- oD 50.50
No to TTIP
The issue of national identity always has the capacity to provoke argument and debate, especially perhaps among peoples who share many similarities yet who are divided by political boundaries. The Albanians of Kosova (the territory is spelled thus in its Albanian form) are one of those groups who were and are understandably obsessed with issues relating to their ethnic and national identity. For many years, they knew what there were not. They never liked to be called Yugoslavs, though for decades they had Yugoslav passports and benefited from freedoms which people in Albania itself could only have dreamed of. And they were certainly not Serbs, though much of the world regarded their country simply as a province of Serbia, indeed some still do.
The elections in Pakistan on 18 February 2008 have transformed the country's political landscape. The reports of pre-poll rigging were confounded, the spin Musharraf tried to put on the results disregarded. In a veritable tsunami, many establishment politicians have been swept away, and Musharraf's grip on power is looking more tenuous than ever before.
The Washington-based weekly Defense News is one of the most informative of the many military and defence journals on the market. As well as topical and detailed reports and analyses, it gives independent researchers useful insights into the thinking of the United States defence department. On occasion, a single issue of the magazine provides multiple indications of the Pentagon's outlook. The current issue - which, as ever, requires a subscription to access most of its material - is an unusually good example.
Desimir Tosic died on 7 February 2008, in John
Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, aged 88. He was a unique and somewhat
unconventional figure in modern Serbian history. Tosic was a politician who
placed ideas and ideals above personal and material gain. He was a contemporary
of Yugoslavia's turbulent life and its death(s), but wrote about Yugoslav
history and politics with an honesty, balance, critical stance and deep
knowledge rarely found among professional historians.
Dejan Djokic is lecturer in history at Goldsmiths College, London. He was formerly lecturer in Serbian and Croatian studies at the University of Nottingham. He is the editor of Yugoslavism: Histories of a Failed Idea (C Hurst, 2003 and University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), and author of Elusive Compromise: A History of Interwar Yugoslavia (C Hurst, 2007)
Also by Dejan Djokic on openDemocracy:
"Serbia: one year after the October revolution" (17 October 2001)
"A farewell to Yugoslavia" (10 April 2002)
"Serbia: monarchy and national identity" (30 May 2002)
"Ex-Yu rock" (6 August 2002)
"Serbian presidential elections" (17 September 2002)
"A conflict of loyalties: 1999 and 2003" (6 March 2003)
"The assassination of Zoran Djindjic" (13 March 2003)
This obituary was first published (with proper diacritics on personal names and titles) in EastEthnia on 9 February 2008
Although formally a politician, he was more of an enlightened educator whose ideas often clashed with the party line, despite his unquestioned overall loyalty to the Democratic Party (DS), of which he had been a member since the late 1930s. He was a Christian believer who was among the loudest critics of the Serbian Orthodox church and its role in politics. As an émigré he was equally critical of both the then communist regime and of backward-looking emigration; following his return to Serbia in 1990 his friends included many former communists. One of them was Draza Markovic, a leading communist politician in pre-Milosevic Serbia, with whom Tosic went to high school in the 1930s. Another former leading communist, and later the first important east European dissident, Milovan Djilas, was a figure Tosic admired and wrote about.
Born in 1920 in Bela Palanka, southern Serbia, in what was then the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Tosic moved to Belgrade in the 1930s to complete his secondary education. The capital was politically highly polarised at the time, but Tosic joined the centrist Democratic Party. The second world war and the German invasion interrupted his studies at Belgrade University's law faculty. During the war, Tosic supported General Mihailovic's resistance movement, like many of his fellow Democrats, but already at the time and even more so in his post-war writings, he was critical of both Mihailovic and Tito; he was also highly critical of the role of the monarchy in the interwar period, highlighting the counterproductive policies of King Aleksandar and his "successor" Prince Pavle. As a Mihailovic supporter, Tosic was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and sent to work in Germany. He survived the war only to find himself as a refugee in France. There he met his future wife Coral, with whom he eventually settled in her native Britain in 1958.
The Chadian rebels' dawn attack on the capital Ndjamena on 2 February 2008 was yet another case of a frustrated group of disgruntled African politicians throwing child soldiers at a sordid ethnic dictatorship they were hoping to overthrow in order to replace it with their own.
The general election of 18 February 2008 in Pakistan takes place amid violence. The campaign has been marked by numerous assaults on authorities and civilians, and frequent suicide-bomb attacks on political rallies, which have exacted great loss of life; the nearest estimate is that in total around 150 people have been killed. The bombing of a Pakistan People's Party meeting on 16 February which killed forty-seven people and wounded 110 in Parachinar, in the Kurram district of northern Pakistan, is only the most bloody of such incidents.
After a decade of waiting and months of
intense manoeuvring, Kosovo's assembly unilaterally declared independence on
the afternoon of 17 February 2008. The capital Pristina lit up with celebratory
fireworks, reflecting the mood of the Kosovar Albanians who form 90% of the
population. The United
States, France and Britain recognised or announced their intention to recognise the new state on the day after the declaration, and a number of European Union countries will follow. But there are
forces adamantly against independence: most immediately, the Serbs living in enclaves
within Kosovo where they form a majority, notably around the northern town of
Mitrovica; Serbia, which to no one's surprise has declared the assembly's move null and void; and
Russia, which is pressuring the United Nations to reject Kosovo's statehood (and which will use its Security Council veto to block Kosovo's membership of the UN).
Timothy William Waters teaches international law at Indiana University (Bloomington), and helped prepare the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes in Kosovo.
This article was written by invitation from openDemocracy
In recent months, many American politicians and officials have criticised the Iraqi government for acting too slowly: that is, for failing to exploit the limited time available for the political reforms and national reconciliation needed to turn recent tactical security gains into strategic gains. Indeed, the reform and reconciliation process is slow, but it is unfair to blame the Baghdad government only. The real cause of the government's ineffectiveness is the current political system, which is fatally flawed.
Convened in an extraordinary meeting on February 17, 2008, in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo,
Answering the call of the people to build a society that honours human dignity and affirms the pride and purpose of its citizens,
Committed to confront the painful legacy of the recent past in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness,
Dedicated to protecting, promoting and honoring the diversity of our people,
Reaffirming our wish to become fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of democracies,
These are strange political times in Israel. This became clear to me on the day the official commission of inquiry into Israel's disastrous Lebanon war of July-August 2006 issued its report. It became the main topic of conversation in many unlikely places, including a reception for the opening of an Irish film festival in Tel Aviv attended by Ruth Dayan, the widow of the late General Moshe Dayan, the legendary hero of the six-day war of 1967. When I asked her if she thought the report would bring down the government, she replied: "I hope not. Who wants an election now? Let (prime minister Ehud) Olmert stay - if he goes, we will get something worse."
The serious strategic predicament created by the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States and its key allies shows no sign of being alleviated. In Afghanistan, the dispute over the appointment of a new United Nations envoy in Kabul (where Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, vetoed the appointment of former British politician Paddy Ashdown to the role) is the surface of a deeper disarray. In Iraq, a number of signals (including the caution over US troop withdrawals expressed by defence secretary Robert M Gates during a two-day trip to Iraq, the ominous Sunni demonstrations in Diyala province, and new waves of Iraqi detainees inundating the US-controlled prison system) underline the difficulty of Washington and London's position.
The middle east's ownership of two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves means that its status as the world's leading energy supplier is hardly in doubt. Buta paradigm shift in how it fulfils this role may be around the corner. Don't be surprised if the region pioneers the switch from oil and gas to renewable energies.James Howarth is co-director of the middle east and north Africa division ofthe political risk consultancy ExclusiveAnalysis. He has worked as an advisor and as a translator, including of Messagesto the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005). He appears frequently appear in the broadcast media as a regional analyst
Also by James Howarth on openDemocracy:
"Jordan's 9/11" (10 November 2005)
"The fallout from Amman" (16 November 2005)
"Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji" (20 January 2006)
From the outside, the middle east is often seen as an undifferentiated collection of greedy, unrepresentative governments conspiring to exploit powerless consumers with their lucrative energy reserves. The stereotype hashad another boost in January 2008, when oil finally hit the symbolic $100-per-barrel mark. Even if the pricehas retreated since then, the strong and rising demand (particularly across Asia) means that the region's energy leverage is only going to get stronger.
Whatever the reasons for oil-price inflation - demand outpacing supply, refining capacity shortages, speculative investors and concerns over Gulfsecurity being just some - the arrival of three-figure oil in 2008 may prove a watershed not only for global consumption but also for the middle east's role in solving humanity's addiction to fossil-fuels.
The region is certainly not about to abandon its hydrocarbon cash-cow anytime soon. But a split is emerging between traditionalist and progressive visions, pitting cautious resource nationalism against creative investments in futuristic technologies.
The governments of such countries as Algeria, Libya and Saudi Arabia can easily afford to rely on high oil and gas revenues to insulate themselves from political opposition, upgrade their infrastructure, further enrich domestic elites and keep business healthy for western defence companies.
But these countries also remember when oil was nearer $10 than $100. They stillf ear that the current boom, while a safe short-term bet, won't last forever - that a global recession or breakthrough in alternative energy could greatly diminish bring oil demand. The answer is to diversify their economies. But entrenched interests, uncompetitive business environments and lack of immediate incentives stand in the way.
Britain on 7 July 2005 became a different country. The four coordinated (and “homegrown”) suicide-bombs on the London transport network that killed fifty-two innocent people and injured more than 700 may have a cumulative social impact as great and potentially devastating as their uncountable human one.
The challenges raised by these attacks are multiple:
- for public security agencies – to undertake intelligent and targeted police action against the organisers and practitioners of terrorism, while maintaining civic protection and social peace
The inconclusive result in in the first round of Serbia's presidential election on 20 January 2008 led to a second round on Sunday 3 February. Again, there was widespread fear that the extreme-right nationalism represented by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and its candidate Tomislav Nikolic would score a decisive victory; and just as in the first round, an extraordinarily high turnout prevented that outcome. The incumbent president Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party (DS) squeaked through to re-election with 50,5% to Nikolic's 47,9%. In doing so Tadic has probably gained a bit of political autonomy in addition to his second five-year mandate, but nothing is secure.
Every mission where the European Union is involved will at some point be hailed as a "test case" for its nascent foreign and defence capabilities. From Chad to Bosnia and Kosovo, there are plenty of such tests to choose from. But of all the current missions, Afghanistan is the most important. An EU failure there would have very serious consequences for the Afghan state and people; and it would imperil the effort to develop a common EU foreign policy at the very time when the Lisbon treaty is meant to signal the arrival of a new global player.
Daniel Korski - Afghanistan (1)
The best-laid plans of the unpopular party in power came to nothing in the Serbian presidential election on 20 January 2008, mostly because the voters decided to surprise everybody by turning out in large numbers. In the immediate aftermath, the hadlines report that Serbian Radical Party (SRS) candidate Tomislav Nikolic "won" the first round against incumbent president and Democratic Party (DS) leader Boris Tadic with a 39.6% plurality of the vote to the 35.4% received by Tadic [it should be noted that these statistics are from the projections by the observer group, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy [CeSiD]; the results reported by the Serbian electoral commission may be different, though probably not by very much). This, however, is a partial and misleading gloss on a more nuanced outcome which should be read against the background of current Serbian politics.
Many aficionados of Arab cinema recall a famous scene in Nasser 56, the film made to commemorate the Suez war of 1956. An old Egyptian woman from Upper Egypt, the region from which Gamal Abdel Nasser hails, gets a chance to talk to Nasser in private. She hands him a wretched, flimsy pair of trousers which used to belong to her grandfather. She tells Nasser that the man was, like millions of Egyptian youths, taken from his village to al-sokhra (slavery) to join the brigades digging the Suez canal. And like many of those millions, he never returned; he died young, far away from his family and his home.
In 1991, as Yugoslavia was on the point of imploding, the Luxembourg foreign minister Jacques Poos spoke for many prominent Europeans when he proclaimed that "the hour of Europe has struck". The implication was clear - the then twelve-member European Community had a moral responsibility to intervene so as to prevent an escalation of conflict.
John O' Brennan is a lecturer in European politics and society at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Among his books are The Eastern Enlargement of the European Union (Routledge, 2006) and (forthcoming) The EU and the Western Balkans: Stabilization and Democratization through Enlargement (Routledge, 2008)Tragically, no substantive EU political engagement was attempted and Yugoslavia descended into an abyss of fratricidal ethnic cleansing which cost upwards of 250,000 lives. Today, as the government of Hashim Thaci formed after the November 2007 elections in Kosovo prepares to declare independence from Serbia, the future of the western Balkans looms as the most serious geopolitical issue facing the enlarged EU of twenty-seven member-states. How should the EU respond?
A third assessment of post-invasion violent deaths in Iraq was published on 9 January 2008 by the New England Journal of Medicine, a prestigious platform for medical research and scientific debates edited in Boston, Massachusetts. The lead article in the journal - "Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006" - reports the results of an inquiry by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group (IFHS), involving collaboration between national and regional ministers in Iraq and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It finds that 151,000 (between 104,000 and 220,000) people died from violence in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006. When such a politically sensitive figure is published, it is critical to turn statistics into words and explain what the new evidence tells, what it does not, and how far it confirms or invalidates the previous ones.
The week of violence and rioting in Pakistan followed Benazir Bhutto's assassination on 27 December 2007 in Rawalpindi saw fifty-eight people killed. The turmoil has continued, with a suicide-bomb attack at a police checkpoint in Lahore on 10 January 2008 taking the lives of twenty-four more. Yet in politics, it has also been a period of relative calm. One reason has been the approach of Muharram, the month of mourning for when the martyrdom of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammed's grandson, is marked. The first ten days of the month are observed in especially emotional ways by Shi'a, with reitals of the siege and the final battle, culminating on the tenth day when Hussein and most of his family were killed.
The international community may have given its (albeit qualified) seal of approval to Mikheil Saakashvili's contested victory in Georgia's presidential elections on 5 January 2008, but Georgia itself is bitterly divided over the outcome. The official figures conclude that Saakashvili, the incumbent, received 53.38% of the vote against 25.66% for the main opposition candidate, Levan Gachechiladze. But the opposition has refused to accept the validity of this result; Gachechiladze says he has been robbed of the second-round play-off that would have ensued on 19 January if Saakashvili had fallen below the 50% mark. The emotional temperature in the capital, Tbilisi - where Gachechiladze beat the president into second place - is particularly high.
Two scientifically audited numbers today constitute the best available and most cited evidence quantifying Iraqi civilian deaths directly associated with the war in that country which began in March 2003. Each is generated by a credible and independent source, though their conclusions vary widely: one gives a running total of 48,783 (as of 18 October 2006), the other gives 654,965 for the period March 2003 to July 2006.
At this stage in the Iraq war, these different orders of magnitude for civilian casualties are too often relayed by a number-loving (and sensation-hungry) media in ways that both reflect and serve the preordained views of those in favour of or against the war. A statistical language about Iraqi casualties that is able to bring numbers and words, tallies and stories, into a coherent relationship requires understanding of what "48,783" and "654,965" are really measuring, how they were respectively computed, and what they reveal.
"Nobody can go until their time is up", said Benazir Bhutto to an Indian television channel in the traumatic aftermath of the first attempt on her life on 18 October 2007. It's a truism that is found in other cultures, but as an Islamic dictum it seems to gain conviction on repetition. Since the leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was assassinated in Rawalpindi on 27 December, the Pakistani and regional media have broadcast clips of that pronouncement (and the many variations she uttered around the time) again and again.
The many victims of the war on terror have included multilateralism. So damaging are the effects that 2008 could see an unravelling even of the achievements of the multilateral approach of the 1990s in the Balkans, the Caucasus and elsewhere. To avert this fate, in a period when the United States will increasingly be consumed by the presidential election race, the European Union in particular will be challenged to adopt a clearer and sharper sense of responsibility in potential conflict-zones.
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
Among Mary Kaldor's many articles in openDemocracy:
"Iraq: a war like no other" (27 March 2003)
"Iraq: the democratic option" (13 November 2003)
"Safe democracy" (23 December 2004)
"Parallel politics in Iraq" (22 March 2005) - with Yahia Said
"Iraq: the wrong war" (8 June 2005)
"London lives" (7 July 2005)
"America's Iraq plight: old and new thinking" (13 February 2007)
"How to free hostages" (29 September 2004)
"Palestine's human insecurity: a Gaza report" (20 May 2007) - with Mient Jan Faber
Most immediately, there is a probability that Kosovo will early in 2008 declare independence - albeit in the slightly qualified form that follows the Martti Ahtisaari plan delivered to the United Nations in March 2007, with its call for "supervised independence" and a continuing international presence. But in any case, the declaration is likely to be followed by a spate of similar acts in other territories - the northern Serb part of Kosovo, Herzeg-Bosne (the Croatian mini-state in Bosnia-Herzegovina) or Republika Srpska (the Serbian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina). The "frozen conflicts" in the south Caucasus are likely to see similar shifts, with possible independence moves - with encouragement from Russia - by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh. So the formal break-up both of Bosnia-Herzegovina and of Georgia are possible in 2008.
The seeds of violence
The challenge of Kosovo will be a test-case for the European Union. Until now, the EU's efforts in eastern Europe and the Balkans have been relatively successful in avoiding the kind of instability that characterises large parts of Africa and the middle east or that is likely to follow the death of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. With the reform treaty now in place and plans for a new security strategy underway, the EU needs to take a lead in managing the process of serial declarations of independence.
There is a real risk of spreading destabilisation in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The criminal/nationalist entrepreneurs who profited from the wars in the 1990s were never properly dealt with. On the contrary, they have been nurtured by the combination of nationalist governments, high unemployment and lawlessness. Governments in the region - in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania or Georgia, for example - are not simply (as the jargon has it) "weak states"; their weakness is sustained by what some have described as shadow networks of transnational crime and extremist ideologies. There has been an expansion of human-trafficking, money-laundering, and the smuggling of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and weapons over the last decade - much of it to satisfy European and American markets - and all in the face of international agreements, aid programmes and the presence of foreign troops and agencies.
These problems are the outward manifestation of unresolved economic, social and institutional problems which the international community - whose policy toward these regions has been dominated by a top-down approach designed above all to maintain stability - has failed to address. Political efforts have been focused on status; military efforts have given priority to separating forces and controlling heavy weapons; economic efforts have concentrated on economic growth, macroeconomic stability and control of inflation.
Among openDemocracy's articles on Kosovo and the future of the Balkans:
TK Vogel, "Kosovo: a break in the ice" (2 February 2007)
Marko Attila Hoare, "Kosovo: the Balkans' last independent state" (12 February 2007)
Vicken Cheterian, "Serbia after Kosovo" (18 April 2007)
Eric Gordy, "Serbia's Kosovo claim: much ado about..." (2 October 2007)
Paul Hockenos, "Kosovo's contested future" (16 November 2007)
Juan Garrigues, "Kosovo's troubled victory" (7 December 2007)
Meanwhile the entrepreneurs of violence have fed on the spread of grassroots populist nationalism and/or religious radicalisation that has exploited the frustrations arising from high levels of unemployment, high crime rates and human-rights violations, the trauma of past violence, and the weakness of civil society. For example, the Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci won the Kosovar elections of 17 November 2007, and (while the main current Serbian politicians are nationalist enough) there is a risk that the more extreme radical nationalist Tomislav Nikolic will do well in the Serbian presidential elections scheduled for 20 January 2008.
Violence will further strengthen the position of these "spoilers". The Ahtisaari plan for Kosovo envisages "decentralisation", which means in current conditions a kind of internal partition between Serb and Albanian municipalities. A new bout of ethnic cleansing will lead to the expulsion of Serbs from the southern part of Kosovo and of the few remaining Albanians in the north. Militant groups with names like the Albanian National Army or the Prince Lazar Army (named after the Serbian leader killed in the myth-encrusted battle of Kosovo in 1389) are already mobilising. The violence could spread to areas where there are neighbouring Albanian minorities, such as Macedonia and southern Serbia, as well as to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The tension will be worsened if, as is expected, a Serbian blockade of Kosovo is imposed; this would in particular stop electricity supplies. It is possible to outline similar scenarios in the south Caucasus.
A test for Europe
How will the international community respond to these developments? At the moment, as usual, the discussion is about status. The US will support the independence of Kosovo. The EU will be divided and Russia will oppose this outcome. Yet the real issue is how to protect ordinary people from the effects of these high-level manoeuvres. Nato forces are now trying to protect the borders of Kosovo instead of focusing on protecting both Serbs and Albanian at risk of ethnic cleansing and trying to maintain public security.
The EU is planning to send a rule-of-law mission, which is much needed. But who will provide alternative sources of electricity and jobs for Albanians and alternative sources of income for Serbs who are currently dependent on Belgrade and have no option than to obey Belgrade's dictates even if they might prefer to stay in Kosovo and live with their erstwhile neighbours? Above all, who is talking to ordinary people - among them Serbs, Albanians, Croatians, Georgians, Abkhazians, and Ossetians - all of whom long for peace and work, but whose voices and concerns are often appropriated by extremists?
Can the European Union respond to these challenges? Will it remain stuck in arguments for and against changes of status, or will it prove to have the resources and political will to protect people and communities?
The last days of 2007 were marked by major concerns by
western military forces over the growing influence of Taliban militias in much
of Afghanistan, as well as
the continued activities of the al-Qaida movement on both sides of the border
These worries predated the assassination of the Pakistani opposition leader
Benazir Bhutto on 27
December 2007, and have been intensified by its circumstances and its messy
There are now 51,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, but they are still unable to cope with the resurgence. Of these troops, 40,000 are under Nato command in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf): 15,000 from the United States, 25,000 from other Nato countries. The remaining 11,000 troops are almost all from the United States, with some special forces from other Nato states; together they are engaged under US command in intensive counterinsurgency operations in the southeast of the country.
Georgia is emerging from its
new-year hangover this week just in time to vote in the critical presidential
election on 5
January 2008 - the most important the landlocked country in the south
Caucasus has faced since independence in 1991.
At stake is the comprehensive liberal reform project unleashed by Mikheil Saakashvili's "rose revolution" of 2003-04. He himself has made it absolutely clear that if he is elected there will be no let up in the pace of reform. More eggs will be smashed to make the new Georgian omelette.
But unlike the January 2004 presidential election, when Saakashvili swept to power on a wave of popular euphoria that delivered him over 90% of the vote, he can no longer be sure of the level of his support.
On 16 July 1945, an experimental plutonium-fuelled implosion device with a power of over 10,000 tons of conventional high explosive (i.e., ten "kilotons") was tested in the New Mexico desert. The nuclear age was born. Within a month, two more atom-bombs had been used, this time against Japanese cities, and the United States and its allies had already set up a production line to produce two bombs a month, destroying Japanese cities one by one until the war ended.
In the event that was not needed, for Japan surrendered shortly after being on the receiving end of the second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. Thereafter, in the incipient years of cold war with its Soviet adversary, the United States moved rapidly to become a nuclear superpower; within three years it had built a stockpile of fifty bombs. The Soviet Union tested its own first nuclear weapon in 1949; by 1953 the rival states had tested far more destructive thermonuclear weapons, and Britain had become the world's third nuclear power. There were attempts in this first phase of the nuclear age to contain its dangers - including proposals named after the US presidential adviser Bernard Baruch and the then Soviet delegate to the United Nations, Anatoly Gromyko (both presented in June 1946) - but both collapsed amid a welter of east-west suspicions.
The consequences of political assassinations - what in Spanish are termed magnicidios - are variable and unpredictable. Some radically change history and inaugurate a new phase in the politics of the country concerned; others, for all their horror and symbolism, do not inaugurate fundamentally new eras.
The 20th century, an epoch punctuated by assassinations as much as by wars or scientific inventions, offers many examples of this variety (see "Political killing in the cold war", 11 August 2005). The most dramatic such event was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo in June 1914, which led both to the "great war" and the collapse of the whole European and middle-eastern order that had preceded it. On a smaller scale, the killing of the Colombian politician Jorge Gaitán in April 1948 inaugurated a civil war and a decades-long period of violence that has lasted to this day. A case unnoticed by most outside observers, but with immense consequences for his own country and for its neighbour Pakistan, was the murder of the Afghan communist leader Mir Akbar Khyber in April 1978; this led to a pro-Soviet coup later that month, and opened the way to the three decades of war - and attendant diffusion of Islamist violence across the world - that have followed.
Just days before she returned to Karachi on 18 October 2007, Benazir Bhutto gave an interview to the BBC in which she called Pakistan "one of the most dangerous countries in the world". She was to be proved right just hours after touchdown when two suicide-bombs killed more than 140 of her supporters as they accompanied her in a mammoth rally from the airport.
The world is in the seventh year of a war with no end in sight. A short six years ago, in late December 2001, it all looked very different. A United States-led campaign had terminated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the talk in Washington was already about moving on to deal with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. After the visceral shock of the 9/11 atrocities, the George W Bush administration was on a roll - indeed the sheer force of what was just beginning to be called the "war on terror" was already beginning to recapture the vision of a "new American century".
Between October and December 2007, Bosnia has experienced a startling roller-coaster of events. A governmental crisis that sparked fears of war led to a completely unexpected rapprochement among bitterly divided nationalist parties. The first few months of 2008 will show whether or not Bosnia has finally achieved a breakthrough in its built-in, long-term political stalemate.
Due to the unwieldy political structure that was cobbled together as part of the Dayton peace agreement of November 1995, the Bosnian government comes to a standstill on a near-annual basis. The Dayton accord ended a devastating war that lasted from early 1992 to the end of 1995. The new Dayton constitution recognised two autonomous "entities" formed during the war: a Serb-controlled Republika Srpska (RS), and a Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation. Many of the leaders of these entities were the very same officials who had prosecuted the three-way war. Where these leaders have departed, new figures who inherited the wartime separatist agenda have taken over.
The re-emergence of the neo-Taliban in Afghanistan is hardly breaking news, but the reasons for its spreading influence in the last two years have rarely been reported, much less explained. Until 2006, its campaign was confined largely to the Pashtun heartland south of the Hindu Kush mountains, but as of late 2007 it has established communication- and supply-lines in the west, north and northeast of the country, through which are being channelled fighters and munitions in order to open new fronts against international forces.
The mood-music for several weeks in November-December 2007 has been of the cautious improvement of military and political prospects in the various leading fronts of George W Bush's "war on terror". The United States military surge in Iraq was clearly having some success; a febrile political situation in Pakistan was nonetheless contained, with violence in areas such as Swat being addressed; the winter was expected to see an easing of the conflict in Afghanistan; the Annapolis summit could be presented as a signal of progress in middle-east negotiations; and Iran's recalcitrance over its nuclear programmes meant that there seemed a real possibility of maintaining pressure on Tehran (via an economic squeeze, international support for a third round of United Nations sanctions, and the ultimate threat of military force).