North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pakistan's new Prime Minister and old supply routes

In late June, Pakistan found itself with a new Prime Minister, and in the past two weeks, re-negotiated lucrative supply line agreements with the US. Perhaps the two are interrelated.

Pakistan, a nation of 173 million, nestled between Iran, Afghanistan, China, and India ...


Pakistan is embroiled in conflict. To the northwest, the nation shares a very porous border with volatile Afghanistan. A Soviet invasion in 1980 developed into a cold-war sparring with a proxy, as the US armed nationalist warriors called the mujahideen to fight the Soviets. Pakistan also engaged, and when the Soviets withdrew in 1989, provided quiet support for a nationalistic group known as the Taliban to consolidate power. For years, the Taliban, building their own repressive governance, sheltered Osama bin laden and his growing Al-qaeda network - which provoked an attack by the United States in late 2001. Pakistan's response through the next eleven years, ranging from indifference to quiet support of the repression and violence of both the Taliban and Al-qaeda found itself increasingly mired in the conflict, as its own tribal groups along Afghanistan's border embraced many aspects of Islamic extremism.

Soldiers warily keep watch along Pakistan's violent and porous border with Afghanistan. These soldiers are under threat from that conflict, from the possibility of mistaken US drone attacks, as well as from the region's warring tribes who live pretty much outside anyone's jurisdiction

To the east, Pakistan has likewise mired itself in conflict with India over a supposedly strategic area high in the Himalaya mountains, known as Kashmir. Here for over 60 years, the two nations have set soldiers in the snow and cold, clashing intermittently over the rights to the hostile landscape. As noted in Wikipedia, "India and Pakistan have fought at least three wars over Kashmir, including the Indo-Pakistani Wars of 1947, 1965 and 1999. India and Pakistan have also been involved in several skirmishes over the Siachen Glacier." Pakistan fought a civil war with an eastern province in 1971, lost, and that province declared itself Bangladesh.

Perpetual snow and cold far above the treeline are the conditions for a long running battle between Pakistan and India

Pakistan and the US have troubled relations that have not improved in the past decade. The US, heavily engaged in Afghanistan and conducting a greatly expanded (and hated) drone program across the country and the border areas of Pakistan killed nearly two dozen Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 in a case of mistaken identity. In response, Pakistan suspended the use of its roads for US/NATO resupplying their armies.

As the influential Atlantic magazine wrote in a piece, December, 2011, titled "The Ally From Hell" Pakistan lies. It hosted Osama bin Laden (knowingly or not). Its government is barely functional. It hates the democracy next door. It is home to both radical jihadists and a large and growing nuclear arsenal (which it fears the U.S. will seize). Its intelligence service sponsors terrorists who attack American troops. With a friend like this, who needs enemies? ... Much of the world, of course, is anxious about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and for good reason: Pakistan is an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea. It is perfectly sensible to believe that Pakistan might not be the safest place on Earth to warehouse 100 or more nuclear weapons.

It is a difficult situation - to state the obvious - because along with its sizable Islamic-extremist factions and duplicity by the country's intelligence and military forces, Pakistan has a substantial literate, English-speaking, and likeable population engaged in world trade, sports, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed the country is a member of the British Commonwealth (though not surprisingly, left in 1972 and returned in 1989).

The many military conflicts have led to large budgets for the armed forces, and minimal investment in education and infrastructure in the countryside. Major periodic flooding and occasional earthquakes bring repeated misery and instability to the country.

The new Prime Minister

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, is now the country's new Prime Minister. Yet exemplifying the turmoil at the highest levels of leadership, "Ashraf became Pakistan's prime minister 10 days ago after Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified from office by the Supreme Court. Gilani was found in contempt of court after refusing to write a letter to authorities in Switzerland, asking them to re-open corruption proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari."

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, new Prime Minister is a politician who is under investigation for fraud and presided over the collapse of Pakistan's electricity supplies.

There is, then, a revolving door of leadership, another sign of splintered loyalties and stress in the country. But because of the nation's strategic importance - if nothing else those 100 nuclear weapons, and a latent ability to wreak havoc in a troubled region of the world - no country interested in regional stability dares disengage.

Re-opening supply lines

Perhaps the occasion of a new Prime Minister was the right time for the US to apologize publicly for the errant strike. Perhaps, in turn, the apology gave cover for the new PM to accept the apology in a public arena, and reopen supply lines for continued funds and trade. But how long this latest truce and trade will last is anyone's guess.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing here with President Zardari, apologized after speaking with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by phone. Clinton said they were "both sorry for the losses suffered" by both countries in the fight against terrorists and that the United States "is sorry for the Pakistani military's losses."

Supply routes from the sea heading north

Trucks "lined up" at the port in Karachi, ready to load up supplies. Due to the 7 month suspension of supplies flowing through Pakistan to Afghanistan, over 2500 containers and trucks are now clogging the port.

In the mountains, supply convoys are vulnerable to attack.

What is ahead for this nation in conflict, both within itself and with neighbors?

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