8 February 2019

Tax Tobacco Farming or Go up in Smoke.


The tobacco business in India was estimated to be worth around Rs.90, 000 crores in 2009. It is expected to reach Rs.230, 000 crores by 2018. While bidis account for almost 85% of tobacco use it is not the mainstay of the business in terms of value. Cigarettes account for 44% of the market value of the business. Chewing tobacco, bidi’s and other forms account for the rest. While increasing population and rapid economic growth are driving growth of the market, increasing government regulation and taxation, along with smuggling of counterfeit brands of cigarettes are key to slowing down the growth in the market.

The only good news from the tobacco business is that per capita cigarette consumption has declined from 190 in 1970 to 99 now. We do not know if there was a corresponding decrease in the incidence of cancer and other smoking induced ailments. That we will never know because the government, presumably under pressure from the rich and powerful cigarette industry, has not yet conducted a detailed study of this and the consequential cost to the economy. This is despite a specific request from the Revenue Department to enable it to evolve a scientific basis for cigarette and tobacco products taxation.

Negotiating peace or withdrawal

Prof. Ijaz Khan

A lot of optimism is in the air about peace in Afghanistan amid some voices of caution and some disappointment at what is being reported about the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Taliban.

A question that needs to be answered first is, whether these negotiations are about peace in Afghanistan or US withdrawal from Afghanistan? A related question is, are the US and Taliban the only parties to the conflict in Afghanistan? Answers to these questions in the context of US foreign policy as it is taking shape under the Trump Presidency will help better understand what is happening and its implications.

Taliban, Afghan Opposition to Meet in Moscow; Kabul Not Attending

Ayaz Gul

ISLAMABAD — Taliban representatives will meet influential Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow for two days of peace building discussions starting Tuesday, but envoys from the Kabul government will not be in attendance.

The controversial meeting, critics say, underscores a deepening political divide in Afghanistan and would further weaken President Ashraf Ghani’s National Unity government.

The so-called “intra-Afghan peace meeting” in Russia comes just days after the United States reported “significant” progress in ongoing talks with Taliban insurgents, though they also excluded the Afghan government.

The Taliban refuses to engage in direct or indirect talks with the Ghani administration, branding them American “puppets.”

The Trump Administration Is Right to Seek a Peace Deal in Afghanistan

by Paul R. Pillar

An agreement with the Taliban will not necessarily end the war, at least not right away, but the war surely will not end in the absence of such agreement.

Much remains to be negotiated, but the partial agreement reached between the United States and the Afghan Taliban is a welcome development. Commendation for this progress is in order for the Trump administration and for U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is uniquely qualified by background and experience to have undertaken this assignment.

Some of the chief objections voiced against this step toward extricating the United States from an interminable war are valid as far as they go, but they do not go far enough to evaluate fully where U.S. interests lie. The agreement will not necessarily end the war, at least not right away, but the war surely will not end in the absence of such agreement. And without such an agreement, the United States will continue to share in the costs.

China Calls for 'Responsible' US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Ayaz Gul 

ISLAMABAD — China has advised the United States against staging an abrupt troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and called for collective international efforts to help initiate a peace process between the South Asian nation's warring parties.

The remarks by a top Chinese diplomat Sunday in neighboring Pakistan come amid unconfirmed media reports suggesting President Donald Trump has ordered pulling out half of the more than 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Peace with the Taliban? Trump warned of Afghan pullout risks


Trump administration claims of progress in talks with the Taliban have sparked fears even among the president's allies that his impatience with the war in Afghanistan will lead him to withdraw troops too soon, leaving the country at risk of returning to the same volatile condition that prompted the invasion in the first place.

Discussions between a U.S. envoy and the Taliban are advancing weeks after the administration said it wanted to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan. That has prompted some critics to note that President Donald Trump is telegraphing a withdrawal — the same thing he accused President Barack Obama of doing by saying he wanted to end the American combat mission in 2014.

"It's an effort to put lipstick on what will be a U.S. withdrawal," said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul under Obama.

Trump’s Gift to the Taliban

Brahma Chellaney

The just-announced “agreement in principle” between the US and the Taliban should be called what it is: a Faustian bargain that will lead to still more violence in the region, and perhaps in the West. By abandoning Afghanistan, the Trump administration is repeating one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes of the past few decades.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, thereby eliminating a key nexus of international terrorism. But now, a war-weary US, with a president seeking to cut and run, has reached a tentative deal largely on the Taliban’s terms. The extremist militia that once harbored al-Qaeda and now carries out the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks has secured not just the promise of a US military exit within 18 months, but also a pathway to power in Kabul.

America has lost the Afghan war

Stanly Johny

Once U.S. troops leave, the Taliban is sure to challenge Kabul one way or the other

The Remnants of an Army, a famous oil on canvas by the 19th century artist Elizabeth Butler, is a lasting image of the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). It depicts William Brydon, a medical officer in the British Indian Army, arriving in Jalalabad from Kabul on horseback in 1842. Both Brydon, who was wounded, and his horse look exhausted. Brydon was the only survivor of the 16,000 soldiers and camp followers who were retreating from Kabul after the British invasion went awry.

One hundred and thirty-seven years later, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to bolster its client communist regime. A decade passed before the Soviet troops too withdrew in ignominy. And again in 2001, the U.S., the sole superpower of the post-Soviet world, sent troops to Afghanistan launching its ‘War on Terror’. Now, after 17 years of the war, with the U.S. and the Taliban agreeing ‘in-principle’ to a framework for peace that would provide the Americans a face-saving exit from Afghanistan, it’s hard to miss the echoes from history.
Repeating mistakes of the past

Afghan government frozen out of Moscow peace talks with the Taliban

Source Link
By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL — Taliban representatives and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s political rivals plan to discuss the future of Afghanistan in Moscow on Tuesday, a move viewed here as a further blow to the authority of Ghani’s administration. 

The two-day meeting will bring key Afghan power brokers together with the insurgents to discuss ending the war that began with the ouster of the Taliban from power in late 2001, and it follows up on an earlier such meeting in Moscow in November. Ghani’s government was invited to participate but declined to do so this time because the meeting did not provide for direct talks with the Taliban, and the attendance of Ghani’s rivals would put them on an equal footing with the government, officials said. 

The Moscow talks follow negotiations between Taliban members and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad amid a renewed push by President Trump to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. 

"Tired’ Taliban fights on as US is desperate to leave Afghanistan


Over the weekend, President Donald Trump repeated the canard that the Taliban is tired of fighting, and that is what is driving it to the negotiating table. Political, military, and intelligence leaders, as well as analysts and experts on Afghanistan have been claiming the Taliban is exhausted from fighting for at least 15 years. And yet the Taliban fights on while the US is desperate to leave.

Trump made the worn-out claim about the purported exhaustion of the Taliban during an interview with CBS News:

And it’s time. And we’ll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They’re tired. Everybody’s tired. We’d like to have- I don’t like endless wars. This war. What we’re doing is got to stop at some point.

Trump is right about one thing: the US is certainly tired of the fight in Afghanistan. This is why Zalmay Khalilzad has been appointed to negotiate the terms of US withdrawal, and ultimately surrender, with the Taliban. But, as 17 plus years of fighting in Afghanistan has shown us, the Taliban is anything but tired.

Trade war games reveal dire outcomes for US, China


A key insight of game theorist Martin Shubik was that when a "tomorrow" exists, it profoundly reshapes competition. Individual moves in a game with "tomorrows" are radically different from one-shot games. 

Standing up to China is one thing, but working out an accommodation so that a series of individually sensible moves don't explode into an escalation spiral that punishes both nations is more important. Let's look at the trade war though this framework.

The U.S. slapped sanctions on two big Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, charging them with trading with an enemy (Iran) in violation of U.S. law and with intellectual property theft from western companies. 

The Unpredictable Rise of China


Xi Jinping seeks national rejuvenation, but his nation’s mounting power masks increased instability.

Since the end of the Cold War, Beijing has viewed the United States as its chief geopolitical rival, yet official Washington has only recently awakened to this strategic competition. But as American observers start to see China’s ambitions more clearly, they have also begun to misdiagnose the challenges they pose. Political scientists are discussing “power-transition theory” and the “Thucydides Trap,” as if China were on the verge of eclipsing the United States in wealth and power, displacing it on the world stage. There are two contradictory problems with this view.

The first is that this is not how the Chinese themselves understand their rise. When Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for Chinese to realize the “China dream of national rejuvenation,” he is articulating the belief that China is simply reclaiming its natural political and cultural importance. China is not, as was once said of Imperial Germany after its unification, “seeking its place in the sun.” Rather, it is retaking its rightful place as the sun.

Trade war games reveal dire outcomes for US, China


A key insight of game theorist Martin Shubik was that when a "tomorrow" exists, it profoundly reshapes competition. Individual moves in a game with "tomorrows" are radically different from one-shot games. 

Standing up to China is one thing, but working out an accommodation so that a series of individually sensible moves don't explode into an escalation spiral that punishes both nations is more important. Let's look at the trade war though this framework.

The U.S. slapped sanctions on two big Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, charging them with trading with an enemy (Iran) in violation of U.S. law and with intellectual property theft from western companies. 

2,000,000 Strong: China's Military Is Smaller but Deadlier Than Ever Before

by Michael Peck

With 2 million members, the PLA (which includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Strategic Rocket Forces, and the cyberwarriors of the Strategic Support Force) is still the largest armed force. But numerically at least, it is a shadow of the PLA of the 1950s, which had 6.3 million members, mainly infantry.

Mao Zedong must be turning in his grave.

In his day, the name “People’s Liberation Army” conjured images of hordes of soldiers overwhelming their enemies with sheer numbers and Communist fervor.

Not anymore. China’s military is trading quantity for quality, foot soldiers for cyberwarriors.

“This is new data that has never appeared in the history of the People’s Liberation Army,” said a self-congratulatory article by Chinese news agency Xinhua (Google English translation here), which lauded military reforms by President Xi Jinping. “The Army’s share of the total number of troops in the military has fallen below 50 percent; the number of active duty members in non-combat units has been reduced by nearly half, and the number of officers has decreased by 30 percent.”

Water Wars: Search and Rescue

By Nathan Swire

China’s state-owned Xinhua News has reported the opening of a maritime rescue facility on Yongshu Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), one of the artificial islands it has built in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea.

In its report, Xinhua also noted that China’s Ministry of Transport has stationed two rescue ships in the Spratly Islands since July, 2018, staffed with rescuers and diving equipment. According to Xinhua, these ships have rescued 16 people and two ships since arriving, and have salvaged over $1m worth of property.

The construction of this rescue facility is part of China’s larger campaign to developmilitary and administrative control of the South China Sea region. Three of the artificial islands in the Spratlys contain new military-grade airfields, and there are recent reports of missile emplacements, storage facilities and surveillance equipment stationed throughout the islands. China has also built up civilian capabilities on the artificial islands, including ecological conservation and restoration facilities, and marine observation stations.

China is forced to court India

Will Chinese President Xi Jinping visit India in February or March?

it is not certain, though The Nikkei Asian Review reported that Xi hoped to come to India before the general elections in May. The Japanese publication said that if not in February, the visit could take place after the National People's Congress in Beijing in March.

Nikkei’s sources added that Xi would discuss “measures to defuse border tensions, as well as propose deals to expand imports of Indian farm products and increase cooperation in advanced technologies”.

The main rationale seems to “counter Washington's increasingly antagonistic trade policy and aggressive Indo-Pacific diplomacy," according to the Japanese newspaper.

When asked about it, Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "I am not aware of what you said," but she added that China and India were friendly neighbours.

Second Base? Lavrov Suggests Moscow Open To Discussing New Military Facility In Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Bishkek has not asked Moscow to open a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, but suggested that Russia is open to discussing the idea.

Speaking to students at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Bishkek on February 4, Lavrov was asked whether Russia was prepared to open a second base in the Central Asian country.

Claiming that "this is the first time we've heard about this," said Lavrov, who was meeting with senior officials in Kyrgyzstan -- his first stop on a trip to three Central Asian countries. "This is not our initiative. We will be ready to discuss with our Kyrgyz friends their ideas regarding security."

The Instability of Britain

By George Friedman 

Brexit is less important than the increasing fragility of Britain and the British Isles. 

The Brexit referendum bisected Britain. The vote was designed to demonstrate that Britain did not want to leave the European Union. In fact, had Britain’s political and business elite doubted that the referendum would result in a “remain” verdict, it’s unlikely the vote would ever have been called. But 52 percent of voters wanted to leave the EU; 48 percent wanted to stay. If 2 percent of voters had switched positions, the referendum could just as easily have gone the other way. 

Counting the Cost of Potential U.S. Action Against Turkey

In response to any Turkish attack on the Syrian Kurds, the United States has the power to indirectly sway investor confidence in Turkey largely because of the lira's inherent volatility and the structural weaknesses of its economy.

Turkey can't do as much economic damage to the United States, but it can create problems for Washington in the Middle East.

Ultimately, the United States will limit the economic and diplomatic damage it can inflict on Turkey, in part because both wish to maintain the security and economic benefits their relationship provides.

U.S.-Turkey relations have rarely been anything but combustible. In the middle of January, however, U.S. President Donald Trump poured fuel on the fire when he took to Twitter to vow that his country would "devastate Turkey economically" if it attacked the Syrian Kurds after the United States withdraws from northern Syria. Trump's threat prompted harsh but measured responses from Ankara; President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed sadness at the comment. The next day his sentiment switched to encouragement after a phone call between the leaders. The back-and-forth was nothing new, reflecting instead the two countries' volatile but multilayered relationship. The pair might frequently frustrate each other, yet both value and need the other to pursue their respective goals at home and in the wider Middle East.

The US Needs a Real Plan to Counter China in Africa


The current toothless strategy won’t prevent Beijing from, say, squeezing supply lines to America's biggest African base.

The Trump administration has made it clear that it views China as one of the greatest threats to America’s economic and security interests. Unfortunately, the administration treats China’s activities in Africa with less urgency. The president’s new Africa strategylacks the teeth necessary to counter China’s massive investments in infrastructure and military expansion on the African continent. A much more aggressive plan to beat China is needed.

Early in Trump’s tenure, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I think China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” A few months later, the Trump administration released its National Security Strategy, which said, “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

A New Americanism Why a Nation Needs a National Story

By Jill Lepore

In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bowtie-wearing Stanford historian Carl Degler delivered something other than the usual pipe-smoking, scotch-on-the-rocks, after-dinner disquisition that had plagued the evening program of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association for nearly all of its centurylong history. Instead, Degler, a gentle and quietly heroic man, accused his colleagues of nothing short of dereliction of duty: appalled by nationalism, they had abandoned the study of the nation. 

“We can write history that implicitly denies or ignores the nation-state, but it would be a history that flew in the face of what people who live in a nation-state require and demand,” Degler said that night in Chicago. He issued a warning: “If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us.”

Lost in TrumpWorld War in the Shadows (of You Know Who)

By Andrew Bacevich

The news, however defined, always contains a fair amount of pap. Since Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, however, the trivia quotient in the average American’s daily newsfeed has grown like so many toadstools in a compost heap, overshadowing or crowding out matters of real substance. We’re living in TrumpWorld, folks. Never in the history of journalism have so many reporters, editors, and pundits expended so much energy fixating on one particular target, while other larger prey frolic unmolested within sight.

As diversion or entertainment -- or as a way to make a buck or win 15 seconds of fame -- this development is not without value. Yet the overall impact on our democracy is problematic. It’s as if all the nation’s sportswriters obsessed 24/7 about beating New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

In TrumpWorld, journalistic importance now correlates with relevance to the ongoing saga of Donald J. Trump. To members of the mainstream media (Fox News, of course, excepted), that saga centers on efforts to oust the president from office before he destroys the Republic or blows up the planet.

Foreign Affairs Joins the Culture Wars

by Hunter DeRensis

In three years, Foreign Affairs will celebrate a century in print. Created by the Council on Foreign Relations in 1922, the publication has since its inception acted as one of the most influential magazines in American policy-making. In 1947, it published the “X Article,” written by George F. Kennan which advocated a policy of containment towards the Soviet Union and served as the basis of U.S. foreign policy for the next forty-five years. In 1996, Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State and one of the architects of post-Soviet Russian-American relations, said, “Virtually everyone I know in the foreign policy-national security area of the Government is attentive to [ Foreign Affairs ].”

Foreign Affairs “has always been at its most useful and influential during times of transition,” said former editor James F. Hoge, Jr. to the New York Times in 1998. As America’s demographics increasingly change and the culture wars heat up, the magazine seems to be trying to capitalize on these fundamental political shifts.

America Has a Commitment Problem


Do Americans agree about anything anymore? Well, yes. Apart from a handful of unrepentant neoconservatives and reflexive warmongers (including, alas, the present national security advisor), I think there’s a growing consensus that the United States is overextended. We’re still fighting at least two wars (while conducting a whole bunch of more-or-less clandestine operations against various extremists in various places), and we are formally committed by treaty to defending more countries than at any time in U.S. history. There is little or no consensus on how to deal with this situation, but even those who think U.S. global leadership is the only thing preserving the world from barbarism might concede the need for a bit of readjustment these days.

Great Power and Global Responsibility in 1918 and 2018

Nicholas Burns

FLETCHER FORUM: What have been the most significant developments in diplomacy since the end of World War I and, in particular, since the beginning of your career as a diplomat? What do you think might change in the field of diplomacy in the future?

NICHOLAS BURNS: World War I was an epochal conflict and a fundamental turning point in modern history. Four empires fell in 1917 and 1918, which changed the whole map of Europe, and in the case of the Ottoman Empire, of the Middle East. Four new states were created in the Middle East, as well as new states in Eastern Europe. Those states were fragile. World War I was the first global killing machine with massive, tragic human losses: something like 1.7 million Germans, 1.3 million French, 900,000 Brits, and 116,000 Americans died between 1914 and 1918. The combined military and civilian death toll was more than 18 million people. And then the influenza epidemic of 1919 took more lives. It was transformational in terms of the loss of human life, the destruction of empires, the rise of new states, and the fragility of those states. And then followed the vindictiveness of Versailles, the failure of Wilson, and the fact that the United States—the strongest global economic power—did not join the newly created League of Nations to avoid another world war. It was a series of tragedies, especially the fact that the United States did not put itself in a position to counter Hitler and Mussolini and the rise of fascist states in the 1930s. During this period, the America First movement shamefully tried to escape U.S. responsibilities. The Second World War left 60 million people dead.

Democracy in Retreat Freedom in the World 2019

In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

The age of hacking brings a return to the physical key

By: Jungwoo Ryoo 

(THE CONVERSATION) With all the news about accounts being hacked and other breaches of digital security, it’s easy to wonder if there’s any real way to keep unauthorized users out of our email and social media accounts.

Everyone knows not to use the same username and password combination for every account – though many peoplestill do. But if they follow that advice, people end up with another problem: way too many passwords to remember – 27 on average, according to a survey. That can lead to stress about password security, and even cause people to give up secure passwords altogether. It’s an ominous feeling, and a dangerous situation.

But there is hope, through what is called “two-factor authentication,” in which a user needs not only a login name and password but also another way to validate her identity, before being allowed to connect to, say, Gmail or Snapchat. That way, even an attacker who gets a user’s login name and password still can’t access the account.

How will the Army use electronic warfare? The Pentagon’s weapon tester wants to know

By: Mark Pomerleau 

The Pentagon’s top weapons tester said the Army needs to more clearly establish how it will use electronic warfare systems as it conducts a significant, years-long initiative to rebuild its jamming capabilities for the first time since the Cold War.

According to the annual report from the director of operational test and evaluation, the Army’s current publications don’t clearly help units refine their “tactics, techniques, and procedures” or for organizing and using electronic warfare on the battlefield.

Moreover, the report noted that “procedures for coordination between intelligence and EW are evolving.” The report, released Jan. 31, added that “as the Army refines doctrine, it will need to place emphasis on coordination between EW and intelligence to provide EW crews with the essential information required to discern between friendly and enemy signals.”

Cyberattacks to watch for in 2019 A new report examines eight key threat areas. Bob Violino By Bob Violino | February 4, 2019 -- 20:31 GMT (02:01 IST) | Topic: Innovation

By Bob Violino

Organizations will face cyber security threats in eight key areas in 2019, according to a newly released report from global consulting firm Booz Allen.

The firm asked its top analysts to identify the "blockbuster attacks" and threat landscape shifts that could change the face of cyber security this year, and included details in the 2019 Cyber Threat Outlook report.

Here are the eight key threats, along with steps organizations can take to address them, according to the firm:


In recent years, many governments have learned how to manipulate their opponents' opinions and decisions with cyber activity, sometimes called "information warfare." This activity encompasses a range of tactics, from orchestrating targeted breaches followed by data leaks to employing troll armies to push disinformation.

Artificial Intelligence, Algorithmic Pricing, And Collusion – Analysis

By Emilio Calvano, Giacomo Calzolari, Vincenzo Denicolò and Sergio Pastorello*

Antitrust agencies are concerned that the autonomous pricing algorithms increasingly used by online vendors may learn to collude. This column uses experiments with pricing algorithms powered by AI in a controlled environment to demonstrate that even relatively simple algorithms systematically learn to play sophisticated collusive strategies. Most worrying is that they learn to collude by trial and error, with no prior knowledge of the environment in which they operate, without communicating with one another, and without being specifically designed or instructed to collude.

Remember your last online purchase? Chances are, the price you paid was not set by humans but rather by a software algorithm. Already in 2015, more than a third of the vendors on Amazon.com had automated pricing (Chen et al. 2016), and the share has certainly risen since then – with the growth of a repricing software industry that supplies turnkey pricing systems, even the smallest vendors can now afford algorithmic pricing.