Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Yemen as much a threat as Afghanistan, report

Source: FT, By Andrew England 29/09/2010

Conflict and terrorist activity in Yemen pose as great a threat to international stability as the war in Afghanistan, according to a London School of Economics report.

The report says the significance of the “spokes of terror radiating outward from Yemen” is magnified because of the region’s geo-commercial importance. The troubled Arab state shares a long and porous border with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer, and it lies in proximity to lawless Somalia and major waterways through which much of the world’s traded crude passes.

Iran fear triggers arms surge - Sep-20Yemen arrests eight al-Qaeda suspects - Jul-11Comment: Yemen’s slide into hopelessness - Jun-21Yemen in talks with IMF over support - May-11British ambassador survives Yemen attack - Apr-26Yemen arrests al-Qaeda suspects - Mar-04“It can be plausibly argued that this presents at least as great a challenge as the ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at LSE Global Governance, wrote in the LSE Research Magazine. “Looked at in cold geostrategic terms ... it is Yemeni instability that has exhibited a genuinely transnational and far-reaching threat over the past year.”

Yemen has come under increasing scrutiny since it was alleged that a Nigerian student who attempted to blow himself up on transatlantic passenger jet in the US on December 25 had trained in the Arab state. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it provided Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian, with the explosive device.

A radical Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, is also alleged to have been in communication with Mr Abdulmutallab, as well as an American Muslim soldier who went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood last November.

US officials have described Yemen as an incubator for al-Qaeda and last month counter-terrorism officials said Washington was intensifying its focus on the “mortal threat” posed by militants based in the country.

Sana’a, which has previously been accused of turning a blind eye to the threat of al-Qaeda, has stepped up its campaign against militants this year. But human rights groups have complained that the crackdown has led to abuses and unlawful killings, while air strikes that have killed civilians have sparked uproar among local tribes.

Last week, thousands of people were forced to flee a town in the southern Shabwa province as the military battled suspected al-Qaeda members.

The government is also struggling with an on-off rebellion in the north, an increasingly active secessionist movement in the south, and a collapsing economy as the country’s oil reserves dwindle and its water resources decline at an alarming rate.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, has ruled for three decades through a system of patronage in the highly tribal country and analysts say an absence of effective state institutions is at the core of many of Yemen’s problems.

“All the problems of Yemen emanate from poor governance, lack of rule of law and the massive corruption,” says Abdul Ghani al-Aryani, a Yemeni analyst. “We need to reform at the centre if we want to resolve the problems at the periphery.”

Mr Ulrichsen says Yemen’s travails should be a warning for other Gulf states that face the prospect of their oil resources – on which the region’s economies depend – run dry.

“Yemen is the canary in the coal mine – a danger sign of what can go wrong when a country fails to develop political legitimacy and build a sustainable, productive non-oil economy,” he says. “The challenges to government authority in southern and northern Yemen plainly demonstrate how existing socioeconomic discontent and regional marginalisation can fracture and fragment social cohesion.

“Similar fissures and unequal patterns of access to resources exist in the GCC (Gulf) states and could become transmitters of conflict in the future.”

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