|Asia News Digest
U.S. Begins Handing Afghanistan Back to Taliban
The process of handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban has begun, as U.S. forces freed 81 suspected Taliban fighters from military jails in Afghanistan. Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari told reporters that "there are another 400 Taliban in [the U.S. airbase at] Bagram and they [the U.S. military] have promised to release all Taliban from Bagram and Guantanamo Bay."
The release took place amid reports that U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government is holding peace talks with mid-level Taliban commanders (often referred to as "neo-Taliban" by the U.S. media) to persuade them and their foot soldiers to give up their fight and join his government.
Most of the Taliban were protected by the Pakistani Army and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. The London weekly The Economist on Jan. 13 pointed out that following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, thousands of Taliban fled to Pakistan to survive the bombing raids by the Americans.
Preparation To Hit Iran Is Afoot
According to an Indian intelligence contact who spoke with EIR Jan. 18, there is no question the United States has kept its option to hit Iran very much on the front burner. In fact, President Bush has said so recently.
There are quite a few indicators: In Afghanistan's Herat Province, near the Iranian border, U.S. Special Forces are building an air strip, which is large enough to accommodate cargo planes like the C130.
The U.S. is also releasing the Afghan Taliban prisoners and bringing them in to join the Kabul government. Once this is accomplished, Pakistan and the Taliban, which are like two arms joined to the same body, would be able to work together. For any operation against Iran, the U.S. requires logistical support from a friendly nation of substance, and Pakistan fills the bill very well. But, conditions must be made adequate for Pakistan to function inside Afghanistan. A Taliban-backed government would do the job.
Rumsfeld Proposal for Joint Naval Base Meets Cool Reception in Delhi
During his visit to India late last year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apparently proposed a joint naval communication center in Kochi, Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. Ostensibly, the objective is to monitor terrorist activities from the Persian Gulf, all the way to the South China Sea, including the Indian Ocean and the busy sea lanes of the Malacca Strait.
The Rumsfeld visit followed the preparation of a 150-page report by the Pentagon on plans for joint India-U.S. military activities. Bits and pieces of this report have trickled out, but the report has not changed hands, and remains within the U.S. Defense Department, the Indians claim.
New Delhi has not responded to Rumsfeld's proposals. But the issue will not end there. New Delhi believes that when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits India in June, the subject will be on the table again. From the Indian side, the navy is showing keen interest, because it would be able to share the vast communications advances of the American maritime forces.
New Delhi, however, has not shown any interest. Earlier, it had turned down a British request to set up a joint special force training center at Kochi.
UN: Indonesia Lost Half a Million Jobs in Tsunami
The United Nations has issued an estimate that some 500,000 jobs were lost in Indonesia as a result of the Christmas tsunami, most of them in Aceh Province, in North Sumatra, near the epicenter of the earthquake. In particular, the damage wiped out the fishing industry, which is vital for employment, and for providing the principal source of protein in the local diet.
The Asian Development Bank has warned that the tsunami could impoverish 2 million people across the South Asian nations it battered, 1 million of whom are in Indonesia.
With UN funding, Indonesia has hired 300 tsunami homeless to clear debris from hospitals and schools. It plans to expand the program to 3,000 people within months, but that is less than 1% of the more than 600,000 who lost their homes and jobs.
Philippines Downgraded by S&P, as Debt Skyrockets
Standard & Poors has downgraded the collapsing Philippines currency/debt ratings, making the upcoming massive borrowings even more expensive, the International Herald Tribune reported Jan. 17. Despite every effort to ram through a mass of new taxes, the Philippines Congress has rejected all but a sin tax. The government also announced that tax collections fell short of projections for the sixth time in seven years.
The government announced that they must proceed with a $1-billion foreign bond issue nonetheless, at the higher rates that will result from the S&P colonial dictate.
Philippine government debt skyrocketed in September over the previous year by 17%, to about $66 billion. Interest payments alone will eat up 40% of the government budget.
Wolfowitz Challenged in Indonesia as 'Man of War'
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was interviewed on Jan. 16, during his visit to Indonesia to view the tsunami damage, by Tempo, a magazine heralded in the West for having challenged President Suharto in his day. The interviewer first allowed Wolfowitz, who has paraded as a great friend of Indonesia since his stint as ambassador there in the 1980s, to discuss the Israel/Palestine situation ("You know," said Wolfowitz, "Sharon isn't the most likely candidate to be promoting any kind of peace, yet, if he does, it gets done, like Nixon going to China.")
He was asked by Tempo to respond to the charges from some in Indonesia: "...[S]ome Muslims in Indonesia have the thinking that, in the second term in the Bush Cabinet, there is another war after Iraq.... And, I'm sorry, they accuse you as a man of war. Of course, I don't believe this statement, but they said so because you were behind these wars."
Wolfowitz replied, "I don't think any of us feel that the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq was a mistake"although nearly all Indonesians think exactly that. He then demurred, "none of usnone of uswant wars. I certainly hope that there isn't another war in the second Bush Administration. But there are certain terrible people in the world who may sometimes only behave for that reason.... I would never want to reassure people like that that they're completely safe."
Taiwan, China To Allow Direct Flights for New Year's Celebrations
Despite growing political tensions, the business community succeeded in organizing a deal on Jan. 10, negotiated by the opposition KMT and China's Taiwan Affairs Council to permit New Year flights between the mainland and Taiwan. When Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council objected, President Chen Shui-bian overrode the objection, and allowed a deal to be struck in Macao on Jan. 14, with Taipei Airlines officials, not government officials, leading the delegation.
The deal allows 48 round-trip charter flights, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 20, between Taiwan and Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, although they will still fly through Hong Kong airspace, without landinga sign of the incredible level of concern on both sides about political implications behind all aspects of relations. The flights are primarily for Taiwanese businessmen (Taiwan has 70,000 factories on the mainland) to return home for the holiday).
Despite arcane restrictions, the deal is viewed on both sides as a breakthrough and a move against those promoting confrontation.
China and India To Begin Strategic Dialogue
China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei will be arriving in New Delhi on Jan. 23 to begin the first strategic dialogue between the two countries with Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran. The two-day talks would start on Jan. 24.
Reporting on the upcoming talks, which are aimed at upgrading the bilateral relations significantly, the New Delhi-based news daily, the Indian Express, pointed out that the objective of the dialogue is seemingly to develop greater understanding between the two in the areas of terrorism, energy security, disarmament, and United Nations reforms. It is also expected that discussions on exploiting energy reserves in Central Asia may figure in the meetings.
There is no question that after years of slow movement in the upgrading of relations, both sides have begun to speed up the process signficantly. India's outgoing army chief Nirmal Chandra Vij was in Beijing on a week-long tour in December. The trip resulted in a number of developments, including an agreement to hold joint military exercises.
There could be a number of reasons why the two are speeding up the process of developing a strategic relationship. But one important item could be the crisis emerging around Iran's nuclear-fuel enrichment issue. Both India and China have strong relations with Iran.