  The stark contrast to Pakistan along with Indian assurances that they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict (a commitment not offered by the United States which during the Cold War felt itself to be at a conventional weapons disadvantage) is among the factors contributing to India’s special treatment (a booming economy does not hurt).

Left unsaid is the fact that the third non-signatory to the NPT, Israel appears to have been developed its own nuclear arsenal through NPT violations by Western Powers and apartheid South Africa (which renounced the bomb shortly before the transfer of power to Nelson Mandela).

That said Larison has a point in noting an element of hypocrisy in the wailing about Iran’s nuclear program.  However that does not stem from the treatment of India.  It is ultimately rooted in the NPT’s arbitrary designation of permitted nuclear weapon states that has miserably failed to stop the domino effect of countries seeking the bomb.

Larison closes out his column with the following:

More to the point, if the administration had what it wanted and India were on the Security Council as a permanent member with veto powers, how much weaker would U.N. sanctions against Iran have had to be to satisfy India? Put another way, if India is ready to be considered such an acceptable and responsible power, what does Indian indifference to Iran’s nuclear program tell us about the rationality of our government’s obsessive hostility towards the same?

The Indian posture is not very different from that of the Russians and the Chinese.  None of the three shares America’s hostile relationship with Tehran.  While none is eager to see an Iranian nuke they are not hyperventilating about it like the United States or Israel.  It is not clear that India would have diluted the sanctions against Iran even further than the Russians and the Chinese.  Most likely and in the finest traditions of modern Indian diplomacy, it would have abstained  – a posture that will have to gradually change if India wants to be taken seriously as a great power.

It is about time Washington appreciated that countries have different interests and policies – something that was lost in the first George W. Bush term as the Cheney/Rumsfeld duo went out of the way to alienate anybody who did not kowtow to American policy.  If the United States wants a puppet in the Security Council, it already has the United Kingdom.  It is also important to note that while Obama endorsed India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, he did not say anything about the veto power.  Frankly granting another 4 members (Japan, India, Brazil and probably South Africa) the veto power would make the Security Council even more irrelevant than it already is.

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Posted on 01-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

London’s Daily Mail has alleged that China pressured judges to eliminate Miss Norway Mariann Birkedal in the 2010 Miss World contest – which was won by Miss USA Alexandria Mills.  The contest itself was held on China’s Hainan island.  If true, this would be the latest petulant outburst by the corporatist dictatorship that is still steaming over the award of the Nobel Peace Price to Liu Xiaobo.

Out of deference to copyright law I will not post gratuitous bikini shots of the contestants, but you can view them in the first two links above.

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Posted on 01-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Maybe I should not be surprised that the Washington Post published this blather from David Broder.  The last couple of years it has cheerfully published factually inaccurate or outright propaganda columns from George  Will, Charles Krauthammer and (the torture supporter) Marc Thiessen.  It also published Dinesh D’Souza’s garbage about the roots of Barack Obama’s ideology.

Somehow Broder seems to forget that we already fought two expensive wars in the last decade and primarily managed to blow up the deficit (with a lot of the money wasted abroad it produced almost no stimulative effects back home).  Saber rattling with Iran will also drive up oil prices which could lead to a double dip recession.  Even though Broder does not actually advocate bombing Iran he seems to assume that Iran will remain motionless while we ramp up preparations for war.  It has proxies in Iraq and Lebanon that can be unleashed against the United States and Israel.  The threat of war will also allow Iran’s isolated autocrats to rally support at home.

Since Broder’s column is essentially calling for more government spending to stimulate the economy, maybe he should call for spending on our infrastructure and education instead of fueling an already over-bloated military-industrial complex.

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Posted on 12-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hwang Jang-yop the highest ranked defector from North Korea died this week.  The death of an 87 year old should not be a surprise, but the timing of his death and the repeated attempts by North Korea to assassinate him have spawned conspiracy theories.  His death also highlights the internal divide in South Korea.  The conservative parties had no reservations honoring Hwang Jang-yop.  South Korea’s leftists, always eager to make excuses for Pyongyang, have been much more lukewarm.  The much ballyhooed Sunshine Policy that earned former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung the 2000 Nobel peace price has been a dismal failure.  North Korea never had any intention of changing its ways and the policy may have actually propped up Kim Jong Il’s ramshackle regime.  Yet South Korea’s leftists place the blame for the recent freeze across the 38th parallel solely on their own government (and the Americans) with no blame attached to the dictator across the border – even when he sinks a South Korean naval vessel and kills South Korean sailors.  The presidency of Roo Moo-hyn (who committed suicide last year) saw Seoul turn a blind eye to North Korean spy infiltration.  At times you have to wonder if these parties are really that naive or are actually Manchurian candidates taking orders from Pyongyang (just as many Indians often cynically joke about their own communists taking orders from Beijing).

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Posted on 11-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Venezuela’s bloviating caudillo reaffirmed his totalitarian bonafides by supporting China’s outrage at the award of the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo.  I wonder what it will take for his celebrity allies in the United States like Sean Penn to come to grips with the realities of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution.  When Chavez came to power, his charge that Venezuela’s oil riches had not been shared with its great unwashed had a certain resonance.  A decade later the mask has slipped.  His incompetent handling of Venezuela’s economy has led to food shortages and inflation.  Rising crime is taking its toll on his popularity.  Meanwhile he has supported leftist terrorists in neighboring Colombia and squandered Venezuela’s oil surplus in shoring up self admitted failures like Fidel Castro.  A reflexive desire to poke a finger in Uncle Sam’s eye has led to embraces of despots from Tehran to Beijing.  Given his attempts to muzzle his own opposition and internal media, it is no surprise Chavez has defended the despots in Beijing.

Meanwhile China’s has stepped up its hysterical outbursts against the award by placing Liu Xiaobo’s wife under house arrest.  It remains to be seen who accepts the award on Liu Xiobo’s behalf.

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Posted on 05-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf became the first Pakistani official to openly admit what everybody else already knew.  Pakistan used terrorism as a tool of foreign policy to wrest Kashmir from India (complete interview in German here).  He also openly admitted culpability for the Kargil War, which at the time he tried to pass off as an attack of “freedom fighters.”  Musharraf’s comments come as rumors of a coup in Pakistan are rising and he is planning to return home to wade into politics.

With Pakistan trying again to rake up Kashmir in international forums in its tediously predictable manner, the question is what exactly India needs to negotiate with Pakistan about.  Indian possession the Kashmir valley and the partition of the old princely state of Kashmir is a fait accompli.  While Kashmir has boiled over this summer and India has made more than its share of mistakes in the state (bungling made worse by the state’s demographics), Kashmiris enjoy constitutional protections that preserve their language, culture and property along with full rights as Indian citizens.  Kashmiris do not face the prospect of being swamped in their homeland like the Tibetans.  This is in stark contrast to the legal limbo or outright colonial rule faced by their brethren on the Pakistani side of the line of control.

Ultimately the geopolitical reality is that India cannot let Kashmir go without triggering similar vociferous demands elsewhere.  More than 60 years after partition it will not hand Kashmir over to the failing state on its western border.  The only parties to the negotiations should be the Indian government and the representatives of the Kashmiri people to address their legitimate grievances so that the military presence that infuriates Kashmiris can be drawn down and human rights issues resolved.  The sooner Pakistan comes to grip with this reality it can focus on the disaster within its borders that has been exacerbated by allowing its terrorist proxies free rein.

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