9 February 2013

Afghan Peace Process Roadmap to 2015: Internal Security Nightmare for India?

Monish Gulati

A four page document titled the ‘Peace Process Roadmap to 2015’ seems to be scripting events and future developments in AfPak. Reportedly drafted by the Afghan President Karzai and his inner circle, the document’s western ‘tone and tenor’ has led some analyst to suspect a foreign linkage. The ‘roadmap to 2015’ on the letter head of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) and datelined November 2012 enumerates a five step process; each step with its objectives and superimposed on a timeline. The plan was presented to Pakistan and the US during visits in November 2012 by the HPC Chairman Salauddin Rabbani. The roadmap 2015 is not without its grey areas, and opens itself to varying interpretations and implications. 

The Afghan peace process envisions that “by 2015, Taliban and other armed groups will have given up armed opposition, transformed from military entities into political parties…and participated in national elections.” And more significantly “NATO/ISAF forces will have departed from Afghanistan, leaving the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) as the only legitimate armed forces…” The roadmap, however, seeks to preserve Afghanistan as a parliamentary democracy, denying the militants the Islamic rule. 

The first step of the process includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Step two (slotted for the first half of 2013) includes amongst other issues, agreement on the terms of direct peace talks. The third step slated for the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Recent events indicate that the first step of the roadmap has largely been implemented despite glitches such as the Taliban’s refusal to talk directly to the Karzai government, seek changes to the Afghan constitution and insistence on withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. 

A key factor in the peace process has been how the US has ‘reconciled’ its objectives in AfPak. US now believes that the reason it is in Afghanistan is al-Qaeda; an objective that has either been met or is on the verge of being met substantially. The success of the drone campaign and killing of Osama bin Laden are supportive of the notion. The nation building efforts in Afghanistan and the conflict with the Taliban were only means to an end- eliminating al-Qaeda in the region, which paradoxically was mainly in Pakistan. Hence, further engagement of Taliban or nation building are not worthy of more efforts .The primary U.S. national security interests in the region are ( and have been) to quell terrorism against the US and this will determine its future posture in the region including exercising a ‘zero option’ on residual force levels in Afghanistan post 2014. The ‘zero option’ incidentally is viewed by some analysts as supportive of the ‘Roadmap to 2015’ as it addresses a key Taliban demand. 

At war with fatigue

By David Lex Brown, J. Lynn Caldwell and Joseph F. Chandler 

Weave sleep into your ops plan or give the enemy an advantage 

Fatigue in war is as old as war itself, and somehow has become an ennobling virtue when endured. Many classical texts express admiration for the man who is seemingly impervious to fatigue. Alcibiades extolled Socrates: “All this happened before he and I went on the expedition to Potidaea; there we messed together, and I had the opportunity of observing his extraordinary power of sustaining fatigue.” Suetonius wrote of Caius Julius Caesar: “He was perfect in the use of arms, an accomplished rider and able to endure fatigue beyond all belief.” 

Even within the memory of our own national history, an interesting and telling example occurred early in the career of Gen. Robert E. Lee. During the Mexican War, Gen. Winfield Scott hailed then-captain Lee for daring physical feats of courage beyond any other soldiers he knew at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. Lee maneuvered for 36 hours without sleep, crossing the Pedregal River twice at night to lead U.S. forces to strategic positions. During the assault on Mexico City, Lee was awake for at least 56 hours and could not keep upright in the saddle due to sheer exhaustion. Garnering praise from Scott, Lee received a third brevet promotion to colonel and likely developed a belief that he could pull off extraordinary feats during prolonged periods of sleep deprivation — and it served him ill at the Battle of Gettysburg. Here’s how Michael Shaara framed Lee’s thoughts in his historical novel “The Killer Angels”: “Let us attack and let it be done. I am extraordinarily tired.” 

Field commanders have long recognized the effects of uncompensated fatigue. In “The History of the American Revolution,” David Ramsay tells of Gen. Thomas Sumter’s retreat in South Carolina in 1778: “The retreating Americans, having been four days with little or no sleep, were more obedient to the calls of nature, than attentive to her first law, self-preservation. Sumter had taken every prudent precaution to prevent a surprise, but his videttes were so overcome with fatigue, that they neglected their duty.” 

Some effects of fatigue have been known since antiquity: slowed reflexes, poor judgment, “fuzzy head” and short temper. More are coming to light through modern research: disruption to effective learning, impaired physical and psychological healing and microsleeps — brief periods of complete unconsciousness that we’re not even aware of. Yet fatigue without compensatory sleep persists as an acceptable and sometimes necessary component of war. 

Counterinsurgency & common sense

By Joseph J. Collins 

Preparing a smaller U.S. force for a more diverse set of tasks 

The American armed forces have once again come full circle on counterinsurgency doctrine and operations. They became involved with counterinsurgency in 2003 out of need, and are ending it a decade later with much regret and some alienation. A similar problem occurred after the war in Vietnam. After that costly war, we de-emphasized counterinsurgency and downplayed the need for doctrine and training in that area. But insurgencies are and will remain common problems. The United States needs a rational, common-sense approach to determine where irregular warfare should fit in its national security portfolio, and how best to deal with these contingencies. 

COIN Doctrine and Its Critics 

By 2003, it was clear to many that U.S. forces in Iraq were paying a price for having put aside counterinsurgency doctrine and training after the war in Vietnam. That July, Gen. John Abizaid, the Central Command commander, contradicted his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and declared that the conflict in Iraq had evolved into an insurgency. Shortly afterward, Lt. Gen. David Barno, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, declared the conflict in his own theater an insurgency, but a less intense one than in Iraq. 

Many units in the field had already come to the same conclusions. For example, in the summer of 2002, the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, led by then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, successfully adopted a population-centered, stability-focused approach to governing its ethnically diverse area of operations. Later, under fire, many units undertook successful COIN operations. U.S. efforts in Tal Afar and Ramadi in Iraq, under then-Cols. H.R. McMaster and Sean MacFarland, provided textbook examples of local initiative. 

In 2005, under Gen. George Casey’s lead, a counterinsurgency academy was stood up in Iraq; another followed in Afghanistan. The following year, soldiers and Marines led by Petraeus and then-Lt. Gens. James Mattis and James Amos developed an influential new manual on counterinsurgency doctrine, which was quickly infused throughout the force. Many academics also saluted what they saw as a “hearts and minds” approach to war in the shadows. Following the philosophy of David Galula, the new manual anointed whole-of government, population-centric counterinsurgency as the approved tactical and operational doctrine. The aim of this type of COIN was to win the support of the people by protecting them, improving services and providing them good governance. The doctrine’s emphasis on stability operations even influenced the Army’s foundation manual, FM 3-0, Operations. In 2008, the new Army capstone manual highlighted war among the people and put stability operations on a par with offensive and defensive operations in all Army doctrine. 

Competition in cyberspace

By Adam Elkus 

Responding to the proliferation of information-based weapons 

High-end cyber weapons and espionage platforms such as Stuxnet and Flame are to cyber power what the Navy SEALs are to the U.S. military — exceptional yet singular. Just as a focus on special operations direct action ignores the bombers, fleets and tanks that give our military its devastating punch, cyber weapons and intelligence collection platforms are only one part of a larger matrix of military cyber power. 

In order to create effective policy and strategy, policymakers must first acknowledge that cyber power is part of an ongoing strategic military competition between the United States and nations such as Russia and China. Militarized malware is but one part of a larger cyber power complex that other powers seek to imitate and counter. Only by considering the whole of military cyber power will the United States formulate responses to the expansion of military competition in and over cyberspace. 

Beginnings of a Strategic Competition 

If we take professor Daniel Kuehl’s definition of cyberspace — in short, a domain “framed by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to create, store, exchange and exploit information” — then militaries have been conducting cyberwar since the invention of the telegraph. 

Large-scale land warfare in the late 19th century was rooted in the strategic use of telegraph communication to connect large military bureaucracies to operational commanders, and was part of a matrix that enabled distributed campaigns and integration of respective fronts into a common strategic whole. The naval idea of network-centric warfare, as analyst Norman Friedman argues, originated not in the Information Age but in early 20th-century command-and-control technologies that allowed the British Navy to take a common operating picture-based approach. In the late Cold War, the United States, aiming to build military systems to “expand the battlefield” and counter the Soviet quantitative conventional advantage, invested in a set of military technologies that would make conventional weapons approach the destructiveness of tactical nuclear weapons. 

Naval power and the future of assured access

By Maj. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie 

The Joint Operational Access Concept, which describes how the U.S. military will approach anti-access and area-denial challenges, identifies three trends that require a joint force solution: the growth of anti-access and area-denial capabilities around the globe, the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested domains. 

To these, we would suggest adding a fourth: The increasing ability of shore-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems and precision munitions to detect and engage naval forces beyond the littoral. 

The old dictum, “a ship’s a fool to fight a fort,” has taken on new meaning since Lord Nelson’s day, when simply avoiding the near-shore was an effective way to avoid a fort’s guns. Today, near-shore and off-shore threats are converging. While naval forces remain far more survivable than fixed land-based assets, we must address head-on the emerging ability of shore-based systems to attack ships in the deep blue. 

To effectively meet this trend, U.S. fleet capabilities must also converge into a coherent battle force. Amphibious ships and expeditionary operations should no longer be considered a class apart. All battle force ships and all naval operations should be approached as components of a single naval battle. 

Keeping an adversary at a distance is as old as warfare itself, but the current prominence of A2/AD thinking can be traced to a late-1990s series of war games conducted by the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The games explored the trends and impacts of A2/AD capabilities. The Marine Corps participated in the development of Net Assessment’s report and has since continued to study the subject, which has guided the development of concepts such as Operational Maneuver from the Sea and Ship-to-Objective Maneuver. 

More recently, there is a growing appreciation of the trends identified in the JOAC, which are changing the character, if not the nature, of how access is denied. It is not just the introduction of advanced technologies, but also their increasing availability and employability at much lower levels that call for our attention. 

War by PowerPoint

FEBRUARY 8, 2013 

Is the White House using the Pentagon to fight the GOP? 

Fourteen years ago, George Wilson, a long-time defense journalist, wrote a great book on defense politics called This War Really Matters. Wilson was not talking about the Balkans, or Rwanda, or Iraq. He was talking about the war the services really care about: the one over their budgets. 

He must be enjoying himself today. Although that war went quiet for the last three months, it has been renewed in earnest in the last two weeks as President Obama appears to have given the military permission to bombard Congress with the worst set of horror stories we have heard about our national security since the Soviets got the bomb, in the hopes of scaring them into making a deal on sequestration. 

On Wednesday, Secretary Panetta kicked his rhetoric up a notch, warning of dire consequences for military readiness if sequestration were to happen on March 1. More importantly, for the last 10 days or so, the military services have been allowed to fire their briefing charts at will (like this one, for example). A blizzard of terrifying data is now raining down on an unsuspecting Congress, like an artillery barrage of PowerPoint, to force the GOP to retreat to the negotiating table. 

If you don't think that's what this battle is about, consider that the White House, I am told, is giving no close scrutiny, no wire-brush scrub, to the services' readiness briefing charts that are being so enthusiastically spread around the Hill and the media. Check out the silence in non-defense agencies, all of which are either allowing or being asked to allow, DOD to take on point in the budget wars. They haven't got the firepower the Pentagon has. 

Nobody has time to give each of its shells the close and critical scrutiny they deserve. But as scary as they may be, their connection to reality -- and to math -- remains tenuous. 

The World George H.W. Bush Built**

By Robert Kaplan
February 08, 2013

Former President George H.W. Bush is aged and ailing. So it is precisely now that we need to voice our appreciation for him one of America's greatest one-term presidents, along with James K. Polk. Polk practically doubled the size of the continental United States between 1845 and 1849, becoming the individual embodiment of Manifest Destiny. Bush the elder, rather than make great things happen, prevented great tragedy from occurring. It was what did not happen between 1989 and 1993 in Europe, the Middle East and China that makes the elder Bush a far more significant president in geopolitical terms than, for example, Bill Clinton, who occupied the White House for twice as many years. 

Bush was the last American aristocrat and veteran of World War II to serve as president. From a wealthy Connecticut family, educated at the finest private schools in New England, he enlisted in the Navy at 18 in 1942, and as a 20-year-old aviator was shot down over the Bonin Islands south of Japan in 1944. His life thereafter was often a register of both understatement and service. 

Bush's subdued, steely character is on full display in A World Transformed (1998). Notice several things about this, perhaps the finest presidential memoir since Ulysses S. Grant's own Personal Memoirs published in 1885. Bush, rather than take all the credit for himself like other presidents, shares authorship with his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. Nor is the book about his presidency per se, but about how he, Scowcroft and Secretary of the State James Baker III negotiated some of history's most momentous crises. There is much else in his presidential term that Bush could have written about in order to get even or tell his side of the story, which he, nevertheless, ignores. He has decided to stay silent about so much in order to sublimate himself to the great historical and geopolitical events overseas with which he was forced to deal, even as he shares full credit with others. That is the measure of the man. 

Even within the realm of foreign policy, Bush and Scowcroft in their book purposely neglect the successful 1989 operation in Panama and the revival of the Middle East peace process toward the end of Bush's term: events that, in any case, are of lesser geopolitical significance because Panama was already in the U.S. sphere of influence and the intermittent Arab-Israeli peace process does not affect the balance of power. Moreover, Bush and Scowcroft are not interested in beating their chests over every accomplishment as in other presidential memoirs. Their focus is deliberately narrow, making, counterintuitively, for an epic book. 

A Reckoning for The Army

By Douglas A. Macgregor
Feb. 08, 2013

Getty Images 

In a recent essay entitled The Force of Tomorrow, General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, describes a globally engaged Army, an Army that promises all things to all people inside the Beltway, an Army that if reduced in numbers will be unable to flood the battlespace with masses of ground troops and, hence, win or deter conflict. 

The piece, posted earlier this week on Foreign Policy’s website, is more than simply a plea for no further cuts in the Army’s strength. It’s the Army’s prescription for what Odierno calls “precision results” in future conflict. 

It’s also a statement of belief from the chief of staff that what the nation, and its Army, need is more of the same, an unchanging military doctrine, along with an institutional culture and organization for combat. It equates capability with mass and athleticism inside an Army that responds to action from the Tet Offensive to Anbar province with requests for more troops, more money, more air strikes and more time. 

Of course, to many of us, Iraq and Afghanistan teaches that masses of soldiers do not equal capability, and that no amount of money, air strikes or good will can compensate for the problems of tribalized, corrupt and dysfunctional societies. 

This point notwithstanding, just 48 hours after General Odierno published his essay, news surfaced that an impending $18 billion cut in the Army budget will result in the cancellation of critical warfighting training for 78% of the Army’s non-deployed, non-forward, combat brigades. Training will apparently be limited to “squad level” exercises and instruction. 

Russia rants at India’s military buys- Head of air show team claims costly western purchases lack logic

Feb. 8,2013

The Russian Knights arrive in formation in their Su-27s on the third day of Aero India 2013 at Yelahanka airforce base in Bangalore on Friday. (AFP)

Bangalore, Feb. 8: The Russian bear raged here today.

Viktor Komardin, the head of the Russian delegation to India’s military airshow Aero India, alleged that Delhi has bought aircraft, submarines and weapons from western countries at inflated prices “without military logic”.

Komardin is also the deputy chief of the Russian state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.

He questioned the financial logic of the Indian government to procure weapons systems from countries that were not as longstanding partners as Russia despite getting no transfer of technology. “Ask your minister of finance. May be he has so much money to spare and India has no social problems,” he responded, barely able to conceal the sarcasm.

Komardin called a group of journalists to a small room in the Russian pavilion here and said his ire was directed against the Indian media that was not accurately reflecting Russia’s “rootedness” in the Indian armed forces. But he said the decisions to buy the Boeing-made C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin-made C-130J Hercules (both US firms) transport aircraft were big mistakes because they were not suited to Indian military needs.

Such decisions are made by the government of India and not by the Indian media.

“It is not fair. Arms sales in military technology projects are now all politics. Billions of dollars are paid for procurements without transfer of technology. It is improper, it is unfair,” Komardin said. “I accept politics but fair should be fair. Russia is a strategic partner of India. We want to be dealt with as partners,” he added.

India will be fourth biggest defence spender by 2020

February 8, 2013
By Vinay Kumar 

IHS projects that New Delhi will spend $65.4 billion despite cuts announced by the government 

Information Handling Services (IHS), the leading source of information, insight and analytics, has predicted that India would become the fourth biggest defence spender by 2020, behind the U.S., China and Russia, surpassing France, Japan and the U.K. IHS Jane’s Defence Budgets projects that India’s defence spend will reach $65.4 billion in 2020 despite cuts announced by the government last month, caused by the challenging economic and fiscal climate. This obstacle is expected to wane over the next three years, with IHS expecting India’s GDP growth to recover to rates of around 8 per cent by 2015 – allowing India’s plans for increasing defence spend to recover from 2015 to 2020.

Based on current projections, IHS Jane’s Defence Budgets expects the Indian defence budget, including related pensions obligations, to reach $55.6 billion over the five years.

Craig Caffrey, Senior Asia-Pacific Analyst, IHS Jane’s Defence Budgets, said: “The economic growth that fuelled increasing defence spend in recent years faltered in 2012 and that’s what forced the government to re-visit its spending assumptions. Defence spend as a percentage of the GDP is actually projected to continue to fall through to 2020, but that will still allow for significant real growth in dollar terms. We anticipate that India’s defence spend will overtake France’s in 2016, [that of] the U.K. in 2018, and Japan’s in 2020. By the end of the decade, India is expected to be spending up to $17.4 billion specifically on the procurement of defence equipment each year.’’

‘Major market’

In his comments, James Hardy, Asia-Pacific Editor, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, said: “India continues to be a major market for the international defence industry, with major investments in all three services and its strategic missile forces. While short-term budget cuts will have an effect on these procurements, India’s geostrategic position and the parlous state of much of its inventory means that it will continue to invest in new fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, howitzers, submarines and aircraft carriers, to name but a few of its many programmes.”

The man who would rule India

February 8, 2013
Ramachandra Guha 

Like Indira Gandhi once did, Narendra Modi seeks to make his party,his government, his administration and his country into an extension of his personality. 

A journalist who recently interviewed Narendra Modi reported their conversation as follows: “Gujarat, he told me, merely has a seafront. It has no raw materials — no iron ore for steel, no coal for power and no diamond mines. Yet it has made huge strides in these fields. Imagine, he added, if we had the natural resources of an Assam, a Jharkhand and a West Bengal: I would have changed the face of India.”(see The Telegraph, January 18, 2013). 

Tall claims 

This conversation (and that claim) underlines much of what Narendra Modi has sought to do these past five years remake himself as a man who gets things done, a man who gets the economy moving. With Mr. Modi in power in New Delhi, says or suggests Mr. Modi, India will be placed smoothly on the 8 per cent to 10 per cent growth trajectory, bureaucrats will clear files overnight, there will be no administrative and political corruption, poverty levels will sink rapidly towards zero and lest we forget trains and aeroplanes shall run on time. These claims are taken at face value by his admirers, who include sundry CEOs, owner-capitalists, western ambassadors and lest we forget columnists in the pink papers, the white papers, and (above all) cyber-space. 

Mr. Modi’s detractors who too are very numerous, and very vocal seek to puncture these claims in two different ways. The unreconstructed Nehruvians and Congress apologists (not always the same thing) say he will forever be marked by the pogrom against Muslims in 2002, which was enabled and orchestrated by the State government. Even if his personal culpability remains unproven, the fact that as the head of the administration he bears ultimate responsibility for the pogrom, and the further fact that he has shown no remorse whatsoever, marks Mr. Modi out as unfit to lead the country. 


By Ramachandra Guha

Religious orthodoxy bars the route to women’s emancipation 

Politics and play

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.”  Joseph Conrad 

India’s two main religions, Hinduism and Islam, are both deeply patriarchal. Their scriptures and their historical practice have relegated women to an inferior status. Women were not allowed to assume positions of power and authority. Women were denied the right to follow the profession of their choice. Men could choose to have several wives at once, but women had to be content with a single husband, this chosen for them by their father or grandfather. 

The attitude of India’s major religions towards women was strikingly manifest in some responses to the horrific rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Bhagwat, and the Sankaracharya of Puri both blamed ‘Western’ culture; in traditional Hindu culture, they claimed, such incidents did not and could not happen. A Hindu godman, Asaram Bapu, blamed the girl herself; she should, he said, have gone down on her knees and begged for mercy. 

The statements of these three guardians of Hindu orthodoxy were widely reported. Less noticed, perhaps, were the remarks of a Sunni cleric in Kerala, Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musaliyar. Endorsing the statements of Hindu patriarchs, he said: “The demand for male-female equality is against nature. Man and woman have different faculties and different responsibilities.” Aboobacker Musaliyar went on to dismiss the idea of women’s equality as a Western concept. 

In 1950, the Indian Constitution put women and men on the same plane. Unlike in Western democracies, where men were granted the franchise well before women, in our first general elections, held in 1952, all citizens over the age of 18 were encouraged to vote — regardless of their class, caste, or gender. A few years later, a series of laws passed by Parliament granted Hindu women the right to own and inherit property, to choose their spouse (even if he was of another caste or another religion), and to divorce him in case he abused or ill-treated her. 

Forget Gwadar, China has Karachi

C. Raja Mohan 
Feb 08 2013, 

The Government of India is finding it increasingly hard to speak with one voice on issues relating to China. Consider for example the reaction of two of India's senior ministers in response to the reports that Pakistan is about to hand over the Gwadar port to a Chinese company. 

As India's diplomat-in-chief, the external affairs minister Salman Khurshid sought to down play the story. He was quoted as saying "I don't think we should overreact to everything that Pakistan does or everything that China is involved in. We need to take these matters in our stride and in the normal course". 

That was last week. This week at the inauguration of the air show in Bengaluru, the defence minister, A. K. Antony was cryptic but quite clear. India is "concerned' about the development that could bring Chinese navy closer to India's shores. 

The absence of coherent policy articulation in Delhi is made worse by a media debate that has no space for putting a story in perspective or bring some facts into play. 

The prospect of China running the Gwadar port in Pakistan, currently being run by a subsidiary of the Port of Singapore Authority, has been around for a while. After the American raid on Abbottabad and the execution of Osama bin Ladin in May 2011, angry Pakistani leaders were quite open in offering Gwadar as a base for the Chinese navy. It was Beijing that said, "thank, but no thanks". 

Last week the Pakistani Cabinet has taken a decision to hand it over to a Chinese company. The port, on a small island off the Makran coast of Balochistan, was built with Chinese financial assistance in the last decade. Has China changed its mind? Is it ready to build a naval facility at Gwadar, that is so close to the sensitive Persian Gulf and next door to India? 

Facts speak otherwise. For all the hype, Gwadar is not an attractive place for the Chinese navy. It is located in one of the most backward regions of Pakistan. The Baloch insurgency has frequently targeted Chinese nationals doing project work in the region. 

Gwadar does not have the kind of infrastructure that navies look for. What Gwadar lacks, Karachi has in plenty. Since it first showed up in the Indian Ocean nearly three decades ago, Karachi has been the favourite port of call for the Chinese navy. 

The moment Kolkata changed

Taslima Nasreen
Feb 09 2013

I have known Kolkata since my childhood, through children's books and stories my parents told me. I came to know it better during my youth, when I finished reading the works of as many superb Bengali writers and poets as I could gather, and also when I published the poems of many contemporary Bengali poets from the East as well as the West, while editing and publishing my poetry magazine since 1978. I remember, I visited Kolkata for the first time in the late 1980s and it was like a dream. I felt I knew and loved Kolkata better than many native Kolkatans. 

In the early 1990s, I was the first writer from Bangladesh to receive West Bengal's most prestigious literary award, the Ananda Purashkar. Since then I have felt closely related to Kolkata. I got the opportunity to personally meet and come close to many authors and intellectuals whom I held in great regard. I was fortunate to receive their love, sympathy and solidarity. Annada Shankar Ray, Shib Narayan Ray, and Amlan Dutta were the true secular humanist intellectuals in Kolkata. 

Something else happened in the early 1990s, too; I was forced to leave my beloved country and live in exile. I could not accept the idea that a Bengali writer had to leave Bengal simply because some ignorant, insane people did not like my writings, and therefore, I made several attempts to return to my country, or at least, to West Bengal, which shares a common history and traditions with my country. Sadly, each time, I failed miserably, which left me no alternative but to stay in Europe or America. But whenever India gave me permission to enter, I did not waste a moment; I rushed to Kolkata and met all my friends there: a homeless felt at home, for the first time, while living in exile. I tried a lot and eventually got a residence permit to reside in India. No more a constrained tourist, I was a resident in this great country, and I thought my travails were over. I received my second prestigious literary award for the first part of my memoir, My Girlhood (Amar Meyebela). But there was to be no respite for me. Just a few years thereafter, the West Bengal government banned Dwikhandito, the third part of my memoir. I personally knew Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, then the chief minister under the Left Front government. He was initially very friendly, and that is partly why it was so shocking to me that he banned my book, which was about my struggle against religious fanatics. Upon being asked, Bhattacharjee said as many as 25 intellectuals had asked him to ban my book. 

Not music to our ears

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

February 08, 2013 

I was nine when the first presidential decorations were announced, but I remember the newspaper announcements of the conferment of the Bharat Ratna to the ‘Three Rs’  Rajagopalachari, Radhakrishnan and CV Raman. The times were gracious. No one thought, much less said, ‘Oh, all South 

Indians’, or ‘Look, all three Brahmins’. They were, undoubtedly Ratnas, all.

Some did wonder why Rajendra Prasad was excluded but quickly understood the difficulty of the conferrer honouring himself. 

Pandit Nehru, a stickler for propriety, did not let his name be included in that inaugural list, despite President Prasad entreating him to do so. Maulana Azad said, tersely, that he was among those who decided the names of the recipients and could not give one to himself. 

The Padma Vibhushan decorations of that inaugural year were no less heart-warming, the physicist Satyendranath Bose, the painter Nandalal Bose, the educationist and future President Zakir Husain, the one and only VK Krishna Menon. 

The doughty Bhutan leader Jigme Dorji Wangchuk got the Vibhushan that year too, establishing Bhutan’s great importance to us and also, the point that these decorations could, in exceptional circumstances, be given to non-Indians. 

The Bhushan category was illustrious as well, including the first musician to get any of the Padma awards, MS Subbulakshmi. She was to get the Vibhushan and then the Bharat Ratna itself. 

I recall, as his secretary at the time, President KR Narayanan responding to a widespread sentiment for the highest decoration moving beyond statesmen and public figures to the arts. 

MS’ name suggested itself for the first Bharat Ratna going to a musician. President Narayanan and Prime Minister Gujral settled on it after a discussion that lasted no more than five minutes. 

The president then asked to be connected to MS over the phone to obtain her consent which took a few moments longer than it might have had that most tuneful of all Indians not been so un-attuned to affairs, including recognitions, of the State. 

After having spoken to and congratulated MS, President Narayanan spoke to the chief minister “as a step in courtesy”, to inform him of the honour being done to a daughter of Tamil Nadu. 

Freedom without a centre

By Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Feb 07 2013

The liberal centre has no political voice as parties mistakenly do not see its potential 

India daily abridges its right to be called a liberal democracy. There is a virtual contagion of attacks on art and free speech. How are we to understand this? How do we square this intolerance with the astonishing energy, creativity and contention that we are also seeing unleashed at different levels of society? Are we on the path to greater intolerance or do the underlying trends tell a different story? 

At a moment when art is being targeted, film stars are not safe, 15-year-old girls are being asked to pay a horrendous social price for creating a rock band and political dissent is being suppressed, the future of free expression looks very bleak indeed. But it is important to diagnose this malaise correctly. Rather than assume that it portends a more intolerant society, it could be the case that society is actually getting more tolerant. It is the state and the political structures that do not understand these profound changes. 

Mark Twain once said that Americans have the most perfect right to freedom of speech, but also the good sense never to use it. The deep truth in his remark was that often free speech seems easy to defend when the underlying mechanisms of social control are strong: speech seems safe when its limits are not tested too much. We often underestimate the degree to which even in the most liberal of democracies, freedom of speech seems safe because its limits are not tested. In the US, for example, a panoply of self-restraints does not push the limits of free expression as much as you might expect: it is, for example, a very taciturn culture when it comes to religion. So the fact that India is experiencing more contention around free speech could be a sign that inhibiting social restraints are finally beginning to wear off. This is largely a good thing, but it will generate the appearance of more conflict. 

Threats to the freedom of expression come largely from three sources. In some states like West Bengal, there is outright political thuggery: criticise the leader and pay the price. Many states have milder versions of this phenomenon. In some states, sedition laws have been used to quell dissent. The second threat comes from patriarchy. The crisis of patriarchy is finding its most potent expression on the ground of speech. From hoodlums targeting girls in pubs in Mangalore to muftis finding a teenage rock band a threat to civilisation, the concerted effort is to inhibit freedom for women. This trend is disconcerting, but again, it takes place against the backdrop of momentous social change, where women are participating more, and on their own terms. The third threat comes from the vicious cycle of competitive offence-mongering that still remains a tempting axis of mobilisation in our society. A secularism that emphasised parity between groups rather than individual freedoms was bound to generate this escalating dynamic, where you test the state on how much it protects your group. But even this attempt to consolidate group identities through a politics of competitive hurt takes place against a backdrop where identities are becoming more fluid and open. Indeed, groups are attempting to impose the yoke of community, precisely because the actual power to control is diminishing. It is more a sign of desperation than a harbinger of community power. This is why so many seeking community salvation in feigning hurt seem increasingly unrepresentative. 

China cracks down on Tibet protests

Associated Press in Beijing 
8 February 2013 

Beijing arrests 70 in ethnic Tibetan areas as it steps up efforts to blame Dalai Lama for self-immolations in protest at Chinese rule 

Ethnic Tibetan monks demonstrating in Qinghai province: nearly 100 people have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at Chinese rule. Photograph: Free Tibet/EPA 

China's government says it has detained 70 people in ethnic Tibetan areas as it cracks down on self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

Beijing has stepped up its efforts to blame the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, for the protests, in which nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009.

The harsh measures are a sign new Chinese leaders installed in November are not easing up on Tibet despite international condemnation. 

The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.

The latest detentions took place in an ethnic Tibetan area of Qinghai province, which borders Tibet, the government's Xinhua news agency announced late on Thursday. It said 12 of those detained were formally arrested but gave no details of the charges.

Beijing has responded to the protests by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, arresting protesters' friends and seizing satellite TV dishes. Despite that, the pace of self-immolations accelerated in November as the ruling Communist party held a leadership transition.

The government has blamed the burnings on hostile foreign forces that want to separate Tibet from the mainland.

The burnings have galvanised many Tibetans, who see them as selfless acts of sacrifice, making it hard for authorities to denounce the immolators.

EDITORIAL: China’s provocative acts are raising the risk of a military clash

February 07, 2013 

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Yudachi, shown at port in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in April 2012, was targeted by fire-control radar from a Chinese warship in the East China Sea on Jan. 30 this year. (Asahi Shimbun file photo) 

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera revealed Feb. 5 that a Chinese warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer operating in the East China Sea last month. In doing so, the Chinese vessel essentially signaled it was preparing to open fire. 

In a separate incident earlier in January, a Chinese frigate apparently locked on to a helicopter belonging to Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, according to Onodera. 

It remains unclear what caused tensions to suddenly ramp up like this. But what is clear is that the Chinese ships engaged in dangerously provocative acts that could easily have triggered a military clash. Thus, the Chinese actions are completely unacceptable. The Japanese government did the right thing when it lodged a strong formal protest with Beijing over these incidents. 

The dispute over sovereignty of the Senkakus has escalated since the Japanese government purchased some of the islands from a private landowner last September. Chinese ships have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the group of islets. 

In December, a propeller plane operated by China’s State Oceanic Administration entered Japanese territorial airspace over the islands in the East China Sea. That also added to tensions as China scrambled fighter jets in response to patrolling and monitoring operations by SDF aircraft and U.S. reconnaissance planes. 

But the act of putting a radar-lock on a Japanese ship and a helicopter are far more serious in nature than anything that had occurred previously in connection with the dispute. 

It has been reported that some members of the Chinese military, as well as the public, are even clamoring to start a war with Japan over the sovereignty issue. It is possible that Beijing is escalating its provocative behavior due to pressure from such belligerent voices at home. If so, this is something we must not overlook. We strongly urge China to exercise self-restraint. 

7 Reasons China and Japan Won’t Go To War

February 08, 2013 

By Trefor Moss

Even as tensions between Beijing and Tokyo grow by the day, there are good reasons to believe outright conflict can be avoided. 
The sequel seldom improves on the original. Yet Shinzo Abe, Japan’s newly re-elected prime minister, has already displayed more conviction during his second spell at the Kantei than in the entire year of his first, unhappy premiership. 

Political energy is a plus only when it’s wisely deployed however, and some fear that Abe is picking a fight he can’t win when it comes to his hardline stance on China. 

Rather than attempting to soothe the tensions that built between Beijing and Tokyo in 2012, Abe has struck a combative tone, especially concerning their dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – a keystone for nationalists in both countries. Each time fighter aircraft are scrambled or ships are sent to survey the likely flashpoint, we hear more warnings about the approach of a war that China and Japan now seem almost eager to wage. The Economist, for example,recently observed that, “China and Japan are sliding towards war,” while Hugh White of the Australian National University warned his readers: “Don't be too surprised if the U.S. and Japan go to war with China [in 2013].” News this week of another reckless act of escalation  Chinese naval vessels twice training their radars on their Japanese counterparts  will only have ratcheted up their concerns. 

These doomful predictions came as Abe set out his vision of a more hard-nosed Japan that will no longer be pushed around when it comes to sovereignty issues. In his December op-ed on Project Syndicate Abe accused Beijing of performing “daily exercises in coercion” and advocated a “democratic security diamond” comprising Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. (rehashing a concept from the 2007 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). He then proposed defense spending increases – Japan’s first in a decade – and strengthened security relations with the Philippines and Vietnam, which both share Tokyo’s misgivings about China’s intentions. An alliance-affirming trip to the U.S.is expected soon, and there is talk of Japan stationing F-15s on Shimojijima, close to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. 

Anne Applebaum: Soviet lessons for the Arab world

Anne Applebaum
Feb 8, 2013

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)A protestor throws a tear gas canister away during clashes with police near Tahrir Square on November 23, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. 

Egypt recently “celebrated” the second anniversary of its revolution with riots, tear gas and angry demonstrations against an increasingly authoritarian regime. A few days earlier, the Tunisian army deployed to the southern part of that country to fight demonstrators who were demanding, on the second anniversary of their own revolution, to know why their lives had not improved. In anticipation of the Libyan revolution’s anniversary on Feb. 17, authorities are calling for vigilance and high security measures. Lufthansa has suspended its flights to Tripoli. 

Much has changed in North Africa since the winter of 2011. But a lot more has not. To understand this, it’s worth looking at other countries that have undergone similarly radical changes. In post-communist Europe, for example, countries that faced similar problems took very different paths after they elected democratic governments in 1990. Yet some fell into economic stagnation or political turmoil while others thrived. 

Neither politics nor economics alone explains the differences. On the contrary, the factor most closely linked to stability and growth is human: Those countries that had an “alternative elite” a cadre of people who had worked together in the past, who had thought about government and who were at some level prepared to take it over were far more likely both to carry out radical reforms and to persuade the population to accept them. Hungary, Poland and, to a lesser extent, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states all benefited from the presence of people who had been thinking about change, and organizing to carry it out, for a long time. The Polish opposition had created the Solidarity trade union in the early 1980s. In Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel had been advocating and promoting democratic values since the ’70s. Hungarian and Polish economists had spent a decade discussing how it might be possible to decentralize a centrally planned economy. 

Rand Paul's Seminal Speech

Robert W. Merry 

February 8, 2013 

Rand Paul’s foreign-policy speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation on Wednesday represents an event of perhaps seminal significance to the Republican Party and the nation. The Kentucky Republican outlined a foreign-policy outlook and perhaps the beginnings of an actual foreign policy that would guide America along a middle path between the boundless national ambition of Republican Party neoconservatives and the isolationism of his father. He declared himself "a realist." 

This is consequential in itself, given the sway of the neocon philosophy over GOP thinking since the early days of George W. Bush and the paucity of enthusiasm for realist convictions. When such a prominent Republican senator embraces the realist label, it presents just a hint of a possibility that a foreign-policy debate actually could emerge in a Republican Party long frozen in the tundra of neocon thinking. 

But greater significance is embedded in Paul’s effort to elucidate just what a realist foreign policy would look like. Granted, his formulations are a bit vague, lacking the specifics that would have to emerge eventually to give his thinking force and credibility. But he put forth some powerful ideas that could capture the imagination of the American people if presented with consistency and clarity. 

Consider his view of the threat posed by radical Islam, which was presented with more nuance and depth of perception than is seen in the pronouncements of most politicians these days. The senator accepts the conventional view that the West is not in a conflict with Islam itself but rather with radical elements within Islam. But he adds: "the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority." Whole countries, he adds, adhere to certain radical concepts of Islam, and the Muslim peoples are animated by powerful political sentiments born of a long history of frustration and passion. 

"Radical Islam," declared Paul, "is no fleeting fad but a relentless force." It makes up for its military weakness "with unlimited zeal." 

Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership

By Thomas P.M. Barnett
8 Feb 2013

For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.

That kind of long-range argument logically requires a good couple of decades to actualize, especially given the strategic distrust visible today among all three parties. But that’s the whole idea about thinking strategically: You lock in on the “inevitable,” however inconceivable it may seem from today’s perspective, and you lay the groundwork for that future, year-in and year-out. Strategic shifts are generational tasks, so these seeds need to be planted with the Millennials now, in the hope of their fruition come 2030.

Readers familiar with my old column here will remember how I’ve taken to describing that 2030 future as the C-I-A world, as in, one run by China, India and America. But recently, thanks to a series of long-range simulations run by Wikistrat, where I serve as chief analyst, I’ve found myself thinking that renewing the trans-Atlantic bond with Europe may be the best way to assure the right kind of U.S. global leadership as we move toward that 2030 horizon. 

Today’s globalization is suffering a populist blowback on a nearly global scale. Indeed, the only places not suffering such blowback are Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, frontiers where globalization’s widespread wealth creation is still resulting in very positive outcomes. Just about everywhere else, whether in the old West, the rising East or the Arab world, we’re seeing a build-up of social anger at globalization’s inequities and excesses that is stunning in its scope and persistence. In short, the world seems destined to either re-balkanize itself over these tensions or enter into a lengthy progressive era that corrects these imbalances and cleans up these corrupting trends.

Citigroup’s outlook for the world’s economies for the next 4 years

Lisa Mahapatra, 
Feb 8, 2013 

Associated PressTop economist Willem Buiter's team breaks down what's going on in each economy with growth forecasts through 2016. 

Citi recently published its 48-page “Global Economic Outlook and Strategy” report, which provides up-to-date commentary and forecasts for the major economies covered by the bank’s army of economists, led by Chief Economist Willem Buiter. 

The team recently became more optimistic about the developed markets. 

“For 2013, the advanced economy upgrade is offset by a slight downgrade to our [emerging market] forecasts to leave our global growth forecast at 2.6%, while we are edging up our 2014 global growth forecast from 3.1% to 3.2% (at current exchange rates),” wrote Buiter. 

On China: “After last year’s slowdown, we continue to expect China’s economic growth to level off at 7-8% this year and 7-71⁄2% per year in 2014- 2017, reflected in ongoing rapid productivity gains.” 

Buiter’s team expects euro area GDP to fall, and cut forecasts for various smaller economies: “Even with the recent improvement in financial conditions, major central banks are likely to keep monetary policy loose and indeed to loosen further, with ongoing asset purchases by the Fed and BoJ, further ECB rate cuts and renewed QE by the BoE.” 

Buiter’s team breaks down what’s going on in each economy, and gives GDP growth forecasts through 2016. We pulled the highlights. 

The United States: financial conditions are improving 

Getty Images/David Becker 

GDP Growth Forecast 
2013: 1.9% 
2014: 3.1% 
2015: 3.5% 
2016: 4.0% 

Things are looking up for the United States, according to Citi’s Robert DiClementi, as private demand is showing surprising strength, and the housing market finally seems to be perking up and in a sustainable fashion. Payroll taxes will probably be a bit of a drag on the economy in the near term. Slow but steady growth will mean that inflation will remain stable. 

Jemima Khan on Julian Assange: how the Wikileaks founder alienated his allies

06 February 2013
By Jemima Khan
WikiLeaks – whose mission statement was “to produce a more just society based upon truth” – has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion. 

Julian Assange. Photo: Zed Nelson/INSTITUTE 

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I passed through Los Angeles recently on my way to the Sundance Film Festival. I don’t know the place well, but it always feels to me as if it is in limbo and has never grown into a proper city: a municipal playground, populated by restless kidults. Here, people dine at seven and sleep by nine, ferried around in cars, sipping sodas, suspended in a make-believe world, poised in that fake calm between a toddler’s fall and ensuing screams. 

Its transient, unevolved quality may have something to do with it being a temporary home to a disproportionate number of famous people. There’s a theory about fame: the moment it strikes, it arrests development. Michael Jackson remained suspended in childhood, enjoying sleepovers and funfairs; Winona Ryder an errant teen who dabbled in shoplifting and experimented with pills; George Clooney, a 30-year-old commitment-phobe, never quite ready yet to settle down. 

Every plan in LA is SBO (“subject to better offer”). Fame infantilises and grants relative impunity. Those that seek it, out of an exaggerated need for admiration or attention, are often the least well equipped to deal with criticism. 

Lessons from Machiavelli

New York Times
Feb 09 2013

This winter I'm taking part in a great course at Yale called Grand Strategy. We're reading strategic thought from Sun Tzu and Pericles straight through to Churchill and George F. Kennan. This week we read Machiavelli. Machiavelli is a tonic because he counteracts the sentiments of our age. We're awash in TV news segments celebrating the human spirit, but Machiavelli had a lower estimation of our worth. 

The conventional view is that Machiavelli believed that since people are brutes then everything is permitted. Leaders should do anything they can to hold power. The ends justify the means. In fact, Machiavelli was a moralistic thinker. He barely goes a page without some appeal to honour and virtue. He just had a different concept of political virtue. It would be nice, he writes, if a political leader could practise the Christian virtues like charity, mercy and gentleness and still provide for his people. But, in the real world, that's usually not possible. In the real world, a great leader is called upon to create a civilised order for the city he serves. To create that order, to defeat the forces of anarchy and savagery, the virtuous leader is compelled to do hard things, to take, as it were, the sins of the situation upon himself. Sometimes bad acts produce good outcomes. Sometimes a leader has to love his country more than his soul. Since a leader is forced by circumstances to do morally suspect things, Machiavelli at least wants him to do them effectively. If you have to do something cruel, do it fast; if you get to do something generous, do it slowly. If you lead a country, you have more to fear from the scheming elites than the masses, so you should try to form an alliance with the people against the aristocracy. 

When you read Machiavelli, you realise how lucky we are. Unlike 16th-century Florence, we have a good constitution that channels conflict. Our ancestors behaved savagely to build our world, so we don't have to. But it's still not possible to rule with perfectly clean hands. There are still terrorists out there, hiding in the shadows and plotting to kill Americans. So even today's leaders face the Machiavellian choice: Do I have to be brutal to protect the people I serve? Do I have to use drones, which sometimes kill innocent children, in order to thwart terror and save the lives of my own? 

Drones are gruesome, but would we prefer boots on the ground?

By Con Coughlin
07 Feb 2013 

The human rights lobby wants to limit the use of drones, but they are effective and preferable to sending our troops to fight 

Unmanned drones are used mainly for reconnaisance missions but also to strike terrorist targets Photo: AFP/Getty Images 

The art of drone warfare has come a long way in the decade since the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made its appearance in Afghanistan in the campaign to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. These days, you can take your pick, from the British Army’s minuscule “Black Hornet” surveillance devices, which fit easily into the palm of your hand, to the state-of-the-art Sentinels used by the US Air Force, which the Taliban have nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar” because of their destructive potential. 

The bewildering array of drone technology available to modern‑day battlefield commanders is certainly a far cry from the cumbersome structure the Austrians used to attack Venice on August 22, 1849 – the earliest recorded use of a UAV in combat. On that occasion, balloons fitted with bombs were directed towards La Serenissima, where they were set on fire by means of an electro-magnetic charge passed through a long copper wire, causing the explosives to fall on the city below. 

The balloons proved ineffective as, more often than not, they were caught by a change of wind and blown back over Austrian lines. But had they been successful, the human rights lobby would no doubt have been queuing up to bring Emperor Franz Joseph I before the 19th-century equivalent of the International Criminal Court for war crimes. 

In the modern age, though, it seems the drones are at risk of becoming victims of their own success, as human rights campaigners intensify their efforts to limit their use in targeting al-Qaeda terror cells. 

Obama administration embraces major new nuclear weapons cut

By R. Jeffrey Smith
08 Feb 2013

Advisers reach consensus that current arsenals are larger than needed to target foes 

The Dec. 4, 1989 file photo shows U.S. Navy launching a Trident II, D-5 missile from the submerged submarine USS Tennessee in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. 

Senior Obama administration officials have agreed that the number of nuclear warheads the U.S. military deploys could be cut by at least a third without harming national security, according to sources involved in the deliberations. 

They said the officials’ consensus agreement, not yet announced, opens the door to billions of dollars in military savings that might ease the federal deficit and improve prospects for a new arms deal with Russia before the president leaves office. But it is likely to draw fire from conservatives, if previous debate on the issue is any guide. 

The results of the internal review are reflected in a draft of a classified decision directive prepared for Obama’s signature that guides how U.S. nuclear weapons should be targeted in the future against potential foes, according to four sources with direct knowledge of it. The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to a reporter about the review, described the president as fully on board, but said he has not signed the document. 

The document directs the first detailed Pentagon revisions in U.S. targeting since 2009, when the military’s nuclear war planners last took account of a substantial shrinkage — roughly by half from 2000 to 2008 — in the total number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. It makes clear that an even smaller nuclear force can still meet all defense requirements. 

Although the document offers various options for Obama, his top advisers reached their consensus position last year, after a review that included the State Department, the Defense Department, the National Security Council, the intelligence community, the U.S. Strategic Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the office of Vice President Joseph Biden, according to the sources. 

Social Media Firms Move to Capitalize on Popularity in Middle East

February 6, 2013 

DUBAI — For its most recent advertising push, the Saudi Arabian telecommunications giant Mobily did not turn to the street or television to engage with customers. Mobily paid to promote itself on Twitter. 

The use of social media exploded during the Arab Spring as people turned to cyberspace to express themselves. On the back of that, social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, have moved into the region commercially, setting up offices to sell advertising products to companies like Mobily, which has over 200,000 Twitter followers, to capitalize on the growing audience. 

“In Saudi, social media gets everyone talking to everyone, which is something we just don’t have in the streets here,” said Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi development consultant and formerly a popular television talk show host, who has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. 

“It’s a unique opportunity that lets people have conversations in a boundary-less way that wasn’t possible before,” Ms. AbuSulayman said. “In addition to promoting social and political discussion, it carries a powerful economic incentive for businesses, too.” 

The rise of social media in the Arab world is changing the game for regional advertisers, pushing growth in digital advertising in a part of the world where traditional methods like television and print advertising have so far remained dominant. 

Digital advertising in the Middle East and North Africa accounts for only about 4 percent of the region’s total advertising spending, at a value of $200 million, according to the most recent available estimate, but it has become the fastest-growing media platform in the region, said a study by the business services firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, published in 2011. Deloitte’s Arab Media Outlook projected growth in digital advertising spending in the region of 35 percent a year over the next three years, generating about $580 million across the region by 2015. 

“The fact is that consumers are online, so brands need to be online,” said Reda Raad, chief operating officer of TBWA\Raad, the Middle East arm of the global advertising agency TBWA. “The use of digital channels has continued to increase dramatically after the Arab Spring and advertising on social media has become a highly targeted, cost-efficient way of communicating with consumers.”