The acceleration of the war in Afghanistan by the new administration is well publicised, representing a greater surge in the war against terrorism, with the use of unmanned drones playing an increasing role. What is slightly less known is the use of these technologies in neighbouring Pakistan.

The first Predator was rushed to Afghanistan just four days after September 11th 2001 as part of the U.S.’s remarkably rapid mobilisation. Since then unmanned aircraft have become integral to U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now increasingly, in Pakistan. Military claims of greater accuracy and technological superiority, together with likely benefits in reducing military casualties, have resulted in drones gradually replacing F-16’s over the battlefield.

The Air Force is currently spending $3 billion a year in procurement and operation of the aircraft, and now holds more than 7000 units in its arsenal.[1] The most commonly used drones are the Predator and the Reaper; both equipped with hellfire missiles and manufactured by General Atomics.[2] Operated from ground bases in either Afghanistan or the United States, pilots have access to multiple computer screens displaying live video feeds, high definition cameras and various other logistical intelligence. These capabilities, according to military analysts, allow pilots to be a lot more accurate in their strikes and reduce civilian casualties.  This claim may possibly explain why the Obama administration has carried out more attacks with the technology in its first ten months than the previous administration did in its last three years.

Since the first U.S. invasion force landed in Afghanistan in late 2001, insurgent forces have sought shelter in the bordering state of Pakistan, particularly in the inaccessible regions of North Waziristan.[3] The issue of preventing raids and attacks from outside the field of war has understandably been a difficult one for coalition forces. Without a remit for war against the Pakistani state, justifying ground force troop deployment has been impossible. Instead, the United States has been forced to use its relations with the government to ensure that the Pakistani military exerts pressure against Al-Qaeda strongholds. This method has had at best, mixed success.

The U.S. therefore simultaneously launched its own covert offensive against Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan using drones. The avoidance of ground troops in this programme enables greater detachment from issues of legality, as well as allowing the United States to fluidly adjust the pace of its campaign. Success on this new front has been praised by news outlets for killing scores of militants over the last few months, including 12 in a single attack recently on what was once a religious school. The total estimated death toll runs as high as 700 for this campaign in Pakistan, with many questioning the proportion of these which are connected to Al-Qaeda.

Whilst the government in Pakistan has been co-operating to a certain degree with the United States, the reactions of its citizens has made the relationship difficult. As attacks under the Obama administration have increased, the Pakistani government has increased its demands, both public and private, to the Americans. A surge in attacks at the start of this year lead to public Pakistani pressure for its own drone force to defend against militant incursions.[4] [5] Privately, certain analysts argue that the U.S. has been able to maintain its campaign by adding to its list of suspects, enemies of the Pakistani government.[6]

The inability to confirm such assertions is maintained by the fact that the Pakistan drone offensive is not directed by the U.S. Air Force, but instead by the C.I.A. . As such, the list of suspect targets is confidential, together with the terms of what constitutes a militant target. As the government has also justified its use of force in this region as the only direct method of tackling the militancy, some might also ask where they are gaining the intelligence on which to base their attacks, if not from ground sources.

The attacks are justified under the legal framework of the Bush Administration, which sidestepped the U.S. ban on assassinations. Instead, terrorism was re-classified from a crime, to an extension of war, enabling forces to retaliate to attacks anywhere as a new front in their war on terror.

The C.I.A.’s lack of experience in direct military offensives, together with the ease with which these new aircraft can be piloted, has led to significant outsourcing within their campaign. Some of the practical operations have been assumed by civilian contractors, raising significant questions of legality in the assassinations of foreign nationals.

The drone war in Pakistan certainly represents a novel development in the field of warfare, it remains to be seen whether the costs of subduing suspected militancy outweigh the ‘complications’ of civilian casualties.

Chris Bowles

[1] Drone pilots have a front-row seat on war, from half a world away


[2] U.S. drone crashes over Pakistan


[3] U.S. Unleashes Unprecedented Number of Drone Attacks in Pakistan


[4] Zardari asks US to transfer drone technology to Pakistan


[5] U.S. to supply Pakistan 12 drones


[6] Jane Mayer on Predator Drones and Pakistan


The Dalai Lama this week expressed concern that there was little likelihood of improvement for the Tibetan cause, despite relaxing his demands in recent years. Facing huge crowds in Dharamsala on 10th March after a series of protests and demonstrations, he gave his annual commemoration speech, marking the 51st anniversary since the failed Tibetan revolt. The date is also the 2nd anniversary of the 2008 riots in which dozens were killed by Chinese security, in the largest scale protests against the regime in 50 years.

The Tibetan spiritual leader reiterated his position that he does not intend to assume a political role if his country achieves autonomy or independence, the same being said for the government in exile. [1]

Despite links and meetings with numerous foreign political figures, most notable recently both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, sufficient diplomatic and popular pressure has yet to develop. He decried the security situation in the country which he claims treats Tibetans as second class citizens and is trying to annihilate Buddhism:

“They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism.” [2]

China continues to denounce the Dalai Lama’s position as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, prohibiting his adoration and labeling him as merely a “political monk”. They contend that the existence of a constitution for the Tibetan “government-in-exile” undermines the movement’s claims that it is not seeking independence. Officials describe the Tibetan region as “an inalienable part of China” which has benefitted both socially and economically from its integration over the last 50 years.[3]

China first invaded Tibet in 1950 and, following a failed uprising in March 1959, the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans fled into exile in India. During the years of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, there followed a characteristic policy of assimilation and “patriotic re-education”.[4] The Tibetan language, culture and history were replaced in both education, and official society, by those of China. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were also encouraged to settle throughout the plateau, resulting in ethnic majorities in certain regions, most notably Lhasa.[5] The latter policy inevitably assisted in the operation of the former, as China has been surprisingly successful in permeating its “history” of shared culture and unity.

Tibetans’ dogged loyalty to their own past has led to fierce repression over the last 50 years in which an estimated 90% of their cultural heritage has been destroyed. Following the 2008 protests, in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics, the security situation has been further tightened.

Apart from exceptions for visits of foreign journalists, military patrols are a regular feature of Lhasa’s streets.[6] Tibetan visitors to the capital are also required to provide three pieces of documentary evidence to avoid detention. These include: their identity card, a temporary residence permit and a letter of introduction allowing them to be in Lhasa.[7] Ethnic Han Chinese are not stopped for these checks.

China argues that it introduced democratic reforms in 1959 which have brought great social and economic progress for ordinary Tibetans, and that current security in the region is merely intended to ensure peace. [8]

China has invested some 154 billion yuan ($21 billion) in the territory over the last decade on infrastructure and various other development projects. They appreciate that the large-scale nature of many of their previous initiatives has done little to win over the minds of ordinary Tibetans. In recent years they have therefore changed their approach, focusing on local communities and encouraging tourism and small-scale industry. Although many remain skeptical, the process appears to be bearing fruit, as posters of Mao Zedong and President Hu Jintao have begun to appear on walls.[9]

Amongst the exile community, an awareness of the superiority of China has affected both official policy and individual interpretations. The Dalai Lama has switched his stance from full independence to greater rights and autonomy for Tibetans within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Exiles, who tend to follow the path of their spiritual leader, concede the advantages of a harmonious relationship with their neighbor.

This shift in demands following the defeats of 2008 may mark an end of hope for the Tibetan cause. Relations will probably normalise over time, but with Tibetan culture likely further subsumed within that of China. The examples from the UK in this regard are particularly poignant.

The successful conquest of the neighbouring states of England saw Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland all become integral parts of a greater Kingdom. Local culture and language was repressed and often prohibited, mass migrations were encouraged to dilute indigenous populations and the histories of the regions were suitably altered. Although Ireland eventually broke away, the others have remained, as they understand the impracticality of attempting to stand in the world without their richer neighbour. Relations are now normalised and, having made sacrifices to become anglicised, the possibilities of separation seem remote. [10] [11] [12] [13]

The history of the “United Kingdom” bears an interesting template perhaps for the future of Tibet as a state.

Chris Bowles

[1] http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/himachalpradesh/Dalai-Lama-says-he-will-not-take-political-position-in-Tibet/Article1-517342.aspx

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[3] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[5] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[6] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7056345.ece

[8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[9] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[10] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3972485.ece

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_nationalism

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language

[13] http://www.theclearances.org/clearances/main.php

Last week the Indian government secured Cabinet approval for a new agreement which aims at promoting greater privatisation of agricultural services and increased collaboration between American agribusiness and the Indian farm sector.[1]

The agreement comes as one of a package of six pacts signed between the two countries as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).  Most publicised for its focus on counter-terrorism, the MoU also covers issues as diverse as education, health, green development and in this instance, agriculture. Viewed as representative of stronger links between the two nations, Obama has described their growing relationship as, “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”[2] Indeed P.M. Manmohan Singh’s reception in Washington as the first foreign leader hosted as the State Guest by the 10 month old administration acknowledged his country’s heightened significance.

The proposed Indo-U.S. pact on agriculture is intended to widen the opportunities for private investment in the farm-sector and reciprocal trade. The agreement includes a bilateral policy dialogue and agribusiness-to-business collaboration between the two countries. Practically, this will involve assistance in weather forecasting in order to improve crop management and marketing, and food security co-operation. This latter focus will be increasing the quality and quantity of “diversified and fortified foods”. Greater co-operation in technological and expertise exchange through private enterprise and international agribusiness partnerships should allow for modernisation and efficiency benefits in the farm sector. The nature of this technological exchange will be in the form of the commercialised extension of genetically modified foodstuffs.[3]

There have already been those who have raised their concern at these developments.  Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign has argued that although farmers would benefit from enhanced weather prediction models, the MoU will also give the U.S. access to the great genetic diversity ofcrop plants for commercialization in their interests. “The opening of food security policy dialogue is also a matter of concern as it will impose on India the U.S. model of agribusinesses and vertical integration of food chain, impacting diversity and consolidating monopolies,”[4]

These fears appear to be borne out by the one-sided appearance of the agreement. The various arrangements on the subject of agriculture appear to almost exclusively benefit India. The receipt on the part of the farm sector of greater technology, expertise and developmental intelligence is unlikely to come without significant reciprocal exchange. It would be naïve to assume that the donation of such assistance would not be part of a program of investment intended to deliver returns.

The investment by U.S. firms in the Indian farm sector has been growing since the turn of the 21st Century. Monsanto first released its pest-resistant BTCotton in 2002 and both Monsanto and Cargill have been on the board of the U.S.-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI) since 2008. The firms have played a strong role in the collection of data on crop performance and the publication of reports on the benefits of GM seeds through the channels of the AKI and state departments.[5]

Despite the distinguished reports coming from official levels, the development of BTCotton in particular appears to have somewhat less success on the ground. Commercial cultivation throughout the six states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu revealed low levels of performance when compared against non-GM strains. The average yield of Bt cotton was found to be lower in all categories of land holdings, whether they were irrigated, good quality soils or poor quality red soils in the rain fed areas. In fact, 60 % of the farmers cultivating Bt cotton were not even able to recover their investment and incurred losses averaging Rs. 80 per acre.[6] Added to this have been reports that prescriptions requiring barriers of non-GM crops surrounding BTCotton fields have been ignored. This may result in insects developing resistance to the anti-pest gene, and hence becoming a greater threat to farmers.

Monsanto has become a name associated in both North America and Europe with the powerful marketing of inefficient and sometimes dangerous crops, and vigorous law-suits against farmers who breach their patents.  Their poor performance history in the Indian market to date will be little to belay fears of a continuation of their domestic commercial practices.

Chris Bowles

[1] http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?670025

[2] http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?670025

[3] http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article112297.ece

[4] http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article112297.ece

[5] http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/india_knowl_init/AKI_bdmtg6_042008.asp

[6] http://www.genecampaign.org/Publication/Article/BT%20Cotton/Failure_Monsanto-BtCotton.pdf

The Venezuelan government announced on Saturday that Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran President overthrown in a bloodless military coup last June, will serve as the political leader of the Petrocaribe alliance. Petrocaribe was created by the government of Hugo Chávez in 2005 and allows participating countries, including some of the poorest nations in the Americas, to finance shipments of Venezuelan oil over a period of 17 to 25 years at an interest rate of 1%, paying a small fraction up front[1]. Member states can also finance part of their petroleum imports with export commodities such as rice and bananas, which are sent to Venezuela in part-exchange for market-rate oil.

Zelaya’s appointment was announced by the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nicolás Maduro, during a conference of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Maduro stated that the decision to appoint Zelaya demonstrates the Venezuelan government’s commitment to “continue supporting the restoration of democracy in Honduras”[2]. Following June’s coup, President Chávez of Venezuela was one of the international community’s most vocal supporters of Zelaya, demanding his immediate reinstatement as an interim government under Roberto Micheletti took control of the poverty-stricken Central American nation.

In elections held in November of last year, Porfirio Lobo was elected Honduran President, with many nations, including Venezuela, refusing to recognise Lobo’s victory, taking place as it did in the shadow of last summer’s coup d’état. Venezuela has indefinitely suspended oil exports to Honduras, but has stated that Caracas would restore relations with Tegucigalpa if the new government permitted Zelaya to return to the political scene in the country[3].

Zelaya, a wealthy landowner in his own right, had begun to institute significant changes which sought to alleviate the plight of the millions of Hondurans living in abject poverty. These included a 60% increase in the minimum wage which provoked criticism and anger on the part of multinational companies operating in the country, who had hitherto benefitted from unchecked access to the labour of the roughly 60% of Honduras’ 8 million inhabitants who live below the poverty line.

U.S. banana-giant Chiquita, formerly The United Fruit Company, which was instrumental in pushing through the CIA-led overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 in response to his drastic land reform policies, was among the more vocal critics of Zelaya’s minimum wage increase, and maintains substantial holdings in Honduras[4].

Honduras is the poorest nation on the mainland of the American continent, with an estimated 75% of the country’s rural population living in poverty[5], and is characterised by “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high un- and underemployment”[6]. President Lobo, educated at the University of Miami, was quick to exonerate those members of the Honduran military who took part in the coup which toppled Manuel Zelaya, confirming that they would not face prosecution for their part in the overthrow and promising to put Honduras “on the path to democracy”, in February of this year[7].

During his inauguration in January, Lobo publicly thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the backing he had received from the government of Barack Obama following his victory at the polls in November 2009, while Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela were among a group of several Latin American nations who boycotted Lobo’s swearing-in and refuse to recognise the Honduran government, considering it illegitimate[8].

The Obama administration is extremely unpopular in much of Latin America, with widespread anger at the decision to place U.S. troops on the ground at several military bases in Venezuela’s neighbour Colombia as part of the United States’ “war on drugs”. Obama’s decision to extend crippling sanctions against Cuba, in spite of having made noises to the effect that relations could thaw between Washington and Havana during his campaign, has also done little to alter the image of his administration in a region which has seen countless U.S. and U.S.-backed military interventions in preceding decades which have left deep physical and emotional scars which endure to the present day.

Honduras had been receiving oil shipments from Venezuela under a Petrocaribe agreement until dispatches were suspended following last June’s coup. Zelaya said of his new role as political head of Petrocaribe, “I am going to accept this nomination and this appointment from President Chávez with a view to strengthening the democratic processes in this continent”. Commenting on the role Chávez played in supporting the ousted President following the coup, Zelaya remarked, “it’s false that Hugo Chávez came looking for me, I went looking for him in order to help Latin America”.

Interviewed after the conclusion of three hours of talks with Zelaya held at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Chávez affirmed that Porfirio Lobo’s electoral victory in Honduras “was no defeat” and that Zelaya is still the “legitimate President of Honduras”.

Tom Kavanagh

[1] Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. – Petrocaribe, http://www.pdvsa.com/index.php?tpl=interface.sp/design/readmenuprinc.tpl.html&newsid_temas=48

[2] Designan a Zelaya como nuevo presidente del Consejo Político de Petrocaribe, http://www.telesurtv.net/noticias/secciones/nota/67940-NN/designan-a-zelaya-como-nuevo-presidente-del-consejo-politico-de-petrocaribe/

[3] Chávez contrata al ex presidente hondureño Zelaya para dirigir Petrocaribe, http://www.cnnmexico.com/mundo/2010/03/06/chavez-contrata-al-ex-presidente-hondureno-zelaya-para-dirigir-petrocaribe

[4] Chiquita in Latin America, http://www.counterpunch.org/kozloff07172009.html

[5] Honduras, http://www.ifad.org/media/success/honduras_2.htm

[6] CIA – The World Factbook – Honduras, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

[7] Presidente de Honduras exonera militar que executou golpe, http://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/afp/2010/02/25/presidente-de-honduras-exonera-militar-que-executou-golpe.jhtm

[8] Lobo Assumes Presidency as U.S., Latin America Split, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-01-27/lobo-set-for-presidency-as-u-s-latin-america-split-update1-.html

The assassination of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on the 19th January in a Dubai hotel room has sparked an international row with Israel at its centre.  Al-Mabhouh had been linked by Israel to the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, he is also a prominent member of the militant party which continues to hold political control in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has refused to confirm or deny accusations of Mossad’s involvement, stressing his country’s “policy of ambiguity” regarding Special Forces operations.[1] Several of the false passports linked to the assassination squad by Dubai police are registered with individuals currently residing in the Israeli state.  This, together with Israel’s significant motivation, has led the chief of police in Dubai to assert his 99% certainty of Israeli involvement, and to demand an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief, Meir Dagan.[2]

In an interview with the Qatar based media source, Al-Jazeera last year, al-Mabhouh  confessed to the 1989 murders and stated that, “To the Israelis, my hands are stained with blood, but to God? This is what matters.”[3] Analysts argue that although this was a probable cause of the official’s death in playing against Israel’s pride, more important are accusations of his role in the arms smuggling. These centre on links with the state of Iran and the use of tunnels to transport tactical equipment (most importantly rockets) into the Gaza Strip. International speculation on this latter subject has always been intense, with many questioning the strength of relations between the Shi’te state and the militant Sunni party.

Although the row with Arab states has inevitably focused on the operation of Israeli forces on their home soil, many Western governments having also professed anger at the logistical details of the assassination.[4] The use of forged passports from several European countries by the squad has led to demands for explanations from Israel and appears to continue Israel’s notable habit of making life difficult for its friends.

6 British passports, as well as 5 from Ireland and a further few from France and Germany have already been linked to the investigation. The UK passports in particular appear to have been clones, replicating the identity of British citizens currently resident in the Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his European counterparts have already lodged their stern disapproval and demanded answers from Israel.[5]

Despite the international furor, official and civilian responses in Israel have however been fairly relaxed. Although recognizing that Israel was almost certainly responsible, most press sources have expressed their certainty that the scandal will blow over. The columnist Eitan Haber, of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, described al-Mabhouh as a “master terrorist” and that Israel had achieved its objectives in eliminating him; he predicted that the foreign headlines would “be gone in a day or two.”[6]

After revelations by the UK’s “Daily Mail”, Israeli opinion has become particularly impatient with the international reproach it has been receiving.  In a special expose on the incident, the paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as reportedly confirming that Britain had received advance warning of the use of its passports, and that Israel would simply receive a “slap on the wrist.”[7]

Despite the international press headlines there is considerable evidence that media and government are merely completing the necessary overtures, and that Israeli conviction of the incident “blowing over” is indeed correct. Despite expressing their concern and condemnation, diplomatic comments have been significantly vague. The UK’s Gordon Brown has demanded, “a full investigation into this,” but conceded that, “it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.” The characteristic technique of using “proper procedures and channels” will likely yield the desired time for both parties.

The format of international press coverage is perhaps best represented by the “NY Daily News”, which features a poll in which readers can express their opinion out of two available options:

“Take our Poll: Hamas big executed

What do you think of the assassination of Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai?

  • It’s a disgrace: The hit ignored international laws.
  • It’s great: That’s one less terrorist to worry about.”

It is significant that neither option questions the guilt of al-Mabhouh, but rather the procedure of the operation. Indeed the paper pertinently adds that, “Much of the European uproar is because the killers used British, Irish and other European passports,” rather than because they murdered an official in the government of a foreign state.[8]

With the near universal condemnation of Hamas in official circles there has been predictably little comment on this model of the extra-judicial killing of a foreign official. Investigation into the murder has, however, implicated the involvement of two Palestinian individuals who are former officers of the Palestinian security services. Their current employment is with a private security firm owned by Mohammed Dahlan; a senior member of Hamas’ rival, Fatah.[9] Dahlan was a former strongman in the Gaza Strip and was given assistance by both Israel and the U.S. in an attempt to topple the Hamas government following their election victory. After  the 2007 failed coup attempt, Dahlan, along with other Fatah members, was  expelled from the territory and has since established himself in the West Bank. The logistics of this operation would appear to implicate Fatah once again in assisting Israel with its security concerns.

Chris Bowles

[1] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/18/dubai-assassination-forged-british-passports

[3] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[4] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102219289545873.html

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/02/18/2822956.htm

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[7] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/136085

[8] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/02/21/2010-02-21_no_remorse_in_israel_over_guerrillas_death.html

[9] http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151245.html

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh

[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

A recent report leaked from the European Commission appears to legalise covert tactics to justify the increasingly dubious environmental benefits of bio-fuels.[1] The document is directed at the issue of deforestation, which has become so heavily associated with bio-fuel production in the developing world. In countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Malaysia, where attempts to take advantage of the lucrative trade in bio-fuel ‘feedstocks’ have seen dramatic growth, the cheapest land is often the most desirable. This has tended to be rainforest or other virgin tropical vegetation.

Efforts to introduce sustainability guidelines on bio-fuels have sought to reduce the attractiveness of such measures. However, the significance of the E.C. report is that it appears to offer a clause to protect plantations created on previous forest land.  The report states that, “A change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion,” of sustainability. The classification of dense palm oil plantations as “forest” allows companies to conceal an alteration of the vegetation, and in turn to retain their sustainability credentials. [2]

This has been an issue at the heart of the controversy over bio-fuels for some time. Their concept was initially hailed as a reliable green alternative to the use of traditional carbon-fuels. As developed countries have struggled to meet limits on transport emissions through difficulties in implementing new technologies, bio-fuels appeared to offer a means to buy time. With their ‘carbon-neutral’ credentials they were preferable to fossil-fuel based products and could be produced from a variety of sources. This latter point has also been of interest to developed nations seeking to ensure their energy security. On both these grounds however, the concept has recently been shown to be failing.

Although bio-fuels capture carbon-dioxide from their various feedstocks, hence offsetting the CO2 released through their combustion, this ignores the indirect costs of their production. The vegetation often cleared for their production in developing countries tends be prime carbon capture. Peat-bog wetlands and tropical rainforests are considerably more efficient in the process than other vegetation,  and are usually preferred for plantation cultivation due to their cost.[3] Adding to this are the direct impacts of the vegetation destruction, through the clearing and burning, which releases further carbon dioxide. Farming processes often compound these effects through the use of fertilisers, leading to the release of nitrous oxide gases which are 300 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse contributor.[4]

Bio-fuels were initially favoured by developed countries for their prospects of producing secure transport fuels. Dependence on foreign sources of fossil-fuels has characterised the energy policies of most developed countries since decolonisation and has consequently forced them to rely on unstable markets which have been subject to frequent price-spikes. Encouraging bio-fuel production as a domestic industry promised to provide greater stability through the internalisation of energy policy. Through internal subsidies and incentives farmers were encouraged to switch areas of land to bio-fuel feedstocks. The pattern was also hoped to alleviate some of the problems of cereal over-production and dumping associated with the C.A.P. (Common Agricultural Policy).Since these policies, EU domestic production rates alone have accelerated to 10 billion litres annually.[5] Intervention from the WTO however, has acted to limit this growth and encourage a more international trade. Arguing that incentives and subsides harm international trade and provide domestic producers with unfair trade advantages, the WTO has sought to encourage more pluralist production. It argues for the developing world, that this could, “generate significant economic, environmental and social benefits.”[6]

Whilst developing nations may wish to take advantage of this lucrative new energy market, they often lack the resources to finance such initiatives. The WTO has therefore argued that private finance should be encouraged into these areas. The beneficial climate, environmental concerns, and land and labour costs should all make external production an attractive prospect to investors.[7] Private investment has indeed followed these guidelines as countries throughout the world have switched to feedstock production. This policy has not only had environmental consequences, but also threatens to have significant human impacts.

A recent report by ActionAid has attributed growing problems of landlessness, increased food prices and approximately 100 million more people falling below the breadline, to the 10% targets sought by the E.U.[8] As millions of acres of land are taken out of food production in Africa, Latin America and Asia this has had a predictably significant impact on world food markets. Since 2002 global food prices have increased more than 140 percent and many claim this trend will continue as long as the production of bio-fuels is encouraged. ActionAid cites in its report an investigation by the IMF which attributed up to 30% of the recent price increases directly to bio-fuels. [9]A more recent report by the World Bank has challenged this figure, claiming that perhaps as much as 70% of the rises have been due to the shift of farming to energy markets.[10]

These reports pose significant implications for the accepted logic of the West’s green agenda. They implicate the smaller populations of developed nations as having a far greater impact on food prices than over-population in the South.  Production methods, with their significant environmental and human impacts, also appear to contradict the initial expectations of this fuel source as carbon-neutral and beneficial. It is not surprising therefore, that increasingly elaborate means are being found necessary to justify the continued expansion of bio-fuels.

Chris Bowles

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[2] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthcomment/geoffrey-lean/7168296/EU-raises-biofuel-threat-to-rainforests.html

[4] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,563927,00.html

[5] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true

[6] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[7] http://www.bioenergy-business.com/index.cfm?section=features&action=view&id=10786

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[9] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/15/biofuels-food-production-developing-countries

[10] http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKLDE6191VX20100211?sp=true