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Old Wednesday, April 03, 2013
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Asia in 21st century

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan

For quite some time, the leading world thinkers and scholars of international relations have been describing the 21st century as the “Asian Century”. The historians have also predicted that, with Asia becoming the centre of world power politics and economic hub there would be return to Asia, the economic prosperity that this gigantic continent lost three hundred years ago, at the hands of European powers. As per Asian Development Bank, Asia would yield over half of the world’s global production by 2050 and its inhabitants would lead a quality life, similar to the contemporary European nations.

With 30 % of world land mass, and 60 % of global population, the Continent of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new ‘centre of gravity’ to the world politics. The term ‘Asian century’ has become a shorthand expression to conjure the rise of Asia. The scale and pace of Asia’s transformation is unprecedented. This region is not only already hosting world’s most competitive and sophisticated economies, but Asia is also projected to grow and dominate over half of world economic output by mid-21st century. According to Asian Development Bank’s research, Asian GDP will increase from $17 trillion in 2010 to $174 trillion in 2050, whereas according to a Nottingham University analysis, the Chinese economy will become the world’s largest economy in 2038.

While the ‘Global North’ remained entangled in recent economic meltdown triggered in 2008, Asia’s relatively robust economic performance highlights its resilient configuration. Today in Asia, each day matters, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies constitute almost $50 billion in trade, and one third of total oil trade will pass through South China Sea or the adjacent Gulf of Thailand. This being said, the ‘Asian Century’ is not merely about Asia. It is a century of shared prosperity, with Asia having to take its share and responsibilities commensurate with its economic weight in the global economy.
Asian ascends to economy primacy, gradual drift of world’s political power base from Atlantic-centric to Pacific-centric, and growing strategic relevance of this region in defining the contemporary global military-balance. Key determinants of emerging Asian regional security patterns and policy interests will certainly have a defining impact on global security politics. While Asian century offers unprecedented opportunities, it also poses challenges for the region in particular and world at large. Managing such emerging challenges and exploring ways to exploit opportunities is the real issue for the global strategists.

Announcing his government’s future defence strategy of ‘pivot to Asia’ (Rebalancing Asia) in January 2012, US President Obama explained that after ten years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military would shift strategic balance towards Asia-Pacific. Washington is consolidating and redeploying its forces, currently a 50/50 split in naval forces deployed in Pacific and Atlantic, to a 60/40 tilt towards Pacific by 2020. In the words of US former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq...” Behind the rhetoric of US ‘forward-deployed diplomacy’ and announcement of plans to begin rotational deployment of US Marines to Darwin - expanding the US military presence in Asia beyond South Korea and Japan - many see a renaissance of alliance-based politics in the region which will have long-term and significant implications for the future security architecture in Asia-Pacific.

Political and strategic relations in Asia and across the globe have entered a period of adjustment and readjustments. The presence of significant nuclear and missile arsenals in the region and rapid military modernizations are affecting regional security dynamics. What happens in Asia now will truly resonate at the global level in both strategic as well as politico-economic context. The global spatial compression and growing inter-connectedness of world societies have not merely sped up the processes of fusion and diffusion, but also the risks of conflicts based on identities, geography, history and resources.

Interplay of ideas and cultures in the region is yet another aspect that requires critical evaluation since inter-state affinities and acrimonies having defining impact on foreign policy behaviour. Diverse cultures and societies represented in Asia and interactions between Eastern and Western civilizations in this region will be test-bed for social and cultural sustainability as these interactions will shape perceptions of ruling elites and consequently affect pattern of both inter and intra state relations.

Asia has arguably become the most critical region in an evolving international order. Geopolitically, the region includes world’s great powers such as China whereas United States and Russia, lie just beyond Asian peripheries and interact with it extensively. Demographically, 60% of the world’s total population is Asian. Militarily, four key players in the broader Asia-Pacific - the US, Russia, China and North Korea - are nuclear weapons states. Asian defence budgets constitute the world’s largest arms market and the region’s ‘defence transformation’ programmes are growing with immense pace.

As Asia’s own powerhouses - China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and perhaps Iran and India - assert their prerogatives over the next decades, they will reshape the global order in their interactions with each other and with the United States. The challenge, of course, will be to bring each of the great powers to the realization that their interests are better served by active multilateral accommodation rather than by competitive manoeuvring. Napoleon Bonaparte famously and quite rightfully noted: “as China wakes, it is shaking the world”. And testimony to it is China’s steady and impressive economic growth, which offers promise rather than a peril in the region. There are overwhelmingly positive ramifications flowing from the fact that China is becoming increasingly enmeshed economically and strategically. China’s extraordinary transformation inescapably drives the nexus between Asian security and global security.

The combination of spectacular regional economic growth, the cultural and religious diversity of its massive population base and the sheer material resources this region will generate and consume over the course of this century justify the observation that ‘there is now a broad consensus that the Asian continent is poised to become the new centre of gravity in global politics’.

The worldwide growing inter-connectedness of societies is speeding up not only the fusion and diffusion but also the risks of conflicts based on identities, geography, history and resources, both between and within states. This will have far-reaching implications for both international and national security policies and perceptions of both states and non-state actors, both of which are competing for influence and legitimacy in an increasingly shared space the modern world has now become. Ideas, identities, ideologies and cultures of both East and Western civilizations are cooperating and competing at the same time in multiple dimensions. In some cases the conflicts that influence the social construction of national and personal interests, shape the perceptions though which opportunities and challenges for states and governments are identified, prioritized, selected and pursued. Understanding, accepting cultural differences is vital for constructing a peaceful, stable and secure world that is beneficial for not one but all civilizations and societies.
The onus is on Asia to show the world that the 21st century can be a century of peace, if world policies and politics are conducted in an environment of tolerance, understanding and not as a zero-sum game, which was the case in the last two centuries dominated by the West.

Within South Asia, Indian economy has rapidly grown over last few decades, but India failed to integrate other regional economies to broaden the base, thus remained the only beneficiary of its economic riches. Whereas Chinese economic advances benefitted the economies of East and Southeast Asia at the most trying times of 1997 crises, Indian economic development thwarted other South Asian economies. As in the political sphere, India has the motives to become an economic hegemonic power, which may not be an appropriate policy in the globalized world. This South Asian giant could have realized that, economic and political development and integration with regional countries could have complemented its economy, otherwise having a sound base.

Pakistan’s geopolitical location makes it an important junction between various regions of Asia, in the context of Asian century. As a junction point, it connects South Asia with Central, West, and East Asia. Then it is an intersection between the energy deficient and energy efficient countries of Asia. Though itself economically mismanaged, Pakistan has tremendous potentials to exploit its geopolitics, its own resources and more so benefit from the rapidly approaching opportunities of economic prosperities of the Asian century. This all would be possible only once there is a dedicated team of economic managers and strategic planners who have the political vision, economic prudence, the desired determination and long wished sincerity to lead Pakistan in this highly competitive and challenging Asia century.

(The writer is Islamabad based analyst of International relations)

http://www.thefrontierpost.com/category/40/
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State of War

Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik

North Korea has been making headlines. In the past few days, it declared that it is in the state of war with South Korea and directed its military in a stand-by position. Historically, the 1950-53 war declared a cease-fire through an armistice. Formally and legally, the war did not end up. The two Koreas have been divided along the 38th Parallel. It cannot be considered as a permanent border between the two. Reunification talks prove this fact too.

Besides the South, US mainland, Hawaii, and Guam could be targeted as was announced in recent Pyongyang declaration. So are over 28000 US troops in Seoul. The declaration has posed a threat to the South. Specific targets such as U.S. military bases in Yokosuka, Misawa, and Okinawa were mentioned in North Korean plan to hit Japan. North Korean Rodong ballistic missiles have the capacity to target these bases.

So far its looks that the North would not be willing to abandon its nuclear programs for aid unlike in the past. The teenage Kim Jong-Un looks more enthusiastic than pragmatist over country’s nuclear program. Some will still argue that the long isolation has been compelling Kim to make an end to its isolation and brings back the country to international fold. It is isolation and frustration that have been driving the North.

In a further move, North Korea vowed to continue its nuclear program at the Yongbyng nuclear reactor side that was closed down in 2007. This has been announced after the third nuclear testing took place in February. So far South Korea, United States, and Japan had shown restraint. Diplomacy was utilized.
United States and South Korea have been unwilling to make any concession. They normally level all of such security maneuverings of North Korea as ‘provocative acts’. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that North Korean nuclear ambitions are a ‘growing threat’. One should hope that the North Korean nuclear bomb issue will be discussed when US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the region (Japan, China, and South Korea) next month.
China condemned the latest nuclear testing and shown its willingness to cooperate with others on the matter. China has shown its anxiety and displeasure over the re-opening of the Yongbyong nuclear facility. The new Chinese leadership might continue friendship with the North. Many would see China to act differently. Time would tell. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui said that ‘we do not want to see war or turmoil break-out on the [Korean] Peninsula, and we oppose provocative words and actions by any side’. This statement also defends the North Korean side. China tries to prefer restraint diplomacy by asking all stakeholders to refrain from any military conflict.

Presumably, United States changed its strategy. It is no more willing to allow the North to use the nuclear bombs and re-opening up of the Yongbyon facility as a political bargaining chip. So the North’s threat has been escalated and bracketed the United States as well. Under this looming crisis, United States has little choice. It looks that China would not stay idle to continue its ties with the North.

Someone should also ask that is the long isolation a good idea? Apart for the bargaining chip strategy, diplomacy and negotiations are considered to be far better options than going into wars and they also end up in negotiations but after destruction. Preventive measures and strategies should be applied.

Economic cooperation between the two Koreas should not be liquidated. Many South Korean companies operate in the North and help in eliminating economic hardships and food-shortage. It is highly commendable gesture of the South. Economic cooperation could end up security and political stalemate and tension among nations. South still remained calm after the threat came from the North. The South Koreans have already learned to live with a nuclear-armed North Koreans. Some say that a nuclear deterrence would ensure real harmony between them.

The escalating tension would affect Japan too. The question arises that would Japan allow South Korea becoming a nuclear power? Japan has already been frustrated over the North Korean first nuclear testing in 2006. The nuclearized Korean Peninsula would significantly jeopardized Japanese security. Would Japan tolerate to live in the shadow of Russian, Chinese, North Korean, and South Korean nuclear bombs?

So the North Korean nuclear bomb and its resulting affect on South Korea should also be seen in the Japanese perspective too. Japan’s calmness over the North Korean threat shows nation’s wisdom. They want North Korea to refrain from provocative acts.

Nonetheless, the changing situation in North East Asia would be compelling Japan to review its post-war restrictions and its self-restraint of 1967 and anti-nuclear principles. A credit must be given to Japan for showing a long restraint from nuclear program, and as it is showing now.

The recurrence of a series of nuclear testing in North East Asia has alarmed Japan. It never had normal relations with them. Former Soviet Union was nuclearized in 1949. China followed the suit in 1964. One should ask: would Japan continue to show restraint even when the whole of North East Asia was nuclearized?

Enough is enough. How Japan would protect itself? Should it be on the mercy of the United States being such an economically powerful nation and with a brilliant history? The world should seriously put its efforts to resolve the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue in order to prevent Japan becoming the next nuclear nation with third economic raking in the world. It appears that Japan’s restraint options have been fully exhausted and its becoming of a declared nuclear power has been ‘brightened’.

Together with the growing tension with China over the Island issue (Senkaku/Daioyu) and the North Korean nuclear maneuverings, Japan has been squeezed. Japan’s shifting of pacifism should not be taken as a shock. The nuclear developments in Japan’s neighborhood are making a ‘good case’ for it to go nuclear.

(The writer is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad)

http://www.thefrontierpost.com/category/40/
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North Korea’s sabre-rattling

April 05, 2013



A few days after it warned the US of launching attacks against Hawaii and Guam, North Korea ratcheted up tensions on Thursday by issuing a direct warning of an attack on the US that it said could possibly include the use of nuclear weapons.

What particularly suggests that this threat is not an empty one is the statement of its General Staff of Korean People’s Army that, ‘the moment of explosion is approaching fast’. Where this must give the world jitters about the dangers of a conflict brewing as of now, this represents a challenge to the US supremacy in the globe. North Korea’s enmity with the US is not new; but it was taken to a dangerous level by the Bush regime that demonized it as a part of the ‘axis of evil’. The other ‘evil’ country was Iran. Venezuela under Chavez provides yet another example of a country trying to survive in this unipolar world but not compromising on its principles relating to foreign policy. Collectively the hostility of these nations ought to bring home to the US that it cannot indefinitely go on dictating its terms to the world. There has to be some sense of proportion. By avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to the North Korean sabre-rattling, President Obama, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for peace, could demonstrate that he really deserved the prize.

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Potent Korean nuclear cocktail

Pyongyang’s threats cannot be taking lightly

The war of words has intensified alarmingly among North Korean armed circles after South Korea and its patron, the US, carried out military exercises in the region despite warnings from the nuclear armed communist state to desist from this provocation. While the reaction has been limited thus far to only rhetoric, though frighteningly fiery in content, on the part of Pyongyang, the other side also lost no time in flexing its awesome military muscle by a show of reportedly long range B2 bombers and a couple of the stealth B1s over South Korean skies. Not exactly the wisest steps to take under the circumstances when the North is acting like a disturbed hornet’s nest.

To most people, the North, with its closed and apparently xenophobic mindset and a ruling family dynasty that enjoys a near demi-god status among ordinary Koreans, remains a problem and an enigma. Occasionally, reports filter out from defectors or Pyongyang-watchers of the lavish lifestyle of the ruling elite on the one hand and famines affecting various parts of the country on the other. The recent succession of Kim Jong-un to the presidency and tussles between groupings in the communist party and the military for priority of influence over state policy are also cited as being behind North Korea’s apparently illogical and outlandish behaviour. But now it is a nuclear-armed North Korea with delivery systems and sufficient technical ability to launch rockets into space. So its threats cannot be taken lightly.

Since Pearl Harbour, a ‘day that will live in infamy’ when Japan attacked the huge Pacific naval base in 1941, the US remains extremely sensitive to any attack or threat of attack on its soil. For the sole superpower that would be a bruising dent to its pride and world image of invincibility. The 9/11 no doubt helped ratchet up that perception into a paranoia.

The present confrontational stance will no doubt receive top priority at the UN, whose current secretary general is a former foreign minister of South Korea. But the real player in the Korean game is undoubtedly China, which at times seems unable or unwilling to keep its strange protégé in check, and has so far only issued a mild advice for ‘calm from all sides’. Although it would be the first to be caught up in a Korean conflagration, the demands of geo-politics arising out of the US desire to check China’s rapid rise as the next inheritor of world supremacy, and the American ‘pivot’ to the Pacific from the European-Middle East regions in order to encircle it would no doubt also enter into any Chinese calculations. North Korea with its long range rocketry also checkmates Japan – the US’s other major ally in the region. The volatile situation needs to be defused at once through dialogue instead of launching fifth generation aircraft in the region. As for the North, it should also backpedal from its fiery talk of war and restrict itself to rhetoric alone.

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/editorials/
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Not another war

April 07, 2013
Eric S. Margolis


The intensifying war of words between North Korea, the US and ally South Korea could ignite a major conflict. The likely trigger would be a small clash at sea, in the air, or along the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas.

What would a war in Korea look like?

First, nuclear conflict is unlikely. North Korea is not believed to have any long or medium-ranged nuclear weapons; certainly, none that could hit North America. It might be able to strike South Korea with a nuclear device. But then the US nuclear weapons would wipe North Korea off the map.
North Korea’s military strategy would be to launch a surprise attack on the south to occupy Seoul and Inchon. The vital US Air Force bases at Osan and Kunsan, and eight South Korean air bases, would be primary targets.
North Korea’s elite 88,000 special forces units are tasked to attack and neutralise these air bases as well as headquarters, communication nodes, and munitions depots of the US and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces.

Barrages of North Korean conventional missiles would hit these bases and command hubs, possibly with chemical warheads.

Special North Korean amphibious units would land and strike these targets from the sea. North Korea has 300 old Soviet-era AN-2 biplanes that carry 10 commandos each. Invisible to radar because they are made of fabric and hug the earth, the AN-2’s would air assault suicide squads into US and ROK airbases.

Other North Korean special forces are tasked with attacking US bases in Okinawa, Japan and as far off as Guam, where the US is installing its new Thaad anti-missile system.

North Korea has developed potent electronic warfare capability that would degrade US and South Korean communications and online targets.
Meanwhile, 14,000 North Korean heavy guns and rocket batteries dug into caves behind the DMZ could pour storms of shells or rockets per hour onto US/ROK positions south of the DMZ. North Korea’s 170mm guns and 240mm rockets have a range of 50 and 45km. Large parts of Seoul would be heavily damaged.

North Korea has about 700,000 soldiers within 150km of the DMZ, with another 400,000 in backup echelons further north. These divisions would fight their way south through South Korea’s ‘Maginot Line’, seven parallel lines of anti-tank ditches, minefields, and high earth walls surmounted by tanks (South Korea denies it exists, but I have seen it).

In spite of intense air attacks by the US and ROK, the North Korean offensive could likely reach at least as far south of Seoul, only an hour’s drive from the DMZ.

USA’s retaliation would be ferocious. The US and ROK warplanes would quickly attain air superiority over the entire peninsula. North Korea’s 70 airbases would be obliterated and its obsolescent air force quickly neutralised. The North Korean surface fleets would share a similar fate. The US warplanes would pound North Korea’s command and control, communications, rail lines, bridges and factories not buried underground.

During the 1950-53 Korean War, the US B-29 heavy bombers literally flattened North Korea. That is why North Korea reacted so furiously when US B-52 heavy bombers and B-2 Stealth bombers skirted its borders late last month, triggering off this latest crisis. The B-2 can deliver the fearsome ‘MOAB’ 30,000 lb bomb called “the Mother of All Bombs” designed to destroy deep underground command headquarter’s (read Kim Jon-un’s bunker) and underground nuclear facilities.

Since the 1950s, the North Koreans have buried much of their military-industrial complex and continue to train their ground forces in small unit, off-the-road tactics. The north also has a militia of 1.6 million to defend key targets and factories.

Unless the USA uses tactical nuclear weapons, it will be difficult to defeat North Korea. Doing so means invading North Korea, a risky operation that might invite Chinese intervention, as it did in 1950. Moreover, US ground and air forces are bogged down in Afghanistan and the Mideast, their equipment is run down, and the US treasury out of money. The Pentagon too estimated a full-scale invasion of North Korea could cost 250,000 American casualties.

The writer is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles appear in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Gulf Times, Khaleej Times and other news sites in Asia. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Lew Rockwell and Big Eye. He appears as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC.

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The next logical step

April 07, 2013
Imran Malik



The new Chinese government is firmly in power. President Xi Jinping’s government has taken its first tangible and decisive steps in the international arena.

These steps indicate a continuation of policies to further strengthen the economy. They acknowledge too the potential implications of the US strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific and the economic and strategic connotations of the possible closure of the Malacca Straits. This highlights the Chinese need to diversify and secure their future supplies of fossil fuels and mineral resources ‘independent’ of this significant maritime bottleneck.

Not surprisingly, Russia was the first port of call of President Xi, followed by a trip to Africa that culminated in the BRICS summit.

Russia is emerging as a major energy supplier to China.

The Chinese have a projected gap of 150 bcm of gas in 2020. The current deals with Russia would bring in about 30 bcm with an option to increase it to 60 bcm. Russia will increase its oil supplies to a million barrels per day. While China will invest in the development of coal resources and related infrastructure in East Serbia and the Russian Far East.

China signed scores of deals with the Republic of Congo and Tanzania that generally covered oil and untapped mineral resources.

The Chinese, however, could further secure their energy and mineral supplies from the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) and the Middle East too.
The CARs, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan are abundantly rich in energy and mineral resources. The latter two have huge mineral resources albeit untapped. The Chinese have the financial resources (China Development Bank), the need and the will to exploit these energy and mineral resources for mutual benefit.

China is already financing the Kazakhstan-China oil as well as the Trans-Asia gas pipelines. Russia will also be constructing a cross-frontier oil pipeline. Iran could supply additional gas and oil to Xinjiang Province through Pakistan. Thus, a substantial part of China’s fossil fuel requirements could be met independent of the Malacca Straits.

The mineral reserves of Afghanistan and Pakistan could meet most of China’s industrial requirements. Afghan mineral wealth has been estimated at between $1-3 trillion with enormous reserves of lithium, in particular. Pakistan’s mineral riches may be even higher. These have, however, attracted the unwarranted attention of some US Congressmen whose actions have generated trouble in Balochistan. Their intentions have so obviously been to first create troubled waters and then fish in them.

Vast deposits of fossil fuels, copper and gold and many other rare ones have been discovered at Saindak, Reko Diq and other unexploited sites. Pakistan and China could exploit these riches to meet their mutual requirements for the long run.

Pakistan also has over a billion tons of coal deposits at Thar, Sindh. This could be used to generate enormous amounts of electricity, industrial activity and exports.

The Makran Coast and its hinterland must be developed under a long-term, two-pronged vision; it should aim to first develop critical infrastructure in Balochistan extending road and rail networks westwards, northwestwards and northwards; then it must aim to invite foreign and domestic investment to exploit the natural riches of Pakistan for common benefit. Robust economic activity should bring in a peaceful environment dealing a death blow to militancy and terrorism and even help defeat foreign meddling in Balochistan in particular from the CIA-MI6-RAW-Mossad-NDS combine.

Pakistan and China must decisively develop Gwadar, Ormara, Pasni, Jiwani, Port Qasim and Karachi as world class ports of immense economic and strategic significance.

The Arab States, Iran, Turkey, China, Russia and CARs could be encouraged to invest in the development of the infrastructure of the hinterland with power plants and a vast network of roads and railways linking the Makran coastline to Iran and Turkey one the one hand, and the CARs and Russia on the other. A separate north-south trade corridor staying west of the River Indus (road, railways, oil and gas pipelines) could be created between China and Pakistan linking the Xinjiang province with the Makran hinterland. The New Silk Road Project must of necessity swing south and connect itself with the Makran coastline.

Keeping in mind the vast amounts of minerals in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a series of special economic and industrial zones could be specifically created in the Makran hinterland for China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Arab States, etc. These industrial and economic zones should be required to only export value added products to the whole world. The first right to jobs must of necessity go to the people of Balochistan, who should have been already trained for the specific purpose of working in these economic zones.

This matter could also be broached at the SCO forum if need be!
The Makran hinterland should also be developed into a trading hub for fossil fuels. Oil and gas pipelines must converge onto in Gwadar and surrounding areas from the Middle East, from Iran and the CARs. Thence, they should travel to China and even India. (The Indian Minister has recently shown a desire to rejoin the IP gas pipeline project. Pakistan must only allow India to rejoin this and other projects - “if the price is right.” Else they can watch the world go by from the sidelines. Period).

The IP and TAP (I-?) gas pipelines must of necessity be converted into an IPC (I-?) and a TAPC (I-?) pipeline. Iran has already announced the establishment of an oil refinery at Gwadar. The Arab States and CARs must also be encouraged to do likewise. The CARs should be encouraged to refine and export their fossil fuels through the various ports on the Makran Coast. Similarly, Russia’s historic quest for all-weather warm water ports be fulfilled by encouraging it to use the Makran Coast for its substantial exports and imports.

A planned and visionary development of the Makran hinterland could bring in limitless prosperity to the peoples of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the region and beyond.

Pakistan and China’s interests converge here massively. They must be manifested in the rapid development of the Makran hinterland for mutual and regional benefit.

The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS). Email: im_k@hotmail.com

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Global paradox: Peace not war

Mahboob A. Khawaja, PhD.

“Lies of the Iraq War” the 10th anniversary of the Iraq’s genocide approximately 3 million human beings massacred and human habitats destroyed under the false pretext of WMD. This week, the global news media hurriedly doing the damage control of its complacent image and showing the belated facts of the bogus “War on Terror.” The facts were facts in March 2003, when George Bush, the Congress and Tony Blair planned aggression against the innocent people of Iraq, the Western news media served as a weapon to launch the cruel war. Now it wants to distance itself and perhaps repair the self-inflicted and well sponsored atrocities carried out against the mankind.

The Western warriors with small wisdom and big thinking are looking for an escape route from the facts of life. “Lies of the Iraq War” would simply reaffirm, not change human perceptions and forcefully depict on screen how cruel they are like the Russian Ivan the Terrible who roasted innocent people and burnt alive citizens to entertain the psycho pathetic mindset. Likewise, George Bush and his neo-conservative accomplice and Tony Blair - the leaders who claim to lead some of the top most Western democracies. Leaders and their public institutions failed miserably to offer fiction instead of facts.

They lied and deceived the people and perpetuated heinous crimes against the mankind. The then German Foreign Minister and Chair of the UN Security Council session made it clear, he knew the facts that Colin Powell was lying to the world. No one is remorseful for the loss of millions and destructions of the life and habitats in Iraq. They simply attribute all reasoning to the “intelligence failure” without any accountability of those who were in power and architect of the Iraq war.

The Western nations under NATO waging the bogus “War on Terrorism” used the mass media as a weapon to misinform and deceive the public of a possible threat to their life and security. There exists a wide gulf between the aspirations of the masses in the Western nations and thinking of the few warmongering leaders they have in the ruling elite. People want peace not celebration of bogus wars on the innocent humanity.

Tom Engelhardt (“The 12th Anniversary of American Cowardice What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” Information Clearing House: 3.28.2013), co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of many publications including The United States of Fear offers a penetrating insight to the US war culture:

It’s true that, last week, few in Congress cared to discuss, no less memorialize, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, two anniversaries of American disasters and crimes abroad -- the “mission accomplished” debacle of 2003 and the 45th anniversary of the My Lai massacre -- were at least noted in passing in our world. …..Or what about celebrating the 12th anniversary of Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force, the joint resolution that a panicked and cowed body passed on September 14, 2001? It wasn’t a declaration of war -- there was no one to declare war on -- but an open-ended grant to the president of the unfettered power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” in what would become a never-ending (and still expanding) “Global War on Terror.

Still, in our post-9/11 world, there are so many other anniversaries from hell whose silver linings don’t get noticed. Take this April. It will be the ninth anniversary of the widespread release of the now infamous photos of torture, abuse, and humiliation from Abu Ghraib. In case you’ve forgotten, that was Saddam Hussein’s old prison where the U.S. military taught the fallen Iraqi dictator a trick or two about the destruction of human beings. Shouldn’t there be an anniversary of some note there? I mean, how many cultures have turned dog collars (and the dogs that go with them), thumbs-up signs over dead bodies, and a mockery of the crucified Christ into screensavers?
Wars and aggressions kill people and do not produce peace and harmony but resentment and degeneration. History illustrates when a nation or its leaders challenge the limits of the Laws of God and approach near the end of their lifespan, insanity takes-over common sense and they tend to ignore warnings and reject all voices of reason. Most of the conscientiously responsible Western scholars and political intellectuals are getting increasingly concerned, not to identify their interests with the minority ruling elite of the United States and Britain as these war criminals Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair and their role in large scale massacres of the civilians and using uranium powered missile for destruction of human habitats in Fulljah, Iraq, and killings of civilians by drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Professor John Esposito of Georgetown University - a distinguish scholar of Western-Islamic civilizations (author of Unholy War and What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam), makes a candid observation: “in many parts of the Muslim world the war against global terrorism has come to be viewed as a war against Islam and Muslims. The image of America has become that of a neo-imperial power that has sought to redraw the map of the Middle East and the Muslim world, influenced by an unholy alliance of neoconservatives and the militant Christian right.”

Once again, humanity appears to have been pushed back to the shameful annals of the European Dark Ages. In search of new animosity, few utopian scholars wanted to distract the humanity after the end of the Cold War to keep the liberal democracy working and ensure electoral voters active participation. In early 90’s, Samuel Huntington reinvented and re-ignited the old cliché - “a clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam - a new age of confrontation between the predominantly technologically advanced culture of the West and the subdued interdependent societal religious culture of the Muslim world. The powerful mass media and the official policy makers throughout the West, fuel the insane imagery that the Arabs and Muslims are “fundamentalists” and “terrorists.” Every day, the corporate run media outlets organize massive propaganda campaign alleging Al-Qaeda involvement virtually in all conflict situations across the Middle East, West Africa and Asia and elsewhere. The facts remain unchallenged that al-Qaeda was planned and created by the CIA and they know well it does not exist anymore as an active body of political activists pursuing any strategic goals against the Western highly sophisticated war machines, be it in Afghanistan, Pakistan or other locations.

Analyzing the contemporary global affairs, the image of a single most World Power is fixed and unquestionable, be it fair or foul. The net outcome shows the manufactured imagery of Muslims as the alleged terrorists and the sole inheritor of the 21st century political ideology. With massive corporate sponsorships and the Western mass media collaborative alliances, Islamic civilization is the only targeted client of this emerging business. What about the Arabs and Muslims, have they done anything to challenge the absurdity of the so called “war on terrorism” and to safeguard their political interests and human survivability?

There are no educated, conscientious or publicly chosen leaders in the Arab- Muslim world except the recent President Morsi of Egypt and political leaders in Tunisia. The authoritarian ruling elite are the outcome of neo-colonialism. There are no Muslim institutions to provide honest analyses on the global political affairs or reflect on the possible remedies. Throughout the Arab-Muslim world, there is not a single established university teaching global peace, security and conflict management - the institutions dealing with the present and envisioning the future that the Western nations are built upon for change and development. Leaderless Muslim masses appear desperate to look for a visionary and intelligent leader to offer some consolence and intellectual security. Not so, in the Arabs or Muslim countries, leaders live in palaces, not with people. All the leaders are pre-screened by the CIA and the World Bank before taking a shape and form to move into a palace. Accordingly, Saddam Hussein, Shah of Iran, General Musharaf, Zardari and Karzai fit into that facilitated image and governance.

The neo-colonial rulers have helped the Colonial Masters to make the Muslim masses helpless victim of their warmongering and inhuman atrocities being carried out at Gutanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib Prison, and Massacre at Fullajah, Haditah, Bughdad, Kandhar, South-North Waziristan-Pakistan and elsewhere.
There is no Sultan Salahuddin Ayoubi that the European would fear for centuries to come, there are no Sultan Babyar and Sheikh Izzuddin to give blowing defeats to Halaqu Khan - the Mongol warlord, and no Allama Iqbal or Ali Shariati to awake the sleeping folks and guide the believers to success.
If there were educated and intelligent leaders in the Muslim world, one could reason the unreason. But the oil exporting Arab leaders operate from a position of political weakness, not strength to play any useful role in international politics. They have built palaces over moving sand, not institutions to educate and protect the interest of the Muslim Ummah. Imagine the dichotomy of the living history, the Christian Crusaders came, ransacked and killed 170, 000 Muslims just in one day to occupy Jerusalem. Despite assurances of peace and religious sanctity, the Crusaders moved horses in blood-flown streets to capture Jerusalem. When Sultan Salahuddin Ayoubi reconquered Jerusalem, the visionary leader allowed and escorted all the Christian Crusaders to safety with human dignity, honor and material wealth. History shall describe a corporate world run by greed and animalistic savagery, preoccupied to influence and control the destinies of the living human beings under the guise of economic feasibility and market interests.

Zbigniew Brzezinski (The Grand Chessboard, 1997), former Security Advisor to President Carter, makes an historical reference: “American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives describe American priorities as the economic subjugation of the Soviet Union and the control of Central Asia and the Middle East.” With the continued wars of aggressions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the international institutions overwhelmingly controlled and managed by the Western Powers have become irrelevant to the 21st century needs of the global humanity. Across the Western world, masses vigorously oppose the on-going deadly wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In wars people are killed, leaders are not. None of the Western leaders have ever fought a war on the real front. Simply put, there are politicians lacking reason and honesty of purpose, and are engaged in time killing discussions. The continued wars serve the interest of the corporate establishments and the Western economies. The image of deliberately dismantled system of global governance is meant to appease the economically influential and politically smart Western elite. Hitler and Mussolini were Europeans, not Arabs or Muslims, and they did not rule alone on their own, as there were millions to cheer them up and support their leadership egos with galvanized news media alignment of the time, and their personal ideologies as law and order of the day. At the initial stages of the 21st century, the replica is exactly the same from the pages of history, only the names and titles have been changed and adjusted - a small minority of ‘sick puppies’ are determined to occupy the oil and gas resources and to wipe out the Arabs and Islamic civilization under the guise of terrorism.
Changing the names of Hitler and Mussolini, now historians and prosecutors will mention Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair and many more as responsible for conducting the war crimes,. Britain knows what it lost, cannot regain in colonial history, but the American empire has yet to learn the hard lessons. It is more fearful that soon it could be replaced by China in combination of another economically viable power or group of nations from the emerging rival economies of Asia. Professor John Esposito (Unholy War and what everyone needs to know about Islam) provides us the History Lessons in a rational context:

“An important lesson of history is that rulers and nations do rise and fall. Unforeseen circumstances can bring up unanticipated change. Few expected the breakup of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe to occur when they did ……now is the time for those in all walks of life (political, economic, military, media and academic) who wish to see a new order not to be silenced but to speak out, organize, vote and be willing when necessary to make sacrifices in promoting a new global order.”

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraqi genocide, there were no statements issued by the Obama administration or apologies by British politicians. Even the BBC broadcast simply offered visual facts and commentaries but no remorse for the dreadful crimes against the living mankind. Tom Ingelhardt (“The 12th Anniversary of American Cowardice What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.” Information Clearing House: 3.28.2013), sums up the paradox of contemporary global affairs - how the history will judge the warmongers by their actions or claims:

“We should already know more than enough to be horrified by the state of our American world. It should disturb us deeply that a government of, by, and for the war-makers, intelligence operatives, bureaucrats, privatizing mercenary corporations, torturers and assassins is thriving in Washington. As for the people -- that’s us -- in these last years, we largely weren’t there, even as the very idea of a government of, by, and for us bit the dust, and our leaders felt increasingly unconstrained when committing acts of shame in our name. So perhaps the last overlooked anniversary of these years might be the 12th anniversary of American cowardice. You can choose the exact date yourself; anytime this fall will do. At that moment, Americans should feel free to celebrate a time when, for our “safety,” and in a state of anger and paralyzing fear, we gave up the democratic ghost.”

“Among the many truths in that still-to-be-written secret history of our American world would be this: we the people have no idea just how, in these years, we’ve hurt ourselves.”

(Dr. Mahboob A. Khawaja specializes in global security, peace and conflict resolution, and comparative Western-Islamic cultures and civilizations)

http://www.thefrontierpost.com/category/40/
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Time for US to curb drone flights over Yemen

Danya Greenfield & David J. Kramer


Most news out of the Middle East these days is dispiriting: the devastating civil war in Syria, the autocratic nature of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, continued militia activity in Libya, a coalition collapse in Tunisia. Less
discussed, and surprisingly positive, is the political situation in Yemen.

The United States has played a significant role in Yemen’s transition, which ushered out former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in exchange for immunity, and inaugurated a unity government and consensus president that are overseeing a national dialogue launched last month. The US has pledged support for the dialogue, which will lead to a constitutional referendum and new elections.
To many Yemenis, however, Washington is narrowly focused on short-term security concerns and the fight against terrorism; the US, they think, cares little about real political change.

As Yemen’s transition enters a critical stage, Washington has an opportunity to change this image by redirecting its policy to greater emphasis on stability, prosperity and democracy, which would advance both US and Yemeni interests.

Despite considerable US humanitarian aid and development support to their government, most Yemenis associate US engagement with the ongoing drone campaign to destroy al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and they see it as having little regard for its effect on civilians. A number of former US military and intelligence officials argue that the drone program’s costs might exceed its benefits. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal has articulated the hazards of overreliance on drones, and Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned last month against unintended consequences, arguing that no matter how precise drone strikes may be, they breed animosity among targeted communities and threaten US efforts to curb extremism.

With drone attacks breeding discontent and anti-American sentiment, the Obama administration must rethink how the US can advance its objectives without letting tactics dictate strategy. Washington seeks to balance multiple priorities in Yemen: supporting stability in the Arabian Peninsula, disrupting terrorist networks, securing waterways and aiding Yemen’s transition to democracy.

By focusing primarily on acute, short-term threats, the US risks the long-term security that benefits both nations and can be achieved only through a sustained investment in the humanitarian, economic and political development of the Yemeni people.

Thirty-one foreign policy experts and former diplomats — including us — sent a letter to US President Barack Obama last month that said the administration’s expansive use of unmanned drones in Yemen is proving counterproductive to US security objectives: As faulty intelligence leads to collateral damage, extremist groups ultimately win more support. The lack of transparency and accountability behind the drone policy set a dangerous global precedent and damage Washington’s ability to influence positive change in Yemen and the region. Drone strikes heighten animosity toward the US and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government for compromising Yemeni sovereignty.

The US, the letter counseled, should reduce its reliance on drone strikes and instead invest in a long-term security agenda. This would include strengthening institutions that enhance the capacity and professionalism of Yemen’s security forces — not only counterterrorism units — to address threats to internal security. Washington already supports the restructuring of Yemen’s military, a step mandated by the transition agreement, but the Defense and State departments should ensure that our military assistance does not repeat the mistakes made during Saleh’s tenure, such as ignoring power concentrated in the hands of elites or not prosecuting human rights abuses.

And building a capable police force recruited from residents in partnership with local communities is essential to securing this territory.

Americans and Yemenis have a strong shared interest in combating extremism, as al-Qaida and its local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, spread in the south and pledge acts of terrorism against both Yemeni and US targets. The US should not ignore this threat — but beyond the security portfolio, Yemenis need to feel that Washington is committed to supporting democratic institutions and the prosperity of the Yemeni people. Although the State Department and the US Agency for International Development are engaging Hadi’s government on development and humanitarian issues, most Yemenis feel only the negative effects of US counterterrorism policy.

Rather than the steady stream of military delegations, a more robust economic assistance program and public diplomacy strategy — including a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-level diplomats — would signal support for Yemen’s transition and its democratic aspirations.

Yemen’s national dialogue is an ideal opportunity to break with a legacy of corrupt leaders who sought personal gain at the nation’s expense. The Obama administration can encourage this process by providing international cover for the difficult decisions delegates must make to craft a new political system based on equitable power-sharing, active citizenship and tolerance. This requires the administration to examine its own policies and shift course where the status quo undermines our shared interests.

Despite negative attitudes toward US policy, Yemenis are eager for an authentic partnership with the US — built on transparency, accountability and a demonstrated commitment to their future.

Japan Times
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Warlords are killing mankind

Mahboob A. Khawaja, PhD

Global political affairs are a complex discipline and often require serious, critical and impartial mindset to see the man-made problems truthfully, objectively, rationally and dispassionately. The 21st century of hope for Peace is fast turning into a fraught history of highly sophisticated wars both on Earth and in Space poised to destroy the mankind. Previous wars of centuries were aimed at annihilation of political and economic enemies but the 21st century conflicts are ready-made recipes not only to eliminate the mankind but also the environment in which human beings survive and the planet Earth that sustains life.

Given the strategic know-how and the scientific-technological developments, it is an established fact that any futuristic global warfare could end the very existence of man and humanity on this planet. The Weapons of Mass Destruction that the US, West Europeans and Russian have positioned on the planet and in space are a ready-made menace to the survival of mankind. With massive news media propaganda campaigns and falsification of the facts of human life, common folks and even the intelligent ones do not seem to have the rational understanding of the wars and their consequential impacts on human life and the greater universe. One would have imagined that more knowledgeable people become, more rational world will emerge in the coming ages of rational thinking. Not so, we continued to be occupied with false images and misleading rationale of the global conflicts. Like always, few cynical and mentally unbalanced people plan and wage wars against others, not imagining the dreadful end results of their intrigues and conspiracies against life, human rights and dignity and futuristic possibilities for survival on the planet.

Those who wage wars are neither innocent nor without knowledge. They know well what they are engaged in and its consequences. Those who go to farfetched lands to divide and massacre men, women and children, fully understand what they are doing. Perhaps, common people are misled by the warmongers enabling them to sustain their war agendas under false political perceptions and imagery as is the case in the US. The undeniable TV imagery - the massacres of innocent Afghan women and children, bombing of the civilian population and the US spy drone attacks targeting innocent civilians in north western Pakistan are fast becoming media entertainment and soap opera to the American audience and of the US scheme of militarization of the culture. During the first week of April, 11 innocent Afghan children and two women were bombed by the US-ed NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. BBC showed their tarnished bodies but nowhere in the US, any news media broadcast this horrible crime against the humanity. In his article Professor Camillo “Mac” Bica, School of Visual Arts, New York City and an activist of Peace and Justice (“Atrocity and War”, OpenedNews, 4/28/2010) offers a penetrating insight:
“…war is not accessible through the understanding, rationally, intellectually, by watching a film or by reading a book. To “know” war, you have to experience it, live it, feel it in your gut the anxiety, fear, frustration, boredom, hopelessness, despair, anger and rage, etc. In truth, warriors exist in a world totally incomprehensible to those who have never had the misfortune of experiencing the horrors of the battlefield.”

Some scholars argue that wars are planned in a cycle of chauvinistic historical events - every now and then wars are repeated - the “worst time in human history.” Paul Buchheit author of ‘America Wars: Illusions and Realities’ believes that War or Revolution happens in Every 75 Years. It’s Time Again. (Common Dream, 6/11/2012). He thinks of various developmental cycles including the revolution against inequality, French Revolution, time of Great Depression, WW2, and now after: “nearly 75 years after we started World War 2 production, we again feel the agony of a wealth gap expanding, like grotesquely stretched muscle, to intolerable limits. If history repeats itself, we will be part of another revolution of long-subjugated people. Indeed, it has already begun, in Europe and Canada and with the Occupy Movement. The face of plutocracy has changed, but not the consequences. Just before the French Revolution, Paris and London were dismal places for the masses, with islands of unimaginable splendor for aristocrats, who, like the multi-millionaires of today, found it hard to relate to the commoners.”

To Chris Hedges - a global scholar of rational thinking and author of Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (“How to Think”, Common Dreams, 7/9/2012), visualize basic problems with Human Thinking, the delusional concept of war by the masses:

Human societies see what they want to see. They create national myths of identity out of a composite of historical events and fantasy. They ignore unpleasant facts that intrude on self-glorification…. The psychoanalyst John Steiner calls this phenomenon “turning a blind eye.” He notes that often we have access to adequate knowledge but because it is unpleasant and disconcerting we choose unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, to ignore it….. At night you could hear gunfire. But they were the last to “know.” And we are equally self-deluded. The physical evidence of national decay-the crumbling infrastructures, the abandoned factories and other workplaces, the rows of gutted warehouses, the closure of libraries, schools, fire stations and post offices-that we physically see, is, in fact, unseen. The rapid and terrifying deterioration of the ecosystem, evidenced in soaring temperatures, droughts, floods, crop destruction, freak storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, are met blankly with Steiner’s “blind eye…… The Shakespearean scholar Harold Goddard wrote: “The imagination is not a faculty for the creation of illusion; it is the faculty by which alone man apprehends reality.
The ‘illusion’ turns out to be truth.” “Let faith oust fact,” Starbuck says in “Moby-Dick.”…..”It is only our absurd ‘scientific’ prejudice that reality must be physical and rational that blinds us to the truth,”

Strangely enough, warmongers hire war propagandists to classify wars as “noble”, “good”, necessity of the ruling nobility and to protect the flag, borders and national interests. George Bush claimed being “Man of God” who started the day with the Bible, to orchestrate the bogus war on terrorism. These are cynical notions implied to enforce the monstrous viewpoints of the few warlords in every age. There is no quality criterion except falsification of information and facts of human life.
(To Be Continued)

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Old Friday, May 10, 2013
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Italy's new government and the perpetuation of minority rule

Vito Laterza


More than two months after general elections, Italy has a new government. The cabinet is headed by 46-year-old Enrico Letta, a competent and esteemed centre-left politician.

A third of its members are women. It is supported by an alliance bringing together the centre-left Democrats, Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom and Monti's centrist formation Civic Choice.

Financial markets greeted the news positively. At an auction on April 29, Italian debt was sold at the lowest cost since October 2010. EU political leaders and international observers also reacted favourably to what has been portrayed in the mainstream as a step in the right direction for a country in deep economic and financial crisis. Traditional party cadres, supported by the main Italian media, are spreading the mantra that this "broad coalition" is the only viable option to avoid systemic collapse.

Letta undoubtedly knows how to speak to European leaders in good "technocratese" about fiscal restraint and structural reforms. He is soberly pushing for growth measures at EU level and promised that Italian families that are struggling will be helped. Yet, the general feeling outside the circles of political power is that Italians have been cheated once again. For all the hype around the new government, the political agenda is still dictated by Brussels. Nor does this cabinet have any more democratic legitimacy than the previous unelected one.

Letta's minority government

Nearly 9 million Italians, about 25% of the valid votes, supported the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, categorically opposed to any formal alliance with the old party system. In the lowest turnout in Republican history, more than 11 million registered voters - about 25% of all registered voters - stayed at home, forming the biggest "party" of these elections and signalling the increasing distance of the political system from common people.

The electoral campaign of the Democratic Party (PD) centred around one unequivocal message: the party pledged not to enter in a post-electoral alliance with Berlusconi. Nine million people voted for them. Two months later, the party MPs blatantly ignored their electoral promise and supported the broad coalition government.

If we add the votes of Left, Ecology and Freedom - also openly against an alliance with Berlusconi - more than 30 million Italians, out of 47 million registered voters, are not represented by the current government. This alarming state of affairs highlights the deep crisis of Italian democracy.
Doubts over the new government are not confined to questions of democratic representation. Is Letta's cabinet fit for purpose? Is it the right answer to the country's deepening crisis?

The Democrats, who are leading this uneasy alliance and are the biggest party in parliament, are on the verge of disintegration. On April 20, the presidential vote culminated in Giorgio Napolitano's unprecedented re-election. He is the only President in the history of the Republic to hold office for a second term. Napolitano's re-appointment was a last minute compromise to break the political impasse caused by the dramatic divisions within the PD ranks. After announcing formal support for senior PD official Franco Marini in agreement with the centre-right, Democrat MPs failed to mobilise around him. In another voting session, more than 100 defectors sunk the candidacy of party founding father and twice premier Romano Prodi.

Following this debacle, the party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani resigned. PD entered the final round of government negotiations without a leader. It has also been facing an open revolt from the rank and file. In the last days Occupy PD, a permanent national assembly to reform the party from the grassroots, has spread virally, widening the rift between the electoral base and the party cadres. Militants are occupying party branches throughout Italy and staging protests against the party establishment.

Party MPs' "strategic withdrawal" into a coalition with the archenemy will buy some precious time to recoup and let the internal dramas escalate before a new deal is reached. This means that the party cannot guarantee unity within its ranks in future parliamentary votes, fuelling uncertainty over the fate of the broad coalition.

On the other side of the alliance, Berlusconi's regained strength conceals more than it reveals. With numerous trials pending, the tycoon is surely benefitting from Napolitano's protection. The President recently warned the judiciary against a "legal solution" that might prevent the former premier from performing his political role as party leader. Berlusconi's active involvement in government makes this option even less viable, given the potentially destabilising consequences of a "forcible removal" from frontline politics.

While Berlusconi might be afforded some respite from his problems with the justice system, in the last months his electoral support has been volatile.
After a spectacular comeback in the last elections, Berlusconi needs to show his electorate that he means business. He promised the abolition of a much hated tax on residential homes and a complete refund of its previous payments. The tax was introduced by Monti's cabinet as part of its austerity package.

Following the new Prime Minister's less ambitious undertaking to suspend the next payment due in June and to review the levy, Berlusconi threatened to withdraw his support if the government will not deliver on his electoral stunt. This happened on the same day the government received the final vote of confidence by the upper house, further highlighting the inherent fragility of the alliance.

But what else did Enrico Letta announce in his programmatic speech to the parliament? The European technocratic agenda remains the main priority: structural reforms and tight controls over the budget deficit. At the same time, Letta promised to help Italian families, vaguely hinting at measures that will reduce the tax burden, provide a limited form of basic income to a small sector of the population, and extend the duration of the unemployment benefits for recently dismissed workers in protected categories.

In other words, business as usual, except for some modest measures to alleviate the worst effects of Monti's austerity. The lack of detail in Letta's proposals was a clear indication that the government alliance does not have a concrete plan of action - at least not yet.

A moribund party system

Despite the political makeover, there is a strong continuity between the new and the previous government. Following Berlusconi's resignation from premiership in November 2011, the centre-left and centre-right coalitions agreed to support an unelected technocratic government. Monti and his cabinet would take care of the economy. The political parties would work together to implement the necessary institutional reforms to make the political system more stable and responsive to the current environment.

By the time new elections were announced in December 2012, the parliament had yet to approve any institutional reform. MPs also failed to modify an absurd electoral law pushed by Berlusconi in 2005. If the winning coalition tops the polls by a narrow margin, the current system makes it virtually impossible for the winners to secure an absolute majority in parliament. The latter is needed to form an autonomous and stable government. This is exactly what happened in February this year.

It is unlikely that after a year and half of legislative standstill, Berlusconi and the Democrats will be able to work together on a shared agenda of reforms. There is a serious risk that in the next general elections Italians will vote without an electoral law that guarantees a clear winner and a lasting government.

There is no shortage of painful reminders that real change cannot be postponed further. Recently, an unemployed man shot two police officers outside the Prime Minister's residence while the new cabinet was being sworn in. The intention was to make a strong statement about the desperate situation of many ordinary Italians. On April 10, a wildcat strike among transport workers in Rome and a revolt of small shop owners and unemployed people in Naples aptly symbolised the widespread mood of helplessness and frustration.

Meanwhile, the 5 Star Movement continues to advance in opinion polls, rallying popular support for a radical overhaul of the current political order. As the old guard keeps on stalling in self-defence, 5 Star Movement's chances of dealing the final blow to a moribund party system are on the rise.

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