Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category

10
Jul

The US takes great pains not to be seen to interfere in other people’s elections. In Afghanistan, any whiff of involvement is deeply toxic. Everyone remembers the 2009 poll and repeated allegations that American officials were manipulating the vote – allegations confirmed by Robert Gates’s memoir this year, in which the former defence secretary said US diplomats tried to tilt the playing field to nudge Hamid Karzai from power.

So it would have taken a lot to get Barack Obama to pick up the telephone and call Afghanistan’s election candidates last night, warning them they would lose aid if they tried to seize power unconstitutionally.

That phone call is a sign of the worst case scenario that foreign governments are entertaining: a shadow government formed by Abdullah Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance figure, and civil war. Iraq’s bleak headlines may offer a glimpse of Afghanistan’s future.

But even the best case scenario is looking like a disaster, leaving the West’s carefully honed exit plans in tatters. That plan demands a string of medium-term commitments to ensure that Afghanistan can make the jump to sustainability, demands that will have to remain on hold as the election crisis is resolved one way or another.

With combat troops heading home this year, Kabul is yet to sign a security deal with Washington to allow trainers and special forces to stay until 2016. That will not happen until a new president is installed.

In September, Nato nations will gather for a summit in Wales. World leaders will discuss everything from cybersecurity to the unfolding emergency in Iraq. Afghanistan needs to muscle its way high up the agenda, and perhaps try to persuade Nato countries to fund not just the 228,500 troops agreed but something closer to the 350,000 or so currently deployed.

That’s not going to happen if we have weeks and weeks of election squabbling, a president backed by only half the country – or Hamid Karzai in his last lame duck weeks – attending the summit.

Figures released by the United Nations today show the problem. The death toll in the first six months of this year shows a 17 per cent rise on last year to more than 1500. The figures reflect that more of the fighting is taking place close to inhabited areas.

Never mind the worst case scenario, and a total breakdown into Iraq-style conflict. Even the best case scenarios will slow down the international aid that Afghanistan needs if it is to have any hope of a stable, secure future.

Rob Crilly is Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Before that he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.

Published on 9 July in http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk

8
Jul

Can Beijing and Seoul Become Strategic Partners?

Written on July 8, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

China’s President Xi Jinping will complete an exchange of state visits with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the space of a little less than a year. This is a remarkable intensification of the relationship between Seoul and Beijing, especially when one considers that Xi Jinping has yet to visit Pyongyang or receive Kim Jong-un. Likewise, routinized summits between Seoul and Tokyo have vanished as Seoul-Beijing relations have intensified, raising questions in Tokyo about whether Seoul might prefer Beijing over the United States and Japan. But despite a burgeoning trade relationship between Seoul and Beijing that is larger than the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the United States and Japan, what future can Xi and Park forge for China-South Korea relations going forward, and to what purpose?

For Seoul, the strategic payoff would come from Beijing’s acquiescence to Seoul’s leading role in shaping the parameters for Korea’s reunification. This has persisted as South Korea’s main objective for its relationship with Beijing since Roh Tae-woo achieved normalization of relations with Beijing as part of his Nordpolitik policy in the early 1990s.

But while Beijing maintained the pretense of equidistance between Pyongyang and Seoul despite a burgeoning trade relationship with South Korea that has grown by more than thirty-five times over the past two decades, China’s leadership has shown great reluctance to abandon Pyongyang in favor of Seoul. China protected Pyongyang from international outrage following its 2010 shelling of Yeonpyong Island and all the top members of China’s Politburo publicly appeared at the North Korean embassy in Beijing to pay their condolences on the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011. But since North Korea under  Kim Jong-un launched its third nuclear test in the middle of Xi Jinping’s transition to power in early 2013, the political relationship has soured. China seems to have been particularly shocked by Kim Jong-un’s treatment of his uncle, Jang Song-taek, whom Beijing had welcomed as Kim’s envoy a year prior to Jang’s purge and execution.

Will Xi Jinping finally satisfy South Korea’s strategic yearnings by throwing Kim Jong-un under the bus? Probably not, as long as South Korea remains tethered to its alliance with the United States. And not so long as China continues to prize stability on the Korean peninsula as a higher priority than America’s primary objective of denuclearization and South Korea’s main objective of reunification.

For Beijing, a main payoff from the visit to Seoul, aside from sending a not so subtle message to Pyongyang, will lie in securing Seoul’s cooperation with Beijing in criticizing Japan. There is no doubt that by visiting Yasukuni Shrine last December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stirred up public outrage and distrust over Japan’s future intentions in both South Korea and China. Both governments and publics will continue to watch Abe’s defense moves like a hawk as Japan has breached its self-imposed cap on defense spending at one percent of GDP and has started a debate over the reinterpretation of Japan’s right to collective self-defense.

But despite China’s sudden decision last year to celebrate the life of Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun with a museum rather than simply a plaque, South Korea has thus far rejected the “outside game” of utilizing summitry with Beijing to gang up on Japan, in favor of an “inside game,” which is focused on pressing the United States to check any possible tendencies by Japan’s prime minister to stray beyond justifiable steps to enhance Japan’s self-defense by pursuing regionally destabilizing historical revisionism. This approach reveals clearly that South Korea is using the alliance with the United States as a hedge and platform that boosts its diplomatic clout in its strategic dealings with China rather than placing the alliance up for negotiation as part of its bid to win China’s support for Korean reunification.

A strong economic relationship between China and South Korea has brought Beijing and Seoul closer together than ever before, but a strategic sense of common purpose and shared common interest between the two countries remains lacking. As a result, while a stronger China-South Korea relationship may serve mutual interests on some issues, there remain clear limits on the development of the political and strategic relationship between the two countries.

Scott A. Synder is Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy. This post appears courtesy of CFR.org and Forbes Asia.

Published on July 06 in the http://thediplomat.com

7
Jul

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a condolence call Monday to the father of a Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and murdered Wednesday in an apparent revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli teenagers last month.

In his phone call to Hussein Abu Khieder, the prime minister expressed his outrage over the “reprehensible” murder of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder, who had been sitting alone outside his family’s home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat when he was abducted. Six Israeli Jews were arrested Sunday, suspected of his murder for what security officials called “nationalistic” motives.

“We denounce all brutal behavior; the murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu said. “We will bring them to trial,” he said of the suspects, “and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”

Netanyahu’s call to the Abu Khieder family came as tensions escalated in southern Israel, along the border with the Gaza Strip. In the early hours of Monday, Israel pounded targets in central Gaza in response to more than 25 rockets fired into its territory on Sunday.

Seven Hamas members and two other people were reported killed in the airstrikes. An additional 10 militants were injured. A spokesman of the militant Islamist group Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused Israel of escalating tensions and said a price would be paid. Israel Radio reported that Islamic Jihad, another radical group in Gaza, also released a statement blaming Israel for the escalation.

On Sunday, Israel reckoned with rising homegrown extremism as it arrested six Jewish suspects who are believed to have burned Mohammad Abu Khieder to death in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens.

The arrests shocked those on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide — Palestinians because many had assumed Israel would never act against its own, and Israelis because there had been widespread doubt that Jews could have carried out such a heinous crime.

Sunday’s action could help defuse what has been seen as a dangerous swelling of Palestinian anger, with violent protests in East Jerusalem and Arab towns in northern Israel feeding fears of a budding intifada, or uprising. Demonstrators who have called for such a revolt against the Israeli occupation have decried a lack of justice and had bitterly predicted that Abu ­Khieder’s killers would never face trial.

But by arresting the suspects, the Israeli government must confront ­extremist elements within its ­society.

Human rights advocates have long warned of an alarming rise in anti-Arab vandalism and vigilante attacks carried out by Jewish extremists. Such incidents are referred to by their perpetrators as the “price tag” for what they see as Israeli government concessions to the Palestinians.

“This a shock for most Israeli Jews, and I think it’s a kind of wake-up call,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in an interview Sunday evening. “This is something that will change the way people think, and it will lead to a better understanding that we need to act when we see even the smallest signs of incitement, whether it is on Internet sites or price-tag attacks.”

Livni said the conflict is “not just between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is within Israel between different Israeli citizens, and this is what worries me the most.”

Visiting the home of one of the Israeli teens slain last month after being abducted in the West Bank, Netanyahu said Abu Khieder’s killers would “face the full weight of the law.”

But he also called on the Palestinian Authority, which controls some areas of the West Bank, to go after the killers of the Israelis — Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and 19-year-old Eyal ­Yifrach. Israel blames the killings on Hamas, and it arrested hundreds of the group’s members during its 18-day search for the teens. But the assailants are thought to ­remain at large.  Read more…

BY RUTH EGLASH, SUFIAN TAHA AND GRIFF WITTE
Published in the Washington Post on 7 July, 2014 http://www.washingtonpost.com
4
Jul

Hollande sets his sights on sarkozy

Written on July 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

Nicolas Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday for corruption and abusing his position of power

François Hollande had pictured it for years: Nicolas Sarkozy, his vanquished adversary in the 2012 presidential election, slumped in the back of a Citroën saloon, his necktie loosened, his face grey with fatigue, after a gruelling 15-hour interrogation. Sarkozy has been charged with corruption and illegal use of his influence. He now faces, in theory, up to 10 years in jail and a fine of one million euros.

He had faced charges before (the previous ones, accusations that he received money from the L’Oréal billionairess Liliane Bettencourt, were dismissed last year) but this was the first time he, or indeed any former president, had been held in custody for a day. And Twitter went crazy for it.

It has been open season on Nicolas Sarkozy ever since President Hollande was inaugurated on May 15 2012. Never an easy-going, approachable character, François Hollande has a mean, vindictive streak: like Louis XI, he won’t be happy until Sarkozy is in a fillette, one of those small cages that hold enemies in a crouching position. After all, Sarkozy remains Hollande’s most dangerous adversary in 2017. The important thing is to stop him from running: which is why, every time Hollande’s ratings plummet, a new accusation is levied against his predecessor.

Judge after judge has initiated proceedings. These are for anything from dodgy party financing, to authorising bribes relating to the sale of French warships to Pakistan two decades ago, to taking money from Libya’s then dictator, Colonel Gaddafi, for his victorious 2007 election campaign.

Whenever one case became unstuck, another one started up. Judges authorised the tapping of Sarko’s phone, as well as his lawyer’s, for eight months – officially to follow up on the Libyan accusations. This yielded nothing; but soon other judges started dropping by to listen to the tapes, “trawling at random for interesting stuff”, one told Canard Enchaîné, the well-informed satirical weekly, never friendly to Sarkozy, months ago. This yielded the recordings that led to Tuesday’s interrogation.

Sarkozy himself has called such methods “Stasi-like”, and it would be logical to see such tainted evidence – collected indiscriminately, without a specific warrant – thrown out of court. He is accused in this instance of trying to bribe a senior judge with promises of a plum job in the Monaco judiciary in exchange for information on the state of his case in the Bettencourt accusations. The senior judge was unconnected to the case, and as it happens did not get the Monaco job.

Sarkozy is also accused of trying to obtain protected information. The irony is that a good deal of the Sarkozy tapes, supposedly protected by the same confidentiality, have been published by the Mediapart investigative website, headed by a respected former Le Monde journalist, Edwy Plenel, who happens to be a long-time personal friend of Hollande’s.

Sarkozy’s friends will also point out that one of the two judges conducting the current investigation, Claire Thépaut, is an active member of the most Leftist judges’ union, the Syndicat de la Magistrature. She signed an anti-Sarkozy column during the 2012 campaign, describing herself as a “personal foe” of the president’s, while formally supporting Hollande’s challenge. Yet now she will decide whether the former president will go to trial over the latest accusations – at the risk of making him look more and more like a martyr to his partisans.

There is a wealth of additional cases to bring: so if not this time, something may yet stick to Sarkozy. At least this is what the Hollande crowd hopes, because Sarkozy, like Freddy Krueger in the horror movies, is just getting angrier and angrier – and he will get back at them if he ever wins again.

By Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

Published on 3 July in the Telegraph , http://www.telegraph.co.uk

3
Jul

The jihadist insurgent group ISIS, or as it now prefers to be called, the Islamic State, appears well on the road to achieving its stated goal: the restoration of the caliphate. The concept, which refers to an Islamic state presided over by a leader with both political and religious authority, dates from the various Muslim empires that followed the time of the Prophet Muhammad. From the seventh century onward, the caliph was, literally, his “successor.”

The problem with this new caliphate, which, an ISIS spokesman claimed on Sunday, had been established under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Islamist militant leader since the early days of the American occupation of Iraq, is that it is ahistorical, to say the least.

The Abbasid caliphate, for example, which ruled from 750 to 1258, was an impressively dynamic and diverse empire. Centered in Baghdad, just down the road from where ISIS is occupying large areas of Iraq, the Abbasid caliphate was centuries ahead of Mr. Baghdadi’s backward-looking cohorts. Abbasid society during its heyday thrived on multiculturalism, science, innovation, learning and culture — in sharp contrast to ISIS’ violent puritanism. The irreverent court poet of the legendary Caliph Harun al-Rashid (circa 763-809), Abu Nuwas, not only penned odes to wine, but also wrote erotic gay verse that would make a modern imam blush.

Centered on the Bayt al-Hikma, Baghdad’s “House of Wisdom,” the Abbasid caliphate produced notable advances in the sciences and mathematics. The modern scientific method itself was invented in Baghdad by Ibn al-Haytham, who has been called “the first true scientist.”

With such a proliferation of intellectuals, Islam itself did not escape skeptical scrutiny. The rationalist Syrian scholar Abu’l Ala Al-Ma’arri was an 11th-century precursor of Richard Dawkins in his scathing assessments of religion. “Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true,” he thundered. “The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.”

It is this tolerance of free thought, not to mention the supposed decadence of the caliph’s court, that causes Islamist radicals to hark back to an earlier era, that of Muhammad and his first “successors.” But even these early Rashidun (“rightly guided”) caliphs bear little resemblance to jihadist mythology. Muhammad, the most “rightly guided” of all, composed a strikingly secular document in the Constitution of Medina. It stipulated that Muslims, Jews, Christians and even pagans had equal political and cultural rights — a far cry from ISIS’ punitive attitude toward even fellow Sunnis who do not practice its brand of Islam, let alone Shiites, Christians or other minorities.

How did this ideological fallacy of the Islamist caliphate come about?

In the late 19th century, Arab nationalists were great admirers of Western societies and urged fellow Muslims, in the words of the Egyptian reformer Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, to “understand what the modern world is.” Many not only admired Europe and America but also believed Western pledges to back their independence from the Ottoman Empire.

The first reality check came when Britain and France carved up the Middle East following World War I. Disappointed by the old powers, Arab intellectuals still held out hope that the United States, which had not yet entered Middle Eastern politics in earnest, would live up to its image as a liberator.

But after World War II, America filled the void left by France and Britain by emulating its imperial predecessors. It avoided direct rule but propped up a string of unpopular autocrats. This resulted in an abiding distrust of Western democratic rhetoric.

Then there was the domestic factor. The failure of revolutionary pan-Arabism to deliver its utopian vision of renaissance, unity and freedom led to a disillusionment with secular politics. At the same time, the corruption and subservience to the West of the conservative, oil-rich monarchs turned many Arabs against the traditional deferential model of Islam.

Out of this multilayered failure, which often included the brutal suppression of both secular oppositionists and moderate Islamists, emerged a nihilistic fundamentalism, which claimed that contemporary Arab society had returned to the pre-Islamic “Jahiliyyah” (an “age of ignorance”). The only way to correct this was to declare jihad not only against foreign “unbelievers,” but also against Arab society itself in order to create a pure Islamic state — one that has only ever existed in the imaginations of modern Islamic extremists. These Islamists misdiagnose the weakness and underdevelopment of contemporary Arab society as stemming from its deviation from “pure” Islamic morality, as if the proper length of a beard and praying five times a day were a substitute for science and education, or could counterbalance global inequalities.

The wholesale destruction of Iraq’s political, social and economic infrastructure triggered by the American-led invasion created a power vacuum for these “takfiri” groups — first Al Qaeda and then the more radical ISIS — to fill. Despite the latter’s recent battlefield success, however, there is little support for the jihadists or appetite for their harsh strictures among the local populations, a fact reflected by the 500,000 terrified citizens who fled Mosul.

Even in the more moderate model espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist dream of transnational theocratic rule appeals to a dwindling number of Arabs. Only last week, Moroccan women showed their contempt for the conservative prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, by converging on Parliament armed with frying pans after he’d argued that women should stay in the home.

Rather than a caliphate presided over by arbitrarily appointed caliphs, subjected to a rigid interpretation of Shariah law, millions of Arabs strive simply for peace, stability, dignity, prosperity and democracy. Three turbulent years after the Arab revolutions, people still entertain the modest dream of one day having their fair share of “bread, freedom, social justice,” as the Tahrir Square slogan put it.

Khaled Diab is an Egyptian-Belgian journalist based in Jerusalem.

Posted on 2 July in http://www.nytimes.com

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