This week's editor

AdamWidth95.jpg

Adam Ramsay is co-editor of OurKingdom.

Georgia: the politics of recovery

Georgia is still dazed by the catastrophic turn of events of August 2008, when a brutal five-day war with Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The events of that period and its aftermath - which saw the country face bombardment, destruction, loss of life, expulsion of Georgians from the affected areas, military defeat and occupation of parts of its core territory - are still vivid and heavy on people's minds. Uncertainty clouds the future as anxiety about economic slowdown merges with the trauma of the conflict. There is a built-up tension in Georgian society that if not carefully handled could yet explode with unpredictable consequences.

Robert Parsons is international editor of France 24. He earned a doctorate at Glasgow University for a thesis on the origins of Georgian nationalism. He was the BBC's Moscow correspondent (1993-2002), and worked at RFE/RL as director of its Georgian service, senior correspondent and chief producer for multimedia projects

Also by Robert Parsons in openDemocracy:

"Russia and Georgia: a lover's revenge" (6 October 2006)

"Georgia: progress, interrupted" (16 November 2007)

"Georgia's race to the summit" (4 January 2008)

"Mikheil Saakashvii's bitter victory" (11 January 2008)

"Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008)

"Georgia's dangerous gulf" (30 May 2008)

"Georgia after war: the political landscape" (26 August 2008)
Yet amidst this confusion, one fact remains indisputably clear. Russia's hopes that its combination of military, psychological and economic pressure would lead to the downfall of Mikheil Saakashvili have not been realised. For the moment, Georgia's president has survived with remarkable ease.

This is in large measure because Georgians' anger is mostly directed outwards at the Russians. Although there are doubts in Georgia about the immediate sequence of events that led to the outbreak of fighting on 7-8 August, the vast majority of Georgians accept the government's argument that Russia had long been intent on drawing Georgia into a conflict. Whatever mistakes Saakashvili may have made in allowing it to happen,  most place the blame for the August war at Moscow's door. Many go further and argue that Moscow's aggression towards Georgia made conflict inevitable sooner or later.

It helped, of course, that the war was short-lived. The occupation goes on, but Georgia has escaped the devastation that would surely have followed a more protracted conflict. There was ethnic cleansing of Georgian villagers in South Ossetia, but on the whole nothing to compare with the devastation wreaked by the Russians across the Caucasus mountains, on Chechnya. The country's infrastructure is damaged but international aid has also brought swift compensation. Even during the August war, visitors to the capital, Tbilisi, were struck by the air of normality in the city. On the surface, at least, life goes on as normal.

The opposition's plans

The solidarity of the national response to invasion owes much also to seventeen years of nation-building and, in particular, the efforts made by Saakashvili's government to strengthen national consciousness. There can be little doubt that if the Russian invasion had happened in the late 1990s, the country would have fallen apart within days. Saakashvili has worked hard to overcome the east-west divide in Georgia and in August it paid dividends. To the Russians' surprise, invasion has reinforced national solidarity not weakened it.

This was also a factor in the response of the Georgian opposition, which made clear in the aftermath of the invasion that it was putting its attacks against the government on hold (see "Georgia after war: the political landscape", 26 August 2008). Patriotism aside, though, the truth is that the opposition has not known how to capitalise on August's dramatic turn of events. The coalition of opposition forces has appeared weak and divided. Its more radical elements, like Kakha Kukava of the Sakartvelos Konservatiuli Partia (Georgian Conservative Party), have urged street-protest but, until very recently, others have edged away from confrontation. Some of the small parties that form the United Opposition have broken away and divisions have surfaced over the leadership. This has played into the government's hands.

The opposition has not helped its own cause either by continuing to boycott parliament - in protest  at what it claims was a rigged election in January 2008 (see "Mikhail Saakashvili's bitter victory", 11 January 2008). As a consequence, the government has faced no parliamentary pressure over the handling of the August war. Despite a demand by former speaker of parliament Nino Burdzhanadze for the government to answer forty-three questions on the conduct of the war, and despite the creation of a "parliamentary commission for the study of the August events", no conclusions have yet been reached.

For a short while after the Russian invasion, the possibility appeared to emerge of an alliance between opposition forces and key figures who had either left Saakashvili's National Movement or were thought to be contemplating doing so. This has proved a chimera. But new political forces do appear to be emerging on the Georgian scene. Burdzhanadze set up her own Foundation for Democracy and Development in July 2008, and is planning a return to the centre of the political scene. The widely respected former prime minister, Zurab Noghaideli, also plans to step up his political involvement.
Among openDemocracy's recent articles on Georgian politics, including the war with Russia in August 2008:

Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008)

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" (8 July 2008)

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Russia and Iran: crisis of the west, rise of the rest" (21 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, "Russian war and Georgian democracy" (22 August 2008)

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's forgotten legacy" (3 September 2008)

Martin Shaw, "After the Georgia war: the challenge to citizen action" (22 September 2008)

Katinka Barysch, "Europe and the Georgia-Russia conflict" (30 September 2008)

Plus: openDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war.

There is talk too that Georgia's popular ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, may enter politics. He has yet to confirm this himself, but his comments on internal affairs (not his official remit at all) in an interview for the Georgian Times (20 October 2008) are revealing. In speaking of how Nato was likely to consider a renewed Georgian application for a membership plan, he said that "major importance would be attached to the deepening of the democratic process in Georgia and of ensuring the independence of the media, most notably television media".

An alliance involving these figures could pose a genuine challenge to the National Movement's parliamentary domination - but it is unlikely to emerge in the near future. Neither Burdzhanadze nor Noghaideli have developed their own party apparatuses yet; but the former speaker at least seems determined to maintain political pressure for change - albeit only by constitutional means. She has written an open letter addressed to Mikhail Saakashvili which was published on 24 October in the Georgian daily Rezonansi and that this parliament should see out its term. In it she argues for elections "within a reasonable timeframe" as the way out of "the grave political crisis" (see "Burjanadze Ups the Ante on Former Ally", Civil Georgia, 24 October 2008).

It is not clear whether Burdzhandaze is referring to presidential or parliamentary elections, but her scornful depiction of the parliament as "a fictional body" carries the implication that this is where her intentions lie. She does not specify a timetable either, though it may be that spring 2009 - a target envisaged by other opposition leaders - is her focus.

The letter is another move in a delicate political game. But overall, the outlook for the opposition does not look good. If it consents to take up its seats in what Burdzhanadze calls the "one-party parliament", it looks weak; but if it takes to the streets in looks disloyal.

The frustration is beginning to tell. Pikria Chikhradzeof the Akhali Memarjveneebi (New Rights Party) announced on 21 October that some opposition parties were going to launch a new type of opposition movement, which would "work closely with international organisations and representatives of the international community"; but she refused to explain exactly what the New Rights had in mind. She set the launch-date for 7 November, the first anniversary of last year's violent dispersal of an opposition rally by the police.

Another of the opposition leaders, former presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, has called for a wave of protest against the government beginning on 7 November. But this is a risky strategy. There seems to be little appetite in Georgia for street-protest and little support for the opposition either.   For a while in 2007 it captured the national mood and appeared to give it direction but the political scene has now moved on. Nor is it clear what a wave of demonstrations would be intended to achieve. The opposition says it wants a free media, an independent judiciary and electoral reform but Saakashvili himself admits that these are necessary. It is unlikely that  the demonstration on 7 November will bring anything like the support of a year ago.

The president's world

This is so not least because Russian troops still occupy Georgian land. Leaving aside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, they are dug in in Akhalgori district, which is just 40 kilometres from the Georgian capital and was incontestably governed from Tbilisi before August. Georgians appear to take the view for now that any action that risks public disorder would play into the hands of the Russians. These are critical days for the opposition. A failure to mobilise support in November could lead to political marginalisation.

This suggests that for the moment Saakashvili's position is strong. He would be wise, though, not to be complacent. He has acknowledged the need for reform but Georgians and - it seems, the international community - are looking for more than words. Niki Rurua, a member of his close inner circle of advisors, insists Saakashvili is sincere in his commitment to reform and that he understands its urgency. He adds too that Saakashvili is ready to open  the government to constructively minded members of the opposition (see "Georgia: the aftermath", Sunday Herald, 19 October 2008).

But he rejects the demand made by figures such as Burdzhanadze for early parliamentary elections. Rurua insists there is no popular demand for elections; that they would be divisive at a time when the state is still in danger from Russia; and very expensive to organise amid straitened circumstances.

All this may very well be true, but unless Mikheil Saakashvili acts on his promises to carry through a second wave of democratic reforms it could change - and quickly. There is a great deal of pent-up energy following the August war and much frustration that could yet take a negative turn. This is likely to be compounded in the months ahead by the slowdown in the economy - in part as a result of the war but also the inevitable consequence of the global financial crisis.  In Georgia, like everywhere else, credit is drying up fast. Georgia's construction boom is coming to an end and investors are staying away.

On a visit to Georgia in mid-October, United States assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried made clear that Washington expects Saakashvili to honour his promises. Georgia, he said, needs to make progress in strengthening its democratic institutions. "As these institutions are strengthened - independent media, a strong independent judiciary, a strong viable opposition - the Georgian state will strengthen and it is up to the Georgian government but also the Georgian society - everyone needs to do their part in building these institutions."

If domestic patience is limited, the patience and commitment of the international community is not unconditional either. A new administration in Washington (especially if it is headed by Barack Obama, given John McCain's close ties to Georgia's president) may not be as understanding of Georgia's demands as its predecessor, particularly if the government is perceived to be dragging its feet on reform. True, Georgia's partners and friends in the west have been generous: a conference in Brussels on 22 October attended by sixty-seven nations pledged $4.55 billion in aid and loans - a third of it from the European Union and over a fifth from the United States. But its delivery could hinge on evidence of domestic progress - particularly in media reform (see David Kakabadze, "The Morning After Georgia's ‘Day Of Joy'", RFE/RL, 24 October 2008).

In 2007, Reporters without Borders rated Georgia sixty-sixth in its table of international media freedom; in 2008 it has fallen to 120th. That's a catastrophic fall that reflects badly on the country's international prestige. It is also a factor in domestic politics; Nino Burdzhanadze's open letter in Rezonansi on 24 October calling for fresh elections says they should be held "only under the conditions of an improved election code, a healthy electoral environment and free media."

Yet the fact remains that Georgia is still a beacon of democratic light in the post-Soviet space - albeit one that gleams a little less brightly today than it once did. With international assistance, Georgia could achieve much more but to do so its government will have to concentrate on building a consensus within society and finding a way to move beyond the catastrophe of August 2008. A failure to do so could put all the gains of the last few years in jeopardy. 

Who’s Next? Russia’s Cat and Mouse Game with Moldova

Russia's crushing use of force against Georgia last August gave rise to frenzied speculation that Moscow would mount similar military threats to other neighboring states and former Soviet republics.  However, the next major Russian initiative in the "post-Soviet space" has come in a different fashion in the miniscule Republic of Moldova.  In contrast to the Georgian case, the Russian scenario in Moldova casts President Dmitri Medvedev in the role of sage peacemaker in an internal territorial dispute left over from the days of the Soviet collapse.

A small nation of some four million, predominantly Romanian-speaking people wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova sought and won its independence as the USSR disintegrated in the late 1980s.  A group of primarily Slavic Soviet political figures and enterprise managers on the east, or left bank of the Nistru (Dniestr) River in the Soviet Republic of Moldavia resisted Moldovan attempts to leave the USSR and proclaimed their small sliver of land a separate, Transnistrian Moldovan Republic.  In 1992 Moldova and Transnistria fought a brief, bitter war which the separatists won, with the assistance of a contingent of locally-based Russian troops left over from the Soviet Red Army.

During the conflict in 1992 Moldova appealed for assistance to the UN, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the OSCE), and various western nations.  Only Moscow heeded Chisinau's call for mediation and brokered a cease fire that left Russian troops in place as peacekeepers.  Negotiations for a political settlement have dragged on since that time between Chisinau and Tiraspol (the separatist "capital"), with Russia, and then the OSCE and Ukraine serving as mediators.  In 2005 the U.S. and European Union formally joined the negotiations as observers.

With a population roughly the size of Luxembourg, Transnistria's prospects as an independent state were always sketchy.  The region supported itself partially through a heavy industrial base left over from Soviet times that enjoyed surprising success in penetrating the EU and North American markets.  The left bank enclave received subsidies from Moscow, especially in the form of low-cost natural gas, running at least $30 million per year.  Finally, the region augmented its income and solidified its political position mostly by serving as a haven for smuggling and tax evasion, not only for its own residents, but also politicians and businessmen from all of the neighboring states.  "A giant off-shore" is how one Moldovan political figure characterized the region to me.

No state, including Russia, has recognized Transnistria's independence.  Moscow's stated policy has always been that Transnistria is a part of Moldova, and the two sides should agree voluntarily on peaceful unification of the country, with a special status for the left bank.  However, backed by influential circles in Moscow, Transnistrian leaders have been reluctant to give up their lucrative status quo for an uncertain future.  Moldova, by most statistical measurements the poorest country in Europe, has few material incentives to win over its breakaway region.  Instead Chisinau has generally pinned its hopes on intervention by a large outside power - Russia, the U.S. or the EU - to coerce Tiraspol into the Republic of Moldova.

In 2003 Moldova and Transnistria almost reached a political settlement of their conflict.  The proposed agreement, the so-called "Kozak Memorandum," brokered by Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitri Kozak, fell apart at the last minute, partially because of western objections to a provision calling for a long-term Russian troop presence.  With Kozak as point man in 2003, Moscow bypassed the existing negotiating mechanism with its broader international participation.  Swayed by promises that Moscow would overcome Transnistrian resistance and unite his country, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin went along with the gambit until the last minute.  With angry crowds gathering outside the Presidential Building and frantic calls from western leaders, only at the last moment did Voronin call Russian President Putin and tell him not to come to Chisinau to sign the Memorandum.  Putin has reportedly nursed a grudge ever since.

Five years later events are in the works that may repeat this scenario.  The leader of one of the last post-Soviet communist parties in power in the former USSR, Voronin turned toward the West after 2003 and declared a policy of European integration.  Russia retaliated by banning imports of Moldovan meat, fruit, and wine, placing grave economic pressure on the small country.  Moscow also frustrated Moldovan attempts to use Ukrainian, EU, and U.S. support to press Transnistria into a political settlement.

In late 2006, while keeping western negotiators informed of his course of action, President Voronin began a process of repairing his relations with Russia and seeking Moscow's cooperation in negotiating a settlement with Transnistria.  There have been some modest gains from this process, but overall the results are disappointing for Chisinau.

As events in Kosovo and Georgia developed in 2008, Moldova sought to portray itself as more moderate and reasonable than Tbilisi.  Moldova did not recognize Kosovo, declared itself a neutral country (already guaranteed in the 1994 Moldovan constitution), and ostentatiously announced that it had no need to seek NATO membership.  Chisinau was rewarded in March, when after theatrical hearings the Russian Parliament advocated recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but recommended only a special status for Transnistria within Moldova.  On August 25, one day before he announced Moscow's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian President Medvedev met with Voronin in Sochi and reaffirmed Russia's dedication to seeking a peaceful resolution of the Transnistrian conflict.

The formal Transnistrian political settlement negotiation process goes on, although there has not been an official round of negotiations since February 28, 2006, when Moldovan negotiators walked out in protest of Transnistrian provocations.  The mediators and observers in the so called "5+2" process - Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, the EU, and the US - continue to call regularly for resumption of the negotiations.  The latest meeting of mediators and observers took place September 8 at OSCE Headquarters in Vienna, ending with a hopeful statement.  However, a full-scale negotiating round scheduled for October 7-8 in Vienna failed to materialize.  The ostensible reason was the Transnistria's refusal to attend, widely seen as a tactic to allow more time for Moscow's bilateral efforts with Chisinau to bear fruit.

Meanwhile Moscow has intensified contacts with Voronin and Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brokered a one on one meeting between Voronin and Smirnov in April; the two had not met in person since August 2001.  Shortly after his Sochi conversation with Voronin, Medvedev also received Smirnov.  The blustery Transnistrian leader, whose line is usually that he has nothing to discuss with Voronin except bilateral relations between their two independent states, announced meekly after his talk with Medvedev that the two sides needed to meet to bring their positions closer together.

The current expectation in Moldova and Russia is that Voronin and Smirnov will get together once more, to be followed by a meeting of both of them with Medvedev.  Lavrov has floated a trial balloon in the Russian press that revival of the Kozak Memorandum might be a good basis for reaching a solution in Moldova.

However, Transnistrian leaders continue to do their utmost to deflect any settlement process and to defend their comfortable status quo.  Smirnov recently annoyed his Moldovan interlocutors and Russian patrons, ducking a widely anticipated late September meeting with Voronin in order to celebrate Abkhaz "independence" on the beaches near Sukhumi.  Moldovan negotiators, on the other hand, are increasingly frustrated by Moscow's failure to react to a comprehensive Moldovan package proposal that has been on the table for almost two years.  Venting his irritation during a late September visit to Moldova's largest landfill, President Voronin announced that this - a garbage dump - was the proper place for the separatist regime.

The Moldovan President is under great pressure to reach agreement now to unite his country, or give up on what has been the highest priority of his two terms in office.  National elections must be held in Moldova no later than spring 2009, when Voronin's second and final term as president runs out.  Constitutional experts claim the sitting Moldovan Parliament must approve any settlement at least six months before the end of its term, so there are only a few weeks left before a Transnistrian settlement becomes impossible for the remainder of this legislative term.  For Voronin, who was born and raised on the left bank during Soviet times, and who desperately wishes to see his country united, it is frustrating in the extreme to watch the clock run out on his opportunity to reach a settlement.

Moscow will not go after Moldova with military means.  The small contingent of Russian troops now stationed in the Transnistrian region (around 1400) is no match in military terms for either the Moldovan or the Transnistrian armed forces.  Russian military forces in Moldova serve rather as a political symbol, tripwire, and deterrent to small-scale military adventures.  Any Russian reinforcements need to come through or over Ukraine, not a realistic possibility in current political circumstances.  Including their armies, special forces, militia, interior ministry and security troops, both Chisinau and Tiraspol can muster between 12000 to 18000 men under arms.  This is enough to deter each other (and the Russians), but probably not enough to take and hold territory.  In addition - as opposed to Georgia - no one on either side in Moldova wants to fight.  The quarrel along the Nistru is between political and economic elites, and not hostile communities, ethnic, or national groups.

Russia has already established a public posture on Moldova that implies clearly: "Here is how we deal with friendly countries that don't join NATO and don't use violence to settle separatist conflicts."  Moldova has not yet received its payoff from improved relations, and Moscow appears to be stringing Chisinau along with the hope of a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.  The crucial time will come, much as it did in 2003, if and when a solution presented to Chisinau in its separate 2008 track with Moscow turns out to have a crucial catch in it, such as a bilateral agreement with significant obligations, perhaps a long-term troop presence.

In 2003 western negotiators (I was one of them) repeatedly argued with our Russian counterparts that negotiating a political settlement in Moldova was not and should not be a zero sum game.  We tried to convince Moscow that there were win-win solutions that protected and furthered the fundamental security interests of all parties in the region, indeed in the Euro-Atlantic area.  Obviously we did not succeed; Russia apparently considered primacy in the region more important than cooperation.  In 2008, with the strategic security environment much worse, Russia seems to favor the same myopic, unilateralist path.

With respect to Moldova in 2008, the absence of a solution to the Transnistrian question will be better than a bad solution that cripples the country's chances for reform and integration into Europe as a whole.  For any settlement to succeed, Russia must be a part - but so must the rest of Europe and the North Atlantic community, i.e. the EU and US.  Commenting on US actions elsewhere in the world, the Russians are fond of proclaiming that unilateral solutions do not work.  The conflict areas like Moldova on the periphery of the former USSR are places where they ought to listen to their own advice.

October, 2008

The author, currently Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College in Washington DC, served two terms between 1999 and 2006 as Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.  The views expressed are entirely his own.

Armenia’s mixed messages

Armenia should be smiling. The trend of events in the region might seem at last to be going in the favour of the small, landlocked south Caucasian republic. The short war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 has humbled its sometimes difficult neighbour while leaving intact its friendship with the northern giant; it maintains control of the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh against any attempts by its hostile neighbour Azerbaijan to reclaim it, with Moscow's victory over Tbilisi helping to counter - for the moment - the threat of renewed war with Baku; and it has hosted without serious incident the president of Turkey, a neighbour from whom it has long been divided by the bitter, unresolved past.

These developments can plausibly be seen as making Armenia more secure than it has been since it gained post-Soviet independence in 1991 (or, more accurately, the restoration of an independence first proclaimed in 1918). Yet to officials in the country's foreign ministry - working in the imposing, russet-stone buildings overlooking Republic Square in Yerevan - the outlook is more sombre than sunny.Among openDemocracy's articles on Armenian politics, including Nagorno-Karabakh and relations with Turkey:

Sabine Freizer, "Armenia's emptying democracy" (30 November 2005)

Hrant Dink, "The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey" (13 December 2005)

Üstün Bilgen-Reinart,"Hrant Dink: forging an Armenian identity in Turkey" (7 February 2006)

Shaun Walker & Daria Vaisman, "Nagorno-Karabakh's referendum" (14 December 2006)

Sabine Freizer, "Nagorno-Karabakh: between vote and reality" (14 December 2006)

Hratch Tchilingirian, "Hrant Dink and Armenians in Turkey" (23 February 2007)

Vicken Cheterian, "Armenia's election: the waiting game" (19 February 2008)

Armine Ishkanian, "Democracy contested: Armenia's fifth presidential elections" (4 March 2008)

The deeper realities of present-day Armenia help explain why. The freedom of manoeuvre of Armenian politicians and officials is as constrained as the country's geopolitical position itself - and the events of August 2008 have also highlighted that fact. The strong relations with Russia to the north and Iran to the south are a given. Both have long displeased the George W Bush administration. An American ambassador has taken up residence in the heavily fortified embassy compound near the airport, but only after an interruption of three years; and it is notable that United States vice-president Dick Cheney failed to include Armenia in his post-war tour through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. Indeed, there is no significant public voice in Armenia in favour of entry to Nato or the European Union,

The fallout of war

Yerevan may have been a beneficiary of the Georgia-Russia war, though in fact it has has limited direct interest in their conflict. The economic and political situation in Georgia does affect the approximately 200,000 Armenians who still live in the Javakheti region of southern Georgia, and who were traditionally involved in servicing the former Soviet bases there. They have been hit in recent years both by considerable poverty and by the rise in Georgian nationalist sentiment. At the same time, Armenia faces the world with its frontiers to Azerbaijan and Turkey closed, and reliant for its trading connections on the land-route through Georgia to the port of Poti or the one through Iran to distant Tehran.

As important is that the assertion of Russian power may (according to influential voices in Yerevan) have acted as a deterrent to Armenia’s rival Azerbaijan, whose rising oil-revenues and self-confidence might otherwise have propelled it to try to reoccupy the areas of its country seized by Armenia in the war of 1992-94.

This prospect remains far from unthinkable – and no one expects the Russians to send combat-troops to help Armenia. But there are several thousand Russian soldiers in the country already, in bases along the frontier with Turkey, only 40 kilometres from the capital. Moreover, large quantities of Russian military equipment have been pre-positioned: in the event of a new war with Azerbaijan, the assumption is that these weapons would be made available to the Armenian forces.

There are also signs that the war in Georgia has led to a rethinking of policy in Armenia’s powerful western neighbour, Turkey. Armenians cannot forget the terrible killings, on any normal criteria genocide, of Armenians in Turkey during 1915 and after. Above Yerevan stands the great memorial - named Tsitsernakaberd (“swallow castle”) – commemorating the tragic, defiantly unforgotten event. It consists of a dignified stone esplanade leading to a pointed tower, and to a sunken chamber with an eternal flame. Twelve columns commemorate the provinces of “western Armenia”, today’s eastern Turkey, from which Armenians were expelled in the midst of the great war and its aftermath.

The issue of the Turkish refusal to acknowledge the genocide has long poisoned, and will probably continue to poison, Armenian-Turkish relations. My impression in Yerevan is that since the victims of the genocide were part of what is now the Republic of Turkey - hence the ancestors of today’s diaspora in Europe, the United States, and parts of the Arab world - a settlement that is not acceptable to these descendants would not pass in Yerevan. But there is some movement on both sides. For those in Turkey, Armenia and the diaspora who wish to arrive at a considered and shared historical judgement - admittedly still few, though their number is growing - the materials for arriving at a reasoned judgment are there.

A more immediate concern is the blockade to which Turkey has submitted Armenia since the early 1990s war with Azerbaijan. Armenia desperately needs to open its frontiers to expand its trade links. Some recent developments – among them the announcement by Ankara of a new South Caucasus Initiative, and the historic visit of Turkey’s president on 6 September 2008 to watch an Armenian-Turkish football match in Yerevan – suggest that some shift in attitudes may be occurring (see "Friends and neighbours", Economist, 25 September 2008). But the lesson of other conflicts (such as the Arab-Israeli dispute) is that broad declarations and symbolic gestures are not enough: it is not clear (so my interlocutors at Armenia’s foreign ministry told me) that Abdullah Gül’s expression of goodwill is being translated into policy detail lower down the bureaucratic scale. For anyone familiar with the contemporary state of public opinion in Armenia and Turkey, the changes of a major breakthrough still appear slim.

Fred Halliday is ICREA research professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI). His many books include Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (IB Tauris, 2003), 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi, 2005), and The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Fred Halliday's "global politics" column includes: 

"The mysteries of the US empire" (30 November 2007)

"Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine" (12 February 2008)

"Stolen Wealth Funds: fantasies of control" (4 March 2008)

"Two feminist pioneers: Iranian, Lebanese, universal" (18 April 2008)

"Tibet, Palestine and the politics of failure" (9 May 2008)

"1968: the global legacy" (11 June 2008)

"Mediterranean mirage: Europe's sunken politics" (29 July 2008)

"The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)
The Armenians shared the surprise of the rest of the world about the August 2008 events. The summary judgment of one informed observer sums up the reaction: “Misha blew it”. No one I met believes the Russian (and one-eyed anti-American) claim that Washington encouraged Tbilisi to attack South Ossetia and Abkhazia; but most voiced severe criticism of Nato’s vague and apparently open-ended commitment to Georgia. 

An astute Mediterranean expert and veteran of backchannel regional negotiations remarked that Saakashvili had probably been deluded by his earlier successes, including the recovery of the less-noticed separatist enclave of Adzharia in southeast Georgia in his first months in office. The Georgian president’s pattern of rule, he went on, casts retrospective light on the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003-04: how much was this a “revolution” and how much a near-accidental power-grab whose triumph deluded Saakashvili about the opportunities in store? 

But my Armenian hosts were puzzled – even alarmed - by Russia’s decision to recognise the full independence of the two breakaway entities. Yerevan’s orientation (like the central Asian republics allied to Moscow) may be pro-Russian, but it is not prepared to follow on this one. Armenia has its own interests to consider, and one is the flow of remittances from its diaspora in Russia on which it so much depends. The accelerating capital-flight from Russia – in part a consequence of the global fallout of the financial crash, but in part a response to political sensitivities – has tough implications for a small trading economy.

A consolidated elite

In a longer-term perspective, however, the Russian-Georgian war has done little to alleviate (far less resolve) the major problems Armenia faces. They centre on the power of the new elite and the dramatic effects of social inequality, poverty and exclusion.

The enduring poverty of the country is evident to any visitor who leaves the central area of Yerevan with its modern buildings, restaurants and hotels. Much of the population lives in deprivation; corruption pervades all areas of government; and an astounding proportion of the population (almost half by some estimates – many from its most educated and enterprising groups) have left the country, for Russia or the west.

Armenia is not a bloody dictatorship, but nor is it a democracy: like its two south Caucasian neighbours (with which it has much more in common, politically, and culturally, than nationalist pride would admit) it is ruled by a post-communist elite some of whose members operate in legal grey areas for purposes of enrichment and power-accumulation. The appropriation of assets from two sources - those of the Soviet period, and a significant part of the $1.3 billion that sent back by Armenia’s diaspora – play a vital role in consolidating the elite’s power and enhancing its lifestyle.

This elite is led by former president Robert Kocharian (still the country’s strongman), and many members of it also come from Nagorno-Karbakh. They have shown that they are prepared to intimidate, censor, and manipulate to suit their ends. The press and media are controlled, when not by the state than by rightwing nationalists based in California. The penalties may not involve being arrested or shot, but they can be severe: if you criticise the government too overtly, you may lose your commercial licence (if you are in business) or your job (if you work for the government). 

The ruling network is also prepared to resort to the gun: as in October 1999 (when a gunman with some official protection assassinated the prime minister, the speaker, and six other officials in parliament), in September 2001 (when bodyguards of the president beat Poghos Poghosian to death in the Aragast [Poplavok] jazz cafe in Yerevan), and in March 2008 (when the president sent police to beat up a crowd of opposition supporters protesting the election outcome, an assault in which nine were killed). No one will ever know exactly what happened on 1 March, but there are credible rumours that the police planted guns among the sleeping protesters. What does seem certain – and was confirmed to me by one western diplomat who has attended the proceedings – is that the trials of the protesters have been rigged.

A frozen politics

The unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is a shadow over all the events, regional and domestic, in which Armenia is embroiled. This contested region of around 140,000 was – notwithstanding its ethnic-Armenian majority - allocated to Azerbaijan by Moscow in the 1920s: a small part of the broader reassignment of peoples and territories across Europe after the great war and the Bolshevik revolution.

The loosening of political controls during the Mikhail Gorbachev-era perestroika in the late 1980s enabled an immense nationalist mobilisation in Armenia and Nagarno-Karabakh itself in favour of the latter’s incorporation in the former. The tensions with Azerbaijan grew; war erupted in 1992 between the by-then post-Soviet independent states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which concluded in 1994 with the Armenians in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and a swathe of Azeri territory (including the “Lachin corridor”). Yerevan has since 1990 professed a belief that Nagorno-Karabakh should become an independent state rather than be annexed to Armenia; thus the region joins Abkhazia and South Ossetia in limbo-land, while Armenia’s territorial gains provide it with a bargaining-chip in any negotiations.

Many international negotiators have over the years sought to find a solution to this problem. Indeed, a negotiated settlement of the problem is the common aim of the United States and Europe in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE’s) “Minsk process” - one shared too by Armenia’s close - if understated - ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the ground and on both sides, however (the Azeri even more than the Armenian), nationalist rhetoric and intransigence prevail; though a readiness at least to meet at official level offers some grounds for belief that in time this may change.

In effect, the current Armenian political leadership - deeply influenced by its origins in Nagorno-Karabakh - and the powerful military and financial interests that have arisen from the war have sequestered Armenia as a whole; the inflow of money and the reinforcement of nationalist sentiment from the diaspora form the third leg of this unholy trinity. The results of the Moscow-Tbilisi war show every sign of confirming this ruling pattern. 

There may, however, be another lesson which the events of this summer should draw to the attention of politicians and officials in Yerevan: namely that for all the advantages they now think they have in their dispute with Azerbaijan, and for all the nationalist sentiment attached to this issue, the danger of another war with Azerbaijan cannot be excluded. Azerbaijan is getting richer and stronger; its clearly fixed elections of 16 October 2008 are conducted with barely a peep of protest from its western investors; and the new generation there, with no memory of coexistence with Armenian neighbours or fellow-citizens, is in key respects more militant than its predecessors. A wise Armenian academic observer in Yerevan put it to me thus: “The one thing you learn from living in the south Caucasus is that there are no such things as ‘frozen conflicts’.”

Can Russia use nuclear weapons? International Security after the Crisis in Caucasus.

 

The article "Russian Strategy" by Sir Roderic Lyne, formerly Ambassador in Moscow, is brilliant in style and profound in its analysis of the results of the August 2008 crisis in the Caucasus.  It also contains constructive recommendations for reducing the current tension in Russo-British relations, which should be carefully studied by both politicians and diplomats in Moscow, Washington and European capitals.  By way of a commentary I will concentrate on some of the points raised by Sir Roderic, while adding one or two thoughts of my own. 

The August 2008 events in and around South Ossetia are by any measure of military conflict much less serious than most of the conflicts in the post-Soviet space and Yugoslavia, not to mention the local wars of the Cold War period.  The political fallout from the crisis in the Caucasus could, however, very considerably surpass all the pivotal moments after the collapse of the USSR, including the NATO strike on Yugoslavia in 1999 and the USA's "Black September" in September 2001.  The consequences of the crisis embrace regional and global levels, as well as local.   

The post-Soviet space is becoming one of the main arenas of international conflict and threats to international security, along with the Extended Middle East (EME) and South Asia.  What is particularly worrying is that the rivalry could subsequently become not only economic and political, but military as well.  It could take the form of military confrontation between the major powers and alliances in zones of conflict.  These parallels may be conventional, but a new cold war could become a reality.

The main question after the August 2008 crisis is the following:  will it remain an isolated episode in the post-Soviet space and the relations between Russia and the West, which can be quite quickly "repaired" on the basis of NATO's new, more respectful and serious attitude to Russia's declared interests - and a more definite and realistic formulation of her interests by Russia?

Or will the South Ossetian events be one of the first signs of a new stage in the collapse of the Soviet empire - from now on along the lines of what happened in Yugoslavia?  If so, it could be followed by crises and military conflicts on the border with Ukraine over the Crimea; with Kazakhstan in the northern and western provinces where there is a Russian-speaking population; between Armenia and Azerbaidzhan over Karabakh, involving Turkey and Russia and between Uzbekistan, Tadzhkistan and Kirgiziya over Fergana and fresh water.  Conflicts in South Ossetia could quickly spread to North Ossetia, turning the whole region into one big zone of instability and violence, with the most calamitous direct results for Russia herself.

In this event the countries of "far abroad" would be drawn in on the political front and in the future, possibly, militarily as well.   We cannot rule out military conflict in the post-Soviet space between Russia and NATO (or Russia and China).  Russia would in all probability be defeated in military actions with conventional weapons and would possibly be obliged to have recourse to nuclear weapons with unpredictable consequences for the whole world.

There are two fundamentally differing schools of thought in Russia at the moment around this crucial issue.  The leadership considers, as President Medvedev has said, that "a heavy black line" should be drawn under past events and cooperation built up on a completely new basis.  In the Duma, political circles, society in general and the media there is a strong feeling that this is the beginning of the restoration of the USSR or the Russian Empire, which will make Russia once more a superpower confronting the West.

The August 2008 crisis has, like a mirror image, highlighted two polar positions in the West in respect of the post-Soviet period and directly related to Georgia and Ukraine.  One is that NATO expansion towards the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) against the wishes of Russia will give rise to dangerous conflicts and must be deferred, but cooperation should be developed.  The other is that expansion should be accelerated in order to prevent Moscow subjugating by force its recalcitrant neighbours and resurrecting the traditional "Russian imperialism" strategy.

In these circumstances one could propose a strategic line for Russian policy with two interdependent directions.  The first - as quickly and as decisively as possible to change the way in which the political elite in Ukraine regard NATO as guarantor for its territorial integrity and sovereignty, and Russia as a threat to these values.  The second - the use of multiple channels of cooperation to make Russia's role for the EU and the West much more significant (the so-called "capitalisation" of relations), rather than just a supplier of oil and gas.

The practical implementation of this dual strategy presupposes that Russia should emphasise at the highest level its role as the chief and most influential guarantor of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its CIS neighbours, providing, of course, that they maintain military and political neutrality.  After the events of August 2008 this is especially important so as to strengthen the shaky unity of CIS and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

Military force was used to great effect and now we should build on the new respect for Russia by acting with reasonable restraint and adopting a flexible and constructive diplomatic line towards the West.  Taking account of NATO's increasing difficulties and its very high stakes in the Afghan operation, we could activate a Russian approach providing Russian advisers and military supplies to Afghanistan, as well as humanitarian and economic aid.  At the same time Russia's CSTO allies could be brought in, which would also achieve NATO recognition for this organisation.  This is the more important because Russia is no less, and possibly more, interested than NATO in averting a Taliban backlash.

Together with the indefinite deferral of NATO expansion towards the CIS, we could activate talks on ABM in Europe, on nuclear arms reduction and a return to one or another form of compliance with an adapted CFE treaty.  In these circumstances it would be wise to hold a steadier course in our relationship with Iran with six-way talks involving the UN Security Council and the Chinese People's Republic.

-------------

Alexei Arbatov is the Head of the Center for International Security Center of the Institute for International Economy and International Relationships of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Member of Russian Parliament (State Duma), a member of the YABLOKO faction and Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defence Committee, 1994-2003. Dr. Arbatov is author of a number of books and numerous articles and papers on issues of global security, strategic stability, disarmament, Russian military reform and various current domestic and foreign political issues.He is at present Moscow Carnegie Center Scholar in Residence.

Ukraine, never ending story

The 6th Ukrainian Parliament (Supreme Rada) lasted less than a year  The ruling coalition has collapsed and a new one must be formed within a month.  President Viktor Yushchenko has dissolved parliament and announced a snap election.  The necessary decree has been signed and the new elections are scheduled for 7 December.

"I am announcing the suspension of the Supreme Rada and an early election.  Voting will take place democratically and in accordance with the law," the President stated in his TV broadcast.  He did not indicate a date for the election, but according to the Constitution pre-term elections must take place within 2 months of the decree being signed.

"As of 8 October 2008 no political party has put forward a proposal for the formation of a majority coalition, which proposal has to be signed by more than 225 deputies.  When the parliamentary parties have painted themselves into a corner, the decision has to be taken by the Ukrainian people", said Yushchenko in his prerecorded statement, which was broadcast while he was in Italy.

The President holds the Prime Minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko, responsible for the collapse of the coalition.  He said that the coalition had been destroyed by the personal ambition of one person, a hunger for power, differing values and the predominance of personal interests over national.  Speaking of the Prime Minister, Yushchenko effectively gave coice to  the accusations of high treason, which have been emanating from his office for some time.  He spoke of "external dangers" and "non-Ukrainian" "hostile scenarios".  "Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc has become the hostage of its leaders, because they are prepared to sacrifice everything - language, security and our European prospects", declared Yushchenko.

Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc has no intention of taking issue with the President over the dissolution of parliament; they are not planning either to vote in the Rada for the laws needed to organise an election campaign.  A budget has to be drawn up for the election committees and, moreover, any changes in the state budget have to be agreed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The first international reaction to the dissolution of the Ukrainian parliament was the European Union.  "We note the President's decision.  We regret that efforts to build a coalition have not been successful at a time when Ukraine has particular need of political stability in order to address the many challenges it currently faces.  We are following events", announced Christina Gallach,  spokesman of the EU's Supreme Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, Javier Solana.

Ukrainian Independent Information Agency reports that the ex-president of Poland, Alexander Kvasniewski,  described Yushchenko's decision as a 'serious mistake'  on Polish Information TV channel TVN24.  "There was a slight chance of setting up an expanded democratic coalition Tymoshenko-Yushchenko-Lytvyn and we were working on it", said the ex-president.  "An early election will not only fail to bring the desired result, different from the last election", he continued,  but  the new election "could be a crushing defeat for President Yushchenko himself."  And on top of this an early parliamentary election will mean deferring for many months serious talks on EU and NATO entry, said Kvasniewski.

Observers maintain that an early election has really no chance of effecting any serious changes in the political landscape.  At best it can only reduce numbers in the presidential bloc.   Yushchenko's popularity rating in the country is extremely low, if Polish social surveys are to be believed.

It should be remembered that the previous coalition between the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (YTB)  and the presidential faction "Our Ukraine - Our Self-defence" (Our Ukraine) finally came unstuck in September.  It had anyway not really been a coalition since the springtime, when it lost the mandatory 225 majority.  The  situation was formalised when at the beginning of September the YTB united with Yushchenko's opponents from the Party of the Regions (PR) to pass a series of laws aimed at significantly reducing presidential powers.  At that point Our Ukraine deputies announced they were leaving the coalition.  On 16 September the Chairman of the Supreme Rada, Arsenii Yatsenyuk, officially declared in parliament that the coalition was disbanded.

While all this was happening, Yushchenko supporters were accusing Prime Minister Tymoshenko of betrayal and treason and her government of incompetence.  The special accusation was that by going over to PR she had provoked the collapse of the coalition within the parliament.  There were also more serious accusations - that she had done a deal with Moscow in return for their support of her struggle with Yushchenko for the post of president.   Presidential elections will take place in 2009-2010.

After a month of talks Tymoshenko announced she would agree to any compromise in order to re-establish the majority.  The former coalition members repealed most of the laws that had vexed the president, but the new coalition still failed to work.  At the end of last week Yushchenko gave the deputies until 7 October to form a new ruling coalition and once more warned of possible dissolution.  On 7 October Yushchenko had a meeting with Our Ukraine  deputies.  He told them he was not considering the possibility of rebuilding the  coalition with YTB, but would permit the creation of a majority formed from YTB, PR and the Communists.  After that there was an announcement that consultations were taking place to discuss dissolving parliament.  However, YTB and PR deputies agree unanimously that there is no possibility of meeting Yushchenko's demands and creating a coalition from the groups he has named.    As Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the PR said, he and Tymoshenko "have no ideological common ground on the basis of which agreement could be reached."

News service www.polit.ru

 

Ukraine: beyond the orange coalition

As Ukraine's Rada (parliament) closes for the 2008 summer recess the question on many people's minds will be if the orange coalition headed by Viktor Yushchenko (Ukraine's president) and Yulia Tymoshenko (the country's prime minister) has reached a dead end. By the autumn Ukraine could well be facing another round of parliamentary elections ahead of schedule, with presidential elections to follow in October 2009.

The Yulia Tymoshenko government survived a vote of no-confidence on 11 July 2008. It had been supported only by the Party of Regions, and therefore not by the other opposition bloc Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defence (NU-NS), or by the communists and the Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc.

Taras Kuzio is president of Kuzio Associates strategic consultancy and editor of Ukraine Analyst. He teaches on transatlantic-security issues and the European Union at Carleton University (Ottawa) and the University of Toronto. For his publications on Ukraine and post-communist politics, click here
Also by Taras Kuzio on openDemocracy:

"Ukraine: free elections, kamikaze president" (28 March 2006)

"Ukraine: democracy vs personality" (8 October 2007)

Tymoshenko thus passed the test, and now another vote of no-confidence is unlikely before the beginning of the presidential-election campaign. Such an outcome (or rather, non-outcome) would leave Tymoshenko in the prime-minister's position possibly until the elections. The main losers from the vote are the Party of Regions, which had boasted confidently that it had sufficient votes to oust the government.

Another loser is the president whose anti-Tymoshenko tirades failed to unseat her. The president is blamed by Tymoshenko and orange voters for blocking the adoption of the 2008 budget before the summer recess of parliament. The president had proposed amendments to the already amended budget, which he is not legally able to undertake under the pro-parliamentary amendments to the constitution passed in 2006.

An unstable parliament

The orange coalition established in November 2007 after the pre-term elections on 30 September had the support of 228 deputies (on paper at least - based on 156 Tymoshenko bloc [BYuT] and seventy-two of the NU-NS); this was only two more than the minimum requirement of 226 needed to govern, thus making it a fragile entity. Over the course of eight months, the 228 has been chipped away in three stages - primarily by a non-cooperative and disintegrating NU-NS.

First, the NU-NS deputy Ivan Pliushch refused to sign the coalition accord. Pliushch was secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NRBO) until December 2007; this body is headed by the president (who also is honorary chairman of Our Ukraine and could in principle have ordered him to sign the coalition accord). The NU-NS had campaigned openly for an orange coalition under the slogan "one law for everybody", something that Pliushch openly flouted. The NRBO has been used by Yushchenko as an alternative centre of power to the government. Pliushch's replacement was Party of Regions parliamentary-faction leader Raisa Bohatiorova. The influential weekly Zerkalo Nedeli wrote that Ukraine has a "formal and a shadow" government.

Second, eight NU-NS deputies resigned in February 2008 from the faction, but claimed they were remaining in the coalition led by the head of the presidential secretariat, Viktor Baloga. The defectors joined a new pro-presidential party of power entitled Yedyny Tsentr (United Centre), formed out of frustration at the refusal of the NU-NS's nine member-parties not to abide by their election pledge to merge into one pro-presidential force. United Centre also is the vehicle to campaign for Yushchenko's re-election for a second term (however unlikely that prospect currently appears).

Third, one NU-NS and one BYuT defector resigned in May 2008 from the coalition. The NU-NS head and interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko described it as "the return of political prostitution" - referring to the (bribed) defectors from the orange opposition in March 2007 that had pushed Yushchenko into issuing a decree disbanding parliament on 2 April 2007.

The constitutional court has ruled that deputies are elected to parliament within parties and blocs, and not individually, and therefore they cannot remain in parliament but be outside a faction. The BYuT and the NU-NS are seeking to expel the defectors and replace them with loyal new deputies; this, if successful, would theoretically return the coalition to a bare majority of 227 deputies.

The constitutional-court's ruling answers old questions while bringing up new ones. The ruling places neither Pliushch or the May defectors beyond the law, as they have either not signed the coalition accord or have defected from it while (on paper, again) remaining inside factions. The court ruled only on the relationship of deputies to factions, not to coalitions. The ruling does though place Baloga and his United Centre defectors beyond the law as they left the faction but remained within the coalition.

These three sources of instability leave the continued viability of the orange coalition in doubt. The NRBO continues to act as an alternative government and grand coalition of pro-presidential and Party of Regions officials that continually raises demands and issues criticism of the government. The presidential secretariat, particularly its head Viktor Baloga, is a source of daily attacks and demands on the government. President Yushchenko adds to these through his own demands on the government and criticism of its performance in Ukraine through the media and decrees, as well as in interviews in western newspapers during foreign visits. In addition, the NU-NS has de facto disintegrated as a united force into three or four groups that are oriented to either Yulia Tymoshenko or (to a lesser extent) to Viktor Yushchenko (see "Ukraine: democracy vs personality", 9 October 2007).

Kyiv's political carousel

The government may try and hold on until the presidential-election campaign begins in spring 2009. Yulia Tymoshenko's electoral chances remain (according to polls) the best placed of Ukraine's leaders for a successful campaign. The chances of her surviving until then are high; Yushchenko, having once - in September 2005 - removed a Tymoshenko government, does not wish to be blamed for doing so again. Moreover, even if meanwhile a parliamentary no-confidence vote in the government was approved, the government would remain in place until a new coalition was formed - and that coalition could well be "orange" again and could again re-install Tymoshenko.

Also in openDemocracy on post-orange politics in Ukraine:

Alexander Motyl, "Ukraine and Russia: divergent political paths" (17 August 2006)

Ivan Krastev, "Ukraine and Europe: a fatal attraction" (1 December 2004)

Patrice de Beer, "Ukraine's inspiring boredom" (4 April 2006)

Alexander Motyl, "How Ukrainians became citizens" (25 November 2004)

Andrew Wilson, "Ukraine's crisis of governance" (1 May 2007)

Tymoshenko's worst-case scenario would be to be removed from government before the end of 2008, as this would mean she would have neither a parliamentary seat (which has to be given up when entering government) nor the prime-minister's position from which to fight the elections. Nevertheless, even here her campaign energy and charisma cannot be ruled out in overcoming this obstacle. After Tymoshenko was sacked in September 2005 she had no government or parliamentary position, but still successfully increased BYuT's vote (from 7% in March 2002 to 23% in March 2006).

For their part, Yushchenko and Baloga's strategy will continue to play out. Their ideal outcome would be to keep Tymoshenko in government until the end of 2008 and blame it for any high-profile economic problems (such as rising inflation) at that stage; then replace her with a "pragmatic" grand coalition of NU-NS and the Party of Regions.

Yushchenko, according to former defence minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, promised the Party of Regions in May 2007 that if they agreed to pre-term elections he would agree to a grand coalition in their aftermath. What this scenario and earlier promise failed to take into account was that Tymoshenko could return as prime minister even after a parliamentary no-confidence vote; it also ignores widespread opposition to a grand coalition within the NU-NS. In order to withdraw from a coalition, a faction requires a majority vote - and in the case of the NU-NS, that means that a minimum of thirty-seven deputies vote in favour of leaving the orange coalition, a number that does not exist.

In addition, support for Yushchenko's grand-coalition project has been hindered by a return to selective use of the law - in particular, attempts to revoke the citizenship of the wealthy businessman Davyd Zhvannnia (who exchanged Georgian for Ukrainian citizenship in 1999). Zhvannia finances Lutsenko's People's Self-Defence, a coalition partner of Our Ukraine, which now has twenty of the seventy-two NU-NS deputies.

Ukraine could therefore continue to muddle along with a fractured coalition, a disintegrating NU-NS, and a hostile NRBO and presidential secretariat. This unclear path could only be halted by constitutional reforms that could pave the way for pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections. The parliament's two largest factions, BYuT and the Party of Regions together control 331 out of 450 deputies; they have reached a near-consensus on reforming the constitution towards a parliamentary system (the first stage of the shift from semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism took place in 2006). Two other parliamentary factions, the Lytvyn bloc and the communists, would support parliamentarism, while only some within the NU-NS (but not Lutsenko's People's Self-Defence wing).

The political crisis has had a negative impact on Yushchenko and the NU-NS. The president's ratings have collapsed to their worst ever level of 6% - a level not achieved by the pre-revolution president Leonid Kuchma until his second term, after the Georgi Gongadze scandal. Yushchenko has therefore no possibility of being re-elected for a second term, and that makes his anti-Tymoshenko policies all the more pointless. The NU-NS's ratings have declined from 14% percent in both the 2006 and 2007 elections to 5%. In the pre-term Kyiv city elections on 26 May 2008, the NU-NS failed to cross even the 3% percent threshold. The president was forced to rely instead upon the incumbent maverick (and reputedly corrupt) mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, whose support-base is mainly formed pensioners who in eastern Ukraine traditionally vote for the Party of Regions or the left.

A changing balance

In international terms too, a similar process to the domestic one is at work. Tymoshenko's visit to Brussels in June 2008, where she attended a meeting of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) - the largest political group in the European parliament - was her fourth visit to the city this year. This reflects a palpable change in mood in Brussels towards the twin leaders of the orange revolution in favour of Ukraine's prime minister.

Viktor Yushchenko's mandate for change after the orange revolution of 2004 was greater than that given to Margaret Thatcher in Britain in 1979, Nicolas Sarkozy in France in 2007, and perhaps Barack Obama in the United States in 2008. Ukraine's innumerable political crises and unending political squabbling have inexorably wasted the mandate - and it is the president who bears the chief responsibility, for he and his secretariat have obstructed the prime minister's programme of reforms, energy transparency and anti-corruption measures. Indeed, a package of constitutional reforms in 2006 removed the government from the presidents constitutional jurisdiction, rendering many of the demands made towards a government now under parliamentary control unconstitutional.

The political class and heads of governing institutions in western Europe have become increasingly uneasy at the growing rifts in the orange coalition. The widespread concern is reflected in the comments of the president of the European People's Party, Vilfred Martens (who "remains perturbed that there are attacks on the government and at the same time...attempts to block the course of reform') and the Council of Europe's reminder to Yushchenko of his responsibility to bring to trial the "organisers" of Gongadze's murder.

This criticism of Yushchenko and growing support for Tymoshenko are running in parallel. Vilfred Martens made this explicit at an EPP press conference in June 2008: "On behalf of the EPP I would like to state our solidarity with the course undertaken by the Tymoshenko government, its anti-corruption and privatisation programme". Meanwhile, Tymoshenko's visit to Brussels was marked by support from senior EU officials for her government's economic and anti-inflationary policies.

A major component in these shifting western attitudes is the respective leaders' attitudes to fighting corruption. Corruption is at its worst and most lucrative in Ukraine's energy sector, where the government has been praised for its attempts at introducing transparency and removing opaque intermediaries. A major point of disagreement among orange leaders has rested over the continued use of allegedly corrupt intermediaries such as RosUkrEnergo. Yushchenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych have defended the use of such intermediaries while the Tymoshenko government has sought to remove RosUkrEnergo and replace it with a direct gas relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

The damage of the continued infighting in the orange coalition is far more than than local or short-term. The lack of political stability empowers the arguments of those western European governments that oppose Ukraine's Nato membership. Germany and France led the way at Nato's Bucharest summit in April 2008 to block the entry of both Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance's Membership Action Plan's (MAP). Since 2004, officials of Nato and the European Union officials have repeatedly called for the unity of pro-reform forces as a pre-requisite for Ukraine's path to accession to both organisations. The danger now is that the fragmentation of the orange coalition will lead Nato foreign ministers at their December 2008 meeting again to postpone a decision on Ukraine's entry.

Four years after the orange revolution, western attitudes to Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko are gradually changing. Yushchenko's record - in twice undermining a Tymoshenko pro-reform government, being unable to make progress against corruption, and embracing oligarchs - has compromised his image in the west. Tymoshenko, by contrast, is acquiring an image in the west as Ukraine's best agent of reform and of cleansing Ukraine's deep-seated corruption. This changing dynamic is an important new development as Ukraine looks ahead to the presidential elections in 2009.

Egypt: the surreal painting

Egypt's current state resembles a surrealist painting. It is difficult to decipher its components, challenging to comprehend its meaning. At the centre of the painting there are dark, abrasive lines; most onlookers would see them depicting anger, frustration and occasionally menace. At the peripherals, there are softer lines, perhaps symbols of potential and promise.

The sharp lines are the result of three major social phenomena that shape Egypt's current experience: inequality, demographics, and culture.

The social chasm

The first phenomenon is suffocating inequality.Tarek Osman is a writer and a merchant banker.  Also by Tarek Osman in openDemocracy:

"Egypt: who's on top?" (7 June 2005)

"Egypt's crawl from autocracy" (30 August 2005)

"Hosni Mubarak: what the Pharaoh is like" (16 January 2006)

"Can the Arabs love their land?" (22 May 2006)

"Egypt's phantom messiah" (12 July 2006)

"Mahfouz's grave, Arab liberalism's deathbed" (23 November 2006)

"Arab Christians: a lost modernity" (31 August 2007)

"Risk in the Arab world: enterprise vs politics" (9 November 2007)

"Nasser's complex legacy" (15 January 2008)

"Egypt's football triumph" (13 February 2008)


Egypt has always been characterised by severe inequality between its "upper crust" and those millions of people who struggle to survive. This was especially clear in the period before the 1952 coup; then, the privileged classes - the pashas and beks, the cotton and wheat millionaires, the colonial bourgeoisie; and most foreigners in the country enjoyed lives vastly different from the toil of the men and women in the villages of the Nile delta and the Saiid (upper Egypt), or in the rougher neighbourhoods of Cairo and Alexandria.

The sweeping promise of the early years of Gamal Abdel Nasser's era meant that the realities of material inequality were less evident. But in the late 1950s and the 1960s another dimension of inequality appeared: in the influence and access of ahl al-theqa (the trusted elite, drawn from the military and intelligence corps), factors which allowed this elite to float untouchably over the rest of society (see "Nasser's complex legacy", 15 January 2008).

In the 1970s (the decade of Anwar Sadat) and the 1980s (under Hosni Mubarak, who became president after Sadat's assassination in October 1981), the ostentatious symbols of a new class of wealthy business people created a revived awareness of endemic social inequality on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. But the market-friendly policies of Sadat's mid-1970s infitah (open door) period also funnelled a degree of prosperity even to distant towns and villages. Even some of those on modest incomes became beneficiaries of the infitah and were able to buy French-made shirts and perhaps cars, and to realise that watches had other uses than telling the time.

The landscape of inequality in this period was thus more subtle, offering a certain amelioration of the absolutes. The broad dispersal of Egypt's then 25 million-35 million people across the numerous cities, towns and villages of the country allowed the "haves" and "have-nots" for a time to share the same world, to "see" each other - before they retreated, each to their own environs.

This interlude was brief. The late 1990s and the 2000s saw a complete change. An era of intense demographic concentration has resulted by 2008 in a population of around 81.7 million. The change is highlighted by Cairo's metamorphosis into a city of 18 million people, where neighbourhoods of vast wealth are a few minutes' walk from alleyways of crushing poverty. The rich and poor were forced to do more than peek at each other, interact briefly, then withdraw to their enclaves; now, they were living in such proximity that awareness of the other was constant and unavoidable. In Cairo, and to a lesser extent Alexandria, Egypt's urban citizens were crammed together - Zamalek's swanky night-spots next to decayed public housing; Mohandeseen's shiny boutiques next to the deprived Meit Okba area; a Porsche Cayenne cruising next to a minibus with twenty people packed together in Cairo's burning heat.

In principle, inequality could have been seen as a "natural" by-product of a growing economy where some social strata (typically because of privileged background or education) manage to exploit emerging opportunities, while other (far larger) lose out. This, as it were "academic", view had elements of the truth. But it could not disguise a stronger undercurrent of feeling among millions of Egyptians (indeed, probably a majority): that the elite, the upper crust, the wealthy, the "haves", do not deserve to be so.

The point is illustrated by a scene in Tito, a smash-hit Egyptian film of 2005. In one scene, the leading young actor Ahmed El-Sakka waves his hands in protest about being labelled a thief and shouts - referring to the people around him at a plush golf resort, including elegantly dressed women, with luxury cars in the background - "but they are all thieves"! The cinema audiences erupted in clapping at the line.

The Egyptian poor have a major trust problem regarding the country's rich. A key ingredient in this is simple, decades-old, and cataclysmic: corruption. In Egypt, corruption is both about large-scale transactions (the use of privatisation deals to make illicit wealth, say) and small-scale (paying low-level government employees a few dollars to expedite bureaucratic procedures). But its main feature (as most Egyptians see it) is that it is an institutionalised phenomenon that pervades almost every aspect of Egypt's socio-economic life: from the "caller" who helps park cars to the teacher who pushes students to sign for private lessons, from the policeman whose very uniform exudes intimidation to the judicial employee with sensitive case information, from members of parliament buying votes to ministers selling favours - all the way down to the beggars and scam-artists on the Cairo and Alexandria streets.

The Kifaya protest movement played on corruption's protean influence in the title of its 2005 report on the subject: "The black cloud is still here". The "black cloud" usually refers to a horrendous smog that hovers over greater Cairo every year when the residuals of the rice crop in neighbouring governorates are burned. Corruption is as suffocating, and - as with the other black cloud - the authorities do not seem to capable of clearing it.

The social chasm, the trust problem and the corruption dimension all focus attention on the Egyptian government's failings. The people who joked in the 1970s and 1980s about the government's five-year economic plans were by the late 1990s and 2000s tired, economically exhausted, and emotionally drained by a continued deterioration in their living standards. The reasons included the increasing pressures of Cairo's teeming population, the evaporation of job opportunities, and the social distance of the privileged elite from the rest of the population. All this contributed to the gradual transformation of Egyptians' characteristically sarcastic patience into boiling anger, reflected in the wave of strikes and protests that has swept the country in 2007-08.

Even these high-profile and widely reported events, however, may be less significant than the deeper shift in the attitude of the everyday Egyptian, who no longer reacts to the news of Egypt's economic progress - the building of a smart urban area, the issuance of a new GSM mobile licence at a breakthrough valuation, the purchase of a venerable Egyptian state bank - with an amused, sceptical "let's see". He or she is now more likely to be furious, questioning where the billions of dollars are going, why even a kilo of meat or a new pair of shoes has become unaffordable, while "they" enjoy their villas, cars, fancy clothes, and affluent lifestyles.

There are other sources of anger: incidents such as the drowning of a ferry en route from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, the use of contaminated blood in a couple of public hospitals, the collapse of a tower in Cairo's Nasser City.

The very closeness that Cairo life has imposed on Egyptians of starkly different incomes and life-chances has exacerbated the perception of the social gap, and dangerously aggravated the trust problem. The suffocating experience of inequality reflects the broken social contract. Here is a sharp line at the centre of the Egyptian painting, surrounded by menacing orange dots that suggest to the onlooker anger and frustration.

The generational choice

The second phenomenon at the centre of the Egyptian painting is the country's demographic reality, more particularly the condition of Egypt's young people.

More than 40 million Egyptians are under 35 years old. In 2006, around 8 million Egyptians applied for the American green-card lottery. In 2007, more than twenty young Egyptians drowned on perilous journeys toward the southern shores of Italy and Greece. In 2007-08, hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and rioted in 2007 for various causes. The picture is clear: young people are angry, disillusioned, and increasingly aggressive and belligerent.

Yet, young Egyptians are also full of promise. Most of them - especially in the country's big cities - have access to a TV and radio; are literate; have some basic knowledge of English; are relatively comfortable with new technologies, including the internet; and are (from a distance) aware of what happening in the advanced world. The more sophisticated and educated among them - the product of the substantial Cairene and Alexandrian middle class - also have a decent command of some of the essential skills required in today's modern economies. That is why a huge number of Egyptian engineers, doctors, accountants, lawyers and other professionals are employed in companies and institutions in the Gulf, as well as in the factories and offices of multinational companies in Egypt. The country has, by middle-eastern standards, an unrivalled base of talent and expertise.

The question posed to Egypt is whether the anger and frustration of its young will outweigh the potential of these qualities. An important variable in answering it will be how Egypt's socio-economic environment will develop. Will this environment embrace the rising generation's capabilities, facilitate and nurture them, or will it crush them? So far, the trends favour the latter. The tiny level of entrepreneurship, the ubiquitous corruption, the alienation of the best and brightest, the overarching sense of lost promise, the psychological "black cloud" - all these have been driving the talented to Europe, the United States, and the Gulf (see "Risk in the Arab world: enterprise vs politics", 9 November 2007).

Moreover, those in this category who choose or are obliged to stay in Egypt increasingly withdraw from the heart of the cities to a secluded life - they "belong" less and less to the life of their society. The well-paid telecoms engineer in his early 30s (and his friends - the IT consultant, the accountant at a leading local company, the sales executive in a multinational, the doctor) are increasingly drawn to the internet, to satellite dishes, and even the express-delivery service of Amazon UK. If his financial condition improves significantly, the immediate objective becomes a home in one of the new, rich and isolated suburbs of Cairo, from where he and his wife will send their small children to a new private school.

But most young people do not have these choices. Their domain - the crowded streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Al-Mahala, Tanta, and Asyuut or Egypt's smaller towns and villages - there is no private access to the internet or satellite dishes, no cultural exposure to the United States or Britain, and no chance of finding decent work in the Gulf or Europe. Only a few can free themselves from the circumstances of limited promise and ascend even to the margins of comfortableness. The majority are in the quagmire.

Most of these young Egyptians are still in their teens or 20s. They are still finding their way in life; they are tomorrow's news; the wager is still on regarding how they will shape their future. They are both angry and ambitious; pugnacious and dreamy; rioters against oppression and singers of Mohamed Mounir's romantic songs; the lines of resentment swirling up in their sheisha smoke yet their fast walking pace revealing their hunger for life. Theirs too is a sharp line in Egypt's trajectory, leaving the onlooker to guess whether it can delineate peaceful progress or violence and chaos.

The cultural contest

The third phenomenon shaping Egypt's current experience is the country's cultural pulse. Much of Cairo and Alexandria, and even more most of the delta's cities, are conservative places of strict behaviour codes. Since the early 1980s, the Islamic movement has won major battles in the war over Egypt's cultural identity. Egyptian liberalism is a stranded, weak movement; Arab nationalism is no stronger. Western, Mediterranean, Europe-influenced trends are tiny social currents that penetrate negligible groups at the society's fringes (even if many of these groups' members wield considerable spending power).

Today, books on the pleasures a devout Muslim will find in heaven or on athab al-kabr (the punishment of the grave) far outsell those on other themes - apart from books with a strong sexual content. Yet religion, the veil, the conservatism, the strictness, the moral puritanism - these are not (yet) the cultural identity of Egypt. Amr Khaled, Egypt's leading modern Islamic preacher, has a massive following; and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi's show on al-Jazeera is a must-see for millions. Yet the secular, liberal novelist Alaa al-Aswani is Egypt's bestselling author among the country's middle class; and the weekly TV show of the ultra-liberal Mohamed Hassanein Heikal still commands a great following.

The rising Islamic trend in Egypt's last quarter-century is a complicated process. At its heart have been three factors: the emigration of millions of Egyptians to the Gulf, at a time when the Gulf was super-conservative; Anwar Sadat's strategic decision to hand momentum to political Islam and allow it to gain ground in Egyptian society (especially in the trade unions, syndicates and universities); and the decline of Arab nationalism, from the 1970s to its near-humiliation in the 1980s and 1990s.

Much has changed. Today, the Gulf, especially its more shining parts, is more liberal than Egypt; and its petro-dollars no longer actively promote conservative doctrines to anything like the same degree as before. The Egyptian government has been fighting the current of political Islam for at least two decades. As for Arab nationalism, it has been weakened to such a level that it is irrelevant to today's dynamics.

The growth of political (and "social") Islam makes it by far the most powerful trend in today's Egypt. But it is not yet the winner. An observer of the painting will see clear green circles as well as sharp line in the painting's centre, but the Islamic crescent does not yet adorn them.

The pinnacle and the pit

Egypt, a rich civilisation with an ancient heritage and numerous links to cultures and traditions, is too complicated to be dominated by one line or colour. Thus, at the periphery of the painting are various structures, lines, and colours. Two are especially eye-catching, at the top and bottom respectively.

At the top, the decision-making process is shrouded in mystery. President Mubarak, in charge since October 1981, remains an absolute ruler. There is no doubt about his authority, ability to pull all strings, crush all challengers, and rule supreme. Yet a new power-elite headed by the president's son, Gamal Mubarak, has emerged since 2003; composed of a select group of business, economic, finance and media professionals, it has introduced a certain complexity into the high-level processes of state (see "Egypt's phantom messiah", 12 July 2006).

For example, the old guard that has long surrounded Mubarak (who turned 80 on 4 May 2008) has seemed increasingly detached from economic policy over the past five years; the new power elite looks more influential here. This is important, for economics is no longer "just" that; when global trends are increasingly economic rather than political or military, when countries' progress is measured in GDP per capita, when a worldwide food crisis has hit Egypt hard - then economic policy becomes central to both national security and political stability.

True, the state's security apparatus appears to continue to play a leading role in securing Egypt against any potential chaos internally, as well as operating in the country's traditional spheres of influence: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sudan, Lebanon, and the horn of Africa. Yet there is doubt over how far it is now integrated into the new power-elite.

Such a trend may be part of a wider dysfunction in the administrative and institutional order. Decision-making in Egypt has always been top-down, but traditionally, the pinnacle was clear - one man with absolute authority and clear lines of power beneath him. Today, the supreme power looks more diffuse, its movement less orchestrated.

The structure at the bottom of the painting is clearer. Some parts of Egyptian society are falling away, crushed underfoot or secreted now dark and miserable corners. The atfal al-shawari (children of the streets) is a prime example: thousands of young children without any kind of education, role-model, or future. They are not alone in their sadness. Many villagers, especially in upper Egypt, live in atrocious conditions; as do thousands of families in Cairo's and Alexandria's haphazard new neighbourhoods on the cities' al- ashwa'yat (margin).

The conditions of poorer urban-dwellers - overcrowded, with broken infrastructure, a lack of personal or emotional space, full of unwelcome intimacy and aggression - crush the souls of millions of Egyptians (see "Egypt: a diagnosis", 28 June 2007).

Egypt's lowest, forgotten social strata have missed the beat of the era. This is not unusual if they are compared to the same groups of people in sub-Saharan Africa or India or China. Yet this compounds the sadness, for Egypt has already had - and missed - many chances to pull up the millions left behind; and unlike India or China, Egypt's overall progress is not impressive enough in any way to make the picture of the lowest levels fade in the brilliance of the brightest.

All the lines and spots and colours of the Egyptian painting are linked, though it is still hard to discern a precise shape. The severe inequality; the promise and peril of the millions of young Egyptian men and women; the religious and cultural struggle for the country's soul; the opaqueness of power, authority and decision - all this means that the Egyptian surrealist painting is open to interpretation. From certain angles, it looks hopeful; from others, bleak. The canvas is open.

McCain & Obama Are Both Wrong on Georgia

After watching the first presidential debate between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, one of the only lasting thoughts on my mind was how over-simplified they present the ongoing conflicts in Georgia to the American public, and how dead wrong they both are in seeking to address them. 

They are both correct in stating their support for the Georgian people and their young democracy in the face of Russian expansionism, and that the disproportionate (and perhaps premeditated) military actions of the Russian Federation during August must be strongly addressed.  Furthermore, they are both correct in promising Georgia assistance for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes.  After all, Georgia is an important ally in the region, and her friendship must not be abandoned.

However, that is not whole story.

The conflict that erupted in South Ossetia in August, very well could have started in Abkhazia earlier in the year.  These regions have been involved in two very unique secession struggles with the central government in Tbilisi since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The fact that these regions continue to provide sparks of violence in the volatile Caucasus is testament to the failure of international and Georgian policies towards them. 

The attempts to reunite Georgia according to its Soviet borders have over the last fifteen years have focused on 1) isolating South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the outside world, 2) refusing to recognize the legitimate concerns of the local populations, 3) incorrectly addressing the conflict as solely and primarily between Russia and Georgia, and by 4) stubbornly following dogmatic policies long after they have already shown themselves to be failures. 

The next American president, together with the efforts from European allies, must address these failed strategies of the past in order to prevent the West (and Georgia for that matter) from stumbling into an expanded war in the Caucasus. 

During the debate McCain told the American people a story regarding his trip to South Ossetia, where he described a billboard proclaiming Vladimir Putin "Our President."  For those unfamiliar with the situation this may have been frighteningly demonstrative of the Russian aggression against the Georgian people.  However, Saakashvili must not have explained to McCain that the Ossetians are first and foremost not ethnically a Georgian people, and furthermore, that they endured a horrendous war initiated by the Georgians in 1991.  The latter of these reasons especially explains why South Ossetians hold the goal of reuniting not with the Georgian state, but rather with their ethnic brothers in North Ossetia, who happen to lie within the Russian Federation.  

Furthermore, McCain-who has never been to Abkhazia-seems to lump together the differing goals of South Ossetian and Abkhaz leadership.  In Abkhazia, you will not find posters proclaiming Putin as their president, and you will not hear the similar desires to join Russia.  Abkhaz also fought a vicious war with the Georgians, and given their long and complicated past under Georgian leadership (including Josef Stalin) desire nothing less than their full independence.  Joining Russia, with whom their past is equally tragic, is not an option for the Abkhaz.

McCain, however, believes that once South Ossetians and Abkhaz get a taste of freedom-which in his mind means living under the Georgian flag-they will realize they were wrong in their own ambitions all along.  In his ignorance of history, though, McCain "fails to understand" the constant, perceived threat from Georgia that these territories live under. 

An Abkhaz official once wrote to me, "There are two faces of Saakashvili: one is looking West and looks pretty, liberal, and nice.  Another face is looking at Abkhazia and it is deceitful and aggressive."

Obama, for his part, twice raised the issue of Russian peacekeepers in the regions.  He stated that Russian peacekeeping forces in Georgia prior to the conflict "made no sense whatsoever," and called for their replacement with a more international force.  While the internationalization of peacekeepers in the conflict zones is not in and of itself a misguided proposal (although the peacekeepers in South Ossetia are already a mixed force), it has long been clear the Abkhaz and South Ossetians are more comfortable with Russian protection.  Proposed changes in peacekeeping formats are seen as a way of removing their only shield of defense against Georgian military action.

He also proclaimed that the Russians must abide by the six-point ceasefire agreement, and pull out from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  The latter statement shows Obama is similar to McCain in not fully examining the conflicts' history, as they fully warrant.  In the recent years, Russia has been the only supporting ally of the regions and now they seek to be under a Russian military umbrella-much like Georgia desires to be under NATO.

While the two candidates for president may be seemingly instep with each other on the American relationship with Georgia, their significant differences with respect towards the use of diplomacy would suggest that both would not continue the current approach in resolving the ongoing disputes Georgia holds with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

McCain mirrors Saakashvili in choosing to deal only with one's allies.  On the other hand, Obama is a proponent of inclusion and the utility of talking to adversaries.  McCain's philosophy has been amply applied in the Caucasus over the last decade and a half, and the results were seen in August.  The impact Obama's would have is, of course, unpredictable and yet to be seen. 

Although, after fifteen years of failing to outreach to the Abkhaz and South Ossetians, Georgian dreams of a reunified country may have already been lost.  What remains uncertain is whether an Obama presidency would attempt to open up to these regions in order to improve their living conditions-without the preconditions of them rejoining Georgia precipitously. 

Europe and the Georgia-Russia conflict

The headlines about the conflict in the Caucasus in August 2008 have been replaced by news about collapsing financial markets. But the questions raised by the Georgia-Russia war remain high on the agenda of diplomats and international organisations. The European Union has deployed 300 observers to monitor the scheduled withdrawal of Russian troops from the buffer-zones within Georgia proper after 1 October 2008. But for the EU, the fallout of the war of 8-12 August is much greater - which Russian forces have occupied since the end of the main hostilities - is an opportunity to examine the role of the EU in this critical region. What kind of role can and should the union play to contribute to stability and growth in this volatile region just beyond its borders? And what must it do to be taken seriously by a newly assertive Russia?


Katinka Barysch
is deputy director of the Centre for European Reform

Also by Katinka Barysch in openDemocracy:

"Ukraine should not be part of a ‘great game'" (7 December 2004) - with Charles Grant

"Turkey and the European Union: don't despair" (27 November 2006)

"Europe's ‘reform treaty': ends and beginnings" (18 October 2007) - with Hugo Brady

"Turkey: the constitutional frontline" (14 April 2008)

The policy toolbox

These questions in turn raise the issue of the European Union's performance during and immediately after the war itself. The judgments about the EU's reaction to the flare-up of conflict, Russia's incursion into Georgia, and its unilateral recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have varied - from the illustration of a wobbly jelly on the cover of the Economist (4 September 2008) to the earlier assessment of Jean-Dominique Giuliani (president of the Robert Schuman Foundation): "Without the European Union's intervention and rapid reaction on the part of the French president the Russians would already have made Tbilisi theirs".

The reference here is to the diplomatic initiative of Nicolas Sarkozy, who as holder of the EU's current (July-December 2008) presidency visited Moscow and Tbilisi, brokered the initial ceasefire on 12 August 2008, and then pushed hard for Russia to follow the terms. The European Union as a whole followed up at its emergency summit on 1 September - only the third in its history - by sticking together in an unprecedented condemnation of Russian aggression. To signal their willingness to act, they froze negotiations on the EU's new partnership agreement with Russia.

True, the EU's criticism and the threat of stalled treaty negotiations did not sway Russia. It was in any case in Moscow's own interest to withdraw its forces from the self-declared buffer-zone in Georgia and start a programme of damage-limitation in international relations. But Moscow is also used to a squabbling and uncritical EU - and will thus have taken note of the Europeans' relatively strong reaction - relative, because compared with the tough rhetoric of some United States politicians the EU's reaction still looked feeble.

However, those who criticise the EU for this are wrong. The EU cannot at the same time be a mediator in the conflict and take sides. Moreover, its mediating role was all the more effective because it was backed by a growling America that openly backed Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili. The Americans found it easier to be firm and critical precisely because they could rely on the EU to do the actual negotiations.

The European Union has supplemented its high-level diplomacy by attempting to mitigate the consequences of the war on the ground. At their meeting on 15 September, EU foreign ministers authorised the 300-strong observer mission to replace Russian troops in the buffer-zone, and pledged €500 million in aid to help the reconstruction of the devastated Georgian economy.


Among openDemocracy's articles on the fallout of the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008:

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, "Russian war and Georgian democracy" (22 August 2008)

Fred Halliday, "The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Georgia after war: the political landscape" (26 August 2008)

Mary Kaldor, "Sovereignty, status and the humanitarian perspective" (26 August 2008)

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's forgotten legacy" (3 September 2008)

Rein Müllerson, "The world after the Russia-Georgia war" (5 September 2008)

Paul Gillespie, ""The European Union and Russia after Georgia" (10 September 2008)

Krzysztof Bobinski, "Europe's post-war promise" (15 September 2008)

Martin Shaw, "After the Georgia war: the challenge to citizen action" (16 September 2008)

Aviel Roshwald, "Nato, the west and Russia: from peril to progress" (23 September 2008)

Plus: openDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war.


However, tension and bitterness persist, not only within the region, but between Russia and the west. There are disagreements about where exactly the EU observers will be allowed to go, and how many Russian soldiers will remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. More widely, many people both inside and outside the European Union look anxiously eastwards in the belief that Russian efforts to control its "near abroad" will not stop at the border of South Ossetia.

This means that the EU needs to continue its debate about what kind of tools it has available to resolve the Caucasus and other other potential conflicts, including increasing the pressure on Russia if necessary.

What not to do

Since the Georgia-Russia war broke out on 8 August 2008, many politicians and commentators have suggested hardline measures against Russia that if implemented would harm European interests without making Russia change its ways. The danger of ill-judged over-reaction or misplaced symbolic gestures is that Russia will end up looking scarier and Europe weaker than is actually the case. The challenge is to act firmly but in ways designed to have a real effect.

To clarify the point, it is worth considering what the European Union should not do. First, economic sanctions are a virtual non-starter, mainly because of a situation of mutual energy-dependence: almost 30% of the gas consumed in the EU comes from Russia, making the EU Russia's biggest and most lucrative market (it is notable in this respect that Moscow has been careful not to mention energy in its angry exchanges with the west). In principle, the EU could try to limit Russian sales of non-energy goods or keep Russian investments out; but in the absence of a United Nations mandate, such steps would violate the EU's own rules for openness and non-discrimination.

The EU cannot completely discard the option of using economic sanctions - in the event of Russian tanks trundling into another neighbouring country, for example. But these would be a means of last resort. Meanwhile, talk of preventing Russia companies from operating in EU countries will only undermine the EU's credibility as a rules-based and open market.

Second, a veto of Russia's World Trade Organisation (WTO) application would contravene the EU's strong interest in persuading Russia to respect international trade rules and submit to the WTO's dispute-settlement procedures. Thus, it should not contemplate using the WTO to make a political point at a time when the organisation is already gravely weakened through the breakdown of the Doha talks. Russia's accession is in any case not an immediate prospect - because of Moscow's increasingly erratic trade policy, the United States's refusal to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment (1974), and vetoes from Georgia and perhaps Ukraine (both now WTO members).

Third, to ban Russians from visiting or working in EU countries is a bad idea. If Russian citizens cannot travel, they may be more prone to believing their government's propaganda about a hostile and hypocritical west. But the EU needs to think carefully too about targeted visa sanctions, for a ban on Russian leaders and top officials would signal a new world in which the Europeans no longer believe that engagement can achieve anything.

The EU could make it harder for Russia's big businessmen to holiday at the Cote d'Azur or do business in London, hoping that they would in turn put pressure on their leaders to change their ways. But many rich Russians have acquired foreign passports, and few will risk falling out with a regime that seems to enjoy a bit of oligarch-bashing from time to time.

In brief, the resort to economic sanctions and visa-bans could slow the modernisation and diversification of Russia's economy and turn its emerging middle class further against the west. These measures may well hurt the possibility of a more liberal camp emerging around the new president, Dmitry Medvedev. The chances of Russia becoming more open and democratic over the medium-to-long-term could diminish further.

The three priorities

It does not have to be "business as usual", however. There are other things the European Union could do that would be effective without being counterproductive. The EU could freeze several of its newer initiatives if Russia proves recalcitrant (over, for example, reducing troop numbers in South Ossetia and Georgia).

The EU could stop preparations for a trade agreement on nuclear-fuels, something the Russians want badly in order to grab a bigger market-share in Europe's (reviving) nuclear sector. It could also suspend Russia's participation in EU research projects and other cooperation programmes. Indeed, a slimming down of the EU's bloated and unfocused Russia agenda could even become a welcome side-product of the current climate.

More fundamentally, however, the EU's reaction to the Georgia war should focus less on punishing Russia and more on seeking to make it change its ways. This effort should start within the EU itself, with a set of well-defined objectives. The tricky part then is to figure out how to achieve these objectives in case of Russian opposition or obstruction.

After Georgia, the EU can no longer pretend that its goals and Russia's are in harmony. That is good - because it forces the Europeans to have a more open and realistic debate about its ties with Russia and to set clearer priorities. These priorities should be:

* stability beyond the EU's eastern borders

* energy security

* international tasks that require Russian help (such as preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb).

It is in retrospect remarkable that many people claim to have anticipated the war and witnessed preparations for it, yet that it appears to have taken the west by surprise. The implication is that the EU needs to keep a much closer eye on its neighbourhood and get more involved in an effort to forestall further turmoil. This requires it (as my colleague Tomas Valasek has written) to do much more to help resolve the other frozen conflicts that smoulder in the region. It should also intensify its efforts to draw neighbouring countries, notably Ukraine and Moldova, closer to the union.

The test of unity

Many analysts now predict that Russia will try to escalate other "frozen conflicts" in its neighbourhood. That is not inevitable. The chances of making some progress over Nagorno-Karabakh may even have improved now that Turkey and Armenia have used the opportunity of a football match to talk to each other (see Krzysztof Bobinski, "Europe's post-war promise", 15 September 2008). The presidents of these two countries have also just met their Azerbaijani counterpart in New York.

Russia may well step up its efforts to broker a solution between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transdnistria. This would help it to salvage whatever is left of its own "soft power" in the aftermath of the Georgia war. The EU should demand a bigger role in these negotiations, despite Russia's likely attempt to dictate the rules of any EU engagement in the region.

But while these longstanding conflicts may be edging a bit closer towards a solution, new hotspots could emerge, most notably Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. This is but one of a number of Ukraine-Russia disagreements which the EU can do little directly to resolve: over the stationing of the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, gas prices, mutual travel-bans for politicians, or Moscow handing out passports to Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens. The risk of such disagreements destabilising Ukraine would be less if the country had a functioning and forward-looking government. But if the EU should not overestimate its impact on Ukraine, it can contribute to political stability and economic reform there by giving the country a "membership perspective".

The EU's decision not to do so at the EU-Ukraine summit on 9 September has attracted fire. But to reaffirm the point about effective action, the EU would have been wrong to use the offer of membership - one of its most powerful tools - in a purely symbolic reaction to the Georgia war. The EU's real objective (and Russia's real fear) is a Ukraine that is more democratic, richer and more stable - and better able to withstand Russian meddling. This objective is better served if the EU makes progress towards membership dependent on Kyiv (Kiev) actually implementing political and economic reforms. At present, Ukraine has no effective government, and its leading politicians use ties to the EU and Russia as cards in domestic political games. There is thus little reason to reward Ukraine just yet. The EU's offer to Ukraine needs to be more attractive (more help now, membership later) - but remain conditional.

Another way in which the EU could have a great impact on Russia is if it developed a coherent and effective energy policy. The ingredients of such a policy are well known: internal market liberalisation, more connections between national power and gas markets, clear rules for investment from outside the EU, and a more systematic approach to pipelines and external suppliers. The EU has already stepped up its energy diplomacy in reaction to the Georgia war, for example by sending energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs to Nigeria.

The EU's "strategic energy review" is due in November 2008. This should include some forward-looking proposals: new transparency requirements (it is not acceptable that the European commission and other EU governments learn about new bilateral pipeline deals from the media); better planning for energy emergencies (including plans for improving Europe's strategic gas storage); new financing options for critical infrastructure (in particular the Nabucco pipeline); and allowing the EU to coordinate negotiations with outside suppliers.

The Caucasus conflict may be the shock that the Europeans needed to get their act together on neighbourhood policy, energy and a coherent foreign-policy strategy. But the real test of the EU's effectiveness will come at the level of the individual member-states. A union that is divided, and where the biggest countries seek their own selfish bilateral deals with Russia while smaller ones stubbornly block EU business to draw attention to their concerns will achieve little but derision in Russia. A European Union that unites around clearly defined objectives will stand a much better chance of playing a stabilising role in the neighbourhood and being taken seriously by Russia.

'New thinking' needs new direction

Is it possible to suppose that the United States might finally experience its own perestroika after the end of the Cold War? I am not referring to the movement around Barack Obama's call for change, although that could potentially be a critical factor in reinforcing and sustaining the new phenomenon of perestroika. Nor am I referring to the financial crisis although that too could provide an impulse for transformation. Rather I am talking about the far reaching debate and indeed restructuring currently going on inside the Pentagon as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mary Kaldor is professor of global governance at the London School of Economics (LSE), and convenor of the human-security study group that reports to the European Union's foreign-policy chief Javier Solana

Links relating to this article and Mary Kaldor's other columns are available at diigo here.

The end of the Cold War did not lead to the dismantling of the military-industrial complex, which continues to exercise a powerful and pervasive political, economic and cultural influence on American society. Military spending fell after 1990 and the number of troops were reduced but research spending on advanced military technologiesw remained at its Cold War level, thereby constituting a permanent pressure to develop and produce new weapons systems. Moreover the Cold War narrative (drawn from the experience of World War II) about the role of the United States as a global leader in promoting democracy against its enemies through superior know-how, continued to dominate security thinking. Indeed the narrative was reinforced by the widespread argument that Reagan's decision to deploy cruise missiles was what ended the Cold War and by the experience of the 1991 Gulf War, which seemed to prove the salience of sophisticated technology. Throughout the 1990s, the United States continued to emphasise the importance of airpower and rapid decisive manoeuvre warfare incorporating new advances in information technology as the cornerstone of American strategy. And defence intellectuals continued to draw up scenarios in which these forces would be used to repel a new range of enemies from rogue states to terrorists. Indeed the immediate aftermath of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan was characterised by a mood of triumphalism about the American Way of War and the relevance of concepts like the Revolution in Military Affairs, Defence Transformation, or Netcentricwarfare.

Several years and thousands of casualties later, the atmosphere is very different. The worsening violence in Iraq and Afghanistan led to a serious questioning about the effectiveness of the US tactical approach. Moreover, despite the largest ever military budgets, there were shortages of troops and equipment suitable for ground wars because of the expenditure on large sophisticated systems. Many were arguing that success in regime collapse had created a vacuum of lawlessness filled by political insurgents and violent criminals and that efforts to attack insurgents using superior firepower merely increased opposition to occupation. On 10 January, 2007, President Bush announced a new military plan for Iraq, known as the `surge'.

The surge in Iraq was not just about an increase in troops, it was about a profound change in strategy and tactics, based on, to use the jargon, a population-centric approach. General Petraeus's `new thinking' emphasised, above all, the protection of civilians over and above force projection - a radical turn around in the way American forces are used. Instead of technology and firepower, the emphasis has been on bottom-up local security. His latest `Counter-insurgency Guidance' (published 8 July 2008) includes instructions like `Secure and serve the Population', `Live among the People', `Promote Reconciliation', `Walk', `Build Relationships', `Employ money as a weapons system', `Empower subordinates'.

Public Domain: Street Security in Iraq by Mike Pryor US Army, 2007 (DOD 2007_070405) The reduction in violence in Iraq over the past year and a half was mainly due to the fact that Sunni insurgents overwhelmingly switched sides, choosing the US rather than Al Qaeda, which, in turn, was in part but only in part a consequence of the new policy of direct population security by the United States. Instead of remaining behind protected enclaves and using firepower to attack insurgents, which usually involved so-called collateral damage, US forces spread out to population centres, not only providing security, but also helping to provide basic services and humanitarian relief. It then became possible to negotiate ceasefires with Shiite militias as well. (some argue that this was possible because ethnic cleansing had largely been completed in Baghdad). It also became possible to start to build much more effective Iraqi security forces than hitherto, incorporating many of the veterans of Saddam's army who had been dismissed by Bremer immediately after the American invasion. This strategy was, of course, combined with what is known as `kinetic force' to attack Al Qaeda as well as renegade Shiites like the `special groups' who did not respect the cease-fires; improved knowledge of the `human terrain' allowed the US to target these groups much more effectively. 

The change in strategy was the outcome of a broad debate in the Pentagon, especially among the Army and the Marines. My first intimation of change was when in 2005, I received an email from a beltway bandit (a Washington consultancy firm) appropriately named Hawk Systems Inc. They explained that they had received the contract from the Pentagon to `rethink the principles of war' and asked if I would contribute a chapter, relating to my work on `new wars' and human security. The book that came out of the project was circulated to all US staff colleges This year I was invited by the US Army War College to talk about `new wars' -a subject, that to my surprise, is now widely discussed.

Small Wars Manual 2Much of the new thinking derives from a strategic current within the US military that dates back to the US Marines 1940 Manual entitled `Small Wars'. This current of thinking lost the battle for strategy in Vietnam but remained alive in certain military circles. Much of the contemporary debate can be found in an online magazine entitled Small Wars Journal, which includes fascinating blogs from active servicemen about their experiences. One of the discussions, for example, is about the relevance of `fourth generation warfare', which refers to the impact of globalisation on war and the argument that nations have `lost the monopoly on force'. Another is about nation-building and the idea that `progressive stabilisation' capacity needs to be built in to combat units. Stabilisation is defined (in Defence Directive 3000 -05) as the effort to `create a secure and stable environment and to provide for the basic needs of the population to include food, water, sanitation and shelter.'

An article by Condoleeza Rice in the current issue of Foreign Affairs demonstrates how far this debate has gone. She is one of the more conservative members of the Bush Administration and it was she who famously said that it was not the job of American soldiers to accompany little girls to school. `In these pages in 2000' she writes `I decried the role of the United States, in particular the US military, in nation-building. In 2008, it is absolutely clear that we will be involved in nation-building for years to come.' She still insists that it is not the job of the military but nevertheless argues strongly for a capacity to provide `population security' in Afghanistan, which she defines as `addressing basic needs for safety, services, the rule of law, and increased economic opportunity.'

Of course, the `new thinking' is not uniformly shared. On the contrary, most of the US military retain what one `small wars' blogger describes as a `cultural aversion' to nation-building. In particular, the air force and the navy remain wedded to sophisticated systems capable of striking at long distance. In June, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, dismissed the Air Force secretary and the air force chief of staff, ostensibly for `poor performance in securing of sensitive materials' ( it was discovered that four high tech electrical nose cones for nuclear missiles were sent to Taiwan instead of helicopter batteries -a mistake that is difficult to believe especially as it was not revealed for eighteen months!) But according to the New York Times, in a report that reflects the talk in the Pentagon, Gates was `frustrated about Air Force actions on weapons procurement, budgets, and the execution of the mission in Iraq.' It is the fact that there is a struggle going on and not simply a change of direction that underlines the character of what might be described as the new perestroika and offers the possibility of real change. 

So what are the implications of this debate and where will it lead? A first question is whether the reduction in violence in Iraq can be sustained. This depends not on what the US military do but on the politics of Iraq. Can the Iraqi government gain the support and trust of the population, which, in the end, is what makes stability possible? And, if not, and new violence erupts perhaps also involving the Kurds, will the old guard in the Pentagon be able to turn around and claim, as they did after Vietnam, that these military intellectuals messed up and what was needed was even more firepower? While many on the left would like to see the US defeated in Iraq and troops withdrawn in humiliation, this would have catastrophic consequences in Iraq and is likely to have perverse consequences for politics inside the US. On the hand, if stability is sustained, this could also strengthen the `new thinking'.

A second question is will the new population-centric approach be adopted in Afghanistan? This month, General Petraeus becomes commander of Centcom, in charge of both Iraq and Afghanistan. At present, despite brave words about reconstruction, the main thrust of American and British policy seems to be to attack the Taliban at long distance, especially in Pakistan. As the situation worsens and spreads to Pakistan, can the Iraq model offer an alternative? Is it possible to apply the same kind of nuanced approach to the Taliban that could result in the marginalisation or isolation of extremists? And if not, what are the limits of the `new thinking'? Are we `faced' with what the conservatives call the `long war', which will justify the continued acquisition of all kinds of new methods of killing? 

iraq And a third question, which follows from the first two, is whether the new approach can be used for global peace operations in the future or whether it is a more efficient form of American imperialism? Most `new thinkers' still insist that the US needs both a stability capacity and a war-fighting capacity. Indeed, some proponents of `new thinking' are suggesting that a capacity for both decisive military actions and stabilisation could enable the US to invade countries like Iran and Syria and simultaneously clean up the aftermath. At present, of course, US forces are much too over stretched but what if the US leaves Iraq and Gates succeeds in overall restructuring? 

This is why what happens in the forthcoming US elections is so important. The changes within the Pentagon need political direction. Are population security or stability operations viewed as a means to an end - defeating terrorists that might attack the United States, winning the War on Terror? Or is the goal population security globally, which might require the use of military force against those nihilistic terrorists or genocidaires who are not amenable to negotiation and who cannot be arrested? In other words, is the goal to protect the United States unilaterally or can there be a new understanding that American security depends on global security? In the first case, the `new thinking' continues to be viewed as a secondary or marginal activity for US forces. But if the aim is global security, the primary requirement is for a stabilisation capacity to end wars rather than fight them.

The incoming President needs to articulate a new narrative for US security policy based on the notion that population security (or I would say human security) is a world-wide goal rather than the War on Terror and that the US will strengthen multilateral institutions in order to develop the capacity to prevent conflicts as well as reducing violence and contributing to stability and reconstruction. That way, the new President will able to harness the current perestroika to a new post-Cold War political paradigm.

Pakistan: a country on fire

The bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on 20 September 2008 has hit Pakistan hard. The reputation of the hotel as a meeting-point and social hub for the capital's political and diplomatic class ensured that the attack - which killed fifty-three people and wounded 250 - would receive the maximum worldwide publicity that the assailants doubtless wanted. But the effect of the enormous blast involving around 600 kilograms of explosives also reinforced the insecurity of the working-class Pakistanis who were its principal victims. Even more, the incident has intensified serious concerns over the political future of Pakistan itself.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent political and defence analyst. She is the author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy is published by Pluto Press (15 April 2007)

"Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007)

"Pakistan: the power of the gun" (7 November 2007)

"Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto" (28 December 2007)

In assessing the country's predicament at this critical juncture, three elements that often fail to get the attention they deserve need to be borne in mind: the role of Washington and the way it is perceived by Pakistanis; the distinction between the country's ostensible (or political) government and its real (or shadow) one; and the role of class and its changing dynamics in Pakistan's economy and society.

A disunited nation

When the newly elected president of Pakistani, Asif Ali Zardari, made his maiden speech before the joint session of parliament on 20 September 2008, many Pakistanis thought that the country would at last begin to stabilise. The 53-year-old widower of the Pakistan People's Party uncontested leader Benazir Bhutto - who was assassinated on 27 December 2007 - might carry with him a questionable reputation, but the support he received during the election process gave him at least the plausible appearance of a unifying figure.

The feeling didn't last long. Within a few hours of the speech in which Zardari, successor to Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan's hot-seat, promised the nation he would fight terrorism and uphold the country's sovereignty - the Pakistani capital was struck by one of the most destructive urban terrorist attacks in the country's history.The bomb-blast outside the five-star, five-storey Marriott hotel - which was frequented by diplomats, foreigners and affluent Pakistanis - left also a huge crater as a mark of its scale (see Beena Sarwar, "The Marriott Bombing: ‘Pakistan's 9/11'?", Chowk, 22 September 2008).

A matter of equal concern was that the terrorist attack had taken place a mile away from the presidential palace where the just-installed president was hosting a party for the top leadership of the country, including the military.

The event, profoundly shocking and depressing in itself, also raises questions about Pakistan's ability to fight terrorism -and even its very future. The confidence of many Pakistanis has been shaken. People are nervous about Zardari's ability to fight the menace of terrorism and lead the country through the storm. But he is not the only target of criticism. Washington also is being widely blamed in Pakistan for launching military incursions into Pakistani territory a few days before the presidential vote was finalised (see Paul Rogers, "Pakistan: the new frontline", 18 September 2008).

The bombing of 20 September thus has divided the nation at the very time it most needs unity in response to the terrorist threat. This disunity, if it continues, will make it even harder for the new civilian regime to continue the struggle to maintain and enlarge democracy in Pakistan.

The real and the shadow

The majority of the dead in the Islamabad blast were poor working-class people, among them the Marriott's private-security guards and hotel staff. The  affluent and politically liberal element of Pakistani society that formed a large part of the hotel's clientele is also in a state of shock. Both sets of people are asking: how can the regime protect everyday citizens when it could not stop a dumper-truck packed with RDX and TNT from entering and targeting a high-security area?

Many diplomats - stunned especially by the death in the blast of the Czech ambassador Ivo Zdarek - are now thinking of relocating their families, and foreign missions have generally warned their staff and nationals to avoid hotels and public places. The government's bizarre explanation for the blast, meanwhile, shows it to have little confidence in the people. The interior minister Rehman Malik, who is seen as one of Zardari's favoured colleagues, tried to deflect claims that the target was the American marines staying in the hotel; on 22 September he declared that Pakistan's political leadership had planned to meet for dinner at the hotel, but that the security agencies had received a tip-off about a possible attack on the venue, and had acted quickly to avert this.  

The evidence proves otherwise. The owner of the hotel said that the government had made no such original booking. But the sequence of statements raises fresh questions about the veracity of Rehman Malik's claim, as well as more general concerns about why enough had not been done to protect a place that was home to many foreigners and had already been attacked.

What is worse is that Zardari left the country for his trip to the United States hours after the blast. This made him even less credible in the eyes of the people, who would have appreciated had he postponed his trip as a gesture of support for the victims. At this stage the regime's public standing is an important issue because this alone will enable him to fight the terrorist menace (see "How to beat the terrorists?", Economist ,23 September 2008).

But with every passing day the division between the "political" government and the "invisible" government - which includes the military - seems to increase. While Zardari chose to follow his schedule of visitng the United States (viewed by many Pakistanis as the deeper source of the threat to Pakistan), the army chief Ashfaq Kayani flew to China (a country that enjoys greater confidence among Pakistani citizens). If the two segments of the government begin to pursue a divergent line, the problems of the country are bound to increase. As it is, the invisible government is doing far less than it should if it is to dismantle the terror outfits that it once nurtured to fight the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s and later in Kashmir.
Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan's politics and security:

Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad" (4 June 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "The war for Pakistan"  (24 July 2007)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

Irfan Husain, ""Pervez Musharraf's desperate gamble" (5 November 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "Pakistan: dynasty vs democracy" (9 January 2008)

Irfan Husain. "Pervez Musharraf: the commando who couldn't" (19 August 2008)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan's political turmoil: Musharraf and beyond" (26 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Pakistan: the new frontline" (18 September 2008)

There is a difference of opinion within the state regarding which is the larger at threat: domestic terrorism or the United States? A weak Zardari, or one whose reputation for probity and good judgment continues to be doubted, will find it increasingly difficult to control the military and make it follow his line. A close examination suggests that while the political government is more willing to seek American help, the military is more concerned about Washington's plan to encourage Indian influence in Afghanistan and strengthen New Delhi to Islamabad's disadvantage.

A third option

It is a matter of concern that the Islamabad attack, like those preceding it, has failed to generate any domestic consensus about the nature of the threat. Indeed, the situation is worse: for the Marriott bombing has further highlighted an emerging class as well as exposes an ideological divide within Pakistani society. Pakistan's middle class is far from exclusively composed of affluent, upwardly-mobile, western-educated liberals; many in this category are conservative, and some of them are even involved in funding both madrasas and jihad.

Those involved in small or medium-sized businesses in the urban areas of Pakistan - especially the bazaaris or the trader-merchant class - often view orthodox forms of religion as a source of empowerment and a tool to renegotiate power in a stagnant, feudal social order. These people also form the constituency of the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and of Pervez Musharraf's former ally (who also briefly served as prime minister in 2004), Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. But very few observers see the class issue in this war. The Taliban have killed the maliks (who represented old power), while many neo-Taliban view themselves as challenging traditional power-structures. The Pakistani media is equally confused on the question, partly because many of the popular presenters and journalists themselves - like most of the middle class now - have a conservative leaning.

Things become even more complex in the lack of understanding of the need to reform the education system, including the madrasas. The international aid agencies and governments must shoulder the responsibility for skewed thinking here. The present-day seminaries are different from what such schools were like in the past. Today, they produce ideological zealots who are more likely to be reinforced in their beliefs than re-educated by the sort of madrasa reform projects sponsored by the United States's Usaid and Britain's department for international development (DfID).

The present crisis is far more serious than any Pakistan has ever experienced (see Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan's political turmoil: Musharraf and beyond", 27 August 2008). Islamabad does not have the choice of supporting either the United States or the Taliban. The government ought to try to build a broad social consensus, in part by encouraging its partners - such as Maulana Fazlur-Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Islamic Party of Religious Leaders / JUI) - to persuade low-ranking mullahs to condemn attacks such as that on the Marriott.

This effort to create a domestic coalition that can address such acts of terror should be part of a larger agenda to reach out to the rest of the world - including Russia, Iran, China, India and others - to keep the Americans at bay. Pakistan needs to go multilateral. Unless a third option is found beyond Washington and the Taliban, Pakistan will continue to burn - until it consumes itself.

Nato, the west and Russia: from peril to progress

The phenomenon of "imperial overstretch" was defined and analysed by the Yale historian Paul Kennedy in his acclaimed study The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987). In the closing section of this hefty volume - the part that gained most attention among scholars and the media - Kennedy extended his historical paradigm to the contemporary scene and suggested that the United States might well be on the verge of falling into the same self-defeating pattern of global overextension that had been the downfall of its great-power predecessors.

Twenty-one years later, as Washington and other leading states of the Nato alliance press ahead with their plans for further Nato expansion, Kennedy's prescient warning remains unheeded. The consequences are fraught with peril for Nato, Russia, and the world. Aviel Roshwald is professor of history at Georgetown University. Among his books is The Endurance of Nationalism: Ancient Roots and Modern Dilemmas (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

A provocative process

Many people in the west argue that in the post-cold-war era Nato is no longer an anti-Russian alliance; and that Russian opposition to Nato expansion is a function of paranoid and anachronistic thinking, a throwback to a 19th-century conception of geopolitics that has no relevance in an age of "globalised" this and "transnational" that. This attitude reflects a lack of historical perspective and an inability to recognise the central importance of rank, status, and honour as factors in international relations. The more the west ignores or disrespects the Russians, the more this attitude aggrieves them; and the more aggrieved they are, the less open to geopolitical compromise they will prove. In what is still a dangerous nuclear age, an inability on Washington's and Moscow's part to reach a workable modus vivendi in Europe may prove calamitous to all parties.

Nato arose as a response to the Soviet threat, and it was the confrontation with the Soviet Union and the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact that shaped Nato's evolution and defined its identity as a political and military alliance. In the wake of its adversary's collapse, it has expanded ever further eastwards - incorporating along the way former Soviet satellites in east-central Europe, as well as the three Baltic states that had been forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in the early stages of the second world war.

As this process unfolded, there was little serious talk of ever including a post-communist Russia in Nato. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that Russian leaders came to the conclusion that Nato remained - true to its historic roots - primarily directed against them. From a Russian perspective, Mikhail Gorbachev's voluntary abandonment of the Soviet sphere of influence was being rewarded by a humiliating expansion of the American sphere of influence to the frontiers of the former USSR, and beyond; and that expansion was taking place in the framework of the very alliance that had been formed to contain the Soviet Union in the first place.

Such concerns were reinforced when Nato's well-justified intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was followed by the less well-judged decision by major western countries (including leading Nato members) to recognise Kosovo independence in February 2008 - on the basis of a loose interpretation of a United Nations Security Council resolution and in the face of strident Russian opposition. It is true (as many commentators have argued) that the situation in Kosovo is not exactly parallel to that in South Ossetia, the trigger of the crisis involving Georgia, Russia and the west in August 2008. But such political disputes and controversies cannot be so neatly confined and separated from each other. The Russians could here invoke arguments of both geopolitics and principle to argue that what the west was doing was to deny the Russians a meaningful say in the Balkans, while continuing to seek political, economic, and military influence in the Transcaucasus and Ukraine.

This policy was bound to provoke eventual resistance from Russia, regardless of who was in charge of its government. The reality, comfortable or not, is that the west cannot expect to affirm its right to an ever-expanding sphere of influence while denying the Russians' right to a sphere of influence of their own - all the while insisting that the very concept of spheres of influence is undemocratic and out of date. The west's actions belie its words, and it is operating according to a painfully obvious double-standard. No other great power - or great-power aspirant - can reasonably be expected to remain passive in the face of such conduct.

Moreover, the agreement to use Poland and the Czech Republic as bases for an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system feeds into Moscow's worst geo-strategic fears. The primary purpose of the venture may be to counter a potential Iranian threat, but the establishment of a tracking system in east-central Europe obviously creates opportunities for looking deep into Russian space as well. And it is only to be expected that the Russians will conjecture that the limited ABM system to be installed in Poland may represent the thin end of the wedge. Indeed, the decision to rush the negotiations with Poland to a rapid conclusion in the midst of the Georgian crisis served to reinforce Russian suspicions that the missile-defense system is directed against them.

Also in openDemocracy on the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 and its implications:

Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008)

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, "Russian war and Georgian democracy" (22 August 2008)

Fred Halliday, "The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Russia after war: the political landscape" (26 August 2008)

Mary Kaldor, "Sovereignty, status and the humanitarian perspective" (26 August 2008)

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's forgotten legacy" (3 September 2008)

Rein Müllerson, "The world after the Russia-Georgia war" (5 September 2008)

Paul Gillespie, ""The European Union and Russia after Georgia" (10 September 2008)

Krzysztof Bobinski, "Europe's post-war promise" (15 September 2008)

Martin Shaw, "After the Georgia war: the challenge to citizen action" (16 September 2008)

Plus: openDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war.
A dangerous overstretch

The implication of the above is not at all to suggest that the Russian government is free of blame in the crisis provoked by the war over South Ossetia. In particular, Russia's de facto dictator Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a cold-bloodedly Machiavellian operator who seems to take a certain sadistic pleasure in the carefully calibrated, yet unfailingly ruthless, deployment of the instruments of power. There can be little doubt that his ambition is to reconstitute as much as possible of the former Soviet Union into a Russian-dominated union or confederation of some sort.

The problem is threefold. First, this ambition is (given geographical and energy-resource realities) in current circumstances more achievable than the west's goal of drawing Russia's neighbours into its alliance system.

Second, Nato's relentless push eastwards has helped to consolidate Putin's domestic image as the strong-willed leader whose neo-KGB regime is alone capable of countering American hubris and restoring a humiliated Russia to its rightful place in the world.

Third, and worst of all, the west's policies have established a perceived linkage between democratisation and the expansion of American hegemony. What the west should have been striving for is a decoupling of the two, by way of demonstrating that democracy truly reflects universal values. Instead, it has become associated with the expansion of a military alliance and the redirection of oil and natural-gas flows in the Transcaucasus, away from Russian-controlled pipelines.

Nato has over several years appeared oblivious to Moscow's steady escalation of warning-signals. Putin's speech at the Munich security conference in February 2007 which rejected American unilateralism; the Russian air-force's resumption of the cold-war practice of buzzing American offshore military bases; the strong Russian hints at the time of Kosovo's declaration of independence that western support for the move would result in a quid pro quo in South Ossetia and Abkhazia - all these developments failed to register fully among the United States's (and other western governments') tone-deaf political decision-makers and advisors. Washington in particular, by closing off the possibility of meaningful compromises with Russia over such issues as the missile-defense system and Kosovo, has conveyed the impression that the only language it understands is that of force.

Now, after Russia has in fact used force, Nato and the European Union cannot remain indifferent. Thus, it is important not to reward Moscow for its own resort to violent unilateralism (although it should also be recalled just how stupid and reckless was Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in rising to Russia's bait by sending Georgian forces into South Ossetia, giving the Russians a pretext for their subsequent actions). The west should do what it can to shore up democratic governments and democratic processes in Georgia and Ukraine in the face of Russian efforts to subvert them.

But to continue insisting on the eventual incorporation of these countries into Nato is folly. True, sovereign states like Georgia and Ukraine have every right to request admission to Nato. But Nato has no obligation to let them in. To admit Georgia would mean committing the alliance to the defence of a country whose borders are in dispute with Russia. Would it really be willing to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and risk escalation to a nuclear confrontation with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia? And if not, where would that leave Nato's credibility?

To let Ukraine join Nato would almost inevitably trigger a Moscow-orchestrated secession from Ukraine of the ethnically-Russian Crimean peninsula, home to the Russian navy's Black Sea base. Does it serve anyone's interest to see another European state fall into fragments? Would the west be willing to place Nato's standing on the line over any ensuing border-conflict between a rump Ukraine and a Russian-controlled Crimea? Once again, if not, this would be to undermine the deterrent power of the alliance as a whole. To push Nato further east would be to overextend it. It would leave the alliance facing dilemmas far more painful and perilous even than those presented by the Georgian crisis.

A creative challenge

Nato, and western powers in general, need to change course. The imminent presidential election in the United States offers an opportunity. What the next American president needs to do is to undertake a strategic review of relations with Russia, followed by intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations that must include Nato allies. The objective should be an overall accommodation with Russia based on realistic compromises that will be tough for both sides to accept, but necessary in order to avoid further dangerous confrontation.

In any such talks, the missile-defense and Nato-expansion plans can actually serve as useful bargaining-chips. In exchange for establishing a definitive end to Nato enlargement and for cancelling or modifying the missile-defense system, the western allies should insist on much more energetic and consistent Russian cooperation in terminating Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons programme. They should also demand that Russia respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic institutions of its neighbours, with stronger mechanisms put into place for Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) oversight of electoral processes and the protection of human rights in its member-states.

For its part, Russia can reasonably be expected to insist that former Soviet republics adhere to foreign policies that respect Moscow's fundamental security interests.

During the later years of the cold war, as the extreme perils of brinksmanship came to be fully appreciated by both sides, nuanced and subtle approaches to conflict resolution were developed that helped contain the risks of escalation. The flexible and imaginative diplomacy developed during the final decades of the cold-war era is sorely needed today.

With a fresh approach of this kind, there is every reason to believe that the west and Russia can yet create a framework for the negotiation of their differences and a basis for long-term stability across the European continent. 

 

After the Georgia war: the challenge to citizen action

The war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia on 8-12 August 2008 underlines the fundamental deterioration in the global political situation in the 2000s and the increasingly sharp choices it creates. The argument of this article is that these choices concern citizens as well as political leaders. For if there is one overriding lesson of the war and the ongoing crisis it has provoked, it is the deep flaws - indeed, even more, the recklessness - of political leadership in virtually all the states involved.
Martin Shaw is professor of international relations and politics at the University of Sussex. A historical sociologist of war and global politics, his books include War and Genocide (Polity, 2003), The New Western Way of War (Polity, 2005), and What is Genocide? (Polity, 2007). He is editor of the global site

Also by Martin Shaw in openDemocracy:

"The myth of progressive war" (11 October 2006)

"Genocide: rethinking the concept" (1 February 2007)

"The International Court of Justice: Serbia, Bosnia, and genocide" (28 February 2007)

"The genocide file: reply to Anthony Dworkin" (6 March 2007)

"My Lai to Haditha: war, massacre and justice" (16 March 2008)

Moreover, Georgia is not an isolated collapse - it is a a glaring signal of the general irresponsibility of governments in this era. This in turn highlights the urgent need for a new, broad-based citizens' movement that insists on the peaceful, equitable and democratic solutions which today's rulers are all too ready to cast aside.

The roll-call of recklessness


There is widespread agreement among independent commentators that whatever provocations Georgia experienced from the Russian Federation, Mikheil Saakashvili made a monumental error in attacking South Ossetia. The Georgian president's folly has cost Georgia any chance of recovering the country's two " lost territories" - South Ossetia (the ostensible aim of his attack on that region) and Abkhazia; unleashed the destruction of much Georgian military and economic infrastructure; and, most seriously, led to the annihilation of many Georgian lives, homes and villages in the Russian-occupied zones.

Any reasonable political assessment would regard the name of Mikheil Saakashvili as a by-word for recklessness. Yet for many western (especially US and British) political leaders he remains a hero, a democrat and a desirable ally, the consequences of whose actions - while not to be reversed by military means - should be compensated with reconstruction aid and renewed support for Nato membership.

It is important to recall that Saakashvili's record has proved him to be profoundly undemocratic as well as reckless. The inheritor and beneficiary of the "rose revolution" of 2003-04 had, long before the events of August 2008, become notorious for his burgeoning authoritarian tendencies towards his domestic political opponents.

In this context, the bombardment of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on the night of 7-8 August was fundamentally anti-democratic as well as grossly ill-considered. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with their histories of genocidal violence against Georgians in the wars of the early 1990s, may bear more resemblance to Bosnia's Republika Srpska than to Kosovo (though in the end such Balkan analogies are limited in scope); but this hardly justifies the Georgian government in attempting to resolve the secessions by invasion and bombardment. The status of the regions remains a political question, with deep implications for the security of all ethnic groups; the only democratic ways to resolve them were, and are, through politics, negotiation and law.

Why, in their pilgrimages to Tbilisi, have western politicians been universally silent on these issues? One reason, of course, is the role of the United States in Georgia's opening of this war. Mikheil Saakashvili is a heavily dependent client of Washington; it seems certain that if the US administration had known of his plans and wanted to stop him, it could have. So did it not know (a very surprising failure of intelligence), or did it not want to (a shockingly irresponsible and reckless position)? Or was there a moment equivalent to the mixed message given to Saddam Hussein by April Glaspie, Washington's ambassador to Iraq in 1990, that allowed the Iraqi leader to think he had a green light from the US to invade Kuwait?

Whatever the answer to these questions, the record of the US administration in this crisis is at best grossly incompetent and at worst as irresponsible as that of the Georgian government itself. The subsequent bluster of George W Bush and Dick Cheney can be seen at one level as nothing more than an attempt to cover up this record; at another, however, it is designed to compensate for the disastrous outcome of the crisis. In both stages, they are oblivious of the lesson that Saakashvili's wilfulness demands restraint and caution in their commitment to Georgia rather than showering renewed praise and promises on this unreliable leader.

So the roll-call of recklessness grows. The British political class has made its own contribution in the efforts of Conservative opposition leader David Cameron, so quick to fly to Tbilisi to be pictured shoulder-to-shoulder with the Georgian president; foreign secretary David Miliband, full of pro-Saakashvili and anti-Russian rhetoric; and prime minister Gordon Brown himself, also singing the American tune without a moment of reflection on the failures of Georgian and US policy that opened the way to Russia's aggression.

The wider European record is only a little better. France and Germany were, at the Nato summit in Bucharest in April 2008, instrumental in blocking early Georgian membership of the alliance (which some in Washington, in an attempt to deflect blame, argue gave the green light for the Russian counter-invasion); and they were initially cautious in their response to the crisis.

Nicholas Sarkozy was right to attempt to mediate and secure a ceasefire - although in the context of an urgent situation where Russia had gained an overwhelming advantage, his concession of "additional security measures" provided Moscow with a pretext to justify an extended presence inside Georgia, which it has required a second visit to rectify. But as the full scope of Russian ambitions became apparent, most European leaders - including the French president and Germany's Angela Merkel - fell in with the American line. Something similar happened with Barack Obama, who after a measured early response adapted to what quickly became the general western consensus on Russia's crimes.

Also in openDemocracy on the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 and its implications:

Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future" (12 August 2008)

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

Evgeny Morozov, "Citizen war-reporter? The Caucasus test" (18 August 2008)

George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Russia and Iran: crisis of the west, rise of the rest" (21 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, "Russian war and Georgian democracy" (22 August 2008)

Fred Halliday, "The miscalculation of small nations" (24 August 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Russia after war: the political landscape" (26 August 2008)

Mary Kaldor, "Sovereignty, status and the humanitarian perspective" (26 August 2008)

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's forgotten legacy" (3 September 2008)

Rein Müllerson, "The world after the Russia-Georgia war" (5 September 2008)

Paul Gillespie, ""The European Union and Russia after Georgia" (10 September 2008)

Plus: openDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war.
Russia's crimes

What, then, is the core of the international violations of which Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev stand accused? Western leaders parrot the line that Russia has violated, and is violating, Georgian sovereignty. But to rely on this assertion of sovereignty simply ignores the causes of the present crisis. During its existence as an independent state since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia has never actually possessed sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the military efforts of earlier Georgian leaders to assert sovereignty only resulted in murderous civil wars and genocidal expulsions, especially of Georgians from Abkhazia.

The autonomy of the two regions since 1992-93, and their slow-motion de facto incorporation into the Russian Federation, has hardly been satisfactory, especially for the many refugees who remain in dismal circumstances, unable to return to their original homes. Yet Georgian villagers did manage to live more or less peacefully in South Ossetia before the Georgian army assault on Tskhinvali of 7-8 August. It may be easier for western politicians to think of Russia and Georgia as two sealed sovereign territories but this has never been the situation on the ground. Once Georgia attacked South Ossetia, it would have been very surprising if Russia had not responded militarily to reassert its control and support the Ossetians. This initial aim of the Russian operation was not itself a violation of Georgian sovereignty in any meaningful sense.

Where the question of sovereignty became more serious was in the Russian thrust into Georgia beyond South Ossetia. Here the Russian army occupied (and proceeded to loot and damage) areas that it had always accepted - and continues, according to the ceasefire agreement, to accept - as Georgian sovereign territory.

Yet here the issue is not only (nor, I would argue, primarily) one of sovereignty. The overriding issue is the violence which Russian and South Ossetian forces have committed against Georgian civilians - both inside Ossetia and in Georgia proper. The Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali terrorised civilians, but its aim seems to have been to achieve control over the city rather than to drive out South Ossetians. Thus the Russian propaganda claims of "genocide" involving as many as 2,000 civilian victims, seem to have been disingenuous (and by most accounts grossly exaggerated) attempts to pre-empt criticisms of their own policies; for reporters and human-rights organisations have found evidence of scores rather than hundreds of Ossetian casualties from Georgian bombing.

In the aftermath of Russia's victory, by contrast, militia from South Ossetia and perhaps beyond appear to have been given free rein by Russian commanders (both inside South Ossetia and in the neighbouring, newly Russian-occupied areas of Georgia) to destroy Georgian villages and expel ("ethnically cleanse") their populations. The evidence of these atrocities is continuing to emerge. This genocidal violence against Georgian civilians is the strongest charge against Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev.

The regional and global context


The crisis draws attention to the increasingly dangerous wider conflict over the future of the post-Soviet region. Moscow has shown it is prepared to launch invasions and licence genocidal violence in order to keep its backyard under control, and the west has failed to condemn its ally who provoked this violence with his own ill-conceived military adventure. The pressures that the crisis has provoked in Ukraine, a bigger country with a much larger political fracture between pro-western and pro-Russian populations, underline still further the irresponsibility of both sides. The danger is not a new cold war of the earlier type, but renewed local conflicts in the post-Soviet states, bringing even wider armed violence against civilians.

This dire new situation highlights the underlying incoherence of western policy towards Russia and the post-Soviet region since the end of the cold war. The United States policy of drawing the newly independent post-Soviet states into its own and Nato's embrace, while containing - and in order to contain - Russia, has blown up in its face. The earlier failure to pursue a more ambitious and consistent post-cold-war policy - providing aid to the impoverished Russian people, supporting Russian democrats and integrating Russia with western-led international institutions - has helped push Russia down the road of national and regional reassertion. The results can be seen in the wrecked towns and villages of Georgia.

Yet the responsibility of US and western leaders is also wider. In the 1990s, western leaders squandered the opportunities genuinely to move towards a "new world order". In the 2000s, George W Bush has led the world backwards towards an era of unabashed great-power politics: not surprisingly, a resurgent Russia and the emergent Chinese superpower are ready to follow his lead. The ready resort to war after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, showed a disregard for international law and world opinion, and a reckless attitude towards the lives of many innocent civilians - both of which Vladimir Putin and Dmirty Medvedev are now replicating in Georgia.

Moreover, the lassitude allowed to Israel, especially in its bombardment of Lebanon in July-August 2006, has hardly sent a message of moderation to other states. If the west wanted to create a climate in which Russia, China and other regional and local powers would feel restrained from using armed force, they could hardly have set about it in a worse way than the policies pursued in the Bush era.

The consequences of this situation are felt far beyond zones of armed conflict. Wars and threats of war, whether in the Caucasus or the middle east, have a direct impact on global economic instability - not least, by feeding the upward tendency in oil prices. The ensuing atmosphere of international suspicion and conflict inhibits global cooperation to counter the climatic and economic crises, and domestically favours nationalist over socially reformist politics. A world in which the leaders of major states pursue war, or condone the wars of their local clients, is a world in which all the democratic and social achievements of the last half century are at risk.

A new citizens' movement?


What then must be done? Even if this is not a new cold war, some lessons from the old one seem to demand renewed attention. The 1980s began with a peace movement on the streets of western European cities and ended with "velvet revolutions" in the capitals of east-western Europe. These citizens' movements brought together the goals of peace and democracy and helped the leaders of the superpowers to end the cold war. Today there is a need for a new movement that opposes the leaders of the United States, Russia and any other states inclined towards militarist solutions; a movement that will make connections between violations by small powers and by big ones, whether in eastern Europe or in the middle east.

How this should happen is not the subject of this article; but four key principles can be clearly stated.

First, the new citizens' movement needs to demand that political disputes, within or between states, should be solved by political rather than military means.

Second, political disputes concerning territory should recognise the rights of all population groups to remain in areas where they have traditionally lived, and of expelled groups to return.

Third, the people of Europe should speak out for international peace and democratic change against both Moscow and Washington, as they did in the 1980s

Fourth, in the United States, where the end of the Bush-Cheney presidency should have been a moment of hope, opinion needs to be mobilised to ensure that internationally a new administration does not and cannot simply take up where they leave off.

India’s urban war: through the smoke

The five bomb-blasts on 13 September 2008 in New Delhi represent the latest in a series of such attacks in the country's main cities. The police and political experts described the bombs, which killed twenty-five people and injured at least ninety within a span of forty-five minutes, as "low-intensity" devices aimed less at inflicting maximum casualties and more at creating maximum terror at the heart of India's capital city.

Georgia's forgotten legacy

The mark of a leader is how he or she responds to tough rather than favourable circumstances. By this standard, Mikheil Saakshvili has so far managed well his military defeat in South Ossetia and the subsequent Russian onslaught. Even the continuing presence of Russian troops on the soil of "Georgia proper" - that is, excluding the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, almost all of which were outside Georgian control before the war of August 2008 - has not put into question his legitimacy as the president of Georgia.

Vicken Cheterian is a journalist and political analyst who works for the non-profit governance organisation CIMERA, based in Geneva. He is the author of War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia's Troubled Frontier (C Hurst, 2008)

Also by Vicken Cheterian in openDemocracy:

"The pigeon sacrificed: Hrant Dink, and a broken dialogue" (23 January 2007)

"Serbia after Kosovo" (18 April 2007)

"Georgia's arms race" (4 July 2007)

"Lebanon: short memory, system failure" (25 September 2007)

"Armenia's election: the waiting-game" (19 February 2008)
True, there was widespread criticism of his leadership in Georgia before the war and there is more immediate discontent about his decision to engage in an armed confrontation with Russia over control of South Ossetia. The latest national crisis may inevitably have muted political opposition, though there are increasing signs that the post-war political arena will see fresh challenges to Saakashvili's almost five-year reign (see Robert Parsons, "Georgia after war: the political landscape", 26 August 2008).

In addition, Russia's rhetorical barrage as well its military pressure has been constant - including Dmitry Medvedev's description on 2 September of his counterpart in Tbilisi as a "political corpse". Yet amid all this, Saakashvili has - again, so far - not wilted; he even seems on occasion to thrive on the challenge (and is himself no mean performer in the art of political abuse).

The response of the Georgian people has in the main been to rally to the flag, providing their president with further much-needed breathing-space. A massive demonstration in Tbilisi and other cities and towns across Georgia on 1 September, for example, brought up to one million people onto the roads and squares of the Georgian capital to express their "unity" and oppose "Russian aggression". Indeed, for any political force to articulate a pro-Russian position would be political suicide in Georgia today. Russia's actions in and after the war have if anything consolidated Mikheil Saakashvili's position, to the extent that - most unlike the period of protest before the election of January 2008 - there are at the moment no significant forces calling for the president's resignation.

The dynamic

After the impact of the Russian version of "shock and awe" fades away, however, a full political accounting of what happened in the war will follow. Mikheil Saakashvili is bound to face tough questions. As early as 18 August, the former speaker of the Georgian parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze, said that while unity was paramount in times of war there would need to be once Russia withdrew a thorough analysis "of what happened, and why it happened". These words are even more potent as they come from one of the three leaders of the "rose revolution" of November 2003-January 2004 which propelled Saakashvili to the presidency (the other is Zurab Zhvania, a confidante of Saakashvili who became Georgia's prime minister, and whose death in 2005 remains unexplained).

These comments of Nino Burdzhanadze, and the wider political repositioning that (as Robert Parsons suggests) they may be part of, augur the coming contest for Georgia's future. But the country needs more than another domestic crisis out of which another leader emerges: it needs needs a serious internal debate about "what happened" not just in August 2008 but over the whole period since the rose revolution. What is the legacy of this event for Georgia today, and does it offer resources for the betterment of Georgia - with or without Mikheil Saakashvili?

Among openDemocracy's recent articles on Georgian politics, including the war with Russia in August 2008:

Jonathan Wheatley, "Georgia's democratic stalemate" (14 April 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008)

Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Georgia's dangerous gulf" (30 May 2008)

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" (8 July 2008)

Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008)

Ghia Nodia, The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future" (12 August 2008)

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

Evgeny Morozov, "Citizen war-reporter? The Caucasus test" (18 August 2008)
The rose revolution that brought Saakashvili to power was a reaction to the failure of his predecessor Eduard Shevardnadze to modernise Georgia, which was understood by the Georgians effectively to meand bringing the country closer to the west and away from its Soviet past. The most obvious and visible part of this failure was corruption. It was this issue that dominated Georgian politics in the months before the great protest-wave of November 2003. By contrast, little attention at the time was given to the de facto independent entities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that had since the wars of 1990-92 and 1992-93 been outside the Georgian political framework. The tension over Adzharia, a rich Black Sea province ruled in feudal style by Aslan Abashidze - who had much influence over internal Georgian politics - was far higher on Tbilisi's agenda; but this was as much to do with corruption as with "separatism".

This is an indirect but real signal of the real priorities of the young revolutionaries who came to power via the rose revolution. They looked at the problem of the three (at the time) ‘breakaway" territories and saw the same colour as that of "Georgia proper" under Eduard Shevardnadze displayed: the colour of corruption, resulting from rule by remnants of the old Soviet nomenklatura.

The internal dynamic of the revolution thus led to less of a focus on "reclamation" of the three statelets and more on attending to Georgians' immediate material and social needs: raising living standards, fighting corruption, reforming the economy, beginning modernisation, orientating the country to the west. All this, a large and ambitious programme even for already semi-modern states, was an even bigger challenge for an impoverished and war-torn country like Georgia. But the strategy was clear, and it posed the question of territorial reunification in a singular way - as part of a political project, not a military one.

Mikheil Saakashvili at the time articulated this strategy by pledging that the new Georgia would make the country so attractive to the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians that there would be no need to force them to return to Georgian rule. This aspiration drew on the most important legacy of the rose revolution: its non-violence. Many feared that the political crisis of late 2003 which followed contested parliamentary elections would plunge the country again into civil war. Instead, the revolution took an honourable course as an inspiring example of peaceable protest, civic unity and self-discipline leading to non-violent regime-change.

The cycle

Many articles in openDemocracy have tracked the course of Georgian politics since that tumultuous period (see, for example, Neal Ascherson, "Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road" [15 July 2005], and Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" [8 July 2008]). Yet it remains unclear when the internal dynamic of the political strategy underpinning the rose revolution changed. Perhaps, again, Adzharia offers a clue. This was Saakashvili's first stage for territorial reunification, where - in May 2004, before the substantive effects of his reforms had been widely felt - his supporters organised a mini-revolution which ousted Abashidze (who fled to Moscow). The president's good news continued when the Russian leadership agreed to disband its old Soviet military bases at Batumi (on the Black Sea, in Adzharia) and Akhalkalaki (in the southern region of Javakheti).

These successes encouraged Saakashvili to a repeat performance. He prepared a second mini-revolution in South Ossetia in summer 2004, this time supported by interior-ministry troops. This time, it was a disaster: around twenty-four Georgian fighters (and even more Ossetian militamen and civilians of various ethnic origins) were killed, and the fighting brought Russian tanks through the Caucasus mountains. Saakashvili wisely declared a ceasefire before the fighting spread.

This was a moment when the Georgian leader could in principle have turned back, and reclaimed the non-violent and progressive legacy of the rose revolution. Instead, he reinforced the new military approach in a striking way (see "Georgia's arms race", 4 July 2007). The Georgian defence budget rose from the equivalent of $50 million under Shevardnadze to $567m in 2007, and almost $1 billion for 2008. This huge increase in expenditure has been an integral part of Georgia's strengthened military (and political) alliance with the United States, reflected in the deployment by Tbilisi of up to 2,000 soldiers to Iraq.

Saakashvili was emboldened by his alliance with the "last remaining superpower", a bond symbolised by the frenzied welcome of George W Bush to Tbilisi in May 2005. The extent of Saakashvili's departure from the rose revolution's best promise showed too in his readiness to challenge Russia. Again, the president was drawing the wrong strategic conclusions, and seemed unaware that in the international arena Washington's power and reach was diminishing not growing.

The accumulation of shiny hardware, training programmes and grandiose titles that accompanied Tbilisi's military drive proved to be no substitute for noticing which way the wind was blowing. Nato's summit in Bucharest on 2-4 April 2008 - when, over Washington's insistence, Nato member-states denied Tbilisi (and Kyiv) entry into the roadmap to membership - was a turning-point. Georgia might have learned from the experience and advice of its Israeli allies too. The Israeli army had been unable to crush Hizbollah in the war of July-August 2006, and Hizbollah confirmed its domestic power by crushing the United States's Lebanese allies in Beirut in May 2008. More broadly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had stretched US capacities to their limits. What advice was Georgia receiving, or not receiving; who was it listening to, or ignoring; and where were its internal, independent sources of strategic thinking?

Gérard Chaliand, the French expert on military history, once told me that there is big difference between the military and warriors. The military are people who have jobs in armies, wear uniforms, classify documents, and follow orders. Warriors love making war. After spending $3 billion, Georgia had a modern military, but no warriors. In response to Mikheil Saakashvili's misjudgment of ordering an attack on Tskhinvali, Russia unleashed on the Georgian army its war-hardened kontraktniki from the Chechnya war-zone, as well as former Chechen resistance fighters (the special-purpose battalion Vostok) who have of late joined the Kremlin's cause in Chechnya. It was no contest.

The loss

The result of the war is a catastrophe for Georgia. Its young military is shattered, with over 200 soldiers dead from an army of 25,000 (even though Givi Targamadze of Georgia's ruling party reported a lower figure to parliament on 3 September) ; the two newly built, Nato-standard bases in Senaki and Gori have been occupied by Russian troops, then looted and burned; the army has been practically incapacitated. Moreover, the war has led to ethnic cleansing of villages in South Ossetia inhabited by Georgians, and the flight of thousands of Georgians to Tbilisi and other cities. For the foreseeable future, Tbilisi will have even less to say about or offer South Ossetia or Abkhazia than before the events of August 2008; the war has brought them closer to Russian control (notwithstanding the formal recognition by Moscow of their independence) than ever.

The war was also a huge blow to efforts to modernise Georgia's infrastructure and economy. In the month of the conflict, Georgia's central bank sold almost 13% of its foreign-currency reserves to preserve the value of the lari, the national currency. The aspiration of the rose revolution, Georgia's bid for modernisation, is at risk here too.

The return


What comes next for Georgia? The autopilot-path is to continue to challenge Moscow, an approach symbolised by Saakashvili's promise to "bury Russian imperialism". A number of American politicians are lobbying to rebuild the Georgian armed forces; two senators, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, write that "the Georgian military should be given the antiaircraft and antiarmor systems necessary to deter any renewed Russian aggression" (see "Russian Aggression is a Challenge to World Order", Wall Street Journal, 26 August 2008) The logic here - to push Georgia into a conflict it cannot win (against Russia, or indeed against the Caucasian mountaineers) - is easy to follow and hard to fathom. It promises a repeat of the 1990-93 and 2008 experiences - only much worse.

Today, Georgia cannot afford both to follow the path of modernisation and democratisation and pursue a military build-up designed to allow the forced reintegration of the "lost" territories What it can do is to decide to embrace a strategy of non-violence towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia by accepting the current status quo; it could even go further, by recognising their independence in exchange for the return of ethnic Georgians to their homes (see Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and South Ossetia", 15 August 2008).

An approach of this kind - and as important, the evidence of creative and imaginative thinking that discussing it in today's Georgia would represent - could open a new page of relations with the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians. It would also enable Georgia to retrieve the legacy of the rose revolution, and once again offer the world an example of inspiration rather than militarism, rancour and enmity. Whether Mikheil Saakashvili or indeed his possible next rivals for the country's leadership are able to accomplish this task, at some point Georgia will be faced with the choice of following such a path.

 

 

India’s Christians: politics of violence in Orissa

A catastrophic flood across the northeast Indian state of Bihar has displaced tens of thousands of people and caused untold damage to the meagre property and livelihoods of some of India's poorest citizens. The challenges of delivering aid and protecting the health of those affected by this emergency - which is spreading to the state of Assam and across the border to Bangladesh - are immense. But alongside this natural and humanitarian disaster, another less visible crisis has been unfolding: attacks on India's Christians in parts of the impoverished eastern state of Orissa.

Jacob Ignatius is an Indian who works in Britain as a software engineer.

On 29 August 2008, 45,000 Christian schools were closed across India to protest against the anti-Christian violence that had affected (mainly) the Kandhamal district of Orissa in the previous week. This was unprecedented in the history of independent India, for never before have Christians felt so compelled to stand publicly and unitedly against the forces of communalism in India. Moreover, the impact of this response is heightened by the fact that Christian schools - which provide education to both Christian and non-Christian children - form a significant part of India's education system.

The unrest in the state of Orissa started on 23 August 2008 after the murder of a 90-year-old rightwing Hindu nationalist leader called Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati; four of his associates were also killed in the attack. Although the police suspected Maoist guerrillas for the murder, members of the radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) blamed Christians and went on the rampage - killing several people, and destroying a Christian missionary-school, house-churches and other buildings. The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) estimates that fifty people (most of them Christians) have been killed. Thousands of Christians have fled their homes to seek shelter in the forests or government camps. The murder of the Hindu leader is clearly reprehensible, but this is a matter for the judicial authorities and - even were the culprit found to be a Christian - would not justify what effectively became an assault against an entire local Christian community.

Among openDemocracy's articles on Indian politics and democracy:

Rajeev Bhargava, "Words save lives: India, the BJP and the constitution" (2 October 2002)

Rajeev Bhargava, "The political psychology of Hindu nationalism" (5 November 2003)

Antara Dev Sen, "India's benign earthquake" (20 May 2004)

Rajeev Bhargava, "India's model: faith, secularism and democracy" (3 November 2004)

Meenakshi Ganguly, "India's Dalits: between atrocity and protest" (9 January 2007)

Ajai Sahni, "India and its Maoists: failure and success" (20 March 2007)

Sumantra Bose, "Uttar Pradesh: India's democratic landslip" (29 May 2007)

John Elkington, "India's third liberation" (21 August 2007)

Kanchan Lakshman, "India in Afghanistan: a presence under pressure" (11 July 2008)

Ajai Sahni, "India after Ahmedabad's bombs" (29 July 2008)

Paul Rogers, "China and India: heartlands of global protest" (7 August 2008)

Antara Dev Sen, " India at 61: here's looking at you, kid!" (19 August 2008)

An area of tension

The latest trauma is part of a history of Hindu-Christian clashes in Orissa over the last decade. In January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive while sleeping in their jeep. Around Christmas 2007 there were Hindu-Christian clashes that have some parallels with the latest events. The main conflict then was between two communities: Kandh tribals (who are mainly, though not exclusively, Hindus) and Dalit Panas (many of whom have converted to Christianity over the years). Christian missionaries have been active in the area for many years; with the entrance of radical Hindu groups, vehemently opposed to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity and cow slaughter, the potential for communal tension has deepened.

Muslims have traditionally borne the brunt of attacks by Hindu extremist groups but since the late 1990s there has been a marked increase in the number of attacks on Christians. Between 1950 and 1998, only fifty anti-Christian attacks were recorded. In 2000, the figure shot up to 100, and then rose further to at least 200 incidents annually in 2001-05; perhaps it was no coincidence that this came after after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the federal level (until their defeat by the Congress-led coalition in May 2004). In 2007, the number of attacks on Christians exceeded 1,000 for the first time.

Hindu radicals often make the allegation - in part-excuse for the actions of extremists - that Christians are forcibly or fraudulently converting Hindus to Christianity. There probably are some erring missionaries who are attracting converts by false inducements, but to imply that all do so is inaccurate and unfair (see Subhasis Mohanty, "Fire in Kalinga", The Pioneer, 2 September 2008). Many missionaries do great charitable work, often providing a helping hand in areas deeply affected by poverty.

In several Indian states governed by the BJP, anti-conversion laws are now in place. These laws are largely intended to prevent the flow of people from Hinduism to other faiths. Many low-caste Hindus have converted to Christianity willingly to escape the rigid and repressive caste system; the Dalit Panas of Orissa are an example. In this context the anti-conversion laws - which sanction interference in a person's right freely to choose a faith - have become a weapon used by radical Hindus to beat Christians. In areas like Orissa, the tensions that result are intermingled with disputes over land, legal status and local power (see Ravik Bhattacharya, "Down the Dark Road", Indian Express, 31 August 2008).

Christians officially constitute only 2.3% of the Indian population. Christianity is believed to have been brought to India by St Thomas, Christ's own apostle, to the shores of Kerala in 52 CE (common era). Much later, colonial powers such as the British, Portuguese, Dutch and French made strenuous efforts to convert the population. These were usually without success; Christianity has never grown to be a dominant religion in India and it is unlikely it ever will. Yet Hindu extremist groups like the VHP are fixated on the issue of conversions to Christianity - in part from dogmatic opposition to people leaving their religious fold, in part from insecurity about members of the lower castes trying to break free from the caste system. Hence, the majority of attacks on Christians are directed against the formerly low-caste converts such as the Dalit Panas of Orissa (see Biswamoy Pati, "In a crucified state", Hindustan Times, 2 September 2008).

A strategy of fear

India is a deeply religious place where the boundaries of religion and politics are somewhat porous. The country is not today blessed with philanthropic politicians of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who always strove for communal harmony. There is a disturbing tendency among some of their successors to exaggerate the religious divide between communities in order to polarise voters along religious lines and win the votes of the majority community. This can both encourage and justify attacks on members of minority faiths, many of which are orchestrated in advance and carried out with the connivance of the authorities. In their aftermath, very few people are prosecuted (see Rajeev Bhargava, "The political psychology of Hindu nationalism", 5 November 2003).

The next Indian general election is looming - it must be held by May 2009, and could even be sooner. The BJP seems to have returned to its policy of hard-line Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) to capture votes. The ruling Congress Party professes commitment to India's famed secularism, but it often fails to match action with rhetoric (see Rajeev Bhargava, "Words save lives: India, the BJP and the constitution", 2 October 2002). This is disappointing because to break the cycle of communal violence more needs to be done than just issuing statements and pointing the finger of blame at the BJP. A good start would be consistently to bring the perpetrators of communal violence to justice.

Hindus are in their vast majority tolerant and peaceful - as are members of other faiths in India. It is political manipulation and fear-mongering that turns peaceful coexistence into terrible violence, as in Orissa. The political instigation of of anti-Christian sentiment by the Hindu rightwing for electoral gain is another danger to Indian democracy. In the interests of a peaceful, progressive and just India, it must be opposed.

Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap

Europe has entered the new 19th century. The Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 has acted as a time-machine, vaporising the "end of history" sentiment that shaped European politics in the 1990s and replacing it with an older geopolitical calculus in modern form.

Pakistan’s political turmoil: Musharraf and beyond

It is a measure of his isolation that the resignation of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf appeared - when it came - to surprise only Musharraf himself. In his final speech to the nation on 18 August 2008 he seemed bewildered and depressed; a man facing political death, his mind unable fully to grasp the speed with which he had fallen from power. It was a man speaking to a mirror, trying to justify himself to himself one last time.

Shaun Gregory is professor in the department of peace studies at the University of Bradford, northern England, and head of the Pakistan Security Research Unit there. He is the author of Pakistan: Securing the Insecure State (Routledge, 2008)

Also by Shaun Gregory in openDemocracy:

"
Pakistan on edge" (25 September 2006)

"Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

"Musharraf: the fateful moment
" (16 November 2007)

It has not taken long for the resignation to expose the fact that the splinters in Pakistan's troubled polity go far deeper than the survival in office of an unpopular president. A week later, the ruling coalition fractured; the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif led his supporters out of the government on 25 August, amid the decision of his Pakistan People's Party rival Asif Ali Zardari to declare himself a candidate for the election of Musharraf's successor on 6 September 2008.

The damaging political fallout of Musharraf's departure is an early insight into the nature of his entire political legacy to Pakistan.

The president's balance-sheet

By the time of his farewell address, Pervez Musharraf had long lost the support of a host of constituencies he needed to remain in power: the Pakistani electorate, Pakistani civil society, the Pakistani media, the Pakistan army, the United States, and even his political cronies in the PML-Q whom the general-president had empowered as a political force through vote-rigging. The accumulated result was that he no longer commanded even the means to resist his own impeachment. When news of his resignation arrived, the Pakistani stock-market rose by 4.5% - though this was a muted and weary cheer against a backdrop of economic woes which have seen 25% wiped off the value of the Pakistani stock market in recent months.

His departure leaves a vacuum in Pakistan, but it is not of the character of that which followed the unexpected death in 1988 of Zia ul-Haq, his predecessor as military ruler of Pakistan. Too much power had already ebbed from Musharraf for that to be the case. However Pakistan is in a far more parlous state in 2008 than it was twenty years ago and much of the blame for that rests squarely on Musharraf's shoulders.

There is a stubborn and seemingly eradicable myth in Pakistan that the Pakistan army is all that stands between Pakistan and chaos. The peddlers of this myth, within and outside Pakistan, would do well to reflect that it was the army which ended Pakistan's hopes of a secular, democratic future in the early post-partition era; it was the army which led Pakistan to the break-up of the nation in 1971; it was the army which took Pakistan to the brink of nuclear confrontation in 1999 and 2001-02; and it is the army once again - after nine years of Musharraf's rule - which has taken Pakistan to the edge of chaos.

True, civilian political leadership in Pakistan has been and remains neo-feudal and corrupt. But how much of the failure of Pakistan's democracy to develop and mature since 1947 can be laid at the feet of the Pakistan army and its intelligence arm the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)? These institutions have after all systematically undermined democracy and civil society in Pakistan for decades, and shored up a small autocratic elite against the aspirations of the emergent middle class in Pakistan and against the hopes of what educated and wealthy Pakistanis condescendingly refer to as the "common man".

So powerful has this myth of the Pakistan army become that it utterly resists contrary evidence. Musharraf was lauded by the White House as a democrat even though he was responsibile for a host of violations: he rigged elections, exiled pluralist political leaders, repressed federal politics, made political deals with Islamic extremists, pressured the judiciary, undermined civil society, and disbarred, arrested and in some cases "disappeared" political opponents. Meanwhile, he was trumpeted as incorrupt even though under his leadership the army siphoned off billions of dollars of aid for its own interests, greatly expanded the commercial and financial activities of its private conglomerates, and inserted more than 1,000 military officers into senior civilian roles in everything from the petroleum ministry to university vice-chancellorships.

Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf:

Ehsan Masood,
"Pakistan: the army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad" (4 June 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "The war for Pakistan" (24 July 2007)

Irfan Husain, ""Pervez Musharraf's desperate gamble" (5 November 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto" (28 December 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The assassin's age: Pakistan in the world" (28 December 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "Pakistan: dynasty vs democracy" (9 January 2008)

Irfan Husain, ""Pakistan's judgment day" (22 February 2008)

Irfan Husain. "Pervez Musharraf: the commando who couldn't" (19 August 2008)

Musharraf was similarly heralded as a champion of the free media - a point to which he referred in his resignation speech - despite the fact that Pakistan slipped down the international press-freedom rankings during his tenure (from 119 [out of 139] in 2002 to 157/168 in 2006).

Most important of all, Musharraf was praised as a staunch ally in the "war on terror" even though under his rule Pakistan has continued to contravene the supposed principles and objectives of this war: by supporting terrorism as an instrument of state policy; by continuing to support the Taliban even as it strikes from safe havens in Pakistan against Nato and United States/United Kingdom forces in Afghanistan; by failing to extract al-Qaida from Pakistan's tribal areas; and by failing to prevent Pakistan from emerging as arguably the wellspring of international Islamist terrorism.

The ingredients of peril

The remaining apologists for Pervez Musharraf usually offer two defences to these kinds of charges. The first is that it is rogue elements of the ISI and not the Pakistan army which is responsible for Pakistan's linkages with terrorism (such as the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on 7 July 2008 in which the ISI is strongly suspected of complicity). The second is that the Pakistan army has been pushed into certain actions by US policy.

In relation to the first, Musharraf himself asserted in 2006 that the ISI was a disciplined force and did what the army told it to do. There is no reason to doubt this.

In relation to the second, it is unquestionably true that the war in Afghanistan and the George W Bush administration's crude reliance on military power has, for Pakistan's state, greatly complicated the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, no external power drove the Pakistan military to repress secular politics and civil society, to disregard the legitimate claims of the federal states, to court religious extremists and terrorists, or to assume control of a large slice of the Pakistan economy.

The explanation for all these actions lies in the determination of the Pakistan military, and the privileged elite it supports, to place its own interests before those of the people of Pakistan. As the man in control of Pakistan from October 1999 to August 2008, Musharraf cannot evade responsibility for these actions, nor consequently for the part these decisions have played in pushing Pakistan into crisis.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto - a huge body-blow to Pakistan, notwithstanding the many flaws of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader - was part of the long, slow crisis that marked the last year of Musharraf's rule. The hapless new coalition government formed after the elections of 18 February 2008 - divided politically and still largely focused on the wrong issues, has now to face the challenges of a state in the utmost peril.

The ingredients of this peril are manifold. The Pakistani economy is on the slide and many of the elite are beginning to take their assets out of Pakistan or to prepare for flight; the Taliban and their tribal allies have taken control of parts of the tribal belt and are increasingly assertive across Pakistan through targeted suicide-bombings; Balochistan is in violent turmoil; there are growing federal tensions between the Sindh and Punjab; sectarian violence is on the rise (not least in Karachi and in the Kurram agency); and the United States in the final days of the Bush administration has stepped up direct military actions inside Pakistan (which both presidential candidates are likely to continue, with little regard to the wishes of the Pakistan government). Against this backdrop, and almost unnoticed, the centre of gravity of Pakistan's polity is shifting in an increasingly conservative Islamic direction, driven by anti-western antipathy.

A country on the edge

Moreover, it was evident during the short life of the Asif Ali Zardari / Nawaz Sharif government that this administration was being shown little of the patience and indulgence shown to Musharraf by either Washington or London. This was a mistake since the government - as its collapse on 25 August 2008 confirmed - was always weak. It did not command the army or the ISI, and needed to be given time and space to find meaningful responses to the plethora of problems Pakistan faces - not all of which would have pleased the west.

While Pakistan burns, attention is now inevitably focused on the issue of Musharraf's successor. The PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari - who announced his intention to run on 23 August - is likely to take the post. The presidency is however a fragile position without the support of the army; and Zardari is loathed by the Pakistan army. The stage is thus being set for another unstable political dispensation - with Zardari (probably) in the presidency, Sharif controlling the Punjab, and the army waiting in the wings. The prospect is that this trilateral relationship is unlikely to survive for long. The most stable outcome - also perhaps the most likely - would be a partnership between Nawaz Sharif and senior and Islamically conservative Punjabi military officers, a move which would be consistent with Pakistan's drift towards Islamic conservatism and away from the west.

If Washington continues its policy of allowing its short-term objectives in the FATA/NWFP to obscure the far greater danger of Pakistan's collapse, then this will probably accelerate Asif Ali Zardari's political demise and play into Nawaz Sharif's hands. The risk too is that more intense US military operations in Pakistan will push Pakistan ever closer to the abyss. If Pakistan should edge further towards state failure, some may even find themselves wishing for the return of Pervez Musharraf.

Georgia after war: the political landscape

As the dust from Russia's tank-tracks settles again over Georgia, the accounting inside the country has begun. For the moment, the accent is on damage- assessment and reconstruction but the focus is already slowly shifting to the role in starting the conflict of Mikheil Saakashvili. Georgia's young president will soon find himself in the spotlight again and it will not be a comfortable place.

The miscalculation of small nations

The brief and vicious war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia has killed an untold number of people and displaced and traumatised many thousands more; promised a lengthy and abrasive aftermath; postponed even further the prospects of a settlement over this and the region's other territory lost to Georgia's control in the early 1990s, Abkhazia; created new enmities as well as poisoning existing ones; and planted seeds of yet further conflict.

Russian war and Georgian democracy

Russia says it has started pulling back from Georgian soil, but there are few if any signs that it means business. Therefore, the war is not over yet. Despite this, Neal Ascherson and Ivan Krastev have on openDemocracy already started taking stock of the possible results of the war. I will join them in these attempts - though all of us should understand that while Russia continues trying to change the situation on the ground through military means, any such assessments can only be rather tentative.
Ghia Nodia is minister of education and science of the Republic of Georgia. He was appointed to this post on 31 January 2008. He is also a scholar and adviser of the Caucasus Institute of Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) in Tbilisi. His books include (with Álvaro Pinto Scholtbach) The Political Landscape of Georgia: Political Parties: Achievements, Challenges, and Prospects (University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Also by Ghia Nodia in openDemocracy:

"The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future" (12 August 2008)

A humanitarian disaster

The loss of life - in Georgia proper and in South Ossetia - and the humanitarian catastrophe that ensued from the war are obviously the most disturbing results. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has calculated the figure of the displaced people on the Georgian side at approximately 128,000. If the Russians do pull back, the figure will be considerably reduced as most people will return to their homes even if they are looted and damaged. However, at least 20,000 of these Georgians come from Abkhazia and South Ossetia: their return is unthinkable unless a new security regime maintained by the international community is instituted in these breakaway territories.

Even if Russia shows the goodwill to accept such a change (and it would take enormous international pressure to achieve this), this will take time. In addition, there are Georgian villages adjacent to South Ossetia fully or partially destroyed under the Russian occupation, with people there having gone through hell. Under the circumstances, they will be scared to return until very firm international-security guarantees are established: again, a very big if.

This means that, for the time being, Georgia will have to deal with tens of thousands of recently displaced people. This is in addition to the huge numbers of internally-displaced people (IDPs) left after the conflicts in the same territories in the early 1990s. This will be a heavy economic and political strain. Currently, almost all Tbilisi's school-buildings are occupied by the IDPs, and nobody can tell when we will be able to start classes there. As of 21 August 2008, about 42,000 were registered as occupying Georgian educational institutions (mainly schools). Naturally, this is a major concern for this author, who is the minister of education in this country.

Quite a few of the recent IDPs are mad at this government - whom they blame (alongside Russia, of course) for their human tragedy. These people are likely to be used as combustible material by some opposition groups in the future, and Russia - which is unlikely to give up on her ambition to destabilise Georgia internally - will try to encourage that through her proxies in Georgia proper.

For separatist authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the war was a major victory. While Ossetians mourn their dead and start rebuilding with Russian help, they - as well as the Abkhaz - rejoice at their new sense of security. This is because Russians completed for them the task of ethnic cleansing of their territories. The IDPs say that the Georgian villages within South Ossetia are almost erased; Eduard Kokoity, the Ossetian separatist leader, asked rhetorically on 15 August 2008 why the return of the Georgians should be allowed "so that they can shoot (us) in the back again"; a week later he told the Russian online news agency that two Georgian enclaves in South Ossetia had been "liquidated". Unless the security regime in these territories changes dramatically, this will be irreversible.OpenDemocracy's Russia section reports, debates and blogs the Georgia war. Its coverage includes:

Evgeny Morozov, "Russia/Georgia: war of the web" (13 August 2008)

Peter Nasmyth, "From South Ossetia's children, Georgian and Ossetian" (18 August 2008)

Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, "Abkhazia: wedded to independence" (21 August 2008)

Boris Dolgin, "Russia: what peace looks like" (22 August 2008)


The spirit of the nation

As I argued in my previous article written for openDemocracy ("The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future", 12 August 2008) - and almost all non-Russian analysts agree - this war was for the whole of Georgia, not for South Ossetia. Georgia's general direction, its project of becoming a European nation rather than Russia's satellite, was at stake. This made the moral and psychological aspect of the war no less important than the territorial one.

President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia said that his country came out of this war as a moral victor. This is not the mere posturing of a politician whom even some observers generally sympathetic to Georgia called "hot-headed" and "irresponsible" for his conduct during the August 2008 war. The genuine theatre of war was the spirit of the Georgian nation and the validity of Georgian political and economic institutions. It should not be forgotten that just a few years ago Georgia was commonly called a "failing state".

While the vast majority of the Georgian people emphatically assert their commitment to western institutions and values, we also understand that these values have not sufficiently taken root in Georgia, as old customs and attitudes based in the Russian and Soviet past die hard. Georgia is an aspiring democracy, but not a consolidated one. This gave Russia hope that Georgia's ambition to become a western democracy could yet be reversed; some Georgians were not sure whether the nation would be firm enough under the Russian pressure, while still others were actually looking forward to returning to the old ways under a new Russian-installed government.

If there is a rational explanation at all for the procrastination of the Russian troops - who continue widening the geographical scope of their destructive actions while their president sets and breaks new timetables for the withdrawal - it is that continuing the state of uncertainty, destruction and humiliation could still allow for the objective of regime change in Georgia. If Russia fails to achieve this objective, than it is justified to speak of Georgia's political as well as moral victory.

The main indicators of such a victory are the sustainability of Georgian institutions and the strength of the spirit of the nation. On both these counts, and despite considerable strain, so far Georgia has stood the test. There were brief moments of panic (such as late on the night of 11 August, when a rumour spread that Russian tanks were advancing to Tbilisi); but overall, in places which were not directly occupied, life continued as usual. The banking system took only one day off, and there was no mass cash withdrawal. The Georgian currency, the lari, remained stable. Energy supplies were normal in all but the occupied areas, and there were no food shortages. There were no public disturbances. A group of felons escaped from one of the prisons in western Georgia, but most of them are recaptured already. Trains arrived on time - until Russia blew up the main railway-bridge. A flood of new IDPs constituted the major challenge, but all of them now have a roof over their heads and relief efforts have been organised. Even under occupation, the Georgian state did not fail in its main routine functions.Among openDemocracy's articles on Georgian politics and the region, including the war with Russia in August 2008:

Donald Rayfield, "Georgia and Russia: with you, without you" (3 October 2006)

Robert Parsons, "Russia and Georgia: a lover's revenge" (6 October 2006)

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's arms race" (4 July 2007)

Donald Rayfield, "Russia and Georgia: a war of perceptions" (24 August 2007)

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia: politics after revolution" (14 November 2007)

Robert Parsons, "Mikheil Saakashvili's bitter victory" (11 January 2008)

Jonathan Wheatley, "Georgia's democratic stalemate" (14 April 2008)

Robert Parsons, "Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008)

Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008)

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" (8 July 2008)

Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008)

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008)

Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia" (15 August 2008)

Evgeny Morozov, "Citizen war-reporter? The Caucasus test" (18 August 2008)

George Hewitt, "Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution" (18 August 2008)

Ivan Krastev, "Russia and the Georgia war: the great-power trap" (19 August 2008)

Paul Rogers, "Russia and Iran: crisis of the west, rise of the rest" (21 August 2008)

A few people in Georgia would probably welcome a Russian-installed government. However, the fact is that no political group publicly voiced support for the Russian position - and most meaningful opposition groups announced that they were suspending political infighting with the government. In the Georgian media, numerous people criticised the government's actions before and during the war, but not from the pro-Russian position. As is normal for any nation, it rallied around its leadership in the face of foreign aggression, while at the same time people voiced criticism of specific government actions.

Everybody understands this moral victory is yet to be consolidated and there lie serious internal challenges ahead. Many people hold the government responsible for the humanitarian disaster and territorial looses caused by the war, and as the situation calms down, the opposition may take advantage of this sentiment to attack the government. If this stays within acceptable democratic procedures, this will only be normal; but - given the Georgian record of successful or attempted unconstitutional changes of power - there are always fears that things can get out of hand, and Russia will try to help destabilise the situation through its Georgian proxies. But the resilience that Georgian institutions have shown so far gives solid ground to believe that this scenario can be avoided

The biggest unknown: Russia

The trajectory of Georgia's development after the war with Russia is not fully clear; but the future of Russian-western relations - a factor which of course has direct implications for the future of Georgia - is the biggest unknown.

The results of the Nato ministerial meeting on 19 August gave some sense of direction: the conflict brought Georgia one step closer to Nato (through establishing a permanent Nato-Georgian commission) and further estranged Russia from the alliance (through suspending the activities of the Nato-Russian council). But these steps are rather miniscule in themselves and nobody can tell how far the process will go.

The main problem is that the west appears to be confused and divided on the Russia issue. In the context of war with Georgia, Russia could only procure the support of countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. It is logical to deduce from this, that it is close to joining the club of nations commonly called "rogue states" - those who openly defy the international consensus and create conspicuous dangers for international peace. However, western powers will find it difficult to act on this logic: the world cannot afford having a rogue state of such size and significance, so it seems better to deny the reality of the danger. The Russian government knows that and tries to take advantage of the situation. It is true that Russia - as Ivan Krastev has written on openDemocracy - does not have a clear strategy either: it acts on the feeling of resentment rather than rational calculation of its interest. But this does not help.

Energetic and effective western support is vital for the very existence of Georgia at the moment. However, we also understand the strategic complexity of the situation and do not want to be seen to be trying to provoke a new global conflict. Therefore, in conclusion, I want to focus on the moral side of the issue.

Europe has expressed especial moral strictness when it came to dealing with anything smacking of the Nazi legacy. The European Union imposed sanctions on Austria over the inclusion in government of the far-right politician Jörg Haider, who never clearly stated that Hitler's policies were correct or the that the German Reich should be restored, but was nonetheless believed to be a secret Nazi sympathiser. In January 2005, Prince Harry of Great Britain wore Nazi costume to a private fancy-dress party. The news leaked to the media and caused a public outrage; Prince Harry had to apologise. Such rigour stands in stark contrast to attitudes towards the communist legacy. For years, Russia has been is ruled by a group of unrepentant KGB officers - which would be the moral equivalent of a country governed by SS veterans proud of their record. This was considered OK - after all, so many former communists came to power in central European countries and honoured democratic rules and procedures.

But Vladimir Putin and his team are different. As any former Soviet citizen would say: there is no such thing as a former KGB officer. When current Russian action is repeatedly compared to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this is not just a historical parallel: there is a direct link. Putin was too young to take part in the invasion, but there is no evidence to suggest that even now he sees anything wrong in it (even though, in answering a question on a visit to Prague in 2006, he referred to it as a "tragic event"). He may have understood the inefficiency of the communist economic policy, but his system of values is hardly different from those of his role model, Yuri Andropov. He has openly lamented the break-up of the Soviet Union as the greatest political tragedy of the 20th century. What would happen had some German-speaking politician suggested that it's a pity Germany is now smaller than it was in 1939?

Putin is not a new Hitler nor even a new Stalin. It is unlikely that the world is on the brink of a new cold war: Russia has oil and gas but no ideological energy needed for that. But just because it is difficult to find a remedy for the Russian problem, it is not right to deceive oneself about the nature of Russian regime and the vitality of the Russian threat. Each nation (including Georgia, naturally) should act on an adequate understanding of it.

In that sense, open confrontation with Russia, however disastrous the human and economic costs, may also have some positive implications for the prospects of stable democracy in Georgia. For this country, Russia has not only been a security threat. It has also been the source from which the infection of illiberal political culture was spreading. Here, cultural closeness to a fellow-Orthodox country was a negative factor. As I said, democratic institutions are yet to fully consolidate in Georgia and the society is still not fully immune to the habits of the Soviet past: cultural and social closeness to Russia was an element reinforcing the power of these habits.

Being in open conflict with a huge and powerful neighbour has its challenges for democracy too - the obligation to consolidate around government does not necessarily encourage openness to political pluralism. However, after this war - whenever it can be said truly to have ended - Russia will have even less leverage for influencing Georgian society than it had before, and Georgia will have even stronger incentives to embrace the values and institutions of the democratic west.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia: heart of conflict, key to solution

On the second full day of the Georgia-Russia war of 8-12 August 2008, Russian patrol-boats operating off the Black Sea shore of Abkhazia sank four Georgian vessels apparently intent on landing in the territory. The identity of these vessels is not yet clear, but it is interesting to note that a published list of military equipment in the possession of the Georgian government - equipment largely supplied over many years by Tbilisi's western friends - includes a ship called the General Mazniashvili.

Why interesting? Because General Mazniashvili (aka Mazniev) is best known for his role in spreading "fire and sword" through Abkhazia and South Ossetia on behalf of Georgia's Menshevik government of 1918-21. The naming of the ship is a revealing indicator of current official Georgian sentiment about a figure central to the pitiless effort ninety years ago to establish control over these two areas. It is also a reminder to Abkhazians and South Ossetians that their hard-won freedom from Georgian rule in the brutal wars of the early 1990s is part of a longer history of defence of their integrity that deserves the world's attention, understanding and respect.

These peoples, and not just the Georgians - or Russians, or Americans, or anyone else involved in the latest war in the region - have their own history, many of whose artefacts have been deliberately pulverised in this generation (see Thomas de Waal, "Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history" [20 October 2006]). The lesson of the short war of August 2008 is that their Abkhazian and South Ossetian voices must be heard and their own choices must be included in any decisions about their future if the cycle of conflict - of which 1918-21 and 1991-93 are but two episodes - is going to be broken rather than repeated.


George Hewitt is professor of Caucasian languages at London's School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS). Among his many works are "Peoples of the Caucasus" (in F. Fernández-Armesto, ed.), Guide to the Peoples of Europe (Times Books, 1994) and (as editor) The Abkhazians, a handbook (Curzon Press, 1999)

Also by George Hewitt in openDemocracy:

"
Sakartvelo, roots of turmoil" (27 November 2003),

"Abkhazia: land in limbo" (10 October 2006).

A political boomerang

The torrent of media commentary on the Georgia-Russia war has been characterised by near-obsessive geopolitical calculation, which - as so often where Georgia and the region is concerned - tends by default to view Georgia's "lost" territories (if they are viewed at all) as nothing more than inconsiderate and irritating pawns on a global chessboard. For this reason - but mainly because Abkhazia and South Ossetia matter in themselves and are central to any resolution of the issues underlying the August 2008 war - it is useful to consider the arguments for taking them and their claims seriously.

A striking feature of the Georgian political landscape even in these desperate days of Mikheil Saakashvili's humiliation is that there is very little recognition in the country of how deep are the scars inflicted by Georgia's invasions of South Ossetia (1990-92) and Abkhazia (1992-93). It is only when Georgia can at an official level come to take responsibility for its own role in this period that progress in resolving these now so-called "frozen conflicts" can be made.

One vital ingredient of this rethinking is to recognise the longstanding residency-claims of South Ossetians and Abkhazians to their respective territories. During the heady days of nationalism that exploded in Tbilisi in 1989, the man who was to become the first post-Soviet president of Georgia - Zviad Gamsakhurdia - even charged that the Ossetians only appeared in Georgia on the coat-tails of the Red Army's invasion in 1921.

It was and is a myth" (see "The North-west Caucasus and Great Britain", Autumn 1992). The late specialist on Iranian languages, Ilya Gershevitch, once told me that in his view the language of the South Ossetians differs so radically from that spoken in North Ossetia that the split must have occurred in pre-Christian times. Moreover, Queen Tamar (ruled 1184-1213), the sovereign under whom Georgia attained its "golden age", was at least half-Ossetian and also took one husband who was Ossetian. But such myths - which are also circulated to deny that the Abkhazians are the indigenous population of Abkhazia - can become truly dangerous in times of tension.

Amid Georgia's late-Soviet disintegration, intellectuals and nascent civil society in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia realised the perils that the chauvinistic rhetoric aimed against them from Tbilisi posed. They formed national forums (Adamon Nykhas in South Ossetia, Aydgylara in Abkhazia) to defend their respective collective and political interests, and created links between the regions that continue to this day.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia - believing his own myths, a self-harming flaw shared by his successor-but-one Mikheil Saakashvili - thought it would be an easy matter to dislodge the South Ossetians from the territory (which Georgians decided to rename Samachablo). The result was war that started in 1990, escalated in 1991, and expired in spring 1992. By this latter date Gamsakhurdia had been overthrown, and a military junta had assumed control in Tbilisi; in March 1992 this junta invited Eduard Shevardnadze - the former boss of Georgia's Soviet-era Communist Party, and later Soviet foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev - to lead it.


Gamsakhurdia and his armed supporters resisted the new authorities from his base in the west Georgian province of Mingrelia. Shevardnadze chose to compromise with the South Ossetians, and the two sides (with the involvement of the then Russian president, Boris Yeltsin) signed the Dagomys accords. The provisions of the agreement included a tripartite (Georgian, Ossetian, Russian) peacekeeping force to monitor the ceasefire.

As a result, South Ossetia after 1992 - typified by its quiet capital Tskhinval (Tskhinvali) - became a neglected backwater with little to offer its citizens other than to travel by the Roki tunnel into the Russia Federation's republic of North Ossetia in search of work. This situation continued through the decade of Eduard Shevardnadze's rule in Georgia; it began to change after Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in 2004, with a pledge to restore South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control (and within two years) high on his nationalistic agenda.


Also on Abkhazia in openDemocracy:

Thomas de Waal & Zeyno Baran, "Abkhazia-Georgia, Kosovo-Serbia: parallel worlds?" (2 August 2006),

Thomas de Waal, "Abkhazia's archive: fire of war, ashes of history" (20 October 2006),

Nikolaj Nielsen, "A small bomb in Gali" (8 July 2008)

The effects of his active - or meddlesome - stance were soon felt. A local market on the border with the disputed territory, where the two sides had no problems cooperating for purposes of trade, was closed down on the grounds that it was part of the "black economy". Then a pliable Ossetian was found to head a pro-Georgian "government" for South Ossetia, based in villages on the Georgian side of the border.

None of this "worked" even in its own terms. A singular aspect of the August 2008 war is that it confounds the long-held expectation the South Ossetian "problem" would prove easier for Tbilisi to manage and solve than that of Abkhazia - the larger, more prosperous and better defended of the two disputed regions. Instead, Saakashvili's reclamation project has come to grief in South Ossetia, which is now more distant from Tbilisi's rule than ever (see Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation", 13 August 2008).

The folly of war

It all looked different to Georgia's latest myth-maker as recently as January 2008, when Mikheil Saakashvili was was re-elected president. He promised again the two territories would be recovered, during his second term. The months of tension that followed climaxed in the ferocious assault led by Grad-missiles that was launched on an unsuspecting Tskhinval on the night of 7-8 August 2008.

Saakashvili continues to claim that Georgian actions were a response to the introduction of Russian tanks, though he makes no mention of the fifteen Russian peacekeepers killed before heavy weaponry arrived. At least part of Russia's calculation in the febrile months of 2008 has been a desire to hold back in order to let the world see the true nature of the Saakashvili regime. In the event, that stance did nothing to save Russia's peacekeepers, nor did it have any notable effect on western leaders who ignored the fact of the opening attack on Tskhinval in their rush to condemn Russia's response.


But the folly of the decision to attack South Ossetia's capital - whatever its immediate origins - is not Saakashvili's alone. It must be related to the wider pattern of western policy and support for Georgia that has intensified in the Saakashvili era but which was already established in the crucial period of the early 1990s.

The key decision in this respect took place when Zviad Gamsakhurdia's war in South Ossetia was still in progress; when the Zviadist were battling the Shevardnistas in Mingrelia; when threats continued against Abkhazia; when there was no legitimate government in power in Tbilisi; and when chaos reigned across Georgia. At that very moment, the west decided that this was the appropriate time to recognise the country within its Soviet borders.


Among openDemocracy's articles on Georgian politics and the region:

Neal Ascherson, "Tbilisi, Georgia: the rose revolution's rocky road" (15 July 2005),

Donald Rayfield, "Georgia and Russia: with you, without you" (3 October 2006),

Robert Parsons, "Russia and Georgia: a lover's revenge" (6 October 2006),

Vicken Cheterian, "Georgia's arms race" (4 July 2007),

Donald Rayfield, "Russia and Georgia: a war of perceptions" (24 August 2007),

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia: politics after revolution" (14 November 2007),

Robert Parsons, "Georgia's race to the summit" (4 January 2008),

Robert Parsons, "Mikheil Saakashvili's bitter victory" (11 January 2008),

Jonathan Wheatley, "Georgia's democratic stalemate" (14 April 2008),

Robert Parsons, "Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: the war option" (13 May 2008),

Thomas de Waal, "The Russia-Georgia tinderbox" (16 May 2008),

Robert Parsons, "Georgia's dangerous gulf" (30 May 2008),

Alexander Rondeli, "Georgia's search for itself" (8 July 2008),

Thomas de Waal, "South Ossetia: the avoidable tragedy" (11 August 2008),

Ghia Nodia, "The war for Georgia: Russia, the west, the future" (12 August 2008),

Donald Rayfield, "The Georgia-Russia conflict: lost territory, found nation" (13 August 2008).

This decision was in line with the international community's arbitrary approach of recognising only the Soviet Union's union-republics (as well as the constituent-republics of Yugoslavia) as separate states. In the case of Georgia, the west had refrained from applying this policy when Georgia was misruled by Zviad Gamsakhurdia; but almost as soon as Shevardnadze returned to Georgia, attitudes changed. A "friend of the west" was in power, and - although no elections were planned until October 1992, and thus even rudimentary democratic legitimacy could not yet be be claimed - western states (led by John Major's government in Britain - an appropriate echo of its equally disastrous policy in former-Yugoslavia) - rushed to recognise Shevardnadze's government and establish diplomatic relations.

Georgia also gained in this period unconditional membership of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. The result was, for Abkhazia - whose people were then pressing a claim of right to independence - disaster. For Eduard Shevardnadze celebrated his country's joining of the UN by launching his own war on Abkhazia, in an attempt to rally dissenters (including armed Zviadists) to this zealous Georgian nationalist cause. The gamble brought untold destruction; its many victims included the thousands of Mingrelians and Georgians living in Abkhazia. For - although it took thirteen months, and the result was long in the balance - the gamble failed, and the humiliating defeat inflicted on Shevardnadze's troops by the Abkhazians and their Caucasian allies on 30 September 1993 meant the effective loss to Tbilisi of the lush and potentially rich republic.

In spring 1994, ceasefire accords - the equivalent of the Dagomys accords over South Ossetia - were agreed in Moscow. By then, the west's attentions were focused on the Balkan mess it had done so much to create, and it was - how times change - only too happy to leave peacekeeping responsibilities to Russia. As a result, Russian forces constituted almost all of the 3,000-strong peacekeeping contingent along the demilitarised zone adjacent to the Ingur river, Abkhazia's traditional frontier with Mingrelia in Georgia.

Thus, a further link between Abkhazia and South Ossetia was made, as Abkhazia too - typified by its quiet capital Sukhum (Sukhumi) - became a neglected backwater with little to offer its citizens except to seek work elsewhere or (for those who stayed) to use whatever Russian help was on offer to restore their destroyed infrastructure and economy as best they could (see "Postwar Developments in the Georgian-Abkhazian dispute", Parliamentary Human Rights Group, June 1996).

The Caucasian satrap

The recognition of Georgia's Soviet borders - echoed again (among other western leaders) by the quite ridiculous statements of Nato's secretary-general and Britain's foreign secretary even as the full effects of Mikheil Saakashvili's misadventure were still emerging - is the source of much of Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's agony; and indeed of Georgia's agony too. For since the early 1990s, and notwithstanding its clear culpability in the wars on the two territories, Georgia has - at any point of crisis or argument around either of these "frozen" conflicts - been able to call upon its fellow United Nations members to insist on the observation of the principle of territorial integrity; in effect, saying that Georgia can do as it pleases with regard to its "internal" problems and nuisance-peoples.

There is more. Georgia in the 1990s looked likely at times to become a "failed state", and a country ruled by Eduard Shevardnadze could call on all sorts of assistance - not just quite understandable and welcome economic investment, but more worryingly an enormous amount of military equipment and associated training programmes (which accelerated in the period after 9/11 and as Vladimir Putin began to establish a coherent government and a firm foreign policy in Russia after the chaos of the Boris Yeltsin years).

Why did Georgia need such a prodigious amount of armaments, and military equipment of this type? Not even the most deranged Georgian leader would consider starting a war with Russia (a judgment that, admittedly, may have to be revised). Azerbaijan shares with Georgia the interest in peaceful oversight of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which brings both countries considerable wealth. Georgia and Armenia have been rivals for centuries, but there is no hint of any potential military conflict (notwithstanding the disaffection and poverty of the Armenian minority in Georgia's Javakheti region). Georgia and its other neighbour, Turkey, have no grounds for hostility.

The conclusion is clear: the targets of Georgia's military bonanza were South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The outcome was to fuel not just Georgia's military machine but the self-aggrandisement and hubris of those of its leaders who concluded that the west - especially the United States, its chief supplier - would support an armed effort by Tbilisi to restore control over South Ossetia and/or Abkhazia.

This must have been one factor behind Mikheil Saakashvili's monstrous blunder on the eve of the opening of the Olympic games in China's capital city.

The bonds between Abkhazia and South Ossetia forged in the pivotal early 1990s included a mutual defence arrangement. When Georgian forces attacked Tskhinval on 7-8 August 2008, the Abkhazians had to decide how to put this into effect. The decision was made to try to dislodge the Georgian troops who had - in violation of the ceasefire accords - deployed into the upper Kodor (Kodori) valley (part of Abkhazia) in July 2006, an act followed by the transference there of Tbilisi's already-established (on the South Ossetia model) "Abkhazian government-in-exile".

The move towards the upper Kodor valley was both an attempt to present Georgia with a second front, and to pre-empt any repetition of the new South Ossetian tragedy in Abkhazia itself. Abkhazian ground-troops entered the gorge at daybreak on 12 August to find that most of the Georgian soldiers had fled; by midnight, the whole area was secure.

The aftermath is revealing. The Russians are reported to have discovered in the materials captured from Georgian military personnel in South Ossetia a series of maps depicting Georgia's plans for a step-by-step capture of Abkhazian territory. On their own account, the Abkhazians found in the centre of the Kodor gorge a plaque (in both Georgian and English) stating: sainpormatsio tsent'ri NAT'O-s shesaxeb ("Information Centre about NATO").

Mikheil Saakashvili's televised speeches - including his effective declaration of war against South Ossetia - are accompanied by the parading of a European Union flag in his office. Georgia is a member neither of Nato nor the European Union, and its symbolic actions in relation to both are evidence of an unresolved political dysfunction.

A path in the rubble

The military and political residue of the war of August 2008 is still far from settled. The diplomatic one awaits. When the ceasefire agreement negotiated by Nicolas Sarkozy and accepted by Mikheil Saakashvili and Dmitry Medvedev begins to be fully implemented, the west needs seriously to reconsider its unwise recognition of the country within its Joseph Stalin-set borders. The ground of international law has shifted over Kosovo; it can be moved again to recognise Georgia in its de facto borders and to recognise the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as two new states (see Neal Ascherson, "After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and the Caucasus", 15 August 2008).

An understanding of the history outlined in this article - including, once more, the key events of the early 1990s and all that has happened since - is the only way to lay the foundation for peaceful relations between the various peoples living in this part of Transcaucasia.

The negotiations to come must address the difficult issues that have lain dormant since the post-Soviet wars, such as the resettling of the Kartvelian (Mingrelian and Georgian) refugees who fled or were expelled as the Abkhazian war ended. Many have endured wretched conditions in various places in Georgia since 1993: those housed for years in a dilapidated city-centre hotel in Tbilisi were cleared to allow real-estate development, and those living in a part of Tsqneti (lying above Tbilisi) were reportedly displaced again when the land was given by Saakashvili to his ally-rival and former speaker of the Georgian parliament, Nino Burdzhanadze (also touted in the west as a possible replacement for Saakashvili if and when his western backers tire of him).

One reason for the neglect and/or maltreatment the refugees have suffered under the regimes of Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikheil Saakashvili is a further insight into Georgia's testing politics: most of them are Mingrelians, which makes them fellow members of the Kartvelian language-family but also kept at a distance by many Georgians (even though many, such as Zviad Gamsakhurdia, have been or become Georgian super-patriots). But this is also a possible key to diplomatic, political - and economic - progress: for if a viable peace can be established in an independent Abkhazia, there will be a greater likelihood that at last many of these hard-working people will be able to restart their lives in Abkhazia.

The days after the short, bitter war have been fraught; the period ahead will contain many dangers. A third flawed post-Soviet Georgian leader has brought disaster on his country. The west's foolhardy reinforcement of nationalist vainglory has helped lead Georgia into another crisis, one that only Georgians can resolve. Meanwhile, the South Ossetians and Abkhazians - whatever Mikheil Saakashvili, or indeed General Mazniashvili, might say - have other plans. The world should listen to them.

Pervez Musharraf, the commando who couldn’t

When Pervez Musharraf launched into a litany of his achievements in his farewell speech to the nation as Pakistan's president on 18 August 2008, he was probably unaware that he was speaking almost exactly twenty years after General Zia ul-Haq's plane fell mysteriously out of the sky over southern Punjab. In his address, Musharraf remained defiant to the last: lambasting the elected government for its mishandling of governance over the last few months, while taking credit for the improvements he claimed had taken place during his nine years in power.
Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf:

Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, ""Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad" (4 June 2007)

Paul Rogers, "Pakistan's peril" (19 July 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "The war for Pakistan" (24 July 2007)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, ""Pakistan: the power of the gun" (7 November 2007)

Saskia Sassen, "Lahore: urban space, niche repression" (21 November 2007)

Kanishk Tharoor, "Benazir murdered: what next?" (27 December 2007)

Ayesha Siddiqa, "Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto" (28 December 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The assassin's age: Pakistan in the world" (28 December 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "Pakistan: dynasty vs democracy" (9 January 2008)

Over the years, as Musharraf was deemed to be indispensable by the west, his self-confidence hardened into arrogance, and then into megalomania. This transformation burst forth into public view on 9 March 2007, when he suspended Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry from his post of chief justice of the country's supreme court. Pakistan's most senior judge had been annoying the general by issuing a series of independent judgments that had embarrassed the government. As Musharraf was about to seek re-election, he wanted to remove any legal and constitutional hurdles Iftikhar Chaudhry was likely to erect.

There was a problem. Musharraf had become accustomed to getting his way by virtue of the power he had accumulated since he ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999; so he was ill-prepared for the chief justice's refusal to resign. In a fit of rage, Musharraf suspended him, triggering a nationwide movement spearheaded by lawyers, and supported by a wide spectrum of civil society and political parties. Throughout summer 2007, the protests mounted, with demands for Iftikhar Chaudhry's reinstatement uniting and energising the opposition, while resonating deeply among ordinary Pakistanis.

Musharraf's popularity plunged, but he responded in characteristic fashion: by embracing his power even more tightly. On 3 November, he declared a state of emergency, sacked nearly sixty judges from the supreme court and the four provincial high courts, simultaneously promising to step down as the army chief, thus clearing the decks for his re-election for another five years.

By this time, he had become virtually isolated politically, standing alone except for his jerry-built coalition of a breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (known as the "Q" league or the "king's party"), and the ethnic Karachi-based MQM. Ever since he had seized power, he had gone out of his way to malign both the centrist Nawaz Sharif and his mainstream Muslim League, and the left-of-centre Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf's army-staffed National Accountability Bureau pursued a number of court cases against Ms Bhutto and her husband in Pakistan and abroad. Nawaz Sharif was convicted of hijacking Musharraf's aircraft in 1999, a charge that carried the death penalty, and exiled to Saudi Arabia. Benazir Bhutto went into exile, while her husband Asif Ali Zardari, served eight years in jail, although no case was ever proved against him; soon after her return to Pakistan, she was assassinated on 27 December 2007.

A lost leader

Musharraf's repression of the PPP and the PML in part ensured that the elections of 2002 saw the emergence of religious parties as a parliamentary force for the first time in Pakistan's patchy electoral history. Allegedly, the elections had been rigged by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to reduce the number of seats the opposition parties won. Although the PPP won the largest number of votes, Musharraf's allies were able to cobble together a majority in the national assembly, and in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. In Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), both provinces bordering Afghanistan, the Islamic parties enjoyed their first taste of power.

Meanwhile, the events of 9/11 had produced a remarkable change of fortunes for Musharraf and for Pakistan. After testing its nuclear devices in 1998 following Indian tests, Pakistan was subjected to a crippling round of sanctions. The rupee plunged and the economy went into freefall. The situation was exacerbated when Musharraf launched his Kargil misadventure in spring 1999. When he launched his coup later that year, he and Pakistan were virtual pariahs on the international stage.

The situation was abruptly transformed when Musharraf made his famous post-9/11 u-turn. Publicly abandoning the Taliban, an ISI creation, he handed over a wide range of military facilities to the western allies that attacked Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida. Suddenly, Musharraf became the darling of the west. Debts were written off; billions in military and economic aid were committed; and Pakistan became a frontline state in the "war against terror". Crucially, Musharraf pledged to reform the madrasas that had produced the leadership of the Taliban, and were churning out thousands of young Pakistanis capable only of reciting the Qur'an. Many of them became footsoldiers in the many militant groups that had sprung up during Zia's eleven years in power.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, Musharraf could talk the talk, but could never quite bring himself to walk the walk. Since his early days in power when he appeared in a famous photograph with a pet dog in his arms, together with his wife and sari-clad mother, Pakistan's secular liberals had hopes that he would arrest the country's slide into fundamentalism. Indeed, by removing Nawaz Sharif, he had ended the Punjabi prime minister's plan to enact the fifteenth amendment to the constitution that would have replaced the existing, British-era legal code with the sharia. In this proposed law, Nawaz Sharif would have been given the caliphate-era title of Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful).
Irfan Husain is a columnist with Dawn newspaper in Pakistan

Among Irfan Husain's articles in openDemocracy:

"Pervez Musharraf's desperate gamble" (5 November 2007)

"Pakistan's multi-faceted crisis" (12 November 2007)

"Pakistan: a question of legitimacy" (26 November 2007)

"Pakistan: the election and after" (10 December 2007)

"Benazir Bhutto: the politics of murder" (28 December 2007)

"Pakistan: a post-election scenario" (11 January 2008)

"Pakistan's critical moment" (11 February 2008)

"Pakistan's judgment day" (22 February 2008)

"Pakistan's tough inheritance" (18 March 2008)

"Pakistan's rivalrous coalition" (19 May 2008)

"China and the Olympics: a view from Pakistan" (8 August 2008)

Soon, as he became more and more dependent on the Islamic parties for political support, he distanced himself from his stated secular values; his dogs disappeared from public view; and when the mullahs announced that they would not accept state interference in their madrasas, Musharraf backed down. But as the Americans bombed Afghanistan and then invaded Iraq, Musharraf's support for their actions turned the Islamic parties and much of the rest of Pakistan against him.

A last look

Even as his security services scooped up al-Qaida operatives and handed them over to the Americans, they allowed the Taliban to use Pakistan's remote tribal areas as staging areas and training-camps. This dichotomy was rooted in the Pakistan military's conviction that a stable Afghanistan allied with India would be a strategic nightmare. Thus, although it moved around 80,000 troops to the Afghan border, the bulk of its resources continue to face eastwards. Musharraf and his colleagues continue to believe that given their political compulsions, western forces will withdraw sooner rather than later from Afghanistan. At that point, according to their calculations, they will have their Taliban proxies in place.

This blinkered strategic outlook has blinded them to the danger the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters pose to Pakistan. Over the last year, groups of tribal militants, now united under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, have been encroaching steadily across the tribal areas as well as the settled areas of the NWFP. The real question is how a post-Musharraf army will cooperate with an elected government in tackling this growing menace. While Musharraf used the threat to squeeze more money out of the Americans, the coalition government sees the peril of Talibanisation very clearly for what it is: an existential threat to the country.

There are signs that the army has had enough. Not only has its new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, refused to take sides politically, it is acting increasingly firmly against the tribal militias. The recent fighting in Swat to quell the Islamic rebellion there has caused a large number of militant casualties. The biggest task for the coalition government is to convince ordinary people that they are not fighting "America's war", but are struggling for their own country's survival. This is something Pervez Musharraf could never do as he was not convinced himself.

In his last speech, one of the claims Musharraf made was that he had improved the law-and-order situation. As Pakistan's security forces fight a civil war in the tribal areas, as well as an insurgency in Balochistan, I wonder if he reflected on the irony of his words. But a commando to the last, introspection and irony were never his strong suits.

After the war: recognising reality in Abkhazia and Georgia

The Russian soldiers are not the worst. They have won their victory, and now hang about Georgia mopping up. Much more terrible are the civilians and volunteers who come behind the soldiers, the big-bellied men with guns, knives and army jackets thrown over their T-shirts. They are doing the murdering, the looting and burning, the "cleansing" as they drive the last Georgians out of South Ossetia.

India at 61: here's looking at you, kid!

"Even God will not be able to save this country!" fumed the supreme court of India days before the nation turned sixty-one on 15 August 2008. A sentiment that millions of Indians would spring to agree with. Like citizens of other healthy democracies, Indians have been persistently critical of the establishment, the rebels and everything in between. The rapid changes that the ancient culture has seen since the economic liberalisation of the 1990s have also exacerbated this urge to lament, even among the devoted who worship the new India, the emerging superpower.

Antara Dev Sen is founder editor of The Little Magazine, an independent publication on social concerns, cultural issues and South Asian literature published from Delhi. She is a columnist with The Week magazine, the newspapers Asian Age and DNA and the Bengali magazine Ek Din Live, among other publications. Sen has earlier worked as a senior editor with The Hindustan Times and The Indian Express. She lives in Delhi. Email: sen@littlemag.com

Also by Antara Dev Sen in openDemocracy:

"India's benign earthquake" (20 May 2004)

"The wrong America" (13 August 2004)

"India's tsunami" (13 January 2005)

Because as we pursue beautiful new goals with the enthusiasm of new love, our unsolved problems lie untended, festering in the corners they have been swept into, spilling into our picture-postcard new India. We sweep them back hastily, violently, offended by the sullying of our prettified world. And return to our new passions, grooming ourselves for new conquests, much like a tomcat before the prowl.

This contented calm is shattered when the emerging superpower is rocked by a string of terrorist attacks, like the recent bomb blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad (on 25-26 July) and Jaipur (on 13 May). Or when corruption becomes painfully visible, as when vast amounts of cash, apparently used to bribe MPs, were brandished in parliament during the trust vote. We are horrified, of course. But not because it's unimaginable. It's not the content of either message that appals us, but the form.

Indians know terrorism. But we are still shocked by the cold-blooded efficiency of the multi-city serial blasts culminating in an attack on a hospital, killing the injured as well as those tending to them. Specifically targeting doctors and nurses and the wounded in serial blasts marks a new low in planned mass murders even for India, which has seen three decades of terrorism.

Similarly, Indians know corruption. We take it for granted in every sphere, especially in politics. To get things done, to get your file to move, to claim your constitutional right, you very often need to grease palms. The system delivers. So while you bow respectfully to the honest politician, to get your work done you may wish to go to the dishonest one. No, the accusation of corruption is not shocking in itself. Of course there may have been MPs on either side of the motion of trust who were persuaded to switch by less than noble means. Wouldn't be the first time. But the spectacular flourish of currency notes pouring out of a big fat bag and being waved at the speaker by agitated members of parliament was undoubtedly a first. The event was instantly broadcast live to millions by practically every national television channel.

A recent report of Transparency International India reveals that India's poorest, those living below the poverty line, paid almost $215,000,000 in bribes over just three months to access basic public services like the police, healthcare, electricity and public distribution of affordable food grains. The fleecing of the most vulnerable does not horrify us. Like terrorism, we have learnt to live with corruption.

So when respectable politicians and other Indians start pontificating gravely about shame and disgrace and brand the cash-for-votes spectacle as the darkest day for Indian democracy, I am rather embarrassed. Yes, we were all mortified by what happened in parliament on 22 July 2008. But it was only a preposterously crude performance to highlight something we have known for ages: that there is corruption in politics. Even if the accusation was true (and we have no proof to that effect yet, leading many to believe that it was staged) it would not shock the nation. We are used to far worse.

The fear that kills

Like the way we use the threat of terrorism to trample on human rights. How we slide into paranoia, stifling democratic freedoms and celebrating brutal laws. After every terrorist attack, like the recent blasts in Ahmedabad, there are demands for new, repressive anti-terrorism laws. But what would these new laws do that our present bunch of pitiless laws cannot? The UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) or the Special Security Acts in individual states give the police and the army enormous powers to torture, confine and control any citizen in the name of security.Among openDemocracy's articles on Indian politics and democracy:

Rajeev Bhargava, "Words save lives: India, the BJP and the constitution" (2 October 2002)

Rajeev Bhargava, "The political psychology of Hindu nationalism" (5 November 2003)

Rajeev Bhargava, "India's model: faith, secularism and democracy" (3 November 2004)

Meenakshi Ganguly, "India's Dalits: between atrocity and protest" (9 January 2007)

Ajai Sahni, "India and its Maoists: failure and success" (20 March 2007)

Sumantra Bose, "Uttar Pradesh: India's democratic landslip" (29 May 2007)

John Elkington, "India's third liberation" (21 August 2007)

Kanchan Lakshman, "India in Afghanistan: a presence under pressure" (11 July 2008)

Ajai Sahni, "India after Ahmedabad's bombs" (29 July 2008)


These laws are used to smother dissent and critical dialogue, or to terrify groups and communities. Many human-rights defenders are being held under the fiercely repressive UAPA. Meanwhile, in the insurgency-affected northeast and Kashmir, the AFSPA allows the army to act with impunity. Atrocities and murders in this region have shocked the nation. And in the name of security from terrorism, the very police force that routinely fails to protect citizens and enthusiastically attacks human rights is given almost unlimited powers. Apart from being amazingly corrupt, the Indian police system is also past its use by date - it has not been upgraded for a democracy and still operates largely under archaic British rules, when the police were not really serving the Indian people but repressing unruly natives prone to rebellion against the Raj. To top it all, the Indian justice system takes forever to deliver.

Meanwhile, new repressive laws are being thought up. Such targeting of civilians, especially human-rights activists, only fuels extremism as saner voices are drowned out by desperate ones that skip dialogue and take to the gun to reclaim control over their lives and regain lost dignity. Anti-terrorism laws are notoriously counterproductive. They do not reduce insurgency but aggravate political alienation. We certainly don't need more disgraceful tools of state repression.

Especially because laws are slaves to our passions and biases. In times of terror, any form of "otherness" - whether community or intellectual differences - is seen as a threat. Fear kills our tolerance for diversity. When we believe we are under attack, we allow assaults on democratic principles that we would never tolerate in times of peace and reason. And fundamentalists play on that fear.

For example, the Jaipur bomb blasts saw a bloodthirsty attempt to punish Bengali Muslims - they were all Bangladeshi terrorists, screamed the Hindu rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Earlier, after the horrific massacre of Muslims in the sectarian violence of Gujarat in 2002, BJP chief minister Narendra Modi used the Prevention Of Terrorism Act (POTA) to clap hundreds of Muslims in jail. This was indefinite captivity without bail or democratic rights. When the POTA was repealed by the Congress-led coalition government in 2004, several of its repressive clauses were incorporated in the UAPA. But for many, the brutal UAPA is still not enough, they want the truly dreadful POTA back.

These are ineffective, evasive and unjust reactions to a real problem. India has been, after Iraq, the country worst hit by terrorism, with the highest number of civilian deaths and terror attacks after Iraq. Already this year, terrorism has killed about 2,400 people in India. We have faced terrorist violence for almost thirty years. Yet we don't have a proper counter-terrorism agency or network. There is no sharing of information between states and the centre (law and order is a state subject). And we are still waiting for police reforms.

Instead, we have vicious counter-terrorism laws which do not address the socio-political roots of terrorism but merely disallow dissent, cast aside civil rights and make us a ruthless, repressive nation. More than a coarse dramatic gesture about corruption in parliament, it is the persistence of these dehumanising laws that have plunged us into the darkest days of Indian democracy.

Because democracy is not just about votes, it is about one's ability to be heard and recognised as a part of the process that determines one's future. It is about dialogue, dissent, public reasoning, tolerance and the acceptance of differences - physical, communal or intellectual. And it is about social opportunity, justice and access to public services.

Darker than dramatics

While we focus squarely on the sparkling economic giant, the cultural superstar and regional superpower, in the dark margins of our spectacular new India, our problems continue to fester and spill over. We ignore the millions of fellow citizens who cannot access basic healthcare as we fawn over international health tourists. We overlook the hundreds of thousands of farmers trapped in debt and poverty who kill themselves, and brag that India has the world's fourth largest and Asia's top billionaire population. (India has 53 billionaires - four of them among the world's top ten - with $335 billion between them.) As we celebrated India's emergence as an economic superpower last year, hunger and economic desperation forced 25,000 farmers to kill themselves.

And we celebrate woman power by touting a woman president while we do nothing about the enormous socially sanctioned violence against women. Every day, some woman is killed for marrying someone she loves, for being low caste, for being poor, or merely as currency of power in family feuds. And 500,000 Indian girls are killed in the mother's womb each year. This is a country where even sixty years after independence, ruled for years by a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, women continue to get less food, less healthcare, less education, less opportunity and less of a life.

These are dark moments in our democracy, darker moments than the crude dramatics in parliament.

There are many reasons to be proud of India, both new and old. But unless we look beyond the spotlight and clean up the mess on the unlit margins, we can't really be as proud of India, the world's largest democracy, as we should be.

Syndicate content