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Posts Tagged ‘United Nations’

Karzai or Abdullah? Who will emerge front-runner in the Afghan elections?

Amidst sporadic violence, reports of armed coercion, bribery, election fraud, voter cards being sold, irregularities and a low voter turnout, Afghanistan has gone to the polls for the second time, to elect a President, in an exercise that was closely watched by the United Nations, the United States, neighbouring countries and independent agencies. Officials of NATO stated that approximately 15.6 million voters had registered to vote. The number, which amounts to half of the nations population, is staggering considering the turbulent phases in time that the country has witnessed despite the Taliban having been ousted many years ago.

Under the regime of Hamid Karzai, a great deal had progressed in a difficult and tense environment constantly watched over and viewed as a breeding ground for international terrorism, however, the strangulating influence of the Taliban was witnessed many a times, in the form of many skirmishes between the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rebels, the former of which is now largely reduced to combat personnel of the United States alone, other member nations having gradually pulled out of the arrangement, sensing a long drawn combat operation which faced flak for being frustrating, costly and severely life threatening to military personnel.

Although the government machinery has largely been overhauled, the Afghan mindset largely remains unaltered and battling warlords still call the shots in what is more of a deeply divided nation which is clearly demarcated by ethnicity, caste and muscle power, all of which seems extensively prevalent over a social structure which is precariously balanced and hinges even now upon its disturbed past. The Afghan state is embroiled in many distinct identities, no one of which can claim superiority or dominance alone or for that matter a certain extended period of time. Cooperation and coordination are words unheard of where negotiations and truce face obsolescence even before implementation.

This time, the theater saw heavy weights in the form of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent President and Abdullah Abdullah, his foreign minister in the fray for the top job amidst many political twists and turns that may have affected one another in their attempt to woo a population that has long been tormented by unrest and turmoil, for the duration of all or most of their tumultuous lives. Karzai on his part seems to have been no lesser of an immoral by virtue of his proximity to what the United States calls dreaded warlords responsible for a chaotic Afghanistan. It is alleged that both of Karzai’s vice-presidential candidates and a number of his key allies in the election were responsible for many instances of human rights violations and war crimes. The independent body, Human Rights Watch has called for Vice President Karim Khalili and key ally, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, to face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes. Khalili is alleged to have been responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

Prominent and conspicuous among the events, was the return from-exile of  General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who once held the post of Chief of Army Staff to President Karzai. Arriving from Turkey, where he was exiled for allegedly manhandling a political rival, he created headlines by pledging support for Karzai and campaigning for him, a move widely seen as an effort to send a tough message to erring warlords and thereby win their support. Gen Dostum was also a key ally of the United States in the 2001 invasion, following the attacks on the world trade center.

Political analysts insist that all this hobnobbing with local militia and warlords was indeed a strategy employed by the Karzai camp to secure large blocs of votes in return for key positions and influence in his new government or other significant promises. One may also recall his invitation to the dreaded Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to become his Vice President, when his attacks on government troops became systematically orchestrated and unstoppable.

Abdullah, on the other hand with a clean and suave image has certainly managed to dent Karzai’s fortunes to an extent, prompting officials to believe that the race may be more closely tied than expected, exacting a possibility of a run-off in October if neither party manages to garner the required 50% mark. While Abdullah may represent a different paradigm for a nation troubled by war, poverty, unrest and ethnic divisions, Karzai certainly has an upper hand in the battle given his close connections that can translate to more votes and the ability to nudge perpetually warring splinter groups to pledge support in unison although they may do so with reluctance. Given Abdullah’s surprise over the scale of alleged fraud in counting of the votes, one can sense a disconnect in his ability to control and monitor situations in the ground, something which Karzai surely has more knowledge and control of.

Apparently the United States is not very happy with the developments in Afghanistan, whose military and security responsibility lies with it. Richard Holbrooke, America’s special envoy to Afghanistan has, in a meeting with President Karzai, expressed fears and concerns over reports of election fraud, something that Karzai has not taken too well coming from the United States.

Latest indications suggest that Karzai is pegged at 45% of votes, amounting to 422,000 while Abdullah has garnered 35% votes at 330,000 in number. Reports now indicate that the finally tally may be delayed a while.

While the world waits and watches, it will be interesting to follow the United States and the international community in their policies towards the Afghan nation. More importantly, it will be exciting to deduce and subsequently watch India’s stand considering the possibilities. Karzai and his administration enjoy a warm relationship with India, and so also is the case with Dr. Abdullah.

So what is it that will change in the Afghan heartland? September will tell, presumably!

Decoding L'Aquila

It seems Obama’s misreported bottomgate affair hogged the limelight more than the proceedings of the G8, which this time too failed to arrive at a much needed consensus on important issues such as climate change. As before, leaders of the group of eight, along with invitees, once again came together to put their thoughts on issues such as nuclear energy, dialogue with emerging countries, achievement of millennium development goals, negotiations on climate change, development of Africa in the areas of education, water, food and agriculture, health and peace support, intellectual property, outreach and expansion.

Not surprisingly the debate on climate change has brought forward no significant or tangible solution, with member nations not focusing on emission cuts and most importantly the Kyoto Protocol. While some question the relevance of the G8 in the face of a modernized global scenario, some others argue that it serves as an important platform for world leaders to wrangle on important issues that concern one another and the world at large. However, that ‘world at large’ is yet to see some tangible results as a measure of outcome from this gathering! Take for instance the posture on climate change which has hardly changed from before. While industrialized nations continue to play footsie with the issue, they have long been pressurizing some invitee nations to adopt a more stringent set of protocols that call for reduced emissions, something that seems more of hypocrisy! One may also ask about the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which is refused to be addressed.

Although Africa has been on the agenda for a long time now, there is no reflection of any constructive activity in the ground level. Take for instance the scale of poverty, issues pertaining to health, clean water, basic sanitation requirements and education programs that exist only as plans on paper and remain a distant dream. Mere agreements to sort out these issues by addressing them at forums is not enough. Implementation at various levels is the requirement.

Nations such as Sudan continue to be plagued in civil war with little or no assistance from the outside world. People continue to die at alarming rates and turn into fast statistics that are forgotten in a matter of days. Mere echoes of UN Security council resolutions will not address the problem. Why are nations not looking at establishing a military task force such as the KFor or the ISAF within Sudan, Darfur in particular? Is it the cost factor that is a deterrent or the knowledge of the non-existence of any rich pickings from these poor nations that is putting off the G8 from arriving at a policy of cooperation within themselves to assist impoverished countries, such as mentioned in their agenda?

For once, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke intellectual when he remarked that the framework of the G8 needs to be modified to include the larger G14! His statement that “we saw that G8 is no longer a suitable format to show a global economic way of doing. Instead, a consolidated G14 representing 80% of the world economy could help create a real dialogue. We want to see if the G14 is the best solution for debates which will bring to us unique results,” echoed the G8’s attitude in taking cognizance of emerging nations such as India and China in the global forum, something that cannot be ignored as was in the past! I would certainly accord a great deal of credit to the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh for having paved the way to such a landmark consensus as is witnessed today, when two years ago in a predecessor G8 summit at Heiligendamm in Germany, he stated the need for India to participate in the get-togethers of the rich as a partner rather than a petitioner.

It does not take a lot of brain racking to understand and conclude rightly that evolved partnerships are the key to success especially on a regional front which seems expanding and holding significance more than ever! Bilateral trade, cultural ties, combating terrorism, educational and outreach programs, disease control and a lot more can be significantly and systematically addressed in a much efficient manner with an expanded framework as in the case of the G14, which has rightly been envisioned and supported.

Fresh perspectives from developing nations with regards to plaguing problems can bring to the table a great deal of change, inclusive at that. However, one needs to wait and watch how the proceedings of this meeting of the G8 are to be implemented to attain measurable outcomes rather than being fizzled out as existent only on paper!

And maybe the press too can be a lot more mature to highlight issues and call for increased cooperation rather than misreport the roving eyes of a head of state!

Talking points – India and Pakistan

June 29, 2009 2 comments

Following the recently concluded Yekaterinburg Summit where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed a piece of the Indian mind to the Pakistani President Zardari, there have been calls from the international community urging the two nations to resume talks aimed at sorting the many issues that plague either!

More recently, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Talat Masood, a senior defense analyst and a very respectable moderate voice in Pakistan, stated the need for resumption of bilateral talks aimed at settling long disputed issues such as Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and other aspects while keeping aside Kashmir for ‘a later date,’ to be discussed by ‘a more mature generation’, during ‘a more conducive time.’

In his own words, he was echoing the thoughts of President Zardari who in his interactions with Prime Minister Singh at Yekaterinburg said that both India and Pakistan should not hold each other or their actions hostage in the backdrop of the UN security council resolutions on Kashmir!

Indeed, talks are the way forward towards resolution of all long standing deadlocks that continue to exist as thorns in relations between both nations and India should seize the opportunity to reiterate the need for Pakistan to curb assistance to all anti-India operations that originate on its soil, even if that means reigning in the ISI and its many rouge elements that run deep into a system aimed at constantly perpetrating terrorist activities across the border in Indian territory.

Pakistan which has been extensively bogged down by the ongoing conflict with the Taliban desperately needs to engage in some face saving act involving combating terror and reflecting stability else it risks being thoroughly branded as a failed state! Therefore the onus is on Pakistan to prove that it is a committed ally in the war on terror and does not engage itself in proliferation of terror, which has long blemished its image in the international arena. Recognizing this pressure that it is currently going through, India must engage itself in a composite dialogue with Pakistan aimed at eliciting some concrete and tangible steps from the latter which the world at large can witness and take into cognizance.

If India initiates such a process of dialogue, the burden falls on Pakistan to render unfailing cooperation to tackle the issue of terrorism and aide India in combating the same. India can begin by bringing to the table evidence recovered during the events of 26/11 which US intelligence agencies have also verified and concluded to be legitimate (not that India needs an American endorsement). A demand for killing support to ultra-radical an-India elements can be strongly made as a pre-requisite to negotiate on other issues thus making Pakistan face heat and thereby yield to pressure given its current geo-political scenario.

India on the other hand can state that by initiating such a process of dialogue, it has reaffirmed the need for deeper interactions on many fronts aimed at eliciting cooperation and a much needed trust from the embattled nation, purely as a measure of goodwill. Some tough talking from the Indian side is definitely needed to help sort out issues pertaining to terrorism. Indian commitment to the process will be viewed as a mature action at a time when Pakistan is struggling for its survival given the majorly chaotic and fast-changing socio-political situation in the region which needs urgent attention.

All this needs to be done with an open mind and a result oriented focus which should include a measure of careful optimism, and once the case has been strongly made, Kashmir, like Gen Masood believes, can well be discussed at a later time, under a strong guarantee that it will not be made an issue to hijack any agenda such as witnessed in the past!

Nuclear politics and North Korea

June 23, 2009 2 comments

North Korea’s impending ICBM launch towards Hawaii scheduled to happen early in July is keeping more than the United States on toes! This communist nation, emboldened by the success of two successful weapons tests, has been making bold overtures and issuing warnings of a nuclear strike in the region. It claims that the United States has based several nuclear strike capable missiles in neighbouring South Korea in an attempt to threaten its existence, a claim that is yet to be verified!

Increasing isolated by the international community and losing grip over its already teetering financial state, North Korea must realize the importance to deviate from its current nuclear posture and concentrate more on the economic and social situation that currently prevails in the country, something that needs to be addressed very urgently.

Having pulled out of  the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, North Korea put to operational track, its two reactor plants located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center aimed at producing weapons grade plutonium. However due to outdated Russian technology and several other constraints, production was significantly low and could not aid in building what North Korea wanted as a full fledged, long range nuclear weapon.

And then came into light the Abdul Qadeer Khan proliferation network, which according to US intelligence admittedly gave huge amounts of technological knowledge and support to the red brigade, a claim that was reinforced following an admission by the the Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaf, which stated that Khan had indeed provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.

Now, at the backdrop of two successive nuclear tests, US President Barack Obama has described the North Korean action as a threat to international peace, which is mature communication unlike the terming of it as a part of the axis of evil by his predecessor George Bush! Following his condemnation of the tests which he called were a blatant defiance of the United Nations Security Council, he said “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants action by the international community. We have been and will continue working with our allies and partners in the six-party talks as well as other members of the UN Security Council in the days ahead.”

Despite international pressure to abandon the nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang continues to embark upon the project citing that it is under threat from South Korea and its allies, which includes the United States. A statement that followed the May 29th tests, which reads “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence in every way as requested by its scientists and technicians. The current nuclear test was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control and the results of the test helped satisfactorily settle the scientific and technological problems arising in further increasing the power of nuclear weapons and steadily developing nuclear technology”, indicates Pyongyang’s belief that it needs to add a nuclear force to its stable of weapons in order to neutralize a threat that it sees originating from the United States.

Currently, as the deadline for the launch of a new missile is around the corner, President Obama’s call for peace, saying “there is another path available to North Korea, a path that leads to peace and economic opportunity for North Korea” is an offer to Pyongyang to return to the talking table, which it must do, for nuclear engagement is certainly not a viable humanitarian option!

American Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s statement that “we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect American territory” comes as a measure of American confidence in defending the United States in the event of a missile launch toward Hawaii. However, the problem lies in not just defending but also effectively containing the crisis which could outline to the world as to how the US administration counters a national security threat and also pulls it off with diplomatic effort rather than by force!

There are several challenges that will be faced by this young administration in this process, the most significant of all being, the need to deter North Korea from carrying out the threat that it so emphatically claims to do! In the event that the launch takes place, the United States needs to work in close coordination with the United Nations to determine the kind of consequences that Pyongyang would need to face for such an action. This action should not be aimed at the civilian population who continiue to struggle in poverty. The United States also needs to reshape its policy, based on talks and exertion of diplomatic pressure, rather than apply the same old and spent formula that past governments have been applying on Pyongyang! Most importantly, America needs to reiterate its commitment to the process of achieving a nuclear free zone in the region and help promote a healthier relationship between the neighbours by creating a conducive arena for bilateral talks aimed at stamping out many deadlocks that have risen in the past and stayed on!

About two hours and fifty seven minutes ago, Pyongyang issued warning statements asking ships to avoid parts of its eastern waters beginning 25th June, for a period of 16 days, citing that it is in the process of conducting a military drill. Now this worries me a lot! Warnings of such nature in the past have indicated heavy military activity as was seen recently during two subsequent events,  the test launch of a short range missile and the nuclear test that followed!

I’m wondering if the 4rth of July celebrations across the United States are going to witness what might come to be known as a North Korean display of fireworks?