BY SHASHI MALLA
• Dahal-Prachanda Calls on Nepalese to Learn from Cuba, Venezuela
The great leader of the Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Prachanda [aka PKDP] has called upon all aspiring progressive Nepalese to learn from the continuing advanced revolutions in the Latin American countries of Cuba and Venezuela. He made this illuminating statement after meeting delegations from both these countries, which had come to learn and admire the immense progress in our Himalayan socialist paradise.
In both Cuba and Venezuela, the economic and scientific progress has been so great, that the ‘tightening of belts’ is not only an art, but a science. They have also developed the preparation of rodents to a fine culinary skill.
Not only that, the people of Cuba and Venezuela have taken the practice of socialist democracy to the next level. Namely, they have learnt to vote with their feet!
Thus, we Nepalese can learn a lot from these Socialist/Communist countries. But unfortunately many anti-social elements, exploiters and the petits bourgeois are claiming [treasonously] that our extraordinary Maoist-Communist government [with historically non-existent corruption, nepotism, favouritism, partisanship, discrimination, etc., etc. and extremely high-level of government performance] wasn’t the solution to our problems, it was the problem itself!
• Strait of Hormuz: Dire Straits in World’s Most Important Waterway *.
The Strait of Hormuz is the narrow waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. It is bounded in the north by Iran and to the south by Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In spite of its small size, it is possibly the world’s most important maritime shipping route.
It is about 96 miles long and only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, with shipping lanes in each direction just two miles wide. The strait is deep enough for the world’s biggest crude-oil tankers, and is used by the major oil and gas producers in the Persian Gulf – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and their importing customer states/companies, including China, Japan, India, South Korea.
At any one time, there are several dozen tankers on their way to or leaving the Strait of Hormuz. About a fifth of the world’s oil – nearly 21 million barrels a day – passed through the strait last year. This is slightly more than went through the Strait of Malacca [between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra], also a major international waterway connecting the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea/Western Pacific.
The Strait of Hormuz also sees more tonnage than passes through the Bab el-Mandeb connecting the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and on to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Seaand Europe.
And more than that through the straits – Dardanelles/Sea of Marmara/Bosporus — that separate Asian Turkey from mainland Europe and connecting the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
The Strait of Hormuz is vital for the main oil/gas exporters of the Persian Gulf region, whose economies are built around these products. In 2018, Saudi Arabia sent nearly 6.4 million barrels of oil per dayvia the strait, while Iraq sent more than 3.4 million, the UAE nearly 2.7 million and Kuwait just over two million.
Iran also relies heavily on this route for its oil exports. Qatar, the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), exports nearly all of its gas through the strait.
In recent years, the strait has become most important for the major Asian economies – China, Japan, India and South Korea – which import their oil and gas through the strait. Even the United States imported nearly 1.4 million barrels a day via this route.
Without doubt, in spite of various pipelines in the region, the Strait of Hormuz is presently the best route for transporting large volumes of oil/gas out of the Persian Gulf and, of course, the only possible route by sea.
• Germany’s New Defence Minister Aims to Boost Bundeswehr*
AnnegretKramp-Karrenbauer, the chairperson of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been sworn in as defence minister, succeeding Ursula von der Leyen who has been elected president of the European Commission. AKK, as she is informally known, remains the favourite to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor [prime minister].
In her inaugural speech, Kramp-Karrenbaueremphasized the special bond between the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, and the Bundeswehr, the German security forces. Before any foreign mission of the military, the Bundestag must approve it.
The new minister promised to bolster defence cooperation within the European Union (EU) and to increase the defence budget, a controversial issue for some in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partners in the government grand coalition. But the US and other NATO partners have long demanded that Germany increase defence spending to meet the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence.
Kramp-Karrenbauer had previously repeatedly promised that she would concentrate on reinvigorating the conservative party ahead of crucial regional elections in autumn. However, with the choice of von der Leyen as President of the European Commission, AKK, the 56-year-old-former state premier of Saarland, was opted for the crucial ministry. CDU party leaders, and above all Chancellor Merkel herself, decided that the sudden opening would provide valuable federal government experience – domestic and international. As German defence minister, AKK could make her mark as chancellor-in-waiting.
• UK PM Johnson on Collision Course with EU *
The UK’s new prime minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet of hardline Brexiteers are now firmly on the path to confrontation with the EU. He made it clear that he would keep his word about the time for compromises with the EU being over. There was also the veiled threat: if you don’t negotiate on our terms, you will be to blame for the tumult that a no-deal Brexit will bring. Moreover, he could withhold the 39-billion-pound divorce bill that London and Brussels agreed to in 2017. “Do not underestimate this country”, he said.
In his inaugural speech to the House of Commons, he also made a calculated challenge to all those who cannot believe that the country, all on its own, will return to the world stage in grand style after October 31 – the extended date for finally exiting the EU.
In one of the most ruthless cabinet reshuffles in recent British history, he sacked all the men and women who had insulted him or doubted his simplistic agenda. His new cabinet of Brexit devotees cannot be rationally reasoned with about the risks of a no-deal Brexit. Most seem to believe that a no-deal will cause havoc to the EU but do little to damage Britain. Gone are Johnson’s promise to be a prime minister for all people and all four nations of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
According to the German “Spiegel International”, Boris is attempting “scare tactics” to intimidate the EU leadership in Brussels [the new team comes into office only in November] to compromise from their ‘non-negotiable’ policies. These include the contingency plan for an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (the “backstop”), which Johnson declared “dead”.
• Afghanistan: Illusory Breakthrough in Peace Talks *
It doesn’t look as though a Taliban peace deal will end the bloodshed in Afghanistan. The Taliban continue to attack civilians indiscriminately despite pledging to negotiators in Doha [Qatari and German] that they would stop. It is not clear what the militant group is trying to achieve by continuing these violent attacks which makes normal life in Afghanistan absolutely insecure.
Since, the Trump administration does not have a cogent and satisfactory exit policy – the US has been fighting for 18 years, its longest war in history. There will be no ‘peace with honour’, and the Taliban may be exploiting US muddle – the lack of principled strategic withdrawal. The Taliban may also be split among rival factions, so that no united policy is emerging. In the meantime, the civilian population and the security forces suffer.
At the same time, the immediately concerned regional powers – China, India and Pakistan – have not been able to contribute meaningfully to conflict resolution.
In the past few months, Taliban attacks and operations by Afghan and international forces have killed scores of civilians across the war-torn country. It’s possible that the Islamist insurgents are trying to demonstrate their strength in the battlefield as they talk peace with US negotiators in Doha. Both sides claim to have made progress but have not addressed the malignant role of other armed militant groups like the “Islamic State”, which are not yet part of the equation. Moreover, the Taliban are still reluctant to talk directly to the legitimate Afghan government.
In the latest incident, a powerful explosion hit central Kabul on Sunday, wounding Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh [as vice presidential candidate] in the upcoming election and killing at least two others. Saleh commands strong support among Afghanistan’s minority ethnic Tajiks and is an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban and other Islamist groups (Reuters).
• Last Words *
It is difficult to single out any one event [or haphazard statement] as the most cataclysmic of Donald Trump’s presidency. David A. Andelman, executive director at the Center for National Security at Fordham University and formerly the foreign correspondent of “The New York Times” identifies Trump’s ill-considered decision to abandon the “Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement” with Russia as the one decision that could very well have the most catastrophic results in the long term.
According to Andelman, the result will likely be “another unparalleled arms race, a growth in global insecurity, and a tacit license for more countries to seek nukes of their own” (CNN Opinion).
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]