21 June 2013

India’s surveillance project may be as lethal as PRISM

Shalini Singh 
21 Jun 13

Project documents relating to the new Centralized Monitoring System (CMS) reveal the government’s lethal and all-encompassing surveillance capabilities, which, without the assurance of a matching legal and procedural framework to protect privacy, threaten to be as intrusive as the U.S. government’s controversial PRISM project.

These capabilities are being built even as a debate rages on the extent to which the privacy of Indian Internet and social media users was compromised by the PRISM project. A PIL petition on the subject has already been admitted by the Supreme Court.

The documents in the possession of The Hindu indicate that the CMS project now has a budgeted commitment nearly double that of the Rs. 400-crore estimate that senior officials mentioned in a recent briefing to the media. Once implemented, the CMS will enhance the government’s surveillance and interception capabilities far beyond ‘meta-data,’ data mining, and the original expectation of “instant” and secure interception of phone conversations.

The interception flow diagram, hitherto under wraps, reveals that the CMS being set up by C-DoT — an obscure government enterprise located on the outskirts of New Delhi — will have the capability to monitor and deliver Intercept Relating Information (IRI) across 900 million mobile (GSM and CDMA) and fixed (PSTN) lines as well as 160 million Internet users, on a ‘real time’ basis through secure ethernet leased lines.

The CMS will have unfettered access to the existing Lawful Interception Systems (LIS), currently installed in the network of every fixed and mobile operator, ISP, and International Long Distance service provider. Mobile and long distance operators, who were required to ensure interception only after they were in receipt of the “authorisation,” will no longer be in the picture. With CMS, all authorisations remain secret within government departments.

This means that government agencies can access in real time any mobile and fixed line phone conversation, SMS, fax, web-site visit, social media usage, Internet search and email, including partially written emails in draft folders, of “targeted numbers.” This is because, contrary to the impression that the CMS was replacing the existing surveillance equipment deployed by mobile operators and ISPs, it would actually combine the strength of two — expanding the CMS’s forensic capabilities multiple times.

Even where data mining and ‘meta-data’ access through call data records (CDRs) and session initiation protocol data records (SDRs) — used for Internet protocol-related communications including video conferencing, streaming multi-media, instant messaging, presence information, file transfer, video games and voice & fax over IP is concerned — the CMS will have unmatched capabilities of deep search surveillance and monitoring. The CMS is designed to have access to call content (CC) on multiple E1 leased lines through operators ‘billing/ mediation servers’. These servers will reveal user information to the accuracy of milliseconds, relating to call duration, identification and call history of those under surveillance. Additionally, it will disclose mobile numbers and email IDs, including pinpointing the target’s physical location by revealing cellphone tower information.

Nationwide surveillance

The Hindu’s investigation has also unveiled the mystery relating to the CMS’s national rollout. Contrary to reports about it being active nationwide, only Delhi and Haryana have tested “proof of concept” (POC) successfully. Kerala, Karnataka and Kolkata are the next three destinations for CMS’s implementation. Till 2015, two surveillance and interception systems will run in parallel — the existing State-wise, 200-odd Lawful Intercept and Monitoring (LIM) Systems, set up by 7 to 8 mobile operators in each of the 22 circles, plus the multiple ISP and international gateways — alongside the national rollout of CMS. The aim is to cover approximately one dozen States by the end of 2013-14.

On November 26, 2009, the government told Parliament that CMS’s implementation would overcome “the existing system’s secrecy which can be easily compromised due to manual interventions at many stages.” In January 2012, the government had admitted to intercepting over 1 lakh phones and communication devices over a year, at a rate of 7,500–9,000 per month.

Privacy vs. security

Currently two government spy agencies — the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) — plus seven others, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Narcotics Control Bureau, DRI, National Intelligence Agency, CBDT (tax authority), Military Intelligence of Assam and JK and Home Ministry — are authorised to intercept and monitor citizens’ calls and emails, under the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, The Indian Telegraph Act 1985, Rule 419(A) and other related legislation.

Given the major technological advancements in monitoring and enhanced forensic capabilities in surveillance, coupled with the change in procedure which mandates the interception authorization to be kept secret between two government departments with no scope of a transparent public disclosure of who is being monitored, for what purpose and for how long, privacy and free speech activists are protesting and raising many questions. The government, meanwhile, is proceeding undeterred.

Truth is in real world, dreams are deceptive

21 June 2013  

Barack Obama's faith in ‘reconciliation' with the Taliban could prolong the agony of the Afghans. A Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will make the AfPak region an epicentre of global terrorism

On February 17, 2009 US President Barack Obama announced that in order to “stabilise the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan” he was authorising the deployment of an additional 17,000 US troops there. He added: “The problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the spread of extremism in that region cannot be solved solely by military means”. Shortly thereafter, he announced the deployment of an additional 4,000 troops. At the London Conference in 2010, the US announced that responsibilities for security would be transferred to Afghan forces so that US-ISAF forces could begin withdrawal by July 2011. On June 22, 2011, Mr Obama announced that the US intended to end all combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, while transferring responsibility for security to Afghan forces. This process is in place and the bulk of security operations even now are undertaken by Afghan forces, with American logistical backing.

The American strategy also involves a process of “reconciliation” through talks in Qatar between the Taliban on the one hand and the Afghan High Peace Council, on the other. The US and the Karzai Government aver that this process will be based on “respect for the Afghan Constitution, rule of law, and democratic values”. While the nucleus of a Taliban office has been set up in Qatar, even the most optimistic are sceptical that the Taliban and its ISI backers will settle for anything short of getting substantial control, in initial years, of the bulk of southern Afghanistan. The US is expected to retain a residual military presence of around 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, together with control of around half-a-dozen military airports, while focusing on training and counter-terrorism operations. It will be financing, training, equipping and providing logistical support to the 3,50,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces. There is scepticism about the will of the US, to stay the course on its commitment in its Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan to “combat Al Qaeda and its affiliates and enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter threats against its sovereignty, security and territorial integrity”. Virtually every Afghan will aver that his country faces these threats only from Pakistan and its proxies.

Interestingly, like Mr Obama, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly announced his decision to withdraw Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and commenced the withdrawal in 1988. Mr Gorbachev’s entire strategy was based on the naïve belief that Pakistan will cease arming the Peshawar-based Afghan Mujahedeen, in accordance with its commitments in the Geneva Accords. (In the preceding years, the CIA funded and provided the ISI with weapons, enabling them to arm and equip an estimated 80,000 fighters to challenge the writ of the regime of President Mohammed Najibullah). Pakistan’s President, General Zia ul-Haq, however, made it clear that he had no intention of abiding by the Geneva Accords and he would deny Soviet accusations of the ISI arming the Afghan Mujahedeen, telling President Ronald Reagan: “We will deny any arms aid is going through our territory. After all, that is what we have been saying for the past eight years”.

Like President Obama is now looking for ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban, Mr Gorbachev made an ill-advised and desperate attempt to negotiate with the Peshawar-based, ISI-backed seven-party alliance of fundamentalist Afghan parties. The Mujahedeen just stalled for time as they obtained ever more direct Pakistani military assistance to oust the Najibullah Government, which, interestingly, offered fierce resistance, till the Soviet Union collapsed in December 2011 and arms supplies dried up. Pakistan’s long-term objectives in Afghanistan were clearly spelt out earlier by President Zia, who stated: “We have earned the right to have a friendly regime in Afghanistan. We took risks as a frontline state, and won’t permit it to be like it was before, with Indian and Soviet influence there and claims on our territory. It will be a real Islamic state, part of a pan-Islamic revival that will one day win over the Muslims of the Soviet Union, you will see it”.

Mr Gorbachev’s naiveté and Pakistani duplicity and territorial ambitions led to the instability, violence and international terrorism that tore apart the body politic of Afghanistan and brought misery and suffering to its people. Is Mr Obama’s ‘end game’ in Afghanistan and his faith in ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban set to prolong the agony of the Afghans? Afghanistan is and will likely remain, an international basket case for at least a decade. It will need at least $4.1 billion annually to maintain its armed forces. The economy can become self-sustaining only if the country’s mineral wealth can be put to use, which will require at least a decade of conditions conducive to economic development. The only redeeming feature is that the US, unlike the Soviet Union, will not collapse. Moreover, there is some recognition in the international community that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will lead to the AfPak region remaining the epicentre of global terrorism.

The dark side of foreign policy

Jun 21 2013,
An important book questions Pakistan's view of the world, and the state that shapes it 

On June 10, the Centre for Public Policy and Governance of the Forman Christian College University in Lahore invited Pakistan's ex-foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to talk about his latest book, Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity (2011).

Not many foreign secretaries of Pakistan have critically examined the extremist elements serving as instruments of its foreign policy. Riaz Mohammad Khan was foreign secretary (2005-08), ambassador to China (2002-05), to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg (1995-98) and to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (1992-95). Before that, as a junior officer, he had started as a "China hand", trained in the Chinese language when he began his career in Beijing as third secretary. As a junior officer, he served in Pakistan's UN mission in New York (1979-86).

The book is about not only foreign policy but also the nature of the state shaping it. The reference to extremism and resistance to modernity in the title of the book is significant, and most Pakistani bureaucrats and retired generals will take it as a digression from the "pure art" of describing foreign affairs as practised amorally by governments in the pursuit of their national interests.

This, in fact, is the intellectual dimension of Khan's book. It threatens to expose the unfolding of Pakistan's foreign policy as a negative factor in the evolution of the state. This is something that no one serving Pakistan, in whatever official capacity, thinks of doing. The reason is loyalty to the employer and attachment to nationalism, where no impartial judgements are allowed.

He challenges opinion-making in Pakistan with the following observation: "regional and global issues, Pakistani reactions and commentaries often betray a besieged mentality verging on a persecution complex. In addition to an appetite for outlandish conspiracy theories, the political culture of the country shows a proclivity to look for extraordinary explanations, in particular for failures. Political changes in the country have often been attributed to foreign machinations rather than to mistakes committed at home."

Only an outsider could see and marvel at the compulsive use of the "foreign hand doctrine" in Pakistan, as the federal interior minister of the last government attributed the killing of innocent Pakistanis by Taliban to the US, the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara Shia in Quetta to India and the target-killing of citizens in Karachi to Israel in tandem with the other two, by adding the saving clause "can't be ruled out" to his statements.

Extremism based on religion springs from a condition of certitude. And no certitude is possible without reductionism. When collective certitude wells up, it leads to violence. Individuals backed by groups become fascistic in their effort to impose their creed on others. People who are fired by conviction can be opposed at the risk of attracting the label of heresy. Liberals are less impressive because they find fault with creeds and are singularly lacking in the symbolism of power. The state in Pakistan, to the extent that it is religious, is an extremist state.

Pakistan's foreign policy towards India is based on nurturing some of the most dangerous international terrorist organisations and their local protégés: "groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad commonly resort to threats to browbeat opponents. A perverse form of religious vigilantism is evident in the violence directed against individuals and religious minorities over alleged incidents of blasphemy. Low-level police officials and even lower court judges feel harassed or have dealt with cases under pressure from fanatical religious groups".

The book contains a tonic passage about the doctrinal noose strangulating rational policy: "dubious and impractical doctrines and ideas would only give rise to misgivings and distrust. Ideas such as 'strategic depth' only reflected confused and warped thinking that sometimes clouded Pakistan's policy and approach to Afghanistan." The army chief, General Beg, who mouthed this doctrine, could, under normal circumstances, face charges of treason for rigging an election.

The "instruments of Pakistan's foreign policy" — the mujahideen — were not really controlled by the state; in fact, there is growing evidence that it was the other way round. Khan tells us how Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's effort in 1992, through Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, to get the mujahideen to agree to his policy came to grief. In 2012, Qazi Hussain Ahmed died, possibly from the stress he suffered from an unsuccessful suicide-bomber attack, from the very elements he had supported as an instrument of Pakistan's foreign policy.

Khan knew that the ISI's support of the "charismatic" mujahideen was based not on any strategic analyses, but on "reverse indoctrination", something that haunts the GHQ in Rawalpindi, where the army chief may at times be scared of his own officers. Soon, the army chiefs of Pakistan became convinced that if they tried to get rid of the non-state actors-turned terrorists they could get killed. Khan writes what must rate as the most significant paragraph in the book: "In April 2000, I had occasion to raise the issue of support to jihadi groups with General Pervez Musharraf, then chief executive, on the occasion of the Havana G-77 summit, in the company of Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed and National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz. I argued that Musharraf could not realise his economic agenda for development without giving up support for jihadist groups, who were spawning an environment hostile to foreign investment and economic growth. Musharraf disagreed and placed the blame for economic ills on corruption. When I persisted, he literally closed the argument with a remark that what I was suggesting could bring an end to his government."

Khan served Pakistan during what looked like the end of the epoch of a 60-year war with India. His thinking is, in a way, anticipatory of a paradigm shift in the state's attitude towards India, but he may feel lonely among the phalanx of retired diplomats and military officers still hanging on to the conflictual status quo. It hardly matters in 2013 that the people of Pakistan, haunted by terrorism, have stopped supporting nationalism based on rivalry with India.

Khan is convinced it's time Pakistan changed its policy towards India. Pakistan's ambition to become a hub of economic activity would be difficult to realise without the opening of transit routes to India. When Pakistan initiated the idea of activating the KKH for commerce with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in early 1993, the two countries were enthusiastic. The Kazakh minister for transportation convened a meeting and invited both the Pakistani and Indian ambassadors based in Alma Ata. He was disappointed to learn that India could not be included at that time, in view of tensions in relations between the two South Asian neighbours.

The Pakistan army should let foreign policy go. One says it because all armies attach foreign policy to geopolitics and therefore disqualify themselves as arbiters. They tie a most changeable category to the most unchanging physical aspect of the country where they imagine they see permanent advantage.

The concept of negotiating with rival states on the principle of sovereign equality is easily made irrelevant and reduced to mere rhetoric by diplomatic isolation. The most extreme form of isolation is the implied name-tag of "rogue state" which denudes the country of all prospects of ever achieving the "soft image" needed for economic survival. Pakistan is fast approaching that crossroads in its trajectory of statehood; and some glimpses of this journey are flagged in Riaz Mohammad Khan's book.

PS: Khan was retained after his retirement for "back-channel" diplomacy with India, but was abruptly fired in 2008 before the expiry of his extension.

The writer is a consulting editor with 'Newsweek Pakistan'

The un-happening of a civil war

By Ahmad Shafi 
Wednesday, June 19, 

As coalition troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next December, reports of an impending civil war, sensationalized and embellished by foreign press mostly, have dominated many international headlines. These reports cite rampant corruption in the Afghan government, violent insurgency, spectacular attacks by the Taliban in major cities, fears of more restrictions on women's rights, and ethnic divisions as signs of a doomsday awaiting to befall post-2014 Afghanistan.

But if you ask ordinary Afghans about their future in 2015 and beyond, they are more likely to express fears about an economic recession, increased violence by militants, total abandonment by the international community, and uncertainty about President Karzai's replacement than a civil war or a triumphant return of the Taliban to power. 

This discrepancy is because the political dynamics in today's Afghanistan are radically different from those in 1992, when various armed factions of anti-Soviet rebels took power. Back then, the mujahedeen, as they called themselves, enjoyed a certain level of public support. There were no independent media outlets, no civil institutions, and no major commitments by the international community to support Afghanistan after the communists' fall. In 1992, Afghans did not have the opportunity to democratically elect their leaders and thousands of armed rebels took positions outside the gates of Kabul, effectively cutting off the capital from the rest of the country. Most importantly, the Soviet Union, Afghanistan's primary patron, not only ended all of its aid to the Afghan National Army (ANA), but ceased to exist as a country itself.

Afghans take these factors into account when they calculate their future. Uncertainty and economic fears may be well founded and prevalent, but no one in Afghanistan believes the takeover of a half-finished construction site by a bunch of violent extremists, whose grim visions are so far away from the realities of today's Afghanistan, is an indication of a looming civil war like the one they experienced in the 1990s. In fact, many are dismayed when foreign analysts and reporters call fighting between Afghan security forces and foreign extremists in the mountains of Kunar and Nuristan provinces a civil war, but consider NATO advisers training and supporting the ANA as part of the invasion.

While some foreign analysts appear to have concluded a post-withdrawal Taliban takeover is inevitable, public opinion surveys inside Afghanistan show that Afghans beg to differ en masse. For example, a 2012 public opinion survey by the Asia Foundation found that Afghans' confidence in their security forces and in their future has steadily risen over the last six years. In fact, the foundation found that this confidence, especially in the ANA, runs in the 90th percentile (93 percent of Afghans expressed a "fair amount" or a "great deal" confidence in ANA). Meanwhile, sympathy for insurgents has declined steadily, especially in the last few years as the Taliban and other militant groups have stepped up their violent terror campaign, primarily attacking and killing civilians in the country. The survey's findings show that almost two-thirds of Afghans now oppose the armed insurgents. This data clearly indicates that the elusive leader of the Taliban is as likely to win a free and fair election for the Afghan presidency as the Newtown shooter would for becoming the governor of Connecticut.

Some analysts have expressed concerns that there will be more restrictions on women, and that gains made over the last 12 years will disappear once the coalition troops withdraw. These are genuine fears, especially as the Afghan government attempts to reach a peace settlement with the Taliban. However, over the past decade, Afghan women have gained the confidence to organize themselves and fight for their own rights. For example, when the Afghan government wanted to take control of shelters for battered women in 2011, female activists successfully fought back. This was a unique victory for Afghan women, who could never have raised their voices under the Taliban, let alone protest.

Also, using local media and support networks across the country, women's rights activists have brought national and international attention to domestic cases of violence against women that have shocked the Afghan public. In December 2011, for example, local media extensively covered the story of Sahar Gul, an Afghan girl who had been brutally tortured for months by members of her husband's family. First reported by local female journalists, it was one of the first cases that allowed the Afghan public to see the level and extent of violence against women in their country. Had the Taliban still been in power, Sahar Gul and the brave female reporters who covered her story would have been quietly suffering behind their all-enveloping burqas. But this is no longer the case. Even though there are still many cases like Sahar Gul's which go unreported, extensive coverage by the local media and courageous Afghan reporters are gradually raising awareness about domestic violence and women's rights in the country.

This is not to say the suffering of Afghan women has ended since the arrival of coalition forces. What is different though is that now Afghan women have at least a fighting chance to protect the achievements they have made over the last 12 years. For many leading Afghan rights activists, fighting for women's rights is more than a battle for equality. It's a fight to ensure the gains they have made since 2001 never again disappear in the alleys of a Taliban-governed country.

Some analysts have also pointed to the pervasive presence of former mujahedeen warlords in the government, as well as the power and wealth they have accumulated over the last 12 years as signs of a potential political resurgence. A flurry of foreign press reports have even suggested the warlords are re-arming themselves and waiting for international troops to leave before they go back to waging wars against each other. For example, Ismael Khan, a powerful warlord from the wealthy province of Herat, was reported to have urged his followers to "coordinate and reactivate their networks" and ready themselves for the upcoming civil war.

What many of these outlets failed to mention, however, is that Khan was removed from his traditional seat of power seven years ago when President Hamid Karzai appointed him Minister of Water and Energy. Khan, who is believed to be around 70 years old, does have influence in Western Afghanistan but his once-feared militia members were disarmed in the mid-2000s. It would take substantial resources to re-arm them, and he cannot justify this rearmament if there is already a national army operating across Afghanistan. Khan may be boasting about his influence in his calls for rearmament, but he also understands there has been a generational shift which is not necessarily in his favor.

This is not to say that the warlords have lost all of their leverage in Afghan society. Ethnic grievances and traditional tribal patronage network systems still exist in Afghanistan, and tensions remain high in light of growing uncertainty about 2014. However, there is a new outlet that allows these tensions to be addressed: local Afghan media.

Tolo TV, for example, a well-known local station in the country, aired a report last January which implicated the three major so-called warlords -- Governor Noor Mohammad Atta of Balkh province, Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Hezbi Wahdat leader Mohammad Mohaqiq -- of being involved in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in revenues from a major land port in northern Afghanistan. The report noted that the three men were "gleaning personal benefits from the Hairatan region's income."

In the past, such reports would have caused violent reactions from these men and could have even led to the death of the reporter. However, instead of staging an armed raid or an assassination, they took to the airwaves to defend themselves and there was no violent reaction from any of them. Even those warlords involved in the armed insurgency have recognized the growing influence of the local media.

Some of them, like the infamous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose militant group Hezb-e Islami once assassinated a BBC reporter, has given interviews from his hiding place to a select number of local outlets in the hope of rebuilding his image. But Hekmatyar and other warlords are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with larger swaths of the Afghan population, namely because most reporters and media workers in Afghanistan are quite young and grew up in a very different age, with values that are a stark contrast to the traditional views of the aging warlords. In fact, Afghans under the age of 25 make up almost 70 percent of the population, and are more likely to remember the atrocities committed by the warlords than the battles waged against the Soviets. This new generation is also more likely to connect with their friends on Facebook than to find themselves captivated with calls of war by warlords.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups have also failed to make their usual talking points gain attention in the local media. This is primarily because their vision of a post-2014 Afghanistan is radically different from what the majority of the public wants to see. Nader Nadery, a famed Afghan human rights activist, recently highlighted this fact in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. Having met with the Taliban delegation at a meeting in France in December 2012, Nadery wrote: "The gap between the perceptions of the Taliban and the rest of the participants was stark."

But the Taliban have learned that staging spectacular attacks on Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan gives them plenty of international media coverage instead. Such attacks achieve little in terms of military significance, but they confirm the narrative that the Taliban are "at the gates of Kabul." As a journalist friend once commented, such attacks throw cold water on reports concerning positive developments in Afghanistan. The insurgents know this and they have masterfully chosen their targets to hit the heart of major economic and diplomatic hubs, something that reaffirms this inaccurate view of inevitable doom. In contrast, the improving conduct of Afghan security forces and police units in repelling these attacks is often given little or no coverage in the foreign press. 

For many Afghans, the Taliban's mass suicide attacks and roadside bombs, which are the two biggest killers of civilians, represent nothing but the militants' attempts to spread fear and kill their way back to power, something very unlikely now and in the future. In post-2014 Afghanistan, Taliban militants and terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network may continue to stage suicide attacks on government facilities and major population centers but this will not indicate the beginning of a civil war. If the United States is unable to stop Mexican drug lords from spreading violence into some southern U.S. cities, nobody should expect the Afghan government to end attacks by Taliban militants who operate from safe havens in Pakistan.

It is true that Afghanistan may continue to face an assortment of issues, including corruption, ethnic rivalries, regional power struggles, poppy cultivation, and a weak economy, for some time beyond 2014. But with some sort of democratic continuity and a peaceful political transition, as well as continued international support -- especially from the United States -- for the growing civil society and security forces, Afghanistan can address these issues.

Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former producer for National Public Radio.

The Nile belongs to Ethiopia too

The increasing tensions with Egypt over the proposed dam reveal how fundamental the river is to both nations' identity 

A boat on the Nile in Cairo. ‘The language emerging from the two nations evokes epic poetry; the clash of gods in the guise of men.’ Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters 

Tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia have grown at an alarming rate since Addis Ababa announced its plans to construct the Grand Renaissance dam across part of the Nile. The project will divert the flow of the river and give Ethiopia greater access.

Egypt claims the dam could lower the river's level in a country that is mainly desert, and reduce cultivated farmland. President Mohamed Morsi has called the river "God's gift to Egypt", and the country's politicians claim the reduced water flow could prove catastrophic. An Ethiopian government spokesman, Getachew Reda, says none of Egypt's worries are scientifically based, and that "some of them border on … fortune-telling".

As the debate continues, I am reminded of an encounter between my mother and an Egyptian man one afternoon in New York. My mother was visiting from Addis Ababa and we decided to go to a pizzeria. One customer, an Egyptian, recognised us as Ethiopians. After brief introductions, he made a passing comment about the age-old conflict between our countries over the Nile. My mother calmly stated there was no conflict: the Nile was ours. The man was not amused. What followed degenerated into verbal sparring that ricocheted between "historic right", ancient civilisations and colonial-era treaties. Finally, my mother, frustrated, claimed full ownership of the river – and he did the same. It wouldn't have ended if the pizza hadn't arrived.

The Nile, at 6,700km, is the longest river in the world. It begins in Ethiopia and ends in Egypt. It moves counter to what one might expect, flowing upwards on the map. This, as much as anything, reflects the river's mythological dimensions. It defies logic, its identity is as much a product of poetry as politics. Homer, in The Odyssey, called the body of water "Aegyptus, the heaven-fed river". The name alone gave Egypt symbolic rights, and bestowed religious qualities upon the water. Despite the fact that 85% of the Nile originates in Ethiopia, we still associate the river with Cleopatra and King Tut, with pyramids and the sphinx, with sophisticated belief systems and advanced scientific knowledge. The Nile is a metaphor for Egypt. It is a geographic location as much as it is shorthand for one of the most innovative moments in world history. In popular imagination, it is as far removed from poverty as one can get. It is the opposite of devastation and privation.

Perhaps what my mother and the Egyptian man were arguing for was an exclusive cultural identity that was synonymous with the Nile's rich past. Perhaps he didn't realise he was fighting for something he already had, or maybe he was trying to defend what he knew wasn't entirely his. Despite being the source for much of the Nile's water, Ethiopia uses very little of it. By asserting Ethiopia's ownership of the river in such a sweeping and unequivocal manner, maybe my mother was trying her best to redefine what the country had become to westerners: the barren land of begging children and dying cattle. This was not the life she had known – nor had it been mine. Maybe she wasn't decrying a historic wrong as much as trying to co-opt it. Both of them were too mired in pride and nationalism to find a way towards common ground.

Afghanistan’s Unavoidable Partition

NEW DELHI – The United States, still mired in a protracted war in Afghanistan that has exacted a staggering cost in blood and treasure, will formally open peace talks with the Taliban, its main battlefield opponent, in the coming days (apparently despite last-minute opposition from Afghan President Hamid Karzai). With the US determined to withdraw its forces after more than a decade of fighting, the talks in Doha, Qatar, are largely intended to allow it to do so “honorably.”

Illustration by Paul Lachine

How the end of US-led combat operations shapes Afghanistan’s future will affect the security of countries nearby and beyond. Here the most important question is whether the fate of Afghanistan, which was created as a buffer between Czarist Russia and British India, will be – or should be – different from that of Iraq and Libya (two other imperial creations where the US has intervened militarily in recent years).

Foreign military intervention can effect regime change, but it evidently cannot reestablish order based on centralized government. Iraq has been partitioned in all but name into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish regions, while Libya seems headed toward a similar tripartite, tribal-based territorial arrangement. In Afghanistan, too, an Iraq-style “soft” partition may be the best possible outcome.

Afghanistan’s large ethnic groups already enjoy de facto autonomy, which they secured after their Northern Alliance played a central role in the US-led ouster of the Taliban from power in late 2001. Having enjoyed virtual self-rule since then, they will fiercely resist falling back under the sway of the Pashtuns, who have ruled the country for most of its history.

For their part, the Pashtuns, despite their tribal divisions, will not be content with control of a rump Afghanistan consisting of its current eastern and southeastern provinces. They will eventually seek integration with fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan, across the British-drawn Durand Line – a border that Afghanistan has never recognized. The demand for a “Greater Pashtunistan” would then challenge the territorial integrity of Pakistan (itself another artificial imperial construct).

The fact that Afghanistan’s ethnic groups are concentrated in distinct geographical zones would simplify partition and make the resulting borders more likely to last, unlike those drawn by colonial officials, who invented countries with no national identity or historical roots. Indeed, both geographically and demographically, Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun groups account for more than half of the country, with Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras alone making up close to 50% of the population.

After waging the longest war in its history, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and nearly a trillion dollars, the US is combat-weary and financially strapped. But the American effort to cut a deal with the Pashtun-based, Pakistan-backed Taliban is stirring deep unease among the non-Pashtun groups, which suffered greatly under the Taliban and its five-year rule. (The historically persecuted Hazaras, for example, suffered several large-scale massacres.)

While Karzai has been fickle, to say the least, about cooperation with the Americans (indeed, he has since backed away from participation in the Doha talks), the rupture of his political alliance with non-Pashtun leaders has also fueled ethnic polarization. Some non-Pashtun power brokers continue to support Karzai, but many others are now leading the opposition National Front.

These leaders are unlikely to accept any power-sharing arrangement that includes the Taliban. In fact, they suspect that Karzai’s ultimate goal is to restore Pashtun dominance throughout Afghanistan.

CommentsTheir misgivings have been strengthened by the “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015,” a document prepared by the Karzai-constituted Afghan High Peace Council that sketches several potential concessions to the Taliban and Pakistan, ranging from the Taliban’s recognition as a political party to a role for Pakistan in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. The roadmap even dangles the carrot of cabinet posts and provincial governorships to prominent Taliban figures.

The most serious problem today is that the country’s ethnic tensions and recriminations threaten to undermine the cohesion of the fledgling, multiethnic Afghan Army. Indeed, the splits today resemble those that occurred when Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, an exit that led to civil war and the Taliban’s eventual capture of the capital, Kabul.

This time, the non-Pashtun communities are better armed and prepared to defend their interests after the US withdrawal. Thus, in seeking to co-opt the Taliban, the US is not only bestowing legitimacy on a thuggish militia; it also risks unwittingly reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife, which would most likely tear the country apart for good.

This raises a fundamental question: Is Afghanistan’s territorial unity really essential for regional or international security?

To be sure, the sanctity of existing borders has become a powerful norm in world politics. Yet this norm has permitted the emergence of ungovernable and unmanageable states, whose internal wars spill across international boundaries, fueling regional tensions and insecurity.

With a war-exhausted US having run out of patience, outside forces are in no position to prevent Afghanistan’s partition along Iraqi (or even post-Yugoslav) lines, with the bloodiest battles expected to rage over control of ethnically mixed strategic areas, including Kabul. In this scenario, Pakistani generals, instead of continuing to sponsor Afghan Pashtun militant groups (like the Taliban and their allies like the Haqqani network), would be compelled to fend off a potentially grave threat to Pakistan’s unity.

A weak, partitioned Afghanistan may not be a desirable outcome; but a “soft” partition now would be far better than a “hard” partition later, after years of chaos and bloodletting – and infinitely better than the medieval Taliban’s return to power and a fresh reign of terror. Indeed, partition may be the only way to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into large-scale civil war and to thwart transnational terrorists from reestablishing a base of operations in the rubble.

Return of the Taliban

M K Bhadrakumar, 
Jun 20, 2013 :

US is striking a deal with Pakistan and the Taliban and any collateral damage in the bargain to other countries is not its lookout.

The commencement of Afghan peace talks in Doha comes as a surprise. Senior United States officials project that president Barack Obama has a ‘hands-on’ role in kick-starting the talks. They singled out Germany, Norway and Britain for having ‘contributed significantly’ through the past one –year period, but the ‘core players’ are the governments of Afghanistan, Qatar, Pakistan and the US.

They say Washington “particularly appreciates” Pakistan’s role in the recent months in urging the Taliban to join a peace process. The US officials perceive a ‘genuine’ shift in Pakistani policy. As they put it, “Pakistan has been genuinely supportive of a peace process… there has in the past been scepticism about their support, but in recent months… we’ve seen evidence that there is genuine support and that they’ve employed their influence such as it is to encourage the Taliban to engage, and to engage in this particular format (at Doha).”

The US officials now have the following to say – “we consider the Haqqani Netqork an especially dangerous element of the overall Taliban movement. So the Haqqanis declare themselves part of the overall (Taliban) movement, and we have all evidence that supports that claim… so we consider them a fully subordinate part of the overall insurgency. So when the Taliban movement opens the office and is represented by its political commission, that political commission represents, as we understand it, the Haqqani elements as well. We don’t know the exact makeup of the Taliban delegation, but we believe that it broadly represents, as authorised by Mullah Omar, the entire movement to include the Haqqanis.”

The sophistry in the argument is self-evident. So, why is the Obama administration doing this? Without doubt, the US is going to ‘incentivise’ the Taliban by meeting their demand for release of their top leaders detained in Guantanamo Bay. The US hopes the detainee exchange will “lead to a diminution in violence.” Conceivably, the Taliban will allow the orderly retreat of the US troops. Most important, Obama will link his decision regarding “the exact shape of our (US) commitment, of our presence beyond 2014” with the outcome of the Doha talks. In short, the US seeks the Taliban’s acquiescence with the establishment of the American military bases in Afghanistan.

Taliban’s wish list

But why should the Taliban give up their robust opposition to foreign occupation of their country? Evidently, Taliban too have a ‘wish list.’ Their (and Pakistan’s) calculation is that time works in their favour. Once ensconced in power in Kabul and in the provinces straddling the Durand Line, they will be in a position to incrementally assert their dominance, being the most cohesive and ideologically-motivated group and enjoying the full backing of Pakistani military. The Doha talks do not demand the disarming of the Taliban. Conceivably, Taliban cadres could even merge with the Afghan armed forces.

Meanwhile, the western powers have declared an end to all combat operations and their stated intent henceforth will be to prevent a comeback by the al-Qaeda. The Taliban as such are no longer regarded as ‘enemy.’ No doubt, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors are fully justified in assessing that with the passage of time, the strategic balance will work in their favour because the US and its western allies will not have the stomach to revert to an active ‘combat role’ once again in what would by then become a fratricidal strife between Afghan groups. 

The US officials admitted that “the levels and nature of our presence are obviously going to be influenced, on the one hand, by the levels of violence in Afghanistan, and on the other hand, by the presence or absence of international terrorists in or around Afghanistan.” That is to say, on the basis of Taliban’s guarantee to cease the attacks on American soldiers, the US will establish the military bases. In return, Taliban get rehabilitated politically and they would certainly relish the “level playing field” to work towards incrementally establishing their dominance at the inter-Afghan level.

For India, the worst-case scenario is emerging. The heart of the matter is that the US desperately wants to end the war but needs to remain embedded in the region as part of its ‘rebalancing’ strategy. The US is striking a deal with Pakistan and the Taliban and any collateral damage in the bargain to other countries such as India or the Central Asian states is not the US’s lookout.

Kerry will try to sell the Doha package to our leadership with a smiling demeanor. But it is time to do some plain speaking – that the decision to negotiate with Haqqanis is appalling and the US’s geopolitical agenda impacts negatively on regional security and hurts India’s vital interests. 

Afghanistan is a sovereign country and not the playpen of the US and Pakistani military. We share the sense of dismay president Hamid Karzai feels about the trade-off between Washington and Rawalpindi and the Haqqanis behind the fig leaf of ‘Afghan-led,’ ‘Afghan-owned’ peace process.

The Struggle for Power in Saudi Arabia

JUNE 19, 2013

As the gerontocratic rulers of the House of Saud plot to appoint successors, the inside fight to lead the kingdom is heating up.

RIYADH — With the reign of King Abdullah in its twilight, Saudi Arabia has become consumed with speculation about the future of the ruling al-Saud brotherhood as it contends with an increasingly bloody Syrian civil war, a nuclear challenge from Iran, and doubts about U.S. steadfastness in the Middle East.

Abdullah, who has been the dominant figure in Saudi politics since 1995, is in very frail health. The king, who is roughly 90 years old, has made no public appearances for almost four months, and left at the end of May for vacation in Morocco. He only cut his holiday short this past weekend, returning to Riyadh to attend to the fallout from the increasingly bloody civil war in Syria.

Despite his age and frailty, Abdullah has been busy preparing the House of Saud for his departure from the political scene. He has appointed younger princes to key ministries and as governors to the most important provinces, made one half-brother a contender for the throne, sacked another, and weeded out the weakest aspirants among the younger al-Saud princes. Such a sweeping shakeup of the staid ruling family has even included moves to make his own son a prime contender for the throne.

The leadership turnover couldn't come at a more critical time for the kingdom. Saudi leaders have been deeply anxious about the waning of American leadership in the Middle East -- including the U.S. commitment to the kingdom's protection -- just as their confrontation with Iran is coming to a head. This Saudi-Iranian cold war is most evident in Syria, where Tehran strongly supports Bashar al-Assad's besieged regime and Riyadh is supporting the armed rebellion seeking to overthrow it.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah's remaining energies have been focused on remaking the House of Saud's own leadership. The upheaval continued right up to his departure for Morocco: On May 27, Abdullah decreed that the Saudi Royal National Guard, a powerful military force that he commanded for decades, was to become a full-fledged ministry -- and that his son, Miteb, 61, would be the new minister. These moves give Miteb more political clout to compete with other rivals for the throne from the younger generation of al-Sauds.

The whirlwind of new appointments has left Saudi citizens and veteran watchers of the House of Saud grasping for meaning in the king's zigzag maneuverings. It has also raised concerns about a destabilizing power struggle among the younger princes, and questions whether the process of king-making is about to change dramatically. But so far, the smart money is betting that he's preparing to hand the throne to one of his half-brothers, delaying the transfer of power to the "younger" generation as long as possible.

If that holds true, it isn't going to please President Barack Obama's administration, which has been pressing for younger blood to rule the kingdom and accelerate reforms. It rolled out the red carpet for the newly minted Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 53, for his four-day visit to Washington in January, setting up separate meetings with Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, national security advisor Tom Donilon, and other high-ranking U.S. officials. This was taken among Saudis as a signal that Washington favored Mohammed as the next king.

Washington has good reason to look fondly on Mohammed: The prince is not only from the younger generation, but he was the architect of the highly successful Saudi campaign in the mid-2000s to crush al Qaeda inside the kingdom. He also became a family hero after an audacious terrorist attack against him inside his own palace in August 2009, in which a suicide bomber gained a meetingwith the prince (after promising to surrender) and then detonated himself. Mohammed escaped miraculously with only slight injuries.

But Prince Mohammed isn't seen as the likeliest candidate to become the next crown prince. Both Abdullah and Crown Prince Salman, 77, seem ambivalent about whether the time is ripe to pass power from their generation to the next. The brotherhood of senior princes has stuck together with impressive cohesion on the right of one brother to follow another to the throne. Over the past 81 years, the crown has passed five times in this fashion. Now, however, only two of the sons of the kingdom's founder, Abdulaziz bin Saud, still appear viable.

If that trend holds -- which it has for 81 years -- the Saudi "chattering class" gives a better-than-even chance that Prince Ahmed, the youngest of the powerful "Sudairi Seven" brothers at 71 years old, will emerge the winner. That would represent a remarkable turnaround for Ahmed: The king fired him as interior minister last November, after appointing him only five months earlier. However, Ahmed still retains much support within the fractious al-Saud family, according to Saudis in both royal and diplomatic circles.

China’s Arctic Strategy

June 20, 2013

By Stephen Blank

Since gaining Arctic Council observer status, China has been quick to move on its interests.

May Arctic Council summit in Kiruna, Sweden.

First, Yu Zhengasheng, Chairman of China’s Political Consultative Conference, visited Finland, Sweden and Denmark with an eye to boosting general trade and cooperation, particularly in the Arctic.

China then announced an expanded research and scientific polar institute that will collaborate with Nordic research centers to study climate change, its impact and desired Arctic policies and legislation. With this, Beijing made clear it did not intend to be a passive member of the Council; it planned to have a real say in its future proceedings. China National Offshore Oil Corporation meanwhile announced a deal with Iceland’s Eykon Energy firm to explore off Iceland’s Southeast coast.

State-owned mining firm Sichan Xinue Mining has also agreed to finance a major international mining project at Greenland’s Isua iron-ore field. If this venture succeeds, other Chinese state-owned mining companies, such as Jiangxi Zhongrun Mining and Jiangxi Union Mining, which have prospected in Greenland but have not yet started production, would then join it to explore for gold and copper. And other projects like aluminum smelting are already taking shape or will begin, espeically if the Isua project is successful.

These moves come on top of recently announced deals with Rosneft and Gazprom to explore Arctic fields for oil and gas. At the recent Sino-Russian summit, China concluded a contract with Rosneft to triple the size of current oil deliveries to China to 900,000 BPD, putting it on a par with Saudi deliveries to China, according to a recent report in the Financial Times print edition.

But Rosneft won that contract only by accepting further huge Chinese loans of $25-30 billion as cash infusions and agreeing to facilitate the acquisition of oil and gas assets in Russia by Sinopec, an oil and gas company. In other words, as part of its huge energy deals in the Arctic and the Russian Far East (RFE), China has added to Rosneft’s already sizable indebtedness to China, going back to the 2009 deal for the East Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline. This indebtedness and the size of the planned oil deliveries from Rosneft will give China substantial leverage in the region.

Rosneft will consequently consider Sinopec’s participation in its large-scale project in the RFE, namely the Eastern Petrochemical Refinery jointly established in 2007 by Rosneft and Sinopec’s rival CNPC, China National Petrochemical Corporation. While China will loan Rosneft $2 billion backed by 25 years of oil supply, Rosneft will boost oil exports to China by 800,000 metric tons this year. Annual exports may reach 31 million tons annually or 620,000 barrels a day, more than doubling present volumes.

Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s boss and Putin’s right-hand man, even hinted at going to 50 million tons per annum. Rosneft’s other deal deal with CNPC to drill in the Pechora and Barents Seas in the Arctic similarly highlights CNPC’s growing clout in global markets.

Gazprom also announced its intention to conclude a long-awaited gas deal with China in 2013 by signing a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect. That deal, too, might involve advance payments from China to an increasingly vulnerable Gazprom.

Given Russia’s equally strenuous efforts to explore and exploit the Arctic’s hydrocarbon and mineral resources, it is understandably unnerving for it and possibly other governments to see this flood of vigorous Chinese activity, which comes on top of the opening up of the Northern Sea Route to intercontinental trade from Europe to Asia. Certainly, it seems Moscow is concerned, even though it is Beijing’s “strategic partner.”

China is clearly after more than simply investment and trade opportunities as it continues to display its obsession with securing energy and other supplies where the U.S. Navy cannot or will not go. Beijing Review claimed that other actors were trying to exclude China, but by dint of enormous exertions and large outlays to finance energy infrastructure in Russia and Canada, as well as its own scientific program of Arctic research, “China has ultimately managed to reshuffle the Arctic balance of power in record time.”

More crassly, we might say that China has paid dearly for its newfound status. Still, it will achieve some tangible goals. For instance, in its deal with Iceland, China will not only gain real access to state-of-the-art Icelandic clean energy technologies, it will also acquire leverage and influence in Iceland itself and that influence, once Iceland joins the Council, will redound to China’s benefit.

But beyond even these considerable commercial and energy, investment and trade access benefits, China gains strategically in Northern Europe and Russia, if not Canada. It now possesses a venue where it can fully participate in addressing issues of climate change that could, if unchecked, affect China’s climate to extent of eroding its agricultural capacity or rendering it vulnerable to flooding because of its low-lying coast.

In addition, as the Northern Sea Route opens up as a cheaper alternative for transcontinental shipping and trade, Russia will almost certainly seek to establish an advantageous tariff regime; China can now make certain that Russia heeds its voice in setting those tariff rates.

China will also now have a secure footing from which it can defend what it will claim to be its “legitimate rights” in the Arctic. It is quite conceivable that China will now use that foothold to demand as well a voice in the resolution of Arctic territorial boundaries that are up for decision. In 2009-10 it had claimed that no state had sovereignty in the Arctic, a clear slap at Russian claims. Now, to join the Council, it had to repudiate that earlier position and state that it respected the sovereignty of all the states claiming territory in the Arctic but accept that the decision will be made in the future, a sharp contrast to its rigid insistence on its “core interests” and sovereignty in the Senkakus and the South China Sea. Indeed, given those claims on the seas adjacent to China, it had no choice but to recognize existing exclusive economic zones and boundaries if it wanted to be a member of the Council. Nonetheless, it now calls itself a “near-Arctic state” and an “Arctic stakeholder.”

Probably this is what is unnerving for Moscow. According to Interfax, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with no apparent cause, told an interviewer in Norway on June 4 that “China is trusted. But it is you and us who draw up the rules of the game, that is to say the Arctic states.” Medvedev went on to claim that while Moscow wants productive cooperation with all Council members, including China, and has purely “peaceful and pragmatic goals” there, only Arctic Council members should determine the rules on these questions because, “This is natural, this is our region, we live here. This is our native land.”

Unfortunately for Moscow, not only China but also the other new Asian members will seek to maximize their influence in the Council for many of the same reasons. The Arctic may be Russia’s home, but it can no longer be its castle.

Stephen Blank is Research Professor of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute.

Why Is China Talking to the Taliban?

JUNE 21, 2013

Hamid Karzai's derailment of this week's planned U.S. peace talks with the Taliban may have been a disappointment to Washington's hopes of ending its longest war -- but it disappointed Beijing, too. China welcomed the breakthrough in the Qatar process, and sees a political settlement in Afghanistan as increasingly important for its economic and security interests in the region. As a result, China's support for reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban has become a fixture of its burgeoning diplomatic activity on Afghanistan's post-2014 future.

Over the last year, China has been expanding its direct contacts with the Taliban and sounding them out on security issues that range from separatist groups in the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the protection of Chinese resource investments, according to interviews with officials and experts in Beijing, Washington, Kabul, Islamabad, and Peshawar. While Beijing would like to see the reconciliation talks succeed in preventing Afghanistan from falling back into civil war, it is not counting on their success, and thus is preparing to deal with whatever constellation of political forces emerges in Afghanistan after the United States withdraws.
While even tentative U.S. and European meetings with the Taliban generate headlines, China's substantive dealings with them tend to slip under the radar. After the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban's fall from power, Beijing quietly maintained a relationship with the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council based across the border in Pakistan. In a conversation, one former Chinese official claimed that besides Pakistan, China was the only country to continue this contact. Over the last 18 months, exchanges have taken place more regularly, and China has started to admit their existence in meetings with U.S. officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The same sources said that Taliban representatives have held meetings with Chinese officials both in Pakistan and in China.Although the possibility of active Chinese support for peace talks has been discussed, it appears the focus has been on a narrower set of Chinese objectives: as one Pakistani expert noted, "it has so far been about mitigating [Chinese] security concerns rather than reconciliation."

In China's dealings with the Taliban, the independence movement among China's Uighur Muslim minority has always been its biggest concern. In the late 1990s, Beijing worried that the Taliban government in Kabul was providing a haven for Uighur militants, who had fled Chinese crackdowns in Xinjiang and set up training camps in Afghanistan. In meetings in December 2000 in Kandahar, the Taliban's reclusive leader Mohammed Omar assured the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Lu Shulin that the Taliban would not "allow any group to use its territory to conduct any such operations" against China. In exchange, Omar sought two things from China: formal political recognition and protection from U.N. sanctions.

Neither side delivered satisfactory results. The Taliban did not expel Uighur militants from its territory. Though it prohibited them from operating their own camps, it allowed them to embed with other militant groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. At the same time, China moderated its stance at the U.N. Security Council to abstain on sanctions that targeted the Taliban and established trade links that would help mitigate their impact, but it didn't use its veto power. Beijing deferred its decision on giving the Taliban diplomatic recognition, which Washington's reaction to the 9/11 attacks soon made moot anyway.