3 November 2016

A tale of two Americas

November 3, 2016

In this June 8, 2016 photo, images of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are seen painted on decorative pumpkins.

Thirty years ago nobody took Donald Trump seriously. Today many people do. Because, in America, the future is no longer what it used to be

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” — U.S. President Ronald Reagan, speaking in what was then West Berlin, June 12, 1987.

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.” — Theme song to ‘Carousel of Progress’, the longest running stage show at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The show started in 1964 and runs to date.

“Future ain’t what it used to be.” — Graffiti at a restaurant in the Ohio countryside.

“Build that wall.” — The most heard slogan at the rallies of Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

It is not a coincidence that we get to repeatedly hear about “the last 30 years” in political rhetoric in many parts of the world. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who lost out on the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton, are two prominent critics of America’s involvement in thetrade-driven global capitalist system, and they frame all their arguments in the temporal framework of the last three decades. To cite an example closer home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly points out that this is first time in three decades that India has a single party with a parliamentary majority. The three decades in question roughly start with the Reagan speech quoted above and end with the last slogan — the journey of America, from yearning to “tear down that wall” to the war cry of “build that wall”. Understanding what has happened in America in these three decades is essential to understanding what has happened in India, and anticipating what may happen. Because, America remains and will remain in the foreseeable future the global centre of capital, technology and ideas that will influence the rest of the world.

*** Need for Persevering with the Dialogue Process in Jammu & Kashmir

By Gautam Sen
02 Nov , 2016

The latest process of dialogue with Kashmir Valley separatists initiated by the Yashwant Sinha-led five-member delegation is an interesting development. Notwithstanding Sinha’s claim that the delegation does not have an official status, the efforts of his team may be viewed as a Track-II internal dialogue process between the Government of India (GOI) and the Hurriyat group of Indian separatists and other stakeholders. The composition of the delegation seems to have been worked out carefully in consultation and with the blessings and support of the authorities. Wajahat Habibullah, a member of the delegation, was a former senior government functionary and has wide experience in the state’s administrative affairs. Air Vice Marshal (retd.) Kapil Kak and journalist Bharat Bhusan have an appreciation of Kashmir affairs, while Shushova Barve, a member of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, has experience working on civil society issues.

During their visit which began on October 25, the delegation interacted with most of the main Hurriyat leaders, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce representatives, and held discussions with Governor N.N. Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. It is significant that Vohra stressed on the need for a `sustained` dialogue with all stakeholders. It is appropriate that the dialogue process has resumed despite the continuing civil unrest in the aftermath of the death of Burhan Wani of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in a counter-insurgency operation on July 8.

The scale of the present upsurge significantly differs from past spells of unrest in 2008 or in 2010. An entire generation of youth and civil society at large seems to be involved now, even beyond the influence and control of the Hurriyat, with hardcore Pakistan-engineered militants instigating the agitators at selective places. A multi-pronged intervention is therefore required on a long-term and planned basis, to impress upon the middle rung of Kashmiri society and particularly the youth about the bona fides of the Indian state to promote economic welfare without compromising their distinctive ethnicity and culture under norms of democratic governance.

** Special Force needed after India Ignores Border Intrusions on the Chinese Side

By Claude Arpi
02 Nov , 2016

India is facing difficult situation on its borders; not only for the LoC with Pakistan, but also for the LAC with China. Between 200 and 300 Chinese intrusions inside the Indian territory occur every year but for the sake of the ‘normalization’ with Beijing, Delhi is keeping rather silent.

There is perhaps a solution to improve the situation: a better administration of the border areas.

For the security, the Indo-Tibet Border Police Force (ITBPF) is deployed from Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh along the 3488 km Indo-Tibet border, manning Border Outposts in the three sectors of the Himalayan frontier.

While the ITBPF, raised on October 24, 1962, is a specialized mountain Force with professionally trained mountaineers, the civil administration in these Himalayan areas is still in the hands of young IAS officers, unequipped and often unwilling to go through the hardship necessary to interact and help the local population.

Today, there is an acute need for a special cadre to administrate India’s borders, principally in the Himalaya. Is the Government ready to take a first step in this direction? Probably not, as it may ruffle too many feathers, starting with the powerful IAS lobby.

It is worth noting that Nehru did it, though with romantic concerns. He believed in the ‘noble savage’ described by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.”

* Is Pakistan Worthy of Diplomacy?

By RSN Singh
01 Nov , 2016

The recent busting of espionage network being run from Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi should not be viewed with the ordinary prism of spies and espionage. Yes, it is true that even friendly countries gather information and intelligence to assess the capacities of concerned countries. Yes, it is true that embassies and foreign missions have their network of informers, assets and leverages at all levels, repeat all levels. Probably, this is very much part of the statecraft in an international system based on nation-states.

The Pakistani spy-network operating from the Visa Section of the High Commission was probably the nerve center. This author refuses to buy the theory put in public domain that the culprits who were apprehended were in possession of maps depicting deployment of armed forces or the BSF as part of routine espionage. To assess in that manner would amount to inflicting grievous injury on India. We, it seems, have not yet comprehended the entire dimension of proxy war from Pakistan. Espionage by Pakistan in India is for terror and sabotage. Targets are acquire d and accorded priority by the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan for their vulnerability to jihadi attacks. It is orchestrated by the military-intelligence apparatus, but are carried out through agents embedded within the Indian system.

It is therefore not at all surprising that the thread of the recent espionage incident runs into strategic assets like the ISRO and the political system. The PA of one of the Members of Parliament is just one small and pathetic example. It runs far wider and deeper. The grave inroads that the Pakistan-ISI has made into the recesses of the Indian system were barefacedly exposed during the hanging of YakubMenon. More than 15 firms specializing in lobbying were pressed into service. Most institutions of the Indian system stood naked. Lately what is most disconcerting is that the elements in the Pakistan High Commission have been trying to create disaffection in the military establishment of India by fabricating fissures and dissatisfaction. It has pressed some spin-doctors to generate divisive and destructive online stories for the purpose. These have been flying thick and fast over the last two years, one story on the tail of the another story. It has been trying to take advantage of the ghettoization of the retired security personnel in metros. This ghettoization is a process that has gained momentum in the last decade or so. This is a dangerous development given the fact that the ISI through the aegis of Dawood Ibrahim has substantial inroads into three major aspects of India’s national life, i.e. Bollywood, Cricket and Politics.

India: Demanding A Concrete Refugee Policy – OpEd

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

The Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) on the backdrop of an uproarious atmosphere against the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan in Assam of northeast India raised a demand for concrete refugee policy for the country.

In a memorandum, sent to Assam Governor Banwarilal Purohit recently, the nationalist people’s forum argued that India should have the refugee policy ‘to deal with the issue of immigrants logically and legally’ forever.

“We sincerely believe India should sign the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. Moreover, our government has to ratify the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees,” said the memorandum, signed by some distinguished personalities including Cologne (Germany) based eminent historian Dr Nirode K Barooah, former director general of National Museum Dr Rabin Dev Choudhury, eminent publisher Giripada Dev Choudhury, senior editor-journalist Dhirendra Nath Chakrabarty, award winning filmmaker Manju Bora, film personality Pranjal Saikia, IIT Kharagpur professor Gourishankar S Hiremath, Banaras Hindu University professor Anil K Rai, with others.

The memorandum also expressed concerns that few ‘recent misleading and manipulative statements by some individuals and organizations on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 issue’ were ‘trying to communalise the issue instead of helping to find an amicable solution’.

Are India And China Drifting Apart? – Analysis

By Bhaskar Roy*
NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Indian and Chinese National Security Advisors (NSAs) Ajit Doval and State Councillor Yang Jiechi are scheduled to meet in Hyderabad, India in the first week of November to review bilateral relations and regional developments. Hugging and selfie diplomacy is over. It is back to the brass tracks. Core interests are to the fore.

Doval and his delegation would certainly carry in their portfolios Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Hua Chunying’s press statement on the Pakistani terrorist leader, Masood Azhar in the aftermath of the Goa BRICS Summit (Oct 15-16). Asked about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to isolate Pakistan diplomatically over Pakistan’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism, Ms. Hua said the following: “We oppose the linking of terrorism to any specific country, ethnicity or religion. This is China’s consistent position”. She went on to say, “Everyone knows that India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. Pakistan has made huge efforts and great sacrifices in fighting terrorism. I think the international community should respect that”.

Hua Chunying’s punchline is most significant and a message to India – that China and Pakistan consider each other “all-weather friends” and have close diplomatic, economic and security ties.

China and India's Slow-Moving Path to 'Water Wars'

November 1, 2016

China’s September 30 announcement that it would temporarily divert the Xiabuqu—a domestic river that feeds into the mighty Brahmaputra running from Tibet through Northeast India and Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal—to allow for the construction of two hydroelectric dams exacerbates anxieties in both downstream Delhi and Dhaka. However, the latest round of recriminations and uncertainties also offer an opportunity to move beyond existing piecemeal and bilateral arrangements, and on to multilateral and confidence-assuring commitments to share information and ultimately even water. In a recent CNA report, Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin: China, India and Bangladesh,” we argued for just such steps.

Upper Riparian China: Driven by the Domestic

China’s plans for dams on Tibetan rivers are key to national economic and energy-development priorities. Chinese media focused almost exclusively on the domestic benefits of the Xiabuqu project. The state-runCommunist Youth Daily, for instance,boasted that the project would improve irrigation and thus allow for an increase in grain production in an area known as Tibet’s “breadbasket,” improve flood control and raise electricity production, all of which would help raise the standard of living in Tibet—one of China’s most impoverished regions. These arguments are consistent both with Beijing’s long-running “Develop the West” strategy of promoting greater economic development of and migration into China’s western areas, and with its more recent emphasis on developing clean sources of energy. Some independent analysts, however, contend that the project will have an adverse effect on Tibet’s indigenous population by accelerating desertification and increasing water shortages.

First ‘War On Terror’ Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah Denied Release From Guantánamo – OpEd

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

On October 27, it was announced that Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was initiated, had his ongoing imprisonment recommended by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process involving representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Zubaydah’s review took place on August 23 (as I reported here), and the decision was taken on September 22, but, for some reason, it was not made public for five weeks.

The PRBs began in November 2013, and have reviewed the cases of 64 men, who were previously recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release” (41 of the 64) or for men initially recommended for trials, until the legitimacy of the military commission trial system was seriously shaken by a court ruling on October 2012, and by subsequent rulings (the remaining 23). To date, 62 decisions have been taken, with 34 men being approved for release, while 28 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

Afghan Government Lost 2 Percent of Territory This Summer, Report

Morgan Chalfont
November 1, 2016

Afghan Government Lost 2 Percent of Territory This Summer

The Afghan government lost control of 2 percent of its territory this summer, as Taliban insurgents have continued to launch attacks in an ongoing conflict that top officials describe as a “stalemate.”

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released its quarterly report to Congress over the weekend, naming the Taliban insurgency as the “most immediate challenge” to ongoing U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn country.

The report, citing figures from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government controlled or influenced approximately 63.4 percent of Afghanistan’s districts as of August 28, over two percent less than the 65.6 percent it controlled three months earlier.

The Taliban wields the most substantial power in Helmand province, where 21 percent of districts are either controlled or influenced by insurgents.

The Afghan government controls 258 of the country’s 407 districts, while insurgents hold 33 districts and 116 districts are contested.

The special inspector general report preceded the publication of a New York Times article outlining how Taliban fighters have gained ground in Helmand, Kunduz, and Uruzgan provinces over the last week as Afghan forces have surrendered their posts.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, have recently described the conflict between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents as a “stalemate.”

Afghanistan tries to clean up its militias, both legal and illegal

An Afghan policeman, left, stands over the body of a suspected Taliban leader killed in a July battle in Eshkamesh, Afghanistan. 

On the outskirts of a remote district in northern Afghanistan’s Takhar province, about 80 armed men gathered near the front line of a Taliban-controlled village, ready for battle.

Half the fighters were members of the Afghan Local Police, a U.S.-backed militia supervised by the Afghan interior ministry. The others were guns for hire loyal to local power brokers, some of whom are paid with the proceeds from opium sales.

For more than three hours the combined forces battled the Taliban in the Koka Bloq area of Eshkamesh district, killing several insurgents including Qari Omar, the top local Taliban official, according to government accounts of the July fighting.

When the battle was over, the armed groups went their separate ways. But next time, the guns for hire and police could just as easily be shooting at each other.

As Afghanistan tries to institute reforms in its security sector, it has struggled to bring order to the dizzying array of militias, irregular fighters, personal bodyguards and other armed groups that often fight the Taliban but also battle among themselves.

In Takhar, which lies along the border with Tajikistan, local officials say influential figures have created several irregular armed groups to carry out private missions in various districts. They cultivate hashish, smuggle it and opium to Tajikistan and extort local farmers with ushr – an Islamic land tax usually levied only in times of economic crisis.

Taliban Envoy Breaks Silence to Urge Group to Reshape Itself and Consider Peace

OCT. 31, 2016

Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, right, the former Taliban chief negotiator, speaking to reporters in 2001 in Spinbaldak, Afghanistan. CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s internal debate over whether and how to negotiate with the Afghan government is playing out in the open, even as there have been renewed attempts to restart talks.

Breaking with nearly 15 years of public silence, Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, who until recently was the Taliban’s chief negotiator and head of their political commission, issued a letter about peace talks to the insurgency’s supreme leader over the summer and discussed reconciliation efforts in an interview with The New York Times in recent days, his first on the record with a Western publication in years.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and appeared in the Afghan news media, Mr. Agha supported the idea of talks, and said the insurgency should be urgently trying to position itself as an Afghan political movement independent from the influence of Pakistani intelligence officials who have sheltered, and at times manipulated, the Taliban since 2001.

Mr. Agha led efforts to open the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2011, and he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the release of the last known American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. But he became disgruntled over the internal power struggle that broke out in 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, for whom he was a trusted aide. He remains in exile abroad.

Within the Taliban, discussions of whether or how to take up negotiations have proved divisive. Some of the group’s most senior field commanders openly bridled at the possibility in 2015, when a meeting in Pakistanseemed to signal that talks might progress. Now, however, with the insurgents seizing so much territory in Afghanistan and badly bloodying the security forces, some officials believe the Taliban might be more amenable to coming to the table.

The New Liberal World Order: Is Isolation Possible? – OpEd

NOVEMBER 1, 2016
The recent cancellation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that was supposed to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan and the natural corollary to the cancellation i.e. demand for isolating Pakistan calls for a serious theoretical understanding of the new world order. The Liberal approach to the study of foreign policy and world order that developed in the 17th century focussed on the liberty of the individuals to enter into a social contract for establishment of rule of law. John Locke’s understanding of the world order was based on this premise of cooperation. Liberals believe that human beings are perfectible and that Democracy is necessary for that perfectibility to develop. However the concept of Democracy has undergone significant paradigmatic changes in the recent years.
Liberals reject the Realist notion of war being a natural phenomenon. So any action from Pakistan according to the liberal approach is an outcome of economic inequalities, and failed bargaining between developed and developing nations for resource accessibility and economic development. An important aspect of Liberalism is the emphasis it lays on the possibilities for cooperation in all fields, military, economic and technological. Liberals identify multinational corporations, non state actors and terrorist groups as central actors on the international stage apart from sovereign nation states. Realists put nation states on the forefront. Liberals focus too much on human beings and their right to enter into contract for rule of law, which by modern definition means or refers to a democratic set up.

With the dragon raising its head and the United States trying to balance South Asia by taking India into confidence as a counterweight to China the entire balance of power is shifting inexorably towards the new bilateral equation between China and the U.S. The very idea of a liberal constitutional set up is to protect individual liberty. Let us replace individuals with states. So the very idea of an organisation like SAARC is to protect the interests of the member states and promote regional cooperation. However with Pakistan’s repeated acts of terror on Indian soil and its relentless proxy war against India the very notion of Liberal democratic set up has turned turtle. Several analysts and policy experts have called for total isolation of Pakistan declaring it a terrorist state. China continues to maintain a diplomatic distance from the issue while in the same instance vetoing Indian interests at various multinational fora. Several other nations have strongly condemned the attacks on Indian soil by Pakistani terrorists. Liberals argue that mutual interests can sustain cooperation in the new world order but proxy wars and terror attacks defeat the very purpose of mutual cooperation.

Europe Warms Up To China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Project – Analysis

By Arun Mohan Sukumar
NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Europe’s gradual embrace of China’s Belt and Road initiative (OBOR) presents the most significant milestone in its history after President Xi Jinping pulled the drapes off the project three years ago. To the mercantilist, OBOR is not a connectivity project but an arrangement intended to maximise China’s exports, and help Beijing move up the global value chain. Given that Europe is China’s overseas biggest market — they currently trade over a billion dollars a day — and the one with the deepest pockets, the EU’s warming up to OBOR ensures the project is here to stay. After all, creating “transit economies” without a firm guarantee from the final trading destination makes little sense for China.

But the EU’s eventual endorsement of OBOR also comes with geopolitical consequences, all of which materially affect India’s interests.
The Internationalisation of OBOR
The institutionalisation of a connectivity “regime” around OBOR
Reconfiguration of political relationships based on economic ties
OBOR goes global

What explains the EU’s interest in OBOR, if the project only seeks to satisfy China’s bulging export capacity? To start with, Brussels realises the primary source of capital for infrastructure projects in Eurasia over the next decade will be China. If European diplomats were reluctant to embrace the Belt and Road initiative for want of clarity, they now sense an opportunity to partner some of these projects. Among the EU’s top strategic priorities is a free trade agreement with China, with a focus on services. The Belt and Road project, many European interlocutors feel, is “mutually compatible” with the FTA proposal — in rooting for OBOR, the EU may be trying to attract Chinese investment in specific sectors.

Germany Returns To The Baltic Sea – Analysis

By Johan Eellend*
NOVEMBER 2, 2016

(FPRI) — Germany is now back in the Baltic Sea — in a big way. After the Cold War, Germany took a relatively reserved approach to its neighbors on the Baltic shores. Germany supported the Baltic states in their bid to join the EU and then, in 2004, NATO. However, when this was achieved, Germany considered the region’s security problem to be solved. The crisis caused by Russia’s occupation of Crimea has prompted Germany to change this approach, but the crisis has not been the sole factor. Germany’s foreign, defence and security policies have also gone through radical changes since the mid-1990s.

During the Cold War, West German security policy depended on a set of interlinked principles developed in response to Germany’s role in both world wars. These principles implied that Germany always should work together with others and preferably within the framework of the UN, the EU, or NATO, to resolve issues via diplomacy and economic means. The use of military means was limited to NATO’s Article V, which provides for collective defence if any alliance members are attacked. These restrictions held Germany back from identifying its national interests beyond the area of international trade. Since the mid-1990s, however, Germany’s leaders have gradually moved beyond these limitations.

At the same time, Germany has begun to build trust among its NATO allies in the area of security. By taking part in military operations in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and by supporting Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, Germany has moved its security policy into the global arena and showed its willingness to use force if needed. Germany has also reshaped its armed forces, the Bundeswehr, for international operations. The road to this change has, however, had some challenges. The German armed forces and government lacked experience with international operations and the rapid and consistent decision making such missions require. About half the German population feels uncomfortable deploying troops abroad. These factors have caused Germany’s allies in NATO to mistrust Germany’s willingness to provide rapid assistance in a time of crisis.

China Confirms Allowing Philippine Fishermen Access to Shoal

OCT. 31, 2016

BEIJING — China's Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed a decision to allow Philippine fishermen access to a disputed shoal following a visit to Beijing by the Philippine president.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing made "proper arrangements" regarding Scarborough Shoal after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern about the matter.

China seized the shoal, located 228 kilometers (123 nautical miles) from the northern Philippines, following a 2012 standoff between the sides, preventing Filipino fishermen from working in the area. Chinese coast guard ships sometimes used water cannons to drive off Filipino fishermen while protecting Chinese boats.

However, fishermen said over the weekend that the Chinese coast guard had allowed them to again fish in the area following Duterte's recent visit, which officials say resulted in a warming of bilateral ties.

The visit marked a "comprehensive improvement of China-Philippines relations. Given the circumstance, regarding the issue President Duterte was highly concerned about, China made proper arrangements on the issue based on the friendship between China and the Philippines," Hua told reporters at a daily briefing.

Ensuring Political Stability: Debates For Third Term To Abe Shinzo In Office – OpEd

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Before Abe Shinzo assumed the office of Japan’s Prime Minister for the second time in December 2012, politics in Japan witnessed an acute spell of political instability with frequent changes in the office of Prime Ministers. The joke in circulation at that time was that Japan has developed the system of having ‘revolving’ prime ministers. Even Japanese lost count of the number of Prime Ministers that the country had since the departure of Koizumi Junichiro and advent of Abe for his second term. Even doubts lingered if Abe could provide a stable government and survive a full second term.

In an academic discussion at a think-tank in New Delhi on Japanese politics after Abe took office in December 2012 where I was invited to present my perspective and assessment of Japanese politics and the prospect of the future of Abe government, I was asked by a senior Army veteran and security analyst: “how much time (months) would you give Abe to remain in office?” Intuitively, I replied at least minimum of two years. I was laughed at for expressing the level of optimism. As it has transpired, the General was not only wrong but my projection has exceeded the period I had in mind.

I had faith in Abe’s understanding of Japanese politics and felt confident that he would work hard to not only ensure stability in the government but would enact measures to bring the economy on track, which is what he is trying to do through his three arrows of Abenomics. Now we reach a situation when his party members are pondering if the party rules can be amended to give Abe 3-year term extension so that he can get enough time to address to the thorny issues facing the nation.

Unlike Mosul, Obama Lacks Allies In Raqqa – OpEd

By Osama Al Sharif* 
NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Despite stiff resistance Iraqi forces appear to be inching closer to the outskirts of besieged Mosul, two weeks after a major offensive to liberate the city from Daesh had begun. But fiercer battles are expected as the offensive moves into second phase and into the heart of the second largest city in Iraq. No one really knows what kind of a fight the stranded militants, numbering between 4,000 and 8,000, will put in this major battle whose outcome will decide the fate of the terrorist organization in Iraq and beyond.

So far they have launched suicide attacks, set oil fields on fire and waged surprise attacks in Kirkuk and Rutba. Militarily, they are outnumbered and have no defense to intensive airstrikes carried out by the US-led coalition. On the ground, Iraqi forces, backed by the Kurdish Peshmerga, appear to be coordinating well and are now moving in from the east in a sustained effort to penetrate Daesh defenses.

Daesh is carrying out atrocities against civilians in the city and neighboring villages as they attempt to flee. They have executed hundreds and appear to be ready to destroy Mosul, as they did in Ramadi and Fallujah, before giving it up.

There is no doubt that the human toll will be hefty. Mosul, a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, will suffer massively before final victory is declared.

Mosul Operation: The Endgame For Islamic State? – Analysis

By Abdul Basit* 
NOVEMBER 2, 2016

The loss of Mosul will be a huge setback for the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, posing it an existential threat. However, confusing the loss of territory with the defeat of IS will be premature and over-simplistic.

In the last few months, the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group has suffered significant territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. Most recently, the Turkish forces retook the Syrian town of Dabiq from IS—the name of its flagship monthly English language magazine. Similarly, in Iraq after retaking the Sunni-majority Anbar province from IS in July, the Iraqi forces have launched the much-touted operation in Mosul. Currently, Mosul is the last stronghold of IS in Iraq, its strategic cities in Syria, Aleppo and Raqqa are also being targeted. IS is in retreat as the anti-IS forces expand the offensive to cross over into Aleppo.

In the context of the anti-IS operation in Mosul and Aleppo, three important questions beg answers. First, will the loss of territory in Mosul and similar territorial setbacks in Syria defeat the IS? Second, what is the military strategy that will be adopted by the anti-IS coalition—comprising of the Iraqi military and police, Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), the US advisers and the Kurdish Peshmergas? Will it be counter-terrorism (CT) or counter-insurgency (COIN)? Third, if IS implodes, has the international community deliberated and worked out the strategy to deal with the aftermath of such a development?
Will Loss of Territory Defeat IS?

After Mosul: Why Should America Push On to Raqqa?

November 1, 2016

The battle for Mosul in Iraq is barely two weeks old. As of this writing, coalition forces have yet to even enter the city proper. Yet already, U.S. officials have announced the beginning of the attack on the Syrian base of ISIS support in Raqqa. It is distressing to realize senior American foreign-policy and defense officials remain unaware of the list of critical factors that, under the current circumstances, should argue persuasively against the contemplation of such an operation.

Though Iraqi Security Forces have to date successfully ejected ISIS fighters from a number of sizeable urban centers in Iraq, they have not fought in a city of Mosul’s size, nor against a desperate enemy with its back to the wall. It is far from certain the ISF and other coalition troops will withstand what might end up being a meat grinder of a battle.

Moreover, the coalition of forces currently arrayed against ISIS in Mosul are composed of militias, some of whom are strongly antithetical to each other. It is still not certain whether Turkish troops, stationed just outside of Mosul, will play a neutral, supporting, or destabilizing role in the battle. For the coalition to succeed, many factors must achieve “best-case scenario” outcomes. Yet for all these potential liabilities and uncertainty in the battle to liberate Mosul, they are nothing compared to the mountainous tactical and strategic challenges inherent in trying to oust ISIS from Raqqa.

What ISIL really wants from the battle for Mosul

October 30, 2016 

When Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, ISIL’s leader, ascended the pulpit of the Great Mosque in Mosul two years ago, his choice of venue was not arbitrary. The Great Mosque was built by the Zangi dynasty that ruled Aleppo and Mosul in the 12th century. Today, even though the two cities face different conflicts, many in the region see them as twin cities going through the same plight.

On the surface, the experiences of the two cities are incomparable. In Mosul, the United States leads a campaign to end ISIL’s medieval rule that has the safety of its civilians as a stated priority. The campaign also takes into consideration locals’ concerns about the role of militias operating under the banner of the Hashd Al Shaabi. Aleppo faces a different fate: the regime and its allies are bent on obliterating the rebel-held parts of the city to surrender with no regard to civilian casualties.

But there is too much shared history between them for people in the region not to connect them, especially as the two cities dominate news headlines. Fairly or not, too many people are drawing connections. Statements last week by Iraqi officials and militias directly involved in the battle to retake Mosul are adding fuel to the fire.

Last Monday, Nouri Al Maliki, Iraq’s former prime minister, said the forces taking part in the operations in Nineveh – dubbed by Baghdad "We are coming, Nineveh" – will march on to Raqqa, Aleppo and Yemen. He added that the fight will continue everywhere against those who apostatised from Islam, a phrase reminiscent of ISIL’s takfiri talk. He spoke at a conference titled Islamic Awakening, an annual event in reference to the 2011 Arab uprisings, which was first organised by Iran in 2012. Ahmad Al Assadi, a spokesman of the Hashd Al Shaabi, also claimed that the militia organisation will move on to fight ISIL in Syria after Mosul is retaken.


NOVEMBER 1, 2016

Mosul was not the first city to fall to the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but it was itscapture that shocked the world into action. Over two years later, the much-anticipated Iraqi offensive to liberate Mosul from ISIL is in its early stages. Since the halt of the ISIL offensive outside Baghdad and Irbil and the engagement of U.S and coalition airpower, this battle and its result was preordained. Urban fights bring complications, and the coalition of forces advancing on Mosul should seek to minimize casualties and human suffering. But the moral and strategic imperative is to liberate the citizens of Mosul from the brutalities of ISIL rule, including vicious repression, regular executions and — for the minorities — organized rape.

The complex and varied groups of loosely allied military forces descending on Mosul have been the subject of a great deal of analysis, debate, and skepticism. While (almost) all these forces — willing to shoulder personal risk to liberate a captured city — should be applauded, this is not to say that there are not a host of serious concerns, both in the liberation and the aftermath. Mosul is a deeply complicated piece of terrain, both internally and in relation to external powers. There are serious equities that must be balanced or checked, even as Mosul’s citizens are liberated.

The forces encircling Mosul are primarily those of the Iraqi government — the Army, Federal Police, and Special Forces. Then there are the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni Arab forces trained by Turkey, and predominantly Shia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). There is also a small detachment of Turkish troops in the area that is not yet involved in the fighting.

Echoes of Future War: How the Fight for Mosul Will Change IED Science


OCTOBER 25, 2016
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Reseachers are using seismic sensors to learn about enemy weapons — and one day, even to find them as they fire.
When a roadside bomb took the life of the first U.S.servicemember to die in the drive on Mosul, the shock waves were picked up by seismic sensors. Researcher Gassan Aleqabi was in nearby Sulaymaniyah, maintaining the local node of the Northern Iraq Seismic Network, or NISN, in the hopes that the data it gathers will one day help protect troops from IEDs and similar explosive weapons.

History credits 19th-century geologist John Milne with the creation of the first modern seismograph, a tool to measure tremors in the earth. In 1960, the U.S. military established the World Wide Standard Seismographic Network, putting the devices to work monitoring Soviet nuclear tests. Today, Aleqabi and his fellow researchers are exploring what seismographs and acoustic sensors can tell us about IEDs.

in 2006, enemy mortar rounds struck a munitions dump on Camp Falcon, a forward operating base just outside of Baghdad, setting off a lengthy chain reaction of explosions. Energy from the blasts moved through the air at supersonic speeds, and through the earth as seismic waves, where they were detected and measured by the nearby Baghdad Seismic Observatory. Aleqabi, along with Michael Wysession, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and other researchers, discovered a unique sound picture of what had occurred. They published their paper on the subject at the end of 2015.

“We just happened to be four miles away from the Air Force ammo post that got hit by mortar fire and underwent this cookoff over a period of a day. And we looked back through records and realize we were close enough to record car bombs and we could pick out helicopter signals … drones and variety of other military operations,” Wysession said.

Lebanese lawmakers pick Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun to end presidential logjam

By Hugh Naylor 
October 31 2016
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Michel Aoun, a former general, was selected as president by Lebanon’s parliament. The country had been without a president for more than two years because of factional squabbling. 

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s parliament ended a more than two-year leadership vacuum Monday, electing as president a former general supported by Hezbollah in a move that gives the powerful Iranian-backed militia even wider clout in Lebanese affairs.

The selection of Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, highlights the complex alliances among Lebanon’s various factions as the country struggles with the humanitarian and political falloutfrom the Syrian civil war next door.

Aoun, 81, is a divisive figure who rose to prominence as a military leader during Lebanon’s devastating 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. In that conflict, he fought then-occupying Syrian troops and fled to France. He returned to Lebanon in 2005, only to stun observers by befriending the Syrian leadership and its Shiite ally, Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has become the dominant player in Lebanon, angering many Lebanese by dispatching fighters to aid President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria without receiving permission from Lebanon’s government. Aoun’s rise to the presidency could put Lebanon at odds with its Western and Arab allies that have sided with Assad’s opponents.

Ten New Initiatives For Russia’s Nationality Policy Announced – OpEd

NOVEMBER 2, 2016

Vladimir Putin’s acceptance of the idea that the Russian Federation needs to adopt a new law on the definition of the civic Russian nation has so overshadowed everything else that happened at the Astrakhan session of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations that a simple list of all the ideas raised there is necessary.

The journalists of the Nazaccent portal have provided a list of ten proposals that the site said had been made and discussed in front of Putin (nazaccent.ru/content/22276-korotko-o-glavnom.html). They include the following:
Adopt a law on the Russian nation.
Set responsibilities for the adaptation of immigrants.
Build roads and accessible housing in the cities of Russia.
Include the services performed by ethno-cultural organizations in the list of the socially useful.
Adopt a law on ethnological expertise.
Subordinate regional and local national-cultural autonomies to the federal level ones.
Create in the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs a Department for Work with Compatriots.
Support the institution of federal national-cultural autonomies.
Create a structure for distributing presidential grants on projects in the inter-ethnic sphere.
Have a Year of the Unity of Peoples of Russia and Build a Palace of the Unity of the Peoples of Russia.

The list itself says a great deal about where things are headed in Putin’s Russia. Many of these topics will undoubtedly be revisited in the future.

Stop Running This Ad, Secretary Clinton

November 1, 2016

Over the past few months, Hillary Clinton and a number of members of the western media have consistently depicted Donald Trump as dangerously close to Russian president Vladimir Putin. The claims range from the allegation inSlate that the candidate is running a secret server in Trump Tower that communicates with the Alfa Bank to Senate minority leader Harry Reid’s assertion that FBI director James Comey is sitting on “explosive information” about Trump’s Russian connections. Turning routine business relationships, attendance at conferences, or even support for diplomatic engagement with Russia into outright affection for Putin is a tempting political gambit. For political candidates, it offers an easy way to insinuate that the opposition doesn’t really consist of loyal Americans. For policy advocates, it also provides a way preemptively to shut down debate.

So far, the Clinton campaign has managed to occupy the moral high ground when it comes to the Kremlin. But a closer look at that campaign suggests that a politicized version of “six degrees of separation” could ensnare it as well. A small example is the fact that leaders in a Washington organization—the Center on Global Interests-are either campaigning for Clinton or praising Putin. Thus Nikolai Zlobin—President of the Center on Global Interests, a Washington-based think tank that focuses heavily on Russia—praised President Vladimir Putin’s thinly-veiled attack on U.S. foreign policy in his speech to the Valdai Discussion Club. Zlobin was unstinting in his praise, stating that, “the president of Russia today presented a large, three-dimensional picture of what is happening in the world. He is becoming a deep political philosopher, and this is very good because the global political class has clearly been stuck in an intellectual rut in recent years.” Even before the post-2014 souring of U.S.-Russia relations, this would have been a remarkable endorsement from someone who portrays himself as the head of an American organization.