20 June 2016

** Geopolitics and the Digital World

June 17, 2016
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This is the first part of an essay on the evolution of the digital environment in geopolitics. Antonia Colibasanu is an expert on geopolitics and strategic intelligence analysis, and an associate lecturer at the Academy of National Intelligence and the University of Bucharest in Romania. The views expressed are the author's own.
The digital environment is borderless -- so runs the belief. Just as innovation is not bound to a location or culture, but it is developed by the universal human mind, the digital world, evolving through innovation, has no centered source. It is global and decentralized. It supports and fuels globalization. However, as we observe the downsides of globalization, and while technological progress rapidly makes of the digitized sector a main feature of the 21st century, we can see that it is neither homogenous nor systematically sustained worldwide.

The internet -- the platform that supports global digital development, may be “the realization of the classical theory in an anarchic, leaderless world”, as described by Jared Cohen in his book “The New Digital Age.” But it is also characterized by a geography that becomes more visible all the time, and its influence depends on nation states’ policies toward supporting not only innovation, but also their own foreign policies. As such, it is very much embedded into the classical concepts of national interest and geopolitics. There is growing evidence to challenge the assumption that the digital environment is not characterized by geographical or historical patterns. The evidence challenges its characterization as borderless.

The Logical Geography of Innovation

The development of cyberspace is driven by human innovation. Therefore its evolution is limitless indeed. It is through an analysis of its components that the borders we talk about are defined. Simply put, cyberspace is shaped by three elements: the physical, the virtual, and the human.

The physical component of cyberspace refers to all machines used for data storage, but also to the network systems that make it possible for data to be shared. In this sense, it means the fiberoptic cables, the space communications systems, the electronic circuits -- and the energy that all these consume, which account for borders on the physical side.

The virtual component that all these support is defined by the information environment shaped by all digitized data shared and stored. The software programs transformed into applications for end-users, but also all the statistics contained in databases, unseen but necessary for the people’s daily workflow, are all part of the virtual element of cyberspace. While this component is non-geographic, being linked to both human innovation and need, it is arguably affected historically, its development being dictated by culture and time perception.

The most important component of cyberspace is human. Individuals both contribute to the development of the cyberspace -- through their evolving cyber-needs but also through their innovative work in the technological field -- and, at the same time, are most affected by its evolution. Technology defines the age we live in -- one that we both embrace and fear, as the ease of adaptation is also dependent on biological factors or age. Information shared via cyberspace is useful to individuals, but also to corporations or nation-states. Spheres of influence are created with the help of technology, using the internet both as a platform of information and for conflict. It is us who drives it, so cyberspace is different from one culture to another, and from one area to another. Of all three components, the human element most clearly shows the geographic and historical borders of cyberspace.

From Radia to Essar: How corporate rivalries open a window on allegations of high-level corruption Corruption, murder cases, missing files: the Essar Tapes cover it all.


Businessmen managing Parliamentary Committees. Politicians helping dilute a murder investigation to protect corporate interests. Money earmarked for a Supreme Court judge to ensure a case is dismissed. Both Outlook and the Indian Express on Friday reported on a complaint sent to the Prime Minister's Office, claiming that almost anything in India can be bought for a price. 
The complaint is based entirely on audio recordings featuring the voices of some of India's top businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats. And it's only come into the public ear because of a corporate rivalry. 
Between 2000 and 2011, according to the reports, the Essar group allegedly tapped the phones of some of the most prominent personalities, including industrialists Mukesh and Anil Ambani of Reliance, former Prime Minister's Office officials Brajesh Mishra and NK Singh and politicians like Piyush Goyal and Pramod Mahajan. The conversations that were recorded – if genuine – reveal the rot at the heart of the Indian system and offer a fascinating look at how the country is actually run.

Managing India
Among the conversations allegedly taped are:
Discussions between Reliance India Limited chairman Mukesh Ambani and director Satish Seth wherein the former tells the latter to get four or five letters written by chief ministers, and another 500 letters written to support Pramod Mahajan's continuance as telecom minister. 
A conversation between Anil Ambani and Seth wherein there is "a clear disclosure regarding how Reliance has managed the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case to favour Mr Pramod Mahajan as the same has been diluted". 
Numerous conversations between PMO official NK Singh and Mukesh Ambani where the latter is heard "influencing the making of the annual budget." 
A conversation regarding an amount allegedly paid to a Supreme Court judge to get a telecom case dismissed. 
An "explosive" conversation between Samajwadi Party Members of Parliament Amar Singh and Samata Party MP Kunwar Akhilesh Singh regarding "managing" a Joint Parliamentary Committee. 
The Indian Express reported on a 29-page complaint submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Delhi lawyer Suren Uppal, who claims to be representing the Essar employee who allegedly did the phone tapping. The employee in question is Albasit Khan, who was Essar Group's security and vigilance head for more than a decade, and was allegedly in charge of the tapping operations during that time. 
According to Outlook, which also put out a story on the Essar Tapes on the same day as Express's story, Khan was suddenly terminated in 2011 and forced to part with all the tapes that he had accumulated. But Khan held on to a few CDs, as per Uppal, and records were also "placed" at the former Essar employee's doorstep. This prompted Khan to approach Uppal, a lawyer who has worked with Congress leader and lawyer P Chidambaram in the past, to blow the whistle.

** Authoritarian India The State of the World's Largest Democracy


June 16, 2016 
When Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, observers saw his ascent as a victory for authoritarian populism. Now, as Modi’s government reaches its two-year mark, a fresh round of regional elections has produced similar verdicts. In West Bengal, voters reelected the autocratic chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, with a spectacular margin. In Tamil Nadu, they reelected the controversial Jayalalitha Jayaram, who has cultivated a cult of personality that politicians and journalists have compared with the one around North Korea’s Kim Il Sung. In Assam, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went from winning the fifth-largest number of seats in 2011 to winning the largest number, thanks primarily to a campaign based on Modi’s charismatic appeal.

The success of authoritarian leaders in India appears to be part of a global trend, encompassing Rodrigo Duterte’s recent presidential victory in the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 2014 presidential win inTurkey, and the unexpected success of Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States. Given that Indian states have larger populations than most other countries—West Bengal, with a population of 91 million, is almost as large as the Philippines; Tamil Nadu, with a population of 72 million, is about the size of Turkey—the spread of authoritarian leadership there is particularly indicative of a deepening relationship between authoritarianism and democracy.

The roots of authoritarianism in India stretch back to the 1970s, when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended elections for a brief but momentous period between 1975 and 1977. Although voters initially punished Gandhi in the 1977 elections, they rewarded her handsomely in the years that followed: voters reelected her as prime minister in 1980. Since then, as democratic participation in India has expanded, so, paradoxically, has the trend toward authoritarian leadership.
The success of authoritarian leaders in India appears to be part of a global trend.

Today, more Indians vote than ever before, and voter turnout is increasing—a marked contrast to other established democracies, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, where it has been declining. Yet India has also seen the emergence of authoritarian leaders across all levels of government. There are important differences in the style and degree of authoritarianism, of course. But what these leaders share is a personalistic leadership style, centralized control over their parties, a direct link with their publics, and a marked intolerance for dissent.

*** Stability and Instability in the Gulf Region in 2016 A Strategic Net Assessment

June 15, 2016
The Gulf has long been an unstable and constantly changing region—but the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; the region-wide upheavals that began in 2011; the rise of ISIS in late 2013; the Yemeni civil war that began in 2013; and the massive drop in petroleum prices and revenues that accelerated in 2015—have combined to increase risk at every level. The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a new analysis that addresses all of these variables in ways that cover key trends and risks for the entire Gulf region—and separately for each Gulf country.

This analysis is entitled Stability and Instability in the Gulf Region: A Net Assessment and a working draft is now available on the CSIS web site at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160615_Gulf_Stability_Instability.pdf.
Contents of the Report

The Table of Contents and the titles of its charts, graphs, and maps are shown below:

Request for Help in Revising This Working Draft

It should be clear that no analysis can keep pace with the ongoing fighting and problems in politics, governance, economics, and arms race—particularly at a time when terrorism and irregular warfare play a steadily growing and more unpredictable role. This net assessment does, however, attempt to address the underlying problems and pressures shaping the risks in the Gulf region and each Gulf country using official data and data from key international institutions like the UN, World Bank and IMF. Where possible, it also attempts to quantify key trends.

*** Confidential Report Shows Hired Hackers Able to Take Control of Computer Network of Palantir Technologies

How Hired Hackers Got “Complete Control” Of Palantir
William Alden
June 17, 2016
Palantir Technologies has cultivated a reputation as perhaps the most formidable data analysis firm in Silicon Valley, doing secretive work for defense and intelligence agencies as well as Wall Street giants. But when Palantir hired professional hackers to test the security of its own information systems late last year, the hackers found gaping holes that left data about customers exposed.
Palantir, valued at $20 billion, prides itself on an ability to guard important secrets, both its own and those entrusted to it by clients. But after being brought in to try to infiltrate these digital defenses, the cybersecurity firm Veris Group concluded that even a low-level breach would allow hackers to gain wide-ranging and privileged access to the Palantir network, likely leading to the “compromise of critical systems and sensitive data, including customer-specific information.”

This conclusion was presented in a confidential report, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, that detailed the results of a hacking exercise run by Veris over three weeks in September and October last year. The report, submitted on October 19, has been closely guarded inside Palantir and is described publicly here for the first time. “Palantir Use Only” is plastered across each page.
It is not known whether Palantir’s systems have ever been breached by real-world intruders. But the results of the hacking exercise — known as a “red team” test — show how a company widely thought to have superlative ability to safeguard data has struggled with its own data security.
The red team intruders, finding that Palantir lacked crucial internal defenses, ultimately “had complete control of PAL’s domain,” the Veris report says, using an acronym for Palantir. The report recommended that Palantir “immediately” take specific steps to improve its data security.
“The findings from the October 2015 report are old and have long since been resolved,” Lisa Gordon, a Palantir spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. “Our systems and our customers’ information were never at risk. As part of our best practices, we conduct regular reviews and tests of our systems, like every other technology company does.”

* The Case Against Peace

There’s long been a theory that peacetime is bad for maintaining the global order — turns out a war now and then does a nation good.

JUNE 17, 2016
A striking trend in contemporary world politics is the apparent erosion of political unity in so many different places. In the Middle East, we’ve seen the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the continuing bloodbaths in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. In Europe, support for the European Union continues to drop, Great Britain may vote to leave it, and Scotland might still decide to exit the United Kingdom. Here in the United States, we have a level of bitter partisanship not seen for many decades, the two main political parties are themselves deeply divided, and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate is a rank amateur (in several senses of that term). To say “the center cannot hold” seems like an understatement these days.
What’s going on here? Some people believe today’s fractious politics is a consequence of globalization, which has accelerated the pace of change, threatened traditional cultural norms, and left millions of people feeling marginalized. Other observers blame economic policies that have enriched the One Percent and insulated them from their own misdeeds, leaving the rest of us to forage for the crumbs from their table. Or perhaps the digital revolution and new media are the real culprits, with the combination of cable TV, Twitter, and other modern means of communication lowering barriers to entry, coarsening the national dialogue, spreading extremism, and making the nastiest forms of political innuendo seem legitimate.

There may be some truth in each of these claims, but they all overlook an even more important explanation for the fractious state of contemporary politics: peace. Don’t get me wrong: I think peace is wonderful, and I wish more politicians talked about it openly and did more to further it. 
But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen.But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war.
I wish I could claim this was my original idea, but this explanation for our present divisions has been around for quite a while. Indeed, 20 years ago, political scientistMichael Desch published a fascinating article in the academic journal International Organization, titled“War and Strong States, Peace and Weak States?”Drawing on the earlier work of Max Weber, Otto Hintze, George Simmel, Charles Tilly, Lewis Coser, and others, Desch argued that war (and external threats more generally) were perhaps the single-most important factor explaining the emergence of strong, centralized states and cohesive national polities. In particular, the pressures of international competition forced rival states to develop effective bureaucracies, efficient systems of taxation, and formidable armies, and it also encouraged the promotion of patriotism and a dampening of internal divisions. When the wolf is at the door, domestic quarrels are put aside in order to deal with the more immediate danger.

Unfortunately, this argument also implies that the arrival of peace can have a negative effect on national unity. Desch quotes sociologist George Simmel approvingly: “A group’s complete victory over its enemies is thus not always fortunate in a sociological sense. Victory lowers the energy which guarantees the unity of the group; and the dissolving forces, which are always at work, gain hold.”

Is Army throwing its officers to the wolves?

By V. Mahalingam | 18 June, 2016

The recent arrest of Colonel Jasjit Singh indicates yet another occurence of an Army official being illegally arrested.

An exposé by a TV channel and The Sunday Guardian uncovered the truth that the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) Mumbai withheld information on the Malegaon blasts case from the Army to arrest Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit. This was contrary to the advice of the Army’s legal experts suggesting the need for an FIR or reasonable evidence to allow the arrest of the officer. The Army gave in and handed over the officer to the ATS, ignoring the relevance of his intelligence work in the context. He was deceitfully moved from the AEC Training College, Panchmarhi to Mumbai, without revealing to him his destination or the purpose of his move. Was the Army in collusion with the ATS? His whereabouts between 29 October and 4 November 2008 are untraceable. He was possibly detained illegally and tortured in custody, as alleged. The Army forgot about the officer after his arrest and remained a mute spectator to his incarceration, unmindful of the evidences of its own officers suggesting that the investigations were flawed and possibly motivated. Has the agony and misery to his wife and children besides the loss of eight years of freedom to the officer irked anyone’s conscious? What has happened to the Army’s ethos and values?

Has the Army learnt any lessons from the incident? If the recent arrest of Colonel Jasjit Singh, the Commanding Officer (CO) of the Aizawl based 39 Assam Rifles (39AR) in Mizoram is anything to go by, they have not.
The officer and eight other ranks were arrested on 5 May 2016 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) for their alleged role in a highway robbery of gold smuggled from Myanmar. The incident came to light for the first time when the driver of the vehicle, Lalnunfela, filed an FIR at the Aizawl police station on 21 April 2016, four months after the incident, alleging that his vehicle was waylaid by armed men from 39 AR on 14 December 2015, who decamped with 52 gold bars worth Rs 14.5 crore.

The SIT also arrested a government-supplier, Bulaki Chand Baid and a former Mizoram Students’ Association leader, Lalmuanawma Mathipi. A counter FIR filed by them labelled the FIR false, which revealed the relationship between Mathipi and Lalmingthangi, a woman heading a smuggler gang with whom the former was working earlier. Has anyone seen the gold? Undoubtedly the alleged robbery on the night of 14 December was the result of a fallout between the two. Or were the smugglers at the receiving end trying to cheat the owner by blaming the Assam Rifles for the loss of the gold?

What will it take for India to be rich?

June 16, 2016
'China's development is on a different scale from India's. They are very far ahead.'
'I don't think it will be possible in the next 30 years for us to catch them,' says Aakar Patel.
Photograph: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

The United Nations draws up a list of countries ranked by per capita GDP. India is ranked 150. Our per capita GDP is $1,586 per year. This means that the average Indian produces goods and services worth Rs 8,800 per month.
Countries below India in the ranking include Yemen ($1,418), Pakistan ($1,358), Kenya ($1,358), Bangladesh ($1,088), Zimbabwe ($965), Nepal ($692), Afghanistan ($688) and Congo ($480). Somalia ($131) is at the bottom.
Right on top are the small European States Monaco ($187,650), Liechtenstein ($157,040) and Luxembourg ($116,560) where the wealthy live. Singapore ($55,910) and the United States ($54,306) are better representatives of high income nations.
South Korea ($28,166) is catching up with Japan ($36,298) while Germany ($47,966) and the United Kingdom ($46,461) are quite close together.

These figures are a good indicator but they are not the only one we must consult. Median income, meaning the income of someone in the middle of the list, rather than the overall average, is higher in Pakistan than in India.

This means that income of Pakistanis, even though lower than that of Indians, is better distributed and it is economically less unequal than India.

It will interest many readers to know that countries like Zambia ($1,715), Vietnam ($2,015), Sudan ($2,081) and Bhutan ($2,569) are ahead of India. Sri Lanka ($3,635) has a per capita GDP more than double of India's. This will not be surprising to those who have visited the country and seen how much more prosperous its people are than Indians.

The size of the nation, the source of its income and many other such things need to be considered when we make such comparisons. But looking at these data will give us a good idea about where we stand. And perhaps we can also then consider what we need to do to make India a developed country.

The World Bank has now decided to not use the term 'developing country' and will instead classify nations by per capita GDP. India is a low middle income country. The definition is as follows.

Countries with lower than about $1,000 are low income, between $1,000 to $4,000 are low middle income, between $4,000 to $12,000 are high middle income, and over that are high income.
Most of the European nations are high income and so far as I know the lowest is Serbia which has a per capita GDP of $6,000.

The governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Raghuram Rajan, recently spoke about what sort of per capita GDP India would require to reach if it had to be rid of poverty. Or at least the worst aspects of it, because no nation can successfully eliminate poverty entirely.

'At one level,' Rajan said, 'we are still a $1,500 per capita economy. All the way from $1,500 to $50,000, which is where Singapore is, there are a lot of things to do. We are still a relatively poor economy and to wipe the tear from every eye, one would at least want to be middle-income, around $6,000 to $7,000 which, if reasonably distributed, will have dealt with extreme poverty. And that is two decades worth of work to be even moderately satisfied.'

China has a per capita GDP of $7,600, meaning it has been able to recently achieve what Rajan is talking about. Those who visit China will know that the development of that country is on a different scale from India's and it would not be fair to compare the two. They are very far ahead.

I do not think it will be possible in our lifetime, meaning in the next 30 years, for us to catch them.

So what will be required for India to make the four times jump from $1,500 to $6,000?

The debate in India tends to focus only on what the government can and should do. The thinking is that if we need to have more and better laws, through economic reforms like a unified goods and services tax (GST).

And secondly we need good governance, meaning a non-corrupt and efficient administration.

Assuming that this second thing is possible in a country where corruption and inefficiency are a product and part of culture, I would still add that these two things are not enough. They are not even the major part of what is required.

Those who travel to those countries which have achieved high income status will have observed that their societies function in a different way than in India.

The respect for the individual, the attention they pay to not offending the stranger, the harmony in their societies is something missing in ours, even in our best cities.

Reform of society, much more than reform of government, is what has made nations rich and made their per capita GDP high.

So long as our focus remains on changes produced by government, India will continue to be slow in its march up the ladder.

Aakar Patel is Executive Director, Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own.

** The Geopolitics of the Orthodox Church

June 17, 2016 While the Soviets shunned religion, Putin has used the Russian Orthodox Church toward geopolitical ends.

By Jacob L. Shapiro

Earlier this week, the Moscow Patriarchate – the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) – said that it would not participate in an upcoming meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Council. This came after the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria, Syria, Georgia and Serbia (so far) decided not to attend. Then yesterday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution asking the current Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch to declare the Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of the ROC.
The Russian Orthodox Church withdrawing from this meeting is significant for Russia’s relations with the countries in its historical buffer region. It also concerns the relationship between religion and state in a world where the basic constituent element is no longer primarily tied to faith or empire, but rather to the nation-state.
Today, there is an alliance between the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the ROC to help unify Russia and to project Russian influence into other Orthodox Christian countries.

This close relationship is the return of a historical alliance. Overall, the 20th century was a disastrous period for Russian-ROC relations. The ROC had been closely tied with the government of the Russian tsars, enjoying numerous benefits and privileges as a result. During the Russian Revolution, most of the ROC backed the White Army against the communist Bolsheviks. They did so because they knew what the communists thought of religion. Lenin wrote in 1905, “Religion is a kind of spiritual gin in which the slaves of capital drown their human shape and their claims to any decent human life.”
After Hitler invaded the USSR, Stalin removed many of the restrictions on the ROC to rally Russian patriotism in the fight against Nazi Germany. But in 1959, Nikita Khrushchev cracked down once more, and until the Soviet Union’s collapse, the ROC remained severely restricted by Soviet rule. It was only after the Soviet Union fell that the ROC began to rise in importance, in part due to people’s natural impulse to find meaning after the collapse of a governing ideology (that was the only one some generations had ever known), and in part as a politically expedient way for Russia’s rulers to keep the country strongly united.

Putin has used his alliance with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to extend Russian influence beyond Mother Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church is made up of different parts. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church enjoys autonomy in its affairs but is still a branch of the ROC. The Belarusian Orthodox Church, despite recent requests for greater independence, is an exarchate of the ROC (exarchate is the Byzantine word for a province that was ruled by the Byzantine emperor). Self-governed churches in Estonia, Latvia and Moldova, as well as metropolitan districts in Kazakhstan and Central Asia are all technically part of the ROC.
However, Eastern Orthodoxy is not a monolith, and many of the current tensions in the region go back many centuries and are reflected in the divisions between the various Orthodox churches. This weekend’s council meeting was to be the first full council meeting of all the Orthodox churches in over a millennium – since 787 AD.

One of the many reasons for the split between Catholicism and Orthodoxy in 1054 was a disagreement over the role of the Pope. Catholics believe supreme authority rests with the Pope. While some Orthodox Churches recognize the Archbishop of Constantinople as a “first among equals,” the leadership and decision-making of Orthodox Christianity is regional, and all bishops are considered equal.

India needs to recaliberate NSG stance ahead of Seoul meeting

IANS June 19, 2016 

China has just tipped its hand in relation to India ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary in Seoul on June 24.
An op-ed in the Global Times (June 14) titled 'India mustn't let nuclear ambitions blind itself' gravely noted: "Beijing insists that a prerequisite of New Delhi's entry is that must be a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, (NPT) while India is not. Despite acknowledging this legal and systematic requirement, the Indian media called China's stance obstructionist." This brief comment is the first semi-official articulation of China on the NSG and predictably obfuscates the issue.

In making this assertion about the NPT, Beijing is being characteristically innovative and artful in how it first distorts and then presents various facts specific to the nuclear domain. Having based its objection to India's admission to the NSG on the charge that India is a non-signatory to the NPT , the op-ed (and by extension Beijing) glosses over the fact that there is a precedent which could be cited to advance the Indian case.
The NSG was conceived in November 1975 as a response to India's peaceful nuclear explosion of May 1974 and the original seven participating governments (not members) were Britain, Canada, France, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States and West Germany. At the time, France was not a signatory to the NPT though it was a nuclear weapons state but was part of the NSG. And, for the record, Paris formally acceded to the NPT only in August 1992.

The NSG operates as an informal group that has certain guidelines. The participating governments have identified five factors for those nations seeking to join the group. Being a signatory to the NPT is one of the factors and may be desirable but, as the example of France has demonstrated, it is no bar to admission.
The ope-ed further avers that Beijing is convinced that the US "supply of nuclear technologies to enhance India's deterrence capability is to put China in check". This again is counter-factual for the entire US-India nuclear cooperation agreement mooted in 2005 and completed in late 2008 is only about the civilian nuclear spectrum and is totally non-military in nature.
China's artfulness and recourse to embroidered facts is embedded in the righteous anxiety it seeks to convey about an India-Pakistan nuclear arms race - an exigency that it posits as "a likely outcome" in the event India is admitted into the NSG.

Pakistan's Crippling Strategic Isolation Is Its Own Fault

Islamabad’s approach to Afghanistan doesn’t work.
June 16, 2016 
A sovereign state’s foreign policy changes with the times, and according to its domestic needs and external changes in global politics. Nations have national interests, and there are no permanent enemies and friendships in international politics. Neighboring states can be a boon or a bane, depending on the ability to recognize one’s long-term interests of sustainable peace on its borders.
Pakistan’s recent relations with Afghanistan have been one such example, with Pakistan as a state unable to define its foreign policy and national interests beyond a Cold War paradigm. An India-centric foreign policy has stalled Pakistan’s foreign-policy evolution and tainted its worldview of international politics. Pakistan currently has strained and difficult relations with all its neighbors except China.
Following the Kargil War in 1999 with India, Pakistan faced international isolation, and national anxieties shifted to its western border, in order to stave off the very real risk of nuclear escalation with India and continue with its proxy war in Afghanistan. Pakistani foreign-policy makers and mostly military elites thought that acquiring the upper hand in Afghanistan and containing the warring tribesmen next door would be a much easier task.

The post-9/11 involvement of the international community in Afghanistan and its commitment to quelling the Taliban-led insurgency have, however, left Pakistan regionally and internationally isolated, despite its involvement as a key ally in the War on Terror.
Pakistan has failed to utilize the shared cultural, linguistic, economic and ethnic realities of its western borders, while India has moved in to execute huge economic development, both real and symbolic, of the Afghan state. Despite having a Pashtun president in power in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani establishment’s claim of having forged closer ties with Afghanistan’s Pashtun population, ties could not move beyond the historic burden of Pakistan’s deep involvement in Afghanistan. Pakistan seems to trust only the regressive and fundamentalist forces of the Taliban as its foreign policy evolves.

Regionally, the leaders of Iran, India and Afghanistan have signed a historic deal to develop the strategic port of Chabahar in Iran, and agreed on a three-nation pact to build a transport-and-trade corridor through Afghanistan, which could not only help strengthen regional connectivity by boosting economic growth in the region, but by the same token reduce the time and cost of doing business with both Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan’s suspicion of India threatens to entrench relations of conflict and competition at the expense of cooperation and stability with all its neighbors. The knee-jerk reaction of Pakistan’s foreign policy to the Chabahar port was to close down the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan and enforce visa restrictions for both sides of the Durand Line, leaving those on both sides in the lurch.

Many speculate that the tightening security at the Torkham border is a political move rather than a curb on militant activities, if the likes of Mullah Mansoor have been found with Pakistani passports, traveling in and out with more ease than genuine Pakistani passport holders.

Pakistan’s obsession with India has strained its western border, affecting its own Pashtun population on its side of the Durand Line, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Movement across the Afghan-Pakistani border generates revenue for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two countries exchange goods and services worth some 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) annually across the Durand Line. Despite the illegal trade and smuggling, both countries benefit a great deal from cross-border movement.

Pakistani policymakers regard the instability of the western border and itsPashtun population’s sacrifices rendered easier to deal with and placate than any disturbance on its eastern border of Punjab, in the context of Pakistan-India relations and engagement with Afghanistan.

Foreign-policy makers interpret the shift in border hostilities from east to west as being in the broader national interest of Pakistan, and the consider tragedies like the Peshawar Army Public School attack, where 140 children were mercilessly killed, or the young lives lost at Bacha Khan University, as collateral damage in the pursuit of Pakistan’s core national interests and territory, particularly Punjab.

This Pakistani policy seems to have pushed the country toward regional and international isolation. As India’s power in Afghanistan expands, especially its soft power, Pakistan is losing its position of economic and strategic privilege. Since India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, he has paid two visits to Afghanistan. On his first visit, he inaugurated the new Afghan parliament building that was built with the support of Indian government, while on his second visit on June 4, to the heart of Asia, he inaugurated the $290 million Indian-funded Salma Dam, one of the country’s biggest hydroelectric projects. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been dealing with the awkwardness of either stating its reputation or support for the Haqqani group or the Taliban insurgent leader Mullah Mansour, killed in a drone attack on its soil.

Pakistan’s powerful military elite needs to bury the bogeyman of the Cold War and understand the complexity of relations with Pakistan’s two neighboring states.
Pakistan has absolutely failed to maintain robust relations with its all neighbors. Surveying all its immediately neighboring countries except China, Pakistan has failed to sustain good relations with Afghanistan, China, India and Iran. This indicates a failure of Pakistani foreign policy in a region that gave rise to its isolation, which will have serious existential repercussions in the long run.

The Durand Line as a border is much less relevant to ordinary citizens than to the state. Poverty, poor infrastructure, healthcare and other important state functions tend to be precarious on both sides, and the weak presence of the state has left locals on both sides to provide for their own needs. Pakistan, with its India-centric policy, needs to realize that hostile relations with Afghanistan are unsustainable in the light of its growing regional isolation. Selling the idea of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor might work for its eastern border but not for its western border with Afghanistan, whose own dynamics must be recognized.

Aziz Amin Ahmadzai writes on political, security and social issues in South, West and Central Asia. He is based in Kabul and tweets at @azizamin786. Mona Naseer is from FATA, a political and social commentator on the Pakistan-Afghan region. She tweets at @Mo2005.


Jun 19, 2016 

A combination of factors such as robust economic growth of over 6 percent for the past five years and in general during the decade, aspirations of the country to play a larger geo-political and security role manifesting in participation in the UN Peace Keeping, traditional insecurities in relation to the larger neighbour India and Myanmar, increase necessity for security of resources particularly in the EEZ, geo-political push by external players as China and marketing by global defence majors and rising trend of violent extremism are some of the factors that is leading Bangladesh to increase investment in defence and security. This was evident with a 20.3 percent increase in the defence allocations for 2016-17 and over two and a half times more increase at 55 percent in the allotments to Ministry of Home.

The Finance Minister of Bangladesh Abul Maal Abdul Muhith thus proposed an allocation of Tk 221.15 billion (US $ 2.81 Billion) for the Ministry of Defence in a total national budget of Tk 3.14 trillion for the 2016-17 fiscal in Parliament on 2 June. The enhancement is of Tk 37.47 billion over the allocations to the Ministry of Defence in 2015-16 fiscal (July to June) and Tk 14.36 billion more than revised allocations. In the 2015-16 fiscal, the defence ministry was given Tk 183.83 billion (US $ 2.34 Billion) which was later revised to Tk 206.94 billion (US $ 2.63 Billion). “Our efforts to improve the capacity and efficiency of army, navy, air force and border guards as well as to modernise them will continue,” Muhith said in his budget speech.

However there was a surprise in store as Muhith enhanced allocations to the Ministry of Home Affairs by 55 percent. Thus from a budgeted allocation in 2015-16 of Taka 12403 Crore (US $ 1.57 Billion) and a Revised allotment of Taka 15980 Crore (US $ 2.03 Billion) the Ministry of Home Affairs has received Taka 19298 Crore (US $ 2.45 Billion) for 2016-17. This is possibly the largest single year rise in the budget for internal security which has now touched almost at par with the Ministry of Defence short only by US $ 360 million. The total increase year on year in the defence and security budget is thus over 75 percent. The increase in allocations for internal security possibly reflects the priority given to counter terrorism in the light of recent challenges with rise in extremist violence in the country targeting minorities, liberals and foreigners. The government is taking this threat seriously after the international community called for more stringent security measures.

* As Russian Hackers Probe, NATO Has No Clear Cyberwar Strategy

JUNE 16, 2016 

The Dutch warship Johan De Witt during NATO exercises off southern Finland this month. The maneuvers included an amphibious landing, the first by alliance forces in Finnish territory. Credit Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva, via Associated Press 

TALLINN, Estonia — In the six months since part of Ukraine’s power grid came crashing down, turned off by highly sophisticated hackers, cyberspace allies of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have been leaving their mark here in the Baltics and across the sea in Finland and Sweden.

Technological And Strategic Implications Of MTCR For India – Analysis

June 13, 2016 

India last Monday qualified to become member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), when the deadline for objection to Indian application expired without any member raising objections, in what is being termed as “silent procedure”. Under the silent procedure lack of objection automatically qualifies applicant to be a member.

MTCR is one of the four non proliferation regimes, enacted by group of nations controlling sensitive technologies as part of global non proliferation effort. The other three are the Wassenaar Arrangement dealing with export control of conventional arms and dual use technologies. Australia Group focuses on export controls on technologies with regard to chemical and biological weapons. Lastly is the Nuclear Supplier Group a grouping of 41 countries that seeks to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons

The MTCR was essentially created to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems for nuclear weapons in particular delivery systems with a minimum payload of 500 kg at a range of 300 Km. subsequently with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles including combat aerial vehicles these were also inducted with the ambit of the guidelines. In terms of prohibited materials these are divided into two Categories, which are outlined in the MTCR Equipment, Software, and Technology Annex.

One Last Chance to Stop China's Impending Debt Crisis

The 1997–98 Asian corporate debt meltdown could return.
June 16, 2016 
On June 11, 2016, the International Monetary Fund’s number two, David Lipton, urged China to take steps to tackle its rising corporate debt or risk “dangerous detours” in the country’s transition to a consumption-oriented economy. He stated, “Corporate debt remains a serious—and growing—problem that must be addressed immediately and with a commitment to serious reforms.”
Lipton is hardly alone in warning about the buildup in Chinese debt. Indeed, the buildup in Chinese corporate debt since 2008 increasingly resembles the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98. Although China’s troubles are not an exact replay of what occurred in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea in 1997–98, there are some similarities that are worth remembering.

Before China took off in the 1990s, a number of Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, as well as South Korea in East Asia, made substantial strides in their economic development. This process accelerated in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, characterized by rapid economic growth, rising living standards and large inflows of capital.
The problem was that easy access to credit was to have major consequences for much of Southeast Asia and South Korea. Many Southeast Asian governments maintained fixed exchange rates that sought to minimize foreign exchange risk for domestic and foreign investors. In turn, local banks borrowed offshore at low, short-term rates and turned around to lend the money for longer terms at a hefty premium to manufacturers and real-estate developers. The downside to this was that, as Johns Hopkins University’s Karl Jackson has noted, “Unfortunately, the abundance of inexpensive capital, in combination with local bank loans based on personal relationships rather than real business plans, resulted in the widespread misallocation of capital into speculative and noncompetitive sectors and enterprises.”
There were other problems: as economic growth slowed in a number of countries, the heavy level of debt in the corporate sector became onerous. Falling profits meant that Korean, Thai and Indonesian companies struggled to make payments, much of them in dollars. Trying to make up the difference, many Korean, Thai and Indonesian banks opted to make more loans to keep the struggling companies afloat. The result of this was that nonperforming loans rose, and as local economies struggled to maintain economic momentum, the situation in the financial sector became increasingly problematic. Indeed, a number of banks were insolvent before the run on the Thai baht in July 1997.
It is worth noting that one-third of the nonperforming loans in Thailand came from the property market. Another third came from manufacturing, which by the mid-1990s was suffering from overcapacity. Again, as Jackson noted: “Thailand’s automotive industry had an oversupply level of 192 percent; modern housing in Bangkok had an oversupply of 200 percent; petrochemicals an oversupply of 195 percent; and private hospital beds an oversupply of 300 percent.” China faces similar problems with overcapacity.

Bad News: The Great Firewall of China Gets Even Stronger

June 16, 2016 
The Chinese government is tightening its control over free speech in China. Once sheepish in the face of censorship accusations, China is now touting its “internet sovereignty” as something to be admired and adopted.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which also spearheads the anti-corruption campaign, recently conducted a two-month examination of the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department.
Despite the virtual confines of the “Great Firewall” and the physical imprisonment of hundreds of journalists, lawyers, civil society leaders, and activists, the commission assessed its current propaganda levels as insufficient.

The inspection team’s leader, Wang Haichen, said the news propaganda “does not do enough in applying the principle of the party controlling the media in weak points like new media, or in coordinating thought and political work at universities.”
After the Chinese government blocked Facebook and Twitter from the mainland in 2009, it launched its own social media network, Sina Weibo. The Chinese government has also shut down more than 20 million WeChat accounts since August 2013, including widely followed “public accounts” that offered current affairs commentary.
One year later, foreign instant messaging services, including Korea’s KaKao Talk, were also suspended from the mainland for their alleged vulnerability to being used as a platform for spreading “terrorism” messages.

In January 2015, foreign textbooks were banned from schools, and another 50 websites and 133 WeChat accounts were closed to stymie “distorting history of the Communist Party and national history.” By July 2015, at least 248 activists and lawyers were interrogated, detained, or had their homes and offices raided. Twenty-five were still missing or in custody at year’s end.
To measure the tautness of the Communist Party’s reins on the media, ProPublica launched its “Inside the Firewall: Tracking the News That China Blocks” project on Nov. 17, 2014. Every day since then, the nonprofit newsroom has checked the accessibility of the home pages of 18 international news organizations from browsers within China.

The Taiwanese Curve Ball

June 15, 20

Why Taiwan's new government will put the brakes on China's foreign policy.
By Ian Easton

Last year the outside world must have looked pretty good to the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, from his vantage point at Zhongnanhai, the seat of supreme power in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The United States and her allies were bogged down in a seemingly never ending fight against terrorists at home and abroad, and unable to focus their time and attention on emerging threats in Asia. The Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between countries that would otherwise be heavily reliant upon China's market (and therefore Beijing's goodwill), was stalled out. Island atolls in the South China Sea were rapidly being built up into military bases, cementing Chinese control over these strategic waterways. China's cyber army was marching across the internet, giving Beijing an immense edge over competitors in every sphere that mattered, from politics to petroleum and from military technology to trade secrets.

And, most important of all for China, Taiwan appeared on track to return to the mainland. Taiwan's Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) had control of the Presidential Office in Taipei, and the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. President Ma Ying-jeou warmly embraced the "one China" principle, which he defined as The Republic of China, the official title of Taiwan.
President Ma was ideologically opposed to communist China, and even went so far as to suggest that, in theory, Taiwan should have sovereignty over all of China's territory because the PRC was an illegitimate government. Yet in practice he regularly chose policies that accommodated (some would say appeased) China, especially when issues of maritime sovereignty in the East China Sea and the South China Sea were at play. Economic entanglements across the Taiwan Strait had grown at a remarkable clip, creating a sense that Taiwan's absorption into China was inevitable. By anchoring Taiwan's future prosperity in the mainland, President Ma sent a signal that unification was okay, and probably just over the horizon. 

The trends were deeply unsettling to American strategists. Once Taiwan returned to the fold, China would have control over the world's busiest air and sea traffic lines, and an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" smack in the middle of the first island chain, allowing it to exert unparalleled influence over the East Asian maritime seascape. 
China made the most of the golden opportunity the KMT presented. The Taiwan Strait had long been the most dangerous flashpoint in Asia, and perhaps the globe. Serious crises had developed a number of times in the mid 1990s and tensions continued to simmer hot into the 2000s, right up until 2008, when Ma Ying-jeou was elected.

The Campaign for Fallujah

Institute for the Study of War
June 17, 2016
By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
Key Takeaway: The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) has made significant progress in its operation to retake Fallujah, but the city is not fully cleared. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced the full recapture of Fallujah on June 17, following the recapture of the government complex. However, the northern neighborhoods of the city remain controlled by ISIS, and several western neighborhoods are still contested. Even as the ISF operation is on the verge of military success in Fallujah, it is poised to be a political failure. The Badr Organization, an Iranian-backed Shi'a proxy militia, has entered the city limits alongside pro-Iranian ISF elements. The Badr Organization’s presence, following continued Shi'a abuses against Sunni residents, will be a sectarian trigger that will undermine the Iraqi Government’s efforts to reconcile Sunni elements. The Fallujah operation will be a mission failure - even if the city is physically recaptured - as long as the Iraqi Government does not address the Sunni political marginalization which made Fallujah passive towards ISIS’s takeover of the city in December 2013.

After Orlando, a Long War

To stop future terrorist attacks, we need solutions from all sides: better security and surveillance at home, a vigorous fight abroad and the support of Muslim moderates everywhere
By MAX BOOTJune 17, 2016 
The massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando—the worst act of terrorism on American soil since the attacks of 9/11—had barely ended when the debate over its significance began. As usual, the political class divided into competing camps, with liberals predictably claiming that the real issue is gun control and conservatives just as predictably claiming that the real issue is radical Islam. There wasn’t even agreement over whether this was a hate crime or an act of terrorism. (Why couldn’t it be both?)
Faced with the cacophony of competing sound bites, it is tempting to throw one’s hands up in despair and simply bemoan the debased state of political discourse. But we don’t have that luxury, because terrorism remains a real and growing danger. So how should we combat it? By adopting the best ideas from the left and the right on how to improve security at home and by going after terrorists abroad. In dealing with such a complex threat, no part of the political spectrum has a monopoly on the truth.
Police and private security personnel monitor security cameras in New York City in April 2013 PHOTO: JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES
Start with domestic security. The state of our homeland defenses has improved since 9/11, thanks to greater awareness of the terrorist threat, greater resources devoted to stopping it and greater cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But it is hard to stop a violent fanatic from walking into a nightclub and opening fire—and always will be.

The fact that there are more than 300 million firearms in private hands in the U.S. compounds the danger, because it means that anyone with a grudge can acquire the means to commit mass murder. Terrorists are aware of this vulnerability and seek to exploit it. As the American-born al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a 2011 video, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?” (You can’t buy a fully automatic weapon, but otherwise he was correct.)

Omar Mateen did not wait. Possibly inspired by a recent message from Islamic State urging its followers to turn Ramadan into “a month of suffering,” he marched into the Pulse nightclub and opened fire. The fact that he was able to work as a licensed security guard and to legally purchase firearms, despite having been investigated twice by the FBI for potential terrorist ties, suggests a fundamental breakdown in our safeguards.

China’s New Silk Road poses dilemma for Russia

Russia and China have reached a level of cooperation and coordination in regional policies, which has no parallel in their history. This calls for an extraordinary degree of mutual accommodation of each other’s core interests and vital concerns. So far there has been no hiccup.

On the other hand, as each passing day adds to China’s economic might, Russia may find itself coping with an unequal partnership.

Newer and more ingenious methods will have to be found to ensure a balanced trade and investment partnership.

Enter One Road One Belt. A recent commentary in the Moscow media hinted at disquiet in the Russian mind regarding China’s proposed New Silk Road.

Russia’s principal grouse seems to be that China is keeping the cards close to its chest. As a top expert at the Kremlin-associated think tank Valdai Club put it, the New Silk Road is “a large-scale political and economic initiative” but it has so far been lacking “practical and conceptual substance”, and it needs “a plan of practical steps”.

The Russian expert apprehends that there could be conflict of interests insofar as while China aims at project exports, the partner countries (read Russia) “do not want China to bring in its companies and workers” and would expect the projects to generate jobs locally.

CIA director grave warning: ISIS dangerous as ever

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent and Ryan Browne
Updated 2309 GMT (0709 HKT) June 16, 2016
CIA Director's grave warning: ISIS as dangerous as ever 02:23

(CNN)ISIS can draw on a "large cadre of Western fighters" that could attack in the U.S. and the terror threat posed by the group remains as dangerous as ever despite efforts to crush it militarily, the director of the CIA said Thursday.
"Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group's terrorism capability and global reach," CIA Director John Brennan testified to Congress using another acronym for the group.
"The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly," Brennan added. "In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda."
Brennan warned that the group already is preparing more attacks, including by infiltrating refugees into western nations.
"We judge that ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks," he said. "ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West. And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including refugee flows, smuggling routes, and legitimate methods of travel."
The CIA director, appearing just days after the massacre in Orlando that left 49 people dead, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that lone wolf attackers who are inspired by but not under the direct control of terror groups represent "an exceptionally challenging issue for the intelligence community."
He confirmed that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had "no direct links" to ISIS but was inspired by the organization.

"We have not been able to uncover any direct link between that individual, Mateen, and a foreign terrorist organization. But that inspiration can lead someone to embark on this path of destruction," Brennan said.
After telling the committee that Twitter, Telegram and Tumbler were ISIS' preferred social media propaganda platforms, Brennan stressed the need for technology and communication companies to better collaborate with law enforcement, saying that encryption was allowing terrorist groups and their sympathizers to communicate clandestinely.
"They're taking advantage of the liberties that we've fought so hard to defend," he said.
The CIA director noted that ISIS has lost "large stretches" of territory in Iraq and Syria, has experienced a reduction of finances, and has struggled to replenish its ranks as fewer foreign fighters have been traveling to those countries.
But, he added, ISIS still has about 18,000-22,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
"We need to take away their safe haven," he said noting that these areas provide ISIS with the ability to train its operatives and generate revenue.
Beyond the territory ISIS holds in Iraq and Syria, Brennan says the group's growing presence in Libya presents another significant challenge.
"The branch in Libya is probably the most developed and the most dangerous," Brennan said, echoing concerns by other security officials that Libya's close proximity to Europe is a problem.
"We assess that it is trying to increase its influence in Africa and to plot attacks in the region and in Europe."

Brexit’s Impact on the World Economy

JUN 17, 2016 
LONDON – The febrile behavior of financial markets ahead of the United Kingdom’s referendum on June 23 on whether to remain in the European Union shows that the outcome will influence economic and political conditions around the world far more profoundly than Britain’s roughly 2.4% share of global GDP might suggest. There are three reasons for this outsize impact.
First, the “Brexit” referendum is part of a global phenomenon: populist revolts against established political parties, predominantly by older, poorer, or less-educated voters angry enough to tear down existing institutions and defy “establishment” politicians and economic experts. Indeed, the demographic profile of potential Brexit voters is strikingly similar to that of American supporters of Donald Trump and French adherents of the National Front.

Opinion polls indicate that British voters back the “Leave”campaign by a wide margin, 65% to 35%, if they did not complete high school, are over 60, or have “D, E” blue-collar occupations. By contrast, university graduates, voters under 40, and members of the “A, B” professional classes plan to vote “Remain” by similar margins of 60% to 40% and higher.
In Britain, the United States, and Germany, the populist rebellions are not only fueled by similar perceived grievances and nationalist sentiments, but also are occurring in similar economic conditions. All three countries have returned to more or less full employment, with unemployment rates of around 5%. But many of the jobs created pay low wages, and immigrants have recently displaced bankers as scapegoats for all social ills.

Time is ripe for ‘peace pipeline’ from Iran to China – via India

The Chinese communist party tabloid Global Times has featured a commentary expressing satisfaction that the projects within the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are making satisfactory progress.

It estimates that the CPEC may cause heartburn in certain third countries – US and Japan have been mentioned, but not India – which are resorting to attempts to cause disruption in the project work, but both Pakistan and China are determined to press ahead. (Global Times)

Indeed, discourses in India, too, are sceptical about China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR). A former colleague in the foreign service wrote recently that China and the OBOR need India more than the other way around. (The Wire)

The point is, we often apply our work ethics to others and choose to be cynical. But then, China has a record of doing things that appear fantastic by our norms. The Central Asia-China gas pipeline project is case in point.

When it was mooted in 2007 during the Turkmenistan president’s visit to China, most analysts (including western analysts) thought it to be the stuff of pure fantasy – connecting the Central Asian countries to a single gas grid and leading it to Xinjiang. A former Indian foreign secretary openly mocked at the preposterous idea.