7 December 2012

Sectarian Violence in Karachi: Is Pakistan Closer to the Precipice?


December 7, 2012 

The much-feared observance of Muharram is over in Pakistan without any earth-shattering incidents of sectarian violence. Yet, the period did see Muharram-linked violence in various parts of the country, with as many as 38 Shia deaths, apart from dozens of casualties suffered by the civilians and security forces alike. Some other planned attacks were thwarted by law-enforcement agencies, including a major threat to Karachi with the apprehension of a truck full of explosives. It is another matter that these incidents of violence, or plans for violent activities, were not considered as major tragedies, thereby indicating Pakistani society’s supreme indifference towards and acceptance of religious belief-related violence. Almost all government offices were closed for two to three days, markets and schools were shut down, and countless people were driven by fear to confine themselves to their homes. Special control and monitoring cells were created by all provincial police establishments. The Punjab government alone claimed to have deployed more than 100,000 police personnel to keep the terrorists at bay. The security deployment in Karachi was no less. 

In the post-Muharram period, too, there does not seem to be much change in sectarian tensions. Targeted killings continue in Karachi: most can be attributed to the Islamic radicals of Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and most victims were the Barelvi/Shia cadres of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Elsewhere, the campaign to cow down the media also continues. A bomb was planted in the car of Hamid Mir, the head of independent Geo TV, which was luckily spotted by his driver; no harm came to any one. TTP’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the attempt to bomb Mir’s car in a communication to The Dawn. 

What must be noted, however, is that the current wave of violent attacks and terrorist strikes in Karachi, and elsewhere in Pakistan, is neither linked to any particular religious festival nor is it the result of “turf wars” of yore to control areas of influence in the city for dominating the transport business and smuggling, including that of narcotics. The violence now is driven by a clear sectarian agenda to subdue, if not “ethnically cleanse”, the followers of rival, non-Sunni Islamic sects. TTP’s spokesman in Karachi, Umar Farooq, a former Jamaat-e-Islami functionary, is already on record as having declared that “We are a group of Islamic warriors fighting against infidels” and that “Karachi is our base and we will target anyone our leader Hakimullah Mehsud tells us to.” The violence in Karachi, it would seem, has the potential to “Beirutize” that city and totally disrupt normal functioning. 

The Malala Moment and Reforming Pakistan’s Education System

Date: 07/12/2012 

Malala Yousufzai has emerged as an icon for countless girls in repressed societies. On 10 October 2012, she survived a brutal attack in the Swat Valley by pro-Taliban elements who perceive women’s education as anti- Islamic. Malala is currently recovering in a Birmingham Hospital in UK where doctors have affirmed her steady recovery. She was attacked because she dared to continue her studies despite a diktat by the Taliban. She also spoke out against the Taliban which further enraged them. They claimed that her opposition to the Taliban reflected support for Western values which had no place in Islamic society. 

Malala had already earned fame through her diaries, which were broadcast by BBC in 2009 when she was only 11 years old. Her writings reveal the fear which prevails in the minds of many girls like her who yearn for knowledge, but are forced to discontinue their studies under threat of bodily harm in regions under Taliban domination. In January 2009, she wrote: “Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry”. She also described instances when the students had to walk past the dead bodies of those who had defied the laws laid down by Taliban. 

Malala Day was observed on November 10 and people around the world resolved to protest against gender inequality in education. It gave women and girls all across the world an opportunity to reclaim their right to Education. Attacks on activists and teachers advocating education for the girl child have been on the increase, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province where Taliban maintains a stronghold. 96 such cases have been reported in 2012 and the Pakistan Government seems unable to protect these people. In July, Fareeda Afridi, a women’s rights activist who worked towards promoting girl’s education was brutally murdered. So was Zarteef Afridi who worked as a teacher in a school run by the Government. 

Many Pakistani’s have taken heart from the courage displayed by a young girl but the Malala moment has not been seized in a meaningful manner. However, the dastardly attack on Malala has drawn the attention of the world to the sordid state of education in Pakistan and its links to religious extremism. The World Bank suggests that the net primary enrollment rate in Pakistan is the lowest in South Asia. The roots of extremism continue to extend deeper into the education system in Pakistan and extremists exploit the weak to indoctrinate their minds with violence and intolerance. 

Karzai says NATO partially to blame for Afghan insecurity

By Jennifer Rowland 
December 7, 2012

Blame game 

In an interview with NBC on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there is a growing perception in Afghanistan that "part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan" (NBC, AFP). Karzai told an NBC correspondent in Kabul that the United States helped foster insecurity by encouraging corruption and employing private military firms. 

Victims of a massive Taliban suicide truck bombing last month, residents of Maidan Shahr, capital of the central Afghan province of Wardak, say they blame pervasive and persistent insecurity on not only the Taliban, but also the raids NATO forces conduct on their villages, and abuse by Afghan security forces (Post). One shopkeeper summed the sentiment up as, "We don't expect much from the Taliban except beatings, but the Americans are supposed to bring laws and principles. What we have here now is just chaos." 

Violence reaches new heights 

Fierce political and sectarian violence in Karachi has made 2012 one of the deadliest years for the city, with almost 2,000 people killed as of late November (AP). The Taliban have reportedly grown in number there as they take advantage of the chaos created by political violence, which is largely defined by a competition for power between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP). 

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met with the new U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson on Thursday, during which Ashraf reiterated Pakistan's view that the U.S. drone campaign is counterproductive, and that "alternative means to eliminate terrorists" should be devised (Dawn, ET). 

Diplomatic ditty 

Shayla Cram, a U.S. public diplomacy officer assigned to the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, has released a tribute song to Malala Yousufzai, the teenaged girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in October (AFP). Cram says she hopes her song, which is in Pashto, will extend her reach to the Pakistani people with whom she can't interact. 

-- Jennifer Rowland

The Valley's Edge

By Michael Waltz
December 4, 2012

Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green. 

The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities. 

I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted. 

Afghan spy chief wounded in suicide attack

By Jennifer Rowland
December 6, 2012

Top target 

A suicide bomber targeted and wounded Asadullah Khalid, the head of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, at a guesthouse in the wealthy Kabul neighborhood of Taimani on Thursday (NYT, BBC, AP, Reuters, AFP, Reuters). The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack. 

The United States is reportedly scaling back significantly its original plans for a large civilian presence in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat troops in 2014 (Post). The Obama administration recently told planners to decrease their proposed civilian forces by at least 20 percent, which officials say is a result of lessons learned in Iraq. 

The Afghan government is planning to implement major tax breaks and investment incentives in 2014 ahead of the final withdrawal of combat troops, in an effort to encourage investment in the country and minimize the flow of capital out of the country along with the international troops (WSJ). 

Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of States Hillary Clinton pressed her NATO allies to follow through on the monetary commitments they've made to Afghanistan, pointing to their mutual interest "in ensuring this region does not once again become a safe haven for international terrorists" (AP, AJE). 

China Inflicts an Arms Race on Japan

Dated 07-Dec-2012 

By Dr Subhash Kapila 

“China is changing its roles and missions and Japan needs to do that as well. Our capabilities must be a match for Chinese capabilities. If we are asked (to respond to a military threat), we can’t say: ‘Sorry, we are not prepared for that’. This is not an acceptable answer”.-------- Former Chief of Japanese Navy 

“There is a danger of China and Japan having a military conflict. One country must make concessions, but I do not see Japan making concessions. Both sides want to solve the situation peacefully, but which side can provide the right approach?”------ Yan Xueteng, China’s most famous foreign policy strategist 

China and Japan are both at political and strategic crossroads and their destinies seem to be heading towards an intense arms race if not a direct military clash. Richard Segal has wisely observed that historically we have never had a strong China and a strong Japan at the same time in this region. 

Comparatively, it is China that has in the last five years or so that has unleashed a long string of provocative acts against Japan. These provocations have heightened Japanese threat perceptions on China. Heading the list is the recent spate of Chinese and Japanese threats and counter- threats hurled over the Senkaku Islands. 

China today can be perceived to be inflicting an arms-race on Japan in a manner replicating the United States infliction of an arms race on the Former Soviet Union during the Cold War, to economically weaken Japan and remove it as a peer strategic competitor against China in East Asia. 

Strategically noticeable today is that in face of the intensifying China Threat perceptions, Japan stands engaged in military preparations to meet any Chinese political or military coercion from China. The recent unveiling of the over 19,000 ton powerful Japanese Navy helicopter destroyer is a powerful reminder that China has indeed inflicted an arms race on Japan. 

The Japanese Navy helicopter destroyer is only a ‘destroyer’ in name. Indeed it is a mini-aircraft carrier in terms of capabilities and punch. Two more such Japanese Navy mini-aircraft carriers are under speedy construction along with other combatant ships and submarines. 

Sri Lanka: Consolidation of Rajapaksa Inc

Dated 07-Dec-2012 

Col. R. Hariharan 

The walk out of Chief Justice Mrs Shirani Bandaranayake and her team of lawyers from a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) hearing on an impeachment motion against her Thursday was an eloquent testimony to the charade being enacted in Sri Lanka in the name of democracy. Probably it is a matter of time the PSC would find her guilty of the charges of corruption slapped against her. 

Mrs Bandaranayake, who was picked by the President for the high office though she lacked adequate judicial experience, fell out of favour with her ruling on the Dive Neguma Bill. She ruled that the Bill required the approval of all provincial councils before enactment as it impinged upon their constitutional powers. Apparently she had taken her job too seriously and stopped the Bill from being passed forgetting it was moved by President’s brother Basil Rajapaksa, Minister for economic development. 

The Divineguma Bill aims to create a department merging three authorities - Samurdhi, Southern Development and Udarata (up-country) Development involved in savings and loan schemes. Though the Bill appears innocuous, its enactment would deprive the limited financial powers of provincial councils have over rural development. The Bill is important for the Rajapaksa clan because it forms part of President Rajapaksa’s grand plan to consolidate his hold on power. And as a masterly stroke, it would strike one more nail in the coffin of the much maligned 13th Amendment (13A) to the Constitution which created the provincial councils. 

The Rajapaksas are set on getting rid of the 13A. The first call for abolishing 13A came up from the President’s brother and defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in September 2012. It was vigorously backed by some coalition partners - the Right wing Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the former JVP-leader Weera Wansa’s National Freedom Front (NFF) and the Mahajana Eksath Party (MEP). Both JHU and NFF feared if it is not abolished the “anti national” and pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was likely to gain control the Northern provincial council in September 2013. Basil Rajapaksa vexed by the opposition criticism of the Dive Neguma Bill spoke of the need to replace 13A and suggested introducing 19thamendment. The ruling coalition immediately reacted to say there was no move to abolish the 13A when probably the Chief Justice’s ruling was not factored in the scheme of things. 

Sri Lanka: Comments on Heroes Day

Dated 07-Dec-2012 

Col. R. Hariharan 

(Summary of answers to questions from media analysts on the occasion of V. Prabhakaran’s birth day on November 26 and the LTTE’s Heroes Day on November 27 are given in this article.) 

November 27 used to be celebrated as the Heroes Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On this occasion what is your take on those who lost their lives in the struggle for Tamil Eelam? 

It was instituted in commemoration of the death of the LTTE’s first battle casualty - Sathiyanathan alias Shankar, who was killed on November 27, 1982. That was only the beginning; over the next 20 years thousands of Tamil youth sacrificed their lives to fulfil the dream of their founder-leader Prabhakaran. The LTTE used to observe the Day as a remembrance day with solemn ceremonies. But three years after the elimination of the LTTE, the families of the thousands who died can mourn them only in their hearts, without public fanfare and ceremony. I share their agony. Death of thousands of Tamil youth changed their lives and also killed their own shared dreams. 

But it is also an occasion to ponder whether the Tamil struggle brought to the world stage by the LTTE could have had a different ending? Thousands of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala families also mourn those who lost their lives at the hands of the LTTE. Here I am not referring to the soldiers who died in war, but to others whose only fault was either they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the LTTE suicide bomber struck or Thalaivar Prabhakaran did not like them or differed with their views. 

On this occasion Sri Lankans everywhere should not only to mourn the dead but also introspect on the living. All communities should take a pledge to do away with violence as a means to settle political scores or struggle for their rights. And the state and polity should facilitate this. For this to become a reality, the government and leaders of all communities have a huge responsibility to make credible efforts. But unfortunately the efforts made so far by all stakeholders are too few and too little. President Rajapaksa who pledged to fulfil his concept of one nation, one people has not shown it in his deeds so far. Confrontation politics appears to be the flavour of the year. 

On the other hand sections of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil Nadu politicians who glibly talk of waging a battle for Tamil Eelam seem to show little concern for the reality of the situation in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. The callousness with which they talk of war shows their warped priorities. Their number one concern should be to help Tamils, who survived the war and are locked in survival struggle, to resume their lives as early as possible. 

Confessions of a Strategic Communicator

Tales from inside the Pentagon's message machine. 

I must have sinned egregiously during a past life, because when I arrived at the Pentagon in spring 2009, I was handed responsibility for the can of worms known as "strategic communication." I was a newly minted political appointee in the Office of the Secretary of Defense's policy shop and no one, including myself, knew quite what I was supposed be doing with my time. But my résumé included a four-year stint as an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times. This apparently qualified me as a "communications" expert, so strategic communication policy was deemed an appropriate addition to my murky portfolio. 

It should go without saying that in and of itself, writing an opinion column reflects no qualifications beyond the having of opinions. I started my job at the Pentagon with plenty of opinions -- many half-baked -- but a mind blissfully free of expertise relating to "communications," strategic or otherwise. Opinionated ignorance is the hallmark of a happy political appointee, however, so I plunged resolutely into my new assignment. 

For the better part of the 27 months that followed, I spent much of my time trying to figure out whether strategic communication was an idea whose time had come, or a non-idea whose time should come to a rapid end. (Readers with an interest but with limited attention spans can even look at the highly unofficial illustrated history of DOD strategic communication I put together in late 2009.) 

Blue World Order

How the Democrats can maintain the rare national security edge they enjoyed in the 2012 election. 

For Republicans, the recent U.S. presidential election was supposed to be 1980. They would paint President Barack Obama as Jimmy Carter -- weak on the economy and weak on national security. High unemployment and low growth? Check. National security? Democratic presidential candidates -- from Carter to John Kerry -- were often hobbled by public doubts about their fitness to protect the United States from foreign threats (see: "Dukakis, tank"). 

But not this year. For the first time in decades, Democrats had a presidential candidate with an advantage on these issues. Obama entered the 2012 election with a successful foreign-policy record: The U.S. war in Iraq was over, the war in Afghanistan was winding down, Osama bin Laden was dead, al Qaeda's top ranks were decimated, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi was toppled, and an international coalition had been assembled to impose the toughest-ever sanctions on Iran. 

Americans have taken notice. As recently as 2003, Democrats trailed Republicans by 29 percentage points on which party voters trusted more on national security. But on Election Day this year, voters trusted Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney, equally on national security -- and they trusted the president 11 points more on the broader category of international affairs. This represents a historic turnaround. 

The Rise of Al Qaeda in Syria

The White House wants to marginalize radicals within the anti-Assad insurgency -- but does it have any leverage left with the rebels? 

President Barack Obama's administration is reportedly planning to designate the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra ("the Support Front") as a terrorist organization. The group, which was first announced in late January 2012, has become a growing part of the armed opposition due to its fighting prowess -- perhaps no surprise, as many of its fighters honed their skills in battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. As a result, Jabhat al-Nusra has carved out an important niche in the fight to oust the Syrian regime even as it remains outside of the mainstream opposition. 

The U.S. administration, in designating Jabhat al-Nusra, is likely to argue that the group is an outgrowth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). While there is not much open-source evidence of this, classified material may offer proof -- and there is certainly circumstantial evidence that Jabhat al-Nusra operates as a branch of the ISI.

There's no denying that Jabhat al-Nusra is deadly: It has claimed responsibility for more than 500 attacks since its creation, including a series of suicide bombings. Unique among rebel groups operating in Syria, it has also earned the legitimacy of top global jihadist ideologues, who have called for grassroots supporters across the world to help fund or join up with the group. And foreign fighters have answered the call: Based on data from al Qaeda's online forums, of the 46 individuals for which the forums have provided "martyrdom" notices and announced their group affiliation, 20 fought with Jabhat al-Nusra. Since Oct. 1, almost all of the notices that mention affiliation have reported that the fighter was aligned with Jabhat al-Nusra.

Jabhat al-Nusra is also plugged into al Qaeda's transnational online media echo system. Its official media outlet, al-Manara al-Bayda ("the White Minaret"), maintains ties with al Qaeda's web forums Shamukh al-Islam and al-Fida' al-Islam. On Shamukh, there is even a dedicated section for Jabhat al-Nusra's releases -- a status only shared with the ISI.

The Obama administration may try to nip the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra in the bud by issuing a terrorist designation now, prior to an attack on U.S. interests or its homeland. This would represent a break from past behavior, when jihadist organizations such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were only designated following the large-scale -- though both failed -- 2009 Christmas Day and 2010 Time Square plots, respectively. 

The unique circumstances in Syria might be the reason for the differing approach. Syrians have been demonstrating and fighting for more than 21 months to shed the President Bashar al-Assad's yoke of tyranny. The rebellion has been radicalized over time by the brutal tactics of the regime, creating a more Islamist fighting force than when the armed rebellion first started gaining steam.

Getting Syria's rebels to disavow Jabhat al-Nusra may not be an easy task, however. As in Iraq, jihadists have been some of the most effective and audacious fighters against the Assad regime, garnering respect from other rebel groups in the process. Jabhat al-Nusra seems to have learned from the mistakes of al Qaeda in Iraq: It has not attacked civilians randomly, nor has it shown wanton disregard for human life by publicizing videos showing the beheading of its enemies. Even if its views are extreme, it is getting the benefit of the doubt from other insurgents due to its prowess on the battlefield.

So can the Obama administration isolate Jabhat al-Nusra? While some in the Syrian opposition would welcome a U.S. decision to slap a terrorist designation on the group, many will likely view this as another case of the U.S. government actually acting in support of Assad -- demonizing an element of the insurgency while simultaneously offering little assistance itself to topple the regime. 

As a result, designating Jabhat al-Nusra could backfire on the United States. In the short term, it might galvanize more support for the group as Syrian rebels look to spite the Obama administration for its lack of support. A terror designation could also provide even more legitimacy for the organization amongst global jihadi supporters, leading even more foreigners to join up with its cause.

In the long run, however, marginalizing Jabhat al-Nusra and its ideology is a fight that the United States -- and ordinary Syrians everywhere -- must win. Once the Assad regime falls, the rebels' shared military goals will disappear, and it will be the job of the Obama administration and mainstream rebel groups to isolate extremist groups. The outcome of this future fight is inextricably related to the Obama administration's efforts to help the rebels now. But without a swift end to the Assad regime and more engagement with the opposition, the United States won't have much leverage to shape Syria's future -- no matter what it decides to call Jabhat al-Nusra.

Dynastic dictatorship - China reveals its political secrets

G Parthasarathy 

While India has periodically been described as a “dynastic democracy,” the time has now come after its 18th Party Congress for China to be described as a “dynastic dictatorship”. Outgoing leader Hu Jintao alluded to the concern and growing dissatisfaction in China over political corruption. He warned: “Corruption could even cause the collapse of the (Communist) Party and fall of the State”. The Party Congress had been preceded by the downfall of its rising star Bo Xilai, whose lavish and flamboyant lifestyle had led to the conviction of his wife for murdering a British businessman and revelations of the billions of dollars of assets that Bo and his family had acquired. This was followed by a a well-documented leak, quite evidently by Bo’s supporters, about ill-gotten wealth accumulated by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his family. 
China’s worst kept secrets about dynastic politics in the Communist Party became public when it emerged that four of the seven members of its highest decision-making body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, were “Princelings,” or descendants of first generation, Mao era political leaders. It is no secret that most “Princelings” including Party Chief Xi Jinping lead opulent life styles, with families having amassed huge assets and extensive business interests. With public awareness increasing because of extensive Internet connectivity, the contradictions between having an open economy linked to foreign markets on the one hand and a one-party, authoritarian political structure perceived to be unresponsive to pubic grievances on the other, are coming to the forefront in China. The 86-year-old former President Jiang Zemin, who has two sons with extensive business interests, played a key role in facilitating the rise of “Princelings”” to power, evidently to ensure that his sons “interests” are protected. 

Given the composition of its new leadership, China will continue to seek new ways to further open up its economy and maintain a high growth rate. But the “Princelings” are unlikely to bring any changes in the basic authoritarian nature of the one-party state apparatus. The new head of the party’s Propaganda Department, Liu Yunshan, is reportedly a hardliner who favours tightening controls on the use of the Internet. Tutored by the approach of Deng Xiao Ping, who was determined not to follow the disastrous path set by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union by experimenting with political reform and transparency, the new dispensation will be averse to increasing democratisation. 

It appears inevitable that China will continue on its path of rapid military modernisation, combined with an assertive line on its maritime and land boundary claims. One has recently witnessed aggressive Chinese postures resulting in a virtual military takeover around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines, by naval deployments. A similar aggressive approach has been taken on recent tensions with Japan, with Chinese naval vessels entering territorial waters adjacent to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. China has evidently been further emboldened by the American assertion that while the US does have a stand on freedom and maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, it “does not take sides in (maritime) disputes”. 

India's Ocean

Could New Delhi's growing naval force change the balance of power in the Pacific? 

Is the Indian Navy about to start mixing it up with China on the high seas? For years, as the Chinese have modernized their naval fleet, Indian strategists have worried about what that might mean for India's political and economic interests. A recent book by C. Raja Mohan, one of India's most influential strategic thinkers, explores the prospect of Sino-Indian competition spilling from the Himalayas to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, risking a struggle for maritime influence in the region among the United States, China, and India. 

So it was all the more interesting, when, at a press conference Monday, India's top admiral appeared to suggest that his navy would defend Indo-Vietnamese oil exploration efforts in the South China Sea against Chinese aggression. An Indian state-owned oil company, ONGC Videsh, has been involved in deepwater explorations with Vietnam in the South China Sea since 2006, despite Chinese claims of sovereignty over that area. 

But the reality of Admiral D.K. Joshi's statement was far less sensational. Rather than signalling a deployment, he merely reinforced the longstanding Indian position that China's naval modernization concerned India, and that like other maritime powers, India was preparing for worst-case scenarios. It wasn't even a signal to clear the decks, let alone a shot across the bow. 

On China, trust less and verify more

Author: G Parthasarathy 

It is shocking that senior members of our security and defence establishments continue to place their faith in Beijing rather naively. They have seemingly not learned lessons from past experiences 

While India has periodically been described as a ‘dynastic democracy’, China can now be described as a ‘dynastic dictatorship’, after its 18th Party Congress. Outgoing leader Hu Jintao alluded to concerns and the growing dissatisfaction in China over political corruption. He warned, “Corruption could even cause the collapse of the (Communist) Party and fall of the State.” The Party Congress had been preceded by the downfall of its rising star Bo Xilai, whose lavish and flamboyant lifestyle had led to the conviction of his wife for murdering a British businessman, and revelations of the billions of dollars of assets that Bo and his family had acquired, This was followed by a well-documented leak, quite evidently by Bo’s supporters, about ill-gotten wealth accumulated by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his family. 

China’s worst kept secrets about dynastic politics in the Communist Party became public when it emerged that four of the seven members of its highest decision making body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, were ‘Princelings’, or descendants of first generation, Mao-era political leaders. It is no secret that most Princelings, including Party chief Xi Jinping, have lavish lifestyles, with their families having acquired huge assets and extensive business interests. With public awareness increasing, because of extensive internet connectivity, the contradictions between having an open economy linked to foreign markets on the one hand and a one-party, authoritarian political structure perceived to be unresponsive to public grievances on the other, are coming to the fore in China. Interestingly, the 86-year old former President Jiang Zemin, who has two sons with extensive business interests, played a key role in the rise of the Princelings to power, quite evidently to ensure his sons’ ‘interests’ remain protected in the future. 

Given the composition of its new leadership, China will inevitably continue to seek new ways to further open up its economy and maintain a high growth rate. But the Princelings are unlikely to bring any changes in the basic authoritarian nature of the State apparatus. Tutored by the approach of Deng Xiao Ping, who was determined not to follow the disastrous path set by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, by experimenting with political reform, the new dispensation will be averse to increasing democratisation. China will inevitably continue on its path of rapid military modernisation, combined with an ‘assertive’ line on its maritime and land boundary claims. One has recently witnessed aggressive Chinese postures resulting in a virtual naval takeover around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines. A similar aggressive approach has been seen in the course of recent tensions with Japan, with Chinese naval vessels entering territorial waters, adjacent to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. China has evidently been emboldened by the American assertion that, while the US does have a stand on freedom and maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, it “does not take sides in (maritime) disputes”. 

Tipnis seeking exoneration

Last Sunday (Nov 25) at a seminar called by the Centre for Security & Strategy in Chandigarh, was on the panel alongwith ACM(ret) Anil Tipnis, Gen. (ret) Ved Malik discussing China and how to deal with it. Except Tipnis used the occasion to correct the misperceptions of IAF’s role in Kargil in 1999 that, he believes, have marred both his and the Service’s reputation. The non-response by IAF when called on by the army for attack helicopter support has been the subject of much speculation, all redounding to the disbenefit of the air force’s unwillingness to go into action. I am not fully conversant with the details of the “rules of business” that the armed services are supposed to follow in a situation where one service finds itself in a jam — with the completely wrong assessment and inept handling of the situation by Lt Gen Kishen Pal, GOC 15 Corps once the intrusion was detected — by grazers, not the army field intelligence, and finds a sister service reluctant to rush to its rescue. Tipnis made much of the fact that some parts of the Kargil report were blacked out, censored, before it was published — which he claimed was the crucial evidence the public didn’t get to see exonerating him of the charge of command failure or at least failure of nerve. He cited various rules, etc. but the thrust of his remarks was that as IAF chief he needed an express directive/permission from the government to enter in support of army operations to evict the Pak Northern Light Infantry from the heights. Much of what Tipnis said and the way he said it was to goad the then army chief, Malik, to respond. The General refused to rise to Tipnis’ occasion because as Malik said to me, sotto voce, as the ACM was walking to the lectern — ”Oh, there he goes again” or exasperated words to that effect, which suggests such interaction had happened earlier. There was, of course, a distinct cold-correctness between Tipnis and Malik, reflecting the strained relations between them and their respective services during the Kargil crisis. It still leaves the main question unanawered — should Tipnis have not responded thus: Will asses the situation pronto and get back to you on what actions the IAF proposes to take to assist the army ops, rather than talk bureaucratese about directives, etc.?

NASA releases map of India on Diwali night

PTI A satellite imagery of India on Diwali night released by NASA. Photo: PTI 

PTI NASA releases map of India on Diwali night. PTI graphic 

NASA, the national space agency of the U.S., on Thursday released a black and white satellite imagery of India Diwali night 2012, cautioning people against the fake image in circulation on the social media. 

“On November 12, 2012, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this night-time view of southern Asia,” NASA said releasing a picture of India on this Diwali night. 

“The image is based on data collected by the VIIRS ‘day- night band’, which detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared. The image has been brightened to make the city lights easier to distinguish,” it said. 

NASA said most of the bright areas in the imagery released by it are cities and towns in India. “India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and has 30 cities with populations over 1 million,” it said. 

Cities in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan are also visible near the edges of the image. 

“An image that claims to show the region lit for Diwali has been circulating on social media websites and the Internet in recent years. In fact, it does not show what it claims. 

That image, based on data from the Operational Linescan System flown on US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites, is a colour—composite created in 2003 by NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge to highlight population growth over time,” NASA said. 

“In that image, white areas show city lights that were visible prior to 1992, while blue, green, and red shades indicate city lights that became visible in 1992, 1998, and 2003 respectively,” it said. 

“In reality, any extra light produced during Diwali is so subtle that it is likely imperceptible when observed from space,” NASA said.

Dealing with Pakistan’s brinkmanship Shyam Saran

Published: December 7, 2012 

Islamabad’s expanding nuclear capability is no longer driven solely by its oft-cited fears of India but by the paranoia about U.S. attacks on its strategic assets 

During the past decade, there have been notable shifts in Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, away from minimum deterrence to second strike capability and towards expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal to include both strategic and tactical weapons. Islamabad has described these developments as “consolidating Pakistan’s deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum.” These shifts are apparent from the following developments: 

(1) There is a deliberate shift from the earlier generation of enriched uranium nuclear weapons to a newer generation of plutonium weapons. 

(2) This shift has enabled Pakistan to significantly increase the number of weapons, which now appears to have overtaken India’s nuclear weapon inventory and, in a decade, may well surpass those held by Britain and France. 

(3) Progress has been made in the miniaturisation of weapons, enabling their use with cruise missiles, both air and surface-based (Ra’ad or Hatf VIII and Babur or Hatf-VII respectively) as also with a new generation of short range and tactical missiles (Abdali or Hatf II with a range of 180 km and Nasr or Hatf-IX with a range of 60 km). 

(4) Pakistan has steadily improved the range and accuracy of its delivery vehicles, building upon the earlier Chinese models (the Hatf series) and the later North Korean models (the No-dong series). The newer missiles, including the Nasr, are solid-fuelled, which are quicker to launch than the older liquid-fuelled versions. 
Not under safeguards 

This rapid development of its nuclear weapon arsenal has been enabled by the setting up of two plutonium production reactors at Khusab with a third and fourth under construction. These have been built with Chinese assistance and are not under safeguards. The spent fuel from these reactors is reprocessed at the Rawalpindi New Labs facility, where there are reportedly two plants each with a capacity to reprocess 10 to 20 tonnes annually. 

Olli Heinonen, a former Director of Safeguards at the IAEA has observed: “Commissioning of additional plutonium production reactors and further construction of reprocessing capabilities signify that Pakistan may even be developing second-strike capabilities”. 

These developments are driven by a mix of old and new set of threat perceptions and, equally, political ambitions. The so-called existential threat from India continues to be cited as the main driver of Pakistan’s nuclear compulsions. The rapid increase in the number of weapons is justified by pointing to India having a larger stock of fissile material available for a much more numerous weapons inventory, thanks to the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement. Tactical nuclear weapons are said to be a response to India’s so-called “Cold Start” doctrine or its suspected intention to launch quick response punitive thrusts across the border in case of another major cross-border terrorist strike. 

Nothing to see here

Vivek Mohan Posted online: Fri Dec 07 2012

An inordinate amount of sensationalism has surrounded this week’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. Convened by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an arm of the UN, WCIT brings together representatives from governments around the world. For the last few days, these representatives have been in closed-door meetings, discussing the future of international telecommunications regulations (ITRs). Media outlets around the world have claimed the ITU is “trying to take over the internet.”

An example of this misdirected hysteria comes from an otherwise generally reliable source on internet issues. Google has launched a petition, “Take Action,” that vaguely insinuates that the ITU will “increase censorship” and “threaten innovation.” There is no detail or explanation of what is actually going on — nor do they mention that representatives from Google are accompanying the United States delegation to WCIT.

Let’s step back to think about what the WCIT will actually mean from a pragmatic standpoint. First, a little background. The ITU is an organisation that dates back to the 1860s, and is trying to remain relevant in light of the decline of traditional telecommunications. The goal of the WCIT is to amend the ITRs. The ITRs are a vague set of regulations that set international rules and standards on issues such as interoperability and “special agreements” among telecommunications companies. Governments — either alone or in groups, such as the Arab states — have put forth hundreds of proposals to amend the ITRs. In accordance with a policy that can only be described as stunningly tonedeaf, these proposals were kept secret from the public until an abrupt about-face at the beginning of the conference on December 3.

While many of these proposals are procedural, some are concerning, such as Russia’s proposal to transfer responsibility for the assignment of internet names and numbers — which currently falls to the US-based non-profit ICANN — to ITU “member states”. Activists are rightly concerned that such an outcome could increase censorship or lead to increased fragmentation of the internet. European network operators have lobbied for provisions that would codify the acceptability of guaranteed quality of service offerings, or internet service that prioritises some packets over others. Arab states have asserted in their proposals that states have the right to know how traffic is routed, which, setting aside concerns about suppression of dissent, may be technically impossible.

Admiral of the Pivot

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet Admiral Sam Locklear, head of the United States Pacific Command. The largest of the several US military commands, the Pacific Command stretches from California to India, Alaska to the Antarctica. 

Locklear provided some depth to the so-called “pivot to Asia” policy announced by US President Barack Obama and now expected to be the cornerstone of his foreign policy in the new term. Locklear will, in many ways, be the main US military officer to implement the pivot. 

Locklear noted that the US military had been involved “in the past decade in two challenging wars directed in the West Asia area.” The US leadership had then taken time to stop and say “let’s reset and find our new priorities.” After a careful look, the president and the US leadership concluded that the priority for the US future lay in the Asia Pacific. It is a focus that Locklear said could be there for six to seven decades. 

The pivot to Asia policy was more than just about the 60-40 repositioning of US military capability towards the Pacific which, as senior Indian officials have pointed out, would require only the movement of one carrier task force into the region. 

One is that the US pivot would require restructuring of its power within the Asia Pacific. 

“Our present layout is World War II based, with a concentration in Northeast Asia,” said Locklear. “Globalisation has changed our concerns to encompass such things as sea lanes of communication, cybersecurity, terrorism and so on.” In other words, there will be pivots within the pivot. 

Two, the US pivot was about more than just military firepower. 

“I want to reemphasize that the balance is not just military. We will also see a marked rise in the diplomatic contact of the US with this part of the world. The recent visits of Tim Geitner and Ben Bernanke are part of the totality of what we are trying to accomplish here,” he said. The rebalance to the Pacific is more than military, it encompasses diplomacy and information strategies, a broad range of signals. 

Three, the US wanted to reinforce its existing alliances in Asia but also develop new relationships that it had, among the more notable ones being India. 

“The last few decades have been among the most productive when it comes to the Indo-US relationship,” said Locklear. US and Indian interests align in a whole set of areas including counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and areas like maritime domain security which helps ensure the free flow of goods and services and energy supplies. 

Building a Smarter, Smaller Military

By Douglas A. MacgregorDec. 06, 2012
A U.S. Marine observes an area while on guard at a police sub-station at Now Zad district in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2012. 

Fact: The fiscal crisis will compel reductions in defense spending. More important fact: How do we do it in ways that make sense? 

Economists argue that economic crises do nations a service by clearing the way for innovation, more-efficient production, and faster growth. If that’s true, crises also compel us to see with brutal clarity, what tasks and capabilities are critical and what is simply “nice to do.”

With these points in mind, when it comes to cutting defense, there are really three options: 

Option 1. Let the Pentagon’s military bureaucracies drive outcomes. The division of effort among the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines compels its uniformed leaders to view all national policies, even conflict itself, in terms of what the policies attain or fail to attain for the specific Service. As a result, the uniformed military leadership is inclined to reject any serious appraisal of alternatives that changes the military status quo (little if any money saved).

Option 2. Politicians can tinker on the margins of the military status quo. Congress avoided confrontation with the four stars in the aftermath of Desert Storm and made the old industrial age force smaller, while retaining a bloated command overhead. Senior military leaders paid for expensive, often failed modernization programs by downsizing soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, leaving intact the enormous bureaucratic command overhead with its Cold War legacy of numerous single-Service headquarters (modest money saved).

Islamology 101

Google “Islamist” and you’ll get more than 24 million hits. Google “jihadist” and you’ll get millions more. Yet I bet the average American could not tell you what it is that Islamists and jihadists believe. And those at the highest levels of the U.S. government refuse to do so.

Why? John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser in the White House, argues that it is “counterproductive” to describe America’s “enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community, and there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children.” To describe terrorists using “religious terms,” he adds, would “play into the false perception” that the “murderers” waging unconventional war against the West are doing so in the name of a “holy cause.”

I get it. I understand why it would be useful to convince as many of the world’s more than a billion Muslims as possible that Americans are only attempting to defend themselves against “violent extremists.” By now, however, it should be obvious that this spin — one can hardly call it analysis — has spun out. The unpleasant fact is that there is an ideology called Islamism and, as Yale professor Charles Hill recently noted, it “has been on the rise for generations.”

So we need to understand it. We need to understand how Islamism has unfolded from Islam, and how it differs from traditional Islam as practiced in places as far-flung and diverse as Kuala Lumpur, Erbil, and Timbuktu. This is what Bassam Tibi attempts in his most recent book, published this year, Islamism and Islam. It has received nowhere near the attention it deserves.

A Koret Foundation Senior Fellow at Stanford University, Tibi describes himself as an “Arab-Muslim pro-democracy theorist and practitioner.” Raised in Damascus, he has “studied Islam and its civilization for four decades, working in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.” His research has led him to this simple and stark conclusion: “Islamism is a totalitarian ideology.” And just as there cannot be “democratic totalitarianism,” so there cannot be “democratic Islamism.”

Exclusive: Emerging Pakistan Taliban chief to focus on Afghan war

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik 

WANA, Pakistan | Thu Dec 6, 2012

(Reuters) - Pakistan's Taliban, one of the world's most feared militant groups, are preparing for a leadership change that could mean less violence against the state but more attacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said. 

Hakimullah Mehsud, a ruthless commander who has led the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the last three years, has lost operational control of the movement and the trust of his fighters, said a senior Pakistan army official based in the South Waziristan tribal region, the group's stronghold.

The organization's more moderate deputy leader, Wali-ur-Rehman, 40, is poised to succeed Mehsud, whose extreme violence has alienated enough of his fighters to significantly weaken him, the military sources told Reuters.

"Rehman is fast emerging as a consensus candidate to formally replace Hakimullah," said the army official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. "Now we may see the brutal commander replaced by a more pragmatic one for whom reconciliation with the Pakistani government has become a priority."

Pakistani military officials in Rawalpindi, headquarters of the army, declined comment on the Taliban leadership struggle and said they had no official position on the issue.

The TTP, known as the Pakistan Taliban, was set up as an umbrella group of militants in 2007.

In Afghanistan, It’s Not All in the Numbers



It seems that whenever a measure of realism regarding the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan sobers the debate among policymakers and observers, the Asia Foundation brings forth a new—predictably sunny—“Survey of the Afghan People.” Year in, year out, these doubtless well-meaning and clearly painstaking efforts portray a population that is essentially happy with the direction the country is going, confident in government institutions, and doing better economically than the previous year. The findings, which defy logic, never fail to amaze Afghans or Westerners who spend significant time in Afghanistan. Nevertheless they are cited with numbing regularity by current and former U.S. officials as reason to “hope.” 

At a crucial inflection point in the Afghanistan mission, U.S. policymaking should not be based on foundations so unsound. A serious strategy for withdrawal from Afghanistan must take reality, not wishful thinking, as its starting point. 

What makes surveys so attractive to decisionmakers is their apparent neutrality and scope. While people who undergo daily life in Afghanistan tell stories, surveys tabulate numbers. They stake implicit or explicit claim to representative, nationwide coverage. So their findings are accorded the stature of “empirical” research, while experience is often disparaged as “anecdotal.” 

Army Buys New Radios for Deploying Units

by Matt Cox on December 4, 2012 

The U.S. Army recently awarded General Dynamics C4 Systems and Rockwell Collins with a $306 million contract for 3,726 Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit (HMS) AN/PRC-155 Manpack radios. The two-channel PRC-155 radios, along with vehicle integration kits and related accessories, are part of the Army’s Capability Set 13 networking and communications gear deploying with brigade combat teams next year.

“With the game-changing PRC-155 networking radio, soldiers can be confident they will have access to lifesaving voice and data communications,” said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems, in a recent GD press release. “The AN/PRC-155 Manpack is the most rigorously tested radio in the Army’s arsenal. This order, along with the 19,000 AN/PRC-154 Rifleman radios already under contract, moves the Army one step closer to achieving its brigade modernization strategy.”

The two-channel PRC-155, part of the Joint Tactical Radio System, completes the Army’s tactical network by connecting upper to lower tiers, legacy to future waveforms and terrestrial to over-the-horizon links, said Chris Brady, vice president of Assured Communications for General Dynamics C4 Systems.

PRC-155s weigh 14 pounds with battery and can be mounted in a vehicle or carried in a pack.