Thursday, April 28, 2011

Quality of life of the Chinese and Indians

The latest issue of the New York Review of Books carries an incisive essay by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on India's political economy. Sen goes about it comparing the quality of life in China and India. Indians, of course, are so obsessed with catching up with China’s GDP growth that they overlook that the judicious yardstick ought to be how growth advances living standards and reduces poverty in the two countries. Sen gives a jolt to them.
China beats India hollow with regard to the range of development indices such as life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, mortality rate for children under five, nutrition and availability of immunization vaccines for children, mean years of schooling for children, maternal mortality rate, adult literacy rate, etc. India’s “growth mania” presupposes that high GDP growth should have precedence over allocation of resources for social sectors whereas, China is maintaining high growth rate even while paying attention to ‘social objectives’. High growth generates public resources that could be turned into greater allocation for social sectors but this is not happening in India. China spends about 2 percent of its GDP on health care whereas the figure is 1.1 percent for India. This has led to “shameful exploitation [and]...sheer unavailability of health care in many parts of India.”
India, no doubt, is leagues ahead of China in terms of its democratic system, free press, freedom of expression, etc. The common Indian hypothesis is that their country's democratic system acts as a “barrier to using the benefits of economic growth in order to enhance health, education and other social conditions.” Sen emphatically refutes this plea and puts his finger at where the problem lies: despite India's open democracy, the reality is that social conditions graduate as political issues only if they assume acute forms. Whereas, in China, the leadership doesn’t require any such ‘prompting’.
“The Chinese leaders, despite their skepticism about the values of multiparty democracy and personal and political liberty, are strongly committed to eliminating poverty, undernourishment, illiteracy, and lack of health care; and this has greatly helped in China’s advancement.”
The flip side is, of course, there: for example, China’s authoritarian leadership could ride over such a horrendous happening as the famine of 1959-1962 which killed 30 million people and, again, could overnight dump as part of the 1979 reforms the guaranteed health care which provided a great safety net for poor people. “In a functioning democracy an established right to social assistance could not have been so easily—and so swiftly—dropped. The change sharply reduced the progress of longevity in China. Its large lead over India in life expectancy dwindled during the following two decades—falling from a fourteen-year lead to one of just seven years.”
Interestingly, however, China's leadership can also be highly responsive. The leadership saw the folly of the reform and began a corrective course in 2004 “reintroducing the right to medical care.” The impact has been immediate. “China now has a considerably higher proportion of people with guaranteed health care than does India. The gap in life expectancy in China’s favor has been rising again, and it is now around nine years; and the degree of coverage is clearly central to the difference.”
On the contrary, “Whether India’s democratic political system can effectively remedy neglected public services such as health care is one of the most urgent questions facing the country… For a minority of the Indian population—but still very large in actual numbers—economic growth alone has been very advantageous, since they are already comparatively privileged and need no social assistance to benefit from economic growth… an exaggerated concentration on the lives of the relatively prosperous, exacerbated by the Indian media, gives an unrealistically rosy picture of the lives of Indians in general. Since the fortunate group includes not only business leaders and the professional classes but also many of the country’s intellectuals, the story of unusual national advancement is widely and persistently heard. More worryingly, relatively privileged Indians can easily fall for the temptation to focus just on economic growth as a grand social benefactor for all.”
Sen concludes on a highly critical note: “My primary concern, however, is that the illusions generated by those distorted perceptions of prosperity may prevent India from bringing social deprivations into political focus, which is essential for achieving what needs to be done for Indians at large through its democratic system. A fuller understanding of the real conditions of the mass of neglected Indians and what can be done to improve their lives through public policy should be a central issue in the politics of India.”

Pakistan stares at Bush's pledges

Reports that Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has advised Afghan President Hamid Karzai to dump the United States for a geopolitical alliance with China merely illustrate the state of US-Pakistan relations. Beijing has no interest in Afghanistan's blood-soaked civil war, and Islamabad is simply moving to sabotage an American plan to break from past pledges by the George W Bush administration and exclude Pakistan from an Afghan settlement.Read my article in today's Asia Times...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pakistan confronts US' Afghan strategy

Appearances have always been deceptive in Afghan politics. More so as the endgame of the brutal war gets under way. What passes for the current US-Pakistan acrimony over ISI's nexus with the Haqqani network in Afghanistan is quintessentially about setting the bottom line of the Afghan peace talks. Partners who claimed they were 'allies' are compelled to redefine the parameters of their collaboration. This is not easy as US and Pakistan are pursuing objectives and national interests that diverge strategically. India has done well by distancing itself from the US ploy to give the Afghan chessboard the dissimulating look of an India-Pakistan turf war. Read my Op-Ed in today's Hindu newspaper on the acts and scenes of this intricate shadow play.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The men behind Mumbai terror attack

The wheel of justice may turn slowly, but one would like to believe that it does turn inexorably. If so, the terrorism trial that is set to begin in Chicago on the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008 that killed more than 160 people including Americans, will have huge repercussions for international security. The United States federal prosecutors unsealed charges Monday against four additional defendants for plotting the 2008 terrorist attacks.
All four accused are considered fugitives with alleged links to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Pakistani-based terrorist group, and the prosecution's key witness has linked one of them to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] although the indictment doesn't explicitly mention the Pakistani security agency. Prosecutors identified three of the men as Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal and provided only a pseudonym for the fourth, “Major Iqbal.” All eyes, however, will be on "Major Iqbal". The indictment describes him as “a resident of Pakistan who participated in planning and funding attacks by Lashkar.” But US and Indian security officials and Indian court documents identify Iqbal as a serving ISI officer and one of at least three ISI officers who are suspected of being involved in recruiting, training and directing David Headley, the mysterious one-time informer of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, who conducted reconnaissance missions for the Mumbai attacks.
Sajid Mir is a longtime Lashkar chief, who also is accused of serving as Headley’s handler. He remains at large, although his voice was caught on tape directing the Mumbai killings by telephone from a Pakistani safe house. France had convicted Mir in 2007 in absentia as a terrorist and identified him as possibly an officer of the Pakistani military. Abu Qahafa whose voice was also recorded directing the 10 gunmen who carried out the three-day attack, is accused of overseeing the training of the attack team. Mazhar Iqbal, alias Abu al-Qama, is the only one of the four known to be in Pakistani custody. All four suspects could face the death sentence or life in prison.
The trial is bound to cast shadows on the US' future dealings with ISI at an official level. A transparent working relationship is going to be hard to sustain while the trial in Chicago is on as each side will be suspecting the motivations of the other. Coming on the heels of the latest WikiLeaks cables of 2007 pertaining to Guantanamo Bay in which US military listed ISI as a terrorist organization on par with al-Qaeda or Hamas and Hezbollah, the Chicago trial will at the very least highlight the role of the Pakistani military in crafting terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Admiral "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said only last week that the "relationship" between the ISI and the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents constitutes a major source of tension in US-Pakistan ties.
The trial proceedings at Chicago hold the potential to directly implicate the ISI, which in turn can complicate the US-Pakistan relationship at the political level. The fact remains that ISI is a key interlocutor in the endgame in Afghanistan and US can ill afford to antagonize the Pakistani military. Having said that, the Chicago trial can be used by Washington to leverage more cooperation by the Pakistani military in the Afghan war. Significantly, the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week that 2011 may prove to be the decisive year of the war.
India will also be watching the Chicago trial with eagle's eyes. It has huge stakes in the trial being taken to its logical conclusion rather than being exploited or hijacked by the US administration with a view to extract concessions from Pakistan on the Afghan war front. It remains to be seen whether India will seek a formal participation in the Chicago trial. There is much frustration in the Indian establishment that Pakistan is stalling in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice and there is some latent discontent as well that Washington treads softly keeping the priorities of its AfPak policies in mind. At the same time, India has just resumed its dialogue with Pakistan, which has raised a public controversy in the domestic opinion. Much statecraft will be needed to reconcile these glaring contradictions.
On balance, it is highly improbable that the Pakistani military will cave in and admit the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai attacks and show willingness to be punished. Any such admission will not only make Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism, but will also tear apart Pakistan's political economy where the military calls the shots. Let us not forget that ISI is largely manned by Pakistani army officers on deputation. There is no question of the Pakistani military handing over one or more of its officers to stand trial in the US. If the push from Chicago comes to a shove from Washington, Pakistani military leadership will simply hunker down. Pakistan will also weigh its trump cards in Afghanistan, factoring in that the Barack Obama administration will be highly vulnerable to adverse tidings from the Afghan war when a crucial presidential election looms ahead. So, it is going to be a tough call for Uncle Sam who is juggling so many balls in the air - the global "war on terror"; Pakistani military being US's key ally; "strategic partnership" with India; imponderables in the endgame in Afghanistan; Obama's bid for second term as president; and, of course, the "due process of law" taking its inexorable course in Chicago under the constant glare of media publicity at home and abroad.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

China nourishes poor countries, West exploits!

China has published for the first time a 'white paper' on its foreign aid programme. Unfortunately, year-wise or country-wise figures are not available but the aggregate figure of aid given from 1950 till 2009 is 256 billion yuan (approx. 39.2 billion dollars). This compares with US's foreign aid of 28.8 billion dollars in 2009 alone. Half of China's aid has gone to African countries while a third went to Asian countries. Forty percent of aid was given as outright grants and used for projects such as building hospitals, schools and low-cost housing. The rest is divided evenly between interest-free loans and concessionary, or low-interest, loans, which are almost on par with grants. Contrary to general impression, only 9 percent of concessionary loans went into oil and mining projects while two-thirds went into economic infrastructure development in the recipient countries. The figures should quieten criticism that China uses aid for prising open the natural resources and mineral wealth of the African countries.
An interesting portion of the white paper is as regards the evolution of the "fundamental principles" of China's aid policy over the years. What began as a modest "material assistance" programme for North Korea and Vietnam in 1950, soon expanded to cover Indonesia as well and by 1956 it began covering Africa. In 1964 China for the first time codified its eight principles of aid policy "the core content of which featured equality, mutual benefit and no strings attached." 1971 (amidst the cultural revolution) sees a big expansion with China providing "maximum assistance it could afford to other developing countries in their efforts to win national independence and to develop national economy, thus laying a solid foundation for its long-term friendly cooperation with developing countries."
The character of the aid programme transforms since the reform period began in 1978. "China's economic cooperation with other developing countries extended from economic aid to multi-form and mutually-beneficial cooperation. China adjusted the scale, arrangement, structure and sectors of its foreign aid in accordance with its actual conditions. It strengthened its foreign assistance to the least developed countries, paid more attention to the economic and long-term effects of aid projects, and provided aid in more diversified and flexible ways. To consolidate the achievements of existing productive projects, China conducted multi-form technical and managerial cooperation with recipient countries, such as managing aid projects on behalf of recipient countries, lease management and joint ventures."
With China's own shift from a planned economy to a "socialist market economy" by the turn of the 1990s, further changes come into the aid policy. In 1993 China set up Foreign Aid Fund for Joint Ventures and Cooperative Projects with parts of the interest-free loans repaid to China by developing countries. The fund was mainly used to support Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises to build joint ventures or conduct cooperation with the recipient countries in the production and operation spheres... Meanwhile, it attached greater importance to supporting the capacity building of recipient countries, and kept enlarging the scale of technical training. Officials from recipient countries receiving training in China became an important part in the cooperation of human resources development between China and those countries."
There has been a phenomenal growth in China's aid budget during the period since 2004, with annual average increase of around 30%. Aid continues to be primarily disbursed through bilateral channels, but the white paper claims, the "the scope of international aid for development is being gradually expanded." The overall thrust of the white paper is to underscore by implication that China provides an alternative to western donors who mostly render "tied" assistance which turn out to be project exports whereas China's aid goes to nourishing the developing world. Read the full text of the white paper released in Beijing on Thursday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ban Ki-Moon on a hot tin roof

The 3-day visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to Moscow on Thursday assumes significance against the backdrop of the developments over Libya. He will be talking in his official capacity as UN SG with a permanent member of the security council but is practically undertaking this trip as a messenger from the western camp. Resolution 1973 is at the epicentre of a war of words between Moscow and Brussels. The open sparring at the informal NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and NATO SG Anders Fogh Rasmussen giving diametrically opposite interpretations to R 1973 gives the impression that Moscow intends to dig in if the West broadens the scope of the UN mandate arbitrarily to include 'regime change' and deployment of ground troops on Libyan soil.
Plainly put, US and its European allies (primarily Britain and France) are coolly disregarding Moscow's protestations and doing things much the way they want and seem to estimate that Russia will eventually cool down and accept the fait accompli. One purpose of Ban's visit will be to check out what the temperature is like in Moscow. The Kremlin has announced that President Dmitry Medvedev will meet Ban on Friday. So far, Medvedev has stuck to his guns that R 1973 doesn't envisage military intervention or regime change. But is that the last word? It is hard to imagine that Moscow couldn't have anticipated with all the professionalism in international diplomacy at its command that such a flawed thing like R 1973 would be open to misinterpretation. Yet Russia acquiesced with its passage through the UN Security Council. So, what is Medvedev's Plan B?
Clearly, the West also needs more cooperation from Russia. A 'turning point' is coming with talk of a caesefire. If a deal for dispatch of Muammar Gaddafi into exile somewhere in the heart of Africa comes up, Russia would have an opinion. Again, is Gaddafi to be taken ultimately to the Hague to stand trial as a war criminal? The ball has been set rolling in the International Court of Justice [ICJ]. But ICJ comes under the purview of the UN security council and Russia has a big say. Also, if deployment of western troops in Libya becomes necessary at some point to arrest the sheer slide to anarchy, fresh UN security council mandates might be needed.
So, Ban will try to check out what mood is prevailing in Moscow beneath the heavy fog of rhetoric. And he will faithfully report back to Washington and maybe US president Barack Obama can make another phone call to the Kremlin and once again invoke the spirit of the "reset" in US-Russia ties.
It needs some gumption for Obama to do that after pointedly snubbing Medvedev and his BRICS partners over LIbya. At its summit meeting in China last Thursday, the BRICS adopted a stance on Libya critical of the western intervention in Libya. But on the very same day, Obama joined hands with David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy to pen an article in New York Times virtually rubbishing the stance taken by BRICS (all 5 of whom are represented in the UN Security Council). The missile was aimed at Russia and China and it would have hit the target.
Meanwhile, Medvedev expressed misgivings also about the UN force's involvement in the messy transfer of power in Cote d'Ivoire. Nothing like this free-for-all has ever happened before as is happening under Ban's stewardship. Much can be attributed to Ban's messianic mission to secure a second term as SG. Medvedev will expect Ban to give some plausible explanations.

Saudi money wins Obama's mind

Speeches from the Barack Obama administration suggest Saudi Arabia's hint it may extend the largest purchase of American arms in history has worked. In no time at all US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has twisted from urging reform in Gulf states to bowing to Riyadh's role in suppressing revolt and sharing its view that Iran is meddling in the Arab spring. Read my article in Asia Times on the US policy toward the Persian Gulf region.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Money can buy loyalty in Afghanistan

When we come to Iran's policies in Afghanistan, we mostly have a lot of smoke and mirrors. Seldom it is that an 'insider' account appears putting matters in proper perspective. Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah's narrative, therefore, is of special interest. More so, as according to Abdullah, Iran turned a new page, so to speak, on its Afghan policies at a time when he used to be in the charmed circle of power brokers in Kabul, as the indispensable foreign minister of the New Afghanistan that George W. Bush was creating.
According to Abdullah, Iran began cultivating the government of Hamid Karzai sometime in 2003-2004. To quote Abdullah, “It started in a sort of transparent manner when I was the foreign minister. So it was during [Iranian] President [Mohammed] Khatami’s time, and President Khatami mentioned it to President Karzai, that ‘from my own office, I have a budget at my discretion. If you agree with it, I would like to give some money for your office.’ So it started that way. In the first year, it was twice or three times that this happened — each time, perhaps around $1 million.”
The timing is interesting. Bush had by then called Iran as one of the 'axis of evil' and had forgotten all about the splendid cooperation that Tehran extended for the success of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Mohammad Khatami was still in power in Tehran, albeit on his 'last legs', so to speak, politically bruised and bleeding from the daily ambushes and sniping from within the regime but he still harbored residual hopes that Washington would appreciate him as a man they could do business with. Iran-US standoff was intensifying, too.
As for Karzai, he was Bush's best pal with whom he conferred without fail every single week on phone from Oval Office. Karzai himself was basking in the sunshine of western attention as an acknowledged American puppet and was preparing for the (blatantly rigged) presidential election in 2004 auguring his first term as elected head of state. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about Mullah Omar by that time; Taliban had become, so it seemed, a part of history.
So, Tehran's decision to fund the American puppet in Kabul who was known to have a direct line to the Oval Office showed up a pragmatic policy at its best that almost bordered on cynicism. Tehran would have judged correctly by that time that the language of money spoke best within Karazi's power structure and a few million dollars were worth spending to win friends and influence people. Besides, it was an accepted norm of Afghan political life to accept money as a gesture of goodwill and no moral scruples were being violated.
An interesting thought: Did Tehran anticipate that Karazi would eventually fall out with Washington? Possibly so. Especially since the practice continued even after Khatami was replaced by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. At any rate, Tehran would have seen the point in discouraging Karzai somehow from aligning in any way with the US policy of 'containment' of Iran.
What is absolutely delightful is that Karzai took American consent before accepting the 'bakshish' from Tehran. Just ponder over it a bit. Bush knew Tehran was cultivating Karzai but okayed it since he had the full confidence that Iranians were wasting their money! How I wish I were a fly on the wall when Karzai and Bush chatted up on the Iranian offer of money!
Karzai, of course, took abundant precaution. He split the Iranian money with his cabinet colleagues - in what proportion we don't know - so that if ever a controversy arose, the entire government would swim or drown with him. Smart thinking! Equally, Bush administration weighed the pros and cons of the Iranian move and seemed to have concluded that the Iranian policies toward Afghanistan could do no great harm and essentially, Iran didn't seek to 'de-stablilize' Afghanistan.
Let me quote the Washington Times report: “We [US] did not take the view that it is in the interest of Iran to destroy Afghanistan and to have massive turmoil and an ungoverned space of the Somalia variety,” said Elliot Abrams, who held various senior National Security Council positions during the George W. Bush administration. “We thought Iran had mixed interests in Afghanistan. And looking back, that seems to be right. It hasn’t acted to create a Somalia there, but it has acted at the very least to undermine American influence and make our presence there, as in Iraq, as difficult and as costly as possible,” Mr. Abrams said.
That is to say, Bush administration saw Iran as a 'stakeholder' in a stable Afghanistan although the American propaganda would have us believe just the opposite. Abdullah didn't reveal how much was his own share of the Iranian money was. What an irony! Abdullah today is America's darling, and he is defaming Karzai. Tomorrow it might be Karzai's turn to allege Abdullah began receiving American money sometime circa 2009. And, if that turns out to be true, that is, if Washington is indeed 'cultivating' Abdullah, can Tehran be far behind? Maybe, Karzai can throw light in a few years' time. To be sure, Americans are playing around dangerously with the Afghan politicians, pitting them against each other and having a good laugh.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pastor Jones and a dreaded ghost

Special United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura quickly blamed the Taliban for the killing in Mazar-i-Sharif of five Nepalese guards and three UN employees following American pastor Terry Jones overseeing the burning of a holy Koran in the US. De Mistura has missed the plot. The incident is a wake-up call that if pushed too far, non-Pashtuns will take up arms to counter the return of the Taliban to Afghan political structures, and especially in the case of the notorious Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, likely to be freed from Guantanamo Bay. Read my article in today's Asia Times....

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Egypt warms up to Iran

A second indicator has appeared that in the downstream of the regime change in Cairo, there are new stirrings in the Egyptian regional policies. The permission granted by the Egyptian authorities, in the face of US and israeli concerns, to the two Iranian warships to cross the Suez Canal, the first-ever since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, was an act imbued with 'new thinking'. Now comes a far more definitive step by the Egyptian government. Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said on Tuesday (March 29) that Egypt is ready to “open a new page” with Iran. The state-run Middle East News Agency quoted el-Arabi as saying, “The Egyptian government doesn’t consider Iran to be an enemy state. We’re opening a new page with all countries, including Iran.” He offered that restoring full diplomatic ties depends on the Iranian side and added that the two countries have historically-rooted relations.
Tehran has been swift to respond. “Good relationship between the two countries will definitely help stability, security, and development in the region,” Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi said in Tehran Saturday. Salehi praised the Egyptian revolution and said, “The Egyptian people by taking steps toward realizing their just demands opened a new chapter in the history of the country and again I congratulate them on this victory.” Salehi added despite ups and downs the “historic relations” between the two countries have always persisted and “I hope in the new environment we witness an upgrade of relationship between the two countries and the two great nations of Iran and Egypt.”
The ties between the two countries were severely damaged following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and literally disintegrated following Egypt’s recognition of Israel later in that same year. Egypt is still the only Arab country that has no embassy in Tehran. A "thaw" in Iran-Egypt relations began tentatively appearing since 2008 when Hosni Mubarak and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad met for the first time and the then Iranian FM Manouchehr Mottaki visited Cairo for official talks. But by end-2008, the two countries clashed over the crisis over israeli blockade of Gaza and Egypt resumed its allegations of Iran-backed hizbollah plots to destabliise the Mubarak regime. By end-2009, however, the "thaw" somewhat resumed. The blow-hot-blow-cold pattern can now be expected to give way to a more predictable relationship.
For Iran, which has excellent relations with Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, to add Egypt to the basket of 'friendly countries' will be a diplomatic coup. It enables Tehran to focus on the GCC states. Egypt is also disengaging from Yemen, which has been a point of discord with Iran. If Egypt-Iran relationship gets normalized, Israel and Saudi Arabia would probably feel disheartened.
Of course, the US policy to 'isolate' Iran regionally by building a containment ring of 'pro-West' regimes was heavily predicated on Mubarak's hostility toward Iran. That policy is no longer sustainable. Egypt is a test case in a broader sense, too. A pattern is emerging: the successor regimes in the Middle East will be much more responsive to public opinion and they may no longer passively acquiesce with the US regional policies.

Friday, April 1, 2011

US compliments Russia's "non-aligned" foreign policy

Howsoever Russia strains to show it is critical of the US-led military intervention in Libya, Americans keep complimenting Moscow for its accommodative attitude. Barack Obama phones up Kremlin, actually, to compliment. A Russian friend wrote to me yesterday that two-thirds of Russian people oppose the western attack on Libya. But Americans know it is often the remaining one-third who call the shots in policy-making, especially in times of war. Voice of America has featured a commentary profusely complimenting Russia for its newfound "non-aligned" foreign policy. Of course, VOA unilaterally defines "non-alignment" as a foreign policy that puts primacy on 'interests' [read trade-offs] rather than high principles or ideology, as it used to be understood in the bipolar world in the last century. VOA explains: "Many analysts see Russia as seeking a post-Imperial role in the world. No longer a superpower, it has decided to try to maintain good relations with key countries around the globe. In Soviet days, Russian diplomats routinely vetoed Security Council resolutions supported by the United States. By abstaining in its UN vote, Russia joined China, Brazil and India. Fyodor Lyukanov edits Russia in Global Affairs magazine. 'Russia does not see itself any more as part of a global power which should participate in everything. Rather, the country focuses interests much more on spheres of most vital interest,' Lyukanov said."
But there is always a tragi-comic twist to such tales. So, VOA concludes: "On Friday, Mikhail Margelov, the Russian government’s top representative to Africa, gave a series of interviews, predicting that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would be out of power by June. The Russian official said he was sending aides to Benghazi to forge contacts with the opposition. At the end of the day on Libya, Russian officials may have tried to please everyone, but ended up pleasing no one."

China rallies African opinion on Libya

China utilized the foreign-minister level strategic dialogue with Germany in Beijing on Friday to reiterate its call for a political solution to the Libyan crisis. The visiting German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle joined Chinese FM Yang Jiechi to say, "The Libyan situation cannot be resolved by military means. There can only be a political resolution and we must get the political process underway."
"Both China and Germany abstained from voting for UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which shows that the two states have reservations on the resolution," Yang told reporters. The resolution was adopted to stop violence and protect civilians, Yang said, adding that China is worried by continued reports of deaths and injuries among civilians and the escalation of military conflict in Libya. China maintained that concerned countries should strictly abide by the resolution and respect Libya's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, Yang said. "The matter should be addressed appropriately by political and diplomatic means," he added.
China has scored a big point on the diplomatic front by getting Germany to take a common position with it. This comes barely two days after Hu Jintao's plain-speaking with the visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Quite obviously, Beijing has taken the high ground in the Libyan crisis and has positioned itself visibly as the flag carrier of opposition to the western military intervention. Interestingly, it is acting entirely on its own.
Xinhua carried a strident commentary today posing the rhetorical question: "Why Libya, why not Cote d'Ivoire or Somalia? It's a question posed in Africa - from Cape Town to Addis Ababa, from Nairobi to Abuja. Though reasonable, the question has not yet been highly valued or clearly responded... The U.N.-sanctioned military operation is based on an assumption: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will massacre all the residents after storming the rebel's eastern stronghold of Benghazi. Thus, the crisis is latent and the operation is preventive. Also in Africa, on the western side, a humanitarian crisis looms in Cote d'Ivore. That's where hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and nearly 500 have been killed by forces loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo, who clings to power despite losing to Alassane Ouattara in the Nov. 28 presidential run-off election. Why Libya but not Cote d'Ivoire?"
The commentary quotes prominent African leaders echoing China's criticism of the western intervention. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni accused Western countries of using double standards by pushing for a no-fly zone and asked: "Why Libya, but not Bahrain or Somalia? While imposing a no-fly zone in a rival country like Libya, the West turns a blind eye to a similar case in Bahrain, one of the pro-West countries. We have been appealing to the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Somalia so as to impede the free movement of terrorists, without success. Why? Are there no human beings in Somalia similar to the ones in Benghazi? Or is it because Somalia does not have oil which is not fully controlled by the western oil companies?"
The commentary concludes by rallying African opinion against the West. "In the world arena, the Africa countries have often been regarded as a 'silent majority'. In fact, Africa may not be really silent. Instead, maybe its voice has not been valued or considered. As the war in Libya faces a deadlock and turbulence in the Middle East appears to be sprawling to Africa, questions concerning Africa's situation require rational settlement, rather than any unwise approach."
The way things are developing, the longer the western military operations in Libya continue, the greater will be the opportunity for China to rally African opinion. The decision by the African Union not to participate in the London conference last Tuesday creates a highly favorable backdrop for China's diplomatic offensive in Africa. The West has no answer to China's campaign.

Neo-Ottomans discover new Middle East

Turkey is convinced it stands as a shining example of democracy for Muslim nations, but it is far from becoming a shepherd for a new Middle East where historical divides are being accentuated as America's influence wanes. Sunni Arab co-religionists resent the Ottoman era, and Tehran is unlikely to welcome the diplomats from Ankara now wading into Shi'ite Iran's backyard. My article on the thrust of Turkish policies in response to the 'Arab revolt' appeared in today's Asia Times.