Bahrain or Bust?

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan should think twice before meddling in the Middle East.

By Miranda Husain

Less than three weeks after Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, led by Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain to aid the anti-democracy crackdown there, dignitaries from both oil-rich kingdoms did their separate rounds in Pakistan. The royal houses of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are nervous, and they need Pakistan’s mercenaries, and—if necessary—military muscle to shore them up.

This is a remarkable turn of events for Asif Ali Zardari, who had been trying since he was elected president in 2008 to secure Saudi oil on sweetheart terms. He had been unsuccessful in his efforts because the Sunni Saudis view his leadership with some degree of skepticism. It also doesn’t help that Zardari, a Shia, is big on improving relations with Shia Tehran. Riyadh now appears inclined to export oil on terms that better suit cash-strapped Islamabad. Manama, too, wants to play ball. It wants increased defense cooperation and has pledged to prioritize Pakistan’s hopes for a free-trade agreement with the GCC in return. But Zardari and his Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, should fight the urge to get mired in the Middle East.

Pakistan already has a presence in Bahrain: a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment was deployed there over a year ago to train local troops, and retired officers from our Navy and Army are part of their security forces. Media estimates put the number of Pakistanis serving in Bahrain’s security establishment at about 10,000. Their removal has been a key demand of protesters in the kingdom. Last month in Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly assured Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, that Pakistan would offer more retired manpower to help quell the uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni rulers by its Shia majority. Gilani’s spokesman was unable to confirm the pledge.
Islamabad’s support to the tottering regime in Manama is not ideal.

“It’s like our version of Blackwater,” says Talat Masood, a former Pakistan Army general, referring to Bahrain’s recruitment drive in Pakistan. “We’re doing [in Bahrain] exactly what we have been opposing here,” he says. Pakistan, he maintains, has no business in trying to suppress a democratic, people’s movement in another country. Short-term economic gains cannot be the only prism through which Pakistan views its national interests, he says.

Pakistan has a long history of military involvement and training in the Arab world. Its pilots flew warplanes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and volunteered for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Involvement in Bahrain’s current strife would not be the first time that Pakistan has used its military might to thwart an Arab uprising against an Arab regime. In 1970, future military dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, then head of the Pakistani military training mission in Jordan, led his soldiers to intervene on the side of Amman to quash a Palestinian challenge to its rule.

Some Bahraini opposition groups have called on the U.S. to intervene to get the GCC troops out of their country, fearing it could become a battleground in a Saudi-Iranian battle for regional supremacy. They stress that they share no real affinity with the theocratic regime in Shia-majority Iran, while noting that a number of Bahraini Sunni Muslims have also come out in the streets to call for greater reforms.

Pakistani involvement, therefore, could result in it being embroiled in a proxy war, with serious implications for its own security interests.

The issue of Iran is important, but there’s a deeper issue, according to author Noam Chomsky. “By historical and geographical accident, the main concentration of global energy resources is in the northern Gulf region, which is predominantly Shia,” he told Newsweek Pakistan.

Bahrain, he points out, neighbors eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the latter’s oil is. “Western planners have long been concerned that a tacit Shia alliance might take shape with enormous control over the world’s energy resources, and perhaps not be reliably obedient to the U.S.”

Bahrain, which like Pakistan was designated a major non-NATO ally by the George W. Bush presidency, is home to the Fifth Fleet. It is the primary U.S. base in the region and allows Washington to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping checks on Iran.

Chomsky believes that Pakistani presence in Bahrain can be seen as part of a U.S.-backed alliance to safeguard Western access to the region’s oil.

“The U.S. has counted on Pakistan to help control the Arab world and safeguard Arab rulers from their own populations,” says Chomsky.

“Pakistan was one of the ‘cops on the beat’ that the Nixon administration had in mind when outlining their doctrine for controlling the Arab world,” he says. Pakistan has such “severe internal problems” that it may not be able to play this role even if asked to. But the real reason that Pakistan should avoid this role is so that it can stand on the right side of history, alongside those who are fighting for democracy.

Newsweek

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Korean President’s India Visit

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI:  Taking India’s ties with Republic of Korea (ROK) to a new height, the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations (January 26) was ROK President Lee Myung-bak. Lee’s India visit assumes significance as he is the first Korean President to be Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day function.  Besides, his is third Korean presidential visit to India in a period of less than 13 years. The discussions held and agreements reached during Lee’s visit clearly signal that both countries are optimistic about further strengthening India-ROK ties in several key areas.

Lee paid a state visit at the invitation of his Indian counterpart President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, from January 24 to 27. He was accorded a ceremonial welcome on January 25 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. This was followed by his meeting with Patil. The highlight of Lee’s visit was his summit meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Welcoming Lee, in his opening remarks at the delegation level talks, Singh said: “We are delighted that a friend of India is at the helm of affairs in Korea and that together we will have the opportunity to realize your vision and our common vision of a strong and vibrant India-Korea partnership. Your State visit today reflects our mutual commitment to strengthen relations between our countries. This is a relationship that rests on our shared values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human freedoms.”

Ahead of his India visit, Lee projected it as a key part of Seoul’s “New Asia Diplomacy” campaign, to improve ties with Asian countries. In his message, Lee said: “I have tried to realize the vision of New Asia Diplomacy. This trip to India marks a key point of such efforts.” He described India as a key player in Asia taking center on the global stage in the 21st century. “Asia is developing as a new growth engine in the world. Asia is expected to account for 35 percent of the world’s GDP (gross domestic product) ten years from now,” he said. “I am paying attention to India because of its potential,” Lee asserted.

With both the countries eager to push forward bilateral ties, during the summit meeting, Singh and Lee discussed ways to develop them and also exchanged views on regional and international issues. The joint statement released after the summit meeting, stated that during the talks, the two leaders “expressed satisfaction on the strong development of India-ROK relations based on the ‘Long-term Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,’ established in October 2004.” They “welcomed the steady growth in high level exchanges and contacts between the two countries, and the expansion in various areas of bilateral relations including defense, trade, science & technology, information & communication technology, education, and culture.”

Singh and Lee agreed that there was “immense scope for further enhancing bilateral relations in various areas.” They “welcomed entry into force of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)” from January 1, 2010 as “bedrock of a new comprehensive partnership between India and ROK.” With both countries as major economies in the region, their “partnership has the capacity to promote regional growth, and to contribute to prosperity and economic development of Asia,” they stated.

To enhance bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership,” Singh and Lee identified key aspects of their future relationship. These include, political & security cooperation; enhancing trade & investment flows; strengthening cooperation in field of science & technology; increase in cultural exchanges & people to people contacts;  and cooperation in the international arena. Affirming “their commitment to ensure implementation of CEPA,” they agreed to set a target of $30 billion for bilateral trade to be achieved by 2014. The India-ROK bilateral trade stood at $13 billion in 2008-09. Bilateral trade, which was less than $3 billion in 2001, crossed the $10 billion mark in 2007.

Singh and Lee agreed to designate 2011 as “Year of Korea” in India and “Year of India” in ROK to strengthen cultural exchanges and people to people contacts. India welcomed ROK’s initiative to open a Korean Cultural Center in New Delhi in 2011, which according to the joint statement will go a long way in “promoting awareness about Korean life and culture in India.”

Lee’s India visit was also marked by inking of four pacts. These include: Agreement on transfer of sentenced persons; Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in information technology & services; Program of cooperation in science and technology for the period 2010-2012 and MoU for cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Singh and Lee agreed “to facilitate development of a framework for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.” They shared the view that “nuclear energy can play an important role as a safe, sustainable and non-polluting source of energy.” Lee is understood to have told Singh that he was “very optimistic” about progress in this area and that ROK nuclear companies were “very competitive” on this front.

Civil nuclear cooperation figured prominently in the summit meeting and the talks Lee held with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. After his meeting with Krishna, Lee said: “This is (civil nuclear) an area which will be very productive for both of us.” A member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), ROK had supported consensus for reopening global civil nuclear trade with India in September 2008. Lee recently succeeded in marching ahead of western contractors by securing a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear reactors in UAE. While from the Korean-angle, Lee’s India-visit is a part of his New Asia Diplomacy, from the Indian it is certainly suggestive of India looking towards East more seriously than before!

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Indo-Azerbaijan Ties With a Filmy & Romantic Touch!

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Bollywood icons, particularly Raj Kapoor and Nargis, may be viewed as actors of the past by Indian society, they still remain a favorite in Azerbaijan. This was revealed by members of Azerbaijani delegation who were in India last week. Led by Huseyn Bagirov, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, the delegation was here for the first meeting of India-Azerbaijan Intergovernmental Commission, which was held on 26th November. The Indian side was led by Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M. Scindia. Though held after being postponed a few times, the meeting is viewed by both sides as a major milestone in strengthening India-Azerbaijan ties. On sidelines of the meeting, members from both sides dismissed the delay in the meeting as an insignificant issue. Rather, they gave emphasis to the meeting being held, which they were “absolutely confident” would enhance their bilateral ties.

During their meeting, held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and traditional friendship,” the two sides “exchanged information on the current economic situation in their respective countries and opportunities that exist for further development of bilateral economic relationship,” sources said. They agreed to deliberate on measures to be “undertaken to increase the volume of bilateral trade on a balanced basis and to widen the trade basket of bilateral trade for mutual benefit.”  India is keen on entering into a long term contract with Azerbaijan for supply of crude oil, sources said.

India and Azerbaijan agreed “to develop economic ties” and explore “opportunities of implementation of mutual investment projects.” They aim to create a “friendly and positive atmosphere among businessmen of the two countries and contribute to enhancing mutual trade relations,” sources said.” The two sides decided to through “mutual diplomatic channels” develop “cooperation in field of oil-chemistry industry, especially oil treatment,” enhance technical cooperation and find possibilities for exchange of views in the field of agriculture, and explore opportunities for participation of Azerbaijan at workshops and trainings organized by India’s International Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program and other technical assistance programs.

India and Azerbaijan also touched on issues such as their membership of International North-South transport corridor (INSTC). They expressed the need to “make joint efforts towards identifying issues and impediments in the smooth functioning of the Corridor and to further develop their relations in the area of transportation,” sources said. With Azerbaijan well endowed with good reserves of non-ferrous minerals like gold, aluminum, zinc, copper, molybdenum, chrome, rock salt, gypsum, limestone, bitumen, clay, marble, etc, they also viewed cooperation in the field of non-ferrous metallurgy as “mutually beneficial,” sources said
In the field of Communication & Information Technology, as India plays a leading role, the two sides deliberated on inking an agreement on bilateral cooperation. The delegates also agreed on their being “potential” for strengthening bilateral ties by expanding cooperation in areas such as agriculture, tourism, environment protection, health, education, customs issue, chemical & petrochemical sector and the engineering industry.

Ironically, though the meeting is viewed as a major beginning towards developing stronger bilateral ties between India and Azerbaijan at the diplomatic level, it served as an eye-opener to strong cultural and historical ties between the two countries. On sidelines of the meeting, the Azerbaijani members drew attention to the traditional folklore Laila-Majnu, on which several Hindi movies have been made. It can be traced to Azerbaijan, with Nizami Ganjavi, known as the greatest Azerbaijani poet, who lived in 12th century, having begun a new trend in poetry- the epic-romantic genre. The historic linkage is also marked by Azerbaijani-origins of Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty in India. The outstanding monuments constructed during the Mughal period, include the Humayun tomb in Delhi. The architect of the tomb was from Azerbaijan.

What is perhaps most amazing is that cultural linkage between people of the two countries remains strong. Bollywood movies and film-stars are extremely popular in Azerbaijan. It was a pleasant surprise to find the visiting Azerbaijani delegates enjoying Hindi film songs being sung at a reception hosted in their honor by their country’s envoy to India, Tamerlan Karayev. Even though for several Azerbaijani delegates, it was a first visit to India, they seemed fairly familiar with Hindi movies as they easily voiced the names of films from which the various songs were being played. Elshad Nassirov, Vice President, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, who has been to India before, revealed that amongst the most popular names used in his country, were Indian names, including that of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and film star Nargis. In his words: “You will find quite a few Indiras in Azerbaijan. It is a popular name there. So is Nargis. My wife’s name is Nargis.”

Muslims constitute more than ninety percent of Azerbaijan’s population. Earlier, a part of former superpower Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence on 18th October 1991. India recognized Azerbaijan in December 1991 and established diplomatic ties with it on 28th February 1992.

Notwithstanding the diplomatic formalities taking their own time in strengthening cooperation between India and Azerbaijan at the official level, there is little doubt that people have let their cultural ties remain undisturbed.  While Laila-Majnu, Shireen-Farhad and other romantic folklores traced to Azerbaijan remain popular here, Bollywood superstars, including Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan are a favorite there!

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Israel Lost Ally Turkey

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

World Tribune

2009-10-22T080428Z_902822751_GM1E5AM18O201_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY-KAZAKHSTAN TEL AVIV — Turkey was said to have suspended up to $1 billion in proposed Israeli defense projects after canceling a major air exercise with Israel.

A leading Israeli defense analyst said the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has decided to end defense and military cooperation with Israel. Analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said the Turkish Defense Ministry has shelved a range of proposed Israeli projects.

“New deals worth tens and hundreds of millions of dollars offered by Israel’s defense industries to the Turkish Army, as well as cooperation with Turkish colleagues, are being put on hold or cancelled altogether,” Ben-Yishai said in a report.

The report warned that Israel has lost Turkey as a strategic ally. Ben-Yishai said the government and military were seeking a substitute for Ankara, a task that would prove difficult.

[In Ankara, Turkish industry sources said Ankara has ruled out awarding Israel any major defense contracts. The sources said the Defense Industry Undersecretariat was expected to significantly reduce Israel’s presence after at least one key contract was scheduled to conclude in 2010.]

In many cases, Ben-Yishai said, Turkey has selected inferior and more expensive systems than those offered by Israel. He cited an Italian reconnaissance satellite, which was chosen over an offer of Israel’s Ofeq-class spy satellite.

“Only recently, officials in Ankara preferred to purchase a spy satellite from Italy, even though it is inferior in quality and more expensive than the Israeli product offered to Turkey,” Ben-Yishai said.

“Israel has indeed embarked on a process of seeking substitutes to the strategic advantages offered by the relationship with Turkey,” Ben-Yishai said on Oct. 14. “However, this process is difficult and complex, and it is doubtful whether it will compensate us for the lost ties with Ankara.”

The report said the loss of Turkey as a strategic ally has harmed Israel’s deterrence, particularly toward Iran and Syria. But Ben-Yishai said the Israel Air Force would not be significantly affected by Turkey’s decision to ban the Jewish state from the Anatolian Eagle exercise.

“Turkey is not the only region where the IAF can hold drills simulating various combat scenarios — long-range missions, operations in unknown territory, and cooperation with foreign forces,” the report said.

“Nonetheless, the decision to cancel Israel’s participation in NATO’s aerial drill in Turkey must serve as a glowing warning sign in respect to the strategic and economic implications that may follow our growing diplomatic isolation.”

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Al-Quds Univ. to Cut Ties with Israeli Academia

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Maan News Agency

AlQuds U Jerusalem – Ma’an – Al-Quds University will cease all forms of academic cooperation with Israeli academic institutions soon, the school’s board determined on Sunday.

“In cooperation with all sides and under an accepted timetable,” the university will phase out programs and cooperation, the university board said in a statement.

It added that, “If the two-state solution is as far away today as it was ten years ago, there is no justification for continued academic cooperation based on reaching that solution.”

“And there is no justification for continued official and non-official cooperation in other fields, foremost security coordination between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel,” the board noted.

“Ending academic cooperation is aimed at, first of all, pressuring Israel to abide by a solution that ends the occupation, a solution that has been needed for far too long and that the international community has stopped demanding,” the board said.

It also noted that the decision came “in response to the prior Israeli onslaught [on Gaza]; the acts and policies of Israeli governments over the past ten years, including settlement construction in East Jerusalem, the tightening of the siege on the occupied territories and thwarting any negotiated peace process that will lead to an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.”

It also affirmed the necessity for all those involved, including government organizations, civil society groups, domestic and international, to focus on a just and prompt solution for the Palestinian cause. The statement insisted that all parties involved press for a solution according to “international legitimacy and Arab and international efforts.”

The board called for the international community to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international legitimacy and call for taking legal and political action for Israel’s “dangerous crimes and violations in Gaza,” as well as Israel’s “illegal acts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

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Minister: Indonesia, Egypt to Boost Trade Cooperation

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the visit of Mohamed Elzorkany, Egypt`s assistant foreign affairs minister for Asia, was aimed at boosting bilateral trade cooperation between the two countries.

The bilateral relations between Egypt and Indonesia was limited to the political field so far, and therefore the ties would be expanded to include economic, social and cultural fields.

“The close political relations between Indonesia and Egypt will be intensified and translated into cooperation in other fields, including trade,” Wirajuda said.
Elzorkany visited Jakarta as parts of his Asian tour which included China, Mongolia, and Malaysia.

During his two-day visit in Indonesia, the Egyptian official held meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Trade Minister Marie Elka Pangestu, and National Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo.

Elzorkany at a dinner reception hosted by the Egyptian ambassador to Indonesia, here on Monday evening, said that Egypt and Indonesia had big potential to intensify the bilateral cooperation in the trade and investment fields.

Indonesia and Egypt had close bilateral relations and both nations had set up a joint commission to improve cooperation in various fields, especially trade and investment, he said.

Egypt which recorded an economic growth at 7.1 percent last year, was a gate to Africa, Europe and other Arab countries, he said, hoping that Indonesia could use his country`s potential to penetrate those regional markets.

The bilateral trade value of the two countries reached US$1.1 billion, with Indonesia enjoyed a surplus of US$900 million.

Egypt`s exports to Indonesia include phosphates, cotton, fruits, and carpets, while its imports from Indonesia are among other things crude palm oil (CPO), rubber, paper, and tires.

Elzorkany believed that the two nations had huge potentials to achieve progress in the future.

Indonesia and Egypt as developing countries also supported each other in various international forum including in G-15, he said.

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