In an interview with the Associated Press this weekend, Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the commander of the Pakistani Army’s crucial Peshawar Corps, admitted that his country could do more to go after violent groups in his country, but complained that the US is scapegoating Pakistan for its own problems in Afghanistan.
The interview comes as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits New Delhi to confirm aspects of the growing US strategic partnership with India over global trade, security matters, and how to wean India off of Iranian oil.
While in New Delhi, Ms. Clinton said that the US and India would “keep pushing” Pakistan to do more in taking on radical Islamist groups, including handing over Hafiz Saeed, founder of a Pakistani-based militant group that is believed to have carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
"We're well aware that there [have] not yet been the steps taken by the Pakistani government to do what both India and the United States have repeatedly requested," Clinton said at a town-hall-style meeting in Kolkata during the weekend. "And we're going to keep pushing that point. So it's a way of raising the visibility and pointing out to those who are associated with him that there is a cost for that."
If America’s relationship with India has turned a corner to become strategic partnership, America’s relationship with Pakistan has been “complicated” for quite a while.
During the cold war, Pakistan was a trusted front-line ally against Soviet expansion into Afghanistan. But when the cold war ended, Washington withdrew from the region, and Pakistan’s proxy groups fighting in Afghanistan turned their sights on other matters, from fighting Indian control over Kashmir – a border state that both India and Pakistan claim – to internal Pakistani disputes.
When the Sept. 11 attacks brought US attention back to Pakistan, it was clear things had changed in the US-Pakistani relationship. Then-President George W. Bush gave Pakistan an ultimatum to join the US in its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda or to be considered an enemy, and Pakistan complied. But Pakistan’s compliance itself has had limits.
Now, when Pakistan does throw the full force of its military into clearing out militant groups from their bases in the Federal Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border, those operations have had a heavy cost.
In a briefing to parliamentarians in October 2011, Pakistan's director general of military operations, Major Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, said that some 3,097 soldiers were killed and 781 permanently injured in the decade-long war against terror. As for the total killed: More than 35,000 Pakistanis have died in the past 11 years of the conflict.
Indeed, even simple occupation carries a cost. Just this weekend, militants overran a Pakistani military post in the border area of North Waziristan, capturing and killing 14 Pakistani soldiers, beheading 13 of them, and putting some of the soldiers’ heads on polls in the bazaar of Miramshah.
Rabbani says Pakistan will not be intimidated, but will carry out its operations in a methodical way, ensuring that other areas are secure before moving into a new front.
"Something has to be done, and it's in the offing," said Rabbani, who has 150,000 soldiers and paramilitary forces under his command all along the northwest region of Pakistan. "North Waziristan is the only region we haven't cleared. It should be done as early as possible."
India currently imports almost 80 percent of its oil, and some 11 percent of the total comes from Iran, in order to help fuel its solidly booming economy. That growth itself is welcomed by Washington, but a recently passed US law would impose sanctions on countries, like India, who purchase their oil from Iran, starting June 28. The US fears that Iran may be moving toward developing nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.
"We believe, at this moment in time, the principal threat is a nuclear-armed Iran," said Ms. Clinton, during an interaction with reporters in the eastern city of Kolkata. "We need India to be part of the international effort.... We hope they will do even more and we think there is an adequate supply in the market place as Saudi Arabia, Iraq. We think this is part of India's role in the international community."
Few expect India to turn off the spigots right away. Replacing $11 billion worth of Iranian oil each year isn’t easy. But for a variety of other reasons, including internal politics, some analysts say that India will be either unwilling or unable to deliver on Clinton’s request.
“It’s entirely reasonable to request this, but the question is; will they be able to pull it off?” says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science and Rabindranath Tagore Chair of Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University. “It comes down to coalition politics and a small number of people who still want to unfurl the banner of non-alignment.”
Matters are not made easier by the fact that the current government of India is a coalition propped up by smaller left-wing parties, adds Mr. Ganguly, none of whom are particularly fond of the United States or its push for open and free markets.
“India thus far has failed to come up with an answer to the question of what they want from the US, and what kind of relationship they want to have with the United States,” says Ganguly. “I fear that some people in the US are starting to ask, is this really worth it.”
If America and India didn’t have so many interests in common, this might be considered to be a spat.
Both countries are nuclear-weapons states that are committed to preventing nuclear weapons from proliferating. Both countries seek lower trade barriers in general, and both countries want India to rise up as a regional economic power, as a counterbalance to the Asian giant, China. Both countries, too, favor stable democratic governance, and both see the rise of militant Islam – particularly from uncontrolled areas of Pakistan – as a threat.
Gone are the bad old days when post-colonial Indian governments viewed every action by Washington as an attack on its sovereignty, or when Washington viewed New Delhi as a pawn of the Soviet Union. Now, when Washington talks about India, it tends to coo.
“India is a rising giant whose influence is being felt not only in the Indian Ocean, but clear across Asia Pacific to the shores of the Americas, in Africa, the Middle East, and in Central Asia,” said Mr. Blake. “Its rise – fueled by a young, optimistic, dynamic, educated population – may well be the biggest story of the 21st century.”
Even when it comes to Iranian oil, India and the US don’t need to agree to disagree. India simply hasn’t made up its mind, and some question whether India even has the option to consider a cutoff.
A 56-member delegation of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce is also present in New Delhi to remind the Indian government that, as the chairman of the Iranian delegation said, “you need oil and we need to sell.”
Again, in worse times, America might see this as Indian two-faced diplomacy. But the overall state of US-Indian relations is positive. The question is whether Clinton has the kind of leverage to get India to do more than what it is already willing to do, which in the case of Iranian oil, isn’t much.
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In France, voters have ushered out one of America’s closest strategic allies and voted in a new president, François Hollande, who promised during the campaign to pull out France’s remaining 3,500 soldiers from the NATO mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
Afghan officials in Kabul put on a brave face at this news, saying that Afghanistan was ready to take on its own security arrangements. In any case, officials pointed out that there are many other NATO member nations in Afghanistan, and NATO isn't leaving anytime soon.
"For us, a NATO stance is more important than individual decisions by individual nations," Afghan Defense Ministry Spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi told Agence France-Presse. "And Afghanistan is well prepared to take over all security responsibilities in 2013."
Yet as the fighting season begins in Afghanistan, and as Afghans fret about their country’s future once NATO forces pull out after 2014, the election of a French president who favors withdrawal is likely to be a troubling sign. And it is likely to give fellow NATO members such as the United States – which signed its own separate security compact with Afghanistan last week – a few new complications to sort out.
France is one of the largest countries in Europe, but its contribution to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan – the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – is relatively small: just 3,300 troops compared with the United States’ 90,000 soldiers, or Britain’s 9,500 soldiers. But there is a vast difference between the effect of an orderly withdrawal and a hasty one. An orderly withdrawal is one in which duties and responsibilities are handed off to either the host country or to another foreign peacekeeping force. A disorderly departure inspires panic, and images of helicopters on the roof of an embassy.
The very fact that France had troops in Afghanistan is due largely to the efforts of France’s departing President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the most America-friendly presidents since World War II. Mr. Sarkozy chose in 2009 to reintegrate French troops into NATO after a decades-long absence, and promptly urged their use both in Afghanistan and also during the NATO air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces in Libya last year.
Sarkozy also signaled a rupture with France’s past policy of interventionism among its former colonies in Africa, although that promise lasted about as long as a day-old croissant. French troops intervened in Ivory Coast in early 2011 to help capture incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to step down from power after losing the Nov. 2010 elections to Alessane Ouattara.
While the French public never did particularly warm to the notion of French troops in Afghanistan, the Monitor’s Robert Marquand reported in April 2011 that French public opinion seemed to be in support of operations in Libya and Ivory Coast, two countries France has typically kept within its sphere of influence.
The election of Hollande, by all accounts, has more to do with public discontent over Sarkozy’s handling of the sluggish economy than it does with French foreign policy. But withdrawal from Afghanistan is popular. Even Sarkozy himself, during a January 2012 visit to Kabul, suggested that France would push NATO to hand over combat operations to Afghan control in 2013.
“We have decided in a common accord with President Karzai to ask NATO to consider a total handing of NATO combat missions to the Afghan Army over the course of 2013,” Sarkozy said, adding that France itself would withdraw its troops by the end of 2013.
There may not seem to be a great deal of distance between Sarkozy’s end-of-2013 withdrawal and Hollande’s campaign promise of withdrawal within the next seven months. But French elections may be an indication of a more general disengagement from joint military operations, increasing the burden on the remaining NATO allies there.
As military junta leaders in Mali struggle to retain control, West Africa’s group for trade, the Economic Community for West African States, is preparing to send in troops to protect citizens and oversee a transition of power back to civilian rule.
At a leadership summit held in Dakar, Senegal on Thursday, ECOWAS announced it was also preparing to send troops to the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, where another military coup toppled the civilian government of President Raimundo Pereira and his prime minister, Carlos Domingos Gomes, Jr.
While the coup in Mali has drawn the most attention – with Tuareg separatist rebels taking advantage of the disarray to effectively take control of northern Mali – the two separate coups together threaten the security of the entire region, says Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, the current chair of ECOWAS.
“We would like for all the new Malian leaders to work together for a reunified Mali,’’ said Mr. Ouattara, who himself came to power through foreign intervention. Ouattara won Ivory Coast’s Nov. 2010 elections, but the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down, and launched a four-month civil war that killed thousands. French peacekeepers stationed in Ivory Coast provided air support while troops loyal to Ouattara swept through the country and arrested Gbagbo in his palace.
Ouattara said that ECOWAS would soon begin negotiations with northern Mali’s rebels.
If ECOWAS does end up intervening, it will be a test of the West African organizations' political will to solve regional problems before they spread across borders. Like the larger continent-wide body, the African Union, ECOWAS has evolved from a mainly trade talk-shop into a venue for conflict-resolution, and its member nations, led primarily by Nigeria, have increasingly shown a willingness to use military force if necessary.
ECOWAS first tested itself in a military intervention in Liberia, during that country’s brutal civil war. Calling itself the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the West African contingent distinguished itself from the United Nations peacekeeping mission by fighting its way into the conflict against many different factions, and then holding its ground in Monrovia.
But ECOMOG was plagued by divisions among member countries on which Liberian leader to support, as well as the ill behavior of some of its soldiers. After a few years in Liberia, ECOMOG was nicknamed “Every Car or Movable Object Gone,” because of the penchant of ECOMOG soldiers to loot.
Since that time, several member states of ECOWAS have received counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism training from French troops, as well as from the US military’s new Africa Command, an-Africa-focused military command that is based in Frankfurt, Germany. AFRICOM’s training missions to Mali have been halted since the coup began in March.
By insisting elections be held in Mali and Guinea-Bissau within the next 12 months, ECOWAS is sticking to a well-worn path of conflict-resolution favored by the UN and the African Union. The broad consensus of its members, and the careful mix of negotiation and threats, are a far cry from the group’s early days of division and bluster.
If ECOWAS does intervene in Mali, it won’t come a day too soon for Mali’s neighbor, Niger. Like Mali, Niger has struggled with separatist rebellions by its Tuareg citizens in the arid north, and it has also experienced large inflows of Tuareg returnees fleeing from last year’s civil war in Libya. Former Libyan strong man Muammar Qaddafi had funded and armed Tuareg separatist groups, and when his government fell to Libya late last year, many of those Tuareg rebels returned to northern Mali and northern Niger. Small wonder, then, that Niger’s leaders fret about instability in Mali overflowing into Niger.
"The populations in northern Mali and northern Niger are virtually the same in this zone. Of course there are risks," Mohammed Anacko, a former Nigerien Tuareg rebel leader, now head of the regional council in Agadez, told Reuters news agency. "Our concern is how this [situation in Mali] will be managed. The way in which it is managed will determine what spillover there is in Niger."
Politics of withdrawal
This week, when President Obama marked the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, US Sen. John McCain took him to task for “politicizing” that event. When President Obama flew out to Afghanistan to praise US soldiers for their efforts over the past decade, and to sign a security pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Senator McCain said that Obama's trip was a “good thing,” because it involved long-term US national security interests.
For Americans, this should be fair warning: Every act by the president this year will be examined and deemed political or not, often depending more on political viewpoint than objective reality. But for the rest of the world, actions of the US president are too important to be seen in purely political terms.
Consider the Economist magazine’s article this week about the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai signed on May 2. The Economist admits that little is known but the broad outlines of the agreement, including the expected continued presence of at least some US troops in Afghanistan beyond the announced end of US combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014. This, the Economist says, is good news.
Ever since Mr. Obama first announced when American troops would begin to withdraw, many Afghans have been stalked by the fear of a return to the early 1990s, when the world abandoned them and the country imploded under the pressures of ethnic tensions and scheming neighbours. The result was a gruesome civil war and the rise of the Taliban.
The SPA is an attempt to tell both Afghans and their neighbours that this will not happen again.
Vice presidents and foreign policy
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio gave a speech on foreign policy at the Brookings Institute, which the Monitor’s Dan Murphy and others saw as Senator Rubio’s coming-out party as the likely vice-presidential candidate on Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign ticket.
The press has assessed Rubio, and found him to be thoughtful and not overly hawkish. While Rubio is by no means likely to push for a return to the “with us or against us” unilateralism of the Bush administration, his speech signaled that he believes the US should lead international organizations from the front, rather than seeking consensus and compromise, writes Mario Loyola in this week's National Review.
… in Rubio’s view, diplomacy doesn’t mean bowing to international organizations where the lowest common denominator can kill collective action. Diplomacy means American leadership. ‘Effective international coalitions don’t form themselves,’ Rubio said. ‘They need to be instigated and led, and more often than not, they can only be instigated and led by us.’
Oil and politics
Americans might be surprised at what the citizens of other countries think about them. In many countries of Africa, for instance, it is thought that the only reason the American government does anything these days is to get control of oil.
The Iraqi war? “Oil.” The NATO operation to support Libyan rebels against Qaddafi? “Oil.” What about the billions of dollars spent by the US government to prevent the spread of HIV in Africa? “That is just a program to distract the world from America’s main preoccupation, which is oil.”
A piece in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine suggests that America may have to wean itself from fossil fuels, if only out of pure selfish national interests. As the writer Amory B. Lovins writes, the US spends about $2 billion each day buying oil, and you add in other costs of transport and so on, the burden ends up being about one-sixth of the country’s gross domestic product. “Even if oil and coal prices were not high, volatile, and rising, risks such as fuel insecurity and dependence, pollution-caused illnesses, energy-driven conflicts over water and food, climate change, and geopolitical tensions would make oil and coal unattractive,” Mr. Lovins writes.
IQ and development
Racism and development work don’t usually get along. Those who want to make a difference in developing countries, helping poorer nations create vigorous economies, achieve self-sufficiency in food production, or build drinking water or public health systems, generally are not the types of people who believe in spurious theories of racial superiority.
The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for academics who write about development. Recently, a spate of articles argue that some countries are less developed than others because, well, because their citizens are stupid. Charles Kenny rebuts that in a Foreign Policy piece about these spurious academic studies, called "Dumb and Dumber." Mr. Kenny admits that IQ levels are higher in richer countries with better schooling systems, but then adds that as poorer countries get better nutrition and better educations, their IQ scores improve, something that scientists now call “the Flynn effect.”
The good news is that decolonization began a process of leveling the playing field, with rapidly climbing and converging indicators of health and education worldwide. Thanks to the Flynn effect, IQs are doubtless on a path of convergence as well, and the poisonous idiocy of genetic explanations for wealth and poverty will soon lose what little empirical support they might appear to have today.
Media freedom in South Africa
Finally, please read Nadine Gordimer’s fine piece in the New York Review of Books, about the troubling set of proposed laws that would sharply restrict press freedom in South Africa. Ms. Gordimer, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for literature, writes that she continues to support the African National Congress, but she opposes the proposed laws because they would essentially take South Africa back to the days of apartheid, when criticism was tantamount to treason.
For those who supported the freedom struggle in South Africa, the African National Congress’s rise to power in 1994 was an affirmation that truth and justice occasionally win out over racism and repression. But just 18 years later, Gordimer writes,“we now have the imminent threat of updated versions of the suppression of freedom of expression that gagged us under apartheid.”
The United Nations Security Council has voted to impose economic sanctions on Sudan and South Sudan if the two countries don’t cease their fighting immediately and go back to the negotiating table to settle their disputes over territory and oil revenues.
The two countries, which separated peacefully in July 2011 after a referendum, have been fighting a low-level war since early April, after South Sudan seized an oilfield in Heglig, a town that both Sudan and South Sudan claim. The South Sudanese assault on Heglig followed weeks of aerial bombing raids over South Sudanese territory and months of bickering over how to divide the revenues from oil that is produced in the land-locked country of South Sudan, all of which must be pumped through northern pipelines in order to reach global markets. South Sudan claims that the north, which charges $32 to $36 per barrel, is charging too much in pumping fees.
In the UN Security Council vote – which both Russia and China supported, despite initial reservations – Sudan and South Sudan must commit to a cessation of fighting within 48 hours, and immediately return to mediation over its disputes on demarcation of borders and oil-transport fees. If either country fails to do so, they face economic sanctions, such as the partial or total cutoff of rail, air, sea, postal, and electronic linkages between these countries and the rest of the world.
South Sudan welcomed the UN resolution, but Sudan said that it needed to study it.
"It is also essential that both parties return at once to the negotiating table under the auspices of the African Union High-level Implementation Panel to reach agreement on critical outstanding issues,” said the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, after the vote. “We support the plans of the African of the African Union to travel to Khartoum and Juba in the coming days to begin the process. This is ultimately the only way that further conflict can be avoided."
With crucial issues, such as the final borders between their countries, left unresolved by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Sudan and South Sudan were almost inevitably bound to return to conflict. Diplomats hoped, however, that war fatigue and canny economic self-interest for the two countries would ensure that the two countries keep their dispute in the negotiation room and off the battlefield. One month of fighting and hundreds of deaths later, those hopes have been quashed.
Now, with both the United Nations and the African Union pushing the two countries to get back to mediation, diplomats hope they are creating the chance for Sudan and South Sudan to cool off and give peace yet another chance.
South Sudan Minister for Government Affairs Deng Alor Kuol told journalists at the UN on Tuesday that Juba was ready to abide by the UN resolution.
“If we reach an agreement, we will continue to export our oil through Port Sudan,” Bloomberg news agency quoted Mr. Kuol as saying, referring to the northern Sudan port on the Red Sea. “At the same time, we will continue to look at building alternative pipelines.”
If South Sudan sounds a bit bold, that’s because it ended up keeping some three-quarters of the once-united Sudan’s total oil output of 490,000 barrels a day.
The Sudanese government in Khartoum, which once paid for its large military and its large bureaucratic and intelligence apparatus through oil revenues became a largely agricultural country again in mid-2011, and is facing a mounting fiscal crisis. South Sudan, meanwhile, became one of Africa’s largest oil-producing nations but with almost no expertise for how to manage those proceeds, and no means for getting its oil to market, except through the territory of its former enemy, with which it fought a 20-year-long civil war.
Sudan, for its part, has been eager to get what little is left of its oil industry back up and running. On Wednesday, Sudanese Petroleum Minister Awad Ahmed al-Jaz told reporters at Heglig that Sudan had resumed oil production at the Heglig oil field, which once produced 55,000 barrels a day, almost half of Sudan’s total 115,000 barrels per day production.
"This oilfield was producing 55,000 barrels per day," Mr. al-Jaz said at the oilfield. "Now as we said ... we plan to produce more than that, besides the production of other oilfields which will follow."
Khartoum may have difficulty increasing production, however, since most of the country’s remaining oilfields are in its southern states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, both of which have full-blown domestic insurgencies that have tied down the Sudanese Armed Forces and threatened economic installations such as oil-pumping stations.
Fighting in Mali’s capital of Bamako broke out last night and deep into the early hours of Tuesday. Military commanders who led a March 22 coup to oust President Amadou Toumani Toure say that they have managed to keep control of all strategic points in the capital, including the airport, a major military base, and the state-owned television station, but heavy gunfire could be heard until dawn.
Coup leaders were forced under heavy diplomatic pressure to step down in favor of a civilian government, led by former Parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré. But coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo remains influential, and his troops have been carrying out arrests.
The most recent fighting seems to have sparked off when Captain Sanogo’s men attempted to arrest the leader of the “Red Berets,” the presidential guards who are thought to remain loyal to the former president.
"Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested," a junta officer said in a television message, quoted by Reuters.
Even before the coup, Mali had been a country of major concern for Western diplomats and for defense analysts. With much of its territory straddling the Saharan desert and the more temperate Sahel region, Mali has long had difficulty maintaining effective control over its own lands and the nomadic people who live in its arid north. Such a vast uncontrolled territory has been seen by Europe, in particular, as a threat, since drug dealers, arms traffickers, and Islamists have increasingly used northern Mali as a safe haven, both for business and for revolution.
French and American military trainers have worked over the past five years to provide equipment and training for the poorly equipped Malian army. But with the March 22 coup, all joint-training missions have been cut off, and Mali has taken a turn from “fragile state” toward “failed state” status.
The coup was launched by Army mid-ranking soldiers complaining that the government of President Toure had failed to provide adequate food and ammunition in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the desert north. The coup was swift and successful, but as Sanogo and his men took control of the country’s capital down south, Tuareg rebels – apparently resupplied with arms and fresh troops fleeing the civil war in Libya – took advantage of the confusion and ousted the Malian military from bases across the north, an area roughly the size of France.
The result is a kind of cultural partition. Up north, in cities such as Timbuktu, Tuaregs and their apparent Islamist allies have now imposed their own version of Sharia law. Down south, Sanogo’s men appear to have control, but it is not clear whether the Malian army has either the manpower or the will to retake areas lost to the Tuareg rebels and Islamists.
Mali’s neighbors have watched the country’s disintegration with growing alarm. On Saturday, Sanogo – still apparently speaking for the government – rejected a proposal by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to send in peacekeepers to Mali, as well as ECOWAS’s demands for elections within the next 12 months.
For the moment, calm has returned to Bamako, as heavy rains delay the likelihood of heavy fighting on Tuesday between the pro-coup army members and the Red Berets loyal to former President Toure.
Imagine a particularly challenging country in which to do business.
Let's say it’s a country that is not recognized by any other country, so all business has to be conducted either in off-shore accounts or in cash. On land, militant groups fight against the government and take the occasional foreign aid worker hostage. At sea, pirates attack and capture freighters, tankers, and even pleasure boats. Most food in the local economy comes from foreign donations, because the region is prone to conflict and famine.
Would you invest in such a country?
Australia’s Jacka Resources gas and oil exploration company would. And if you guessed that the country is Somalia, you’re very close. The country is Somaliland, which declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991, and has remained a functioning, but unrecognized, independent republic ever since. Much safer and more stable than its eastern and southern neighbor, Somaliland also sits in a geological zone where oil is likely to occur, and it recently awarded its first oil concessions to foreign oil prospecting companies.
Jacka Resources – which has also successfully explored oil in Uganda’s Lake Albert – will begin seismic tests, gravity tests, and exploratory drilling soon in the 22,000 square kilometer Habra Garhajis block in southwestern Somaliland, where oil has been found to seep to the surface in at least nine separate locations.
Jacka chairman Scott Spencer said that his company looked forward to working together with Petrosoma, a Somali affiliate of Prime Resources Limited, on exploring the Habra Garhajis block, which he says has “enormous potential.”
Jacka is not alone. The Somaliland government has also signed exploration agreements with London-listed company Ophir Energy, Asante Oil, and Prime Resources, which owns Petrosoma.
Whether this newfound economic activity is a good thing or not probably depends on one’s outlook. For many Somalilanders, any form of investment is a good thing, creating the possibility of new local jobs both with the oil prospectors and with the transportation, housing, restaurants, and other service-industry business that would potentially do business with Jacka Resources.
Mohammed Yusuf Ali, chairman and chief executive officer of both Prime Resources and Petrosoma, said, “this is a great day for all Somalilanders,” adding, “all Somalilanders will benefit if we discover oil in this block.”
But oil is not always a blessing for a poor country emerging from conflict.
In Nigeria, oil revenues are one of the biggest sources of corruption for government officials. It's one of the major sources of tension between citizens and their government, and between regions that have oil and those that don’t. Oil discovered along poorly demarcated international borders is especially problematic, as the current fighting between Sudan and South Sudan shows.
The shaky transitional government of Somalia has already complained about Kenya’s discovery of offshore oil in waters claimed by Somalia, a matter that Somalian Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullahi Haji called “a territorial argument that came after oil and gas companies became interested in the region,” in an interview with Reuters.
The notion that oil is a curse is a bit overdone, of course.
Some countries with strong legal systems, such as Britain, Norway, and Ghana, manage to squeeze a bit of benefit out of the oil trade with little negative effect. Other countries, such as Angola, Nigeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, and South Sudan are not so fortunate.
But for Somaliland, simply having a conversation about the possible downsides of an oil-based economy is a discussion – and even a curse – worth having.
It’s tempting, in an election year, to blame the sitting occupant of the White House with every unfortunate foreign trend. If the global economy stumbles, if conflicts brew, and if rogue states do roguish things, then it’s seen as the president’s fault. And sometimes it is.
But in a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic, Max Fisher writes that the post-cold-war world is much too complicated to take the direction of any other superpower, even one as charming, democratic, and fun-loving as the United States. The US can’t rely on a common threat – say, the Soviet menace – or a common purpose – free-market capitalism – to bind nations together. That leaves the US with one remaining tool: persuasion.
“When U.S. interests line up with global interests, we suddenly become very effective at leading the world: isolating Iran, convincing Sudan to allow its southern third to secede, or curbing Chinese trade abuses, for example, would probably all have been impossible on our own. But they also wouldn't have happened without the U.S. taking the lead.”
Studying Britain's darker past
While America’s doomsayers need to calm down, Americans shouldn’t go to the other extreme and assume that they are exceptional, or without fault. Indeed, Americans could save themselves a lot of pain by studying the histories of other former superpowers who once ruled the world.
Britain, like America, once enjoyed a superpower status as head of an empire on which the sun seemingly never set. Like America, Britain liked to think of itself as the good guy, the great civilizer, spreading the universal truths of democracy and free markets.
But Britain didn’t always behave like a gentle London bobby. In India, its troops mowed down unarmed protesters at Jallianwala Bagh in April 1919, killing at least 400 of the 15,000 people gathered there. And in Kenya, British troops detained some 80,000 ethnic Kikuyus in detainment camps, during a crackdown on the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. Thousands of these Kenyan detainees are thought to have been beaten, tortured, or starved to death, but the full truth may never be known. Last week, a British historian revealed that the British government systematically destroyed thousands of documents detailing the crackdown.
Read the Guardian’s coverage of this scandal, especially George Monbiot’s column on his country’s collective amnesia about uncomfortable colonial history.
Women of the Middle East
If any article caught fire this week, it has been a piece by Egyptian-American writer Mona El-Tahawy in this week’s Foreign Policy, about the mistreatment of women in the Middle East, an article entitled, “Why do they hate us?” Some liberal Muslim critics say her article makes valid criticisms, but it should have run in an Arabic-language publication, where it could have done some good, rather than in a US publication, where it could reinforce Western stereotypes of Islamic societies as anti-women.
But Ms. Tahawy writes that it’s time to stop making excuses.
“First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You -- the outside world -- will be told that it's our "culture" and "religion" to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man -- Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation -- but they will be finished by Arab women.”
Islamic societies certainly do get a bad rap, but few societies suffer at the hand of stereotypical foreign coverage the way that the 54 countries of Africa do. In a tough-but-sardonic column on the BBC’s website, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina plays with the stereotypes, before giving them the trash-bin treatment they deserve.
“The truth is, we have only started to see what we will look like.
As the West flounders, there is a real sense that we have some leverage.
The truth is, we will never look like what CNN wants us to look like.
But that's fine - we can get online now and completely bypass their nonsense.”
India's publishing boom
And in a final note of hope, it will come as no surprise to fans of Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, and that Salman Rushdie guy that India’s billion-plus population produces a fair number of amazing authors. In the past, these folks had to shuffle into literary agents’ offices in London or New York to get published, but today, book publishers are moving some of their operations to India itself. Not only are a handful of Indians excellent writers; millions of them are also avid readers.
David Davidar, head of Penguin India, says this to a New York Times blogger: “India is the only country currently where the English-language market is growing in double digits. Everywhere else is it either flat or registering a negative growth. Unlike North America, eBooks have not penetrated to a large extent. Here they make up less than 1 percent of sales, compared to nearly 25 percent in the United States.”
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, has been found guilty of all 11 of the charges against him, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, the use of child soldiers, and other inhuman acts.
Mr. Taylor is the first sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes since the Nuremberg Nazi war trials, and today, he became the first leader to be convicted of war crimes committed when he was head of state.
While the court that convicted Taylor was a special tribunal created for the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone, which ended in 2002, this trial sets a precedent for holding other world leaders to account for their actions in office. At present, the International Criminal Court at the Hague has indicted at least two other former or current heads of state, including Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and former Cote D’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo, for war crimes or crimes against humanity.
“This is a huge step forward in holding leaders accountable,” says Andie Lambe, head of the international justice team for the human rights advocacy group, Global Witness. “This sends a very clear signal to world leaders that you will be held accountable for your actions.”
Taylor led a rebel group from 1989 to 1997 that succeeded in overthrowing then-President Samuel Doe. Taylor later was elected president in 1997, after a peace process brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In office, Taylor is accused of repressing critics and journalists, and launching cross-border raids into neighboring states such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cote D’Ivoire.
It was for crimes committed by soldiers under his command in Sierra Leone that Taylor was ultimately indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, prompting Taylor to step down from office in August 2003, and to seek exile in Nigeria. Nigeria ultimately handed Taylor over for extradition in 2006.
While Taylor has been found guilty by the Special Court this week, he has been found guilty for the lesser charges of “aiding and abetting,” rather than for being in a command responsibility in directing those criminal activities in Sierra Leone. Even so, the sheer number of counts against him, and the severity of the crimes, are likely to mean a stiff and lengthy sentence, Ms. Lambe of Global Witness says.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the guilty verdict, while criticizing the Liberian government – led by Nobel Prize laureate President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – for failing to launch its own investigation of war crimes committed in Liberia by the Taylor regime.
“Powerful leaders like Charles Taylor have for too long lived comfortably above the law,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, in an emailed statement. “Taylor’s conviction sends a message to those in power that they can be held to account for grave crimes.”