23 November 2013

Patna Blasts – Implications Under Assessed

The serial blasts that took place in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on October 27, 2013 during BJP’s Hunkar rally was an event whose seriousness and implications have not been fully fathomed. In a setting consumed by ruthless electoral rivalries, the powers that be, have failed to assess the incident in its correct perspective and respond adequately. The event heralds a new genre of terrorist threat, where the objective was not so much to cause depredations as to prevent the people and the leaders from pursuing their lawful right of assembly and speech. The trend, if unchecked, could derail democratic process, undermine constitutional freedoms and seriously destabilise the country. If the terrorists even marginally improve upon their Patna performance, democracy in the country will get a body blow with no political party or political leader remaining safe enough to carry out their legitimate political activities.

Further, if the terrorists succeed in doing it to one – and their capacities are not degraded – they will do it to all; those in power becoming especially vulnerable. Long term implications would be still more dreadful and one would like to restrain oneself from alluding to them. This calls for a careful analysis of the event, re-assessing terrorist intentions and capabilities, evaluating efficacy of our response strategies and plugging the gaps in our level of security preparedness.

The first reality that the event brings forth is that the Indian Mujahideen (IM), though incubated by the Pakistan’s ISI and a satellite of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), has amassed significant domestic content that we cannot wish away for political expediency. No responses can be strategised or meaningful policies executed by remaining in a denial mode. Since its inception in 2005, in last eight years, the IM has acquired menacing proportions both in its geographical spread and cadre strength. Its activities and existence of local cells have been reported from the states of Delhi, UP, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jhrakhand, Kerala, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh etc. Patna blasts when analysed along with the stunning disclosures made by Abdul Kareem Tunda, Riyaz Bhatkal and Abu Jundal, the indigenisation of Jihadi terror in India presents a disturbing spectre. If the menace continues to grow unabated at the pace of last eight years it may soon become unmanageable. The tendency of its getting intertwined with domestic politics will make things worse. Contrary to what their apologists would like us to believe, their Jihad does not spring due to the lack of economic or social upliftment but their plain and simple aim of degrading the Indian state and establishing Sharia rule. This aim mirrors that of global Jihadist groups like the Al Qaeda and LeT. It is true that their goal is neither achievable nor enjoys support of Indian Muslims, but that does not reduce their capacity to destabilise the country. Attack on the Patna rally is an early indication of that.

Cementing Indo-Myanmar Military Ties

Date: 21/11/2013

Whilst the major powers of the world are vying to indulge Myanmar militarily , the recent visit of India’s Chief of Army Staff to Myanmar is a step in the right direction to stymie China’s designs.

After almost two decades of launching its ‘Look East’ policy India has engaged Myanmar rather cautiously. Though considerable progress came with expanding border trade and infrastructure development projects, India did not think it prudent to delve into the realm of providing military aid. The important requirements of their military hardware were replenished only by China, which became Myanmar’s single largest trading partner and a mentor. The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) which is engaged in a long drawn internal strife with some of its ethnic groups requires to equip its troops with sophisticated equipment. The morbid state of Myanmar’s economy dictates it to go in for the aid route rather than the trade route for the military assistance. It is a known fact that in Myanmar, the military also exercises control over government and the decision making matrix of the economy.

After 1990s, when the world shunned the military regime of Myanmar due to allegations of human rights abuses, China not only became is key ally but also its main arms supplier. It supplied arms amounting to USD1.4 billion in 1989 followed by another deal of USD 400 million in 19941 which proved to be a shot in the arm for the waning military prowess ofTatmadaw. However, after 2011 elections and establishment of a democratic Government under President Thein Sein which brought about revolutionary reforms, USA and countries of EU seem to be moving in swiftly in re-establishing the snapped ties. Recently, United Kingdom has invited 30 Myanmar officers to a prestigious defense conference. Australia is also pledging basic military engagement to support security sector reforms. US wants to restart defense training for Myanmar that was cut 25 years ago after a ruthless crackdown on protesters in 1988. It must be remembered that before sanctions were applied, the USA had financed USD 4.7 million in military sales between 1980 and 1988 and trained 167 officers at American military schools under International Military Education and Training (IMET), a program jointly managed by the State Department and Defense Department that helps more than 120 countries2. Even today the IMET alumni occupy some important positions in the military hierarchy including a current vice president. 

India’s position vis-a-vis other developed nations is unique, as it not only shares common historical ties but also 1643 kilometer long border with Myanmar4. Tranquility of the border is a prime concern of both the countries. Due to its rugged terrain the border management can only be effective if both nations assiduously cooperate. The problem of the border gets compounded because of some insurgent groups which seek safe havens across when chased by Indian Armed forces. Good military ties with our eastern neighbour means better border management and better control over the insurgent groups operating in the Northeast. It also strengthens bilateral ties with present Chair of ASEAN community of nations.

Naxal Violence: Is the CPI (Maoist) Fading?

22 November 2013
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Officer, IReS, IPCS 

The CPI (Maoist), in its endeavour to increase its cadre strength, is now inviting police personnel to join their cadre. The Jharkhand police have recovered posters from several places in which the Maoists have appealedto the police, especially constables,to join their outfit and desert the police. The posters read, "Policemen keep away from the green hunt and try to be friends of poor. Police jawan, do not obey orders of the senior officials, instead join the people's army.''(The Times of India, 10 October 2013). The Maoists have also begun to distribute pamphlets and put up posters in the interiors of the Maoist affected districts of other states to ask people to join their organisation.

Does the clarion call of the CPI (Maoist) to join them indicate that the strength of the organisation is waning? Or is this admission just a deception for rejuvenation? 
The killing of Cherikuri Rajkumar aka Azad in July 2010, Mallojula Koteswara Rao aka Kishenji in November 2011, and the arrest of senior leaders like Kobad Ghandy, Amitabh Bagchi and Saheb Chatterjee, has weakened the organisation over the past four years. In order to revitalise the Naxal Movement in the country, Muppalla Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy, the CPI (Maoist) general secretary,called on his comrades to free the Maoist leaders in custody through any legal or illegal means. 

Since their inception, the CPI (Maoist) admitted for the first time that they were facing a cadre crunch. Even while celebrating the ninth anniversary of their foundation day and the merger of the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People's War to form CPI (Maoist), the Maoists furtherrevealed that their mass base, fighting abilities of their People's Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), and recruitment had all taken a significant hit. They admitted that the number of cadres deserting the party had also increased. An 11-page document prepared by the Maoists after their central committee meeting earlier this year stated, "Under the present conditions our country-wide movement is weakened and facing a critical situation."

Numerically speaking, of the 16 members of the party’s politburo of 2007, two have been killed, and seven others have been arrested and are in jail. And of the 25 central committee members, twelve have been neutralised (eight in custody, two killed, one dead and one surrendered). The loss of important leaders has definitely caused a setback to the movement. It is also a fact that the PLGA strength is by and large still intact.A Home Ministry report states that the Maoists are paying attention to preserving their core leadership, the 13-member Central Committee, which guides them. The Central Committee leaders of the CPI (Maoist) have been asked to stay inside the Dandakaranya forest which the Home Ministry officials admit is still beyond the reach of security forces.

It would be unwise to see this as an admission of defeat by the Maoists. The CPI (Maoist) is well known for its tactics of deception. The security agencies may be buoyant over the recruitment crunch that the Naxalites are facing, but reality presents a different perspective. While the security agencies are highlighting the depleting strength of Naxal dalams in the forests, a half yearly review of the Naxal movement by this author indicates that there a progressive consolidation of the movement took place during the first half of the year 2013. The review revealed that the first six months of 2013 were marked by Maoist resurgence through recruitments, holding of training camps, new geographical spread, andchange of tactics in their approach.

Over the past four years, a decline in the number of Maoist affected districtshas been noted. Also, the Maoists have had to face defeat in several of the newer ‘extension’ areas. Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in October 2013 acknowledged that Naxalism has been on the decline since 2010, and claimed that the past year has seen a 28.48 percent reduction in violent incidents of Naxalism.“The number of incidents has declined from 2213 (with 1005 fatalities) in 2010 to 1415 incidents (with 415 fatalities) in 2012. In the current year (till 30 August 2013), there has been a 27.48 per cent reduction in number of incidents (with 14.10 per cent reduction in fatalities) in comparison to the corresponding period of 2012,” he added.

Will Afghanistan Allow U.S. Drone Strikes into Pakistan?

November 21, 2013

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the opening of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul November 21, 2013 (Omar Sobhani/Courtesy Reuters).

Yesterday, the CIA was suspected of conducting a drone strike consisting of three or four missiles that destroyed part of a madrasa in the Hangu district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. The strikes killed either five or sixpeople, who were reported to be members of the Haqqani Network, which has been involved in many suicide and roadside bomb attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Of more than 350 CIA drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, yesterday’s strike was just the fourth outside of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

As I noted last month, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are down almost 40 percent this year compared to the same period in 2012. Within thirteen months, there is the possibility that the United States will be unable to conduct any drone strikes in Pakistan, if the government of Afghanistan enforces the bilateral U.S.-Afghanistan defense and security cooperation agreement. The text of this negotiated agreement has been agreed to by both countries, but it still requires the endorsement of the Afghan council of provincial leaders that were all approved by President Hamid Kharzai, known as a loya jirga. However, the agreement, as posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, is explicit about how the United States can use Afghan sovereign territory:

Desiring to continue to foster close cooperation concerning defense and security arrangements in order to strengthen security and stability in Afghanistan, contribute to regional and international peace and stability, combat terrorism, achieve a region which is no longer a safe haven for al-Qaida and its affiliates, and enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter threats against its sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity; and noting that the United States does not seek permanent military facilities in Afghanistan, or a presence that is a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbors, and has pledged not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries;

Since 2011, when Islamabad kicked the last remaining CIA personnel and contractors out of Pakistani airbases, all U.S. drone strikes have been flown from airbases across the border in Afghanistan. If the United States keeps its pledge and Afghanistan actually enforces the agreement (both big ifs), there is no other plausible alternative host-nation from which the United States would receive permission to conduct drone strikes into northwest Pakistan. Armed drones flying from U.S. naval platforms are a few years away, but the distance from the Arabian Sea to the FATA is significant, posing greater operational risk to drones themselves, and also potentially further exacerbating anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan by overflying populated areas.

How Afghans see America: the cowboy that divided the village

Many view the US as an enemy dividing Muslims, while others see a vital partner. The latest 'deal' will only add to that

21 November 2013

Afghan president Hamid Karzai speaks at the loya jirga in Kabul. The meeting will deliberate on a US-Afghan security deal. Photograph: Ahmad Massoud/REX

"Don't be foolish. America is still the lion of the jungle!"

This is what an Afghan commentator said dismissively about an article on the worldwide decline in US power. Better to be with the lion than tickle its tail, risking to agitate the mighty beast. Given the Afghans' own history of violence, the idea that might naturally means right resonates with many. It explains why in 2001, Kabul's Taliban famously shaved off their beards while the rest looked up at "Uncle Bush" as their personal savior. Much has changed since then.

The stories that Afghans tell each other about America in this final year of the war reveal the US as bewildering and unfathomable. In the plot of current Afghan history, Uncle Sam variously turns up as the embodiment of evil and its polar opposite, a potential savior. The latest "deal" between the two countries will only add to that.

Like the rest of the world, Afghans interpret their experience with the US within the context of their own dominant narratives. The story of Afghan nationalism – a small Muslim nation under threat by foreign superpowers – still resonates with nationalist opinion leaders. They regard the US as the latest empire intent on destroying the Afghans' way of life. Often writing from the distance of exile, the authors of such tales face a serious question: how come the Afghan people defeated the Soviet Empire only to end up being occupied by America?

To make sense of this departure from the "natural course" of Afghan history, the writers resort to conspiracy theories. The Afghans' own civil war fighters, the mujahedin of past decades and the Taliban of today, are depicted as mercenaries in the pay of Washington. In such stories, militant Islamism is seen as a US creation, 9/11 as the US government's own plot, and the war on terror as the US's agenda to stir up trouble among Muslims and weaken their resolve, making them recognize the state of Israel as legitimate.

When Israel is absent from the narrative, some Afghans turn to another conspiracy theory: the US is in Afghanistan because it wants to exploit natural resources. An Afghan student I met in California summed up this view through a summation of a recent phone call to his grandmother in Kabul. She told him that she had seen with her own eyes "American troops digging into the Afghan soil in search of precious minerals".

In such theories, we find echoes of the leftist critique of US imperialism that became popular among the Afghan intelligentsia and political activists of the 1960s and 70s. After all, what united the Afghan communists and their mujahedin nemesis was their ideological hostility towards the US. Even though both sides lost their legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of Afghans, their intellectual legacy of anti-Americanism in the guise of anti-imperialism has survived the turmoil.

If such paranoia distorts the perception of many ordinary Afghans, the political establishment itself seems equally susceptible to perceived threats. A key Afghan official, for example, told a TV station recently that "a group of patriots among the Taliban" had sent Kabul a word of warning. Apparently the US is plotting with Pakistan to fragment Afghanistan, offering the south and the east to the Taliban, therefore allowing Islamabad to run these regions through their Taliban proxy. Obama's awkward attempts at peacemaking by letting the Taliban open an office in Doha was thus perceived as an act of betrayal against its ally in Kabul as part of this broader scheme.

Imran Khan: Hope Meets Reality

Pakistan’s most popular politician finds provincial government altogether harder than national campaigning.

By Hamza Mannan
November 22, 2013

Seventeen years into his political career, Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-­e-­Insaf (PTI), galvanized the nation’s dispassionate youth on a platform of fighting corruption. In this country of 180 million, it is a cause stamped with his image. Prior to the elections in the spring of this year, which marked the first ever democratic transfer of power for Pakistan, Khan’s message of “Inqilaab” (Revolution) achieved common currency, as he held rallies that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore. Khan’s image functions as a Rorschach test: each person sees the same image, but interprets it differently. Some see his actions as signaling the second coming of Zia-ul-Haq, the Islamist military dictator who once offered Khan a cabinet post in his regime, while others project onto him the image of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the populist and deeply charismatic statesman whose words still strongly resonate today. Khan’s appeal to the Pakistani psyche is linked to an unusual ability to court both sides of the divide, without still appearing to speak plainly.

Pakistan Tehreek-­e-Insaf rode into the national election last spring on a sweeping wave, or tsunami, as Khan liked to call it, of popular sentiment. Part of this approval had to do with Khan’s status as a national hero for captaining the national cricket team that won the World Cup in 1992, defeating Pakistan’s former colonial master – England – in the process. Khan’s philanthropic fight against cancer waged through a franchise of hospitals he built across Pakistan to provide free treatment to the poor only endeared him all the more to the masses. But if these two elements formed his executive experience, then the pillar of his message was constructed in his opposition to the war against extremism the West was waging inside Pakistan. With overwhelming disillusionment with the United States – three in four Pakistanis see the United States as an “enemy,” according to a Pew Research Center poll ­­– this was a message that resonated.

Despite being the most popular politician in the country, Khan was only able to secure a third place finish in this year’s general election, with his PTI winning 34 out of 342 seats in the National Assembly. The PTI formed a provincial coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the northwestern area of Pakistan plagued with insurgent violence. Khan’s platform of rooting out corruption in 90 days, able economic management, and a promise to usher in an era of peace revived hope across the nation, but was especially potent in KPK, where the former Awami National Party (ANP) was voted
 out in favor of PTI. Now that PTI has crossed its half­-year mark as leading administrators in the province, it is worth asking whether Khan’s promises have led to any sort of real change.


While Nawaz Sharif talks of peace, Pakistan’s army strives to escalate tensions with India, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya 

By now, the style and substance of Pakistan’s diplomacy have become open secrets. Diplomacy there is characterized by denial, duplicity and deceit. Indeed, the universally acknowledged story is that Pakistan has turned into a global hub of jihadis. That the country has lost credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of the international community is a known fact. And yet it moves, or manages to move, because of several factors — its geographical location; its nuclear blackmailing tactic; the fraud committed by its scientists; the doles distributed by the United States of America and the International Monetary Fund; theft and cheating by its elite; its diplomacy of denial and deceit; State sponsorship of cross- border terrorism and the influence and control exerted by the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence. 

September and October have been the favourite months for Pakistan to violate its western and north-western borders with India. It began with the invasion of Kashmir in 1947. It recurred in 1965 in Kashmir and on the Punjab front. More than 200 attempts have already been made to breach the Indian border as well as the Line of Control in 2013. While talking peace, Pakistan, simultaneously, prepares the ground to violate its borders with India. Such a dual policy comes naturally to those who rule Pakistan. 

The seeds of infiltration and hostility since the last week of September — characterized by the heavy firing on 25 Indian villages in Jammu, for instance — were sown the day Narendra Modi was addressing a mammoth rally of former servicemen in Rewari. The same day, major- general Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the commander of 17 infantry division, and his lieutenant colonel were killed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban near the village of Ghatkotal, Upper Dir, under the Malakand division. The killings shook the entire administration — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, reportedly, personally rang up the army chief to express solidarity and support anti-terror actions conducted by the army. (One wonders how India’s civilian leaders would have reacted under similar circumstances? Would they have spoken to the army chief directly and expressed their support for the army’s action against infiltration by terrorists? Or would they have ordered the army to exercise restraint?) 

Pakistan’s army is seething with anger at the unprecedented, ‘peace time’ killing of senior commanders. A serving officer was ambushed in broad daylight in a country where the army has been the ruler for numerous years. In fact, it continues to be the de facto ruler even today. Expectedly, the prime minister has not been in peace since these developments. After all, he remembers the bitter experiences of two truncated tenures as head of state. Sharif certainly does not want his third tenure at the helm to be as unlucky. His powers automatically got curtailed with the killing of Niazi and the army chief is, once again, back on the driver’s seat. Yet, when Ashfaq Kayani thundered “Terrorists cannot coerce us”, he was partly correct. This is because he referred to those elements that seem to be battling the State in Pakistan. 

Kayani’s outburst (bordering on a battle cry against insurgency) got a favourable response from the Peshawar High Court, which halted the proposed pull-out of troops from Malakand. The army, which is in charge of the law and order situation in the Malakand Division since 2009, was ordered to stay put to deal with militants. 

In the midst of this turmoil, a 13- member delegation of Indian parliamentarians met its Pakistani counterpart headed by Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s foreign policy advisor. Talks with the Indian delegation started on September 19, 2013. A high-powered meeting took place the following day among Sharif, Kayani, Aziz, Khan and Zaheer-ul-Islam, the director general of the ISI. Seventy-two hours later, the Pakistan army committed a flagrant violation of the Indo-Pak border, resulting in the killing of Indian officers in Jammu. Nevertheless, the Indians remain undaunted. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was determined to hold talks with Pakistan in New York. In spite of the provocations from Pakistan, India remained firm in its resolve to hold talks with its neighbour. But Pakistan’s strategy at the same time revolved around the elements of surprise and deception while targeting Indian garrisons. 

China’s contretemps on Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Issues

Paper No. 5607 Dated 21-Nov-2013
By Col. R. Hariharan

(This article may be read in continuation of South Asia Analysis Group Paper No. 5595 dated November 7, 2013, titled “China cashing on India’s Sri Lanka woes” available at URL: http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1396)

At the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) in Colombo on November 17, Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa is probably a happy man having seen through the prestigious event despite global media focus on Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes issue and its fall out. Whether international community agrees or not, his supporters would claim his stewardship of the CHOGM in Colombo in spite of a strong international campaign against Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes and human rights aberrations as yet another ‘victory’ of their hero.

So it must have come as a mild shock for him when China’s foreign ministry spokesman called upon Sri Lanka to “make efforts to protect and promote human rights” while answering a media question on the issue of Sri Lanka hosting the CHOGM.

The spokesman added that this was an issue within the Commonwealth, “but at the same time I believe that on the human rights issue, dialogue and communication must be enhanced among countries…Due to differences in economic and social development of different countries, there could be differences on human rights protection. So what is important is that the relevant country should make efforts to protect and promote human rights while other countries in the world should provide constructive assistance.”

Though there was nothing spectacular in the statement, they assume significance because China made it at a crucial time when global focus was on Sri Lanka's human rights record. China had always felt “the Sri Lankan government and people were capable of handling their own affairs,” as China's foreign ministry spokesman explained in March 2012 when Sri Lanka was hauled up before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on concerns over human rights violations. China believed that “dialogue and cooperation” as the fundamental way out for the human rights dispute in Sri Lanka. 

China had been the main supporter of a whole lot of countries like Sudan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka when hauled up in UN forums for their poor rights record. Contempt for international opinion on its human rights aberrations is one thing that China had long shared with Sri Lanka. Both countries have a chip on their shoulders about the Western world's hypocrisy in commenting on human rights record of other countries when they choose to ignore their own gross human rights violations committed during their fight against terrorism and extremism resulting in loss of innocent civilian lives. 

Basically, China is opposed using country-specific human rights resolution to apply pressure on erring nations which had generally been India’s stand. In May 2009 at a special session of the UNHRC, China joined hands with India to ensure the defeat of a resolution sponsored by Germany and 17 other nations asking Sri Lanka to ensure rights to minorities in their resolution. Instead China and India ensured the success of a competing Sri Lankan resolution congratulating it for wiping out a major terrorist threat! 

When the U.S. brought a resolution calling upon Sri Lanka to act upon alleged rights violations for the first time at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessio in March 2012 , China saw it as a move to “impose pressure” on Sri Lanka. Before the resolution came up for voting, China strongly opposed the move claiming that Sri Lanka had made great strides in promoting human rights and national reconciliation process. Significantly, India changed its stance and voted for the U.S. resolution on this occasion.

It should be noted that China’s strong support of Sri Lanka in 2012 came after Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited Beijing earlier in the month. His meeting with Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie resulted in both countries pledging to deepen their strategic ties. The Chinese minister stressed that China would continue to support “Sri Lanka’s efforts in safeguarding state independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” which became a constant refrain since then.

Nepal: Elections Defy Skeptics, Poll-Opposing Forces

By Michael Vurens van Es
November 22, 2013

Nepal’s Constituent Assembly elections achieved a modicum of success. Can stability and a constitution follow?

Developments in Nepal’s second post-war attempt at institutionalizing democracy are moving rapidly.

Despite the predictable skepticism of doomsayers, on November 19 some 12.21 million voters, of 102 caste and ethnic groups, speaking 92 languages, across 240 constituencies elected a Constituent Assembly (CA) tasked to draft a constitution within a year of its tenure.

Though the last CA’s attempt to do so was a spectacular failure – and elections were by no means without defect this time around – the perceived legitimacy of Tuesday’s ballot will define Nepal’s political trajectory and its prospects of constitutional rule.

Initial reports from observers have been upbeat. Speaking to The Diplomat, Secretary General of the National Election Observation Committee Gopal Siwakoti claimed that “in spite of an unpredictable pre-election context, lingering doubts, and numerous technical shortcomings, Nepal’s CA elections will provide legitimate expression to the popular will.”

Whilst formal statements are yet to be made by the European Union Election Observation Mission, the Carter Center, and Asia Network for Free Elections, it is expected that similar sentiments will be expressed in the coming days.

Though the High Level Political Committee failed to convince Mohan Baidya’s breakaway CPN-M and its coalition of 33 poll-opposing parties to participate, commentators have been quick to downplay the relevance of those abstaining, citing mass defections in the run up to elections as proof of the CPN-M’s increasing isolation.

According to Siwakoti, “A great deal of effort was given to ensuring their participation. The CA was enlarged to 601 seats whilst the 60-40 ratio for proportional and first past the post representation was instituted. We respect the democratic right of parties to boycott the polls though do not condone acts of violence. We do not see their absence as affecting the legitimacy of the vote.”

Since the announcement of CA elections in May, analysts have been circumspect. A product of Khil Raj Regmi’s technocratic Chief Justice-led government (which itself fragmented pro-democracy forces through the merging of executive and judicial powers), the relative success of the November 19 elections is – even if ungratifying in the long-term – a logistical coup.

Were they delayed even by weeks, Nepal’s constitutional limbo would likely have been extended until April 2014 due to the inaccessibility of remote mountain districts from December through March. August’s Tribhuvan International Airport runway farce – in which election-related materials were grounded in Delhi due to the ailing condition of the country’s only international runway – was almost definitive.

Last-minute delivery of voter ID cards created difficulties too, with registered voters using citizenship certificates and other official documents in establishing their identity. Though reports of incomplete voter rolls and incorrect voter ID cards have been made, it is unclear how pervasive this was.

The conviction of Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety that “the CA polls must be held on the slated date of November 19” makes clear the urgency with which elections were carried out. That they were a procedural success is indeed remarkable.

Still, issues unhappily familiar to Nepali politics provide a note of caution. Disruptions led by CPN-M from November 11 – though ultimately unsuccessful – contributed to perceptions of instability and voter intimidation. The November 16torching of a commuter bus in Kathmandu resulted in the driver’s death and severe injury to eight passengers whilst the ongoing transport strike affected the travel plans of those required to vote in outlying constituencies.

Likewise, the willingness of campaigners to violate EC directives did little to reinforce a rule of law already tenuous. According to a November 13 report by the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), 521 incidents of poll code violations occurred from October 18. Whilst 136 of these infractions were committed by the poll-opposing CPN-M, all political forces – including high ranking officials – have been implicated.

Despite initial EC reports of an unprecedented voter turnout of over 70 percent, questions over the expanse of the democratic franchise hold some legitimacy.

There Could Be an Iran Deal This Weekend, But Don't Expect Oil Prices to Plummet

Posted By Jamila Trindle 
November 22, 2013

If the West makes a deal this weekend with Iran -- one of the world's largest oil producers -- the price of crude will almost certainly fall on Monday.

But after that? Don't count on it.

"The assumption that a deal was coming had put some downward pressure on oil," said Daniel Sternoff, Director of Energy Research, at Medley Global Advisors. Sternoff said that some people in the market see a deal as an indication that the Iran sanctions could be lifted, bringing Iranian oil back to the market.

Prices of crude have fluctuated this week with the prospects of success in Geneva, where the United States is negotiating with Iran and five other countries about suspending some of the sanctions on the Iranian economy in exchange for Tehran curbing parts of its nuclear program. The price of crude oil fell in the middle of the week, but recovered to over $95 per barrel by Friday. Though oil sanctions aren't necessarily on the table in Geneva, an interim deal could raise hopes in the market that they'll be lifted in the future, which could in turn send prices lower.

Yet that view could be optimistic, Sternoff said. "Even under an interim deal, it's not like we're going to see a huge rush of Iranian oil back on the market."

At it's peak, Iran produced close to 4 million barrels of oil per day, but sanctions have reduced thatclose to 2.5 million barrels per day.

Amy Myers Jaffe, who studies fuel markets at the University of California Davis, said any drop in prices if there's a deal this weekend wouldn't necessarily be about "how much extra oil is going to come out from Iran."

Instead, "the real impact is in changing the market psychology and that's just much harder to predict," said Jaffe, who is the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California at Davis's business school. Changing that psychology would require not just a deal with the United States, Jaffe added, but improved relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel as well.

"If we start to see a resolution of the way that Iran engages in all these different domains," then that lowers the risk of conflict in Syria, Jaffe said.

Patrick Clawson, Director of Research at the Washington Institute, said a fair amount of this week's movement in oil prices around the Geneva talks is about the reduction of this "risk" premium, which is the extra amount factored into the price of oil based on the risk of conflict in the area. 

"The risk of there being a conflict that imperils oil shipments from the Persian Gulf goes down and therefore oil prices go down," Clawson said.

Recently, Iranian officials and foreign oil companies, like Chevron, Total, and Royal Dutch Shell, have been talking. Some have taken that as a sign that Iran is willing to give foreign companies better terms than before, when Iran often required companies to enter into agreements with state-controlled companies. A U.S. official said Iran is losing $5 billion a month because of lost oil sales,according to the AP.

"If there's an accord that will allow foreign companies to come back to Iran, they're much more likely to be interested," Clawson said. Though he adds that oil companies have many more choices for investment these days, including in Africa and the United States.

While a broad deal could signal greater stability in the region and therefore reduce the extra "premium," actually increasing the amount of Iranian oil on the market would likely take more time. There are a lot of practical hurdles to Iran increasing output, even if sanctions are lifted.

Syria: Let the Locals Lead

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
November 22, 2013

Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s finger-pointing [4] at the West that lays blame on almost everyone but Turkey for the deaths of over one hundred thousand Syrians, mostly civilians, says more about Turkish arrogance than Gül’s hollow posturing as a wannabe statesman. Syria, he warns, is becoming Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean. He makes the point that Turkey is already hosting over half a million Syrian refugees, although over half live in cities, towns, and villages through their own means. The blame, Gül decries, falls upon the West for allowing Syrian president Bashar Assad and the Russians to use disposal of Syrian chemical weapons as a diversion to bolster Assad’s position.

“Do we reduce the whole thing to chemical weapons?” he stormed, demanding that the U.S. and Britain do more to end the crisis. Actually, while refugees rightly arouse humanitarian concerns, Assad’s store of weapons of mass destruction are what most directly threaten America’s vital security interests. All sides have a strong interest in keeping Assad’s chemical weapons out of the hands of violent Muslim Sunni extremists, especially those identified with Al Qaeda.

The many deaths are a tragedy. But the U.S. is not all-powerful. If preventing civilian deaths is what should drive American policy, we have a crisis on our own border, in Mexico, whose fate directly and immediately affects our security. There, drug cartels have slaughtered over eighty thousand civilians while (arguably) establishing their own parallel state.

The U.S. should foster support with NATO partners like Turkey. But let’s understand what drives Turkish politics. Gül and his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are mainly worried about threats from Al Qaeda operatives in Syria associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL has threatened [5] suicide attacks unless Turkey reopens key border-crossing points at Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh. It has claimed responsibility [6] for twin car bombings that killed fifty in the refugee center of Reyhanli, in Turkey’s southern province. ISIL apparently has planned other attacks [7] on Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir.

What happened? Turkey miscalculated on two strategic points. It underestimated Assad’s tenacity and misjudged how long the uprising would endure. The Turks expected Assad to collapse quickly. Instead, Assad rallied support from Hezbollah and Iran, as well as within Syria itself. Refusing to support the U.S. designation of the al-Nusra Front as an Al Qaeda organization in Syria did not help. It wasn’t that Turkey disagreed with America’s reasoning. It simply hoped to undercut Assad’s propaganda message that he was fighting terrorists. The ploy hasn’t helped the rebels, and has merely complicated matters.

Multilateralism Lives!

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
November 22, 2013

The last few years have been challenging ones for the foreign-policy community. Strident opposition to incursions in Libya and Syria, a continued sluggish economy, an inconclusive peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a presidential election that was remarkably foreign-policy-free [3] all suggest that the American public is[4]increasingly weary [4] of foreign engagement, desiring a [5]greater focus [5] on domestic policy. Robert Kagan summarized this view in a recent [6]column [6]:

In the United States in recent years, a great many Americans are questioning the nature and extent of their nation’s involvement in the world. It is not just the Great Recession or even unhappiness with the U.S. experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan that are driving disenchantment with what Americans used to like to call their global leadership. The old rationale for that deep global involvement, which took hold in the wake of World War II and persisted through the Cold War, is increasingly forgotten or actively rejected by Americans who wonder why the United States needs to play such an outsize role on the world stage.

It is human nature to take these large pieces of evidence and use them to make bold statements about the decline of a public commitment to multilateralism. Recent survey findings, suggest that the opposite is in fact true. Public opinion in the United States about multilateralism is rather stable. This should give the foreign-policy community considerable optimism.

It is easy to be cynical about public opinion. Survey respondents are drawn from the at-large population, after all, and this includes the educated as well as the lesser educated. But the large number of respondents is a certain strength of these studies. Individual opinions might not be well thought out, but it is much more daunting to argue that every single respondent is equally unaware. Pooling a large number of respondents leads to clustering around a mean value, and it is the crowdsourced nature of surveys that gives them their value.

If the claim that American support for multilateralism is on the wane is correct, then one would expect to see less support for the United States taking an active role in world affairs, greater support for a unilateral foreign policy, and a greater distrust of the United Nations. The [7]Better World Campaign [7], the [8]Chicago Council on Global Affairs [8], and the [9]Pew Research Global Attitudes Project [9] have asked a series of questions over time that help shed some light on these issues. The Better World Campaign based their findings on a survey of nine hundred registered voters. In contrast, the Chicago Council and Pew Global Attitudes Project are based on surveys of adults. The Chicago Council survey was conducted in mid-2012, and the Pew and Better World surveys were completed earlier this year. For each of these three questions noted above, the claim that the U.S. public is turning against international engagement has little support.

Saudi Arabia Doubles Down on Abuse

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)

November 22, 2013

This past week, [4]three Ethiopians were killed [4] in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, as well as [5]one foreign worker from Sudan [5]. They died amid[6]vigilante [6] [7]violence [7] and reports of [8]police brutality [8] after illegal immigrants in the slum of Manfouha protested against a massive campaign of deportations that the government launched this month. A [9]similar demonstration [9] was broken up in the city of Jeddah, and its organizers arrested.

Meanwhile, large groups of Ethiopians have been gathering for protests this week at Saudi diplomatic institutions across the United States, including in front of the Saudi Embassy in[10]Washington [10], as well as the Kingdom’s consulates in [11]Atlanta [11] and [12]Los Angeles [12].

What is this big controversy about?

Saudi officials claim that the Ethiopians instigated this episode by throwing stones at cars without any provocation, but a reporter for the Wall Street Journal [13]talked to locals [13] who had a different view. They said “Saudi security forces had come to the neighborhood the night before to declare that all illegal African migrants had to leave… immediately. Pakistani laborers began trying to help police by catching African workers, and clashes began”.

This harsh crackdown comes as part of a longstanding Saudi effort aimed at increasing the proportion of citizens employed in productive sectors of the economy. However, it is also the result of a pervasive legacy of racism and religious discrimination experienced by African Christians in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery in 1962, under heavy pressure by Washington and the UN. The best estimates suggest that the Kingdom held approximately thirty thousand slaves at the time.

But the Wahhabi religious establishment was reluctant to see the institution go. Just a decade ago, a member of Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body was [14]caught on tape preaching [14] that “slavery is a part of Islam”. He elaborated that “slavery is a part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long as there is Islam”.

In this insidious mindset—which, of course, is rejected by many Muslims—a hierarchy of races could be seen as a religious obligation. Due to what Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmed calls a “culture of slavery” that “pervades the country,” even dark-skinned men and women who are Saudi citizens have been [15]blocked [15] from positions in a range of prestigious professions.

There are an estimated nine million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly doing jobs that Saudis themselves do not want to take. And so far, the sudden crackdown is mainly just causing disruptions to Saudi Arabia’s national economy. According to a story in the [6] [6]Saudi Gazette [6], twenty thousand schools in the country are now short of janitors, and 40 percent of small construction firms have stopped operations. One observer even counted thirteen facilities for the religious ritual of washing dead bodies that had been shuttered in Jeddah because the workers responsible for this thankless task had been forced to flee.

Pipelines Of Empire ***

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By Robert D. Kaplan and Eugene Chausovsky

At this juncture in history, the fate of Europe is wound up not in ideas but in geopolitics. For millennia, eruptions from Asia have determined the fate of Europe, including invasions and migrations by Russians, Turkic tribes and Byzantine Greeks. Central and Eastern Europe, with their geographical proximity to the Asian steppe and the Anatolian land bridge, have borne the brunt of these cataclysms. Today is no different, only it is far subtler. Armies are not marching; rather, hydrocarbons are flowing. For that is the modern face of Russian influence in Europe. To understand the current pressures upon Europe from the east it is necessary to draw a map of energy pipelines.

One-quarter of all energy for Europe comes from Russia, but that statistic is an average for the whole continent; thus, as one moves successively from Western Europe to Central Europe to Eastern Europe that percentage rises dramatically. Natural gas is more important than oil in this story, but let us consider oil first.

Russia is among the top oil producers worldwide and has among the largest reserves, with vast deposits in both western and eastern Siberia. Crucially, Russia is now investing in the technology necessary to preserve its position as a major energy hub for years and decades to come, though it is an open question whether current production levels can be maintained in the long term. Russia’s primary gateway to Europe for oil (and natural gas) is Belarus in the north and Ukraine in the south. The Druzhba pipeline network takes Russian oil through Belarus to Poland and Germany in the north and in the south through Ukraine to Central Europe and the Balkans, as well as to Italy. Russia certainly has influence in Europe on account of its oil, and has occasionally used its oil as a means of political pressure on Belarus and Ukraine. But moving westward into Europe, negotiations over Russian oil are generally about supply and pricing, not political factors. It is really with natural gas that energy becomes a useful political tool for Russia.

Russia is, after the United States, simply the largest producer of natural gas worldwide, with trillions of cubic meters of reserves. Europe gets 25 percent of its natural gas from Russia, though, again, that figure rises dramatically in Central and Eastern Europe; generally, the closer a country is to Russia, the more dependent it is on Russian natural gas. Central Europe (with the exception of Romania, which has its own reserves) draws roughly 70 percent of the natural gas it consumes from Russia. Belarus, Bulgaria and the Baltic states depend on Russia for 90-100 percent of their natural gas needs. Russia has used this dependence to influence these states’ decision-making, offering beneficial terms to states that cooperate with Moscow, while charging higher prices and occasionally cutting off supplies altogether to those that don’t. This translates into real geopolitical power, even if the Warsaw Pact no longer exists.

The Yamal pipeline system brings Russian natural gas to Poland and Germany via Belarus. The Blue Stream pipeline network brings Russian natural gas to Turkey. Nord Stream, which was completed in 2011, brings Russian natural gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, cutting out the need for a Belarus-Poland land route. Thus, Belarus and Poland now have less leverage over Russia, even as they are mainly dependent on Russia for their own natural gas supplies by way of separate pipelines.

The next major geopolitical piece in this massive network is the proposed South Stream pipeline. South Stream would transport Russian natural gas across the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria, with another line running to Italy via the Balkans and the Adriatic. South Stream could make Central Europe and the Balkans more dependent on Russia, even as Russia does not require Ukraine for the project. This, combined with Nord Stream, helps Russia tighten its grip on Ukraine.

But there is also Caspian Sea oil and natural gas to consider, particularly from Azerbaijan, which inhibits Russia’s monopoly. Oil and natural gas pipelines built with the help of Western energy companies in the 2000s bring energy from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku through Georgia to Turkey and onwards to Europe. Furthermore, the Nabucco pipeline network has the potential to bring Caspian Sea natural gas across the Caucasus and Turkey all the way to Austria, with spur lines coming from Iraq and Iran. Obviously, this is a complex and politically fraught project that has not materialized. Winning out over Nabucco has been the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a far less ambitious network that will bring Azerbaijani natural gas across Turkey to Greece and Italy. Because TAP avoids Central Europe and the Balkans, its selection over Nabucco constitutes a clear victory for Russia, which wants Central and Eastern Europe dependent on it and not on Azerbaijan for energy. In fact, Russian political pressure was a factor in TAP’s victory over Nabucco.

Tymoshenko Stays: Ukraine Halts Plan to Sign EU Trade Deal

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko during a June 2011 hearing in Kiev. She is currently serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power.

Kiev has put a stop to negotiations on signing a landmark trade pact with the EU. The announcement came hours after the country's parliament rejected the release of imprisoned Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko so she can receive medical treatment abroad.

The Ukrainian government announced on Thursday afternoon that it would cease preparations to sign a trade deal with the European Union. According to the government's website, Kiev would instead pursue the creation of a joint commission to improve relations between Ukraine, Russia and the EU.
The statement followed the Ukrainian parliament's failure just hours earlier to pass bills that would have allowed the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for medical treatment abroad. None of the six bills garnered the necessary majority of votes, endangering the country's chances of further European Union integration, which have been made contingent on her release.

The 52-year-old opposition leader is currently serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power, a punishment the West sees as politically motivated. In response, the EU has refused to sign an association agreement with the former Soviet republic that would pave the way for improved economic and political integration between the two sides and mark a pro-Europe shift away from Russia.

The treaty was set to be signed at a summit next week in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, but now looks set to fail.

EU officials have named a number of conditions for signing the treaty, including Tymoshenko's release to Germany for treatment of spinal problems. The heroine of the country's 2004 "Orange Revolution" -- which grew out of protests against electoral corruption -- was imprisoned in 2011, and is currently being held in a Kharkiv hospital.

The EU has called her imprisonment "selective justice" -- political revenge by her rival, President Victor Yanukovych. His Party of Regions abstained from voting on the bills that would have allowed Tymoshenko's release.

Opposition Blames Yanukovych

"President Yanukovych is personally stopping Ukraine's road to Europe," opposition leader and former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said after the parliament vote, according to Reuters. He also said he would push for presidential pardon for Tymoshenko, which could keep the path to the trade deal open.