Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An offer to supply Pakistan with nuclear reactors shows China at its worst

Pakistan, India and the anti-nuclear rules

Clouds of hypocrisy

WHEN it comes to nuclear danger, North Korea and Iran grab everyone’s attention. One flounced out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and tested two bombs; the other, though it denies it, seems headed for just such a breakout. Syria and Myanmar make the worry-list for getting secret nuclear help from North Korea. Even Israel, which keeps mum about its bombs, is now being named and (Egypt hopes) shamed.

Pressing Israel to join nuclear talks was Egypt’s price for not ruining a big NPT review last month.

Picking on Israel makes the silence—and hypocrisy—that surrounds nuclear-armed India and Pakistan all the stranger. Like Israel, neither joined the NPT so their bomb-building did not break its rules. Yet their rivalry is fuelling the fastest, most dangerous build-up of bomb-usable plutonium and uranium anywhere. And a proposed sale by China of two civilian nuclear reactors to proliferation-prone, unstable Pakistan points to a further distinction. Although much of the world has co-operated over North Korea and Iran, everyone is competing over India and Pakistan to make things worse (see article).

China’s reactor deal with Pakistan has incensed India and alarmed others. It would also break the rules of a little-known cartel, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which both China, Pakistan’s pal, and America, India’s friend, are members. The NSG has guidelines, intended to rule out nuclear trade with countries like India, Pakistan and Israel that do not allow international safeguards on all their nuclear industry. Until now there has been little pressure on China to play by the group’s rules and halt the Pakistan deal, though it obviously should. But if China refuses, India has itself to blame too.

Related items

• Nuclear proliferation in South Asia: The power of nightmaresJun 24th 2010
India was jubilant in 2008 when America strong-armed an exemption from this no-trade rule past the NSG. India was fast running out of domestic uranium to keep building bombs as well as lighting homes. Now uniquely exempted from the NSG trade ban, India has various deals pending with Russia, France, Britain, South Korea and other NSG members that involve supplying reactor fuel too. So India is now freer to use more of its own uranium for bombs.

Barack Obama did not like the India deal struck by his predecessor, George Bush. Helping India’s nuclear ambitions clashes particularly badly with Mr Obama’s promise to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. In weighing those fine promises against America’s relations with India, however, Mr Obama has chosen not to offend India by helping Pakistan too. So Pakistan turned to China.

Find courage and conviction

This newspaper argued against the America-India nuclear deal, not least because it would intensify nuclear rivalry in an already fissile region. A second wrong—shrugging the China-Pakistan one through, on the basis of some sort of big-power tit-for-tat—will only double the damage.

Before China joined the NPT and the NSG its proliferation record was execrable. It helped Pakistan make uranium and plutonium. It handed over the design of one of its own nuclear warheads, which Pakistan later passed on to Libya and possibly Iran. China hates talk of its irresponsible past. It will resent being told it is breaking NSG rules. But the other 45 countries in the group should find the courage of their anti-proliferation convictions and call China to account. Like others in this sorry saga, China richly deserves embarrassment. The Economist

Rabies in BALI Death Toll Reaches 52

A 9-year-old boy was pronounced dead on Sunday evening after displaying symptoms usually associated with rabies, bringing Bali’s death toll from the deadly epidemic to 52.

Experts and the government are currently deliberating an option of waiving a confirmation test for deceased patients who have displayed the typical rabies symptoms.

A senior official at Bali Veterinary Agency said the government-sponsored mass vaccination drives had succeeded in inoculating at least 70 percent of the island’s dog population. Seventy percent was considered by many experts a safe threshold for the containment of the epidemic.

Karangasem regency has recorded the highest number of fatalities in the epidemic that began late last year, followed by Badung, Tabanan and Denpasar.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The weak points of Burma's ethnic resistance groups


FOR MORE than 50 years, the ethnic resistance groups struggling against the Burmese military government have failed to achieve success. To identify the reasons for this failure we need to evaluate our weak points.

First, our love for the nation is mainly dependent on each individual situation and position. We have failed to find a strong unity that would enable us to reach our goal.

Second, on the political front, we laid out different policy objectives, with some groups aiming at a federal Burma and others wanting total independence. These different political ideologies mean we have fought against one another - a fight that has been fuelled by people's lack of political knowledge and a lack of education that means many are easily manipulated.

On the other hand, the educated scholars are reluctant to face the hardship of struggle, and only provide moral support from the shelter of their homes. Very few educated people have made the sacrifice to come out and work for their people.
In addition, many involved in the struggle do not know how to differentiate between friend and foe. Faced with disagreement and disapproval, they break up into small factions and bow to the enemy. They become informants, giving the enemy knowledge of weak points of the resistance groups. They forget who the real enemy is.

Disagreement and argument are a natural part of internal affairs. But whatever the disagreement and however big the argument, we should not break up. We should come face to face, reconcile, compromise and find a way to beat the enemy. This means paying more attention and care to the role of alliances.

In the past, we made alliances not with our hearts but with words. These prioritised the interests of each individual and organisation over the common interest. When the enemy attacked one group, its ally failed to help, because it was not being directly attacked. But if the enemy defeated the first group, its ally would be the next target. This demonstrates that the role of an alliance should be to help one another finish off the enemy.

Third, putting individual ego before the national interest means no unified group can form - there are always splits in the gathering. Fights broke out among the groups over control of territory, but they failed to protect the people or rehabilitate country.

We could not beat the enemy because we were distracted by self-interest and disputes that weakened our unity. It is not the external enemy but the enemy within that has been responsible for the destruction of resistance groups. The lesson is clear: we must work towards reconciliation and building a strong unity via the right policies. Otherwise, there are too many obstacles on our path to success.

Fourth, if we compare our struggle with that of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh's, our efforts are no match for his. We need competent political and military leaders as well as educated people. Our people need the capacity to develop.

Shan political parties are unreliable, as most of the politicians are stuck in their houses due to the threats from the enemy. The pressure and threats from the Burmese regime prevent them from laying out the same policies as the armed groups do.

If we adopted the same political ideology of self-determination, and united against the Burmese regime, it would not be difficult to lay out political strategies. But the ethnic minority groups that wanted to become part of a federated Burma have not been able to agree with those who were fighting for total independence. As a result, finding unity has been delayed. If the ethnic Wa, Palung, Pa-O and Lahu groups could accept that ethnic nationalities have lived together peacefully in Shan State since ancient times, then a new federated Shan State is not far away. We can overcome the difficulties and guarantee the rights of the ethnic groups through open discussion.

Fifth, when the armed groups began agreeing ceasefires with the Tatmadaw (Burma's military), they lost political ground. The Burmese regime now has the upper hand in negotiations with them.

The ceasefire groups mistakenly believed that they would be able to talk politics with the regime. In the meantime, they thought they would be able to recruit, boost funds and stockpile weapons. However, the regime has played a clever game, preventing the ceasefire groups reaching both their political and military goals.

The regime offered ceasefire talks for two reasons:

1. The internal political conflict intensified in Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi became more actively involved in the political movement. The regime needed to solve its internal problems first.

2. In 1989, many ethnic armed groups mutinied from the Burma Communist Party led by Thakin Pa Thein Tin. At this point, the regime was afraid that the ethnic groups would form into a single opposition force, so offered ceasefire agreements in return for concessions. The regime was desperate to prevent the groups forming an alliance with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

(This familiar tactic of the Burmese regime is often characterised thus: "When it is weak it will kneel down and beg for mercy, but when it is strong it will ignore your requests and cut off your begging hands.")

Twenty years on since the policy of ceasefires began, the philosophy of solving political conflicts through political means has not materialised. Some ceasefire groups have abandoned their beliefs after receiving economic privileges from the regime, while others have been left in a dilemma over their political stance. With their political objectives derailed, they are now reacting to the regime's oppression in an ineffective day-to-day way. As a result, lasting peace is even further from their grasp.

Moreover, if the ceasefire groups agree to participate in this year's election or agree to transform into border guard forces, militia or police, their original political objectives will have clearly failed. The 2008 constitution is not accepted by all ceasefire groups but by contesting the election, they will automatically relinquish their political objectives.

Lastly, so far, the ethnic armed groups have only adopted guerrilla tactics in the struggle against the Tatmadaw. A large offensive with military strategy that could match that of the Burmese army has not been carried out. No central command has been formed, and battalions and brigades fail to take commands from their headquarters. In contrast to this weak and ineffective command structure, the battalions of the Burmese army obey orders from above in all cases. We have to face the fact that the Tatmadaw is stronger and better in controlling its troops. Even though the regime's political and human-rights reputation has been shattered, their decades-long grip on power remains strong.

By LT-GENERAL YAWD SERK chairman of the Restoration Council of the Shan State.

Bali Updates

Om Swastiastu ...

Read the full report at:
Leading news stories this week were dominated by the non-fatal crash of an Air Force training aircraft at Bali's airport; the alleged assault of a Bali-bound Chinese tour guide by an immigration officer in Jakarta; and the official suspension of new fresh water well permits in south Bali due to a worsening water crisis.

Other stories include gladdening news that Garuda is experiencing strong loads levels on its new European route; an improved audit report from the central government on how the province of Bali keeps its books; and an announcement that Bali will soon require large supermarkets to stop using plastic bags.

In infrastructure news: Bali's Benoa harbor is getting greener but not any larger as reclamation efforts are at an impasse; the Bali House of Representatives is urging the governor to write to the Minister of Transportation so the Serangan - Tanjung Benoa toll road can go ahead; and we have an editorial exploring how traffic congestion, the new toll bridge, the airport and a port facility in East Bali are all closely intertwined.

Those who didn't make it to the Whiffenpoof concert at the St. Regis last week missed a very special evening indeed. Read the coverage in this week's Bali Update.

Calendars ready? There's a special cultural and arts festival in Ubud June 30 - July 4, 2010. The Bali HotAir kite boarder competition is back in Sanur July 2-4, 2010. And, of course, the Bali Arts Festival continues in Denpasar.

We also invite you to read our mail in this week's installment of "We Get Mail."

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Philipines Presidency littered with landmines

PRESIDENT Gloria Arroyo exits the presidency before noon today, bequeathing her successor, President-elect Benigno Aquino 3rd, a path littered with “landmines” that could weaken his control over the bureaucracy, former government officials said. These landmines come in the form of hundreds of “midnight” appointments, said Former Senior Government Officials (FSGO) member and columnist Lito Banayo. Banayo and former Civil Service Commission Chairman Karina Constantino-David said the list includes names identified as known supporters of President Arroyo, with some even appointed twice to different agencies.

At least 58 people were appointed after the March 10 appointments ban and at least 20 after the May 10 elections. The post-election appointees include the 11 members of the board of the Land Bank Realty Development Corp. who were appointed May 13, and most members of the board of the Clark International Airport Authority on May 17.

A summary list of key midnight appointments in government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) as of June 2 shows that President Arroyo made at least 225 appointments from January to May, most of them dated March 1 to 9, or a few days before the constitutional ban on March 10.

In the case of the Clark board, the list indicates that nine were “elected by the stockholders, with a desire letter from the President [Arroyo].”

“She has really given Noynoy Aquino a real headache here,” Banayo said. “As far as I know, they [Aquino’s team] have now put all of these into a matrix and they’re now trying to identify all of these officials.”

Banayo added the middle-level officials at the Presidential Management Staff who gave him the list were shocked at the “frenzy in Malacañang” to fill up certain positions in government agencies and corporations days before the constitutional ban.

“According to them, the President [Arroyo] herself was in front of a PowerPoint board where all the GOCCs were simply being trotted out and all she was saying was, ‘Fill this up, fill that up,’” he said.

Banayo added that what Malacañang did was a clear “attempt to sabotage the prerogatives” of President-elect Aquino’s government. “This was definitely motivated by pure malice. She’s very Machiavellian,” he said.

Among those who were appointed on March 9 are Peter Favila, former Trade secretary who was appointed to the Monetary Board; Patricia Sto. Tomas, former Labor secretary who was appointed to the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) board; and Prospero Pichay Jr., former representative of Surigao del Sur and presidential adviser on political affairs who was appointed to a five-year term as a trustee of the Local Water Utilities Administration.

Appointed to the board of the Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC) on March 1 were Minita Chico-Nazario, former Supreme Court associate justice, and Tirso Danga, former Intelligence Service of Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) chief.

Chico-Nazario was a Sandiganbayan justice who initially presided over the special court that tried former President Estrada of plunder after his ouster in 2001. She then served as Supreme Court associate justice from February 2004 to December 2009.

Danga, on the other hand, was head of ISAFP when the agency allegedly tapped the phone conversation of President Arroyo and former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano during the 2004 elections, which bolstered allegations of cheating against Mrs. Arroyo.

‘Critical’ agencies
The positions are not Cabinet level, but Banayo said, “These government corporations, many of which have fixed terms of office, are very critical agencies because they control most of the funds of government.”

He added that some positions are paid “probably five times higher” than a Cabinet secretary.

“I would suspect that if you track the period of one week before the [March 10] deadline up to the day of the deadline that there would be a sharp jump in the number of appointments,” David said.

She, however, qualified that the list they got is only partial and still needs to be reviewed. Asked whether those appointed a day or days before the ban should be considered midnight appointees, she said, “An appointment, let’s say, signed on March 9, transmitted on April 9 and umupo [assumed office] on April 10, is that midnight? To my mind it is, because dapat natapos yung proseso [the process should have been over] before the ban.”

Abuse of ‘desire’ letter
The list of midnight appointees also includes people who were marked as “elected by the board from among themselves” or “elected by stockholders,” with some of them even assuming office after the May 10 election.

“Ang problema kasi sa Malacañang, kaya kino-consider yung parang midnight appointees [The problem with Malacañang, which is why they are also considered as midnight appointees] is that the President [Arroyo] has abused the so-called desire letter,” David said.

A desire letter is a correspondence from the Office of the President, usually signed by the executive secretary, addressed to the board of a state corporation, which conveys the president’s preference for certain positions.

“If you’re a member of the board in an acting capacity, obviously you will follow. Or if you are a member of the board and your term is ending next year and you want to go on, when you receive a desire letter, it’s an order, then you will follow,” David said.

She added that President Arroyo had “subverted the entire appointment process” throughout her nine years in office by appointing several people into “acting” positions in the Cabinet and other government agencies and corporations.

“You appoint a person to a term because you expect that person to exercise his or her independent judgment. That’s why you have a term. You no longer serve at the pleasure of anyone other than your principles,” the former CSC chairman said.

“Then a midnight appointment on March 9, 2010 grants them now the full three, five or six-year term.
And if you go by the names of the people here, you will notice that most of them seem to be rewards for good deeds done for her,” Banayo said. “But the reward for loyalty to me is secondary to the ill-disguised plan to sabotage the new administration.”

Mrs. Arroyo covering her tracks
Banayo added that it was possible that President Arroyo insisted on appointing people close to her in key positions before the constitutional ban as part of an attempt to cover up her tracks.

“Baka merong mga paper trail [there might be some paper trail] that leads somewhere to financing by DBP of certain anomalous deals or PhilHealth, for instance. Remember the allegations in 2004? So pwede sigurong may magawa yung mga officials na ito para maitago yun [these officials might be able to do something to cover that up],” he said.

Banayo added, however, the Aquino government needs to go through the names carefully and thoroughly “to find out if there are some kinds of paper trail within these corporations that may affect the criminal prosecution of GMA [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] for corruption or plunder.”

He added that it is ironic that while President Arroyo’s father, former President Diosdado Macapagal, won the case against his predecessor Carlos Garcia, who had also appointed several midnight appointees, Mrs. Arroyo has left a long list of anomalous appointments.

“At that time there was no constitutional ban, but invoking propriety, the Supreme Court ruled that it was highly improper for Garcia to still appoint at a certain period towards the end of his term,” Banayo said.

Clueless appointees
Some people whose names are on the list apparently had no inkling of their appointment. Banayo cited the cases of Federico Pascual, former Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president who was appointed to the PNOC board on March 5, and Jose Leviste Jr., who was appointed to the PNOC-EC
board on March 1.

Pascual “claims he never knew and he did not accept” any appointment from Malacañang and that at the time Leviste was “allegedly appointed,” he was abroad and has never been sworn into office, according to Banayo, who said he personally knows the two.

An appointment to a government position starts with a vacancy and ends with the swearing in of the appointed person. Not completing the process invalidates an appointment.

Appeal to ‘delicadeza’
On June 11, the FSGO, together with the Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club and the US Pinoys for Good Governance, took out a newspaper ad appealing to all midnight appointees to resign or not accept the “very questionable appointments that would pressure the new administration to uproot them.”

David said the statement was meant to be an open letter to the midnight appointees instead of to President Arroyo “because we still believe that many of these people have delicadeza.”

“We’re not in this to get back at people or whatever,” she added. “What we wanted to raise is that an illegitimate president, which is how we view this particular president [Arroyo], who exceeded even the prerogatives of her illegitimacy and used the powers of the presidency in order to extend appointments to her friends and people who can defend her or people she owes, has done the country a disservice.”

David, who has been vocal against President Arroyo’s policies, supported President-elect Aquino’s candidacy in the recent elections and is part of a team that vetted candidates to his Cabinet.

Of the names on the list, only Anita Carpon, President Arroyo’s manicurist, who was supposed to have been appointed to the board of trustees of the Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG, was noted to have “declined” her appointment, while Gordon Alan Joseph and Renato Osmeña, both appointed as “acting” board members of the Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority, were marked “resigned.”

David said some FSGO members are persuading a number of those on the list who are their friends to reject the appointment.

“We’re not blaming them. [But] we’re asking them to be better people than GMA, and we believe that there are many good Filipinos who will be able to see that even if their only motivation was to serve, it will be wrong to serve under illegal circumstances,” she added.

Banayo said he has talked to employees and middle-level officials of two government corporations who were “so scandalized at the levels of incompetence and corruption that they have suffered under those who were reappointed and given fixed terms” that they were willing to force their bosses out of office.

“They said that if Noynoy tells them to yank these people bodily out of office, they will do it,” he said.

“We don’t also want that to happen, but when you create a situation which is quite politically explosive, if push comes to shove, some of these people just might do it even without the President [elect Aquino] asking them. Sa galit na lang eh ‘no [They might just do it out of anger],” Banayo added.

He said the employees also fear that when they retire, they cannot be paid their retirement gratuities because “ubos na ubos na yung pera [the money is all gone].”

Aquino to review midnight appointments
Banayo and David said the incoming Aquino administration would be able to review all midnight appointments once they look into Malacañang records, which are marked with barcodes.

“Posible silang makalusot ng isa o dalawa [They may be able to get away with one or two appointments], but anybody who goes through that entire process, looking for what they did wrong, will find it,” David said.

She also said that a review of the appointees should determine whether those reappointed have really ended their terms. “I doubt that their terms have ended,” she said.

Banayo said there was initially a debate on whether President-elect Aquino should release an executive order (EO) declaring all midnight appointments null and void or deal with the appointments on a case-to-case basis.

“I understand they are already going through this list one by one and are coming up with executive orders particular to these agencies or these GOCCs. So it’s going to take a little time,” he said.

Banayo added that the purported move to come up with separate EOs seems to be more effective because if a sweeping EO is challenged, “it goes all the way to the Supreme Court and if it’s technically flawed for one reason or another, then these guys will remain in office—all of them.”

BY YOUTHVOTEPHILIPPINES AND VERA FILES VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

A new chapter opens for the yuan

Reading between the lines:

There is a famous Chinese quote: "The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite; after a long period of union, tends to divide."

floating, there is pressure for it to become pegged; once pegged, there is pressure for it to float.

The latest chapter of this story arrived a fortnight ago when the Chinese abandoned their two-year policy of fixing the yuan at 6.83/dollar.

This immediately led risk appetite to surge, the dollar to fall, and commodities to rise. However, initial market excitement soon dissipated, with uncertainty about what China's move means.

In particular, while there are some similarities to when China de-pegged its currency in July 2005, there are key differences as well.

Back then, there was an immediate revaluation of 2 per cent, and a further three years of a consistent 19-per-cent rise. Now, while most analysts expect the yuan to appreciate, the path will likely be two-directional, and the pace will be much slower.

The yuan is being managed against a basket of major currencies. Therefore, if for example euro were to weaken significantly against the dollar, then so might the yuan.

China's trade surplus is falling, and the global economy remains fragile. Hence, Beijing is not likely to allow currency movements to harm its exporters - which means there should be a limited direct effect on Thailand's own competitiveness.

The implications for Thailand are indirect, but should be positive.

First, the move means there should be less intervention by the Chinese, which will reduce pressure on other Asian central banks. This would make it easier for the baht to move in line with our regional counterparts.

Second, the move implies that China has confidence in its economy. If this is borne out, and growth continues without shocks, this would be a positive factor for growth across Asia.

Parson Singha is chief markets strategist in the Global Markets Department of HSBC Thailand.

Indonesia’s War on Terror to Last Longer than Expected

One thing is certain following the latest crackdown on suspected terrorists in the Central Java town of Klaten on Wednesday: The country’s war on terror will last far longer than we may have thought.

The police anti-terror squad, or Detachment 88, arrested Abdullah Sunata and his accomplices, including an Army deserter, after months of a manhunt that began following a raid that killed long-time fugitive Jamaah Islamiyah figure Dulmatin last March and two more forays on a terror network in East Jakarta and the West Java town of Karawang last month.

Police suspect Sunata of involvement in a series of bomb attacks, recruitment of terrorists and a planned assassination of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and foreign guests during a scheduled Independence Day ceremony on Aug. 17. Sunata’s group also plotted an attack on the Danish Embassy in revenge of the globe-wide criticized publication of a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad a few years ago.

Police have now arrested more than 60 suspected militants and killed 14 in a series of raids since they broke up a training camp run by a previously unknown terrorist group calling itself al-Qaeda in Aceh in February.

Sunata’s capture has enabled the Indonesian people to breathe a sigh of relief as the police managed to foil his plot of new terror strikes, but may also shed light on more perils ahead as National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri has hinted.
Bambang said the police had found that after the twin hotel bombings in South Jakarta in July last year, terrorists had changed tactics and targets.

The terrorists group will no longer rely on explosives to launch their attacks, not only because of more restricted access to the materials to assemble bombs but also due to the fact that bombs would kill people other than “the enemies of Islam” as well.

The finding of a training camp in the Aceh just before the ambush of Dulmatin proved the terror group had prepared themselves for the armed attacks. A police source said the terror group underwent training to operate grenade launchers they might use in the planned attack on state officials and foreign dignitaries during the Independence Day ceremony at Merdeka Palace.

To make matters worse, the supply of arms and ammunitions looks to have become more accessible now more than ever, thanks to assistance from deserted police and military members. The involvement of police and military personnel in the acts of terrorism should serve as a case for concern as the two institutions have so far been known for their allegiance with the state ideology.

The plot to assassinate the head of state and foreign dignitaries as new targets indicates the severity of terror movement in the country. We cannot play down the threats as the terror group did in 2000 when a bomb went off in front of the residence of the Philippine ambassador in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

No attempts to kill Indonesian heads of state has materialized since founding president Sukarno escaped a grenade attack in Cikini, Central Jakarta, in 1957. The attack, perpetrated by Darul Islam activists, killed 10 schoolchildren and injured 48 others.

President Yudhoyono now is on the top list of terror group targets perhaps due to his non-compromising fight against terrorism, which he deems as an extraordinary crime and a major threat to national security. As the chief security minister, Yudhoyono formed an anti-terror desk at his office just after the Bali bombings in 2002 and looks certain to approve the expansion of the counter-terrorism squad.

While the policy looks necessary to enhance the country’s capability of quelling terrorist networks, the government of President Yudhoyono is facing a daunting challenge to eradicate poverty and injustice, which many say terrorism roots from.
Nevertheless, the frequent raids on suspected terrorists over the past year only underline the fact that Indonesia remains fertile ground for acts of terrorism that call for well-knitted teamwork between the central and regional governments to remove the threats.

The Jakarta administration is no exception.

The capital of Indonesia has seen a string of fatal bomb attacks perpetrated by the terror network since 2000 and will remain a chief target of strikes due to its status as the symbol of the nation.

On the commemoration of the 483rd anniversary of Jakarta on Tuesday, Governor Fauzi Bowo pledged to do more to improve residents’ quality of life through, among others, better education and health services.

Home to around 9 million people, Jakarta has focused much on physical development, which is clearly marked by the construction of new skyscrapers and apartments that cater to the needs of the urban population, many times at the expense of the poor.
Fauzi promised to clean up the “unseen mess” left behind by his predecessors, particularly long-standing transportation hiccups and flood mitigation infrastructure. But security threats, including from terror groups, are too risky to overlook.

Standard security checks in hotels, shopping malls and public facilities such as airports took effect only after terrorists struck. There needs to be more public awareness about terror threats as evident in the loose control of neighborhood chiefs over newcomers.

Nobody knows when the war on terror will come to an end.
— Dwi Atmanta

Thailand’s Chronic Drug Problem

It was encouraging to see nearly six tons of illicit drugs go up in smoke late last week in Ayutthaya. But it is sobering to realize what was really accomplished on the International Day Against Drug Abuse, and what is at stake. Despite optimistic statements, as the drugs disappeared more just like them were on sale nearby.

One of the most gruesome drug-related crimes in recent months took place last week, almost within walking distance of the anti-drug ceremony. Two drug gangs clashed on the outskirts of Ayutthaya town, with two men killed.

There are plenty more where those came from. Trying to grasp the enormity of the trade is almost impossible.

Yet only about 10 percent of drugs on the street in Thailand are destroyed. Over the past decade, the number of teenagers abusing drugs had fallen, due to a combination of better education and more parental concern.

But in the past few years, anti-drug campaigns have weakened and the trend is being reversed.

The war on drugs” has come full circle. Once again, authorities focus almost entirely on drug suppliers . The demand side of drugs ensures that the problems with illegal substances will continue.  

Bangkok Post Editorial, June 28

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nuclear proliferation in South Asia The power of nightmares

China’s proposed sale of nuclear reactors to Pakistan will intensify nuclear rivalry with India. But the damage will go far wider

AT FIRST sight, China’s proposed sale of two civilian nuclear-power reactors to Pakistan hardly seems a danger sign. Pakistan already has the bomb, so it has all the nuclear secrets it needs. Next-door India has the bomb too, and has been seeking similar deals with other countries.

Yet the sale (really a gift, as Pakistan is broke) has caused shudders at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal cartel of countries who want to stop their advanced nuclear technology getting into the wrong hands. They are meeting in New Zealand, for what was supposed to be a quiet and nerdish rule-tightening session. But their efforts may now fall victim to China’s rivalry with America.

By any measure, Pakistan is a shocker. Its proliferation record would make the serial nuclear mischief-makers of North Korea blush. If the Chinese reactor deal goes ahead, the damage will be huge: beyond just stoking the already alarming nuclear rivalry between Pakistan and India.

That does not deter China, which still seethes about the way in which the Bush administration in 2008 browbeat other NSG members into exempting America’s friend India from the group’s rules. These banned nuclear trade, even civilian deals, with countries like India and Pakistan, but also Israel and now North Korea, that resist full international safeguards on all their nuclear industry.

America argued that India had a spotless non-proliferation record (it doesn’t) and that bringing it into the non-proliferation “mainstream” could only bolster global anti-proliferation efforts (it didn’t). The deal incensed not just China and Pakistan but many others, inside and outside the NSG. An immediate casualty was the effort to get all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), who have already promised not to seek the bomb, to sign up to an additional protocol on toughened safeguards. Many have, but on hearing of the America-India deal Brazil’s president is reputed to have flatly ruled that out. And where Brazil has put its foot down, others have also hesitated.

What particularly riles outsiders is that America did not get anything much out of India in return. It did not win backing for new anti-proliferation obligations, such as a legally binding test ban or for an end to the further production of fissile uranium or plutonium for bombs. India has since designated some of its reactors as civilian, and open to inspection, but others still churn out spent fuel richly laden with weapons-usable plutonium. India can potentially make even more of the stuff. Now that it can import uranium fuel for its civilian reactors, it can devote more of its scarce domestic supplies to bomb-making.

Pakistan suffers no such uranium shortage and is determined to match India. According to analysis of satellite imagery by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, it is greatly expanding its capacity to produce weapons-usable plutonium, as well as uranium.

China has given Pakistan lots of nuclear and missile help in the past. It even passed it a tested design of one of its own missile-mountable warheads. This was one of the most damaging proliferation acts of the nuclear age, since the same design was later passed by Pakistan to Libya and possibly Iran and others.

But after China joined the NPT in 1992 and the NSG in 2004, it reined in such help, at least officially (some Chinese firms are still involved in illicit nuclear trade with several states). But on joining the NSG, it argued that it had already promised to build the second of two nuclear reactors for Pakistan at Chasma in Punjab and would therefore go ahead. Some grumbled. But it seemed a price worth paying to have China inside, playing by the NSG’s rules rather than outside, undermining them. The latest sale blows a hole in that hope.

A big leaky tent

China is trying a legalistic defence of the sale of the third and fourth reactors at Chasma. But its real point is this: if America can bend the rules for India, then China can break them for Pakistan.

Pakistan hopes that it will eventually get a deal like India’s. Some in Barack Obama’s administration have supported this, on the ground that America needs Pakistan’s support in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Israel wouldn’t mind such an exemption either.

The NSG’s damage-control efforts now centre on a new rule to bar the sale of kit for uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing to any country outside the NPT. That, predictably, annoys India.

The deal also affects efforts to contain Iran. Western diplomats seeking support for UN sanctions on the Islamic republic find themselves receiving a wigging over the double standards used with India. Iranian officials used to argue that they just wanted to be treated like Japan. It has free access to advanced nuclear technology. But unlike Iran, Japan does not repeatedly violate nuclear safeguards. Some Iranian officials now muse boldly that the big powers will eventually come to do deals with them, just as they did with India. Iran’s latest raspberry in response to a fourth round of UN sanctions was to ban two nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear guardian. Iran dislikes its reports on the regime’s dubious nuclear activities.

If Pakistan really is worried about India’s growing nuclear arsenal, diplomacy might work better than an arms race. George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank, says Pakistan should lift its veto on a ban on the production of fissile materials for bombs. That would put India (which claims to support a ban) on the spot. Like enriched uranium, hypocrisy can be costlier than it seems. The Economist

Setback to Jakarta's terrorist rehab plan

Efforts to persuade jailed terrorists to renounce violence under the country’s deradicalisation programme has drawn flak after a setback, writes ROBIN McDOWELL
NOT long ago, Abdullah Sunata was a poster child for Indonesia's efforts to persuade jailed terrorists to give up their violent ways. He was given furloughs to attend lawn parties and police helped pay for hospital bills when his wife gave birth.

But immediately after his release on good behaviour one year ago, Sunata allegedly returned to his old ways, catapulting to the top of the country's most-wanted list.

He was arrested on Wednesday for suspected involvement in a plot to carry out a Mumbai-style attack in Jakarta and several high-profile assassinations, including one on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Sunata's turnaround, experts say, highlights weaknesses in the predominantly Muslim country's deradicalisation programme.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Singapore, its efforts have been largely police-led, focusing on getting prisoners to renounce violence and co-opting informers. While officers provide financial help to reformed inmates and their families, and sometimes help negotiate early releases, little is done to challenge radical religious tenets, such as the goal of imposing Islamic rule.

"Many of those who are supposedly deradicalised remain committed to those goals," said John Horgan, director of the International Centre for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is a secular democracy. It was thrust into the front lines of the battle against terrorism in 2002, when al-Qaeda-linked nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. There have been several attacks on Western targets since then, but all have been far less deadly -- and the most recent was a year ago.

Analysts credit a security crackdown that has netted nearly 600 militants. Of those, about 20 are considered reformed and actively working with police. There have been several success stories, most famously Nasir Abbas, a former al-Qaeda-linked militant who helped train the Bali bombers. After his 2004 release from prison, he became instrumental in helping track down and arrest several of his former comrades.

He also enters prisons to hold religious arguments with inmates against some violent forms of jihad.

But many others join the list of disappointments.

Bomb-maker Bagus Budi Pranoto engaged in the deradicalisation programme while serving a four-year sentence for involvement in a 2004 Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta. Soon after his release, he helped carry out last year's attacks on the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Making friends with the enemy always has its risks, and other nations have seen high-profile failures as well.

The Saudi rehabilitation programme -- considered a pioneer of deradicalisation -- encourages returning detainees to abandon Islamic extremism and reintegrate into civilian life. The well-funded and highly structured programme includes psychological counselling, vocational training and religious re-education.

One Guantanamo detainee, who was released in 2007 and sent to Saudi Arabia to benefit from that programme, later fled to Yemen and became deputy commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"There's no one country that can guarantee that their deradicalisation programme will work 100 per cent of the time," said Ansyaad Mbai, the top anti-terrorism official at Indonesia's Coordinating Ministry for Security and Political Affairs.

"The most important thing is that there are terrorists who want to cooperate and are aware of their mistakes and ideological confusion," he said. "If five out of 10 give up their ways and are integrated back into society, in my mind that's a success."

There is recognition within the government that changes must be made -- especially within prisons, where terrorists easily recruit new members and spread extremist thoughts -- but that is not expected to happen quickly.

Sunata first came to prominence as a militant in 1999, when he led Kompak, an armed Islamic group that took part in fighting between Christians and Muslims in the eastern Molucca island chain.

New footage on YouTube from that time shows him directing dozens of alleged militants ahead of an assault in a coastal village on Seram island. The camera scans over rows of assault weapons, piles of ammunition and young men waiting to be led.

Sunata was arrested in 2005 for possession of weapons and for hiding Noordin Mat Top, the late bomb-making expert who orchestrated all of the major suicide bombings targeting Westerners in Indonesia, including the Bali nightclub blasts.

Behind bars, Sunata was viewed as a shining example of how even hardened criminals could change.

"He was a nice person, cooperative with our rehabilitation programme," said Noor Huda Ismail, executive director of the Inscription Peace Foundation, established in 2008 to help reform terrorism inmates. "But in the end, I admit it, he was a failure.

"It looks like his old friends convinced him to return to his jihadi ways."

Sunata's new cell, uncovered in February, was comprised of militants from several groups with ties to the Middle East and the Philippines. Authorities found a cache of M-16 assault rifles, revolvers and thousands of rounds of ammunition at their jihadi training camp in the western province of Aceh.

They also said they uncovered plans to launch Mumbai-style terror strikes and to kill Susilo and other high-profile targets. More than 70 alleged members of the Aceh cell have been arrested or killed by police in recent months. Of those, it was found, 16 had relapsed into criminal behaviour after being released from jail, said Sidney Jones, an expert on Southeast Asian extremists.

"It isn't really so much a question of 'is the deradicalisation programme working or not,' it's the fact that prisons in Indonesia are out of control," she said. Unless that changes, "Sunata in prison may not be as dangerous as he was outside, but he certainly continues to be a threat".

Last month, police blocked a blog publishing an article allegedly written by Sunata, in which he called on fellow former convicted terrorists to continue to fight for their faith and not to follow in the footsteps of people such as Nasir -- the reformed al-Qaeda-linked militant -- calling him a "helper of evil". -- AP

Friday, June 25, 2010

While Lawmakers Dawdle, Torture Remains evident in Indonesia

Today’s UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture offers us a chance to pause and consider the stilted nature of our human rights progress in recent years. The Indonesian government ratified the UN convention against torture in 1998, but this hasn’t done much to combat the prevalence of torture in the country. Indeed, 10 years after that signing the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its concern over “numerous ongoing, credible and consistent allegations of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody” in Indonesia.

To combat torture, human rights activists in Indonesia have long urged the government to take several measures, including criminalizing torture, revising the Criminal Procedure Code and ratifying the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

Under a draft of the penal code revision, torture is recognized as an offense. A draft of the Criminal Procedure Code further calls for a more comprehensive torture prevention mechanism. The slow pace of revision of both laws has been criticized, but we can see that the government and the House have at least made an effort at lasting change.

It is unfortunate that similar actions are missing when it comes to the government’s promise to ratify the OPCAT. Under the 2004-2009 National Human Rights Action Plan (Ranham) the government said it would ratify OPCAT by 2008 at the latest. A full year after the Ranham expired, there is still no sign of plans to ratify the OPCAT.

It is important to urge the government to fulfil its promises. And if our goal is the prevention of torture on our shores, we must recognize that much work remains even after we attain OPCAT status.

The OPCAT imposes an obligation on member nations to allow oversight bodies to visit places of detention at any time. The pressing concern of member nations is their obligation to maintain, establish and designate national preventive mechanisms (NPMs).

The question for Indonesia is just what kind of NPMs will come out of its OPCAT ratification. Considering that member nations are obligated to create a mechanism not more than one year after the ratification, Indonesia should start considering these issues now.

There are 51 countries that have ratified the OPCAT, and 32 of them have their NPMs in place. Of these 32, three offer NPM models that could provide Indonesia with some guidance.

The first involves creating a wholly new institution that would specialize in monitoring places of detention, as both France and Germany have done.

The second gives authority to an existing institution to conduct NPMs. Most of the countries using this model, such as the Maldives, entrust the authority to their national human rights commission, whereas Denmark and others use an ombudsman.

The third model is that of multiple bodies, used in New Zealand and Britain. In both countries the authority to conduct visits to places of detention is shared among several bodies who each monitor their respective area of concern. In Britain, for example, the Children’s Commissioner for England has the authority and obligation to monitor places of detention for children.

These three models have their own benefits and drawbacks. And whichever path the country chooses, it must take into account mitigating factors such as budgetary constraints, geographical conditions and available resources.

Geographical and budgetary problems potentially could be solved by using the second model. The government could choose whether to give authority to conduct NPMs to the Ombudsman or National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) both of which have representative offices in several cities and are headquartered in Jakarta.

Still, since these institutions have other mandates that require attention, it might be difficult for them to adequately focus on monitoring places of detention.

The third, multiple-bodies model seems to be the most practical for Indonesia. The government could split the authority to conduct NPMs between Komnas HAM, to coordinate the whole NPM and to monitor detention places for men); the Violence against Women Commission (Komnas Perempuan), to maintain women’s detention facilities; and the National Children Protection Commission (KPAI) to monitor places of detention for children.

Clearly, this is a difficult decision, and one that ought to be considered carefully when deciding what kind of NPM’s will be suitable for Indonesia’s current situation.

One article can’t address all the issues, but it can stand as a reminder that we should not just urge the government to ratify the OPCAT, but to also consider the long road beyond.

Answer Styannes is Indonesia Desk intern at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. She can be reached at

One law for all versus sharia law

On June 20, there was a rally in London opposing the increasing use of sharia law in the UK. Sharia law poses a grave threat to all the freedoms that have been won through a long and hard struggle for democracy, social justice and equality.

In Indonesia, the abdication of civilian rule and constitutional rights in Aceh and the growing sharia-ization through bylaws in various regencies and municipalities in the rest of the country threatens all we have won through our freedom struggle, through revolution and through the democratic reformation post-Soeharto with a new Dark Age of bigotry and tyranny with men usurping the supposed authority of God.

The nightmare of Pakistan with its mass murder of "deviants" and the hangings in Iran for "crimes against chastity" should be warning enough for us to stop this slide into barbarity.
Rafiq Mahmood
Bogor, West Java

Thursday, June 24, 2010

US War for Hearts and Minds Fares No Better in Afghanistan

In 1942, during the darkest days of World War II, novelist John Steinbeck wrote a book titled “The Moon Is Down,” about a coastal village in Northern Europe overrun by the Nazis, who believe the natives should celebrate their arrival. They intend to clean up corruption, create efficient government and provide a good life for the people — while, of course, dragooning many of them into forced labor.

In Steinbeck’s hands, the outcome is inevitable. Eventually the situation spins out of control and the Nazis murder townspeople by the score to intimidate the rest, unable to understand that they are hated simply because they are there.

This comes up because of the firing on Wednesday by President Barack Obama of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, over an article, “The Runaway General,” that appears in the July 8-22 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine. While the controversy over the article centers on McChrystal’s spectacular disdain for many of his civilian bosses, the real meat of the piece is the American belief, just like the Germans in that village, that the application of good government standards and the construction of modern infrastructure would cause the Afghans, who have been resisting outside rule for centuries, to fall into lockstep in the great GWOT — the global war on terror.

It was a misperception that caused 14 years of tragedy in Vietnam, starting in 1961 when the Americans set out to fundamentally reform Vietnam’s economy and society as a way to fight communism. A couple of years later, of course, President John F. Kennedy acquiesced in the assassination of South Vietnam’s president to get him out of the way so that the real fight against corruption and incompetence could begin. Robert “Blowtorch Bob” Komer, who was in charge of the failed pacification efforts for many of those years, thought the Vietnamese would be won over to democracy “village by village, hut by hut, by social and political means, with information and propaganda.”

The “Land for the Tiller” agrarian reform program ultimately gave way to the grotesque Operation Phoenix, an assassination campaign run by the CIA and Special Forces units to kill anybody who looked like he might be a communist. Ultimately, according to a government review of the program, Phoenix “neutralized” 81,740 people, of whom 26,369 were killed. That might sound familiar to readers of Steinbeck’s book.

Eventually, of course, the Americans were driven out along with their South Vietnamese military allies in 1975, leaving behind 57,000 dead US soldiers and perhaps a million dead Vietnamese.

Years later, President George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies wouldn’t heed any of those lessons. In 2003, they invaded Iraq, hunted down and hanged Saddam Hussein and drove his Baathists from power. They thought that from the springboard of driving out a gruesome dictator, they could rebuild Iraq in the American image and transform the entire Arab world. The results of that mistake continue today, with a seemingly unending internecine war among the Iraqi factions and the Americans, their numbers dwindling, without any real grip on the country despite the deaths of at least 4,700 American soldiers and their allies and injuries to more than 30,000 — and untold numbers of dead Iraqis.

“Even in his new role as America’s leading evangelist for counterinsurgency,” Michael Hastings wrote in the Rolling Stone article, “McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. ‘You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight,’ McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he’ll add, ‘I’m going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though.’ In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency.”

It was called WHAM in Vietnam — winning hearts and minds. There were precious few hearts or minds won, and presumably few in the sullen peace that has descended on Iraq — broken by daily reports of scores of people murdered by improvised explosive devices. It’s unlikely that many will be won in Afghanistan either, where the Americans just passed a milestone — 1,000 dead soldiers.

A new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, McChrystal’s former boss, is on his way to try his hand at the WHAM business. The most important advice that Petraeus should be given is that, like Vietnam or Iraq, and regardless of tactics, Afghanistan isn’t his country. This is not just a lesson the Americans haven’t learned. The Chinese haven’t learned it in Tibet, or the Russians in Chechnya, or countless other invading powers in conflicts that go on seemingly without end. That same advice should be given to Obama, who seems caught in the coils of an unending war he didn’t want and wasn’t elected to fight.

John Berthelsen is editor in chief of Asia Sentinel.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When It Comes to Pornography and More, The Real Crime Is Indonesia’s Hypocrisy

Indonesia’s latest enfant terrible, singer Nazril “Ariel” Irham of the band Peterpan, has been officially detained for his alleged role in the production of homemade sex videos featuring himself and at least two female celebrities. Ariel will no doubt be sacrificed at the altar of the controversial 2008 Anti-Pornography Law.

Legal polemics aside, though, the saga has also revealed an undesirable mask our nation chooses to wear, seemingly with pride: unabashed hypocrisy.

While religious clerics and politicians were busy condemning Ariel and his sex partners’ “immorality,” we also learned that the Web sites featuring the sex clips crashed because of the millions of Indonesians eager to watch them.

The outcry is almost deafening. The mayor of Bandung has declared Ariel persona non grata in his jurisdiction.

A cafe owned by Ariel’s girlfriend, Luna Maya, who is reportedly also in two of the sex clips, faced threats of a raid by Islamic hard-liners.

Our fervor to root out immorality does not stop there. Police have barged into schoolrooms to check whether students have the offending clips on their mobile phones.

In a move that surely infringes on constitutional rights, police officers who routinely stop motorbikes to check for driver’s licenses have now suddenly become morality officers as well, demanding to check people’s mobile phones for pornographic content.

The plain fact of the matter is that Indonesia, despite superficial piety and other self-delusions, is far from being a sexually ascetic nation.

A 2008 survey conducted by the government agency for family planning, BKKBN, indicated that 63 percent of urban teenagers have had premarital sex.

And, to boot, as our morally excellent Minister of Communications Tifatul Sembiring informed us, 97 percent of all our senior high school students have been exposed to pornography.

Nearer the bone, our prostitution industry can rival that of Thailand, and yet officially prostitution does not exist in Indonesia.

No Indonesian law deals effectively with prostitution, hence our brothels are legally nonexistent.

As such, the local government cannot license them and yet they thrive, if only sanctioned by public servants who in all probability extort protection money from pimps and proprietors.

And then, ludicrously, during the Islamic fasting month, these brothels along with other nightlife spots are forbidden from operating.

In the best tradition of Indonesian grand gesturing, then, the government officially forbids something that officially does not exist.

To project an image of perfect piety — at least for a month — the notion of religious freedom and human rights is tossed aside.

Still, this illusion of perfect piety may be destroyed when hard-liners treat recalcitrant nightspots to a dose of religious violence.

If the government fully realizes that sex workers will always be around, then the sensible thing to do is to legalize them.

Several studies conducted among sex workers in Indonesia reveal that many young women were forced into prostitution by economic factors.

Many are sold into it by parents and boyfriends. Then when they are in the industry, they receive no legal protection and are exploited by their pimps.

Few sex workers can escape the vicious cycle, and the main reason for it is that the sex industry is not regulated by law.

A properly regulated sex industry means better protection for sex workers and a surer guarantee against abuse of power by pimps.

However, the problem remains that no lawmaker would have the audacity to introduce such a proposal.

It would amount to political suicide, not because Indonesians are a host of sexually upright citizens, but because we are always more interested in appearances than substance.

When a documentary on the lives of resort boy toys in Bali (“Cowboys in Paradise”) hit the news, authorities made sudden raids on the beaches despite the fact that the cowboys had always been there.

When it was revealed that 70 percent of liquor imports into the country come through Bali ports, all of a sudden we had a group of local lawmakers eager to wage a war against alcohol use.

Ariel’s case is no different. He recorded the clips for his own enjoyment and they were leaked by someone else when he lost his laptop.

Yet this case of breach of privacy has been magnified into a crusade against immorality by religious and conservative factions.

To make matters worse, the government, always vehemently hypocritical in the face of “piety issues,” has joined the bandwagon.

Where was the government when religious thugs turned morality police violated Luna’s constitutional right to own and operate her business as a citizen?

Where is the rule of law when an anarchic militia group such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) takes the law into its own hands?

The government’s own hypocrisy has made it wary of warding off anarchists who victimized Luna.

To do so would be to condone the “immorality” of the actress. Perhaps upholding her rights would be unpopular in the eyes of our hypocritical public.

But to perpetuate such hypocrisy is an even worse crime against democracy and civilization.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer based in Surabaya.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Burma's nuclear ambition is apparently real and alarming

Less than two months after the conclusion of President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, a recently released documentary exposed the nuclear ambitions of deeply troubled and highly repressive Burma.

The evidence presented in the Democratic Voice of Burma's documentary, "Burma's Nuclear Ambitions", is thorough, compelling and alarming. Although Burma's pursuit of nuclear weapons has long been rumoured, the documentary contains new information from a recent defector who provided DVB with photographs, documents and a view from inside the secretive military that should finally put to rest any doubt about Burma's nuclear ambition. The evidence includes chemical processing equipment for converting uranium compounds into forms for enrichment, reactors and bombs. Taken altogether in Burma's covert programme, they have but one use - nuclear weapons.

Prior to the airing of the documentary, the DVB invited a team of international experts, including individuals with experience in military tunneling, missiles, nuclear proliferation, and weapons inspections protocol to review its information and assess its conclusions. The evidence was so consistent - from satellite images to blueprints, colour photographs, insider accounts and detailed budgets - and so copious that I agreed to appear in the documentary to offer my advice concerning Burma's nuclear ambitions.

As a former Los Alamos analyst and a director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), I have spent 30 years investigating allegations of this nature. After a careful review of the information, I became convinced that Burma's pursuit of nuclear technology violates the limits imposed on it by its agreements with the IAEA.

I authored a report on the findings, "Nuclear Activities in Burma", which explains the evidence and concludes that Burma is probably in violation of several international agreements concerning nuclear proliferation.

However, the IAEA is limited in its leverage over Burma, which has failed to upgrade its two obsolete IAEA agreements and failed to execute a new IAEA agreement called the "Additional Protocol", which would give the IAEA greater powers to question Burma and demand inspections in the country.

The Additional Protocol was a priority of former IAEA director-general and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed El Baradei. In May, Chad became the 100th country to sign the Additional Protocol, while only a few remain outside its reach, including Iran and Syria. Burma also shields itself from questions and inspections using another out-of-date agreement called a "Small Quantities Protocol". This exempts states that only have small amounts of nuclear materials and no nuclear facilities from IAEA inspections and close oversight. The new evidence presented in the DVB documentary makes a compelling case that Burma's pursuit of nuclear weapons now places it in the category of countries where the Small Quantities Protocol would no longer apply.

With outdated protocols governing its IAEA participation, Burma may believe it can resist IAEA demands. However, given the serious and troubling nature of the allegations of Burma's nuclear ambitions, the IAEA and the international community must vigorously pursue all tools at their disposal to compel Burma's cooperation.

For starters, the IAEA can unilaterally cut off all aid to Burma in improving its nuclear infrastructure through expert visits, grants and equipment purchases, and to any other state that has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty or agreed to the Additional Protocol.

While these new agreements are voluntary, the provision of so-called technical cooperation funds is a voluntary act on the part of the IAEA as well. It would send a clear message to Burma that the IAEA takes this issue seriously and will no longer tolerate anything less than Burma's full cooperation with the international community on the monitoring of Burma's nascent nuclear programme. Although some of the aid (US$1.3 million in 2008-2009) goes for medical and humanitarian assistance, other programmes support training nuclear experts and professionals in Burma, which is clearly inconsistent with the IAEA's interest in trying to nip a covert nuclear programme in the bud.

The new information on Burma's nuclear ambitions is now available to experts and governments around the world. Yet, even before the IAEA has even officially enquired about it, the Burmese government has denied it. Given Burma's track record in working with the international community, there is little doubt what Burma's answer will be when it is formally asked.

DVB's reportage brought to light Burma's nuclear ambition; it is also a call to anyone in Burma who knows more about covert programmes in nuclear, missile technology, and other weapons of mass destruction to come forward. Other defectors, such as Major Sai Thein Win, are likely to come forward. Many people know the truth, and it will take only a few more brave souls to expose the programme for the world to see.

Too many states have proliferated while the world stood back and watched. The A Q Khan network sold nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan and operated observed but untouched for possibly twenty years. The possibility that Burma is trying to build nuclear weapons has been a suspicion for the last decade, but now the evidence is much clearer. The world needs to get serious about choking off Burma's covert programme through export controls via the Nuclear Suppliers Group and strengthening the hand of the IAEA.

Burma is one of the world's most repressive and secretive regimes. Its ample natural wealth, including gas and oil reserves that will bring in billions of dollars annually in hard currency, make it a natural buyer for North Korea and other countries with nuclear know-how to sell. Last month, the UN Security Council received a 47-page report issued by a seven-member panel of experts on North Korea's export of nuclear technology. The UN experts noted "suspicious activity in Burma".
Burma's pursuit of nuclear weapons requires immediate international attention. Allowing yet another dictatorship to acquire the world's most powerful weapons is not an option.

By Robert Kelley recently retired director of the IAEA with over 30 years experience in nuclear non-proliferation efforts. The Nation, Bangkok

China is key to nuclear conflict solution

“North Korea and China used to be as close as lips and teeth,” Korea Times writes in its May 7 editorial, describing the close relationship between China and North Korea.

The article noted the high anger and frustration of South Koreans at China, because Chinese President Hu Jintao had met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Beijing just a few days after President Hu received South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Shanghai on April 30. However President Hu had not informed Lee about his planned meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader.

In an attempt to ease Seoul’s deep disappointment, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited South Korea on May 28. As reported by Reuters, PM Wen told his host, President Lee, that his country condemned any acts threatening stability on the Korean Peninsula and understood South Korean grief over the sinking of a naval ship, which Seoul had blamed on Pyongyang.

Wen also pointed out the prospect of expanded trade ties — a free trade agreement between China and South Korea is just a matter of time according to President Lee.
Indonesia also condemned the sinking of the South Korean ship, but like China it refrained from pointing fingers at the reclusive state.

Indonesia has ambition and confidence it can play a meaningful role in persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons development if it can get the trust from Kim.

But even Megawati Soekarnoputri — who has known Kim personally since both their fathers were close friends — could not do anything to change her friend’s position when she ruled Indonesia from July 2001 to September 2004.

From March to May this year, South Koreans mourned the death of 46 Korean sailors after their ship, the 1,200-ton Cheonan corvette, was torpedoed in the shallow West Sea off Bangnyeong Island, which is disputed by South and North Korea, on March 26. Seoul has officially accused Pyongyang of being fully responsible for the sinking of the patrol ship.

President Lee vowed to take firm measures against the reclusive neighbor. Pyongyang responded that it was ready for war if Seoul and its allies imposed new sanctions. Lee’s government has also brought the case to the United Nations Security Council.
The fatal patrol ship incident however was only the tip of an iceberg. Kim Jong Il remains angry with President Lee who bluntly warned Pyongyang that his government would take much harsher actions against the Communist state if it continued to use its nuclear capabilities to extort its neighbors for economic packages for the impoverished nation.

His predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun took much softer approach by offering “stick and carrot” policies on the nuclear issue. But even Japan and the US are frustrated and were often at loss on what to do against Kim Jong-il. Soft or harsh policies will not mean anything for Kim. What is important for him is how to get fresh money and lucrative economic packages from the international community by using any means possible. And he knows very well the “nuclear arms” capability is an easy and effective means to get what he wants.

But Lee also fully realizes it is very difficult for China to take stern measures against a country that totally depends on China’s “economic generosity”, although Kim’s nuclear threats could backfire against China itself.

Without China’s full support, Kim’s regime would collapse immediately and there would be chaos because the military would definitely maintain a dictator government.
The collapse of North Korea would be a huge burden for China, because millions of refugees would flock to the borders, and the United States would expand its already strong military presence in the Korean peninsula.

The reunification of the two Koreas under such a scenario could create a much more powerful and united Korea. A strong and united Korea, however, is the very last choice for its neighbors like Japan, China and Russia.

The Six Party Talks — involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, the US and Russia — have gone nowhere because China and Russia are strong supporters of North Korea while the US continues to push the North to abandon its nuclear development.
The collapse of Pyongyang regime would be an unbearable task for the South because it would have to absorb millions of people living in severe poverty and the chaos caused by such a collapse could also bring South Korea to the brink of economic collapse.

The idea of reunification of the two countries is no longer on the agenda for many South Koreans because they do not want to lose the robust economic prosperity they enjoy.

However, they do share the fear of a possible war with their neighbor who is led by a leader who will not hesitate to take action, no matter how dangerous it is, when his grip on power is in danger.

Tension and the threat of nuclear conflict on the North Korean Peninsula continually attracts the attention of the international community including Indonesia. There are rumors that the North has shared its nuclear technology with Myanmar. Myanmar has strongly denied the issue as baseless, but no one knows for sure that such a scenario is totally impossible.

China has become a global economic superpower and will soon replace Japan’s position as world’s second-largest economy after the United States. It is very unrealistic to expect Beijing to significantly shift its traditional position to oppose North Korea because the two countries have had very strong relations for a very long time.
But China also has the responsibility to ensure that the North will not use its nuclear power to destabilize the region. No one knows how advanced the North’s nuclear technology is, but no one knows either whether the North’s leaders will use these weapons responsibly.

The South Korean government recently invited a group of journalists from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including The Jakarta Post’s Kornelius Purba, to visit the world’s 13rd-largest economy. By Kornelius Purba, Jakarta

How Would Indonesia React to A Political Crisis Such as Thailand’s?

Thailand’s recent political crisis has shone a light on one aspect of Southeast Asian democracies, namely the question of how governments can enforce their democratic systems and institutions.

Although Indonesia’s democracy is now considered more robust than Thailand’s, the Thai experience can serve as a lesson for the practice of Indonesian democracy in the future.

That lesson is that an unpopular civil leadership risks losing public trust and democratic legitimacy if it chooses to use military force to put down civil unrest.

In cases where the military is still strong and is seen as a guardian of public order, this may well pave the way for an overthrow of the democratic system itself.

Put simply, the Thai crisis shows Indonesia what governments should or should not do to resolve such a crisis.

Thailand’s reaction to the political crisis gave Indonesian watchers a sense of deja vu, bringing to mind the years surrounding Suharto’s fall from power.

The biggest demonstrations happened in May 1998, at a time when Suharto’s brand of enforcement left nothing up for discussion.

Coincidently, the most recent events in Bangkok also happened in the month of May, and few will forget the country’s clashes of 1992 that became known as “Black May.”

Obviously, the recent political disturbances in Thailand were not the first and surely will not be the last.

Political differences and larger political rifts are common in every country whatever their form of democracy, and challenges to political power are commonplace.

What varies among countries is the process of dealing with them.

The occupation of Bangkok’s main business center by Red Shirt protesters was no ordinary event.

International and local businesses shut down their downtown workplaces and were forced to rent temporary offices elsewhere.

The Red Shirts made their point.

Was the Thai government bound to take martial action, or could a non-military compromise have been reached?

For some observers, the Thai government has little political legitimacy left, meaning its current conflict resolution policies will struggle to gain traction.

For others, the political situation is not as dire, but they may still agree that the government’s reaction has been part of a backward transition from the democracy that Thailand championed in Southeast Asia, leaving the democratic baton now firmly in the hand of post-New Order Indonesia.

Is there any legitimacy in this assertion?

Freedom House, a major agency for the measurement of democracy around the world, thinks so, promoting Indonesia as the model of democracy for the region.

Indeed, in many ways Indonesia is now more democratic than ever, if not necessarily free of political conflict.

Certainly we have many political issues to overcome.

Corruption is deeply entrenched in our political and social systems, which if combined with the ineffectiveness of the government to root out graft, means that corruption is still a major problem.

When we add issues like economic and social inequalities, a high degree of unemployment, environmental degradation and the ever present threat of extremism, it becomes obvious that our young democracy has many challenges ahead.

But at least our current president has full political legitimacy, as he was elected directly by the people.

This is a stark contrast to the rise of Thailand’s current administration, and despite the fact that there are continued criticisms of President Yudhoyono’s second term over perceived indecisiveness in resolving important issues relating to the legal system with high-profile cases involving the tax authorities and big business.

We must also acknowledge that democracy here is still in its infancy and has not yet been challenged in the ways that have challenged Thailand.

When citizens resort to violence, Indonesia has proved vulnerable.

Clashes among students and between students and other citizens also illuminate the fault lines in society.

But all in all cases, the reaction by Indonesian authorities has been measured.

In many ways, the political economies of Thailand and Indonesia are similar.

Both face problems of economic growth amid the financial crises, regional issues surrounding autonomy and religion, majority versus minority rights and issues with young populations finding it difficult to find work.

In most young democracies, newly empowered civil societies often have high expectations of governments — often too high!

More discussion is needed to see how legitimate Thai reactions were to the recent strife, and whether expectations were too high on both sides.

But what is clear is that when governments “fail” — or even are perceived to fail — in these expectations, a typical reaction is to take to the streets. This is not only the case in Thailand but in Indonesia too.

Newly democratic countries do not like being publicly put on the spot, or having their hand forced by citizens or international pressure.

When they are backed up against a wall, they often revert to former authoritarian stances, temporarily ignoring outside reactions.

However, a firm style is not the same as a dictatorship.

A charismatic and decisive leader who also enjoys popular support can deliver the needs of the people even better in a democracy than in a dictatorship, if only because the needs of the people are likely to have been better and more legitimately articulated in the first place.

In a true democracy, the elected president will certainly have popular support and will be able to enforce internal political integrity but will also be sensitive to lessons he or she is giving to neighboring and comparable countries.

In a democracy, what happens next door is your business, especially if your actions give neighboring citizens the impression that all they have worked for nothing.

The misuse of strong political systems by the military is a slippery slope that can lead to militarism and dictatorship.

Indonesia has just emerged from that nightmare.

Let us hope that the recent Thai experience does not give militarism legitimacy here once more.

Beni Sastranegara is a research officer for politics and international relations at Strategic Asia, a Jakarta-based consultancy promoting cooperation among Asian countries.