Starting with the CBMs

By Talat Masood

SOUND and stable relationship between two nations is built not by merely applying the principle of reciprocity but by each nation seeking to promote its own enlightened interests. Indian and Pakistani leadership needs to change its mindset and stop weighing every proposal or action in terms of “gains to us and losses to them”.

The recent twelve-point Indian proposals and Pakistan’s response, including its own thirteen counterproposals, are indeed a welcome development. But the mutual responses highlighted the fact that the political will required to create the right kind of environment and to establish procedures for the CBMs’ smooth operation is still lacking in the two countries. Little realizing that faithful implementation of even these modest confidence-building measures can pave the way for normalization and peace talks between the two countries.

A bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad can be extremely useful in reviving lost contacts and building goodwill on both sides of the divide. It could be the first step towards the realization of soft borders and the means to facilitate the emergence of a unified Kashmiri entity.

Interaction could have a moderating influence on the Indian security forces that are committing gross atrocities on the Kashmiri people and will provide Pakistan the opportunity to be more transparent on the question of cross-border infiltration. When Pakistan made the counter-proposal of induction of UN personnel for manning exit/entry points between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, it knew that India would reject it. Instead, they could have agreed in principle and offered to work out the modalities.

The possibility of using neutral observers from countries like Norway, Sweden, Thailand or Malaysia, could have been explored. The other alternative could be that Kashmiris use their state identity cards as travel documents in lieu of passports or have documents similar to the ones that are used by Taiwanese in countries that do not recognize Taiwan.

Undoubtedly, the best course would be if India and Pakistan could accept this proposal by merely reiterating that a bus service on this route has been agreed upon without prejudice to their respective positions on the future status of Jammu and Kashmir. After all, India and China too have a long disputed border where normal procedures for travel apply. The proposal for reviving the ferry service between Mumbai and Karachi and re-opening of Khokrapar-Munabao land route should have been given serious consideration by the Pakistani authorities. By suggesting a postponement of this proposal our government has shown lack of sensitivity for the people of the south Sindh. There are much greater numbers of people from among divided families, businessmen and tourists who are desirous of travelling to India from Karachi and interior of Sindh than from Punjab. So it is only logical that this proposal be accepted after working out the modalities. To reject it on the basis of an apprehension that India would undermine the loyalty of these people is untenable.

Ferry service between Karachi and Mumbai would greatly facilitate travel between the two countries. It is equally safe from the security point of view because passengers remain on board for nearly 24 hours and if travel documents of some of them are incomplete or some facts are inaccurate for one reason or another that could be corrected or at worst landing or departure in such cases could be denied. India should accept Pakistan’s proposal for the Amritsar-Lahore bus service. Many Sikhs would like to visit their holy shrines in Pakistan. Apart from promoting goodwill between the two peoples, Pakistan will benefit from increased religious visits.

The twelve-point offer of India is indicative of its willingness to move to the December 2001 position, and somewhat beyond, to facilitate people-to-people contact. However, it is clear that as of now New Delhi is not prepared to engage in a structured and substantive dialogue with Pakistan. This is in line with its part engagement and part containment policy towards Pakistan that aims at normalizing relations at an incremental pace, provided Islamabad does not push for substantive negotiations on Kashmir in the immediate future.

Meanwhile, India is pressing forward with its policy of an internal solution of Kashmir. Through a combination of military pressure and improved governance, it is aiming at reducing the deep resentment and alienation of the Kashmiris. By arranging a relatively free election last year it has somewhat raised the credibility of the state government and provided a sense of limited participation in governance to the people.

In a parallel development, some prominent Hurriyat leaders have started challenging the logic of linking Jihadi elements with Kashmiris’ freedom struggle. This has gained momentum in the aftermath of 9/11. The struggle between the militants and Indian security forces continues to take a heavy toll of Kashmiris with no clear military or political gains.

New Delhi has exploited the divisions among Kashmiris to its advantage by splitting the APHC and some of its militant groups. Having weakened the APHC, Mr. Advani now feels confident about initiating a dialogue with the moderate group led by Mr. Ansari. Surely, no one should have any false hopes that the hawkish Indian deputy prime minister will make any major concessions to the divided Hurriyat leadership.

The international climate is also favourable for India. New Delhi is developing a strong strategic partnership with the US which is apparent from close military-to-military cooperation, sale of military hardware, transfer of dual-use technologies through Israel if not directly, increase in US investment and close cooperation in matters relating to terrorism and protection of sea lanes.

America considers Kashmir to be a disputed territory but it will not get involved in conflict resolution without the approval of both parties. So far its efforts have mainly focused on conflict management.

India has strengthened its traditional relationship with Russia which is now its single largest supplier of latest military equipment and technology. Russian interest coincides with India’s in fighting Islamic militancy, neutralizing the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and cooperating in the fight against secessionist movements. Russia supports India’s position on Kashmir.

Despite their mutual reservations and latent rivalry, India and China have normalized their relations, put aside the Tibet, Sikkim and border issues and have agreed to expand trade and cooperate in several areas, including curbing terrorism. This gives both countries the benefit of a peace dividend in both political and economic terms. In the last few years there also appears a subtle shift in Beijing’s position on Kashmir.

Furthermore, strong reservations exist in some powerful Indian circles regarding the advisability of engaging with Pakistan that has a military-dominated regime. Apart from the deep mutual distrust between the BJP and Pakistan’s military leadership, the Indian government would not like to take measures that could lead to further strengthening of the grip of the army on the country’s governance. In any case, unless there are clear signs of a shift from entrenched positions by both countries on Kashmir, entering into serious negotiations would not be possible.

Time is needed to prepare public opinion on both sides so that the two governments can take initiatives that would lead to a solution acceptable to their people. There is need for creating maximum possible space for people and civil societies of both countries to interact for laying the foundations for peace, goodwill and mutual trust. During the interim phase Pakistan should continue raising the Kashmir issue in international forums both in the context of self-determination and gross human rights violations. It should also take more transparent and effective measures on the LoC so that Kashmiris regain international support for their just cause. The formation of a verification mechanism under the UN or any neutral body could be an important CBM but, regrettably, India has always opposed any meaningful role for the international community in Kashmir, including border monitoring.

Despite India’s intransigence over Kashmir, it may be in the larger interest of Pakistan to pursue the path of peace and seek an improvement in relations with India. Not that it would involve any immediate shift in priority budgetary allocations from defence to the social and economic sectors, but at least it will release the nation from being excessively preoccupied with security so that it could focus more on the social sector. Indulging in an arms race with India could have serious long-term consequences for Pakistan.

We have to take lessons from the “Star Wars” syndrome which brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. The greatest threat to Pakistan today is internal — rising poverty, increasing population, illiteracy, political instability, and ethnic and sectarian extremism. Our recent change of geostrategic fortunes by becoming a major ally of the US in the war against terror is a short-lived phenomenon and should be used for strengthening ourselves internally rather than using it as a cover for continuing the policies of the past.

The writer is a retired lt-general of Pakistan army.

Building bridges with the US

By Anwer Mooraj

FOREIGN affairs specialists have found it convenient to classify relations between the United States and Pakistan into three phases. The first covered the period of the cold war, the second the years 1990 to 1993, charmingly referred to as ‘the period of crisis’. And the third stretches from 1993 to the present day.

In a sense, the first period could be described as the formative phase, for it was early in the cold war that Pakistan decided to take the plunge and unequivocally demonstrated its loyalty to the United States, as the two countries forged a partnership designed essentially to contain Soviet expansionism.

A superficial look at relations between the United States and Pakistan during the four decades of the cold war, would indicate that these have been, on the whole fairly good. They have, in fact, oscillated between very cordial and friendly. Pakistan gamely played her role in Cento and Seato, even though it earned the country the doubtful sobriquet of ‘America’s most allied ally’. But it did at least send a message to New Delhi whose alignment with the Soviet Union had created another dimension of threat to Pakistan’s security and territorial integrity. Between 1954 and 1990 the United States poured in five and a half billion dollars of military aid.

Since 1954 the involvement and interaction of both sides was at times deep and intense, and the spectrum was continually being widened at every conceivable level — technological, political, economic, military, commercial and educational. Who can forget Fullbright, the East-West Centre and Hubert Humphrey? The Peace Corps volunteers, or the numerous student exchange programmes ?

Pakistan must , in fact, be given the credit for not only supporting the United States in every major diplomatic impasse involving the former Soviet Union or its satellites, but also for lowering the drawbridge and helping the Americans enter into a new understanding and relationship with the People’s Republic of China with whom Pakistan had cemented strong ties in the days of President Ayub Khan. The whisking away of Henry Kissinger from Islamabad to Beijing, in conditions of total secrecy, must remain one of Pakistan’s great diplomatic triumphs.

Policy makers in both countries forged a spirit of geniality and bonhomie. Aid continued to trickle in. An assortment of delegations was exchanged. Pakistani civil servants on extended junkets to the New World discovered that the shortest route from Washington to Dallas was via Las Vegas. The Sabre Jet became the new icon of aerial warfare. Pakistan developed a small battalion of Fullbright scholars. The beef-burger and blue collar music was discovered and adopted by the chattering classes.

The English language received a generous dose of Brooklyn slang, and men in military brass and bureaucrats grew fat on defence purchases and on the money siphoned off from donations by foreign NGOs. Occasionally a conscientious US senator would shake an angry fist at the corruption that was taking place. But this was eventually put down to one of the occupational hazards of life in the Third World.

But regrettably, after 1995, policy makers in Islamabad watched with weary resignation and growing disbelief what they interpreted as a tilt in US policy towards India. They also noted to their utter dismay, the shift from US-Soviet strategic confrontation to increasing cooperation. This was something that had shaken long-held assumptions about the structure of world politics. And then, of course, there was 9/11, which subsequently led to the current belief which is gradually gaining currency in all Muslim countries , that the war on terror, is really a euphemism for the War on Islam.

What really irked Islamabad was the fact that a nation that was once the linchpin of American foreign policy, had become a casualty of post-cold war political realignment. Amid domestic political turmoil, Pakistan is still struggling to cope with the refuse of a superpower battle. Much of this is the legacy of the 3.5 billion dollars worth of weapons that the United States pumped into Pakistan during the fag end of the cold war, when they worked with the country’s intelligence services to back the guerrillas fighting socialism in Afghanistan. And if this was not enough, Pakistan frequently faced the threat of being branded a terrorist state and a rogue nuclear power.

Pakistan is still paying the price of this adventure, as it struggles with a glut of weapons in the market place, large numbers of restless combat-experienced foreign guerrillas, millions of Afghan refugees who have made Pakistan their home while the government refuses to repatriate loyal Pakistanis, stranded in Bangladesh, lawlessness, functional anarchy and an unbridled drug trade.

For a number of years each headline that came down the US editorial pike was eloquent of polite misgiving. The impression of clear-sighted tragedy was profound. But what makes the whole Afghan adventure truly tragic, is the fact that the Russians in Kabul, whom the Taliban, with the help of the Americans and the ISI were trying to destroy, were building roads and hospitals and schools and providing education to Afghan women and girls.

Nevertheless, anti-communism, despite its many shortcomings, provided some predictability to the conduct of American foreign policy. There is no predictability today, and consequently US actions are seen by the Pakistan foreign office, as episodic and inconsistent.

It was against this background of anxiety and distrust that the US ambassador in Islamabad, Ms Nancy Powel, dilated on US the US ambassador Mrs Nancy Powell dilated on US foreign policy towards Pakistan at a function this week in Karachi.

I don’t quite know what the audience was expecting the ambassador to say. Perhaps that in spite of appearances to the contrary, they would never cut that sturdy oak whose sapling had been planted by the great late President Dwight David Eisenhower. In a way, the emissary did just that.

She said the United States greatly valued Pakistan’s friendship. She said the principles which were at play in their bilateral relations included helping the states achieve regional stability, helping Pakistan strengthen its economic, social, political and democratic development, and the building of bridges between the two nations in order to foster mutual understanding. She then went through a long list of projects and confidence-building measures, embellished by numerous, impossible-to-remember statistics, which were followed by the inevitable reference to the efforts their two countries were making against the war on terrorism.

The tone of the questions was mildly provocative. Unfortunately, people were asked to submit their questions in writing. While this eliminated the usual practice of giving members of the audience the opportunity of making lengthy pronouncements or denunciations of policy, before framing a query, it gave the organizers of the presentation the opportunity to edit or discard a question, including the one in which an irate doctor wanted to know why the United States was determined to destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, when it was doing nothing to disarm Israel of nuclear weapons.

They shouldn’t have bothered. The ambassador was totally focused, unruffled and positive. She didn’t kowtow to the audience. Nor was she conciliatory in her remarks or in her answers to the questions. This was all the more remarkable, especially when she knows that she is serving in a country where, after Afghanistan and Iraq, there are large swathes of anti-American feeling.

Learning from Korea

By Sirajuddin Aziz

SOUTH KOREA, a country that was ravaged by conflict and war has emerged on the world economic scene, in less than fifty years, as an ‘economic miracle.’ It is another stay that the rich nations’ club deprive Korea of membership, on the grounds that it must first reform its labour laws, although the countries with much less per capita income like Mexico (US$ 4,000), Hungary (US$ 3,800) and even Turkey (US$ 2,500) have been admitted to the group.

Korea, is neither a large country nor is it richly endowed with natural resources — its crucial economic strength lies in its human resources. This fact has always been true of Korea. During the period of massive industrialization, its human assets were the foundation of the miracle on the Han river. Korea has made good use of its human resources throughout history, sharing the pain and overcoming the many difficult challenges with a collective spirit and crisis management.

South Korean companies dominate the world making billion dollar investments in the US, Europe and Asia. It is estimated that the top 30 chaebol (conglomerates) own the whole country. The powerful multinational conglomerates dominate the Korean economy with business that range from making cars, ships, electronics and semi-conductor chips to chemicals, oil refining and stock broking.

A think tank in South Korea in a recent report disclosed a plan intended to make the South Korean economy, the world’s seventh largest by year 2020. The Korea development institute’s report says that South Korea’s per capita gross domestic product would rise to US$ 32,000 by 2020. The current per capita income of South Korea is 32nd largest in the world at US$ 10,163. Trade is anticipated to grow from last year’s US$ 190 billion — 13th in the world — to US$ 415 billion by 2000 A.D. Trade would increase to US$ 1.1 trillion by 2010 and reach US$ 2.4 trillion by 2020, with South Korea becoming the world’s sixth largest trader.

In the financial sector, the de-regulation of the banking industry is being implemented in several phases. Following the policy of liberalization that began almost two years ago all deposit rates are free of control and lending rates have been de- regulated. The criterion for branch expansion has been relaxed and all domestic banks are opening new branches. The BIS capital adequacy ratios are being strictly adhered to. Most banks, which in the last four to five years, saw erosion in capital adequacy, as a result of loan growth, have now adjusted their capital to the required minimum of eight per cent.

International cooperation in science and technology has a growing significance, especially among the developing countries. As the countries have begun to recover from the global economic slowdown of 2001, the cooperation between them is competitively sought, with a view to securing markets.

Pakistan can find a model in Korea. In view of our large gap with the US and western Europe. Our preference should lie with the countries like Korea for development experiences as well as scientific and technological advances.

We must seek cooperation with Korea in atleast three definite areas. First and foremost, generate government level science and technology treaties for joint committees and ventures; secondly seek assistance between R&D organizations and thirdly promote the exchange and personnel for joint projects.

Since, 2000, Korea has entered into such agreements with 20 countries including India, Malaysia and Philippines. It has completed 12 joint R&D programmes with Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico, etc. and till the end of 2000 it had invited 5,100 trainees from 130 developing countries. Pakistan was conspicuous by its absence in this programme.

Former President Kim Dae Jong’s views on economic cooperation expressed at an earlier APEC summit, truly reflect the views of the Korean think tanks and policy makers. He had remarked, “The reason for economic cooperation is that it offers all parties concerned opportunities to achieve development and prosperity goals. Gone are the days when a company was quite satisfied with domestically supplied labour, technology and distribution networks. Today companies want to shop around the world looking for the most favourable price and quality of goods and services in an effort to create maximum added-value.”

The Korean economy has undergone a significant structural reform at both the macro and micro levels in a bid to resolve distortions that became evident during the 1997 financial crisis. External liquidity indicators have improved considerably in the last five years, while progress has been made towards restructuring the corporate and financial sectors. The government has implemented a far reaching programme to privatize state-owned assets, thereby allowing the market a greater say in the allocation of resources.

Externally, total foreign liabilities amounted to US$ 120 billion in 2001, down a sizeable US$ 60 billion from US$ 180 billion in 1997. The ratio of short term external liabilities to foreign reserves improved to 38 per cent in 2002 against an unsustainable 265 per cent in 1997. Foreign exchange reserves continue to swell from US$ 103 billion in 2001 to US$ 111 billion. With this build-up Korea has been able to restore itself to its strong financial position. It is now resilient to the most foreseeable potential shock.

South Korea’s economic policy is dynamic and is quick to respond to the emerging political and economic realities in the Asia-pacific rim. With the awakening of the dragon in China, Korea was quick to respond, although politically it was still at logger-heads with Beijing, by setting up its representative offices, inside China. Today South Korean banks are lining up to open branches, in the Qingdao and adjoining provinces in China, which are close to the Korean peninsula.

We must seek encouragement from Korea in its deft and successful handling of economic crisis. For the reform and revitalization of our economy we must ask them to train our people and share with us their rich experience. Pakistan can to learn much from the Korean economic miracle.

Security threat in Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN foreshadowed Iraq with a quick military victory, foreign aid to rebuild and emphasis on getting in place a constitution, elections and a hoped-for democracy. But the Afghans’ persistent struggles should send a warning to the world that a lack of security, heavily armed militias and a flourishing drug trade could turn the nation back into a lawless sanctuary for terrorists.

An independent commission last week unveiled a draft constitution that could be a milestone in Afghanistan’s recovery from decades of invasion, wars and Taliban misrule. If an Afghan grand council adopts the blueprint next month, it will set the stage for elections next year and a strong presidential form of government. The constitution proclaims Afghanistan an Islamic state but promises religious freedom to all. It specifies free education for boys and girls up to secondary school.

But the constitution could be an empty promise. Nearly two years after the US drove the Taliban from power, remnants of the Islamic extremist group are regrouping and attacking US troops. International peacekeepers, whom Washington foolishly limited to Kabul, only now are expanding their mandate.

It’s happening in the relatively calm northern city of Kunduz, not where troops are needed more — in southern areas like Kandahar. Foreign aid groups, which last year were attacked monthly, say their workers are attacked every other day. As in Iraq, this has led aid groups to withdraw many foreign workers.

Washington has committed other errors. US troops have been too tied for too long to warlords. In a southeastern province, Afghans said militias — paid to guide US forces hunting for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters — last month robbed, assaulted and tortured villagers after the Americans left. Warlords’ cruelty first led many Afghans to welcome the Taliban a decade ago.

— Los Angeles Times

Balancing peace moves, not arms

By Farhatullah Babar

DURING his recent visit to Seoul, General Pervez Musharraf said that Pakistan would match the huge arms purchases by India that had upset the arms balance in the region: “We will respond to this imbalance through all means possible”, he said.

Elaborating on it the foreign office spokesman said on Monday that no country could afford to reduce its conventional capabilities below a certain point. There had to be conventional balance, he said.

Last month, addressing garrison officers at the Pannu Aquil cantonment in Sindh, Gen Musharraf had said that Pakistan would follow at all cost a policy of minimum credible deterrence even in conventional weapons in South Asia. These statements suggest a departure from Islamabad’s repeated assurances that it would not enter into an arms race with India.

Until recently it was argued that Pakistan could not enter into a conventional arms race with India and that this was a major reason why it needed nuclear weapons. Now we are talking of ‘balancing and matching conventional arms’.

It might be argued that ‘matching’ or ‘balancing’ India’s conventional capability is not the something as acquiring each and every weapon that India acquires. That may be true but it also implies maintenance of a certain ratio, say 2:1, in conventional arms. It therefore means that if India were to become mad in military spending, Pakistan would be at least half as mad. This would be seen as the implication of the general’s Pannu Aquil address when he said that Pakistan had quantified a minimum deterrence in the field of conventional force levels that would be maintained at all cost.

Until a few years ago our strategists believed that nuclear weapons in the hands of Pakistan was the greatest equalizer against the conventional arms build-up by India. But now it seems that nuclear weapons alone are not considered enough and a balancing of conventional arms is equally important.

It seems that Kargil has had a sobering effect in terms of reassessing nuclear deterrence. It exposed the fallacy of arguing that a low-intensity war can be waged inside Kashmir without provoking a matching response from the adversary because of our nuclear status. The adversary demonstrated its readiness for war even with a nuclear-armed Pakistan. India refused to back down leaving Pakistan to wage the international community to effect a pull-back. The so-called deterrence failed to deter. Is the so-called ‘balanced and matching’ arms build-up a rational security doctrine?

Security doctrines adopted without broad-based discussions and a debate in parliament have backfired. Remember the security theories of yesteryear such as ‘defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan’, ‘strategic depth in Afghanistan’, ‘low-intensity war sustained by deterrence’ and ‘calibrated response’? They were all devised without reference to the people and they all backfired. The doctrine of ‘balanced and matching’ arms build-up needs to be thoroughly discussed and debated.

According to The Military Balance, the armed forces of Pakistan are outnumbered 2 to 1 of India’s. Pakistan has 2,400 main battle tanks and 1,600 artillery pieces, while India has 3,900 main battle tanks and 4,400 pieces of artillery. PAF is said to have 347 combat aircraft but not all of them are front line aircraft as against 744 combat aircraft of India.

If one takes into account only the front-line aircraft the ratio in the air forces is about 6:1 Pakistan Navy has 10 submarines and eight major surface combatants while. India has 19 submarines and 29 surface combatants, besides an aircraft carrier and a naval air arm. India also plans to secure two Russian nuclear submarines.

Given the fact that India plans to spend another $95 billion on arms purchases by the year 2018, and the differential between the two countries’ GDPs, populations and growth rates, it is not difficult to predict that progressively Pakistan would have to spend huge sums to keep its conventional arms ‘matching and balancing’ India’s.

True, not all of India’s forces can be available for deployment against Pakistan but it also should not be forgotten that Pakistan would never be able to deploy a larger proportion of its military strength against India. Given the fact that Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan are also not safe and would need deployment in the foreseeable future, the effective force ratios of deployment would be even more tilted in favour of India. In such a scenario, seeking to ‘balance’ India’s military build-up will only be at the cost of our economic progress.

Instead of chasing the elusive balancing of arms, we need to seek balancing of peace efforts and initiatives by reconstructing the security paradigm in the region. It means taking a fresh look at the issues between the two countries. This can be done only in parliament, which unfortunately is hamstrung by the logjam over the Legal Framework order. If we have to take up vital issues of national security parliament must be enabled to debate and discuss issues of national security and build a consensus for appropriate security doctrines.

Truth and wisdom cannot be monopolized by any single individual or any one institution be the GHQ or any other. Truth and wisdom emerges only as a result of a discussion among a large number of people in which each one lays claim to a bit of the reality. Sound policies must also be backed by a national consensus. Parliament alone is the best forum for it.

The prescription of ‘balancing’ India’s feverish arms build-up does not answer the question of economic and social costs of maintaining this balance. This doctrine is oblivious of the fact that victory is dependent less on the number of air force squadrons, tanks and submarines and more on the soundness of strategy and reducing dependence on arms imports.

It ignores the fact that a mammoth military machine failed to prevent the break-up of a superpower like the Soviet Union and that Germany achieved the goal of unification without nuclear weapons and without a huge arms build-up. Nations do not win strategic victories by armaments alone as the United States learnt the hard way in Vietnam.

The doctrine of balancing India’s arms build-up addresses only the issues of arms and not of peace. It fails to recognize the need for a review of policy towards India in the light of changing regional and international realities, one of which is the growing China-India entente in strategic and economic matters as highlighted in their recent joint declaration: “The common interests of the two sides outweigh their differences”.

It is reflective of the mindset of the security establishment and not of the aspirations of the people. It is delaying crucial decisions about peace not realizing that a decision delayed is not a problem avoided; more often it is a crisis invited.

Stressing balancing of forces and ignoring a balancing of peace is fundamentally flawed and inherently dangerous.

The writer is a Senator.

Nicaraguan missile danger

THE United States had huge concerns about black-market surface-to-air missiles long before recent attack on an Army Chinook helicopter in Iraq, an assault that killed 16 soldiers. So it came as little surprise that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in a brief visit to Managua, asked the Nicaraguan government to destroy nearly 2,000 surface-to-air missiles in its military arsenal.

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos agrees that the weapons — an ugly part of the legacy of combat from an earlier Sandinista administration — should be destroyed. Unfortunately for Bolanos, though, some Nicaraguans want to tie the missile destructions to negotiations over the balance of military forces in the region. And some Nicaraguan generals, it seems, argue that the missiles might come in handy in any conflict over old territorial disputes with Honduras or Colombia.

Ridiculous. As Powell pointed out during his visit, “The risk of having these weapons far outweighs any military value they may have.” In fact, as he and others note, there’s a flourishing global black market for these and other incredibly destructive arms, and many legitimate governments struggle to maintain control over them.

It goes without saying that the would-be buyers are among the planet’s most disreputable and dangerous. Two years ago, 3,000 AK-74 assault rifles that had been stored in Nicaragua mysteriously appeared in the hands of an irregular paramilitary band, the self-described United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia. Imagine the havoc that could occur if thousands of missiles — each of which is small enough to fit in a car’s trunk and lethal enough to down an aeroplane flying 15,000 feet overhead — disappeared in similar fashion, jeopardizing not just US but hemispheric and global air traffic.

Though Bolanos, who became president in 2002, may be sympathetic to Powell’s plea, his own political standing, on this issue and in general, is precarious. The Sandinistas, who control almost half of the National Assembly and still loathe the US, won’t back him.

Bolanos’ own party remains upset with him for prosecuting his predecessor, Arnoldo Aleman, on charges he embezzled $100 million.

— Los Angeles Times


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