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Middle East Concerns About India – Pakistan Tensions

By: Meir Javedanfar

30/11/2008

The recent terrorist attacks in India should be viewed with concern in the Middle East. After the weekend’s events, its a question of when, not if India retaliates against Pakistan.

However such an attack will force Islamabad to pull its forces away from the Afghani border, thus enabling Al Qaeda to expand its operations in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, tensions between India and Pakistan will mean that Barack Obama will have to focus his efforts there, as soon as he enters office, or even before. This could reduce US involvement and focus on the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in Iraq and the Israeli Palestinian peace process. In all cases, conservative, anti-peace parties could make use of the reduced US focus to expand their activities.

There is also the economic angle. There are hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis living abroad, due to troubles at home. The new tensions could send them fleeing in larger numbers, thus putting more strain on the economies of Middle Eastern countries, especially those belonging to the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council.

Iran in particular has much to worry when it comes to its economy. It was placing much hope on the peace pipeline running through Pakistan and India. It was hoping that through the sale of gas to these two energy hungry giants, it could increase its income and political leverage in the region. With relations between India and Pakistan worsening, this now seems much less likely.

The current crisis between India and Pakistan is not just a test for Barack Obama. Its also a diplomatic challenge for the Middle East. Despite the difficulties ahead, Middle Eastern countries, especially those who have leverage over Pakistan, should try to contain the current situation by pressuring Islamabad to curb the activities of terrorists on its soil. Saudi Arabia could lead the region in this case. Having emerged as the recent rescuer of Pakistan’s financial crisis, it could use its leverage over Islamabad. After Washington, Riyadh is the second biggest door opener in corridors of power in Pakistan. This could be put into good use.

The current crisis can also be viewed as the first test for global multilateral diplomacy as a tool to resolve crisis in the post Bush era. The international community should try not to fail.


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Posted on : Nov 30 2008
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Posted under Pakistan-India |

Biden vs Palin On The Middle East

By: Meir Javedanfar

04/10/2008

One headline said that the recent VP debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin did not produce any “knockouts.”

It may be so, when it comes to their discussions of US affairs.

However, when it comes to their view points regarding the Middle East, I believe that there was a knockout and the winner was Joe Biden.

First and foremost, while clearly and correctly pointing out the dangers of a nuclear Iran, Biden also stressed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not the strongest man in Iran. In other words, he would not be in charge of launching a nuclear attack, if and when Iran gets its hands on a bomb. This is a very important point which the press in the US does not mention.

This is in contrast to Sarah Palin who said Ahmadinejad is not a sane or stable person. Ahmadinejad is a radical person. But, as someone who wrote a book on the man, and studied his life, policies and speeches, I think its inaccurate to say that he is insane. She also did not offer anything new in terms of addressing the Iranian nuclear program and the issues surrounding it, whereas Biden backed Kissinger’s calls for talks with Iran as a new way to address the current deadlock. This is a US gesture which would seriously undermine the conservatives in Tehran.

Biden’s other important accomplishment was to mention and emphasise the Pakistani danger. The American public should be aware that Pakistan is a very unstable country. It is a nuclear state where Al Qaeda has penetrated its secret service, and controls access points to a 3 million strong city such as Peshawar. And if Governor Palin is looking for an insane leader, she would do better by looking at Pakistan, whose leader Zardari was declared mentally unfit to stand trial by a British court last year. Biden’s calls to increase more troops and funding in Afghanistan is a far more credible and effective way to fight terrorism than Palin’s focus on Iraq.

It was very reassuring to hear that both candidates are dedicated to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine, living side by side. Joe Biden and Sarah Palin were both almost blushing when they talked about their fondness for Israel. I don’t know of many Jews and Israelis who are not pleased to see such open statements of support. This message of support from a friendly country came at the right time, as Israelis feel flabbergasted and hurt by Ahmadinejad’s hateful speech at the UN.

What also needs to be noted is the fact that lack of constructive criticism of Israel in the US is counter-productive. Terrorism must stop as the first step towards peace. That is the right foot to start with. But the left foot which should follow, is the halt to construction in the occupied territories. Expanding settlements, as Israel has been doing recently, is contrary to its long term security goals and Israel’s credibility in the Middle East, especially with pro Western countries such as Jordan and Egypt. It also helps the battle cries of extremist groups. The US has not objected to Israel in any meaningful manner to the recent expansions. It should, and it is likely that the Democrats are the only ones who would do so, while maintaining the special relationship between the two countries.


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Posted on : Oct 04 2008
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Posted under Uncategorized |

Challenge Of Food Security In The Middle East

By: Meir Javedanfar

28/08/2008Tea Harvest in Larijan, northern Iran

It is not just the question of the approaching beyond oil age, which is worrying some Middle Eastern countries, especially oil producing ones. The prospect of loss of oil and gas as a major source of income and domestic energy, is now compounded by another major problem and that is the rising price of food.

Lack of water is one factor which is making agriculture and food production more costly. This is together with years of government neglect for the agriculture sector. Until now, many Middle East countries could import food cheaply from abroad, and subsidize it in order to make it affordable to their population. But now, as price of food is increasing, this is making the job of importing and subsidizing much more costly.

This is especially true in countries which are not rich in natural resources, such as Egypt and Jordan. Rising food prices have added to instability in both countries. For example, there were riots in Egypt in April this year over rising bread prices (see video). Such instability provides an opportunity for extremist groups to gain more support by offering their own subsidized food services, as has been the case in Jordan. These services bring more support, and credit for such organization, while the government is made to look corrupt and incompetent.

One of the proposals which is being looked at is for such countries to follow the example of Brunei in the 1970s. Realizing that it does not have the capacity to produce its own food on its own soil, the Brunei government bought massive farms in Australia. Whatever food was produced there, it imported, thus making its food production less vulnerable to hostile local weather conditions. The reduction in dependency on foreign markets also enabled the government to become less vulnerable to massive market fluctuations in prices in international market.

Now rich Saudis and Kuwaitis are doing the same, by scouring places as far away as Sudan, to Ukraine. However, this may lead to resentment in such countries, whereby Saudis are seen to be buying up much needed commodity for themselves, while locals struggle.

Developing domestic capacity to locally produce food is the best long term solution. Many Middle Eastern countries are suffering from high unemployment. More want to diversify their economy away from oil. This is especially true as a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that $45 trillion is needed for investment in non-oil sources of energy in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by the year 2050. This will hit the pockets of oil producers even further.

Investing in the food sector could produce the jobs and diversification needed. It could also add to their strategic importance, due to rising importance of food as a strategic asset by governments all over the world. Life without oil would be difficult. Without food, it would be impossible.


Posted on : Aug 28 2008
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Posted under Middle East |