From Volume 8, Issue 3 of EIR Online, Published Jan. 20, 2009
Asia News Digest

Petraeus Seeks To Open Supply Route to Afghanistan

Jan. 15 (EIRNS)—With both the southern supply routes that carry the essentials to 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops from the Pakistani port city of Karachi through Pakistan into southern and eastern Afghanistan, under sustained attack from the insurgents, U.S. Centcom chief Gen. David Petraeus is traveling through Central Asia trying to develop a consensus among the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) nations in the region to allow lethal and non-lethal supplies to travel to Afghanistan. With another 30,000 U.S. troops to be interdicted into Afghanistan in 2009, in addition to the 31,000 stationed there already, and Pakistan steadily slipping into a chaotic state, the opening up of the northern supply route is crucial for the U.S. and NATO's undefined and seven-year-old war on terror in Afghanistan.

While Petraeus, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Kazakstan Richard Hoagland, was negotiating with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev to allow the supply route to run through his country, Kyrgyz leaders made known their intent to close down the U.S. air base in Manas. One report indicated that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev will sign the order in the presence of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin when the latter visits Kyrgyzstan later this month. It is also said that Moscow will provide $2 billion in assistance to the Kazak authorities in return for closing down the American air base.

On Jan. 17, Petraeus will travel to Tajikistan to seek permission to bring lethal items into Afghanistan through that country. However, the key to expanding the route depends on Russia, says Christopher Langton, former British military attaché to Moscow and now an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Langton said to EurasiaNet on Jan. 14 that "the critical country may be Russia. We may be moving slowly ahead [toward rapprochement], but I wouldn't say that we are about to sign any major agreement anytime soon."

Zardari Weakened in Pakistan, Saudis Ready To Move In

Jan. 15 (EIRNS)—The arrival of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz in Pakistan on Jan. 13, to review the situation there following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, signals the weakening of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, an important cog in Washington's plan to develop a new Pakistan policy. Zardari, having failed to take on the core group that orchestrated the attacks—a faction of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), some retired senior Pakistani Army officers, British intelligence operatives inside Pakistan, jihadis, and drug traffickers—may face the same fate as ousted President Pervez Musharraf. Last August, two days after Prince Muqrin's visit, Musharraf decided to resign.

Prior to Prince Musqrin's arrival on Jan. 13, Zardari's adversary in the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, had dismissed National Security Council chief Mahmoud Durrani. Durrani is close to both Zardari and Washington, and was once Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Conveying the message of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, his brother Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz said: "The Pakistani political leadership should show solidarity and resolve their internal differences through dialogue to bring the country out of prevailing crises."

What that means is that the Saudis think it's time to bring to the fore the Saudi asset in Pakistan, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari's adversary, now that Zardari is weakened. Zardari came to power helped by Washington and London. The Daily Times of Lahore reported that Prime Minister Gilani, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan were present during the reception for the Saudi Prince and other officials at the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad. Imran Khan is very close to London.

A rebellion started within the PPP following Prince Muqrin's visit. A section of the PPP that does not consider Zardari, husband of the assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, as the legitimate heir to the party, is demanding opening up the Bhutto assassination investigation to foreign investigators. Zardari has so far opposed this demand, with the tacit approval of Washington.

Thai Professor Charged with Lèse Majesté

Jan. 12 (EIRNS)—Ji "Giles" Ungpakorn, the only Thai commentator who, like EIR, identified as fascist thugs, the mob that occupied the Government House and later the Bangkok Airport, has been charged with lèse majesté (a crime against the sovereign) in Bangkok. The mob, defended by the monarchy and the Army, has brought down the last three popularly elected governments.

The new government which brought these charges is run by the minority Democratic Party, representing a royalist military junta which first took power in its own name in 2006, but failed miserably to govern. They therefore chose, this time around, to use corrupt "laws" they had imposed during their military reign, to depose two elected governments, and finally to place their own puppet Democrats in power.

Ji Ungpakorn is the son of Puey Ungpakorn, a famous leader of the Free Thai movement during World War II, who went on to serve as governor of the Bank of Thailand and rector of Thammasat University. Ji is a professor at Chulalongkorn University. A leftist connected to the British International Socialists, Ungpakorn told the truth in print and in public about the monarchist/Army control of the mob run by media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul (founder of Asia Times), leaving out only the direct role of the British and other European royals in running the coup in Thailand through the Thai monarchy. Ungpakorn knew, and wrote, that he would likely be accused under the barbaric lèse majesté laws, insisting that political forces used these laws in the same manner a fascist government uses contrived "laws" to crush any form of dissent. He said in a statement that he is "prepared to fight any lèse majesté charges in order to defend academic freedom, the freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand."

SCO To Meet on Afghan Drugs and Terrorism

Jan. 12 (EIRNS)—The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has called a special international conference on terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime in Afghanistan, to be held in March at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the member nations, Kazakstan's Foreign Ministry announced today. There will be a planning meeting to prepare the conference, in Moscow on Jan. 14.

The SCO nations—Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with Iran, India, Mongolia, and Pakistan as observers—are all hard hit by the massive opium flow from Afghanistan, as well as by the unending war there. Since 2004, the SCO nations have proposed setting up an "anti-drug security zone" around Afghanistan, but this has not been carried out. The nations surrounding Afghanistan—Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as Pakistan and Iran (Afghanistan also has a short border with China)—are themselves impoverished and unable to control the drug flows. The last time the security belt was proposed, was at the NATO international summit in Bucharest in April 2008.

Chinese Urban-Rural Income Gap at Record Level

Jan. 13 (EIRNS)—The huge gap between urban and rural incomes in China, one of the nation's most serious economic and social problems, is at a record level. Figures released by the Office of the Central Rural Work Group at a Beijing forum on Jan. 11 show that the per-capita income gap between Chinese urban and rural residents had widened beyond 10,000 yuan as of end-2008, the China Economic Observer reported today. This is the first time that the figure has passed 10,000 yuan since 1949. In 2008, per-capita income of Chinese rural residents was just 4,700 yuan, as compared to over 15,000 yuan for urban residents. The problem is especially urgent, Rural Work Group head Chen Xiwen said, because so many migrant workers from the countryside have lost their jobs and the money they sent to rural families. Already some 30 million migrant workers have returned to their rural places of origin just since the beginning of December, Chen said, with about a third of them returning due to job loss, and not just for the Spring Festival.

Chen said that nearly 40% of rural residents' incomes are from wages rather than farm production, so the migrant workers' job losses will bite deeply into rural incomes. Chen called for transferring industry to central China to increase employment there.

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