All Good Things

 All Good Things

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Afghanistan highlighted ties between the two countries.  At Dar-al -Aman, His Majesty Mohammad Zahir Shah laid the foundation stone the future Afghan Parliament gifted by the Government of India. The refurbishment of the prominent Habibia School hopes to foreshadow a new era of prosperity and education in Afghanistan.  The century old school boasts Afghanistan’s leaders among its former students. The Prime Minister’s visit focused on India’s long-term goal of transforming the country into a functional and stable democracy.  Despite recent landmark elections, the vision is threatened by the forces of medievalism. The resurgent Taliban continue to wreck havoc with suicide bombings, attacks on conveys and infrastructure.   Condoleezza Rice's four nation tour of Central Asia in October conspicuously omitted Uzbekistan. This reflects the growing estrangement between the two nations since the Andijan incident, dubbed by some analysts as a failed color revolution.  The subsequent eviction from Uzbekistan’s Karshi-Khanbad military base further widened the gulf. The cooling of US – Uzbek ties allowed Russia to regain lost strategic territory in the region. In November, President Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov signed a security treaty laying foundation for long-term strategic cooperation.

Meanwhile, shareholders of Canadian based PetroKazakhstan (PKZ) approved China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) $4.18 billion offer to acquire all outstanding shares of the company, representing a 67% stake.  The purchase was significant for the biding competition between ONGC - Mittal consortium and CNPC to control energy resources in the region. The timely acquisition came within days of the completion of 1000 km oil pipeline linking the two countries.  However litigation involving PKZ and Lukoil over subsidiary assets and the Kazakh government’s insistence over control over of the Chimkentsky refinery, raise doubts about the true worth of the deal.

The terrorist attack on the city of Nalchik in Russia's Kabardino – Balkaria province resurrected the ghosts of Beslan.  The attack on government buildings appears to be the work of the Caucasian Front, an amalgam of disgruntled ethnic groups from the region.  This indicates widening unrest and displays a local undercurrent favoring the insurgency. The strike raises the spectre of uncertainty in the Russian Caucasus region and the widening of the Chechen conflict, the domino effect mentioned by the Russians in the mid 1990's concerning Chechen independence. The Chechen conflict has only intensified with the death of Chechen President Maskhadov in early May.  The ongoing nature of the conflict in the North Caucasus echoes parallels to the Murid wars, Imam Shamil’s rebellion against Tsarist Russia.  Hence, the attack demonstrates that the jihadi leash is getting longer and its influence stretches from the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and beyond. The Bush Administration is now focusing on December 15 parliamentary elections in Iraq as the next stage in its Iraq policy. But the real battle has now moved to Washington , DC . It is now clear to the White House that thirty-two months after US forces invaded Iraq , President Bush’s message of “stay the course” has been translated by a weary American public as “stay forever.” As a result, in recent weeks the US President is trying his best to reassure his country that he has a comprehensive plan for beating the insurgency and eventually bringing US troops home. In a drastic departure from the past, the White House is now openly acknowledging problems with Iraqi reconstruction and conceding the inevitability of more bloodshed. Bush’s historical burden, however, is that there is no recent precedent for a US leader using persuasion to reverse a steady downward slide for a military undertaking of the sort he is facing. Most military appraisals of Iraq foresee a long road of violence and instability ahead, as well as a substantial US troop presence for the indefinite future. Though the Bush Administration continues to insist that it will settle for nothing less than complete victory, it is not clear how that squares with the plan to hand over the main burden of the war to the newly trained Iraqi troops who have been inconsistent at best in the performance so far. It is also not clear how the White House can sustain its plan politically if the plan for US troops to step back decisively in 2006 and for Iraqi units to step forward falters in the face of unrelenting insurgency.   Sensing a politically opportunity, a section of the Democrats have upped their ante and have become increasingly vocal about their demand to pull back US troops from Iraq . The American public has been souring on the Iraq effort for months, and lately the numbers have taken a turn for the worse. In November, a majority (54 to 45 percent) told the Gallup Organization that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Those interviewed leaned, albeit narrowly (50 to 46 percent), toward thinking that the United States will not win. Some are arguing that public opinion has already passed the point of no return. Public support for the Iraq effort has declined more precipitously than did support for either the Korean or the Vietnam War, and if history is any indication, there is little the Bush administration can do to reverse this decline. The Bush Administration is desperately hoping for the ground situation in Iraq to improve after December 15 elections. But given the past record of insurgency, this seems highly unlikely. The pressure might just increase for President Bush in the coming months.

The US-India nuclear deal is the subject of much uninformed commentary, mostly stemming from the newly disenfranchised non-proliferation lobby in D.C. The lobby now aims to use US-friendly media channels in India to air their views to an unsuspecting Indian audience. With this tactic the non-proliferation lobby has successfully managed to raise suspicions in India about the motives underlying the deal. The State Department’s South Asia experts seem to be keen to foster this environment of suspicion as the deal will most likely make their oft used India-Pakistan hyphenation plank unworkable. It would appear to an untrained eye that President Bush faces considerable opposition to this deal in Congress. Perhaps it is important to bear in mind at this time, that in a democracy, the word of the elected leader outweighs anything else.

A disturbing report from the Florida everglades briefly seized headlines.  A conjoined ruptured carcass of a large python with an alligator jutting from its midsection was found.  It is believed that the python successfully swallowed an alligator but the ensuing struggle resulted in the death of both animals.  This raised fears ecological damage from the introduction of non indigenous species into the environment.  However geopolitical pundits may derive a different lesson.  Adversaries must be chosen with great care and temptation must never be mistaken for opportunity. All good things come to an end!