For much of the 1990s Boris Shikhmuradov was the most acceptable public face of Turkmenistan’s dictatorial regime, traveling the world as Foreign Minister. An Armenian by birth and a former journalist, the suave and jovial Shikhmuradov spoke English fluently. He made a sharp contrast to his dour boss, President Saparmyrat Niyazov, who goes by Turkmenbashi the Great (Father of all Turkmen) and presides over an extreme Soveit-style personality cult. Shikhmuradov countered this bizarre image of Central Asian governance. Now–like other former elites–he is opposing it.
As small Central Asian countries have struck military alliances with the United States, their leaders have asserted their own power more aggressively. At the same time, the presence of American soldiers threatens to dilute Russia’s and China’s power to influence the region’s politics and economics. Since September 2001, Russia and China have cooperated with Washington’s moves and generally affirmed its aims. But as the fighting in Afghanistan winds down, hard-liners in both countries are expressing resentment and apprehension about a prolonged American presence in a region they consider their backyard.
In a reversal of the oppressive Taliban era, educated Afghan women are using the elections to the upcoming Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, to press for their civil rights. Many are now seeking a greater political and social role in Afghanistan, whereas until a few months ago women were virtual non-people.
Following Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s speech on May 27th and the Indian government’s official response the following day, it is clear that while war clouds have temporarily receded they have most certainly not been lifted. India will wait to see “results,” i.e. what steps the Pakistan government will take to end the ability of terrorists to strike from across the border into Indian territory, including Jammu and Kashmir. One must distinguish here between two claims. Any attribution that the Musharraf government is directly behind the December 13 attack on Parliament and now the May 14 attack in Kaluchak, Jammu, is not substantiated by evidence and is, politically speaking, utterly implausible. The Musharraf government is not so foolish or naïve as to impose even further pressure on itself in circumstances when his own regime is fighting for internal survival, or to want to shift attention away from the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and the world’s criticism of the Indian government on that score.
Some officials within the Bush administration and the interim government in Kabul complain that the CIA’s and the U.S. military’s continuing control of U.S. policy is hampering Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The continuing military emphasis on policy is thwarting the development of political and economic tactics that strengthen the interim government and promote reconciliation.
The arrival of U.S. troops in Georgia on April 29 raised as many glasses in Ankara and Baku as it did jitters in Moscow. Touted as a new front in the “war on terror,” the Bush administration is in reality scrambling for Caspian oil in a bid to oust Russia from its traditional backyard. Washington insists its “train and equip force'” of 10 combat helicopters and 150 military instructors is solely intended to help Georgia combat Islamic radicals in the lawless Pankisi Gorge, allegedly a safe haven for al Qaeda militants and their Chechen allies. But other motives became apparent, although largely unnoticed by the Western press when Georgian Defense Ministry official Mirian Kiknadze told Radio Free Europe on February 27: “The U.S. military will train our rapid reaction force, which is guarding strategic sites in Georgia–particularly oil pipelines.” He was referring to the embryonic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) project, set to reduce Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s energy reliance on Russia and bring the southern Caucasus into the U.S. fold.
On March 12, President Bush plans to greet his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, in the White House. Uzbekistan has emerged as a key strategic partner to the United States after September 11, not only due to its frontier with Afghanistan. For years, some strategists in Washington have considered the Tashkent regime as an important regional player. It is the most populous nation in the region, with 24 million citizens, and serves as the homeland for significant Uzbek minorities in all its neighbors, including Afghanistan.
Barcelona, Spain – This politically progressive, culturally distinct Mediterranean city served as host for Ubuntu, the latest international gathering of civil society. In contrast with the 60,000 people who converged on Porto Alegre, Brazil, in February for the second World Social Forum (WSF), less than 100 specially invited delegates participated in Ubuntu’s second annual constitutive meeting, held here March 1 and 2.
Osama bin Laden and his supporters around the world are digging in for the long haul, waiting for the day when the United States can no longer afford the war on terrorism and begins to wilt under the weight of unilateralism.
The tragic events of September 11 have created unprecedented challenges for the peace movement, anti-interventionist forces, and other progressive activists. For the first time in the lives of most Americans, the U.S. has found itself under attack.