Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of March 11, 2003

Program 0310


Price of War | Transcript | MP3

Mid East Security | Transcript | MP3

Chinese Dissident | Transcript | MP3

Morocco Marriage Proposals | Transcript | MP3

Fingerprinting Update | Transcript | MP3

Russia’s Heat Troubles | Transcript | MP3

Fall of Kursk | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

MARK STOKER: Prosecuting the war itself, I would estimate to be around about $9 billion a month, and the majority of that money is munitions and fuel.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the cost of war.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, Middle East peace and security.

YIFTAH SHAPIR: We have to work towards establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It would include the nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons.

PORTER: And an ancient Moroccan marriage festival.

CLARK BOYD: From that moment on, the legend goes, the clans decided to end their feud, and to have a yearly festival—a time when their children could choose their own partners and for families to celebrate with dancing and music.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

Top of Page

Price of War

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. As the US and Britain continue their military buildup in the region around Iraq, the cost of deployment and that of any action is one more factor Washington and London have to think about. Militaries are expensive at the best of times, and war in the past has broken a nation’s economy. There are political costs, too, when a combatant nation alienates friends on the international stage. Alastair Wanklyn reports on what the accounts sheet looks like from Britain.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: If you don’t disarm voluntarily you’ll be disarmed by force.

ALASTAIR WANKLYN: It’s tough talk from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who put a quarter of Britain’s army on alert with US forces in the Persian Gulf.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: On many occasions British troops have played an extremely important part in conflicts such as this.

WANKLYN: Economists say the last Gulf War cost America and the UK $61 billion. But much of that was repaid by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. This time, the overall cost could be a little less, but Britain and the US would pick up more of the tab, according to defense economist Mark Stoker at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

MARK STOKER: The number of forces that, at the moment, that we imagine are going to end up in the Gulf if something should happen this time round are slightly lower. There’s going to be fewer air wings involved, there’s going to be a couple less aircraft carriers battle groups around as well. So in very rough terms if the war—if a war was to last as long this time round as it did last time, which was what—three or four weeks?—the equivalent cost this time would be about $30 billion dollars.

WANKLYN: Thirty billion dollars—that’s a sum equal to the national economies of Nigeria and Vietnam. The money started to flow as the buildup got underway.

STOKER: The main cost at the moment is in the transportation of equipment and the getting ready of equipment.

WANKLYN: Mark Stoker says it will cost around $13 billion to get the necessary troops into position, to pay the reservists and to keep it all maintained.

STOKER: Prosecuting the war itself, again—and this is looking at Desert Storm, Kosovo, and Afghanistan—I would estimate to be around about $9 billion dollars a month, and the majority of that money is munitions and fuel.

WANKLYN: Economists say the cost of munitions might fall after the first month, because costly precision-guided missiles and bombs would only be used initially to damage Iraqi infrastructure. Thereafter, it’s cheaper boots on the ground. But even after the attacks end, there’d be one heavy further cost.

STOKER: Assuming there was a tidy end—and we, maybe we don’t really know what that would look like at the moment—but assuming there was a clear end to the operation, then the cost of re-deploying everything back home or from wherever it came would be about $7 billion.

[The sound of an anti-war street protest.]

WANKLYN: In the UK every week or so anti-war protesters have made their voices heard, but their arguments are mainly about human rights and the potential of civilian casualties. They seldom mention the billions of dollars—or pounds sterling—war involves. Partly it’s because it’s hard to put a figure on Britain’s commitments. Whereas in the US figures for defense spending can easily be sought from the Congressional Budget Office, in the UK. Mark Stoker says it’s more guesswork.

STOKER: In the UK we don’t really have the same level of transparency in the buildup to these operations. I would imagine there are very few people aware of what the cost might be or how it might be funded or where the money might come from. And certainly in the last 10 years there hasn’t been any history of the UK public protesting particularly vocally against British troops being involved in any conflict on the basis of cost. Having said that this is a more sensitive and more probably widely debated issue than those previous campaigns have been, so it certainly is—there’s certainly potential for more people to draw attention to the cost that may be incurred.

[The sound of Prime Minister Blair speaking in Parliament.]

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: The decisions as to whether to commit troops on behalf of this country are taken by our government, our House of Commons, our country.

[The sound of yelling and jeering.]

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Let us make it quite clear.

[The sound of yelling and jeering.]

WANKLYN: As Tony Blair fends off accusations in Parliament that he has sold Britain’s military command to Washington, he might be grateful a few people at least seem to be questioning his spending. But there’s a further cost of war—and one perhaps recognized by France and Germany, which oppose an early conflict. They both have substantial Muslim populations, and some race relations campaigners warn aggression in the Middle East could have a knock-on effect at home and internationally. Kenneth Roth of New York-based Human Rights Watch says Britain’s apparently unconditional stance with Washington may cost it friends in the Middle East.

KENNETH ROTH: The British government has adopted a diplomatically very difficult position. Publicly it has aligned itself 100 percent with the Bush administration while privately it has been pushing the administration to insist upon Security Council approval of any military venture in Iraq. That is a posture that will probably cost it some support in the Middle East. Because most people only see the public—most people only see Britain’s public support of the United States, and don’t appreciate the degree of private lobbying for reference of the matter to the United Nations that the British government is clearly doing.

WANKLYN: The final chapter in the standoff with Iraq has yet to be written, but even at this stage the costs are mounting. For Common Ground, I’m Alastair Wanklyn in London.

Top of Page

Mid East Security

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: A Middle East analyst says if Saddam Hussein is removed from power, the United States should help develop a region-wide multilateral framework for security that includes all countries in the Mid East, including Israel. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman recently spoke to Yiftah Shapir of the Jaffee Center in Tel Aviv. Shapir says Israel would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons—under certain conditions.

YIFTAH SHAPIR: As for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, the United Nations passed a resolution towards that effect in, beginning with 1980, every year, every General Assembly of the United Nations renews this resolution unanimously. Israel also votes for that initiative. However, as an Israeli I can tell you that nuclear weapons free zone is not enough, since what balances the Israeli nuclear weapons—or alleged nuclear weapons—is Iraqi or Syrian chemical and biological weapons. So if you want to eliminate the one you must eliminate the other. So we have to work towards establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It would include the nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, ballistic missiles, and also would include all pertinent states in the Middle East, by which I mean not only Israel and its neighbors Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—but also and most importantly so—Iraq and Iran.

Now, the first thing to do with Iraq is getting rid of Saddam Hussein and I think that the United States is very close to doing that, exactly that. As for Iran I, since I’m a very optimistic person I believe that within the coming decade Iran would change and then would be more open towards the world, towards the West, and even towards Israel.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: Why do you think that?

SHAPIR: Iran is a very interesting country. It’s much more open than people might believe. A matter very different from Iraq. Sixty percent of the population now are people who were born after the Revolution. Younger generation is fed up of the clerics. They showed their will by voting for Khatemi. Now he, he’s been voted for a second term. Although the conservatives are still keeping out of, out of real power. And he’s the president but he does not [have] power, or the power he should have. Disenchantment and grievances of the general population against the clerics, against the conservative regime, is gathering momentum. And one day it would have to come into some kind of expression either by revolution or by pressure that would force the conservatives out of real power. That’s why I believe that Iran is going to change.

BROCKMAN: To develop security in the Middle East, what should be the first thing that they should do? What would be the number one thing?

SHAPIR: We should go to, towards that goal piecemeal. Well, the Chinese say that a march of a thousand miles begins with one step and the small steps are the very small steps of confidence building measures. You start first of all with talking to each other. Maybe meeting in seminars under auspices of some outer, outer powers. For, in Europe, in the United States, in anywhere else as far as I’m concerned, as long as Israelis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis, would meet together, speak to each other. Then you can go on with all kinds of initiatives that would bring the countries in the region to cooperate. Whether it’s cooperation in just information gathering and dissemination. Then you can go on to the security confidence-building measures. That has to do with cooperation with the security establishments of different countries, even military people. Military people can usually talk very easily to each other. Slowly you have to build confidence.

Then you can go further into—you put in agreements of limitations on arms, limitations—you can put some limitations on conventional weapons or on the deployment of conventional weapons like agreements, like the ones we have with Syria, for example. You make a demilitarized zone of so-and-so mile wide and a wider zone where you can put arms but not of certain types, etcetera. And go on to, over time when the confidence is being built and the countries on both sides see that the other one is accepting it, is willing to conform to this treaty, to this agreement and not break them, not cheat on them, then countries will be willing to renounce more and more. So the way, the road is long but we should start stepping down that road.

BROCKMAN: Yiftah Shapir is a former Israeli Air Force officer. He is currently a researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: A former Chinese political prisoner, next, on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Chinese Dissident

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: For all the dizzying economic and social changes sweeping today’s China, there is a darker side to the Communist party’s one-party rule—a well hidden China of labor camps, secret trials, and prisons, where 6,000 citizens silently serve sentences for their political and religious beliefs. Few men know as much about this hidden China as Xu Wenli, one of the country’s most important democracy activists, just released in a diplomatic deal with the United States. Nina-Maria Potts reports.

[The sound of Xu Wenli’s laughter.]

NINA-MARIE POTTS: The free laugh of a free man. Xu Wenli is one of China’s leading pro-democracy activists, a man who has spent 16 of the last 21 years in a Beijing jail.

[The sounds of a busy street outside Xu Wenli’s window.]

POTTS: Sitting opposite Xu Wenli, with his wife and daughter, in a small apartment above a dentist on a busy street in Providence, Rhode Island, it’s hard to imagine what a windowless cell three yards square could be like. But Xu Wenli, who is nearly 60 and who lost nearly all his teeth in jail, spent five whole years in just such a cell. For three of those years he was not even allowed to speak to his family. His so-called crime—”subverting state socialism.” He admits he nearly lost his mind.

[Mr. Xu Wenli speaks while pacing back and forth in his apartment.]

XU WENLI: [via a translator] I would comfort myself by taking two steps forward and two steps back. That way I could walk thousands of miles. In the summer it was really hot. I was sweating as if it was raining. At night I lay on the concrete to try and cool down. There are only two words for it in Chinese—forbearance and perseverance.

POTTS: For years the subject of intense high-level American lobbying, Xu Wenli was finally released to the United States by the Chinese government on Christmas Eve, 2002. He’d contracted Hepatitis-B in 1999 while in prison, and China was worried he might die in jail. His release was a bargaining chip in a deal to improve Sino-US relations. Xu Wenli says he didn’t believe he’d been released until the plane actually took off.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] They took me in a van without me knowing where I was going, and we arrived beneath the wing of the aircraft on the runway. There were Chinese and American officials waiting for me there. One of the American officials came over to me and said, “You are free now. Get on the plane and leave for the US. They’ve released you on medical parole. Your wife’s already on the plane.” So I went up the stairs, and my wife was down the corridor already in tears. I saw her, and they put us in first class—the whole thing happened in just a couple of minutes. I held my wife’s hand and said “We’ll never be apart again.” My wife said, “We’ve finally escaped the hands of evil.”

POTTS: Xu Wenli and his wife found their daughter, Xu Jing, waiting for them in Chicago. Xu Jing, who is now a sculptor and teacher in Rhode Island, had been sponsored to study in the States by a wealthy human rights campaigner. Reunited with both parents properly for the first time in 21 years, Xu Jing says her life’s dream has finally been realized.

XU JING: This whole experience could only teach me that when you can make a difference, you do so. And you make that difference and try your best, and my Dad did his best. And I, my only goal was trying to get him out alive, and I did that. And I—that was my goal and now that’s accomplished. [laughing]

POTTS: Xu Wenli started out life as a Marxist railroad electrician, but as a young man began to question China’s one-party state. His beliefs changed forever in 1976, when he witnessed Beijing police viciously beating a defenseless student at a mass-gathering in Tiananmen Square. He says the Chinese authorities began watching him in 1978 for three reasons. He wrote a defense of Wei Jingshung, China’s leading dissident, in a 1979 pro-democracy newsletter, which was then shut down. The same year he also staged a protest for artistic freedom. The last straw was a private discussion on democracy among friends in 1980. The meeting was bugged and a spy informed on him. Again, Xu Wenli.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] Around 1978 to 1979, I said to my mother, who realized the danger I was in by standing up to the Chinese government, “I’m not only a worker. I’m beyond that point—I am a thinking person, with the social responsibility of an intellectual.”

POTTS: They came for him in the middle of the night on April the 9th, 1981. His daughter Xu Jing, had no idea what was happening, but still had to go on a school trip the next day. Xu Jing says she had to keep her father’s arrest secret.

XU JING: I was nine. I was nine. They woke me up. It was midnight when they broke in to take Dad away. And then they started searching the house and, you know, it was quite loud and they took things everywhere. And I was actually on my bed, and the only things saved were right underneath my bed. Underneath my bed I had a box of articles and things from Dad, and that was the only thing left in the house. They took everything else away.

POTTS: Xu Wenli’s wife and daughter didn’t know if he was alive or dead. They spent a year and a half, searching for him in Beijing’s police stations and court houses. The authorities finally told them he’d been tried and sentenced to 12 years in jail. In prison, Xu Wenli was referred to only as Prisoner 001. His five years in solitary confinement were punishment for smuggling out a secret diary. Throughout his time in jail, Xu Wenli was monitored by guards or trusted prisoners through a spy-hole, writing reports on him every half hour. But Xu Wenli is still able to smile.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] Lights were left on 24 hours a day, but I knew I had no guilt in my heart, so I could sleep easy. I now say to my wife, “If ever I have a sleeping problem, there’s no way I can go back to jail.” Because if a person loses sleep, you can get so easily homesick and depressed.

POTTS: When a Beijing Olympics bid focused western attention on China’s human rights record, Xu Wenli was released in 1993. He then spent five years traveling round China trying to rally younger dissidents. But in 1998, in order to mark President Clinton’s visit, Xu Wenli decided to found an opposition party, called the China Democracy Party. He tried to register the party formally. His aim was to show up the government’s claim that all its citizens had rights. His daughter, already in the States by then, says the last time she spoke to him was by phone on her birthday in 1998.

XU JING: And I said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” And that’s all I asked. He said he was. And then, you know, that’s his choice and I think we always respect his choice, what he believes in. And I was and I am still proud of what he did.

POTTS: Xu Wenli was sentenced to another 13 years. This time, he was put in a cell with three other prisoners—often violent offenders on death row. Eight cameras were trained on him at all times. And there he stayed until his unexpected release at the end of last year. Once outside China, dissidents tend to lose their political effectiveness, which is why Xu Wenli had always rejected going into exile. But his frail health made him realize he didn’t want to die in jail. He says he only has one regret.

XU WENLI: [via a translator] I want to apologize to my wife and daughter. I didn’t do well being a family man, being away for so many years. My regret is that I didn’t put them first.

POTTS: And as for democracy in China?

XU WENLI: [via a translator] In China, it’s not likely we can be like Poland, or like South Africa or like South Korea. There’s no solidarity, no Mandela, and any dissident movement is crushed before it can begin.

POTTS: For Common Ground, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Providence, Rhode Island.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Morocco Marriage Proposals

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: For centuries now, thousands of Berbers from Morocco’s Atlas Mountain region have been gathering each year in the tiny town of Imilchil for a celebration unlike any other. They come for three days of singing and dancing, selling and trading—and most importantly, to find a potential mate. While their mothers and fathers look on, Berber boys and girls, some as young as 14, search for a marriage partner. Also looking on these days is an increasing number of tourists—and that’s making some of the Berbers nervous. Clark Boyd reports.

CLARK BOYD: Driving through the dust-whipped landscape of Morocco’s mid-Atlas plateau, it’s hard for an outsider to imagine a less likely setting for the classic boy-meets-girl story. Out here, people are scarce, water’s even scarcer—and whether traveling by donkey cart or SUV, one wrong move on the one-lane road means a fatal plunge from a towering peak.

[The sound of a truck—horn honking, engine revving.]

BOYD: But for nearly a millennium now, the Berbers of the Ait Haddidou clan have risked life and limb to bring their sons and daughters here to Imilchil, in hopes that they’ll find a suitable marriage partner. Their traditions remains strong—these days, they’re coming by the truckload.

[The sound of a truck—horn honking, engine revving.]

BOYD: The Imilchil Festival has always offered up everything the discerning Berber bride or groom might need for a wedding—music, clothes, and of course, food. Next to a freshly cut camel’s head—Berber delicacy—a butcher is working with his cleaver on some grilled goat ribs.

[The sound of someone cutting up the goat ribs.]

BOYD: Making his way through the markets and the crowds is Lahsen Ait Lafkeh, a local historian and author of a book on the history of the Imilchil Festival.

LAHSEN AIT LAFKEH: [via a translator] The history of the festival is very long. In fact, it stretches back to before the 17th century. The story goes that there were two lovers from warring Berber tribes. They were named Tislit and Isli. They were star-crossed lovers. Their families wouldn’t allow them to wed. The two became sad, and their tears filled two nearby lakes. The myth says they then drowned themselves in those lakes.

BOYD: From that moment on, the legend goes, the clans decided to end their feud, and to have a yearly festival—a time when their children could choose their own partners, and for families to celebrate with dancing and music.

[The sound of women chanting and singing.]

BOYD: Historian Lahsen Ait Lafkeh says that down through the decades, the Imilchil Festival stayed much the same—a closed affair among the Berbers, with only family invited to attend. Eventually, it was named in honor of a local holy man who blessed many successful marriages. And then, says Lafkeh, the Moroccan government decided to take control of the festival.

LAHSEN AIT LAFKEH: [via a translator] It was 1965. The government changed the name to the Imilchil Brides’ Festival. It was very hard for the local people to accept the government’s control. It changed the reality of the festival and the lives of the people who come to the festival.

BOYD: The biggest change was that the government actively invited non-Berbers to visit the festival and watch the proceedings. Travel agents sell Imilchil as a “must-see” Moroccan event, and tour operators use fleets of four wheel drive vehicles to bring in European, American, even Moroccan tourists. It sounds great for adventure travelers, but all the attention seems to be having a negative effect on their Berber hosts. Only six couples signed marriage contracts at the festival. None of them would speak with journalists, and they all looked visibly shaken by the flash bulbs and whirring video cameras. Abdeh Saddiqi, one of two men formalizing the marriage contracts this year, says he isn’t surprised the couples are so uncomfortable.

ABDEH SADDIQI: [via a translator] They are supposed to be happy today, but look at them. They’re hiding their faces because they’re nervous, and the tourists make them even more nervous. They say that it’s possible to come here and have fun, to find a husband or wife, but it’s not true. It’s enough to keep some families away from the festival.

BOYD: Local tourism officials say this is nonsense—that everyone is nervous on their wedding day, and that the Berbers enjoy sharing their wedding traditions with the rest of the world. But there is a problem—now that the government is allowing outsiders into the Imilchil festival, no actual Berber marriage ceremonies are allowed to take place. Instead, Berber and non-Berber alike have to settle for a mock ceremony, in which a symbolic bride rides through the crowd on a donkey surrounded by traditional musicians.

[The sound of the wedding parade, with chanting, singing, and drums.]

BOYD: The Moroccan government says it intends to keep promoting the festival, both at home and abroad. But many Berber parents are beginning to wonder if it’s worth it to come all the way to Imilchil, if their kids can’t even tie the knot in the traditional way. For Common Ground, this is Clark Boyd in Imilchil, Morocco.

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, a controversial immigration program grows.

ADNAN LAKHANY: It’s embarrassing for me to come down here just for registration. And it’s kind of like they don’t trust me or something, you know?

PORTER: Plus, staying warm in Russia. And the fateful story of a lost submarine.

MOORE: They had this terrible choice that they faced. And, in fact, their notes talk about this. They could try and make an ascent to the surface on their own, but in the process they would face potentially crippling decompression sickness—what we call the bends—or on the other hand they could stay where they were and put their faith in their own fleet.

Top of Page

Fingerprinting Update

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Last month on Common Ground, we heard about the plight of Iranian artists who’ve found it even harder to perform in the United States after 9/11. Iran is one of a growing number of countries whose nationals are subject to new special registration rules, requiring them to be fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned by the INS. Pakistan is one of the countries added late last year. A key US ally in the war on terror, Pakistan balked at its inclusion on the INS list. And as Judith Smelser reports, Pakistani immigrants are angry too.

[Traffic sounds from outside the Ballston Immigration and Naturalization Service Building in Washington, DC.]

JUDITH SMELSER: It’s the first day of special registration for Pakistani immigrants, and they’re starting to trickle in.

ADNAN LAKHANY: I have my I-20 and everything, so there’s nothing to be nervous about.

SMELSER: Adnan Lakhany is studying economics and business at George Mason University near Washington. He may not be nervous, but he still feels uncomfortable.

LAKHANY: I know it’s been involved in all that, like, terrorist attacks and all that, but I mean, everyone is not like that, you know. So, I don’t know, it’s embarrassing for me to come down here just for registration. It’s kind of like they don’t trust me or something, you know?

SMELSER: That sentiment has been echoed by many Pakistanis, since they found out late last year that they’d have to go through the special registration procedures. The rule applies to men and boys over 16 who are in the US on tourist and other nonpermanent visas. And it’s not just embarrassment they’re worried about.

IMRAN ALAM: I was under heavy anxiety you could say.

SMELSER: Imran Alam is an accountant who’s been in the United States for nearly 15 years.

ALAM: I think I might be get arrested, they will, might check what I did when I was a student. They might check what I was doing, you know.

SMELSER: He was visibly relieved when he emerged from his hour-long registration. Mr. Alam’s anxiety stemmed largely from the experiences of immigrants from other, mainly Muslim, countries who’ve already gone through the special registration process. Hundreds of men were arrested for suspected immigration or criminal violations. Most were released within days. But the threat of deportation hangs over the process. And opponents of the registration requirements say those punished have been mostly law-abiding immigrants whose paperwork has lapsed because of the slow-moving US government bureaucracy. And another Pakistani registrant, IT consultant Arsalan Masud, thinks the process is unlikely to catch any terrorists.

ARSALAN MASUD: The way I understand it, I mean, if someone is a terrorist or a potential terrorist, they’re never going to voluntarily show up here. But I think that something is better than nothing, and from the standpoint of a US citizen, I think what they’re doing is legitimate, and it’s a way of making people feel that the INS is taking an initiative towards this whole thing.

[The sound of a crowd at an embassy meeting.]

SMELSER: A week before the registration began, the Pakistani embassy in Washington invited members of the Pakistani community to discuss the issue. It was a standing-room only crowd. People traveled from several states around the region to voice their concerns and get information.

[The sound of a Moslem prayer.]

SMELSER: After an invocation, the Deputy Chief of Mission, Muhammad Sadiq echoed the indignation felt by many in the room.

DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION, MUHAMMAD SADIQ: The Pakistani community very strongly feels that Pakistan does not belong to this list. Pakistan is a partner of the United States in its war against terror. Pakistan is the only other country which has taken battleground casualties in the war on terror other than the United States.

SMELSER: He says the embassy has taken that argument to US officials. Their response—that eventually all countries whose nationals require a visa to enter the US will be on the special registration list. But the Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, was not satisfied with that answer.

PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR ASHRAF JEHANGIR QAZI: We’ve taken note of that explanation, but we also note that as of now, on the list of 20, all the countries effectively are Muslim countries. So the impression has taken root amongst—we cannot ignore the fact that the impression has taken root amongst, not just the Pakistani community, but other communities belonging to Muslim countries, that a certain profiling is underway.

SMELSER: Despite those reservations, the embassy urged Pakistanis to comply with the registration requirements. It set up telephone hotlines for people with questions about the process and brought in legal experts to give advice. And it may not be all bad, say Pakistani community leaders. Hanif Akhtar is the President of the Pakistan American Business Association.

HANIF AKHTAR: I personally feel it is good for the Pakistani community’s reputation to go through this weeding process and weed out, if there is any terrorist, that they should be weeded out.

SMELSER: And Dr. Nisar Chaudhry, who heads up the Pakistani American Congress, says it could also be a unifying experience for the Pakistani community.

[The sound of a crowd at an embassy.]

DR. NISAR CHAUDHRY: Certainly, Pakistani-American community was not very well organized in the past. Generally, they were focusing on US-Pakistan relations, they were focusing on the regional stability in South Asia, and they were always focused on US-American, US-Indian relations, US-Pakistan relations. But this time they had been directly, directly being affected. Every Muslim, including Pakistani-Americans. So, first time they have started converging. They need to get better organized. They will now.

[The sound of a crowd at an embassy.]

SMELSER: Dr. Chaudhry says in all his time in America, he’s never seen such a large and diverse gathering of Pakistanis in one room, united for one purpose. It’s the silver lining of a distressing cloud. For Common Ground, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.

MCHUGH: What are your thoughts on the INS registration requirements? Are they necessary for national security or do they unfairly target Muslim immigrants. E-mail us your comments and we may use them on the air. Our e-mail address is [email protected] You can also send us your feedback via our Web site,

[Musical interlude]

PORTER Coming up next, Russia’s dangerously cold weather. And later, the untold story of a Russian submarine tragedy.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Russia’s Heat Troubles

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: It seems like Russians should know better than anyone how to survive freezing weather, but that’s not necessarily the case. Each year, hundreds of inhabitants of the biggest and the coldest country in the world freeze to death. Most are homeless. But some are people who have jobs, pay their taxes, and live in their own flats. As Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow, many residents are looking forward to spring.

[The sound of Natalya Semakova scrubbing icy windows and complaining in Russian.]

ANYA ARDAYEVA: Forty-seven-year-old Natalya Semakova lives in St. Petersburg, where the temperature fell to -25 Fahrenheit this past January. She says radiators in her apartment are so old they freeze and burst and she has to spend her entire day wiping up the dirty water. The vast majority of Russia’s heating system is centralized. All buildings in each city district are connected to one central boiling station from where hot water is delivered to radiators in flats by hot water pipes. Most of the system is worn out, as it was built in the middle of the last century by the Soviet state. And it’s replacement would cost Russia hundreds of millions of dollars.

In Moscow alone, more than 250 homeless people died in the streets this winter. But in other parts of Russia, the situation is much more severe. Fourteen regions suffered serious breakdowns, one man in Siberia froze to death in his flat when the heating was cut off. The republics most affected by the cold were Karelia and Komi, as well as the Leningrad and Novgorod regions, all in the northwest of the country. These parts of Russia are simply not able to maintain their aging centralized heating and water systems.

ALEXANDER VERSHININ: [via a translator] Nothing has changed. We haven’t been to school for two weeks. Temperature in the classes is just a little above freezing.

ARDAYEVA: Twelve-year-old Alexander Vershinin lives in the region of Karelia, where just minutes before midnight on December 31st the town of Muezersky found itself without electricity, heat, and water. Apartment blocks housing a total of 600 people, a hospital, and two hotels were affected. Later, the number increased to 6,500 people. At one point, the outside temperature got as low as -35 Fahrenheit. Dozens of people were hospitalized for hypothermia or frostbite. The New Year’s holiday hampered immediate attempts to repair the central heating systems.

[The sound of people complaining and yelling.]

ARDAYEVA: But even several weeks later, the heat system had not been restored. Residents of some villages even blocked roads in an effort to draw attention to the problem. They say if repair work had been done during the summer, there would be no need to do it in the winter. Communal services and local authorities are mostly blamed for the freezing apartments and lack of water in the flats. Earlier in the year, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov responsible for helping the regions after the first reports of heat shortages came up. But not much has changed.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [via a translator] These are very painful problems and the situation remains serious in a number of regions. Far East and other regions have again reminded us about it. I am asking the Prime Minister and the government to report to me about what can be done to help these regions.

ARDAYEVA: Finally, several criminal cases were filed in Russia against those local officials who have failed to ensure that heating systems were ready for winter. Low salaries and corruption are two reasons for the disaster. But more important is the slow pace of repairing Russia’s deteriorating housing and heating infrastructure, a large part of which is more than 50 years old.

[The sound of pipes being replaced.]

ARDAYEVA: And although such repair work has been on the agenda since at least 1997, there has been no visible progress in transforming the worn-out systems. At the moment, Russians pay only 70 percent of their services—the rest is paid by the state. And many people here fear that if their communal systems are privatized, they will no longer be able to pay their bills.

GRIGORI: [via a translator] This is a very Russian thing, this freezing weather. We are taking a walk. We love it.

ARDAYEVA: For some, like 52-year-old Muscovite Grigori, winter is a fun season. But most are patiently counting the number of days left before spring arrives later this month. For Common Ground, I’m Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Fall of Kursk

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Nearly three years have passed since 118 Russian soldiers died in the disaster that befell the giant nuclear submarine, the Kursk. The vessel was ripped open following two explosions and plunged to the bottom of the Barents Sea during naval exercises in August of 2000.

PORTER: Russia’s once mighty Northern Fleet mounted rescue efforts but in the end the authorities had to swallow their pride and ask for Western help. That assistance came too late for nearly two dozen Russian submariners who had managed to survive the initial blasts. What caused the accident and what happened to those men is the subject of a book written by British television journalist Robert Moore. Aside from the powerful human drama and the tragedy of the lives lost, the author told Malcolm Brown that the accident also reveals much about modern Russia.

MALCOLM BROWN: We now know that an explosive chemical reaction inside a corroded practice torpedo triggered the catastrophic chain of events that sank the Kursk, one of the most advanced submarines in the Russian Navy. Two minutes and 15 seconds later came another, far larger blast, as the remaining torpedoes went up, tearing open the bow section of the vessel’s twin hulls.

ROBERT MOORE: The second explosion that occurred was something like 3.5 on the Richter scale. It was the equivalent of a minor earthquake.

BROWN: In his book A Time To Die—The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy, Robert Moore describes how 23 men survived those blasts in rear compartments, shielded from immediate death by the nuclear reactors. He paints a vivid picture of the dilemma facing the remaining sailors, who found themselves trapped in the ninth compartment of their stricken submarine, around 350 feet below the surface. The account relies in part on a series of notes penned by the officer who took charge of the survivors, Dmitiri Kolesnikov.

MOORE: They had this terrible choice that they faced. In fact their notes talk about this. They could try and make an ascent to the surface on their own, but in the process they would face potentially crippling decompression sickness—what we call the bends—or on the other hand they could stay where they were and put their faith in their own fleet. It was a desperate predicament if you like, because of course as they were breathing they’re exhaling carbon dioxide, they’re inhaling a finite amount of oxygen, so their atmospheric condition inside the ninth compartment is deteriorating by the minute. So, it’s a desperate environment. It’s one which must have been deeply traumatic for those involved and I think one of the most compelling parts of the story I tell is the fact that even in that desperate situation the men appear to be very calm. They were still writing coherent, cogent notes.

BROWN: In the end, the men decided to stay put and await the arrival of the fleet’s specialist search-and-rescue forces, described in the book as “grossly deficient.” On land, news was filtering through to the families of the Kursk‘s crew that something was terribly wrong.

MOORE: We’ve talked about the harrowing conditions in the aft of the submarine. Just imagine how harrowing the conditions were for the families of those submariners.

LUDMILA NALETOVA: [via a translator] He had just turned 19 and wrote only good things about life on the submarine. He has a six-month-old child, too.

BROWN: The heart-wrenching concern of relatives like Ludmila Naletova, the mother of a Kursk sailor, was beamed around the world as the families refused to play by the old rules.

MOORE: The home port of the Kursk was a little Arctic base called Vidayevo, which is a forlorn, decaying, isolated outpost of the Russian military. And in past Soviet days, no question, it was a military accident, it would simply be maintained as a secret. Nobody would ever know. Russian public opinion would never come into play. No one would ever even think about asking the West for help. But the young families of these submariners recognized that things had changed and they were so despairing with the efforts of their own military to rescue the men, they recognized that the only way their men were going to be saved was really with Western help. So they did what was unprecedented in Russian military terms. They started campaigning against their own admiralty. They started ringing up local newspapers, ringing up Moscow television stations and saying, “Look, our admirals are making a mess of this rescue effort. They’re not using the right resources. Ask the West to bring in their high-technology rescue resources.” They really essentially mobilized Russian public opinion. So, really it is a story not just about a submarine accident but a nation in transition, of young widows if you like, feeling betrayed and wanting to try and act in a last desperate attempt to save their husbands.

BROWN: Unaccustomed to the public spotlight, the Russian authorities struggled to cope. Robert Moore writes that Moscow reverted to time-honored traditions of obscuring military accidents in layers of lies—lies which were exposed by emerging facts. Soviet-style tactics also seemed to be at play when the furious mother of a Kursk crewman was openly sedated and taken away during a meeting between relatives and senior officials. By then Russian authorities had accepted offers of assistance from Norway and Britain, which had been initially.

[The sound of conversations between surface ships and rescue divers at the Kursk.]

RESCUE CONTROLLER: [speaking to rescue divers] Before we do anything to it I’d like to get both of you off the hatch and approach it from the outside in.

BROWN: Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed more than a week after the accident when Western divers reached the escape hatch above the ninth compartment, only to find the interior flooded. The bad news was broken by Russian Vice Admiral Vladimir Motsak.

RUSSIAN VICE ADMIRAL VLADIMIR MOTSAK: [via a translator] The ninth compartment of the submarine is flooded and there’s no doubt that the crew there is dead. My personal opinion is that the same applies to all other compartments.

BROWN: President Vladimir Putin, just three months into the job, came in for harsh criticism for his handling of the disaster. The tragedy also exposed the dismal state of the Northern Fleet.

MOORE: The most obvious insight one can provide, having done a lot of research up on the Kola peninsula, is that the desperate predicament of the Northern Fleet—its infrastructure, its decaying resources—is still there two and a half years after the Kursk disaster happened. It is quite possible it could happen again. The reason for that simply is that morale is low in the Northern Fleet. The resources are desperately inadequate. Let’s remember that the salary of a nuclear submarine commander in the Northern Fleet is about the same as a bus driver in Moscow.

BROWN: [now interviewing Moore] And what does this story tell you about Russian military thinking and their attitudes, particularly towards the West?

MOORE: Well, it shows that there are many admirals—perhaps as there are in their counterparts in the US Navy and indeed in the Royal Navy—who are still somewhat stuck in the that Cold War mentality and what you saw on the Kola peninsula was a whole range of admirals and senior naval officers who couldn’t understand that the Cold War was over and that inviting the West in was a perfectly respectable response. Instead, they were looking at this through the prism of the Cold War. They still saw the Northern Fleet in terms of its secrets and in terms of its military pride. And that is true today. It’s true, I think, for the coming years, because President Putin is still having an enormously difficult time in reforming the Russian military.

BROWN: Robert Moore detects signs of that struggle in the Russian navy’s initial response to the Kursk disaster. The eventual purge of senior officers targeted those who’d argued that the accident was the result of a collision with a foreign submarine. That discredited interpretation is seen in the book as a coded attack on President Putin’s pro-Western outlook.

[The sound of an Orthodox memorial service for the Kursk sailors.]

BROWN: The Kursk itself was raised from the seabed in October of 2001. As for the crew, nearly 100 bodies were eventually recovered and identified. The last funerals took place in January 2002. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown.

[The sound of an Orthodox memorial service for the Kursk sailors.]

MCHUGH: That’s our show for this week. If you have questions or comments about today’s program, visit our Web site at or e-mail us at [email protected] Please drop us a line—we’d love to hear from you.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

Top of Page