Saturday, April 07, 2007

Air surveillance in Naxal hits areas of Jharkhand

Govt nod to air surveillance in extremist-hit areas in Jharkhand

Additional Union Home Secretary Vinay Kumar Singh on Saturday said the Centre was ready to help the Jharkhand government conduct air surveillance in extremist-hit areas. He said air surveillance would go a long way in eradicating the menace of Naxalism especially in areas having thick forest cover.

Singh said this after inspecting the Khas Mahal CISF barrack, which late on Friday came under heavy Maoist attack. Two CISF men identified as Captain Boipai and jawan Harihar Singh were killed in the attack along with four civilians.

Singh, however, said that the State would have to take the initiative and request the Centre for the choppers to conduct air surveillance. “The State will have to explain to the Centre the necessity of choppers and then only can the Centre release the choppers for air surveillance,” Singh said.

The Additional Home Secretary said the Centre has already permitted Jharkhand to hire choppers for anti-extremist operations under special circumstance. “The State can even take aircrafts on rent if the Centre is faced with a shortage,” he said.

The Additional Home Secretary was speaking to mediapersons at Central Industrial Security Force office at Kargali after inspecting the Khas Mahal barrack of the CISF. For the record, Maoists late on Friday launched simultaneous attacks on Khas Mahal barrack and Gandhinagar police station.

Singh said the Centre was serious in its efforts to curb the menace of Naxalites and was ready to extend every help including para-military forces to the state to fight the extremists. “We are already providing intelligence support, transport facilities, arms and ammunition and other services to counter the Naxalites,” he said.

Earlier the Additional Home Secretary accompanied by SIS Ahmad, the Director General CISF, Ajit Singh Sekhawat, the inspector general (IG), JS Negi, the Additional IG, SK Roy, the DIG CISF, Bokaro Zone IG BB Pradhan, DIG Anurag Gupta, SP Priya Dubey inspected the CISF barrack and the Gandhinagar police post. The team members after talking to the injured jawans at Kargali hospital held a brief meeting at the CISF office there.

Intelligence alert

DG SIS Ahmad on Saturday revealed that there was information from the intelligence regarding the movement of Maoists in the area and the unit was already alerted about it. He said the CISF was contemplating strengthening its units in Jharkhand against the backdrop of repeated Naxalites’ attack. He said the CISF units in the State have been asked to improve coordination with the local police. Praising the CISF jawans deployed at Khas Mahal barrack, the DG said, “The CISF was striving to make all its units self-sufficient for repulsing Naxalite attacks.”

Udupi: Seven guns seized, four arrested

Udupi April 8: Personnel of the District Crime Investigation Bureau (DCIB), Udupi, raided a workshop of Heriya Achari at Ajri village in Kundapura taluk on Saturday and recovered instruments that were allegedly being used to manufacture country-made guns.

The police arrested Achari in this connection, according to a release issued by the Police Department.

During his interrogation, he disclosed names of persons to whom he had sold illegally manufactured guns, the release said.

The police arrested Subbanna Poojary of Karkunje village of the taluk, Dayananda Kulal of Ajri village of the taluk, and Narasimha Mogaveera of Bellala village, and recovered seven guns. The police were on the look out for other persons who had also reportedly bought guns from Achari, it said.

'Naxal strength on the wane in Udupi district'

Superintendent of Police A.S. Rao said on Saturday that the strength of naxalites had been reduced in Udupi district.

He was speaking a meeting on public grievances chaired by the Principal Secretary, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms, R. Suresh, at the Udupi Zilla Panchayat here.

Dr. Rao said that there was no overt naxalite activity in the district.

There were two teams of naxalites with about five to six members, Dr. Rao said and added that they had not been up to illegal activities in the past one and a half years in the district. Two Superintendents of Police of the Anti-Naxalite Force (ANF) and its personnel were working in close coordination with the district police in reducing the naxal activities in the district, he said.

The meeting was informed that Rs. 12 crore had been sanctioned for the District Offices Complex and its construction work would start soon at Manipal.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the zilla panchayat P. Hemalatha said that there was a shortage of engineers in the district. Though there were 39 posts, only 19 posts had been filled.

The meeting was also informed that the Rs. 539 crore Varahi Irrigation Project in Udupi district would be completed by 2010. A sum of Rs. 103 crore had been spent on the project till now.

Mr. Suresh said that the Deputy Commissioner should hold `Janaspandana' mass contact programmes in at least two hoblis of the district.

As many as 15 petitions had been pending in the district for three months, he said. All general petitions should be disposed of in 30 days and petitions received by the Chief Minister in 15 days. Deputy Commissioner V. Ponnuraj was present.

Hindu

When Maoists struck, CISF jawans were in lungis

Law Kumar Mishra
[ 8 Apr, 2007 0106hrs IST TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

BERMO: If men in the police post in Dantewada were caught totally off-guard by Naxal raiders last month, the same happened when more than 1,000 Maoists stormed CISF barracks in Bermo near Bokaro on Friday night. The jawans were lolling around in lungis and vests, getting ready for dinner when calamity struck.

When police officers, who reached the area after repairing a bridge that the Maoists had blown up to prevent reinforcements coming on on their tails, entered the devastated Khasmahal CISF camp early Saturday, that's still how most of the men were dressed, too terrified to get into their fatigues, their weapons all gone.

The Naxals, who had come with the express intention of clearing out the armoury, left a trail of eight dead and one of India's elite security forces, mandated to protect airports and nuclear plants against terror attacks, completely shaken.

As the story unfolds, it seems that barring a few CISF jawans, who got killed or maimed in a gunbattle in which more than 1,000 rounds were fired by both sides, the bulk of this heavily-armed and well-trained force was completely overpowered.

Cowering CISF men, eyewitnesses said, even led the Naxal raiders on a guided tour of the barracks so that every piece of ordnance and every weapon could be brought out. They also took away Rs 60,000 in cash that was kept for camp expenses.

M M Ali, assistant sub-inspector of the force, who survived the Red blitzkrieg, said the raiders were particularly interested in AK-47s and AK-56 assault rifles and less in the SLRs and pistols.

Even between the 40-odd Naxal guerrillas who entered the barracks, while their comrades guarded the periphery and the exit routes, there must have been more than enough to carry back. Because what they left behind was four self-loading rifles, a pistol, along with the incendiary stuff they had carried in: four petrol bombs, three can bombs of 15 kg each, two hand grenades, one Motorola walkie-talkie set, one cell phone and a leather bag packed with Maoist literature, Ali said.

To boot, it appears that a bulk of the final raiding party were women. When rescuers entered the area, they found several women's shoes and sandals which were left behind by the raiders who hurriedly left and melted into the darkness.

A sub-inspector of the force from Kerala, Vay Pay and constable Hoshiyar Singh were shot dead by the group of about 40 Naxalites who had entered the barrack. The two challenged the armed Maoists — an equal number being women members — and fired on them. The two died challenging the armed guerrillas in their barracks.

Initial reports on Friday night had suggested the presence of 300 Maoists, but in the clear morning light of Saturday, officials said they suspected that more than 1,000 people had participated in the operation. These guerrillas were divided over four locations near Khashmahal project camp, Gandhinagar police station, Noorinagar and Bokaro thermal power police station to prevent movement of security forces. That's close to professional war-room planning.

Further, groups of Maoists stationed themselves at different places where they had set up roadblocks or damaged road bridges to keep the security agencies away.

Naxalites threatened Jharkhand legislator

BJP J'khand legislator receives threat

Posted at Saturday, 07 April 2007 18:04 IST

Jamtara (Jharkhand), April 7: Suspected ultras have threatened Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Vishnu Bhayya of "dire consequences" if he came in their way, Sahara Samay sources said.

According to the sources, a poster pasted on the main entrance of the house of the Jamtara MLA read 'Don't oppose us or else you will face death".

The poster, which did not mention any proscribed outfit, ended with the words 'Lal Salaam'.

However, the MLA told media persons: "I am not scared of such threats. The people will protect their representative."

The police was investigating into the matter, he said.

Jamtara is one of the six districts in Jharkhand where the Maoists are yet to establish a foothold.

Six persons killed in naxal attack in Jharkhand

Six persons, including two CISF personnel, were killed and six others injured when naxals launched attacks on a CISF picket at Khasmahal coal project in Bokaro district and a police station, a senior police official said on Saturday.

The two CISF personnel received fatal bullet wounds in the attack on Friday night on the picket near the project under Gandhi Nagar police station of the district, Superintendent of Police Priya Dubey said.

Four civilians died when the Maoists fired at Kurpania Bazaar nearby, the SP said. Two other CISF jawans and four other civilians were injured in the attack.

The Maoists, who exploded landmines at several places to create panic in the area, also tried to storm the Gandhi Nagar police station but the police repulsed their move.

Both the security personnel and the Maoists traded several rounds of bullets.

A cleaner of a dumper was injured when a separate group of extremists exploded a landmine in an attempt to blow up a bridge leading to Khasmahal to stop police movement.

Soon after the attack, the Bokaro SP rushed to the spot with reinforcements. The encounter lasted till the early hours.

The injured were being treated at a nearby hospital.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Maoist attacked on Bokaro CISF camp : Gunbattle continuing

Six die in Maoist attack on Bokaro CISF camp
Law Kumar Mishra
[ 7 Apr, 2007 0156hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]



DHANBAD: At least six people were reported to have been killed when an armed group of 300 Maoists on Friday night attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and the adjoining Gandhinagar police station building in Bokaro thermal power city area of the neighbouring Bokaro district.

The attack on the CISF camp took place around 8.30 in the night when only six jawans were on sentry duty. According to police, the Maoists exploded a series of bombs and also blew up the Pilpilo road bridge connecting the Central Coalfields Limited’s Khashmahal project with the main highway.

Reports said the six people were killed on the spot as the trucks and dumpers they were driving tossed up to 15 metres towards the sky under the impact of the explosions triggered by the Maoists.

Rocket launchers are said to have been used in the attack. The Maoists were advancing towards the Bokaro thermal power police station and were 200 metres away from the building when the reports last reached here.

Maintaining that the Maoists have been challenged by the CISF jawans, police sources in Bokaro denied receipt of reports of any casualty as the area was 40 km away from the district headquarters and the camp was located in a mining area.

The area is considered a Naxal stronghold. Last December, at least 15 policemen were killed in a landmine explosion triggered by Maoists at Kankiro near Bokaro. Koylanchal DIG Anurag Gupta said reinforcements led by Bokaro SP Priya Dubey have rushed to the spot.

According to CISF DIG Sunil Roy, around 30 CISF personnel were deployed at the camp.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
[With inputs from Divy Khare in Bokaro]




Rebels raid CISF post
OUR CORRESPONDENT

http://www.telegraphindia.com/

Bokaro, April 6: Five hundred armed Maoists today launched a surprise-attack on a CISF camp at Gandhi Nagar, 65 km from here. The attack, which began at 8.20 pm, was continuing even after two-and-a-half hours. Unconfirmed reports also spoke of three casualties on the CISF side.

The Maoists’ main objective appeared to be to overrun the camp and loot the magazine that stores arms and ammunition. The site is close to Jhumra hills, which continues to be a Maoist den despite security forces having captured the main training camp of the rebels.

The CISF camp, according to officials, had just 30 jawans who were caught by surprise. CISF officials claimed the camp, set up to control smuggling of coal, had only 11 firearms. The only redeeming feature, they said, is that they are not short of ammunition. Acknowledging intelligence failure, officials informed that reinforcement had been rushed to the site. Sources, however, feared a trap and said over the mobile that it was not advisable to advance in the darkness. The Gandhi Nagar police outpost was also being fired upon, they said.

The rebels could not have opted for a better timing as the 72nd battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which had captured Jhumra, has been moving out of the area during the past few days, handing over charge to a new battalion.



Gunbattle between Maoists and CISF

Statesman News Service

BOKARO/RANCHI, April 6: Fierce gun-battle between Maoist extremists and CISF jawans and police erupted this evening after the extremists tried to seize an armoury at Khasmahal in Bermo area, 40 km from Bokaro in Jharkhand.

Police said around 350 heavily armed extremists stormed Gandhinagar police outpost first around 8.30 in the evening. Soon after the attack police retaliated, which forced the extremists to retreat initially. The extremists went ahead deeper into the jungle towards a CISF camp and its adjoining magazine house. The camp houses around 24 jawans.

Details of the outcome of the gunbattle are sketchy as heavy exchange of bullets are continuing across the entire area when last reports came in. Police have not yet ascertained any casualty or injury.

Additional police forces, which were initially rushed in from Bokaro district headquarters, are reportedly held up near Kurpania village, 1 km from Gandhinagar outpost. Heavy firing, darkness and hilly terrain are preventing smooth advancement of the police.
SP Bokaro Ms Priya Dubey said more than 1,000 rounds have been exchanged on both sides. “The area is extremely dark and feared to have been mined. Extra reinforcements of special task force, Jharkhand armed police and CRPF jawans are on their way from Ranchi and Hazaribag,” she said.

The extremists have reportedly blown up the lone bridge connecting the CISF camp with Bokaro Thermal police station,. on the other side of Gandhinagar outpost, preventing police advancement from that side. Dhanbad and Hazaribag districts sit on either side of the camp. Bokaro along with these two districts are Maoists strongholds and have witnessed several extremists activities over the years.

Naxal Terrorism : Baguria Villagers threatened of dire consequences

Villages to give meet a miss
OUR CORRESPONDENT

Jamshedpur, April 6: The assassination of JMM MP Sunil Mahto has apparently resulted into loss of faith in police, especially for the villagers of Baguria, who have decided to stay away from the meeting of Nagarik Suraksha Samiti (NSS), an anti-Naxalite outfit of villagers, against Maoists on Sunday.

The decision was taken by the villagers at a meeting held here last night. “There were a few villagers willing to take part in the meeting. But after the rebels pasted posters in the village on Wednesday warning villagers of dire consequences, no one is willing to come out in open and oppose the Maoists,” said a villager.

President of NSS Shankar Chandra Hembram said some villagers were not willing to take part in the meet fearing the rebels. Hembram, however, pointed out that the meeting would have a huge turnout as those supporting the rebels are few in number.

Meanwhile, Maoists have given a bandh call in East Singhbhum on April 15 to protest against the meeting called by the NSS at Baguria on Sunday.

WB Left finds international conspiracy in Nandigram

WB Left finds international conspiracy in Nandigram


From the removal of the Communist government in Kerala in 1959 to the present situation at Nandigram, everything is part of a conspiracy for Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and CPI (M) state secretary Biman Bose. And they reiterated as much, while attending a function to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Communist government in the country, starting with the state government of EMS Namboodripaad at Kerala in 1957, which was in power for 28 months. State labour minister Muhammad Amin, Krishak Sabha leader Benoy Konar and senior leader from Kerala, E. Balanandan also attended the ceremony.

While Bose said that the US counterintelligence agency CIA has paid money to topple EMS’ government in 1959, even the present incidents at Singur and Nandigram have hands of “domestic and foreign reactionary agencies." Quoting from A Dangerous Place, a book by former CIA chief Patrick Moyhnihan, Bose said, “It is time to realise that reactionary forces have always stood between Communists and social development. Moynihan revealed in his book that money was paid to Congress leaders, including then party president Indira Gandhi, to topple the Marxist government at Kerala in 1959, just like in Indonesia to remove Sukarno."

Bose further said, "Bengal is facing a similar situation presently but people know the difference. May be years later we would come to know that similar reactionary agents are attacking the Chief Minister and his policy of industrialisation.”

Echoing similar feelings, Bhattacharjee said that the protests at Singur, Nandigram and other places have brought together strange partners. "Trinamool, BJP, Congress, Naxalite organizations, some NGOs, along with some unwelcome guests, people of various political colours, have ganged up against us. But no one knows who these people actually are. No one knows which side of the barricade they were when we were fighting against capitalism in 1957, 1967 or 1969," he said.

Bhattacharjee also said that an extension of Congress’ exploitation since Independence has been its misuse of Article 356, imposing President’s rule on states where they have fared badly. "Congress used this move to remove EMS’ government as they did with the Left-ruled United Front government in Bengal in 1967 and 1969. Recently Congress tried to impose Article 356 to remove Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party government in UP but we opposed it. Presently, however, an amendment allows people to go to court if the Article is imposed, which was not there earlier," he said.

While the Chief Minister pointed out that a debate was presently raging across the state over industrialisation, he said, “They have formed a Jami Bachao Committee to save farmlands but this body seems unaware that our government has distributed 83 per cent of the 1.35 crore acres of cultivable land to landless farmers. We do not need to learn land reforms from anybody because we implemented it for the first time in India, which was our election pledge," he said.

Bhattacharjee, however, asserted that despite hurdles, industrialisation would continue in the state. “We are running an experiment in the state. While we know about the national economic condition, it is not possible for us to create a separate economics being just a province. However, we are trying to find a Leftist alternative," he stated.

While for Bhattacharjee and Bose this was a damage control measure, state industries minister was meeting doctors attached with state-run healthcare services to convince them of the industrialisation policy. During a seminar organised by CPI (M)-affiliated Association of Health Service Doctors, Sen said while addressing doctors, “We have committed some mistakes at Nandigram because people who work commit mistakes. Doctors also commit mistakes while treating patients and patients die of wrong treatment. That is why we have to rectify.” He further said that after "excellent work" in land reforms it was the turn of industrialisation. “However, the Opposition and a section of media are opposing our policies."

Witnesses turn hostile in rebel attack case

OUR CORRESPONDENT

Jamshedpur, April 5: It was a major embarrassment for police when all the four eyewitnesses, including the complainant in the case against the alleged Naxalite attack at a construction site under Ghurabanda police station last year, turned hostile.

Deposing before the court of additional district and sessions judge R. Dayal today, the four witnesses — Man Singh Soren (complainant), Mangal Mahali, Dukhi Hansda and Bhim Soren — backtracked from their earlier statements.

Interestingly, this is the 18th case against the Naxalites in which the pros- ecution witnesses have turned hostile.

Not a single person has been convicted in any of the cases.

Earlier, the witnesses, who were present at the site of Vaishnavi Construction on night duty on May 26, had said a group of 15 armed rebels, including three women, attacked the site and damaged the equipment.

In the statement before the police, the eyewitnesses had said they would identify all the people who were involved in the attack on the construction site.

During the course of investigation, the police arrested Shyam Sinku, an alleged Maoist, and according to the police, Sinku had confessed his involvement in the crime. However, Man Singh Soren refused to identify Sinku.

From Jungle Fatigues to Sensible Suits: Nepal's Maoists Join Government

Liam Cochrane | Bio | 06 Apr 2007
World Politics Watch Exclusive

KATMANDU, Nepal -- With a mumbled oath and a round of handshakes in front of a writhing bank of cameras, it was done: The Maoists joined Nepal's interim government, snaring five ministries.

It was a moment of triumph for the former rebels and another step towards the mainstream for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).



The Maoist chairman, who is still known by his wartime alias "Prachanda" ("the fierce one"), stayed out of the government to lead the party, but was positively beaming as he made an appearance at the swearing in ceremony on April 1.

"Today is the historical day because it is a turning point in the history of Nepal, we are going to organize a new Nepal," Prachanda told World Politics Watch, wearing the sensible gray suit that has become a trademark of the top tier of Maoist politicians.

The Maoists now have control of the Ministry of Information and Communication, Physical Planning and Works, Local Development, Forest and Soil Conservation, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. In securing the Ministry of Information, Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara also becomes the official spokesman for Nepal's new government.

Veteran leader G.P. Koirala was reelected as prime minister; his sixth stint in the position. Koirala's Nepali Congress party holds six ministries in the interim government, including the three key posts of Defense, Home and Finance.


Maoists Behaving Badly

After a decade-long civil war that cost more than 13,000 lives, the Maoists finally have the chance to prove whether their jargon-infused ideology can make the rapid shift from jungle hideouts and pressure-cooker bombs to the Parliament's benches of power and the responsibility of government portfolios.

Their early performance has been shaky, to say the least.

Since taking one of the Maoists' 83 seats in the House of Representatives, Lokendra Bista has kept Parliament security on their toes. During a recent sitting of the House, the mustachioed Bista took to the podium and announced he was wearing a pistol on his belt and, in his best Dirty Harry, challenged other lawmakers to do something about it.

Bista again brought his killer reputation to work on March 31, the day before the new government was formed. He arrived at the gates of Nepal's Singha Durbar parliamentary compound and punched a taxi driver in the face three times, in a dispute over the cab fare.

Maoist leaders claim these incidents are "small mistakes" that the media is blowing out of proportion, but each day brings fresh reports of Maoist comrades threatening, beating and extorting businesspeople, political workers and common citizens across the country.


Members of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) are sworn in as part of the government April 1 in Katmandu. (Josh Kraemer)

Public dissatisfaction boiled over last month, after a hotel owner was beaten with iron pipes and scalded with hot water by young Maoists for not paying a $140,000 "voluntary donation." Thousands of people rallied in the capital, demanding the government enforce law and order.

There are two schools of thought amongst Katmandu's diplomats regarding the Maoists misbehavior -- some believe the leadership can't control hotheads at the grassroots level, while others see the violence and intimidation as a calculated move to maintain fear in the countryside ahead of elections later this year.

Either theory is worrying.

The U.S. embassy has been a consistent critic of the Maoists and still considers them a "terrorist" organization. Asked by WPW if the Maoist's securing of government posts brought them closer to American acceptance, U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty was firm.

"They have to change their actions first," Ambassador Moriarty said. "This is one more commitment on their part, now that they're in the government everybody presumes that they will be held accountable for their actions and that process has to start."

Within days of the new government forming, the Home Ministry announced it would be getting serious about law and order. Home Minister Krishna Prasaad Sitaula -- lucky to have retained the powerful Home Ministry after months of calls for his sacking -- told all individuals and groups to hand over illegal weapons within a week. It was a message aimed not just at rogue Maoists, but also at the small militant groups popping up like mushrooms amongst Nepal's swathes of disaffected society.

"The government in the past tried to achieve maximum success through minimum use of force, but that phase is now over," Sitaula said.

Guns, What Guns?

The Home Ministry's directive to hand in illegal guns by April 8 was the clearest statement so far on this sensitive issue.

The U.N. has registered 3,430 firearms and thousands of other improvised explosive devices in the 28 cantonment camps around Nepal, but has given the Maoists a key to the storage containers, as agreed in the peace deal. At the same time, however, the U.N. has registered more than 31,000 Maoist fighters, leaving many convinced that the Maoists have retained some weapons, just in case their strategic shift towards democracy doesn't work out.

Answering the doubters, Prachanda caused a few giggles when he claimed that the missing guns had been swept away in rivers and burnt in fires during the insurgency. The laughter faded in March, however, when the Maoist chairman said thousands of weapons and troops remained outside of U.N. camps, and could be mobilized to rise up overnight.

Later, he "clarified" the comment.

"I had said thousands of grenades remained outside but it was reported by media later that thousands of weapons were outside. That has only created confusion," Prachanda told reporters, indicating a fairly precise definition of "weapons."

There are also concerns about who the Maoists did and did not register in their cantonment camps. The U.N. has publicly raised the issue of the Maoists trying to pass off juveniles as over 18 years old, with further reports of troops hastily recruited last year to boost numbers.

Meanwhile, outside the camps, a Maoist central committee member has admitted that former army commanders -- who should have been registered with the U.N. -- have been given new roles leading the Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL), which has been involved in numerous violent clashes in recent weeks. On April 3, members of the YCL paraded in central Katmandu wearing black tracksuits and waving red flags, a uniform that conjures up images of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge cadres thirty years ago.

Moving Forward

The monitoring and advisory role of the U.N. Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) has helped underwrite the legitimacy of the peace process, but the world body will have to speak and act boldly in the coming weeks to maintain that good standing.

"The challenges ahead cannot be overemphasized," said Ian Martin, head of UNMIN, in a statement after the Maoists joined the government. "I therefore welcome the renewed commitments intended to create a conducive environment for polls and to provide for more effective monitoring of agreements."

An atmosphere of peace and security will be essential if the much-anticipated Constituent Assembly elections are to be free and fair. The vote will appoint members of an assembly that will eventually rewrite Nepal's constitution, but will first tackle fundamental questions about the nation's character, such as whether to scrap the monarchy.

When King Gyanendra grabbed absolute power in 2005, arresting political leaders and censoring media, he inadvertently began his own demise. The Maoists and the mainstream political parties suddenly had a common enemy and leaders secretly met in Delhi to coordinate a push against the palace.

That movement came to a head a year ago, when 19 days of protests in April 2006 saw up to half a million people taking to the streets each day, braving tear gas, baton charges and police shooting indiscriminately into crowds. On April 24 last year, King Gyanendra finally stepped down, but not before at least 18 protestors were killed and hundreds injured.

There were many demands from demonstrators last year, but the two things most agreed upon were an end to oppressive monarchy and a return to peaceful democracy, something Nepal has seen precious little of since its experiments with multiparty democracy began in 1950.

The Constituent Assembly is seen by some as a panacea, but more likely it's just the start of a long and difficult overhaul of the state structure. Voting for the assembly is scheduled for June 20, but will likely be postponed because there is not enough time to properly prepare for a credible election. It's thought the Constituent Assembly elections will be pushed back until after the monsoon rains -- October or November.

This delay would give the gray-jacketed Maoists, political parties and security forces some time to establish their credentials with a highly dubious public.

Liam Cochrane is a freelance journalist based in Katmandu.

Bihar's Maoists dispense law jungle style

From our ANI Correspondent

Paraiva (Bihar), Apr 6: Maoists in Bihar's Gaya District have set up a



'People's Court' for speedy justice.




The 'justice' when it comes, is not only speedy, but brutal also.

The Maoists believe that the justice provided by the one instituted state is inadequate.

"We are trying those charged with robbery and rape in this People'sourt so that the locals are not deprived of justice," an unidentifiedaoist said.

The accused is hung upside down like a buffalo in a primitive slaughterhouse and his soles beaten black and blue with a heavy staff.

In between, his confessions get recorded on a tape recorder.

India has recently taken a new stand on the Maoist insurgency, pulling the affected states together to coordinate their response. It says it will combine improved policing with socio-economic measures to defuse grievances that fuel the Maoist cause.

"As far as issues like arms and violence are concerned, we will give a fitting reply but then the principals of human rights and democracy will be followed," Afzal Amanullah, Bihar's Home Secretary, said.

Maoists say they are fighting on behalf of the rural poor and landless and want to build a communist state.

Naxalites have easily found support among those who feel stranded by surging modernisation.

India bracing itself against ‘Kargils and Tsunamis’

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Indian officials believe that the most likely military contingencies they face in the medium term are “Kargils and Tsunamis”, sharp, limited land engagements on their borders and broader humanitarian problems in the extended region, according to a commentary by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The commentary, authored by Teressita Schaffer and Vibhuti N Haté in the monthly Bulletin published by the Centre’s South Asia division, says that India will like to equip itself so as to make its presence felt in the area, from the Persian Gulf to Southeast Asia, and to respond if necessary to other kinds of contingencies. India’s national security policy is based on the premise that its immediate neighbourhood is dangerous and that regional instability from neighbouring countries fuels its internal insurgencies. India’s relationship with Pakistan has been troubled from the start and has often been a sticking point for the United States. Insurgents in Kashmir have close ties with counterparts in Pakistan. Central India’s “Naxalite” revolutionaries are said to have loose ties with Maoists in Nepal. India has traditionally discouraged any direct US involvement in the region’s geopolitics. Improved relations with the United States, however, have brought Indian and US policies into closer alignment on problems in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Beyond the immediate South Asian region, India’s broader concerns in Asia include ensuring the security of India’s lifelines for trade, investment, and most importantly, energy. Indian security analysts draw a distinction between the promising area to India’s east and the troubled region to India’s west.

Schaffer and Haté argue that India’s defence policy in the South Asian region is essentially land-based, and the army has long been the dominant service. By contrast, security in an Asian and Indian Ocean context relies much more on the sea and the air. As a result, the bulk of India’s plans for procurement of major new military systems are for the navy and air force. The Indian Navy wants to remain the predominant military force in the Indian Ocean. Its doctrine makes a distinction between areas close to India’s shores, where the navy expects to be able to exclude other powers, and those further out to sea, where it recognises that exclusion is not feasible and, implicitly at least, that it must aim to operate in cooperation with other powers. In the west, by contrast, India believes that instability and Islamic extremism could spill over from Afghanistan and Central Asia, to India’s detriment. India’s need for energy supplies makes the Persian Gulf a particular concern.

The CSIS commentary notes that in the past, the two areas of major US strategic interest were the western Pacific and the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The increasing US focus on political and economic relationships in Asia and the rise of China and India have increased India’s strategic importance in US eyes.

Schaffer and Haté maintain that the biggest contrast between US and Indian security goals has to do with India-Pakistan relations. India sees Pakistan as the principal source of terrorism, and one that affects India not just in Kashmir but also in other parts of the country. Washington sees Pakistan primarily as an ally in the war on terror, albeit one that is under US pressure to deal more effectively with domestic Islamic militant groups.

Local gang behind train loot

OUR CORRESPONDENT

Jamshedpur, April 5: Railway police today claimed to have identified a local gang responsible for looting the Tata-Kharagpur passenger near Ghatshila station late last evening.

Rail superintendent of police Mrityunjay Kumar said over half a dozen criminals of Ghatshila planned the dacoity in the train. “The Government Railway Police (GRP) along with the district police will raid suspected hideouts in and around Ghatshila tonight,” he said.


However, Kumar refused to divulge details of dacoits who successfully looted property worth Rs 3 lakh from passengers. A GRP jawan said the security personnel were not able to conduct raids due to the fear of a Naxalite attack last night.

“The GRP and district police personnel restrained themselves from conducting raids in the suspected hideouts of the criminals as Ghatshila has a strong Naxalite base,” he said adding that the dacoits might have already fled from Ghatshila as they got sufficient time to flee.

Senior railway officials of Kharagpur division under South Eastern Railway held a meeting with the business community of Chakulia and Dhalbhumgarh today after anguished local traders and businessmen blocked the movement of trains yesterday and beat up GRP jawans for failing to foil dacoities in moving trains on the Tata-Ghatshila-Kharagpur line.

Kumar said security has been beefed up at Ghatshila and other stations under the Chakradharpur division and the RPF would be roped in to escort local trains.

Perils of the New Maoists Strategy

April 06, 2007
Rahul Bhonsle


The 9th Congress of the Maoists held in the jungles of Central India forewarned New Delhi of intensification of the struggle in many dimensions. The strategy unfolded far earlier than anticipated as over 400 Maoists attacked a police post in Rani Bodli in Chattisgarh, killing 55 policemen and decamping with large quantity of weapons and ammunition. The Rani Bodli police outpost was held by 60 Special Police Officers (SPOs) and 23 Armed policemen. 39 SPOs and 16 armed policemen were killed by the militants. While the police claimed 15 Maoists were killed, no body was recovered. Just a few days before, a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament, Sunil Mahato was killed in Jharkhand. Mahato was in the forefront of the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti a counter Naxal vigilante movement.

The attack at Rani Bodli was a classic guerrilla operation launched in the wee hours of the morning at 2 AM on 15 March and lasted for three hours. The Maoists surrounded the outpost and hurled petrol bombs and grenades setting the camp on fire before getting away. In all probability since it was night many of the policemen would have been sleeping at the time of the attack.

The Camp was in a girls hostel but none of the inmates were hurt as Maoists are reported to have flood-lit the area to prevent casualties to the hostellers. The girls were shocked to see the carnage. Occupation of a girls' hostel complex by the police needs to be questioned whatever be the government policy. The Maoists displayed better sense and left the portion of the complex in which the girls were housed untouched.

Chattisgarh has seen highest level of Naxal violence in 2006 involving 715 incidents with 304 civilians, 84 security personnel and 74 Naxalite dead. Analysts believe that the main ire of the Maoists is the vigilante movement, Salwa Judum, which has gathered momentum in the state as a counter to Naxal control over the tribals. The Naxals see the Salwa Judum movement taking away their principal support bank. This was the second major incident in Chattisgarh during March. Earlier 8 people including four policemen of the India Reserve Battalion (Nagaland) were killed in a landmine attack on the Jagdalpur - Hyderabad road in Bastar.

The Rani Bodli incident clearly underlined lack of preparedness of the police in Chattisgarh despite claims of improved training and induction of equipment. The abject failure of intelligence both operational and tactical was evident. There were apparently no outposts deployed on the approaches to the camp which could have detected advancing Naxals and forewarned police personnel, thereby enabling an effective response. A mutual aid scheme was also found lacking.

Thus there was no response from neighbouring locations as the attackers continued with their carnage for over three hours. The nearest post is reported to be at Kotru 8 kms away, Farsagarh was 10 kms, while Kudma was only 20 km away. Rani Bodli was accessible by road from all these locations. While Maoists are reported to have blocked the roads, the obstacles could have been easily removed if the police were concerned for their comrades.

Chattisgarh administration claimed to have reviewed the strategy against Naxalite by placing greater reliance on armed police rather than SPOs. Lack of effective organisation of defences and training of police personnel however continues to be a core problem. Weapons also require upgradation and leadership has to be made more responsive.

The response of the counter militancy strategy in Chattisgarh indicated that surveillance of the Naxalite areas has been enhanced with deployment of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) on a trial basis. This was to corroborate reports of movement obtained on the ground. UAVs are not classical 24 hour surveillance assets but are essentially used after reports of movement have been received. In addition these can bring images of change in configuration of the terrain under surveillance. The information obtained has to be acted upon.

There is no evidence that this is happening in Chattisgarh. While this has been indicated as one of the core facets of government strategy to counter the Naxal problem, other facets as socio-economic development and better policing with hi-tech gadgets have not achieved effective results. The response of the Central Government has been to indicate the funds allotted, units raised and assistance provided. This may make an impressive list of 13 battalions of Central Para-Military Forces, sanctioning 4 India Reserve Battalions, 17 armoured vehicles and additional allotment of Rs 25 Crore over and above the security related funds allotted and need based helicopters. But the translation of this on the ground remains to be seen.

Operationally the police in Chattisgarh as well as in other states have been following a purely defensive strategy. This comprises on holding police outposts and limited patrolling. There is a need to shift to a limited offensive strategy comprising of vigorous patrolling, search and destroy missions in a graduated manner as the police gather more proficiency. Adequate training for this purpose is essential. This capability can be enhanced by deploying intelligence teams for seeking encounters and denying Naxalite freedom of movement. Apparently in the Indian context, it is only the Andhra Pradesh police which are carrying out such operations leading to control the Naxal menace in the state. Thus many forests in Andhra have now been cleared of Naxalite presence.

The killing of the Sunil Mahato in Jharkhand on 4th March was also attributed to the CPI (Maoist) and represents the second arm of the strategy. Mahato was targeted as he was in the fore front of the movement for establishing the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti (NSS) (Citizens Security Forum) which was seen to affect the base of Maoist support in Jharkhand. The NSS was gathering momentum in areas of East and West Singhbhum districts and had the backing of the JMM leader. The NSS leader was a Naxal target as nine terrorists were killed by members of the organisation in August 2003 at Lango. The Maoists confirmed the reason for the killing in posters pasted in the area a few days after the strike.

The Maoist 9th Congress was reportedly held in areas close to East and West Singhbhum. This Congress ran for over a month. Lack of intelligence with the state as well as the centre was obvious as the conference could not be disrupted during the entire period. The 9th Congress endorsed killing of political leaders and police officers who were impediments to the struggle. Mahato was the main driver behind the NSS. He was also seen to be taking away the lucrative contracts away from Maoists favoured contractors thereby denying the much needed funds. The operation for killing was elaborately planned. An urban guerrilla squad was employed which included a leader from Andhra Pradesh along with local supporters including a number of women Naxals.

The twin actions of killing of JMM Member of Parliament and Rani Bodli, indicates the new arms of Naxal strategy. The first week of the month saw Maoists casualties far exceeding those in Jammu and Kashmir. The same indications were seen in the middle of the month when the Rani Bodli massacre took place. The state governments in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as well as the Centre have to finally wake up to the threat of Maoist rural and urban encirclement and evolve an effective implementable strategy to bring order to these troubled areas before we see more killing of innocents in the months ahead.
Rahul K Bhonsle is a veteran soldier and security analyst based in South Asia, specializing in strategic risk prediction, future warfare and human security. His web site is www.security-risks.com and can be contacted at rkbhonsle@gmail.com

SOUTH ASIA SECURITY TRENDS APRIL 2007

By Rahul K Bhonsle

The ides of March crossed many areas of South Asia during the month under review. Sri Lanka continued to be marred by fratricidal violence as Government forces wage a relentless war of attrition in the East while the LTTE has returned with a vengeance unveiling a new weapon in its armoury, an Air Wing. Peace is many months away as over 150,000 people are rendered homeless in Eastern Sri Lanka and the fate of millions hangs in the balance as the campaign progresses northwards. A fresh, ear to the ground perspective is provided by Col (Retd) R Hariharan writing on trends in the Island. The emergency clamp down in Bangladesh was extended to bring over 160 political and other prominent personalities to book, including Mr Tarique Rehman, son of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. The hanging of terrorists accused of the 2005 blasts including Bangla Bhai should send a clear signal of resolve of the Caretaker Administration to inimical elements in the state. Indo Bangla relations are already looking up. The possible scenarios in Bangladesh have been covered in detail in this issue.

After much political brinkmanship, the grand old man of Nepal, Mr G P Koirala took the oath as Prime Minister as the Interim Government took office with six ministers from the Maoist fold in tow. There is much work cut out ahead as elections have been scheduled in June, merely three months away, as the Madhesi agitation rocks the Terai and economy moves in jerks, the perils of power should be soon evident to the new government. Bhutan also moved towards democracy after two political parties were formed and a new Indo Bhutan treaty meeting Thimpu's aspirations came into effect.

Pakistan remained on the brink of militancy as well as political crisis throughout the month. Removal of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on charges of corruption and nepotism led to an uproar in the judiciary as well as the media. The ham handed approach of the state in dealing with the crisis saw police charging into offices of Geo TV, Pakistan's symbol of media freedom. A major confrontation was avoided by a personal apology by President Musharraf and some deft political manoeuvring as the Government rode out the crisis. The Western FATA area witnessed a major clash between Uzbek militias linked to Al Qaeda and tribal fighters in South Waziristan as the government once again made a peace deal with the tribes in Bajaur agency. Pakistan's strategy of alternating between peace and controlled operations receives extensive coverage in this issue. Afghanistan on the other hand was relatively calm due to a combination of factors of intense operations by NATO forces, Taliban's preoccupation in FATA and the lucrative poppy season. Suicide terror, kidnapping and extortion are however assuming alarming proportions.

India too saw a spurt of violence in Naxal affected states of Chattisgarh and Jharkhand as a key Member of Parliament was shot dead by the Maoists and over 55 policemen killed in a midnight attack by a large group of militants in Rani Bodli. Bihar too saw a return of the Maoists after a long time, denoting unfolding of the Maoist strategy outlined in the 9th Congress. In the North East, the ULFA continued its battle for political and military relevance in Assam. The NSCN factions were involved in internecine clashes while Manipur settled down after a hectic period of electioneering. The DRDO came for special scrutiny during the month and a detailed review has been undertaken while India's defence preparedness in other spheres continues apace. The SAARC summit in New Delhi will be in focus on 3 and 4 April with terrorism forming a key part of the agenda

China's Prime Minister denoted a new vision extending over 100 years while extensive plans for development of strategic technologies and new confidence in the PLA Navy indicated the mood of the nation. The United States continued to suffer from the high wages of conflict in Iraq as surge operations have yet to demonstrate results while Congress is pressuring the Administration to fix a withdrawal date in 2008. Britain felt the heat of stand off with Iran as 15 sailors were apprehended by the Revolutionary Guard in disputed waters of the Shaat el Arab. Somalia saw a return to guerrilla warfare even as African Union troops were being deployed to take control from Ethiopian forces. Japan inked a new agreement of security cooperation with Australia as both nations looked beyond bitter memories of the Second World War. Much needs to be done in April, to make the World and particularly South Asia a safer place.

Rahul K Bhonsle is a veteran soldier and security analyst based in South Asia, specializing in strategic risk prediction, future warfare and human security. His web site is www.security-risks.com and can be contacted at rkbhonsle@gmail.com

Thursday, April 05, 2007

India’s neighbourhood shows signs of neglect

By Jo Johnson

Published: April 4 2007 17:52 | Last updated: April 4 2007 17:52

As host of a lacklustre annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, which ended on Wednesday night, India demonstrated it still has much to learn from China’s deft economic diplomacy. While Beijing has sought to create interdependencies with its rivals, in support of its stated ambitions for a “peaceful rise”, New Delhi appears complacent about the fact that it presides over the least economically integrated region in the world.

Good fences make good neighbours, but India has taken the saying too literally. Intra-regional trade is less than 2 per cent of south Asian gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, compared with more than 20 per cent in east Asia. There is little cross-border investment and the flow of people and ideas, despite a shared taste for Bollywood, is a trickle. Only 7 per cent of international telephone calls are to other countries within the region, for example, compared with 71 per cent for east Asia.

As an aspiring global power, India has recently concentrated on cultivating the US and improving relations with China, but has failed to bring stability and democracy to its own region. Its fellow members of Saarc, a dysfunctional organisation that has been stymied by the existential conflict between India and Pakistan, are all either under autocratic rule, slowly emerging from civil war or rapidly heading back into one. The list of failed states in India’s back yard is lengthening.

Democracy is in peril in Bangladesh, following the cancellation of elections and declaration of a state of emergency in January. Its army chief this week rejected a return to “elective democracy”. Nuclear-armed Pakistan’s future looks grim, as blowback from Afghanistan foments extremism, vestigial democratic institutions crumble and the unity of the state comes under renewed threat from separatists in Baluchistan hoping to split the country, again, to create a “second Bangladesh”.

Sri Lanka’s ethno-religious civil war is worsening by the day: insurgents fighting for a separate Tamil homeland last week brazenly showed off their new air wing by flying 400km to bomb an airbase near Colombo’s international airport. The peace process in Nepal, emerging from a decade-long Maoist insurrection, is in real trouble. Only xenophobic and autocratic Bhutan, a microstate of about 1m people in a region of 1.5bn, is making superficial progress towards democracy.

South Asia, then, is a low-rent neighbourhood. But it would be in India’s interests to try harder to gentrify it by spreading the benefits of its own growth. As the dominant regional economy, accounting for over 75 per cent of south Asian GDP, the onus is on India to make the moves. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, on Tuesday acknowledged New Delhi’s “asymmetrical responsibilities” to open the Indian market to south Asian neighbours without insisting on reciprocity.

But his offer of duty-free access for the “least developed countries” in Saarc by the end of the year will have little practical benefit as long as exporters continue to face horrendous non-tariff barriers in the form of inspections, arcane customs procedures at Indian borders and long “sensitive lists” of non-tradable items. Trucks, for example, are not allowed to cross Indian borders to deliver cargo to or from any Saarc country except Nepal and even these have to return within 72 hours.

As a relative latecomer to liberalisation, with a trade to GDP ratio lower than the world average, south Asia remains less open than most other regions. Economists worry that deepening preferential arrangements such as the South Asian Free Trade Area will divert trade from more competitive third countries and become a drag on south Asian growth. That would happen, for example, if Indian DVD players sold duty-free in Bangladesh displaced more efficient Taiwanese ones subject to duties.

Rather than adding to the trade-diversionary spaghetti bowl of sub-regional bilateral trade agreements, the best move India could make would be simply to let geography work and apply itself to the task of reducing the welter of non-tariff barriers to regional trade. The World Bank estimates that today’s $1bn annual trade between India and Pakistan, for example, most of which, absurdly, is routed through Dubai, could be nine times higher if such barriers were removed.

Connecting national energy systems should be another priority for power-starved India. Energy trade in the region is small, despite complementarities between energy deficit countries, such as India and Pakistan, and energy surplus states, such as Nepal and Bhutan. There are no gas pipelines across national borders, despite the fact that Bangladesh is endowed with huge natural gas reserves and despite Pakistan and Afghanistan’s ability to connect India to central Asian energy.

Such ties would help erode the lack of trust that sours relations between India and its neighbours and pushes up defence spending across the region. Trade on its own is unlikely to solve intractable conflicts, such as that over Kashmir, but could, in time, help create the conditions for a substantial peace dividend and free up resources for greater investment in education, health and infrastructure. In its haste to become a global power, India is in danger of neglecting the fires blazing in its back yard.


The writer is the FT’s South Asia bureau chief

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Two persons arrested on alleged Maoist links

Updated: 04-05-2007 Email this Page

Hyderabad : The Warangal district police arrested P. V. Kondal Rao and Ch. Prabhakar and recovered huge amount of money reportedly belonging to the CPI (Maoist).

According to the police, the Maoist party NTSZC member Gajerla Ravi alias Ganesh sent Rs. 5 lakhs to Kondal Rao, former district unit president of AP Union of Working Journalists.He was supposed to hand over the money to Prabhakar who resides in
Hyderabad. The latter would procure items such as party literature and other specified items the Maoist party wanted and give the same to Kondal Rao, who in turn would pass on the same to Maoist courier. Prabhakar is working as state convenor of Bhumi Commission, believed to be an organ of Maoist party.

Meanwhile, Warangal police later searched Prabhakar house at Amberpet in Hyderabad city with the assistance of local police on Wednesday. They took the advocate's family members into custody and brought them to the Amberpet police station for questioning.

On learning about this, balladeer Gadar went to the police station and picked up an argument with the police accusing them of harassing Prabhakar's family members in the name of investigation. The police, however, let off the advocate's family members after completing their inquiries. Speaking to reporters, Prabhakar's wife Shailaja charged the police with implicating her husband in false cases.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Forecast 2007: The Maneuvering Before the Storm

STRATFOR : Q2 Forecast 2007: The Maneuvering Before the Storm

In India, domestic political and social issues continue to absorb the government's attention. The ruling Congress party is struggling to maintain a populist attitude toward India's lower classes while appeasing Indian corporate interests. This balancing act has left both sides unsatisfied and has provided the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party an opening to advance itself. Congress' hold on the central government will not be seriously threatened in the second quarter, but the party will have to rely heavily on populist measures to win back support.

A hot issue over the next few months will center on the creation of additional special economic zones (SEZs) throughout India. Impoverished farmers backed by vociferous leftist groups will intensify their resistance to the SEZs' creation. Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, will try to take advantage of the tensions stemming from the government's bid to acquire farmers' lands for the SEZs by intensifying their operations against security, political and economic targets in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

India also will pay closer attention to its southern neighbor, where the Sri Lankan army is engaged in major tit-for-tat fighting against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Colombo will lobby hard for increased military assistance and advanced radar equipment to combat the Tigers, but the Congress party will remain cautious about enhancing Sri Lanka's military capabilities for fear of alienating the Indian Tamil population and the party's Tamil political allies. The Tigers will attempt to resist Sri Lanka's aerial assaults in their eastern strongholds by turning to more spectacular attacks, including suicide bombings, and by demonstrating the expansion of their naval and air branches.

In Nepal, the interim government and Maoists will limp toward finalizing a peace deal that will allow the Maoists to formally enter the government and erode the royal family's political position. Though general elections are slated for mid-June, there is a strong possibility that they will not take place on time considering the deteriorating law and order situation in the southern plains of Terai, where Maoists and a group of plains people, known as Madhesis, are locked in turmoil.



Second Quarter Forecast 2007: The Maneuvering Before the Storm - Part I
April 04, 2007 19 27 GMT

http://www.stratfor.com/

The second quarter of 2007 will brim with fury and froth as two states attempt to challenge the geopolitical order imposed by others to stem their expansion, in hopes of regaining their long-lost position as major powers. Throughout the quarter, these two states will seek a louder voice and a stronger hand. The real conflicts, however, will come later.

For the first country -- Iran -- the more aggressive tone is part and parcel of the diplomatic dance with the United States. Both countries realize that their ideal for Iraq -- unified and pro-American for Washington, unified and pro-Iranian for Tehran -- has slipped from the realm of possibility. The two will now negotiate furiously to keep their respective worst-case scenarios -- for the United States, a shattered Iraq in which Iran controls the south; for Iran, a Sunni-run and American-armed Baghdad -- from becoming reality.

In these negotiations, neither side has a particularly strong hand. The Bush administration suffers from a lack of mandate and an overstretched military that is flat-out incapable of imposing security on Iraq. Iranian goals are utterly dependent upon the Iraqi Shia -- who, were they able to unify for any purpose, would have at least at some point in Iraq's history been in charge of their own region (they have never been). Tehran and Washington both can wreck Iraq to ruin each other's plans, but neither wants to live with the consequences. Both can work toward a compromise but are afraid of the domestic backlash of being seen publicly talking to one another. And of course there is that niggling detail that their national interests on this issue really are very close to incompatible.

The result is that each side is trapped at the negotiating table, threatening the other and hoping that something will change on the ground to give them a decisive advantage. Of course, when something appears to be that key event, the other feels obliged to change the equation. Thus the United States seizes an Iranian Consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan, or Iran detains 15 British marines and sailors. Such events will proliferate throughout the quarter as the two powers position and reposition for best effect versus each other. Expect other powers to attempt to leverage Washington's preoccupations to their own advantage -- with the Russians, by dint of influence in Iran and opportunities in Ukraine, likely to achieve the most.

This struggle will not resolve itself in the coming quarter. However, it not only will dominate the news, but also regularly will put Washington and Tehran on an equal footing in the public mind. This will not be a permanent feature (indeed, it is not even remotely accurate once one looks past the headlines) but it undeniably entrenches Iran's return as a major regional power that must be reckoned with.

Yet while Iran's rise is not guaranteed -- the negotiations with the United States could yet take a disastrously wrong turn -- the second state returning to the status of great power will be far more successful than Iran. That country is Germany.

For the past 60 years, French ideology has demanded that Paris play the pre-eminent role in European events and use that control to project power globally. Yet in late April and early May, the French will choose from among a battery of candidates one who will be their next president. For the first time since the 1940s, there is not a single candidate on the list who subscribes to the principles of former President Charles de Gaulle.

For those same 60 years, Germany has been locked in to the structures of the European Union and NATO, and has been flatly disallowed from holding nationalist ambitions independent from Europe (which in Paris' mind translates as "independent of France"). That time has passed and Germany has re-awakened. For now, its interests do continue to parallel broadly those of its neighbors, but there are clearly changes in tone and objective that identify Germany as a European yes-man no longer. With elections in France, the period of French exceptionalism will end -- this is not simply the changing of a president, this is a change of regime -- and Germany will formally take over as the leading political and economic power in Europe.

This German rise is independent of Germany's continuing terms as president of the European Union and chair of the Group of Eight -- positions that enable Berlin to set the agenda both on a regional and global level. Such institutions, which have rotating leadership, are not the true source of Germany's return to the limelight. But the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is using them to pole-vault Germany to prominence. Yet, even should Germany fail disastrously in these leadership positions and squander the opportunity, the fact that Germany is back is undeniable. And should Merkel and her team succeed, Germany will have its cake and eat it too.

Elsewhere, the world -- while not sleeping -- might seem strangely quiet (except Afghanistan, of course, which is always noisy in the second quarter of the year). For most of the world, the second quarter will be one of introspection and consolidation. The long internal transition struggles in Nigeria, France and the United Kingdom will finally conclude with new leadership even as South Africa, Russia and China begin wrestling with similar changes. Thailand, Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador will all seek major constitutional changes, while governments of both Pakistan and India will attempt to shore up support after last quarter's setbacks. The renegade Serbian province of Kosovo -- after eight long years in the political wilderness -- seems set to achieve a final status that will look more or less like independence. Even the global economy is in transition as the United States struggles -- we predict, successfully -- to throw off a looming recession.

The second quarter will not be the window in which the major conflicts erupt. It will be a time for preparing, positioning, maneuvering. The real fights will come after all concerned emerge from their cocoons.

Middle East: Negotiations and Power-Sharing

The U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq will remain the key event in the Middle East in the second quarter. Though the issue has been driving events for some time, the next three months are critical. The first direct and public talks -- albeit in a multilateral setting -- between the Bush administration and Iran's clerical administration on how to stabilize Iraq took place in early March; the main event in the second quarter will be a regional foreign ministerial-level meeting in April, where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice likely will meet with a senior Iranian official.

The Iranians will be busy trying to regain the initiative on the nuclear issue, in light of the second round of sanctions imposed on them and Tehran's declining relations with Russia. Through a mix of provocative moves and negotiations, Tehran will try to secure its nuclear program as its main bargaining chip in talks over Iraq -- seeking to counter moves by Washington in the first quarter to disconnect the two issues. The United States will continue trying to contain Iran by supporting the operations of various Iranian rebel forces.

Essentially, while the United States and Iran continue back-channel negotiations, each country will try to use public provocations to weaken the other's resolve. Neither can allow the other to have the upper hand in Iraq. This means Baghdad cannot be run by a pro-U.S. regime that threatens Iran's security and regional objectives, nor can it be dominated by pro-Iranian Shia who would allow Tehran to become a threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Washington and Tehran each face a set of bad choices, and the key is to arrive at a compromise that can somehow satisfy both countries' minimal expectations.

Because there are no good options, if one side makes an offer, the other side refuses it. Such dissatisfaction manifests in provocative moves, such as the U.S. arrests of Iranian officials in Arbil, Iraq, and the abduction of an Iranian diplomat from Baghdad, as well as Iran's capture and detention of 15 British naval personnel from the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq. Therefore, U.S.-Iranian back-channel dealings will intensify during the second quarter, as will public manifestations of frustration. Provocative actions will be punctuated by attempts to bring the secret discussions slowly into the public domain.

Next door in Iraq, negotiations involving Sunni insurgents, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and the United States will intensify in order to create an anti-jihadist front. Along with the growing multitude of transnational jihadist groups, this will lead to more fighting between mainstream Sunnis and transnational jihadists as the militants try to counter changes in the Sunni political landscape. Accelerated efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents could lead to a revisitation of constitutional issues.

The Shia will try to strengthen their position in light of their loss of support from the Fadhila party and ongoing problems with Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's political bloc -- especially as the Mehdi Army tries to revive itself in the wake of the U.S.-Iraqi Baghdad security plan. The need to get Fadhila back on board and maintain the uneasy relationship with the al-Sadrites will hamper Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts to contain Shiite militia activity and reach out to the Sunnis. Some government elements are moving to replace al-Maliki and/or engage in a Cabinet reshuffle, which could further complicate matters.

Iraq's proposed hydrocarbons law, which the legislature is expected to approve in late May, will be another key issue in Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish communal negotiations. For their own reasons, the Shia and Sunnis oppose the Kurds' demand that Kurdish regional autonomous status translate into Arbil having considerable control over energy contracts and revenues. Therefore, negotiations among the principals from Iraq's three main ethno-sectarian groups will be intense in the second quarter. Parliament could approve a watered-down version of the law as a placeholder to show progress, but it will not lead to a resolution on sharing control of the oil.

In the Israeli-Palestinian theater, the newly formed Palestinian coalition government will seek to enhance its international recognition while trying to deal with Israel through the Saudi-led Arab League initiative. Tensions -- manifesting as occasional gunbattles -- will remain between the Hamas and Fatah factions over sharing control of the Palestinian security departments.

Within Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government will try to ward off threats to its hold on power by continuing to reject the Palestinian government while using the Saudis to work toward a regional engagement with the Arab states. The Olmert government has not only softened its position on the 2002 Arab-Israeli peace initiative, but also welcomed the Arab League's renewed peace offer, which came during the recent summit in Riyadh.

Olmert's position is extremely weak, but regional and domestic circumstances are preventing his government from falling. His government has enough of a left-center-right mix that he can maintain a parliamentary majority and keep his opponents in the Likud party from exploiting his low public approval ratings.

The one-year anniversary of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is approaching. There has been some talk of the Israel Defense Forces trying to reverse the outcome of the conflict, but it does not appear either side is interested in a rematch.

Saudi Arabia will push ahead in its newly acquired role as the leader of the Arab states working with Israel, Iran and the United States for progress on the Arab-Israeli peace initiative. Given that both the Saudis and Israelis have demonstrated their willingness to compromise, this quarter could see the beginning of public multilateral talks, but these would be very preliminary in nature. Riyadh also will assert its leadership role on the Iran-Iraq front.

Saudi behavior at the recent Arab League summit also indicates Riyadh is not just seeking a leadership role for itself in the region; it is also interested in enhancing the collective Arab position in the region and beyond. While the Israelis appear to be warming to Saudi moves, King Abdullah's remarks calling the U.S. military presence in Iraq an illegal occupation already have created concerns in Washington. As a result, the coming quarter will see complications in terms of how the Saudis deal with various issues and actors.

Syria could spoil a broad Arab-Israeli peace initiative, given its interests in Lebanon, despite the Iranian-Saudi understanding on the makeup of the Lebanese government. Some evidence suggests the Lebanese factions are moving toward a new power-sharing agreement, but a deal is unlikely in the coming quarter. Even though the Saudis and the Syrians have tried to work out their differences, Syrian-Iranian relations will continue to create hurdles in Lebanon this quarter.

Political and social upheaval could come to Egypt in the second quarter as a result of the government's move to maintain its hold on power through constitutional amendments. The regime will face problems from both political forces and civil society groups, given the momentum created by workers' strikes and political opposition to amendments to the country's charter.

Another key development in the North African corridor will be the Algerian parliamentary elections. As the government tries to contain the Islamist insurgency on the military front, it also will try to block Islamists from emerging as a major political force. Given that two main Islamist groups have been banned from participating in the elections, the Islamists likely intend to run as independent candidates in order to gain a share of the legislature. In foreign policy, there are indications that Algiers is trying to assert itself as a regional leader in North Africa. In this regard, it has been trying to secure a major arms deal with Russia, which means Moscow also is interested in gaining influence on the southern banks of the Mediterranean Sea.

Finally, on the northern periphery of the Middle East, Turkey will hold its presidential election in early May. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan or one of his trusted allies in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) likely will become president; the president is elected by the parliament, in which the AKP has a two-thirds majority. Meanwhile, there could be increased tensions between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds as the Turkish military conducts operations in northern Iraq against Turkish Kurdish separatist facilities.

Europe: France Fades as Germany Grows

For Europe, the second quarter will be action-packed; everything of consequence that will happen in 2007 will happen in these three months.

Late April and early May will mark the changing of the guard in France; a presidential election will determine President Jacques Chirac's successor. The election will be a real nail-biter. Despite all their differing rhetoric, Nicolas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou -- while all campaigning for change -- will support a France that remains in NATO and the European Union. Sarkozy will likely seek a more modernized France and Royal a more socialist one, while Bayrou would shake up the ruling elite. Only Jean-Marie Le Pen seeks a very different France, and he has no chance of winning in the second round, even if he does well in the first.

But this hardly means France will remain the same. In fact, France will change more now than at any time since World War II -- with the election serving as the inflection point -- because of the four candidates' one similarity: None are Gaullists. Since the beginning of World War II, France's dominant ideology has been the idea that it is a global power. That ideology led Paris to seek a unified Europe that it could use to wield power on a global scale. Chirac is only the most recent heir to Gaullism, and with his retirement, an era comes to an end -- and not just in France.

Gaullist France's desire to be an international superpower shaped every facet of European policy -- particularly efforts to craft a common foreign, political and security policy. As the European Union has expanded, these policies have changed from unworkable to impossible, but they still remain, on paper, the union's core. When Chirac steps down, the country with the reputation for putting the most force behind these policies will shift, and the dream of a European superpower will fade.

The end of that dream will happen in concert with Europe's other major development: Germany's rise. The French and British stars will be falling this quarter -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to step down in favor of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in June or July -- which leaves no one but the confident Germany to fill the leadership void. Specifically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discover whether she can solidify her leadership of all of Europe this quarter.

Germany holds the EU presidency until the end of the second quarter, and if the first quarter is any indication, Merkel will not spare the horses. Her agenda runs the gamut from internal judicial cooperation to the Middle East peace process. To date, she has only achieved a small fraction of her policy goals, but one -- hammering out the next 13 years of European energy policy -- is the greatest achievement at the Continental level since the launch of the euro. Moreover, Germany will hold an energy summit for the European Union in May, in which Merkel will extend her energy plans outside Europe to potential non-Russian partners, like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

In the second quarter, Merkel's other major effort will be tested: breathing fresh life into the EU constitution. Pushing for the document's ratification in its current form is pointless (it requires unanimity and already has been defeated in France and the Netherlands), so Merkel is seeking an agreement on the components to include in a new text to be settled by the end of her term.

If she succeeds, she will have seized Europe's pre-eminent leadership position and established Germany as the Continent's arbiter. But even if she fails, Germany remains Europe's most significant power -- and the only one geographically positioned to reach all parts of the Continent with its influence. Any success Merkel has in entrenching Germany's ascendance in this quarter is simply icing on the cake.

The one potentially volatile event looming just at the end of Germany's EU presidency is a decision by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on Kosovo's final status. The United States and European Union have set an unofficial deadline of late April or early May for the council to pass a resolution. This is not saying the decision cannot be postponed, since it was put off countless times before it even reached the UNSC. However, Merkel is looking for at least a blueprint to be settled on before the end of her term.

Following a UNSC decision, consultations with the Kosovar Albanians and Serbian government will take place for approximately six weeks as all sides try to format the best resolution. Kosovo will most likely end up with supervised independence for the time being, meaning it would be allowed to join international institutions and write a constitution, but would be governed by an EU representative and patrolled by a NATO-led force.

Such a timetable allows just enough time for Serbia to decide how it wants to handle Kosovo's impending statehood. The Serbian government has still not formed after the Jan. 21 elections in which no party won majority, but the two more moderate parties together won enough support to keep the Radicals out of the government. The West is giving Serbia a chance to organize its government before the UNSC's Kosovo decision. However, Serbia will be institutionally unable to resist a U.N.-forced settlement, regardless of whether it has a government.

For Serbia's prize -- should it accept and also allow a somewhat easy turnover of Kosovo -- the European Union has promised to put Serbia on the fast track to membership and investment in the country. This does not mean there will not be some volatility in the region, but in the end, this settlement could close the chapter of Yugoslavia's breakup and could be the remembered legacy of Merkel's EU presidency.

Latin America: Visions for Constitutional Change

As outlined in Stratfor's annual forecast, domestic concerns have dominated the region; however, the United States showed more interest in Latin America than expected, as demonstrated by U.S. President George W. Bush's weeklong visit in the first quarter. As expected, Brazil renegotiated favorable natural gas prices with Bolivia. Bolivia and Argentina made more progress than anticipated on their proposed joint pipeline project. Colombia's border tensions with Ecuador and Venezuela have continued. Unexpectedly, relations between Brazil and Paraguay are freshly strained as Brazil builds a border fence on each side of the Friendship Bridge, a busy border crossing and smuggling transit point.

The driver for Latin America's second quarter will be constitutional reform. Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador all seek major constitutional changes, and upcoming steps in the reform process are polarizing the domestic scenes in those countries.

The possibility of escalating domestic scandals creates a wild card for Latin America this quarter. Chile's botched Transantiago transportation plan, Brazil's egregious air traffic control problems and links between politicians and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia caused those countries' governments problems in the first quarter. These scandals appear to be getting under control, but any one of them could escalate if new evidence appears, or if opposition factions organize.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is emerging as a strong leader. The passage of a public-sector social security reform bill at the end of the first quarter showed that Calderon can hold together a coalition comprising his National Action Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party in order to pass difficult legislative initiatives. His next legislative initiative will add to this momentum; the president aims to legalize paid and unpaid internships, a move likely to create jobs and please young constituents. He will need this political strength as he takes the first steps toward reforming the constitution to allow foreign oil companies to participate in offshore exploration. Calderon will probably have some harsh words for U.S. immigration policies on Labor Day, May 1, but strikes and demonstrations on both sides of the border likely will be smaller than those in 2006.

The constitutional changes under way in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela will not be completed during the second quarter. Among other things, the changes are likely to give some functions of traditional political bodies, including national legislatures, to community councils. This move probably will spook investors who already are extremely skittish about the Bolivarian-oriented countries. The implementation of strong state controls over Ecuador's private banking sector in the second quarter will further contrast this group of countries with Brazil, Chile and Peru, which are operating with sound economic fundamentals and are thereby attracting renewed interest from investment majors, including Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. These differences will be apparent at the World Economic Forum on Latin America, which will be held in Chile at the end of April.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa emerged from the first quarter strengthened after a provisionally successful bid to purge his opponents in Congress. Although the Supreme Electoral Council's dismissal of 57 of the 100 members of Ecuador's unicameral legislature nearly tore the government apart, Correa's popularity and quiet support from the military gave him the upper hand. Competing court rulings threaten to reverse the decision, but the Constitutional Tribunal likely will take Correa's side in the final ruling on the matter -- or risk being overridden.

Ecuador will hold a popular referendum April 15 authorizing the formation of a constitutional assembly with powers to redraft the constitution and dismiss any members of government it chooses, in a "refounding" of the country's political institutions. The referendum likely will pass. As Correa's reform plans progress, he will issue more concrete proposals to renegotiate the national debt. He has indicated that he has changed his mind about pursuing a mass default on the debt, but the relief that decision gives investors will be clouded by the new regulations imposed on the country's banking sector.

Bolivia remains in gridlock as its Constitutional Assembly's thematic commissions wrestle with the fact that a two-thirds majority of the assembly will have to approve every article individually. In the first quarter of 2007, Bolivian President Evo Morales discussed the possibility of holding early elections as soon as the new constitution is complete in 2008, adding to the sense of uncertainty surrounding Bolivian political developments.

Venezuela continues to be fully under President Hugo Chavez's control, and although there have been some calls for a more public process, his constitutional reform agenda is not likely to face significant opposition. Venezuela also continues to aggressively pursue its agenda to nationalize energy projects, banks and other businesses, and gain even more control over national media.

Secondary drivers in the region for the second quarter include relations between Brazil and Venezuela, Brazil's ethanol ambitions and responses to urban crime.

The Banco del Sur constitution, set to be drafted this quarter, will reflect regional developments. Venezuela, the chief supporter, intends the bank to supplant the role of the Washington-dominated Inter-American Development Bank in the region. Brazil will participate in the bank's creation, even though Bush's recent visit to the region accentuated tensions between Chavez's Bolivarian goals for Latin America and Brazil's moderate approach. This common project, along with the opening of the Mercosur Parliament (though the parliament is powerless), could superficially soothe regional friction in the second quarter -- friction that Brazil's attempt to compete for influence in Central America and the Caribbean through the expansion of ethanol production and technology-sharing agreements would otherwise exacerbate.

Brazil's new emphasis on ethanol in its foreign relations challenges Venezuela's regional ambitions. As evidenced by Cuban leader Fidel Castro's public letter at the end of the first quarter, the ethanol issue is likely to provoke a new discussion in the region on the costs and benefits of industrial agriculture and biofuels. This discussion will put environmental concerns -- and the effects biofuels expansion could have on food prices -- in the spotlight.

It is unlikely these concerns will spill into hostile rhetoric at the South American Energy Summit, which Venezuela will host April 15-16. This will be the third such summit since Bolivia's 2006 energy nationalization. The presidents of Chile, Brazil and other countries are expected to attend, and likely will discuss pipeline infrastructure projects and maintaining a common understanding on Bolivia's natural gas policies.

In the realm of urban crime, Mexico and Brazil will continue significant crackdowns on violent organized crime related to the drug trade in urban areas, while Venezuela could launch an anti-crime campaign, although such a campaign is unlikely to significantly address that country's severe crime problems this quarter. In Mexico, offensives against drug cartels are boosting the government's popularity, although other cartels are finding room to move in as existing cartels are diminished. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro authorities will attempt to strike a significant blow in their ongoing battle against favela-based gangs before the city hosts the Pan American games in July.

Former Soviet Union: Russia's Introspection, Putin's Consolidation

As the first quarter of 2007 ends, Stratfor's annual forecast for the former Soviet Union (FSU) is holding true. The main thrust of the annual forecast is that Russia will spend the year internally consolidating, both politically and economically. This began escalating at the end of the first quarter and will continue through the second, with some of the consolidation finishing up this quarter. Russia's domestic focus will keep it busy and give the other FSU states time away from Mother Russia's apron strings.

The one deviation from Stratfor's annual forecast is the degree of Russia's internal focus and the effects on Russia's periphery. For the first part of the year, Russia nearly ignored its periphery. This is not to say that much of the rhetoric has died down; rather, no actual political, economic or military advances into Russia's near abroad have been seen. This could change once Russian President Vladimir Putin feels he has consolidated enough political and economic power to confidently hand the country over in 2008. However, all of the planned consolidation is not likely to be finished in the second quarter. Thus, states in Russia's near abroad can take advantage of Russia's preoccupation to explore relationships with countries other than their large and domineering neighbor.

Russia's State Duma elections in December and presidential election in March 2008 are causing the Kremlin anxiety over consolidation. The lead-up to the elections will see the usual electoral events: phony political opposition groups emerging, real opposition groups being squelched and dissidents ending up with poison in their bloodstreams. Though this will all grab headlines, the real driver in the elections is Putin's inner circle and the economic consolidation that has gone on in Russia for several years.

The time for Putin's consolidation over Russia's economy and politics to be complete is nearing. Economically, Putin is on track. The two state-owned energy companies -- oil giant Rosneft and natural gas giant Gazprom -- have made large moves against foreign energy companies in Russia, such as Gazprom's takeover of Sakhalin-2. The second quarter will see Rosneft and Gazprom continue taking over larger energy assets, including some of the largest assets from bankrupt oil giant Yukos. Rosneft and Gazprom also are moving against TNK-BP, LUKoil and ExxonMobil's Sakhalin-1. Moscow will make huge steps in energy consolidation in the second quarter, and will not stop until closer to the elections. The consolidation of nonpetroleum sectors -- shipbuilding, banking and uranium, to name a few -- will continue this quarter.

Putin's political consolidation will hit some snags. The reason Russia is not seeing opposition forces create any destabilization is that Putin has clamped down on such forces. Opposition parties still exist and rallies still occur, but none of those parties is violent or a threat to Putin's government. Instead, the political instability is coming from within Putin's own handpicked personal circle. It is not that the inner circle is turning against Putin's authority; rather, Putin's closest confidants are jockeying for power and placement during the lead-up to the election.

As Stratfor forecast, the two front-runners to succeed Putin -- Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov -- are still in place. Also as forecast, the two men have expanded their public roles, as seen when Putin named Ivanov, previously defense minister and deputy prime minister, as first deputy prime minister. Putin is still holding off on revealing which of the two will take which office come election time, though the two likely successors will continue their more public roles in the second quarter.

The inner circle conflict has been brewing for several years. The two main camps are those who support Gazprom -- led by Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, Putin's top aide -- and those who support Rosneft -- led by Deputy Chief of Staff Igor Sechin, Putin's longtime friend and the head of Rosneft's board. The two energy companies have escalated their tense relationship into an outright competition for assets. This conflict will continue, with usually reserved Surkov and Sechin coming into the public eye and pulling Medvedev and Ivanov into the fray. Putin cannot allow this internal conflict to continue past the second quarter, as it could affect the legislative elections.

As Stratfor forecast, Moscow has been looking to expand its influence outside its borders, but these moves have been stalled by Russia's introversion. Putin knows he has to keep his focus sharp until he is confident about Russia's political future. This does not mean Russia will not continue with its commentary on all foreign politics; it just will not make any decisive moves outside its own borders in the second quarter. This temporary lull will be seen in Russia's continued relationships with Serbia (during the Kosovo negotiations), China and countries in Africa and the Middle East (specifically Iran), but also will be felt in Russia's periphery.

Kazakhstan will likely be the country most interested in exploiting Russia's blind eye. The country has always dexterously balanced its political obligations to Russia (through which it exports most of its oil and natural gas), the West (a large player in developing Kazakh energy infrastructure) and China (a potential energy customer). Russia has continually meddled in Kazakhstan's relationships with the other two, but now the Central Asian country could turn to the West and China before Russia notices. In the second quarter, Kazakhstan's big opportunity will be at the European Union's May summit on energy, hosted by EU President and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Europe has always been interested in Kazakhstan as an energy supplier, but has been either blocked by geography or by Russia. With the first step to a non-Russian, FSU energy supply from Azerbaijan -- the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline -- complete, there is now room for growth to allow Kazakhstan to increase its exports to Europe.

Russia's preoccupation also gives Belarus the chance to get out from under Moscow's thumb. Following the January oil dispute between Russia and Belarus, Minsk knows that Moscow is willing to damage the Belarusian economy in order to keep the usually Russia-loyal state under its control. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has two options: to remain Russia's flunky, or to look for a new source of support. With Russia's head turned, Lukashenko has a small window of time to appeal to the West for help and get out from under Russia's control. However, Russia holds one card that will ensure Lukashenko does not take his decision lightly. A series of economic agreements between Russia and Belarus eliminating some trade restrictions -- on which Belarus is depending -- will take effect in the second quarter, easing Belarus' economic pinch.

In the Caucasus, everything of consequence that will happen in 2007 will happen in the second quarter. Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia (as well as Moldova's Transdniestria), all simmering breakaway regions, are watching for the West's decision on the fate of Serbia's secessionist region, Kosovo. Stratfor forecast that these regions would flare up over the Kosovo decision; however, as the decision date looms, it seems the second quarter will not see renewed violence. This is not to say small conflicts will not occur, but the magnitude of any clashes will not be near that of past battles. This is because each of these breakaway regions already virtually has independence, though this is not yet internationally recognized. Russia does not have the bandwidth to back these regions' independence movements now as it has in the past, but will hold onto that card for another day.

But there is a tenuous situation in a Caucasus state that is usually quiet: Armenia. If the United States or Europe wants a chance to gain a foothold in the last of the pro-Russian Caucasus states, it will get that chance in the second quarter. First, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian died March 25, leaving his ruling party -- the Republican Party of Armenia -- open to be consolidated under the likely future president, Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian. This political party has the full support of the current and party-less President Robert Kocharian.

Second, Armenia will hold its parliamentary elections May 12, amid the rise of a powerful political party and fracturing within the ruling coalition and the opposition. Moreover, the small state is open for the first time to large economic measures with Iran; its fellow Caucasus states of Azerbaijan and Georgia are both now pro-U.S.; and there is no active conflict within the Armenian-populated Azeri region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Circumstances have aligned in such a way that Armenia could be in play. However, Kocharian retains a tight hold on public life in Armenia, running the media and the right to organize. Breaking Kocharian's political control will be difficult, but if it is going to happen, now is the time.

Turkmenistan remains an enigma, as predicted in the Stratfor annual forecast. President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov has yet to show his cards. The Turkmenbashi's replacement will most likely remain loyal to Russia, though there are opportunities for that to change. If Berdimukhammedov wants to end Turkmenistan's traditional pro-Russia stance and have a chance for cooperation with the West, he must act before Russia refocuses on its periphery.

The one exception in all of this is, of course, Ukraine. There, the country's internal political battles between pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko and pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich have erupted into a fight for political control. And unlike the last time this happened, during the Orange Revolution of 2004, the Russians are taking an active hand -- and the Americans are not. Washington desperately needs the Russians to stay out of its ongoing negotiations with Tehran -- and the price for Moscow's quietude is simple: Leave Ukraine for Moscow.

Such a condition makes the American decision to sit this one out not only an obvious one, but also one that Washington will endeavor to extend to its European allies -- regardless of their feelings about Russian influence increasing in Ukraine. If Yushchenko is going to survive as a power player, he will have to do so with his own resources, skills and guile.



Second Quarter Forecast 2007: The Maneuvering Before the Storm - Part II
April 04, 2007 19 27 GMT



South Asia: Domestic Issues, the Taliban and Musharraf's Struggle

The annual forecast for 2007 emphasized that Pakistani politics would be the most significant driver in South Asia, as Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's political standing would carry implications for the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the region. This issue will remain dominant in the region in the second quarter.

Musharraf has devised a complex strategy to ensure that he remains in power as president and military chief through the January 2008 general elections. But his election gambit took a turn for the worse in March when he acted on bad advice and gave the green light to sack the country's chief justice. Though Musharraf's intent was to clear a potential obstacle to his re-election bid, he sparked a nationwide outcry against the military-dominated regime that has forced him into a compromising situation that will end up forcing him to give up a certain degree of power.

Musharraf will be in damage-control mode during the second quarter, and could attempt to temporarily defuse the crisis by restoring the chief justice. Such an outcome, however, will only further erode Musharraf's ability to rule, and would create a crisis of governance.

Meanwhile, radical Islamist forces in the country will take advantage of the political fracas to increase suicide attacks and expand their efforts to "Talibanize" Pakistan beyond the Pashtun areas. Given Musharraf's weak political standing, the Pakistani government's cautious approach will not thwart the growing radical movement. To salvage his political position and help combat religious extremism in the country, Musharraf might have no choice but to encourage his allies in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League to consider working out a power-sharing agreement with secular parties in the opposition, namely the Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians.

The United States will watch these developments in Pakistan closely, and will give Musharraf some breathing room while he attempts to sort out problems at home. Washington has an interest in ensuring that Musharraf maintains a hold on power and that the military remains at the helm, even if concessions need to be made to the civilian opposition parties.

Taliban activity in Afghanistan will intensify this spring, with a heavy emphasis on suicide attacks against Afghan and NATO forces. A coordinated campaign by Taliban and al Qaeda militants also appears to be under way, in which motorcades carrying high-value military or intelligence officials are singled out. NATO and Afghan forces will mount a strong counteroffensive, making this quarter a particularly bloody one.

The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and its NATO allies will focus on their hunt for pragmatic Taliban in an effort to undercut the jihadist insurgency. This will involve negotiating via tribal elders across the Pashtun areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, reaching out to Hizb-i-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and driving a wedge between Taliban commanders in Afghanistan and the Taliban elements allied to the Mullah Omar-based leadership, which has close links to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

In India, domestic political and social issues continue to absorb the government's attention. The ruling Congress party is struggling to maintain a populist attitude toward India's lower classes while appeasing Indian corporate interests. This balancing act has left both sides unsatisfied and has provided the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party an opening to advance itself. Congress' hold on the central government will not be seriously threatened in the second quarter, but the party will have to rely heavily on populist measures to win back support.

A hot issue over the next few months will center on the creation of additional special economic zones (SEZs) throughout India. Impoverished farmers backed by vociferous leftist groups will intensify their resistance to the SEZs' creation. Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites, will try to take advantage of the tensions stemming from the government's bid to acquire farmers' lands for the SEZs by intensifying their operations against security, political and economic targets in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

India also will pay closer attention to its southern neighbor, where the Sri Lankan army is engaged in major tit-for-tat fighting against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Colombo will lobby hard for increased military assistance and advanced radar equipment to combat the Tigers, but the Congress party will remain cautious about enhancing Sri Lanka's military capabilities for fear of alienating the Indian Tamil population and the party's Tamil political allies. The Tigers will attempt to resist Sri Lanka's aerial assaults in their eastern strongholds by turning to more spectacular attacks, including suicide bombings, and by demonstrating the expansion of their naval and air branches.

In Nepal, the interim government and Maoists will limp toward finalizing a peace deal that will allow the Maoists to formally enter the government and erode the royal family's political position. Though general elections are slated for mid-June, there is a strong possibility that they will not take place on time considering the deteriorating law and order situation in the southern plains of Terai, where Maoists and a group of plains people, known as Madhesis, are locked in turmoil.

Latin America: Visions for Constitutional Change

As outlined in Stratfor's annual forecast, domestic concerns have dominated the region; however, the United States showed more interest in Latin America than expected, as demonstrated by U.S. President George W. Bush's weeklong visit in the first quarter. As expected, Brazil renegotiated favorable natural gas prices with Bolivia. Bolivia and Argentina made more progress than anticipated on their proposed joint pipeline project. Colombia's border tensions with Ecuador and Venezuela have continued. Unexpectedly, relations between Brazil and Paraguay are freshly strained as Brazil builds a border fence on each side of the Friendship Bridge, a busy border crossing and smuggling transit point.

The driver for Latin America's second quarter will be constitutional reform. Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador all seek major constitutional changes, and upcoming steps in the reform process are polarizing the domestic scenes in those countries.

The possibility of escalating domestic scandals creates a wild card for Latin America this quarter. Chile's botched Transantiago transportation plan, Brazil's egregious air traffic control problems and links between politicians and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia caused those countries' governments problems in the first quarter. These scandals appear to be getting under control, but any one of them could escalate if new evidence appears, or if opposition factions organize.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is emerging as a strong leader. The passage of a public-sector social security reform bill at the end of the first quarter showed that Calderon can hold together a coalition comprising his National Action Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party in order to pass difficult legislative initiatives. His next legislative initiative will add to this momentum; the president aims to legalize paid and unpaid internships, a move likely to create jobs and please young constituents. He will need this political strength as he takes the first steps toward reforming the constitution to allow foreign oil companies to participate in offshore exploration. Calderon will probably have some harsh words for U.S. immigration policies on Labor Day, May 1, but strikes and demonstrations on both sides of the border likely will be smaller than those in 2006.

The constitutional changes under way in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela will not be completed during the second quarter. Among other things, the changes are likely to give some functions of traditional political bodies, including national legislatures, to community councils. This move probably will spook investors who already are extremely skittish about the Bolivarian-oriented countries. The implementation of strong state controls over Ecuador's private banking sector in the second quarter will further contrast this group of countries with Brazil, Chile and Peru, which are operating with sound economic fundamentals and are thereby attracting renewed interest from investment majors, including Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. These differences will be apparent at the World Economic Forum on Latin America, which will be held in Chile at the end of April.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa emerged from the first quarter strengthened after a provisionally successful bid to purge his opponents in Congress. Although the Supreme Electoral Council's dismissal of 57 of the 100 members of Ecuador's unicameral legislature nearly tore the government apart, Correa's popularity and quiet support from the military gave him the upper hand. Competing court rulings threaten to reverse the decision, but the Constitutional Tribunal likely will take Correa's side in the final ruling on the matter -- or risk being overridden.

Ecuador will hold a popular referendum April 15 authorizing the formation of a constitutional assembly with powers to redraft the constitution and dismiss any members of government it chooses, in a "refounding" of the country's political institutions. The referendum likely will pass. As Correa's reform plans progress, he will issue more concrete proposals to renegotiate the national debt. He has indicated that he has changed his mind about pursuing a mass default on the debt, but the relief that decision gives investors will be clouded by the new regulations imposed on the country's banking sector.

Bolivia remains in gridlock as its Constitutional Assembly's thematic commissions wrestle with the fact that a two-thirds majority of the assembly will have to approve every article individually. In the first quarter of 2007, Bolivian President Evo Morales discussed the possibility of holding early elections as soon as the new constitution is complete in 2008, adding to the sense of uncertainty surrounding Bolivian political developments.

Venezuela continues to be fully under President Hugo Chavez's control, and although there have been some calls for a more public process, his constitutional reform agenda is not likely to face significant opposition. Venezuela also continues to aggressively pursue its agenda to nationalize energy projects, banks and other businesses, and gain even more control over national media.

Secondary drivers in the region for the second quarter include relations between Brazil and Venezuela, Brazil's ethanol ambitions and responses to urban crime.

The Banco del Sur constitution, set to be drafted this quarter, will reflect regional developments. Venezuela, the chief supporter, intends the bank to supplant the role of the Washington-dominated Inter-American Development Bank in the region. Brazil will participate in the bank's creation, even though Bush's recent visit to the region accentuated tensions between Chavez's Bolivarian goals for Latin America and Brazil's moderate approach. This common project, along with the opening of the Mercosur Parliament (though the parliament is powerless), could superficially soothe regional friction in the second quarter -- friction that Brazil's attempt to compete for influence in Central America and the Caribbean through the expansion of ethanol production and technology-sharing agreements would otherwise exacerbate.

Brazil's new emphasis on ethanol in its foreign relations challenges Venezuela's regional ambitions. As evidenced by Cuban leader Fidel Castro's public letter at the end of the first quarter, the ethanol issue is likely to provoke a new discussion in the region on the costs and benefits of industrial agriculture and biofuels. This discussion will put environmental concerns -- and the effects biofuels expansion could have on food prices -- in the spotlight.

It is unlikely these concerns will spill into hostile rhetoric at the South American Energy Summit, which Venezuela will host April 15-16. This will be the third such summit since Bolivia's 2006 energy nationalization. The presidents of Chile, Brazil and other countries are expected to attend, and likely will discuss pipeline infrastructure projects and maintaining a common understanding on Bolivia's natural gas policies.

In the realm of urban crime, Mexico and Brazil will continue significant crackdowns on violent organized crime related to the drug trade in urban areas, while Venezuela could launch an anti-crime campaign, although such a campaign is unlikely to significantly address that country's severe crime problems this quarter. In Mexico, offensives against drug cartels are boosting the government's popularity, although other cartels are finding room to move in as existing cartels are diminished. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro authorities will attempt to strike a significant blow in their ongoing battle against favela-based gangs before the city hosts the Pan American games in July.

Europe: France Fades as Germany Grows

For Europe, the second quarter will be action-packed; everything of consequence that will happen in 2007 will happen in these three months.

Late April and early May will mark the changing of the guard in France; a presidential election will determine President Jacques Chirac's successor. The election will be a real nail-biter. Despite all their differing rhetoric, Nicolas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou -- while all campaigning for change -- will support a France that remains in NATO and the European Union. Sarkozy will likely seek a more modernized France and Royal a more socialist one, while Bayrou would shake up the ruling elite. Only Jean-Marie Le Pen seeks a very different France, and he has no chance of winning in the second round, even if he does well in the first.

But this hardly means France will remain the same. In fact, France will change more now than at any time since World War II -- with the election serving as the inflection point -- because of the four candidates' one similarity: None are Gaullists. Since the beginning of World War II, France's dominant ideology has been the idea that it is a global power. That ideology led Paris to seek a unified Europe that it could use to wield power on a global scale. Chirac is only the most recent heir to Gaullism, and with his retirement, an era comes to an end -- and not just in France.

Gaullist France's desire to be an international superpower shaped every facet of European policy -- particularly efforts to craft a common foreign, political and security policy. As the European Union has expanded, these policies have changed from unworkable to impossible, but they still remain, on paper, the union's core. When Chirac steps down, the country with the reputation for putting the most force behind these policies will shift, and the dream of a European superpower will fade.

The end of that dream will happen in concert with Europe's other major development: Germany's rise. The French and British stars will be falling this quarter -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to step down in favor of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in June or July -- which leaves no one but the confident Germany to fill the leadership void. Specifically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discover whether she can solidify her leadership of all of Europe this quarter.

Germany holds the EU presidency until the end of the second quarter, and if the first quarter is any indication, Merkel will not spare the horses. Her agenda runs the gamut from internal judicial cooperation to the Middle East peace process. To date, she has only achieved a small fraction of her policy goals, but one -- hammering out the next 13 years of European energy policy -- is the greatest achievement at the Continental level since the launch of the euro. Moreover, Germany will hold an energy summit for the European Union in May, in which Merkel will extend her energy plans outside Europe to potential non-Russian partners, like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

In the second quarter, Merkel's other major effort will be tested: breathing fresh life into the EU constitution. Pushing for the document's ratification in its current form is pointless (it requires unanimity and already has been defeated in France and the Netherlands), so Merkel is seeking an agreement on the components to include in a new text to be settled by the end of her term.

If she succeeds, she will have seized Europe's pre-eminent leadership position and established Germany as the Continent's arbiter. But even if she fails, Germany remains Europe's most significant power -- and the only one geographically positioned to reach all parts of the Continent with its influence. Any success Merkel has in entrenching Germany's ascendance in this quarter is simply icing on the cake.

The one potentially volatile event looming just at the end of Germany's EU presidency is a decision by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on Kosovo's final status. The United States and European Union have set an unofficial deadline of late April or early May for the council to pass a resolution. This is not saying the decision cannot be postponed, since it was put off countless times before it even reached the UNSC. However, Merkel is looking for at least a blueprint to be settled on before the end of her term.

Following a UNSC decision, consultations with the Kosovar Albanians and Serbian government will take place for approximately six weeks as all sides try to format the best resolution. Kosovo will most likely end up with supervised independence for the time being, meaning it would be allowed to join international institutions and write a constitution, but would be governed by an EU representative and patrolled by a NATO-led force.

Such a timetable allows just enough time for Serbia to decide how it wants to handle Kosovo's impending statehood. The Serbian government has still not formed after the Jan. 21 elections in which no party won majority, but the two more moderate parties together won enough support to keep the Radicals out of the government. The West is giving Serbia a chance to organize its government before the UNSC's Kosovo decision. However, Serbia will be institutionally unable to resist a U.N.-forced settlement, regardless of whether it has a government.

For Serbia's prize -- should it accept and also allow a somewhat easy turnover of Kosovo -- the European Union has promised to put Serbia on the fast track to membership and investment in the country. This does not mean there will not be some volatility in the region, but in the end, this settlement could close the chapter of Yugoslavia's breakup and could be the remembered legacy of Merkel's EU presidency.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Power Transfers and Ongoing Violence

Stratfor's 2007 annual forecast for sub-Saharan Africa is on track thus far. Outside powers, led by Russia and China, have sought deals for Africa's resources, including oil, natural gas and mineral concessions. The United States remains engaged with Africa largely in terms of terrorism and security issues, particularly in the Horn of Africa. U.S. concerns contributed to the move to create an Africa Command, a theater military command that will unite U.S. Defense Department responsibilities in Africa. Powers within Africa continued defending their core interests, despite international attention aimed at settling conflicts -- another call we correctly made. The conflict in Sudan's Darfur region remains unresolved, and the Sudanese government remains steadfast in its opposition to U.N. peacekeeping force intervention. Ethiopia continues its intervention to defeat militant Islamist holdouts in Somalia, where conflict rages among the Ethiopians, Islamists and warlords.

Violence in Nigeria's Niger Delta region intensified during the first quarter -- which we had forecast -- as militant groups, their political patrons and government forces maneuvered ahead of upcoming national elections. January and February were the most violent months in terms of numbers of kidnappings of expatriate oil workers since the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) launched its campaign in December 2005.

Competing factions within South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party ramped up their struggle over the party's -- and by extension, the country's -- future. President Thabo Mbeki sought to strengthen his alliances with ANC party structures, while rival and former Deputy President Jacob Zuma began garnering political support among the country's trade unions, the Communist Party and the impoverished majority. The first quarter saw the South African government expropriate its first privately owned farm -- the kind of populist move Mbeki must employ more in order to defeat Zuma in the ANC primary in December.

As forecast, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila devoted scant attention to the simmering conflict in the country's east, focusing instead on containing the threat posed in Kinshasa by leading political opposition figure Jean-Pierre Bemba. Kabila disarmed Bemba's private militia and effectively exiled the former warlord, removing the last impediment to his consolidation of control over DRC politics and ability to sell mining concessions.

Similarly, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe faced down intense pressure from his own citizens and from within his ruling party; while Zimbabwe's political opposition and civil society demanded a change in government, the graver threat to Mugabe's grip on power came from competing factions of the ruling party that challenged Mugabe's authority. In Cote d'Ivoire, President Laurent Gbagbo moved a new prime minister into office as a part of a peace deal signed with the rebel group New Forces -- a deal that effectively split his political opposition while removing the militant threat to his unpopular and exclusionary rule.

One country that completed its internal consolidation of geopolitical control is Angola, the wild card in our 2007 forecast. Luanda has become more aggressive internationally and is beginning to drive increasingly hard bargains for its oil and minerals concessions, as forecast. Angola has used access to Chinese loans -- used to rebuild war-shattered infrastructure and exploit onshore and offshore oil fields -- to offset Western and multilateral institutional financing in order to avoid the strings attached to monies from such groups. No longer facing internal threats to its control, Luanda has become more interested in asserting itself in central Africa and challenging South Africa's historic hegemony in the southern African region.

The second quarter of 2007 will see complicated power transfers begin in several prominent African countries. Nigeria's national elections will dominate the early part of the second quarter. The country's presidential election is slated for April 21, and will be Nigeria's first transition from one civilian leader to another. Violence and disruptions of political events will become more extreme and more frequent as the ruling party and the opposition groups try to stifle the competition. Vice President Atiku Abubakar will continue, though unsuccessfully, to fight his disqualification to run in the election. Opposition parties will fail to unite in order to unseat the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), as the parties' presidential candidates will be unwilling to concede to one another. President Olusegun Obasanjo turned down the legal chance to stay in power longer after Alliance for Democracy presidential candidate Adebayo Adefarati died March 29. Thus, Obasanjo will broker no further efforts to challenge Umaru Yaradua and Goodluck Jonathan, the respective presidential and vice presidential candidates of the PDP, in the April elections. Yaradua is the favorite to win.

Violence in the country's Niger Delta region will increase as elections draw closer. Competing political parties and competing factions within those parties will help militants to either disrupt opposition support or push the Delta toward further chaos in order to paint the ruling PDP party and officials as weak on security. The government, which has recently launched crackdowns in the Delta, will continue increasing security operations there, leading to more skirmishes and more deaths. The ideologically motivated MEND's activities will take a backseat to other groups' politically motivated violence as the elections draw closer; but whatever the motivation, attacks and kidnapping operations against foreigners and oil infrastructure will continue unabated.

In South Africa, presidential successor infighting will dominate the ruling ANC party's activities. The ANC will hold its National General Council in June, at which it will heatedly discuss organizational and political issues facing the party as it struggles to determine who will succeed Mbeki as party and state president. Mbeki will adopt more populist economic policies during the run-up to the party's December elections in order to deflect criticism from Zuma's supporters, who say the Mbeki government has not done enough for South Africa's impoverished majority. Meanwhile, other figures such as Finance Minister Trevor Manuel will seek to position themselves for the ANC leadership position as the Mbeki faction of the ANC seeks to sideline Zuma. Externally, South Africa will attempt to be more involved in mediating the deteriorating political and economic situation in Zimbabwe, though the Mbeki government will be hard-pressed to apply anything more than quiet diplomatic efforts to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Domestic and international pressure on the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe will continue to mount during the second quarter. Mugabe and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) will become increasingly defiant and draconian in their methods to silence and marginalize the political and popular opposition. The ruling party will see serious internal fractures as presidential aspirants -- including former army commander Solomon Mujuru; his wife, Zimbabwean Second Vice President Joyce Mujuru; and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Central Intelligence Organization chief and rural housing minister -- maneuver to succeed Mugabe. Despite being 83 years old, Mugabe will announce his desire for another term in office. He will rely on presidential guard units and youth militia to enforce his hold on the opposition and handle threats from his increasingly daring rivals in the ZANU-PF. Mugabe is likely to grow more antagonistic toward foreign media and foreign diplomatic missions, which he sees as colonial influences intent on toppling his regime and reversing his liberation-struggle gains. Zimbabwe will reach out to other liberation-era states in Africa and peripheral powers such as China in an effort to avoid international isolation and mitigate international criticism.

In Cote d'Ivoire, Gbagbo will do his best to thwart the most critical reforms promised in the recently signed peace agreement between the government and the rebel group New Forces. Though he appointed rebel commander Guillaume Soro as prime minister, Gbagbo will integrate the rebel fighters into the national army in order to disperse these former combatants and keep them from posing a consolidated security threat. The plan for issuing national identification cards to northern Ivorians and registering them will be delayed, for these two controversial issues would likely spell the end of Gbagbo's rule. Meanwhile, opposition figures, including former President Henri Konan Bedie and former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, will struggle to find places in the government -- especially Ouattara, who was ousted as the protector of northerners' interests when Soro was named prime minister. But Gbagbo will continue to sideline them.

Violence will intensify in Mogadishu as competing factions struggle to either enforce their control or eject their enemies. Under fire, Somalian President Abdullahi Yusuf's government will reiterate calls for greater security assistance from the African Union (AU) and the international community. The remnants of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council, reconfigured into the Popular Resistance Movement for the Land of the Two Migrations, will intently fight Yusuf's government. The Islamists will find natural allies among Somalia's leading Hawiye clan, whose members believe that Yusuf, a member of the rival Darood clan, is actively discriminating against them. The AU will struggle to obtain the funding and support it needs to keep any effective peace in Mogadishu in place and will suffer increasing casualties as its troops -- much like the Ethiopian troops in Somalia -- are seen as occupiers. A national reconciliation conference will begin in April, though Yusuf's demands that the conference include religious and clan leaders acting in individual capacities and exclude moderate Islamists will ensure that any successful reconciliation is a distant possibility at best. Yusuf will fail to impose a government in Somalia that transcends clan rivalries, and inter-clan violence and tensions will continue unabated. Ethiopia will be forced to continue its intervention in Somalia, despite its desire to reduce its footprint in the country, as no other security force -- including that of the AU -- will be capable of guaranteeing Yusuf's security.

The Sudanese government will continue to face international condemnation and pressure to resolve the ongoing conflict in its Darfur region. President Omar al Bashir remains steadfastly opposed to any U.N. peacekeeping force intervention, since such a force would curtail his government's ability to strike at the Darfur rebels intent on fighting for greater autonomy. The ruling regime will tolerate a hybrid peacekeeping force under the African Union's aegis, though such a hybrid force of 7,000 troops would be hard-pressed to improve security in the 200,000-square-mile area of Darfur.


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