28 March 2015

The flare-up in Yemen

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
Mar 28 2015 

The best option for India is to practise non-alignment

West Asia is on the boil, literally. The events surrounding Yemen, which exploded within the past 48 hours, have been building up for much longer. What was a local, civil war has morphed into a full-scale regional war, with major participation from extra-regional powers, thus making it an international conflict. In the meanwhile, the Syrian and Iraqi war theatre continues unabated, without any hope of an early end. 

In an article published in a leading English daily almost exactly four years ago entitled ‘The New Great Game in West Asia’, this writer had anticipated the Shia-Sunni conflict as the major, perhaps defining , feature of West Asia; many analysts thought I was over-reading the situation. The Shia-Sunni feud is as old as Islam itself. At various periods in history, it has lain dormant or become explosive; it never disappeared and will not, ever.

Future looks good for telecom sector

Mar 28, 2015
There is expected to be some consolidation in the industry with the smaller telecom companies bowing out. But the government should somehow encourage them to survive as competition is good.

The spectacular collection of Rs 1.10 lakh crore in the nine-day spectrum auction is a win-win situation for the government and a vindication of the former Comptroller and Auditor General, Vinod Rai, who had first computed the loss to the exchequer through sale of spectrum during the Manmohan Singh regime. It is way above the Rs 1,06,000 crore that the government got in 2010, which included the Rs 30,000 crore payment from the state-owned BSNL and MTNL.

China and India: Competing for Influence in Afghanistan

By Tridivesh Singh Maini
March 27, 2015

The two countries may well tussle for influence in postwar Afghanistan, but will also need to work together. 
New Delhi and Beijing are both keen to see the visit to China by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is scheduled for May, produce something substantive. For one thing, the two countries are looking to address one of the thornier issues between them, the border dispute. The 18th round of border talks are currently underway and Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has also held talks with his Chinese counterpart and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Both countries want progress on the contentious issue, which has long bedeviled relations. However, the border question is not the only determinant of China-India ties: the Chinese role in Afghanistan, and its efforts to connect Afghanistan with both Pakistan and Central Asia, will also have an important bearing on one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships.

Lee Kuan Yew Believed in India

March 26, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew was both an admirer and critic of India. 
As the world mourns the death of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who was not only a statesman but the philosopher of modern Asia, it would be instructive to consider his thoughts on India, a country he was deeply connected with and interested in. As a friendly but objective party, his insights on India are especially valuable. Many Indians, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi have expressed admiration of Lee, describing him as “a far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders.”

Lee Kuan Yew knew every prime minister of independent India and admired many Indian leaders personally, more so for their personality traits than their policies. Lee admired both Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi during their tenures as prime ministers. He saw Nehru as a “demagogue who chose not to become a dictator.” Of Indira Gandhi, he said that “there was that steel in her that would match any Kremlin leader.” Reflecting on her years later, Lee also said that “Indira Gandhi was the toughest woman prime minister I have met. She was feminine but there was nothing soft about her. She was a more determined and ruthless political leader than Margaret Thatcher, Bandaranaike, or Benazir Bhutto.”

India’s New Fighters Have Serious Engine Problems


In the past decade, the Indian Air Force has bought hundreds of Su-30MKI fighter jets from Russia. Some of Moscow’s most advanced export fighters, the warplanes should have helped New Delhi strengthen its military.

But it turns out, the twin-engine jets have failure-prone motors. Their AL-31FP engines break down with alarming frequency.

In March, Indian defense minister Manohar Parrikar revealed the propulsion problems.

There have been no fewer than 69 investigations involving engine failures since 2012, according to Parrikar. Between January 2013 and December 2014 alone, the Indian Air Force recorded 35 technical problems with the turbofans.
A shortfall in India’s Sukhoi fleet is a big deal. Especially at a time when India’s fighter squadrons are shrinking, and plans to induct the French Rafale fighter have stalled.

The White House Is Barely Shrinking the U.S. Force in Afghanistan This Year The war isn’t over — not by a long shot


U.S. troops won’t be leaving Afghanistan as quickly as the White House once planned. On March 24, Pres. Barack Obama announced that American troops will slow their withdrawal from the troubled country.

Though the U.S. officially ended combat operations in 2014, American troops — and funds — still play a huge role in operations against insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Just one day before Obama’s announcement, Afghan Pres. Ashraf Ghani visited the Pentagon as part of a state visit. He met with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter — a vocal advocate of greater military engagement in Afghanistan.


March 26, 2015

The first official visit to Washington of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah comes at an opportune time for both countries. The significant drawdown of Western forces at the end of 2014 combined with recent events in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine have pushed Afghanistan down the foreign policy priority list of the United States and its allies at a time of great transition. This visit will allow Ghani and Abdullah the occasion to put a new face on the bilateral relationship and signal clearly to Americans that the tumultuous days of the Karzai regime are over. For the United States it provides a valuable opportunity to reassess the nature of its commitment to supporting Afghanistan at the outset of the latest and perhaps most crucial phase of the conflict. The Obama administration would be wise to use this occasion not to simply reaffirm its current guidance regarding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but to make a bold statement that it is committed to the longer-term, continued development of a key ally.

The White House Is Barely Shrinking the U.S. Force in Afghanistan This Year


U.S. troops won’t be leaving Afghanistan as quickly as the White House once planned. On March 24, Pres. Barack Obama announced that American troops will slow their withdrawal from the troubled country.

Though the U.S. officially ended combat operations in 2014, American troops — and funds — still play a huge role in operations against insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Just one day before Obama’s announcement, Afghan Pres. Ashraf Ghani visited the Pentagon as part of a state visit. He met with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter — a vocal advocate of greater military engagement in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Christians Fight Back

MARCH 24, 2015 

LAHORE, Pakistan — LAST Monday, this city was briefly overrun with bands of sloganeering, stick-wielding youths. The demonstrators threw stones at police officers, burned car tires and smashed windows. One gang even plundered a 7Up truck, guzzling its goods before transfixed TV cameras. (I watched the footage — slow-mo jets of sparkly liquid, with strains of horror-movie music playing in the background — that night on the Internet.) There was a euphoric edge to the riots, apparent even when they took a grotesquely violent turn with the lynching of two men.

Who were these vandals? And what, if anything, did their actions demonstrate?

If you went by the original news bulletins, they were Christians reacting to a suicide bombing the day before of two churches in Youhanabad, a low-income area of Lahore that is home to some 100,000 Christians. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 15 people and injured dozens. The rioters’ anger was directed at Pakistan’s state and society, which had repeatedly failed to protect them from Islamist extremists. According toone estimate, in the last two years there have been 36 targeted attacks on Pakistani Christians, 265 Christian deaths from suicide bombings and 21 “persecutions” of Christians under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. To their credit, several TV anchors ran heart-rending montages of recent incidents in which Muslim mobs or terrorists had shot, bombed or burned Pakistani Christians.

Ghani: Afghanistan Can Serve as Roadblock to Extremism Along New Silk Road

MARCH 25, 2015

Because of its location, history, and potential exports, Afghanistan is poised to be the keystone for a new Silk Road of trade across Asia. But first, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday, the nation must serve as a roadblock to spreading extremism.

In a 53-minute address to the U.S. Congress on March 25 that was punctuated with repeated thanks to Americans and even a few laugh lines, Ghani described his poor and fragile country as at the heart of a new dawn of prosperity reaching through Central Asia. In part, he said, that will come as Afghans themselves embrace much-needed reforms to curb corruption and embrace new justice and internal financial systems. He predicted Afghan women will play increasingly growing roles in government and business as more are educated and accepted as equals in society.

How to counter the Islamic State on Twitter

By Anna Mulrine
March 25, 2015

American efforts to date have ranged from snarky responses meant to put down Islamic State tweeters to truth-telling campaigns. But the role of the US government in any of these endeavors is tricky and potentially alienating, analysts say.

Leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivers a sermon at a mosque in Iraq during his first public appearance, last July.

The social media forays of the Islamic State (IS) range from the jarringly adolescent to sophisticated advertising campaigns meant to portray extremism as a normal lifestyle decision.

Myanmar signs deal to buy Thunder fighter from Pakistan

Three of Pakistan's JF-17 Thunder fighters at the Zhuhai Airshow, November 2012. 
Though four Chinese civilians were killed by bombs dropped by MiG-29 fighters of the Myanmar Air Force, sources from Pakistan's Ministry of Defense said that a contract had been signed for Islamabad to sell the JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter, also known as the FC-1 Xiaolong, which was jointly developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, to Naypyidaw, Islamabad's Capital Television reported on March 18.

The report said various countries including Nigeria, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Myanmar had shown great interest in purchasing the fighter from Pakistan because its price is much cheaper than other fighter jets of the same class such as the F-16 and the Eurofighter. Myanmar demonstrated its interest in the fighter back in June 2014, according to the the Myanmar Times.

Myanmar also wants to build a production line with the assistance of China and Pakistan to build the fighter for itself. Thanks to previous cooperation with China, Myanmar already has experience in producing Chinese aircraft such as the J-7 fighter or Q-5 attacker.

No, China Isn't Abandoning North Korea

March 27, 2015

The idea going around in the West these days is that Beijing and Pyongyang are not on good terms. Given the regional importance and historic strength of this relationship, such claims deserve careful attention.

According to a 2015 European Council on Foreign Relations scorecard, China began distancing itself from North Korea after its 2013 nuclear test. China took further steps in 2014, meeting several times with South Korean leaders, including the July 2014 trip when Xi broke tradition by visiting Seoul before visiting Pyongyang. At the time, the Atlantic Sentinel reported that Xi is “distancing China” from Pyongyang, while The Guardian wrote, “China Snubs North Korea” and a New York Times headline read, “Chinese Annoyance with North Korea Bubbles to the Surface.” Other commentators went even further writing, “China Kinda Hates North Korea” or discussing “Why China Hates North Korea.”

The golden urn

Even China accepts that only the Dalai Lama can legitimise its rule in Tibet Mar 21st 2015 

WHEN the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933, the body of Tibet’s spiritual leader was placed in state on a throne at the Norbulingka, his summer palace in the capital, Lhasa. It faced south. Twice, however, overnight, its head had turned to the east. Also pointing east, a star-shaped fungus mysteriously sprouted on a pillar in the room. In the trances to which they were prone, state oracles tossed khatak, ceremonial scarves, to the east. Taking the hints, parties searching for the reincarnation of the dead lama headed in that direction, looking, in accordance with tradition, for an infant born at around the time of his death. They eventually identified the young Tenzin Gyatso as the 14th Dalai Lama.

That incarnation will turn 80 this year and, though in good health, he is given to musing about his own death and reincarnation. It would be “logical”, he has suggested, for the reincarnation to be like him, in exile from Tibet, which he has not been able to visit since fleeing from the Chinese suppression of an uprising in 1959. Perhaps the 15th Dalai Lama might be female. Or perhaps the institution of the Dalai Lama, being man-made, might end, if the Tibetan people feel they do not need it.

China Wants to Buy Europe

Chinese investors have a powerful attraction to companies in the European Union, and their targets are increasingly high-profile. In recent days, they've shown interest in an 18-building compound on Berlin's Potsdamer Platz and in the Italian tire-maker Pirelli. For some unfathomable reason, Europe considers Chinese investors, even state-owned ones, more benign than, say, Russian ones.

Until 2011, China was mostly a receiver of European investment, but then the debt crisis drove down asset prices. Some governments became desperate to privatize, and venerable corporations got less picky about potential investors. Chinese buyers acquired Volvo in Sweden, a large stake in Peugeot Citroen and fashion house Sonya Rykiel in France, the Piraeus Port in Greece, Pizza Express restaurants and the upscale clothing maker Aquascutum in the U.K. Chinese investment increased exponentially:

Suspended Sri Lankan Port Project Complicates Sirisena's Trip to China

March 26, 2015

President Sirisena’s first state visit to China risks being overshadowed by the debate over Colombo Port City. 

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is headed to China this week, both to pay a state visit to Beijing and to attend the annual Boao Forum in Hainan. It will be Sirisena’s first chance to interact directly with China’s top leaders since he came into office in January, after running in part on a promise to scrutinize foreign (including Chinese) investment in Sri Lanka.

That promise has played out in the strange saga of Colombo Port City, a $1.4 billion project funded by a Chinese company. Sirisena’s government said it would “reassess” the deal back in January, citing concerns over the environmental impact as well as the original agreement to cede or lease 108 hectares of land to the Chinese construction firm involved, China Communications Co. Ltd. (CCCC). On February 5, Colombo then announced that the project would move forward after all – saying its own environmental study cleared the construction. It’s no coincidence that the resumption of the project came as a high-ranking Chinese official was visiting Sri Lanka.

Saudi Arabia and Iran Compete in Yemen

MARCH 25, 2015

Militiamen loyal to the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi sit on top of tanks in the southern city of Aden. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

While the al-Houthi movement struggles to manage multiple regional challenges to its north, its rise to power in Yemen is a setback for Saudi Arabia on its southern flank. After the fall of the Yemeni government, Riyadh will have to capitalize on the al-Houthis' need for political and financial support to re-establish its influence in the country. But because Iran is trying to fill that support gap, too, Yemen has become another battleground where the two sectarian rivals will struggle against one another.

After being driven from the capital of Sanaa in September, Yemen's government is at war with itself. President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi issued a statement March 19 denouncing the airstrikes on his compound in the southern port city of Aden as an attempted military coup by forces loyal to his predecessor and one-time ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Earlier that day, soldiers and militiamen loyal to Hadi battled their way into Aden's airport and stormed a nearby military base, both of which were under the control of Gen. Abdel-Hafez al-Saqqaf, a Saleh loyalist.

Iran's Great Cultural Advantage

March 18, 2015

Throughout all the vicissitudes of dealing with Iran, an obvious fact has been insufficiently addressed: The external behavior of Iran's regime is simply more dynamic and more effective than that of any other Muslim regime in the Middle East. Iran has constructed thousands of centrifuges. Tehran has trained and equipped Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite forces in Iraq and Yemen, and it has propped up Syria's embattled president. Turkey and the Arab world appear sleepy-eyed in comparison. Iran acts. The other Muslim countries struggle to formulate responses, and when they do, they are still less effective than the Iranians. Why is that so? What secret sauce does the Iranian regime have?

More than merely a state

ISIS: the Internets' biggest disruptor

Bhaskar Chakravorti 
MARCH 24, 2015

For the U.S. to combat the terrorist organization, officials will need to think digitally.

In an age where nearly every industry is being disrupted by the Internet, the world’s established political order faces a disruptor like no other: the former Al Qaeda in Iraq, now re-packaged as the Islamic State or ISIS. While the terrorist organization’s ambiguous branding — IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh – lends an edge to its sinister identity and goals, its journey to notoriety seems to have followed the path of other disruptors.

Most plans offered today to counter and combat this groupfocus exclusively on military or geopolitical solutions. While important, these plans lack a key understanding of the other forces that contributed to ISIS’s rise: a strategy for scaling-up an entrepreneurial niche venture along with a sophisticated branding and digital marketing campaign. To sufficiently combat ISIS, the U.S. and the rest of the world must fully understand the branding, digital marketing and start-up mentality that facilitated the spread of ISIS’s influence across the globe.

What Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen means for the Middle East

By Ishaan Tharoor 
March 26 2015

Followers of the Houthi movement demonstrate Thursday to show their support in Yemen's northwestern city of Saada. (Naiyf Rahma/Reuters)

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Saudi Arabia bombed positions in Yemen held by Houthi militias, a rebel force that had already thrown out sitting President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi from the capital, Sanaa, and was on the verge of ousting him from his last redoubt in the key southern port city of Aden.

"We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling," said Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the United States, at a media briefing on Wednesday night.

The Recurring Rise and Fall of Political Islam

By Paul Salem
MAR 25, 2015

In Chapter 4 of Rocky Harbors: Taking Stock of the Middle East in 2015, Paul Salem chronicles and analyzes the shifting fortunes of political Islam in the region.

For political Islamic groups, the past four years have been the best of years and the worst of years. In this period, the Arab world’s oldest and largest political Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), had its biggest ever victory in its homeland of Egypt, followed a year later by its biggest defeat. In the same period, a jihadi-salafi group, the Islamic State group (ISG), conquered large swaths of these two countries and announced the establishment of the Islamic State and the restoration of the caliphate in the person of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This hyperradical jihadi proto-state attracted an international fringe of radical fighters. But it caused a revulsion among majorities throughout the Arab world and triggered the establishment of an international and regional military coalition against it. Other non-jihadi salafi groups formed political parties and joined the political process after the Arab uprisings and are trying to navigate the troubled waters between the MB and the jihadi radicals.


March 26, 2015

When Tunisia’s authoritarian government fell, that democratizing and relatively free country became a place in which jihadists could operate with substantial impunity. One result was that Tunisia contributed adisproportionate number of foreign fighters to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now, however, ISIL has fouled its own nest.

The recent terror attack at Tunisia’s Bardo National Museum has been a watershed moment for that transitioning nation. Though the dead were mostly foreigners, by attacking tourism the terrorists are directly threatening the livelihood of 10 percent of Tunisians, and indirectly threatening the rest of the population, too. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, in a televised address, told the people “to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us.” He added that “we will fight them without mercy to our last breath.” European leadersrushed to offer security and economic assistance to the country and to help it continue its democratic transition.

The U.S. Needs a Refocused Rebalance

By Karam Singh Sethi

A true focus on Asia is critical not only to compete with China, but to stay relevant in the 21st century. 
A broad, long-term initiative in nature, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama rebalance – the foreign policy effort to refocus on the Asia Pacific – has three key near-term goals: pass the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty; advise nascent democracies (like Myanmar) on improving transparency and treating citizens equitably; and increase bilateral security training and intelligence collaboration. But in some respects, these goals have proven elusive. Obama had hoped to conclude the TPP by December 2012, yet still no deadline has been set. Meanwhile, the troubled democracies that were initially making headlines for their progress have lately fallen back on old habits.

Hanoi Citizens Protest Tree-Felling Plan

By Helen Clark

Plans to chop down the trees that line the city’s historic streets have met with a vigorous response.
Public goods such as trees and parks can provoke passionate reactions in people. Witness the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in the middle of 2013, which protested the demolition of the large park to make way for a shopping center. In Hanoi, there have been small but unusual protests against the city authorities’ plans to cut down an astonishing 6,700 of the trees that line the streets in a $3.4 million project.

The trees are old and sick, said the government. Not that many of them, respond its critics. The government also said many of the trees, some of which are more than 100 years old, are of different kinds on the one street and are thus “a poor aesthetic choice.” Facebook protest pages have been started and experts have opined that the plan to replant is unconvincing. Also, what will be done with all the timber, much of which is valuable?

Polish general: Russia is trying to wage hybrid warfare in our country

MAR 25, 2015

A member of Poland's 1st Mechanized Battalion of the 7th Coastal Defence Brigade looks through binoculars as he takes part in a military exercise with the U.S. 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division near Drawsko-Pomorskie November 13, 2014.

Poland is increasingly anxious that Russia may employ the same type of hybrid warfare against it that Moscow utilized in eastern Ukraine.

Polish general Stanislaw Koziej, the head of the president's National Security Bureau, has told Newsweek how he is concerned Russia could reproduce the tactics that have led to months of deadly conflict in Ukraine in its NATO-member western neighbor.

The Complex History of the U.S.-Israel Relationship

March 4, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the United States this week to speak to Congress on March 3. The Obama administration is upset that Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Netanyahu without consulting with the White House and charged Boehner with political grandstanding. Netanyahu said he was coming to warn the United States of the threat of Iran. Israeli critics of Netanyahu charged that this was a play for public approval to improve his position in Israel's general election next year. Boehner denied any political intent beyond getting to hear Netanyahu's views. The Obama administration claimed that the speech threatens the fabric of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Let us begin with the obvious. First, this is a speech, and it is unlikely that Netanyahu could say anything new on the subject of Iran, given that he never stops talking about it. Second, everyone involved is grandstanding. They are politicians, and that's what they do. Third, the idea that U.S.-Israeli relations can be shredded by a grandstanding speech is preposterous. If that's all it takes, relations are already shredded.

The Right Peace for Ukraine

March 25, 2015

"There was never a bad peace nor a good war," Benjamin Franklin once said. The Russian language version of this is somewhat more direct: Bad peace is always better than a good war. In Ukraine today, we have a bad peace. Although violations of the cease-fire occur daily, full-scale warfare has, for now, abated. But it could start again, and our situation is as precarious as ever. We as Ukrainians need to unify now, before it is too late. The next step to be taken is not on the battlefield - it is in Kiev.

The world has seen how unpredictable our adversary is. Yet our fate today depends as much as ever on ourselves, and on whether we learn from past events or repeat mistakes.

The Demographic Timebomb Crippling Japan's Economy

Milton Ezrati
March 25, 2015
Source Link

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made headlines. Most credit him with bold policies to deal with Japan’s long-standing problems. This is misplaced. In truth, his policies are neither bold nor effective. Abe has concentrated almost exclusively on standard fiscal and monetary stimuli while utterly failing to cope with his country’s more fundamental issues – its intensifying demographic strains and its outdated economic arrangements. Until he addresses these matters substantively, Japan’s economic and investment prospects will remain constrained at best. 

However much the prime minister and his government choose it ignore it, demographics will increasingly put Japan under intense pressure. Years of improving health have created the longest lived people on earth, while years of remarkably low birth rates have slowed the flow of young people into the workforce.

Why Do Americans Hate Negotiating With Their Enemies?

MAR 24 2015

Six countries are talking to Iran. But only in the U.S. are the nuclear talks deeply controversial.

Hikingartist.com/FlickrFurious Republican opposition to a deal over Iran’s nuclear program may look like another example of political partisanship and personal animosity toward Barack Obama. But there’s also a much deeper reason for congressional pushback: the deeply ingrained aversion in American culture toward parleying with 'evil' opponents.

Negotiating with international adversaries is more controversial in the United States than in most advanced democracies. Whereas in other countries bargaining is often seen as the norm, Americans frequently view face-to-face talks as a prize that the opponent has to earn through good behavior. The United States is part of a coalition of six countries talking to Iran, alongside Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany. But the United States is the only country where the deal has generated a domestic political storm.

Look Before Leaping

MARCH 25, 2015 

I can think of many good reasons to go ahead with the nuclear deal with Iran, and I can think of just as many reasons not to. So, if you’re confused, let me see if I can confuse you even more.

The proposed deal to lift sanctions on Iran — in return for curbs on its bomb-making capabilities so that it would take at least a year for Tehran to make a weapon — has to be judged in its own right. I will be looking closely at the quality of the verification regime and the specificity of what happens if Iran cheats. But the deal also has to be judged in terms of how it fits with wider American strategic goals in the region, because a U.S.-Iran deal would be an earthquake that touches every corner of the Middle East. Not enough attention is being paid to the regional implications — particularly what happens if we strengthen Iran at a time when large parts of the Sunni Arab world are in meltdown.

Invisible army: the story of a Russian soldier sent to fight in Ukraine

Moscow denies its soldiers are crossing the border but 20-year-old conscript Dorji Batomunkuev, who was seriously injured near Donetsk, tells a different story. He talks to Elena Kostyuchenko of Novaya Gazeta
The flag of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, following an assault by the Ukrainian army in Kramatovsk, Ukraine. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Dorji Batomunkuev, military unit number 46108, is 20 years old and part of the Russian fifth tank brigade from Ulan-Ude, a city near the Mongolian border. He is a conscript and was called up 18 months ago. When we meet at the Central Regional hospital in Donetsk, his face and hands are burnt and bandaged, and his ears are singed and shrivelled. Beneath the dressings, he’s still bleeding.

He says he was injured in the eastern Ukraine town of Lohvynove on 9 February, at the mouth of the Debaltseve pocket, while fighting alongside the separatist militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic against Ukrainian forces.

Is ASEAN Still Relevant?

The organization’s significance is in question during a critical year. 

In a curious turn of events, recent days have seen an enthusiastic discussion on the option of “joint patrols” by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members in the South China Sea. In fairness, the concept is not entirely alien to the region: since 2004, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand have been jointly involved in the Malacca Strait Patrols (MSP), collectively guarding one of the world’s most important waterways against piracy and other non-traditional security threats.

The MSP has been largely hailed as a successful demonstration of cooperative security in the developing world, providing invaluable lessons for troubled waters across the world. But the South China Sea is no Malacca Strait, especially because it involves no less than China — an extra-ASEAN power, with Mahanian ambitions of maritime domination in adjacent waters.

See the famous ‘map that changed the world’

March 25 

William Smith was ahead of his time. In the 1790s, Smith, an English surveyor and amateur fossil hunter with little formal education, was hired to survey possible canal routes across the country, a job that required a deep understanding of the rocks where digging might be necessary. In his work, he observed that different layers of rock held distinctive fossils in a pattern consistent across England and Wales. “Each stratum,” he wrote, “contained organized fossils peculiar to itself.” 

“He noticed that the rocks he was excavating were arranged in layers,” author Simon Winchester would later write. “More important, he could see quite clearly that the fossils found in one layer were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following the fossils, one could trace layers of rocks as they dipped and rose and fell — clear across England and, indeed, clear across the world.” 

The result would be “the map that changed the world,” as Winchester wrote in his best-selling 2001 book of the same name. 

Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’

January 29 

Bill Gates is a passionate technology advocate (big surprise), but his predictions about the future of computing aren't uniformly positive. 

During a wide-ranging Reddit "Ask me Anything" session -- one that touched upon everything from his biggest regrets to his favorite spread to lather on bread -- the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist outlined a future that is equal parts promising and ominous. 

Midway through the discussion on Wednesday, Gates was asked what personal computing will look like in 2045. Gates responded by asserting that the next 30 years will be a time of rapid progress. 

"Even in the next 10 problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good," he wrote. "Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively."