Insider notes from United Press International for Dec. 10 ...
The India-Pakistan crisis could be turning hot again in the cold snows of the Himalayas. The Indian army is pressing for full-scale assault to take a strategic hilltop called Point 5303 from Pakistan. Efforts so far to recapture the hill have been frustrated by Pakistani artillery fire from the even higher peak known as Point 5353, which is just on the Indian side of the line of control, so now the Indians want to take it out with airstrikes. The civilians in the Indian Defense Ministry are sitting on the assault plan submitted by the military, and the generals are getting restive, claiming that retaking the hilltops would "remove Pakistan's stranglehold on the strategic route from Srinagar to Leh."
Expect to see a spot of bother in the U.S.-British "special relationship." Britain has accepted the appointment of Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former intelligence chief, as ambassador to Britain. Turki is named as a defendant in a multi-trillion dollar U.S. lawsuit originating after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Senior Saudi officials deny the appointment has anything to do with giving Turki diplomatic immunity. Relatives of about 900 of the people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington filed a civil lawsuit in the United States in August accusing three Saudi princes, including Prince Turki, as well as Saudi and foreign banks, of funding Osama bin Laden. Several British families are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, whose numbers have now swelled to more than 2,400. Turki also had close ties with Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers. The Foreign Office played down the lawsuit. A Foreign Office spokesman said, "Our position on the case would be that it is a civil case and that it's a matter for the courts. He has a record of condemning terrorism." Turki will replace Ghazi Algosaibi, who was ambassador to Britain for a decade but was quietly recalled and appointed water minister after he stirred controversy by writing poetry praising Palestinian female suicide bombers.
With luck, the sacking of U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will save the greenback. He startled his hosts during a visit to the new Afghan central Bank in Kabul last month by praising the country's brightly colored new currency, and said the United States was "planning to change the dollar's color scheme in the near future." O'Neill, who was passing through Kabul en route to Pakistan and then to New Delhi for a Group of 20 meeting, refused any further elaboration of his remarks. Could the dire prospect of an "orangeback" have been the last straw?
Fresh from their triumph in blocking a reform of their swollen pay scales, Members of the European Parliament have found an agreeable all-expenses-paid way to take a break from the grim, gray skies of Brussels this winter. Yes, it's two "fact-finding" trips to the sunny Caribbean to inform themselves about "agricultural produce and macro-economic policies in the light of world trade negotiations." This is clearly a topic close to socialist hearts. French MEP Jean-Claude Fruteau has invited 17 colleagues from the Socialist farm, policy working group to visit Guadeloupe and Martinique at a cost to EU taxpayers of around $100,000, but then nothing is too good for the working classes, Comrades! This could get tricky, if they run into another delegation from the right-wing "Union of Nations" group in the Parliament, which are also heading for sunny Martinique for what is formally described as "a study week." These conservative nationalists include Italy's ex-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale party, but it is heartwarming to see how Europe's old ideological divisions can be blurred by a common love of free trips to the sun.
Maybe Russian democracy is working, after all. Public opinion in Russia's Altai region is blocking a plan dreamed up in Moscow and Beijing for a direct 160-mile Russia-China road link through the Kanas pass in the Altai mountains. The decision to start construction of the road between the southern Siberian Altai region and China's Xinjiang-Uighur region was taken in March 2000, but officials representing the indigenous Altay nationality say the route will bring about an uncontrollable influx of ethnic Chinese. China used to claim the road would give faster access to Russian and European markets, but in talks during President Vladimir Putin's visit last week the Chinese raised a new argument for ignoring local objections and building the road this summer. It would help Russian-Chinese cooperation against "terrorism," Beijing said, reflecting its nervousness at the Islamic and separatist movements among the Uighur minority.