The shrinking water table beneath China’s northern plain is more than just a matter of concern to Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission. It makes strategic planners in Washington nervous too because it increases the likelihood that the Chinese will have to import significantly more grain. Given China’s population of 1.3 billion and the rapidly growing urban middle classes with their rising taste for more western-style meat-oriented diets instead of traditional rice, this threatens to destabilize world grain markets, push up prices and lead to shortages, the Washington-based, internationally funded Worldwatch Institute has speculated. Water supply is becoming similarly stressed […]

Abu Bakar Bashir might be the “Teflon teacher.” Since the 1970s, he has preached Islamic theocracy in Indonesia, and lived 13 years in exile to avoid a jail sentence for his beliefs under the secular dictator Suharto. Even in Indonesia’s new, more liberal political climate, he has been hauled before Indonesian courts for involvement in bomb attacks on churches, the 2002 Bali bombings, a Jakarta attack, and for being the spiritual leader of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). But the charges haven’t really stuck. Prosecutors have had limited success linking him with JI, convicting him only of being part […]

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Shortly after Vietnamese tanks rumbled across Cambodia’s border in late 1978 the Khmer Rouge elite fled the capital and a new regime first attempted what the United Nations is poised to try again more than a quarter of a century later — account for the grisly deaths of up to two million people. Pol Pot and perhaps his closest friend from their university days in France, Ieng Sary, were long ago sentenced to death in absentia for genocide, in a trial widely regarded as a legal farce. It was so badly handled and wrapped-up in Cold […]

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In both Washington and Tokyo, U.S. policymakers seem to have lost sight of the big story now unfolding in Asia’s energy marketplace: Energy resource-poor Japan is revving up its diplomatic drive to strengthen relations with the oil- and gas-rich countries of Central Asia in a bid to ensure its energy security amid stubbornly high oil prices. Japan invited foreign ministers of Central Asian nations to talks in early June. And in a more significant move that highlights how passionately Japan is wooing the Central Asian nations, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who steps down in late September, will visit the region […]

NEW DELHI, India – Amid mixed reports of a rebel withdrawal and relative calm, there continue to be fierce and bloody clashes on the island nation of Sri Lanka between military forces of the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. Some analysts have begun dubbing the ongoing violence the beginning of ‘Eelam War IV’ — a reference to the repeated failure of peace talks in the 20-year-old civil war in the tiny country off India’s southern tip. But Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to deny such, saying instead […]

The Great Game of the 19th Century was played between empire builders Britain and Russia, using Afghanistan as their football in seeking control of central Asia. Today, there is a new great game under way between two very different competitors — China and India. But this time the ball is Burma. In much the same way that Afghanistan was a poor and undeveloped but strategic piece of territory, so Burma now fits that role for the two burgeoning economic giants. But Burma is more than simply a slice of well-placed geography: It is rich in energy resources, which China and […]

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For Pakistan, any celebration over the counter-terrorism successes of the last week has been extremely short-lived. Shortly after American and British officials lauded Pakistan’s efforts to thwart the plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes, the focus of ongoing global investigations turned inexorably towards the South Asian nation. This focus is driven by overwhelming evidence that the country remains a hub of terrorist activity and is attracting followers from around the world. As news of arrests in Great Britain and Pakistan broke, Pakistani officials did their best to emphasize an Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda connection but admitted that the majority of the […]

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After July, Malaysians will grow old gracefully. Or, in any case, those who follow Malaysian Islamic law. The country’s National Fatwa Council (Jawatankuasa Fatwa) closed its three-day meeting on July 27, deciding to forbid the country’s Muslims from using botox, among other prohibitions. To settle questions of what is halal (allowed) and haram (forbidden) for Malaysia’s Muslims, the Fatwa Council meets regularly to mull over international Islamic scholarship. They pronounce on issues as modern as donating zakat funds via text-message (halal) and as serious as euthanasia (decision forthcoming). But Malaysia is no Iran. Since 1957, Malaysia’s parliament has been run […]

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In the Indian capital New Delhi there is widespread belief among the conservative right wing that, with the impending U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, India has sold its soul to the United States by giving up “sovereign” rights over its civilian nuclear reactors. In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, American critics say the world’s most powerful nation has given unwarranted and dangerous concessions to India, a country that exploded a nuclear bomb in 1998 and has not even signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Agreeing to sell nuclear technology to a country surrounded by the likes of Pakistan and China will lead to an unprecedented […]