|Asia News Digest
UN Report Shows Steep Rise in Afghan Drug Addiction
According to a recent United Nations survey, there are now nearly a million drug abusers in Afghanistan. Almost 200,000 of them are hard-core opium and heroin addicts, the report says.
Dr. Tariq Suliman, who runs the Nejat Center (a drug-rehab center) says addiction rates throughout the country are higher now than ever, and what is most distressing is that the number of female drug addicts is soaring. More than 100,000 female addicts were identified in the UN report, but Dr. Suliman claims that the real number could be several times higher than what the UN report says. He says the Afghanistan's grinding poverty and massive illegal drug production are creating a new generation of addictsmen and women.
It is also evident from the report that the Karzai government, and the U.S. occupiers of Afghanistan, have finally shed the pretense of curbing drug production and, instead, are now concentrating on building new clinics to take care of the addicts.
Boucher Advises India To Look Beyond Iran for Oil
There is never a dearth of American advisors who are ready to advise the developing countries on what to do. This time around, a rather insignificant U.S. diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, came to New Delhi to tell the Manmohan Singh government that instead of Iran, India must look towards other Central Asian countries to meet its growing demand for oil and natural gas.
Speaking at a seminar organized by India's leading chamber of commerce FICCI, Boucher said on Aug. 7: "As far as I think, Iran is not a stable and reliable country, and India should look towards other Central Asian countries for oil and gas.... Well, you will have to think about a country from where you could import gas and petrol for another 50 years, and in that context Kazakhstan fits the bill." Boucher also said that by restoring peace and stability and opening up Afghanistan as a transit route for trade, the U.S. desires a greater flow of energy and manufactured products between Central Asia and South Asia.
India, Pakistan, and Iran recently met at a tripartite meeting in New Delhi and decided to appoint a consultant to advise on pricing of gas for the proposed multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline that would bring gas from Iran to India and Pakistan.
Baloch Rebels Intensify Attacks on Gas Pipelines
The rebel Baloch tribes have blown up a major gas pipeline in southwestern Pakistan. The rebels, based in Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, are seeking greater autonomy from Islamabad.
Baloch tribal militants had long been waging a low-level insurgency in Balochistan, but of late, they have stepped up attacks on government installations, including gas pipelines, rail links, and government buildings, the Pakistani Army claims. On the ground, the Baloch tribal militants justify their hostile acts by pointing out that the local resources are being used to benefit other regions of Pakistan, while Balochistan continues to remain the poorest of all provinces.
Beyond that, however, is the Baloch resentment at the way Balochistan was used by both the Pakistani military and ISI to train Taliban militia of Afghanistan. Islamabad has also settled a large number of Afghan Pushtuns in Balochistan, endangering the ethnic demographic balance of that province. In addition, the United States has set upon two major air basesDalbandian and Pasniin Balochistan, to battle the "war on terror" waged in Afghanistan. All these activities, and more, are considered by the Baloch as an attempt to erode their Baloch identity.
U.S. To Hold Joint Military Exercise with Mongolia
President Bush's one-day trip Nov. 21 to Mongolia, will be consummated beginning Aug. 11, when the U.S. and Mongolia will begin a two week-long military exercise, India Defence reported Aug. 9. Participating in the exercise will be about 220 American soldiers, 630 from Mongolia, and 240 from India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Fiji, and Tonga.
Washington claims that the United States has strengthened its ties with Mongolia, a landlocked country of about 2.6 million, between China and Russia. Mongolia had joined 39 other countries that supported the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq in April 2003.
The objective of the two-week drill is to help "improve international cooperation in resolving armed conflicts" and "restoring civilian infrastructure," the U.S. State Department said in a press release on Aug. 8.
Bangladesh Opposes India Oil Hunt in Bay of Bengal
The government of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia has lodged a strong protest against India's move inviting tenders to explore oil and gas in the "undemarcated areas" of Bay of Bengal, Alexander's Oil & Gas reported Aug. 8. "Dhaka feels that these issues [regarding demarcation of areas] should be resolved through discussion," Begum Zia said. Bangladesh has also opposed India's proposal to link rivers to meet water demands in the Subcontinent.
Bangladesh's opposition to India's oil hunt is a manifestation of growing differences between the two countries. Since the Iraq war began, the Begum Zia government has increasingly moved towards securing support of the fast-growing militant Islamic fundamentalists within the country led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Harkat ul Jihadi Islami (HUJI). The latter is widely acknowledged to be a terrorist group propped up by the Pakistani ISI. As a result of these developments, tensions between Dhaka and New Delhi have multiplied.
In addition, Dhaka has given Beijing access to the port of Chittagong, situated in the Bay of Bengal. China is also training Bangladeshi military officials and lobbying in Dhaka to set up a naval base east of Chittagong.
Malaysia To Use Chinese Maglev Technology
Malaysia's Johor state will use Chinese technology to build maglev transit for Johor and, later, high-speed rail connections between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The private firm Jalur Mudra signed a deal with China's Beijing Enterprise Holdings to develop and promote maglev in the region. The New Straits Times reported Aug. 8 that China has developed maglev not only for long-distance high-speed transit, but also for low-speed urban monorails. The monorail maglev is 15%-30% cheaper than other types of monorail. The Johor government will take a 30% stake in the 50 km monorail project, targetted for completion in five years. A high-speed maglev route from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore is under discussion.