Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Russian Trip, Obama to Take On Power Equation

MOSCOW — The summit meeting here this week revolves around two men with some notable affinities. Presidents Obama and Dmitri A. Medvedev are relatively young leaders who represent a new generation of post-cold-war leadership, who once taught law and embrace the Internet. (Mr. Medvedev even has a video blog.)

One difference stands out, though: Mr. Obama is the undisputed head of his nation. Mr. Medvedev? Well, that is a bit more complicated, and is a significant problem for the Obama administration as it prepares for discussions on Monday.

Mr. Medvedev holds the highest office in Russia, so protocol dictates that Mr. Obama meet and negotiate nuclear arms control and other matters with him. Yet questions about Mr. Medvedev’s authority hang over the summit meeting like an awkward familial arrangement that everyone acknowledges but no one knows how to handle.

Mr. Obama himself waded into the issue on Thursday when he made a pointed remark about Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, who is Mr. Medvedev’s mentor and is widely assumed to be Russia’s real ruler.

Mr. Obama said that Mr. Putin, the former president, had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.” Mr. Obama said that it was time to move forward and that Mr. Medvedev “understands that.”

The comment suggested that Mr. Obama was trying to build up Mr. Medvedev, who the Americans say they believe may be easier to deal with than Mr. Putin.

American officials said that Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev met at the Group of 8 summit meeting in London in April and that they seemed to hit it off. But the officials said they feared that Mr. Putin stood in the way.

Mr. Obama also may have been trying to protect his own domestic political flank, anticipating criticism that he is too easy on the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin, who is often quick with a retort when criticized, seemed to go out of his way on Friday not to take offense at Mr. Obama’s comment.

“We stand firmly on our feet and always look to the future,” Mr. Putin said. He said he was awaiting Mr. Obama’s visit with “very warm feelings.”

Still, the strategy of empowering Mr. Medvedev might be difficult to carry out, and it might even backfire. Mr. Medvedev might respond by emphatically moving closer to Mr. Putin to avoid the appearance of being influenced by Mr. Obama.

Well aware of those dynamics, the White House seems to be hedging its bets. So while Mr. Obama is spending several hours with Mr. Medvedev on Monday, he is scheduled to have breakfast with Mr. Putin the next day.

Speculation about where the power lies in the Putin-Medvedev tandem began as soon as Mr. Medvedev took office last year after being endorsed by Mr. Putin, who was barred by term limits from running again. But the uncertainty has taken on added urgency now that Mr. Obama has pledged to “reset” relations.

David J. Kramer, a Russian specialist who was a senior diplomat in the administration of President George W. Bush, said Mr. Obama’s remark on Thursday appeared to indicate a degree of exasperation over Mr. Putin’s continued prominence.

“You have to do business with Medvedev, and then you have to do the same business with Putin, and you may get a different answer,” Mr. Kramer said. “You can’t do one without the other. It may be a frustration, wishing that Medvedev were more powerful. But certainly the flip side of this is that Putin is not just lurking in the background, but is very much at the forefront of the summit.”

Some analysts said that searching for a schism between Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin was a fool’s errand, asserting that the men governed as staunch partners and that there had been no evidence that Mr. Medvedev wanted to go his own way. (Nor is it even clear that he could.)

Most agreed that, in the end, it did not matter whether Mr. Medvedev or Mr. Putin was in the room with Mr. Obama because both would hew to the same policies, whether on arms control, terrorism, Afghanistan, Iran or other topics.

“It is a bureaucratic consensus,” said Sergey M. Rogov, director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow. “There is an agreement on the Russian position on all key issues, and summits are not normally the stage for improvisation.”

Under Russia’s Constitution, the president controls foreign policy. But the reality can be different, as was illustrated by the recent collapse of Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Medvedev, who has sought to portray himself as an economic reformer, pushed hard for Russia’s entry in the group. The United States and the European Union relied on the assurances of Mr. Medvedev’s aides that the bid was genuine, and the Obama administration got behind it.

But last month, Mr. Putin abruptly announced that Russia was abandoning the effort and that it would try instead to join the trade organization in conjunction with two other former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan. American and European officials were caught off guard, and even some of Mr. Medvedev’s own aides were said to have been blindsided by Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin’s move was interpreted as a signal that he was ultimately in charge of the most important decisions.

“Some Russians see it as a message from Putin to the American government, saying, ‘I’m the decider and I can, at any time, make a decision to overrule anything else that’s been going on in our negotiations if I’m not satisfied,’ ” said Stephen Sestanovich, a longtime Russia expert and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“This is something that is going to be a game that the American side will be trying to figure out, but it will not be easy to completely understand,” Mr. Sestanovich said. “Putin knows that given Medvedev’s position, he’s the guy who deals with foreign leaders. But Putin wants to find ways of reminding everybody of who’s really in charge.”

Germany has often been a bridge between Russia and the United States in recent years, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has determined that it has no choice but to work with both Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev, said Hans-Henning Schröder, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

Mr. Schröder said that after eight years as president, Mr. Putin probably did not miss having to carry out all the job’s formal duties. (Mr. Medvedev, in fact, just returned from a trip to Namibia and elsewhere in Africa.)

“Putin would mind if he were insecure, and if he did not think that he is the one really in power,” Mr. Schröder said. “You could say that now, one of them is making the decisions, and one of them is doing the ceremonies.”

Black day is being observed today against the toppling of democratically elected government in 1977.

On this day in 1977, a military dictator overthrew the government of the then prime minister Zulifqar Ali Bhutto Shaheed and imposed dictatorship on the country.
The black day is being observed on the appeal of Prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is also the vice chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party. In their messages on the day President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minsiter Yousuf Raza Gilani said that July 5 will always be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of country.
The president said the dismantling of democratic structures that began on July 5th 1977, reminds us how one military dictator nurtured extremists for his political survival, and how another dictatorship exploited the same extremists, by running with the hare and hunting with the hound again, for perpettuating himself in power.
The President said the day calls for dismantling the destructive structures of personalized rule created by dictators by distorting the constitution. The President said in his message, it also calls for restoring power to the people, to whom it belongs.
The President said Pakistan Peoples Party which gave the nation a unanimous constitution has, in consultation with all political and democratic forces, undertaken the process of purging the nation’s basic document from all undemocratic provisions.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in his message said the imposition of dictatorship on the country scuttled the process of progress and prosperity of the nation, under the leadership of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.He urged all stakeholders to play their role to ensure the sovereignty and the security of the country, promotion of democracy, stability of democratic institutions, supremacy of constitution and rule of the people by the people.

Taliban cash in on Pakistan’s untapped gem wealth

PESHAWAR: In the narrow lanes of a market in Pakistan's northwest capital Peshawar, dealers squat on carpets and spread out a rainbow of precious gems on the floor for potential buyers.

Chunks of bright blue lapis lazuli, and rough rocks studded with flashes of light and colour clutter window displays, but no one is buying in a city hit by a wave of deadly bombings blamed on Taliban militia.

A treasure trove of precious stones is locked in the rocks of Pakistan's rugged northwest. Violence, legal tussles and state mismanagement have deterred investors but allowed the Taliban to cash in on the bounty, dealers say.

‘God has given us enormous wealth in terms of emeralds from Swat, rubies, pink topaz, beautiful tourmaline,’ said Ilyas Ali Shah, a gemologist with the government-run Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company.

Shah said that if Pakistan properly mines these deposits the impoverished country could reverse its hefty foreign debt: ‘But we need peace.’

In February this year, militants waging a bloody insurgency to expand control opened three shuttered emerald mines in the northwest Swat valley around the main town Mingora and invited villagers to blast away.

The military says it has reclaimed all Swat mines from the Taliban during a fierce offensive, but for at least three months proceeds from emerald sales lined the militants' coffers and helped bankroll their insurgency.

‘They would collect the emeralds and there would be an open tender every Sunday,’ said Azhar ul Islam, a 44-year-old gem trader from Swat. ‘The profits were divided up — two-thirds for the miner and one-third for the Taliban.’

Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan are believed to hold up to 30-40 per cent of the world's emerald deposits, Shah says, with the precious stone fetching up to 2,000 dollars per carat depending on quality.

Azhar told AFP the Taliban earned about four million rupees a week from Mingora's main mine — shuttered since 1995 because of a legal battle — money he said was spent on ‘buying explosives, making weapons.’

‘I was frightened what would happen if the government re-established control, so I didn't buy those emeralds from the mines, but most of my friends bought these emeralds from the Taliban,’ he said.

At the Namak Mandi market in Peshawar, another dealer from Swat who did not want to be named estimated that the militants made between five and six million rupees a week from the stones.

No one in the market would admit buying Swat emeralds from the Taliban, but one dealer said he procures green garnet from a Taliban-owned mine over the border in Afghanistan, where the militants are also waging an insurgency.

‘We don't like the Taliban, we don't buy it because we want to help them, but we want the stones,’ 30-year-old Ali Akbar told AFP.

He says his business has been crushed by spiralling insecurity in Pakistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States thrust the country into the heart of the ‘war on terror’.

‘For five months I had no customers,’ he said.

Shah says Pakistan's gem-industry profits have plunged up to 50 per cent in one year because of the instability, with foreign investors staying away.

Most of the country's gems, including emeralds, garnet, pink topaz, spinel and tourmaline are located underground in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.

Experts say the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) — a mountainous area largely outside government control along the Afghan border and stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud — hides deposits of rare quartz and precious stones.

‘I think we have explored three per cent of the whole of NWFP. We have large areas of Fata that are not under control, so we have a lot of precious material untapped which needs to be explored and exploited,’ Shah said.

Pervez Elahi Malik, former chairman of the main gem exporters' association, blames the local NWFP government for not sorting out legal tussles and getting potentially lucrative mines up and running under state control years ago.

At the moment, local villagers and tribesmen blast away at the rocks and transport their haul to Namak Mandi — a damaging mining process that experts say can destroy 80 per cent of the stones.

‘We are lacking in technical knowledge, we are lacking stability in the country,’ said Shah. ‘Our mining is not technically sound and safe — we are destroying our wealth

Gilani appeals to nation to observe July 5 as Black Day

ISLAMABAD- The Prime Minister and the Vice Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani appealed to the nation to observe July 5 (Sunday) as Black Day. Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani in a message said it was on July 5 1977 that the democratically elected government was overthrown by a military dictator.

Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said the dictator had committed a heinous crime in the darkness of night.

The prime minister said that July 5, 1977 will always be remembered as the worst day in the history of the country.

He said the Government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had provided confidence to the masses to face challenges with courgae and fortitude.

The people under the leadership of popularly elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had begun to work hard for the prosperity of the country.

They had great hopes for the future. Bhutto had raised the stature of the country in the commity of nations.

He said said in the dead of night Ziaul Haq deprived the people of all their aspirations and rights.

He imposed martial law to utter grief and shock and disbelief of the people of Pakistan.

The Prime Minister said during the regime of Ziaul Haq people were flogged and put in jails for the reason that they wanted to live in accordance with their own wishes.

He said the military dictator suspended the Constitution that had been unanimously passed in the National Assembly by all the political parties of Pakistan.

Afghans Pay For an Exit

KABUL, Afghanistan — Through two decades of war, Abdul Ahad never contemplated leaving Afghanistan. But as his country started to deteriorate rapidly in 2007, so did his life. He was laid off from his full-time driving job and forced to take the only work he could find: a once-a-week driving gig through Taliban territory.

In the past eight months, a suicide bomb and a firefight nearly took his life. Now, Mr. Ahad, 26, has had enough. He has begun scouting potential smugglers to take him to Europe, he said, looking to join the surge of young Afghans who are abandoning their country, frustrated by endless war, a lack of prospects and the slow pace of change.

While foreign diplomats hold out hope that the August presidential elections and President Obama’s new troop deployments could change things here, Afghans are voting with their feet.

Last year about 18,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe, a figure nearly double the 2007 total. The spike was the highest increase for any major country in 2008, according to the United Nations. By comparison, applications from Iraqis fell 10 percent.

“People can’t find jobs here,” Mr. Ahad said. “And if you go to a place where there’s work, you’ll be killed in a week.

“I’m desperate,” he added. “It’s not a big dream. I just want to finish my studies and live normally.”

Willing to gamble on the risks, young men like him are turning over their savings — up to $25,000 in some cases — and their lives to smugglers, who arrange routes over seas to Australia or over land to Europe, where the Afghans then try to seek asylum.

Finding a smuggler is not as difficult as it might seem. In interviews in the capital, Kabul, several smugglers, all of whom requested anonymity because their work is illegal, estimated that business was up 60 percent over last year. One said he was turning away customers for the first time in his 11-year career.

“It’s out of my power to deal with the demand,” he said. “I never imagined it would get like this.”

The country’s dire situation has even prompted some privileged Afghans to leave. They include the host of “Afghan Star,” an “American Idol”-style television series, who disappeared after a documentary based on the show won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival; as well as a media officer who worked for President Hamid Karzai and deserted his delegation during an official visit to the United States in September.

Just a few years ago optimism abounded here, as the American-led invasion seemed to have ousted the Taliban, and wooed more than 3.5 million Afghan refugees back home while setting off a series of promising reconstruction projects.

But since 2006, waves of Afghans have fled the Taliban resurgence, endemic corruption and the government’s inability to provide basic services like electricity. They are turning up in perilous waters near Australia, in Turkish prisons, at Rome’s main railway station and in Le Petit Kabul in Paris, or Little Kabul.

In Calais, France, an immigration detention complex dubbed the Jungle is keeping about 600 Afghans in conditions that are “very, very bad compared to two years ago,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency based in Geneva, who visited the camp in May. French officials have vowed to close the center by the end of 2009.

Migration officials and recent deportees said many other Afghans abroad just disappear, are sexually exploited by truck drivers or are forced into labor. Applications for asylum often fail, too.

“It’s death or destination,” said Shuja Halimi, who expressed no regrets after he was deported back to Afghanistan from the United Kingdom, after a two-month journey across 12 countries, including Bulgaria, where he says he eluded gunfire at the border.

He said living conditions in Europe were awful “but not as bad as Afghanistan.” Now in Kabul, Mr. Halimi, who has three children, has not found a job.

“We’ve got a president called Hamid Karzai who has done nothing for Afghan people,” he said, echoing the sentiment of many young Afghans.

On a recent day at the Kabul airport, 30 young deportees from England returned home for the first time in several years. Equipped with only a plaid canvas bag, Akbar Khan, 20, vowed to try again. “We’ll try to go back in about a month after we save some money,” he said.

In an attempt to curb the migration, the International Organization for Migration ran a media campaign here warning against the hazards of smuggling. The Italian government, which noted a 202 percent rise in Afghan asylum applications last year, financed the initiative.

Pakistan and other neighboring countries historically offered Afghans refuge during crises like the Soviet occupation. But today Pakistan faces an internal refugee crisis of its own. Iran, too, is cracking down, now deeming the Afghans economic migrants rather than victims of war and deporting about 700,000 last year.

As other avenues close, Afghans are now engaged in “what has become an intercontinental migration,” said Mr. Chauzy of the International Office of Migration.

The most common route out for Afghans, then, is by road — from Iran via Turkey to Greece — and costs around $16,000, the smugglers said. They said that for about $25,000, they could guarantee an air journey eased by forged documents or prepaid bribes to immigration officials.

Once in Europe, Afghans apply for asylum most often in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Greece and Italy. Scandinavian countries and Switzerland receive far fewer applicants but accept a significantly higher rate of Afghans, according to data from the European Commission.

Migration experts say the widening and tight-knit Afghan diaspora in Europe has encouraged the trend, anchoring new arrivals and providing increasingly sophisticated advice on the asylum process.

European officials trying to curb illegal migration have broken up several high-profile smuggling operations recently. In June, British officials convicted an Afghan man calling himself “the smuggler of Europe,” who claimed his multimillion-dollar operation served thousands of young men, according to phone conversations recorded by authorities. Some men were forced to work at a chain of pizza restaurants to pay off their debt.

But officials in Afghanistan have been slower to crack down on smugglers. One smuggler chuckled when asked if he feared being arrested, saying his business operated much like a travel agency, and almost as openly.

“In this government, three things work very well: relations, money and acquaintances,” the smuggler said. “When these three exist, anyone can get what they want.”

Noor Haidiri, an adviser to the Minister of Refugees, placed some of the blame on Afghanistan’s regional neighbors. Many Afghans, he said, leave legally and hire smugglers in Iran or Dubai. As for the networks that exist here, he said, “only five years ago we had our first elected government, and it goes slowly.”

But many Afghan youths feel that, given the danger in the country, legality is a secondary concern.

“I love this country, but it’s totally going in the wrong direction,” said a teary-eyed 26-year-old man, who did not want to give his name because he was planning to leave. “I want to live like a normal person: wake up, go to work, and be with a wife — or a girlfriend, preferably.”

President Barack Obama's Russian Visit

Mission impossible? Not for these two.

Hopes are high for the upcoming summit between presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, to take place in Moscow on July 6-8. At the very least, the world expects to find out what “resetting relations” will mean. For all their differences, both leaders are counting on a productive dialogue.
Last week President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia was prepared to make deep cuts in its arsenal of strategic offensive weapons. Many commentators in the West took his statement to mean that the Kremlin was ready to make significant concessions to the United States in a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start).

But Medvedev’s statement contained nothing about concessions. He spoke of compromises since any agreement is always a compromise. The main thing is that there can be no radical cuts “by several times” in strategic weapons without taking into account US positions on its “third position area” (that is, its plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe).

President Medvedev’s words mean, in my view, only one thing. Russia is not planning to participate in an arms race, it is ready to make further cuts in strategic offensive weapons, but on a basis of compromise with the United States. This compromise must include Washington’s legally binding rejection of a third position area in Poland and the Czech Republic.

As for concerns about Iran’s missile preparations, these can be allayed with the help of Russian radar stations in Armavir, southern Russia, or in Gabal, Azerbaijan. One could use one station or the other, or both. One might also call on the Centre for the Exchange of Strategic Information, whose opening has already been delayed a decade. The main thing in Start is predictability, control and trust. Without these any treaty will be ineffectual.

A joint statement by the leaders on nuclear security is also being prepared for the summit. Experts are also talking with confidence of a new Russian-American agreement on transit for military supplies to Afghanistan. This was mentioned in hearings in the US Congress by Philip Gordon, new Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs.

Gordon also emphasised that Washington “has no intention of renouncing its principles” and “does not recognise any privileged sphere of influence for Russia in Europe”. Neither is it prepared to “pay any price for a successful summit or for better relations with Russia” – in particular at the expense of Tbilisi.

There is nothing new in any of this for Russia. Washington is free to choose whatever aims and priorities it likes. But it must remember that Moscow uses exactly the same yardstick: matching Russia’s long-term interests.

On the other hand, the opportunities for partnership are virtually limitless. The main areas should be captured in the new Russian-US “action plan” for the foreseeable future. The adoption of this working document may be announced publicly, although according to tradition the document itself is not published.

Implementation of the plan will apparently be the responsibility of a new Russian-US intergovernmental commission – possibly under the personal patronage of the two presidents. In general this would be logical, bearing in mind that the industry-specific areas would need to be supervised by the relevant ministers.

Also, the authority of a presidential commission would not be comparable with that of a ministerial one. But for the time being these are just proposals. People in the know prefer to talk about making the bilateral dialogue, at best, “more systematic”.

It is important for Obama to succeed as he takes essentially his first independent steps in foreign policy. In preparing for the visit, the Americans have apparently, said one diplomat, stressed the importance of “getting the agreements documented”. In the past getting George W Bush, the lover of “gentlemen’s agreements”, to sign legally binding documents was like getting blood out of a stone.

On the other hand, such a “change of roles” is probably also a test for Russian diplomacy. How much are they prepared for a situation in which the key partner, in its own way, perhaps, and in line with its own interests, nevertheless comes across as particularly compliant? Will they realise that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?

Israeli PM talks two-state principle

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday paid lip service for probably the first time in public to the term of "two states for two peoples" regarding the historical peace process with the Palestinians.

"For the first time we have reached a national agreement on the two states for two peoples concept," local news service Ynet quoted Netanyahu as saying at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, while noting that the traditionally hawkish premier refrained in the past from mentioning the term on public occasions.

"The Palestinians will have to recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and the refugee problem will be solved outside Israel," he said. "Israel needs and will receive defensible borders, including a complete demilitarization of the Palestinian territory."

Such demands mirrored those Netanyahu raised in a major diplomatic policy speech last month, during which he offered tentative endorsement of the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel, while stopping short of any reference to the exact phrase.

The two-state principle envisions a peaceful coexistence of Israel and a Palestinian state side by side, and has garnered extensive support from the international community. Recent opinion polls showed that a majority of Israelis support such a solution to the decades-old conflict.

Vietnamese Communist Party closes major meeting

The Communist Party of Vietnam's (CPV) 10th Central Committee closed the 10th plenum on Saturday in Hanoi, the Vietnamese government website reported.

Nong Duc Manh, General Secretary of the CPV Central Committee delivered a speech at the close of the week-long meeting.

Manh said during the years of implementing Vietnam's socio- economic development strategy for 2001-2010, Vietnam has made full use of opportunities, overcome many difficulties and made significant achievements.

Manh said Vietnam drew out many lessons during this period and the most vital one was to place importance on the sustainability of development.

The Party chief underlined the overall target of the new socio- economic development strategy for 2011-2020. Vietnam should continue speeding up industrialization, modernization and sustainable development in order to become a modern industrial country by 2020.

Manh said that the Political Bureau of the CPV Central Committee would give instructions on organizing the 11th Party Congress, slated for 2011.