Afghanistan


Everything but Iraq, since this troubled state got its own post earlier.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ Almost like sports scores with the trade wars: China is now finding small nematodes in U.S. wooden crating.  Something undisclosed was wrong with some U.S.-origin frozen potatoes (no French fries today), and some vitamins and fish oil were guilty of false advertising.  As far as the ick factor in the product du jour goes, we’ve had melamine, lead, fugitive weeds, dirt, worms, and steroids.  Things to look out for next: spit, arachnids, cockroaches, slime molds, and stem cells, depending upon which side of the Pacific you’re on.
♦ Talks between U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and DPRK Ambassador Kim Kye-gan went well in Geneva.  This coming Wednesday, Mongolia hosts the next chapter in the Six-Party Talks with diplomats from North Korea and Japan attending.
♦ The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum is in Sydney this week, with tons of security and a kick-off on climate change issuesAllan Gyngell at The Australian Age has a great backgrounder on the history of the organization, its sometimes sagging progress, and real achievements.
Australia’s contribution to Pacific stability at The Strategist.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ At NewEurasia.net, Ben Paarman looks at possible changes in Central Asia’s relations to great powers via the tired metaphor of the Great Game.  A great read  for Central Asia watchers.
♦ Get up-to-date on the new problems in the Caspian/Kazakhstan oil at the Kashagan field, at FPA Central Asia.
♦ Russia is going to put missiles in Belarus, if NATO is going to put them in Poland.
♦ Anna Politovskaya, the brave, committed, and murdered Russian journalist, would have been 49 this past week.  Robert Amsterdam documents the investigation as driven by political agendas rather than a desire for justice.

Latin America:
♦ Mr. Obama, U.S. Presidential candidate, said during his campaign that the U.S. should consider diplomacy with Cuba and opening up remittance payments, and the LA Times explains why.  H/T: Boz.   Then Professor Weeks sums up the anti-Castro backlash as diplomatic amateur hour in two paragraphs. 
♦ In a move to be imitated by world leaders everywhere, Lula declines a third presidential term.
Grief and destruction from Peru’s earthquake.

Middle East: and North Africa:
A call for unity within Islam, and the adoption of a social agenda, with a look at what makes Hizb ut-Tahrir compelling, at Tabsir.net.
Aquoul has a three part series on Moroccan elections, which is a very interesting beginning on learning the politics of the state.  Part 1 discusses the role of the King in Morocco’s democracy; Part 2, the situation for a free media; and Part 3, on interior security and political parties.  It’s referenced and the comments are good, too.

Afghanistan:
Taken in part from The Afghanistan Aggregator at FPA Central Asia, which has more:
♦ David Rohde on the Taliban v. Afghanistan’s police: the new tactics of the Taliban, including 102 suicide bombings, IEDs–against a police force which is rife with corruption and under-trained, under-equipped, etc, at the NYT.
♦ The last 19 South Korean hostages were freed over the past two days, in small groups at various collection points.  Of 23 hostages from the ROK kidnapped July 17th, two male hostages had been killed, and two previously released.  The South Korean goverment had to agree to withdraw their troops (as previously planned) by the end of the year.  They also had to agree to respect Taliban isolationism, including no missionaries (no surprise) but no visitors of any kind.  An undisclosed ransom has also likely been paid.
♦ Now that the hostages are freed, a backlash against the alleged reckless endangerment of missionaries by Church societies will begin.
♦ A Taliban spokesman has reportedly vowed that the Taliban will continue their kidnapping activities.  And so it seems: the Taliban possibly captured as many as 100 Pakistani soldiers this week.  And Mayor Shah is still missing from last week.  German hostages are still missing. 

Iran:
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad says Iran has met its centrifuge goal: 3,000 in 164 cascades.  However, this is disputed by analysts in Europe, who say that Iran’s activity has actually lessened, which is disputed by Iran.
♦ So is this deterrence?  The U.S.-planned 1200 military targets in a three-day swipe over Iran, if necessary.
♦ After the U.S. was threatening to list the Quds force as a terrorist organization, Iran replaced its leader.  The new leader is: Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Jafari, replacing General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who has been its leader for the past decade. 
♦ Iran plans to build two new refineries in its southern region/Bandar Abbas.  Also, a new oil dock is being designed for incipient construction.

Energy Issues:
Prices as per August 31, 2007: Brent crude, USD 72.38 per barrel; West Texas Intermediate, USD 73.87.
See also Kashagan field in FSU above, and Iran’s refineries, in Iran above.

Happy Labor Day Norteamericanos, doing no labor–unless, of course, you are in a service industry.  For those of you in the service field, I hope your next day off is very nice.

 

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Pakistan soldierNot so long ago, the United States looked at Pakistan as a “valuable ally in the war against terror” and relied upon Pakistan’s military and security forces for intelligence and aid in capturing Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects.  Prior to the Twin Towers Massacre, Pakistan, like Afghanistan, was not much on U.S. diplomatic radar.  Recently, Daniel Markey wrote an article in Foreign Affairs (see reference below) that essentially says we need a broader approach–and not reproach–when talking to Pakistan.

College of Family MedicineMr. Markey notes that many U.S. officials, legislators, (and Presidential candidates) have become disenchanted with Pakistan’s contribution to Afghanistan’s security.  They have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to counter-terrorism in the wake of rising trouble in Afghanistan, the near-anarchic rule in the Pakistan’s northwest territories, and incidents such as the Red Mosque confrontation, which, from our vantage point, never should have been allowed as long as it had been.  Wedding Guests, PakistanIn essence, U.S. observers see Pakistan as a beneficiary of U.S. aid and trade ties, but with no effect on terrorism.  Over at Registan.net, Dr. Azari writes that Afghanistan’s delegates to the Peace Jirga seemed to feel that Taliban depredations were either permitted or aided in some way by the military. Most recently, on August 21, the NYT reported that Pakistan had released an al-Qaeda suspect that it had held in detention for the past three years.  The release was determined by the Supreme Court, who said that his detention without trial was unlawful.  

Pakistan missileLeaving U.S. negligence and mistakes aside, as these arguments surely do, Markey notes first that Pakistan left U.S. diplomatic orbit in much the same way and at the same time that Afghanistan did: when the Soviets left Afghanistan.  Post 9/11, Bush II’s U.S. diplomacy has not extended past the military and security apparatus in Pakistan.  Civil society, poverty reduction, the rule of law and democratization have not been on the U.S. agenda for Pakistan, which gives its diplomacy a one-note character.

 Pakistan's Agosta-3 SubsIn the intervening years between Soviet pull-out and U.S. entry,  Markey says that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) retains ties to militant groups and recruits personnel from them.  This was not in support of terrorism, but in support of Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir.  To me, this is somewhat of a stretch, but it does serve to remind policymakers that Pakistan has more than one issue as part of its foreign policy.  Just this week, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mr. Khursid Mehmood Kasuri stated in Parliament (during debates occasioned by disparaging remarks from the U.S.) that Pakistan could not afford to be isolated, that it desired good relations with the U.S., with the EU, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Asian states in general. 

Pakistan WinsU.S. arguments against Pakistan’s commitment also ignore the risks that Mr. Musharraf has undertaken, with several assassination attempts against his life.  (The third attempt was in September of 2002; another in December 2003; another this year).   Furthermore, numerous terrorist suspects apprehended in Pakistan.

The rest of Mr. Markey’s article suggests ways to broaden U.S. diplomacy.  He cautions that engagement in Pakistan’s civil society cannot be at the expense of the military diplomacy, but that ensuring Pakistan’s good will has to extend to the people.  Elections, for instance, are widely expected this fall in Pakistan, and giving fodder for isolationist candidates would be foolish and without utility for U.S. interests.

Karachi Golf CourseThe rest of his solutions also recommend a balanced approach, remembering that Pakistan is diverse and complex.  The illustrations throughout this post are intended to convey that diversity.  Mr. Markey’s article can be found at:

Daniel Markey’s  A False Choice in Pakistan.  Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007, pp. 85-102; or at the Council of Foreign Affairs Web site

Photos: Defenselink of USDOD; Global Family Doctor.com; Graham Hays of Australia; The Hindu; Warships IFR.com; Tribune India; Answers.com. 

Africa:
♦ I don’t usually cover Africa in the RI, but this article about Darfur cannot be passed by.  As usual, Dan Graeber hits the essentials in this brutal, piteous world.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ The China-U.S. trade quality war Escalates again: now it is U.S. soybeans, with considerable dirt, pesticide, and weeds.  The latter conditions would allow for perhaps large changes in Chinese biomes–sort of like the kudzu vine that took over the South.  Also U.S. oil-seed.  Best-case scenario? All of this ends up increasing quality in the long term.  In the short term: heck, no.  In the meantime, the toy-and-dog-biscuit inspections in the U.S. proceed apace.
♦ The increasing importance of relations between India and Japan.  India’s maritime might, now and in the future.
♦ Australia’s military defense strategies and the debate over economic v. military security at The Strategist.
♦ In India’s Hyderabad, 34 people die because of bombing. 

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Italy’s ENI is re-negotiating in Kazakhstan over delayed extraction and environmental issues.
♦ Little beef-kiev-cake for ya.  Holy Samovar!!
♦ Mr. Saakashvili of Georgia on living next to Russia at Robert Amsterdam.  Russia denies all.
♦ Russia’s LUKoil cuts supplies to Germany by 30% over the last two months.

Latin America:
♦ Hurricane Dean in Mexico: at least 26 have died from the storm.
♦ Peru’s earthquake: at least 510 are dead, with more casualties being found.  Quisiera expresar mis condolencias al gente de las dos paises.
♦ The FEALAC symposium met this week this week in Brasilia, as reported by Boz. According to AFP, the Forum for East Asian-Latin American Cooperation includes: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
♦ Venezuela–now cutting bus fares for the indigent in London.  Now buying 98 Ilyushin aircraft from Russia, for cargo or passengers . . . or, not.
♦ According to an extract provided from this post, Castro is in no way dead.  So there you are.
♦ Pollution from blue jeans in Mexico.

Middle East:
♦ Afghanistan:  Just three out of many from FPA Central Asia’s Afghanistan Aggregator, plus one update:
◊ Afghanistanica has a great post on Afghanistan scholars to watch, read, and study.
◊ Another article on the mystery of not-enough translators for Afghanistan, also at Afghanistanica.
◊ Mr. Foust at Registan.net on basic flaws in reconstruction aid .  A good start on the issue, with links for more.
◊ Friendly fire (what a term) from U.S. aerial bombardment kills 3 British soldiers and injures two more in Helmand Province. 
Iran:
◊ New in-the-works U.S. intelligence report is pessimistic about Iran, as reported by AP.  More nukes, no overthrow of Ahmadinejad, more weapons traffic. . .
◊ Iran plans to continue developing a 2,000 pound ‘smart bomb’.  Great.
♦ Iraq:
◊ Iraq’s elites are still leaving as fast as possible. 
◊ A Berlin study says Iraq will disintegrate soon.  The new U.S. NIE  on Iraq is not hopeful. 
◊ The Brits are leaving Basra any day now.

Iraq / U.S. Politics:  I tried to cover this in the op-ed war posts that I wrote yesterday.  Here is one post on Mr. Allawi, and here is one on a must-read editorial from staff officer veterans of Iraq.

Energy:
♦ Storm damage notwithstanding, Pemex is back in business, bringing oil to the U.S.
♦ Storm damages notwithstanding, Energy Prices a little more stable overall.  As of August 23rd: Brent crude, USD 69.58; West Texas intermediate, USD 69.68. 
♦ Rounding out the North American picture on U.S. energy imports, The Oil Drum has started a series on oil sands extraction, which does not look attractive. 

Overall, the message this week to me is two-fold: we need to plan international endeavours so carefully, in terms of both physical and energy security. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Sorry I scamped out on you last week.   I missed you all, and I hope to do bettah.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China suffers another product recall, and the WSJ says it is at least partly a design flaw that has nothing to do with China.  I have already blogged that it is partly a management failure that has nothing to do with China.  But now it’s also baby bibs.
♦ Highly contagious swine virus in China, international community on alert.
♦ One thing I missed last week and is beautiful for covering a region we don’t know well: The Strategist keeps on with some in-depth study of Melanesia, this time resource wars.
♦ Kevin Rudd on Australia’s campaign trail.  I heard Mr. Rudd speak at Brookings Institution this past April and I wish him well. 
♦ The ADB again announces inroads against extreme poverty in Asia, but a widening income gap.
♦ Hizb-ut-Tahrir conference in Jakarta is well-attended.
♦ A large amount of my attention this week has been the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek and military games in Xinjiang & Chelyabinsk.  Check out the FPA Central Asia blog for the latest.  This is all so important, whether you are a Central-Asia watcher or not.  To wit, next entry:

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Russia’s new military budget: fat–means Russia’s new military might: formidable.  More on buzzing NATO.  More on Russia bombing Georgia.  More
♦ Kazakhstan has Parliamentary elections Saturday, August 18th.

Latin America:
♦ Peru’s earthquake has killed hundreds.
♦ Venezuela, the new Central Asia: Mr. Chavez wants to be perpetually re-elected.   Umm, can’t he find anyone in Venezuela who thinks like he does?
♦ Venezuela buys AK-47s . . . and we want to know why.
♦ Help for Argentina in procuring energy resources.
♦ Boz covers the stuffed suitcase that is getting attention everywhere better than anyone. . . in Bags o’ Cash series, 4 parts, easy read, gracious!

Middle East:
♦ Two respected foreign policy professors expand a controversial article into a soon-to-be controversial book about U.S.-Israeli relations.  This NYT article has links to the original piece and some background.  Whatever you might think of their opinion, one has to admire the courage of their convictions.  I’m glad that they have brought this to examination: everything important deserves scrutiny.
♦ FPA War Crimes reports on the verdict in the Padilla detention/terrorism case.  For more background, you can stay with that blog, because Daniel’s been covering it thoroughly.  The Conjecturer also analyzes it, by taking a look at the limits and mandates of the DIA in re: Padilla.

Afghanistan: [ edited down from FPA Central Asia ]
♦ Now that Britain is pulling out of Iraq, they plan to focus more on Afghanistan.
♦ An AP article that titularly is about Barack Obama is actually a report on civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  Though the U.S. or NATO does not keep figures on civilian deaths (either a mistruth or a mistake) AP does: 231 civilians were killed by militants; 286 by troops; and 20 in crossfire, unattributable to either party. 
♦ On August 15th, a New offensive started against the Taliban in Tora Bora. 
♦ Two S. Korean hostages released.  That means there’s 19 left.
♦ New Counternarcotics strategies sound the same as old counternarcotics strategies.  This is a must-read article by Mr. Weitz over at World Politics Review, complete with maps, and, new UNODC figures estimating another rise in opium production, this time by 15%.
♦ U.S. would certainly take out al-Q targets in Pakistan, but not in a way that would make Pakistan angry.  But Pakistan seems to be already upset at the prospect: a highly literate editorial at Pakistan Daily.
Australia’s work in Uruzgan, at My State Failure blog.

Iran:
♦ Is it semantically correct? I don’t know, but the Quds Force is going to be designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. of A.
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad in Turkmenistan and Bishkek for SCO meetings.

Iraq:
♦ Targeting the Yazidi sect in Nineveh near Mosul.  Four hundred are dead.  Do we call this genocide?  As Iraq increasingly settles in sectarian patterns, every bombing will be a kind of genocide or sect-killing; yet Yazidis have been a deliberate target since at least April.  al-Q is blamed immediately, but the reasons haven’t been divulged.
♦ Abu Aardvark’s Marc Lynch reports that the last-ditch political rapprochement for September’s Benchmark Report and ultimately for Iraq’s political viability is dead in the dirt.  h/t: FP Passport. RFE/RL has a slightly different take, citing Mr. Talibani: “Sunni are welcome to join our coalition.” It ends up the same, however: Sunni have not joined the coalition.  In my newsletter this month, I’ve discussed the way Sunni concerns have been sidelined. . . in the oil law. . .
Iraq-Iran pipeline deal signed.
♦ Iraq Slogger special report on the Bridges of Baghdad.

U.S. Politics:
♦ Mr. Rove waltzes on out of the White House, ostensibly to avoid Congressional investigation.  No doubt he will write a book that exculpates him from all wrong decisions, minimizes his impact on poor outcomes, and maximizes his genius in those extraordinary outcomes, and dishes against all those who tried to block his progress.  uh, sure.  . . Can’t wait.  They store a lot of extra, non-partisan, all-purpose whitewash in the White House, and I’m sure he took a bucket of it with him.
♦ Candidate Romney says the way his sons support U.S. efforts in Iraq is by campaigning for Dad.  Oh, Bleah.  Vanity to the max.
♦ U.S. military suicides are running very high.  Twenty-eight soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan this year.  Such deaths denote despair, and that despair radiates outward into the military community: their close associates, who also must deal.  ♦ Related to my many comments on the U.S. Farm Bill: CARE International is finding USDA aid too much trouble, too expensive, and way counterproductive in meeting famine in poverty-stricken countries. 

Political Economy:
Selling to Islam at the Public Sector Development blog.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: USD 69.84 for Brent crude, USD 71.76 for West Texas Intermediate, as of August 16th. 
♦ The EBRD pulls out of Sakhalin-2 investment.

On August 5-7, the beleagured President of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, came to visit Mr. Bush II in the United States.  I do hope Mr. Karzai was able to get a little recreation in, and enjoy the Camp David scenery.  Most of the time, however, it sounds as if there was a program of work throughout in discussing the relationship of Afghanistan with its neighbors.

It seems that Mr. Karzai and Mr. Bush differ strongly on which of two neighbor state is the problem and which neighbor state is the solution: Iran and Pakistan.   

Iran
In the U.S., we are calling the Iran difference of opinion the Major disagreement: Mr. Karzai insists that Iran is helping Afghanistan, while Mr. Bush insists they are sending weapons into the Taliban insurgency. 

Iran’s aid to Afghanistan has been consistent and major.  In 2002, Iran pledged USD 570 million to Afghanistan over the years 2002-2006; furthermore, past the pledge, they actually paid.  In 2006, they pledged another USD 100 million.  Examples of other aid besides cash aid include utility infrastructure and enterprise development in Herat. 

On June 27, 2007, the presence of significant numbers of Iranian arms in Afghanistan was confirmed by U.S., NATO, and Afghanistani officials.  However, according to Ron Synovitz at RFE/RL, it was unconfirmed that the Iranian government had anything to do with their presence within the state.  U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates seems to be looking at a larger set of possibilities, at least: though he thinks Iran “may be playing on all sides of the conflict” he also acknowledges that corruption and narcotrafficking may well be to blame for the presence of Iranian arms.  In April, when one shipment was intercepted, General Pace said the same.

Some of what has been found in Afghanistan include mortars, and weapons of increasing capability against personnel and aircraft.  There is a significant chance that Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (aka MANPADS, a very effective land to air missile device) have entered into Afghanistan.  But though the influx of weapons becomes more frequent and of higher capability, it still does not address their source.  Is Iran’s Quds force,  allegedly the source for these weapons, sending these weapons on orders from up high?  Or is there a subterranean illegal arms trade that has links to Quds officials and their suppliers?

It seems unlikely that all the weapons trade takes place beyond official Iran’s knowledge.  In Iraq, the ICG wrote in their April Report on Basra, that Iran was certainly trading in arms for oil, and “backing all comers”.  Since both states are occupied by non-regional forces of similar governments, (okay, the U.S.) it could certainly be part of Iran’s general policy.  But overall, it won’t be good for Iran either, especially Afghanistan side: because Afghanistan has its own weapons traffic–non-traditional, to be sure.

Opium
One 2005 article in the Washington Post cited the new UN World Drug Report.   Iran has the highest opium addiction rate in the world: 2.8 percent.  That’s 4 million users of an illegal substance in a country of 70 million inhabitants.  This is an illegal trade with 4 million ready customers.  Furthermore, there are few substitution products on the market.  After the 2003 Bam earthquake in Iran, the relief agencies that delivered aid also included a good supply of methadone, in order to medically stabilize Iranians who would have been cut off from their opiate intake.  Going further back, BBC in 2000 reported Iranian addiction rates as endemic, and noting that 3200 Iranian law enforcement officers died in 2001 trying to enforce drug interdiction.  The total amount of drugs intercepted was only estimated at 30%.

All in all, such a customer base would allow many opportunities to turn a profit and corrupt government, military, police, and supply chain officials to divert weapons to an illegal counter-trade for narcotics.  And it seems, from the facts above, that Eastern Iran could be viewed as a failing territory of the state.  State failure means that Iran’s government is not any more in control of its Afghanistan border than Pakistan is with its Northwest frontier.  Iran’s mass-deportations of Afghanistan refugees this past April seem to indicate a porous border and also a situation which Iran can barely control. 

Ambivalent Iranian policy:
The Taliban in their previous incarnation was no friend to the Iranian government.  In August 1998, Iranian diplomats to Afghanistan were killed in Mazar e-Sharif; the prior and resulting acrimony from that incident nearly pushed Iran and Talibani Afghanistan into war.  Furthermore, the Taliban was blamed for massacres of Shi’ites in Aghanistan’s territory.  A revival of Taliban insurgency within Afghanistan would not be in Iran’s best interest.  Nevertheless, the U.S. and Iran have been able to gain rapprochement since the 1979 change in government (also marked by hostilities toward diplomatic and consular staff).  It’s sure that Iran does not see U.S./NATO occupation of Afghanistan (or Iraq) as within their security interest: they’re surrounded.  And now, with nuclear enrichment and proliferation issues, U.S. – Iranian relations have plummeted from abysmal to nearly irretrievable.

Therefore, Iran’s conflicting set of policies has made it  perhaps unlikely that they will give the attention to its failing Afghanistan-contiguous areas of governance that make funding and supplying an insurgency possible.  Whether this is an active policy, sponsored by the Quds force, or a passive policy that exists through inattention, it gives terrible prospects to maintaining security in Afghanistan.  Mr. Bush is correct at least in part to hold Iran’s government to blame: either they have a policy, or they are failing to exercise leadership in stemming narcotrafficking and weapons trafficking.  But there is no doubt that stopping such a traffic would require manpower, and create numerous casualties among Iran’s domestic security forces.  As bad as narcotrafficking was in 2001, it is worse today: more product to move, and a more entrenched organization.

Furthermore, under Iran’s security constraints,  could also be a desire to hold those forces on the Iraq side of the country, another embattled border, that also creates constraint.

Meanwhile, back at Camp David: Pakistan.
The second area of disagreement at Camp David which the U.S. is calling the “Minor Disagreement”: Mr. Karzai is not so sure that Pakistan has been a good ally in the war against terror, and Mr. Bush is still pinning his hopes on Mr. Musharraf.  

At least in public, these two disagreements are not publicly acrimonious.  According to the Cincinnati Post, Mr. Bush said that Mr. Karzai “would know his country best”, and Mr. Karzai went home, to know it even better–only this time, with jet lag. 

The Peace Jirga:
Over the next week, a conference took place between community leaders of the two states: The Pakistan-Afghanistan Peace Jirga, which ended today.  Since it was conducted between tribal leaders, it suggested a more neighborly, or as the Boston Globe put it, “supple” policy of rapprochement.  This would be in contrast to the hard-line approach toward the Taliban already being exercised.  Underlying this initiative is a belief that not all members of the Taliban are determined to over-run the country, they just want the U.S. and NATO out.

The meeting convened on August 9th with 600-700 delegates, largely as a goodwill mission that would attempt to bring Taleban negotiators to the table with Afghanistan’s official government.  At first, Pakistan’s President Musharraf had declined to attend.  Nevertheless, his appearance became one of the most important features of the conference: he publicly admitted that the Taliban have been using Pakistan as a jumping off point.  The meeting ended with a resolution that no tribal leaders would harbor al-Qaeda members on either side of the border.  There will be a follow-up meeting, date uncertain, set up by committee.  According to a really good editorial in the Boston Globe, the results may prove to be lasting:

Left unsaid was the Pakistani belief that the Pashtun have been deprived of their proper share of power in Afghanistan ever since the Americans routed the Taliban in late 2001, with the help of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, which had been backed previously by India, Iran, and Russia.
For such a strategy to work, Musharraf will have to do his part. This does not mean halting all cross-border infiltration – an impossible task – but dismantling the Taliban’s command structure. This is something Pakistan’s military intelligence is capable of doing. Toward that end, Pakistan must be assured that a post-Taliban Afghanistan will not become a repository of Indian influence, will not deprive the Pashtun of their fair share of power, and will recognize the current border between the two countries.
And it would help if America and its allies generously financed reconstruction projects through the Karzai government and ceased air attacks that kill civilians.

At any rate, Afghanistan has the power to destabilize both Iran and Pakistan–and vice versa.  It is Lacks of State Power , i.e., state incapacity, that cause the most damage and strain between these neighbors. 

This week’s developments:
Mr. Ahmadinejad is visiting Kabul this week on his way to Ashgabat and Bishkek. Talk is good: especially in an environment where political will is required to stem the tide of regional, provincial, and state failure.

Further Reading:
Transcript of Press Conference with Presidents Karzai and Bush here;
U.S. Department of State on MANPADS threat reduction efforts, with definitions;
Jamestown Foundation on Iranian influence in Afghanistan, January 2007 , should present the worst-case scenario.

I’m running a little late this weekend: computer problems. . .
You know, most of these entries are really U.S. politics-based this week:  I suppose that’s generally true, but seems especially prominent this week.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ China is still working through the graft by petty officials: after issuing a month-long amnesty in the wake of slavery cases and product adulteration cases, 1800 officials have stepped up and confessed. Here is a link to the Chinese-language only Incorruptible Fighter Web site: just so you know it’s out there.
♦ The IAEA sends a delegation to: Japan–in order to investigate nuclear plants damaged by earthquakes first, and scandal second. 
♦ Cambodian tribunal will try former Khmer Rouge prison administrator.
♦ World Hizb-ut-Tahrir Conference starts this coming week in Indonesia.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Belarus under the pincers: in the face of mounting debt for energy, Gazprom threatens to cut supplies by 30%.  It was going to be 50%, but Belarus paid USD 190 million out of the USD 456.16 million that they owed so far this year.
Russian Sub♦ Drop a flag and USD 4 million, gain a continent: I don’t think so.  But it does create complications in international law.
♦ U.S. declines to renew the START treaty.
♦ Turkmenistan’s president consolidates power through trials we never heard about.

Latin America:
♦ Almost every time Cuba has come up in U.S. presidential politicking so far, it’s been as a dirty word associated with “socialized medicine”.  Now, a new post with Great Comments at Two Week’s Notice talks about potential U.S. agricultural trade ties with Cuba. 
♦ Another dirty word: “immigrant.”  Uh, this issue is very complicated, but it seems the U.S. has forgotten that the use of this word in such a way tends to denigrate the experience of ancestors of most U.S. citizens: my great-grandparents for one.  Let’s get a reasonable policy without inciting (or incurring) contempt.
♦ Professor Weeks has another great post on “The Wall” currently being boon-doggled (excuse me: built) at the U.S.-Mexico border, and how it becomes a rallying point for international discourse between Latin American States. 
♦ Last of all, and also related to U.S.-Latin American relations, the CAFTA agreement is still being hotly debated within Latin America.  Costa Rica votes on the referendum October 7th.  Good luck with that wall, Arizona . . .
♦ Mexico’s EPR guerrilla group has bombed again: last time, oil pipelines; this time, a store.
♦ Venezuela is purchasing more Argentine bonds (already have purchased 4.2 billion worth): this has to do with high energy prices, and a volatile, insecure bond market.

Middle East:
♦ Israel launches an air raid in Gaza: two Islamic Jihad members escape; two killed, 15 wounded.
Lebanon votes to replace two assassinated officials: turnout, about 45%. Waleed Eido, a Member of Parliament, was assassinated in June of this year; and Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet Minister, had been assassinated last November.  The opposition is proclaiming victory–votes still being counted.
♦ Hamas sponsors some weddings by providing celebrations and economic help to newlyweds.  Now this is an important post at The Arabist–at the core of Hamas’ capabilities, a personal approach that continually confound institutional-based efforts at developing friends in the Middle East.

Afghanistan: (partly cross-posted at FPA Central Asia)
♦ Focus on the UK’s Operation Chakush in Helmand.
♦ UNAMA discovers mass graves in Afghanistan.
♦ Hostage news: Four of Afghanistan’s judges were taken hostage two weeks ago in Ghazni province; their bodies were found on Wednesday this week.  The hostage from Germany, one of two German hostages kidnapped last month, had been previously reported in the news as dead from a heart attack.  News recently released indicates that he died of gunshot wounds.  A second South Korean hostage was killed of the 22 first seized on July 19th.  So far the U.S. and ISAF forces have agreed not to attempt freeing the hostages by force.
♦ Dateline, Camp David: President Karzai is due for an informal summit with Mr. Bush on August 5th and 6th.
In Transit to Afghanistan has made one solid post after another this week.  In this post, the blog discusses dangers in Waziristan and the most-likely strategies that the U.S. should take against the terrorist havens in the region.  Another post points us to terrorist expert Peter Bergen’s newest analysis on Afghanistan’s burgeoning insurgency.
Iran:
♦ Now swapping oil with Nicaragua: no doubt through Mr. Chavez de Venezuela’s agency. 
♦ Now building its own fighter jets.
Iraq:
♦ The oil law still confuses us: on August 3, a senior member of the Dawa party has said: no oil law under occupation.   But on August 2, the Oil Minister of Kurdistan said that the oil law was proceeding–for the Kurdistan region.   In other words, Kurdistan continues to deal, and the Federals have not yet caught up. 
♦ They won’t, either, for the next month: the Sunni delegation decamped, and the Council of Representatives has begun its August break–or, August to September break.  Not boding well for the U.S. benchmark report in September.
The UN General Assembly will probably pass an increased mandate for the UN in Iraq.  Expected Vote date: perhaps this upcoming week.

U.S. Politics:
It's the Point.♦ My earmark makes more sense than your earmark: I listened to the proceedings on C-Span radio, but here is the NYT article on “single-source” contracts that are defined as necessary and appropriate by the U.S. House of Representatives, and were attached to the military spending bill.  I’m pretty sure it was Representative Flake who satirized earmarks by calling a ball-point pen in military spending jargon (paraphrase) a “polymer-based, multi-purpose portable communication facilitating mechanism”, which was truly my favorite part of the debate.  Language is a beautiful thing, and scarcely more creative than in use by scoundrels with something to hide.  However, as the NYT pointed out, this is less pork than usual for the dominant party, and they didn’t look ashamed, either.
♦ U.S. Energy bill passed: and it requires the U.S. to use renewable energy sources for 15% of utilities. 
♦ U.S. Congress passes  a 6-month long interim eavesdropping bill to catch terrorists, or private citizens, depending upon one’s point of view: and increase security or reduce privacy, again depending upon one’s point of view.
🙂 In case you’re wondering at all this activity: Congress is trying to go on vacation.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices: Brent crude, USD 75.11; West Texas Intermediate, USD 76.13 per barrel: after a large speculative rise this week, the price calmed a little back down.
♦ The National Petroleum Council is talking sense: they noted the difference between national Energy Security and national Energy Independence.  The first is possible; energy independence is not.  Energy security will be a combination of a. moderating demand, b. expanded/diversified energy supplies (I would include alternate energy here) and c. strengthening global trade.  Just a note: U.S. demand is expected to go up 50-60% by 2030.   China and India might need more oil, but the biggest consumer remains the United States.

Have a great week.

On July 12, (a piece of) a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released/declassified, entitled “Terrorist Threats to the U.S. Homeland“.  This post discusses a. how little is revealed in a document of this type; b. a summary of contents; c. the news analysis, which in many cases is amplified; and what to make of the whole process.  An NIE is supposed to be a substantive document, but you’ll pardon me for thinking it’s more substantive in its private form than in its public form.  And though announced with appropriate pomp and circumstance, there’s just not that much here.  We get the executive summary, not the report.

Seven pages minus 5 pages equals two pages
You can see what I mean by looking at the lack of contents.  The report is 7 pages long, in pdf: Page one, the title page; page two describes the makeup of the National Intelligence Council (basically an author page without author names); pages three and four describe the NIE and a little on their importance and methodology.  Significant here, on page three, is a kind of assurance that information is being reviewed by others, rather than being “stovepiped” to the top without assessment for source and accuracy from intelligence analysts.  Now that’s a relief, at least, to read that intelligence politicians are aware that we know this has happened in the past. 

Page five is “An Explanation of Estimative Language,” which allows some clues into how such reports are worded technically.  Looking at the blue box which comprises this page, we can see that two important kinds of risk analysis are occurring in the NIE process.  First, risk analysis on threat of terrorism, which is the subject of the report; and second, risk management for the intelligence community in case the NIE is incorrect.  (Don’t think I am discounting this latter function: no other course of action can protect the intelligence community from being gutted if there is another attack.   They have to protect themselves or they can’t do their job.)

In the blue box, we see that “High Confidence” that a incident X will occur does not mean that it is Likely to Occur, but that the Information Used has come from a source in which we have that confidence.  “Moderate Confidence” means that the intelligence information is somewhat conflicted or the analysts (unspecified) have varying opinions as to what that information discloses.  Along with this, there is a bar of white to grey, which simultaneously recalls our publicly-used rainbow-shaded Terrorist Threat barometer, only the lack of color indicates more sobriety, and the shades of grey indicate remote possibility; unlikely; even chance; likely; and almost certainly.  None of these words are used later on in the NIE.

The two pages
So at last on pages six and seven we get to the NIE “Key Judgments”, which do not actually estimate a terrorist threat in terms of the shaded bar, as noted previously.  These statements, summarized, follow:

  1. We are still under a “persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years.”  (Three years is time limit of study.)
  2. Counterterrorism efforts world-wide have succeeded in “disrupting known plots against the United States since 9/11.”
  3. “Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serous terrorist threat to the Homeland.”  Here Iraq is recalled, language very similar to the July Iraq Benchmark Report, in that al-Qa’ida plans high-profile and high-impact plots, encourages copycats. 
  4. Problems in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas provides a new locus for congregating and planning attacks such as the 9/11 plot, which was planned in a similar environment in Afghanistan.
  5. Therefore, we are in a heightened threat environment (Code Orange, no doubt), where al Qa’ida might plan biological, radiological, nuclear attacks.  Also Hizbullah is mentioned as a likely antagonist should we threaten either their group or Iran.  Homegrown “bubba groups” or American Muslims are mentioned and pretty much dismissed.
  6. Globalization in general, and Salafi internet sites in particular, are noted as vectors that spread terrorist rhetoric, information, and violence–to “enable even small numbers of alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources” without impetus by any centralized authority.
  7. These global threats “challenge current U.S. defensive efforts and the tools we use to detect and disrupt plots.”

Predominant press reactions:

  1. Accenting stasis: At the NYT, Scott Shane calling the NIE “same-old, same-old“–no improvement, overall, in the situation at large.   The Washington Post’s Michael Abramowitz notes that the NIE calls Bush’s Iraq policy into question, as Iraq becomes a rallying point for further extremism.   FoxNews, generally favorable to this conservative administration, reported that Mr. Bush said “things would be a lot worse”–which means, that’s the best that can be said about the conclusions of the report–which means, stasis.
  2. Another set of NYT articles focuses on Pakistan: a. Mark Mazetti & David Sanger  call the NIE “a bleak assessment” that notes that Pakistan’s tribal areas are increasingly out of Pakistan’s governmental control.  (They also note No. 1 above, that the battle is in Iraq but the terrorists are in Afghanistan/Pakistan area.  b. These two distinguished journalists then reprise this article and discuss Pakistan’s slow reaction time to threats and what the U.S. might do if pushed. 
  3. Fred Kaplan over at Slate Magazine has interpreted the “globalization clauses” (what I have as N0. 6 and 7 above) is an increased likelihood of lost privacy for and domestic spying upon the American citizenry under the Patriot act and in the name of terror prevention.  Yes, I think that’s probable, and something to beware.
  4. I found no one who wanted to relate the NIE to our current conduct vis-a-vis  Iran, and to me that was the most significant portion: it explains why we are going more slowly with Iran than we did with Iraq, despite the many grievances publicly noted, actual or perceived: a. hostage-takings, b. nuclear enrichment, c. anti-Israeli rhetoric, d. weapons and aid to insurgencies in Lebanon and Iraq and Afghanistan, e. et cetera.

What should the report have said or given us? 
It looks right to me, insofar as two pages can expose: Pakistan has most of the conditions that Afghanistan did, pre-2001; al-Qa’ida is in Iraq and they are high-profile there; the internet shows we don’t know how to moderate or engage extremist rhetoric; and while it protects the Bush administration to some degree (which we should expect, somewhat) it does evaluate, correctly, that: We live in an very uncertain world. 

This NIE is a status report more than a prediction.  Its verdict: we have met the challenge in some ways and in other ways, we don’t have a clue. 

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