Afghan Suicide Blast Kills 11; Two British Soldiers Dead 13 November A suicide car-bomber has attacked a convoy of U.S.-led troops in eastern Afghanistan, killing 11 people, including a U.S. soldier, and wounding 58, the U.S. military said. Earlier, a U.S. military spokesman said 20 people had been killed in the attack on the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan. Afghanistan is facing its worst spell of violence this year, the bloodiest since the Taliban's overthrow in 2001, raising fears about the success of international efforts to bring peace and to develop the country. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said the bomber rammed his vehicle laden with explosives into the convoy as it went through a crowded market just outside Jalalabad. Ten of those killed in the suicide bombing were civilians as were the 58 wounded. "The enemies of Afghanistan committed another barbaric act today," Bashary said, referring to Taliban insurgents and their Al-Qaeda allies. Separately, two British soldiers were killed in the southern province of Helmand while on patrol on November 12 with Afghan soldiers, when their vehicle was blown up by a bomb, the British Ministry of Defense said. Also on November 12, suicide bombers struck in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, killing more than 10 people. Taliban spokesmen could not be contacted for comment. (Reuters)
Uzbekistan's Small Farmers Unhappy With Land Reforms 14 November
Many Uzbek farmers are complaining about land-reform plans that are forcing small farms to merge with larger ones. The head of the Human Rights Initiative Group of Uzbekistan, Surat Ikromov, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that government officials in various parts of Uzbekistan are forcing farmers to give up land that they lease from the state. He said that "land is simply being confiscated from farmers by threats and by force." Ikromov said officials cite a decree by President Islam Karimov to justify the land seizures. According to the alleged decree, farms with less than 80 hectares should be given to larger farms. There are officially more than 215,000 private farms in Uzbekistan employing about 1.5 million people. Ikromov said there are fears that this "collectivization" of land could severely reduce the number of farms, leading to massive unemployment. (RFE/RL)
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan Agree Deal On Oil Transport 15 November The state-run energy companies of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have agreed to set up an oil transport system across the Caspian Sea to help move Central Asia's energy reserves to Western markets. The system would use tankers and barges to bring oil from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan, the starting point for the Western-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which bypasses Russia to deliver oil through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey. Reports say shipments are planned to start in 2013. The announcement was made as the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and senior officials from other nations held an energy summit in Baku. Most summit participants signed a declaration backing the development of pipelines to supply Europe that bypass Russia. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the summit that he is confident the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama will maintain U.S. interest in Central Asia and the Caspian and continue efforts to diversify export routes for the region's oil and gas. (RFE/RL)
Taliban Rejects Afghan Leader's Safety Vow 17 November A Taliban militant leader has rejected an offer from Afghan President Hamid Karzai of safe passage for insurgent leaders who wanted to talk peace. Karzai, back from a trip to Britain and the United States, said on November 16 he would guarantee the safety of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he was prepared to negotiate. With the Taliban insurgency intensifying seven years after the hard-line Islamists were forced from power, the possibility of talks with more moderate Taliban leaders is increasingly being considered, both in Afghanistan and among its allies. The Afghan government says it is willing to talk to anyone who recognizes the constitution. The Taliban have ruled out any talks as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. Karzai said on November 16 that condition was unacceptable. Mullah Brother, deputy leader of the Taliban, rejected Karzai's offer of safe passage and again said foreign troops had to leave before negotiations could start. "As long as foreign occupiers remain in Afghanistan, we aren't ready for talks because they hold the power and talks won't bear fruit.... The problems in Afghanistan are because of them," Brother said. "We are safe in Afghanistan and we have no need for Hamid Karzai's offer of safety," he told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, adding that the Taliban jihad, or holy war, would go on. Violence in Afghanistan has surged over the past two years, raising doubts about prospects for the country and Western efforts to establish peace and build a stable state. Some 70,000 foreign troops, around half of them U.S., are struggling against the Taliban, whose influence, and attacks, are spreading in the south, east and west. (Reuters)
The U.S. fundamentally failed to understand the implications of the Russian aggression against Georgia in its early stages. Russia invaded Georgia, but it really attacked the East-West Corridor that connects the Black Sea to the Caspian, a vital American interest. Five days into the conflict, the Bush Administration was finally jolted into action. Once the war was over, American diplomats cast about for ways to bolster the overall U.S.-Georgia relationship. This relationship is now taking shape, through the signature of the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership. It is now up to the Obama administration to fill this Charter with content.
BACKGROUND: Meeting on January 9 in the ornate Treaty Room atop the State Department Building in Washington, Rice and Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze signed the United States-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership. “I want the people of Georgia to know,” said Rice, “that they will always have a friend in the United States of America.” “This is an historic day for my country,” Vashadze remarked. “This is the stepping stone which will bring Georgia to Euro-Atlantic structures, to membership within NATO, and to return to the family of Western and civilized nations.” The Charter affirms that the U.S. and Georgia are “friends and strategic partners.” It repeats America’s principled interest in supporting democracy and its geopolitical interests in South Caucasus stability and in the East-West Corridor. And it establishes a framework for broad cooperation between the two countries.
The two support “each other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders.” “Our friendship derives from mutual understanding and appreciation for our shared belief that democracy is the chief basis for political legitimacy and, therefore, stability,” says one of the Charter’s Principles of Partnership. It continues, “A strong, independent, sovereign and democratic Georgia, capable of responsible self-defense, contributes to the security and prosperity not only of all Georgians, but of a Europe whole, free and at peace.” Consequently, the United States shares Georgia’s goal of full integration “into European and transatlantic political, economic, security and defense institutions as Georgia meets the necessary standards.”
Then, nestled among the provisions on Economic, Trade and Energy Cooperation is one of the strongest statements yet on the geopolitical importance of the East-West Corridor: “We intend to build upon over a decade of cooperation among our two countries and Azerbaijan and Turkey, which resulted in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa oil pipelines and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, to develop a new Southern Corridor to help Georgia and the rest of Europe diversify their supplies of natural gas by securing imports from Azerbaijan and Central Asia.” Moreover, the Charter implicitly recognizes that the East-West Corridor is more than oil and gas pipelines. With further economic development, “An increasingly democratic Georgia can unleash the full creative potential of its industrious citizens, and thereby catalyze prosperity throughout the region and beyond.”
From this restated American interest in Georgia and the East-West corridor follow reiteration of a commitment to Georgia’s security and rejection of the outcomes of Russian aggression. America has a “vital interest in a strong, independent, sovereign, unified, and democratic Georgia.” That signal is undergirded by concrete plans. “The United States and Georgia,” the Charter says, “intend to expand the scope of their ongoing defense and security cooperation programs to defeat these threats and to promote peace and stability.” In the process, “the United States and Georgia intend to pursue a structured plan to increase interoperability and coordination of capabilities between NATO and Georgia, including via enhanced training and equipment for Georgian forces…The United States supports the efforts of Georgia to provide for its legitimate security and defense needs, including development of appropriate and NATO-interoperable military forces.”
In addition to the future energy transit projects and extensive security cooperation envisaged, the Charter commits Washington to “the right of dignified, secure and voluntary return of all internally displaced persons and refugees” to their homes. Additionally, “The United States is committed to assisting the post-war reconstruction and financial stabilization of Georgia.“ Finally, rather than simply calling for further democratic reform in Georgia, the Charter pledges the U.S. to assist with media development, law enforcement professionalization, judicial reform and educational exchanges.
IMPLICATIONS: The Charter is partial recovery from NATO’s failure to grant Georgia a Membership Action Plan at its Bucharest Summit last April and from Washington’s paralysis as Russian tank treads crushed American geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus last August. It is a broad, unequivocal statement to Georgia, to Europe and to Russia that America supports Georgia as a matter of principle and of interest and that it will not be bullied into abandoning its strategic partner. That said, two observations arise: First, the Charter is a framework that must be filled in by intertwining diverse bureaucracies in both countries. That is not a bad thing—given the breadth of the document, it could not have been otherwise. The challenge for the new American administration will be to marshal the discussions and negotiations into timely concrete action. And time is of the essence. The second observation was presaged by Vashadze at the signing ceremony: “This document is not directed against anybody, but it is a very powerful signal.” Despite good intentions in Tbilisi or Washington, Moscow no doubt perceives the U.S.-Georgia Charter as a very powerful signal directed at Russia, which is a two-edged sword.
On the one hand, the Charter’s broad, unequivocal American commitment to Georgia is exactly what Moscow must hear to be deterred from further aggression against Georgia. On the other hand, having made the commitment, the U.S. must now rapidly fulfill it to preclude any Russian temptation to pre-emptive aggression. Allowing any impression that the Charter is just diplomatic banter to mask continued American paralysis could be disastrous.
It is, furthermore, clear that Moscow is contemplating further aggression. Georgian Government sources estimate that over 10,000 Russian troops now occupy the Georgian territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the adjacent Akhalgori District. They include light infantry, armor and special forces equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, rockets and air defense batteries at new and renovated land, air and naval bases. The massive Russian buildup inside Georgia threatens the East-West Corridor. Russia’s air and missile strikes that bracketed the Baku-Supsa oil Pipeline last August were the first shots in a Kremlin gambit to choke the East-West Corridor.
Perhaps hanging in the shadow of European diplomacy last summer, doubling back in winter with a broad U.S.-Georgia cooperation agreement was a deft way for America to pick up the gauntlet thrown by the Russian invaders. However, Washington must now understand that it has accepted a challenge. Each item in the Charter’s framework must be taken up deliberately, rapidly and unequivocally. Although it may be tempting to argue that security cooperation comes first, investment, further energy transit and trade are equally important. They will be the enduring guarantees of Georgia’s independence and America’s interest in the region.
Meanwhile, the Charter commits the U.S. to an “enhanced security cooperation program…to strengthen Georgia’s candidacy for NATO…including via enhanced training and equipment for Georgian forces.” That means two things: First, as Vashadze said on January 9, “Georgia will be getting the same thing as MAP under a different name.” Add democratization efforts to security cooperation and the Georgian Foreign Minister’s statement is about right. America cannot tell NATO when or how to have Georgia as a member, but what it can do is to implement an action plan that will remove any performance-based objection to membership. Second, the Charter settles the debate over whether and how to rebuild the Georgian Armed Forces—the U.S. believes that building an effective Georgian military is a legitimate objective that it will help fulfill. That means helping Georgia with doctrine development, training, defense management and military capability, including modern anti-tank and air defense weapons. This is a considerable commitment for America and for other western countries that similarly define their security interests in the South Caucasus.
CONCLUSIONS: The U.S.-Georgia Charter was signed just eleven days before U.S. President Barack Obama took office. Bush Administration and Georgian officials let on that it was negotiated and concluded with the tacit approval of the incoming administration. It falls to them to implement it and—just five weeks in office—one must forebear any criticism of too much deliberation.
Georgia took a prominent place in the Obama Administration’s first major foreign policy address. “The United States will not—will not,” Vice President Joe Biden told the Munich Security Conference on February 7, “recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.” Less promising was U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ February 20 statement after a NATO defense ministers meeting in Krakow, Poland: “We are involved in training. We are involved in military reform in Georgia. So this is an ongoing relationship. So I think it is proceeding as planned.” More had been expected in Krakow. Whether Gates was reflecting ongoing debate in Washington or a laxity of purpose, America can ill afford it. Like the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, the problem in Georgia is upon us.AUTHOR’S BIO. David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Columnist for 24 Saati and Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, Tbilisi. He is also Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.