|Asia News Digest
Balochistan Rebels Threaten Pakistan
In Islamabad, Pakistani President Musharraf is having restless nights. In Balochistan, the Balochistan Liberation Army, backed by the tribal leaders, has declared virtual war against Islamabad. They have cut off the gas supply. Musharraf is getting pushed to the point where he will be left with no other choice but to unleash a full-fledged military action against his own people.
On Feb. 8, the rebels blew up a portion of the railway track linking Quetta with the rest of the country. Repair work is progressing, but rockets fired from the mountains have kept the repair crew busy.
On the same day, suspected tribesmen blew up a telephone tower in a village disconnecting 20,000 telephone lines. A railway bridge near Damboli station was blown up also on Feb. 8. Azad Baloch, the BLA's purported spokesman, has called in the journalists to claim the credit for the violent acts and has told them they are going to blow up the Dhodhak gas plant, and an adjacent railway bridge, if the Punjabis are ejected from the Dhodak gas field.
The Balochistan situation is serious. So far, there is no indication that Iran has helped the rebels. If Iran chooses to support the rebels at a certain point in time, Islamabad would have to go all-out to bring back law and order in this border province. It is not clear as of now who the Afghan-Taliban would support. A large number of Afghan-Taliban live in Balochistan.
Nepali Army Launches Air Strikes Against Maoist Camps
Nepali troops backed by helicopters have attacked Maoist camps in western Nepal, as part of an offensive action whose consequences could turn out to be dangerous. King Gyanendra, who sacked his government on Feb. 1, suspended all civil rights, and imposed emergency rule for three years, has sent out his army against the Maoist rebels. The Maoists have attacked Gyanendra's assumption of power and threatened a blockade of traffic throughout the country on Feb. 13.
Since Feb. 1, for six days, all telephone lines were out, and things did not operate until Feb. 7. Reports indicate hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and rights workers have been arrested by the Army. India expects an influx of as many as 500,000 people into India.
New Delhi has been urged by both Kathmandu and the fleeing Maoists of Nepal for support. New Delhi has not responded to either request.
Plans for a U.S. NATO Base in Herat Exposed
Asia Times correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad, quoting "well-placed sources in Brussels." claimed in a Feb. 10 dispatch that a strong NATO base will be established in the Afghan province of Herat (which borders Iran), and a logistics hub for NATO might be established in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi. Syed Saleem, who has very close links to the Pakistani Army (according to an Indian contact), has confirmed that construction work has already begun in Herat under the surveillance of Italian troops stationed there. A request for use of Karachi as logistics hub has already been conveyed to Islamabad. Gen. Alessandro Minuto Rizzo, NATO Deputy Secretary General, was scheduled to meet Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Syed Saleem says the United States had asked Islamabad for setting up a military base in Khuzdar, Balochistan, 400 kms northwest of Karachi (and that much nearer to Iranian border). The Asia Times correspondent claimed the base "will soon be operational for U.S. troops."
Official news media covering the NATO meeting in Nice, France, reported the announcement that NATO is ready to launch a long-delayed westward expansion of "peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan," but said "it was still short of staff for an officer training mission in Iraq."
Reports of Pakistani Paying al-Qaeda
The Pakistani Army's Commander of Peshawar Corps, Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussein, told The Daily Times of Lahore that Islamabad had paid a half-million dollars to four former wanted tribal militants to settle their "debts to al-Qaeda." The money was transferred to an al-Qaeda account.
According to the Daily Times, the deal was negotiated by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), also a strong sponsor of the Taliban, with Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussein, who is in charge of military operations in Waziristan bordering Afghanistan. The "peace deal" signing was followed by shouts of "Death to America," the Daily Times reported.
Another player in the event was Baitullah Mehsud, an ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was released some time back. He took the money, but later rejected the amnesty offer of Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussein. Baitullah Mahsud was asked to pledge on behalf of the tribals not to support al-Qaeda and Taliban militants or attack government installations. Baituallah Mahsud wanted about $3 million to cut this deal.
Thailand's Muslim Provinces Vote Against Thaksin
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who won re-election in recent national elections, suffered a significant defeat in his country's southern, and largely Muslim provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani. Thaksin had expected victories for several of his Thai Rak Thai Party's 11 candidates running in national elections, but none of the 11 won their races. However, with 90% of the vote counted, Thaksin's party won only one seat in the southern provinces in the tsunami-hit district of Phang Nga.
Thaksin came up totally empty-handed in the southern provinces, and publicly admitted that the result was a "wake up call," which he blamed on the "law and order" situation in the southern provinces where over 500 have died in the past year, through a combination of an insurgency, and bloody over-reaction by Thai troops.
Malaysia Offers Master Plan To Rebuild Banda Aceh
Malaysia has offered to draw up a master plan for rebuilding Indonesia's tsunami-ravaged Banda Aceh province, which could include relocating the city on higher ground, constructing 120,000 new homes, and building a breakwater to prevent a repeat of the disaster.
A team of Malaysian town planners, engineers, architects, and surveyors flew in to Banda Aceh Feb. 5-6 to follow up on an offer made by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. On Feb. 7, the team met a delegation of Malaysian ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who told AFP: "We can either use the existing location, build further inland, or move to higher ground, but it all depends on the Indonesian government."
The Malaysian planners propose to draw on their experience in developing the country's beautiful new administrative capital, Putrajaya. A concept for the rebuilding could be ready in a month and a master plan in three months, Najib said.
Malaysia proposes building 120,000 homes and "a very large" breakwater off the coast of Aceh to prevent damage by any future tsunamis, Malaysia's Works Minister Samy Vellu, who accompanied Najib, told reporters.
Najib said the "final shape [of the new Banda Aceh] will take into consideration the requirements of the Indonesian government and people, in terms of its architecture and philosophy. It will be based on Acehnese historical and cultural values."
The Indonesian president said in remarks published in Indonesia's Republika newspaper Feb. 8 that a blueprint to rebuild Aceh province would preserve its legacy as the entry point for Islam into the archipelago, which historically had earned Aceh the title as the "Veranda of Mecca." Specifically, the blueprint should not do away with Aceh's special characteristic as a center for Islam. The term 'Veranda of Mecca' should also not disappear at all, the eastern values and Acehnese customs should not be uprooted," Pres. Yudhoyono told the Indonesian newspaper Republika.
Philippines Debt Situation Now Worse than Argentina
In terms of the size of the public debt, the Philippines is worse than Argentina, according to a paper written by professors of the economics and political science departments of the Ateneo de Manila University, wrote the Manila Times Feb. 10.
Entitled, "Beneath the Fiscal Crisis: Uneven Development Weakens the Republic," the paper indicated that from 1995 to 2001, the ratio of Argentina's public debt to its economy rose from 35% to 65%. In the case of the Philippines, this ratio has risen from close to 50% to 84% in the 1997-2004 period. "This is much higher than that of Argentina and should be cause for concern," the paper said, adding that the Philippines is more heavily indebted to foreigners than Argentina.
"From 1990 to 2000, Argentina's external debt to [gross domestic product] ratio rose from 44% to 51 percent. In the case of the Philippines, external debt from 1997 to 2004 has risen from 52.2% to 70.4 percent. This makes the Philippines strongly vulnerable to world interest rate increases, as [this] would further hike [the country's] debt service requirements," the paper said.
From 1991 to 2000, primary fiscal surpluses in Argentina averaged 0.15% of GDP while interest payments averaged 2.4%. In contrast, the Philippines has run primary fiscal deficits from 1997 to 2004, ranging from -1% to close to -5%.
The Ateneo professors urged the government to focus not only on short-term cures such as revenue measures and expenditure cutbacks or debt reduction. "We also need to focus on the need to dilute the concentration of economic power and wealth in a small segment of Philippine society, and on achieving a sustainable growth that is more evenly distributed across regions and sectors of the economy," they said.
Recent official data showed that the public-sector debt has reached P6 trillion, from 2003's P5.4 trillion.
In 2004 the government spent 81% of its revenues to pay for both interest and principal amortization of its debt, or more than P4 of every P5 it generated from both tax and non-tax revenues. "The situation is projected to get worse, not better, in 2005," the paper read.
For this year, the government is allocating the equivalent of more than 90% of projected revenues to interest and principal payments for outstanding debt.
Rumsfeld Plans First Trip to China
Pentagon officials announced on Feb. 8 that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld plans to visit China, although they did not provide a specific date. The news came in the course of a report on a visit to China in early February by a team headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless. Rumsfeld has refused numerous invitations to visit Beijing in the past, and has long been one of the "China hawks" among the neo-con Chickenhawks.
One issue to be discussed on the trip is the establishment of a "hot-line" between the Pentagon and the Chinese military, an idea which the Chinese agreed to consider during the Lawless visit, the officials reported.
Meanwhile, outgoing neo-con provocateur in the State Department John Bolton, in Tokyo Feb. 8, accused China of not doing enough to stop Chinese companies from "proliferating" arms to Iran and others.