Nauru recognizes Abkhazia

Big news today in the world of geographical absurdities. Abkhazia -- which wants to be a country -- has been officially recognized by the Pacific island of Nauru -- which is barely a country. Nauru now joins the motley group of Nicaragua, Venezuela, and of course Russia in recognizing the breakaway Georgian region. Recognition didn't come cheap, though:

Nauru, an eight-square-mile rock in the South Pacific with about 11,000 inhabitants, was no pushover, according to the influential Russian daily newspaper Kommersant. In talks with Russian officials, Nauru requested $50 million for “urgent social and economic projects,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed Russian diplomats.

That's about $3,500 $4,500 per Nauruan. This was just the latest of the ill-fated island's get-rich-quick schemes:

Nauru, the world’s smallest republic, has been desperate for income since its most important resource, phosphates formed by centuries of bird droppings, is nearly exhausted. The island has tried housing refugees for Australia and investing millions in a West End musical. (It bombed.)

Recently, it has begun to dabble in foreign-policy hardball. In 2002, Nauru severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, coincident with a reported pledge of $130 million from China. Three years later, it switched again, prompting a Chinese official to grumble that the islanders were “only interested in material gains.”

For a time, Nauru was also a major money laundering center used by the Russian mafia. 

For more on the strange and sad tale of the world's smallest -- but fattest -- country, check out this amazing segment from NPR's This American Life



Cheap talk on Pakistan

In recent days, a number of press stories have strongly conveyed U.S. officials' demand that Pakistan go after not just the Mehsud tribal grouping, a.k.a. the Pakistani Taliban, but also Siraj Haqqani's network next door in North Waziristan. The messages have been delivered in public and in private from the highest levels -- President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, Adm. Mike Mullen, and presumably others. (Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on Pakistan's exasperation with all this pressure here.)

Yes, Haqqani is bad news and his people are killing U.S. troops and probably harboring al Qaeda. But I'm a little puzzled by the impatience the Obama administration is showing. For one thing, Pakistan is still mopping up in South Waziristan, and bombs are still going off in Pakistani cities. And let's also keep in mind that the Pakistani Army had to cut a deal with Haqqani just to safely get to South Waziristan. So it's a little premature for Pakistan to start multiplying its enemies.

Then there's the point that Peter Feaver raises here, which is that Pakistan is hedging its bets because it isn't sure the United States is going to stick around in South Asia and is paranoid about India's rising influence in Afghanistan. Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, writing for FP, relayed the following anecdote, sourced to "a highly placed Pakistani official":

Pakistan's reaction to Obama's speech was to order its top military intelligence service, the ISI, to immediately begin rebuilding and strengthening covert ties to the Afghan Taliban in anticipation of their eventual return to power[.] 

My point here is that no amount of hectoring from U.S. officials is going to change Pakistan's strategy -- there has to be a change in how Islamabad sees its interests. A couple stars have to align: India has to somehow allay Pakistani fears, the United States has to convince Pakistan that it's staying in Aghanistan for the long haul, and Pakistan needs to feel confident that it has the situation in the tribal areas well in hand. It would be foolish for Pakistan to rush into a new conflict in North Waziristan based on America's word alone.