The Screaming Pen

Providing Global Insight, Context, and Perspective

Jenga!

How Instability in Pakistan could Create a Perilous Proxy War

With the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi yesterday in Iraq, we’re reminded that it takes just one accurately targeted missile or bomb to make life fleeting. While Zarqawi’s demise is celebrated in America and elsewhere, there are other areas of the world in which such precise targeting would cause not rejoicing but a major headache. Foremost among such places? Pakistan, and not just because of terrorists; the interests of the South Asia’s three largest powers are increasingly converging in what the Washington Post calls “the world’s most politically fragile nuclear power.”

Musharraf the Quisling

Al Qaeda and friends have tried and barely failed to knock off Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf several times. With Musharraf facilitating and aiding U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in the mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghan border – and thus severely restricting al-Qaeda’s maneuverability – he’s mujahideen target number one. Leaflets distributed in tribal areas of Waziristan in May called for the “lions of Islam to kill the slave of Bush in Pakistan.”


Dude Needs a Chill Pill, and a sh*@l$!d of weapons

Were this to happen, the nature of a successor government looks far from set. As Musharraf himself came to power by coup d’ etat while circling Karachi in an airplane, and the general has gone on to consolidate personal control at the expense of democratic institutions, weak processes to name a successor could be easily subverted. Indeed, in a country in which only one in ten resident is favorably disposed towards America, popular sentiment might result in a noisy extremist assuming the reins of a nuclear-armed nation (thus the location of WMD must be an A-list priority for the CIA here; there have been reports of this). Nonetheless, a state of flux would emerge with foreign spy agencies forcefully vying for influence.

The Wolves Circle

And who would the meddlers be? Pakistan and Musharraf are centerpieces of America’s anti-terror strategy, and the CIA would obviously be supremely concerned with the outcome. Indeed, America has been ramping up efforts to keep Musharraf alive. India will be on the edge of its seat too. Since Britain abandoned its colonies after WWII, India and Pakistan – and Muslim separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir – have been fighting over contested territory. India enjoys territorial advantage in the status quo, but spoilers and fanatics have prevented a formal peace and violence has spilled over, with sporadic attacks by armed-gunmen and suicide bombings in Delhi. Relations have thawed to an unprecedented degree since Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh took over, yet in the absence of a resolution the potential for disruption is ever-present. Moreover, both non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty aim nuclear weapons at each other.

The third power in the region, China, is hardly a newcomer in Pakistan. Throughout the Cold War, China sought to offset hostility with India – witnessed by their 1962 border war – through friendship with Pakistan. During the 1990’s China exported weapons to the country and was vital to its acquisition of WMD. Of late, however, China has been further consolidating ties. In May, Pakistan placed an order for 150 Xiaolong fighter planes, a move that will replace the F-16 as the air force’s primary jet.


I Hear the Schools in the Neighborhood are Fantastic!

Before that, a February visit by Musharraf to Beijing saw the rapid-fire signing of 13 bilateral agreements on trade, security, and investment, which crucially included the announcement of Chinese aid in building an energy corridor through Pakistan that would supply China with imports of raw materials. China will finance the expansion of a port on the Pakistani coast at Gwadar, adding nine more berths, an approach terminal, and storage facilities. An oil and gas pipeline would then be built to ship materials from the Middle East directly to China’s western provinces, bypassing the (U.S. controlled) Malacca Straits. Never mind what this says about the domestic implications for minority and outlying areas through which the pipeline would cut – Xinjiang in China and Baluchistan in Pakistan – the external implications are clear: China-Pakistan ties are surging.

But They Sometimes Hunt in Packs

That Musharraf will go –in the near future due to assassination, bringing the return of insecurity, or later on because of time and age – is not in question. Neither is the reality that when he does, China, India, and the United States (with Iran potentially in the mix) will see their interests put to the test. Whether this engenders hostility and confrontation or cooperation is unclear; the signals, however, are not entirely inauspicious. China and India signed a border accord in April and have also just announced a $2b joint bid to develop a Kazakh oil field in an effort by the “world’s two fastest-growing major economies to avoid competing with each other,” according to the China Daily.  America and India agreed to a major nuclear deal in July last year. China and America have reached a consensus – although likely short-lived – on Iran, another rocky concern. Additionally, all three countries will be lothe to see WMD fall into terrorist hands or their economic interests threatened.

Against this backdrop, the most likely scenario is the emergence of another clique from the armed forces, commanding no popular support but receiving logistical sustenance from America, China’s tacit approval, and India’s watchful eye. This would be a stop-gap measure that leaves corrections between the people’s volition and political control for another day, yet is far better than allowing extremists assume control. Unfortunately, such has been the argument for supporting dictators everywhere for the past fifty years, always leaving the patriarch on the wrong side of history and fostering yet more grievances to be paid for in future.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

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June 10, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, China, India, International Relations, Iran, Middle East, Nuclear Weapons, Oil, Pakistan, Politics, United States, WMD | 3 Comments

This is Chess not Checkers That’s a Warning Shot

The Deadly Paradox of the Big Six’s Iranian Accord

It’s hard to suppress feelings of glee upon reading the headline “Six World Powers Agree on Iran.” This is the exact foundation that any diplomatic solution to the Iranian quandary must be based upon: a united international alliance providing Iran with a choice between carrots if it agrees to halt uranium enrichment and sticks if it doesn’t. A common diplomatic front brings the world one step closer to the chance for a peaceful solution; however, if the chance proves illusory it will also bring the world one step closer to war.

In the run up to Iraq in 2003, there were many arguments against the U.S. invasion, many of which could be reasonably discounted at the time. War is an extreme last resort, but the argument that it should never be used is flawed: when squared off against a murderous dictator conflict can become justifiable. Nor was U.S. belligerence a stand alone sound argument. Despite bellicose rhetoric from George Bush, Saddam Hussein had violated 18 U.N. resolutions and was sidestepping weapons inspectors. The most valid pre-war argument against going to war: that the Bush administration hadn’t exhausted all diplomatic options.


It’s your Turn, Khameini. Whatcha Gonna Tell ’em ya Big Bearded Fella?

The Diplomacy this Time

The Bush administration seems to have painfully learned how to go about building its case without alienating virtually every non-holder of an American passport. It first relied on negotiations led by the “European 3” – Britain, France, and Germany – during which Iran acquiesced to halting enrichment for a time. But Iran knew that the European trio’s silent partner held the key to the only concession vital to its survival: security. So Iran once again began work on its centrifuges.

Steadily advancing its nuclear know-how, Iran’s fiery president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently sent an 18-page letter to George Bush, which was touted as being the first direct communication between the two nations since the 1979 hostage crisis. Accustomed to years of frosty, static relations, Secretary Rice made a knee-jerk announcement that the letter suggested nothing new, and perhaps it didn’t. Then just this week Iran called for direct talks with America, which in the absence of a U.S. response gave Iran the impression of being patient and reasonable. So until the United States replied to these overtures – no matter the political or public relations intentions behind them – Iran would appear to be holding out the olive branch. America had to respond.

With the six-party agreement on Iran it did, and with perfect timing to boot. Iran will be presented with a package of incentives in return for a “verifiable” halt to its enrichment activities. If it continues to pursue nuclear weapons further Security Council action could follow. Clearly, Iran has to make the next move, and crucially, America will appear to have dutifully followed a diplomatic approach supported by the Security Council nations.

This appears to be good news for advocates of multilateralism and supporters of a peaceful, diplomatic solution. It’s good news for those who wanted Europe to face up to legitimate security threats, which due to pride and matters of the heart it could not with Iraq. And it’s good news for those who want to see more than obstructionism and the unbridled pursuit of resources from Russia and China.

The Ball’s in Their Court

Thus, the question now becomes, “What will Iran do?” The preferred choice is for it to accept the incentives offered and abandon its desire for nuclear weapons (merely nuclear energy, it says). This is possible but would likely only come in the form of a comprehensive strategic agreement leaving Iran assured of its own security. Observers should also note that the Iranian issue is not confined to uranium enrichment: Iran plays a powerful role in neighboring Iraq, has long supported insurgents in Lebanon, Palestine, and elsewhere; and exercises more power than many realize. It recently won backing for its nuclear program from Indonesia, and China and Russia usually provide solid political cover. These will have to be addressed.

The true test of the “Big Six’s” solidarity will come if Iran decides to balk: will the world support increasingly tough sanctions, or will views diverge? Governments around the world – now realizing that true threats must be confronted – may be more likely to follow, because they too have played an active diplomatic role this time round. Despite this, these countries’ citizens will have seen Iraq and the gruesomeness of war and are likely to feel much the same as they did before Iraq.

Will Iran stall, varying negotiations with concealment? Probably. This much is true, however: until now, with a dire situation in Iraq and virulent anti-Americanism everywhere, talk of military action against Iran seemed distant. Yet now, if diplomacy is given a fair chance and fails nonetheless, Iranian rejectionism will leave us on the precipice of Iraq redux. And this time – no matter the political logic beforehand– military action would be no more likely to create a stable or friendly or democratic country out of Iran than Iraq.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

Note: The Iranian situation is highly fluid at present, with half a dozen diplomatic developments and announcements (see links below) being made in the past few days alone. Contrast this with the lack of bilateral contact that existed for the past 27 years between the two countries. As stated above, this will either lead to a breakthrough or a serious deepening of the standoff. Keep watching.

U.S. Offers to Join European Three in Talks with Iran
Iran Welcomes Talks, Rejects U.S. Conditions
Iran Considers Offer from Big Six
Washington Post Analysis

June 2, 2006 Posted by | Asia, Author: DML, China, Europe, France, Germany, International Relations, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Nuclear Weapons, Oil, Palestine, Politics, Russia, United States, WMD | Leave a comment

Sin Padre, Thy Wither

How Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia are Undermining Human Rights Everywhere

If you’re ever feeling overly happy and want to come down a bit, take a survey of the human condition around the world. Among a sea of rights violators in Africa, you’ll find the worst cases in Darfur, the D.R. Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Robert Mugabe is systematically destroying Zimbabwe. The Middle East has long seen gross injustice and political repression in Syria, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has its Kurdish problem, which flares up from time to time when it feels Europe slipping away. To the north, Russia fights endlessly in the Caucuses and forces compulsory military service on its poor, dehumanizing a generation of young men with beatings and forced labor. Political opponents are jailed and attacked. Andijan and the “Stans” of Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, and North Korea. Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, the favelas of Brazil and the poverty of Bolivia and Peru. The folks at Human Rights Watch are depressingly busy.

Depends on How You Look at It

Yet in spite of this dispiriting image and the gruesome confrontations between riot police and protesters caught on tape for everyone see, the news is not all disheartening. To be sure, most of these places were never free, open, or safe. It is only because of modern communication and the existence of vociferous groups like Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders that one can list the egregious examples above. And there are also examples of places where life has improved: autocratic dictators are out in Indonesia, the Philippines, Chile, South Korea, Spain, parts of eastern Europe, and the states of the former Yugoslavia. Something may finally be done about Darfur. And perhaps most importantly, great power war has been avoided for sixty years.


Sportily Taking in a Soccer Match

So between the good news and the bad, what the world needs is a state or organization exerting pressure on countries to uphold human rights. Near-inherent anti-Americanism means that most of the world no longer views the United States as this model, with consequences for both equality and U.S. objectives of every stripe. The United Nations is a misunderstood body that is limited here because it is merely a collection of self-interested states. Europe espouses many of the right ideals but is mostly focused on itself, often has an uncomplicated view of the world, and has its own internal conflicts to settle.

What the world does not need is a provider of money and material through which outcast regimes can sustain themselves in the face of international pressure. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was this source and when it broke apart Syria, Cuba, and other former dependents found it far harder to resist outside pressure. Desiccation of patronage led to the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, largely because of a trickle down effect: without Soviet support Syria couldn’t continue to fund Palestinian resistance on par with American aid to Israel. Syria is weak now for this reason; without oil so too would be Iran and other former Soviet clients.

With Friends Like These

But today there is oil, and there are several antagonists capitalizing on anti-Americanism and spreading their largesse with debilitating effects for human rights. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is using oil profits to destroy institutions within his own country, promote populist movements (see the election of Evo Morales), and reportedly to fund resistance in Colombia. Fidel Castro has found renewed sustenance through friendship with Chavez. Iran – crucially demonstrating that the Iranian issue encompasses more than just the nuclear dispute – is channeling aid to Hamas in Palestine and trying to build ties from Indonesia to Venezuela. In an effort to isolate Taiwan, China is active in Africa (Zimbabwe, Sudan), Asia (North Korea, Burma), and to a lesser degree Latin America. In unison with Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China helps prop up Central Asian dictators.

Patronage from all of these states allows rights violators to defy international norms while finding support elsewhere and thus avoiding isolation. Minatory characters everywhere find it easy to become eloquent, usurp valid arguments, and draw more reasonable people to their side (see Ahmadinejad’s letter to George Bush). Without a paragon of virtue the debate becomes muddled, the message unconvincing, and gross human rights violations overshadowed.

– DML

 2006. All rights reserved.

May 30, 2006 Posted by | Africa, Author: DML, China, Darfur, Foreign Aid, Hamas, Human Rights, Iran, Israel, Korea, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United States, Venezuela | 1 Comment