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Newsline - January 8, 2007


GERMANY TO SEEK FIRM ENERGY COMMITMENTS FROM RUSSIA
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country took over the rotating EU Presidency on January 1, was quoted by Reuters on January 7 as saying on German ZDF television in Berlin that any new cooperation agreement between the EU and Russia must include pledges from Moscow to be a reliable energy provider (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 13 and 22, 2006, and January 3, 2007). She noted that "Russia was a dependable delivery partner in the past. But we are wrestling with Russia right now about strengthening this [commitment through the proposed new]...EU-Russia cooperation pact. We also need to know...that we will have reliable prices and reliable cooperation with Russia. For some companies, this has been a problem recently." Russia has repeatedly refused to ratify the EU's Energy Charter, which it signed in 1994, and whose Transit Protocol would require it to open up access to its pipelines. Gazprom now effectively controls them as a monopoly, while seeking greater access to European markets for itself. Merkel has frequently called on Russia to ratify the charter, but has also spoken of obtaining Russian adherence to its principles by incorporating them into a new EU-Russia comprehensive cooperation agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which runs out in 2007. Her remarks about the need for a "commitment" could be a reference to periodic hints by some Russian leaders that they could sell energy to China instead of to Europe, and to the recent imbroglio over the Sakhalin-2 project, which has undermined the confidence of many Western firms in Russia. In her television interview on January 7, Merkel also said that "fair play means that we need to have access to Russian markets in strategically important fields in the same way that Russia wants access to our markets. Russia says it does not only want to sell gas, but also wants to take stakes in specific firms, which in some instances it has already done. But that needs to be tied to certain guarantees in Russia" for market access for EU firms. PM

POLAND REPORTS CUTS IN RUSSIAN OIL SUPPLIES VIA BELARUS
Several Polish officials told Western news agencies and Interfax on January 8 that there have been "disruptions" in deliveries of Russian oil via Belarus through the Druzhba pipeline, but did not elaborate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 17 and September 11, 2006). Some of the Polish officials noted that they have asked the Belarusian authorities about the disruptions and plan to ask Russia's pipeline monopoly Transneft, too. The problem reportedly affects Germany and Ukraine as well, news.ru reported. Minsk and Moscow are currently embroiled in a dispute over energy prices, transit fees, and pipeline ownership (see Part II). Meanwhile, Semyon Vainshtok, who heads Transneft, said in Moscow on January 8 that Belarus has been siphoning off oil destined for Europe since January 6, RIA Novosti reported. PM

IS THERE MOVEMENT IN RUSSIA'S RELATIONS WITH NORTH KOREA?
President Vladimir Putin on January 7 appointed Ambassador to Japan Aleksandr Losyukov as a deputy foreign minister, Russian news agencies reported. Putin also named Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseyev as ambassador to the Council of Europe. It is not clear whether Losyukov will also replace Alekseyev as Russia's chief negotiator in the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, a post that Losyukov previously held concurrently with the post of deputy foreign minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14, 2006). Losyukov has also served in the past as Putin's special envoy to North Korea. In another personnel change, Korea expert Valery Sukhinin will take up his new post as ambassador to North Korea on January 20, South Korea's chosun.com reported on January 5. In related news, Interfax reported on January 5 that Russian and North Korean officials are jointly drafting an agreement to write off up to 80 percent of Pyongyang's debt to Moscow. Chosun.com suggested that Russia wants to provide an incentive to North Korea to be more cooperative in the nuclear talks. The "International Herald Tribune" noted that Russia's main motivation is to facilitate new business deals with North Korea. PM

RUSSIA SLAMS U.S. OVER SANCTIONS
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 6 that sanctions announced by the U.S. State Department the previous day against three Russian arms firms, including the giant Rosoboroneksport, are illegal, mid.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17 and November 20, 2006). The statement noted that "this is hardly the first time the U.S. has resorted to illegal attempts to apply its internal legislation to foreign companies and force them to abide by the U.S. rules." The U.S. sanctions took effect on December 28 in connection with the three firms' alleged dealings with Iran and Syria, and will remain in effect for two years unless the secretary of state lifts them. In September, Rosoboroneksport bought a 41 percent share in VSMPO-Avisma, which supplies the U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing with up to 40 percent of its titanium. In November, the United States lifted Iran-related sanctions against the Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi, which is also an important partner for Boeing. In other news, Russian Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said on January 6 that his country and the United States have agreed in principle to share data on airline passengers traveling to and from the two countries starting in 2007, ITAR-TASS reported. PM

PUTIN HAILS 'MORAL VALUES' TO MARK RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS
In his first public appearance in one week, President Putin celebrated Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7 at the New Jerusalem Monastery near Moscow, kremlin.ru reported. Putin said in an official message that the holiday "unites everyone on the basis of traditional moral values and strengthens moral principles and harmony in society." Meanwhile, Interfax reported on January 7 that a Russian Orthodox priest was killed, religious icons stolen, and his church burned down the previous night in a village near Yekaterinburg. Police have detained two suspects in the incident and reported that 21 icons are missing from the church, including some over 100 years old. PM

OLIGARCH'S LAWYER TO APPEAL PRISON TRANSFER
Yury Schmidt, who is a lawyer for jailed former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said in Moscow on January 7 that he will appeal against a decision to transfer his client from one remote detention center to another, Interfax reported. Schmidt added that he is "going to file an appeal against Russian Prosecutor-General [Yury Chaika] over the illegal transfer of Khodorkovsky from the Krasnokamensk penal colony to a Chita pretrial detention center to hold investigative actions." The authorities recently transferred Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev to Chita, allegedly as part of an investigation into possible money-laundering charges. Khodorkovsky said at the time that the move is politically motivated and aimed at extending his time in detention. PM

CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST LAMBASTES PACE RAPPORTEUR
Mayrbek Taramov, director of the Baku-based Chechen Human Rights Center, on January 7 published an open letter on the resistance website chechenpress.org criticizing Andreas Gross, rapporteur for Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Taramov specifically termed "amoral" Gross's ongoing efforts, despite the killings last fall of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former FSB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, to convene in Grozny a roundtable discussion of the situation in Chechnya to which both pro-Moscow and resistance politicians would be invited (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 11 and April 1, 2005 and "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006). Taramov argued that Gross's readiness to conduct negotiations with pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, whom he describes as "a murderer and tyrant of unprecedented cruelty," "cannot be reconciled with normal human logic" and undermines not only Gross's personal reputation but that of PACE. Taramov further claimed that Gross's unsuccessful efforts to persuade former Chechen Defense Minister Umar Khanbiyev and Vakha Arsanov, slain President Aslan Maskhadov's vice president, to participate in the planned roundtable impelled the pro-Moscow authorities to coopt and discredit Khanbiyev and apprehend and execute Arsanov. LF

IRAN READY TO SUPPLY ARMENIA WITH NATURAL GAS
Iran has installed the requisite infrastructure on its border with Armenia and is ready to begin supplying that country with natural gas, according to energy official Mohammad Reza Lorzadeh, as quoted by iranmania.com on January 7 and reposted by Groong. On December 14, Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian hinted that the Armenian section of the pipeline currently under construction to export Iranian gas to Armenia might not be completed as planned by the end of the year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Lorzadeh said that Yerevan has requested a meeting with Iranian officials in March to discuss gas imports. On December 1, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told the Russian daily "Kommersant" that it is still too early to say whether Armenia will agree to a demand to cede control of the pipeline to Russia's Gazprom. Armenia reportedly is not entitled to do so without Tehran's consent. LF

JOURNALISM WATCHDOG APPEALS TO AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
Reporters without Borders (RSF) has issued a statement condemning the December 25 assault on Nicat Huseynov, a journalist with the opposition newspaper "Azadliq," day.az reported on January 5. Huseynov was attacked on the street in broad daylight by four men and subsequently hospitalized with knife wounds and head injuries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 27, 2006). RSF called on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to put an end to violent attacks on journalists, arguing that democracy cannot exist in a country where the press lives under the constant fear of physical reprisals. LF

UN CONDEMNS ABKHAZIA SHOOTING
The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) issued a statement on January 7 in which it condemned and "deeply deplored" the January 5 attack on a Georgian police post in the village of Ganmukhuri in which one Georgian policeman was killed and a second injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 2007). The statement called on both sides to apprehend the people responsible for such violence and to cooperate to prevent its escalation. It also reaffirmed UNOMIG's repeated earlier calls for dialogue between the two sides. The Russian peacekeeping force deployed along both sides of the Inguri River, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, likewise issued a statement on January 7 deploring the Ganmukhuri shooting, regnum.ru reported. That statement decried as "inappropriate" Georgian media reports accusing the Russian peacekeepers of failing to apprehend the Abkhaz gunmen believed to be responsible before they could attack the police post. Meanwhile, Georgian accounts of the shooting continue to diverge in key details. The Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported on January 5 that the perpetrators fired an antitank shell from a Russian checkpoint in the village of Pichori on the Abkhaz side of the river. But Caucasus Press on January 6 quoted Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, who visited the scene of the incident, as saying that the attackers sneaked up to the Georgian police post and opened fire at point-blank range. LF

GEORGIA DENIES INVOLVEMENT OF ARRESTED NATIONALS IN COUNTERFEIT OPERATION
Local police and government officials in Georgia's Shida Kartli region have rejected as untrue South Ossetian Interior Ministry claims that three Georgians arrested on January 3 in Tskhinvali had in their possession about $100,000 in counterfeit bills, Caucasus Press reported on January 4. The following day, relatives of the three men said they had some $10,000 in cash with which one of the men hoped to purchase a KamAZ truck, Caucasus Press reported. On January 7, South Ossetian Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzayev told journalists that counterfeit U.S. dollars are manufactured in Turkey and transported to Russia via Georgia and South Ossetia, regnum.ru reported. On November 26, "The Washington Post" published a detailed account of alleged counterfeiting operations based in South Ossetia. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity promptly denied that report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2006). LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS RELEASE OF DETAINED ACTIVISTS
Some 50 people participated in a march by torchlight through Tbilisi during the night of January 6-7 to demand the release from pretrial detention of 12 members and supporters of the Samartlianoba (Justice) party headed by fugitive former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, ITAR-TASS, regnum.ru, and Caucasus Press reported on January 7 and 8, respectively. The 11 men and one woman -- Guram Papukashvili, Varlaam Galdava, Kakha Kantaria, Giorgi Metreveli, Ramaz Samnidze, Vakhtang Talakhadze, Temur Zhorzholiani, Giorgi Akhobadze, Yakob Kvinikadze, Revaz Bulia, Zaza Davitaia, and Maia Topuria -- were detained in a series of police raids in early September and charged with plotting to overthrow the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7, 2006). Topuria, Zhorzholiani, and Samnidze have also been charged with treason. All 12 deny the charges against them. LF

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov resigned on January 8, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. No reason for the resignation was given. The resignation was accepted by President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Akhmetov has been prime minister since June 2003, and his resignation will force the whole cabinet to step down. The Kazakh parliament, which according to the constitution approves the president's nominee for prime minister, is due hold a plenary session on January 10. PB

KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS U.S. STATEMENTS ON KRISHNA EVICTION
Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Gaukhar Beiseeva told a news conference in Astana on January 5 that a recent U.S. Embassy statement over the late-November demolition of houses in a Hare Krishna community in an Almaty suburb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 8, 2006) is "inappropriate," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Beiseeva said the Foreign Ministry has presented the U.S. ambassador in Kazakhstan with a note expressing its view that the U.S. statement was inappropriate. Also on January 5, Amanbek Mukashov, head of a Kazakh state commission investigating the eviction of the Hare Krishna community, told a news conference in Astana that "the commission believes that in this conflict, the actions of district executive bodies and court decisions on the demolition of premises built without permission on the unauthorized plots of land are justified and legal," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

KAZAKH STATE OIL COMPANY TO PAY $1 BILLION FOR SHARE IN CHINESE OIL ACQUISITION
State-run Kazakh oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz will pay China's CITIC Group $955 million for a 50 percent stake in the Canadian-registered company Nations Energy following CITIC's 100 percent acquisition of that company, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on January 5. The report noted that CITIC's deal to acquire Nations Energy, the primary asset of which is Kazakhstan's Karazhanbas oil field, was finalized on December 30, 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 3, 2007). China National Petroleum Corporation acquired PetroKazakhstan -- another Canadian-registered firm with assets in Kazakhstan -- for $4.2 billion in 2006, although KazMunaiGaz later acquired a stake in PetroKazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, 2006). Against this backdrop, the CITIC acquisition encountered opposition in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006). DK

TAJIKISTAN ASKS RUSSIA TO ALLOW MIGRANTS BACK IN
Tajikistan's State Migration Service has asked the Russian government to amnesty approximately 50,000 Tajik citizens who have been deported from Russia over the last three years, Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station reported on January 5. Service head Anvar Boboev said that most of the Tajik nationals, who are barred from returning for five years, were punished for failing to register within three days of their arrival in Russia. Ramazan Abdulatipov, Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, told Ekho Moskvy that an amnesty "would improve the status of labor migrants [and] Russia would benefit from that as well." Nevertheless, RFE/RL's Tajik Service on January 6 quoted Konstantin Romodanovsky as saying that Tajik labor migrants "remove" $2 billion a year from Russia to Tajikistan. Romodanovsky added, "It's true that they work for their money, but Russia must receive a portion of these revenues as is the case in civilized countries." DK

ELECTRICITY PRICES TO RISE IN TAJIKISTAN
Rashid Gulov, who is in charge of energy policy at Tajikistan's Ministry of Energy and Industry, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on January 6 that a commission has been formed to supervise gradual price increases. He said, "If we fail to raise rates gradually, it won't be possible to recoup the investments we're currently making to build hydroelectric stations and power lines." Gulov said that the average price of one kilowatt-hour of electricity should reach 7 dirhams (2 cents) by 2010. Current prices are 2.66 dirhams for industrial enterprises, 4.97 dirhams for agricultural enterprises, 1.6 dirhams for federally funded institutions, and 4.9 dirhams for commercial enterprises. Residential customers pay 1.6 dirhams for usage up to 250 kilowatt-hours, and 2.7 dirhams for usage in excess of that amount. DK

TURKMEN ACTING PRESIDENT ADVOCATES AGRICULTURE REFORM
Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat on January 4 that Turkmenistan's agricultural sector is experiencing serious problems with cotton and wheat production and should be prepared for wide-ranging reforms, NewsCentralAsia reported. Berdymukhammedov said that the People's Council will consider agricultural reform when it meets next in March, and he ordered the Agriculture Ministry to prepare reform proposals by January 20. Before his death in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 21, 2006), Shortly before his death in December, President Saparmurat Niyazov sacked a number of agriculture-sector officials for allgedly falsifying harvest statistics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28 and 29, 2006). DK

PRESIDENT SAYS BELARUSIANS WILL NOT BE BULLIED
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on January 7 while attending an Orthodox Christmas service in Minsk that Belarusians "will not let anyone bully them," Belapan reported the same day. Lukashenka said that sovereignty and independence will not be traded for oil or gas. "I have never said anywhere that we will surrender our country to anyone so they can tear it to pieces," he said. "For literally 10 years, we have managed to rise from our knees...we have never asked anybody for anything," he added. "We should act on our own, we should not rely on anyone -- either friends or enemies." AM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES READINESS FOR OIL TALKS WITH RUSSIA
The Belarusian government has announced its plans to hold talks with Moscow on oil supplies transiting its territory, signaling its readiness to abolish a controversial duty on Russian oil if the Kremlin agrees to scrap an export duty on oil shipments to Belarus, Belapan reported on January 6. Minsk introduced on January 3 a transit fee of $45 per ton of Russian crude oil in response to the imposition by Russia of a duty of $180 per ton exported to Belarus. The Belarusian government said in a statement that "such unilateral actions by the Russian side have ruined longtime business contacts and considerably worsened the economic position of the oil-refining industry of the Republic of Belarus." "Under these circumstances, the government of the Republic of Belarus had to take steps to avert economic damage to the Republic of Belarus and a shortage of key fuel and energy resources," the statement continued. Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry confirmed that it has received an invitation to talks, noting that Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski might travel to Moscow on January 9. AM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES SUMMON RUSSIAN OIL-PIPELINE OPERATOR TO COURT
Homyel's customs body has charged the head of the Russian oil-pipeline operator responsible for pumping oil through Belarus with failing to make proper declarations under the Belarusian Administrative Offenses Code, Belapan reported on January 7. Transneft Chairman Semyon Vainshtok was expected to appear in court on January 8 to answer the charges, which could result in a heavy fine and the confiscation of goods and vehicles involved. "This is something new in our bilateral relations," Interfax quoted an unnamed source in the Russian Justice Ministry as saying. "But if we are speaking about courts, Minsk should remember that there are not only Belarusian but also international courts," the source added. AM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT PREPARES LIST OF LOW-PRICE ENERGY CONSUMERS
The Belarusian government is compiling a list of enterprises that will be entitled to buy energy resources at reduced prices, Belapan reported on January 7, citing Aleh Selivertsau, a representative of the Finance Ministry. Selivertsau did not disclose how many enterprises will be on the list. Earlier this month, First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka said that the new year will be difficult for Belarus's industrial sector as a result of increased expenditures for Russian gas. However, he noted, "nobody has cancelled the government's economic-growth targets." AM

ORTHODOX CHURCH LEADER CALLS ON SERBS TO REMAIN IN KOSOVA
In an Orthodox Christmas message on January 7, Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, urged Kosovar Serbs to remain in the province, AKI reported the same day. Pavle asked Serbs in Kosova to "hold out to the end." He also sharply criticized those pushing for the province's independence. "The day will come when the tyrants will be ashamed. We pray for our enemies to realize that doing evil things can bring good to no one," Pavle said. "They should be aware that after all the humiliating defeats they impose on others, they will ultimately defeat themselves by hopelessness." BW

SERBIAN PREMIER CALLS ON CITIZENS TO DEFEND KOSOVA
In an appeal published on January 6, Vojislav Kostunica called on Serbs to defend Kosova and vowed that Belgrade will "not hand over" the separatist province, dpa reported the same day. "Citizens of Serbia, no one can be between two minds with regard to Kosovo," Kostunica wrote in a two-page advertisement published in the Belgrade daily "Politika." "As long as Serbia exists, Kosovo, the first letter in the spiritual alphabet of the Serbian people, will be a part of Serbia," he added. "We must defend Kosovo together, every citizen, all the people. Otherwise, we will lose not only Kosovo, but also Serbia and its identity." Kostunica also wrote that demanding Serbia give up 15 percent of its territory is "unacceptable and impossible." BW

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS FURTHER EXTENSION ON KOSOVA PROPOSAL BUT UN REFUSES
Boris Tadic appealed to UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari on January 5 to postpone a final-status proposal for Kosova until a new Serbian government is formed after parliamentary elections on January 21, AP reported the same day. Tadic said the proposal Ahtisaari is expected to unveil after the elections "may not be very favorable for the Serbian side." Press reports citing unidentified officials say Ahtisaari will propose a form of "supervised independence" for the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 2007). "Therefore, it would be much better if the proposal comes after a new government is formed," possibly a few weeks after the ballot, Tadic said. He added that the proposal could "complicate in every sense" efforts to form a democratic Serbian government. Ahtisaari's spokesman, Remi Durlot, said there will be no further delays and the proposal will be unveiled "immediately after" the January 21 elections. "We are in the final stage" of putting it together, Durlot said. BW

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO PRESERVE COUNTRY'S NAME
Branko Crvenkovski said on January 5 that Skopje will insist on its right to use Macedonia as the country's official name, Makfax reported the same day. "We will remain steadfast on our position that the constitutional name of our country has to be applied in both domestic and foreign use," he said. Greece opposes Macedonia's use of the name, which Athens says implies territorial claims on the northern Greek province of the same name. Greece has warned it might block Skopje's NATO and the EU bids unless the dispute is resolved, AP reported on January 5. Crvenkovski said it is unlikely that Skopje and Athens will resolve the conflict this year. "The maneuvering space that would enable finding a mutually acceptable solution is rather narrow," he said. He added that if Greece blocked Macedonia's NATO or EU bids over the issue, "that would constitute violation of the [1995] interim agreement, which actually serves as a basis for the ongoing negotiations." BW

ALBANIAN ELECTION CHIEF SAYS POLITICS DELAYED LOCAL POLLS
Albania's election commission chief, Clirim Gjata, said on January 6 that political infighting have caused local elections to be postponed, AP reported the same day. The elections, considered to be a test of Albania's democratic reforms, were scheduled for January 20. The governing coalition and opposition have agreed in principle to postpone them until February, but the decision has yet to be approved by parliament. "I am ringing the alarm bell," Gjata said. "We cannot hold elections on January 20 under these conditions. Everything remains in the hands of politics, parliament, and the president to reach a solution." Opposition parties decided on December 11 to boycott the January 20 local elections, claiming that the governing coalition, led by Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, is preparing to engage in fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 14, 2006). A January 5 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that local elections are in jeopardy due to a lack of political will in pushing through electoral reform, AP reported. BW

AFGHAN BORDER DISPUTE TAKES TOLL ON SECURITY
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz paid a visit to Kabul on January 4 to discuss Islamabad's decision to fence and mine parts of their mutual border, among other issues. His host, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, restated his country's "very clear" opposition to such a move, saying it "will not prevent terrorist activities, but will divide peoples and tribes."

A Pakistani military spokesman announced more than three years ago that his country was installing border reinforcements at strategic points to prevent remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces from crossing into Afghanistan. Told of Afghan media reports suggesting the fence would go ahead without so much as informing Kabul, the spokesman responded bluntly that "Pakistan does not need the permission from any other country to take security measures on [its] border specifically aimed at countering the scourge of terror."

At a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice two years later, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf divulged a plan to construct the border fence. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said at the time that Islamabad's plan was aimed at undermining claims that Pakistan was not doing enough to curb cross-border terrorism. An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman responded to Musharraf's plan by saying that Kabul and Islamabad needed to demarcate the border under international law before there could be any discussion of a barrier.

When Islamabad recently announced its intention to implement the plan to partially fence and mine the border, Afghan reaction was negative based on three factors. The first was Afghanistan's legacy as one of the most mined countries on the globe: officials noted that new mines would inevitably kill and maim innocent people. The second was the assertion that fences and mines would separate Pashtun tribes living astride the border. The third was that the problem of terrorism is not limited to the border area, but originates with those who finance, equip, and train the terrorists -- and in Kabul's eyes, Pakistan has proved to be a primary source of support for those seeking to destabilize Afghanistan.

While the official Pakistani response to Kabul's objections has been diplomatic, Pakistani commentators have been less subtle. In an editorial on December 28, the Islamabad-based daily "The News" wrote that "if anything, Pakistan's plan to mine and fence the frontier is a response to the shrill propaganda from Kabul that Islamabad is 'not doing enough' to stop the entry of terrorists across the border into Afghanistan."

The daily argued that "if it doesn't like the plan, the Karzai government ought to come up with an effective solution." "At the same time," the paper said, "it should try harder to seal the cross-border routes of terrorists and saboteurs into Pakistan." That last point refers to longstanding charges by Islamabad that Afghanistan is allowing its territory to be used by Indian agents and New Delhi-supported subversive elements, especially in Baluchistan Province.

The initial point raised by the "The News" presents a tough challenge for Kabul, and it gets to the crux not only of the issue of Pakistan's alleged desire to destabilize the Karzai administration, but also of why Afghanistan has so adamantly opposed any formal demarcation of the boundary.

As the editorial suggests, Islamabad has raised the issue of fencing and mining the border largely as a political countermeasure to charges that it has failed to prevent cross-border movement by terrorists. If that were the case, one might expect Kabul to welcome such a measure; if terrorists are trained in Pakistan, then barriers to their entry should be viewed as a step in the right direction, even if such a move does not appear to have been made in good faith.

But for Kabul, neither the current cross-border activities nor the stability of Afghanistan would appear to take precedence over the issue of the status of the border -- referred to by the Afghan side as the "Durand Line" after the foreign secretary of British India who set it out.

The history of the Durand Line goes back to the Treaty of Gandumak, signed in May 1879 between British Major Louis Cavagnari and Afghan Amir Mohammad Yaqub Khan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1879-80. According to provisions of the Gandumak agreement, the British were to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and control its foreign policy. Also, Britain was granted jurisdictional control of the three strategically significant frontier districts of Kurram, Sibi, and Pishin.

When the Gandumak plan failed to achieve peace, however, the British opted to leave Afghanistan, while ensuring that it remained a buffer state between their own Indian empire and the Russian empire in Central Asia.

When Abd al-Rahman became amir in 1880, Afghanistan's boundaries were not demarcated. The British sought at the time to keep the Russians out of -- and the amir inside -- a geographically defined Afghanistan.

Article 4 of the Durand Agreement states that the "frontier line will hereafter be laid down in detail and demarcated, wherever this may be practicable and desirable, by joint British and Afghan commissioners, whose object will be to arrive by mutual understanding at a boundary which shall adhere with the greatest possible exactness" to the agreed map, and "have due regard to the existing local rights of villages adjoining the frontier." So while the agreement set the limits of the territories of Afghanistan and British India on paper, the entire border was not actually demarcated at that time.

The issue of the Durand Line became thornier after 1947, when British India was split into two independent states: India and Pakistan. Afghanistan -- deep into its own search for identity and the formation of a nationalistic agenda -- called for the right of self-determination for ethnic Pashtuns inhabiting the region between the Durand Line and the Indus River.

This became known, at least in Kabul, as the "Pashtunistan" policy, and it effectively alienated Afghanistan from its new neighbor, Pakistan. On official Afghan maps at the time, the country's boundary with Pakistan was marked as disputed.

The issue of "Pashtunistan" has brought Afghanistan and Pakistan to the brink of war on more than one occasion, and it has drained Afghanistan's economy and cost it political capital.

For Pakistan, the existence of two hostile neighbors, Afghanistan and India, became a source of great concern. Although Kabul eventually opted to stay out of all the Indo-Pakistani wars, the possibility of having to fight simultaneously on two fronts has prompted Pakistan to try to intimidate Afghanistan continuously over the years.

Arguably, Islamabad's golden chance to reduce the real or perceived Afghan threat came when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Although Pakistan was initially viewed as the next step in the Soviet march toward the "warm waters" of the Indian Ocean, the Soviets got bogged down in Afghanistan, thanks mainly to Pakistan-based resistance groups.

Finally, Islamabad could envisage a friendly post-Soviet Afghanistan, if not its own satellite state. The quest for an Islamabad-friendly government in Kabul manifested itself in the person of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other resistance leaders, all the way to the formation of the Taliban in 1994.

The state-run Kabul daily "Anis," reflecting a long-held view of Afghan governments, commented recently that "the Durand border has been one of Pakistan's most basic concerns since its establishment." The paper went on to argue that "the British Empire imposed the border [on] Abd al-Rahman Khan 114 years ago and [said that] in doing so, it cut off part of the Afghan territory and added it to British India." "Anis" accused Pakistan of knowingly "acting against an absolute right of the Afghans" and vowed that "one day when Afghans are mighty, they will surely reclaim that part of their territory."

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered from mutual miscalculations over the past five decades. Kabul and Islamabad are playing an old hand that has already been overplayed, and the result threatens to encourage terrorists and their allies on both sides of the border. Unfortunately, international terrorism will reap the benefits until Pakistan accepts Afghanistan as a sovereign state -- one not subservient to Islamabad's demands -- and Kabul begins to concentrate on events inside its own borders.

AFGHAN PROVINCE GOVERNOR SAYS PAKISTAN HAS STARTED FENCING BORDER
Paktika Province Governor Akram Khpalwak claimed on January 7 that Pakistan has begun to fence and mine its disputed southeastern border with Afghanistan, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Khpalwak said officials have been told by residents that some 2,000 Pakistani regular and militia forces began the project in the Azam Warsak and Qamardin Karez areas along the border. Khpalwak claimed that Pakistanis "are fencing and mining areas pointed out by Taliban and Al-Qaeda and leaving those passages used by militants for sneaking into Afghanistan and crossing back into Pakistan." He demanded that the UN and the international community stop Pakistan from fencing the border. Pakistan recently announced it would implement its plan -- which has been discussed since 2003 -- to partially fence and mine its border with Afghanistan as a measure to stop militants from going back and forth between Afghanistan from Pakistan (see End Note and "RFE/RL Newsline," December 29, 2006 and January 5, 2007). Afghanistan has consistently objected to such plans. AT

FORMER TALIBAN AIR-FORCE CHIEF BURIED IN PAKISTAN
Mullah Mohammad Kakar, the former air-force chief of the Taliban government, was buried in the Gardy Jungle area of the Chaghi district in Baluchistan Province on January 5, the Rawalpindi daily "Jang" reported on January 5. Large numbers of Afghan refugees reportedly attended the funeral. According to the report, Kakar and two others were killed in an air strike by coalition forces in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan on January 2. AT

JAILED AFGHAN POLICE CHIEF GOES ON HUNGER STRIKE
Mohammad Azim Jalal Hashemi, the former police chief of Baghlan Province, began a hunger strike in jail on January 6 to protest his incarceration, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Hashemi has been jailed for allegedly abducting a young girl. He said he will continue his hunger strike until he is released. He said he married the girl with her consent and claims he was falsely arrested. Hashemi also alleged that Baghlan Governor Sayyed Ekramuddin Masumi has conspired against him. According to the report, Hashemi was arrested after the family of the girl, who was not identified, pressed charges against the former police chief for abduction. Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashari indicated on January 6 that the case has been referred to the prosecutor-general. Masumi has denied any involvement in Hashemi's case. AT

INDIAN DIRECTOR OF 'KABUL EXPRESS' APOLOGIZES TO AFGHAN'S HAZARAS
Kabir Khan, the director of the Indian-made film "Kabul Express," has apologized to the Hazaras in Afghanistan for comments in his movie that he claims are not part of his original production, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on January 6. Afghanistan's Ministry of Information and Culture on January 3 criticized "humiliating scenes" in the film "Kabul Express" and decided to ban it in Afghanistan for offensive language toward one of Afghanistan's tribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 2007). Khan said the pirate copies of the film on sale in Kabul are not authentic, charging that they were imported from Pakistan. "I have heard that the film 'Kabul Express' hurt my Afghan brothers...I will soon send real copies of this film to Afghanistan and you will not see the names of any tribes in it. If you still feel uncomfortable watching it, I apologize to the Hazara tribe," Khan said. The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul has rejected charges that the pirate copies of "Kabul Express" in Afghanistan came from Pakistan. AT

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS DISSATISFIED WITH PRESIDENT
Reformist parliamentarian Nureddin Pirmoazzan has spoken of a move by some legislators to summon President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the chamber for questioning, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on January 7, adding that this is a sign of legislators' increasing dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad. Pirmoazzan told Aftab news agency that 38 lawmakers have signed the initiative to question Ahmadinejad, and laws require 72 signatures before the president can be called in. Isa Saharkhiz, a Tehran-based journalist and former deputy minister of culture under President Mohammad Khatami, told Radio Farda on January 7 that the December 15 elections -- which were interpreted as a defeat for Ahmadinejad and right-wing radicals associated with him -- triggered a "countdown to the fall" of Ahmadinejad. Saharkhiz said the polls showed Ahmadinejad's fragile public support and "how the current known as the Barracks Party (hezb-i padegani) brought him to power" in 2005, a reference to the support Ahmadinejad was thought to have from military and paramilitary forces. Saharkhiz said recent criticism, notably by deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, indicates growing disapproval among conservatives of Ahmadinejad. "The situation is such that Mr. Ahmadinejad cannot even meet with [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei as easily as he used to," he said, adding that he believes Ahmadinejad's "golden period is over, and he is moving fast toward his downfall." VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS TEHRAN RESPECTS NPT FOR NOW
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on January 7 that Iran is not thinking of leaving the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) now, but he warned it will respond to any action against its nuclear installations, ISNA reported. "Right now, ending cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy] Agency [IAEA] is not on the agenda," he said, but "any action against Iran will not remain without response, and the attacker will regret his action." Husseini was referring to reports in London's "Sunday Times" on January 7 on Israeli readiness to strike Iranian nuclear installations in Natanz, Isfahan, and Arak, in central regions of Iran. He said that "regional states know well that the main threat" is Israel. "We have said repeatedly that our activities are within the framework of international standards and regulations," he said. Threats to strike Iran, he added, "show the weakness of the opposite side and will in no way undermine Iran's resolve...to continue its peaceful nuclear activities." Husseini said a committee has been formed within the Supreme National Security Council to consider how Iran might review its cooperation with the IAEA, following a parliamentary vote obliging it to make such a consideration. The committee, he added, includes "specialists from the Foreign Ministry and other bodies" who would decide on what actions to take, ISNA reported. VS

IRANIAN AGENCIES REPORT CIVIL RESTRICTIONS
News agencies have reported several arrests and other civil restrictions in recent days in Iran. Hesam Firuzi, the doctor of Ahmad Batebi -- a student jailed for taking part in 1999 demonstrations in Tehran -- received a summons on January 2 to report to a branch of the Tehran revolutionary court in the following three days, he told ILNA on January 3. ILNA did not specify the charges against Firuzi, though the court wanted Firuzi to provide "explanations." Separately, journalist Ali Farahbakhsh was reportedly arrested more than 40 days ago by "security agents" while returning from an Asian conference, ILNA reported on January 6, citing journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a member of the Iran Journalists Guild, of which Farahbakhsh was also a member. Shamsolvaezin told ILNA that the group did not know about Farahbakhsh's situation or why he was arrested. Also, graduates wrote on January 6 to protest the closure of two student unions in the Bu Ali Sina and medical science universities in the western city of Hamedan, ILNA reported. The two academic institutions seem to be autonomous parts of the larger Hamedan University. A letter signed by 110 former members of Hamedan University warns that closing student groups will merely radicalize "the social and university atmosphere," ILNA reported. VS

REPORT GIVES NEW AIDS FIGURES IN IRAN
Just over 14,000 people in Iran are infected with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, the daily "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on January 7, citing a report and ISNA. The latest number of HIV-positive Iranians is 14,090, while 1,760 people -- of whom 1,695 are men -- have died of AIDS in Iran, the daily cited the report as stating. The report gave intravenous drug use through shared or dirty needles, as the largest cause of HIV infection, affecting 64.9 percent of cases. The report gave the second- and third-most-prevalent infection means as "unclear" and sexual intercourse, respectively infecting 25.5 percent and 7.5 percent of the number of infected given, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported. The Health Ministry is planning a special awareness campaign, the daily added. VS

IRAQI PREMIER SAYS HUSSEIN HANGING IS AN IRAQI AFFAIR...
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on January 6 said the hanging of former President Saddam Hussein was an internal matter and warned that his government might "review" relations with governments that criticized the execution, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "We consider the execution of the dictator to be an internal affair that concerns the Iraqi people alone," al-Maliki said. "We reject and condemn the conduct of some governments, whether it is on the official level or through affiliated media outlets. We find it extremely strange to hear statements by some governments weeping over the tyrant on the excuse that his execution occurred on a holy day, although these governments know well that Saddam had violated all sanctities and sacred occasions for 35 years." He also insisted that the execution was not a political decision, but rather it was a verdict "carried out after a fair and transparent trial, which the dictator did not deserve." Al-Maliki's statements came during a speech marking the 86th anniversary of the formation of the Iraqi Army. SS

...AND UNVEILS NEW SECURITY PLAN FOR IRAQI CAPITAL
Prime Minister al-Maliki announced during a speech on January 6 that a new security initiative to secure Baghdad will be implemented soon, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. "The Baghdad security plan will deny all outlaws a safe haven, irrespective of their sectarian or political affiliation. We will also hold accountable any person who does not follow orders properly or who operates based on a political or sectarian background," al-Maliki said. He said the new plan would rely on Iraqi forces to implement it while being supported by coalition troops. Al-Maliki also said that Iraqi military commanders will be given more freedom to execute the plan in sectors they supervise, implying that they will not have to wait for decisions from higher authorities in order to take immediate action. Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to unveil soon a new Iraq strategy that is widely believed to include an increase of up to 20,000 U.S. troops to help secure Baghdad. "I'll be ready to outline a strategy that will help the Iraqis achieve the objective of a country that can govern, sustain, and defend itself sometime next week," Bush said on January 4. SS

IRAQI SUNNI LEADER REJECTS NEW SECURITY PLAN
Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani on January 7 rejected the new security initiative announced by al-Maliki, Al-Sharqiyah reported the same day. Al-Mashhadani described the plan as "illegitimate," adding that al-Maliki never consulted the parliament about the plan. "The Iraqi Constitution does not allow the prime minister to approve a security plan without referring it to the Council of Representatives, now that the Emergency Law -- which gave him extraordinary executive powers -- has expired. Consequently, there is no legal legitimacy for this plan," al-Mashhadani said. The emergency laws, in place everywhere in Iraq except for the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, have been renewed every month since they were first authorized in November 2004, but they expired on January 3. The laws allow the government to impose nighttime curfews and give Iraqi security services extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations. SS

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES IRAQ TO POSTPONE EXECUTIONS
Ban Ki-moon on January 6 strongly urged the Iraqi government to grant a stay of execution to Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad al-Bandar, two top former Hussein-era officials who have been condemned to death, international media reported the same day. Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, in a letter to Iraq's UN ambassador, reiterated the secretary-general's support for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour's call for restraint by the Iraqi government in implementing the death sentences imposed by the Iraqi High Tribunal. The letter also refers to Ban's view that "all members of the international community should pay due regard to all aspects of international humanitarian and human rights laws." His initial comments on Hussein's execution on January 2 caused a furor when he said capital punishment "was for each and every member state to decide" -- a statement that was at odds with the UN's policy of opposition to the death penalty. On January 4, the Iraqi government postponed the execution of al-Tikriti and al-Bandar until after the Eid al-Adha festival, which ended on January 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 2007). SS

TWO INTERPRETERS OF KIDNAPPED U.S. CITIZEN FOUND DEAD
Two Iraqi interpreters, who were kidnapped on January 5 along with an American contractor, were found slain on January 6 near Al-Basrah, AFP reported the same day. The two were found near a stadium in the city with bullet wounds to the back of their heads. Local police official Muhammad al-Musawi said the U.S. citizen and the two Iraqis, all of whom worked for a private security firm, were seized in the town of Al-Haritha north Al-Basrah on January 5. U.S. Embassy spokesman Louis Fintor confirmed the abduction of the U.S. citizen. On November 17, gunmen wearing police uniforms also kidnapped four U.S. citizens and an Austrian, who were working for a Kuwaiti-based security firm called the Crescent Security Group, near the southern border town of Safwan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006). SS

SENIOR IRAQI OFFICIAL ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
A source in the Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that a high-ranking member of the Education Ministry survived an assassination attempt on January 7 in eastern Baghdad, Xinhua news agency reported the same day. Gunmen opened fire on the convoy of Habib Abd al-Husayn al-Shammari, a director-general in the Education Ministry, as it was traveling through Baghdad's Al-Zayuna neighborhood. Al-Shammari escaped unhurt, but two of his bodyguards were killed. SS

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