14 February 2019

Facebook expands fact-checking programme in India ahead of Lok Sabha elections

Facebook on Monday said it has expanded its third-party fact-checking programme in India as it looks to combat the spread of “fake news” on its platform ahead of general elections this year.

Apart from reviewing articles, the US-based company has also equipped checkers with tools to review photos and videos to “help identify and take action against more types of misinformation”.

“Starting today, India Today Group, Vishvas.news, Factly, Newsmobile, and Fact Crescendo, all of whom are certified through a non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, will review news stories on Facebook for facts, and rate their accuracy...” Facebook said in a statement. It added that this will be done for content in languages including English, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi.

Islamic State-Inspired Extremist Threat Looms Large in India

By: Animesh Roul

Despite massive territorial losses and military setbacks in the Middle East, the violent ideals espoused by Islamic State (IS) remain resilient and seem to be resonating in the hearts and minds of a section of inspired Indian Muslims. After a brief lull in IS-inspired or directed events in the country, Indian security agencies have unearthed multiple covert pro-IS networks, foiling conspiracies to carry out terrorist attacks targeting vital and sensitive installations and sites in and around the national capital, New Delhi, and places in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra States.

In late December 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA)—India’s elite anti-terrorism agency—conducted a major joint operation with Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police to crack down on pro-IS activities in the country. During the operation, authorities arrested at least 10 people belonging to an IS-inspired group called Harkat-ul-Harb-e-Islam (HuHI). The ring leader of the HuHI was identified as Muhammed Suhail (a.k.a. Hazrath), a native of Amroha city in Uttar Pradesh where he is engaged as a mufti (Islamic jurist) in a madrasa located at Hakim Mahtab Uddin Hashmi Road (Rediff.com, December 26, 2018).

Taliban continues to host foreign terrorist groups, despite assurances to the contrary


In its latest statement on the summit in Moscow, the Taliban stated “we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighboring countries.” Although the Taliban has employed similar language for years, it is a demonstrably false claim. The Taliban has continuously worked alongside jihadist organizations with regional and global aspirations, including al Qaeda.

Regardless, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, seems eager to accept the Taliban’s assurances. After a round of talks in Doha in late January, Khalilzad claimed that “significant progress” had been made “on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal.”

The path to peace doesn’t often run in a straight line. The situation in #Afghanistan is complex and like all sensitive talks, not everything is conducted in public. Let me take a moment to explain where we are...

Russia’s tango with Pakistan


Global politics has come to a very interesting point: A gradual rise of multipolarity is creating geo-strategic spaces for states to maneuver for their individual interests and, at the same time, opening new avenues of cooperation for shared geo-economic interests. This scenario is compelling states to adjust the undertones of their foreign policies and adapt to the transforming realities.

The trickle-down effect of these global changes has helped the emergence of many alignments that are running parallel to one other. For instance, a Russia-China-Pakistan axis seems to be in the making. They are joining hands with one another under the ambit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and through the Afghan peace and reconciliation process. At the same time, the Russia-India-China strategic triangle emerges as an on-again, off-again phenomenon. Interestingly, in an attempt to build a parallel transnational corridor (International North-South Transport Corridor), Russia, India and Iran are cooperating with one another, leaving China and Pakistan out of the project.

Understanding Russia’s Motivations in Hosting Inter-Afghan Talks

By Umair Jamal

Russia recently hosted a number of Afghan political groups to start a dialogue in order to develop consensus on major issues concerning Afghanistan’s security situation and political future. The meeting held in Moscow a week ago was noteworthy as it underscored the nature of Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan and what the country is thinking amid the direct talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban. There are two key takeaways from the meeting that need to be highlighted.

First, Russia’s attempt to host the leadership of various Afghan political groups in the midst of the United States’ peace talks with the Afghan Taliban shows that Moscow is clearly concerned about what may come after Washington’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan. Russia, like Afghanistan’s many neighboring states, understands that unless Afghanistan’s domestic warring factions develop a political consensus regarding the peaceful future of their country, Afghanistan is only a ticking time bomb.

Afghanistan’s Future- Exclusive Preserve of Afghan People and not US-Taliban Agreement:

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Afghanistan’s future and decisions thereto are exclusively the preserve of the will of the Afghan people and not within purview of the United States-Taliban Agreements as perceptionaly the Afghan people perceive both the United States and the Afghan Taliban in military occupation of Afghanistan. Major part of Afghanistan under so-called Taliban control is not by choice of Afghan people but by Taliban terror.

Strangely, the future of Afghanistan is not being discussed in Kabul but by the United States in Doha with the Afghan Taliban and by Russia in Moscow also with the Afghan Taliban, with both side-lining the elected Afghanistan Government.

Reality check of the Afghan Taliban’s disruptive role in brutally destabilising Afghanistan for over two decades as the “Cat’s Paw” of the Pakistan Army hardly qualifies the Taliban to sit in any peace negotiations on the future of Afghanistan. The Taliban are certainly not the 'Liberators of Afghanistan’ in the mould of the Mukti Bahini in Bangladesh or the Viet minh in Vietnam. They demonstrated themselves as ‘free-booters’ let loose on Afghanistan by the Pakistan Army. They operated from safe-havens provided by Pakistan Army.

What Pakistan Will Gain from Peace in Afghanistan

by Riaz Khokhar

Pakistan’s expectations of substantial improvements in its security and trade relations with Afghanistan—and by extension with the United States—appear to be thin on the ground.

For starters, Pakistan expects that its sincere efforts in facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process will bridge the trust deficit with the Afghan government. To be sure, Pakistan’s intra-regional trade is constricted by the trust deficit with its neighbors.

Paring the trust deficit down with Kabul is the foremost diplomatic challenge for Islamabad. There are two major irritants in Pak-Afghan ties: Pakistan’s diplomatic support to the Taliban, the insurgents whom the Afghan army is fighting; and Pakistan’s refusal to grant transit access to Indian goods destined for Afghan markets. Even as the former irritant seems to be settled down by the ongoing reconciliation process, the latter challenge will continue to take hold of Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan in the times to come.

What Pakistan Will Gain from Peace in Afghanistan

by Riaz Khokhar

Pakistan’s expectations of substantial improvements in its security and trade relations with Afghanistan—and by extension with the United States—appear to be thin on the ground.

For starters, Pakistan expects that its sincere efforts in facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process will bridge the trust deficit with the Afghan government. To be sure, Pakistan’s intra-regional trade is constricted by the trust deficit with its neighbors.

Paring the trust deficit down with Kabul is the foremost diplomatic challenge for Islamabad. There are two major irritants in Pak-Afghan ties: Pakistan’s diplomatic support to the Taliban, the insurgents whom the Afghan army is fighting; and Pakistan’s refusal to grant transit access to Indian goods destined for Afghan markets. Even as the former irritant seems to be settled down by the ongoing reconciliation process, the latter challenge will continue to take hold of Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan in the times to come.

How the Taliban Would Take Over Afghanistan

by Seth G. Jones

The seemingly endless war in Afghanistan—which is heading toward its eighteenth year since the overthrow of the Taliban regime—has led to a renewed push for an American military withdrawal. The Trump administration is considering withdrawing some or all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Several American politicians support a drawdown. “I think we should come home,” declared U.S. Senator Rand Paul. “I don’t think we have enough money to be paying to build and rebuild and build and rebuild Afghanistan … Let’s rebuild America.”

Others have argued that Vietnam turned out fine in the end following the U.S. withdrawal in 1975. “While the Vietnam War was a near-term strategic defeat, in retrospect, it may yet prove to have been a geo-strategic win,” another article in Small Wars Journal concluded. “The same may prove true for Afghanistan after a U.S. withdrawal. Like a bad business investment, there are times when you must accept one’s losses and move on.”

Beijing’s Olympics Paved the Way for Xinjiang’s Camps


As the Year of the Pig begins, in Beijing and the mountainous Yanqing district just 50 miles from the capital, construction is well underway for the 2022 Winter Olympics, now just three years away. Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, another form of construction is going on. Beijing’s internment camps for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to hold around a million inmates. As China’s oppression of minorities and civil society grows, so should questions about whether the Olympics should be hosted by Beijing at all—especially as Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics marked a turning point in renewed oppression.

Historically, the Olympics have always turned a blind eye to atrocity, most infamously with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Historically, the Olympics have always turned a blind eye to atrocity, most infamously with the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The Dachau concentration camp was opened in 1933, and the Nuremberg race laws, which set the legal framework for anti-Semitism, were passed a year before the Olympics. Germany’s growing terror was so well known that there were strong calls for the United States and other nations to boycott the games. Despite this, in the end, a record number of nations—including the United States­—attended.

Responsible competition and the future of U.S.-China relations

Ryan Hass and Mira Rapp-Hooper

While there is little doubt that China’s domestic turn toward authoritarianism and its foreign policy assertiveness pose growing challenges to American interests, the gathering momentum toward thinking about U.S.-China relations in the context of inescapable confrontation raises more questions than it answers.

As observers of and participants in these quickly-evolving debates on the future of U.S.-China relations and the role of the United States in Asia, we believe that an important set of questions remains to be answered. Below we identify seven questions that the China-facing policy community is now debating as it grapples with how the United States should respond to challenges being posed by China’s rise. In many cases, these major questions beget research agendas of their own. If the United States seeks to craft a durable and comprehensive strategy for its role in Asia and relationship with China, experts and policymakers must interrogate these debates.

1What are China’s national ambitions?

China's cybersecurity law update lets state agencies 'pen-test' local companies

By Catalin Cimpanu

Any company that provides an internet-related service with more than five internet-connected computers is susceptible to these inspections.

The Chinese government agency tasked with carrying out these penetration tests is the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the same agency which also maintains China's Great Firewall and its nationwide facial recognition system and surveillance cameras network.

MSP officials received these new powers on November 1, 2018, in the form of new provisions to China's Cybersecurity Law, first adopted in 2017.

These new provisions, named "Regulations on Internet Security Supervision and Inspection by Public Security Organs" (公安机关互联网安全监督检查规定) give the MSP the following new powers:

U.S. Military Warns of Threat From Chinese-Run Space Station in Argentina


Senior U.S. defense officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Chinese military can monitor and potentially target U.S. and allied satellites from a new deep space ground station in the Western Hemisphere, located in the deserts of Patagonia.

In wide-ranging testimony before the U.S. Congress on Feb. 7, Adm. Craig Faller, the newly confirmed commander of U.S. Southern Command, warned lawmakers about China’s accelerated expansion into Latin America. Not only does China support the autocratic regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua and employ predatory lending practices across the region, but it is also investing in key infrastructure such as a deep-space tracking facility in Argentina, Faller told lawmakers.

China’s Rapid AI Development Has Its Limits: Report


Chinese artificial-intelligence researchers are aware of ways their work lags the United States’ — and Beijing is working to fix those.

If China’s leaders start hearing “I’m sorry, Xi, I can’t do that,” it’s probably not because the country’s various artificial-intelligence projects have become sentient. It’s because Chinese scientists and policymakers realize there are obstacles to achieving the government’s ambitious goal of “AI dominance” by 2030.

That’s one contention of a new report from the Center for a New American Security, whose author, Gregory C. Allen, says Chinese scientists and leaders are now aware of ways their research and development programs are lagging those of the United States. Put another way, China is not hurtling past the United States in AIdevelopment — yet. For Allen also writes that Beijing is working to remove the obstacles to that goal.

US shift on South China Sea ‘grey zone’ aggression signals stronger response ahead

Laura Zhou

The assessment follows a call on Wednesday by US Navy chief Admiral John Richardson for tougher action against “grey zone” aggression from Russia and China, as a way to prevent maritime tensions from escalating into full-blown conflicts.

A conceptual space between peace and war, grey zone tactics involve coercive actions below a threshold that could typically prompt a conventional military response.

Richardson said the US should seek to enforce rules on China’s coastguard and maritime militia fishing boats – two examples of grey zone non-military vessels with which the US Navy may have close and unprofessional encounters.

How China and the U.S. Are Competing for Young Minds in Southeast Asia

Kristine Lee 

Business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month warned that China has overtaken the United States in the development of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, such as fifth-generation wireless or 5G. “There’s almost an endless stream of people who are showing up and developing new companies,” Blackstone’s CEO Stephen Schwarzman told one panel of his frequent trips to China. “The venture business there in AI-oriented companies is really exploding with growth.” 

From Rogue to Regular


Successive U.S. administrations have since the 1980s consistently called Iran out as a rogue state, bashing Tehran over its support of militant groups, its violations of human rights, and its pursuit of nuclear-related technologies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reinforced this position in several policy pronouncements in which he has called on Iran to be a “normal” state. But what exactly is a normal state in today’s international order?

The behaviors Iran needs to abandon to become normal in Washington’s eyes are indeed problematic. But these behaviors are commonly practiced by other nations that U.S. administrations tend to perceive as completely ordinary.

The Iranian government’s practice of hostage-taking after the 1979 revolution was the root cause of Iran’s pariah status during the Ronald Reagan years. These days, Iran’s reputation as a rogue state is usually linked to its regional and domestic policies—in particular, its support for nonstate actors such as Hezbollah and human rights abuses at home. However, a review of Washington’s behavior suggests that the United States would have likely overlooked many of Iran’s unsavory actions—as it did under the Shah before 1979—had Tehran not been defying the international order and challenging U.S. interests in the Middle East.

The Crisis of Peacekeeping

By Séverine Autesserre

In nearly 50 conflict zones around the world, some one and a half billion people live under the threat of violence. In many of these places, the primary enforcers of order are not police officers or government soldiers but the blue-helmeted troops of the United Nations. With more than 78,000 soldiers and 25,000 civilians scattered across 14 countries, UN peacekeepers make up the second-largest military force deployed abroad, after the U.S. military.

The ambition of their task is immense. From Haiti to Mali, from Kosovo to South Sudan, UN peacekeepers are invited into war-torn countries and charged with maintaining peace and security. In most cases, that means nothing less than transforming states and societies. Peacekeepers set out to protect civilians, train police forces, disarm militias, monitor human rights abuses, organize elections, provide emergency relief, rebuild court systems, inspect prisons, and promote gender equality. And they attempt all of that in places where enduring chaos has defied easy solution; otherwise, they wouldn’t be there to begin with.

The Middle East Doesn’t Admire America Anymore


One of the perks of my job is that every now and then I get to spend time talking about the future of the Middle East in a place like Italy, as I did in early January. The night before the conference, after sharing a few bottles of red wine with some friends, I even had the occasion to confirm—at a small place near the Piazza del Popolo that had no discernible name but instead had a bright neon sign that simply read “Pizza/Gelato”—that the pizza in Rome runs a close second to the slices from my native Long Island.

But I didn’t just get a delicious meal that night. I also got an education on how the United States has recently managed to undermine its greatest foreign-policy assets: the norms, principles, and institutions that animate and organize U.S. society.

Angry Norway says Russia Jamming GPS Signals Again

Norway's foreign intelligence unit on Monday expressed renewed concerns that its GPS signals in the country's Far North were being jammed, as Oslo again blamed Russia for the "unacceptable" acts.

In its annual national risk assessment report, the intelligence service said that in repeated incidents since 2017, GPS signals have been blocked from Russian territory in Norwegian regions near the border with Russia.

The jamming events have often coincided with military exercises on Norwegian soil, such as the NATO Trident Juncture maneuvers last autumn and the mid-January deployment of British attack helicopters in Norway for training in Arctic conditions.

"This is not only a new challenge for Norwegian and Allied training operations," the head of the intelligence unit, Morten Haga Lunde, said as he presented the report.

Russia considers 'unplugging' from internet

Russia is considering whether to disconnect from the global internet briefly, as part of a test of its cyber-defences.

The test will mean data passing between Russian citizens and organisations stays inside the nation rather than being routed internationally.

A draft law mandating technical changes needed to operate independently was introduced to its parliament last year.

The test is expected to happen before 1 April but no exact date has been set.
Major disruption

The draft law, called the Digital Economy National Program, requires Russia's ISPs to ensure that it can operate in the event of foreign powers acting to isolate the country online.

Europe, Please Wake Up


The first step to defending Europe from its enemies, both internal and external, is to recognize the magnitude of the threat they present. The second is to awaken the sleeping pro-European majority and mobilize it to defend the values on which the EU was founded.

MUNICH – Europe is sleepwalking into oblivion, and the people of Europe need to wake up before it is too late. If they don’t, the European Union will go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991. Neither our leaders nor ordinary citizens seem to understand that we are experiencing a revolutionary moment, that the range of possibilities is very broad, and that the eventual outcome is thus highly uncertain.

Most of us assume that the future will more or less resemble the present, but this is not necessarily so. In a long and eventful life, I have witnessed many periods of what I call radical disequilibrium. We are living in such a period today.

France and Germany Face Off Over Russian Pipeline


The United States has spent years trying to derail a controversial Russian gas pipeline in Europe. France may have just found a way to kill it—and possibly strangle Paris’s newfound rapprochement with Berlin at the same time.

This Friday in Brussels, the Council of the European Union will vote on a seemingly arcane directive meant to apply European Union market rules to energy projects that start in a third country—like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia. In a surprising about-face, firstreported in the German press, France has now decided to back the directive. That risks angering Germany—which really wanted to build the pipeline with Russia—and potentially dooming the $11 billion energy project, a priority for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Understanding Trump’s Trade War


2019 could be a defining moment for U.S. trade policy. Two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, it should finally become clear whether the U.S. president’s brazen rhetoric on the subject is simply a negotiating ploy in the pursuit of new deals or whether a trade war—and with it the destruction of the post-World War II international order—is his real end goal.

Until now, it has been rather hard to tell. Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without ever proposing a replacement, and he appeared ready to do the same with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He imposed stiff levies on imported steel and aluminum, leading Canada, China, Mexico, and the European Union to slap the United States with retaliatory tariffs. At the same time, however, his administration ultimately agreed to a renegotiated NAFTA without major changes to the original agreement. It did the same for the U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea. So what signs could reveal his true intentions in 2019?

The Coming Climate Crisis


Over the last couple of decades, as the impact of global warming has intensified, the discussion of climate change has spilled out of the scientific and technocratic circles within which it was long confined. Today, the subject has also become an important concern in the humanities and arts.

Discussions of climate tend to focus on the future. Yet even scientific projections depend crucially on the study of the past: Proxy data, such as tree rings, pollen deposits, and ice cores, have proved indispensable for the modeling of the future impact of climate change. Based on evidence of this kind, scientists can tell us a great deal about how trees, glaciers, and sea levels will respond to rising temperatures.

But what about the political and social impact of global warming? What effects might a major shift in climate have on governments, public institutions, warfare, and belief systems? For answers to these questions, we have to turn to history (keeping in mind that historical inferences are necessarily impressionistic).

The End of Economics?


In 1998, as the Asian financial crisis was ravaging what had been some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the New Yorker ran an article describing the international rescue efforts. It profiled the super-diplomat of the day, a big-idea man the Economist had recently likened to Henry Kissinger. The New Yorker went further, noting that when he arrived in Japan in June, this American official was treated “as if he were General [Douglas] MacArthur.” In retrospect, such reverence seems surprising, given that the man in question, Larry Summers, was a disheveled, somewhat awkward nerd then serving as the U.S. deputy treasury secretary. His extraordinary status owed, in part, to the fact that the United States was then (and still is) the world’s sole superpower and the fact that Summers was (and still is) extremely intelligent. But the biggest reason for Summers’s welcome was the widespread perception that he possessed a special knowledge that would save Asia from collapse. Summers was an economist.

Cyber-warfare could be entering a new and alarming phase, ex-CIA analyst tells MPs

Murray Brewster

Online attacks on Canada's financial system could become far more destructive as more militaries around the globe get involved in cyber operations, a security expert and former CIA analyst told a House of Commons committee Wednesday.

Christopher Porter, the chief intelligence strategist for the cyber security company Fireeye, Inc., testified that as NATO countries share their expertise on how to defend against and defeat online threats, "major cyber powers outside the alliance" will likely do the same.

The consequences, he said, could be dire.

The West's imposition of sanctions on "some countries" has in the past been met with denial-of-service attacks on financial services websites, he said — attacks that have only been disruptive.

Trump To Feds: Prioritize Artificial Intelligence Work


Federal agencies will be instructed to “prioritize AIinvestments” under an executive order to be signed by President Trump on Monday, a senior administration official told reporters Sunday. The order will launch the “American Artificial Intelligence Initiative,” which will push government agencies to spend more on AI research and development; direct the creation of related guidelines, standards, and potential regulations; and fund training in what the White House is describing as “AI-relevant” work areas.

The goal is to “prioritize federal AI spending cutting-edge ideas that can directly benefit the American people,” the official said.

The official said the initiative directs federal agencies to: Make more data, models, and computation available to AI researchers “while protecting privacy and civil liberties;” prioritize AI research and development as they allocate supercomputer time and cloud- computing resources; and prioritize training programs and fellowships that have an AI angle and that promote the development of “AI-relevant skills” such as data science and statistics.

Information Warfare – What Is It And How Does It Affect Peace?

by Sam Raleigh

In proving its destructive capability during the 2016 Presidential election campaign, Information Warfare (IW), or the act of deliberately spreading false or misleading information so as to subvert an adversary’s trust in its sources, is emerging as an effective tool for promoting targeted political influence. Whilst classed as such, it is not always treated with the same respect other forms of warfare are given, primarily because it does not directly risk lives and produces effects that fall somewhere between regular diplomatic business and a conventional war. Information Warfare is a rather broad term, reaching across the realms of cyber, television, radio and other communications systems that can have the data they produce corrupted and manipulated to a desired effect. Perhaps the most alarming component to information warfare is that anyone can be considered a combatant, as Heather Conley from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) pointed out in stating “the battlespace is public opinion.” With this in mind, the potential dangers of weaponised information need to be continually promoted and made aware of widely, and people with access to an internet connection regardless of any socio-economic or age factors need to be mindful of their own power and ability to identify and navigate the vast information landscape.

Thinking About Risks From AI: Accidents, Misuse and Structure

By Remco Zwetsloot, Allan Dafoe 

World leaders have woken up to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) over the past year. Billions of dollars in governmental funding have been announced, dozens of hearings have been held, and nearly 20 national plans have been adopted. In the past couple of months alone, Canada and France launched the International Panel on AI (IPAI), modeled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to examine the global impacts of AI; the U.S. Congress created a National Security Commission on the subject; and the Pentagon tasked one of its top advisory bodies with devising ethical principles for its use of AI.

“AI” broadly refers to the science and technology of machines capable of sophisticated information processing. Current applications include face recognition, image analysis, language translation and processing, autonomous vehicles, robotics, game-playing, and recommendation engines. Many more applications are likely to emerge in the coming years and decades. These advances in AI could have profound benefits. To take just a few examples, they could save lives through advances in early disease diagnosis and medicine discovery, or help protect the environment by enhancing monitoring of ecosystems and optimizing the design and use of energy systems.