US Cannot Compete Globally Without Manufacturing Products That People Want

Economist Warns against Blaming China

Yuan Revaluation ‘Won’t Allow the Americans to Export More Goods’

The US wants China to allow its currency the yuan (also known as the renminbi) to appreciate.


The US wants China to allow its currency the yuan (also known as the renminbi) to appreciate.

American politicians are calling for China to revalue its currency to help out troubled US exporters. But in an interview with SPIEGEL, a leading German economist has warned that America first needs to make products that people want to buy.

SPIEGEL: China’s currency reserves have grown to a breathtaking $2.65 trillion (€1.9 trillion) and the imbalance in world trade is growing larger all the time. Can arevaluation of the yuan, as the US is calling for, halt this trend?

Rolf Langhammer: It would be welcome — and also in China’s own interest — if the yuan exchange rate was more flexible than it has been up to now. China’s recent moves in that direction (i.e. the small revaluation since June) are far from sufficient. I would caution against overblown expectations, though. It would hardly be possible to eliminate the global imbalance in that way.

SPIEGEL: Why not?

Langhammer: A weak dollar won’t automatically allow the Americans to export more goods. We shouldn’t be under any illusions about that. In many cases, companies that are based in the US can’t survive on the global market because they don’t have innovative products or the qualified workforce required to develop them.

SPIEGEL: Are interventions in exchange rates even capable of eliminating global imbalances?

Langhammer: When China allowed the yuan to gradually appreciate by some 20 percent between 2005 and 2008, there were no signs that this helped US businesses on the global market. The crucial thing is that a country must be well positioned with the range of goods that it wants to export. The US is still lagging well behind in that respect.

SPIEGEL: As opposed to German industry?

Langhammer: Definitely. Germany produces high quality goods that, to a certain extent, are independent of international price competition. To put it bluntly, people outside the European Union who buy a luxury German car or a machine tool don’t make that decision based on the exchange rate.

Interview conducted by Alexander Jung.

French-German-Russian Summit

French-German-Russian Summit

Sarkozy Dreams of a European Security Council

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (left), German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the June G-20 summit in Toronto.


Russian president Dmitry Medvedev (left), German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the June G-20 summit in Toronto.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy may push for the creation of a European security council at his summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in France on Monday and Tuesday. But Europe and Washington are wary of his hyperactive diplomacy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering proposing the creation of a European security council that would include Russia at a two-day summit meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev which begins Monday.

Such a move would bring Medvedev closer to his goal of a new European security architecture. But both the Kremlin and Berlin are worried that the energetic Frenchman may damage the rapprochement between Russia and the EU if he pushes ahead too forcefully.

The Europeans haven’t forgotten how Sarkozy surprised the continent with his lightning diplomacy before, when he visited Moscow in 2008 at the end of the war between Russia and Georgia and made rash concessions to the Russians in peace talks.

Overcoming ‘Language of Confrontation’

The three-way summit in the French seaside resort of Deauville, the first in four years, is a cause of concern to other European states, which are feeling excluded. In Washington, the meeting is awakening memories of the alliance between Gerhard Schröder, Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac, the then leaders of Germany, Russia and France who opposed the Iraq war in 2003.

A European security council would devalue the NATO-Russia Council which is dominated by the Americans. The French government believes Russia’s cooperation regarding sanctions against Iran in the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program shows that the country has changed and that it wants to “anchor itself in the West.” The “language of confrontation” has been overcome, Paris believes.

Sarkozy appears to want to seize on the outcome of a meeting between Merkel and Medvedev in Germany in July which called for the creation of a new foreign minister-level security forum between the EU and Russia. The French president is envisaging a “technical, human and security partnership” with Russia — led by the French, of course, not by the Germans.

Opportunity for Brainstorming

This week’s three-way summit is intended to improve economic and security co-operation between the EU and Russia and to deepen ties between Russia and NATO. Merkel played down expectations that the meeting would produce concrete results, saying it would be a “brainstorming summit.”

“We will talk about how to improve cooperation between Russia and NATO because the Cold War era is well and truly over,” the German leader said.


Why the government will fall–(Fr. Trans.)

Why the government will fall

In three years of compulsive governance, all the seeds of revolt were deep throws. Back on some highlights of the past three years, illustrating how, every time, political power has been put at the service of those who hold it and not serving the people, gradually building a sense of injustice that takes today its full extent. Tongues are loosened, the consciousness is collective.Government collapse is near.

The financial crisis. The real estate speculation was the United States, the globalization of finance, the introduction of computer operations in the near-instantaneous exchanges and trade deregulation operated for thirty years lead to a crisis major financial in 2008. U.S. banks are among the largest bankruptcy, panic earns the market, states are obliged to introduce massive amounts of money to save the economy and avoid defaulting on cash.Across firms lay off, unemployment rises, workers suffer. The states must pass through austerity measures, under pressure from the market and rating agencies threatening to lower ratings of sovereign debt with the blessing of the IMF. Result today: the banks have been rescued with public money, but unemployment continues, and finance practices have not changed one iota. The states have therefore paid blindly, losing outright opportunity to restore the rules.Sarkozy, despite all his speeches, did nothing. This year, the incredible bonuses granted by banks to traders, will still set records. The common man, He tightens its belt.

The grip on the media. Since its access to power, Nicolas Sarkozy. never ceases to struggle against the independent media. To weaken the public service and serve on a board advertising contracts to his friends Bouygues TF1, he announced loudly the end of the advertising on France Television. Review by the juvenile glee as he inspires the amazement of the audience of journalists at the announcement he made in January 2010. … ;

He also managed to obtain the appointment of the director of France Televisions and the director of Radio France. It means Hees Home Round Valley for supporting Inter. In spring 2010, Guillon and door, the two stars of the comedy morning of Inter, who are willing to sharply criticize the government action is transferred. During the same period, the Elysee is also trying to impose its choice for the resumption of the supervisory board of the World. Bergé-cons trio Pigasse-Niello, reputed to be less inclined to defend the Sarkozyism, he argues instead offering Perdriel Claude, owner of New Obbservateur associated with the Spanish Prisa, already the capital of the world and society Orange (France Telecom). On intrigues imbroglio, the Elysee will fail this time for its purposes. But the will weigh in the designation of more buyers from France daily iconic shows this desire to control the media space. And do not forget the charge against the government information site that reveals the scandal Mediapart Sarkozy / Woerth / Bettencourt. Xavier Betrand not hesitate to describe their methods of fascists, Nadine Morano denounced a plot Hitlero-Trotskyists? She knows only that this language was used for the first time during the Stalinist purges? The story is no shortage of salt for each day tending to a little more towards totalitarianism.

The tax shield The most tangible achievement and the most emblematic of this government is the tax shield. This ensures the rich a tax of up to 50% of their income. The pretext was an alignment with EU tax policy, Germany is supposedly endowed with such a system. Effect this year were the following: reimbursements of hundreds of millions of euros to a few hundred of the richest households. Social injustice is found. And the funny thing is now playing: in view of the stirring room, and feeling more and more pervasive injustice, after arguing tooth and nail against this measure to secure the services of the “first circle”, the Prince agrees to return it … while abolishing the tax on wealth (ISF) … and arguing that this device does not exist in Germany, and it is important to align the French tax on that of its neighbors (The Chained Duck, 6 October 2010). The same argument used to justify the measure and its repeal, “that is worthy of an Orwellian society. The monopolization of the media promotes collective amnesia, and the total loss of meaning. In addition, the removal of the shield together with the tax on capital does not restore tax fairness: she digs new gaps.

The scandals and hold on Justice. The arrival of summer 2010 saw the emergence of a state scandal of unprecedented magnitude in France. The case Bettencourt / Woerth / Sarkozy highlights the relationship between consanguineous rich, powerful, and members of the UMP. Sprawl, the scandal reveals the behavior unbecoming of a man combining the functions of budget minister, treasurer of the first party of France, who puts his wife at the head of the firm management of the largest fortunes in France, and decorates the friend who has interceded in favor of the Legion of Honor. It also reveals the ways of financing the UMP and its prominent members, to head out of pocket, receiving envelopes of generous donors. And collusion with certain officials of the Justice appeared in the clandestine recordings: Judge Courroye, in charge of investigations into the case Woerth, is a friend of Nicolas Sarkozy assumed. Since the revelation of the scandal, he clings to his record. Against the advice of the highest magistrate in France, no independent judge has yet been appointed. Magistrate whose status was contested in good standing by Nicolas Sarkozy from the year 2008. Was it in anticipation of this case, or the even murkier and more critical for power, the Karachi attack, linked to the financing of Balladur’s campaign in 95? It would appear that the commissions from the sale of the Agosta submarine has fed, and that the cessation of payment of retro-commissions have led the attack on bus in Pakistan French employees. Sarkozy’s response to this possibility raised by a journalist is edifying. …

Racism at the top of the state and all safe. Finally, the creation of a ministry of immigration and national identity, entrusted to Eric Besson, a former Socialist Sarkozyist more than Sarkozy himself, access the upper echelons of characters such as Patrick Buisson Maurassiste, former journalist Minutes, now an adviser at the Elysee listened very, Brice Hortefeux, true door-gun, or Nadine Morano, ultra-Catholic Secretary of State for the Family and Solidarity, a turning of power to the extreme right. The national debate over national identity imposed in late 2009, revolt opinion. It’s a flop. But it can shake the populist themes that provide the anchor and solidify the UMP voters from the National Front. Similarly, Brice Hortefeux, Minister of Labour, is surprised at the young University of UMP, in a flagrant racist joke against a young activist swarthy. He is doing a pathetic spin on Auvergne. Comeback insured with National Front supporters. Finally, to get out of the scandal Sarkozy / Woerth / Bettencourt, it appears the all-safe, and is designated scapegoat in the Roma community, even drawing the ire of the Committee on Human Rights of UN and European Parliament.

The revolt started. This rapid return is not commensurate with the number of failures that dot the path since the election of Nicolas Sarkozy. This would include adding the systematic breaking of the public. The policy against national education by removing tens of thousands of faculty positions in this title is an excellent illustration. But some conclusions can be drawn, however. First, the political action of the Sarkozy government is the coronation of the short-term. Those who govern us have no plans for France.From feverish agitation in vehemence ostentatious concrete actions that are undertaken are all designed to strengthen presidential power and meet the requirements of a caste of newly rich, Prime Circle. By undermining the principles of the republic and the separation of powers. By preventing the free expression and criticism by the media control. By spending tax injustice and exemption from taxes for the rich. By massacring the public service and promoting open markets to competition for the greatest happiness of the rich entrepreneurs First Circle. By diverting the real issues of social justice by stirring controversy outrageous racist and designating communities as scapegoats. Finally, we remain there for three years?The certainty of unspeakable arrogance and contempt towards the endless intelligence of French citizens.Every day these clowns insult us. But it is precisely this blindness will be cause their loss. The social movement that is not going to engage stop at the mere repeal of the bill on pensions. It will go much further until the resignation of the entire government. Because this bill is that the catalyst of a movement that stands against all the injustices committed with impunity over the last three years. Incredulous, they saw the people wake up …

Nobel’s Pro-Military Agenda and the Future World Order

Nobel’s Pro-Military Agenda and the Future World Order

Nobel's Pro-Military Agenda and the Future World Order

New America Media

News Analysis, Yoichi Shimatsu

In its most recent selections of peace laureates Barack Obama and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has been pushing the strategic agenda of its chairman since 2009. Outside of European policy circles, Thorbjoern Jagland has no celebrity status, yet he is among the most powerful figures influencing the future global order.

The veteran Norwegian Labour Party politician has taken a stance similar to that of Britain’s Tony Blair in support of European Union integration and a strong alliance with Washington to ensure Western leadership in international affairs. He has served as Norway’s prime minister, foreign minister, speaker of the parliament known as the Storting, and current chairman of the Council of Europe, a body that backed the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the Cold War.

His political career has been defined by his close relationship with NATO. He sat on the Norwegian government’s standing committee on defense and was a key player in NATO parliamentary conferences.

On his home turf, Labour is the party of choice for the Norwegian officer corps. Despite its relatively small size, Norway is a significant military player due to its strategic location near the former Soviet Arctic Fleet base at Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. Throughout the Cold War, the Norwegians—every male citizen is a soldier and has a rifle—were the front line on the Russian border.

A Military Mentality

That vanguard role continues today, with Norwegian troops on the ground in Afghanistan, its naval vessels curbing piracy off Somalia, Pentagon anti-ballistic missile systems and anti-satellite technology waging the struggle for outer space, and the world’s most advanced anti-submarine technology. Norway has the highest per-capita troop deployment among NATO’s 28-member states.

The challenge for the West has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with a new potential enemy taking shape in an economic coalition known as the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and, most feared of all, China. Jagland, as a public voice for NATO strategists, is calling on an enlarged Western alliance to stand down the resurgence of military powers China and Russia and disrupt their ever-closer relationships with Brazil and India.

At a NATO-sponsored conference of European parliamentarians last year, Jagland spoke tough words: “When we are not able to stop tyranny, war starts. This is why NATO is indispensable. NATO is the only multilateral military organization rooted in international law. It is an organization that the U.N. can use when necessary—to stop tyranny, like we did in the Balkans.” His reference was to the NATO bombing campaign, invasion and occupation of the now-terminated Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s.

To summarize his message: If, anywhere in the world, tyrants cannot be overthrown by peaceful means, war is inevitable—and NATO will wage that war.

These are chilling words coming from the chairman of the Nobel Peace Committee. Jagland later said on announcing the peace prize for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo: “We have to speak when others cannot speak. As China is rising, we should have the right to criticize. We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic.”

A term like “advance those forces” is eerily similar to the euphemisms in Japanese textbooks that describe “advances” into foreign territory on continental Asia. It reflects a militaristic mindset.

The New Global Order

At the 2009 NATO conference, Jagland dropped a hint of what was to come: “We must build alliances and adapt to new realities. [We must] understand and debate how democratic rights can be upheld in the 21st century. How freedom can be assured. What kind of alliances we need to that end. And we need a New Strategic Concept.”

Among his political foes in Norway, Jagland is called “our own George Bush Jr.” It’s good joke, but not when considering the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or while Jagland, with this latest Nobel Peace prize, has just precipitated a damaging diplomatic crisis between the West and China. The controversy will only worsen when the Nobel medallions are given out in December.

The Nobel scandal has already scuttled the Norwegian oil firm Statoil’s plans to sell Beijing the Peregrino oil field offshore of Brazil—the first real blow against the BRIC coalition. Politicians and businessmen who are eager about emerging international trade opportunities are simply naive about geopolitics. Once again, the civilians have been outflanked by the military.

NATO’s Asian Allies

Meanwhile, Jagland’s colleagues among the Norwegian defense forces have recently initiated military-technology deals with South Korea and Japan at a time of regional tensions with China The conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak is pursuing a crash program to build a new generation of Sejong-class KDX-3 destroyers. In the wake of the past summer’s South Korean ship-sinking crisis, Seoul is putting renewed emphasis on anti-submarine warfare.

Norwegian shipbuilders, including the Kongsberg Group, are the world leader in sonar and electronic warfare systems. The Norwegian Nansen-class of anti-submarine destroyers is top of the line. The Royal Navy of Norway has decades of real-life experience at chasing Soviet, now Russian, U-boats. The military ties between Oslo and Seoul go back to the Korean War, when Norway sent a military medical unit as an ally.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, the Japanese defense industry recently hosted a high-level Norwegian military delegation. Among the topics of discussion was the growing naval threat of China and the need for NATO and the US-Japan security alliance to cooperate to defend the new Arctic Sea passage. As global warming melts the polar ice cap, the waters north of Russia can be navigated.

The emerging connections between NATO and America’s East Asian allies are starting to reveal the New Strategic Concept: the coming naval encirclement of China and Russia. With ground troops on bases in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, the circle is closing. The world is plunging into the Second Cold War.

The Peace Laureate

How does an obscure dissident sitting in a Chinese prison figure into this grand plan for global conflict? Liu Xiaobo’s personal link with Norway started during his days as a visiting scholar to the University of Oslo in 1988. At that moment, the Soviet Union was in a deep crisis of disintegration. NATO strategists were anxious about the prospect of Moscow being saved in the nick of time by its onetime friend and ally, China. Faxes out of the Chinese Embassy in Moscow were of utmost concern, but were indecipherable, being written in Chinese.

Back in those dark days of the Cold War, there weren’t many Chinese in Scandinavia, so Liu was a rare commodity—a scholar from Beijing who loathed Beijing. Whether Liu became a NATO asset is a matter of top-secret classification. Oslo’s repeated inquiries about him through two decades, the Western media’s patronage, and the Nobel selection over other Chinese dissidents indicate some sort of special bond. Whatever the hidden details of his foreign involvements, Liu’s Peace Prize is serving as the bugle call for NATO’s global crusade against so-called “tyranny.”

The fact that an open warmonger heads the Nobel Peace Committee has completely discredited what was once the world’s most prestigious Peace Prize. That honor is now just another weapon in the arsenal of the Great Powers mobilizing to reassert their authority over their former colonial domain. The goal of the West is not democracy and human rights; what its leaders really desire is domination and warfare. The intentions are clear. Thus we must each prepare, in our different ways, for the coming bloodshed.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo, is a Hong Kong–based writer on renewable energy for European business publications and news commentator for the Bon Ocean Network (BON) in Beijing.

Spectres of inhumanity

[Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.]

Spectres of inhumanity

New hatreds are surfacing in Europe. The economic crisis cannot be an excuse to walk over human rights

Europe’s human rights landscape is about to change. The accession of the EU to the European convention on human rights, made possible by the Lisbon treaty, will complete a cycle begun at the end of the second world war, when human rights visionaries drew up the first international texts and the Council of Europe began its work to establish the rule of law across the continent.

The EU will join a family of 47 European countries – including global players like Russia and Turkey – in a system that brings them all under the same legal standards, monitored by the same court. But inequity and injustice are still an everyday fact for many.

The council’s human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, has already issued a warning: about 150 million of Europe’s 800 million people are living below the poverty line, with certain groups such as the Roma excluded from society; child poverty is growing; and many elderly and disabled people live in extreme hardship.

The poor and marginalised are ignored by political parties and the media. When they are victims of crime they hesitate to report it because they do not trust the police or courts. Corruption is widespread. Poor people are forced to pay for protection and services which, according to human rights law, should be free. The economic crisis only makes things worse, providing an excuse for politicians to blame the victims rather than help them.

Basic principles are forgotten as debates over issues such as the burka ban and the Swiss referendum on minaret building create the impression that “the other” is the problem. Ignoring requests from the European court of human rights and deporting asylum seekers to countries like Libya or Tunisia undermines the same principles. Rich states act from commonplace selfishness: Norway returns refugees to Greece while Sweden sends Roma to Kosovo.

The Nobel prizewinner Andrei Sakharov identified hatred – especially hatred created by government policy – as a great danger. Laws create a framework for community action, but they also shape attitudes. And at present those attitudes are dangerously negative.

To participate fully in multicultural societies we need a well-developed sense of identity, but growing unemployment and marginalisation mean people lose that identity and start defining themselves in opposition to others – fertile ground for extremists to spread their message of hatred. That, of course, is what happened in the 1930s – and the reason we have to sound a warning now.

The first step is to set in place a new social justice agenda. I know this cannot be achieved through traditional legal human rights agreements alone. But postwar history teaches us that binding legal obligations can pave the way by helping shape new attitudes.

One key test of governments’ intentions is Protocol 12 to the convention on human rights, which prohibits all forms of discrimination. If every country ratified this protocol it would be a moment of great symbolism in the year when the European convention celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Fascism was defeated by might – by “hard security”. But the peace was won and maintained by “soft security”, building comprehensive respect for human rights in Europe. Europe now needs to develop “deep security”, anchoring those values and creating bonds between people who acknowledge and respect the multicultural and multifaith nature of society.

We must broaden and deepen our common values and create structures to help us weather the new winds of unrest on the continent, and to realise the Europe that those early human rights visionaries foresaw.

Iraqi province wants more say over energy riches

Iraqi province wants more say over energy riches

* Anbar desert could hold huge hydrocarbon reserves

* Sunni province accuses Baghdad of ignoring it

By Ahmed Rasheed

RAMADI, Iraq, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Iraq’s western Anbar province is demanding more control over its potentially huge energy reserves ahead of this week’s auction of gas fields, including the vast desert province’s Akkas reservoir.

Anbar’s government last week rejected Baghdad’s plan for the auction due to the possibility surplus gas will be exported, a move that could deter companies from bidding for Akkas on Oct 20. [ID:nN12200489]

Anbar’s opposition reflects deep discontent in Iraq’s Sunni heartland about the Shi’ite-led central government in a country where a volatile mix of religious and ethnic groups allowed bloodshed to erupt after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Thirteen foreign firms including France’s Total (TOTF.PA) and Italy’s Eni (ENI.MI) have registered to bid for Akkas, Mansuriyah near the Iranian border in volatile Diyala province and Siba in the relatively peaceful southern oil hub of Basra.

Together the fields have estimated reserves of 11.23 trillion cubic feet of gas. Akkas alone is estimated at 5.6 tcf.

“We are against the approach of the central government and we will be against any contract between the central government and any company in the world,” Anbar Governor Qasim Abid said.

“We have our own vision of how to develop this (field).”

Mainly Sunni Anbar province, controlled by al Qaeda in the years following the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein, has been relatively quiet since tribal sheikhs joined forces with U.S. troops to drive out Sunni Islamist militants in 2006 and 2007.

Iraq needs to exploit its vast oil and gas wealth to rebuild after decades of dictatorship, war and economic sanctions. About 95 percent of the federal budget comes from oil revenues.

Last year it auctioned off development contracts in 11 major oilfields, winning deals that have the potential to more than quadruple oil output capacity to near Saudi levels of 12 million barrels per day. It recently upped its crude reserve estimates to 143 billion barrels.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani says it may have billions more, particularly in the unexplored deserts of Anbar.

Iraq’s gas sector has been largely ignored. Gas produced as a by-product of oil drilling is flared off, but the government wants to halt the waste and exploit undeveloped gas reserves.


Anbar’s potential for both gas and oil production has not been fully assessed and Iraq’s working oilfields are concentrated in the south and north.

“We demand the oil ministry start exploration in Anbar because it’s unfair to develop and start production from oilfields in some provinces and ignore the billions of barrels of crude we have,” Anbar provincial council leader Jassim Mohammed said.

Anbar authorities warned they would refuse to provide security to foreign firms working in Akkas and would use all means including “civil revolt” if Baghdad ignores their demands.

“Anbar is rich with huge resources of oil and gas, but the oil ministry preferred to start exploration works in other provinces and ignore us for no convincing reason,” said Sadoun Obeid, deputy head of the Anbar council.

As an example of Anbar’s potential, Obeid said a farmer in the town of Rawa this year drilled a water well to irrigate his farm but hit a gas reservoir instead. Anbar authorities urgently informed the oil ministry, which sent a crew to seal the well.

The central government says that under Iraqi law, only it can sign contracts to exploit energy resources. But some provinces have rebelled.

Baghdad is embroiled in a dispute with the semi-autonomous Kurdish region over contracts the Kurds signed with companies to develop northern fields. Baghdad says the contracts are illegal.

Last month the oil ministry accused provincial officials and local police in Wasit province of trying to raid the al-Ahdab oilfield being developed by Chinese oil company CNPC.

Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad criticised Anbar’s stance so close to the auction.

“Such statements at this time are detrimental to the Iraqi economy, detrimental to the efforts of Iraq to lure foreign investments to revive its oil sector,” he said. (Additional reporting by Fadhel al-Badrani and Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Jim Loney and Jon Hemming)

Dagestan: Russia’s Islamic enemy within

Dagestan: Russia’s Islamic enemy within

Shaun Walker reports from Dagestan on a generation willing to give up their lives for the fight against Moscow

Metro bomber Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, 17, and husband Umalat Magomedov

Metro bomber Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, 17, and husband Umalat Magomedov

Madomedali Vagabov, thought to have planned the Metro attacks, right, with an unknown gunman

Madomedali Vagabov, thought to have planned the Metro attacks, right, with an unknown gunman

Russian special police in Makhachkala search bodies

Russian special police in Makhachkala search bodies

The bodies of suspected separatists in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, last month

The bodies of suspected separatists in Kaspiysk, Dagestan, last month

“He is a hero,” says Saida defiantly, recalling the memory of her brother. “He died for what he believed in, and he died because Allah willed it for him. I am proud he died as a shahid [martyr].”

Saida, who never tells me her real name, is in her early 20s and lives in a village outside Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, the restive southern republic of Russia that borders Chechnya on one side and looks out to the Caspian Sea on the other.

The last time Saida saw her brother was about a year ago, when he announced to his family that he was “going to the forest”; the term used here to mean joining the Islamic insurgency. He cut off all contact with the family, and the next they heard of him was when Saida’s mother recognised his corpse in television news pictures a month ago from a “special operation” of the Russian security forces to “liquidate bandits”.

Dagestan, a land of ancient traditions and beautiful mountains, where dozens of small ethnic groups live side by side, has historically been deeply Islamic, but in the last decade parts of it have become radicalised. With Chechnya now ruled by the iron-fisted Ramzan Kadyrov, chaotic Dagestan has become the heart of Russia’s Islamic terrorist problem, and almost every single day of late, the authorities are engaged in shoot-outs to kill men like Saida’s brother, often in the heart of Makhachkala.

The attacks on the Moscow Metro in March, by two female suicide bombers from Dagestan, showed how the ongoing struggle in the North Caucasus still has the ability to strike at the heart of Russia, and ever since the bombs there has been a renewed offensive in Dagestan against the militants. In September alone, authorities say they killed 54 terrorist fighters – boyeviki as they are called in Russian. They are almost never captured alive.

Dagestan is now teetering on the brink of civil war, and locals say the insurgency is being given a boost by the widespread corruption among police officers and government officials in the region. Corruption has been named by the Kremlin as a huge problem for the whole of Russia, but in Dagestan, the scale and pervasiveness of graft is eye-watering. Almost everything is for sale here, leading to a culture of extreme corruption and popular resentment. Getting a place at the police training academy reportedly costs around £5,000, which officers then make up by extorting bribes from the population, and everything from university places to government posts are up for sale.

In a further complication, it is widely believed that the insurgents take “orders” for hits on prominent figures, providing a convenient cover for those who want a rival removed from power, and giving the boyeviki a much needed source of funding. They are also known to send senior government figures USB sticks containing threatening video messages demanding money or death. Terrified they will be killed if they don’t pay up, many in the government feel they have no choice but to do so.

There is a “battle for the loyalty” of the population at the moment, says Khadzhimurat Kamalov, publisher of Chernovik, an independent local newspaper. “People look at the way that the police and the FSB [security service] behave, and it’s easy to understand why a lot of them feel their sympathies are with the other side, with the insurgents,” says Mr Kamalov. He estimates that around 25 per cent of the population strongly disapprove of the Islamic insurgency, about 50 per cent are indifferent or undecided, and around 25 per cent support the goals of the terrorists, so long as they don’t target “civilians”.

In Dagestan itself, attacks are usually carefully targeted on the military and the police, and while it’s hard to find anyone who admits to endorsing the attacks on the Moscow Metro, after a few minutes of chatting, many people will offer at least an understanding of the motives behind attacks on law enforcement officials. The police, they say, operate outside the law, soliciting bribes from citizens and fabricating charges.

In Makhachkala’s main square last week, next to a large portrait of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (President Dmitry Medvedev, technically the head of state, is nowhere to be seen), a group of pensioners waving placards were being watched over by a dozen armed policemen. The women are from the town of Khasavyurt, and are being kicked out of the building they live in. They say that 310 people live in their block of flats, some of them six to a room – unlike most buildings it wasn’t “privatised” at the end of the Soviet Union, and so while they have lived in it all their lives, it isn’t technically theirs. The building had been bought by someone in the local government for an absurdly low price, they say, and they will all be kicked out within the month. They wail desperate entreaties on discovering a journalist in their midst. “Nobody is listening to us. We have elderly, sick, disabled people among us, and we’ll have nowhere to go. Maybe you can tell Putin or Medvedev about it?” they ask, convinced that the local authorities will never help them.

Everywhere, people have similar tales of injustice and corruption, and it is clear that for some young people, the frustration becomes too much. “The leaders of the boyeviki are manipulative, evil people,” says a source in the local government. “But on the whole the insurgents are just cannon fodder who are brainwashed. They are people with no financial or social prospects, they have lost hope, and they see ‘going to the forest’ as the only way out for them. Perhaps when I was 20 I would have done the same.”

In the meeting with Saida, she frequently speaks in Islamic rhetoric, but always brings her grievances back to the corruption and brutality of the system, rather than an overarching Islamism. Her brother had friends who had joined the militants, and the police didn’t believe that he didn’t know their whereabouts. He was put on the dreaded “list” of around 4,000 people suspected of terrorist links. Every time there was an attack, police would visit the house and ask questions. Several times he was detained, and Saida claims he was tortured, including one occasion when all his fingernails were pulled out. “One day, he just said, ‘I can’t take this any more.’ And he left.”

Opinions are divided on how best to fight the terrorists, and stop people like Saida’s brother joining their ranks. “The Russian eagle has two heads,” says Mr Kamalov. “One of them wants to cut the interior ministry personnel by 20 per cent, to democratise the North Caucasus, and to develop business here, while the other wants to use pressure and force only.”

The former broadly corresponds to the views that Mr Medvedev has stated on several occasions before, while the latter line is more associated with Mr Putin, who famously promised to “waste them [militants] in the outhouse” when he came to power. Mr Medvedev has repeatedly spoken of the need for socio-economic measures in the region.

“Medvedev’s methods could work here but they need to be more aggressively pursued,” says Mr Kamalov, who says there is a similar split in the local FSB structures as to the effectiveness of force. But the Moscow Metro bombs were a trump card for those who support Mr Putin’s methods, and since then the focus has been on a stepped-up campaign of special operations. Even the mild-mannered Mr Medvedev vowed that terrorists would be “liquidated”.

As dusk fell last Tuesday evening, another counter-terrorist operation started, in the centre of the city on Gogol Street. A boyevik was holed up at house number 42, and special forces were sent in to “liquidate” him. The scene was tense, as residents were evacuated and police set up a security cordon a few dozen metres away from the house in question. A group of nervous-looking policemen smoked cigarettes and fingered their Kalashnikovs at the perimeter, refusing to answer questions about what was going on inside. A week before, at a similar operation, a suicide bomber had approached the outer cordon and detonated himself, in a diversionary tactic, injuring 30. Closer to the house, Omon special forces and FSB operatives were engaged in a gunfight with the boyevik, who would later emerge from the house with guns blazing, and be shot and killed before he could detonate the suicide belt he was wearing.

The worrying thing for the Kremlin is that however many boyeviki they kill, there seem to be more to take their place. Saida’s brown eyes, framed with carefully trimmed eyebrows and soft facial features, look out from behind the deep green hijab she has wrapped around her head and neck. She says she can’t wait to meet her brother in paradise, a place where “you never need to sleep, nothing ever hurts, all your family and friends are by your side, and anything you wish for will be granted immediately”.

“For every one they kill five more will grow in their place,” she says. When asked if she might herself one day become a suicide bomber, she laughs uneasily. “Not for the moment, no. But I wouldn’t rule it out. I’d never blow myself up on the Metro, but in the FSB building? Why not? Those people are not even humans.”

Inside Russia’s most religious town

In Gubden, a town of 16,000 people around an hour’s drive from Makhachkala, none of the shops sell alcohol or cigarettes. At the school, all the girls from the age of five wear the hijab, covering their hair and necks. This town of tidy cottages stacked above each other, with the imposing Friday Mosque perched at the top of the hill, is widely seen as the most religious town in Dagestan, and perhaps in Russia.

One of the bombers in the Moscow Metro was believed to be the wife of Magomedali Vagabov, leader of the boyeviki in Dagestan, and from Gubden. He was killed nearby in a special operation in August. But ever since the Moscow Metro bombs, the situation in Gubden has been noticeably tense, with the traditional Dagestani hospitality to outsiders replaced with guarded suspicion.

At the entrance to the town, a heavily fortified checkpoint is manned by men in balaclavas wielding assault rifles, and the town’s dilapidated administration building is watched over by armed soldiers. They look stressed and weary – hardly surprising, as it is people like them who the insurgents kill on an almost weekly basis. “We’re from Makhachkala, we’ve only been here three days,” says one. “The situation here is very tense.” Some locals claim that there is no widespread support for the insurgents in their town, just a strict adherence to Islamic tenets, and a few bad apples that have gone over to the other side. Others simply hurry on, ignoring the questions put to them by unwelcome outsiders.

“People here feel defenceless,” says Alikpashi Vagabov, the former headteacher of Gubden’s school, and Magomedali Vagabov’s second cousin. “They feel under threat both from the boyeviki and from the government forces.”

Council of Ministers of the Union State

Council of Ministers of the Union State

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov hold a joint new conference following talks

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov hold a joint new conference following talks

“Today, during our complicated discussions, we managed to reach acceptable, coordinated solutions on the most difficult issues. This gives me hope that it will be much easier to make progress than it has been,” the Russian prime minister said.

Vladimir Putin’s remarks:

Ladies and gentlemen,

This has been a very full, eventful day for myself and my Belarusian and Kazakh counterparts. There was a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State, as well as a meeting of the heads of government of the Customs Union. Both events were business-like and constructive. We examined issues of economic and cultural cooperation. The focus was on our main integration project – forming a common economic space.

I would like to start with the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State. We have agreed upon the main parameters of the budget for 2011 and to continue closely coordinating our anti-crisis efforts. We will support business projects and encourage ties between businesses. Cultural cooperation, involving our scientific, artistic and cultural communities, has always been a priority in the work of the Union State.

A number of interesting initiatives are being carried out in this field. For example, I would like to highlight the first joint film venture of the Union State, which I mentioned in my introductory remarks at the first meeting today. I am referring to a joint Russian-Belarusian production, the film entitled “The Brest Fortress”, which depicts the events of our common history and an immortal act of courage performed by the defenders of the fatherland. The movie premiered on June, 22, in Brest, and will be released in cinemas on November 4. We hope that this film will resonate with viewers of all generations throughout the post-Soviet space, including Kazakhstan.

The Eurasian Economic Community recently marked its 10th anniversary, on October 10, to be exact. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which form the Eurasian Economic Community’s integration core, have started working within the framework of a single customs area. Our next task is to reach a higher level of integration, which will form the legal foundation for the common economic space.

I would like to add that many other EurAsEC partners will join when they are ready. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have already expressed interest. Some aspects seem quite attractive to our Ukrainian partners, with whom we will also discuss this process.

The problems facing our countries today are largely similar: they deal with modernisation and innovative economic development and diversification, and increasing the well-being of our peoples. We are going to act in close cooperation, uniting our natural, technological and human resources, developing industrial cooperation and transport corridors, and establishing a common market.

The recent global economic disturbances show that this is the right approach to take. By coordinating our responses to the crisis and our strategy for overcoming it we managed to minimise damages and spending, restore trade, and strengthen our positions on regional and international markets. Creating the common economic space is a step towards a modern, open economy that is more resistant to fluctuations on the global market. Together with our Belarusian and Kazakh partners, we have decided to speed up preparations for creating this space by forming the necessary regulatory foundation by January 1, 2011, rather than in two stages, as we had initially planned.

There are some 17 agreements on the negotiating table, the majority of which have already been coordinated, or are nearly complete. The rest of the documents are being thoroughly discussed with the assistance of leading experts and specialists.

We certainly have some obstacles in our way, but it is important that we have a final goal we are working towards together. And we are moving there rapidly, much faster than we could have imagined.

We methodically seek out mutually acceptable solutions, and we reach concrete agreements in the shortest possible timeframe. I am confident that this spirit of partnership will yield tangible results.

I can tell you that today, during our complicated discussions, we managed to reach acceptable, coordinated solutions on the most difficult issues. This gives me hope that it will be much easier to make progress than it has been.

Thank you very much.

* * *

Question: I have a question for everyone involved in the Common Economic Space project. You have said that a great deal has been accomplished, but at the same time, as many experts note, certain problems are apparent, for example in relations between Russia and Belarus. To what extent are they having an effect on the formation of the Common Economic Space? Or don’t these problems have much of an impact?

Vladimir Putin: What problems?

Journalist: For example, it’s no secret that there has been a harsh exchange of rhetoric between Moscow and Minsk recently.

Vladimir Putin: The political atmosphere certainly affects all areas of a state’s activity, including its international relations, both bilateral and multilateral relations. But we proceed from the assumption that the fundamental interests of our nations will always prevail, and we will continue to be guided by this assumption in our future work. We hope the problems you mention will not affect ongoing integration processes or our commercial and economic relations. Thank God, they have had no adverse effect on them yet, and hopefully will not do so in the future.

Question: I have a question for the Russian prime minister. Mr Putin, a year and a half ago in this very hall, in the presence of these same people, it was announced that our three countries would apply for WTO membership together. Later Russia backtracked on its position for a number of reasons. Russia and Belarus have reached an agreement to waive the duties on oil supplies to Belarus once Minsk has ratified all the agreements on the future Common Economic Space. However, today Russian Deputy Minister of Finance Sergei Shatalin stated that these duties will not be cancelled until 2012 when the Common Economic Space will be fully functional and some compensatory measures have been developed. Won’t this agreement between Russia and Belarus suffer the same fate as the WTO agreement? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You haven’t been attentive enough in following the progress on our negotiations. When we discussed moving to join the WTO, we spoke of two scenarios: either joining it as a bloc or coordinating principles we will all stick to once we become WTO members. In the end, we agreed that we would coordinate the key parameters that are crucial for our economies, and use them as a common base from which to proceed in negotiating our WTO bids. That is what we are doing. We have been in close contact with our Belarusian and Kazakh partners. We will not take any action that contradicts our agreements. That is my first point.

As for duties, the gas we export to Belarus is not subject to any duties at all. It’s Russia’s gift to Belarusian economy. As for export duties on oil, yes, such duties exist but they are not levied on all oil supplied to Belarus. Minsk receives the amount it needs to meet domestic demand, 6.3 million metric tonnes of crude oil, free from any duties. It is the additional oil supplies, which Minsk can export, that are subject to duties.

At the same time, in accordance with my agreement with Mr Sidorsky, Russia is committed to lifting all export duties on crude oil as soon as Minsk signs and ratifies the whole package of agreements that form the basis of this future Common Economic Space. Today we have reasserted this position – it shall be done.

Question: I have a question for Mr Putin. Will Russia continue removing administrative barriers to improve access for Kazakh and Belarusian businesses to the Russian market? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: It is exactly the mission of the Common Economic Space to introduce common rules and regulations for businesses, organisations and government bodies involved in trade throughout the Common Economic Space. As you know, Russia has been working steadily to eliminate administrative barriers on the domestic market, and will extend these policies to our relations with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Question: I have a question for the Russian prime minister. The closer we get to New Year, the more often Belarusians claim that Minsk will be unable to pay higher prices for Russian natural gas. Belarus has been urging Russia to sell it gas at Russian domestic prices for quite a while. This was one of the problems discussed today and opinions are divided on the issue of cancelling customs duties on Russian oil and oil products. You have repeatedly called on your Belarusian partners to be patient and wait until 2012 when the Common Economic Space is launched and Belarusian requests have been taken into account. Here, at this news conference, you have reiterated the Russian government’s position. But don’t you think that it would be better to address the issue of oil and gas supplies separately, outside the framework of the Customs Union?

Vladimir Putin: It would probably be preferable for us to address these issues separately, but we understand that they are vital to the future of the Belarusian economy and that they are highly sensitive issues for Kazakhstan even though Kazakhstan itself produces both oil and gas. If we are to form a common economic space, then, as the Belarusian representatives said repeatedly, all economic agents should operate on equal terms. We agree on this point.

We differ in our understanding of what “equal terms” means, but regarding concrete… Speaking of which, we reached compromises today on almost all disputed issues.

As for oil export duties, I have said that after ratification, as we agreed when we met in St Petersburg – Mr Sidorsky (to Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky), when was it? About two months ago, right? – after Belarus ratifies this package of agreements, we will rescind crude oil export duties, too.

As for gas…

Sergei Sidorsky: Mr Prime Minister, we should make it clear for the press. We three prime ministers have agreed to sign the package, and Belarus will ratify it once it is signed…

Vladimir Putin: Even if it is not yet ratified by Russia, based on the existing agreement with our Belarusian partners, we will fulfill our obligations after Belarus ratifies it.

Regarding gas prices, we agreed today that we have a contract that will be valid throughout next year, and gas pricing for 2011 will be based on this contract. In fact, there was never any other way of looking at it.

Russia plans to introduce domestic price parity on January 1, 2015. What will we do about our Belarusian partners from January 1, 2012, to January 1, 2015? We have agreed that price formation is an issue for economic agents, above all. At the same time, I have ordered Gazprom to start drawing up a contract for 2012 through 2015 that reflects our common strategic targets based on our obligations under the Union State and our desire to create a common economic space, and the prospect of introducing price parity on January 1, 2015.

Question: Mr Prime Minister, I want to ask you about bilateral relations under the Union State. The Union Programme for the period until 2015 will be signed today among other documents, so are we to understand that the Union State will exist at least for another five years. Do you have strategic vision for its future beyond that? Might the Union State be absorbed by the Common Economic Space and the integration processes it entails? How will these integration processes relate to one another? How will they look in ten or more years? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The Union State will be absorbed by the Common Economic Space unless we make more rapid progress in other sensitive areas. In particular, we have discussed for many years the possibility of introducing a single currency in the Union State. In this case, the degree and depth of integration in the Union State would be much greater. Integration on this front would be deeper than in the entire Common Economic Space.

Today, however, we have agreed in principle on fundamental issues regarding economic integration in the Common Economic Space, and these agreements are more significant that those for the Union State. At the same time, the prerequisites have been met for developing relations within the Union State, and I hope we will develop them. This is only one instance. We have been discussing this matter for a long time.

I think the odds are on the Belarusian side. All critical issues have been discussed in sufficient detail by the central banks and the ministries of finance. All that is left is to make the political decision. But, for example, the Union State cannot have two issuing centres – in Minsk and Moscow. That would be impossible! Two centres would ruin the Belarusian and Russian economy alike. So Belarus has withdrawn this demand. It has another demand now: to form the united Central Bank on the fifty-fifty principle. But then, the Russian and Belarusian economic volumes are different. The Belarusian volume is equivalent to 3% of the Russian, if I am not mistaken. We think the fifty-fifty principle is unfair. So, if we proceed from reality, and if we really want this, we will pursue this. Russia is prepared to do this.

Question: What are the prospects of an agreement on railway supply monopolies, particularly transit, and what are the related prospects and new opportunities for Kazakh grain and other commodity supplies and transit through the partner countries of the Customs Union?

Karim Massimov: Non-discriminatory access to railway transit was the subject of one of the crucial documents at today’s negotiations on the establishment of the Common Economic Space.

I think that an essential decision was made today, mainly by Russia and Belarus. Deadlines have been set and I think the matter will be settled by January 1, 2013. I am sure that Kazakh exporters will have an opportunity to transport their freight throughout the Common Economic Space on equal terms, just as Russian and Belarusian manufacturers will do in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh president has raised the issue more than once in a variety of formats. The agreement in principle made today is the first of its kind. I think it is critically important, and I hope these agreements will be put on paper and signed with the entire package.

Vladimir Putin: Today, Kazakh consignors pay fares according to the so-called transit tariff for freight shipments across Russia, for example. As Mr Massimov said, we have agreed today to unify domestic and export-import tariffs by January 1, 2013, and this unified tariff will be lower than the present-day transit tariff.

And another matter: beginning January 1, 2015, Kazakh and certainly Belarusian transport companies will be able to ship freight using their own trains on Russian railways.

The Brest Fortress film is the first joint venture of the neo-Soviet “Union State,” comprised of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.”The Brest Fortress” (2010)The film shows the heroic defense of Brest Fortress, which has taken upon the first stroke of German fascist invaders on June 22 1941. Story describes the events of the first days of defense. The film tells about three main resistance zones, headed by the regiment commander, Pyotr Mikhailovich Gavrilov, the commissar Efim Moiseevich Fomin and the head of the 9th frontier outpost, Andrey Mitrofanovich Kizhevatov. Many years later the veteran Alexander Akimov again and again recalls the memories of the time, when he, then a 15 years old Sasha Akimov was deeply in love with the beautiful Vera and suddenly found himself in the middle of the bloody events of war.Sasha’s prototype was Petya Klypa, one of few defendants of Brest Fortress, who have survived.The film is not only a war story, relations between protagonists are also an important part of the film.But the main idea of the film is best formulated in the scripture, found on the wall of one of casemates – ‘die but don’t surrender’.

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Tajikistan confirmed the negotiations with Russia about the use of Ayni aerodrome

Tajikistan confirmed the negotiations with Russia about the use of Ayni aerodrome

18.10.2010 14:14 msk


Tajikistan confirmed the fact of negotiations with Russia on the use of the Ayni aerodrome in the area of Dushanbe, said Khamrokhon Zarifi, the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, on October 18 at the press-conference.

According to him, the regular mass media reports, saying that Tajikistan negotiates USA and India on using this aerodrome, are false. “We can announce the results of negotiations with Russia about the use of this military aerodrome only once we reach the agreement and sign the appropriate contract”, said Tajik Foreign Minister.

In 2009 Russian Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, informed journalists in Dushanbe that the issue about the future of Ayni aerodrome is set and this military facility will be used jointly. However, Russian aircrafts have not been noticed there even after the official ceremony, dedicated the launch of the aerodrome in August of 2010.

The Ayni aerodrome was also in the agenda of meeting between Russian and Tajik presidents in Sochi. Russia wants to use this aerodrome, but according to Russian experts, “Tajik government is going to get decent compensation for granting such right although, in accordance with intergovernmental agreements, Dushanbe must provide its aerodromes free of charge for Russian aircrafts”.

Meanwhile, the aviation component of 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan, formerly located in the airport of Dushanbe, had to relocate to the Kant airport in Kyrgyzstan due to certain obstacles. Since 20010 the Dushanbe airport has been hosting French Air Force, involved in the operations of international coalition in Afghanistan. Besides, military transport planes of USA and Germany land in Dushanbe time to time for reloading purposes.

India Needs Low Profile to Continue in Pakistani-Dominated Future Afghanistan

[The author’s conclusions in the following analysis are fairly realistic, except for the usual Indian sentiments about all things evil emanating from Pakistan.  Hindu writers never blame America for our evil actions, even when they transpire through Pakistani assets.  Even after the Headley revelations, Pakistan is still blamed for Mumbai, despite the leadership of the half-Pakistani American agent.]

Afghanistan: India should keep a low profile for the present


The Afghanistan situation is moving rapidly. For the Americans and NATO the end game is beginning as the present chapter heads towards a climax. For Pakistan, Afghanistan and for the region a new chapter seems to be beginning. However, to predict the unfolding situation with any degree of accuracy will be hazardous.

Several important developments have taken place in the past few weeks which seem to reveal some of the complexity of the situation. President Karzai has set up a high peace council to conduct talks with the Taliban. This is the culmination of the Western strategy of the last few years to engage with the so called ‘good’ Taliban. President Karzai has publicly claimed that he himself and his representatives have met some important Taliban leaders. Ex-Mujahideen commander Rabbani, a Tajik, is heading the peace council. The Americans confirm that contacts with senior Taliban leaders have been made.

The conditions laid down by Karzai to the Taliban for reconciliation are: laying down of arms, conduct of talks within the framework of the Afghan Constitution, and severing links with the Al Qaeda. These are sensible conditions. It is, however, not clear which section of the Taliban will come forward for talks by accepting these stipulations. Judging by American statements, talking to Mullah Omar is ruled out as he is still seen as being close to the Al Qaeda. That leaves the Haqqani and Hikmetyar groups. Under the present condition only low level Taliban and warlords may come forward for reconciliation. Whether that will be sufficient for peace remains to be seen.

The July 2011 deadline for the beginning of the drawdown of US troops has created a major confusion. No one seems to be clear what that drawdown will lead to. Bob Woodward’s latest book Obama’s Wars reveals that there are major differences within the Obama administration on how to handle the Afghan war. Civil and military officials are at odds with each other. The National Security Adviser has been changed. In view of these differences it is difficult to say how the Obama administration will act in the future. A US-Pakistan strategic dialogue on 22 October, the forthcoming NATO summit in November, and the outcome of negotiations being undertaken by the Afghan peace council will throw some light on which direction the Afghan situation will move – towards stability or more violence?

Experts are also divided on what will be the US strategy. Many feel that this is the beginning of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The domestic situation – poor economic condition, political differences among the Democrats on the conduct of the Afghan war, dwindling public support for the war effort, rising casualties – is compelling Obama to look for an early exit. But, before that happens, a face saving formula will need to be worked out. Getting some Taliban into a power sharing deal is one such option. That is why the US supports, even sponsors, Karzai’s reconciliation efforts. Recent reports suggest that NATO has provided safe passage for Taliban commanders to facilitate negotiations with the Karzai government.

The other stream of expert opinion dismisses any talk of significant US troop withdrawal. According to this analysis, the US has major strategic interests beyond Afghanistan and will seek to increase its influence in Central Asia. It cannot afford to abandon Afghanistan given the rising influence of China and Russia. It will retain a military presence in Afghanistan for a long time to come. The talk of US withdrawal is, therefore, premature.

The reality perhaps lies between these two extremes. The exit may mean significant reductions in troop levels but continued non-combatant military presence in Afghanistan. The precise course the US will adopt will depend upon the military situation in the next few months.

The bottom-line is that the US cannot continue to take significant losses in lives and dollars for an indefinite period. It has already spent over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and sustained over 1300 casualties. The number of countries that can share the burden with it is also reducing. Even Britain has announced a withdrawal of its troops by 2015. The US will certainly like to soften the Taliban so that its own commitment to Afghanistan may reduce. This is reflected in the sharp rise in the ferocity of US military operations inside Afghanistan in the last few weeks. In the coming months the violence level in Afghanistan will rise. But, will it defeat the Taliban militarily? That seems unlikely.

Perhaps the most important development of the last few months is the emergence of the Pakistan military as the key to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan. Karzai’s reconciliation efforts and US military operations are simply too dependent upon Pakistan for success. The Pakistan army’s heft was starkly demonstrated when the Pakistanis ‘punished’ the US and NATO for the latter’s helicopter gunship attacks 200 meters inside Pakistani territory on 30th September in which a few Pakistani soldiers died. Pakistan responded by stopping for over a week nearly 6,500 NATO trucks carrying supplies to Afghanistan from its territory. The supplies have since been resumed, after the US and NATO tendered their apologies. But the episode has also demonstrated the underlying tensions in US-Pakistan relations.

Pakistan is playing a double game in Afghanistan. It takes billions of dollars from the US in the name of helping the US fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Yet, it supports sections of the Taliban and provides them sanctuaries in its territory. It also vehemently opposes those Taliban who show an inclination to independently negotiate with the Karzai government.

On 19-20 November 2010 NATO will be holding its summit where it will discuss its new strategic concept. Afghanistan will no doubt be discussed. NATO is hoping that beginning 2011 the Afghan army will lead the military missions in Afghanistan. The Afghan war is not popular in many NATO member countries that are providing troops for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The conclusions are obvious. The main drivers of the Afghan situation are the US, Pakistan and Taliban. The US is looking at a short term strategy, the key Taliban are waiting and watching with interest having rejected the latest peace offers, and Pakistan is sensing a great opportunity to influence developments in Afghanistan. the Karzai government is constrained by several factors and is unable to act decisively. Little else in Afghanistan matters at the present moment. There is no credible regional initiative on the table. Nor is there likely to be one.

Regional peace and stability will be adversely affected if Pakistan is allowed to have a preponderant say in an Afghan settlement. The interests of other counties in Afghanistan’s stability cannot be ignored. They also have a stake in a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, who have suffered earlier at the hands of the Taliban, also have an interest in a settlement in which their concerns are also addressed. Pakistan is likely to push the interests of its proxies in a future Afghan settlement. This will destabilise the region. Moreover, Pakistan itself may get embroiled in Afghan affairs which could prove to be destabilising for itself.

What are the options for India? India has genuine interests in a stable Afghanistan. It has chosen to be an important partner in reconstruction efforts having committed nearly $1.5 billion in economic assistance and reconstruction. But its political influence, thanks to the Pakistan-US equation in the country, has been minimal. It is likely to remain so in the near future considering that the US depends on Pakistan too much.

But the Afghan situation is dynamic. India must stay engaged, keep a low profile and earn the goodwill of the Afghan people through its multifaceted assistance programme. Learning from the US and Soviet experiences, it must stay away from any costly misadventures, particularly in the security sector. India must take a long term view of the evolving situation and avoid any overstretching in the country. It should continue to explore the options for a regional solution even though at present these look difficult.

India must engage with all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, particularly with the Pushtuns. India has generally been opposed to talking to the Taliban on the grounds that there is no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. But it must accept that the current trend is towards engagement and reconciliation. That will not be reversed. Therefore, India should watch the result of the current efforts of the High Peace Council and calibrate its policy accordingly. It needs to have patience. The Afghan situation will develop further and there will be surprises for all.

Microsoft Removes Penalties Used to Prosecute Opposition Political Groups in Former Communist Countries

[SEE: Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent]

Microsoft Moves to Help Nonprofits Avoid Piracy-Linked Crackdowns


MOSCOW — Microsoft is vastly expanding its efforts to prevent governments from using software piracy inquiries as a pretext to suppress dissent. It plans to provide free software licenses to more than 500,000 advocacy groups, independent media outlets and other nonprofit organizations in 12 countries with tightly controlled governments, including Russia and China.

With the new program in place, authorities in these countries would have no legal basis for accusing these groups of installing piratedMicrosoft software.

Microsoft began overhauling its antipiracy policy after The New York Times reported last month that private lawyers retained by the company had often supported law enforcement officials in Russia in crackdowns on outspoken advocacy groups and opposition newspapers.

At first, Microsoft responded to the article by apologizing and saying it would focus on protecting these organizations in Russia from such inquiries.

But it is now extending the program to other countries: eight former Soviet republics — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — as well as China, Malaysia and Vietnam. Microsoft executives said they would consider adding more.

“We clearly have a very strong interest in ensuring that any antipiracy activities are being done for the purpose of reducing illegal piracy, and not for other purposes,” said Nancy J. Anderson, a deputy general counsel and vice president at Microsoft. “Under the terms of our new nongovernmental organization software license, we will definitely not have any claims and not pursue any claims against nongovernmental organizations.”

Software piracy inquiries against advocacy groups and media outlets in other former Soviet republics are less common than in Russia, but they have occurred. This year, the police in Kyrgyzstan raided an independent television station, and its employees said a lawyer retained by Microsoft had played a role.

In China, experts said they were not aware of many cases. They pointed out that if the security services wanted to hound or close advocacy groups, they had many other ways of doing so.

But China has been a minefield for American technology companies, including Microsoft,Yahoo and Google, which have grappled with the country’s Internet censorship, and it appears that Microsoft is hoping to avoid new controversies there.

Microsoft’s offer “will surely promote the health of nongovernmental organizations in China,” said Lu Fei, director of a clearinghouse for these groups.

Software piracy is widespread in the 12 countries covered by the new program, and Microsoft has long urged governments to curb it. But in Russia, officials used the intellectual property laws against dissenters.

The security services in Russia have confiscated computers from dozens of advocacy organizations in recent years under the guise of antipiracy inquiries. Some of these groups did have illegal software, and the authorities have said they are carrying out legitimate efforts to curtail software piracy. But they almost never investigate organizations allied with the government.

Microsoft had long rejected requests from human-rights groups that it refrain from taking part in such cases, saying it was merely complying with Russian law.

But now, the organizations would be automatically granted the software licenses without even having to apply for them, meaning that any programs that they possessed would effectively be legalized. That essentially bars the company’s lawyers from assisting the police in piracy inquiries against the groups.

Ms. Anderson of Microsoft said the company was trying to quickly prepare the automatic licenses for the 12 countries, a process that includes translating them, ensuring that they comply with local laws and disseminating them to the authorities.

Microsoft already provides actual copies of software free to some nonprofit groups. It said that in its last fiscal year, it gave out half a billion dollars worth of programs in more than 100 countries. But it has also found that this policy is not well known in some countries.

In Russia, nonprofit groups said they had already noticed a striking change in Microsoft’s attitude toward these piracy cases. In one notorious inquiry, plainclothes police officers raided a group in Siberia, Baikal Environmental Wave, and seized its computers in January. Baikal Wave’s leaders said they had used only licensed software, but they were unable to get help from Microsoft.

The case was a focus of the article last month in The Times. After it was published, Microsoft gave Baikal Wave free updated versions of software for all its computers and asked the police to drop the inquiry.

The police have not yet formally done so, but Baikal Wave said it was pleased with Microsoft’s reaction and the new program of automatic software licenses.

“The security services will now know that they will not be able to harass nonprofit and human rights organizations and take their computers,” said Galina Kulebyakina, a co-chairwoman of Baikal Wave. “It is outrageous what they did, and now that will no longer happen to others.”

Jing Zhang contributed research from Beijing.