|Asia News Digest
Deadly Violence Continues in Pakistan Over Cartoons
The third Pakistani city in the past week, Peshawar, was put to the torch on Feb. 15, by angry mobs protesting the four-month-old political cartoons ridiculing Prophet Mohammed, published in a Danish paper. Five other Pakistani cities have reported some level of violence. Less violent protests continue.
During the first two days of protests (Feb. 13-14), Lahore and Islamabad were vandalized by the mobs, but there were no fatalities. On the third day, however, three were killed in clashes with policetwo in Peshawar, and one in Lahore. In Peshawar, most of the protesters were students.
The sudden flare-up of violence across the nation bodes trouble for the Musharraf regime. The Pakistani Army is now involved on three separate frontsin Kashmir, facing Indian troops; in Baluchistan, where 25,000 troops are engaged in battling the Baluch rebels; and in the tribal agencies of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan, where, under American pressure, Islamabad has deployed a large contingent of troops to capture al-Qaeda and Taliban militia.
Pakistan is staring at a very bleak domestic situation, which could worsen rapidly in the coming days.
U.S., EU Oppose Pakistan's Baluchistan Policy
During a consultative meeting in Brussels on Feb. 10, European Union (EU) members raised concerns about Pakistan's military actions against Baluch rebels challenging the Pakistani Army in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. Islamabad has announced, the EU pointed out, that it would deploy 150,000 troops to crush the Baluch autonomous movement centered around Dera Bugti.
At Brussels, the U.S. joined with the EU and urged Pakistan to adopt a political approach to the rebellion. They pointed out that Islamabad's use of troops equipped with gunships and tanks has already significantly provoked the tribes.
Western diplomats claim that the Baluch tribes are geared up to fight a full-scale war with Pakistan since its troops have attacked and killed hundreds of villagers in the last two years. Pakistani troops deployed in Baluchistan are mainly drawn from the Pakistan-Afghan borders (Pushtuns) and reserve strike forces.
Islamabad claims, without citing any evidence, that New Delhi is funding the Baluch tribes with arms and cash. There were also reports of Baluch tribes located on the Iranian side of the border providing funds for arms.
Russian Naval Shipyard Contract with Indian Navy
A Russian naval shipyard, Severodvinsk-based Zvyozdochka shipyard, has signed a three-year contract with the Indian Navy for providing full service for four Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines operated by India, reported the Press Trust of India (PTI), Feb. 16. Located on the White Sea coast in north Russia, Zvyozdochka shipyard specializes on servicing nuclear submarines as well.
What has not been said is that India is in the process of leasing two Akula-class nuclear submarines from Russia and it is likely that Zvyozdochka shipyard will also facilitate upgrading, or whatever, of these submarines.
Recently, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, during the Indian naval fleet review, that the Indian Navy would deploy the Indo-Russian supersonic Brahmo cruise missiles on the naval submarines.
Indian PM Manmohan Singh Expresses Concern Over Iran
Speaking before the Indian Parliament on Feb. 17, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed deep concern at the growing rhetoric and possibility of a confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. "We are deeply concerned by escalating rhetoric and growing tensions and possibility of confrontation over this issue.... This is a matter of concern for us, as tensions in this region, where our vital political, economic, and security interests are involved, affect us directly," he said. India had voted earlier this month at the IAEA Board of Governor's meeting to refer Iran's nuclear issue to the United Nations.
Manmohan Singh's speech followed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's testimony on Capitol Hill Feb. 16. On that occasion, Rice stoked the propaganda for military action against Iran, calling Tehran the "central banker" for global terrorism, and a partner with Syria in destabilizing the Middle East. This has nothing to do with the reasons that the IAEA board members voted to refer the Iran nuclear case to the UN Security Council, but it is characteristic of the Bush Administration's exaggerated and unsubstantiated accusations against Iran, to justify "regime change," the policy pushed by Dick Cheney. Rice also said it would take "tough diplomacy" to agree on UN sanctions against Iran, and suggested worried Arab countries take their own action.
Indonesia, Russia Plan To Build Aerospace Center in Papua
Indonesia and Russia plan to build an aerospace center in Papua, New Guinea, Kyodo News reported Feb. 13. The center in the western, Indonesian portion of New Guinea will launch rockets and satellites, the weekly news magazine Gatra said in its Feb. 18 edition. Gatra reported that senior officials of the Indonesian and Russian governments signed an initial agreement last week, during a three-day meeting in the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan, to build the aerospace center on Biak Island. A memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed during a visit by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Moscow, probably in June.
Wisjnu Permana Marsis, secretary general of Indonesia's National Institute of Aeronautics and Space, or LAPAN, said Biak has been regarded as an ideal site to build the aerospace center because the island is close to the Equator. According to calculations made by LAPAN, an aerospace vehicle needs a speed of 7.8 kilometers per second to orbit the Earth. However, if it is launched from an Equatorial region, it only needs 7.4 km per second. The institute also said a rocket launched from the Equatorial region can carry a load that is 25% heavier than those launched elsewhere.
Marsis said China, Japan, and the United States had earlier showed interest in building the aerospace center, but "Russia gives the most competitive" offer. The project will be built by Russia's Air Launch Aerospace Corporation in 2007. ALAC President Anatoly Karpov said the aerospace center will utilize an air-launch technology system, which is four times cheaper than launching from the sea, and ten times cheaper than a land-launch system.
Abramoff Bilked the Malaysians, Too
Two aides to indicted U.S. criminal "lobbyist" Jack Abramoff have revealed that Abramoff was hired as a lobbyist by Malaysia after Sept. 11, 2001, to help fix relations with the U.S., and set a meeting between Prime Minister Mahathir and George Bush, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 15.
According to this report, Malaysia paid $1.2 million for the service, but Abramoff typically laundered it through a front, the American International Center, run by Michael Scanlon, his partner and co-defendant in Federal prosecutions, in order to avoid registering as a foreign agent. Mahathir travelled to the U.S. in May 2002, and held a meeting with President Bush in the White House. The White House, and Abramoff's buddy Karl Rove, claim that the meeting was arranged through normal diplomatic channels.
Banks Order Philippines To Dump Presidential System
Top banks are now ordering the Philippines to dump its Presidential system, or have its credit downgraded, according to the Philippines Inquirer Feb. 13. "The Philippines may merit a one-notch sovereign credit-rating upgrade from one or two global rating agencies as early as the third quarter of this year once a clearer Charter Change path shapes up, investment banking giant Credit Suisse predicted," in a report titled "Philippines: Let's Do the Cha-Cha" dated Feb. 1. Charter Change is the shift to a parliamentary system being peddled by Fidel Ramos and his cohorts.