The Week in Review
A suicide bombing Sunday in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killed 19 people and wounded dozens more. Those killed included 15 policemen, who were providing security at an event organized by radicals to mark the first anniversary of the government’s strike against the Red Mosque. In the 12 months since that strike, the government has lost control of large parts of Pakistan to Islamist extremism. “The fact is that the civilian government and the country’s military establishment appear to be losing control of the situation,” reports Stratfor. By negotiating with the jihadists from a position of weakness, the government is encouraging them to go to more and more extreme lengths to gain what they want.
Pakistan’s negotiations with the Taliban have also had a damaging impact on neighboring Afghanistan. On July 7, a suicide operative blew up his car outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 140. The Middle East Times reports that terrorist attacks have risen by more than 40 percent in eastern Afghanistan within the first five months of 2008 compared to the same period last year. June saw the highest number of foreign military casualties, with 46 coalition troops being killed. As the Times says, “Talibanization of Pakistan is not a problem that can be resolved by shifting it elsewhere through previously failed peace deals with terrorists ….” Facing a humanitarian crisis wherein conflict and drought have displaced more than 100,000 people across the country, “Afghanistan is fast reaching the breaking point,” says the Times. Such conditions only enable the Taliban to grow even stronger.
Last month, the Solidarity Congress of the Iraqi Peoples held an annual meeting hosted by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (pmoi). A petition reportedly signed by over 3 million Iraqis presented at the meeting called for the expulsion of the Iranian regime and its agents from Iraq, as well as the removal of restrictions on the pmoi in Iraq. Tehran reacted by insisting that the Iraqi government take action against the pmoi; Baghdad obliged by demanding that members of the Iranian opposition group leave Iraq within six months or face expulsion, prohibiting any dealings with the pmoi, and calling for the arrest of a Sunni member of parliament because of his relations with the group. Such actions show the influence Tehran has with the al-Maliki government in Iraq.
Turkey is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Deep divisions between the nation’s secularists and religionists have generated a legal challenge that could remove the current government. In March, the country’s chief prosecutor launched a suit aimed at shutting down the ruling Justice and Development Party and banning dozens of politicians for five years because of their efforts to undermine the secular state and impose Islamic rule. Hearings began July 1. Heightening the political tension even more, last week the religionists fought back. Police arrested 21 people, including two retired generals, suspected of plotting a coup against the akp. Europe has responded by condemning the secularists for being undemocratic. Should the prosecution be successful in removing the ruling party, EU officials say it would set back Turkey’s bid for Union membership indefinitely. Turkey is in a Catch-22. If it moves in the direction of the religionists, it is simply “too Muslim” to join Europe. But if the secularists intervene to prevent that from happening, it is clearly “too undemocratic.” To Europeans, Turkey’s EU bid is dead.
Police from around Europe could soon be setting up shop on British soil. European interior ministers meeting in Cannes, France, this week announced that EU nations could station their police in tourist hot spots around Europe. This means, for example, French police could send their police to London during the summer months, and British police could be stationed in Paris. Since March of this year, detectives from Europol nations have been able to carry out investigations and even make arrests in other nations. A federalizing Europe is gaining more and more power over its subjects. Despite the Irish recently voting no to the EU constitution, Europe will unify further.
Earlier in the year, the Trumpet wrote about the Catholic Church’s influence over the Italian government. Now that government is going after other religions. The Italian interior minister announced that he will shut down the Jenner mosque in Milan after receiving complaints from local residents. Although this time the local Catholic priest has spoken out against the plan, watch for this to change. Islam and Catholicism are diametrically opposed. For more information, see our Oct. 15, 2007, article “Cathedrals vs. Mosques: Tremors of a Coming Conflict.”
Just over a month ago, the Trumpetwrote about plans to limit democracy in the European Parliament. This week those plans were fulfilled as the EU Parliament voted to tighten the rules required for political parties to be represented in the Parliament. Now Europe’s main Euroskeptic group will be pushed out of the Parliament after June 2009 unless it gets more members. This is just one more small step away from democracy for Europe.
Chinese imports of refined oil products jumped by a whopping 25 percent in June compared to a year earlier. Crude oil imports only increased 3.2 percent—but that figure for May was also 25 percent. According to Reuters, monthly data can be volatile and analysts should look at year-to-date figures, which predict an annual rise of 10 to 15 percent. Strong Chinese demand for oil is keeping the pressure on global oil and fuel prices.
China’s largest offshore oil-services provider, China National Offshore Oil Corp. (a subsidiary of state-owned oil giant cnooc), signed a deal on Monday to buy Norwegian oil-drilling contractor Awilco Offshore asa for about $2.5 billion. The effort is an attempt by China to break into the global oil-field-services industry and gain access to Western technology and know-how. The world’s biggest oil companies are investing billions of dollars into exploration as oil prices exceed $140 per barrel.
After the United States eased sanctions against North Korea, and the Koreans responded by demolishing a nuclear reactor tower in June, international tensions have not eased as much as hoped. On July 10, North Korea accused the U.S. of “provocative” activity during a meeting with a senior U.S. member of the UN Armistice Commission. At the meeting, the United States notified North Korea of U.S.-South Korean military exercises set for August. North Korean state media called the exercises “criminal” and demanded they be cancelled.
South America, Africa
Moscow is continuing its pattern of supplying weapons to U.S. enemies. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his plans to purchase weapons, including tanks, from Russia during his July 22 visit. President Chávez has always cited the threat posed by the U.S. as the reason for his military escalation, and has cut oil exports to the U.S. this year. It will take time for Venezuela to wean itself off U.S. funds completely, but China is moving in as Venezuela’s new favorite buyer.
Russia has developed a preliminary agreement with Nigeria to handle oil production in Oganiland—the same area that Royal Dutch/Shell abandoned in 1995 because of the ongoing violence and protests in the region. Russian energy giant Gazprom will face significant security and public relations challenges in Nigeria—Shell found them so significant that it will not return to the country—but the desire to gain an edge in the global resource war is leading more countries to make risky deals.
G-8 nations issued a strongly worded condemnation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s illegitimate election, but the leader who would be able to summon enough pressure to force a response—South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki—is, according to Stratfor, “sticking with his policy of quiet diplomacy.” Russia and China continue to protect Zimbabwe with promises to veto any sanctions against Zimbabwe in the UN. Stratfor maintains that Mugabe and his cronies will remain in power without sufficient opposition from South Africa, and that all the political violence in Zimbabwe over the course of the election will have accomplished nothing. For more on Zimbabwe’s downward spiral, read our March 12 article “Winds of Change.”
Two British students have been punished for not praying to Allah. The two students from year seven (11-to-12-year-olds) at Alsager High School were apparently sent to detention Tuesday last week for refusing to kneel down and “pray to Allah” in religious education class. The rest of the class was reportedly denied its snack break as punishment. The class also apparently involved a foot-washing ritual. A parent of one of the students said the teacher showed a short film and then got prayer mats out of the closet and said, “We are now going out to pray to Allah.” “Making them pray to Allah, who isn’t who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that they were told they were being disrespectful,” parent Sharon Luinen said. One grandparent said, “I am not racist, I’ve been friendly with an Indian for 30 years. … But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion there would be war.”
Also in Britain, more than 4 million households have taken out personal loans or used credit cards to pay their mortgage or rental payments this past year. “It’s a very serious situation when you have people turning to a short-term solution to fund a long-term product,” said Tim Moss, head of loans and debt at MoneySupermarket.com. It’s guaranteeing that you’ll pay even more on debts you don’t have enough money to pay in the first place.
In other financial news, the world is losing confidence in the U.S. Federal Reserve—the one thing buoying the American economy. In contrast to interest rate slash after interest rate slash at the Fed, the European Central Bank has now raised its rates. America is being seen as putting short-term economic fixes ahead of its long-term economic health. Many are losing confidence in the American system altogether, particularly after the subprime mortgage fiasco and the unskillful handling of its aftermath. A Barclays Capital official said the Fed now has zero or even “negative credibility.” In what Spiegel Online called an “unheard of” event, the International Monetary Fund has decided to conduct a general examination of the entire U.S. financial system—not something typically done of healthy, confident economies.
In spite of Washington trying to isolate Iran and squeeze it with trade sanctions, American trade with Iran has increased tenfold since the beginning of President Bush’s administration. Data from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control shows the United States sent Iran $546 million worth of goods from 2001 through 2007, including $146 million in goods last year. Although this is a comparatively small amount and much of it was consumer goods, some of it included military equipment, including rifles. On the larger scale, the fact that Iran’s chief enemy can’t keep Iran isolated from its own trade lanes bodes badly for it successfully convincing other nations to do the same.