Friday, December 31, 2010

The American (Banana?) Republic versus the Rising Chinese empire

Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece in the New York Times today [12/31/10] refers to the United States as a Banana Republic. I have been wondering about how long this country can continue living as it does without there being a reckoning, a rude, even shattering, confrontation with reality. It would be easy to elaborate on the dangerous trajectory of affairs, something many have enumerated. In today’s rant Krugman specifically points to the “spectacular hypocrisy” of the Republican Party. But what strikes me is how unaware -- unconcerned? -- the American public seems to be. The leadership of this country, Democratic and Republican, seems unable to confront the great challenges of the times: the deficit, for instance: The Republicans trumpeted the necessity to resolve the deficit crisis before the election and then, once elected, immediately began to claim they would reduce taxes, a strategy well known to increase the deficit. Experts on virtually all sides claim that unless serious steps are taken the future for the United States is uncertain – a growing number say it could be catastrophic. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse provides plenty of examples of societies, even great empires, that simply ran themselves into oblivion: Witness the great statues of Easter Island, lifeless images of now-forgotten leaders who through these statues paraded their eminence as they competitively consumed the resources on which their societies survived.

In the mean time, as the United States eschews all measures necessary to ensuring its solvency, a new empire is rising in the east, China, which has an abundance of cash and no such deficit. The Chinese are reaching out to Africa and South America as well as the neighboring lands of Asia with an eye to their interests over the long term – and as we understand well, the “long term” for the Chinese can be centuries. They are granting loans for the reconstruction and development in such African countries as Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Zambia; and they are investing in such South American countries as Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba (see Foreign Affairs, Jan 5, 2010, Debora Braudigam; Timeline, March 15, 2010, Reuters). They are buying up rights to develop minerals in Afghanistan and other countries of Central Asia, they are building pipelines to ship gas as well as oil directly to industrial centers, and most interestingly, they are building up a navy and constructing ports (Gwadar, Pakistan) that will be supply stations for their navy -- and Gwadar in particular will be the terminus oil and gas pipelines that will bring energy to an ocean going port.

All this is taking place as many Americans seem fixed on a past that cannot return. The heroic legends of World War II still entrance; narratives of a great power that saved the world persist. Narratives of great generosity are taken at face value [the reality is that the US gives much less per capita than most industrial nations.]

The presumption is that American ingenuity will rise to the challenges of the future. No matter how bleak the prospects, how hopeless the outlook, the Americans will again come through; they will find a way, to the point of planting new colonies on the moon or Mars. This is the mind-set of the graduates of my high sckool -- as least as can be determined from the occasional newsletter they put out. Their comments about our times reveals how little they have internalized of the changes that have taken place in our world since our graduation day umpteen years ago. The world they live in and the world I seek to understand bear no resemblance to each other.

The problem for all of us is identifying the world as it is. There is a “reality” we all presume, but actually discovering it as it is turns out to be an interpretive exercise. We only see the world from perspectives that are familiar to us. So we tend to face the future with eyes informed by a past that is more real in our minds than actually exists. For me, it takes time and reflection to figure out what I think about what is going on in the world, but by the time I have figured out what I think about it I'm out of date.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The low-grade war between the Taliban and Pushtun tribal leaders

For a long time many people have pointed out that the drone attacks have fostered resentment among the local populations among whom the drones have been used. It’s easy to understand: who cannot appreciate the bitterness at those who barge in and kill?

But what about the obverse of this scenario? The Taliban have also been doing plenty of killing as well. Not collateral damage, but specific persons within the Pashtun community have been targeted. The Taliban / Al Qaeda fighters have been killing off leaders of the Pashtun tribes whenever they opposed them.

Contrary to what is presumed by some, the Taliban are not tribal; in fact, they are institutionally anti-tribal. They are organized around Islamic concepts; loyalty and influence are framed in religious terms. For years they have clashed with Pushtun tribal leaders even though they are themselves Pushtun. There is a kind of low-grade war between the Taliban and some of the Pushtun tribal leaders –inside both Pakistan and Afghanistan. And when people are killed, are not grudges developing? What about the young men whose fathers have been killed by Taliban? What is happening to that generation?

To indicate the scale of this conflict and the vengeance obligations that may be being generated in this conflict, I provide below a list of some of the notable instances when the Taliban killed Pushtun leaders [from new sources indicated below].

• Jan 7, 2008. “eight tribal leaders involved in efforts to broker a cease-fire between security forces and insurgents in Pakistan's volatile northwest, …. The suspected insurgents killed three of the men in a market in Wana, the region's main town, while the other five were killed in attacks on their homes” [,2933,320548,00.html]
• Sep 24, 2009. “The Pakistani Taliban killed seven tribal leaders who back the government during an attack in the district of Bannu in the Northwest Frontier Province. … The Taliban killed Malik Sultan and six other tribal leaders as they traveled to "mediate a dispute between local people, … Sultan is the tribal leader who raised the local anti-Taliban lashkar, or tribal militia, after the Taliban kidnapped more than 300 students and the staff from a cadet college in Ramzak in neighboring North Waziristan.”
• Aug 14, 2009. A Taliban suicide bomber killed a pro-government tribal leader in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan, and two pro-government tribal leaders were killed in Bajaur.
• Jan 2, 2010. “Tribal elders in a Pakistani village where a suicide car bomber killed nearly 100 people insisted Saturday that residents will keep defying the Taliban, even as the bloodshed laid bare the risks facing the citizens' militias that make up a key piece of Pakistan's arsenal against extremism.”
• Aug 23, 2010. The Taliban targeted pro-government leaders in coordinated attacks today in Pakistan's troubled northwest, killing 25 people in three bombings and suicide attacks. … The largest strike took place at a mosque in the town of Wana in South Waziristan.

So, if local families can resent drone attacks by the Americans can they not also resent attacks by the Taliban that kill their loved ones?

Put it this way: The Taliban/Al Qaeda can have a foothold, “safe havens”, in various parts of Pakistans tribal areas, but are they welcome everywhere? Are their “safe havens” safe because their hosts support their activities and subscribe to their agendas or because they armed to the teeth? Demonstrations against drone attacks are safe in the tribal areas, but does that mean that the local communities are happy to have armed camps of anti-constitutionalist warriors in their midst? What chance is there of demonstrating against the abuses of the Taliban in those places?

This is why the December 15th article in the New York Times by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak on the recent souring of relations between the Taliban and their hosts in Kandahar province was arresting. [] As anyone who follows this part of the world immediately recognizes, that article departed from what virtually every other observer has said about the situation, for it says the local populations of the district are turning away from the Taliban. Is this a sign of authentic feelings rising to the surface or merely a strategic action to keep options open in an uncertain world?

What would the various players in this region want if they were free to expose their genuine preferences? Their situation appears to be overlain with coercive forces of several sorts, various and cross-cutting, so that for them to survive they must make the best of the hand they have been given. Is the scene changing in Kandahar so that people are opting out of their relationship with Taliban because they want to be rid of them? What feelings and preferences lie masked by the demands of war?

What seems fair to surmise is that beneath appearances the Pushtun peoples of the tribal regions are holding grudges that remain to be settled, some of them between the Taliban warriors and their tribal hosts. When the current issues are settled, others may rise to the surface.

Some new information on Al Qaeda's activities in Karachi

Information that seems authoritative on Al Qaeda is so rare that when any article appears with details we peruse it with great care. Here is an article worth perusing from the The Friday Times, written by Ali Chishti, that tells us about Al Qaeda's activities in Karachi; also, about the measures taken by the Pakistani government to apprehend them. I reproduce the main elements of the article here because the magazine is relatively unknown in the West even though it is a great source of information on South Asia. Thanks to a friend for making this available to me. []

On May, 2, 2003 a plot by Al Qaeda to crash a small aircraft loaded with explosives into the US Consulate in Karachi was uncovered after the arrest of Walid Ba'Attash who played a significant role in planning the September 11 attacks. By late 2001, Al Qaeda fighters started infiltration into Pakistan and made Karachi their base. Their modus-operandi was simple but elaborate. Local jehadi organizations were instructed to rent apartments across Karachi at least two months in advance and wait. They came in one by one, and it took the Al Qaeda's top echelons 15 to 20 days to occupy an apartment. By 2002 Al Qaeda re-established itself and made Karachi the centre of its activities.

Al Qaeda selected Karachi as its springboard because Karachi was known for its ethnic and sectarian violence, which made it prone to terrorism. With the arrival of Al Qaeda, a new dimension was added to worsening law and order problems - the culture of suicide bombing.

The suicide bombing of French Naval workers in Karachi in May 2002 came as a surprise to many and was officially the start of Al Qaeda operations in Karachi. It was also the first time a local jehadi group, Harkat ul Mujahideen al Almi, was used for logistics while the suicide bomber was an Al Qaeda operative. President Musharraf and the US consulate were targeted later in June 2002 in Karachi. By September 2002 Pakistan had extradited 422 Al Qaeda members, 86 of which were caught from Karachi alone. The first major breakthrough was the arrest of Ramzi Al Shaibah in Karachi who once worked for the Hamburg Cell of Al Qaeda.

Sheikh Khalid Muhammad (SKM), Al Qaeda's operational chief by 2002 had formed a close operational link with Lashkar e Jhangvi and ran Al Qaeda from flats in the posh areas such as DHA and Bahadarabad Society. The news about the location of SKM came in June 2002 when Al Jazeera anchor Yosri Fouda received an invitation from Al Qaeda to conduct an interview in Karachi where he met both SKM and Ramzi bin Al Shaibah. Finally in January 2003, Jack Thomas, an Australian Al Qaeda fugitive, was captured in Karachi and gave 'actionable intelligence' on the whereabouts of SKM who was finally caught from Rawalpindi in March 2003 but it was too late by then. By 2003, SKM with Sheikh Omar had beheaded Daniel Pearl and established a strong nexus with the local sectarian groups working in Karachi. Lashkar e Jhangvi turned into Al Qaeda's team B and transformed into Jundallah.

Jundallah's Karachi chapter was founded originally by a Jamaat-e-Islami's (JI) student activist, Attaur Rehman, in 2003. Jundullah was initially a well-knit cell comprising 20 militants, most of them in their twenties and thirties, educated from professional classes. Jundallah attacked Karachi Corps Commander General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, bombed a US Consulate and carried out a series of terrorist attacks, including last year's triple bombings in an Ashura procession in Karachi.

In March 2004, the Karachi police arrested brothers, Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, linked to JI who were suspected of assisting wanted militants to escape from the authorities and providing medical treatment to three fugitives Abu Massab, Gul Hasan and Qassam Al Sani, who were wounded in the attempt on Gen Hayat. The Waheed brothers were sentenced in 2005 to 7 years imprisonment but were later acquitted. Following his acquittal Dr Arshad Waheed shifted his activity to South Waziristan and was running a clinic in Wana, FATA region until a US missile drone killed him. Al Qaeda's media wing, Al Sahab Media Foundation, released the third part of a series of videos entitled "The Protectors of the Sanctuary" in memory of Dr Arshad Waheed confirming his association with Al Qaeda. This was also the first time Al Qaeda had used Urdu instead of Arabic which was significant in confirming doubts that Al Qaeda had indeed turned "desi".

In Karachi, Al Qaeda remains the biggest mastermind and financier of terrorism where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, Qari Zafar Group) with its huge Mehsud population based in the outskirts of Karachi provides logistical support and suicide bombers. The operational aspects are entirely outsourced to sectarian-terrorist groups such as Jundallah.

While it is important to understand that Al Qaeda has successfully merged with the local jehadi organizations, it should be noted that Al Qaeda is constantly shifting its base from North Waziristan to urban areas of Pakistan to avoid drone attacks. The central thesis of Al Qaeda's philosophy is to create "fitna". Al Qaeda spreads fitna with the help of Lashkar e Jhangvi, by attacking MQM's legislator Raza Haider to create anarchy, or more strategically abetting the 26/11 Mumbai attacks with manufactured Frankensteins to help its main ally, the TTP. Al Qaeda's plan in Karachi is to exploit the sectarian and ethnic conflicts, create a trap for the Pakistan Army in the commercial capital, and disrupt NATO supplies. Karachi with such a strong base of Al Qaeda remains the most dangerous and venerable cities in the world.

Ali Chishti is a writer based in Karachi. He can be reached at

The First Duely Elected Parliamentary Democracy in Central Asia

So far, no comments on the developments in Kyrgyzstan: a parliament-based government that may actually have the power to govern. As the report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty indicates, this is the first duly constituted parliamentary democracy in Central Asia. We hope it holds.

December 17, 2010
Kyrgyzstan Approves New Government
Kyrgyzstan has approved a new government, ending more than two months of political uncertainty following parliamentary elections and effectively initiating Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy.

Deputies in the Kyrgyz parliament were confirming the majority coalition formed on December 15 that joins the Respublika Party with the Social Democratic Party and the Ata-Jurt Party. The coalition controls 77 seats in the 120-member legislature.

Later the same evening, deputies elected the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Russia-leaning politician Almazbek Atambaev, to be the country's prime minister. He won the support of 92 lawmakers.
... [For more, click on the title above or go to the url below.]

Written by Richard Solash with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and agency reports
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vital Concerns for the World: My Nightmare: Anthropology as Moral indignation

Vital Concerns for the World: My Nightmare: Anthropology as Moral indignation

My Nightmare: Anthropology as Moral indignation

As we were getting ready for bed my wife mentioned the article in the New York Times. “What is this with the Anthropology Association ditching the word ‘science’?,” she said. I hadn’t seen the Times that day, and immediately hunted up the article. Sure enough, the article by Nicholas Wade said the executive board of the AAA had stripped the word “science” from its long-term plan. The “science faction” in the Association was alarmed, blaming it on “the advocates for native peoples or human rights,” the moralists who want to change the world through anthropology. I knew it! The moralizers have taken over, the guys who want to abandon anthropology, the article said, because it was linked to colonialism.

The news was so upsetting that I couldn’t sleep. I had nightmares all night. I dreamed anthropology had been taken over by the “Moral Indignation” faction, driving the “science faction” to the margins, reducing it to only two panels at the AAA meetings. The whole scene left me confused and conflicted about what I had been doing. I had always thought I did “science” because I sought to ground my descriptions of the world by logically demonstrating my claims empirically. Trained in the dark age of the 1960s, I thought anthropology was “the science of history.” The moralists were now dissing my scientific pretensions -- and now they were in control of the AAA. At the same time, admittedly, I have been filling my blog with my own moral outrage, so in a way I am one of them. I can be as self-righteous as the best of them. And in my dreams I told them so: “Look at all the things I wrote about the neocons after 2000,” I told them. “I'm as good at moral outrage as the best of you; I’m on a par with Edward Said.” Anyway, I admitted it: I love to be self-righteous. And I have the evidence to prove it.

But there was a difference: I regarded my moral indignation as a diversion. What I have taken seriously has been my “science,” my grounded descriptions of a world that is tangled, conflicted, and changeable. But I never thought my self-righteous critiques were my most important contributions to my profession. Now the moralists are saying that I have it all wrong: my attempts to logically demonstrate descriptions of the world as I have found it cannot compare with the importance of my professional outrage.

I began to wonder what these moralizers might do to my discipline. My colleague John R Bowen has lately been producing brilliant reports on what he calls “an anthropology of public reasoning.” What will they do to that? Should his title instead have been, “A moral critique of public reasoning”? But it turns out that John is out of date too, because he grounded his reports on personal interviews with real people, even identifying them by their real names. Anyway, if he was going to write about the French, why couldn’t it be about the contemptible pretensions of “being French”? Or “French hubris.?”

I was uncomfortable with the moralizers for another reason: I am not used to being so au currant. When was my work ever so main-stream? It feels strange to be ahead of the curve for once. In my sleep I of course made the obvious decision: I now would emphasize my self-righteous critiques of the world; but once in a while I might write some “science” for diversion.

It was a hard night. When I finally woke up I googled the actual report of the AAA and found out what had really happened. The President of the Association, Virginia Dominguez, explained that the board had “replaced the term “science” in the preface of the planning document by a more specific (and inclusive) list of research domains” in order to accommodate those who don’t think they are doing science. Somehow, with the sun up, the world seemed better, more sane. The Morally Indignant faction hasn’t actually taken over the AAA yet. Things aren’t as bad as I feared. It was only a nightmare.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another accusation of Blasphemy

An Ismaili doctor has now been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan -- another case in which those zealous for their faith can display their indignation at the way the rest of the world behaves. The sad part of such claims is that they appear to have become mere devices for intimidation of those who are marginal to those who consider themselves main-stream true believers. Christians, Ismailis, Shias are easy targets in Pakistan. Besides the Christian woman Asia Bibi we now have Naushad Valiyani to worry about.
The contradiction is that the more that pretenses of "faith" are enforced by public demand and by the courts the less "faith" can be authentic. The great creative innovation in the Western world -- originally established by Roger Williams in the new British colony of Rhode Island -- was the insistence that true faith could be authentic only where one can safely refuse to believe. Such a situation is only possible where the State guarantees the right to practice [or not] one's personal faith.
In the zeal to have a "Muslim" society some religious enthusiasts in Pakistan have turned religion into a litmus test of patriotism. In such a system authenticity -- genuine questioning, genuine doubt, a serious personal search for certainty on moral and metaphysical issues -- becomes dangerous, even an act of treason.
What can it mean to quench such personal searching in a whole society? What Pakistan has become may be an indication of what happens: The zealous parade their religiosity; the rest remain silent.

From the Express Tribune, Dec 12, 2010.
Doctor arrested on blasphemy charges

Activists chant slogans against Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who had been sentenced to death, during a protest in Karachi on December 3, 2010. PHOTO: IRFAN ALI
KARACHI: A doctor has been arrested on charges of blasphemy in Hyderabad, police said on Sunday.
Naushad Valiyani was detained on Friday following a complaint by a medical representative who visited the doctor in the city of Hyderabad.
“The arrest was made after the complainant told the police that Valiyani threw his business card, which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan, in a dustbin during a visit to his clinic,” regional police chief Mushtaq Shah told AFP.
“Faizan accused Valiyani of committing blasphemy and asked police to register a case against the doctor.”
Shah said the issue had been resolved after Valiyani, a member of the Ismaili community apologised but local religious leaders intervened and pressed for action.
“Valiyani had assured Faizan that he did not mean to insult the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) by throwing the visiting card in the dustbin,” Shah said, adding that the police had registered a case under the Blasphemy Act.
[For more go to:]

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Turkmenistan to India pipeline may become a reality

Most of the news outlets are ignoring a development that over the long term will be vital for Pakistan and possibly India, and certainly for Afghanistan. This is the signing of the the $7.6 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. It will be 1640 km long and terminate in Fazilka on the Indian border. President Asif Ali Zardari will sign the agreement with Turkmenistan in Ashgabat representing Pakistan on the 11th.

The significance of this is that these countries are going ahead with agreements for the disposition of Turkmenistan gas even before the war is resolved in Afghanistan, through which the pipeline must past. Evidently everyone surmises that the conflict there will eventually be resolved and that the construction of a pipeline will be feasible without serious interruption, even in territories that are currently roiled by conflict.

These are large commitments in a project that cannot yet be commenced. Evidently these four countries are more sure that this conflict can be brought to a conclusion than most Americans.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Shell Oil's Corporate Spying in Nigeria

Wikileaks reveals significant details about the way big corporations are operating in the modern world as well as about how governments operate. The latest leaks now give us information on how Shell Oil has penetrated "all the main ministries" of the Nigerian government, so that the company has "access to the politician's every move". Many of us have supposed that we live in a world in which companies play by the rules -- Isn't that what their advertising says? But we are coming to realize that besides having secrets and long term projects and plans like governments they have spies and practice espionage.

Such issues seem to me all the more significant the more stratified the world becomes. I have heard that the separation the top 1% from the lower 90% is greater than in American history. If so, the opportunities for the abuse of power through the manipulation of information sources is greater than ever. Not good for our country; not good for the world.

For a fuller report click on the title above, which links to the Guardian report:

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The threat of death to a Christian woman in Pakistan

What adds to the terror of this cleric's call for the death of this woman is that standing with him in the picture that VOA provides of him is a bloc of men who presumably consent to his edict. The last time a Christian man was accused of blasphemy in Pakistan he was exonerated by the court, but as he left the steps of the building he was gunned down by unknown assassins. In this woman's case, even if she is actually exonerated by the courts, she and her family can never be sure that she [or they] can ever be safe in Pakistan. It can be no comfort that several officials are embarrassed by the affair. The absence of a serious outcry by the public evinces how dangerous it is to be a Christian in Pakistan -- but not a Christian only: an Ahmadi or [in someplaces] a Shia. Minorities cannot be sure they are safe in Pakistan because religious zeal has become a device of politics. The people of the country have to bear this because its leaders suppose that extremists can be useful in a [supposedly forthcoming] war against India.

Pakistan Cleric Offers Reward for Killing Christian Woman

VOA News04 December 2010

A Pakistani cleric says if the government does not hang a Christian mother of five convicted last month of blasphemy against Islam, then his mosque will offer a reward of $6,000 to anyone who kills her. Yousef Qureshi issued the call Friday.

Pakistan's Minister for Minority Affairs Shabaz Bhatti has recommended that Asia Bibi be pardoned or released from prison if her pending court appeal is not quickly addressed.

Bibi has denied claims by local women that she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Bibi is the first woman condemned to die under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Convictions under the law are common, but no executions have ever been carried out.

During her trial, Bibi told the court Muslim villagers were pressing her to accept Islam. She said she is being prosecuted because of her religion.

Bibi's husband says the family has been forced to flee their home near Lahore because of threats on his wife's life if she is released from prison.

Pakistan's Christians, who make up less than five percent of the country's 175 million people, have long complained of discrimination. Christian and human rights groups have expressed shock at Bibi's death sentence and have begun an online petition calling for Pakistan blasphemy law to be repealed.

Find this article at:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The US is helping improve Central Asia's Infrastructure

The infrastructural developments in Central Asia seem to be a major concern of the United States, owing to its evident importance as a vital line of supply for the in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Joshua Kucera's recent report reminds us of how critical Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are to the Americans. [Click on the title for a direct link.]

[Published First on (
Central Asia: Washington to Expand Traffic on Northern Supply Route
November 18, 2010 - 2:05pm by Joshua Kucera

The United States intends to expand security cooperation with Central Asian states, US diplomats say. One means to do so, they add, is increasing the capacity of the Northern Distribution Network, which ships military cargo bound for US and NATO forces overland through Central Asia to Afghanistan.

The United States now can ship over 1,000 containers per week to Afghanistan via the NDN, said David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. “And we expect to increase this figure even further in the coming months,” he added. About 98 percent of that traffic passes through Uzbekistan [8], he said November 17 at a hearing of a House of Representatives hearing, titled The Emerging Importance of the U.S.-Central Asia Partnership.

“We must increase our engagement with Central Asia at all levels— working in the short term to expand logistical flows and, in the long term, expanding and deepening our relations from a DoD perspective, particularly in the security sector. Such engagement will help give our partners in Central Asia the support they need as we all work to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda,” Sedney said at the hearing.

Gen. James Mattis, the commander of US Central Command, was traveling through Central Asia, including visits to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. According to the US Embassy in Tashkent, Mattis signed the “2011 Program of Security Cooperation between USCENTCOM and the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Uzbekistan,” which it said was similar to the previous year's agreement.

“Through this increased engagement, we have seen an improved relationship with Uzbekistan, but many challenges remain,” said Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, who also testified at the hearing. “We continue to encourage the Uzbek authorities to address significant human rights concerns such as ending forced child labor [9], opening up the media environment, and demonstrating greater tolerance for religious activities. We are also encouraging building an investment-friendly business environment to enhance economic opportunities for American businesses and for the benefit of the Uzbek economy.”

The NDN could help expand Central Asia's economy, Sedney said in his written statement for the hearing. “By expanding trade linkages, the NDN has the potential to one day reconnect Central Asia to India, Pakistan, and other formerly closed markets, in a direct land route from the heart of Asia to the heart of Europe,” he said.

Both Sedney and Blake addressed the recent instability in Tajikistan, but neither appeared to endorse the Tajikistan government's explanation that transnational Islamist terror groups were behind the violence [10]. “In 2010, Tajikistan experienced a number of security challenges that the government told us originated with extremist elements,” Sedney said. Blake identified those fighting the government only as “former civil war combatants.”

Blake praised the performance of Kazakhstan as the chair-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [11]. “We think that Kazakhstan has done a very credible job,” he said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the OSCE summit in December in Astana, and the U.S. wants the OSCE to adopt an action plan at the summit to focus on improving border security, countering trafficking and promoting legal commerce in Central Asia, Blake said.

[Editor's note: Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
Joshua Kucera Afghanistan Tajikistan US Uzbekistan NDN War in Afghanistan
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