What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Weekly Great Game #2 (March 17-23)

March 17, Monday
Protests in Gardez (eastern Afghanistan) against a deployment of Russian troops to Afghanistan. "Fighters in the Soviet resistance were joined by tribal elders and others," as one source says - about a hundred people altogether, demonstrating. The sort of news to make you stare confused. Especially since you know no Russian troops are to be deployed to Afghanistan at this point. And it happened supposedly because of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza's article, which discussed recent developments over ISAF in NATO-Russia relations. Such a protest, in a country with massive illiteracy, as analysts rightly point out. Indicative of attitudes, hidden hands and one may only speculate what else. Russian analysts were of course pointing to how good it must have felt to a NATO spokesperson to then say that "No troops can be in Afghanistan without Afghanistan's consent."
Anyway, Robert Simmons, NATO's special envoy for the Caucasus and Central Asia expressed hope that a deal with Russia could be finalised already before the April 2-4 Bucharest NATO summit, which by the way Russia will attend, too.
March 18, Tuesday
A tanker carrying 44,000 liters of fuel is blown up in Pakistan, near Peshawar. The latest attack on NATO's supply lines through Pakistan where e.g. about 80 percent of NATO's fuel has to pass through. Good timing to underscore the importance of the "land corridor" through Russia. I mean, if it was meant to be good timing in that respect. Which it was not, probably.
March 19, Wednesday
During a visit to Turkey, Afghan foreign minister Spanta met both foreign minister Ali Babacan and president Abdullah Gül. Spanta earned his diploma in International Relations back at Ankara University by the way, in the 1970s, and he speaks fluent Turkish. He officially asked for a commitment to build more Turkish schools in Afghanistan. While he says he hasn't asked for more troops, Turkish FM Ali Babacan did say on Wednesday that sending more Turkish troops to Afghanistan might be considered. Turkish Chief of General Staff Yasar Büyükanıt is against the idea, referring to Turkish problems at home, especially with the PKK's challenge in mind.
Still March 19 - The Czech Republic's PRT begins operating in Logar province (eastern Afghanistan). The third formerly Eastern bloc NATO member state starting a PRT, after Lithuania and Hungary. They are to stay for three years according to their starting mandate. Somewhat unusually long commitment for starters. Czechs are also involved in running a field hospital in Kabul at the same time, and their special forces operate in Helmand - they have just lost one of those SFs on Monday.
Canada is offered six Blackhawk helicopters delivered extra fast, by 2009, by the Sikorski firm. But Canada wants medium/heavy lift capability, and isn't satisfied with a deal believed by some to be precarious anyway. Canada has asked for CH-53s (Sea Stallions) from Germany before, but Germany didn't give them those, saying they were needed in the north, predictably. So Canada is still waiting for that special someone making an ultimately useful offer, which would ensure having the required capability by February, 2009 (one of the conditions to be met for Canada to stay after 2009).
(Already in 2006 a plan to order Chinooks from the U.S. was announced by the Harper government, but no contract is signed yet. The Canadian Forces at this stage are apparently not getting something needed in the Afghan fight, which some believed was supposed to get them even the things they needed not in Afghanistan in particular.)
March 20, Thursday
Osama bin Laden threatens Europe in a taped message for the Mohammed caricatures, but in the same message he devotes about as much attention to the al-Yamamah arms-for-oil deals between the UK's British Aerospace, as main contractor, and Saudi Arabia.
March 21, Friday
Afghans turn out now in greater numbers in Kabul to chant death to Denmark and the Netherlands for the republishing of the Mohammed caricatures in Denmark and a possibly upcoming, supposedly anti-Islam documentary by Geert Wilders. Number of protesters: 5,000. Not really all of Afghanistan, you may conclude. Not even the male (approximately) 50% of the population... You know, just pointing out the obvious if necessary.
Same day - Syed Saleem Shahzad at the Asia Times Online talks of a stepped up role of French intelligence in Afghanistan/Pakistan (interested especially in the slash between the two), backed up with new funds allocated to them. My musing about those news here.
March 22, Saturday
Quoting from this Times article below, heralding an upcoming meeting next week between UK premier Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy in London.
Victoria Nuland, the US Ambassador to NATO, said: “One of the problems is that European defence budgets are going down. When you look at the alliance, you don’t see 30,000 troops sitting in a parking lot with nothing to do and waiting to be sent somewhere. Everyone is stretched. There are some countries that could do more but one of the reasons why alliance members are not chipping in with troops and equipment for Afghanistan is that they haven’t hardened their helicopters to be able to fight in the desert and they haven’t had counter-insurgency training in the desert. (...) After the Cold War ended, everyone thought we would be able to focus on soft security, but now we find we have to do hard security. The UK has one of the best militaries in the world and is good at recruiting but the entire alliance structure has shrunk. Nato is stretched to find 60,000 troops to deploy. In Afghanistan we’re now in a hump period between fighting the Taleban and training the Afghans. In three or four years’ time we hope that we’ll be doing more on training and less on fighting. But during this hump period it’s hard for the alliance that had never fired a shot in anger before in a ground war. In Kosovo it was an air war; now in Afghanistan it’s a full-scale counter-insurgency war.”
Nuland also added, regarding the Marine Expeditionary Unit that will help out Canada this year in Kandahar province (the offer of which assistance made it possible for the Canadian parliament to vote yes to an extension of the Canadian presence beyond 2009, on the condition of finding a more permanent partner in Kandahar from 2009 on): "... it’s tough on the Marines. This is the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It’s an enormous sacrifice for them. They have already been to Iraq twice and they should be having a rest. We’re asking a lot of the soldiers."

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