On Sunday Pakistani officials reopened the Torkham border crossing, a critical supply route for Nato forces operating in Afghanistan, after American officials apologized for an unauthorized helicopter raid that killed two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers. The raid inside Pakistani territory incited widespread public anger, resulting in the closure of the crossing – a major supply route for Nato convoys – and the sharp escalation of insurgent attacks on held-up vehicles destined for Afghanistan.
Roughly 150 supply vehicles were destroyed during the blockade while others were abandoned by fearful drivers on roads across the country. Hundreds of lorries were trapped at the crossing, described as ‘sitting ducks’, left vulnerable and defenceless to attacks.
The closure highlighted the immense leverage – an effective ‘veto power’ – that Pakistani officials wield over Nato operations in Afghanistan, a power some analysts suggest will be maintained indefinitely until additional supply lines are formed, an unlikely occurrence in the foreseeable future given the political and logistic difficulties. Since 2001, roughly 40 percent of Nato’s fuel and more than 70 percent of its supplies have come through mountainous routes snaking across Pakistan from the Arabian Sea.
The openSecurity verdict: The Torkham affair has uncovered a number of concerns. According to a recent analysis by RUSI, around one million litres of fuel is transported from Pakistan to Helmand Province in Afghanistan each year along sometimes highly dangerous routes, increasing the cost of the fuel tenfold. The deliberate targeting of fuel convoys by insurgents is clearly far from a new development, afflicting recent operations in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, however the violent destruction by insurgents of 40 such vehicles in a single day, 6 October, is unique.
Paul Rogers points out that the capacity of the insurgents to conduct such large-scale operations so close to Islamabad, the capital, is a ‘potent indication of current political realities’ in Pakistan, a country fatigued by devastating recent floods, widespread corruption, and decreasing confidence in the president, Asif Zardari.
Others suggest that a way to reduce this vulnerability would be to negotiate with Tehran to build a supply line through Iranian territory, which it is argued would be cheaper, more efficient, and safer than the current Pakistani routes. Such a deal would allow Nato to regain the upper hand with Islamabad while giving the Pakistani Taliban fewer targets, thus reducing Pakistan’s security burden.
As is true of many more proposed palliatives to the conflict, the weight of mistrust, compounded by years of shifting alliances and covert interventions by Afghanistan’s neighbours and global powers, makes such a suggestion unlikely to be acted upon.
New missiles and potential new leader make debut at Pyongyang parade
Kim Jong-un, the son and likely successor to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was unveiled on Sunday at what is being called the largest military parade in North Korean history. The event was also marked by the appearance of two new pieces of military hardware, the ‘Musudan’ – an intermediate-range ballistic missile, or IRBM – and an unknown medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM).
The lavish, day-long celebration filled with fireworks, dancers, orchestras, and 20,000 military personnel, was officially organized to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party. In an extraordinarily rare gesture of openness to the world media, live television coverage of the event was permitted and dozens of foreign journalists were invited to witness the proceedings in Kim il-Sung Plaza, a calculated move confirming the prevailing view that the event was staged as a ‘coming out’ party for the future head of state.
This hint of a smooth succession temporarily eases growing fears in some quarters – including North Korea’s neighbors China, Japan, and South Korea – that a leadership vacuum following the death of Kim Jong-il would cause a massive refugee crisis and regional instability, as well as the possible collapse of the state. It is widely believed that the 68-year-old Kim suffered a stroke in 2008 and reports of his fragile health have circulated ever since.
Further evidence of the continuation of the status quo was the symbolic appearance of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the chief of the army, who stood between the two Kims for the duration of the ceremony. Many analysts believe this to be a strong signal that the North Korean policy of songun, or ‘military first’, will be maintained through the succession.
The pageantry of the Kim family overshadowed news of the first public appearance of the Musudan IRBM, a missile with a reported range of 2,500 to 3,000 km. The weapon, known to exist for quite some time, is a variant of the Soviet R-27 ballistic missile. Perhaps more intriguing, however, was the appearance of an as-of-yet-unknown medium-range ballistic missile. The similarity in construction with a Iranian MRBM strongly suggests cooperation between the militaries of the two countries.
Kyrgyz polls close though uncertainty remains
Only months after violence in Kyrgyzstan killed at least 400 people, resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes, and caused tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks to flee for safety, polls have now officially closed there in an attempt to create the first parliamentary democracy in central Asia. The election, widely seen as transparent with only a handful of reports of vote-rigging, reportedly passed with no violence.
A member of the election commission said on Sunday that the elections occurred ‘without any major incidents.’ Kyrgyz officials invited about 800 independent foreign election monitors to oversee the process, to prevent fraud and any outbreaks of violence.
After Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister, replaced ousted president Bakiyev last April, hundreds were killed in ethnic violence between the Uzbek minority and Kyrgyz majority. Though the first election after this violence has been peaceful, considered by many to be a remarkable feat in its own right given recent events, others fear that unhappy voters supporting losing parties might start trouble once vote counting gets underway. It is likely too early to determine whether the election can be considered a success.
Resource and staffing woes restrict UN war crimes tribunals
The presidents of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have reported to the UN General Assembly that a lack of resources is constraining their progress in trying those accused of committing war atrocities during the conflicts that afflicted those countries in the 1990s.
Judge Dennis Byron, chief of the ICTR, reported that he lost 167 staff members in the year prior to last June, though he states the ‘significant progress’ that the Tribunal has made regardless. Most of the former employees left to seek similar work with employers who offered longer contracts, Byron said. The president of the ICTY admits to similar issues, with experienced staff leaving at ‘an alarming rate’ for more secure employment. Though the court increased its ability to run simultaneous trials from six to ten, there has been no similar increase in resources, he said.
The ICTR was created by the UN Security Council in 1994 to prosecute those persons responsible for ‘genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law’ committed in Rwanda, in a horrendously bloody conflict which killed roughly 800,000 Tutsis and opposition Hutus.
The ICTY was established in 1993 to try those responsible for war crimes committed during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s. The Tribunal predicted in June that it would complete all trials by late 2012. It is uncertain if this timetable will be affected by the recent resource issues.