November 25th, 2008 § § permalink
By the way, part of the reason for the dearth of posts is that I’m also writing:
All that remain here are the dregs; the posts too dull, too long, too confused or too obscure to go elsewhere. Appealing, eh?
In cheerier news, I’ve finally got round to half-reviving the comments; I’m hoping OpenID will give me at least some hope of weeding out the spam.
November 24th, 2008 § § permalink
I’ve not written – or read – much about Central Asia recently. But since I’m now living in Berlin, I can’t help thinking about German policies there. And…I haven’t yet figured it out. First some background. Later,
Germany is more concerned about Central Asia than is the rest of Europe. It used it’s 2007 EU presidency to drive through a European policy towards Central Asia; official websites and documents talk up the region. The government has poured several hundred million Euros into Central Asia in aid and inter-government activities, and Berlin hosts more than a few gatherings of Central Asian politicians and professionals.
Nor is Berlin’s interest in Central Asia entirely unexpected. The East German legacy means some ties with the rest of the former Soviet Union, especially since Stalin deported millions of Germans to Central Asia. Besides, German foreign policy has traditionally aimed to dominate countries to the East: Kazakhstan may be further afield than usual, but this is the era of globalization.
And yet, the media and public attention to this is almost non-existent. That’s only to be expected, although the genuine goverment interest might give you slightly higher hopes. And it’s a pity, because German Central Asia policy is substantially different from the policy of any other country, and it would be interesting to see it batted about a bit more in the public sphere.
October 4th, 2007 § § permalink
Barnett Rubin’s take on Iran’s activities in Afghanistan. Iran is a long-time supporter of the Northern Alliance and the Karzai government, so has been supporting the US (& followers)’ efforts. With the escalation of US/Iranian confrontation, though, some Iranian leaders might sacrifice a friendly, stable Afghanistan in favour of harming the USA. That is, they might destabilise Afghanistan just to bog down the Americans. So the Bushies’ ranting about Iran in Afghanistan may not be entirely wrong.
Incidentally, like 90% of the worthwhile videos on the internet, this would function perfectly well without any pictures. I may be turning into a radio partisan.
November 21st, 2006 § § permalink
[Seymour Hersh’s latest piece on Iran](http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/061127fa_fact) isn’t one of his greatest hits, but there are still some fascinating nuggets…
>In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the [Party for Free Life in Kurdistan](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_for_a_Free_Life_in_Kurdistan). The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran
Having this run as a military rather than a CIA operation apparently reduces the need for the US administration to report on it. But most of the article isn’t about covert ops so much as it’s about showing how crazy the people in power are:
>many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq…..They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq–like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.
um. Iran is at least somewhat democratic – imperfect, but certainly more appealing than a US puppet imposed by force. So here’s another idea for saving Iraq:
>The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough-with enough troops-the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution.
In their defence, although the optimism is misplaced, getting the army out of Iraq’s cities isn’t a bad start. Back to Iran, and another example of the American tendency to exaggerate Sunni-Shia differences:
>A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt-all led by Sunni governments-would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves.
And finally, yet another reason why bombing Iran is a very stupid idea:
>the C.I.A.’s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike-especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world.
November 16th, 2006 § § permalink
When [Radio Free Europe](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/11/678c546b-425c-450c-ae5a-cfd9879a166d.html) report that “Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the [Commonwealth of Independent States](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_independent_states)“, they’re missing the point slightly. The news isn’t that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren’t doing anything about it. ‘Slamming’ is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.
If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That’s [what the opposition want](http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13874), and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a [postponement](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/10/cissummit.shtml) to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.
Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow’s control over its ‘near abroad’, but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it’s being eclipsed by the [Shanghai Cooperation Organization](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organization), and to the West by [GUAM](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUAM). Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.
But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don’t gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, [refuse to pay membership fees](http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=10988607&PageNum=0), grandstand about Russia’s crimes, and [keep that threat on the table](http://www.regnum.ru/english/740070.html):
>“We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future,” Burjanadze announced.
Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.
November 9th, 2006 § § permalink
Pakistan is quietly setting itself up to do very well out of Central Asia, slightly underneath the radar. Despite being a significant power it itself, militarily and population-wise, Pakistan’s playing the typical game of the small state. It’s piggybacking on the aspirations of China, America, and even India, being bankrolled and supported by them without ever quite becoming a client state.
###China and the oil
China is famously desperate for oil, and Pakistan is doing well by helping it get at what’s in Central Asia. At the core of this is [Gwadar](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwadar), a fishing village that Pakistan is furiously turning into a port and transport hub – funded by over $400m of Chinese money. It might be a [grim place to visit](http://www.time.com/time/asia/2004/journey/pakistan.html), but it’s also the site of a fascinating convergence of superpowers.
Remember the [oil pipeline through Afghanistan](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Afghanistan_Pipeline) – the one some people claimed was behind the US invasion of Afghanistan? That was going to end up in Gwadar – and still will, if it ever goes ahead. It might end up being extended at both ends, to Azerbaijan and India, with Pakistan sitting happily in the middle taking transit fees. If that pipeline doesn’t come off (building anything through Afghanistan seems pretty dubious), there’s another one waiting in the wings: the Iran-Pakistan-India gas route – which would again go through Gwadar.
China has been [considering](http://pakobserver.net/200609/04/news/topstories12.asp?txt=Gwadar-China%20oil%20pipeline%20study%20underway) building another pipeline on from Gwadar into China – and even if that doesn’t happen, they’ll be able to ship oil out by sea.
Meanwhile the Chinese are building one railway to connect Gwadar to the [Karakoram Highway](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karakoram_highway), have already [built](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makran_Coastal_Highway) a road linking it to Karachi, and are looking at linking it to Iran.
So, China gets a little more energy security, Pakistan gets road, railways, a new port, earnings from transit fees, and Chinese interest in keeping Pakistan stable.
###America and the Taliban
Then there’s America – an even clearer case of Pakistan selling off its foreign policy, but getting a good proce for it. In September 2001 Musharraf managed to spin Pakistan’s foreign policy 180 degrees, abandon the Taliban, and let the American army use Pakistan to invade Afghanistan. And boy, were they rewarded – with [money](http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,2763,984792,00.html), with [weapons](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A800-2005Mar25.html), with a [trade deal](http://www.bilaterals.org/article.php3?id_article=282) and with general support for the regime.
Pakistan can’t use quite the same approach to dealing with its greatest enemy – but even here there are pragmatic elements. It’s just that here Pakistan’s deal-makers are competing with the populists and the nationalists, and they only come out on top some of the time.
Let’s take the populists first. India-bashing always goes down well, and if there’s an election coming up the politicians will say some nasty things about India. But this isn’t all that important: sometimes politicians get boxed in by their rhetoric and forced to do something, sometimes talking tough affects the situation by itself – but in general, the grandstanding doesn’t amount to much.
More important is the body of nationalistic, paranoid, anti-Indian opinion which dominates Pakistans army and [intelligence services](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-Services_Intelligence). These are the people who got Pakistan involved in supporting the Taliban to provide ‘Strategic Depth’ – that is, having friendly space for Pakistan’s army to regroup in the face of an attack from India, and avoiding India and her allies encircling Pakistan. These people get nervous when they see India [stationing a dozen MiG-29 fighter planes in Tajikistan](http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060422/main6.htm)
But then there’s the third group, who want to cut the same kind of deal with India as they’ve made with China and the US. That is, let India use Pakistan as a route to Central Asia (and Iran, in this case), and on the back of that get money and an Indian interest in keeping Pakistan stable. The big avenue for this is a proposed [gas pipeline](http://www.iags.org/n0115042.htm) running from Iran to India, through Pakistan. From that idea, it’s only a short step to getting India a share of what comes off any pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. When gas is involved, even the arch-enemy can be turned into a friend.
###Keeping everybody happy
It’s not easy keeping three superpowers in bed together, but Pakistan is navigating through the straits pretty well. The US didn’t like the look of China’s involvement in Gwadar – they saw it as a listening post and a way for China to project naval power into the Arabian sea. So they leant on Pakistan to push China out of the deal. What did Pakistan do? They raised the price of Chinese involvement, [demanding](http://www.india-defence.com/reports/1056) $1.5bn per year from Beijing. So Islamabad turns a conflict into a win: either China coughs up and they’re in the money, or they back out and the US takes over Gwadar (which they’d find useful for browbeating Iran and for supplying trops in Iraq)
When Pakistan chooses to defy the superpowers, it can, because every power involved has an interest in propping up the Musharraf government. Most obviously, the US is still relying on their support in the War on Terror. But nobody wants to see a nuclear power in civil war, and both China and (especially) India know that a disintegrating Pakistan is infinitely worse than a stable Pakistan.
###Going it alone?
Apart from being everybody’s accomplice, is Pakistan getting involved in Central Asia? Well, they’ve tried a little, but not enough for anybody to care much. According to [RAND](http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2006/RAND_MG440.pdf):
> In the early 1990s, many Pakistani firms and the Bank of Pakistan moved into the region expecting rapid liberalization and acceptance of their services. After attempting to conduct business in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for several years, many firms re-sorted to looking for an exit strategy.1
Pakistan’s government has made a few [attempts](http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/apr2005-daily/29-04-2005/business/b2.htm) at promoting business in Central Asia, but it’s mostly trivia. In 2003-4, Pakistan’s exports to Central Asia and the Caucasus amounted to just 1.2bn rupees – or slightly over US$20m!
There’s no much worth mentioning militarily, either: Pakistan’s army may be the 7th largest in the world, but it’s pointed entirely at India. The ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) reputedly has agents all over the region, but they don’t exactly do a great deal. In the past they were accused of stirring up Islamist movements in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, but that was mostly a by-product of what was happening in Afghanistan – and has stopped since 2001 in any case. It doesn’t matter much, because Pakistan is doing far better from helping superpowers than it could do by itself.
November 8th, 2006 § § permalink
Rather than another blow-by-blow accoutn of what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan, I thought it might be more useful to do a ‘who’s who’ of the protesters. I’ve also tried to touch-up/create bios for some of them over at Wikipedia. Beware: the below is neither comprenensive nor fully checked…
- Almaz Atambaev. Social Democratic Party Businessman, failed presidential candidate in 2000, briefly minister for Industry, trade and tourism
- Omurbek Tekebaev. Speaker (former speaker?) of the Kyrgyz parliament, presidential candidate in 2000. Is his brother, Asylbek Tekebayev, also involved?
- Edil Baisalov: NGO-wallah, blogger, victim of an assassination attempt earlier this year. No formal party affiliation, as far as I know.
- Roza Otunbayeva, former Foreign Minister. Founder of the small Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party. She was banned from standing in the 2005 elections because she hadn’t been resident in Kyrgyzstan for five years (she had been serving as ambassador to the US!)
- Isa Omurkulov. Former minister of railroads.
- Timur Sariev. Being quoted a lot, but I can’t find anything about him, except that he’s a member of parliament.
- Kubatbek Baibolov – leader of the Union of Democratic Forces
- Melis Eshimkanov. Deputy chair, social democratic party, and former presidential candidate.
November 8th, 2006 § § permalink
You’ll only find [one article](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/11/03/wkryg03.xml) on it in the British broadsheets, but Kyrgyzstan has spent the past five days in the middle of massive, peaceful anti-government demonstrations. The protesters are principally calling for a change in the constitution to reduce the power of the president, but they also want to get rid of the President, [Kurmanbek Bakiyev](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurmanbek_Bakiyev) and Prime Minister [Felix Kulov](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Kulov).
I love watching the role of blogs in all this. [Edil Baisalov](http://baisalov.livejournal.com) the protesters’ unofficial spokesman, is posting frequent (Russian) updates on Livejournal – from a yurt outside the parliament building. Meanwhile Yulia at [New Eurasia](http://kyrgyzstan.neweurasia.net/) is keeping up a commentary from the opposite side, very critical of the opposition and worried that repeated coups will turn the country into a banana republic. Even Kyrgyz news agency AKIpress has turned to livejournal: they were having trouble keeping their site up, so they set up a livejournal and started posting reports up there.
If you want to follow what’s going on in English: here are news updates, analysis from people outside the country here and here. Currentl