30 August 2013

*** Syria and the Limits of Comparison

By Robert D. Kaplan
August 28, 2013 

Because so many war plans simply do not survive the reality of war itself, each war is a unique universe unto its own and thus comparisons with previous wars, while useful, may also prove illusory. One of the many wrong assumptions about the Second Gulf War before it started was that it would somehow be like the First Gulf War, in which the pessimists had been humiliated by the ease of the victory. Indeed, the Second Gulf War unfolded in vastly different ways, this time proving the pessimists right. That is why the recent media refrain comparing a military operation in Syria with the one in Kosovo in 1999 worries me.

There are profound differences.

Syria has a population ten times the size of Kosovo's in 1999. Because everything in Syria is on a much vaster scale, deciding the outcome by military means could be that much harder.

Kosovo sustained violence and harsh repression at the hands of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, which was met with a low-intensity separatist campaign by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Violence was widespread but not nearly on the scale of Syria's. Syria is in the midst of a full-fledged civil war. The toppling of Milosevic, moreover, carried much less risk of ever-expanding anarchy than does the toppling of Syrian ruler Bashar al Assad.

Kosovo was more or less contained within the southern Balkans, with relatively limited chance for a spillover -- as it turned out -- into neighboring countries and territories. Full-scale sectarian anarchy in Syria threatens to destabilize a wider region.

The Kosovo Liberation Army may have been a nasty bunch by some accounts, with criminal elements. But it was not a threat to the United States like the transnational jihadists currently operating in Syria. For President Bill Clinton to risk bringing to power the Kosovo Liberation Army was far less of a concern than President Barack Obama possibly helping to midwife to power a Sunni jihadist regime.

Kosovo did not have a complex of chemical weapons facilities scattered throughout its territory as Syria does, with all the military and logistical headaches of trying to neutralize them.

The Kosovo war campaign did not have to countenance a strong and feisty Russia, which at the time was reeling from Boris Yeltsin's incompetent, anarchic rule. Vladimir Putin, who has significant equities in al Assad's Syria, may do everything in his power to undermine a U.S. attack. Though, it must be said, Putin's options should Obama opt for a significant military campaign are limited within Syria itself. But Putin can move closer to Iran by leaving the sanctions regime, and ratchet-up Russia's anti-American diplomacy worldwide more effectively than Yeltsin ever wanted to, or was capable of.

The Kosovo war did not engage Iran as this war must. For all of the missiles that America can fire, it does not have operatives on the ground like Iran has. Neither will the United States necessarily have the patience and fortitude to prosecute a lengthy and covert ground-level operation as Iran might for years to come, and already has. A weakened or toppled al Assad is bad for Iran, surely, but it does not altogether signal that America will therefore receive a good result from this war. A wounded Iran might race even faster toward a nuclear option. It is a calculated risk.

The Kosovo war inflicted significant pain on Serbian civilians through airstrikes, but the Syrian population has already been pummeled by a brutal war for two years now, and so it is problematic whether airstrikes in this case can inflict that much more psychological pain on the parts of the population either still loyal or indifferent to the regime.

Experts weigh in with their suggestions on rescuing the Indian economy

Experts weigh in with their suggestions on what measures the government must take to rescue the Indian economy from its current state of turmoil and disarray as reflected by the falling value of the rupee and growing current account deficit

Articles published on August 30, 2013:

Energy economics will alter global equations

30 August 2013

The influence of Iran and Arab oil producers on Western capitals will be drastically reduced in time to come, as the Americas become a power house of global energy production. India must closely watch

In the aftermath of the Second World War, an energy-hungry Western alliance faced an energy-surplus Soviet Union. The world witnessed a new ‘Great Game’ involving a quest for influence in the energy-rich Middle East, particularly the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The Carter Doctrine of 1979 brought American military power to India’s doorsteps. The US Central Command headquartered in Qatar and the US 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, were primarily set up to prop up pro-American regimes and guarantee energy supplies for the United States and its allies.

The global energy scenario has changed dramatically in the recent past, with the development of ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing) technology in the US. American crude oil production grew by more than one million barrels per day in 2012, the largest increase in the world. Crude oil production jumped 14 per cent last year to 8.9 million barrels per day. The US is set to replace Saudi Arabia as the largest producer of oil in the world by 2020. Even today, gas availability in the US exceeds demand and the US has surplus gas for sale. Recent surveys indicate that Canada’s oil sands reserves contain the equivalent of two trillion barrels of conventional oil, which is more than the presently estimated reserves of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq put together. With growing production of oil in the US and its reduced dependence on imports, the World Bank has predicted that oil prices will fall to $102 per barrel by the end of this year.

The US alone has a potential 24.4 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves. The estimates of shale gas reserves elsewhere are: Argentina 21.9TCM, Europe 18.1TCM, China 36.1TCM and Australia 11.2TCM. India’s recoverable shale reserves are estimated at 63TCM, roughly one fourth the reserves of the US and one sixth those of China. China’s reserves are largely in sparsely populated areas. Beijing announced in March this year that it is aiming to produce 6.5 billion cubic metres of gas by 2015. India has released a draft policy for exploration of shale gas. But, shale production has faced public opposition elsewhere on safety and environmental grounds. One hopes that policies governing shale exploration are transparent and do not lead us into the sort of problems we have faced from activists on exploitation of gas, coal, or more recently, even on nuclear power plants.

Given problems that members of the European Union are facing with gas supplies from Russia, the US is set to become a major supplier of natural gas to its European partners. The vast potential for energy resources in North America will be supplemented with growing production in Latin America. Oil production is growing in Brazil. Columbia’s oil production has doubled since 2007. Argentina has larger shale gas reserves nearly as large as the US. Venezuela’s already substantial production can be stepped up significantly. The production in Mexico, with oil reserves larger than Kuwait, has remained stagnant and below expectations. Production in Mexico would rise substantially with policy changes now underway. Moreover, the off shore Levantine Basin, where Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Gaza have overlapping claims, has substantial oil and gas reserves.

The influence of Iran and Arab oil producers in Western capitals will be drastically reduced, as the Americas become a power house of global energy production. In this emerging scenario, oil prices cannot be arbitrarily raised by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, causing huge economic problems for importing developing countries, as in the past.

Under current US regulations, gas can be exported without formal clearances to countries with which the US has a Free Trade Agreement. Buoyed by the optimistic energy scenario and economic recovery, President Barack Obama announced in his 2013 State of the Union Address that the US would begin talks on a ‘Transatlantic Trade and Economic Partnership’ — in effect an FTA, with the European Union. The growing availability of US natural gas will be a major incentive to conclude an FTA for the environment-conscious and nuclear-averse Europeans, who are facing a decline in North Sea Oil production, which fell by 13.4 per cent last year. Negotiations with the EU are expected to be complex and difficult. But, its relatively cheap energy surpluses will be leveraged by the US, in negotiations with European partners.

Call it crime, not superstition

Aug 30 2013

Anti-superstition laws enshrine paternalism, diminish the moral importance of the harm committed and make citizens less responsible.

Belief and ritual can, literally, be a matter of life and death. Narendra Dabholkar courageously spent his life combating superstition and irrationality. His violent death is a reminder of the depths to which discourses around culture have fallen in Maharashtra. We do not have a full handle on how society is changing. But the demands of law, morality and commonsense are increasingly immobilised in the face of absurd cultural claims. Don't prejudge guilt or innocence. But just think of the absurd way in which charges against Asaram Bapu have been handled by the state. Many aspects of Dabholkar's struggle, saving people from the horrendous consequences of harmful rituals, the promotion of science in public affairs, need to be continued with renewed vigour. But we also need to reflect more deeply on the way in which we have used the intersection of law and superstition to obscure deep moral issues. We may, unwittingly, be sending mixed moral messages.

Take the example of anti-witchcraft legislation in states like Jharkhand. Witchcraft has claimed dozens of lives over a decade. But is the moral purpose of the law better served by having separate laws to punish the harm done by witchcraft as witchcraft, or should it be governed as much as possible by existing laws and IPC? These practices often involve inflicting physical harm on an individual, subjecting them to psychological harassment and sometimes actions that lead to death. Most of these harms are already covered by the IPC. Murder should be murder, whether it is done chasing witches or communal ghosts. Forcibly evicting someone from their property or doing anything to their bodies without consent is a crime, no matter what the cause. But the minute we represent law as regulating superstition rather than focusing on the harm in question, we give a misleading moral account of why an act is wrong. Many years ago, Lata Mani had pointed out in a brilliant work that in the debate over sati, neither the modernists nor the orthodox were particularly concerned about the agency and dignity of the women involved. Rather, women became sites upon which larger debates about tradition and modernity were carried out. There is a real risk that a lot of the witchcraft legislation is sending a similar signal. The signal is: we are more concerned about "superstition" versus "science" than about the autonomy and dignity of the victims. The signal we want to send is not primarily that these acts are wrong because they emanate from superstition. They are wrong because they cause harm. But the moral importance of the harm disappears when the object of the law becomes regulating superstition rather than the harm.

This legislation can sometimes have perverse consequences. Sometimes the multiplication of laws gives police more discretion over which charges to bring. As a brief prepared at Cornell University on India's witchcraft legislation pointed out, the penalties are less for the "same offence" if tried under a prevention of witchcraft act than those prescribed for the same offence if tried under the IPC. It is as if, if you have inflicted harm under a superstition, you have committed a lesser crime. This assumption often pervades judging as well. Courts often commute sentences because a crime was committed under the spell of a "belief". In a famous case from Bihar, Santul Dhobi, a death sentence was commuted on these grounds.

But before we express our disquiet at this form of judging, we need to reflect more deeply on where this assumption comes from. Some legislation, like the recently enacted Maharashtra ordinance, has a strong dose of legal paternalism. Apart from preventing harms that are already crimes, the purpose of the legislation is to protect people from their own beliefs, beliefs in godmen or the power of amulets, etc. Whether law should regulate forms of enchantment if they do not cause independently identified harm to others is an open question. But for the argument here, the relevant point is this. If the law constructs citizens in a paternalistic way, odd legal consequences follow. For example, our absurd anti-conversion legislation is premised on the idea that people cannot judge religious claims on their own, they can be duped. But if we seriously believe this premise, can you really criticise the judge who has sympathy for the perpetrators of crimes committed in the name of belief? He now sees them not as criminals, but victims of a sort; they have not committed a murder, they have carried out a cultural ritual, whether it is honour-killing or witchcraft. Enshrining paternalism in the law diminishes the moral importance of the harm committed, and, in a strange way, makes citizens less responsible.

RBI boss delivers a parting kick

Finger at loose govt stance



Oct. 31, 2012

Growth is as much a challenge as inflation. If the government has to walk alone to face the challenge of growth, then we will walk alone

P. Chidambaram

After RBI governor D. Subbarao did not heed his advice to cut interest rates

aug. 29, 2013

I do hope finance minister Chidambaram will one day say ‘I am often frustrated by the Reserve Bank, so frustrated that I want to go for a walk, even if I have to walk alone. But thank God, the Reserve Bank exists’

D. Subbarao

In his ‘public farewell lecture’

Mumbai, Aug. 29: Outgoing RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao today launched a blistering attack on the UPA government for failing to respect the autonomy of the “apolitical” central bank and trying to circumscribe its role.

Delivering his last public lecture before retiring on September 4, Subbarao said: “It is important that the mandate of the Reserve Bank of India is written into the statute so that it is protected from the political dynamics of changing governments.”

The statement is significant since Subbarao has always believed that the RBI was being forced to carry the can for the government’s failure to put its finances in order and frame appropriate fiscal policies to kick-start a stuttering economy and slam a lid on its burgeoning deficits.

The comments came on a day the markets stanched the bleeding and the Prime Minister conceded that domestic factors were also responsible for the economic “difficulty”. The rupee today soared by 225 paise to end at 66.55 against the dollar and the sensex jumped by over 400 points on the back of the RBI opening a special dollar facility for state-run oil companies.

The Federal Reserve in the US, for instance, has a dual mandate that is clearly spelt out: it must control inflation and ensure job creation.

Subbarao said: “Central banks make macroeconomic policy that influences everyday life of people; yet they are managed by unelected officials appointed by the government. Such an arrangement is deliberate, based on the logic that an apolitical central bank, operating autonomously within a statutorily prescribed mandate and with a longer time perspective, is an effective counterpoise to a democratically elected government which typically operates with a political mandate within the time horizon of an electoral cycle.”

In 1977, the US Congress amended the Federal Reserve Act, stating that the monetary policy objectives of the US central bank were to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates”.

While doing so, the Fed must balance the “long-run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates” with the “economy’s long-run potential to increase production”. This is often called the “dual mandate” and guides the Fed’s decision-making in the conduct of its monetary policy.

Is India Swimming Naked?

By James Parker
August 29, 2013

In a chairman’s letter from Berkshire Hathaway more than ten years ago, renowned investor celebrity Warren Buffet wrote that you can only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. Tension in the Middle East or, as economists might put it, rising oil prices are now conspiring to make things just that little bit harder.

The tide of liquidity released across the globe as central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve, undertook “quantitative easing” through asset purchasing programmes, is in the process of going out. As if following a script written by those economists who argue that emerging market crises are more often than not the result of volatile financial flows, the turning of the tide has indeed created difficult conditions across many high-performing economies.

As Pacific Money has been covering, Southeast Asia, especially Thailand and Indonesia are being buffeted by bad economic news and worrying conditions. These difficulties are showing up in numerous emerging markets around the world, but it is in India where the situation is most dire.

This week the Indian currency has again been setting disturbing records, at least for anyone with “long” rupee positions. These include not only more record lows against the U.S. dollar, but on Wednesday also a dramatic drop which was the worst one day sell off almost twenty years.

Whilst Syria might be geographically far from India, the apparent turn towards a strike on Assad’s regime by a U.S. led coalition, and also the feared regional destabilization such a strike could ferment is not helping the situation in the subcontinent. Oil prices have increased in line with U.S., European and Saudi rhetoric, and this is very bad news for India, whose current account deficit is one of the main complicating factors pushing investors for the exits. Current account deficits are only helped by currency devaluation if the imports are not necessary (or replaceable), but India’s reliance on imported oil represents yet another potential complication.

Foreign funds continue to leave the country, but now it is not just bond markets that are seeing foreign outflows (USD $4.6billion this year) but also equity markets (which have lost USD $3.6billion in the last three months). 

The government remains in fire-fighting mode. Proposals now include activating currency swap agreements to ease pressure on the rupee, or policy changes to reduce the current account deficit through enabling iron ore exports. More intervention and further selling off of India’s still significant forex reserves can also be expected.

India’s Dialogue with Pakistan a Trap

Our response to the killing of five Indian soldiers last week by the Pakistanis inside our Line of Control has again shown our inability to deal effectively with the dual issue of dialoguing with Pakistan and scotching the terrorist threat from it.

The issues are closely inter-linked as using the arm of terrorism against a neighbour is not how a normal state conducts itself. To believe that such a state can be persuaded through political talks to give up a lever that it uses to further its strategic goals is not realistic. It will change its conduct either if the cost of use becomes too high or if it achieves its objectives.

Pakistan will, therefore, not cease supporting terrorism unless we impose costs on it or offer it concessions. If we conclude that we cannot force Pakistan to stop terrorist activity against us and that we have no choice but to talk to it, hoping that it will control the jihadi groups in the country’s own longer-term interest, then we play into Pakistan’s hands, leaving it to decide how and when it will deal with the issue based on its internal and external calculus.

The composite dialogue is therefore a political trap for us, as Pakistan views it as a platform to constantly press us for concessions without needing to make any of its own, particularly as we appear unduly anxious politically to keep the dialogue going.

Our appeals to Pakistan to cease support to terrorism for the dialogue process to succeed lack logic. Pakistan actually believes that because we cannot handle terrorist pressure externally as well as internally because of our divided polity, we cling to the dialogue option and seek accommodation with it.

We are in confusion when we say that we can make progress in settling our differences only in an atmosphere free from violence. Are we implying that we are holding up progress in some areas because Pakistan is not suppressing terrorism as we want?

What “progress” will we offer on Kashmir to satisfy Pakistan? Will we withdraw from Siachen if Pakistan controls jihad against us? Will we accept the Pakistani position on Sir Creek? Will we accept its case on the Wullar Barrage and our hydroelectric projects on the western rivers allowed by the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)? What progress can we offer on nuclear matters?


In reality, if no progress is being made on our differences it is because Pakistan is fixated on obtaining concessions from India rather than making any of its own. On Siachen, they want us to basically accept that we are occupying territory that is rightfully theirs and vacate it. Apart from lack of strategic equivalence in the scope of the withdrawals, the reality is that even what Pakistan is currently holding is strictly illegal because we consider the whole of the erstwhile state as legally ours. Pakistan should in the first instance end its cartographic aggression by showing the cease-fire line correctly as ending at NJ9842 and not extended to the Karakoram Pass. Pakistan should also be required to remove the presence of China as an intruding third party in POK, consistent with its claim that J&K is “disputed” territory.

On Sir Creek, Pakistan should accept the median line as the border in accordance with international law rather than insisting on a one-sided solution. On water related issues, it should cease to further vitiate the atmosphere by accusing India of diverting water in violation of the IWT which is in fact is exceptionally generous to it. In the nuclear field, apart from increasing its holdings at a break-neck pace, it is introducing tactical nuclear weapons in the sub-continent and dangerously lowering the threshold of their use.

Why Pakistan is Blowing Apart LoC Ceasefire?

Even though there have been occasional violations by Pakistani troops of the ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, the recent flare-up has placed an enormous strain on the Confidence Building Measure (CBM) that had been mutually agreed by the two countries in late 2003. The violations of the ceasefire are no longer limited to either a small section of the LoC or to use of small arms but are taking place all along the LoC with higher calibre ammunition being used. What is more, the exchange of fire has continued unabated in one or the other sector of the LoC for nearly three weeks now. On the Indian side, the restraint that was being shown by the army in the face of regular provocations by the Pakistan army and its jihadist paramilitaries – pushing in infiltrators, firing on Indian positions, carrying out cross-LoC raids etc. –has now all but run its course. With the gloves coming off, the Indian Army has started to retaliate in a calibrated and proportionate manner.

The message being sent is clear: unless the Pakistanis back off (after all they started the shooting match with the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Indian side of the LoC), there is a clear and present danger of the ceasefire agreement collapsing. If this happens, things will return to the pre-ceasefire situation in which both sides suffered heavy casualties of not only troops but also civilians living close to the LoC. The problem for Pakistan is that open hostilities breaking out on its eastern front is the last thing that the over-stretched military can afford at this point in time. As it is, Pakistan is sinking in a sea of crises, not the least of which is a tanking economy, rampant terrorism, two and a half insurgencies (the Islamist one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, a separatist movement in Balochistan, and the stirrings of a nationalist insurgency in Sindh), abysmal state of law and order with sectarian violence and criminal mafias tearing the country apart. Add to this the looming spectre of instability and chaos post 2014 after the Western forces withdraw from Afghanistan. By all standpoints of normal rationality then, it just doesn’t make sense for Pakistan to ratchet up tension with India at this stage. Or does it?

Many Pakistani analysts, assuming an air of injured innocence to mislead both domestic and international opinion, wonder what Pakistan stands to gain by heating up the LoC, and that too at a time when the new government has expressed its keenness to reach out to India and normalise relations. Asides of the fact that Pakistan has been quite adept at playing both sides of the game – professing commitment to peace on the one hand and surreptitiously promoting terrorism and proxy war on the other hand – there are a number of reasons why the Pakistani military establishment, if not the entire Pakistani state machinery, could be turning normal rational behaviour on its head and actually coming to the conclusion that rising tension on the frontier with India serves not just the corporate interests of the Pakistan army but also the security and strategic interests of the Pakistani state.

The most benign explanation for the LoC flare-up is that the Pakistanis made a tactical miscalculation by crossing the LoC to attack an Indian patrol and kill 5 soldiers. The strident reaction from the Indian side hadn’t been factored in because for some time now such actions by the Pakistanis never evoked any major response from India. But this time things spiralled out of control and the pressure of public opinion coupled with the anger within the army forced the hand of the government to raise the ante and give back to Pakistan as good, if not better, than it got. With India refusing to back down or climb down from the escalation ladder, the Pakistanis might have bitten more than they can chew and are now trying to bring things back to normal. But this explanation doesn’t quite explain why, for a number of months now, the Pakistanis have been trying to reignite the flames of Jihad in Kashmir. The sharp rise in number of infiltration attempts, ceasefire violations and ambushes and attacks inside the state of Jammu and Kashmir suggests a more sinister game plan than just testosterone imbalance among Pakistani troops which made then indulge in needless adventurism along the LoC. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that Pakistan could once again be preparing the ground for putting Jammu and Kashmir back on the boil and both the recent heating up of LoC as well as the spike in acts of terror within the state are part of this plan for Kashmir Jihad 2.0.

Will China Checkmate India on Chabahar?

In a development that could very well upset India’s geo-strategic apple cart, China is making deft and vigorous moves to woo Iran to accept its offer of US$80-million to upgrade the Chabahar port located on the coast of Gulf of Oman, off the Strait of Hormuz. Perhaps it could be a well thought out move on the part of China, which through its “string of pearls” strategy is busy expanding its area of influence across the Indian Ocean region, to keep India away from the project and slowly intrude into the Indian geo-political space in Tehran. A toehold in Iran could drive China to cast its “net of influence” far and wide, across the West Asian landscape, with serious consequences for the American presence in this oil rich part of the world.

From building the deep sea ports and launching satellites to constructing all weather highways and putting in place telecom networks, China has become a “partner in progress” for many countries in the Indian Ocean region. Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh are among the Indian neighbours where an impressive “Chinese presence” has become a fait accompli. In the context of the administrative control of the Gwadar port located on Makran coast, overlooking the Arabian sea, in Pakistan’s sparsely populated and restive Balochistan province, passing on into the Chinese hands, Chabahar has come to assume immense strategic and economic significance for India. Clearly and apparently, India’s participation in Chabahar port development could, to some extent, work as a counter-poise to the advantages that China could derive from managing Gwadar port.

Gwadar port, which stands out as a vibrant symbol of strategic partnership between China and Pakistan, could very well give China an easy access to the key energy markets in the Middle East. Further, it could also provide China a convenient access to the warm waters of Indian Ocean and a listening post near the Strait of Hormuz. Incidentally, about 20% of the world’s petroleum and 35% of the petroleum traded by sea pass through the Strait of Hormuz, described as one of the world’s busiest and most strategically located sea lanes.

As part of the ambitious US$18-billion economic corridor project connecting Kashgar in China with Gwadar, it is planned to build a pipeline as well as road and rail links that will involve engineering of around 200-kms of tunnels across the treacherous mountainous landscape. The road link will involve upgrading and realigning the strategically located Karakoram highway. Kashgar is located in China’s disturbed western Xinjiang province where Muslim Uighur separatists are quite active.

Of course, the Gwadar-Kashgar pipeline may help China reduce its dependence on Malacca Strait in so far as transporting oil from West Asia is concerned. Further, it could help meet a part of the energy needs of the Western parts of China. More importantly, this pipeline makes a strategic sense for China in terms of strengthening its long term energy security. On another front, in order to bring down its reliance on the Strait of Malacca for transporting crude, China has invested heavily in building an oil and gas pipeline in Myanmar. As things stand now, China is expected to overtake US as the world’s largest crude importer in 2014.Currently,three fourth of China’s crude import from Middle East are channelled through the Strait of Malacca which is vulnerable to piracy and geo political uncertainties. But then the economic corridor project is still at a conceptual stage and it would be sometime before it gets going. However, both the countries, while highlighting the economic importance of the project, have downplayed its strategic aspects. Meanwhile, reports emanating from Beijing quote Chinese Government officials as saying that security concern could hinder the 2000-km long economic corridor project.

Karzai’s 20th Trip to Pakistan: Was it Different From the First?

By Sanjay Kumar
August 29, 2013 

Lisa Kakar is a relieved girl now. She waited more than two months for the winners of the scholarship to be announced. Her happiness knew no bounds when the Indian Embassy in Kabul informed her she had been selected. She will now pursue a course in business administration at an Indian university. The admission is not only a boost to her academic credentials; it is also an escape from the approaching uncertainties of life in Kabul leading up to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Lisa’s younger brother has also enrolled himself in India for an undergraduate course, not taking the risk of staying in a country where the future is increasingly hazy. This anxiety is also uppermost in the minds of Tariq Saedy and Parvin Pouran, who are pursuing their masters in Delhi, and who have not visited their homeland for the past year and a half.

When Afghan President Hamid Karzai paid his 20th visit to Islamabad earlier this week, he was carrying the concerns and anxieties of all these youngsters who fear a return of the conditions that prevailed in the country in the 1990s if the Taliban is not brought to the negotiating table. One of the president’s principal tasks was to seek Islamabad’s support in engaging the Taliban in peace talks. Kabul strongly believes that if its Islamic neighbor extends a helping hand, then the insurgent group can be convinced to cease its violent activities in Afghanistan and take part in the mainstream political process.

But The Washington Post notes that the visit “ended in muted disappointment Tuesday, with no agreements or specific statements on the key issues of Taliban peace talks, prisoner releases or insurgent sanctuaries.”

The Post continues: “Even though the visit was extended by one day and concluded with lunch in a breezy hilltop resort town overlooking Islamabad, the capital, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other Pakistani officials made no public offers to help restart talks with the Taliban or to release any Taliban prisoners.”

However, Pakistan did offer economic assistance to its neighbor in rebuilding the country. Many analysts believe that Sharif cannot do much to bail out Karzai and that the real power lies at Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi, which many believe exerts influence over the Taliban. Experts believe that the Taliban is the Pakistani army’s biggest leverage in the landlocked country, providing an advantage against India’s growing engagement and influence in Afghanistan.

Wahid Mozhdah, a political analyst and former Taliban official working in the foreign ministry at the time of the Taliban rule, told The Diplomat, “The problem is that Afghanistan’s expectations are higher than Pakistan’s ability to deliver. Had Islamabad been really powerful and in control of the Taliban it could have solved its own internal problems and contained the growing menace of insurgencies in its own country.”

But Habib Khan Totakhil, a journalist and political expert, thinks otherwise. He expressed doubts about the Islamabad’s intentions in Kabul, telling The Diplomat, “Many in Afghanistan doubt Pakistan's intentions. It has never taken any concrete steps to advance the cause of peace in Afghanistan. Islamabad is playing a double game in our country and Karzai’s visit has further reinforced this perception.”

The Suicidal Tendencies of Suicide Bombers

August 28, 2013

The Fragile Psychology of Killing Yourself For a Cause

A mock suicide bomber's vest used to conduct battle drills at the Infantry Squad Battle Course, JBER-Richardson, September 25, 2012. (Percy G. Jones / U.S. Air Force)

Although suicide bombings have become a disturbingly regular occurrence over the past decade, with more than two thousand occurring since 2003, we still have only a limited understanding of why people commit them. In the years since 9/11, it has become clear that suicide strikes are more common in countries under military occupation or with high male-female population ratios; that terrorists are most often recruited by their friends; and that suicide bombing is not correlated with poverty. Those findings can be and have been useful in predicting where suicide bombings are likely to occur. But they do not offer much insight into suicide bomber psychology -- what exactly motivates someone to volunteer for martyrdom in the first place.

Indeed, one of the most impressive recent considerations of that question is not an academic study but a feature film. Ziad Doueiri’s riveting and courageous new movie The Attack serves as an unflinching case study of the mysteries surrounding a single suicide bombing.

The film, which is loosely based on a novel by the same name, tells the story of an upper-middle-class Israeli-Arab couple living a charmed life in a fashionable part of Tel Aviv. Amin Jaafari is a secular, apolitical surgeon from a Muslim family, celebrated for his skill and popular among his Jewish colleagues. His wife, Siham Jaafari, is a hauntingly beautiful, mysterious woman whom the audience barely gets to know, aside from the fact that she seems deeply in love with her handsome and talented husband -- a little bit of her dies every time they part, she tells him.

One evening, after Amin receives a prestigious award, he discovers that his wife is among those killed in a suicide attack on a busy Tel Aviv café. Although he tries to cling to the belief that she was an innocent victim, the doctor eventually accepts that Siham was the perpetrator -- the person who shattered his life and the lives of many others. But knowing she is guilty of the crime is not enough: he is determined to unravel what he now understands was her secret life. What led her to choose this path? Why did she do it?

As pressing a problem as suicide terrorism is, we still know surprisingly little about the individual-level risk factors that make one family member become a “martyr” and another a doctor, even when both grew up in the same political environment.

Over the course of the film, the audience is shown the shocking disparities in wealth between Amin’s life in Israel and that of his family living in Palestine under occupation. The movie also introduces us to the painful humiliation of Palestinians at the border crossing and gives intimations that Siham took this political situation to heart. In one flashback, we learn that she refused to have his child, because, as an Israeli Arab, the child would have no homeland -- reason enough, she claimed, for the couple to remain childless. We also learn that Siham witnessed the aftermath of the Israeli attack of Jenin, which occurred at the height of the second intifada, in 2002. But Siham’s decision is never reduced to her political circumstances. The lack of a Palestinian homeland, the militarized border, the disparity of wealth -- all played a role in her decision, it seems, but they are presented as partial and insufficient explanations.

Bad Reputation

August 28, 2013

The Folly of Going to War for "Credibility"

U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, 2013. (Larry Downing / Courtesy Reuters)

The United States is poised to strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians and wounded thousands. U.S. President Barack Obama warned Assad not to use such weapons once before, saying that their use would cross a “red line.” Assad ignored the threat in June and Obama did nothing. So does Obama’s initial bluff explain Assad’s second chemical attack?

It might. If Assad concluded from the first episode that Obama was irresolute, then he would discount the threat of U.S. military action. Of course, that would make Assad a strategic simpleton unable to imagine the political pressure on the Obama administration to respond to the repeated use of poison gas.

Even if Assad were so simpleminded, the administration’s critics are wrong to suggest that the president should have acted sooner to protect U.S. credibility. After the red line was first crossed, Obama could have taken the United States to war to prevent Assad from concluding that an irresolute Obama would not respond to any further attacks -- a perception on Syria’s part that seems to have now made a U.S. military response all but certain. But going to war to prevent a possible misperception that might later cause a war is, to paraphrase Bismarck, like committing suicide out of fear that others might later wrongly think one is dead.

It is also possible that the United States did not factor into Assad’s calculations. A few months before the United States invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s primary concerns were avoiding a Shia rebellion and deterring Iran. Shortsighted, yes, but also a good reminder that although the United States is at the center of the universe for Americans, it is not for everyone else. Assad has a regime to protect and he will commit any crime to win the war. Finally, it is possible that Assad never doubted Obama’s resolve -- he just expects that he can survive any American response. After all, if overthrowing Assad were easy, it would already have been done.

Instead of worrying about U.S. credibility or the president’s reputation, the administration should focus on what can be done to reinforce the longstanding norm against the use of weapons of mass destruction. 


People can believe extraordinary things. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block earlier this month, Susan Ahmad, the English spokesperson for the Syrian revolutionary council, claimed that last week’s Israeli strikes in Syria might have been the result of collusion between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israelis. And it is well documented that Saddam Hussein believed that, in Hebrew, the name of the Japanese cartoon franchise Pokémon meant “I am Jewish.”

It is not beyond the bounds of imagination, then, that Assad believes that U.S. President Barack Obama is feckless and irresolute. At least that has been the worry among many American circles since Obama backed down from earlier warnings that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line.” It is likely that the Assad regime or Syrian rebels crossed that line in late April and … nothing happened. Cue the strategists: American credibility is on the line! Not just with Syria, as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham put it at the end of April, “but with Iran, North Korea, and all of our enemies and friends.”

The Best Case Scenario in Syria

August 26, 2013

The Obama Aministration Should Use Strikes to Get Talks

An excavator digs amid rubble in Aleppo's Fardous neighborhood, August 26, 2013. (Molhem Barakat / Courtesy Reuters)

It has been one year since U.S. President Barack Obama commented that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute the crossing of a red line, one that would “change my calculus; that would change my equation.” His resolve was first tested this spring, when, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly unleashed chemical weapons on his opponents, the White House announced that it would provide small arms to the rebels. A reluctant Congress held up the weapons’ delivery, which seemed to put an end to the matter. But now, the Obama administration is being tested once more. As evidence mounts that the Assad regime launched a massive chemical weapons attack last week, Obama can either make a full commitment to get involved in the bloody conflict or decide to stay out of it once and for all. By all appearances, the second option is off the table. Just how far the United States might venture, though, is still up in the air.

Over the last few days, the president’s national security team has huddled to consider possible military responses to the chemical attack. On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that U.S. Navy forces are already moving nearer to Syria’s shores should the White House decide to strike at the Assad regime with Tomahawk cruise missiles. And on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry called the “indiscriminate slaughter of civilians” a “moral obscenity” and cautioned that “Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” Moments later, White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that the administration is “considering responses” to the chemical attack, which is a “distinct problem that requires a response.”

At this point, of course, the pros and cons of military intervention are already well known: On the one hand, as the State Department and others have argued, U.S. involvement could prevent the rebels’ defeat, support moderate allies, avert the collapse of the state, and help stem a refugee crisis. On the other, as U.S. military leaders have hinted in letters to Congress, intervention would be costly, potentially bloody, and likely futile -- a replay, some might say, of Iraq and Afghanistan, which to date have yielded neither victory for the United States nor stability for the region.

Up until now, of course, the Pentagon’s view -- that getting too involved in the conflict would spell trouble for the United States -- has won out. But the balance started to shift for Obama when chemical weapons came in to play. In March, allegations surfaced that the Syrian government had used such weapons in an attack near the Syrian city of Aleppo. In April, the White House wrote a letter to Congress stating that “our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria.” The White House waited a bit longer, citing a need for greater proof, but eventually approved sending weapons to the rebels. This piece of policy triangulation satisfied neither side. For those supporting greater intervention, or at least a more muscular U.S. response, it was another sign that America was taking a leisurely dip in the policy water against an Assad regime and its Iranian allies that are in at all costs.

This time around, the scale of the alleged attack and the reported attacks on the UN inspections team in Syria seem to have prompted Obama to act quicker and more decisively. It is telling that White House calls for an investigation into the attacks have been followed within days by a publicly acknowledged discussion of military options and the movement of Navy ships.

Make or Break: Iraq’s Sunnis and the State

14 Aug 2013


The question of Sunni Arab participation in Iraq’s political order that has plagued the transition since its inception is as acute and explosive as ever. Quickly marginalised by an ethno-sectarian apportionment that confined them to minority status in a system dominated by Shiites and Kurds, most community members first shunned the new dispensation then fought it. Having gradually turned from insurgency to tentative political involvement, their wager produced only nominal representation, while reinforcing feelings of injustice and discrimination. Today, with frustration at a boil, unprecedented Sunni-Shiite polarisation in the region and deadly car bombings surging across the country since the start of Ramadan in July, a revived sectarian civil war is a serious risk. To avoid it, the government should negotiate local ceasefires with Sunni officials, find ways to more fairly integrate Sunni Arabs in the political process and cooperate with local actors to build an effective security regime along the Syrian border.

The origins of the crisis run deep. Throughout his seven-year tenure, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has implemented a divide-and-conquer strategy that has neutered any credible Sunni Arab leadership. The authorities also have taken steps that reinforce perceptions of a sectarian agenda. Prominent officials – predominantly Sunni – have been cast aside pursuant to the Justice and Accountability Law on the basis of alleged senior-level affiliation to the former Baath party. Federal security forces have disproportionately deployed in Baghdad’s Sunni neighbourhoods as well as Sunni-populated governorates (Anbar, Salah al-Din, Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala). Al-Iraqiya, the political movement to which Sunni Arabs most readily related, slowly came apart due to internal rivalries even as Maliki resorted to both legal and extrajudicial means to consolidate power.

This past year has proved particularly damaging. As events in Syria nurtured their hopes for a political comeback, Sunni Arabs launched an unprecedented, peaceful protest movement in late 2012 in response to the arrest of bodyguards of Rafea al-Issawi, a prominent Iraqiya member. It too failed to provide answers to accumulated grievances. Instead, the demonstrations and the repression to which they gave rise further exacerbated the sense of exclusion and persecution among Sunnis.

The government initially chose a lacklustre, technical response, forming committees to unilaterally address protesters’ demands, shunning direct negotiations and tightening security measures in Sunni-populated areas. Half-hearted, belated concessions exacerbated distrust and empowered more radical factions. After a four-month stalemate, the crisis escalated. On 23 April, government forces raided a protest camp in the city of Hawija, in Kirkuk province, killing over 50 and injuring 110. This sparked a wave of violence exceeding anything witnessed for five years. Attacks against security forces and, more ominously, civilians have revived fears of a return to all-out civil strife. The Islamic State of Iraq, al-Qaeda’s local expression, is resurgent. Shiite militias have responded against Sunnis. The government’s seeming intent to address a chiefly political issue – Sunni Arab representation in Baghdad – through tougher security measures has every chance of worsening the situation.

Belittled, demonised and increasingly subject to a central government crackdown, the popular movement is slowly mutating into an armed struggle. In this respect, the absence of a unified Sunni leadership – to which Baghdad’s policies contributed and which Maliki might have perceived as an asset – has turned out to be a serious liability. In a showdown that is acquiring increasing sectarian undertones, the movement’s proponents look westward to Syria as the arena in which the fight against the Iraqi government and its Shiite allies will play out and eastward toward Iran as the source of all their ills.

What South Korea Can Learn from South Asia’s Nuclear Experience

By Timothy Westmyer and Yogesh Joshi 
August 29, 2013

Those calling for South Korea to go nuclear should look at the India-Pakistan experience.

India and Pakistan are again at loggerheads, with five Indian soldiers and two Pakistani soldiers were killed on the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed Kashmir region earlier this month. Since then, the LOC has seen a rapid escalation in cross border exchanges of fire, bringing the sustainability of the 2003 cease fire agreement between the two neighbors into doubt. Earlier, in January, India had accused Pakistani Special Forces of killing two Indian soldiers, claiming one of them was beheaded. These provocations come as progress is stalled in the prosecution of the alleged Pakistan-based masterminds of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. New Delhi remains unable to influence Islamabad’s policy on state-sponsored terrorism, despite the presence of nuclear arsenals in South Asia since the 1990s.

Something similar is visible on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean provocations have persisted since its first nuclear weapon test in 2006. Seoul, like New Delhi, has vacillated between diplomacy and military threats to no avail. South Korea’s current state of strategic frustration has convinced some leaders in Seoul that their country needs an indigenous nuclear capability. In the lead-up to President Park Geun-Hye’s inauguration, members of her own Saenuri Party encouraged a nuclear build-up. Rep. Shim Jae-Cheol argued the “only way to defend our survival would be to maintain a balance of terror that confronts nuclear with nuclear.” In June 2012, former Saenuri Party chairman and presidential candidate Chung Mong-Joon called for a “comprehensive re-examination of our security policy” that should give Seoul “the capability to possess” a nuclear arsenal. At a conference earlier this year in Washington, DC Chung leaned heavily on the U.S.-Soviet model: “The only thing that kept the Cold War cold was the mutual deterrence afforded by nuclear weapons…The lesson of the Cold War is that against nuclear weapons, only nuclear weapons can hold the peace.”

These proliferation optimists cite the U.S.-Soviet Cold War model of nuclear deterrence to claim that a South Korean nuclear arsenal would prevent future aggression. The experience of new nuclear weapon states in South Asia, however, suggests that South Korean nuclear weapons will not prove tremendously helpful to this end.

The South Asian Nuclear Instability

India and Pakistan have fought four major wars since independence, including hostilities even after openly attaining nuclear weapons in 1998. The Line of Control in Kashmir remains tense to this day with Pakistan-based terrorists operating in Indian-administered Kashmir for more than two decades. Pakistan’s revisionist motives in Kashmir and the deep-seated ideological divide between the two nations form the edifice of today’s India-Pakistan rivalry.

Several factors within Pakistan’s polity further aggravate animosity between the two nations, especially since nuclearization. First, Pakistan has historically been a garrison state: if all states have armies, Pakistan’s army has a state. Pakistani politics is dominated by the military, which derives legitimacy from its opposition to India. Second, Pakistan has been a conventionally weaker state vis-à-vis India’s military. Pakistan tried to initially offset this vulnerability by incorporating the element of risk and the cult of the offensive in its military doctrine. The major modern conflicts in South Asia were initiated by Pakistan. However, after a comprehensive defeat in 1971, Pakistan’s conventional inferiority prompted it to pursue nuclear weapons as well as sub-conventional warfare against India. Since 1989, Pakistan has supported insurgency in Kashmir and also other non-state actors in the region.

Singaporean Photographer Edwin Koo: Views from Pakistan to Kathmandu

By Sonya Rehman
August 29, 2013 

Describing himself as an “accidental photographer,” Edwin Koo is an award-winning Singaporean documentary photographer who produces work that is striking and evocative. So much so that his body of work on Swat, Pakistan, titled Paradise Lost: Pakistan’s Swat Valley, won him the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography in 2010.

In an interview with The Diplomat, Koo speaks about the importance of getting out of one’s comfort zone, his love for Kathmandu, Nepal, and his exciting, annual photography masterclass, Kathmandu INSIDE:OUT, due to take place this December.

You were a news photographer for a few years until you branched out as an independent documentary photographer. What prompted the career jump? 

News photography was exciting for the first two or three years. I was shooting celebrities one day and natural disasters the next day, but adrenaline can only do so much. Contrary to popular belief, most news jobs are unexciting and uncreative. Handshakes, funerals, and award ceremonies are part of the drudgery of news work. By the fifth year, it felt like too much of a grind and I wanted out. But I knew I loved visual storytelling and I loved the power of truth in real documentary work. Hence I decided to go out on my own. 

In an interview you stated that the toughest part about making the career switch "was wrenching yourself from the comfort zone." How important was quitting a stable job to challenge yourself as a photographer? 

Not everyone needs to do that. For the more lazy ones like me, you need to create a little crisis in your life to push on. I have seen many hardworking photographers who manage to excel without taking drastic measures. It really depends on your personality, and the kind of work you want to produce. 

What are the differences between working full-time for a publication and working independently?

When you work for a publication, you are pretty much a cog in the machine, doing what you need to do to benefit your employer. This can be limiting to a creative. When you work for yourself, you never really have to work. You think of a thousand and one things to do, and very often, you have ten project ideas floating in the air while you're chasing two or three of them. I think I'm ploughing many more hours into photography now that I'm on my own. I run my own photography business, I run a gallery, I conduct an annual photo masterclass. Plus, I do my personal projects. I'm always doing something related to my work, but I don't feel tired because the freedom that comes with being independent is exhilarating. 

Why The Army Matters: Human Factors And Killing

August 28, 2013 

FORT BELVOIR: The intellectual ice is beginning to break. You could see it at the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Club on Tuesday afternoon, where the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) hosted a three-day, tri-service conference on “Strategic Landpower.

The US Army is wrestling with how to stay relevant once large-scale counterinsurgency in Afghanistan comes to an end. The Marines are going back to their roots — amphibious warfare — and they’ve got a piece of the hot concept called AirSea Battle. The Navy has little to worry about with the Pacific pivot highlighting the importance of the service’s global reach — and they’re central to AirSea Battle. The Air Force is still trying to figure out its real future but AirSea Battle gives the USAF a major role.

But the Army. Ah, the Army. After months, if not years, of debating opaque and often vague ideas such as “the human domain,” “prevent-shape-win,” “regionally aligned forces,” and “Strategic Landpower” itself, it now looks as if someone’s come up with a coherent case — and, even more important, they’re beginning to win over key civilians as well.

“The problem you have is, what’s the elevator speech for the senators on the appropriations committee?” said Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., chairman of the Stimson Center board and a veteran national security official. (While most comments were not for attribution, all the individuals in this article gave me permission to quote them by name). “Very few people understand what you do,” he told the conferees. “We need to be able to tell senators, journalists, presidents, civilians, why are we doing this, why is this important, why does this deserve a defense dollar in a tight environment.”

While this week’s conference was co-sponsored by the Marine Corps (cautiously) and by Special Operations Command (enthusiastically), it’s the conventional “Big Army” that has the most at stake. While the entire military is taking budget cuts, now painfully compounded by sequestration, only the Army faces an existential crisis. With the nation swearing off large-scale counterinsurgency “forever” (for the second time since Vietnam) and no hostile conventional army on the horizon, what does America need large ground forces for?

Within the Army itself, that question turns into a debate over the service’s core competency, indeed its very identity. The rapidly shrinking service wants to somehow both preserve its hard-won people skills — language, culture, uprooting underground networks, winning over tribal leaders and local militias — and rebuild its ability to wage big-gun blitzkrieg. But which should approach should it focus on after we pull out of Afghanistan in 2014?

The obvious answer — “do both” — is a hard case to make in tight budgetary times. It’s not impossible. A small but smart cadre within the Army has been arguing that touchy-feely human factors and hard-charging combat ops are synergistic, not separate. Instead of being parallel efforts, they must converge into a single 21st century way of war. In this analysis, the two sets of capabilities are not in competition; they are not separate-but-equal (or unequal); they are not even merely complementary; they are yin and yang, soft speech and big stick, each utterly essential to the other.