Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Afghanistan strategy

With Woodward's new book about the discussions in the Obama administration it is good to list the facts amid the many myths.

Myth 1 concerns the Taliban. Many people claim that as it is a strong factor in Afghanistan we should negotiate with them. This is based on the old notion that a guerrilla movement is rooted in the population and a such involving them is kind of democratic. Problem is that this does not apply to the Taliban: in opinion polls it comes below 10%. The Taliban does not represent the opinion of a considerable part of the Afghan population: it is just the creation of the Pakistan's intelligence service ISI. And the ISI has repeatedly killed Taliban leaders that it believed too soft.

This brings me to myth 2 that we can work with Pakistan to fight the Taliban. Pakistan's trauma is the 1971 independence of Bangladesh. It is fearful that a similar split will happen at its west side. It has good reasons to do so because the Indus in the heart of Pakistan is often seen as the border between the Persian and the Indian worlds. West of the Indus are the Beluchi and the Pashtun who just as nearly all Afghans speak Persian languages. Pakistan has adopted two strategies to compensate for that. It's first strategy is stressing the Islam: the only thing its citizens have in common. The second is to keep those Persian speakers - both in Pakistan and Afghanistan - poor and backwards. The Taliban - both the Afghan and the Pakistani - is serving those goals.
This fear is heigthened by fear that India might help such a splitup - just as it once helped Bangladesh to become independent.

Myth 3 is that we need a strong administration in Afghanistan to take over when we leave. This has brought us to impose on Afghanistan an extremely centralized constitution and - except for some grumbling - to ignore the corruption of its government. Both have proved ineffective against the Taliban but a major obstacle to a more effective government.
Behind this desire for a strong administration is the desire to keep strong American influence. Provincial governors with strong local support would be much less sensitive to American desires than Karzai, the corrupt "major of Kabul".

Myth 4 is that Al Qaeda is gone from Afghanistan and that we are now fighting only the Taliban. So if they win it will be just a problem for the Afghans. In fact recent reports mention that there are many foreigners fighting among the Taliban. It can be expected that when the Taliban wins many of them will move to other countries to fight there. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan look very vulnerable at the moment.

So what lessons can we draw:

- ad 1: forget about negotiating with the Taliban. They will only accept the kind of outcome that will enable them later on to take over all power. If the Taliban was a real political movement some compromise would be possible that gave government jobs and political concessions to the Taliban. But while we can co-opt individual Taliban leaders we will never be able to do so with the Taliban as an organization; Pakistan will sabotage such an effort.
Forget also about winning this guerrilla war. As long as Pakistan is spending money there will be Afghans who are prepared to fight for the Taliban.

- ad 2: We have to address the root of Pakistan's behavior and force it to accept development of both its western regions and Afghanistan. This means abolishment of the agencies - that remainder of colonial rule in Pakistan's west side. It also means more local autonomy. To achieve this the US has to become involved in internal discussion in Pakistan: this is something you can't just impose. The US should address Pakistan's fears and ambitions: it is stupid for Pakistan to think that it should be India's equal. Instead it should strive for cooperation. And the best way to improve life for India's Kashmiri's is to stop supporting guerrilla fighters there.
For a long time the US has considered Pakistan as a counterbalance to India. This made sense in the time of the Cold War when India was considered an ally of the USSR. But the Cold War has been over for 20 years now and the real dichotomy in Asia is nowadays between India and China. The balance is in favor of China and that is generally considered to be not in the US interest. Yet Pakistan is serving as a pawn for China and the US is supporting that. This policy doesn't make sense neither from a regional nor from a geopolitical perspective.

- ad 3: we should aim for a decentralized Afghanistan. And forget about US influence: truly democratic leaders will be focused on their voters - not on US interests. The US should encourage that, take a servile role and keep in mind that this is a necessary step if it wants to leave Afghanistan with a strong governmental system.

- ad 4: as long as Pakistan keeps up training Muslim extremists and keeps up allowing training camps of Muslim extremist organizations it will be a source of danger for the world and the next 9/11 may be just a matter of time. There is no clear boundary between Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Postscript: readers of this post may also like the article Allies in War, but the Goals Clash in the NY Times. According to the article Pakistan prefers to have Pashtun dominance of Afghanistan while the northern tribes are India's traditional allies. Unfortunately the article describes the Pakistan-India conflict as nearly unsolvable and completely ignores the role the US has played in antagonizing the two.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The power of trust

Gerard Gallucci has written an article about how the Ahtisaari Plan could be adapted in the present negotiations. In general he proposes to give some powers that are now allocated to the Pristina government to the internationals. I admire Gallucci for his knowledge of details and his balanced view of the Ahtisaari Plan. But I have a fundamentally different view of autonomy.

Modern democratic government with its separation of powers is based on the notion that it is a bad idea to concentrate all powers in one government. Many countries have embraced decentralization as a means to further improve the democratic character of their society: most recently France. Even in the US and Germany - where regional ethnic groups don't constitute a problem - the regional government jealously guard their powers. Decentralization where possible, centralization where necessary is the slogan in many Western countries.

Keeping countries together with the threat of violence carries a high cost. Trust works much better and that is how Western societies are organized. I find it a stupid idea that the EU and the US are promoting centralization as the best way to govern countries in the Balkans. It is no coincidence that the Federation in Bosnia is its least functional part: the power is not decentralized according to the ethnic composition and this dysfunctional organization invites abuses. A logical way to achieve more coherence would be a split of the Federation. Similarly it would be logical to give northern Kosovo - with its own language - the power to arrange its own affairs. It is a lack of (recognized) decentralization that gives people influence on the affairs of others and it is that what leads to the ethnicalization of political life. It is not the partition in entities that leads to ethnic parties in Bosnia: it is the continuing attempts to undermine the entities and the refusal to recognize the underlying principles and create a Croat entity that make ethnicity a problem in Bosnia.

Take Kosovo schoolbooks. Ahtisaari gives Pristina a veto right on Serb schoolbooks. In my view Pristina should have the rights to ask that some Kosovo-specific subjects are included in the curriculum, but the Serbs should be free to choose their own schoolbooks. Could this right be abused to include anti-Albanian comments? Sure! But Serbs have nothing to say about Albanian schoolbooks. In that context giving Albanians the right to censor Serb books amounts to denying the equality of Serbs and Albanians. There is no need to do so either: the Serb enclaves in the south are close to Albanian settlements. Anything inappropriate in their schoolbooks would raise indignation from their Albanian neighbors and harm the inter-ethnic relations on which those Serbs depend. That will be enough feedback to prevent excesses. In my own country - the Netherlands - freedom of education is established in the constitution and it would be unthinkable that the government violated the rights of the schools to select the books they use.

Another example is the police. The internationals are insisting on a unitary structure - both in Bosnia and Kosovo. But this is a militaristic idea of how a country works. Many countries - also in the EU - don't have central control of the police. In some places in the US the head of police is even elected. In fact for most of the police tasks - keeping order, regulating traffic and solving little crimes - local control works very well. Only for some specialized work like environmental laws and laboratory forensic research is centralization helpful.

Or take Kosovo's telephone networks. There is nothing that prevents the Kosovo government from recognizing the Serbian mobile and fixed line networks. In fact Kosovo's insistence that all connections should be disconnected and the Serb provider should start a new endless registration procedure can only be described as criminally racist. These providers have historic rights and their treatment by both the internationals and now the Kosovo government most probably wouldn't stand in an international courtroom. Of course some issues still have to be worked out - like taxation - but there is no reason for extraordinary hurry where the Kosovo government has shown itself very lazy in other areas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ahtisaari II?

It is still unclear what EU concessions made Tadic modify his UN resolution. It would have been foolish if this had been only about EU membership. Serbia has seen moments of EU friendliness before after the fall of Milosevic, after his extradition and after the extradition of Karadzic, to name just a few of them. Typical of those moments is that they pass and after some time the EU returns to its usual anti-Serb moods. If Serbia wants to improve its chances for EU membership it would do better to attack crime, corruption and bureaucracy.

In this context it may be good to remember what made the Ahtisaari negotiations fail. Ahtisaari bound himself to the "principles" of the Kosovo Contact Group, that included that Kosovo's borders might not be changed. He added his own "principle" that Kosovo should never again be under Serbian rule. The consequence was that there was nothing left to negotiate. The Albanians already had their independence virtually conceded and saw no need to do any more concessions than strictly needed to keep the internationals happy. Seeing the internationals blocking a border change in the north and applying no pressure at all on the Albanians to do real concessions Serbia saw no reason to do concessions from its side.

Since then the Western countries have repeated pressed for "technical" negotiations on "practical issues". They wanted Serbia to do concessions so that Kosovo could function as much as possible as a normal state. They forgot that these are Serbia's negotiation chips and that in addition any concession from Serbia on these items could easily be interpreted as giving up on Kosovo. Kosovo's leadership didn't help as they didn't even try to make some meaningful concessions in return. It is also good to remember that many of the Kosovo Albanian complaints are self-inflicted wounds. This applies for example to the custom stamps and forms that Kosovo insists on maintaining despite the economic damage.

The big question is whether the coming negotiations will be any different. Will the EU pressure the Albanians for meaningful concessions or will they simply continue their past policy of pressuring Serbia for concessions while accepting the Albanian excuse that any concession from their side would be a violation of their "sovereignty"? In that case the negotiations will be just as doomed as the Ahtisaari negotiations and the negotiations on technical issues.

The first rumors are not very good. Enlargement Commissioner Fuele's agenda would include the same practical issues as previous negotiations.

We will soon know...

In the mean time it is good to remember why the Ahtisaari Plan was not such a good idea. It is a very detailed plan that gives Kosovo's Serbs many specific rights. There are three problems with this:
- The first is that it is not very difficult for any Albanian with a grudge against Serbs to find holes in those rights and ways to hit at the Serbs. The recent attempt by a Kosovo minister to forbid the minibuses that connect the Serb enclaves with Serbia are a good example. The attempt was thwarted by the internationals - but they will not always be around.
- The second problem is that virtually no one knows all those details - certainly not the internationals who tend to be replaced after a a year or so. This has given the Kosovo government the freedom to ignore much of those details. It has also given it the freedom to pretend that it has implemented much of the Ahtisaari Plan while in fact there is a lot left to do.
- The third problem is that the Ahtisaari Plan pretends that in Kosovo the rule of law is reigning supreme. This ignores the about 220,000 refugees who cannot return, the rampant discrimination on the labor market, the thousands of remaining property disputes where minorities are usually the damaged party, the continuing complaints of pressure to leave and sell your property and the continuing complaints about lack of safety. Not to mention the sometimes dubious neutrality of the Albanian ruled police and judges... Given those circumstances it would be best to err on the side of too much autonomy.

A good example is education: a sensible plan would give the Serbs total control over their education and allow Pristina only to make some marginal demands like learning the topography of Kosovo and a bit of the Albanian language - with only limited sanctions when this is not done. Instead the Ahtisaari Plan has given Pristina much more power and Pristina has regularly abused that power to close schools. According to Ahtisaari Pristina has the right to reject Serb schoolbooks. I think this is nonsense: the Serbs don't have the right to reject Albanian schoolbooks that they don't like. By establishing a one-sided right in en ethnic conflict Ahtisaari opens the floodgates to abuses.

The Western countries often mention that Serbia should "accept reality". They might do better by starting to accept reality themselves: at the moment in Kosovo the climate for minorities is so hostile that one can speak of soft ethnic cleansing and that it is generally expected that their communities will slowly die out as the young have no choice but to leave Kosovo for work. This happens in many new states - specially after a war - so to a certain extent it may be unavoidable. But that doesn't take away the responsibility of the international community to its best to protect those minorities. In this respect Serbia's demands for border changes in the north and better minority rights are certainly reasonable.

As long as the West refuses to accept this reality I remain pessimist about the negotiations.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

EU judges befriend gambling kings

The power hunger of the Eurocrats never ends. Now the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has decided that Germany has to give up its gambing monopoly. According to the court it had undermined its consumer-protection argument by letting state-run gambling companies engage in "intensive advertising campaigns" and by permitting a proliferation of automated gambling machines, which the court said were highly addictive.

Gambling is one of the "sins" that are used as cash cows by governments with their "sin taxes". The most famous are the taxes on alcohol and tobacco. On gambling many governments prefer to keep monopolies because the bookkeeping of gambling dens is usually highly unreliable - and as a consequence they pay too little - and because it allows the government to keep tight control over the ways gambling is promoted.

What the court now is doing is:
- it denies Germany the right to one of the sin taxes. Please note the the right to taxation is one of the most fundamental national rights.
- it diminishes Germany's control over the ways in which gambling is promoted
- it ignores that governments need to promote national gambling in order to prevent losing market share to illegal operations.
- it pretends that gambling is a market. But there is no way in which gambling can be more "efficient". The only benefits from a free markets here are that we give some shady people with low moral standards a license to prey on other people.

The case of Singapore

For the rootless cosmopolitans it is paradise: Singapore. One of those rare places where it doesn't count which nationality you have and where everything is well organized.

But Lee Kuan Yew, who was its leader from 1965 to 1990, is not so optimistic. He explains that it is due to that diversity that he didn't introduce democracy in Singapore - as its main effect would be ethnic parties.

Singapore is 75% Chinese, but the Chinese are divided in dialects.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to battle discrimination

Sometimes countries face a situation where one group is nearly totally impoverished and discriminated. Think of the Blacks in the US after slavery was abolished, the Blacks in South Africa after Apartheid and the Untouchables in India. A similar problem happens also in much of South East Asia where the Chinese minority dominates the economy. How can government achieve a more equal society?

South Africa and Malaysia have chosen for a system of positive discrimination where jobs are reserved for the poor majority. In neither of them it has helped and it is generally seen as a corrupt system as many of those who get their position under these systems get it not on merit but due to connections. It looks now that Malaysia is trying to reduce the system that favors Malays over Chinese and Indians. At least the government wants it but it is dubious whether it can overcome popular resistance among the Malays.

Interesting in this respect is an article in the NY Times that compares North and South India. In the south the caste system is slowly disappearing while in the north it has only become more important as caste based parties have arisen. According to the article this is also the reason why the south is doing economically so much better. But why? This is how the article explains it (Nadars are a low caste that form the focus of the article):

Unlike northern India, where caste-based political movements are a fairly recent phenomenon, lower castes in southern India began agitating against upper-caste domination at the beginning of the 20th century. Because these movements arose before independence and the possibility of elected political power, they focused on issues like dignity, education, and self-reliance, Mr. Varshney said.

Nadars created business associations to provide entrepreneurs with credit they could not get from banks. They started charities to pay for education for poor children. They built their own temples and marriage halls to avoid upper caste discrimination.
As a result, when independence came the southern lower castes, who had already broken the upper caste monopoly on economic power, enjoyed political power almost right from the start. Tamil Nadu set aside 69 percent of government jobs and seats in higher education for downtrodden castes, which helped rapidly move lower caste people into the mainstream. The north put in place affirmative action policies, but because education was widely embraced, southern people from lower castes were better able to take advantage of these opportunities than northerners.
It remains to be seen if the political agitation around caste in northern India will produce prosperity for lower caste people there, experts say. In India’s liberalizing economy these communities must prepare themselves to compete, not simply demand a bigger slice of the shrinking government cake...

My advice for South Africa and Malyasia would be: gradually abolish the positive discrimination. Put instead a system of progressive taxation that puts an extra burden on the rich and use that money to build education and infrastructure.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The discussion about partition

A few days ago Ian Bancroft and Gerard Gallucci published an article "Crafting A Special Status For Northern Kosovo" in which they pled for a condominium status for norther Kosovo. I doubt that solution, but here I want to highlight one of the comments that was posted by readers of the article. This comment - written by some "jeremiah" from Pristina - repeated all the usual arguments against partition. Problem is that they aren't true. So let's begin with the comment by "jeremiah":
Even with the ICJ opinion being so clearly in favor of Kosovo's independence, there's a continuing attempt from Serbia, and those who support Belgrades position (including the authors of this article here) to turn the clock back.
Now, the autonomy of the north, while it might sound good enough for those who are not informed well about Kosovo, is the worst thing that could happen to the region.
If North is to gain special rights, there would be no incentive for Serbs to live outside of this area, just as there would be no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo.
Bosnia, mentioned in this article as preceden for Kosovo, is acctually the perfect example why this sort of division makes the whole state non-functional.
In short, if North was to get autonomy, Ahtisaari's plan would be officialy dead, Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.
Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region.
Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.
At the end of the day, autonomy for the northern Kosovo would not even be a solution to a problem. it would simply be continuation of a frozen conflict, with rich rewards for hardliners on both sides (serbs who oppose living with Albanians, and Albanians who say that Ahtisaari's plan and multiethimic Kosovo is not possible).
If international community would go this way, as sugested by Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Galluci, then it shuld finally drop all the talk about minority rights, and multethnic conceps, and european values. it should go back to pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored teritorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems.

So let's analyze this comment:
- I have commented elsewhere on the ICJ opinion. It certainly isn't so strongly in favor of Kosovo's independence as J. suggests.
- J. suggests that after a border change there would be no incentive for Kosovo's Serbs to stay south of the Ibar. This is a very strange statement. People tend to be attached to the place where they live and don't want to move just because fifty km further a border has changed. When Croatia became independent no one suggested that now all the Croats from Bosnia and Serbia would want to leave for Croatia.
- J. suggests that there would be "no reason for the Albanians to continue implementing the Ahtisaaris multethnic concept for Kosovo". This may be the real reason for his previous suggestion: the idea that the Albanians might get frustrated and turn violently on the remaining Serbs.
Let me begin by stressing that the Ahtisaari Plan was written with the situation in Southern Kosovo - where the Serbs are a minority - in mind. The plan doesn't have any special provisions for the north. In a place like Leposavic - about 30 km from the Albanian majority area - it just sounds silly that the Serb population should learn Albanian to get things done.
Border changes should be part of a total package. Kosovo might get Presevo. But it should at least get concrete concessions like recognition of the Kosovo passports and access for Kosovo goods to the Serbian market.
As I indicated in my previous post, the Western countries have a lot of influence on how violent Kosovo turns. If they don't want it and take the appropriate measures it won't happen.
- Then Jeremiah compares Kosovo to Bosnia: "Kosovo would become another Bosnia (a disfunctional, torn appart kind of state, with hatred and ethnicity still determining the future of the country), while Serbia will be left to continue dreamming of the day of coming back to Kosovo.".
Obviously Jeremiah doesn't have a clue what is wrong with Bosnia. The problem in Bosnia there is that there is no agreement between the parties on how to proceed. There is the Dayton Agreement, but the Muslims want to tear it up and in reaction the Serbs consider leaving. This is not that different from the situation in Kosovo now. When there would be an agreement on Kosovo both parties would have a common vision. They might still agree over many details but the question who has how much power where would be solved. Serbia would have rights in Kosovo but it would recognize that it would never again control it.
Jeremiah is just misleading when he suggests that Kosovo now is not a country with "hatred and ethnicity still determining the future". Kosovo is now an Albanian country and its identity is very much anti-Serb and anti-Slav.
- He continues with the famous precedent argument: "Simultaneously, it would give many reasons for Albanians in Souther Serbia (Presevo Valley) and Western Macedonia to rethink their position within respctive states, just as it would further inspire Serb nationalists in Bosnia, and Bosniaks in Serbia's Sandjak region."
One thing at a time:
Presevo: this might be part of the deal.
Macedonia: I expect the Macedonian Albanians to start making trouble again once Kosovo is settled. You can't have missed the reports about weapon transports and the complaints that the Albanians still don't have enough rights. Just like Bosnia Macedonia is a country where the ethnic groups have never really agreed on how to live together. Kosovo can become an example how ethnic groups can solve such a situation. It can also become an example of how conflicts are solved with violence and cleansing. Has anyone forgotten that during the Kosovo War Milosevic copied Croatia's ethnic cleansing tactic (Operation Storm) that had been treated with so much respect by the Western countries?
Sandjak: the Muslim majority municipalities are at the side of Kosovo and not at the side of Bosnia. So border changes couldn't be a solution here.
- Jeremiah keeps trying to please his liberal "multi-ethnic" readers: "Ultimately, with ethnic division as the core feature of this "solution", the European social values would be thrown out of the window, in favor of returning to the typical Balkan ethnic isolationism.".
Self determination of ethnic groups has been a core European value since World War I. There is no denying that as a minority ethnic group your position is worse than when you are the majority. You may have to learn another language for any meaningful career. You may be regularly discriminated. And for certain studies you will either have to emigrate or you have to accept to be teached in another language.
Multi-ethnicity can only exist when there is no dispute about which values and which language dominate. In northern Kosovo there is such a dispute. You can't polish such differences away by giving one side all power and then suggesting that at the other side are irredentists when they don't agree with that.
- Jeremiah ends with throwing up the old bogeyman: World War II. He claims that a mutual agreement would mean "pre WW2 european practices and ideologies, which favored territorial exchanges and deportations as legal and efficient way of solving painful problems".
The ideal of a unity was given up when we accepted the conclusions of the Badinter commission that Yugoslavia should be split up. In fact rich provinces that want to secede are common all over the world and usually that can be solved by giving them the right to keep most of their money. Instead we fell for the Croatian propaganda about the bad Milosvic. Never mind that it was Croatia that blocked national elections for Yugoslavia although they would have taken away the appeal and dominance of Milosevic. Europe had good reasons to oppose partition. Not only was there the risk for ethnic conflicts (everyone knew what had happened there in World War II), but it was was also clear that partition would carry considerable economic costs and the EU taxpayer would partly have to pay for that as the Balkan was in line to become part of the EU.
Once we had given up on unity we de facto had the choice between "territorial exchanges and deportations" as one new country after another proved itself very unfriendly towards its minorities. This was no coincidence: new countries are always nationalistic and intolerant towards their minorities. What else can you expect?: they have been founded on an ethnic base. That is exactly the reason why new countries should only be created with respect to existing ethnic borders.
Consider that other experiment with partitioning along existing borders: the Soviet Union. The partition went largely peacefully due to its suddenness. But since then many millions have left their home because the new state they lived in proved to be too hostile.

The protection of the monasteries and the threat of violence

Last month Gerard Gallucci mentioned in his blog:

Now I understand that in the period before the ICJ decision in July, a senior official in the US Embassy in Pristina was telling certain Kosovo Albanian political leaders that if the Serbs did not end their obstinate rejection of Kosovo independence, the Albanians should teach them a lesson. The official reportedly said that only Decani should be spared.

This puts the decision to remove the KFOR protection from 4 monastries in a very special light. It becomes either a threat with violence or a preparation for violence. Quite a different reason than the trust in Kosovo's police - what KFOR spokesmen talk about. I wonder whether our European governments really understood what they consented to when they approved this. This talk about violence raises also the question whether the ICJ has been blackmailed with the threat that an undesirable verdict might result in more violence in Kosovo.

The US has a long history of supporting violence as a means to achieve its goals. It even supported death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s. Sometimes the dark forces of the CIA and the State Department even ignored their own government - as for example happened in the 1991 coup against Aristide in Haiti that was supported by CIA men while the Bush administration condemned it. Nowadays the government in the US seems a bit more enlightened, but many of the people who were involved in those events are still on the payroll of Uncle Sam.

US behavior around the march 2004 riots was and is quite suspicious. Compared with the other countries the US had very little trouble controlling the riots in its zone and it seemed to have good contacts with relevant Albanian leaders. After the riots none of the riot leaders was indicted or even pointed out. I can't believe that that was just because UNMIK was afraid for Kosovo's stability.

The US is threatening with violence in other ways too - for example when the US ambassador in Kosovo called the Serbs in North Kosovo terrorists. And the regular threats from Kosovo's Albanian leaders against the northern Serbs don't receive the strident international condemnation that they deserve.