Blood Borders

30 June 2006 |

How a better Middle East would look
By Ralph Peters

International borders are never completely just. But the degree of injustice they inflict upon those whom frontiers force together or separate makes an enormous difference — often the difference between freedom and oppression, tolerance and atrocity, the rule of law and terrorism, or even peace and war.

The most arbitrary and distorted borders in the world are in Africa and the Middle East. Drawn by self-interested Europeans (who have had sufficient trouble defining their own frontiers), Africa's borders continue to provoke the deaths of millions of local inhabitants. But the unjust borders in the Middle East — to borrow from Churchill — generate more trouble than can be consumed locally.

While the Middle East has far more problems than dysfunctional borders alone — from cultural stagnation through scandalous inequality to deadly religious extremism — the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region's comprehensive failure isn't Islam but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by our own diplomats.

Of course, no adjustment of borders, however draconian, could make every minority in the Middle East happy. In some instances, ethnic and religious groups live intermingled and have intermarried. Elsewhere, reunions based on blood or belief might not prove quite as joyous as their current proponents expect. The boundaries projected in the maps accompanying this article redress the wrongs suffered by the most significant "cheated" population groups, such as the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia, but still fail to account adequately for Middle Eastern Christians, Bahais, Ismailis, Naqshbandis and many another numerically lesser minorities. And one haunting wrong can never be redressed with a reward of territory: the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the dying Ottoman Empire.

Yet, for all the injustices the borders re-imagined here leave unaddressed, without such major boundary revisions, we shall never see a more peaceful Middle East.

Even those who abhor the topic of altering borders would be well-served to engage in an exercise that attempts to conceive a fairer, if still imperfect, amendment of national boundaries between the Bosporus and the Indus. Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools — short of war — for readjusting faulty borders, a mental effort to grasp the Middle East's "organic" frontiers nonetheless helps us understand the extent of the difficulties we face and will continue to face. We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected.

As for those who refuse to "think the unthinkable," declaring that boundaries must not change and that's that, it pays to remember that boundaries have never stopped changing through the centuries. Borders have never been static, and many frontiers, from Congo through Kosovo to the Caucasus, are changing even now (as ambassadors and special representatives avert their eyes to study the shine on their wingtips).

Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works.

Begin with the border issue most sensitive to American readers: For Israel to have any hope of living in reasonable peace with its neighbors, it will have to return to its pre-1967 borders — with essential local adjustments for legitimate security concerns. But the issue of the territories surrounding Jerusalem, a city stained with thousands of years of blood, may prove intractable beyond our lifetimes. Where all parties have turned their god into a real-estate tycoon, literal turf battles have a tenacity unrivaled by mere greed for oil wealth or ethnic squabbles. So let us set aside this single overstudied issue and turn to those that are studiously ignored.

The most glaring injustice in the notoriously unjust lands between the Balkan Mountains and the Himalayas is the absence of an independent Kurdish state. There are between 27 million and 36 million Kurds living in contiguous regions in the Middle East (the figures are imprecise because no state has ever allowed an honest census). Greater than the population of present-day Iraq, even the lower figure makes the Kurds the world's largest ethnic group without a state of its own. Worse, Kurds have been oppressed by every government controlling the hills and mountains where they've lived since Xenophon's day.

The U.S. and its coalition partners missed a glorious chance to begin to correct this injustice after Baghdad's fall. A Frankenstein's monster of a state sewn together from ill-fitting parts, Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately. We failed from cowardice and lack of vision, bullying Iraq's Kurds into supporting the new Iraqi government — which they do wistfully as a quid pro quo for our good will. But were a free plebiscite to be held, make no mistake: Nearly 100 percent of Iraq's Kurds would vote for independence.

As would the long-suffering Kurds of Turkey, who have endured decades of violent military oppression and a decades-long demotion to "mountain Turks" in an effort to eradicate their identity. While the Kurdish plight at Ankara's hands has eased somewhat over the past decade, the repression recently intensified again and the eastern fifth of Turkey should be viewed as occupied territory. As for the Kurds of Syria and Iran, they, too, would rush to join an independent Kurdistan if they could. The refusal by the world's legitimate democracies to champion Kurdish independence is a human-rights sin of omission far worse than the clumsy, minor sins of commission that routinely excite our media. And by the way: A Free Kurdistan, stretching from Diyarbakir through Tabriz, would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan.

A just alignment in the region would leave Iraq's three Sunni-majority provinces as a truncated state that might eventually choose to unify with a Syria that loses its littoral to a Mediterranean-oriented Greater Lebanon: Phoenecia reborn. The Shia south of old Iraq would form the basis of an Arab Shia State rimming much of the Persian Gulf. Jordan would retain its current territory, with some southward expansion at Saudi expense. For its part, the unnatural state of Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan.

A root cause of the broad stagnation in the Muslim world is the Saudi royal family's treatment of Mecca and Medina as their fiefdom. With Islam's holiest shrines under the police-state control of one of the world's most bigoted and oppressive regimes — a regime that commands vast, unearned oil wealth — the Saudis have been able to project their Wahhabi vision of a disciplinarian, intolerant faith far beyond their borders. The rise of the Saudis to wealth and, consequently, influence has been the worst thing to happen to the Muslim world as a whole since the time of the Prophet, and the worst thing to happen to Arabs since the Ottoman (if not the Mongol) conquest.

While non-Muslims could not effect a change in the control of Islam's holy cities, imagine how much healthier the Muslim world might become were Mecca and Medina ruled by a rotating council representative of the world's major Muslim schools and movements in an Islamic Sacred State — a sort of Muslim super-Vatican — where the future of a great faith might be debated rather than merely decreed. True justice — which we might not like — would also give Saudi Arabia's coastal oil fields to the Shia Arabs who populate that subregion, while a southeastern quadrant would go to Yemen. Confined to a rump Saudi Homelands Independent Territory around Riyadh, the House of Saud would be capable of far less mischief toward Islam and the world.

Iran, a state with madcap boundaries, would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State and Free Baluchistan, but would gain the provinces around Herat in today's Afghanistan — a region with a historical and linguistic affinity for Persia. Iran would, in effect, become an ethnic Persian state again, with the most difficult question being whether or not it should keep the port of Bandar Abbas or surrender it to the Arab Shia State.

What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan's Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren (the point of this exercise is not to draw maps as we would like them but as local populations would prefer them). Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining "natural" Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi.

The city-states of the United Arab Emirates would have a mixed fate — as they probably will in reality. Some might be incorporated in the Arab Shia State ringing much of the Persian Gulf (a state more likely to evolve as a counterbalance to, rather than an ally of, Persian Iran). Since all puritanical cultures are hypocritical, Dubai, of necessity, would be allowed to retain its playground status for rich debauchees. Kuwait would remain within its current borders, as would Oman.

In each case, this hypothetical redrawing of boundaries reflects ethnic affinities and religious communalism — in some cases, both. Of course, if we could wave a magic wand and amend the borders under discussion, we would certainly prefer to do so selectively. Yet, studying the revised map, in contrast to the map illustrating today's boundaries, offers some sense of the great wrongs borders drawn by Frenchmen and Englishmen in the 20th century did to a region struggling to emerge from the humiliations and defeats of the 19th century.

Correcting borders to reflect the will of the people may be impossible. For now. But given time — and the inevitable attendant bloodshed — new and natural borders will emerge. Babylon has fallen more than once.

Meanwhile, our men and women in uniform will continue to fight for security from terrorism, for the prospect of democracy and for access to oil supplies in a region that is destined to fight itself. The current human divisions and forced unions between Ankara and Karachi, taken together with the region's self-inflicted woes, form as perfect a breeding ground for religious extremism, a culture of blame and the recruitment of terrorists as anyone could design. Where men and women look ruefully at their borders, they look enthusiastically for enemies.

From the world's oversupply of terrorists to its paucity of energy supplies, the current deformations of the Middle East promise a worsening, not an improving, situation. In a region where only the worst aspects of nationalism ever took hold and where the most debased aspects of religion threaten to dominate a disappointed faith, the U.S., its allies and, above all, our armed forces can look for crises without end. While Iraq may provide a counterexample of hope — if we do not quit its soil prematurely — the rest of this vast region offers worsening problems on almost every front.

If the borders of the greater Middle East cannot be amended to reflect the natural ties of blood and faith, we may take it as an article of faith that a portion of the bloodshed in the region will continue to be our own.

• • •


— Winners —
  • Afghanistan
  • Arab Shia State
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Free Baluchistan
  • Free Kurdistan
  • Iran
  • Islamic Sacred State
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Yemen

— Losers —

  • Afghanistan
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Kuwait
  • Pakistan
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • United Arab Emirates
  • West Bank

BP charged with US price-fixing

29 June 2006 |

Mark Tran
Thursday June 29, 2006
BP's image in the US today took another knock as the British oil giant faced a lawsuit alleging that it made large profits by cornering the propane market.

The US authorities have accused the British oil giant of buying up large amounts of propane in February 2004. The move pushed up prices by more than 40% to about 90 cents a gallon and netted BP £20m in profits.

According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), BP traders - with the consent of senior management - bought "enormous quantities of propane" to establish a "dominant and controlling" position in the market and then held back supplies from the market in order to boost prices.

BP logo
BP logo.

Propane is used by around 7m households in the US to heat trailer and rural homes and fuel cookers. It is also heavily used by industry.

BP denied any wrongdoing, but one former BP trader, 34-year-old Dennis Abbott, of Houston, yesterday pleaded guilty in a federal district court in Washington to taking part in a conspiracy "to manipulate and corner the propane market".

Abbott, who has agreed to cooperate in a continuing criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (£138,000).

BP said "market manipulation did not occur" and that the company intended to fight the charges in court. However, it said an internal investigation conducted by BP found that several employees had "failed to adhere to BP policies governing trading activities" and had been dismissed.

"Cornering a commodity market is more than a threat to market integrity," said Gregory Mocek, the CFTC's director of enforcement. "It is an illegal activity that could have repercussions for commercial market participants as well as retail consumers around this country."

The CFTC alleges that February 2004 was not the first time that BP had engaged in an effort to corner the propane market. It said BP attempted to manipulate the price of propane in April 2003 through a similar strategy.

The CFTC lawsuit alleges that a BP employee described the April 2003 incident as a "trial run" for the February 2004 strategy.

This is the second blow to BP's reputation in the US this month. In early June, the company admitted it was facing a criminal inquiry into a massive oil spill in Alaska, described by environmentalists as a "catastrophe".

BP, which has sought to project an image of environmental responsibility, received a subpoena on April 26 from a federal grand jury in Alaska. But it only revealed the investigation, which could lead to prison sentences, after an internal email was leaked to journalists.

Revelations about the investigation into the spill of 1.2m litres of crude into the Prudhoe Bay area in March followed a fire and 15 deaths at its Texas City refinery and a rig capsizing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest legal setback had little effect on BP's shares, which were virtually unchanged in morning trading at 615.62p.

In Search of Natural Winners


Lee Iacocca needs no introduction; he is a universal management icon – the miracle man of modern-day business. Iacocca achieved superstar status in enterprise management during his days as the president of the Ford Company in the ‘70s. When he pulled Chrysler back from the brink and turned it around into one of the most profitable automobile companies in the ‘80s – the making of a living legend was complete.

No doubt, Lee Iacocca was an exceptional management talent. His strength was in his ability to keep the basics simple at work, and to inspire his co-workers to give their best. Iacocca famous words, “Management is nothing more than motivating other people,” is a testimony to his belief that you are only as good as your team is.

Iacocca spent 32 successful years with Ford, propelling them to an unprecedented position of strength in the automobile market, which included the triumph of the famed Ford Mustang. After being pushed out of Ford in 1978, Iacocca went about creating the Chrysler miracle by hiring a dedicated team of extremely talented people, most of them who were with him at Ford.

It is not surprising that every big enterprise dreams to have a Lee Iacocca in their ranks but they struggle to find one who is even half as good as a Lee. Iacocca’s character was moulded by the years of calamities – the years of great depression and the Second World War. Through times of adversity, Iacocca sharpened his talent through hard work, knowing it too well that there is no substitute for competence.

It is quite interesting that Iacocca’s glamorous days were during the days of the bitter Cold War – when the global market was a lot smaller. Many countries then had protected economies; state-owned enterprises and big monopolies to boot. One can only imagine what Iacocca would have dared to achieve if he were to be working at his prime in the current global economic conditions.

With the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, another brilliant manager started to make the news on the other side of the Atlantic. A quiet and unassuming Scot took over as the manager of the Manchester United football club. Sir Alex Ferguson will forever be remembered as the man who created the modern-day business miracle out of a football club. In soccer, money pours in if you keep on winning consistently. Everyone adores a winner.

In his first three years as the manager, Ferguson could not add even a single trophy to Manchester United’s prized collection. It was a masterstroke when he decided to put faith in the young talent. Many football pundits lambasted Ferguson for this move, which they thought was a horrible gamble. The tough Scot decided to stick to his plan; he recruited youngsters from the Manchester United Football School – and most of them went on to make a big name and fame over the next decade. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Neville brothers, Paul Scholes – all came through the same system.

Ferguson managed the pool of young talent so well that they went on to become the invincible force in the game of football. Manchester United was not just a football team; they were also a listed company in the London Stock Exchange since in 1991, when they were valued at USD33 million. The celebrity status of the victorious team and the talent at Ferguson’s disposal, which he recruited and trained, made Manchester United a massive commercial success through various sponsorship deals, merchandise and ticket sales.

The sight of Ryan Giggs on a brilliant run through the left flank or that of Beckham’s mastery in supplying the long ball or in taking that unbelievable free-kick – soon translated into big money. In May 2005, American businessman Malcolm Glazer acquired a controlling interest in Manchester United at an approximate cost of whopping USD1.5 billion.

Lee Iacocca and Sir Alex Ferguson believed in putting faith in people who had the right talent for an assigned role. The key to their success lies in a successful Talent Management program they came up with and religiously adhered to. Elbert Hubbard, the 20th century American writer’s words capture the significance of acknowledging talent, “There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.”

Talent Management as a concept is much misunderstood by the modern-day managers; they consider it to be more of a human resource function. Managing talent within an organisation is critical in defining its success. Balance sheets and share values reflect the scale of success of an enterprise. Even with massive infrastructural investments, operating with the wrong set of personnel, the best of businesses finds creating wealth as not as easy as kicking a ball in the park; it is as difficult as bending it like Beckham. You need talented players to succeed in a team sport; successful businesses too follow the same principle.

Manchester United is one of the incredible success stories of globalisation. The football club has a great following and the revenue that comes through Manchester United merchandise from all around the world is a clear indicator of their market status.

The advent of a vigorous globalisation drive has brought in a lot of changes to the way business is conducted these days. Competition is abuzz in the world market; it has created new opportunities and accelerated possibilities of growth for ambitious companies with talented management and brave new ideas.

Market forces riding on the wave of globalisation have been putting immense pressure on not only capital but also on labour. It is just a matter of time that the wave takes monstrous proportions of a tsunami, which Adam Smith called ‘creative destruction’, wiping out the conventional and yet comfortable models of business. It is in this context, some companies with a vision have charted a new course; putting trust in innovation and on increasing the efficiency of their operations.

If the economic tsunami in the form of globalisation is one big threat to the conventional model, technology has been helping hasten the process. Technology, especially Information Technology and Telecommunications, have brought the world a lost closer and a lot smaller. This has resulted in a great deal of competition at the work place; skilled-labour has been migrating to new territories where they are in demand, or work is getting outsourced to other parts of the world. Labour, especially in the developed countries, is faced with a situation where they have lost their historic bargaining power.

It is not only with business; almost all systems go through the crisis in a period of transition. When a conventional model is broken down and is being replaced with a new one, there is confusion and chaos. Managements have to be prudent in planning accordingly for such a scenario. When the pressures of profit-making forced Sir Alex Ferguson to sell David Beckham to Real Madrid, he invested in a new vibrant talent in Christiano Ronaldo – and gave the youngster the illustrious number 7 shirt. Once Beckham was sold to Real Madrid, Manchester United’s ride on the top also came crashing down.

When managing your work force, which is exactly your human capital, which is so crucial to the success of your enterprise – there has to be certain high standards and systems put in place. An ad-hoc system of hiring and firing wouldn’t necessarily build a champion enterprise. Many of the managements leave it to the last – when the crisis hits them, to try fixing the problem. It is clearly upon managements to develop and embrace a system which will clearly manage and predict any upcoming crisis on the personnel front.

Talent Management becomes extremely relevant to managements in such a scenario where key personnel make the difference to the success of the enterprise. The scope of Talent Management goes further beyond the three crucial stages of Recruiting the talent, Developing the talent, and Retaining the talent. In today’s market environment, a good Talent Management system will decide the very future of an enterprise.

Enterprises have to be prepared to attract the right kind of talent; they need to maintain a positive employment image in the market to attract the best talent. With competition in all spheres of business, talented youngsters are now presented with a choice to make about where they want to work. Employers just cannot take it for granted anymore. Most of the young talents are blessed with a vision about their future; they seek assurances of being provided with the best opportunity for a steady growth. Many personnel from Ford joined Iacocca in a sinking Chrysler, simply because they trusted the man’s ability in taking care of their future too.

It is always not possible to keep on recruiting as and when a requirement arises. Managements do realise today that they need to identify the competency deficiencies in their personnel and evaluate progress in performance review. Systems such as regular internal appraisals go a long way in addressing this aspect of management. If there are shortcomings, personnel should be given adequate training and it also need to be ensured that they complete the required training program. It can easily be now understood the real compulsions Lee Iacocca had in putting a great deal of trust in his personnel. And the case is same with Sir Alex who is a stickler when it comes to having his boys well-trained and prepared for a big game.

Retaining the talent is also a significant factor in managing talent. Motivating your personnel, sharing the fruits of success with them, and most importantly providing a friendly environment to perform at their best – are essential in retaining the talent. As much as how enterprises are driven forward by the vision of growth and more profits, individuals too want to be rewarded with tangible growth and profit for their efforts. The classic example of an enterprise failing on this count is Ford pushing out Lee Iacocca.

Eileen Antonucci, executive vice president for Executive Talent Management Systems at Executive Development Associates, says, "Talent is viewed as a key strategic resource for achieving business objectives and is never taken for granted. Talent management systems do not leave key factors to chance. The organisation carefully develops a distinct 'employer brand' to attract talent, thinks through how work is organised and its impact on issues such as employee satisfaction and retention. A talent management system is part of the fabric of the organisation."

Enterprises in the Middle East are waking up to the realities of implementing a proper Talent Management system. With economy booming with the high price of oil, new business opportunities are presenting by itself everyday. Gone or those days of enjoying government protection from external competition. The advent of Free Zones has brought in multi-national and trans-national companies who are well-equipped to translate their professionalism to big profits.

The conventional model of managing personnel in the Middle East has become too archaic, and wouldn’t stand a chance in the new global market. The days of enjoying the luxury of the non-competition regulations to retain their personnel are numbered. It is impossible to attract the best talent or motivate them to excel when they are bound by the red-tape of contractual obligations. What needs to be understood by the top executives in the Middle East is that competition is here to stay, and that they are up against some of the best in the world. What is most encouraging is that there is a new generation of companies in the Middle East who have put competent systems in place to acquire, develop and retain exceptional talents – and they have a realistic chance of unearthing a Lee Iacocca or a Sir Alex Ferguson.

Copyright: Anna Melfort

Mr President

08 June 2006 |

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