25 September 2013

The U.S.-European Relationship, Then and Now

September 24, 2013

I am writing this from Greece, having spent the past week in Europe and having moved among various capitals. Most discussions I've had in my travels concern U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to move decisively against Syria and how Russian President Vladimir Putin outmatched him. Of course, the Syrian intervention had many aspects, and one of the most important ones, which was not fully examined, was what it told us about the state of U.S.-European relations and of relations among European countries. This is perhaps the most important question on the table.

We have spoken of the Russians, but for all the flash in their Syria performance, they are economically and militarily weak -- something they would change if they had the means to do so. It is Europe, taken as a whole, that is the competitor for the United States. Its economy is still slightly larger than the United States', and its military is weak, though unlike Russia this is partly by design.

The U.S.-European relationship helped shape the 20th century. American intervention helped win World War I, and American involvement in Europe during World War II helped ensure an allied victory. The Cold War was a transatlantic enterprise, resulting in the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the European Peninsula. The question now is: What will the relationship be between these two great economic entities, which together account for roughly 50 percent of the world's gross domestic product, in the 21st century? That question towers over all others globally.

A Fluid Concept

The events surrounding the Syria intervention, which never materialized, hint at the answer to this question. The Syrian crisis began not with the United States claiming that action must be taken against al Assad's use of chemical weapons but with calls to arms from the United Kingdom, France and Turkey. The United States was rather reluctant, but ultimately it joined these and several other European countries. Only then did the Europeans' opinions diverge. In the United Kingdom, the parliament voted against intervention. In Turkey, the government favored intervention on a much larger scale than the United States wanted. And in France, which actually had the ability to lend a hand, the president favored intervention but faced a less enthusiastic parliament.

Most important to note was the division of Europe. Each country crafted its own response -- or lack of response -- to the Syrian crisis. The most interesting position was taken by Germany, which was unwilling to participate and until quite late unwilling to endorse participation. I've talked about the fragmentation of Europe. Nothing is more striking than the foreign policy split between France and Germany not only on Syria but on Mali and Libya as well. One of the central drivers behind the creation of the European Union and its post-war precursors was the need bind France and Germany economically. French and German divergence was the root of European wars. It had to be avoided at all costs.

Yet that divergence has returned. Their differences have not manifested as virulently as they did before 1945, but still, it can no longer be said that their foreign policies are synchronized. In fact, the three major powers on the European Peninsula currently are pursuing very different foreign policies. The United Kingdom is moving in its own direction, limiting its involvement in Europe and trying to find its own course between Europe and the United States. France is focused to the south, on the Mediterranean and Africa. Germany is trying to preserve the trade zone and is looking east at Russia.

Nothing has ruptured in Europe, but then Europe as a concept has always been fluid. The European Union is a free trade zone that excludes some European countries. It is a monetary union that excludes some members of the free trade zone. It has a parliament but leaves defense and foreign policy prerogatives to sovereign nation-states. It has not become more organized since 1945; in some fundamental ways, it has become less organized. Where previously there were only geographical divisions, now there are also conceptual divisions.

Differences between the United States and Europe were made clear in the Syrian crisis. Had President Obama chosen to intervene, he could have acted in Syria as he saw fit -- he didn't necessarily need congressional approval but sought it anyway. Europe could not act because there really isn't a singular European foreign or defense policy. But more important, no individual European nation has the ability by itself to conduct an air attack on Syria. As Libya showed, France and Italy could not execute a sustained air campaign. They needed the United States.

Cowboys and Naifs

Here in Europe, Obama is criticized for his handling of the Syria intervention. There is also a general belief that Putin's foreign policy is a failure. But I am old enough to remember that Europeans have always thought of U.S. presidents as either naive, as they did with Jimmy Carter, or as cowboys, as they did with Lyndon Johnson, and held them in contempt in either case. (Richard Nixon's being honored by the French is an interesting exception.) After some irrational exuberance from the European left, Obama has now been deemed naive, just as George W. Bush was deemed a cowboy.

Europeans obsess much more over U.S. presidents than Americans obsess over European leaders. They have strong opinions, most of them negative, about whomever is in office. My response to such criticism has always been a tricky one. Imagine the fine sophisticates of 1914 and 1939 with nuclear weapons. Do you think the ones responsible for entering two horrible wars could have resisted using nuclear weapons? It is the good fortune of Europe that when leaders were wont to use nuclear weapons, the Europeans didn't have their fingers on the launch buttons.

Mr. Singh Comes To Washington: India, China & The Pacific

on September 23, 2013

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (center), seen here at a military review, will meet with President Obama on Friday.

WASHINGTON: When Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh meets with President Obama at the White House this Friday, the rise of China may not be on the official agenda, but it will be on everybody’s mind – and Beijing will be watching warily.

Friday’s meeting will be just the latest in a series of summits that began with George W. Bush – whose first term, not coincidentally, started with a pre-9/11 crisis over China’s downing of a US Navy spy plane off Hainan. Relations have kept getting closer ever since the Bush administration elevated India to the ranks of our most important allies. India has been the world’s biggest arms importer for the last four years in a row, and the value of its purchases from the US has soared since their nadir of zero in 2004-2005, according to theStockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI.

India’s navy is buying Boeing’s P-8 patrol plane, while their air force flies Boeing C-17 andLockheed C-130 cargo aircraft (although it passed on F-16 and F-18 fighters in favor ofFrance’s Rafale, with the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 reportedly the backup option if the Rafale deal falls through). The two countries’ militaries regularly exercise with one another, especially at sea. There is even talk of regular “rotations” of US Air Force units through the Indian airbase at Trivandrum, similar to the US Marine Corps’ long-term but not permanent presence in Darwin, Australia, which already gives Beijing the heebie-jeebies.

The growing closeness of Washington and New Delhi is bad news for Beijing, whose leaders fear “encirclement” by hostile powers. Ironically, that fear may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy because of China’s own increasing aggressiveness towards its neighbors, from Japan to the Philippines to India itself.

Just this April, Chinese soldiers crossed into Indian-claimed territory in the Himalayas and camped out in Indian-claimed territory for three weeks. The move so thoroughly provoked Indian nationalists ahead of a visit by China’s new premier that some observers speculatedPLA commanders were acting without Beijing’s approval, perhaps in a deliberate attempt to scuttle any Sino-Indian détente. On the Indian side, just eight days ago, India staged a new test of its first ballistic missile with enough range to drop a nuclear warhead on Beijing, the Agni V, a weapon some Indian hawks have dubbed “the China-killer.”

NSA planted bugs at Indian missions in D.C., U.N.

Published: September 25, 2013 
Shobhan Saxena

APThe NSA selected India’s U.N. office and the embassy as “location target” for infiltrating with hi-tech bugs, which might have given them access to vast quantities of Internet traffic. File photo.

They were penetrated by NSA bugs that can copy entire hard disks

Two of the most important nerve-centres of Indian diplomacy outside the country — the Permanent Mission of India at the United Nations and the embassy in Washington, DC — were targets of such sophisticated bugs implanted by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that entire computer hard disks might have been copied by the American agency. The U.N. Mission building in New York and the embassy premises, including its annex, in Washington were on a top-secret list of countries and missions — many of them European allies of the U.S. — chosen for intensive spying.

According to a top-secret NSA document obtained by The Hindu, the NSA selected India’s U.N. office and the embassy as “location target” for infiltrating their computers and telephones with hi-tech bugs, which might have given them access to vast quantities of Internet traffic, e-mails, telephone and office conversations and even official documents stored digitally.

Since the NSA revelations began in June, U.S. President Barack Obama and other top American officials have all claimed that the surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But the targeted spying of Indian diplomatic buildings could have been done for political and commercial reasons — not the core responsibility of the NSA.

According to the 2010 COMINT (communication intelligence) document about “Close Access SIGADs”, the offices of Indian diplomats and high-ranking military officials stationed at these important posts were targets of four different kinds of electronic snooping devices:
  • Lifesaver, which facilitates imaging of the hard drive of computers
  • Highlands, which makes digital collection from implants
  • Vagrant, which collects data of open computer screens, and
  • Magnetic, which is a collection of digital signals

All the Indian “targets” in the list are marked with an asterisk, which, according to the document, means that they “have either been dropped or are slated to be dropped in the near future.” The NSA document doesn’t say when and how the bugs were implanted or how much of data was lifted from Indian offices, but all of them were on the “target” list for more than one type of data collection bugs.

Asked by The Hindu, why India’s U.N. mission and embassy, which clearly pose no terrorism threat to the U.S., were targeted by the NSA, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said: “The U.S. government will respond through diplomatic channels to our partners and allies. While we are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. We value our cooperation with all countries on issues of mutual concern.”

Nothing to write home about

Published: September 25, 2013
Manoj Joshi

The Manmohan-Obama meeting at the U.N. General Assembly session is unlikely to be significant thanks to the stasis that has marked India-U.S. relations since 2008

There was a time when the United States was riding so high that the White House looked down on foreign heads of state using their presence in the annual United Nations General Assembly session to seek an audience with the leader of the free world. With its diminished status in today’s multi-polar world, it is Washington that finds it expedient to use the event for some old-fashioned diplomacy. On the list for this year’s summits, or “working visits,” are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. They could all be upstaged by a possible summit between Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Dealing with Israel

For Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu, the context is domestic politics. Anything to do with Israel is local politics, as far as the U.S. is concerned. And the real problem with Israel is the intractable issue of Palestine. Having put his foot in it by clearly defining the emerging Palestinian state, Mr. Obama is now in a bind because of Israel’s customary intransigence. The meeting with the Nigerian is a patch-up effort aimed at soothing sentiments of black Africa’s most populous nation, which was left out of Mr. Obama’s itinerary in his June tour of Africa.

An Obama-Rouhani meeting though could put everything in the shade, even the UNGA. The estrangement between Iran and the U.S. has poisoned international politics for the past three decades. In the past year or so, they seem to be headed for an even more serious clash over Iran’s nuclear programme and the tightening of American sanctions. So any development toward resolving that situation would be good news, especially for countries such as India which have important geopolitical stakes in good relations with Teheran.

Where does the Manmohan-Obama summit fit in all this?

The relationship between India and the U.S. has been described in many ways: estranged democracies; natural allies; strategic partners; the defining partnership of the twentieth century; and so on. Today, if anything, there is one word to describe them, “dysfunctional,” which they both are, as putative allies and democracies. It is this reality upon which their efforts to put the mojo back in their relationship is foundering.

The real explanation for the stasis that has gripped India-U.S. relations since 2008 is largely economic, but there are also domestic causes on both sides. In June, leading U.S. business groups wrote to President Obama protesting what they called “unacceptable” Indian practices targeting U.S. business interests in India. Later that month, as many as 40 U.S. Senators signed on to a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry repeating the complaints.

Can India Keep Growing?

It depends on which India you're talking about.

Just a few years ago, it seemed the sky was the limit for India. Its budding high-tech industries were supplying software and services to countries around the world, its call centers were ubiquitousat the end of English-speakers' phone lines, and its pharmaceuticals industry was pumping out low-cost cures for hundreds of millions of customers in emerging economies. Now, skepticism about India's growth abounds. Is it justified?

India certainly doesn't lack potential. As I've written before, the main ways for a country to raise living standards are to put more capital within the reach of its workers and to adopt new technologies from abroad. India has room to do much more of both.

One way to bring workers and capital together is urbanization, which tends to track economic growth fairly closely. The graph below shows the strong relationship between urbanization and per capita incomes. Each point represents a country, and the green one is India. It's right on trend, and it has a good long way to go.

Other populous countries have trodden India's path already. Indonesia was at a similar point in the early 1990s, as was China in the late 1990s. Both continued to urbanize, with about 50 percent of their populations living in cities today. But China's per capita income is higher, and it also urbanized more quickly. There's room for plenty of variance around the trend line, so India's future is far from certain.

India, too, grew rapidly in the past two decades, but it was not the fastest mover. In 1993, its population was 26 percent urbanized; in 2012, it was 32 percent, with growth in GDP per capita, adjusted for inflation, of 5.2 percent per year. Yet during the same period, Vietnam reached 32 percent urbanization after starting at 21 percent, with growth in GDP per capita of 5.8 percent per year.

Changing US Security Strategy

The Search for Stability and the “Non-War” against “Non-Terrorism”
SEP 24, 2013

More than a decade into the “war on terrorism,” much of the political debate in the United States is still fixated on the legacy of 9/11. US politics has a partisan fixation on Benghazi, the Boston Marathon bombing, intelligence intercepts, and Guantanamo. Far too much attention still focuses on “terrorism” at a time the United States faces a much broader range of threats from the instability in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Islamic world.

Moreover, much of the US debate ignores the fact that the United States has not actually fought a “war on terrorism” over the last decade, as well as the US failures in using military force and civil aid in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States has not fought wars as such, but rather became involved in exercises in armed nation building, where stability operations escalated into national building as a result of US occupation and where the failures in stability operations and nation building led to insurgencies that forced the United States into major counterinsurgency campaigns that had little to do with counterterrorism.

Publisher CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN 978-1-4422-2533-6 (pb); 978-1-4422-2534-3 (eBook)

Pakistan: Three Layers of Confusion.. and their consequences

Posted on September 23, 2013 
by omar

Pakistan was the site of an exceptionally vicious suicide bombing over the weekend. Two suicide bombers, with malice aforethought, chose to sacrifice their own lives in order to explode in a crowded church at the end of Sunday services. At least 81 people are dead, many of them women and children. The Christian community in Pakistan is tiny, poor and politically weak. They keep their heads down and live in the shadow of blasphemy lawsthat mean any Muslim upset with them for any reason can start a riot against them and they will be the ones getting arrested. A group called Jundullah (the army of Allah; I am not kidding) called and claimed responsibility for the attack. They said it was a reaction to ongoing drone attacks against Islamic militants.

This is not the first time some “militant group” in Pakistan has claimed that they are so upset at something (drone attacks, arrests of comrades, military incursions in liberated Islamic Soviets, official Pakistani willingness to permit supplies to reach NATO troops in Afghanistan, unveiled women, the presence of Hindus in Kashmir, the list is endless) that they feel justified in blowing up some random civilians in response. They have bombed mosques, markets, churches, embassies, hotels, air-force bases, buses and funerals. They have targeted individual Shias (including doctors and prominent citizens whose only crime was being Shia) and Ahmedis. They have kidnapped soldiers, teachers, doctors, students, even sons of prime-ministers. They have blown up serving generals and killed the children of generals who were praying in a military mosque. But still they are not really villains in the eyes of many prominent Pakistanis. Cricketing hero and politician Imran Khan (who is popular with middle class Pakistanis and much admired by Western liberals, Code Pink, Prince Charles and British Trotskyite Tariq Ali) regards these “militants” as Pashtoon nationalists and sincere Islamists who are “understandably upset” at being deprived of their due share in Afghan politics and the presence of infidels in Muslim lands. Their most murderous tactics are either regarded as misguided (but undestandable) reactions to drone attacks, or the work of mysterious conspirators who do not wish to see peace in Pakistan. This sounds so stupid that if Imran Khan was a character in a novel, readers would reject him as too improbable and unreal. And he is not alone. Many others in Pakistan apparently agree with him. Militants who regularly behead hostages and soldiers (and display their heads on white sheets and make videos of the scene and put them up on youtube), and who make absolutely no secret of their further murderous intentions, are regarded as a legitimate resistance movement with whom we should negotiate an honorable settlement as soon as possible.
it is not that no action has been taken against them. Multiple military operations have tried to clear them out of one or the other region of North-Western Pakistan, but there is a curious disconnect between these operations and the national narrative being promoted by the same military. To see how unique (and uniquely confused) this story is, compare what is happening in Pakistan to any other country you can think of. In the Phillipines or Thailand or India or Kenya, the state may be underdeveloped with problems of corruption, exploitation, injustice, inefficiency etc. that may be as bad as any in Pakistan; but the narrative is not confused at all. The state, its media organs and all national institutions regard the terrorists as their enemies. They want to stop them and they will do what they can to do so. They may or may not succeed, their methods may or may not be appropriate or effective, their cause may or may not be just in some eyes, but there is the state, and then there are its enemies. The two are not confused about who is who. In Pakistan, even that much is not clear. And that lack of clarity has real consequences. A half a million man army with regional power pretensions is helpless in the face of a few thousand armed Islamist gangsters because it is unsure of its own cause and unable to mobilize the unstinting support of the ruling elite; who at least would be expected to take a stand against those undermining their authority and their monopoly of force. Why is that so, and why is it especially so in pakistan? (After feedback, I want to add this clarification: please note that this is an article about why the NARRATIVE is so weak and confused in Pakistan; this is not an analysis of military or economic or any other aspect of the civil war of “compromisers/Western-agents/class-enemies/corrupt feudals/whatever versus Islamic militants/pashtoon nationalists/proletarian revolutionaries/foreign agents/whatever. I hope this helps calm down friends who are focused on other aspects)

Former Warlord Primed for Afghan Presidency

"A presidential candidate with a violent terrorist group named in his honor."

From the jihad wilds of Africa, Central and Southeast Asia an Afghan warlord has emerged as an unlikely favorite to become his country’s next president. Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – blamed for the deaths of thousands – has declared his candidacy for polls due later this year and political insiders say his chances are better than good.

Sayyaf’s ties have included Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Southeast Asian terror outfit Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) and the widely loathed Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from the Southern Philippines. The ASG adopted his name after he trained Filipino members for jihad in Africa in the 1990s.

“Throughout the jihads and his Islamic wars he was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people,” one Western advisor to the government of Hamid Karzai said. “But that is not necessarily a handicap in this part of the world and he is held in high regard by many people that matter.”

Karzai will stand down at elections due in April next year, at the end of his second term, as mandated by the constitution. That will clear a path for Sayyaf, who is one of three early favorites for the top job. The other two are Abdullah Abdullah, who almost won four years ago, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister. Both are well known quantities where Sayyaf is not.

The Independent Elections Commission (IEC) last week began receiving applications for 2014 presidential nominations.

Battle-hardened, Sayyaf earned his initial stripes fighting Soviet occupation in the 1980s with the Arab-backed Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan (IULA). He mobilized Arab volunteers for the mujahedin and caught the attention of another Arab fighting the Russians, Osama bin Laden.

Civil war followed and bin Laden shifted his operations to Sudan, until he was expelled in 1996, under international pressure. Osama moved back to Afghanistan and immediately invited Sayyaf into his tent.

Sayyaf had gained experience in Africa by training young Muslim Filipinos arriving from the war-torn Southern Philippines, where an essentially ethnic civil conflict was being complicated by foreign militants keen to use the region as a base and hideout for jihad to be spread across Southeast Asia.

The al Harakat al-Islamiyya had begun its push for independence and an Islamic theocracy in 1991 but so enamored were the rebels returning home, the group was soon renamed the Abu Sayyaf after their Afghan mentor. Numbering 1,000 active members at best, the Abu Sayyaf never enjoyed the same support among locals as established groups with more than three decades of fighting behind them.

But they did form a strategic alliance with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which comprised mainly Indonesians and Malaysian jihadists with direct links to al-Qaeda under the religious stewardship of the hardline preacher Abu Bakar Bashir. Their quest for a Southeast Asian caliphate was underpinned by a 10-year bombing campaign, mainly in Indonesia, that left thousands dead and maimed.

Allegations have also surfaced that Sayyaf had assisted in the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masood, the military chief of the Northern Alliance, which continued to fight the Taliban from 1996 until his death just days before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

But Sayyaf moved on. In the post-9/11 era he played the Afghan factions, eventually controlling the Ittehad-al-Islam, which by 2005 had been transformed into a political party named the Islamic Dawah Organization of Afghanistan. Despite these conflicting affiliations he joined the Northern Alliance.

“This is not going to suit the Americans at all,” said one long time Western observer. “He’s everything the puritans are against, nevertheless if he succeeds they won’t have much choice, after all the U.S. and the allied troops are leaving.”

Security is an enormous issue and a lack of it has resulted in calls to postpone the poll amid fears that the insurgency in Afghanistan has grown to such an extent, particularly in the countryside, that the legitimacy of any election would be compromised by dramatically reduced turnout rates.

Just look at the past week. Car bombs and firefights outside the U.S. consulate in the western capital of Herat resulted in the deaths of two Afghans. A day later another seven were wounded when a NATO convoy came under attack in the Taliban heartland near Kandahar. Separate operations by Afghan troops killed almost 64 Talban. Then a Pakistani general and two soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb and a senior female Afghan policewoman was assassinated.

The strikes dampened massive nationwide celebrations after Afghanistan’s historic two-nil victory over India in the South Asia Football Federation Championship.

Wild scenes erupted with the nation’s youth taking to Kabul’s streets with fireworks, megaphones and AK47s. As the automatic gunfire rang out, security forces went on high alert and the few foreigners here scrambled for cover in the mistaken belief that a battle had begun.

What genuinely surprised many were the thousands of weapons that poured onto the streets from an array of Afghan factions, albeit this time for celebration.

Tribal elders say the ability of insurgents to roam unchecked will make it impossible to provide the security needed to hold legitimate elections. People were finding it a struggle simply to register for the poll due to the overwhelming presence of insurgents.

This is only likely to get worse given the rapid pace of the pullout. The 62,000 American troops stationed here will be down to about 30,000 by the end of the year. The number of bases will be reduced from more than 100 to less than 10, once the withdrawal is completed by the end of 2014.

Peace Gestures in Manipur: Will it Work?

September 23, 2013

It is never easy to talk peace, especially when one has spent decades fighting. The Union government and the Naga armed groups, in particular the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah – NSCN (IM) – have spent more than 16 long years talking to each other. Talks have also started with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) since 2011, yet resolution to the conflict may be sometime in the making given that one of its key leaders, Paresh Barua has not joined the peace process. The ULFA has submitted its “Charter of Demands”, given up its core demand of sovereignty in lieu of the guarantee of indigenous peoples’ rights, land reform and addressing the issue of illegal migration.

The only state, severely affected by armed conflicts, but which has witnessed no significant peace talks between the state and the armed groups is Manipur. Despite suffering from armed violence since the 1960s, none of the Meitei armed groups in the state have come forward for peace talks, until of course now.

On September 9, Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) were signed between the Manipur state government and three militant groups: Kangleipak Communist Party-Nongdreinkhomba (KCP-N), Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF) and the Kuki Revolutionary Party (KRP). By signing the MoUs, the three armed groups have agreed to give up arms and start peace talks. The propelling factor for this rather significant development was perhaps the release of Lanheiba Meitei, the leader of the KCP-N. Lanheiba was apprehended by the Assam Police and re-arrested by the Imphal Police in 2011 for his alleged involvement in planting a car bomb in the Manipur Governor’s house in Imphal on September 19, 2007 and in the October 21, 2008 Ragailong bomb blasts which killed 17 people. He now has a chance to talk peace within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Given his background and involvement in subversive activities, his position in the peace talks is already rather weak.

The more important issue is whether the dominant armed groups in Manipur especially the United National Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA) and its political wing, the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) are willing to come forward for peace talks. Rajkumar Meghen, the chairman of the UNLF, was arrested in 2010. Despite the advantage of having him in jail, pressures to induce Meghen to come to the peace table have not worked till date. The most elusive outfit is the PLA, who has rejected any resolution to its armed movement within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Last year, when the Manipur Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh reached out to the PLA to shun violence and come forward for peace talks, PLA President, Irengbam Chaoren rejected the offer and instead appealed to all armed groups in the Northeast to join in a united fight against the Indian state.

The challenge in Manipur will be to incentivize these three armed groups to come to the peace table. The task to get the PLA to talk to the government is particularly daunting given the fact that this armed group has remained united since 1978 unlike the other two which suffered internal factions. The PLA has also succeeded in establishing social networks that are not only spread across the community it claims to represent, the Meiteis, but also across other smaller ethnic communities in Manipur. It also has its safe base areas across the border in Myanmar.

What could be a feasible formula for peace talks in Manipur? For one, it has to deeply engage with the societal issues that have led to these multiple armed conflicts. Fears of loss of land, demands for political empowerment and economic development, ethnic identity assertion, cultural exclusivity, hill-plain divide, divide between the ethnic communities and the rest of India further fuelled by the absence of an inclusive politics, have created a web of alienation and loss of self-worth. Moreover, the politicization of ethnic differences for electoral gains, rampant corruption in development projects, fears of discrimination, and ethnic distrust creates the structural conditions for armed conflicts aligned along exclusivist ethnic lines. The other daunting obstacle is the historical interpretation of Manipur’s accession to India in 1949. All the armed groups mentioned above propagate the idea that this accession was coerced and not voluntary. An honest and direct engagement with this aspect will help in formulating a constructive and legitimate peace process.

It is also extremely significant to establish a process of peace where the leaders of the armed groups voluntarily come forward for peace talks. Arrested leaders may engage in peace talks, but the credibility, durability and commitment to that process in terms of social healing and conflict prevention in the long run is rather suspect.

China Finds the Lost Kingdom

September 24, 2013
By Saransh Sehgal

Some of the last vestiges of traditional Tibetan culture are under threat as Nepal’s Mustang region opens to the world.

One of the most isolated regions in Asia, Mustang lies in the north of Nepal, nestled between the Chinese border on the Tibetan plateau and the Nepalese provinces of Dolop and Manang on the other. For centuries, this land has been closely linked by language and culture to Tibet. Indeed, many believe that Tibetan culture, region and traditions are at their most unadulterated here.

Protected by forbidding mountains, Mustang was once an independent kingdom that controlled trade between the Himalayas and the plains of India. Known as the lost kingdom, Mustang is slowly beginning to feel the influence of the outside world, most notably China. For Beijing, Mustang has strategic importance, enabling it to not only exert influence in Nepal and block fleeing Tibetans, but also to reopen ancient trade routes that lead to the borders of India.

Soon after Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama escaped into India in 1959, numerous Tibetans used this traditional salt trade route to traverse arid moonscapes and plunging valleys as they fled their homeland, escaping Chinese rule.

It was here that four decades ago Tibetan Khampa warriors, trained by the CIA and hosted by local Lo (Mustang) people, staged for attacks on Chinese troops in Tibet. While the Khampa’s rebellion did not last long, the free border continued to offer Tibetans safe passage into Nepal and India. In 2000, in what was an embarrassment for Beijing, Tibet’s third highest lama the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee escaped into India via the Mustang route.

Since then, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has closed the border, blocking not only Tibetans but also local Mustang people, who traditionally crossed into Tibet to attend religious ceremonies, make pilgrimages and meet relatives. Meanwhile, Mustang lost its status as a kingdom in 2008, accompanying the end of the Nepal monarchy. Since then, the people of Mustang have come entirely under the control of Kathmandu, which has in recent years been increasingly oriented towards China. 

Today, life in Mustang revolves around Buddhism, controlled tourism, animal husbandry and trade. Within a geopolitical context, however, much of Mustang can now be seen in transition, and increasingly influenced by forces across the border.

Local shops are filled with Chinese groceries and supplies from Tibet, which locals’ trade during an annual fair. Food is given as aid to the people by the Chinese, and some local monasteries have been built with Chinese money.

For decades, China showed no interest in Mustang. Given the recent attention, locals say they are slowly becoming more worried about Beijing’s intentions. 

“The Chinese officers often come here in jeeps and keep a check on our activities. Sometimes they even interrogate locals asking about various things. Somehow we feel that their over-friendly nature is just propaganda,” says Pema Bista, a local living in the medieval walled city of Lo Manthang that used to serve as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mustang.

One Tibetan living in Mustang who asks not to be named even alleges, “The situation is such that the Chinese army is paying bribes to Nepalese forces at the border to keep control of Tibetans fleeing through this route. The problem of Tibet is the problem of China and because of that there are many Chinese spies in the region that provide regular information across the border.”

How long can the Communist party survive in China?

By Jamil Anderlini

As the economy slows and middle-class discontent grows, it is the question that’s now being asked not only outside but inside the country. Even at the Central Party School there is talk of the unthinkable: the collapse of Chinese communism

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, last month

Tucked away between China’s top spy school and the ancient imperial summer palace in the west of Beijing lies the only place in the country where the demise of the ruling Communist party can be openly debated without fear of reprisal. But this leafy address is not home to some US-funded liberal think-tank or an underground dissident cell. It is the campus of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the elite training academy for the country’s autocratic leaders that is described in official propaganda as a “furnace to foster the spirit of party members”.

The Central Party School was established in 1933 to indoctrinate cadres in Marxism, Leninism and, later, Mao Zedong Thought, and past headmasters have included Mao himself, recently anointed president Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao. In keeping with some of the momentous changes that have occurred in Chinese society, the curriculum has been radically revised in recent years. Students still steep themselves in the wisdom of Das Kapital and “Deng Xiaoping Theory” but they are also taught classes in economics, law, religion, military affairs and western political thought. As well as watching anti-corruption documentaries and participating in revolutionary singalongs, the mid-level and high-ranking party cadres who make up the student body are given lessons in opera appreciation and diplomatic etiquette.

A more significant change for an institution founded to enforce ideological purity is its relatively new role as an intellectual free-fire zone, where almost nothing is off-limits for discussion. “We just had a seminar with a big group of very influential party members and they were asking us how long we think the party will be in charge and what we have planned for when it collapses,” says one Party School professor who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to foreign media. “To be honest, this is a question that everyone in China is asking but I’m afraid it is very difficult to answer.”

How long the heirs to Mao’s 1949 revolution can hang on to power has been a perennial question since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Many dire predictions of imminent collapse have come and gone but the party has endured and even thrived, especially since it opened its ranks to capitalists for the first time a decade ago. These days the revolutionary party of the proletariat is probably best described as the world’s largest chamber of commerce and membership is the best way for businesspeople to network and clinch lucrative contracts.

In less than five years the Chinese Communist party will challenge the Soviet Union (69 or 74 years in power depending on how you count it) and Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (71 years until 2000) for the longest unbroken rule by any political party. Modernisation theory holds that authoritarian systems tend to democratise as incomes rise, that the creation of a large middle class hastens the process and that economic slowdown following a long period of rapid growth makes that transition more likely. Serious and worsening inequality coupled with high levels of corruption can add to the impetus for change.

Potala Palace: Tibet’s Towering Spiritual Sanctum

By Jonathan DeHart
September 24, 2013

Perched atop Red Mountain in the western part of the Lhasa Valley, the Potala Palace looms over its surroundings at a staggering 3,700 meters above sea level (Mt. Fuji stands 3,776 meters tall). The palace is easily the most imposing manmade structure in the world at this elevation: a colossal fortress with a golden roof rising from a mountain top, surrounded by imposing turreted walls and entered via a number of gates. The majestic building unsurprisingly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Yet few seem able to agree about its origins. Some have suggested that politics drove its creation. They assert that the Tibetan Empire’s founder Songtsän Gampo – born sometime between the mid-sixth century and early seventh century CE – erected the fortress to solidify his political power. Others believe Gampo constructed it to woo a Tang Dynasty princess. Its name is thought to be derived from Mt. Potala, the mythical alpine dwelling place of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, in southern India.

But it’s not merely the abode of some figurehead. Historically, the palace has served not only as Tibet’s political nerve center, but also as its spiritual heart. Tradition holds that Lhasa’s three main hills – Chokpori, Pongwari and Marpori – are the symbolic “Three Protectors of Tibet.” Potala rests on top of Marpori, believed to represent Avalokitesvara. Locals have also traditionally believed other divine beings call the palace home.

Since the seventh century CE the Potala Palace has been the winter home of the Dalai Lama. As it stands today, construction of the modern Potala Palace began in 1645 during the reign of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso. The palace is essentially divided into two main sections, with the Red Palace at its center, from which the White Palace extends as two wings. The Red Palace is devoted to Buddhist study and meditation, while the White Palace has historically been used for political administrative purposes, and as lodgings for the Dalai Lama.

It took three years to construct the exterior, with an additional 45 years were needed to build the mind-bogglingly extensive 130,000-square-meter interior. The 117-meter-tall (384 feet) 13-story compound comprises a dense network of temples, palaces, dormitories and administrative areas. In total, there are more than 1,000 rooms chock full of cultural treasures and striking murals, 10,000 shrines, and more than 200,000 statues. Potala boasted chapels, gardens, courtyards, the tombs of eight past dalai lamas, a seminary, a printing house, schools…even a jail.

Despite the illustrious history and vastness of this complex that is so central to Tibetan identity, its cultural integrity has been endangered in recent years due to the increasing Sinification of Tibet. The media has hammered this message home at the level of popular culture, most recently when it was revealed that even the boyhood home of the current Dalai Lama – a refuge just to the south in Dharamsala, India – has received a makeover from Chinese officials. Security cameras now oversee the premises, which are surrounded by a three-meter high wall.

Sri Lanka: First take on Northern Provincial Council elections

Update No. 236
Note No. 695 Dated 24-Sept-2013

Col. R. Hariharan

About 78.5 percent of 4.25 lakh people of Northern Province who voted in the Provincial Council elections on September 21, 2013 have given the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) a thumping victory. The TNA won 30 seats including 2 bonus seats in the 38-member council while the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured 7 seats and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) won 1 seat.

The results were not unexpected; but the large voter turnout of 67.5 percent evidently boosted the TNA figures. TNA’s performance point to the broad acceptance of its reading of political aspirations reflected in its manifesto.

The TNA went into the election after some introspection with its Diaspora patrons and Tamil intellectuals.This resulted in TNA naming an apolitical personality - retired Sri Lanka Supreme Court judge CV Wigneswaran - as its chief ministerial candidate. This prevented TNA from dissipating its energies in a leadership struggle between the three major parties that dominate the five-member conglomerate.

Justice Wigneswaran enjoyed excellent national reputation as a jurist and did not belong to any party. Any doubts about his belief in the Tamil Cause vanished after he delivered the Thanthai Chelvanayagam Lecture “Whither Sri Lankan Tamils” at Colombo on April 25, 2013. The rhetoric and the nuance of speech appealed to most of the Tamils, despite some unorthodox views. Undoubtedly, choice of Wigneswaran helped the TNA’s to broaden its support base as he was apolitical and belonged to no special interest group. Probably this persuaded large number of voters to support TNA after their energies have been sapped by two and a half decades of war.

He also fitted in the TNA bid to project a new image distancing itself from its tainted political association with Prabhakaran while retaining the idiom of ‘Tamil Nation’ at its core. This desire has made the manifesto more a vision statement than a mission statement listing specific objectives of the Party.

For instance, it reaffirmed the Tamils right of self determination and the desire to find a solution to satisfy the Tamil aspirations within a federal structure as stated in Oslo Communiqué. TNA failed to pursue this objective when it meekly bowed down to Prabhakaran and allowed him to be the sole arbiter of Tamils in the peace process with disastrous results. To resuscitate this objective in the present context of Sri Lanka is going to be an uphill task because much water has flown in Kelaniya River since then. The reality is the LTTE has been eliminated as an extra constitutional rider on finding a solution to the Tamil issue. President Rajapaksa has been elected twice after disowning the federal solution and wishing away the existence of any ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Tamils have been reduced to play their weakest political wicket now. And last but not the least, there is a government “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,”(to quote UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mrs Naveneetham Pillay at the end of her recent visit to Sri Lanka).

Now TNA in office in NPC has no choice but to build an equation with Colombo to fulfil the expectations it has kindled among the people. This is going to be a trying task for the TNA as a whole and the chief minister in particular. lf there is anyone who can undertake the task of striking an equation with an intransigent government, it is probably the chief minister designate Wigneswaran. As a Tamil judge at the highest court of the nation he had walked the tight-rope through the trying period of ethnic conflict. Though he is a non-political personality he has the acumen and ability to take informed decisions while dealing with the government.

Fortunately, he appears to have more confidence in finding home grown solution (Rajapaksa’s much maligned usage) without external intervention than other TNA leaders. Already he has shown signs of keeping an open mind on issues like participation in the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) being hosted by Sri Lanka. He will also be facing a challenging task ahead as he has to carry the disparate and divided TNA polity with their own agendas to tackle a scheming UPFA out to pull the rug from under his feet at the first opportunity. if Wigneswaran has to arrive at a working relationship with Colombo, it is essential for TNA to shed the ghost of Prabhakaran driving from the backseat throwing broad hints at separatism.

Thinking About The Thinkable: DPRK Collapse Scenarios Redux

By Peter Hayes
September 24, 2013

I. Introduction

In the following Policy Form Peter Hayes analyzes Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse by RAND analyst Bruce Bennett. Hayes states “Bennett’s report is salutary reading and should be read widely, including in Pyongyang. Anyone who hopes (as against feels obliged to prepare) for DPRK collapse or who thinks that “bringing it on” is likely to incur less costs for the most vulnerable populations than transforming the DPRK inside-out as-fast-as-possible via engagement aimed at non-collapse should read chapter 3 on the horrendous humanitarian consequences of a collapse and possible war.”
Peter Hayes is Professor of International Relations, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia and Director, Nautilus Institute.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Nautilus Institute. Readers should note that Nautilus seeks a diversity of views and opinions on significant topics in order to identify common ground.

II. Policy Forum by Peter Hayes

Thinking About The Thinkable: DPRK Collapse Scenarios Redux

In his just-published Preparing for the Possibility of a North Korean Collapse, RAND analyst Bruce Bennett correctly argues that things would be awful should the DPRK collapse. [1]

In this 342 page report, he argues that there is a “reasonable probability” of collapse; [2]therefore, we should plan for it. No problem so far. Individuals, households, cities, militaries do contingency planning all the time, and hedge with insurance against the really bad outcomes—or ignore them at their peril.

A bit later in the report, however, he says that there is increasing discussion that it could collapse (which is different to the probability it will collapse, rather, it suggests the probability of discussion is increasing). And, he adds, one can’t say much more “than to say it could happen, perhaps even in the next few years.” [3]

All good. But is this a sound basis for policy, for allocating scarce resources?


Before answering this question, note that there is also a “reasonable probability” of non-collapse of the DPRK, with an array of possible positive and negative outcomes, all of which need to be shaped by US policy. Indeed, in another report, Bennett and co-author Jennifer Lind present a set of such non-collapse scenarios which include current regime muddles through, a coup and modernizing regime without system change, and a “soft landing” in the welcoming arms of the ROK on South Korean terms. [4]

The United States, its allies, and partners (aka China, Russia) need to plan for the non-collapse scenarios as well and not just the worst-case collapse scenario. Of course, there are other very bad scenarios that need to be matched with contingency plans—all-out war including nuclear war in Korea, for example, is a doozy for planners which they take very seriously, whatever its “probability.”

The problem with Bennett’s report is that it quickly moved from the purely “conceptual” space” into the media space, [5] and is fast headed for the policy-political space (via Asan Institute’s North Korea Conference 2013, which began today with Bennett as a high-level speaker). [6]

Maldives: Hiccups in Democratic Transition


September 25, 2013

The much awaited multi-party elections in Maldives took place on September 7, 2013. As expected the first round failed to throw up a clear winner. This has now necessitated a second round which was earlier scheduled for September 28, 2013, and has now been postponed. In the run-off election top two candidates from the earlier round would contest. They are Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate, Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen. However, the third candidate, Qasim Ibrahim from Jumhooree Party who lost by a whisker does not seem satisfied with the results and has gone to the court. In response to his petition the Supreme Court of Maldives has suspended presidential elections sparking protests and fears of instability in the archipelago country.

The polls in Maldives generated lot of enthusiasm among the people. They turned out in large numbers and nearly 88 percent of eligible voters used their franchise. In Maldives, the total number of voters is 2,39,593 out of which 2,11,890 cast their ballot. Former president Mohamed Nasheed managed 95,224 (45.45 per cent). Yameen, half brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came second with 53,099 votes (25.35 per cent) and business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim came a close third with 50,422 votes (24.07 per cent). President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik finished last with 10,750 votes (5.13 per cent).

The interesting part of first round of polling is that business tycoon, Qasim Ibrahim who is also supported by the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party lost by a whisker. This has made swallowing defeat little difficult for him. Similarly, incumbent president Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik polled just five percent of the votes and probably is the first sitting president anywhere in the world to get such low percentage in a re-election. This clearly shows that his was not a popular government though earlier a Commonwealth-led probe had stated that the transfer of power was done according to the constitution. The Commission of National Inquiry set up by the Maldivian government last year had also found no evidence of a coup.

Qasim Ibrahim who came third with less than 3000 votes has alleged irregularity in polling. He alleged that there are several flaws in the voter list. He has claimed that he could have easily got between 10,000 to 30,000 more votes. He has disputed the result in the High Court, Supreme Court, at rallies, and on his television station – Villa TV - declaring that he should have been placed first. Interestingly, PPM has also extended support to Qasim Ibrahim and has accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the elections.

Qasim Ibrahim is not only the leader of the Jumhooree Party (JP) he is also the richest man in Maldives. He is a resort tycoon and heads the Villa Group of companies, one of the largest private conglomerates in the Maldives, involved in the gas, shipping, aviation, airport, education, media and resort sectors. He headed the Special Majlis that drafted the 2008 constitution and served as finance minister from 2005-2008 during the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. During his tenure as finance minister expenditure on civil servant salaries and allowances tripled and the government employed almost 12 percent of the population.

There is nothing wrong with Qasim Ibrahim going to the courts. But Maldives judiciary has its own problem. Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed has been implicated in a series of widely circulated obscene videos, but the judicial oversight body Judicial Services Commission (JSC) decided not to suspend the judge against the recommendation of a subcommittee it set up to investigate the matter. This happened because Qasim Ibrahim was a member of the JSC at the time and he stopped all action against the judge.