23 December 2013

Our Indian Feudal Service

Shekhar Gupta : Sat Dec 21 2013, 

Of course, they have a right to fleece a maid, break the law — and claim immunity 

Indian diplomacy has a well-deserved reputation for conservative understatedness. You've rarely seen a professional Indian diplomat grandstanding or headline-hunting. Not even Mani Shankar Aiyar, when he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Probably no one after Krishna Menon's days of acid filibustery more than half a century ago. Not for any "proper" Indian diplomat the arrogant, stupid swagger of the occasional Pakistani — if anybody can recall an Indian insult to rival the unspeakable Munir Akram (later Pakistan representative to the UN) dismissing Salman Khurshid as a rented Muslim, and India as the sick man of Asia, please do let me know and I will stand corrected. To my recollection, the funniest Indian diplomatic comment came from K. Natwar Singh. When asked if he was a hawk or a dove, he said, "I am running foreign policy, not a bird sanctuary." For someone who represented Bharatpur in the Lok Sabha, that was really smart. And the most cutting in recent memory was also possibly the most subtle. As India and Pakistan seemed to be drawing close to war in 2001-02 following the attack on Parliament, Pakistan responded by test-firing several "new" missiles, all named after medieval invaders of India: Abdali, Ghazni, Ghori, etc. Asked for comment at her daily press briefing, Nirupama Rao, then MEA spokesperson, simply said, "We are not impressed". Just four brilliant, inoffensive words were enough to infuriate Pervez Musharraf. 

What is to explain such a radical shift in the style and manner of such a classy, sophisticated and patient foreign service bureaucracy? Words like barbaric, despicable, inhuman, perfidy, betrayal, withdraw-all-charges-and-apologise and so on do not belong to the usual diplomatic vocabulary. These are the last resort of editorial writers and TV anchors always short of ideas or a clever turn of phrase. The same foreign service has handled three relatively recent incidents that amount to enormous perfidies — the torture and killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia and his patrol of five in Kargil (June, 1999), the beheading of an Indian soldier and disfiguring of the other on the LoC (January, 2013) and, in between, the greatest and continuing betrayal of all, the American double games over David Coleman Headley — with such mature equanimity.

India begins training Afghan commandos as ties deepen ahead of 2014

December 20, 2013 1

A member of the Afghan National Army provides security with a soldier from the U.S. Army's Bravo Company in Kandahar.New Delhi: India is training a group of Afghan special forces in the deserts of Rajasthan, army officials said on Friday, deepening its involvement with Afghanistan as its military prepares to secure the country after NATO's withdrawal in 2014.

Afghan military officers have been attending courses in India for years, but this is the first time members of its special forces have held joint exercises with Indian commandos.

Afghanistan has been pressing India for military equipment including helicopters, tanks and field guns as well as greater involvement in the training of Afghan forces as foreign troops withdraw, leaving the Afghan military to deal with a resilient Taliban insurgency.

India has stalled on Afghanistan's wish-list of heavy weapons for fear of provoking Pakistan, as well as armed groups in Afghanistan.

But on training, it has begun to play a bigger role as Afghan forces prepare to go it alone.

Nearly 60 members of the Afghan special forces began training with the Indian army's 10 Para brigade early this month at their hub in Jodhpur, in Rajasthan state's Thar desert.

"The focus of the training is on conduct of counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations, with special emphasis on operations in built-up areas and rural areas in a realistic environment," Colonel S.D.Goswami, a defence spokesman said.

The Afghan special forces, which the United States helped set up, are expected to be the spearhead of the fight against the Taliban.

The training in Rajasthan is focused on carrying out operations with minimum civilian casualties and of other so-called collateral damage, another Indian army officer said.

From Uyghurs to Kashgari

China Market, Rawalpindi
A Pakistani community finds itself caught between two worlds. 
By Alessandro Rippa 
December 20, 2013 

When, on October 27, a Uyghur man, his wife and mother, crashed their car in Tiananmen Square, near Mao’s famous portrait, killing two and injuring dozens, China’s response followed an established pattern. After a couple of days of silence, during which only a few sketchy details were made public, Meng Jianzhu – Chief of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee – officially said that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was behind the attack. 

The ETIM is a terrorist organization allegedly based in Pakistan, and although information is still sketchy, it is generally said to have between 300 and 500 members. Meng Jianzhu mentioned it as he was in Uzbekistan for a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting, stressing the ETIM’s connections in Central and Western Asia, perhaps as a way to emphasize that terrorism in Xinjiang is not only a Chinese problem. 

Although most Western scholars and Uyghur activists reject China’s official narrative, pointing to the lack of evidence provided and to the internal nature of Uyghur grievances, Beijing’s fears and claims seem to have significant international repercussions. Pakistan, in particular, has been repeatedly pressured to monitor, strike and – at times – hand over Uyghur militants hiding within its borders. Less known, however, is the extent of China’s influence within Pakistan, and its impact on the lives of a few hundred Uyghur migrant families who live there. The stories of these families, moreover, are revealing for a number of reasons, as they often go back well before the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the founding of the People’s Republic of China. What follows is based on several months of research between Xinjiang and Pakistan, and tries to shed some light on this untold, yet fascinating, story. 

The Migration 

Sultan Khan’s father was born in Baluchistan, today Pakistan’s westernmost province. He was a trader, travelling through Afghanistan, British India, and what was known as Chinese Turkestan, or Xinjiang. In 1949, as Mao’s Red Army took control of the country, he found himself on the wrong side of the border, in south Xinjiang. Back then, the partition of the subcontinent into two hostile states, India and Pakistan, had already triggered a war, and the situation south of the Karakoram range did not look encouraging. He decided to stay, hoping that life under the communists would bring him fortune, and married a local woman in Yarkand. After a few years, however, when the Maoists had confiscated all his property and the failure of the Great Leap Forward had brought famine throughout the country, Khan Snr. decided that he had had enough and applied to the Pakistani authorities for expatriation. Years later, in 1967, he was eventually allowed to move to his native country with his wife and three children. It took them more than fifty days to cross the high passes of the Karakoram and reach northern Pakistan. Once in Gilgit, Sultan Khan learned from his father the art of trading. With the Chinese border still sealed, they established a successful business importing goods from Afghanistan and “down country.” In 1985, Sultan Khan’s father died in Gilgit, and one year later Sultan Khan took his mother to his native town, Yarkand, through the newly opened Karakoram Highway

Expert Roundup: What Happened to the Asia Pivot in 2013?

Council on Foreign Relations

December 20, 2013 -- A range of crises in the Middle East dominated the U.S. foreign policy agenda in 2013, raising questions about the vigor of President Obama's Asia "pivot." Four experts offer perspectives on how the region is reacting to U.S. moves in Asia. China has reacted with "assertive authoritarianism," CFR's Elizabeth Economy writes, while Southeast Asian governments remain ambivalent to the supposed shift, according to Tim Huxley of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Lowy Institute's Michael Fullilove says without a strong U.S. presence in the Pacific, the region runs the risk of a destabilizing rivalry. And CFR's Sheila Smith says despite some promising developments, the Obama team may be misreading cues on Japan.

Elizabeth C. Economy

China has struggled to reply effectively to the U.S. pivot or rebalance to Asia. After all, how do you respond to a policy welcomed by most countries in the region? While Beijing has complained about an enhanced U.S. role, in practical terms it has appeared stymied. Over the past few months, however, Beijing appears to have found its answer to the pivot in the form of "assertive authoritarianism." On the home front, this means that President Xi Jinping is pursuing his own "China Dream" by actively consolidating his political power: cracking down on corruption—particularly against senior Chinese officials, whose loyalty to Xi is questionable; limiting dissenting voices on the Internet; and grasping the reins of both security and economic policy in his own hands through two new organizationsunder his direct control.

In foreign policy terms, assertive authoritarianism means bringing the region more in line with Xi's vision of a China-centered Asia Pacific. Preaching a "community of common destiny"—led by China—Beijing has pledged significant new infrastructure investment to connect the region through railways, roads, and pipelines, the establishment of a Chinese maritime partnership with ASEAN, and enhanced regional trade and financial cooperation. At the same time, Beijing is expanding and enforcing Chinese sovereignty claims in the region, rewarding those who fall in line and punishing those who do not.

The challenges to Xi's approach are significant. As difficult as it is for the Chinese leadership to control events within China, it will be even tougher to control them externally. To begin with, as long as Xi adopts diplomatic, economic, and security policies that divide rather than unify the region, few of China's neighbors will be willing to trust his leadership and the sincerity of his efforts to enhance ties. Xi must also contend with a newly revitalized Japan that is asserting its own economic and diplomatic leadership. Moreover, even as Xi attempts to find new supporters, China's most reliable client states are becoming unreliable. Myanmar is transitioning to a full-fledged democracy; there are stirrings of political change in Cambodia; and the DPRK has become frightening and unpredictable, even to Beijing.

Vested interests block reconciliation in Tibet

By Thubten Samphel 

China's anti-splitism bureaucracy is up in arms. This time the Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy's fight against separatists is turning against scholars within party think tanks who dare to suggest accommodation and reconciliation with the Dalai Lama is needed for when the time comes to identify his reincarnation. 

This is not a bureaucratic turf war. It is a frontal assault with big guns firing. Both at home and abroad in shrill, "don't talk back" tones, the anti-splitism bureaucracy is engaged in a largely one-sided shouting match. 

On 22 October, the Information Office of the State Council, China's cabinet, released another white paper on the development and progress of Tibet. The message like all other incarnations of the white paper before it, is the same. Old Tibet suffered under feudal serfdom and theocracy. New Tibet, the white paper claims, has "gained freedom, equality and dignity" and is "fully enjoying the fruits of modern civilization". 

However, there is a little problem. The latest white paper complains, "The 14th Dalai Lama and his clique in exile are conducting separatist activities for a long time to sabotage the development and stability of Tibet ... They have put forward the so-called concepts of Greater Tibet and high degree of autonomy, which in fact go against China's actual conditions, and violate the constitution and relevant laws."

The Man Who Would Be Mao

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
December 23, 2013

“The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are,” Mao Zedong said [3] of one of his contemporaries, Adolf Hitler. Mao, the revolutionary, could have been responsible for as many as 70 million deaths in horrific campaigns beginning soon after his taking power in 1949 and ending only with his passing in 1976.

Despite the great toll, Xi Jinping, the fifth and current ruler of “New China,” will go all out to commemorate, on the day after Christmas, the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth.

Yet the new leader—the general secretary of the Communist Party since last November and state president since March—has not waited to begin the celebrations. Months in advance of the anniversary, Xi has made pilgrimages [4] to locations Mao made famous, reminded audiences of the Great Helmsman’s [5] iconic sayings, and reinforced [6] Maoist education and indoctrination across the country. In June, he borrowed Mao’s language and tactics and initiated his “rectification” and “mass line [7]” campaigns. In August, he sounded like Mao himself when he called for “ideological purification [8].”

Is Xi’s devotion heartfelt? Optimists say it is not, and that his throwback language is merely a means to rally support from the Communist Party’s “leftists,” yet this view does not fit easily with the dominant narrative about his political position in Beijing. At the time of the “shirtsleeves summit [9]” in Southern California this June between the American and Chinese leaders, the White House went out of its way to convince major media outlets—most notably the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—that Xi had quickly consolidated power. If he was in fact then firmly in control of the Party, he would presumably have had little need to court fringe elements so assiduously. His continued promotion of Maoist themes, therefore, indicates that on some level he believes in the extremist positions he enthusiastically espouses.

Yet whether or not he is a Maoist, Xi’s constant repetition of reactionary themes suggests they will become the defining element of his rule. Last December, when he had been general secretary for only a month, he gave a fiery secret speech to cadres in Guangdong province staunchly defending Party prerogatives and lamenting the fall of the Soviet state. Xi told officials they must heed “deeply profound [10]” lessons and return China to Leninist discipline. “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse?” he asked. “An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered.”

Xi is not wavering; his message now is essentially the same as the one he delivered in Guangdong. Since September, cadres across the county have been forced to watch a six-part documentary [11], “20th Anniversary of the Death of the Soviet Party and State: As the Russians Relate.” The film, part of Xi’s campaign to rejuvenate the Chinese Party and restore ideological rigor, defends Stalinism and reinforces the themes of his December oration. If there is a villain in Xi’s universe, it is Mikhail Gorbachev, who attempted to open his political system with Western-style reforms and relax the Soviet Communist Party’s monopoly on ideology.

China to Sell Bangladesh 2 Submarines

China to Sell Bangladesh 2 Submarines
In a move certain to unnerve India, Beijing will sell Dhaka two Ming-class submarines for $203.3 million.
December 22, 2013

Bangladesh has finalized a deal to purchase two Ming-class submarines from China, according to a report in the local New Age newspaper.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina first announced that the country was interested in purchasing submarines back in January, as part of a broader plan to modernize its military. At the time, she did not specify which country Bangladesh would be purchasing the submarines from, but military officials told media outlets that it was in negotiations with China.

The New Age report said that the deal, which is waiting for final approval from the Finance Ministry, for the two submarines was worth $203.3 million. It would be paid by Bangladesh during the fiscal year 2017-2018, with the submarines being delivered in 2019. Seventeen Bangladeshi sailors are being trained to operate the submarines, the report said, presumably in China.

The New Age report said that the Bangladesh Navy had purchased land in Kutubdia Island where it planned to construct a submarine base.

Elections No Fix for Thailand’s Political Problems

The fissures from the Shinawatra era run deep, and won’t be bridged any time soon.
By Tim LaRocco
December 21, 2013

It really was doomed from the start. Despite the promise, the potential, and the hope of Yingluck Shinawatra — the nation’s first female prime minister — Thailand was in need of an exceptional person to heal the country’s bitterly divided and stratified society in 2011. The business class needed reassurances that Yingluck’s administration was not going to set off on a Hugo Chavez-inspired populist redistribution of wealth; the working class wanted guarantees of a more socially just state of affairs. In the end, Yingluck tried to play the role of the great compromiser, pleasing no one, enraging everyone, and precipitating the collapse of her Pheu Thai-led government. An exceptional person she evidently is not.

Following five years of coups, protests, and general political chaos, Yingluck’s election during the summer of 2011 was seen by some as a breath of fresh air. Riding a tidal wave of support from the poor, rural majority, her resounding victory was taken as a repudiation of past neoliberal policies embraced by the opposition Democrat Party and international financial institutions and a mandate to continue the kinds of reforms implemented by her older brother Thaksin before he was overthrown in 2006.

Those reforms — transportation subsidies, universal healthcare, and price controls for agricultural products — were never entirely embraced by the Bangkok establishment, despite their initial economic successes. Thai business leaders naturally preferred to privatize most industries, especially utilities, and to deregulate the labor market as per the wishes of the International Monetary Fund’s Washington Consensus in the decade following the Asian Financial Crisis. The elephant in the room during the Thaksin regime was always his wealth, which remains in the billions, and with which he used to control the political narrative in the media, stamp out criticism, and enrich his allies. It was this duplicitous behavior that ultimately led to a bloodless military coup while Thaksin was at the United Nations in New York in September 2006.

How the US Lost the South China Sea Standoff

China won the Cowpens/Liaoning encounter in the South China Sea. What lessons should the US draw?
December 19, 2013

So who won the December 5 encounter between the Aegis cruiser USS Cowpens and the ships escorting aircraft carrier Liaoning? Sad to say, methinks this round goes to China’s navy. So, evidently, does Beijing, which has struck an upbeat note since the press disclosed the near-collision last week. Magnanimity bespeaks comfort with the outcome.

Think about it. PLA Navy vessels barred Cowpens, one of the U.S. Navy’s premier surface combatants, from what Chinese spokesmen call an “inner defense layer” centered on Liaoning. Inner defense layer? Forsooth. This exclusion zone was a circle with a diameter at least 60 miles across. It spanned over 2,800 square miles. To use a yardstick wearisomely familiar to us Rhode Islanders, that’s over twice the area of our beloved Ocean State. After the American warship maneuvered radically to avoid colliding with a PLA Navy amphibious transport that crossed her bow at close quarters, officers on board the two ships reportedly conferred by radio.Cowpens then left the proscribed area.

Iran for dummies

by Kabir Taneja — December 13, 2013

Energy is the common bind between Delhi and Tehran.

As an Indian delegation of businessmen being organised by the Federation of India Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was getting ready to leave for Iran to boost currently cold economic ties, Tehran suddenly decided that the delegates need to get tests for HIV, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C before entering the country. A miffed New Delhi has taken up the issue via diplomatic channels with Iran.

This sudden curve-ball by Iran highlights the ongoing stress being observed between Delhi and Tehran. Since the ouster of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new regime under President Rouhani seems to have taken a tough stand with India over issues such as falling trade, delayed Indian investment projects, unpaid oil payments of nearly $5 billion and possibly a rekindled grudge towards India for voting against Iran at the United Nations over its nuclear programme.

Since the breakthrough in negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the energy landscape of the region has already started to change. With America relying less and less on crude sourced from the Gulf, alternate providers such as Canada and central Asian countries gaining stronger foothold and possibility of sanctions being raised on Iran have started to put pressure on many members of OPEC, the cartel of major oil producing nations which, till now, has been instrumental in setting global oil prices.

As global oil demand remains at a stagnant position, OPEC members are concerned over member Iran regaining its exploration and production capacity and also being accessible as a regional competitor for foreign investment in the sector. Iran’s oil minister has already made it clear that his priority is to develop Iran’s capacity again and not thinking about its effects on fellow OPEC comrades. According to latest OPEC data, countries such as Saudi Arabia may have to decrease production in 2014 and both the Iran and even a rising Iraq factor can upset the balance within OPEC itself. Nonetheless, this availability of extra resource will not get the prices of Brent crude below the elusive $100 per barrel mark, keeping the cost of importing fuel high yet relatively controlled to what it was just a year or so ago. Prices are still susceptible to wild speculative trading due to regional factors such as Syria and the ever-increasing sectarian divides in the region.

The End of Erdogan?

Why a power struggle over Turkey's deep state could bring down the government.
DECEMBER 20, 2013

There's a very big story developing in Turkey that all foreign policy mavens should be watching closely. Exactly how big remains to be seen, but the stakes are huge. At issue: Will the decade-long domination of Turkish politics by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue? Or is the Erdogan era about to come crashing down, fatally weakened by scandal, infighting, and authoritarian overreach?

Early Tuesday morning, police in Istanbul and Ankara carried out a wave of stunning arrests that included powerful businessmen, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and the head of an important state-owned financial institution, Halkbank. The operation flowed from a series of corruption-related investigations that have apparently been underway for a year or more. All the key targets swept up in the raids are closely linked to Erdogan's government.

Erdogan, characteristically, responded by going on the offensive and hurling accusations at his opponents. He attacked the action as a "dirty operation," the goal of which was to smear his administration and undermine the progress that Turkey had made under his leadership. He alluded to a dark conspiracy launched by terrorist gangs, both foreign and domestic

Erdogan alluded to a dark conspiracy launched by terrorist gangs, both foreign and domestic.that were operating a state within the state. While insisting that Turkey was a democracy, not some two-bit banana republic, he proceeded to engineer within a day the sacking of more than 20 high-level police officers in Istanbul and Ankara, including those directly in charge of the units that carried out the raids. More heads seem almost certain to roll. Rumors that the lead prosecutor supervising the investigations had also been removed were vehemently denied -- though two new prosecutors were suddenly (and mysteriously) added to the probe. Howls of political interference in an ongoing judicial matter erupted. The crisis deepened.

These dramatic events were simply the latest escalation in a long-simmering battle royale within the AKP's Islamist coalition. On one side: Erdogan and his followers, whose political roots lie in the transnational Muslim Brotherhood movement founded in Egypt in 1928. On the other: the Gulenists, a secretive society whose religious ideology bears a more distinctly Turkish flavor, led by Fethullah Gulen, a septuagenarian cleric who fled Turkey in the late 1990s and now lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania. Partners for much of the past decade in the AKP's systematic efforts to undermine the foundations of Ataturk's secular republic and bring the Turkish military to heel, Erdogan and the Gulenists have now turned on each other with a vengeance.

Figuring out exactly why is no easy matter. Ultimately, it's about power, of course. More specifically, it's about Erdogan and the intensifying megalomania that has become an increasingly prominent feature of his governing style. The man now appears more or less incapable of brooking any challenge to his authority. Egged on by an inner-circle of sycophants who live in fear of his wrath, Erdogan appears genuinely convinced that his personal interests and agenda, and those of the Turkish nation, are now largely synonymous. What he wants is, ipso facto, what the Turkish people need. Anyone who disagrees with him is resisting the popular will. Anyone who criticizes him is attacking Turkey and constitutes, by definition, an enemy of the state, a traitor that must be broken and neutralized.

It's a world where independent centers of power, wealth, influence, and allegiance are always a danger. Eventually, they must be cowed into submission, co-opted, or crushed, deploying as necessary the coercive levers of the state to do so -- threats, wiretaps, blackmail, tax liens, arrests, manufactured evidence, long-term imprisonment, all are fair game. In no small part, the story of the first decade of AKP rule has been its slow but methodical march through the commanding institutions of Turkish society. One by one, by hook or by crook, they have been brought into line. The bureaucracy: check. The media: check. Business: check. The courts: check. And, of course, the big enchilada, the military: check. Or, more accurately, checkmate.

Is Congo Finally Getting Its Act Together?

After decades of corruption and conflict, the Democratic Republic of Congo edges toward statehood.
DECEMBER 20, 2013

Note: This article is an abridged version of the Legatum Institute's publication, "Curing the Mal Zaïrois: The Democratic Republic of Congo Edges Toward Statehood."

In the heyday of the kleptocratic dictatorship of Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko, the conventional wisdom about then-Zaire's economic problems was that they all boiled down to le mal Zaïrois (the Zairean malady), a phrase coined by the larcenous Mobutu himself in 1977. That malady was corruption, which infiltrated every aspect of society and corroded the effective functioning of the state. But Mobutu was of two minds about the disease. Stealing, it seems, was OK -- within limits. As Mobutu famously put it: "If you want to steal, steal a little in a nice way. But if you steal too much to become rich overnight, you'll be caught."

The most plausible reason for Mobutu's blatant promotion of corruption (apart from the fact that it made him very, very wealthy) was its value in maintaining the mechanism of governance that he perfected -- one the German sociologist Max Weber called "patrimonialism." The Mobutu state was not based on the creation and enforcement of rules, but on the maintenance of a vast web of informal patron-client relationships. Patrons (the rulers) typically control scarce resources that they allocate at their discretion in exchange for services and support, and clients (the ruled) are rewarded for loyalty to the patron.

Many, however, argue that these changes have been superficial, and that le mal Zaïroishas just mutated into le mal Congolaise.

Today's Democratic Republic of Congo seems a long way from Mobutu's mal Zaïrois. There have been two democratic, albeit flawed, presidential elections (in 2006 and 2011), both won by Joseph Kabila, whose father removed Mobutu from power in 1997. They were the country's first elections since 1960. The government is moving toward a style of governance that is more responsive to the population's needs. Many, however, argue that these changes have been superficial, and that le mal Zaïrois has just mutated into le mal Congolaise.

At its core, this is a question about whether the structure of the state has changed, or is, at least, changing, since Mobutu's exit from power. Between 1996 and 2003, the country endured two devastating civil wars that claimed millions of lives, wars mainly caused by a spill-over effect from the ethnic conflict in neighboring Rwanda. Have the wars altered the features of the Mobutu state, or does patrimonialism remain the most attractive way (from the perspective of its leaders) to govern the country? Congo's prospects for economic growth and evolution into a stable, democratic society rest on the answer.

Who's the Biggest Loser in the Ukraine-Russia Deal?

It's not Putin, Yanukovych, or even the EU. It's the Ukrainian people.
DECEMBER 20, 2013

Vladimir Putin's Dec. 17 meeting in Moscow with Ukraine's politically besieged president, Viktor Yanukovych, must be viewed as quite a victory for Putin. The Russian president's first feat was to tie financially troubled Ukraine to the Kremlin by offering a $15 billion and a significant discount in gas prices, luring it away from the European Union. The second victory was one of authoritarianism over democracy, and the third of corruption over European legal reforms. As far as political wins go, this was the equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, magically solving several problems at once. Moreover, it didn't cost Putin anything.

Yet this deal can also be seen as a victory for Yanukovych, personally. The EU had tried to persuade him to opt for the rule of law and democracy -- freeing his prime opponent from prison, for example, in return for limited financial assistance and access to Europe's market. But Yanukovych strung the EU along, pretending to be serious about negotiating accession before turning abruptly to Moscow for the international financing he needs to sustain Ukraine's debts until the presidential elections scheduled for March 2015. Now, with Ukraine temporarily stable financially, he and his family can afford to indulge in increasingly authoritarian rule and the practice of siphoning off corrupt payments.

The main losers in this deal, clearly, are the Ukrainian people. A vast majority of Ukrainians wanted Yanukovych to sign the extensive European Association Agreement, expecting to gain from access to its markets and job opportunities, but most of all to reinforce democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine. He promised repeatedly that he would do so, for example saying in Kiev on Nov. 6: "By choosing to get closer to the European Union, we are making a pragmatic choice for optimal and rational modernization." But when the moment arrived for a decision on Nov. 29, he did not sign anything at all with the EU. The key question today is whether the Ukrainian people will accept this treatment, or whether they will be succeed in their demand that the unpopular Yanukovych is forced to resign.

The large opposition has camped out peacefully for over three weeks on the Maidan, the Independence Square in the center of Kiev. Braving cold temperatures, hundreds of thousands of protesters seized Kiev's main public square and clashed with security police, embarrassing the government and causing it to apologize for the use of force. Tensions have mounted -- though the protests are expected to remain peaceful if the government does not overplay its hand. The opposition's immediate goal is to attract a sufficient number of defectors from Yanukovych's faction in parliament so that they can oust the government. On Dec. 19, they counted 217 opposition deputies, but they need nine more defectors to reach a majority.

If the opposition fails, Ukraine may enter the sad authoritarian path of Belarus and Russia, consigning it to a bleak economic future, dependent on Russia and hobbled by a corrupt system that enriches Yanukovych's cronies. The joint announcement made by Putin and Yanukovych at a news conference at the Kremlin on Dec. 17, encompassed no fewer less than 14 bilateral agreements which took the West by surprise. After all, these two men have not agreed on anything since April 2010, when Yanukovych prolonged the Russian lease of the naval base of Sevastopol until 2042 for an illusory reduction of the price of the gas Ukraine imports from Russia.

Putin's Knack for Surprise

Behind Putin's sudden release of former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
DECEMBER 21, 2013

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin again demonstrated his talent for surprise.

The almighty president -- who this year managed to prevent the West from military intervention in Syria, and who, in spite of pressure from Washington, gave refuge to America's most wanted spy, Edward Snowden -- pardoned his main critic and enemy, the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (pictured above), who had languished in jail for a decade. The unexpected release shocked the country. Before anyone knew what was happening, Putin, with the "unlimited power of a monarch," signed a pardon to release the man who had once been the richest and most powerful oligarch in Russia. On Dec. 20, Khodorkovsky left his prison in Karelia and headed off to reunite with his ailing mother, who is seeking cancer treatment in Germany.

Khodorkovsky is a former Russian tycoon who founded Yukos Oil Company, and was imprisoned in 2003 on charges of fraud and tax evasion, and later embezzlement. His trials -- and espeically the second round of charges in 2007 -- were widely considered to be politically motivated. While in jail, Khodorkovsky became something of a political philosopher, amassing a following and presenting a real -- if neutralized -- challenge to Putin's power. He published numerous political articles in independent newspapers and magazines and corresponded with famous Russian intellectuals, and is credited with inspiring the anti-Putin uprising in 2011-2012. As Khodorkovsky approached eligibility for parole, Putin was faced with a choice: take him to trial and lock him up once again, or feign having a big heart, and let Khodorkovsky free so he can visit his dying mother -- just in time for the controversial Sochi 2014 Olympic games.

Ironically, the news about Khodorkovsky's freedom fell on the professional holiday for Russia's security agencies, known as "The Day of Chekist" (after the Soviet state security organization). To mark the moment, a pro-opposition TV and radio star, Tikhon Dzyadko, applauded Putin (who was once an officer in the KGB) on his Facebook page on Friday morning: "I congratulate the president of Russia on the Day of Chekist, who, whether you like it or not, beat everybody this year."

"There is no other man in Russia who could compare to Putin in influence, not even a little bit."

Carnegie analyst Maria Lipman agreed it was happy news, commenting, "There is no other man in Russia who could compare to Putin in influence, not even a little bit."

But the release was fishy from the start. For one thing, Khodorkovsky's lawyers seemed to know nothing about the inmate's request for pardon. For another, as Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov explained, "It is unclear how free he really is, and what the conditions of his release actually are." When Khodorkovsky landed in Germany, new information came out that his mother was, in fact, in Moscow. Many wondered why her son rushed to Berlin and why Russia authorities were so eager to help him obtain his visa and international passport. Some Russian bloggers found an answer, writing, "This is deportation!" Khodorkovsky's parents arrived in Berlin to meet their son early on Saturday, Dec. 21. 

The New Silk Road to Nowhere

The New Silk Road to Nowhere
U.S. post-2014 development plans for Central Asia are worthy, but at risk of strategic failure.
By Eugene Imas
December 18, 2013

The United States is due to leave Central Asia by the end of 2014. Along with troops, money and equipment, U.S. interests in the region will also be pulled back. As it withdraws, the U.S. State Department is emphasizing a project called “The New Silk Road,” aimed at facilitating Central Asia’s efforts to return to its historic role as the gateway between East and West.

The crux of the initiative is the construction of the nearly $1 billion Central Asia South Asia electrical transmission line or CASA-1000, which stretches 759 miles and connects surplus summer hydroelectricity in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to electricity-starved Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, America’s well-intentioned, last-ditch effort to leave a positive legacy in Central Asia attempts to bypass broader regional issues that will ultimately threaten the realization of this project.

It’s important to get CASA-1000 right. The objective is to help create a functioning electricity system for the region that can “help develop a strong economy with good jobs, modern infrastructure, proper social services and inclusive growth.” The CASA-1000 project is also consistent with U.S.-led efforts to help create alternative energy corridors for post-Soviet countries to break their dependence on Russia’s vestigial infrastructural ties.

One of the most fundamental issues that the project ignores is the dilapidated state of the domestic supply-side infrastructure upon which the CASA-1000 project depends to provide the necessary electricity. Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan struggle with regular failures and blackouts due to their inability to invest, maintain and upgrade a Soviet-era system that is on its last legs. As a result, continued domestic failures will threaten the project as a whole because of undependable energy deliveries.

In addition, there is no strategy to secure the infrastructure either now or after the U.S. withdrawal. The CASA-1000 line runs through four of the most unstable countries in the region and the post-2014 security vacuum is likely to make the situation worse. In fact, the Asian Development Bank, which was slated to provide 40 percent of the financing, pulled out of the project, unofficially citing security fears in Afghanistan.

The high-profile nature of the project will make it a target for those who seek to destabilize the region. The ability of local forces to coordinate and secure 759 miles of infrastructure alone will be extremely difficult. On top of everything, the rivalry and a very poor record of cooperation among the regimes of Central Asia may be an even greater risk to the project than non-systemic threats like the Taliban, local warlords and narco-traffickers.

Uzbekistan has come out strongly against CASA-1000. Tashkent associates the project with the planned construction of Kambarata-1 and Rogun dams by upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, respectively. Uzbekistan believes the dams will be used as a political tool to threaten its access to water. Despite signed documents by participants assuring Tashkent that CASA-1000 will only utilize existing surpluses, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has openly linked the project to the construction of the Rogun dam. And indeed it is not hard to believe that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would look beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan and consider producing more energy for the virtually limitless markets of China and India.

Outside of Uzbekistan, the development of Central Asian hydroelectricity is a mutually beneficial nexus of common interests. As many of the region’s countries develop, energy demands for electricity will increase. Russia, which is also a major hydropower, also stands to benefit greatly by connecting to energy thirsty India and China. In fact, Russia has already committed nearly $2 billion to Kyrgyzstan’s Kambarata-1 dam and has shown interest in supporting Tajikistan’s Rogun.

Russia’s interests were confirmed when Russia’s Inter RAO-United Electrical Systems recently signed a 25-year deal with China. Russia has permanent interests in Central Asia and has shown a willingness to take on massive financial and political risk in the region. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would stand to benefit by plugging into a wider energy market and not only becoming energy exporters, but transit countries as well. Russia’s experience with Central Asian electrical systems and its own vast hydroelectric potential makes Russia the best situated to facilitate Central Asia’s hydroelectric revolution.

However, the U.S. is wary of Russian involvement in CASA-1000 (and the region at large), fearing it will control any arrangement and undermine Washington’s efforts to decouple Central Asia from Moscow’s influence. Nevertheless, by including Russia and expanding the goals of CASA-1000, the project can get closer to resolving many of its broader issues. In addition, Russia will be a more responsible actor within the framework of a CASA-1000 agreement than it would be bilaterally. If the U.S. continues to purposefully limit the scope of CASA-1000, the project risks becoming isolated instead of being a critical link in a larger network.

The project is full of politicized, but solvable problems. The U.S. is pursuing a tactical success at the risk of strategic failure. Unfortunately, the current state of the project provides little encouragement as “industry insiders speaking privately tend to roll their eyes when they discuss CASA-1000.” The U.S. and its partners are ready to invest nearly $1 billion into the construction of an unprotected electric line with a vulnerable supply whose economic viability will depend on infrastructure that is 20 or 30 years old in a politically unstable region.

Russia might be the only country willing to invest the necessary financial, security and political resources for the long term. After the recent collapse of “the Reset,” CASA-1000 and the New Silk Road project can serve as a conduit for mutually beneficial cooperation between the U.S., Central Asia and Russia. Coordinating the various regional interests can help stabilize and develop the region. Otherwise, the U.S. will shift unrealistic burdens and expectations on countries and institutions that do not have the capacity, training or resources to guarantee the project’s long-term success.

Eugene Imas is the Program and Outreach Officer at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, with postgraduate qualifications from the same Center. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan from 2006-2008. The views expressed here are his own.

Why Obama's Hints at Intel Reform Are Mostly Window Dressing

DECEMBER 20, 2013 

Eventually, President Barack Obama is going to have to go on the offensive in the debate over how to reform American intelligence gathering practices, and on Friday, he offered a few hints as to how he might do so.

In an end-of-year press conference before he left for his Hawaii vacation, Obama signaled a willingness to place control of a controversial database of telephone records in the hands of a third-party. Additionally, the president said that he may be willing to grant foreigners some privacy protections.

"It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can be accessed in an effective fashion," Obama said in reference to the mass-collection of phone metadata. "That might cost more. There might need to be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions that have to be found to do that."

That program, which forces U.S. telecom companies to provide comprehensive telephone records to the NSA, stands at the center of the debate over whether the agency has acted too aggressively and potentially violated civil rights. On Monday, a Federal District Court judge said that mass-collection of Americans' phone records all but certainly violates the Constitution, and on Wednesday, a presidentially appointed panel released a report arguing that the collection of such records ought to be seriously curtailed.

Of the many reform proposals that have been floated since NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden began appearing in the press, the scheme to place control of the massive phone records database in the hands of a third party has gained particular traction. Administration officials have signaled a willingness to consider the proposal, and on Friday, it gained its most important, if reluctant, backer yet. While the president certainly didn't go so far as to say he plans to implement the proposal, it is unlikely that Obama would reference the idea in such a positive light in a public forum. In Washington-parlance, it's called sending up a trial balloon.

Despite the apparent embrace of the proposal, the telecom industry and privacy advocates are less than enthused about it. Telecom companies are loathe to take on responsibility for what would be costly, highly controversial database. Privacy advocates contend the proposal does little to address concerns about drag-net surveillance and that such a database would be a ripe target for hackers.

Those privacy advocates certainly have a point: While the proposal would arguably make it more difficult to carry out searches of Americans' phone records, it wouldn't eliminate the NSA's ability to do so. That's likely part of the reason why administration officials are willing to get behind the idea. It provides a highly public fix to a deeply controversial program while at the same time not significantly altering the agency's intelligence-gathering capabilities. That's what the White House would call a win-win.

Top 10 U.S. Foreign Policy Blunders of 2013

The Fiscal Times

December 20, 2013 -- This past year was a tough one for President Obama on a number of fronts. But it was particularly difficult internationally, as the president seemed to lurch from one crisis to the next without an apparent cohesive strategy, hurting America’s reputation and interests.

There were some highlights in international affairs – Secretary of State John Kerry restarting the Israel-Palestine peace process being the brightest. But 2013 is likely to be remembered more for mistakes than victories. 

And boy, there a lot of mistakes. It seemed President Obama was scrambling from one crisis to the next. Some of them were outside of Obama’s control. But the president often was at the wrong end of international incidents because of his own doing. Here are 10 examples of the biggest foreign policy blunders of the last year.

1. The Edward Snowden Debacle. Everything about the Snowden fiasco was a disaster. He received security clearance through a process that is corrupt and broken. American authorities couldn’t nab him in Hong Kong because they misspelled his name. Obama was helpless to stop Snowden when he went to Moscow. Now, he’s disappeared into Russia, and is peddling his secrets to Brazil in exchange for his cooperation into their investigation of NSA activities.

2. Russia. Vladimir Putin constantly poked the United States in the eye. It’s bad enough that Putin gave Snowden asylum, despite formal requests from the White House to ship the NSA leaker home. Putin was also an obstacle during the Syria chemical weapon crisis, blocking U.S. efforts to impose sanctions. Putin eventually got his way when the United States agreed to forgo military force and make a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, the Russian president continues to rule his country with an iron fist, suppressing human rights and eliminating political opponents.

Not just Snowden, many foreigners line up for IT crash courses in India

Mihir , Anil Sasi : New Delhi, Mon Dec 23 2013, 

Took training at Koenig Solutions in Delhi in 2010

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's decision to come down all the way to Delhi three years ago for a fast-track Certified Ethical Hacker module and a crash course in Core Java was by no means an isolated event. While IT training set the stage in the early days of India's IT revolution, the IT Offshore Training business is a new growth area where India is claiming a clear lead over rivals, drawing in clients from the US, Europe and Africa for highly focused IT modules that are delivered in double quick time, with a distinct cost advantage to boot.

Being marketed to overseas students under the 'education tourism' banner, quite on the lines of medical tourism, India's IT offshoring business is being pegged at upwards of Rs 1,000 crore, according to industry valuations. 

Snowden reportedly zeroed in on Delhi-based Koenig Solutions for his seven-day super fast-track module in early September 2010 based on some favourable referrals. Koenig, which hosted Snowden at its main training centre in non-descript Moti Nagar in West Delhi, claims to be one of the biggest offshore IT training provider in the world and is unambiguous in its assertion that the Snowden link has certainly helped it get some extra mileage. 

According to Rohit Aggarwal, Founder & CEO, Koenig, the majority of the students coming in from places such as Europe or the US for certified IT packages are lured in not just by the cost advantage of doing the courses in India, airfare and accommodation overheads notwithstanding, but the quality of these certification courses offered by Indian firms. Offshore IT training is catching up particularly among companies, IT employees and students in countries of Europe, Africa, West Asia, South East Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand, given the lack of cost optimised quality training resources and infrastructure facilities in some of these countries.

Counterinsurgency, Local Militias, and Statebuilding in Afghanistan

Friday, December 20, 2013

After a quick read of this report one of the shortfalls is that it does not assess the early efforts conducted by Special Forces in 2002-2004 with local indigenous forces. For the most part the report focuses on 2008 and later. Any think any comprehensive assessment of these programs should include what really came before and efforts were abandoned due to lack of support by higher HQ and lack of understanding of the potential impact of focus on the local security challenges from the beginning rather than approaching the problem from a national level and one size fits all program. I wonder of the whole ALP/VSO effort might be characterized as too much, too fast, and too late. Too much because they tried to make the program bigger than it was capable of being, too fast because they tried to expand it too fast because for some it appeared to be the silver bullet, and too late because if there had been real support for sustained efforts in 2002-2004 perhaps Afghanistan would be in a little better place than it is today. But of course that is a counterfactual but I think it is an idea that a study like this should address. Maybe the idea will be debunked but I think it is worthy of study.

Counterinsurgency, Local Militias, and Statebuilding in Afghanistan
December 18, 2013
Jonathan Goodhand and Aziz Hakimi

Arming local defense forces in Afghanistan has had mixed and often perverse effects on the security of local populations, according to this study on the role and impact of the Afghan Local Police in three provinces. These findings suggest that, as international forces draw down, the ALP will require stronger state oversight and absorption into the national police force.
International intervention in Afghanistan at the end of 2001 marked less the beginning of a war-to-peace transition and more a new phase of an ongoing conflict.
The fundamental contradiction has been attempting to build peace while fighting a war.
Post-2001 Afghanistan exemplifies the deleterious effects of exogenous, militarized statebuilding, which has undermined peacebuilding and statebuilding at many levels.
The paradox of counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan is that its success depends on a high-capacity regime to put it into practice but that exogenous statebuilding prevents the emergence of such a regime in the first place.

Might Pentagon have been alerted sooner to boozy US general in Moscow? (+video)

Pentagon concern about 'toxic leaders' is not new, but some worry that revelations of bad behavior by senior military officials will rise as the US returns to peacetime footing. Latest case in point is a report about a top Air Force general's drunken cavorting during a trip to Moscow.

By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer / December 20, 2013

This undated handout photo provided by the US Air Force shows Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey. Investigators say the Air Force general, fired in October as commander of the US land-based nuclear missile force, engaged in 'inappropriate behavior' while in Russia.

The latest bad behavior story coming out of the Air Force – involving the alleged boozy cavorting of the US general in charge of nuclear weapons in the hotel bars of Moscow, no less – has senior military officials again grappling with precisely how the Pentagon might prevent the rise of what it calls "toxic leaders.” 
The cause has been taken up by the US military’s top leader, Gen. Martin Dempsey, in recent months.

The fact that the US military has been on a war footing for more than a decade, he told troops during a “town hall” meeting earlier this year, may have created some “bad habits, frankly.”

“When you’re at war, you tend to value competence most. But in our profession, character has to count,” said Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “You have to find that balance of competence and character. If you’re the most competent guy that has ever put a uniform on, but you don’t have character, I don’t really want you in my military.” 

As the troops come home from Afghanistan and the US military begins to adjust to a peacetime footing, “We may see more such scandals emerge from officers used to 12 years of war and an ‘anything goes in the name of the mission’ mentality,” says Phillip Carter, senior fellow and counsel at the Center for a New American Security.

Recent cases to give the services a black eye appear to be a result of both incompetence and character lapses. This week, a US Navy official ensnared in a massive bribery scandal was convicted over his involvement with a Malaysian defense contractor who provided free concert tickets and prostitutes in exchange for classified information. Five other US Navy officials are also charged.

Colombia: A Forgotten Front in the War on Drugs Heats Up

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

Colombia was the epicenter of the Western Hemisphere’s drug wars from the early 1980s until about six years ago. In the years since then, attention shifted to the carnage in Mexico, while drug-related violence in Colombia subsided. Proponents of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-sponsored multiyear $8 billion antidrug campaign, trumpeted a great policy success. Over the past year, however, there are mounting indications that such proclamations were misplaced. The largely forgotten Andean front in the international war on drugs, encompassing Colombia and its neighbors Peru and Bolivia, has become increasingly active.

An early sign that all was not going well on that front came in a November 18, 2012 segment on the CBS news program 60 Minutes titled “Taking Down Colombia’s ‘Super Cartel.’”It confirmed that Colombia’s much-touted drug war victory was largely an illusion. Correspondent Lara Logan described a “three year investigation that took down the most powerful drug trafficking organization in law enforcement history.” The nature of that adversary was daunting. “Bigger than both the Cali and Medellin cartels combined, more powerful than the infamous Pablo Escobar—this was a Colombian cocaine empire with a reach so vast, and profits so great, it became known as ‘the super cartel.” What was so striking about that development was that this “super cartel” was operating with great effectiveness years after ballyhooed defeat of the infamous Cali and Medellin drug trafficking operations and [3] their immediate successors. [3]

Matters have become even more unsettled since then. The United States has now suspended its aerial spraying program against coca plants (the raw ingredient for cocaine) in Colombia after two planes were shot down, killing [4] one of the American pilots. That program, launched in 1995, has been an extremely unpopular component of the drug war. Drug crop eradication efforts of any sort are controversial in Colombia and the other Andean countries, since coca, marijuana and other such crops provide the livelihood for a significant number of farmers. But the aerial spraying programs are especially hated, since the fumigation efforts often destroy food crops along with the targeted plants. There have also been repeated complaints from peasant organizations that the spraying has adverse health effects on people living in the affected zones.

Leftist rebels, especially the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym FARC), have exploited that anger to gain a following in regions of the country where coca and other drug crops are a significant part of the economy. There has long been a symbiotic relationship between left-wing insurgents and some drug trafficking organizations. Although the FARC’s strength is substantially less than it was in the 1990s and the early years of the past decade, it is still a menace to the Colombian government and the country’s overall stability. Indeed, there was a surge in the fighting just this past week, with the government accusing [5] the FARC of planning further attacks in Bogotá, Cauca, and other cities. [5]