Friday 20 February 2009

Real Security in Central Asia Is Not a "Great Game"

Sometimes, I just hate clichés like the plague. I wrote this for my Reuters AlterNet blog on 20 February 2009.


Even if you don’t follow Central Asia at all, you could hardly fail to notice the increased media attention the region has been receiving in recent weeks. Repeated Taliban attacks on NATO supply routes into Afghanistan from Pakistan have driven General David Petraeus, the top US commander in the area, to make a series of relatively high-profile visits to the former Soviet Stans to shore up a new logistics line from the north. Adding to the pressure and the press buzz that is so uncharacteristic for this largely forgotten corner of the world, Kyrgyzstan is kicking out the Americans from the airbase at Manas, used to support Afghan operations. Moscow’s offer of two billion dollars in loans to Bishkek a couple weeks ago is widely seen to be the decisive factor in the Kyrgyz decision -- or perhaps it is better to call it a Kyrgyz gambit to get Washington to make a counter-bid to keep the base.

In any case, the world’s media have jumped to define the story purely in terms of the US and Russia competing for the favours of the region’s rulers, and one of the oldest, most tired clichés of international relations is dusted off yet again: "The Great Game”. It’s hard to find a commentator who doesn’t use to this facile anachronism, referring to the 19th-century strategic rivalry between the British and Russian empires in Central Asia. And you find it everywhere in Anglophonia: from the right in the US, to the left in the UK.

But blurting out "The Great Game” rather than offering real analysis of the region is not going to help anyone understand what’s really at stake here and how to deal with it.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Somalia’s Slim Hope

This article, by and my collegue Daniela Kroslak and me, was published in Reuters comment pages, "The Great Debate", on 10 February 2009.


Pirates, Islamists, refugees, anarchy, civil war — not much good news has come out of Somalia in the last couple of decades. With warlord replacing warlord over the years and transitional governments constantly hovering between extremely weak and non-existent on the ground, the temptation will be to view this week’s election of a new Somali president with an eye-rolling, “so what?”

Yet there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that this moment will mark the start of some small progress for the shattered country. That is, if the international community plays the next few months very carefully and does not let ideology trump pragmatism.

Thursday 5 February 2009

Stop Reporting Somalia?

This originally appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 5 February 2009.


As if anyone needed reminding how difficult it is to work as a reporter in Somalia, two fresh events deliver the message clear enough.

The first is the tragically commonplace murder of yet another journalist. This time, it was Said Tahlil Ahmed, director of the influential independent radio station HornAfrik, shot dead in Mogadishu's Bakara Market on 4 February. He was the fourth HornAfrik journalist -- and its second director -- killed since 2007. Tahlil was also the second Somali journalist killed already this year.