23 March 2015

Redoing India-China sums

March 23, 2015

The first round of boundary talks with China under the Narendra Modi government, taking place this week, is an opportunity for New Delhi to explore the territorial compromises necessary to resolve the longstanding dispute. With strong leaders at the helm in Delhi and Beijing, there are rising expectations that the two special representatives — Ajit Doval and Yang Jiechi — will be able to find an early breakthrough on the boundary dispute. By their very nature, territorial compromises are not easy, despite the strong political will in Delhi and Beijing. Even the simplest of solutions to the boundary dispute — turning the status quo into a legitimate border — involves a notional exchange of territories and changing the way the two countries have long drawn their maps.

Given the difficulties of finding a final settlement, the two sides have focused, in the last few rounds, on ensuring peace and tranquility on the border. Repeated incursions by both sides across the claimed boundary line have raised tensions on the border in recent years and cast a political shadow over bilateral ties. Further, the lack of agreement on where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is has complicated the effective implementation of many confidence-building measures for border stability that the two sides had negotiated in recent years. So, the clarification of the LAC has become an immediate political need for both countries.

Both these approaches — maintaining a peaceful border and clarifying the LAC — look beneath the boundary dispute by disaggregating the problem. But the greatest opportunity for the two governments today lies in looking beyond the boundary dispute and altering the broader context in which it plays out.

The Chinese have often said expanded bilateral cooperation across the board will set the stage, over the longer term, for addressing the intractable territorial problem left over by history. That long term might be too far down the road for India’s political comfort. A more productive approach would be to focus on promoting cooperation across the shared but disputed frontiers. This cooperation must necessarily be pursued in tandem with efforts to maintain peace on the border and purposeful negotiations to resolve the dispute.

Once upon a division

J.S. Bandukwala 
March 23, 2015

March 23 is the 75th anniversary of one of the pivotal moments in our history. The Pakistan Resolution was passed in Lahore. Jinnah lay down his demand for a homeland for the Muslims of undivided India. The consequences were disastrous for untold millions. It still affects our everyday life through communal tensions.

Jinnah was born barely 100 km from Porbandar, the birthplace of Gandhiji. A lawyer of great integrity and competence, he was far removed from the Muslim world to which he was born. But he was held in high regard by non-Muslim elites. He defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak in court; Sarojini Naidu wrote his biography; Motilal Nehru called him an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. His weak point was an abhorrence of mass politics a la Gandhi. For Jinnah the lawyer, politics was a brief and ideally confined to the drawing rooms of the educated and the rich. He gradually moved away from secular politics and even gave up Bombay to practice law in London. By 1930, he had been written off in national politics. Oddly, he later turned to mass politics and became the leader of Muslims. Without his backing, Pakistan would have been impossible.

In his incisive book, Creating a New Medina, Venkat Dhulipala brings out the pathos, the tragedy and the absurdity of Jinnah and his admirers’ assumptions in the aftermath of the Pakistan Resolution.

The driving force behind Jinnah were the big UP landowners. Paradoxically, most of them knew that UP would never be part of Pakistan and that they would have to leave their vast holdings once the country was partitioned. Most of them lived long enough to deeply regret their folly — or more accurately, their fantasy.

Ahmed Rizvi created the blueprint of Pakistan a month before the Lahore resolution was passed. He visualised it as a fortress of Islam. Yet he never grasped the fact that a country created on religious grounds could easily fragment over disagreement on the definition of a true Muslim. And the authority to decide that rested with the ulema, which acquired huge power as a result. This would lead to increasing sectarian divisions within the Muslims. Branding Muslim sects whose religious beliefs differed from their own as kafirs, who, according to some extremist points of view, are liable to be killed, made life hell for Shias, Qadianis and Sufis. But it also made Hindus and Christians easy targets of blasphemy laws and fringe elements. More importantly, it made a mockery of those Muslims who believed that Pakistan would be a homeland for all Muslims, irrespective of sectarian divisions.

Nuclear negotiations at a delicate stage

T. P. Sreenivasan
March 23, 2015 

Despite domestic hurdles in the current round of U.S.-Iran negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability, the end result will depend on how many centrifuges can sustain nuclear development in Iran without the country being subjected to crippling sanctions

The agreeable weather in Lausanne, Switzerland, may have helped, but an agreement may still elude the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in the current round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear capability. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some Republican Senators, who called into question the ability of U.S. President Barack Obama to deliver on his part of the deal even if an agreement is reached, could share the responsibility for the impasse.

Mr. Netanyahu appeared at the U.S. Congress in response to an invitation extended to him by the Republicans in January without the knowledge of the White House to issue a dire warning. Mr. Netanyahu presented an alarming picture: “This deal will not be a farewell to arms. It will be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East is criss-crossed by nuclear tripwires. A region, where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox,” he said.

Taking a cue from Mr. Netanyahu, the Republicans went over the head of the President to send a message to the Iranians, alerting them to the possibility of the Congress rejecting any recommendation from Mr. Obama to lift sanctions. The letter sent by 47 Republicans on March 9, 2015, and addressed to the Iranians, contended that while the President could reach an agreement with Iran, he had no authority to reward them with a relaxation of sanctions.Sticking points

For Mr. Obama, who refuses to acknowledge that he is handicapped by his loss of the House and the Senate, the unprecedented move by the Republican Party came as nothing less than a shocking challenge. He compared the Republican Senators to the reactionary members of Iran’s government and accused them of joining an unusual coalition with the enemies. Mr. Zarif, called the Republican move a “propaganda ploy”. He also did not mince words about Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention, perhaps helping in his re-election.

Towards the birth of a ‘new’ Islam?

Hasan Suroor
March 23, 2015 

ReutersWINDS OF CHANGE: “Muslims today live in multicultural, open and democratic societies — mostly in the West — with very different notions of individual freedoms and human rights than the tribal cultural values that shaped early Islam.” Picture shows a class on the subject ‘Multiculturalism, Secularism and Religion’ being held at a university in Paris.

If Islam is to move away from its current suicidal trajectory, the first thing that needs to be done is to get rid of the idea of one-size-fits-all Islam

As the global civil war tearing the Islamic world apart intensifies, there’s understandably deep pessimism over the future of Islam. Will it survive this self-inflicted existential crisis at all? And, if so, in what form? Will it be in the twisted form symbolised by the Islamic State (IS)? Or is this crisis the harbinger of a new awakening? The proverbial darkness before dawn? Will a new Islam rise from the ashes of the old?

There is a saying among Muslims, Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala ke baad, (Islam is reborn after every Karbala), alluding to Islam’s resurgence after the devastating defeat of Imam Hussein’s ragtag army in the battlefield of Karbala. After all, Christianity went through a particularly dark and bloody phase before it discovered Enlightenment. So, why not Islam?

Signs of introspection

On the face of it, such optimism sounds almost like wild fantasy in these gloomy times when jihadis seem to be the only show in town. Indeed, obituaries of liberal Islam are being routinely written. The Economist carried an article recently suggesting that liberals might have already lost the battle. But it also made an important point — that there are belated signs of introspection among Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Pointing out that hitherto Muslims had “not taken kindly” to Western “hectoring” to do more to counter jihadistideology, it noted that “they are starting to debate the role that Islamist ideology plays in extremism.” Most importantly, the traditionally conservative Muslim political and clerical Establishment had broken its silence with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar mosque — the oldest seat of sunni Islamic learning — proposing a radical overhaul of Islamic teaching; and Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, calling for a “religious revolution” to purge Islam of extremist tendencies.


By P S Suryanarayana

Neighbourhood diplomacy can be tricky even at the best of times, because any two neighbours will have common but differening expectations of a good bilateral relationship. Viewed in this light, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest visit to Sri Lanka has gone off well, without setting the Palk Strait on fire. This sums up the outcome, in a positive turn of the Thames-metaphor for the narrow waterway that bridges (or segregates) the two countries. To be sure, no diplomatic breakthroughs were announced during the two-day visit hat concluded on 14 March 2015. By all accounts, however, the diplomatic mood and political atmospherics toned up the quotient of Indo-Sri Lankan neighbourliness.

Apart from holding talks with Sri Lanka’s relatively new executive President, Maithripala Sirisena, Modi met a number of leaders, including those out of office, across the political spectrum in the island-republic. For a variety of reasons in the complex and often-chequered Indo-Lankan relations, Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to pay a purely-bilateral visit to Sri Lanka since July 1987. In that year, India’s then-Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had visited Colombo for signing a bilateral accord.

The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka, contrary to its positive objectives, widened the ethno- political fault-lines in the island-republic and embittered the relations between the two neighbours. Despite being designed to preserve Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity through an agreed intervention by the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to roll back a secessionist movement, the accord led to unintended consequences.

The most notable of those consequences was the fierce war that ensued between the IPKF and the Sri Lankan separatist guerrilla-terrorist force, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the mid-1980s, when that accord came into force, India was generally seen across Sri Lanka as a South Asian ‘bully’ bracing for regional hegemony.
China Factor, With a Difference

In the mid-2010s now, it is China which is generally seen, in the wider international circles, as the ascendant power determined to stamp its will across Asia and beyond. Two of the several recent examples of this perception in South Asia about China are (1) Beijing’s desire to build, albeit with the Sri Lankan Government’s consent in 2014, a strategic “port city” near the island-republic’s capital Colombo, and (2) the strategic access that China has gained at the Hambantota commercial port in southern Sri Lanka, more precisely at a vantage location along the vast Indian Ocean. Modi’s March-2015 visit to Sri Lanka, therefore, gets assessed in the light of two inter-related aspects of the island-republic’s recent foreign policy. These two aspects are Beijing’s strategic calculations, as well as the multi-ethnic Sri Lankan electorate’s recent choice of a new ‘nationalist’ President in the place of a political leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was perceived to have been China-friendly in his overall political calculus.

New Report on the Taliban Resurgence in Afghanistan

Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala
March 21, 2015

The Taliban Resurgent: Threats to Afghanistan’s Security

On the eve of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s trip to Washington, DC, the Institute for the Study of War has issued a new report outlining serious and increasing threats to Afghanistan’s security

The success or failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture. Newly appointed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on February 21, that the United States is considering a number of changes to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, including slowing the drawdown timetable and rethinking the U.S. counter-terrorism mission. On March 16, , anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that the United States is likely abandoning its plans to cut the number of U.S. troops to 5,500 at the end of the year. The United States could allow many of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to remain beyond 2015. A visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Washington, DC from March 22-25 is intended to discuss these issues.

The security environment in Afghanistan as it stands warrants at least this revision of drawdown rate and timeline. The Afghan National Security Forces face numerous challenges in 2015 that may significantly hinder their capacity to assume responsibility for the country’s security.

President Ghani is a willing and welcoming potential partner in the Resolute Support Mission and wants to see both U.S. and Afghan interests met.One of Ghani’s first acts as president was to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, and he remains a strong advocate of continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The United States is in a position to support Ghani as he leads Afghanistan into a new decade of transformation that includes a long-term and effective Afghan-U.S. security partnership, although he will face tough requirements to preserve the security of the country even so.

US drawdown from Afghanistan and Its Implications

21 Mar , 2015

Former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf made a far-fetched and sweeping generalisation when he stated, ‘The worst blunder for the US would be to quit Afghanistan without winning, in such a situation militancy would prevail, not only in Pakistan, India and Kashmir, but perhaps also in Europe, the UK and the US.’1

Taliban is without doubt the principal stumbling block for peace and stability…

Musharraf’s statement is far-fetched because this assertion fails to recognise the existing ground realities which have seen significant political and military changes in the region: the recently held election in Indian held Kashmir – which has undermined the separatists – and India’s befitting response to Pakistan’s firing across the line of control and the international border besides the international community refusing to heed Pakistan’s urges to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Taliban – The Principal Roadblock

Taliban is without doubt the principal stumbling block for peace and stability in Afghanistan, but this notorious network is not the only cause for worry. The warlords, the drug mafia, transport lobbies, the timber mafia, and the security companies (both local and foreign) all contribute in a small or big way to put Afghanistan in a perennial state of unrest.

Violence against the helpless, atrocities against women and children, a parallel system of justice and skewed economic and social betterment are malignant enough not merely to arrest the pace of reforms but also to put this ravaged nation into a regressive trajectory. This has caused much anxiety around the globe. It is, therefore, heartening that President Obama and his advisors had begun to critically analyse the likely adverse effects of an early drawdown.


By Dr. Sanchita Bhattacharya*

Madrasa registration and regulation process of the Pakistani government has long been criticised and fought against in the country; an effort that was mainly started by Benazir Bhutto and then got token impetus during the Musharraf era. In the latest of such events, on March 1, the Ittehadul Tanzeemat-i-Madaris (ITM), an umbrella organisation of the five Wafaqs (federations) of madrasas, decided to strongly resist the government measures against madrasas and reject all “unconstitutional” steps of the rulers who, it alleged, are pursuing the agenda of the imperial powers. The decision was taken at a meeting held at Mansoora, Lahore, Jamaat-i-Islami’s headquarters. Maulana Abdul Malik, Mufti Munibur Rahman, Qari Hanif Jullandhry, Yasin Zafar and Syed Kazim Naqvi were among those who spoke.

The ITM is comprised of the Wafaqul Madaris (representing Deobandi school of thought); Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan (Brelvi school of thought); Wafaqul Madaris Salfia (Ahl-e-Hadith school of thought); Wafaqul Madaris Shia and Jamat-e-Islami led Rabtatul Madaris. The five Wafaqs are the umbrella organisations of thousands of seminaries across the country.

The body sought an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to remove the misgivings regarding madrasas and religious scholars on this score. They also called for stopping the arrests of ulema and immediate release of those already in custody.

The decisions were announced by the heads of the five Wafaqs at a joint press conference after their meeting. They said Pakistan was an Islamic state and the constitution did not allow any anti-Islam activity. But, they alleged, the government was bent upon advancing the designs of the US and the West against Islam. They said nobody objected to the madrasas’ registration but the government was neither registering these institutions nor had it named the seminaries allegedly involved in terrorism.

Mufti Munibur Rahman said their talks with the government were also going on and they had already held talks with the federal secretaries of religious affairs, education and interior, but the crackdown on the seminaries was not suspended even for a single day. He said they had called upon the interior minister to make public names of the madrasas and individuals involved in unconstitutional activities so that the nation could know those involved in terrorism and assured that they would not defend such elements.

Earlier, Nawaz Sharif on February 18 ordered authorities to take stern action against madrasas involved in extremism and militancy in the country, in the wake of a series of deadly attacks on mosques. Religious seminaries (madrasas) and organisations involved in terror activities should be identified and proceeded against, he said, adding that his government was committed to eradicate terrorism and extremism.


by Lauren McNally and Paul Bucala

The success or failure of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has reached a critical juncture. Newly appointed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced on February 21, 2015 that the United States is considering a number of changes to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, including slowing the drawdown timetable and rethinking the U.S. counter-terrorism mission. On March 16, 2015, anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that the United States is likely abandoning its plans to cut the number of U.S. troops to 5,500 at the end of the year. The United States could allow many of the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan to remain beyond 2015. A visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Washington, DC from March 22-25, 2015 is intended to discuss these issues.

The security environment in Afghanistan as it stands warrants at least this revision of drawdown rate and timeline. The Afghan National Security Forces face numerous challenges in 2015 that may significantly hinder their capacity to assume responsibility for the country’s security.

First, the insurgency itself threatens the Afghan government’s control over terrain. Taliban attack patterns in 2014 were not typical of the previous two years. The Taliban conducted high-profile attacks on district centers and security checkpoints throughout the country in late 2014, often with massed, coordinated assaults. These factors led to casualty rates for both Afghan security forces and Afghan civilians in 2014 higher than in any of the last six years.

A persistent Taliban presence outside of Kabul indicates that the insurgency is fighting for more than remote district centers, and furthermore that it can regenerate itself and strengthen its military capability. This continued threat will set conditions for greater security challenges in 2015. The escalation in high-profile attacks within Kabul also indicates that the Taliban maintains the capability to threaten the presence of Western interests in the capital.

Far from defeated, the ongoing Afghan insurgency remains a serious challenge and threatens to reverse hard-won prior gains. This assessment contradicts some more optimistic statements by U.S. leaders at the end of 2014. The Afghan government is actively pursuing peace negotiations with the Taliban, but increased fracturing within the Taliban will likely impede a comprehensive peace deal. A looming deadline for withdrawal by international forces incentivizes the Taliban to strengthen its hand through future offensives. A fixed deadline, even further in the future, not tethered to the achievement of specific goals will not address this challenge.

Afghanistan at Transition

MAR 19, 2015 

This new study covers the civil and military lessons of the war in Afghanistan as of 2015, the trends at the time of transition, and the risks inherent in the current approach to supporting Afghanistan. The report focuses on the lessons to be learned from the US experience in Afghanistan to date and the problems Afghanistan faces now that most US and allied combat forces have left. The work builds on more than a decade’s worth of reporting and analysis of the Afghan war. It examines the recent trends and problems in Afghan governance, trends in the fighting, progress in the Afghan security forces, and what may be a growing crisis in the Afghan economy. The analysis is supported with extensive metrics on every major military and civil aspect of the war, a detailed analysis of the fighting, and a close examination of the problems resulting from the lack of Afghan political unity, the growing Afghan budget crisis, and critical problems with power brokers and corruption. 

Myanmar: After the Protests, Out Come the Cartoonists

By Poppy McPherson
March 22, 2015

Within minutes of news breaking that police had violently broken up a peaceful student protest in downtown Yangon earlier this month, Salai Suanpi set to work. The cartoonist, who by day is employed by non-profits but spends his nights poking fun at the powerful with biting illustrations, drew a typically irreverent sketch and uploaded it to social media. Dozens of his colleagues did the same.

The images, depicting the thugs who were employed to disperse education reform demonstrators, were shared thousands of times. Some painted the thugs, a loathed civilian branch of police known as Swan Ar Shin who wore red armbands emblazoned with the word “duty,” as an ugly threat to democratic transition. The following morning, more were splashed across the newsstands. It was a powerful statement in a country in which, until three years ago, independent media did not exist.

Since the abolition of censorship in 2012, shortly after military rule gave over to a quasi-civilian government, cartoonists in Myanmar have enjoyed new freedoms. It’s not a way to make a living – journals and newspapers typically pay just $10 per image – so most of the cartoonists have other jobs. But, published under pen names like “Loudspeaker” and “The Greatness,” their stinging pictures have won them thousands of fans.

“People have so many feelings that they didn’t have an outlet for during the past four decades under the junta,” said Myint Kyaw, the secretary general of the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN). “The cartoonists understand these feelings, and people applaud them.”

Cartoonists, who have been publishing in Myanmar since the 1930s, have escaped some of the scrutiny applied to other media professionals. Surprisingly, for an occupation that skewers authority in a deeply paranoid and, for generations, wholly authoritarian state, there have been no defamation cases brought against them in recent years, according to the MJN. And with the proliferation of daily newspapers in the country and the advent of social media, they now have more platforms than ever on which to disburse their pictorial commentary. Facebook pages like Brainwave collate and share the cartoons to tens of thousands of followers.

Salai Suanpi, a diminutive, high-spirited 27-year-old who wears rectangular glasses, a small goatee and a stud in his left ear, is one of the best-known of the younger generation. He sells images to local media but focuses most of his attention online. “I use a lot of my energy on social media,” he said. “They say we are in the global village now, right? This way, my cartoons will be seen around the world.”

But as cartoonists explore their post-censorship boundaries, enthusiasm has been dampened by fear. In the past year, more than 10 journalists have been jailed. Last October, a freelance reporter was shot dead in the custody of the Burmese army. In February, a photojournalist was arrested after posting a satirical image of a military battle on Facebook. He was later released but the episode left many unsettled. Cartoonists routinely practice self-censorship.


By Rupak Bhattacharjee*

The recent developments in Bangladesh suggest an alarming and simultaneous rise of religious fanaticism and atheism, complicating the already volatile political scenario of the country.

In the last four weeks, Bangladesh witnessed the killing of a writer dubbed as atheist by the fundamentalists, conviction of five Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen-Bangladesh (JMB) militants and arrest of eight suspected Islamic terrorists. Many in Bangladesh find the current trend both disturbing and confusing. Dhaka’s intelligentsia is particularly concerned over the turn of events in which two extreme groups of young people are confronting each other: political Islamists opposing the present secular-democratic dispensation and the atheists who like to be called “progressives” but appear intolerant towards “anyone who believes in god”. This peculiar phenomenon has been developing in the country for two years or so.

On February 26, Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US blogger and writer, was ruthlessly murdered near Dhaka University (DU) by suspected Islamists who accused him of propagating atheism in a predominantly Muslim country. Roy had received numerous threats from the fundamentalists during the last one year for his writings. Such threats had gone up after the release of his two books at the Ekushe Book Fair dealing with certain issues which are considered sensitive in a Muslim society.

Several young Bangladeshis proud of their rich Bengali heritage and the glorious Liberation War have not found the aggressive approach and content of radical writings too inspiring. They strongly condemn the gruesome murder and support Roy’s freedom of expression, even though they may not be in conformity with the writer’s thoughts.

Myanmar and Kokang conflict spilling over to China

March 21, 2015

In this past month, Myanmar air force has apparently waded into Chinese territory 3 times as part of its ongoing struggles with Kokang rebels. In the most recent time, bombs were dropped which killed 5 Chinese citizens. Due to the fact that the vast majorities of Kokang population are ethnically Han Chinese and use RMB as their currency, there is understandably a lot of sympathy in China toward the plight of Kokang. Many people have compared this to Russia and Crimea and others wonder if China should do more in this conflict.

As usual, China keeps to its official stance of not interfering with another country’s internal affairs while building up air defense capabilities in the border area. China painstakingly makes it clear that it’s not supporting Kokang rebels causes, because it has relatively good relationship with Myanmar and does a lot of business in the country. In the future, it is also possible that China would want to set up base in Myanmar to access Indian Ocean. So it should be quite understandable that PLA does not devote much resource in this area. There is 2 regiments stationed in the area, but they are quite a distance away from where the bombings took place. A lot of people were wondering about the readiness of PLAAF to respond to intrusions, but it seems like they really didn’t have that much time based on where the intrusions happened. 

The interesting part is that Myanmar first reacted to these bombings by putting the blames on the rebels and absolving itself of all responsibility. They have since toned down their accusations and may have even offered compensations to the victim’s families, but I think they really looked quite foolish in the process. A swift apology and some kind of pledge to investigate the matters would have done a lot to pacify the anger in China right now. As it is, the Chineses gov’t is under pressure to do something.

So far, it looks like they have told Myanmar that this kind of action is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. And I think that if China wants to be the leader in this region, it certainly cannot allow repeated incursion of its airspace and bombing of its citizens. The way to do that is by building up more air defense weapon systems and installing more early warning radar in the range. If China’s radar cannot reliable track Myanmar’s Mig-29s, then they need to improve those radar systems. And if another deadly bombing does occur, then they probably need to launch strikes against certain Myanmar military targets. Other than that, it is in China's interest to keep this as low-key as possible.

Can Congress Stop China in the South China Sea?

March 22, 2015

The balance of power in Asia is changing—and not in Washington’s favor.

No longer can the United States count on simply massing forces Gulf War I style and quickly coming to the aid of its allies if combat ever commenced on the Korean peninsula, in the East China Sea, around Taiwan or in the South China Sea—all thanks to China’s massive military buildup and growing anti-access/area-denial capabilities. The Obama Administration is quick to point out America is “pivoting” or “rebalancing” to Asia—maybe one of the most “sticky” foreign policy slogans in the last twenty five years. But catchphrasescan’t change the facts and many would argue the pivot remains only a slogan when we take a hard look at facts on the ground. China is not only altering the status quo on land but on the water, in the sky, in space, and maybe even in cyberspace too.

While the Obama Administration would likely rather continue its present strategy of trying to engage Beijing and work towards some sort of “new type of great power relations,” it appears a group of lawmakers are working towards pushing the administration to consider a different approach. Such an approach would likely engage Beijing on a whole range of Indo-Pacific issues—with a specific focus on the challenges in the South China Sea. While it is certainly early days to judge any immediate impact this notable bipartisan effort may have on Administration policy one thing is clear: they certainly know the issues at hand and may be able to offer sorely needed guidance when it comes to the various challenges Washington faces in Asia. At the very least they could help place sorely needed attention such issues sometimes miss in major media outlets.

In a letter released late Thursday addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed (Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee) along with and Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez (Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) press the Secretaries for “the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy for the maritime commons of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Japan, China in security talks after 4-year break

by Staff Writers

Japan and China held security talks Thursday after a four-year hiatus because of simmering territorial tensions with the two sides agreeing to hold meetings "more frequently" to speed up a thaw in once-frozen relations, officials said.

The first such dialogue between the two Asian rivals since January 2011 was held at Japan's foreign ministry in Tokyo, a government official said, in the latest sign of slowly improving ties.

The talks involved top officials from each country's foreign and defence ministries, including Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and Liu Jianchao, China's assistant foreign minister.

"Both sides agreed that these kind of direct talks in the areas of national security and defence should be held more frequently," said a Japanese ministry official who was at the meeting.

Specifically, the officials agreed that they should start operating a maritime crisis-management mechanism soon, the official said.

Tokyo asked Beijing to make its growing defence spending more transparent and explain the reasons behind its military expansion, he added.

Japanese officials told their counterparts that Japan has and will continue to follow the path of pacifism, at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to relax the restrictions on Japan's military to allow it to come to the aid of allies under attack -- a move that has angered Beijing.

China's Liu told the meeting that Beijing hoped to develop ties with Tokyo in the spirit of "taking history as a mirror and looking forward to the future", according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

The comment reflects Beijing's persistent theme of Japan's need to face up to its aggressive actions in World War II.

What Happens When the Fighting Stops?

U.S. officials say they are concerned about potential sectarian violence in Tikrit when Shiite militias eventually dislodge the Islamic State from the Iraqi city, but for now, they are waiting and watching.

But a new report from Human Rights Watch portends badly for what could happen when the fighting stops.

The report, released today, documents abuses that were carried out last fall after an unlikely combination of U.S. warplanes, Iranian advisors, Shiite militias, and Iraqi and Kurdish government ground forces worked together to end the Islamic State’s three-month siege on the town of Amerli in eastern Iraq. The battle was hailed as a success in the long, slow battle to beat back the Islamic State in Iraq.

But after the battle ended, Shiite militias raided nearby Sunni villages, looting and burning homes and businesses, according to the report. An unknown number of men were abducted as well.

The Iraqi government disputes the report’s findings, saying the Islamic State was responsible for most of the destruction. The rest of it was caused by the “extremely violent and protracted” battle for Amerli, the government said in a March 12 letter. The Iraqi government acknowledged what it called “individual lapses,” and said those were being handled by the Iraqi judicial system.

Human Rights Watch says satellite imagery backs up the stories it collected from over 30 eyewitnesses, including Kurdish Peshmerga officers. The imagery shows the destruction was not caused by the Islamic State when it controlled the towns, but occurred once the Shiite militias moved in when the fighting was over.

Petraeus: The Islamic State isn’t our biggest problem in Iraq

March 20 

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq during the 2007-2008 surge, was back in that country last week for the first time in more than three years. He was attending the annual Sulaimani Forum, a get-together of Iraqi leaders, thinkers and academics, at the American University of Iraq - Sulaimani in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. 

In his most expansive comments yet on the latest crisis in Iraq and Syria, he answered written questions from The Post’s Liz Sly, offering insights into the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which he refers to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. 

How does it feel to be back in Iraq after four years away? 

Iraq is a country I came to know well and the place where I spent some of the most consequential years of my life. So it has been a bit of an emotional experience to return here after my last visit in December 2011 as director of the CIA. I was very grateful for the chance to be back to see old friends and comrades from the past. 

That said, it is impossible to return to Iraq without a keen sense of opportunities lost. These include the mistakes we, the U.S., made here, and likewise the mistakes the Iraqis themselves have made. This includes the squandering of so much of what we and our coalition and Iraqi partners paid such a heavy cost to achieve, the continuing failure of Iraq's political leaders to solve longstanding political disputes, and the exploitation of these failures by extremists on both sides of the sectarian and ethnic divides. 

Having said that, my sense is that the situation in Iraq today is, to repeat a phrase I used on the eve of the surge, hard but not hopeless. I believe that a reasonable outcome here is still achievable, although it will be up to all of us — Iraqis, Americans, leaders in the region and leaders of the coalition countries — to work together to achieve it. 

You oversaw the gains of the surge in 2007-08. How does it make you feel to see what is happening today, with ISIS having taken over more of Iraq than its predecessor, AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq], ever did? 

Rivals With Benefits Israel and Saudi Arabia's Secret History of Cooperation

MARCH 13, 2015

Those following the turmoil in the Middle East might be surprised to hear of increasingly friendly relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, longtime rivals that now face the shared threats posed by Iran’s nuclear program and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Last November, Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister, Ali al-Naimi, expressed a willingness to sell oil to Israel, which it still does not formally recognize. “His Majesty King Abdullah has always been a model for good relations between Saudi Arabia and other states,” Naimi told reporters in Vienna, “and the Jewish state is no exception.” Just months earlier, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal published an op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Although al-Faisal did little more than reiterate the Arab League’s traditional position on the peace process—namely that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders—publishing in an Israeli newspaper represented a significant overture. These gestures followed years of speculation that Israel and Saudi Arabia might coordinate an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. 

However notable these developments are, unofficial cooperation between the two countries is hardly unprecedented. As early as the 1960s, Israel and Saudi Arabia found common ground when it came to countries or movements that explicitly threatened both of their existences. The two countries didn’t merely align their strategies, however; they collaborated on a tactical level, too.

During the 1960s, that threat emanated from Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the Arab Nationalist movement and the most popular figure in the Middle East. His political speeches and radio broadcasts reached millions across the Arab world, and Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom were its frequent targets.

When a cadre of Yemeni officers with Arab-nationalist sympathies toppled Yemen’s theocratic monarchy in 1962, Nasser dispatched some 70,000 Egyptian troops to support the new republic’s war against old-regime loyalists. Nasser also declared his intention to carry the revolution even further, to Saudi Arabia, on Yemen’s northern border, and to the British colony of Aden, to the south.

Afghanistan – Is the Subcontract in Motion?

By Prakash Katoch
March 20, 2015

Henry Kissinger writes in his book ‘World Order’, “A further radicalization of the Arab world or heightened conflict in Pakistan could expose India to significant internal pressures.” What Kissinger fails to mention is the role played by the US in both scenarios – heightening conflict in the Arab world and instability within Pakistan. As part of disarray in the Arab world, CIA sources admitted last year that former British military officers were training ISIS in Turkey. Concurrently in 2012, Jordan media had reported ISIS was being trained in Jordan by US instructors. Could this happen without CIA and Pentagon consent? Now Washington Times of February 23 reports deliberate leak by the Pentagon that one of its training camps to fight the ISIS is inside Jordan – much to the chagrin of latter who wanted it kept secret. As for Pakistan, peripheral Predator attacks in the country’s northwest and giving a free hand to Pakistan to spawn terrorism is sure recipe for implosion, Osama killing notwithstanding. Sub-conventional war has emerged with great strategic value, so big powers are indulging in proxy wars. The game involves creating and using terrorist organizations, mating them or setting them against each other, as required.

Perception management by the west leaves an impression that the US has been bungling its foreign policy; creating chaos and increasing radicalization all over. But when American historian William Blum says that the US with British collaboration since 1945 has attempted overthrowing 50 plus governments including democratically elected, interfered in elections in 30 countries, bombed civilian populations of 30 countries, used chemical and biological weapons and attempted to assassinate foreign leaders, it certainly is a well thought out strategy. Witness Obama’s uncalled for remarks about secularism in India immediately post his India visit that affected the Delhi elections and consider following US actions that are common knowledge: creation of Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban to oust the Soviets; facilitating air evacuation of Pakistani army regulars and 9000 Pakistan Taliban (including 6000 Punjabi Taliban) from Khost and Kundus during US invasion of Afghanistan; replacing Saddam’s Sunni government in Iraq with a totally Shia Maliki regime; manipulating the Sunni-Shia war in conjunction Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE; CIA-ISI links since SEATO-CENTO days and use of Pakistani proxies by the US - one example being Pakistan Taliban fighting alongside US aided Syrian rebels to oust Assad; use of Al Qaeda in Libya, Syria and Iraq; the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban concept in connivance Pakistan; letting the ISIS Frankenstein mushroom till Baghdadi went berserk to attack Iraqi Kurds and behead westerners, permitting ISIS to smuggle out and sell US$ 3 million worth oil every day despite the US led 40 nation coalition controlling the periphery, sea, air and cyberspace, to name a few.

South Koreans Are Getting Older. Can the Country Cope?

March 22, 2015

South Korea is an aging society. This is mainly a function of its low fertility rates and high life expectancy. According to recent statistics, South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world – lower than other aging societies (Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, for instance). Life expectancy is also significantly higher now than it was one or two generations ago: 66 years in 1980, it has increased steadily over the years, and is now 81 years.

A JTBC report, using the latest Statistics Korea data, has focused on the issue of South Korea’s aging population.

According to the data, the elderly population (those 65 years and older) has tripled in size over the last 30 years. Ten years ago the elderly accounted for two out of every ten people. By 2040, this ratio will increase to three for every ten. The average age in 1980 was 26; it is forecast to exceed 40 this year.

An aging society presents several immediate concerns for South. One of those concerns is how the state and the market will respond to South Korea’s quickly shifting demographic composition.

Rhyu Geon-shik of the Korea Insurance Research Institute has a pessimistic outlook. Quoted in the JTBC report, Rhyu says, “The poverty rate for the elderly in this country is number one in the world. The situation is quite worrisome. Inter-generational conflict surrounding welfare for the elderly is increasing, and more of elderly population is becoming refugees as they fall below the poverty line.”

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the state and society are not very supportive of welfare state expansion. It would be expensive, and someone has to pay for it.

While the state is unwilling, the private sector is underprepared, according to findings by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (cited in the report). Even with the implementation of wage peak systems and retirement age extensions, the chamber believes businesses are not adequately prepared to deal with an increase in the population of retirees. A decrease in the number of able-bodied workers and an increase in the number of dependent, non-productive persons are going to challenge the financial soundness of many companies.

US Psychological Warfare in Ukraine: Targeting Online Independent Media Coverage

March 20, 2015

If you are a journalist writing about or a person concerned about issues like Free Speech, read or write in alternative media or news, Occupy movement, Ferguson, Gaza, Ukraine, Russia, police brutality, US interventionism, fair government, homelessness, keeping the government accountable, representative government, government intrusions like the NSA is doing, or you are liberal, progressive, libertarian, conservative, separation of church and state, religion, …

If you have a website, write, read, or like something in social media that strays outside the new lines the war isn’t coming, its now here.

What would we do? Disrupt, deny, degrade, deceive, corrupt, usurp or destroy the information. The information, please don’t forget, is the ultimate objective of cyber. That will directly impact the decision-making process of the adversary’s leader who is the ultimate target.”- Joel Harding on Ukraine’s cyber strategy.

Welcome to World of Private Sector IO (Information Operations)

IO or IIO (Inform and Influence Operations) defined by the US Army includes the fields of psychological operations and military deception.

In military IIO operations center on the ability to influence foreign audiences, US and global audiences, and adversely affect enemy decision making through an integrated approach. Even current event news is released in this fashion. Each portal is given messages that follow the same themes because it is an across the board mainstream effort that fills the information space entirely when it is working correctly.

The purpose of “Inform and Influence Operations” is not to provide a perspective, opinion, or lay out a policy. It is defined as the ability to make audiences “think and act” in a manner favorable to the mission objectives. This is done through applying perception management techniques which target the audiences emotions, motives, and reasoning.

These techniques are not geared for debate. It is to overwhelm and change the target psyche.

Using these techniques information sources can be manipulated and those that write, speak, or think counter to the objective are relegated as propaganda, ill informed, or irrelevant.

Meet Joel Harding-Ukraine’s King Troll


March 19, 2015

In recent months, national security experts from Henry Kissinger on downhave criticized the Obama administration for lacking a grand strategic plan. The absence of a grand design, however, is not the cause of Obama’s foreign policy problems. It is the administration’s inability to learn from its mistakes and adapt to unexpected circumstances that is to blame for the president’s grand strategic shortcomings.

Despite the publication of a long-delayed National Security Strategy earlier this month, Obama signaled in a recent interview that his foreign policy vision is not based on an overarching design to accomplish a long-term goal. As he readily admitted to Vox, he aims for small incremental changes rather than the pursuit of a grand design: “…you take the victories where you can. You make things a little bit better rather than a little bit worse.” Contrary to what many strategy scholars contend, Obama’s emergent approach to grand strategy is actually more sensible than the pursuit of an overarching design. In general, the connection between grand designs and successful grand strategies is far less clear than many experts simply assume.

For example, even during the Cold War, America’s grand strategy came more from an emergent process rather than being the product of farsighted designs. Scholars have shown how George Kennan’s original designs had far less influence in shaping containment than today’s pundits and policymakers assume. There was no single “grand design” that guided U.S. policy during the Cold War, but rather a continuous process of formulating and implementing strategies (plural, as John Gaddis famously titled hisstudy of containment) by different administrations, based partly on their respective “lessons learned” from crises in Greece, Turkey, Berlin, Korea, and Vietnam, among others. Any good strategy must evolve with the context in which it is applied, and containment was no different, as Kennan himself recognized.

‘Ulyanovsk’ Would Have Been the Soviets’ Supercarrier


Russia scrapped the ship in the ’90s

Had she ever sailed, the Soviet supercarrier Ulyanovsk would have been a naval behemoth more than 1,000 feet long, with an 85,000-ton displacement and enough storage to carry an air group of up to 70 fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

With a nuclear-powered engine — and working in conjunction with other Soviet surface warfare vessels and submarines — the supercarrier would have steamed through the oceans with a purpose.

Namely, to keep the U.S. Navy away from the Motherland’s shores.

But the Ulyanovsk is a tantalizing “almost” of history. Moscow never finished the project, because it ran out of money. As the Cold War ended, Russia plunged into years of economic hardship that made building new ships impossible.

The Ulyanovsk died in the scrap yards in 1992. But now the Kremlin is spending billions of rubles modernizing its military — and wants a new supercarrier to rival the United States.

Builders laid the keel for the Ulyanovsk in 1988, just as the Soviet empire began to break apart. The ship was such a large project that builders wouldn’t have finished her until the mid ’90s.

Dollar, rupee and the budget Read more at: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/NDdFE8JcgnJ2GPOOa0dvRM/Dollar-rupee-and-the-budget.html?utm_source=copy

Dollar, rupee and the budgetSince October 2014 the euro has slumped almost 20% versus the dollar as expectations of monetary tightening in the US and loosening by the European Central Bank have taken hold. A strong dollar and rising US interest rates is tough going for emerging market currencies at the best of times and more so following a period of easy money. The collapse of the Russian rouble, Nigerian naira and Ukrainian hryvnia could be explained away by the collapse in oil prices and geopolitical tensions, but the emerging market currency weakness is broad based. Versus the dollar the Brazilian real is down 28% and even the Indonesian rupiah, cosseted by long-term gas contracts with Japan, has lost 8.3%. Even the renminbi is at risk of popping out of its tight fluctuation band on the side of weakness. The Indian rupee is alone in bucking that trend.

Since October, the rupee has hardly budged against a rampaging dollar and were it not for fear of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) intervention, maybe it could have risen. Is this one of those disconnects from international trends often visited upon India that RBI should consider smoothing out, perhaps driven by the euphoria of a new government or speculation that India’s growth rate is rising above China’s? Or is it a sign of a fundamental revaluation of the rupee that will complicate monetary policy and the Narendra Modi government’s plans for Make in India? There are more grounds for the latter than you might think.

The rupee is one of the most undervalued currencies. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), if you were to take a common basket of goods, the exchange rate that would make that basket equivalent in price in India and abroad is Rs.18.5 per dollar. This makes the rupee more than 60% undervalued. The only currencies more undervalued on this purchasing power parity (PPP) basis are the rouble and the hryvnia. Yet, despite this substantial undervaluation, India is running endemic trade deficits, not surpluses. According to RBI, the trade deficit for 2013-14 is $136.1 billion. 

There are two possible explanations for the missing surpluses. The first is that estimates of PPP are just wrong. PPP is an easy concept to understand, but hard to compute. People in different countries, with different income levels, demographic structures, traditions and tastes do not consume the same basket of goods, and so it is often not available for a fair comparison. It is striking therefore that other PPP studies come up with similar results.

Why the Oil Price Is Really Collapsing

March 20, 2015

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that's not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil's production-maximizing business model.

Until last fall, when the price decline gathered momentum, the oil giants were operating at full throttle, pumping out more petroleum every day. They did so, of course, in part to profit from the high prices. For most of the previous six years, Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude oil, had been selling at $100 or higher. But Big Oil was also operating according to a business model that assumed an ever-increasing demand for its products, however costly they might be to produce and refine. This meant that no fossil fuel reserves, no potential source of supply -- no matter how remote or hard to reach, how far offshore or deeply buried, how encased in rock -- was deemed untouchable in the mad scramble to increase output and profits.

In recent years, this output-maximizing strategy had, in turn, generated historic wealth for the giant oil companies. Exxon, the largest U.S.-based oil firm, earned an eye-popping $32.6 billion in 2013 alone, more than any other American company except for Apple. Chevron, the second biggest oil firm, posted earnings of $21.4 billion that same year. State-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Russia's Rosneft also reaped mammoth profits.

How things have changed in a matter of mere months. With demand stagnant and excess production the story of the moment, the very strategy that had generated record-breaking profits has suddenly become hopelessly dysfunctional.