A Planet at the Brink

A Planet at the Brink

Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well, notes Michael T. Klare.
Will Economic Brushfires Prove Too Virulent to Contain?

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings, and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants, and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a “lost decade,” the result could be a global landscape filled with economically-fueled upheavals.

Indeed, if you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania), and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome, and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity. And if you’re a gambling man or woman, it’s a safe bet that this map will soon be far better populated with red and orange pins.

For the most part, such upheavals, even when violent, are likely to remain localized in nature, and disorganized enough that government forces will be able to bring them under control within days or weeks, even if — as with Athens for six days last December — urban paralysis sets in due to rioting, tear gas, and police cordons. That, at least, has been the case so far. It is entirely possible, however, that, as the economic crisis worsens, some of these incidents will metastasize into far more intense and long-lasting events: armed rebellions, military takeovers, civil conflicts, even economically fueled wars between states.

Every outbreak of violence has its own distinctive origins and characteristics. All, however, are driven by a similar combination of anxiety about the future and lack of confidence in the ability of established institutions to deal with the problems at hand. And just as the economic crisis has proven global in ways not seen before, so local incidents — especially given the almost instantaneous nature of modern communications — have a potential to spark others in far-off places, linked only in a virtual sense.

A Global Pandemic of Economically Driven Violence

The riots that erupted in the spring of 2008 in response to rising food prices suggested the speed with which economically-related violence can spread. It is unlikely that Western news sources captured all such incidents, but among those recorded in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were riots in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.

In Haiti, for example, thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and demanded food handouts, only to be repelled by government troops and UN peacekeepers. Other countries, including Pakistan and Thailand, quickly sought to deter such assaults by deploying troops at farms and warehouses throughout the country.

The riots only abated at summer’s end when falling energy costs brought food prices crashing down as well. (The cost of food is now closely tied to the price of oil and natural gas because petrochemicals are so widely and heavily used in the cultivation of grains.) Ominously, however, this is sure to prove but a temporary respite, given the epic droughts now gripping breadbasket regions of the United States, Argentina, Australia, China, the Middle East, and Africa. Look for the prices of wheat, soybeans, and possibly rice to rise in the coming months — just when billions of people in the developing world are sure to see their already marginal incomes plunging due to the global economic collapse.

Food riots were but one form of economic violence that made its bloody appearance in 2008. As economic conditions worsened, protests against rising unemployment, government ineptitude, and the unaddressed needs of the poor erupted as well. In India, for example, violent protests threatened stability in many key areas. Although usually described as ethnic, religious, or caste disputes, these outbursts were typically driven by economic anxiety and a pervasive feeling that someone else’s group was faring better than yours — and at your expense.

In April, for example, six days of intense rioting in Indian-controlled Kashmir were largely blamed on religious animosity between the majority Muslim population and the Hindu-dominated Indian government; equally important, however, was a deep resentment over what many Kashmiri Muslims experienced as discrimination in jobs, housing, and land use. Then, in May, thousands of nomadic shepherds known as Gujjars shut down roads and trains leading to the city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, in a drive to be awarded special economic rights; more than 30 people were killed when the police fired into crowds. In October, economically-related violence erupted in Assam in the country’s far northeast, where impoverished locals are resisting an influx of even poorer, mostly illegal immigrants from nearby Bangladesh.

Economically-driven clashes also erupted across much of eastern China in 2008. Such events, labeled “mass incidents” by Chinese authorities, usually involve protests by workers over sudden plant shutdowns, lost pay, or illegal land seizures. More often than not, protestors demanded compensation from company managers or government authorities, only to be greeted by club-wielding police.

Needless to say, the leaders of China’s Communist Party have been reluctant to acknowledge such incidents. This January, however, the magazine Liaowang (Outlook Weekly) reported that layoffs and wage disputes had triggered a sharp increase in such “mass incidents,” particularly along the country’s eastern seaboard, where much of its manufacturing capacity is located.

By December, the epicenter of such sporadic incidents of violence had moved from the developing world to Western Europe and the former Soviet Union. Here, the protests have largely been driven by fears of prolonged unemployment, disgust at government malfeasance and ineptitude, and a sense that “the system,” however defined, is incapable of satisfying the future aspirations of large groups of citizens.

One of the earliest of this new wave of upheavals occurred in Athens, Greece, on December 6, 2008, after police shot and killed a 15-year-old schoolboy during an altercation in a crowded downtown neighborhood. As news of the killing spread throughout the city, hundreds of students and young people surged into the city center and engaged in pitched battles with riot police, throwing stones and firebombs. Although government officials later apologized for the killing and charged the police officer involved with manslaughter, riots broke out repeatedly in the following days in Athens and other Greek cities. Angry youths attacked the police — widely viewed as agents of the establishment — as well as luxury shops and hotels, some of which were set on fire. By one estimate, the six days of riots caused $1.3 billion in damage to businesses at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Russia also experienced a spate of violent protests in December, triggered by the imposition of high tariffs on imported automobiles. Instituted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to protect an endangered domestic auto industry (whose sales were expected to shrink by up to 50% in 2009), the tariffs were a blow to merchants in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok who benefited from a nationwide commerce in used Japanese vehicles. When local police refused to crack down on anti-tariff protests, the authorities were evidently worried enough to fly in units of special forces from Moscow, 3,700 miles away.

In January, incidents of this sort seemed to be spreading through Eastern Europe. Between January 13th and 16th, anti-government protests involving violent clashes with the police erupted in the Latvian capital of Riga, the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, and the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. It is already essentially impossible to keep track of all such episodes, suggesting that we are on the verge of a global pandemic of economically driven violence.

A Perfect Recipe for Instability

While most such incidents are triggered by an immediate event — a tariff, the closure of local factory, the announcement of government austerity measures — there are systemic factors at work as well. While economists now agree that we are in the midst of a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s, they generally assume that this downturn — like all others since World War II — will be followed in a year, or two, or three, by the beginning of a typical recovery.

There are good reasons to suspect that this might not be the case — that poorer countries (along with many people in the richer countries) will have to wait far longer for such a recovery, or may see none at all. Even in the United States, 54% of Americans now believe that “the worst” is “yet to come” and only 7% that the economy has “turned the corner,” according to a recent Ipsos/McClatchy poll; fully a quarter think the crisis will last more than four years. Whether in the US, Russia, China, or Bangladesh, it is this underlying anxiety — this suspicion that things are far worse than just about anyone is saying — which is helping to fuel the global epidemic of violence.

The World Bank’s most recent status report, Global Economic Prospects 2009, fulfills those anxieties in two ways. It refuses to state the worst, even while managing to hint, in terms too clear to be ignored, at the prospect of a long-term, or even permanent, decline in economic conditions for many in the world. Nominally upbeat — as are so many media pundits — regarding the likelihood of an economic recovery in the not-too-distant future, the report remains full of warnings about the potential for lasting damage in the developing world if things don’t go exactly right.

Two worries, in particular, dominate Global Economic Prospects 2009: that banks and corporations in the wealthier countries will cease making investments in the developing world, choking off whatever growth possibilities remain; and that food costs will rise uncomfortably, while the use of farmlands for increased biofuels production will result in diminished food availability to hundreds of millions.

Despite its Pollyanna-ish passages on an economic rebound, the report does not mince words when discussing what the almost certain coming decline in First World investment in Third World countries would mean:

“Should credit markets fail to respond to the robust policy interventions taken so far, the consequences for developing countries could be very serious. Such a scenario would be characterized by… substantial disruption and turmoil, including bank failures and currency crises, in a wide range of developing countries. Sharply negative growth in a number of developing countries and all of the attendant repercussions, including increased poverty and unemployment, would be inevitable.”

In the fall of 2008, when the report was written, this was considered a “worst-case scenario.” Since then, the situation has obviously worsened radically, with financial analysts reporting a virtual freeze in worldwide investment. Equally troubling, newly industrialized countries that rely on exporting manufactured goods to richer countries for much of their national income have reported stomach-wrenching plunges in sales, producing massive plant closings and layoffs.

The World Bank’s 2008 survey also contains troubling data about the future availability of food. Although insisting that the planet is capable of producing enough foodstuffs to meet the needs of a growing world population, its analysts were far less confident that sufficient food would be available at prices people could afford, especially once hydrocarbon prices begin to rise again. With ever more farmland being set aside for biofuels production and efforts to increase crop yields through the use of “miracle seeds” losing steam, the Bank’s analysts balanced their generally hopeful outlook with a caveat: “If biofuels-related demand for crops is much stronger or productivity performance disappoints, future food supplies may be much more expensive than in the past.”

Combine these two World Bank findings — zero economic growth in the developing world and rising food prices — and you have a perfect recipe for unrelenting civil unrest and violence. The eruptions seen in 2008 and early 2009 will then be mere harbingers of a grim future in which, in a given week, any number of cities reel from riots and civil disturbances which could spread like multiple brushfires in a drought.

Mapping a World at the Brink

Survey the present world, and it’s all too easy to spot a plethora of potential sites for such multiple eruptions — or far worse. Take China. So far, the authorities have managed to control individual “mass incidents,” preventing them from coalescing into something larger. But in a country with a more than two-thousand-year history of vast millenarian uprisings, the risk of such escalation has to be on the minds of every Chinese leader.

On February 2nd, a top Chinese Party official, Chen Xiwen, announced that, in the last few months of 2008 alone, a staggering 20 million migrant workers, who left rural areas for the country’s booming cities in recent years, had lost their jobs. Worse yet, they had little prospect of regaining them in 2009. If many of these workers return to the countryside, they may find nothing there either, not even land to work.

Under such circumstances, and with further millions likely to be shut out of coastal factories in the coming year, the prospect of mass unrest is high. No wonder the government announced a $585 billion stimulus plan aimed at generating rural employment and, at the same time, called on security forces to exercise discipline and restraint when dealing with protesters. Many analysts now believe that, as exports continue to dry up, rising unemployment could lead to nationwide strikes and protests that might overwhelm ordinary police capabilities and require full-scale intervention by the military (as occurred in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989).

Or take many of the Third World petro-states that experienced heady boosts in income when oil prices were high, allowing governments to buy off dissident groups or finance powerful internal security forces. With oil prices plunging from $147 per barrel of crude oil to less than $40 dollars, such countries, from Angola to shaky Iraq, now face severe instability.

Nigeria is a typical case in point: When oil prices were high, the central government in Abuja raked in billions every year, enough to enrich elites in key parts of the country and subsidize a large military establishment; now that prices are low, the government will have a hard time satisfying all these previously well-fed competing obligations, which means the risk of internal disequilibrium will escalate. An insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, fueled by popular discontent with the failure of oil wealth to trickle down from the capital, is already gaining momentum and is likely to grow stronger as government revenues shrivel; other regions, equally disadvantaged by national revenue-sharing policies, will be open to disruptions of all sorts, including heightened levels of internecine warfare.

Bolivia is another energy producer that seems poised at the brink of an escalation in economic violence. One of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, it harbors substantial oil and natural gas reserves in its eastern, lowland regions. A majority of the population — many of Indian descent — supports President Evo Morales, who seeks to exercise strong state control over the reserves and use the proceeds to uplift the nation’s poor. But a majority of those in the eastern part of the country, largely controlled by a European-descended elite, resent central government interference and seek to control the reserves themselves. Their efforts to achieve greater autonomy have led to repeated clashes with government troops and, in deteriorating times, could set the stage for a full-scale civil war.

Given a global situation in which one startling, often unexpected development follows another, prediction is perilous. At a popular level, however, the basic picture is clear enough: continued economic decline combined with a pervasive sense that existing systems and institutions are incapable of setting things right is already producing a potentially lethal brew of anxiety, fear, and rage. Popular explosions of one sort or another are inevitable.

Some sense of this new reality appears to have percolated up to the highest reaches of the US intelligence community. In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 12th, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence, declared, “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications… Statistical modeling shows that economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period” — certain to be the case in the present situation.

Blair did not specify which countries he had in mind when he spoke of “regime-threatening instability” — a new term in the American intelligence lexicon, at least when associated with economic crises — but it is clear from his testimony that US officials are closely watching dozens of shaky nations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia.

Now go back to that map on your wall with all those red and orange pins in it and proceed to color in appropriate countries in various shades of red and orange to indicate recent striking declines in gross national product and rises in unemployment rates. Without 16 intelligence agencies under you, you’ll still have a pretty good idea of the places that Blair and his associates are eyeing in terms of instability as the future darkens on a planet at the brink.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books).


Zardari Lights Match, Pakistan Ready to Burn

Protests break out across Pakistan, slam Sharifs’ ban

Protests took place in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Quetta, Muzaffarabad and several other cities. — Reuters

Protests took place in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Quetta, Muzaffarabad and several other cities. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Police fired tear gas and rounded up protesters in Islamabad Friday, with the nuclear-armed nation in turmoil since a court banned the top opposition leader from contesting elections.

The cabinet met to discuss the crisis and paramilitaries went on alert as thousands rallied, one day after the country marked the biggest protests yet against President Asif Ali Zardari, who took office last September.

Protesters are heeding a call from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the second largest party in Pakistan, to rise up after the Supreme Court Wednesday barred him and his brother from holding public office.

Zardari and Sharif are at loggerheads over the future of Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militancy which has been teetering under financial crisis, extremism and weak government.

Analysts say Pakistan, reeling from extremist attacks that have killed more than 1,600 people in less than two years, can ill afford a showdown on top of international pressure to bring to justice those behind the Mumbai attacks.

In Islamabad, police fired tear gas shells to disperse stone throwers and dozens of protesters shouting slogans against the government on a key road leading to the international airport, an AFP photographer said.

Riot police, armed with batons, charged into the mob, beating demonstrators and rounding up around 25 protesters into vans, the photographer said.

A senior government official said Friday’s weekly cabinet meeting focused on ‘the situation arising after the Supreme Court decision.’

In Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, ousted chief minister Shahbaz Sharif addressed more than 1,000 lawyers and activists while another 500 people rallied outside the regional parliament, an AFP reporter said.

Waving green party flags and portraits of Nawaz Sharif, around 100 provincial lawmakers also shouted ‘Go Zardari Go,’ an AFP photographer said.

Shahbaz, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, lost his post in Punjab, the country’s political heartland, where the government suspended the provincial parliament.

The protestors in Lahore also torched tyres.

Hundreds more protested in Rawalpindi, Quetta and in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Twice a former prime minister, 59-year-old Nawaz Sharif has tapped into widespread public discontent with Zardari, crowning his status as a key player in Pakistani politics since a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia.

His Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) demands the reinstatement of constitutional court judges sacked when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule in 2007.

‘On the request of the Punjab government we have deployed (put on alert) paramilitary forces to maintain law and order,’ interior ministry spokesman Shahidullah Baig told AFP.

‘The situation is under control,’ he added.

Police said complaints had been filed against hundreds of PML-N workers and three local leaders in connection with unrest and property damage on Thursday.

Sharif’s two terms as prime minister in the 1990s were marred by corruption claims and efforts to introduce Islamic sharia law.

The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court verdict in Lahore last June that he was ineligible to stand in a by-election due to past convictions.

Taliban not the only problem in Afghanistan

Taliban not the only problem in Afghanistan

Afghanistan, the ancient junction point of Asia, has been suffering the traumas of civil war and occupation for the last 30 years and is again among the main points of the world’s agenda following the regime change in the United States.

And despite the 65,000-strong NATO force under American leadership, stability and security in the country remain elusive.

Amidst elections campaigning, Barack Obama had said Afghanistan would be his number-one foreign policy priority, and, now president, he is trying to determine an exit strategy for the region. Obama is sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Some news reports suggest the US has requested additional Turkish troops as well.

As an assessment of the state of affairs goes on in Washington, the special Pakistan-Afghanistan envoy is establishing contacts in the region to sound out the situation. As a doubling of the US forces in the country is planned, to bring the total to 60,000, ahead of a critical NATO meeting in April, there are efforts to convince alliance members to up their own contributions there.

Delivery of Turkish aid packages

It’s unknown what sort of commitments are being made in the deliberations going on behind closed doors, but one thing that is for certain is that as far as the US and NATO go, a view is gaining currency: that stability in Afghanistan cannot be ensured through only military means but that such action absolutely must be paralleled by political, economic and social development.

As part of a journalism program organized by the US Department of State, officials (from NATO and elsewhere) came together in Brussels and Kabul and asserted that the only exit strategy capable of success would be to build a self-sufficient Afghan state.

Gen. David D. McKiernan

What the Afghan people want immediately is a nation that can stand on its own two feet. Nimatullah Wasik, an English teacher in Kabul, summarizes this desire by saying that instead of giving Afghanistan a fish every day, the international community should teach it how to fish. “More foreign soldiers will not bring stability to this country. We import everything from abroad. Kabul’s electricity comes from Uzbekistan. What if they cut it off one day? This is why we need education and technology. Let the West obtain this for us.”

The International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) establishment of provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) across the country is of key importance in this regard. The 26 PRTs, 12 of them under US leadership, construct things like roads, water canals, schools, clinics and police stations, and create projects in fields like security, education, health and management to provide technical and logistical support for development and security. An example is the Afghanistan Technical and Vocational Institute the US opened in Kabul, which is training students to meet the need for qualified workers. PRTs have completed 126 projects, with 268 still ongoing. Another 284 proposed projects are waiting in line.


  • The population of Afghanistan is nearly 30 million. Ninety percent of the population is Sunni, and 10 percent Shiite.
  • In Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest nations, 70-75 percent of the population is illiterate. Seventy percent of the people live in rural areas.
  • Forty-one percent of the people are destitute. Five million depend on charity for their basic nutritional needs.
  • Unemployment in the country is at a rate of 40 percent; 82 percent of the employed make a living from agriculture, while 6 percent work in industry.
  • The standing NATO international forces in the country number 65,000. The US has 37,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and is planning to double this number.
  • Civilian deaths have doubled since 2006. According to the UN, 2,100 civilians were killed in the country, with NATO forces responsible for 40 percent of these deaths.
  • Afghan security forces number 160,000, but only 30 percent of the army and 3 percent of the police are classed as “good” or “very good.”
  • In the first five years after 2001, the US lost an average of 50 soldiers a year, while this number increased to 100 in 2006, 120 in 2007 and 155 in 2008. The number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 has surpassed 1,000. At least 600 of these were Americans.
  • The US has spent $33.37 billion on rebuilding the country.
  • Six-hundred and eighty schools have been constructed, and following the Taliban’s fall from power 4.2 million students returned to school. Of the nearly 6 million students, 35 percent are females.
  • While 670 health clinics were built, 10,000 health professionals were trained. Seventy percent of children are vaccinated, but in the nation where the life expectancy is an average 45 years, one of every five children dies before reaching the age of 5.
  • The nation’s economy has grown by 10 percent annually since the fall of the Taliban. The gross domestic product (GDP) has doubled, but the GDP is only $11 billion.
  • Of the 34 provinces, 18 no longer produce opium, but Afghanistan still provides 93 percent of the world’s opium. Fifteen percent of the public are involved in the opium trade.
  • Since 2001, over 4 million refugees have returned home to Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and Iran another 2.8 million refugees have yet to return home.

Public disappointed

But the serious security problem in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is even able to carry out bold attacks on ministry buildings in the capital, is weakening rebuilding activities. Even top-level NATO and US officials admit this openly. The number-one military commander in the country, American Gen. David D. McKiernan, described this reality thusly: “Seven years after the fall of the Taliban, we’re not where we want to be. Security is insufficient in the country’s eastern and southern provinces. The public is disappointed with regards to security.”

Among the State Department’s prominent ranks is US Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood, who admits that the US was wrong in thinking that following the Taliban’s 2001 fall a small force would be able to rebuild Afghanistan. “But in the 2003-4 period the Taliban regained strength. Opium production took a leap. … People feel less safe than they did two or three years ago. From a number of perspectives, the situation is more difficult than it was in 2003,” he says. Last year saw a 35 percent increase in violent attacks over 2007. Last year, NATO lost more soldiers than in any other year. According to UN figures, civilian deaths rose by 40 percent to exceed 2,100. A high-level Western official summarizes the situation on the field by saying, “NATO isn’t winning, but it isn’t losing; the Taliban isn’t losing, but it isn’t winning.”

But there have been adamant denials of news reports that the Taliban has gained strength in the past two years and expanded its sphere of influence. Asserting that the country’s north and west are relatively safer than in previous years, authorities defend that violent incidents increased in the south because there are more soldiers in the field there. Pakistan’s not paying enough attention to its border because of internal unrest also plays a big part in this and the increase in cross-border infiltrations.

Gen. McKiernan describes news reports that the Taliban is gaining power as myths, saying that violence in the nation does not stem from the Taliban alone, but also clan rivalry, battles between drug kingpins and ordinary crime, asserting that these are also important factors contributing to incident rates. As Wood discusses violence, he is particularly careful to avoid using the word Taliban, instead using terms like “illegal power centers,” drug traders, warlords and bandits to describe those threatening the administration.

Army fighting an uphill battle on many fronts

The ISAF’s top priority is to bring the Afghan military to operational status and to ensure peace and stability. It holds the view that in the fight against the Taliban, the Afghan forces will be more successful because they know the country’s geography, culture and who the Taliban is. An Afghan police officer, Kami Ahmad, says: “It’s not possible for foreign forces to bring security to Afghanistan. Remember Russia’s experience.”

The ISAF aims to be a force that supports the Afghan security forces’ own management of field operations. There are 86,000 Afghan troops and the goal is to train a force of 134,000 that is capable of carrying out its own operations. Currently, only 25 percent of troops carrying out security operations are Afghan. The lack of sufficient numbers of instructors, equipment and financing are slowing the process of building up the Afghan military. Another stumbling block is presented by the high illiteracy rates among those applying to join the army. One Afghan military official says, “If you can read and write, you’re automatically an officer.”

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesperson Gen. Zahir Azimi complains in particular of insufficient heavy arms supplies, such as tanks and cannons, and the country’s lack of an air force. Speaking with Today’s Zaman, the spokesman said that within a year the American government was to give them Italian-manufactured C-27 planes. But the other major problem for the Afghan military is financing. The general, a veteran of the Afghan battle against the Soviets, says: “Our soldiers are paid below market prices. This lowers the number of volunteers. We give our soldiers $100 a month. This is half of what Taliban fighters get. According to our intelligence, the Taliban gives its fighters $200 a month.”

However, the general says the US has promised that within three years it will provide $20 billion for the Afghan security forces.

The Afghan military is also careful that its forces reflect the ethnic makeup of the country. According to defense officials, the military’s ethnic distribution is as follows: 40-45 percent Pashtun, 30-35 percent Tajik, 10-12 percent Hazara and roughly 10 percent other.

Another important constituent in terms of the country’s security and development is the police force. Only 82,000 Afghan police officers have been trained at this point. The ISAF is struggling in developing and expanding the police force because of a lack of instructors and training centers. Corruption, low salaries and equipment and weapons deficits plague the police forces — in addition to heavy losses in Taliban attacks. In a country where violence has run unchecked for 30 years, there is no working legal system. There is no tradition of a police force in the modern sense, which is a big obstacle for the Afghan administration. It’s not possible to speak of a police structure outside of Kabul and a handful of other big cities. In the province of Wardak, for instance, there are only 300 police officers. In a country where the clan system reigns, people are unwilling to apply the rules that the state has instated or punish those who do not follow the law.

On the other hand, at the Pentagon, plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan are in their final phase. In the plan to be presented to Obama soon, 20-30,000 American soldiers will be deployed to the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and along the border with Pakistan. The first batch of deployments has already taken place and the rest will be sent by the summer, according to the plan. With the arrival of the reinforcements, the US will focus on fighting the drug trade and preventing infiltrations across the border with Pakistan.

2009 will also be a bloody affair for Afghanistan

Afghan and American officials do not expect a decrease in violent events for 2009. Gen. Azimi predicts: “The enemy will resort to tactics like roadside bombings, suicide attacks, ambushes and kidnappings, focusing on soft targets like logistics convoys. 2009 will be as bloody a year as last year.” American Gen. McKiernan also says that this year will be difficult, but takes a more optimistic stance, asserting that the sun also rises and after the waves of violence will follow a lasting stability.

Afghanistan important for NATO legitimacy

The US toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan on the premise of aiding and harboring the terrorists who organized the Sept. 11 attacks. The reasoning behind the Afghanistan operation was to prevent the country from serving any longer as a haven for terrorists. But Western officials, noting that 2009, when NATO will mark 60 years since its establishment, will be a critical year for the alliance’s “off-site” Afghanistan operation, have said that for NATO to bear any legitimacy after the Cold War period, success in Afghanistan is imperative.

Another reason Afghanistan is so important was expressed by US Ambassador Wood, who notes that Afghanistan, sharing borders with Pakistan, Iran and China, is in a complicated geographical position, located in a region where Russia and India also have interests. “Four of its neighbors are nuclear powers, and Iran also wants nuclear power. These five countries are in a phase of self-identification and their relationships with one another will constitute a big piece of the history of the 21st century. And Afghanistan is right in the middle. Afghanistan can either be a source of stability for these very important countries or, as it has been for the last 30 years, be a source of instability. For all of us and for world geopolitics, there are huge security stakes here.”

A Turkish high school

Turkey planting seeds of peace, development in Afghanistan

On the topic of rebuilding Afghanistan and securing its socioeconomic development, ISAF PRTs play a major role. There are PRTs in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces. The Turkish PRT serving in Wardak, 25 kilometers outside Kabul, stands out from the pack in its close communication with the people and its civilian structure.

The Turkish PRT deployed in November 2006 and is the only civilian-run PRT in the country. The Turkish PRT encompasses a total of 75 civilians, including Afghans. Among the many accomplishments of the Turkish-led PRT are the successful projects they’ve led: In Wardak, which is split into nine regions, to date they have built seven schools, one medical center, two deep freezer facilities, two water reservoirs, a fruit drying facility, 10 wells, a police training center, a police station, a gymnasium and a mosque.

Turkey’s positive contributions in the region have brought it the accolades of the international community working in Afghanistan. Western diplomatic and military officials gathering in Kabul speak highly of the developments in Wardak, all praising the Turkish PRT’s tangible effectiveness in the region, in the words of Gen. McKiernan. “PRTs, which work with different elements in the provinces along with international forces, regional administrations and the people, make the biggest contribution. And we see this cooperation in Wardak,” he said, also emphasizing that the Turkish PRT was a model for the other PRTs throughout Afghanistan.

27 February 2009, Friday


Ukrainian Economic Dilemma Creates European Gas Bottleneck Once Again

Kommersant: Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine over non-payments

Kommersant: Gazprom may cut gas to Ukraine over non-payments

Russian energy giant Gazprom could cut gas deliveries to Ukraine from March 8 if Naftogaz does not pay for supplies received in February, Russian business daily Kommersant reported on Thursday.

The newspaper said Naftogaz does not have the money to pay for the gas.

A week ago Naftogaz warned it might face problems paying for gas supplied by Russia’s gas monopoly as non-payments by Ukrainian utilities were leaving the national energy company short of funds. The issue was discussed at a Gazprom board meeting on Tuesday.

“If $400 million is not forthcoming by March 7, it will be necessary once again to cut off Ukraine,” Andrei Kruglov was quoted as saying by an unidentified participant in the meeting. Kommersant said a senior Gazprom official confirmed such a plan is being developed.

“The company will carry out its obligations to consumers and transport gas at previous volumes. But the volume of gas delivered to Ukraine will be reduced – fuel will not be supplied to Naftogaz free of charge,” the source said.

Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Ukraine on January 1 over non-payments and the two sides’ failure to agree a delivery contract for 2009. A week later, Gazprom accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for EU consumers and cut off gas deliveries to the European Union via the country, prompting two weeks of major gas shortages across much of Eastern Europe.

The standoff was resolved after negotiations between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko. The gas supply and transit contract signed on January 19 by Gazprom and Naftogaz stipulates that the Russian energy giant can switch to 100% prepayments if payments are not received on time.

Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky on Wednesday told Kommersant that the company hoped “to collect the necessary sum of money by March 7 and to make the payment.”

Another company source said Naftogaz could find $100-$160 million, but did not say where the remaining funds would come from.

Pakistani President Zardari Lets Past Conflicts Trouble Nation’s Present

Pakistan faces new political crisis as Nawaz Sharif banned from office

Pakistan has been plunged back into political crisis after its Supreme Court banned its former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from holding political office.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi and Javed Siddiq in Islamabad
Pakistan faces new political crisis as Nawaz Sharif banned from office

Former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif (R) and his brother Shahbaz Sharif Photo: EPA

The court also ousted Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League from power in Punjab province, where his brother Shahbaz was chief minister.

The ruling upheld a move by the country’s election commission to ban the Sharif brothers from contesting elections because of past criminal convictions. But Mr Sharif accused President Asif Ali Zardari of orchestrating the ruling.

The ban on Shahbaz Sharif led to the immediate collapse of the state government in Punbjab. President Zardari immediately appointed Punjab’s governor Salaman Taseer – a long-term opponent of the Sharif brothers – to run the provincial government as chief executive for the next two months pending the formation of a new administration.

Mr Zardari is also expected to try to persuade some of Nawaz Sharif’s opposition assembly members to desert him and join a new coalition led by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Shares in Islamabad plunged five per cent amid fears of a return to the political instability of the 1990s when Mr Nawaz’s PML party and the PPP of Mr Zardari’s assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto persecuted each other and their supporters.

Those fears were heightened by a series of large protests in Lahore and other cities in Punjab, and also by calls by Mr Sharif for mass demonstrations to unite the opposition towards the ban.

Mr Sharif alleged that Mr Zardari had prompted the verdict because he and his brother had rejected a “business deal” under which the Sharif brothers would be ruled eligible to hold political office if they agreed to extend the term of the country’s chief justice, Abdul Hamid Dogar.

Mr Sharif and his brother have consistently campaigned for Chief Justice Dogar to be sacked and for his predecessor, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was ousted by the former president Pervez Musharraf when he imposed emergency rule in 2007, to be reinstated.

Mr Zardari is said to fear that if he reinstated Mr Chaudhry, the independent-minded former chief justice might strike down Mr Musharraf’s National Reconciliation Ordinance, under which corruption charges against Mr Zardari were dropped and he was allowed to hold office.

Mr Zardari denies all wrongdoing.

Nawaz Sharif claimed: “Zardari invited him [Shahbaz Sharif] for lunch and said he was offering him a business deal under which he could remain the chief minister in return for our help in securing an extension for Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar.

“When Shahbaz promptly shot down the suggestion, Zardari told him: ‘I am offering you a business deal, a trade off’. We decided to put the interests of Pakistan first’.”

He called for Pakistanis to join planned protests led by the country’s lawyers’ movement campaigning for the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf to be reinstated.

“The nation should rise against this unconstitutional decision and this nefarious act of Zardari. He opposed rioting, he said, but warned:”If the people want to show their anger, who can stop them?”

Mr Sharif is regarded as Pakistan’s most popular politician and his stock has risen since last year’s elections when his PML defied expectations to win comfortably in Punjab. He remains influential and is regularly courted by visiting US officials who believe he could yet return to power.

Yes we are raging – against a Government that spies on its citizens while ignoring the crimes of greedy bankers

Yes we are raging – against a Government that spies on its citizens while ignoring the crimes of greedy bankers

By James Slack

Today one of Britain’s most senior police officers with responsibility for public order raises the spectre of a ‘summer of rage’, with victims of the increasingly bitter recession taking to the streets in possibly violent protest.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police’s public order branch, warned that law-abiding middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.

Protests against economic conditions

Thousands of workers demonstrated in Dublin on Saturday. Police fear the worsening economic situation will lead to mass street protests in the UK

Many will consider such a scenario unlikely, or point out this has not been the ‘British way’ over the past two decades.

Violent protests take place in Europe – in recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France took to the streets to demand greater protection for their jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik – but not here.

But can we really be so sure? The public’s rage with the banks and the Government is growing by the day.

Thousands are losing their jobs through no fault of their own because bankers who made millions during the good times are calling in the loans which their employers need to stay afloat.

Homes are being repossessed across the country, but not the penthouse flats and country piles of bank bosses who thought nothing of taking home vast seven-figure bonuses, and consider £1 million a year a modest income.

The innocent are being punished while the guilty continue to lead affluent lives.

As Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions says today: ‘If you mug someone in the street and you are caught, the chances are that you will go to prison. In recent years, mugging someone out of their savings or their pension would probably earn you a yacht.’

Add to this a second issue highlighted by Sir Ken: the march of the surveillance state.

Ministers have been spending their time focussing on eroding our most treasured individual freedoms, while doing little or nothing to curb criminal behaviour by the banks.

The DNA database containing the samples of hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people…the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world…anti-terrorist powers being deployed against dog foulers…restrictions on telling religious jokes…

All of these intrusive, liberty-sapping polices were developed while the banks were blowing billions on reckless sub-prime lending.

How much better a place Britain would be today if Labour had focussed on regulating the banks and getting a grip on the shambolic, toothless Financial Services Authority, rather than building a surveillance state.

That the public is being watched by Big Brother at every turn is deeply  alarming. That the innocent were being tracked going about their every day lives while a blind eye was being turned to a financial sector apparently hell-bent on destruction is unforgivable.

Thus, the idea of the ‘summer of rage’ may not be as far-fetched as it first appears.

Superintendent Hartshorn talks of the banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, becoming ‘viable targets’. Likewise, the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.

It is to their eternal shame that our banks should find themselves in such a position, and that Labour – while eroding the civil liberties Britain has fought so hard to defend over the centuries – was prepared to sit back and allow it to happen.

News From England, Test Lab For Global Police State


It is time to resist

David Omand’s national security strategy report shows us we have a very short time to save society from tyranny

“Once an individual has been assigned a unique index number, it is possible to accurately retrieve data across numerous databases and build a picture of that individual’s life that was not authorised in the original consent for data collection,” says Sir David Omand in a report for the Institute for Public Policy research.

This is not some wild fantasy. It is the world that we are about to move into and which Jack Straw’s coroners and justice bill, the ID Cards Act, RIPA laws and the EBorders scheme have patiently constructed while we have been living in an idiots’ paradise of easy money.

We have a choice: either we can believe that the British state is peculiarly immune to tyrannical instincts that are beginning to show in this government or we can now start to oppose what is going on. We have a very short time to save our society from this nightmare, as has been made clear by Sir Ken Macdonald, the former DPP, Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, and the House of Lord constitutional committee.

Omand is not the first civil servant to describe this world to us. In 2006 Sir David Varney, the head of Transformational Government predicted that the state would know “a deep truth about the citizen based on their behaviour, experience, beliefs, needs or desires”. The report from the IPPR merely fills in the gaps of this statement and shows us how it will be done.

Omand is a “securicrat” par excellence. He is the former intelligence and security adviser to Tony Blair; he speaks from the heart of the surveillance bureaucracy; and his views are those of GCHQ, which has lobbied for the measures in the coroners and justice bill. His paper is presented by some as a warning – which it is to all of us – but having met the man and debated him, I am pretty sure that this represents his heart’s desire. Either way, the important point is that we now have a very clear picture of what is about to happen, and it is for us to respond by fashioning a society where the powers that technology grants our rulers are controlled.

You may wonder why parliament has not alerted us to these dangers. That is because it is because part of the project, and Labour ministers continue to shelter behind the Human Rights Act, which offers no protection to the British public whatsoever. What we need is entrenched legislation that controls the executive and makes sure that no British citizen will ever be assigned a number so that the state may conveniently watch his or her every move.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to resist for we cannot rely, as Omand asks us, on the “essential reasonableness of the UK police, security and intelligence agency activity”.

Tomorrow week the Commons committee meets to discuss Jack Straw’s data-sharing proposal in the coroners and justice bill. If this measure goes through we are lost.