2 July 2013

Takin’ It to the Streets

Published: June 29, 2013

THE former C.I.A. analyst Paul R. Pillar asked this question in a recent essay in The National Interest: Why are we seeing so many popular street revolts in democracies? Speaking specifically of Turkey and Brazil, but posing a question that could be applied to Egypt, Israel, Russia, Chile and the United States, Pillar asks: “The governments being protested against were freely and democratically elected. With the ballot box available, why should there be recourse to the street?”
Josh Haner/The New York Times

It is an important question, and the answer, I believe, is the convergence of three phenomena. The first is the rise and proliferation of illiberal “majoritarian” democracies. In Russia, Turkey and today’s Egypt, we have seen mass demonstrations to protest “majoritarianism” — ruling parties that were democratically elected (or “sort of” in Russia’s case) but interpret their elections as a writ to do whatever they want once in office, including ignoring the opposition, choking the news media and otherwise behaving in imperious or corrupt ways, as if democracy is only about the right to vote, not rights in general and especially minority rights.

What the protesters in Turkey, Russia and Egypt all have in common is a powerful sense of “theft,” a sense that the people who got elected are stealing something more than money: the people’s voice and right to participate in governance. Nothing can make a new democrat, someone who just earned the right to vote, angrier.

Here is what the satirist Bassem Youssef, the Jon Stewart of Egypt, wrote in the Egyptian daily Al Shorouk last week, on the first anniversary of the election of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party: “We have a president who promised that a balanced constituent assembly would work on a constitution that everyone agrees on. We have a president who promised to be representative, but placed members of his Muslim Brotherhood in every position of power. We have a president and a party that broke all their promises, so the people have no choice but to take to the streets.”

A second factor is the way middle-class workers are being squeezed between a shrinking welfare state and a much more demanding job market. For so many years, workers were told that if you just work hard and play by the rules you’ll be in the middle class. That is just not true anymore. In this age of rapid globalization and automation, you have to work harder, work smarter, bring more innovation to whatever job you do, retool yourself more often — and then you can be in the middle class. There is just so much more stress on people in, or aspiring to be in, the middle class, and many more young people wondering how they’ll ever do better than their parents.

Too few leaders are leveling with their people about this shift, let alone helping them navigate it. And too many big political parties today are just vehicles for different coalitions to defend themselves against change rather than to lead their societies in adapting to it. Normally, this would create opportunities for the opposition parties, but in places like Turkey, Brazil, Russia and Egypt the formal opposition is feckless. So people take to the streets, forming their own opposition.

In America, the Tea Party began as a protest against Republicans for being soft on deficits, and Occupy Wall Street as a protest against Democrats for being soft on bankers. In Brazil, a 9 cent increase in bus fares set off mass protests, in part because it seemed so out of balance when the government was spending some $30 billion on stadiums for the Olympics and the World Cup. Writing in The American Interest, William Waack, an anchorman on Brazil’s Globo, probably spoke for many when he observed: “Brazilians don’t feel like their elected representatives at any level actually represent them, especially at a time when most leaders fear the stigma of making actual decisions (otherwise known as leading). ... It’s not about the 9 cents.”

China is not a democracy, but this story is a sign of the times: In a factory outside Beijing, an American businessman, Chip Starnes, president of the Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, was held captive for nearly a week by about 100 workers “who were demanding severance packages identical to those offered to 30 recently laid-off employees,” according to Reuters. The workers feared they would be next as the company moved some production from China to India to reduce costs. (He was released in a deal on Thursday.)

U.S. spied on Indian embassy too, says report

Published: July 1, 2013
Narayan Lakshman

PTI In another disclosure, the Guardian said the NSA took measures to intercept communication from 38 Embassies including Indian Embassy in Washington. A file photo.

The U.S. National Security Agency snooped on the Indian embassy and considered it a “target” along with 37 other embassies and missions here, according to the latest revelations by The Guardian, which has steadily been trickling out data obtained by the fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

This week, the newspaper reported that the NSA used “an extraordinary range of spying methods” against the Indian and other diplomatic posts in the U.S., deploying everything from bugs implanted in electronic communications gear to taps into cables to the collection of transmissions with specialised antennae.

U.S. intelligence bosses, including National Intelligence Director James Clapper, have defended the Obama administration’s mega-scale surveillance of global Internet and telephone communications authorised by the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as a necessary process for protecting American national security interests.

However, this week, the news that foreign embassies of allied and friendly nations were also put under surveillance here caused outrage, with a spokesman for the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, warning that “bugging friends is unacceptable.”

While the Indian embassy could not be reached for comment in time for this report, The Guardian exposé on the spying methods used against embassies said a key method was code-named ‘Dropmire,’ which, according to a 2007 document, is “implanted on the Cryptofax.”

This is said to be a reference to a bug placed in a commercially available encrypted fax machine used at missions such as that of the European Union.

It is unclear whether the Indian embassy uses such a device.

According to The Guardian, the NSA documents noted that the machine was used to send cables back to foreign affairs ministries in the home countries.

In addition to India, nations friendly with the U.S. were placed under surveillance, according to the NSA documentation, and these included the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey. “Traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries” were also on the list of targets, the report noted.

UPA’s gas price move isn’t reform, it is a ticking time bomb

by R Jagannathan in Firstpost 29/6/13.

The UPA has passed off mind-boggling foolishness as “reform” and the stock markets have had their weekly shot of adrenalin, with the Sensex soaring 520 points yesterday.

The celebrations will be short-lived, for the government’s decision to double natural gas prices from $4.2 per mmBtu to $8.4 per mmBtu from April 2014 is neither reform, nor sensible politics, nor good economics.

Here’s why.

First, there was no tearing hurry to announce a decision for 2014 right now, when a government may change, and the entire global energy scenario may be different. Not only has the UPA tied down the next government to a seriously flawed decision, but its motives in doing so are also suspect.

Real reform is what the US did with shale gas. Sorry, Mr Chidambaram, we can’t buy this.

Second, there is no reason why pricing should be announced in dollars – when the rupee is 60 to the dollar. Remember the criticism of the Enron deal? Why price power in dollars when the revenues are all in rupee? The same logic should apply to the Indian gas pricing scene. Why should the Indian consumer, and possibly the taxpayer, take on the exchange risk of India-produced gas?

Third, this is simply not reform. How can a committee- or bureaucrat-decided price be called reform? Do bureaucrats know better than the market? If the logic for allowing a price increase is that import prices are higher currently, one wonders what would happen if global prices crash? The only move that can be called reform is market-based pricing – where businesses take both the risks and rewards of global and domestic price movements.

Fourth, the move is clearly anti-reform, if one goes by Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s statement yesterday. He said that the government had fixed output prices and not input prices – meaning it has decided how much money gas producers, ONGC and Reliance among them, will make, but not how much gas users (power, fertiliser consumers) should pay. This is utter stupidity.Chidambaram said: “At the moment we are fixing only output prices, the price payable to gas producers. This will indeed have an impact on the consumer, but those prices are not being fixed today…..What is the price at which it should be supplied to a power plant, to a fertiliser plant, in order to make power affordable, fertiliser affordable… that can still be decided between now and April 1 (2014).”

This begs the question: if input prices for power and fertiliser can be decided later, why rush to decide output prices nearly a year in advance? When the two are inter-linked, it’s like trying to have your cake today, and leaving the job of cleaning up the mess to someone else in 2014.

Fifth, any fixing of input at a lower price than output price will mean a bloating of subsidies. Who will pay this? The taxpayer, or somebody else? In the case of oil subsidies, both taxpayers and public sector oil companies have carried the can for the government’s political decisions. Will the same happen with gas now? Will ONGC andGAIL bear the subsidies? This would be a disaster, and a clear case of misgovernance. ONGC shareholders should be suing the government if that happens.

Sixth, the UPA’s intentions appear suspect and mala fide. If the benefits of a gas price hike are to be had upfront (which is what the markets are celebrating) and the costs will be shifted to the next government (which will have to take the painful decision of bearing more subsidies, or reducing the gas price at the output end), this is clearly a scorched-earth policy. The UPA has essentially lobbed a ticking time-bomb to the next government.

Seventh, and this could be the government’s real motive, it appears that the gas price announcement was intended to achieve two non-reform goals of the UPA: given the drastic fall in the rupee, the government needed the market to perk up in order to reverse capital outflows; it also needs a buoyant stock market to meet its fiscal deficit target. These targets can be met only if public sector shares can be sold to investors. In June, foreign institutional investors sold equity and debt to the tune of over Rs 40,000 crore. The gas price announcement temporarily reversed that trend yesterday. But reform cannot be about meeting these kinds of goals. Or pandering to FIIs.

Eighth, even if gas pricing is intended to induce new investments in petrocarbon exploration, it cannot be done in isolation. The energy sector comprises oil, gas, coal, coal-bed methane and shale gas, too. If you want to reform the sector, you have to reform pricing in all of them, not just gas. By raising gas prices, and leaving other prices and sectors as they are, the government is clearly worsening its energy sector problems. The only way to reform is to let prices of fuels find their own levels, so that businesses can make a rational decision on which fuel to use for what kind of output.

Ninth, the doubling of gas prices is widely seen as a favour to gas producers. It may well be that, but in the long-term, it will actually damage the gas sector. When you double prices by fiat, the chances are that gas users will go into losses; they will have to be rescued either by the taxpayer or banks. And future demand for gas-based fertiliser and power plants will be curbed. Who will the gas producers sell to then?

In the US, when the government decided to boost shale gas production, it did not set any price. The market did that. This brought in new investment, and competition – and today natural gas prices at the US’s Henry Hub are below $4 per mmBtu. And here we are, trying to double that price and calling it reform.

The goal of any policy should be efficiency and competition, not guaranteed profits or losses to any stakeholder. As TN Ninan askes in his weekly column in Business Standard: “Is any more proof needed that India’s reforms, so-called, are business-friendly rather than market-friendly?”

It is difficult to believe that the UPA’s gas price move was at all intended to reform anything beyond putting out the fire in the economy’s backyard – where the rupee was clearly going down in flames.

Indian Embassy Among 38 Spied Upon

by NSA: Report
London | Washington | Jul 01, 2013

The Indian Embassy in the US is among the list of 38 diplomatic missions which were being spied upon by American intelligence agencies, as per the latest top secret US National Security Agency documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

US was using a wide range of spying methods including bugging, the Guardian daily in London said quoting the leaked report.

"One document lists 38 embassies and missions, describing them as 'targets'.

"It details an extraordinary range of spying methods used against each target, from bugs implanted in electronic communications gear to taps into cables to the collection of transmissions with specialised antennae," the Guardian said.

It added, "along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey.

"The list in the September 2010 document does not mention the UK, Germany or other western European states".

It said that one of the bugging methods mentioned is codenamed Dropmire, which, according to a 2007 document, is "implanted on the Cryptofax at the EU embassy, DC" – an apparent reference to a bug placed in a commercially available encrypted fax machine used at the mission.

The NSA documents note the machine is used to send cables back to foreign affairs ministries in European capitals.

Snowden, 30, had blown the lid off National Security Agency's secret spy programme and is charged with violating American espionage laws. He is currently in Moscow airport after fleeing from Hong Kong.

Snowden worked as a Hawaii-based computer network administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton before he fled to Hong Kong last month with laptops full of confidential information.

The documents revealed the existence of programmes that collect records of domestic telephone calls in the US and monitor the internet activity of overseas residents.

The disclosures shook the US intelligence community and raised questions about whether the NSA is eroding American civil liberties.

Snowden is charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

Snowden has applied for asylum in Ecuador. The US has revoked his passport.

India must commit to Afghanistan

by Shoikat Roy — June 21, 2013

India cannot sacrifice its legitimate interests in Afghanistan at the altar of Pakistani sensitivity.

Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan submitted a wish list of military equipment to the Indian government during his recent visit to Delhi. Although South Block has been taciturn on the contents of the “wish list”, Unconfirmed sources have revealed that it includes artillery, medium-lift aircraft, helicopters and bridge-laying trucks and equipment. The proposal presents an interesting foreign policy dilemma for India in the backdrop of an impending withdrawal of NATO (ISAF) forces in 2014 coupled with a gradual resurgence of the Taliban.

A stable Afghanistan is vital to India’s interests for multiple reasons. A reduction in Islamist militancy, increased trade and economic integration and access to Central Asian energy resources are just a few of the prominent benefits that India has to gain. Being an important stakeholder in the security of the region, India has thus far adopted a very pragmatic policy in a volatile Afghanistan. The 2011 Strategic Partnership Agreement between India and Afghanistan provides for India to “assist, as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).” India currently trains Afghan military and police personnel in its military academies but provides very little in the way of military equipment. With the exception of personnel deployed purely for the protection of Indian embassies and infrastructure and without a counter-insurgency mandate, India has no boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

While we have avoided getting involved militarily, we have increased trade, development assistance and private investment, winning Afghan hearts and minds in the process. With over $2 billion in aid, Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Indian aid. Humanitarian assistance, medical aid and building of schools and hospitals among other infrastructure have helped cultivate a positive image of India among the populace. The soaring popularity of Bollywood has further projected Indian soft power. The Indian Border Roads Organisation has also been very active, in particular, connecting highways to the Iranian port of Chahbahar and building rail infrastructure in the country. Access to Iranian and Central Asian energy resources through such transportation links that bypass Pakistan can provide us greater energy security and result in enormous economic benefits. It also serves the additional purpose of countering Chinese and Russian influence in the region. Furthermore, India has always been careful to engage all the different ethnic factions in the country, winning grudging praise even from the Taliban.

There are four fundamental factors to consider. First, arming Afghanistan is bound to be viewed as a provocation by Pakistan and could invite an aggressive response. A recent RAND paper has noted that there is a fundamental difference in Indian and Pakistani strategies in Afghanistan. While India seeks a stable Afghanistan that minimises the cross-border terrorist threat and increases access to trade and economic benefits, Pakistan’s strategy is India-centric and focused on maintaining a safe haven for extremists while gaining “strategic depth” by reducing Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan. New Delhi has therefore traditionally always been mindful of Pakistani sensitivities on the issue, focusing its energies on development assistance and economic reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.

This is not the first time that President Karzai has made a request for military equipment. Similar requests in December 2012 were met with indecision and a non-committal approach from India, primarily in deference to the bilateral relationship with Pakistan. This latest request has come in the aftermath of a clash on May 6th between Afghan and Pakistani forces on the Durand Line, which left an Afghan solider dead. (Border skirmishes are usually a result of Pakistan’s attempts to enforce a border by building outposts on the Durand Line– the result of an 1893 agreement enforced by the British, this line cuts ethnic Pashtun and Baloch regions in two and has never been recognised by modern day Afghanistan.) The clash prompted Karzai to exhort the Taliban to “turn their weapons” away from Kabul and towards the ‘hostility’ from outside. The decision to arm Afghan soldiers could easily cause ripples in the India-obsessed military and bureaucratic elite in Pakistan, manifesting itself in the form of increased cross-border militant activity on our western front.

THIRD TIME ROUND- The absurdity of dealing with Nawaz Sharif

Rudra Chaudhuri

Nawaz Sharif takes oath of office, June 5, 2013

“If he arrives as a prime minister but stays as an exile,” said Sandy Berger, any hope of a deal to withdraw Pakistani-backed forces from Indian territory would be quelled. Importantly, argued the then national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, Nawaz Sharif’s political life would all but end. To be sure, the then 49-year-old Sharif was desperate for American intervention to end the war in Kargil: initiated and executed by his military chief. In early July 1999, Sharif arrived (uninvited) in Washington. Tellingly, he brought his family and children with him. Refuge was clearly on his mind. Yet, asylum was not on offer, at least not as yet. Instead, he was pressured by Clinton to order his troops to withdraw.

Sharif returned to Pakistan as an American favourite, but one who was seen to betray his own men in uniform. Four months later, and as is well recounted, he was sentenced to death by Pervez Musharraf, the successor-dictator who in turn was forced to spare Sharif’s life. For Musharraf, Sharif tried his best to play the part of a ‘medieval monarch,’ a charge with some evidence. After all, Sharif supported and passed a Shariat bill (or the 15th amendment to the Pakistani constitution) in the National Assembly. Had he not been deposed, there is every chance that the businessman-turned-politician might have rebranded himself as a self-recognized tsar allied to ideas closer to that of Islamic revivalists than his own when he started public life in the 1970s. Equally, his cunning and proven skills in commerce could well have helped to rescue Pakistan from a state of bankruptcy, which, somewhat paradoxically, was thought to be his to blame.

Essentially, there is no real support for steadiness in what might be called Nawaz Sharif’s track-record. During his two short terms as prime minister in the 1990s, he promised modernity and infrastructural growth whilst his party — the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N — entertained alliances with groups designed to widen Pakistan’s fragile sectarian divide. Insiders openly claim that members of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the fervidly anti-Shia organization formed in 1985, are supported by the PML-N. Similarly, whilst Sharif inked the so-called Lahore Declaration — with the then Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee — and placed some curbs on the activities of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, he was — according to Musharraf — at least vaguely aware of the designs to cross the line of control into Kargil.

Now 63 and prime minister for the third time in two-and-a-half decades, Sharif represents an enigma of sorts. For India, key questions remain unanswered. Will the new premier seek out an agreement on Kashmir? Will he be able to restrain the LeT? How will he deal with the expected backlash following the withdrawal of a majority of American troops from Afghanistan in less than a year’s time? From the outset, most of these questions would invite less than exciting responses from those within India and even outside. Given the above-mentioned inconsistencies in Sharif’s politicking, this is, of course, expected. Yet, perhaps two points merit mention, even if only to lightly indicate the potential and possibilities underlying what has been an unprecedented transition of democratic authority in Pakistan from one incumbent to another.

First, Sharif’s carefully crafted choice of words in his interview with an Indian television station should in no way suggest that he will indeed “make sure that the Pakistani soil is not used for any such [terrorist] designs against India”. He was of course referring to the Mumbai attacks. This is not to say that Sharif desires otherwise, but that neither he nor his party’s base and leadership — in Punjab — have the ability to place a dead-stop on LeT or LeT-inspired operations across the fence into India. Unlike the 1990s, the LeT has evolved — as the scholar, Stephen Tankel, convincingly argues — into “two defining dualities”: that of a militant outfit as well as one drawn by social creed. As far as the latter is concerned, the LeT’s — or that of its nom de plume, Jamaat-ud-Dawa — outreach program is said to far outpace what the local government in southern Punjab can offer its citizens. It administers some 170 educational institutions including 29 madaris, timely ambulance services and well-stocked hospitals. Willy-nilly, its economic program — if it might be called that — is inextricably, even if not obviously, linked to the success, expansion, and survival of the PML-N.

Kabul-Lahore - Stratfor & Friedman vs. Brookings & Dalrymple - Vision & Reality vs. Myopia & Blinders?

As today's unquestioned superpower, America's writ runs large, larger than that of any empire in world history. America is globally predominant in military might, financial hegemony and "soft" or intellectual power. Yet this great power, the greatest in world history, is now admitting its failure to win in Afghanistan against a bunch of lightly armed uneducated mountain fighters. This is a colossal defeat which can only be compared to America's defeat in Vietnam against a bunch of uneducated jungle fighters. What's the reason?

1. Root Cause of America's Failure in Afghanistan & Stratfor's wisdom

The answer is the theme we have discussed for years:

"We believe that lack of education breeds ignorance and ignorance breeds cultural racism. This may be the hidden factor behind media's portrayal of the Afghanistan situation. The French used to look down on the Vietnamese as primitive and unintelligent. The French Generals were proud of being the country of Napoleon and they underestimated Ho Chi Minh. The results are well documented in history. Many American pandits think of the Taleban as primitive. They do not understand English, they live in caves and they seem primitive in their behavior."This cultural supremacism is the principal reason for America's colossal failure in Afghanistan. What are the roots of this cultural supremacism?

We have consistently argued that America's framework for understanding Af-Pak has been a carry forward of the British colonial framework for Afghanistan. We have also pointed out that the entire American Establishment is overwhelmingly European in its education and orientation. This includes American Diplomats, American Military, American Pandits and American Media. Cultural Supremacism is a natural consequence of such intense one-sided education and experience.
With their European blinders, the analysts and strategists of the American establishment invariably drew upon the lessons of the two European ventures in Afghanistan, the Soviet experience in 1979 and the British experience in the late 19th century. ... Every American decision, we argued, has been derived from the British colonial mindset. Naturally, these decisions have been unsuccessful.This week, we heard another voice, a deeply respected veteran voice, echo our theme. That voice is of Dr. George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor. In his article titled The Reality of Afghanistan, Dr. Friedman writes:

"... this brings us to one of the most serious U.S. failures in Afghanistan: a cultural contempt for the Taliban. As it did in Vietnam, Washington failed to understand that the absence of U.S.-style bureaucracy and technology didn't mean that the enemy could not identify opportunities or that it lacked the will to take advantage of them."Kudos to Dr. Friedman for this admission. But such admissions are absolutely critical to clear one's vision. So how does Washington now see the Taleban? Dr. Friedman writes:

"In many ways, the United States is more comfortable with the Taliban than with the other tribes in the country because secret negotiations have left Washington with a better understanding of the Taliban. But Washington's main objective is to leave. It would like to do so gracefully, but graceful or not, it's happening. However, I would argue that the United States believes the Taliban have sufficient coalition partners to wield the most influence in a post-U.S. Afghanistan."
"Washington understands that the Taliban are the single-most powerful force in Afghanistan but also that there are other factions that could block them. However, the United States is not prepared to plunge into the complexities of Afghan politics. Its failures leading up to this moment have left it with no confidence in its ability to do so -- and with no interest in trying."
So what is the reality in Afghanistan according to Dr. Friedman? 

"The United States is on its way out. In this negotiation, Karzai is a military cripple. The Taliban are weaker than they were but stronger and more coherent than anyone else in the country. And there are other factions. This is the reality in Afghanistan."What is likely to come next? Stratfor discussed that in their May 2nd article titled The Coming Afghan-Pakistan Cross-Border Conflict

"There is a consensus that the civil war within Afghanistan will intensify. Not enough attention is being paid, however, to a complex cross-border conflict that has the potential to destabilize not just Afghanistan, but Pakistan as well."

25,000 soldiers guard Pakistan's nuclear stockpile

Last updated on: July 1, 2013

Pakistan has raised a 25,000-strong special force and put in place extensive measures to protect and manage its strategic assets, including its nuclear arsenal, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said.

"A special security force of 25,000 personnel, who have been specially trained and provided sophisticated weapons, has been deployed to protect (the nuclear assets)," Dar said while winding up the debate on the 2013-14 budget in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament.

Pakistan has raised a Special Response Force, a Special Escort Force and a Marine Force to protect and guard its strategic assets, he said, without giving further details.

Besides, there are also counter-intelligence teams and a "personnel reliability programme" to oversee the strategic programme, he said.

The 25,000-strong security force has been equipped with the latest equipment and the personnel are fully prepared for "mobility on the ground or in the air", he said.

The Strategic Plans Division, which manages the nuclear arsenal, has set up a training academy for the security force, Dar said.

The security force is always prepared and it has been trained for all conditions and eventualities on the basis of past experiences and potential scenarios involving the strategic assets, he said.

The system for identifying dangers is always at high alert and is constantly being reviewed, Dar said.

Pakistan's strategic assets programme is based on strong foundations and meets international standards for security and management of nuclear assets, as laid down by organisations like the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime, he said.

Over the past year, the military too has provided details of the special security force raised by the Strategic Plans Division.

Several batches of this force have passed out of training academies across the country.

Can Taliban talks be revived after the 'Doha debacle'?

BBC NEWS 29 June 2013

For the third time in two years the US, the Afghan government and Taliban mediators are waiting to resume their dialogue on trying to bring the war in Afghanistan to a peaceful end. Writer Ahmed Rashid assesses the chances of success.

Third time lucky appears to be the motto as all sides are now keen to get back to the negotiating table after the debacle in Doha last week, but the Taliban need a face-saving exercise that will allow their mediators to resume talks while preventing greater dissension in their ranks.

In December 2011 it was Afghan President Hamid Karzai who refused to agree to the terms for opening a Taliban office in Doha after the US and Taliban had met secretly four times to thrash out the details.

At a major conference in Bonn attended by 90 foreign ministers, the Taliban were on the verge of accepting US conditions that were almost identical to the present-day conditions. But it ended in failure after Mr Karzai objected to terms already agreed upon by the interlocutors.

Face-saving mechanisms

Earlier this month it was the Afghan government and the Americans who erupted in fury after the Taliban, contrary to earlier agreements, opened their office in Doha but insisted upon raising their flag and calling the office by its former name for the country - the Islamic Emirate for Afghanistan.

According to diplomats it is now apparent that it was the Qataris who were initially at fault, ignoring a negotiated document that had been signed by the US and the Taliban which stipulated how the office should be opened and run.

The Taliban had conveniently ignored the document also, but it was the job of the Qataris to remind them of it and for the Western players involved - the US, Britain and Norway - to make sure the fine print was being adhered to. Qatar has a tiny diplomatic corps which is less experienced in the ways of the Afghans or peace making.

Intense debate

In the week following the breakdown all sides are waiting to hear from the Taliban as to whether they will resume the talks under the new conditions. Western powers have offered them as many decent compromises and face-saving mechanisms as they may want - as long as they are reasonable and the Afghan government accepts them.

One possible way out of the disputes over the flag in Doha - and how Afghanistan should be named - could be resolved relatively simply if the Taliban agree not to display them so prominently.

Meanwhile there is an intense debate going on within Taliban ranks over their approach to peace talks, according to insiders.

The hardline commanders in the field - who were initially against the talks - have got a second lease of life arguing that the Americans are purely out to bluff and lie to them.

Clearly the Taliban leaders cannot be seen by their rank and file to have succumbed to Western pressure which is why a face-saving formula has to be found.

However the peace lobby within the Taliban - those advocating talks and reconciliation to avoid a future civil war - have also been active pointing out that this would be the last chance to start talks with the Americans.

Contrary to media speculation it appears that the Haqqani network is in favour of the talks and is urging its followers to support them, although they are not calling off the fight just yet.

Pakistan and its Interservices Intelligence (ISI) is trying to play a role in persuading the Taliban to return to the table.

Increasingly hostile

Having long been accused of meddling in Afghan affairs for its own ends, Islamabad is desperately keen to make sure that the talks do not collapse, because successful talks could not only lead to an end to the destabilising war in Afghanistan, but also to a reduction of Pakistani Taliban militancy.

Nawaz Sharif’s Return and Resurgence of Sectarian Conflict

Alok Bansal analyses resurgence of sectarian violence in Pakistan since Nawaz Sharif's return.

Alok Bansal 

After a short hiatus, the sectarian terrorists in conjunction with their compatriots in Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have struck with a vengeance. On 15 June, when many in Pakistan were mourning the burning down of the British Residency by Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) at Ziarat, where Muhammad Ali Jinnah had spent the last days of his life, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the dreaded Sunni militant outfit struck in Quetta. In a vicious attack 14 female students of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University were killed while 20 others were injured in a blast in a bus carrying students to the university, which was triggered by a burqa clad female suicide bomber. This was followed by another suicide attack on Bolan Medical complex, where most of the injured had been shifted. The two suicide attacks culminated in a loss of over 30 lives. LeJ was quick to claim credit for the twin massacres.

Just six days later, on 21 June a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite Madrassa in Peshawar, just ahead of the Fridayprayers. The resultant blast killed 14 and injured 30 inmates, most of the victims were minors. The seminary is one of the main centres of the Shia community in Peshawar and was named after Allama Arif Hussain al-Hussaini, a former president of the Shiite outfit Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, who was shot dead at the same venue in 1988. Seven Kgs of explosives was used in the blast, the fact that two accomplices of the bomber could get away after firing at the guards to facilitate the assassin’s ingress shows that there were serious chinks in the security of this lucrative sectarian target.

Less than 36 hours later, the militants struck again at Ferry Meadows in Diamer District of Gilgit- Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, which has traditionally been used as a base camp by mountaineers for climbing Nanga Parbat. In a pre-dawn attack at 1 AM on Sunday 23 Jun 13, the Taliban, wearing uniforms of Gilgit Scouts surrounded the base camp and killed six Ukrainian and three Chinese tourists. Besides them the only Shia Pakistani present in the camp was killed. TTP was quick to claim the responsibility for the attack and called it as a reprisal for the killing of their leader, Waliur Rehman, and to exhibit their anger at the international community for its continued support of drone strikes by the US. The attack in Gilgit-Baltistan, which has a history of sectarian violence, is probably intended to trigger sectarian riots. The violence against foreign mountaineers will prevent any foreign tourists from venturing into the region in future. 

This sudden spurt in sectarian violence after the change of regime in Pakistan is not without any linkages. An analysis of 2013 elections had clearly pointed towards increased radicalisation in Pakistan and exacerbation of sectarian faultlines. 2013 has been worst year for Shias in Pakistan, which is believed to be home to the second largest Shia community in the world after Iran. Shias are relatively better off and have had disproportionately larger share of political power in Pakistan. From Jinnah, Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali Bogra, to Yahya Khan, Bhuttos and Zardari have all been Shias. In the current year itself, around 500 Shias have been killed. However, till the recently concluded elections, the Shia community could take succour in the fact that the all-powerful President Zardari and chairpersons of both houses of parliament were Shias. This instilled a sense of security amongst them, even though there have been reports of security personnel collaborating with Sunni extremist outfits.

However, after the elections, President Zardari has been reduced to a mere figurehead and this has aggravated the sense of insecurity amongst Shias. On top of that Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif have had close relations with Sunni sectarian outfits like Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP), which has transformed itself into Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ). In the past many Sunni militants accused of large scale massacre of Shias were released by Punjab government led by Shahbaz Sharif for ‘want of evidence’. Nawaz Sharif’s reported proximity to Saudi Arabia has further enhances these fears. The fact that Nawaz Sharif did not talk about Iran Pakistan pipeline during his inaugural address also gives credence to his being under the Saudi influence and this exacerbates Shia fears.

A deadly line

by Nitin Pai — June 28, 2013

William Dalrymple’s triangulation error.

Earlier this week, Brookings published a slickly produced essay on Afghanistan by British author William Dalrymple on its website. The sophisticated aesthetic of the online publication makes you sit up in your chair. Mr Dalrymple’s arguments do more than that—they make you fall off it.

The gist of Mr Dalrymple’s endeavour in geopolitical literature is that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India form deadly triangle and that “hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan”. Therefore, he concludes, “(the) continuation of clashes between India and Pakistan in—and over—Afghanistan after the US withdrawal is dangerous for all countries in the region and for the world.”

The metaphorical blind men were supposed to be from Hindoostan. In this case, it is Mr Dalrymple who mistakes one part of the elephant for the whole.

Consider the conflict in Afghanistan over the last four decades. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan began supporting Afghan Islamists in the early 1970s—much before the Soviets invaded—out of its concerns over Kabul’s non-recognition of the Durand Line and support for the insurgency in Balochistan. Pakistan did this to assuage its own insecurities vis-a-vis Afghanistan. It had little to do with rivalry with India.

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan partly because they feared Islamic extremism would destabilise their Central Asian republics. India was not in the picture. In fact, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi “tightly (rapped) the Soviet leadership on their knuckles” for their action. The United States then entered the fray to fight its Cold War adversary and outsourced the irregular war to the Pakistani military dictatorship next door. The Saudis financed the anti-Soviet jihad for their own geopolitical reasons, not least to go one up over Ayatollah Khomeini’s Shia Islamic republic in Iran.

In the 1990s, the Pakistanis stepped in to satisfy their military establishment’s expansionist dreams. This was neatly packaged for domestic and international consumption as the need for “strategic depth against India”, but was primarily an exercise in opportunistically extending hegemony over a weak neighbour. The Taliban then hosted Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda which had its own agenda against the United States and the West. After 9/11, the United States and its NATO allies attacked Afghanistan to punish the penetrators of that terrorist attack.

Neither India nor India-Pakistan rivalry figure significantly in any of this. The Pakistani military establishment, of course, cites the India bogey as an explanation for all its actions. There is also, no doubt, hostility between Pakistan and India. However, to ascribe the conflict in Afghanistan as part of this rivalry would be to nearly totally ignore historical facts.

The conflict in Afghanistan is due to overlapping involvement of outside powers—Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and al-Qaeda—in the pursuit of their own geopolitical interests. For almost three decades, India’s role has largely been to shield itself from the consequences of external meddling into Afghanistan’s affairs. This is an entirely different story from Mr Dalrymple’s contention that India-Pakistan relations are central to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Mr Dalrymple’s profound misreading of the situation could have been ignored as just another piece of writing in the now voluminous literature on Afghanistan and Pakistan, had it not been for the context. Barack Obama’s subjugation of military strategy to the tyranny of a hard date for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan means that Washington will be looking for a narrative to cover its less than dignified exit. Both the political strategists of the Democratic Party and the US foreign policy establishment need a storyline to obfuscate matters so that both President Obama and the United States do not appear to have washed their hands of their responsibility towards the Afghan people. Narratives like Mr Dalrymple’s come in handy for the purpose. The corollary of Mr Dalrymple’s thesis is that all the United States needs to do to stabilise Afghanistan is to engage in the familiar, relatively easy and generally useless task of encouraging India and Pakistan to improve their relations.

Karachi: Continuing Carnage

Anurag Tripathi
Research Associate; Institute for Conflict Management

A bomb attack targeting a Sindh High Court judge on June 26, 2013, killed at least 10 persons, including two Rangers, six Policemen and the driver of the judge’s car, and injured another 15, including the judge, near Burns Road in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh Province. The intended target of the terrorists was senior Sindh High Court judge, Justice Maqbool Baqar, who was on his way to the Court along with an escort of four Rangers on two motorcycles and two Police vehicles. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) ‘spokesman’ Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack declaring, “We attacked the judge in Karachi as he was taking decisions against Shariah and he was harmful for Mujahideen,’’ adding that the judge was targeted for “anti-Taliban and anti-Mujahideen decisions” and that the group would continue to target such elements within the judiciary.

Earlier, on June 21, 2013, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) legislator, Sajid Qureshi (50) and his son, Ovais (26), were shot dead by unidentified assailants outside a mosque in North Nazimabad locality. The TTP claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least 4,488 persons, including 3,888 civilians, 303 Security Force (SF) personnel and 297 militants have been killed in Karachi since 2007, including 884 fatalities, including 747 civilians, 81 SF personnel and 56 militants, in the current year (all data till June 30, 2013). In 2012, the number of such fatalities stood at 1,206; in 2011, at 1,048; in 2010, at 1,038; and 66, 53 and 188 in 2009, 2008 and 2007, respectively.

The rising graph of violence in Karachi is in proportion to the rising brutality of the TTP. SATP data indicates that 58 persons, including 35 civilians, 12 SF personnel and 11 TTP militants (killed by SFs) have been killed in incidents attributed to the TTP in the current year. The number of persons killed in TTP-linked incidents stood at 19 (eight civilians, six SF personnel, five militants) in 2012; 69 (36 civilians, 23 SF personnel, 10 militants) in 2011; 20 (nine civilians, 11 militants) in 2010; and 50 (43 civilians, two SF personnel, five militants) in 2009.

2013 has, thus far, already recorded at least 19 TTP-related incidents of killing in Karachi, as compared to 10 such incidents in 2012; seven in 2011; three in 2010; and two in 2009. These numbers include only those incidents where the TTP has claimed responsibility.

TTP has established roots in various parts of the city over the years. All the five Districts of Karachi – Karachi South, Karachi West, Karachi East, Karachi Central and Malir – have been brought under the group’s influence. A prominent TTP presence has been reported from localities such as Sohrab Goth, Quaidabad, Orangi, Malir town, Kunwari Colony, Sultanabad, Manghopir, Baldia town, Surjani town, Qasba Colony, Peerabad, Shah Latif town, Ittehad town, SITE town and Shah Faisal Colony.

In a report titled ‘The Pakistani Taliban’s Karachi Network’, released on May 28, 2013, Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC), an American think tank observed that, in Karachi, the TTP was organised into three factions: the Mehsuds, the Swat faction and the Mohmand faction. All three groups operated from Pakhtun-dominated neighbourhoods that include Ittehad Town, Manghopir, Kunwari Colony, Pakhtunabad, Pipri, Gulshan-e-Buner, Metroville, Pathan Colony, Frontier Colony and the settlements in Sohrab Goth.

The South China Sea Dispute (Part 2): Friction to Remain the Status Quo

Publication: China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 13
June 21, 2013 

Chinese Ships Exercising in the South China Sea in June

China’s policy toward the South China Sea dispute remains fundamentally unchanged under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Over the past six months, Beijing has tried to reassure neighboring countries of China’s peaceful rise, but also its determination to uphold its territorial and jurisdictional claims in the maritime domain. While China views these two positions as being in harmony, countries across the Asia-Pacific region are dismayed at the apparent contradiction between them. This article examines China’s diplomatic signaling, its military activities in the South China Sea, and Southeast Asian, U.S. and Japanese views of the dispute. It ends with the prediction that the status quo will continue throughout 2013 and 2014. Although the prospect of major conflict is slight, there will be no resolution of the dispute, friction among the disputants will continue and efforts to better manage the problem are likely to prove ineffective. This article builds on the assessment of developments in the South China Sea since January elaborated in Part 1 of this two-part essay (“The South China Sea Dispute (Part 1): Negative Trends Continue in 2013,” China Brief, June 7). 

China’s Message of Reassurance and Resolve 

During the first six months of 2013, China’s new leadership sent out a clear and consistent two-part message regarding its stance over maritime disputes: China’s intentions are peaceful but Beijing will respond assertively to provocations that challenge China’s territorial and sovereignty claims. 

That uncompromising message was delivered at all levels. In late January, six weeks before his appointment as president, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, reportedly told senior party officials that while his government remained committed to “peaceful development” it would “never sacrifice our national core interests” or “swallow the ‘bitter fruit’ of harming our sovereignty, security or development interests” (Xinhua, January 29). In April, at the opening of the Boao Forum on Hainan Island, Xi concisely reiterated that message: “On the basis of firmly upholding its sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, China will maintain good relations with its neighbors and overall peace and stability in our region” (Xinhua, April 18). 

A few weeks earlier, Premier Li Keqiang had told reporters that “China has an unswerving commitment to peaceful development and unshakeable determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity” and that there was no contradiction between these two pledges; indeed, he went on, “they are essential to regional stability and world peace” (Xinhua, March 17). 

In May, during a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta, newly-installed Foreign Minister Wang Yi expanded on this message in the context of the South China Sea dispute. Wang restated China’s sovereignty claims over the Spratly Islands, as well as the government’s “determination to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He added that, although China remained committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, implementing the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC), and resolving disputes peacefully on a bilateral basis, it would also remain “vigilant” against “potential disturbances of some countries for their own interests”—a veiled reference to Vietnam and the Philippines. On a more positive note, however, Wang also indicated that Beijing was ready to start discussions on a code of conduct (CoC) (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 2). 

The following month, at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the head of the Chinese delegation, Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, delivered a speech replete with platitudes on China’s “peaceful development.” Qi also stressed, however, that China’s willingness to engage in dialogue on disputed areas did not denote “unconditional compromise,” and that Beijing’s “resolve and commitment to safeguarding core national interests always stands steadfast” [1]. In the Q&A session that followed, Qi brushed aside pointed questions regarding regional anxieties over Chinese assertiveness in the South and East China Seas, affirming that it was China’s right to conduct naval patrols in both areas to “exert sovereign power.” 

The Disconnect Between Words and Deeds

China’s words of reassurance were, however, wholly undercut by its actions in the South China Sea from January onwards. As part of a policy to strengthen its claims in the area, Beijing undertook a series of measures that rattled the nerves of neighboring countries. 

On January 1, China issued a new official map which for the first time marked in detail the more than 130 islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea that Beijing claims (Xinhua, January 1). The map also shows the so-called “nine-dash line” in the same format as the country’s national borders, though there is an element of ambiguity as the key designates the color scheme as “border/undetermined border.” 

Within the nine-dash line, the PLA Navy (PLAN) conducted a number of high-profile maneuvers designed in part to send a clear message of resolve to the Southeast Asian claimants. From January 31 to February 8, for instance, a Chinese guided missile destroyer and two frigates from the North Sea Fleet held “combat readiness” exercises in the Spratlys “related to expelling ships that infringe on China’s territorial waters” (Xinhua, February 8). In late May, for the first time since 2010, PLAN vessels belonging to all three fleets conducted an exercise in the South China Sea (South China Morning Post, May 27). 

Second Thomas Shoal Likely the Next Flashpoint in the South China Sea

Publication: China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 13
June 21, 2013

BRP Sierra Madre on Second Thomas Shoal

Second Thomas Shoal, a low tide coral reef located 105 nautical miles from the Philippines’ Palawan Island, is likely to become the next flashpoint in the South China Sea. The shoal—which is 15 kilometers long and five kilometers wide and is known as Ayungin in the Philippines and Ren’ai Reef in China—is a strategic gateway to deposits of coveted oil and natural gas in Reed Bank and is claimed by the Philippines to be within its 200 mile exclusive economic zone (Taipei Times, May 30).

In early May, Manila lodged an official protest over the patrols around Second Thomas Shoal of two Chinese surveillance ships and a naval frigate that it charged were blocking Philippine ships from delivering supplies to troops deployed at the shoal (Manila Times, June 2). In 1999, the Philippines deliberately ran aground the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era landing transport ship, on the shoal to establish a presence on the island; the ship has served as a Philippine base hosting approximately 10 marines since that time. Manila claims that ships sent to the shoal carry provisions for the troops and that it has no intention to build further infrastructure on the shoal (Malaya, June 5; Philippine Star, May 22; May 17).

The former World War II vessel, however, has begun to rust out, prompting President Aquino to instruct it be repaired so that the Philippines can maintain its presence. The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs has stated it considers Second Thomas Shoal an “integral part” of the Philippines, and that “China should pull out of the area because under international law, they do not have the right to be there” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 28). Philippine Secretary of Defense Voltaire Gazmin has declared his country “will fight for what is ours up to the last soldier standing” (Philippine Star, May 24).

The Chinese government, however, maintains that is has “indisputable sovereignty” over the shoal and that any Philippine attempts to send supply ships to “intensify its illegal presence and occupation of the Ren’ai Reef” are in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC). Additionally, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei asserted that the right of Chinese ships to protect China’s national sovereignty by carrying out patrols around the shoal is “beyond reproach” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 30; May 22).

These events come in the wake of heightened tensions last year between the Philippines and China over a standoff at Scarborough Shoal. The episode was triggered in early April 2012 when the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a navy frigate acquired by the Philippines from the United States, discovered eight Chinese fishing vessels illegally poaching in the shoal. After the Philippine Navy inspected the Chinese vessels, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships appeared in the shoal and positioned themselves between the Chinese fishing boats and the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar. In the subsequent days and weeks, a small number of Philippine vessels stood at an impasse with a much larger fleet of Chinese ships. At one point, the Philippine Navy had two ships facing off against 90 Chinese vessels. After quiet negotiations that were brokered by the United States, Manila and Beijing reached an oral agreement to withdraw their vessels from the area. In early June, the Philippines complied. The Chinese, however, reneged on the agreement, and Chinese government vessels have remained in the area, maintaining a continued presence around the shoal and preventing Philippine fishermen from returning. Recent reports suggest that China is building a permanent structure on the shoal (InterAksyon, June 6; Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 3).

After successfully seizing control of Scarborough Shoal, Chinese experts praised the operation as an adroit exercise of Chinese power to defend Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. In recent weeks, some voices have called for the application of the successful strategy to Second Thomas Shoal. Chinese Air Force Major General Zhang Zhaozhong, a nationalistic pundit who regularly appears on Chinese television talk shows, proposed a “cabbage” strategy to deal with Second Thomas Shoal in which the Chinese would surround the shoal in layers of Chinese ships, with fishing vessels in the inner layers, surrounded by civilian maritime vessels and navy ships in the outer layers. The goal of such a strategy would be to compel the Philippine marines deployed on the Shoal to abandon the grounded vessel for lack of sustenance (Malaya, June 5). If such an approach fails, other experts have asserted China should consider towing the BRP Sierra Madre away from the shoal—an action that carries potential for conflict considering the presence of armed Philippine marines (CCTV-4, May 31).