Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Musharraf and Barak Meet By "Chance"

Right after India launched an Israeli spy satellite into orbit, Pakistan's President Musharraf met "by chance" in Paris with Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Associated Press of Pakistan reported that the two were staying in the same hotel and ran into each other in the lobby. Evidently, Musharraf was on his way out of the hotel and Barak on his way in, and the latter introduced himself. The two shook hands and went their ways according to APP; but Israel's Haaretz reported that there was a later meeting of about an hour, at which the terrorist threat to Pakistan and the security of its nuclear weapons was discussed.

Pakistan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel because of its need to preserve solidarity with the oil-rich Arab nations on which it has depended for financial and political support. However, over the last few years, as Indo-Israeli relations have got ever closer and extended to the sharing of military technology and intelligence, Pakistan has felt the need to change its position. There have been earlier reports of diplomatic meetings, routinely denied, but this one seems to be different; a government spokesman admitted the meeting in the lobby.

Whether the "chance" meeting was occasioned by Pakistan's concerns at having an Israeli satellite peering down on it, or if it was Israeli interest in finding out why Pakistan was rattling its nukes (see 1/23 post: Is Push Coming to Shove on Pakistani Nukes), it was definitely not routine.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Assassination Plots

The Indian government is said to be acting on reports that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has contracted with a former leader of Mumbai's criminal underworld to assassinate two leaders of the opposition BJP party. Security is being tightened for right-wing politicians L.K. Advani, the leader of the parliamentary opposition in Delhi, and Narendra Modi, the recently elected Chief Minister of Gujarat state. The hit man -- or more accurately, the contract holder -- is said to be Dawood Ibrahim, who is wanted in connection with the 1993 bombings in Mumbai that killed 250 people and wounded 700; he fled India after those attacks and has been living in Karachi for over a decade.

Both BJP leaders are controversial and polarizing figures, lightning rods for disaffected lower-middle class Hindus strongly and intolerantly wedded to their religious identity. Advani was the primary architect of the BJP's rise to national power in 1999, winning a mass following with his campaign to demolish a 16th century mosque said to be built over a temple marking the birthplace of Rama, the divine hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Modi is widely seen as responsible for the massively violent reprisals against the Muslim community in Gujarat in July 2002 after 55 Hindus were burned alive in a railway carriage as they returned from a visit to the ruins of that mosque.

Why the ISI should want Advani and Modi dead at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are the warmest they have ever been, is an intriguing question. Islamabad has nothing to gain from raising tensions along a border that is now largely quiet, and it would be far-fetched to imagine that anyone in Pakistan, in its state of deepening crisis, would take time to pursue a long distance vendetta in India.

It is much more likely that the ISI -- or some part of it -- is acting on behalf of one of its strategic partners, the intelligence agencies of Britain, China, Saudi Arabia and the United States. This has happened in the past, most openly in Afghanistan and India, and more circumspectly in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Of the four, Britain and China have a consistent history of trying to destabilize India, but only the former has had a handle on communal (religious) conflict; Beijing has mainly been involved in running guns to separatist tribal elements along India's north-eastern border and funding its communist proxies.

British intervention has been much broader, rooted as it is in its colonial experience of using religion to "divide and rule." In the final decade of British rule in India Hindus and Muslims, who never before fought each other because of religion, were manipulated into a state of civil war. As American journalist William Shirer noted in his memoir on Gandhi, that was not a difficult achievement; he quoted the British Chief of Police in Bombay telling how a religious riot could be engineered simply by throwing a cow's head over a temple wall or a dead pig into a mosque. In pre-independence India the Muslim League under Mohammad Ali Jinnah was Britain's main proxy in mobilizing religious hatred. It organized the "great Calcutta killing" of August 1946 which took some 7,000 lives in three days and set in motion the wave of violence that culminated a year later in the killing of about a million people as Britain split India to create Pakistan.

Proof of covert British intervention in India after it became independent has been available only occasionally, but there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence. Items:
  • A former British intelligence operative, Peter Bleach, was caught in 1994 after parachuting crates of AK-47s, rocket launchers and ammunition for use by the Ananda Marg, a violent Hindu cult in West Bengal. During Bleach's trial in Calcutta the defense produced the transcript of a phone conversation in which the defendant informed an unnamed official of Britain's MI-6 of his assignment and was told to proceed. Found guilty of conspiring to make war against the State, Bleach was sentenced to life in prison in 2000, but was released in 2004 after persistent representations by the British government, which included a private chat between Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Advani.
  • Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984 as she was heading for a BBC television interview to be conducted by Peter Ustinov. (Princess Anne was in Delhi at the time, scheduled to dine with the Prime Minister that evening.) The interview was delayed a half hour at the last minute, just the time needed for one of the two assassins (both on the Prime Minister's security detail), to begin his shift at the spot where the killing occurred. Initially, one of Mrs. Gandhi's aides was suspected of having made the change, but the judge who conducted the official investigation of the murder exonerated him completely. The judge noted the involvement of a foreign intelligence agency but did not go into detail. (A part of the report remains secret, so it is impossible to say what information he had.) Incidentally, Ustinov had a family connection with British intelligence: according to Peter Wright in his book "Spycatcher," Ustinov's father, Klop Ustinov, worked for MI-5. It is also worth recalling that the British government had rejected an official Indian protest about the BBC giving air time to a Sikh who called for Mrs. Gandhi's murder; London could not interfere with freedom of the Press, it said. For the record: the BBC Foreign Service is paid for by the government, and some of its prominent "journalists" are known to be spooks. (See the fascinating blog at
  • The Mark Bullough mentioned repeatedly in Shaphan's blog went from the Scots Guards to the post of Managing Director of Jardine Fleming in Bombay. He arrived in the city just as the Indian government was opening up the economy to foreign investment, and during his time there the following things happened: (1) a $1.5 billion stock market swindle in which four major foreign banks were implicated ; (2) the most serious Hindu-Muslim riots in India since independence; and (3) the March 1993 bomb attacks that demolished the stock market. It was also in the same period that the right-wing BJP party suddenly came alive with new funding (supposedly from wealthy Hindus abroad), and Advani's Hindu-supremacist campaign to demolish the mosque at Ayodha achieved its end. Bullough went on to co-found Aegis Defense Services with Tim Spicer, another Scots Guards alumnus, and both went to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion; they were given a $293 million contract to create what was for a while the largest private army in the world. Jardine Fleming, by the way, traces its roots to the glory days of the opium trade. Jardine Matheson led the effort to circumvent China's ban on the trade in the period before Britain fought two "opium wars" to force Beijing to accept the drug.
Why the British might want Advani and Modi out of the way is the subject of another post.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Imran Khan in New York

Last Friday the Asia Society's 258-seat Rose Conference Hall was filled to capacity at 8:30 in the morning. People were sitting on the steps. The attraction was Imran Khan, cricket star turned politician, speaking on "Pakistan's Political Future, an alternative perspective."

Khan argued that "it's the best of times and the worst of times in Pakistan." Although the country is in a state of deep political crisis, it is also experiencing an unprecedented political awakening. Television coverage of the drama over the Musharraf government's unsuccessful attempts to get the country's Chief Justice to resign had led to a ballooning protest movement. The government had not expected it, and attempts to put it down violently had backfired.

Military men don't understand politics, Khan said; you can tell them to "go take that hill" and they can do that, but they can't govern a country. He did not think the elections (re-scheduled for mid February after Benazir Bhutto's assassination), would be free and fair. For that reason, his Tareek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party is boycotting the elections. For the elections to be considered fair, at the very least, the Chief Justice and other members of the judiciary who had been dismissed by Musharraf in his November 3 "coup against his own government" would have to be reinstated. He was not hopeful that would happen. The major political parties had sold out, for they were financed by drug lords who were obedient to the government.

Khan said that the Taliban was not strong in the tribal areas (Waziristan, Swat and Baluchistan); in each area, it was Musharraf's violent policies that were the cause of growing support for it. If Washington followed up on its talk of intervening militarily in the tribal region the outcome could be disastrous: there were only about 2,000 al Qaeda fighters there, but any attempt at military intervention would arouse a million armed men who had a long and successful tradition of opposing external authority. The Pakistani army, which had gone into Waziristan in 2004, had suffered heavy losses, and if policies were not changed, it could suffer catastrophic damage. Already, the Pashtoons in the army were refusing to fight.

It was not just in the tribal areas that Musharraf was unpopular. There was "tremendous discontent" all over the country. Public opinion polls showed that nationally, about 75 per cent of Pakistanis were strongly opposed to Musharraf.

Khan, who captained Pakistan's cricket team to a World Cup victory in 1992, got a number of questions at the end of his talk, mostly, it seemed, from fans. (One mentioned getting an autograph at their last meeting.) But the answers were substantive. Pakistan's future depended on addressing four critical issues on an emergency basis, Khan said -- the rule of law, education, agriculture and the economy. Most of the country was still in a feudal state, with politically powerful people above the law. The educational system was in a state of collapse, with the vast majority of students forced to attend madrassahs run out of mosques. The tax system was grossly unfair, with 90 per cent of indirect taxes paid by the poor and remittances from poor Pakistanis working abroad providing the government's major source of revenue. That money was being spent on large government buildings, including a Military Headquarters that would be larger than the Pentagon. He saw the need to subsidize agriculture as had been done in India.

I had expected Imran to be like his outspoken sister Rabina, who I have known for many years at the UN, but he was not; there is a more considered quality about him even when he is lambasting Musharraf. There is also, to an Indian ear, a certain alarming fuzziness about history. He mentioned at one point that Pakistan had been created constitutionally, that its founder had been a great "constitutionalist." Pakistan, of course, was created in a welter of blood by Muhammad Ali Jinnah's "direct action," which involved bloody unprovoked attacks by members of the Muslim League on Hindus to set off "communal riots." The riots served to support British claims that India had to be divided because Hindus and Muslims could never be expected to coexist peacefully. The British got what they wanted, a country they could control and use, but the bad karma has flowed unstoppably on.

Something Fishy in French Bank Scandal

There's something fishy about the revelation today that a rogue trader, Jérôme Kerviel, had caused the French bank Société Générale, one of the largest in Europe, to lose $7 billion in the futures market. Kerviel was reported to be a "computer genius" who engineered a series of "elaborate, fictitious transactions."

What's fishy is that the bank, which has known about the fraud since the weekend and has dismissed his supervisors, had not, by late Thursday, filed a criminal complaint against the absconding officer himself. Nor has it said anything about how Kerviel financed the huge positions he took in the market -- it had to be a very considerable amount -- and how he could have done it alone. The International Herald Tribune quoted C. Ricardo Esteves, executive director of Banco Hipotecario of Argentina: "It is not credible. One person responsible for this? I just don't believe it."

The announcement of the loss ate up most of Société Générale's healthy pretax profit for 2007 of $8.07 billion, forcing it to seek a multi-billion infusion of new capital to avoid a collapse. In addition to the loss caused by the fraud, the bank announced that it was writing off another €2.05 billion in fourth quarter losses linked to exposure to the US housing market.

For Société Générale, the timing of the whole affair could not have been worse, coming as stock markets tanked around the world and then revived dramatically as the US Federal Reserve announced a surprise cut in interest rates.

It almost seems as if someone is deliberately pushing the world financial system towards a catastrophic collapse.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is Push Coming to Shove on Pakistan's Nukes?

On 13 January Pakistan Television aired an interview with Air Commodore Khalid Banuri, the person in charge of the country's "nuclear assets." Its transcript was published with an introduction by the interviewer, journalist Ahmed Quraishi, who headlined it "Pakistan's Nukes Are Here To Stay -- Get Used To It."

On 22 January The Guardian in Britain published an article by Ian Traynor, its correspondent in Brussels, headlined "Pre-emptive nuclear strike a key option, NATO told." It reported that a 150-page report by a group of tip-level strategists said the: "West must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the 'imminent" spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction'."

According to The Guardian, the report argued that the "values and way of life" of the West were "under threat from political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism; the "dark side" of globalisation (i.e. international terrorism; organised crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction); climate change and energy security, entailing a contest for resources and potential "environmental" migration on a mass scale; the weakening of the nation state as well as of organisations such as the UN, Nato and the EU. The circumstances required NATO to forgo the consensus rule, disallow a voice in decision-making for countries not operationally involved, and resort to the use of force without UN security council authorisation when "immediate action is needed to protect large numbers of human beings."

The two stories highlight the worsening security climate in Asia that I have noted in earlier posts, and almost certainly hide complex undercurrents in transatlantic relationships. Given the old British connection with the ISI, and the recently advertised loss of control by the latter of jihadist groups, Pakistan's nuclear weapons have become a wild card in the emerging intra-Western power struggle. In that context, the story on Pakistan Television asserting the government's firm control of its nuclear arsenal is calculated not to reassure the United States but to undermine its post 9/11 confidence that the "Islamic bomb" is under its control. This is very clear in Quraishi's introduction to the transcript of the interview.

Quraishi recounted that in November 2007 The New York Times had published "what many analysts in Islamabad described as a misleading story, claiming that the United States had spent up to $ 100 million over the past five years to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons." That story had "coincided with reports alleging that elite US troops already had access to Pakistan’s vast arsenal of nuclear and other strategic weapons." At the time, Pakistani officials had ignored the reports, "confident about their capabilities and a little curious about where these bogus stories were coming from."

Initially, Quraishi wrote, they accepted assurances the Bush administration had nothing to do with the reports but were increasingly concerned as a US "media campaign" began to portray Pakistan "as a nuclear power incapable of securing its weapons," and there was talk of war games meant to "grab Pakistani nuclear weapons" in case of instability in the country. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had even "proposed joint American and British ‘supervision’ of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons."

While those in charge of Pakistan's nuclear weapons tended to dismiss such talk, Quraishi reported, others viewed it "in the context of a deliberate US strategy to destabilize Pakistan." That assessment had led the chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Tariq Majid, to publicly blast the reports in an official statement on 11 December 2007 as the work of “vested and hostile elements in the international media.” In any such scenario, he said, "Pakistan would meet the challenge strongly." Quraishi asked Air Commodore Banuri "what Pakistan would do if its strategic installations came under attack." Banuri responded: Don’t mess with us.” The rest of the conversation went as follows:

Ahmed Quraishi: Who holds the authority to push the nuclear button in Pakistan?

Khaled Banuri: The short answer is very easy: Not an individual but the National Command Authority, comprised of all the senior decision makers of the country, [they] would look at all the issues including the deployment, if it ever comes to that.

AQ: Is it possible there could be a scientist on the inside, an extremist with links to terrorists, maybe Osama bin Laden, who could steal a Pakistani weapon …

KB: In a Tom Clancy fiction that could be a possibility. We are very sure of what our systems are.

AQ: What about the reports before 9/11 that mentioned the links between some of the scientists in our strategic programs, names, who met terrorists in Afghanistan?

KB: Those names, when you actually go into the details, had nothing to do with the classified side of our programs,[they might have been] some people from the system who perhaps were power plant engineers who had some sympathies and were doing some charity work. The key thing here is that Pakistan investigated those situations and now we have a system that takes care of all aspects, even for our very respected scientists who retire. There is a system where they will be occupied in various ways and we will know what they are doing.

AQ: Let’s say there is a violent change of government in Islamabad. Someone hiding in the foothills of Islamabad breaks into one of your facilities, kills 5 or 6 guards, goes inside, picks up one of those nuclear weapons held in a very elaborate security parameter, takes it out, comes out of the building, puts it in the back of a truck or van and speeds away. How possible is this scenario?

KB: Absolutely not possible. But it is a fair question. We have several layers—a multitude of systems of security and technical solutions for security, some of which are non-intrusive and invisible. There are no exceptions for anyone from the outside going into a facility. There are various levels of access. Then there is the issue of insider threat. Not possible. We look at each individual who works within the system very closely. We look at them from various angles, something that the West knows at ‘personal reliability’, the human factor. We look into everything, background checks, medical records, police records, any history of possible impulsive behavior. And if there is anyone who doesn’t have a smooth graph of behavior, they are not put into any sensitive jobs. Even if there is someone in personal distress, for example because of a death in the family, there is a way for relieving them for a few days from sensitive responsibility.

AQ: So the cinematic perception of a Pakistani equivalent of a suitcase carried at all times by the President or the Prime Minister, containing the button for a nuclear missile or something, is not correct?

KB: The decision making about nuclear assets is very carefully thought out. It’s not a hair trigger situation. We all have seen many Cold War movies and many of these idea come from them.

AQ: Well said. Where are we keeping our nuclear bombs?

KB: The response to this question is in two words: Strategic Ambiguity. If anyone even claims he knows where our weapons are, they are wrong. And if they think they do, they are in for a rude shock. Even within the system, if someone doesn’t need to know about sensitive sites, they don’t have that information. So very few in Pakistan would know where they are. And I’m not going to tell you [smiling].

AQ: Really, I was kind of hoping for a hint. Okay, are the safeguards in the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel and India any better than the Pakistani nuclear safeguards?

KB: Even if I sound arrogant, ours are better. We have the advantage of hindsight. We have worked hard, we have trained hard, and we are very sure of what we have. We have learned from the best international practices. We don’t have aircrafts flying around with unauthorized nuclear missiles and we have a short nuclear history compared to some of the countries you mentioned.

AQ: Media reports have suggested that the Americans have helped Pakistan secure its nuclear assets, which implies that the Americans have access to Pakistani nukes?

KB: Ensuring nuclear security is our own interest. We made the bomb, we have the means to protect it, and we’re confident of that security. But we do not mind exposure to education and awareness, but in a completely non-intrusive way.

AQ: So you’re saying you have exchanged ideas with the Americans but not given them any access?

KB: Absolutely. That’s out of the question. That’s the red line that was defined even before we got into this exchange of ideas. We do have some rudimentary equipment and some training [from the U.S.]. And the kinds of figures you have seen in the media [about U.S. financial aid to secure Pakistani nuclear assets] are highly exaggerated.

AQ: The figure quoted was in the tens of millions …

KB: A $100 million was quoted in one report [New York Times, Nov. 2007]. Nowhere in that range.

AQ: Really?

KB: Nowhere.

AQ: Some Pakistanis are concerned and are asking what if the rudimentary equipment handed over to you contained a transmitter that could send out signals to a satellite or something exposing where our installations are?

KB: You have responded to the question yourself. Anyone concerned in Pakistan would have thought about this. The Pakistani nuclear establishment is always concerned about even the remotest of possibilities. We have this responsibility on behalf of this whole nation. It’s a sacred responsibility.

AQ: So let me put this to rest once and for all: you have not given access to the Americans as part of accepting their ‘help’?

KB: No access whatsoever. There are no foreigners who have any access to any Pakistani assets and they will never have. There are very few Pakistanis, even within our policy circle, who have all the information.

AQ: Does everyone concerned inside and outside the region understand there will be consequences if Pakistan’s strategic assets are attacked?

KB: Let me say it in plain words: Those who have hostile intent would know that any endeavor to attack Pakistan in any way will not be successful and it will be disastrous. Our weapons are meant for deterrence and not for [aggression]. But we have the capability to deal with any threat.

AQ: So we will respond if we are attacked?

KB: My message is: Don’t mess with us.

AQ: Late Mrs. Benazir Bhutto had publicly warned a few weeks before her tragic death that extremists could descend on the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and take control of the nearby nuclear installations at Kahuta. Is this true?

KB: I don’t want to get into the politics of this statement. But I’d like to make two points. One, Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe and secure. I say this with a lot of confidence. And, Two, I’d request all Pakistanis, wherever they are, that they should not mix politics with nuclear security.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Money Trail From Darfur

The Sunday New York Times story by UN correspondent Warren Hoge was headlined "Intervention, Hailed as a Concept, is Shunned in Practice." The lead summed up its gist: "Three years after the United Nations adopted a groundbreaking resolution to help it intervene to stop genocide, even longtime supporters of the rule acknowledge that it has not helped the organization end the violence in Darfur."

The General Assembly in 2005 had endorsed the "responsibility" of governments to prevent genocide, but the United Nations had been "stymied" in its efforts to stop widespread killings in Darfur by "the failure of major member states to fulfill promises to support action and by the intransigence of the Sudanese government." As a result, only the 6,000-strong African Union component of a planned 26,000 joint AU-UN peacekeeping force had been able to deploy.

Hoge offered no explanation for the inaction of Western governments on Darfur, but seemed to suggest that a set of new non-governmental "advocacy and research centers" would address the issue. If they do, here's a simple bit of advice: don't waste time analyzing the moralities of why governments won't act. Just follow the money trail.

It's widely known that the Darfur money trail leads to China, which is the major importer of Sudanese oil. But it does not stop there. China needs the oil to keep its manufacturing industries whirring. Those industries produce 80 per cent of the toys imported by the United States and Europe. They produce the cheap clothes and electronics and other knickknacks that fill the shelves of Wall-mart and other major retailers on both sides of the Atlantic.

China does not produce all the goods it exports. It serves as a finishing shop for goods emerging from South East Asian Nations like Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar. In fact, China gets to keep only about 20 per cent of the proceeds from its exports; the rest goes to others in the production chain in South East Asia. Those nations do not get to keep much of the money either; just the pittance their workers earn. The lion's share of profits percolates back to the corporations and banks that have organized and control the production chains of our global economy. And of course, they wouldn't do it unless all of us buy the cheap goods they produce.

Send not to ask who tolls the bells of Darfur. We do.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Blame Game of UN Security

More than a month after two car bombs killed 19 UN staff members in Algiers, the UN is trapped in a messy blame game. Internally, UNDP Head Kemal Dervis has raised an as yet unanswered question: why was the security threat level at the UN offices in Algiers not raised after an earlier bomb attack in the city? Especially as Babacar Ndiaye, the local UN official in charge of security had warned his superiors about terrorist threats against the organization? In comments seemingly directed at the UN's top security official, David Veness of Britain, Mr. Dervis has noted that security in Algiers, and in Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, had been kept at "Level 1," the lowest.

Externally, the UN and Algeria are pointing fingers at each other. The UN has complained that the government did not act on its requests to block off the street outside its offices. The government has replied that the request was made to a local authority, not through proper channels. The UN has responded that it tried the local approach only after failing to get any action through the Foreign Ministry. Another point at issue is the independent inquiry that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised soon after the incident; he did it without consulting the Algerian government, a basic diplomatic faux pas that put up backs in Algiers.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem of Algeria told reporters that he would not welcome the UN inquiry. That he did so after meeting Mr. Ban in Madrid during the Alliance of Civilizations Forum (see earlier post), put UN noses seriously out of joint.

The task of trying to retrieve the situation has fallen to Mr. Ban's Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar of India, who spent most of last weekend meeting with the Algeria's UN ambassador. Hurt feelings have been assuaged to some extent, but one problem remains: the Algerians want to see the preliminary report of the inquiry panel and have their views on it taken into account. Negotiations are afoot to see what can be arranged.

What is astonishing about the whole affair is how little things seem to have changed despite the top-to-bottom overhaul of the UN's global security arrangements in the aftermath of the August 2003 bomb attack on the Organization's office in Baghdad. The system put in place was supposed to increase vigilance and awareness of security; neither seems to have happened. Insiders note that the main reason for failure has been the reluctance of UN officials to confront government ministries which are often dismissive of their security concerns; international officials who need the goodwill of local authorities to advance their substantive mandates are often loath to rock the boat. Perhaps the next step in reforming the UN's global security arrangements should be to establish a system completely independent of the structure dealing with substantive issues.

Alliance of Civilizations: Misguided Priorities

A two-day forum on the Alliance of Civilizations in Madrid (15-16 January) is being widely hailed as a success despite the fact that it ignored fundamental issues and acted on a set of misplaced priorities.

Two $100 million commitments were announced at the meeting, for a "global youth employment initiative" and for an "Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund." The first will help young people find jobs in the new global economy, the second will encourage the production of movies that "will enhance the connections that already exist between different societies, but are seldom noted on screen and in popular culture.”

The forum also established a
n "AoC Clearinghouse" to begin the work of "Media Literacy Education." It will "catalog" relevant media and government policies and practices with 18 university partners serving "as nodes to enliven" the clearinghouse "by initiating exchanges and posting materials on the latest developments in media literacy education." In addition, a "Rapid Response Media Mechanism" will develop "an online resource that will feature a list of global experts in cross-cultural issues, who are available to comment or to talk to journalists, particularly in times of major cross-cultural crises."

The rhetoric at the event was ripe. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon reflected the general tone when he said: “Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations. The threats are terrifying but the responses are at hand.”

Whether Ban or anyone else thinks the initiatives from Madrid will have any impact on the current world scene is not the point. What should be of concern is that nearly 15 years after Samuel Huntington first postulated a "clash of civilizations" (in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs), there is so little understanding of the phenomenon at the UN. The problem is not lack of cross-cultural communication and dialog; it is the deliberate inculcation of hatred in church and mosque, by think tanks and universities. Rodgers and Hammerstein in their 1949 musical South Pacific had it right when they had Lieutenant Cable sing:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Religious and political leaders preach hatred and fear because it empowers them. That power has been used systematically to manipulate large masses of people against their own best interests, and to benefit small elite groups. The only way we can get a handle on jihadist Islam is to expose who it has benefited and who it has burdened.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Signs of Growing Power Struggle in Asia

There are more signs of a growing but still murky Euro-US power struggle centered on Asia (for the background to which see earlier post on Anglo-Saxon Empire). Items:
  • President Bush on a tour of the Middle East made nice with a series of Arab tyrants. In Saudi Arabia he brandished a ceremonial sword and walked hand-in-hand with the Crown Prince. The New York Times reported that in Egypt Bush "lavished praise on President Hosni Mubarak ... emphasizing the country's role in regional security while publicly avoiding mention of the government's actions in jailing or exiling opposition leaders and its severe restrictions on opposition political activities." Other stops on Bush's tour were in Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • President Sarkozy of France has just signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to establish a permanent French military base there. It will have about 500 air, naval and ground personnel. They will gather intelligence and provide "security," ostensibly against threats from Iran. In Saudi Arabia Sarkozy lauded the country for its strong religious foundation. In oddly uncharacteristic remarks for an icon of middle-age gallic libido and sophistication, Sarkozy spoke of God "who does not enslave man, but liberates him, God who is the rampart against unbridled pride and folly of men." He too left with a Saudi sword.
  • In Afghanistan, British politician Paddy Ashdown is set to take over as the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative AND political head of the multinational NATO operation in the country. (Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reservations on the appointment, it is expected to be announced shortly.) This is the first time the UN and NATO will field a joint head of mission. It is especially significant, coming on the heels of the expulsion from Afghanistan of a senior British political officer for having unauthorized negotiations with the Taliban.
  • Ashdown will have under him a newly appointed commander of the 40,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan: General David McKiernan, currently commander of US forces in Europe. In 2003 McKiernan oversaw ground operations in Iraq when a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
  • The US, which has 14,000 of its troops serving under the NATO flag and another 12,000 separately, has been critical of the performance of the European troops in Afghanistan. Earlier this week US Defense Secretary Robert Gates drew the ire of the Dutch government by saying that its troops in the country were not trained for counter-insurgency operations. The NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are resurgent, are mainly Dutch and British.
In some ways the situation in Asia is reminiscent of the early days of colonialism, when various European Powers contended for influence by establishing bases and alliances with local regimes. It also harks back to the time towards the end of World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt began to pressure the Europeans to get out of Asia. In the two decades after that war European colonial rule in the region was effectively ended; the US became the dominant extra-regional Power, relying on the British to provide on-the-ground know-how and contacts. Pakistan's Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which the British established in 1947 during their management of the first "India-Pakistan war" over Kashmir, had a key role in that scenario. It helped organize the shock troops -- the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan -- to fight the continuing "Great Game" to contain Russian power; it helped manipulate the oil-rich Muslim world through the Organization of Islamic States; and it helped destabilize Non-Aligned India. In the process it parented the South Asian variant of "Islamic terrorism," and became the God-Father of the drug trade out of Afghanistan. The multi-billion proceeds of the drug trade made the ISI and the terrorist movementsit supported independent of all of Pakistan's governmental structures, setting the scene for the current scene of turmoil in the region.

The power struggle now shaping up marks the end of the era of Europe's unquestioned acceptance of US supremacy. With India, China and Russia as new power factors in Asia, with the ISI as a wild card, the Europeans are making a bid to reassert their independence. Buckle your seat-belts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The "Shared Vision" of India and China:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended a three-day visit to China on 14 January by signing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao an agreement setting out "A Shared Vision for the 21st Century." It is intended "to promote the building of a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity." If the agreement achieves that end the gods will have been kind indeed, for if my reading of it is correct, a much more likely outcome is conflict.

That outcome is likely because of the unmistakable challenge the document poses to the United States. The text calls for India and China to "build their Strategic and Cooperative Partnership in a positive way" and "explore together and with other countries a new architecture for closer regional cooperation in Asia." They will also "strengthen their coordination under the framework of Asia-Europe Meeting, and are committed to strengthening and deepening Asia-Europe comprehensive partnership." The Russian Federation will be included in that effort as a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes all the Central Asian republics created after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The agreement also calls for India and China to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries to achieve their shared objectives. There is not a word about the importance of the United States to world order, or indeed anything about the crucial position it occupies in the economic plans of both China and India.

The agreement must appear as a serious setback to Washington's prolonged strategic effort to push China towards democracy and incorporate it into the existing world order, the only long-term guarantee that its rise to global power will remain peaceful. To the current regime in Beijing the democratic prospect is, of course, deeply threatening, involving its own demise, and a victory for the world order the United States has shaped and managed since World War II. In that context, if the agreement derails the development of a strong and effective alliance between the world's most powerful and most populous democracies, the regime in China will be under much less pressure to move towards democracy.

Why India felt it necessary to sign the agreement is hard to say. Prime facie, all New Delhi got from it was nebulous support for its claim to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and the pledge of a quick settlement of the disputed border, neither with any bankable value. On the Security Council seat the text clearly shows that there was no meeting of minds: India reiterated its "aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council;" China said it "attaches great importance to India's position as a major developing country in international affairs" and said it "understands and supports India's aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council." The pledge of a quick settlement of the border dispute has been made before, and whether it will lead to significant action will become clear in a matter of months. The only scenario in which Indian support for the agreement would make sense is one in which it perceived the United States pushing Asia into a general war; the American invasion of Iraq and its sabre-rattling at Iran and Pakistan could certainly be read that way.

Other elements of the agreement sound good but are of little or no value to India. The two sides agreed, for instance, "that the right of each country to choose its own path of social, economic and political development in which fundamental human rights and the rule of law are given their due place, should be respected." China could go along with that because in the eyes of its regime, the "due place" of human rights and rule of law is always secondary to the power of the ruling Party. The agreement expresses the belief that an "international system founded in tolerance and respect for diversity will promote the cause of peace and reduce the use, or threat of use, of force." It favors "an open and inclusive international system." The signatories "believe that drawing lines on the ground of ideologies and values, or on geographical criteria, is not conducive to peaceful and harmonious coexistence." How can anyone seriously believe that a country in which there is no freedom of speech or Press, where dissidents are routinely subject to brutal treatment, will support tolerance and respect for diversity internationally? Especially when China supports the most repressive regimes in developing countries, including those of North Korea, Burma and Sudan?

The support for Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence first agreed in 1954 is laughable in view of China's record in breaking every one of them. The five principles are (1) Respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty (2) Non-aggression (3) Non-interference in each other's internal affairs (4) Sovereign equality, and (5) Peaceful co-existence. China has supported insurgencies in India's north-eastern states, supplied Pakistan with conventional and nuclear weapons and technology, and generally behaved as if India is a vassal State. After the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, it was China which drafted the acerbic Security Council resolution 1172 which demanded not only that India get rid of its nuclear weapons but its missiles as well. While the other permanent members of the Security Council never mention 1172 now, China still harps on it. The agreement says it is "time to look to the future in building a relationship of friendship and trust, based on equality, in which each is sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the other;" but the record of Sino-Indian relations indicates little reason for optimism.

The agreement expressed the belief "that the continuous democratization of international relations and multilateralism are an important objective in the new century." Singh and Wen also supported the "central role of the United Nations in promoting international peace, security and development." Luckily, they twinned that with a call for the reform of the Organization, for as it now stands, the UN is central to very little. Unfortunately, none of the reform measures currently envisaged will change the marginal status of the world body.

The two sides pledged to "work together and with the international community to strengthen the global framework against terrorism in a long-term, sustained and comprehensive manner." Believing "that cultural and religious tolerance and dialogue between civilizations and peoples will contribute to overall peace and stability of our world," the two sides endorsed "all efforts to promote inter-civilizational and inter-faith dialogues." There is no mention of Tibet, where the Chinese are systematically destroying an ancient and distinctive culture. On Taiwan, the Indian side reaffirmed its one China policy and said it would "oppose any activity" against that "principle." That effectively reduced its capacity to develop healthy economic relations with Taiwan. The Chinese side expressed its "appreciation for the Indian position."

The agreement endorsed "strong growth" in India-China trade and economic relations and welcomed the conclusion of a Feasibility Study on a Regional Trading Arrangement (RTA) between the two countries. They will "explore the possibility of commencing discussions on a mutually beneficial and high-quality RTA that meets the common aspirations of both countries, and will also benefit the region." As China offers virtually unrestricted entry for Western transnational corporations and India is much choosier, what New Delhi hopes to gain from a regional RTA remains to be seen.

Other elements of the agreement are boilerplate. It expressed the readiness of India and China "to face and meet" the challenges of globalization; they "will work with other countries towards "an open, fair, equitable, transparent and rule-based multilateral trading system." Each viewed the other's participation in regional processes as positive, and agreed "to strengthen their coordination and consultation" within such mechanisms. They want an "early conclusion of the Doha Development Round" of trade negotiations, "placing the issues that affect the poorest of the poor at its core." The two "are determined to strengthen their coordination with other developing countries in order to secure their shared objectives." In appealing "to the international community to move forward the processes of multilateral arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation," the two declared that outer space "is the common heritage of humankind" and that "all space-faring nations" have the responsibility "to commit to the peaceful uses of outer space. "They expressed "categorical opposition to the weaponisation and arms race in outer space."

Convinced of the need to "establish an international energy order that is fair, equitable, secure and stable, and to the benefit of the entire international community," the agreement pledged India and China to "joint efforts to diversify the global energy mix and enhance the share of clean and renewable energy, so as to meet the energy requirements of all countries." While expressing support for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project to develop nuclear fusion as a source of energy, the two sides pledged "to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments, which will contribute to energy security and to dealing with risks associated with climate change." ITER brings together the European Union, Japan, China, India, South Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States in a cooperative effort to build the world's first fusion plant at Cadarache in the South of France.

Saying that they took "the issue of climate change seriously" the two sides reiterated their readiness to join international efforts to address it "in accordance with principles and provisions of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities." They "stand ready to enhance technological cooperation" and "to work closely during the negotiation process laid out in the Bali Road Map for long term cooperative action under the Convention."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Where the Money Went in 2007

The long-term investments that corporations made transnationally (which economists term foreign direct investment, FDI for short) rose in 2007 to a record $1.5 trillion, breaking the previous record of $1.4 trillion in 2000. The figure reflects "inflows" into countries rather than "outflows" because the latter are considered "distorting" by economists. One major distorting factor in outflows is the money laundered annually from the world's criminal economy, which includes everything from tax evasion to drug running, arms trafficking, and the trade in women and children for sex; it is estimated to be $2 trillion, so you can see why economists prefer to hear, see and speak no evil.

All categories of countries -- developed, developing and the former communist countries of Eastern Europe (now known as South-East Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States) -- saw unprecedented FDI inflows according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

FDI in developed countries totaled $1 trillion, with the major beneficiaries being Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The United States remained the largest single FDI recipient, but collectively the European Union (EU) outweighed it, attracting almost 40% of all FDI inflows in 2007.

More than half of FDI to developing countries went to South, East and South-East Asia, and Oceania, reaching a new high of US$224 billion, an increase of 12% over 2006. China and Hong Kong (China) remained the two largest recipients in the region despite a slight dip in their share. In West Asia, inflows declined by 12%, mainly because of "geopolitical uncertainty." Flows into Latin America and the Caribbean also rose to a new record: $126 billion. Brazil, Chile and Mexico saw a doubling of inflows. New investments and expansion of capacity (rather than the merger of existing companies) were responsible. Consolidation in the banking, mining and ancillary industries raised FDI flows to Africa to an unprecedented $36 billion. Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa were the main beneficiaries.

FDI to South-East Europe and CIS rose 41%, to a new record of US$98 billion, with the Russian Federation the largest recipient. Investments in resource-rich countries in Central Asia accounted for some the inflows but the most important factor was the privatization of State-owned enterprises.

UNCTAD expects FDI to continue growing in 2008 because of investments driven by high demand for natural resources around the world. However, it cautions that "continuing global external imbalances, sharp exchange-rate fluctuations, rising interest rates, and increasing inflationary pressures, as well as high and volatile commodity prices, pose risks that may have a chilling effect on global FDI flows."

There is very little analysis of what all these figures mean. More on that in a later post.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Remembering Edmund Hillary

A long time ago, when I was young and working for The Statesman in Calcutta, the chaprassi came one afternoon with a message from my boss, Desmond Doig. Would I be free to go the Calcutta Swim Club to meet a visiting New Zealander? Such requests usually meant I had to churn out a quick "On The Spot" column, telling of some interesting personality passing through the city: Shirley Maclaine who had adopted an orphanage outside Calcutta; the editor of Time; a Prince something-or-other from Britain. Half expecting the New Zealander to be Edmund Hillary, with whom Desmond had once gone on a hunt for the Yeti, the abominable snowman of the Himalayas, I got out my notebook and went down to the parking lot. But it was not Hillary On The Spot but Mike Gill, his friend. Gill was in Calcutta preparing for a jet boat expedition down the Ganges from its high Himalayan torrents to the broad estuary of the Sunderbans. I was being asked to the Club because he wanted to assess my swimming skills; the expedition might want to take a reporter along. "Where did you learn to swim?" he asked after I had done a couple of laps. "A pool" was the wrong answer. "Swimming in a river is ..." his voice trailed away.

One heard a lot about Hillary in Doig's circle. Dean Gaspar had been introduced to Hillary at Doig's apartment right after the 1953 climbing of Everest. "I wanted to make an impression" he recalled dolefully; "I'd looked up all the Press clips, and found out he ran a beekeeping business. So I got this book on beekeeping out of the library and read up on it, thinking I 'd have something intelligent to say when we met. So when we were introduced, I stuck out my hand and said how pleased I was to meet someone who knew all about the bees and the birds. It was meant to be funny, but he must have thought I was insulting him, for he dropped my hand, gave me a look, and cut me dead for the rest of the evening." Joy Watkin had had an equally unpleasant run in with him. "Beastly man"she said, refusing to elaborate; "huge ego." Someone else thought Hillary was a "regular pill." But Doig liked him. "Once you get to know him, he's fine," he said defensively. They had coauthored a book on the fruitless search for the Yeti: High In the Thin, Cold Air. It was clear Doig had written the book, for it is a fine piece of writing compared with Hillary's other works, which are, to put it kindly, uninspired. "If he's such a nice guy, how did he end up with rights to the book" Joy wanted to know.

Hillary's obituaries have all mentioned that he and Tenzing Norgay remained lifelong "friends." That is a stretch. In his 1975 autobiography Nothing Venture, Nothing Gained, Tenzing is mentioned only in the account of the climb, and not included in the list of friends noted on the final page of the book: those without whom, Hillary declared "I would have been nothing." The first time Tenzing is mentioned in the book, Hillary noted his positive aspects: "larger than most Sherpas .. very strong and active ... flashing smile ... incredibly patient and obliging... great physical confidence." Then came this: "he expected to be a member of the final assault party on Everest as he had been with both the Swiss expeditions although neither John Hunt nor any of the rest of us took this for granted,.I didn't have much to do with Tenzing on the march in, he was very busy with the many responsibilities of a sirdar (foreman) and we had a very large group of Sherpas and porters to be organized, but I was impressed with his competence and pleasantness, although I can't say I rated him more highly as a sirdar than some of the other famous Sherpas I had met. He was very kind hearted and at times went too much out of his way to do things for his friends and relations. One message came through, however, in very positive fashion -- Tenzing had substantially greater personal ambition than any Sherpa I had met ... Tenzing would be keen to see us successful, that I felt sure; not that he had any particular liking for the British, but because this would mean that he too would be successful."

During the arduous preparations to scale the summit Tenzing saved Hillary's life. This is how it was recorded in his diary: "Tenzing and I left Camp II with a great rush which was suddenly checked when under the weight of a hearty jump from me a large ice block sheared off and and descended with me down a crevasse. Only lively work with my flailing crampons and a fortunately quick rope from Tenzing stopped an unfortunate experience. We continued to Base in 55 minutes. Tenzing is an admirable companion -- fit, energetic, capable and with excellent rope technique."

It was then, Hillary wrote in his autobiography two decades later, that he "had the germ of an idea that I might team with Tenzing as much as possible. My natural inclination was to climb with George Lowe but John Hunt was definitely opposed to this -- he preferred to share our vigorous New Zealand icemanship around the team. If George and I had not been so separated we might well have ended up on the summit together." That bit of speculation ignores the fact that when John Hunt paired Hillary and Tenzing for the attempt at the summit, the latter was by far the more experienced mountaineer. Tenzing had been part of six expeditions to Everest over a period of more than two decades, and on each he had been a member of the summit team. Hillary was in his second year of climbing in the Himalayas, and knew nothing of the rigors of going five miles straight up. Without Tenzing as partner it is quite likely that he would not have succeeded; especially in partnership with another equally untried climber.

It is interesting that Hillary -- and every obit that I have read in recent days -- mentions his nationality, but not that of Tenzing. The few who do mention Tenzing's nationality, including the BBC and Wikipedia, make him a Nepali. In fact, Tenzing was born in Tibet, lived with his itinerant yak-herder father in the Khumbu valley near Everest in Nepal till he was in his teens, ran away to Darjeeling in India when he was 19, and lived there till his death at 71. The only passport he ever had was Indian.

Also notable is the difference in attitude of the two men towards the mountain they had climbed. Tenzing left a reverential offering of food at the top of Chomolungma (Mother of the World) and offered up a prayer thanking her for letting him reach the summit. Hillary "left a crucifix for John Hunt" (the leader of the expedition), and his first words to friend George, who greeted the returning pair at camp was "Well, we knocked the bastard off!"

As the victorious team made its way towards Kathmandu, there were, as Hillary recorded in his autobiography, "a few signs of discord." John Hunt "was asked by elated Indian Press men for his assessment of Tenzing as a climber and cautiously commented that 'Tenzing was a competent climber within the limits of his experience,' which I imagine was probably true of all of us but could hardly be called an enthusiastic endorsement. It was not well received by the Indian Press -- and I don't blame them too much for that." As the team approached Kathmandu valley, there was great excitement; it "had been reported that Tenzing had reached the summit first." Exuberant and noisy throngs surrounded the jeep carrying Tenzing (standing up in front) and Hillary and Hunt crammed into the back seat. The streets of every village they passed was festooned with banners. Hillary noticed that "one banner was much more common than any other -- it depicted a mountain with a man on the summit, waving the Nepali flag and a rope going down the mountainside to another climber who was resting on his back with arms and feet in the air." At the first big town along the road there was an official reception and the mountaineers were asked to speak; Tenzing first, followed by Hunt. Then an official invited "a few words from the second man on Everest." The scene was repeated at towns all along the approach to Kathmandu, and Hillary was "a little irritated at the succession of banners displaying my recumbent figure."

The years mellowed Hillary. In his autobiography he recalled his early resentment at the attention given to Tenzing and admitted it was "stupid."After his adventuring days were over -- climbing in the antarctic, the jet boat expedition down the Ganges -- he involved himself in helping the Sherpas with privately funded schools and wells. His image became one of a benefactor. After his wife and daughter were killed in an plane crash in Nepal, he became an object of general sympathy. "It's eerie" Desmond Doig recalled. "I had them in my apartment once when Hillary's plane from Kathmandu was reported lost. We sat around for hours, thinking he was dead, and then word came that the plane had landed and everyone was fine."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ban Ki-moon's First Year

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the end of his first year in office has a set of tepidly critical reviews from the world Press. The Associated Press and Reuters, the world's two most influential news agencies, had almost identical year-end assessments.

AP led with: "Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew 125,000 miles (200,000 kilometers) and visited six continents during his first year as U.N. chief, gaining a reputation as a workaholic and a staunch advocate for peace in Darfur and global action to combat climate change. But at U.N. headquarters, he's had a tougher time making progress on his goal of changing U.N. culture and re-engineering a giant international bureaucracy where 192 countries often have competing interests." Ban, said the report, "has yet to master the soundbite, which is critical for a global personality."

Reuters said: "Flying 346,000 km and visiting 39 countries, Ban Ki-moon has put tireless energy into his first year as U.N. secretary-general but has struggled to raise the profile of the much-criticized body. While pursuing an agenda headed by climate change and the crisis in Darfur, Ban Ki-moon has spent an unwelcome amount of time fending off critics of a closed management style they say comes from his native South Korea. As the year ends, diplomats and analysts give Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, good marks for persistence, but say many member states find his decision-making secretive and the man himself lacking in vision -- charges he rejects."

In-house critics are far harsher, saying that Ban's attempt to get a handle on the UN Secretariat by importing a "Korean mafia" -- five officials he brought with him from the the Foreign Ministry in Seoul-- shows little respect for a multinational structure that has a strong self-protective ethos. The five officials are part of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, but sit in different Departments as his eyes and ears. The disregard for "the house" was the main reason, insiders say, that Ban "hit the ground stumbling." The quotation is from a widely circulated story that appeared in The Australian shortly after Ban assumed the UN's top job and had a major run-in with the Group of 77, the 132-member caucus of developing countries that dominates the General Assembly. Ban tried to push through changes in the Secretariat without adequately consulting the G-77, and paid for it with weeks of alarums and excursions.

It does not help that Ban is manifestly uncomfortable with journalists, and that his efforts to seem at ease only make things worse. At the 2006 UN Correspondents Association Ball, when he was Secretary-General elect, he sang "Ban Ki-moon is coming to town" to the tune of Santa Claus is coming to town. It got a laugh, but a half-embarrassed one; it was not seen to be in keeping with the gravitas of the post he was soon to occupy. That has been a recurring problem. Even scripted appearances before the Press seem miscued. This is how he ended a written speech for the annual Dag Hammarskjold Fund lunch meeting in December 2007 (a fellowship program organized by journalists at the UN):

"A few of you have advised me that I should improve my technique in delivering remarks. Warren Hoge of The New York Times even told me I had a wooden style of delivery. I’d like to answer the charge by paraphrasing Elvis Presley. For you, the correspondents, breaking my heart in two is not hard to do. If you abandoned me, I know that I would cry -- maybe I would die. After all, you were the first people I saw on the morning of my first day in office. It was always you from the start. And I’m not a man with a wooden heart.

"Nor do I have a wooden tongue. Let me prove it to you. Allow me to offer holiday greetings by borrowing from the traditional poem of the Season, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”:

'Twas the night before UNCA, when all through the house
The only thing stirring was the Secretariat mouse.
The deadlines were past, stories finished with care,
In hopes that a scoop would soon be on the air;
The editors slumbered like logs in their beds,
While dreams of exclusives danced in their heads;
Michèle in her bonnet, John Holmes in his cap,
Had finally left for a long winter's nap,
When on the North Lawn there arose such a chatter,
That OIOS came to study the matter.
A sleigh and a driver, lit up by the moon,
The driver none other than me, Ban Ki-moon!
Behind me some glad correspondents then came,
I whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Go, Edie! Go Laura! Go Maggie! Go Benny!
When you fly my sleigh I am quicker than any!”
I’m faster than Branson’s new jet when we roll,
So James Bone flew with me to the South Pole!
Did I bring you all back a sleigh full of toys?
Well I’ve kept a long list of all girls and boys,
Who’ve been nice or naughty since this time last year,
I told you I would -- I was singing right here.
Did you write a blog about me every week?
Did Nambiar enquire into who was the leak?
You'll all be kept waiting until Christmas Eve
Before you find out what I have up my sleeve.
I’m off now to Bali, climate change I must fight,
Or else Christmas next will be even less white,
For now let me say as I drive out of sight
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

If 2008 is to be a better year for Ban and the UN, some major retooling in the image-projection apparatus will be necessary. At the very least.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ban Ki-moon And World Crises

Press Conference, 7 January 2008.

The Secretary-General: I have been in close contact with Kenyan leaders, including President [Mwai] Kibaki and opposition leader [Raila] Odinga, and President [John] Kufuor of Ghana, in his capacity as Chairperson of the African Union, and many other international leaders to, first of all, calm down and stabilize the situation. I urged them strongly to avoid further killings of civilians. That was unacceptable, as I have stated in my two previous statements. I will continue to do that.

The United Nations has been doing our best efforts to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to many people there who have been unfortunately displaced because of this situation in Kenya. Protecting human rights is very important and paramount for us. We are taking all necessary measures to prevent the further deterioration of the situation.

As for the specific question you raised, that will always be a high priority in my mind. We will try our best to ensure that no further casualties will happen there. And as the leaders of Africa — including President Kufuor, who is expected to have consultations with the Kenyan leadership, as well as some former Presidents who are also expected to visit there — I hope, through those international interventions, the Kenyan leaders will sit down together and resolve this issue in a peaceful manner.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, both you and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping last month said that the force going into Darfur would be at risk unless the Sudanese Government agreed to some of the troop assignments that you were requesting, and unless other countries gave you the transportation and logistics you needed. Neither of those two things has happened. You have had a formal change of command in Darfur, which basically is just changing the colour of the helmets. My question is: If this force is, as you say, at risk, how can you deploy them when they don’t have the capacity to protect civilians and don’t have the capacity to protect themselves?

The Secretary-General: That is exactly why I, as Secretary-General, and the United Nations as a whole and the international community — Member States — must ensure a rapid deployment of the Hybrid Operation as agreed, to the level of 26,000, as soon as possible. We now have 9,000 re-hatted soldiers in Darfur. That is not sufficient. That is why we are very much concerned about this ongoing deteriorating situation in Darfur.

I had a long telephone discussion with President [Omar al-] Bashir last Saturday, and we agreed to meet again in Addis Ababa. Before that, before we meet again at Addis Ababa on the occasion of the African Union Summit meeting, we will have a high-level consultation to resolve all these pending issues. There are, as you rightly said, two areas of pending issues, one to be done by the Sudanese Government. There are still many technical or administrative issues, to which the Sudanese Government must commit themselves as agreed, including a status-of-forces agreement and also composition of forces and other technical issues.

Then there are resources to be provided by the Member States in general, including critical assets like helicopters and heavy transport equipment. These are to be done by both sides: by the international community as a whole and the Sudanese Government. I will do my best to expedite this process. In fact, we have made a good framework to resolve these Darfur, as well as Sudanese issues as a whole, including a peace process and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

All those three tracks will move hand in hand. And we are also looking at the possibility of resuming the second peace process. But that may take a little bit of time. My Special Envoy, Mr. Jan Eliasson, and African Union Envoy, Mr. [Salim Ahmed] Salim, they are working very hard. Jan Eliasson is also going to visit Khartoum next week.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, there have been statements threatening war in the African continent lately. The POLISARIO has been saying that this is the last chance that they give the Moroccans in the Western Sahara; otherwise, the preparation for war is afoot. Also, we have the worrying aspect of Chadian aeroplanes bombing areas of Sudan, Darfur, in chase of Chadian rebels, so they allege. And there are obvious and frank threats from the President of Chad to enter Darfur to chase the Chadian rebels. Your thoughts on both subjects, please.

The Secretary-General: On the Western Sahara issue: As you may know already, I am going to issue a statement this morning that there is going to be another consultation in Manhasset, in Greentree, between the parties concerned. I appreciate all the parties concerned having accepted my invitation. Mr. [Peter van] Walsum is going to organize, as well as facilitate, this dialogue. This is a painstaking and very complex issue, and I hope that this time they will be able to make good progress on these issues.

On the situation in Darfur and, again, the Sudanese relationship, I am going to discuss with African leaders, including President [Idris] Deby of Chad. I have spoken with President Bashir. But I would really urge the leaders and countries concerned to refrain from all these exercises — refrain from using military forces. This will only aggravate the situations in Africa. I am very much concerned about all these ongoing deteriorating situations — not only here but elsewhere, including Kenya, Sudan, Chad and other areas.

I really hope that this new year, 2008, will see bright hope. We have started with gloomy prospects: the situation in Kenya and elsewhere. I really hope that, with active cooperation and dialogue among the leaders of the world, we will see some better world this year. This is my firm commitment as Secretary-General.

Question: But the POLISARIO is saying frankly, and their statements are very clear, that this is the last chance they are giving the Moroccans. Your thoughts on that; are you having any contacts with the POLISARIO? I understand that you hope that they will reach an agreement, but it seems the obstacles are too high and, in the face of these threats, it sounds like dire straits to me.

The Secretary-General: I would not make any comment on such kinds of very definitive declaration by any one of the parties. All the issues, they have their background and very complex nature of the issues. And it needs the parties concerned to be, first of all, patient and persistent and consistent and faithful in resolving this issue through dialogue.

The Spokesperson: The question, for those of you who were not following in French, is about Algeria: the recent bombing in Algeria, and the prospect of…

Question: I am actually talking about the Sahel region as a zone of lawlessness and the smuggling of arms. And a lot of countries and people in the region are worried that those attacks mean that the region may be considered as ground for terrorist groups that may threaten the region. Given the recent attacks in Algiers and also the attacks in Mauritania that led to the cancellation of a major sporting event, the Dakar rally, do you share the views of those who think that this Sahel region is becoming ground for terrorist groups that may threaten the stability in the region?

The Secretary-General: Let me practise my French.

(spoke in French)

Thank you very much for putting that question to me in French. I think you are well aware of my passion for the French language. Now, if you will allow me, I am not fully prepared — but if you will allow me to continue in English. I discussed matters with President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika when I was in Algiers last month, last year.

(spoke in English)

These are serious issues for any country in the world, including those in the Sahel area. It is not only Algeria. I told President Bouteflika that, while it was a very tragic — and I was so sad and so shocked, and they were also embarrassed very much by not having been able to protect the United Nations staff and United Nations premises — this should be a global issue, not Algeria or any countries in the Sahel area. Therefore, this needs a global, concerted effort to address, fight against international terrorism. I think the international community must do more. Regardless of what their belief may be, there cannot be any justification whatsoever when it comes to terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism and, therefore, that bombing in Algiers really strengthened my resolve to work more. I again express my strong commitment to work for that.

Question: I think the talks start today on the Sahara issue. Don’t you think that this issue is also contributing to this instability, since there is no prospect for a solution? Do you expect a breakthrough in this round, or whether those talks will…?

The Secretary-General: All sorts of grievances coming from these conflict issues may be the source of some elements of terrorism. That is why we must resolve all the conflict issues through peaceful means, through dialogue. I cannot but be general on your questions.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei was telling reporters in Beirut that he was concerned about the possibility that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into extremist hands. “I fear that chaos... or an extremist regime could take root in that country which has 30 to 40 warheads,” ElBaradei said. He also warned against any attempt to solve the problem of Iran's nuclear program by force. Mr. Elbaradei is set to visit Tehran at the end of this week. “Any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities will only complicate the problem,” he said.

President George W. Bush is also to visit the Middle East this week, and Iran's nuclear program is also on his mind; Washington does not buy Tehran's claim that its program is entirely peaceful.