Pakistan elections and the hope for democracy

This year’s general elections in Pakistan will be remembered for two things: the determination of the people of Pakistan to see them through and the equal determination of the men of violence to prevent them. As Pakistanis prepare to go to the polls on May 11, there is much nervousness and hope for its outcome, potentially the first successful democratic transition between two popularly elected governments in Pakistan’s history.

What my experience as a district officer has taught me, however, is that there is nothing more dangerous than changing horses in mid-stream. National elections have proven in the past to lead to the collapse of law and order and the imposition of martial law. With the promise of the current elections, this is a cycle that appears to be broken, but we should be aware of its dangers.

Akbar Ahmed

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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The Syria-Iran red line show

This eminently Bushist Obama “red line” business, applied to Syria, Iran or both, is becoming a tad ridiculous.

Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.

There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat – missiles from North Korea.
The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies – missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs – could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online, Hong Kong

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The Iranian nuclear issue and the future of international order

The outlines of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran have long been obvious: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for more intrusive monitoring and verification of Iranian nuclear facilities. With agreement so readily at hand, the Obama administration’s refusal to take it is baffling to many international observers. But the reason for American obstinacy becomes clearer when one considers that the Iranian nuclear issue has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation.

Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of world order.

In one concept, the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent, sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. This model is understandably favoured by non-Western states – for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful. But it is at odds with the model favoured by America and its Western partners, which emphasises the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place – not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This model also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states – those with the resources and willingness to “enforce” their concept of global order.

Hillary Mann Leverett

Flynt Leverett

AL Jazeera, Qatar

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U.S. options limited on Syria despite weapons report

The White House disclosure that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons still leaves the Obama administration stuck with a limited choice of military options to help the rebels oust President Bashar Assad.

Arming the rebels runs smack into the reality that a military group fighting alongside them has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Establishing a no-fly zone poses a significant challenge as Syria possesses an air defense system far more robust than what the U.S. and its allies overwhelmed in Libya two years ago.

President Barack Obama had declared that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in the two-year civil war would be “game changer” that would cross a “red line” for a major military response, but the White House made clear Thursday that even a quick strike wasn’t imminent.

Al Arabiya, United Arab Emirates

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Slush funds and sleaze

One of the great successes of the Obama administration has been its ability to divert attention from the wars the United States is still fighting, such as Afghanistan. Given Obama’s decision to escalate and extend that war is looking worse and worse with time, you can understand why they are doing this. It’s possible that sending more troops bought Obama time and is making it easier to get out now; the problem is that we ended up squandering more lives and money without getting a significantly better outcome.

My real fear is that this is merely a preamble to telling ourselves a lot of self-serving myths about that war. Count on it: Our exit from Afghanistan will be accompanied by a lot of feel-good stories about the U.S./NATO effort there designed to convince Americans that the surge “worked” and that we really did give it our all. If things go south later on, that will be the Afghans’ fault, not ours, and so it won’t be necessary to learn any lessons from our mistakes.

Stephen M. Walt

Foreign Policy, United States

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Israeli yellow card for US on Iran

Though a military conflict in the Persian Gulf does not appear to be imminent, the situation in the region today somewhat resembles that in Europe just prior to World War I, a top Russian security analyst told Asia Times Online. While nobody wants a war, the different actors could easily be drawn into one, said Dr Victor Mizin, vice president of the Center for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.

It is conceivable that the Iranians might try to weaponize in the future their nuclear potential, Mizin said, much like the Indians did in the past, largely under pressure from their own nuclear scientists. In this case, Israel would likely “be doomed to use force” despite pressure from Washington and military assessments that a successful operation would require the attacker “to knock out immediately some 2,000 targets” including nuclear facilities, military and missile bases, and air defense installations.

Victor Kotsev

Asia Times Online

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Obama: Syrian chemical strike would force U.S. to ‘rethink’

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the United States would “rethink” its policy on Syria if he receives proof that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.

But he expressed caution about recent intelligence reports, telling a White House news conference: “I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.”

“If I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident in the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer,” he warned.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has been accused of using weapons loaded with nerve agents against targets in civilian areas during its battle with an armed rebellion against his rule.

Washington has previously warned that the use of so-called weapons of mass destruction would be a “red line” that Assad must not cross if he is to avoid triggering an international response.

Obama did not rule out eventual U.S. military action, but remained cautious.

“By game changer, I mean we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us. We are invested in trying to bring back a solution inside of Syria,” he told reporters.

AFP / Al Arabiya

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