27 February 2014

Challenges in India-US ties

Washington becoming strident in economic relations

G Parthasarathy 

Travelling across the US as the winter Olympics in Sochi commenced, one was saddened to witness how India's international credibility had been shaken when television audiences across the world saw three forlorn Indian athletes marching without the national flag. India faced this disgrace, thanks to the avariciousness and nepotism of an internationally disgraced Indian Olympic Association. Sadly, this was accompanied by charges of corruption, nepotism, match fixing and worse involving the President of the BCCI. Many Indian friends in the US asked in anguish: "Is there no section of national life left in India which is free from corruption and venality?" 

President Obama faces widespread criticism of his foreign and security policies 

The mood in Washington, where one had an occasion to meet a cross section of senior officials, business executives, analysts and scholars, was quite different. In marked contrast to the earlier years, I found widespread criticism of the conduct of foreign and security policies by President Obama. The Administration had not just botched up its healthcare programme, but was seen as indecisive and weak in dealing with challenges in West Asia, Afghanistan and the provocations of a jingoistic and militaristic China. President Obama, in turn, is acutely conscious of the mood in the country which wants an end to foreign military entanglements. 

More significantly, as the US moves towards becoming a net exporter of energy, thanks to the expanding production of shale gas and oil, the country's geopolitics are set for profound change. Using its leadership in areas of productivity and innovation, the US now appears set to the stage for increasing domination of the world economic order. From across its eastern shores, the US is negotiating comprehensive trade and investment partnerships with its European allies. Across its western shores in the Pacific, the Americans are negotiating transpacific partnerships with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam as negotiating partners. While China has informally indicated an interest in joining this partnership, the US will use its influence to ensure that China is not admitted till American political and economic pre-conditions are met.

There is naturally interest in Washington in the forthcoming general election in India. The assessment appears to be that the ruling Congress is headed for a drubbing in the polls. Not many tears will be shed in Washington or elsewhere about this inevitability as the only questions which well-wishers of India ask are how India landed itself in its present morass of corruption and whether a new dispensation, which may be fractious, will be able to restore India to a high growth path. Speaking informally, a senior official recalled that President Obama had described the US-India partnership as "one of the defining partnerships of the world". The official noted that "every meaningful partnership between powerful nations encounters setbacks", adding that such setbacks should be minor compared to the benefits of the relationship and the magnitude of what the two could accomplish together.

weapons claims

25 February 2014

Since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, strategic analysts monitoring developments in Burma (Myanmar) have been on quite a roller-coaster ride, particularly with regard to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Over the past 25 years, both the former military regime and President Thein Sein's reformist government have been accused of developing a nuclear device, manufacturing ballistic missiles, deploying biological agents and using chemical weapons (CW). These capabilities were reportedly acquired mainly with the help of North Korea and China.

Such is the dearth of reliable information about Burma's armed forces and national security that it has been difficult to prove or disprove many of these claims. However, enough of them have been shown to be exaggerated or false to warrant a fair degree of caution when considering any fresh accusations of WMD production or use.

With that in mind, it is worth looking closely at reports in the news media over the past few weeks that a secret chemical weapons plant has been discovered in Burma.

The Rangoon-based Unity Journal has claimed that in 2009 a CW factory was built on 12 sq km of land confiscated from farmers in Pauk township, near Pakokku in central Burma. Citing local informants, the journal said that the complex (possibly known as DI-24) included over 300m of tunnels, and was receiving technical help from China.

Following publication of this story, four journalists and one Unity executive were charged under the 1923 State Secrets Act, which prohibits trespassing on and photographing defence facilities in Burma, and divulging classified information. All unsold copies of the weekly journal were seized. Naypyidaw also flatly denied the existence of any CW plant.

India’s Solar Energy Future

Policy and Institutions

By Vineeth Vasudeva Murthy
FEB 25, 2014

This report analyzes and clarifies the regulatory and institutional frameworks put in place by the Indian government to promote investment in India’s solar energy sector. To date, lack of clarity and comprehension has inhibited investment in India’s economy in sectors ranging from defense technology to retail. This report aims to articulate India’s institutional structures in solar energy.

Public institutions have played a crucial role in India’s economic growth, and it is therefore critical to understand the regulations and reforms that India has taken to promote private domestic and foreign investment in infrastructure. Included in the report is a detailed picture of the different institutions involved in policy formulation, distribution, and administration of solar energy in India.
Publisher CSIS

Download PDF file of "India’s Solar Energy Future"

Indian Armed Forces Woes

Veterans’ woes

Defence personnel are at a great disadvantage in respect of pay, pension and medical benefits compared with civilian government servants. By MAJOR GENERAL SATBIR SINGH

OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, EX-SERVICEMEN have been agitating against the injustice meted out to them by the Central government. They have lost faith in the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW), created specifically to take care of their welfare. Ex-servicemen have won 90 per cent of the cases filed in the Armed Forces Tribunals and the Supreme Court against the government, but the government has appealed in all the cases through the DESW.

The veterans have approached the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to seek redress in numerous cases where they felt injustice had been done to them but to no avail. The Supreme Court’s judgments in their favour have either not been implemented or not been implemented in letter and spirit in cases pertaining to disability pensions, payment of arrears with retrospective effect from January 1, 2006, rank pay, and hospital charges on authorised Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) rates for medical treatment abroad.

The government files en masse appeals against retired defence personnel whenever any case relating to pension benefits is decided in their favour by any court of law or the Armed Forces Tribunal. Facing the brunt of the government’s apathy is the category of disabled and war-disabled soldiers. Most of the special leave petitions and appeals filed by the Ministry of Defence in the Supreme Court are against the grant of disability or war injury benefits to disabled and war-disabled soldiers. As a result, the veterans are forced into expensive litigation.

Over 3,000 cases decided in favour of defence personnel by the Armed Forces Tribunal have not been implemented; the Defence Ministry has contested all these judgments in the Supreme Court. Imagine the plight of a widow of a sepoy living in a far-flung rural area. How is she going to find the resources to fight her case in the Supreme Court? The tribunals were created for delivering speedy justice to defence personnel at minimum cost. But the Ministry’s decision to appeal against the tribunal’s judgments has not only delayed justice but also made it near impossible for the defence personnel to fight their cases. The Armed Forces Tribunals do not have contempt powers to get their judgments implemented whereas Central Administrative Tribunals (CATs) are vested with such powers.

This is the biggest cause of heartburning in the military community today. Military personnel with non-service-related disabilities discharged with less than 10 years of service remaining are not entitled to any form of pension, whereas the employment of civilian employees who “acquires a disability during his service” is protected under Section 47 of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995.

The Bricks of Wrath: India’s Migrant Workers

Migrant workers in Indian cities face a bleak future, but one organization is trying to bring hope.

By Arjun Claire
February 26, 2014

As the share of agriculture in India’s growing economy plummets, farmers from the country’s poorest regions are moving in droves to cities in search of better prospects. Many of them find work in the booming construction industry, which employs more than 30 million people. But the gleaming office towers and slick residential complexes they build stand in stark contrast to the tiny tin shacks where they live, often on the construction sites itself. Moreover, the obligation to constantly change sites and cities means that their children receive no education and are locked in a malicious cycle of poverty.

A child helps in harvesting the wheat crop in the Indian state of Bihar, where many construction laborers come from. Many farmers here do not own land, and instead work as daily wage laborers on other people’s properties. In recent years, lack of employment in agriculture, low wages and indebtedness have forced workers to look for alternative employment in other states. Many end up working on construction projects in big cities.

**** The Taliban in Afghanistan

Author: Zachary Laub, Associate Writer
Updated: February 25, 2014


The Taliban is a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime for providing refuge to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The Taliban regrouped across the border in Pakistan, where its central leadership, headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, operates an insurgency and shadow government aimed at undermining the government in Kabul. Since 2010, both the United States and Afghanistan have pursued a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, but with the planned withdrawal of international forces at the end of 2014, many analysts say the prospects for such an agreement are dim.

Rise of the Taliban

The Taliban was formed in the early 1990s by a Pashtun faction of mujahideen, Islamic fighters who resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979–89) with the covert backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). They were joined by other Pashtun tribesmen who, like the mujahideen, studied in Pakistani madrassas (seminaries); taliban is Pashto for "students." Pashtuns comprise a plurality in Afghanistan and are the predominant ethnic group in much of the country's south and east.
Taliban militiamen chant slogans as they drive toward the front line near Kabul in November 1997. (Photo: Courtesy Reuters)

The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Mohammad Najibullah, a Soviet client, was president from 1987 until 1992. He stepped down amid increasingly fractious politics, ushering in a period of civil war. Burhanuddin Rabbani, a Tajik mujahideen leader, held tenuous control as president as mujahideen parties competed for control of Kabul.

The Taliban coalesced during this period, promising to impose stability and with it, rule of law in place of endemic corruption, a charge it leveled at Rabbani's government. Taliban jurisprudence was drawn from both Deobandi interpretations of sharia, which were colored by the austere Wahabbi traditions of the madrassas' Saudi benefactors, and Pashtunwali, the Pashtuns' pre-Islamic tribal code. As the Taliban consolidated its control over Afghanistan, it began imposing nationwide this syncretic legal system, which, with punishments such as flagellation, amputation, and execution, "deepened the ethnic divide," writes journalist Ahmed Rashid.

The Taliban took the southern city of Kandahar in November 1994, and in September 1996 seized Kabul, ousted the Rabbani government, and stormed the UN compound where Najibullah had sought refuge, torturing and executing him. The Taliban controlled some 90 percent of the country before its 2001 overthrow by U.S.-led forces, analysts say.

In power for five years, the Taliban regime was an "oxymoron of an Islamist state," writes Gilles Kepel, a scholar of political Islam. The Taliban's exclusive interests, he writes, were imposing Deobandi norms in Afghanistan while waging jihad on the country's periphery, and so it neglected basic state functions. The Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, for example, was responsible for morality. It enforced prohibitions on behavior deemed un-Islamic, requiring women to wear the head-to-toeburqa, or chadri; banned music and television; and jailed men whose beards it deemed too short. Humanitarian aid agencies, mostly drawn from the Islamic world, moved to fill the void of social services.

The Taliban regime was internationally isolated and censured from its inception; only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the government. Two UN Security Council resolutions passed in 1998 urged the Taliban to end its abusive treatment of women. The following year the council imposed sanctions on the regime for harboring al-Qaeda. The Taliban garnered international outcry in 2001 after destroying the colossal, ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan, an iconic piece of the country's cultural heritage revered by local Shiites.

Pakistan supported the Taliban as a force that could unify and stabilize Afghanistan while staving off Indian, Iranian, and Russian influence, and saw its Pashtun roots, shared with much of the Pakistani army's officer corps, as a source of leverage, Kepel writes.

In the late 1990s, factions in northern Afghanistan opposed to Taliban rule formed theNorthern Alliance, which was composed of ethnic minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras (who are Shiites). The alliance assisted U.S.-led forces in routing the Taliban after 9/11.
Courtesy Congressional Research Service
Leadership and Support Structure

U.S. Intensifying Strikes Against Haqqani Network Leadership and Networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


February 25, 2014

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has intensified its drive against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants in Afghanistan before foreign combat forces depart this year, according to multiple U.S. officials.

The effort is taking on added urgency as the clock ticks down on a NATO combat mission in Afghanistan set to end in December, and as questions persist about whether Pakistan will take action against a group some U.S. officials believe is quietly supported by Pakistani intelligence.

The Obama administration has created a special new unit based in Kabul to coordinate efforts against the militant group, according to officials familiar with the matter. It was set up late last year, as part of a new strategy that involves multiple government agencies,

The unit, headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a “fusion cell,” brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel, and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group, the officials said.

"Things are coming together in terms of the more comprehensive approach (against the Haqqanis). So, there’s a lot of focus - there’s a lot of energy behind it right now," said a U.S. defense official, who asked not to be identified.

It was not immediately clear whether the intensified focus on the Haqqanis has led to increased strikes on the group by the U.S. military or the CIA, which operates drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Contingency Plans Begin for Possible Full Afghanistan Withdrawal

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2014 – President Barack Obama today informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that because the Afghan leader has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement on a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond this year, he has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

In a summary of the Obama-Karzai phone call released to reporters, White House officials said Obama is leaving open the possibility of concluding a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan later this year.

“However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission,” they added. “Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.”

Soon after, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement expressing his “strong support” for the president’s decision.

"This is a prudent step, given that President Karzai has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the bilateral security agreement, which would provide DOD personnel with critical protections and authorities after 2014,” the secretary said. He also commended the efforts of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of U.S. forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and other military leaders to provide flexibility to the president as the United States works to determine the future of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Taking on Taliban

Pakistan: With the repeated targeting of the Army in North Waziristan and the recent terror attacks elsewhere in the country, the government seems to have little option but to go in for a military operation against the Taliban. By MEENA MENON in Islamabad

IT WAS an enterprise doomed from the start. When the All Parties Conference (APC) held on September 9, 2013, gave the government the green signal for dialogue with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), there was a surge of hope for peace. Subsequent events proved that it was short-lived. A week after the APC, militants killed two Army officers in Upper Dir district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This was followed by a spate of bombings in Peshawar, including a suicide attack on a church, killing over 80 persons at Sunday prayers. Yet, the government persisted with its efforts at mediation, and just as it was planning to send a team of negotiators to meet TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, he was killed in a drone strike on November 1, 2013. An outraged Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was swift to pin the blame on the United States for deliberately snuffing out what was the start of a peace dialogue. Events since then have indicated that dialogue with the TTP, over which there was much scepticism anyway, will be difficult. Incidents in the new year have effectively put an end to that process for now.

The government is weighing targeted military strikes in the tribal areas, as discussed in a recent high-level security meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The military had resorted to targeted operations in December after the attack on a check post in North Waziristan. But in the wake of two bomb blasts recently, in Bannu Cantonment and near the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, in a rare use of air power it bombed militant hideouts in North Waziristan and killed over 40 militants, including four Taliban leaders. Thirty-three of those killed were Uzbek nationals and three were Germans.

The government has still kept the dialogue option open, but by now it is clear that there is little to talk about. The former Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who attended the APC, was on the same page as the government and had, in a public statement, made his position clear, favouring dialogue. But the repeated targeting of the Army in North Waziristan and the recent terror attacks have prompted the military to show readiness for what could be a full-fledged operation, backed by the federal government, against the Taliban.

Myanmar’s Census Controversy

The inclusion of ethic and tribal identification questions could lead to discrimination and violence.

February 26, 2014

Myanmar’s Census ControversyMyanmar is scheduled to hold a census next month but local and international monitoring groups are worried that it could inflame ethnic and religious tensions in the country.

The census, supported by several UN agencies, is deemed important because it has been more than 30 years since a nationwide census was conducted. Through the census, Myanmar’s demographic profile can be objectively determined, which would prove useful for policymakers and potential investors in planning for Myanmar’s development needs.

But the census question on ethnic or tribal identification threatens to ignite more conflicts in the country. The census form requires citizens to choose from the 135 ethnic groups identified by the government. This listing, according to some scholars, is a colonial legacy that should have been revamped a long time ago. Several ethnic groups have complained about being lumped with other minorities while others claimed they were dropped from the listing.

For example, the Palaung (Ta’aung) tribe questioned their inclusion as a member of the Shan race.

“We, Ta’aung, settled down in this land before the Shan…We are not the same with other races. We live in mountainous area and have a different culture and language,” according to an official statement issued by the Palaung community.

In Myanmar, most people identify as Burmans. An estimated 40 percent of the population is considered an ethnic minority, with the Shan composing the biggest minority group. The other major groups include the Karen, Karreni, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Arakan.

To avoid misunderstanding, the government is urged to reclassify the listing based on a “democratic consultation” with ethnic communities. And while the government is doing this, some groups wanted the census delayed for another month. The postponement is also necessary to pursue the peace process in some remote areas where a ceasefire has not yet been finalized between government troops and armed rebels.

Why China Isn't Interested in a South China Sea Code of Conduct

A South China Sea code of conduct would threaten Beijing’s interests – so don’t expect much progress in negotiations.

February 26, 2014

According to Reuters, ASEAN officials say that they will meet with Chinese representatives in Singapore beginning March 18 to try and make some progress on talks to establish a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea. China agreed to discuss a South China Sea code of conduct at the ASEAN forum last July, a move that was widely applauded in the region. The first round of meetings was held in Beijing in September, and concluded with an agreement to seek “gradual progress and consensus through consultations.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to ASEAN, China, and the South China Sea, progress has been slow and consensus almost nonexistent. Negotiations over a code of conduct are complicated by the simple fact that not every ASEAN member state is involved in the territorial disputes. Of the 10 ASEAN members, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei claim territory that also falls within China’s “nine-dash line.” Even these four states are not on the same page, with Vietnam and the Philippines vocally protesting China’s ‘aggression’ and Malaysia and Brunei keeping a much lower profile.

Of the remaining ASEAN states, Indonesia often positions itself as a mediator, sometimes joined by Singapore. The others (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand) have little interest in becoming embroiled in disputes between China and their neighbors — especially as China accounts for over 12 percent of all ASEAN trade. China is an especially lucrative partner for Cambodia, which received a promise of nearly $550 million in aid last year, and for Myanmar, where China accounts for one-third of all foreign direct investment.

Actually, China and ASEAN already have one agreement on the South China Sea — the 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.” That document expressed a desire to “enhance favorable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes among countries concerned.” In the 2002 declaration, ASEAN and China reaffirmed a commitment to international law (including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) and to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. All parties also agreed to “resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.” Further, the parties agreed to “exercise self-restraint” in taking actions that could “complicate or escalate disputes.”

China Can Be More Powerful Without Getting Rich

History shows that wealth is a poor indicator of the distribution of power in the international system.

February 25, 2014

With the Chinese economy set to overtake the American economy in terms of absolute GDP in the next few years, many in the U.S. and allied countries are taking solace in the fact that China will be far poorer than America for the foreseeable future. This is perfectly logical if one’s deciding which country to live in. However, history suggests that it says little about China’s ability to challenge the U.S. internationally, particularly within the Asia-Pacific.

Although a country’s economy is unquestionably the foundation of its national power, the relationship between the two variables is far from perfect. As I noted last week, the Soviet Union’s economy was at the best of times about half the size of the American one during the Cold War. Often times it was much, much less. The disparity between the economies of NATO and the Warsaw Pact was often times much greater. Indeed, by the late 1980s, Germany had a larger absolute GDP than the Soviet Union; Japan’s economy was well over twice the size of Moscow’s during this time. Still, this not did prevent the Soviet Union from posing a substantial strategic threat to the U.S. and its European allies during the Cold War era.

Similarly, according to the Los Angeles Times, in 1940 Japan’s population was about half that of the United States, while its economy was one-tenth as large. Nonetheless, following Pearl Harbor Japan was able to sweep through much of the Asia-Pacific and seize territory from the U.S., England, and the Dutch. In key battles like the one at Java Sea, Japan was also able to defeat the joint militaries from those three countries, which also had help from key commonwealth nations like Australia and New Zealand.

But if absolute GDP is an imprecise measure of national power, the relative wealth of nations is often even more inaccurate. Given the much larger population size of the Soviet Union relative to the U.S., for instance, the gap between America and the Soviet Union’s GDP per capita was even larger than the already large gap the size of their economies. Similarly, in 1970 the Soviet Union’s GDP was greater than Japan and France’s combined. However, both Japan and France were richer than the Soviet Union.

Drugs: The Overlooked Issue in Nuclear Talks With Iran

Better relations between Tehran and the West could put a major dent in the global opium trade.

Confiscated opium on display in Zahedan, Iran. (Reuters/Caren Firouz)

Efforts between world powers and Iran to reach a comprehensive deal on the country’s nuclear program may now be back in the news, but a related issue with global ramifications is receiving far less attention: Iran’s war on drugs.

Earlier this month, Iranian media reported that law-enforcement officers had captured more than a ton of illicit drugs on the eastern border, prompting Iran's anti-narcotics police chief to boast of his success in reproducing “breeds of drug-sniffing dogs” despite the “(anti-Iran) sanctions” arrayed against the country. In a more dramatic incident in November, Iranian security personnel killed eight smugglers with RPGs, grenades, and over a ton of narcotics in the country’s often-volatile southeastern region.

This was far from the first time that Iranian forces had faced off against heavily armed drug smugglers. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has lost 4,000 security personnel in its efforts to combat drug trafficking, and the drug war’s toll on civilians has been even higher. With 1.2 million drug addicts, or just over 2 percent of the population aged 15-64, Iran has one of the highest addiction rates in the world. This is a product not only of Iran’s mismanaged and sanctions-laden economy, but also of its 560-mile border with an opium factory (read: Afghanistan) that produces 90 percent of the world’s opium. Out of its eastern neighbor’s 380 metric tons of annual heroin production, roughly 105 flow into Iran.

And what flows into Iran also flows out. Of the 106 metric tons of heroin that reach Europe each year from Afghanistan, 92 pass through Iran. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in fact, has pointed to northwestern Europe—home to two world powers, France and the U.K., that are deeply involved in nuclear talks with Iran—as one of Europe’s heroin hotspots. Hence the link between negotiations with Iran and the drug trade. Lifting sanctions against Iran, which is responsible for 80 percent of the world’s opium seizures and 30 percent of the world’s heroin seizures, could go a long way in stemming the flow of these drugs to Europe and elsewhere in the world. It would remove barriers to international cooperation on anti-drug trafficking efforts.

The maps below indicate just how significant a hub Iran is in the world’s heroin trade:

Global Heroin Flows of Asian Origins

Major Drug-Trafficking Routes in Iran

Since the fall of the Taliban, the United States has invested $10 billion in fighting the Afghan drug trade, to little avail. Iran, meanwhile, is reportedly pouring $1 billion a year into prosecuting its drug war, in the face of steep inflation and a current account deficit that has taken shape as sanctions eat into Iranian oil sales. As an Italian diplomat told The New York Times last year, the Iranians “are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country.”

Political impasse

Thailand stands on the edge of an abyss as the early elections called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra turns out to be a futile attempt to end the long-running political crisis, in the face of stiff resistance by the opposition. By JOHN CHERIAN

THE snap general elections in Thailand on February 2 took place without any violence and bloodshed. On the eve of the elections, the opposition and others intent on foiling the electoral process opened fire on government supporters who were mobilising voters. The incident only undermined further the credibility of the opposition, which had managed to virtually paralyse Bangkok for the past three months. “We wanted ballots but we got bullets,” is the lament of the supporters of the beleaguered Yingluck Shinawatra government. The Prime Minister had called for early elections in what now seems to be a futile bid to end the long-running political impasse.

The Bangkok business elite, having close ties with the royalty, is financing the disruptive activities of the opposition. It has now acknowledged the fact that regime change cannot be brought about through the ballot box in a fair and free election. The opposition has been demanding the replacement of the elected government by an unelected “people’s council”. It wants “reforms” in the electoral system to be implemented first. The ruling party is open to “reforms” but is against an unconstitutional “people’s council” being set up to replace a government elected with a large majority. The “people’s council”, most Thais believe, is only a facade for the country’s traditional elites, consisting of elements aligned to the monarchy, the military and sections of the bureaucracy, to once again control the levers of power in Bangkok.

Strategic embrace

Japan steps up its diplomatic cooperation with India as part of its “contain China” policy, being pursued since Shinzo Abe became the Prime Minister. By JOHN CHERIAN

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the chief guest at the 2014 Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. The honour accorded to him by the Indian government reflects the growing strategic and political ties between New Delhi and Tokyo. Abe is the first Japanese Prime Minister to grace the Republic Day parade. Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the New Komeito Party, an alliance partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who was on a visit to India, said that the presence of Abe as the chief guest “was a great epic signal” for the strengthening of the partnership between the two countries.

Before his arrival in India, Abe had continued with his strong rhetoric against China. Speaking on the sidelines of the Davos Conference, Abe said that Japan and China were in a situation similar to the one that existed between Britain and Germany before the outbreak of the First World War. He said that the increase in military spending by China was a major source of regional instability. Since Abe assumed the Prime Minister’s office for the second time more than a year ago, relations between the two countries have soured considerably. Japan has upped the ante in the territorial dispute with China and has been busy drumming up international support for its cause.

Since assuming office, Abe has visited all South-East Asian nations. The Philippines and Vietnam, like India, have territorial disputes with China, but other South-East Asian nations, like Cambodia and Laos, have close relations with China. Japan, however, is wooing these countries diplomatically by offering financial aid and other economic incentives. In Myanmar, where China had the upper hand in the business sector until recently, Japanese companies are now bagging the major contracts on offer.

New winds from Arabia

February 27, 2014 
Afshin Molavi  

It is difficult to overestimate the influence Saudi Arabia wields in the broader Muslim world, particularly in lands far away from the Arab centre — South and Southeast Asia, in particular. 


There are signs that Saudi Arabia is moving away from a Wahabist vision of Islam towards one that includes dialogue. 

He is grand, even when he is diminished. 

The ongoing visit of Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud to New Delhi is likely to bear all the hallmarks of the usual Saudi royal visit: a large delegation filling up five-star hotels, business leaders paying their respects to visiting ministers in hopes of securing petro-dollar contracts, political leaders rolling out the reddest of red carpets and the sprinkling of Saudi charity largesse to local causes. 

The crown prince, in a sense, represents this familiar image of the senior Saudi royal on tour. But look again and listen closely to what the crown prince and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia are saying, and you’ll see something new and profoundly important for the Muslim world, particularly South Asia. The prince lands in India after previous stops in Pakistan and Japan. During those visits, he consistently laid out a vision of Islam that includes dialogue and cooperation while eschewing extremism and conflict. While this message may seem trite, the messenger is not trivial, and the words have been backed by significant actions. 

It is difficult to overestimate the influence Saudi Arabia wields in the broader Muslim world, particularly in lands far away from the Arab centre — South and Southeast Asia, in particular. If any outside state can influence South Asian Islam, it is Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, for far too long, in the 1980s and 1990s, Saudi Arabia’s influence was negative. They funded madrassas in Pakistan that ultimately spawned the Taliban. Saudi-funded organisations such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the Muslim World League (MWL) propagated a narrow, literalist interpretation of the faith from India to Indonesia, which failed to understand the many colours and complexities of a cosmopolitan Islam in practice. 

Land of refugees

The number of refugees in West Asia riddle the imagination: there are millions of them. Conditions in Syria are deteriorating rapidly now, pushing more and more people to the country’s frontiers. By VIJAY PRASHAD

WEST ASIA is a land of refugees. Five million Palestinian refugees currently live outside their lands, dispossessed to create the state of Israel. A sixth generation of Palestinian refugees now live in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. During the United States’ occupation of Iraq since 2003, Iraqis crossed in the hundreds of thousands into Iran, Jordan and Syria. Many remain in these countries, even in Syria, despite the instability there.

Little about contemporary Iraq raises the confidence of its people. In one week in January, as fighting intensified in the Anbar province, 65,000 people fled the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, joining the 1.3 million Iraqis who were already displaced inside their country. Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that many civilians were unable to leave the conflict areas, and those who had fled were taking refuge with families or in schools, mosques and hospitals “where resources are running low”. With the fighting in Anbar becoming intense, 14,000 displaced people made their way to the Kurdish province in the north where they had to be accommodated in an area already overwhelmed with Syrian refugees. There are officially a quarter of a million Syrians in Iraq.

Numbers riddle the imagination. Tables of refugee figures released by the U.N. refugee agency belittle the individual stories of trauma. What is one to make of this new number released by it to highlight the tragedy of the Syrian refugees, that by late January in 2013, the agency had registered 554,855 Syrians, whereas a year later the number rose to 2,420,058? Incidentally, half of the refugees are children. These numbers, shocking as they are, are much higher on the ground. In Lebanon, the government estimates that there are over a million Syrian refugees, this in a country of only four million people. “My country cannot cope with the Syrian refugee crisis,” said former Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Lebanon’s fragile economic situation and its tense political environment are endangered by the Syrian crisis.

INDIA-IRAN Challenges & opportunities

Given its interests in the Gulf, India has opted not to get embroiled in GCC-Iran differences. With the thawing of U.S.-Iran relations, it is time India engaged itself with the promotion of Gulf security. By RANJIT GUPTA & TALMIZ AHMAD

EXCEPT for the years of hostility during Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule, for much of the period after the Islamic Revolution Saudi Arabia and Iran had reasonably good bilateral relations. The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the death of the hardliner Imam Khomeini in 1989 and, most importantly, the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990 changed the regional situation and opened up opportunities for Iran to build bridges with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

During the presidencies of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, there was political dialogue, cooperation in regard to energy policies, heightened economic ties, and, above all, a strong bilateral effort to play down the sectarian divide and promote interaction between the ulema (clergy) of Shias and Sunnis, the two sects of Islam. There was a downturn in relations during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mainly owing to his provocative remarks. Even so, he was warmly welcomed to the 2007 GCC summit in Doha, the first occasion Iran was invited thanks to a personal initiative of the Emir of Qatar, and later to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Mecca in August 2012. A high-level delegation from Iran attended the OIC summit, and there were no hysterics or walkouts even when close ally Syria’s membership was suspended over Iran’s objections. Later, there was cordial interaction between the Iranian leadership and GCC representatives at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran in August 2012.

The roots of the present Saudi-Iran divide lie in the regime change in Iraq after the United States’ military intervention in 2003, when “Sunni” rule, however authoritarian and irreligious it might have been, was replaced by Shia governments. From the Saudi perspective, this situation, which suggested the emergence of an incrementally strengthening Iraq-Iran partnership, placed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at a serious strategic disadvantage vis-a-vis Iran.

Against this background, what alarmed Saudi Arabia was the impact of the Arab Spring in Bahrain, when thousands of agitators gathered at the Pearl Square to demand the implementation of a political reform programme that had been promised by the ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa when he ascended the throne in 2002. Although there was no evidence of an Iranian role in the Bahrain agitations, this was immediately and strongly denounced by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as unwarranted and unacceptable Iranian “interference” in Bahrain’s internal affairs.

Siege within


On the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution, a newly minted Constitution which seeks to keep the Islamists permanently out of politics and further solidify the role of the Army takes Egypt back to the Mubarak era. 

EGYPTIANS MARKED THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY of the January 25, 2011, revolution under fraught political circumstances. The country had witnessed volatile events in the last two years, which included the ouster of the long-ruling authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak in 2012 and the controversial overthrow of the first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsy, in 2013. The violence that followed Morsy’s ouster and the concurrent heavy-handed response from the security apparatus have left deep wounds on the national psyche.

In January, the military-backed interim government pushed through a new Constitution. The government claimed that it had got a 98 per cent approval vote in the referendum on the Constitution held on January 14 and 15. The government announced that there was a 38 per cent voter turnout. But there are few takers for the claim that there is overwhelming support for the new Constitution, even after taking into account the high level of abstention. The former ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, had called for a boycott of the referendum, and the opposition was not allowed to campaign in the run-up to it. The situation was reminiscent of the decades of authoritarian rule when it was routine for the ruling party to poll 98 per cent of the votes in elections and referendums.

In a referendum on a new Constitution conducted by the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government in 2012, 67 per cent of the electorate had voted in its favour. That Constitution, too, had given a special status to the armed forces. Under its provisions, only the Army could nominate a candidate for the Defence Minister’s post, and the National Defence Council continued to be dominated by generals. The Muslim Brotherhood had bent over backwards to accommodate the military and compromise with the old state apparatus. Its leadership’s sectarian attitude and political missteps during its brief stint in power contributed to its downfall. Secular groups and the minority Coptic Christians were among those most alienated from the Brotherhood.

U.S. Can Free Europe from Putin's Gas Grip

February 24, 2014

By Christian Whiton

The collapse of Moscow's ally in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych, presents the U.S. with an opportunity to help its friends and allies. But after the celebration subsides over Yanukovych's fall from power, Washington and its allies have much to do in order to turn this opportunity into sustained advantage. Don't expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to quietly accept defeat.

Yanukovych did not fall under Putin's sway because of his charm; Russia still wields real power over Central Europe. Moscow's weapon of first resort is no longer the former KGB, but energy supplies -- especially natural gas. Even though Ukraine gets half of its electric power supply from nuclear reactors, the country is dependent on imported natural gas for other uses. It produces 30 percent of the gas it consumes domestically; the rest comes via pipelines from Russia.

The political and economic leverage this gives Moscow is not just theoretical; Putin has applied it repeatedly. The most recent major dispute occurred in 2009, when Russia cut off gas supplies for nearly three weeks. Officially, the dispute was over the price of gas and outstanding payments. Unofficially, Moscow was seeking to undermine leaders in Ukraine who had reoriented the nation toward the West after the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The shutdown didn't just affect Ukraine. Many U.S. allies unfortunately must consume Russian gas as well, much of which flows through pipelines in Ukraine. The shutoff impacted NATO allies like Poland and the Czech Republic.

Five Lessons from Ukraine's Revolution

By Rajan Menon

Just when it seemed that Ukraine was lurching toward an all-out civil war that could have spilt the country between a Russophone east and south and a Europe-oriented center and west, feverish mediation by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland has led to a deal between the embattled regime of President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. With Yanukovych removed from power and elections set for May, it's important to step back and assess a few of the key lessons from the Ukrainian revolution of 2014.

The first lesson offered by this drama is that Viktor Yanukovych was his own worst enemy. By entering into negotiations with the European Union on an Association Agreement (AA) he stoked popular expectations -- which ran particularly high in central and the western part of the country -- that Ukraine would start the process of integrating with Europe and perhaps one day enter the EU. Then, last November, Yanukovych shelved the AA, settling instead the following month for a $15 billion dollar credit line from Russia and a promise of Russian natural gas at a steep discount. This soon brought the crowds onto the streets of Kiev and other cities, initiating the chain of events that culminated in his downfall.

Yanukovych erroneously believed that he had played Europe off against Russia and received a bailout for debt-ridden Ukraine that did not require reforms that would have undermined his pervasively corrupt regime. The demonstrators, however, refused to be cowed and showed tenacity and organizational acumen, in the dead of winter no less. The death of the first protester galvanized them and soon it was clear that Yanukovych couldn't rebottle the genie of revolution. If he expected some form of Russian intervention, he miscalculated.

Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.

FEB. 25, 2014

Thomas L. Friedman

With Russia growling over the downfall of its ally running Ukraine and still protecting its murderous ally running Syria, there is much talk that we’re returning to the Cold War — and that the Obama team is not up to defending our interests or friends. I beg to differ. I don’t think the Cold War is back; today’s geopolitics are actually so much more interesting than that. And I also don’t think President Obama’s caution is entirely misplaced.

The Cold War was a unique event that pitted two global ideologies, two global superpowers, each with globe-spanning nuclear arsenals and broad alliances behind them. Indeed, the world was divided into a chessboard of red and black, and who controlled each square mattered to each side’s sense of security, well-being and power. It was also a zero-sum game, in which every gain for the Soviet Union and its allies was a loss for the West and NATO, and vice versa.

That game is over. We won. What we have today is the combination of an older game and a newer game. The biggest geopolitical divide in the world today “is between those countries who want their states to be powerful and those countries who want their people to be prosperous,” argues Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins.

The first category would be countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, whose leaders are focused on building their authority, dignity and influence through powerful states. And because the first two have oil and the last has nukes that it can trade for food, their leaders can defy the global system and survive, if not thrive — all while playing an old, traditional game of power politics to dominate their respective regions.

The second category, countries focused on building their dignity and influence through prosperous people, includes all the countries in Nafta, the European Union, and the Mercosur trade bloc in Latin America and Asean in Asia. These countries understand that the biggest trend in the world today is not a new Cold War but the merger of globalization and the information technology revolution. They are focused on putting in place the right schools, infrastructure, bandwidth, trade regimes, investment openings and economic management so more of their people can thrive in a world in which every middle-class job will require more skill and the ability to constantly innovate will determine their standard of living. (The true source of sustainable power.)

EMP Effects and Cyber Warfare – Part I

26 FEBRUARY 2014 

The effects of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack in the form of high-altitude nuclear weapons and geomagnetic disturbances

The Jewish Voice has been at the forefront of media outlets in providing much needed information to the public about U.S. critical electric infrastructure vulnerabilities. The effects of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack in the form of high-altitude nuclear weapons and geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) from coronal mass ejections have been described within this publication over the past several weeks. As noted within previous articles, the very similar consequences of both can be devastating. As much as 90% of the population may not survive a “grid-down” environment lasting a year or more – and the National Academy of Sciences projected a 4 to 10 year recovery period for a “severe” event affecting a large regional expanse.

There is bipartisan agreement that our electric infrastructure is crucial to the survival of the nation. President Obama, in announcing the release of the new Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (National Institute of Standards and Technology, Feb 2014), emphasized the dangers of cyber attacks to critical infrastructure. Comparable warnings were issued during the closing months of 2012 and the first six months of 2013, when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and representatives of Congress all expressed extreme concern over the cyber threat to critical infrastructure. Although nothing was specifically said about the connection between cyber warfare and the use of EMP weapons in these official statements, the accompanying descriptions of potentially catastrophic damage closely resemble the results of a high-altitude nuclear blast.

The military, on the other hand, just released Field Manual 3-38 (February 2014) entitled Cyber Electromagnetic Activities. Authors of a much earlier article, in a discussion of pending documentation (to include FM 3-38) on what is now called “CEMA,” stated:

It’s important to recognize the convergence of cyber and EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] capabilities. Commercial and military systems are increasingly reliant on both as networks and telecommunication infrastructures expand their use of wireless means. This is particularly important for collaborative systems that require connectivity to operate effectively. The synergistic effect of these networks is a significant reason why EW [electronic warfare], EMSO [electromagnetic spectrum operations], and cyber operations must be viewed as interrelated and interdependent. (ARMY Magazine, June 2012, p. 44)

The article describes the importance of the Commanders’ recognition that CEMA activities can be used to gain operational advantages over adversarial entities. The authors additionally warn that allowing the degradation or destruction of friendly force “freedom of movement within cyberspace and the EMS” constitutes placing our own forces “at a significant disadvantage.”

Interestingly, less than a month prior to the release of the final version of FM 3-38, the Defense Department issued a carefully crafted response to a Fox News “Special Report” segment on EMP. It read: “The Department is unaware of any increase in the threat of a deliberate destructive use of an EMP device. Further, any reporting to the contrary by those without access to current threat assessments is both reckless and irresponsible.” (In other words: Nothing to see here – move along.) The dismissive tone of this statement seems intended to provide fuel for the fires of skeptics who refuse to consider (in depth) any problem they politically or ideologically disagree with. The fact that the response does not discount the nature or potential consequences of an EMP attack is lost in claims that it is “reckless and irresponsible” to report on adversarial threat. (This actually makes sense in the context of current politically correct obfuscation of enmity).

Liberty, Equality, Connectivity

Transatlantic Cybersecurity Norms 

FEB 25, 2014 

Europe and the United States have a collective interest in the promotion of a stable international order based on the rule of law, open and equitable arrangements for trade, and a commitment to democratic government and individual rights. These interests face renewed challenges in a complex global political environment.

Cybersecurity is among the most salient of these challenges. The fundamental issues in cybersecurity are to protect information (both intellectual property and personal information) and reduce the danger of disruption in the cyber environment and the critical infrastructures that depend upon it without damage to human rights or innovation. While many nations understand the risks they face in cyberspace, significant political differences create obstacles to collective action. Cybersecurity requires international cooperation to make the cyber environment stable and more secure. This essay’s premise is that given their close and shared political and cultural values, Europe and the United States can work together to shape this foundation to reinforce both security and democratic values. 

Publisher CSIS