This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:
President Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's ill ruler, returned home from Saudi Arabia this week. He had been away for 3 months with no known official contact to the newly appointed and acting president, Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan had been sworn in as president 2 weeks ago, and the unexpected return by Yar'Adua has led to many speculations about growing instability in the nation, with a possible power struggle adding to latent Muslim-Christian tensions and a rebellion in the Niger Delta. On Thursday, the Nigerian parliament enacted a law by near-unanimous vote setting a limit of 2 weeks on the amount of time a president can be absent on grounds of inability to perform the job. As controversy and questioning swirls, Goodluck Jonathan remains in effective power, according to many governmental officials.
Airing Dirty Laundry: Turkey
Turkey showed off its fragile underbelly to the world this week as a government sweep arrested military leaders over an alleged coup plan from 2003. Although Ankara acted swiftly to downplay the crisis, the fact stands that none of this is really new for Turkey, which has suffered from series of coups over the years. The difference here is that the arrests signal a transfer of political power from the elected executive powers from the Army, which has been the 'guarantor of democracy via coup' since the Ataturk's founding of the modern Turkish state. Never before have such senior military officers been arrested. The event brings to light apparent wide-spread tension between the secular Army and the ruling AKP, whose leaders have past Islamist affiliations. Questions over Turkey's stability that left many financiers and political analysts worried.
A suicide attack in Kabul on Friday targeted Indian and other foreigners and at least 16 were killed. Also US General McChrystal apologized for the accidental deaths of at least 27 Afghan civilians in a drone attack. Most agree that, despite the shortcomings of the Afghan Army, the recent campaign in and around Marja has generally gone well. As fighting abates, analysts speculate that McChrystal wants to expand the surge from Helmand Province into Kandahar Province, the two major Taliban strongholds. The joint NATO/Afghan effort has been bolstered by Pakistani arrests of key members of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. What's more promising is that Pakistan has agreed (perhaps with Saudi urging) to transfer these Taliban to Afghanistan, suggesting that Pakistan has indeed adopted a change in policy regarding sanctuary previously offered to Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. Less heartening however was President Karzai's initiative to take control over all election oversight by taking over the appointments to the Election Complaints Committee. Elsewhere, Pakistan and India met to improve ties for the first time since the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Though no major breakthroughs were reached and both sides did little more than posture, it is a good sign that they are talking.
Support for a Sunni call for boycott of Iraq elections gained little momentum this week. With less than nine days away from the 7 March Parliamentary elections, campaigning is in full swing mainly pitting two different styles and platforms of Shia leadership. Analysts are divided on whether the election will be a milestone of Iraq's democratic maturity or the catalyst for a return of sectarian divisions and perhaps even fighting.
Analysis in Brief:
Growing Campaign Against Iran
US military and diplomatic leaders are building the case for greater sanctions against Iran and support for a viable military option to be used as a credible threat if Iran still refuses to cooperate with international nuclear arbiters. After a Middle East tour de force led by US Secretary of State Clinton last week, there is strong evidence that they are making progress. The sticking points remains China's veto on the UN Security Council as well Turkey, who is a rotating member this year. Both Ankara and Beijing remain strong proponents of international mediation and diplomacy and opponents to further sanctions. Turkey may however be won over with US pressure and China convinced to abstain. Expect to hear more and more on Iran in the weeks to come. Elsewhere, Iran arrested Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, a major Sunni Iranian dissident. Iran claimed that Rigi had ties to the CIA. The US dismissed this.
Despite stabilizing progress in this nation in recent years, Bangladesh saw a rash of instability this week, mostly related to clashes between tribal groups and Bengali settlers in the southeast part of the nation. The violence in Khagrachhari is worrisome in this small nation with many minority groups including Chittagong Hill Tracts and Rohingya near the Myanmar border. The timing of the ethnic violence is worrisome, particularly as a trial begins over the mutiny by the Bangladesh Rifles that took place one year ago, leaving 74 people dead including 57 officers. 900 officers face charges, and the outcome of this trial could have implications for stability in this nation.
Olympic Forecasting Prediction
The next winter Olympics is planned for 2014 in the Russian Black Sea Resort of Sochi. Sochi however is dangerously close to the breakaway Georgian Province of Abkhazia, where Russian peacekeepers have long been suspected of providing material and military support to Abkhazia's claim for independence. Following the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia, Russia formerly recognized Abkhazia's independence and began issuing Russian passports to some Abkhazians. And last week, Russia reached an agreement to put a Russian military base on Abkhazian soil. This area is a tinderbox for conflict. Other unstable regional neighbors in the Northern Caucasus include, South Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. But continued tension between Russia and Georgia and disputes over Abkhazia and South Ossetia could see the next Olympics dangerously close to a latent if not active war zone.
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