Daily News Brief

February 20, 2008


- Post-election Pakistan; tentative steps toward coalition.
- Palestinian official says PA could emulate Kosovo and declare independence.
- Six-Party attempt to revive Pyongyang negotiations.
- Bush touts AIDS plan successes in Africa.

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TOP OF THE AGENDA: Post-Election Pakistan

The Pakistani paper Dawn reports that nearly complete results from February 18 parliamentary elections confirm major gains for the country’s two leading opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). An analysis from CBS News says despite Pakistan’s checkered electoral history, this year’s promise of a free and fair vote “appears to have been more or less kept.”

President Pervez Musharraf, whose party suffered losses, could face new pressure to step down from an opposition coalition, but says he has no plans to leave (WSJ). The Bush administration said it would continue to work with Musharraf, though some observers say the vote could force a change (NPR) in U.S. policy toward Pakistan.

Prospects remain muddled on forming a government. Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the PPP and widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said he would attempt to form a coalition (Sify) with other opposition groups. Yet Dawn notes the failures of the PPP and PML-N to come together in the past and eyes the prospects for such a deal skeptically.

In a new interview with CFR.org, Frederic Grare, an expert on South Asia, says the elections could lead to continued political uncertainty in Pakistan, but he also expects new government leaders to seek good relations with Washington.

MIDDLE EAST: Palestine Eyes Kosovo

A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says Palestine may unilaterally declare itself independent (BBC), as Kosovo did, if negotiations with Israel fail. The comments followed meetings between Abbas and Isreali Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Arab media criticized Olmert (al-Jazeera) for skirting the issue of the political status of Jerusalem. Israeli press, meanwhile, reported that Abbas took a cool position toward his aide’s Kosovo comparison, saying that such a declaration is not in the cards in the near future (Haaretz).

Lebanon: Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora warned that failure to install a president could undermine prospects (Daily Star) for an Arab League summit scheduled for next month.

Oil: The price of crude oil closed a trading day above $100 a barrel for the first time. The Wall Street Journal writes that soaring prices have increased political pressure on OPEC to keep production levels at current rates despite pressure from within the cartel to reduce output.

ASIA: North Korea Concerns Linger

The Financial Times reports delegates to the Six Party Talks on North Korean denuclearization are trying to revive the process this week. Pyongyang still has yet to provide the information about its nuclear program it said it would release by the end of 2007.

North Korea-Australia: A new report by the research arm of the Australian parliament outlines the prospects for political change in North Korea and questions what change in Pyongyang might mean politically and economically for other powers in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a recent interview with CFR.org, David C. Kang, a professor at Dartmouth’s business school and an East Asia expert, discusses what a long-term loosening of North Korean trade policy might mean for the regional economy.

East Timor: A report from the Nautilus Institute, a think tank focused on security and sustainability, examines the underlying fragility in East Timor that led to the recent coup attempt and warns of more violence ahead.

SOUTH & CENTRAL ASIA: Economic Integration

A working paper from an Indian research institute examines East Asian economic integration and questions whether South Asia can work to emulate a similar model.

Turkmenistan: RFE/RL reports that a new gasoline rationing scheme could mark a turning point for Turkmenistan’s government, which has traditionally used subsidized gasoline as a political lever.

Sri Lanka: The Sri Lankan military says it has killed at least ten rebels from the Tamil Tiger separatist group in attacks on a Tamil base yesterday (al-Jazeera).

AFRICA: Bush Celebrates AIDS Plan

The Christian Science Monitor reports on President Bush’s five-country tour of Africa, in which Bush has highlighted the successes made through his $15 billion HIV/AIDS relief plan.

A CFR.org Backgrounder surveys U.S. policy toward the five countries Bush is visiting.

Uganda: The Ugandan government signed a pact with the separatist Lord’s Resistance Army, establishing how to legislate war crimes (New Vision) that took place during a twenty-one year insurgency in the north of the country.

Pan-Africa: A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit examines the lingering disconnect between sub-Saharan Africa’s resurgent economies and its still-fragile political systems.

AMERICAS: After Fidel

In a new panel discussion on PostGlobal, several analysts discuss what the departure of Fidel Castro in Cuba is likely to mean for future relations with the United States. Bill Emmott, the former editor of the Economist, argues that the United States faces an uphill battle against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in any attempt to win over Cuba as an ally.

A new Daily Analysis questions whether a new economic model might be in the offing for Cuba.

The Los Angeles Times reports on reaction to the news of Castro’s resignation in Miami, the U.S. city with the highest population of Cuban immigrants.

Mexico: TIME reports on recent explosions in Mexico City and questions whether the country’s drug lords might be escalating to new tactics.

CAMPAIGN 2008: Obama, McCain Roll On

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) each easily won their respective party primaries (Bloomberg) in Wisconsin on Tuesday. McCain also won the Washington State Republican primary.

Obama won 58 percent of the vote to Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) 41 percent in Wisconsin. Obama also captured the Democratic caucus in his home state of Hawaii by a wide margin Tuesday, picking up another 20 delegates. But the overall delegate count remains very close between Obama and Clinton, who are gearing up for major March 4 contests in Ohio and Texas.

According to exit polls, 45 percent of Wisconsin Democrats named the economy as the most important issue facing the country, while health care and the war in Iraq were each listed by 26 percent (CNN). Surveys said 41 percent of Wisconsin Republicans picked the economy as the most important issue, while 24 percent named Iraq, 18 percent listed terrorism, and 15 percent chose illegal immigration, exit polls show.

Exit polls showed 72 percent of Wisconsin Democrats said U.S. trade with other countries causes jobs to leave the United States. Of those expressing such views, 57 percent picked Obama, while 41 percent chose Clinton.

EUROPE: Examining Medvedev

Newsweek International reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitri Medvedev “could turn out to be a welcome surprise” despite his reputation as a staunch Putin loyalist.

Climate Policy: A new report from an independent Dutch research institute examines ways in which intergovernmental organizations can be more flexible (PDF) when drafting emissions-trading schemes and renewable energy proposals.

Germany: The new head of Germany’s Catholic Church stirred controversy with recent remarks that priestly celibacy is not “theologically necessary” (Deutsche-Welle).

OPINION ROUNDUP: Castro Bids Farewell

The departure of Fidel Castro receives almost universal acknowledgement from Wednesday’s editorial writers. The Daily Telegraph writes that whether Cuba’s revolution can survive now will depend to a large extent on the ability of Raul Castro to fill the breach. The Guardian describes Castro as a leader who painted his revolution in vivid colours and who survived the varied animosity of 10 US presidents. The Independent in London calls him a dictator who had outlived his times. For the really dramatic changes, it says, the long-suffering Cubans will probably have to wait a little longer. The New York Timeswrites that in a closed, repressive society, the post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it. The Times of London believes that the world should be under no illusion that Castro has wrecked his country,while the Wall Street Journal says the end of Fidel isn't a sufficient condition for Cuban freedom, but it is a necessary one. The Washington Post looks at what the United States should do now and says that any strategy must be aimed at giving Cubans the leverage to demand transformation, in spite of what Mr. Castro and his heirs might intend. The Washington Times, in a comment over the gradual handover of power to Raul Castro over five years, says the ease of Raul's rule has dashed hopes for speedy liberalization.