Western aid is not reaching Afghanistan at the same pace that President Hamid Karzai is setting in his efforts to build a legitimate, ethnically balanced national army. Afghans are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the United States and the Karzai government, whose budget is running alarmingly short. With refugees desperate for aid and no foreign donors willing to underwrite major reconstruction efforts until spring 2003, Karzai’s aggressive initiatives to reduce regional warlords’ power face a severe test.
The May arrest of Jose Padilla, the Brooklyn-born Muslim accused of planning to build a radiological “dirty bomb” within the United States, has helped focus attention on the issue of access to radioactive materials. The Caucasus and Central Asia have emerged as a particular area of concern, as reliable controls over radioactive materials in those regions have broken down. U.S. officials are now pushing for better monitoring of such materials.
Oil rich, politically turbulent Central Asia finds itself at the center of a new great game of power politics. Both China and Russia, the two dominant powers of mainland Asia, regard this subregion of transitional states as part of their “near abroad.” Since September 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism, Central Asia’s geopolitics have been further complicated by the new military presence of the United States, whose troops are now stationed in China’s and Russia’s backyard.
Elections Without Democracy in PakistanBy Najum Mushtaq July 17, 2002
After an informal summit with Central Asian presidents, Russian President Vladimir Putin made surprising remarks about the possibility of moving Russia’s “frontier” south into the former Soviet republics. Putin’s comments ostensibly concerned economic policy, specifically the interests of a Russian-led trade group, the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). However, the notion of Russia protecting a Central Asian state’s borders is infused with hints of the Soviet-era limited sovereignty doctrine. Russia’s former republics have fixed borders, but Russia’s conception of its own southern frontier appears to remain undefined.
There is a history of war in South Asia. India and Pakistan fought in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999. There is good evidence that in no case was there the expectation of a war on the scale and of the kind that ensued. Rather, war followed misadventure, driven by profound errors of policy, political and military judgement, and public sentiment. Nuclear weapons do nothing to lessen such possibilities. There is even reason to believe they may make them worse in South Asia. One lesson of the 1999 Kargil war is that Pakistan saw its newly acquired nuclear weapons as a shield from behind which it could fuel and stoke the conflict in Kashmir, safe from any possible Indian retaliation. During this war, nuclear threats were made publicly by leaders on both sides. It took international intervention to stop the slide to a larger, more destructive war.
As the largest grand assembly ever held in Afghanistan, the Loya Jirga will gather 1,501 Afghan delegates from inside and outside the country. The Special Independent Commission for Convening Loya Jirga has been planning the logistics and management of this event since January, but officials remain worried. “For a long time the Afghan people did not have a say in their government. And for the first time in Afghanistan’s history we wanted the people to feel that they were being represented in the government,” said Ahmed Nadery, a spokesperson for the 21-member Loya Jirga Commission. This pronouncement may mark a step in Afghanistan’s evolution, but acting on it will put a strain on Afghanistan’s scant security. Planners also have to consider how to make the Loya Jirga fair and accessible to the country’s largely illiterate population, and keep it from becoming a platform for tribal, political, and ethnic violence.
India is playing a highly risky game of brinkmanship in Kashmir. Its recent deployment of forces along the line of control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and the extremely provocative rhetoric from Delhi have brought the region closer to a nuclear war than ever before.
Almost 40 years ago, the late Pakistani leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was then serving as Pakistan’s foreign minister, famously declared “even if Pakistanis have to eat grass we will make the bomb.” India and Pakistan have since fought two conventional wars and now have nuclear weapons poised to complete the short five-minute arc to the other’s national capital.
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.