Category Archives: Politics

Sharif's short stay

Nawaz Sharif arrived back in Pakistan promising to challenge Pervez Musharaff. He was arrested on corruption charges and deported back to Saudi Arabia.

His stay in his native country, from which the former prime minister was ousted in the Musharaff coup eight years ago, lasted four hours. Knowing his return could spark trouble, Pakistani authorities detained more than 2,000 people the day before.

Sharif had promised to bring “a final push to the crumbling dictatorship” but it would appear said dictatorship will stay in place for some time to come. I’m not at all surprised by his failure to get past the airport. Allowing him out could have been the final nail in Musharraf’s coffin — an ex-leader of high standing openly campaigning against him. There are opposition groups within Pakistan but Sharif would at least have had the advantage of previously running the country (twice).

The move could backfire on Musharraf. Sharif’s supporters knew he was there and were charged by police. This, combined with their figurehead’s deportation, will only make the general/president even more unpopular.

What I fear is that this increasing unpopularity will foster a more brutal military regime. As I’ve noted in the past, Musharraf has been reaching out to opposition politicians in a bid to shore up his rule. If he is unsuccessful —  and this could either be failure to come to an agreement or undermining a deal by reneging on a promise to leave the army — he may have to take drastic steps to maintain power.

Movement in Myanmar

There have been numerous protests in Myanmar over fuel price hikes. These small and scattered demonstrations have been organised by pro-democracy groups and broken up by pro-military civilian organisations. The situation has also provoked reactions from Buddhist monks.

Now the junta is taking a different tack: it’s offering some concessions. In this case, it

released a political prisoner whose leg was broken when he was arrested in the recent outbreak of antigovernment protests. His case had gained international attention when fellow prisoners staged a hunger strike calling for his freedom.

This is major movement from a government that’s coming under severe scrutiny — and has been under pressure for years to step aside and allow a democractic system come into being. Whether or not the (slightly) softer approach it has taken with apologies and such is a reflection of the military’s long-gestating “road map to democracy” is unclear.

The junta has blamed pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi for instigating the protests and provoking the monks, so I’m not sure what it’s planning. I’d like to think the international criticism of its actions is having an impact.

I find the Buddhist angle very interesting.

On Thursday, a delegation of military officers was briefly held hostage by Buddhist monks at a temple outside the main city of Yangon [formerly Rangoon and the old capital of Myanmar]. The officers had reportedly gone there to apologize to the monks for treating them roughly during a demonstration the day before.

The monks have been up in arms and have taken prominent roles in major protests since British rule. The material is too good to rewrite, so I present quotes from the International Herald Tribune:

Angry monks were reported to have destroyed two buildings owned by officials involved in Wednesday’s crackdown in Pakokku, a center of Buddhist learning about 400 miles northwest of Yangon.

The New Light of Myanmar, a state-controlled newspaper, reported its version Friday of the violence and the hostage-taking, saying the officers handed over their cellphones to the monks after they had “supplicated to them” over the situation.

The rally the monks took part in was subsequently fired upon.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, a prodemocracy organization based in Norway with contacts inside the country, said “a few monks” visited the home last night [Friday] of a leader of the crackdown “to have a talk with him and teach him some Buddhist manners.”

“But he wasn’t at home,” it reported, “so they destroyed a few things from his house to teach him a lesson instead.”

Lessons on dealing with nuclear rows

North Korea has agreed to declare and disable all its nuclear facilities by the end of 2007. Who says diplomacy and the right aid package can’t get results?

The DPRK may be part of the “axis of evil” but it’s a fairly quiet part right now. After all the understandable concern when it tested a nuclear bomb one might have expected a more hostile confrontation between the two.

True, there were some hairy moments, but promises of oil and food seem to have won the day — to the point the US is looking at taking Korea off the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Bryan over at Hot Air, while pointing out that the deal deserves some measure of skepticism, notes that the DPRK is in trouble: famine, flooding and economic woes abound. World Vision said the flooding was so bad this year’s rice harvest was destroyed, along with bridges and powerlines.

It’s possible Korea can no longer afford to maintain its nuclear programme, although dictatorships don’t have a track record of such concerns.

There are lessons here that can be applied to Iran. The deal shows just how successful negotiations can be when needs are clearly identified and dealt with; in 2006 Bush vowed to give diplomacy “every chance” in Korea, and the results are there for all to see.

Korea’s woes do not exist in Iran, so there’s no clear incentive on the Iranian side to ender into proper talks. Ahmadinejad is the other factor. There is unlikely to be a resolution so long as he and his ilk are in power. But that doesn’t mean a proper forum can’t be set up to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Hans Blix has suggested a guarantee that Iran will not be attacked and a normalization of relations with the United States as the cornerstone of an agreement. It won’t be enough in and of itself but would be a start.

At the height of the nuclear row, there was speculation of and backing for a military strike against Korea, much as there is talk of planned offensives against the Iranian military. Such speculation came to nothing and eventually petered out as the diplomatic effort gathered momentum despite the occasional setback. However, I can’t rule out the chance that the threat or fear of attack had a bearing on Korea’s diplomatic amiability.

I also have a slightly more cynical theory: the US administration could not have sold strikes on Korea to the public because it’s just not on their radar. Judging by this video, some Americans’ grasp of geography is tenuous at best:


(Part of a longer montage here.)

All levity aside, the prospect of a deal in North Korea does raise the possibility of a peaceful solution in Iran. I would put forward the promise of investment in the Islamic republic’s oil and gas fields. Direct US finance would be problematic for the Iranian government, but cash through a third party (perhaps the UN or EU) might work.

Let’s see what happens.

Links of the day

The forces of time and work are against me, so this will be short and sweet.

If you’re not moved by this you have no heart: Ollie Byrne RIP and the friendship of pets. How the late owner of Shelbourne FC ditched everything one January night to help somebody find their lost cat. (Michael Nugent)

A sure cause of controversy: Diggers laying a pipe under the Al-Aqsa mosque may have found part of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. This will be incredible if it’s true. (Catholicgauze)

Feeling the pinch: China’s key oil producers may suspend petrol imports. The country needs to supply its own people first, which isn’t a bad philosophy. (AFP)

“I will remind the deppity”: John O’Donoghue in full fury on the floor of Dáil Éireann. Damien resurrects our brave Ceann Comhairle’s attempts to keep control of the house, only for him to show what a flustering hothead he really is. (Damien Mulley)

Fight for your rights: Stop being a slave to your email. Go on, strike back! (Lifehacker)

Transport, but not as we know it: Flying cars are going on sale in the next couple of months. Woohoo! (BBC)

Blogs and the wider world: More women blogging than men. About 8% of Americans have their own blog, according to a survey; although because said survey was conducted among people using an online service the results likely do not reflect reality. (

Creepy crawlies: Got arachnophobia? Here’s your worst nightmare. A vast web crawling with millions of spiders that is spreading across several acres of a Texas park (and the picture with the article is amazing). (International Herald Tribune)

Fighting words: Kung fu monks seek apology for ninja affront. Shaolin monks are a bit miffed at claims by one web user that they were beaten in unarmed combat by a ninja.  (Reuters)

Links of the day

One for us word nerds: Instructor creates cuneiform and hieroglyphic translator. Sadly I can’t see my name in Egyptian. Site still rocks though. (

Bloggers are screwed: This journal may disappear at any time. LiveJournal tells its members that posting links must be treated in the same way as posting the material itself must be treated. (Liz Marcs)

Ah, capitalism: US weapons, given to Iraqis, move to Turkey. Guns given to Iraq’s security forces by the US military have been recovered after use in violent crimes in Turkey. (International Herald Tribune)

Highwire: Russian village’s tightrope walking prowess. Nearly every man, woman and child in the remote mountain village of Tsovkra-1 can walk the tightrope. (Reuters)

Naughty boy? Olbermann re-enacts Senator Craig bathroom scene. Using the police report, Keith Olbermann recreates the incident which saw the US senator arrested after allegedly seeking some same-stall action with a policeman. (Crooks and Liars)

Protecting the nation’s interests: China passes new anti-monopoly law. Twill make it harder for foreign firms to buy Chinese companies. (AFP)

International relations: Should we be worried about Russia and China ganging up on the West? No, according to Ian Bremmer. That’s a relief. (Slate)

Links of the day

Things that caught my eye when I should have been doing something more productive:

The mother of all battles: It’s a dance off! Princess Stomper produces this amazing video of characters from Morrowind, Oblivion and Guild Wars shaking their collective booties in a bid to resolve once and for all which is the greatest RPG of all time. Or at least have a lot of fun. (

Cool dude: A lone dreamer in the Aboriginal art boom. A lovely profile piece of Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, one of Australia’s best-known painters but a man who cares not for the trappings of fame and fortune. (International Herald Tribune)

Paranoid, much? Ethiopia accuses Norway of ‘destabilising’ region. That modern imperial power, Norway, is under fire for “repeated and widespread interference in destabilising the Horn of Africa”. All goofing aside, there are serious issues regarding the conflict with Eritrea. (AFP)

May the force be with them: NASA shuttle to launch Luke’s lightsaber. The original prop is going along with shuttle Discovery on its trip to the ISS in December. (

I have got to get me one of these: Practical fuel cells for electronics. Hydrogen fuel cells could run laptops for 50 hours at a go. (Technology Review)

These people can’t catch a break: Poor roads cost Cameroon cocoa farmers dear. A rubbish infrastructure means farmers get their beans to traders three weeks late — after the price had dropped. (Reuters)

The cows are screwed: The end of the world’s grasslands as we know them?  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may prompt the large-scale conversion of grasslands to a landscape of woody shrubs, one study claims. (

Cheap plug: Policeman suspended for hugging bailed star. The story of the day as far as I was concerned while working the desk yesterday! Nine coppers are in trouble for welcoming Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt on his release from prison. (Irish Examiner)

All-round solutions: Blackwater flies… Blackwater Security, which provides “security solutions” to the US military in Iraq, is creating its own airforce. Feckin’ hell. (Scholars and Rogues)

I can empathise: The internet — why it’s better than real life. Glad to see I’m not the only one, though I have yet to embrace the likes of MySpace or Linkedin. (Sunday Business Post)

Big numbers: Iraqi pilgrims sent home amid violence. One million people have been ordered out of Karbala after 26 people die in two days of shootings. (AP/CBS)

Mothers’ boys: Even gangsters need their mamas. Nicaragua tackles gang violence by relying on guerrilla street cred and mothers’ love. Would this work in Limerick I wonder (sorry, cheap shot)? (