15 March 2014

TURBINE: NSA’s System to Infect Computers With Spyware Implants

March 12, 2014
How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware
Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald
The Intercept

One presentation outlines how the NSA performs “industrial-scale exploitation” of computer networks across the world.

Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.

The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.

The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans. The automated system – codenamed TURBINE – is designed to “allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually.”

In a top-secret presentation, dated August 2009, the NSA describes a pre-programmed part of the covert infrastructure called the “Expert System,” which is designed to operate “like the brain.” The system manages the applications and functions of the implants and “decides” what tools they need to best extract data from infected machines.

***** The many stories of Konan Poshpora

B.G. Verghese | March 14, 2014
At an event in Srinagar Sunday to mark 24th anniversary of the alleged rapes.
The press council report is the most exhaustive and detailed account of the alleged incident

Twenty-four years after the event, the alleged Konan Poshpora mass rape case against the Indian army in Kashmir has taken a new turn. This highly propagandised human rights “violation” reverberated not merely in J&K and India, but in the US Congress, UK House of Commons, EU Parliament in Brussels, UN Human Rights Commission, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, etc.

The J&K official under whose watch it purportedly happened — the deputy commissioner (DC), Kupwara, a major gateway for the cross-border militancy that erupted in 1990 — S. M. Yasin, has now added a new dimension of villainy to the story. He stated in February that he was personally offered monetary and promotional inducements by the military and civil authorities to hush up the “beastly violence” he found when he visited Konan Poshpora. Further, the leader of the Press Council of India team investigating alleged human rights violations by the army — which was me — did likewise, pleading “national interest” and “threatening him” otherwise.

This arrant nonsense is a belated concoction for reasons unknown.

The man fell short of his official responsibilities in February 1991, possibly for fear of militant reprisals that had become routine, but has now begun to roar like a lion!

The alleged rape of 23 women (the DC’s figure) by men of 4 Rajputana Rifles headquartered at Trehgam, while conducting a cordon and search operation, took place on the night of February 23-24, 1991. The DC visited Konan, some 10 kilometres from his headquarters, around March 5-6 and submitted his report to the divisional commissioner, Kashmir, Wajahat Habibullah, on March 7, on the basis of which an FIR was lodged at the Trehgam Police Station (4 km from Konan) on March 8.
Vikram Rao, the other member of the PCI team to Kashmir, and I visited Konan, Trehgam and Kupwara accompanied by the tehsildar, Trehgam, on June 8-9, by when police investigations were under way. Since the DC had completed his task three months earlier, how could I cajole or threaten him to close the case? And how does a journalist threaten no less than the DC and get away with it, aided by the latter’s stoic silence for 23 years? Prima facie, what Yasin now alleges is a contemptible lie.

Did the man file a report or a case against the “military” or me for attempting to subvert justice through coercive or corrupt means when the issue was so “beastly” and had become a cause celebre? If he did not, was that not wilful dereliction of duty? Now that the Konan Poshpora case has been reopened under popular pressure and
is being heard by a magistrate, has he filed a statement in the court about this new criminal offence? The army, which is being arraigned, must summon
him to give evidence and subject him to cross-examination. He must be charged with perjury if unable to produce proof or commonsense justification for rank defamation.

Look at Yasin’s own record as documented in the press council report, “Crisis and Credibility”, in the section titled “Human Rights Excesses or Exaggerations: The Indian Army in Kashmir”. As DC, he reported “hearing something” about Konan on March 3-4. He visited it a couple of days later and concluded that 23 women had been brutally gangraped. Why did he not go sooner? Heavy snow? But everybody else seemed to be on the move. When Habibullah went to Konan on March 18 with the DC in tow, the rape figure rose to 40, and then 53. Later estimates went to 60, then 100, then every single woman in the village. He found the Konan story greatly exaggerated.
The PCI team found the Konan story to be, at best, a gross exaggeration but more probably a massive hoax, an act of psy-war to keep the army, newly inducted to deal with militant-jihadi-azadi uprising, at bay. There were contradictions galore. Nothing added up. The medical examination was only conducted three to four weeks later on March 15 and 21 when 32 women were examined. Why this inordinate delay? The evidence cited was anecdotal, not medical. No medico-legal report was filed as required.
The Konan women contradicted themselves on each telling to different interlocutors, the media and to us. The mother of a full-term pregnant victim told us that the girl was raped by three men, kicked in the stomach and delivered a baby with a fractured arm in the Kupwara district hospital three days later. She herself jumped out of the window and lay wailing all night in the snow until discovered by police escorts around 4 am. However, the DC’s report stated that the girl had delivered her baby three days before she was assaulted. She could walk to the Kupwara hospital in her condition but the DC was snowbound and unable to leave his house during this same period!

Two police escorts are required to accompany military units on cordon and search operations and to submit a report on return. Accordingly, constables Abdul Ghani, who hails from Konan, and Bashir Ahmed accompanied the 4 Raj Rif team from the Trehgam thana. The PCI team examined them. Both said they heard screams and cries of agony through the night but did precious little. They signed the required NOC before the Raj Rif left the village on the morning of February 25 and subsequently failed to submit any report on their assigned mission back at Trehgam. No one questioned this glaring omission, though everybody was agog over the Konan “atrocity”.
Ghani, the policeman from Konan, went home two days later. He knows everybody in his own village. Yet, though he spent a whole day there, nobody, not even his family, spoke of the mass rape, nor did he attempt to make any inquiry whatsoever.

Despite the terrible “atrocity” committed by 4 Raj Rif, women and children from Konan never stopped attending the unit’s weekly medical camp in Trehgam. We met some of them during our visit in June. They said it was only here and not in the government health facilities that they got real care. This too says something.

Before departing Konan, we were treated to a harangue on the UN resolutions on Kashmir, self-determination, India’s duplicity and military high-handedness by a so-called teacher, an ideologue obviously not from the village. This highly political and polemical finale told us what the “Konan story” was all about.

After being made aware of these many contradictions, blatant procedural and legal lapses, wilful inaction and lack of follow-up, we were later handed a video cassette in Delhi by a leading human rights activist obtained from unknown sources that recounted the entire Konan episode in graphic detail by 25 women, all well-groomed, and some men, and finally by the same teacher, who delivered the same harangue we had heard personally. The foliage on the trees suggested the film was made sometime in April, five to eight weeks after the event. Who would make such a staged video, and why? Which “rape victim” in conservative rural Kashmir would recount and relive such a horror story in public for a world audience? The press council has the cassette.

If 23, then 30, then 40, 60, 100 and then all the women in the village claimed or were said to have been raped, it could only be to shield one or two victims behind mass anonymity. But the stories retold and the video recording say something else. Now it is said nobody wants to be married into Konan Poshpora on account of the social shame it attracts. Tragically, the village has punished itself while the militants exploit their predicament.

The PCI report is the most exhaustive and detailed report of the alleged Konan Poshpora incident made by anybody. Sadly, it was and is widely criticised to this day, without critics having read it or controverted its substantive findings. The mainstream Indian media had shamefully fled the scene in 1990-91, and there was an information vacuum largely filled by gun-wielding militants who spouted lies.

The writer led the Press Council of India team investigating the Konan Poshpora incident and is at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi


A lesson in resignation

Mar 13, 2014

S.K. Sinha

Antony, who dithered for over one year and took no action against an Army Chief, accepted Adm. Joshi’s resignation in haste, ignoring the culpability of his own ministry that exercises authority without accountability

Admiral D.K. Joshi, the Chief of the Navy, resig-ned on February 26, taking moral responsibility for the recent accidents involving submarines for which he was in no way personally responsible. It reminds one of Lal Bahadur Shastri resigning as minister for railways after a serious train derailment.

The resignation of a Service Chief is a matter of grave concern. The fact that the nation is in election mode and election fever is reaching a crescendo should not be a reason for not examining all the dimensions of the problem and taking suitable corrective action.
The credo on the portal of the Indian Military Academy reads, “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.” When a Service Chief is not in a position to act as per the first two requirements for reasons beyond his control, what should he do? Should he resort to a coup and take over power to discharge those responsibilities? Most certainly not. The other option is to go public and file a statutory complaint or seek redress in court. This again is most undesirable for it can open the floodgate of indiscipline in the military. Adm. Joshi chose neither of these two courses. He resigned taking moral responsibility, sacrificing the remaining 17 months in his high office. How different was the recent action of an Army Chief wanting an extra year as Chief.
Napoleon’s dictum is very relevant even in this context. “Every Commander-in-Chief who executes a plan which he finds bad is guilty. He should insist that the plan be changed. If he is unable to do so, he must resign rather than be an instrument for the ruin of his troops.”
It is not clear why the government accepted the admiral’s resignation within a day. One wonders whether the Supreme Commander was even informed of this or he learnt about it from the newspapers. The resignation of an Army Chief and a Naval Chief was handled in the past by the government very differently. When Gen. Thimayya, a charismatic general respected internationally, resigned over the abrasive behaviour of the then defence minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, who interfered in promotions and functioning of the Army, Nehru immediately sent for him.
Nehru evoked his sense of patriotism, asking him to withdraw his resignation. The Pakistan military dictator Ayub Khan was passing through Delhi and his resignation would send a wrong message to the world about Indian democracy. He assured him that his grievances would be addressed and a solution found. It is a different matter that subsequently Nehru criticised Thimayya in Parliament for his immaturity. Thimayya should have resigned the second time. By not doing so, he damaged his own image and harmed the interests of the Army. In hindsight, one can say that had Thimayya resigned the second time and stuck to that, the stranglehold of the bureaucracy over the military would not have become as strong as it now is. Possibly, the 1962 debacle could have been avoided. The resignation of a much respected and highly professional Naval Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, is another case in point. He resigned because of a criminal act in the Navy’s war room — an officer was leaking top-secret documents.

Managing China

Sanjaya Baru | March 14, 2014

There is no gainsaying the fact that managing the rise of China is the single most important challenge for India. (PTI)
For that, India must first recover growth momentum, invest in human capabilities

The rise of China is no longer news. The recent deceleration of India’s economic growth is also not news. Yet, it is important to remind ourselves every day of the yawning gap between the world’s largest nations and its significance for India’s relations with the world.

A single good visual can often capture the essence of a thousand words. The picture that comes to mind when looking at a graph of the levels of national income (gross domestic product) of China and India from 1990 to 2012 is the open mouth of a crocodile. Joined at the jaw in the early 1990s, wide open by 2010.

If India had sustained the 9 per cent annual rate of growth that it logged in 2003-09 into the last five years, the lower jaw would have risen up and the crocodile would have looked less ominous. India’s growth deceleration of recent years, even in the face of China’s own decelerating growth, has widened the gap dramatically.

Consider the numbers. In 1990-92, the GDPs of both Asian giants were almost the same in US dollar terms, about $500 billion. By 2000, China’s GDP, at over a trillion dollars was already double that of India’s. China’s GDP began to accelerate after that. India’s GDP crossed the trillion dollar mark in 2007, by when China was close to five trillion. Already, the gap was significant and daunting. India did manage to move quickly from a trillion dollar economy to a two trillion dollar economy by 2011, but by then China had hit nine trillion.

After that, both countries slowed down, but that is hardly any consolation for India. At the end of the Cold War, while China and India were at a similar level of development, there were striking and important differences in the structures of their economies and capabilities of their people. These differences have enabled China to emerge, a quarter century later, as a global power.

Making peace with the enemy


Negotiating with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is not just dealing with one entity but with a hydra-headed monster

Few expected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to give the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan another chance for a dialogue. At the end of his 20-minute speech in the National Assembly on January 29, when Mr. Sharif made his fateful announcement and appointed a four-member committee to further the peace process, there was more shock than awe. Even after the mandate of the All Parties Conference (APC) in September 2013 which favoured dialogue to settle the issue of terrorism, the process was flailing to say the least. And almost every single day after Mr. Sharif’s announcement, the country has been wracked by terror strikes in some form or the other.

The admission of the Mohmand Agency faction of the TTP that it executed 23 security personnel in its custody was the last straw. The two committees entrusted with peace negotiations — one appointed by the government and the other by the TTP were at a stand-off over the issue of ceasefire, and any kind of a peaceful settlement seemed distant. Since then, in fast-paced developments, the TTP first called a month-long ceasefire on March 1, urging all its factions to stick to it, following which the interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, called a halt to the air strikes taking place almost everyday in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency, which were reportedly killing dozens of terrorists.

While analysts believe that the air strikes softened the TTP stand and their offer of ceasefire must be treated with caution, there is a thaw in the dialogue process. How far this will take the government to any reasonable achievement is a big question.

This week, the government has gone a step further by replacing its committee with three bureaucrats apart from Rustom Shah Mohmand and the TTP nominees have travelled once again to meet the Taliban shura in Waziristan. Much ado was also made about Mr. Sharif’s visit to the hilltop residence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan who endorsed the peace process.Attacks by the TTP


Friday, 14 March 2014 |
G Parthasarathy |

As a scholar has noted, a federal structure for Ukrainian institutions, and a switch to a parliamentary system, are ideas that India as a federal, parliamentary democracy will find reasonable and realistic

In January 1954, the seemingly whimsical Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was born on Russia’s borders with Ukraine and married to a Ukrainian, transferred Russia’s Crimean Region located along the Russian-Ukrainian border to the then Ukrainian Soviet Republic. This was ostensibly to mark the occasion of 300th anniversary of its unification with Russia. Having been Party Secretary in Ukraine for a long time, Khrushchev felt that the Crimean Region would benefit economically from the hydro-electric potential of the Dnieper River, by becoming part of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic. Khrushchev obviously did not foresee the collapse of the “indestructible” Soviet Union, which had only two major Southern ports — Sevastopol and Odessa — for continuous access to the Sea. When the Soviet Union did fall apart, the Supreme Council of the Russian Republic decided in 1992 that the Crimean Region would be renamed as the autonomous Republic of Crimea. Both Sevastopol and Odessa became part of Ukraine.

Not content with the break-up of the Soviet Union, the US and its Nato allies decided that Russian power had to be contained. The expectation was that Russia’s far- flung Muslim-dominated Caucasian Republics would wear out the Russians with armed struggle, and that its western, southern and Baltic neighbours would be gradually weaned away and integrated into the European Union and the Nato military alliance. The ultimate aim was clearly to ‘contain’ a resource-rich and militarily capable Russia. This plan was seemingly proceeding successfully during the rule of the occasionally sober Boris Yeltsin, who oddly chose to treat a Chechen leader like a head of state. The Muslim separatist armed rebellion was liberally funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, its leaders like Shamil Basayev and Zelmikhan Yandarbiyev were regarded “Kosher” in Western capitals and they operated periodically from bases as far away as Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

The hard-nosed Vladimir Putin soon emerged as the greatest obstacle to these grandiose Western plans. Mr Putin ruthlessly crushed the uprising in Chechnya, though sporadic unrest in the Caucasian region from Islamist insurgents and suicide bombings continue. This was evident from the bomb blasts in Volgograd on the eve of the winter Olympics in Sochi. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan is reported to have offered Saudi support in quelling the uprisings in the Caucasian region in return for Russia ending support for the Assad regime in Syria last year — a proposal reportedly rejected outright by Mr Putin. Moreover, the West appears to have learnt no lessons from the swift Russian military intervention in South Ossetia and Georgia in 2008, following ill-advised efforts to persuade an ever-willing Georgian President Mikheil Sakashvili to join the Nato, thereby making Russia’s Southern Frontiers vulnerable.

NEAR ABROAD AND BEYOND - Three factors that bear on the Ukraine crisis

Ukraine was a confrontation waiting to happen. Many years ago I was sitting on a bench outside Kiev airport when a passerby stopped to admire the elastic-sided Chelsea boots I habitually wore then. The rapture with which he touched the leather and kissed his fingertips told me how highly people in the Soviet Union prized accessories that might be stylish but were common enough in the West. Embarrassed and with nothing to say, I asked if he was Russian. The change was electric. The man placed both his hands, palms facing downwards on his left, and said “Russian”. He then made the same gesture to his right and said “Ukrainian”. Although aware of geographical divisions, I had not realized until then the intense passion that infused individual nationalities. I had unconsciously lumped all Soviet citizens together as Russian.

That was at the micro level whose impact on affairs of state should not be overlooked. It’s the first of three factors to bear on the crisis. What Russia calls its Near Abroad — the 14 countries that went their own way when the Soviet Union disintegrated — is the second. Not long after my Kiev encounter, Andrei Kozyrev, who became Russia’s foreign minister in 1991, gave the term currency. But it was left to Vladimir Putin to emphasize its political and economic content by using Near Abroad interchangeably with “sphere of influence”. The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation that came into effect in 2010 under the third president and current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, justifies intervening militarily in the Near Abroad to protect Russian minorities. This was the main reason for the Russo-Georgian war in 2008. Medvedev is on record stating he would “protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are”. A Russian passport-holder living in Georgia or Ukraine has exactly the same legal claim on Moscow as a Russian citizen living in Russia.
Americans accuse Moscow of using the Russian-backed zones of Transnistria in Moldova and of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia as political levers to enforce compliance on foreign policy issues. There may be some basis for the further charge that Moscow regards Ukrainian independence as “a temporary phenomenon” pending reintegration. In the words of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, if Ukrainians and the West don’t resist Putin now, he will “take over district by district, and then eventually dismember Ukraine and impose a government of his choice in Kiev”. The Commonwealth of Independent States, the Slavic Union that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn advocated and the Eurasian Customs Union all tried to salvage something of the shattered unity of the Soviet Union. So in another context was the 53-nation Commonwealth of which India is proud to be a member. A craving to underpin the Near Abroad with institutional bonds need not be equated with expansionism. At various stages in its long and tempestuous history, Russia’s sense of security has drawn on its religious, geopolitical or ideological moorings. Shorn of any other raison d’être, Russia has shrunk to a territorial definition with only an ethnic identity.

It’s the third factor — America’s role — that merits far greater attention. I am not talking of the Kremlin’s accusation that the United States of America has been spending $20 million a week on the people who now hold power in Kiev. Nor of various unproven allegations regarding internet facilities, US aid agencies and shadowy billionaires. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s relentless eastward march is established fact. The US reportedly assured Mikhail Gorbachev that Nato would not expand “one inch to the east” if he agreed to German reunification. Whether it did or not, the provocation of the Warsaw Pact disappeared in 1991. Yet, Nato’s 12 original members have spiralled to 28. Countries that either border Russia or were formerly under Russian control are now members. Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Cyprus are waiting to join. Small wonder Russia feels hemmed in or that its Military Doctrinelists Nato’s expansion, efforts to enlarge the organization’s role (bombing Yugoslavia) and American missile defence systems in Eastern Europe as factors that “undermine global stability and violate the balance of power”.

Whether secession in Crimea would be legal

Mar 12th 2014,   by S.M.

UNHEALTHILY, the campaign for Crimea's secession referendum, due on March 16th, is more about the vote's legality than its merits. Russia and America are trading hastily concocted arguments over the legitimacy of the republic's probable split with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin insists that "the steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law". Barack Obama, on the other hand, rejects the referendum. "In 2014," he declared on March 6th, "we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders." Neither Mr Putin's nor Mr Obama's rhetoric fully accounts for the competing norms at play.

International law does not recognise a right to secede per se, but it also steers clear of prohibiting unilateral declarations of independence. International legal bodies regard the result of successful break-ups the way friends see a separating couple: as two newly unlinked individuals, like it or not. So if Russian-speakers in Crimea (which already has the status as an "autonomous republic") vote to slice themselves off from Ukraine next week and throw themselves into the arms of the Russian Federation, no international court will raise much of a fuss—but neither would one take pains to defend the peninsula's right to secede.

Ukraine, in contrast, has cause to reject the legality of its dismemberment at the hands of the people of Crimea. Article 73 of the Ukrainian Constitution is unequivocal: "Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum." Crimea is not allowing the rest of Ukraine's 44m people to weigh in on the fate of the peninsula, so the March 16th vote will violate Ukrainian law. Secession movements, though, do sometimes proceed without the permission of the mother country. America's fight for independence was an illegal war of secession against Britain. In 2008, under the modern international legal regime, Kosovo's split from Serbia did not have the backing of the government in Belgrade, nor that of dozens of other states. Yet it was recognised by a large majority of UN member countries. Russia compares Crimea to Kosovo, accusing the West of double standards. America says the two are different and levels its own charge of hypocrisy: Russia violently quashes self-determination for Chechnya, for instance, while championing the secession rights of Crimeans. Should Crimea vote to become part of Russia, it is likely to be the subject of exceptions and carve-outs in future treaties between Russia and those countries that do not recognise the territory's secession.

Beyond the question of legality, does Crimea have a right to quit Ukraine? Allen Buchanan, a political philosopher at Duke University, argues that provinces might justify seceding if they are discriminated against. The Basque separatists portray their plight with the image of a cow: its mouth feeds in Basque territory while its udder rewards those living elsewhere in Spain. But claims that Russian-speakers in Crimea face violence and oppression from Ukrainian fascists are preposterous. Indeed, by some accounts, Ukraine subsidises Crimea and stands to gain economically from secession. So does Ukraine have a right to force Crimea to stay? Mr Buchanan thinks it would, if the break-up would gravely harm the mother country. Look at a map, though, and you'll see that Crimea resembles an anvil tenuously attached to the rest of Ukraine by a thread. Although Crimea provides access to the Black Sea and brings in tourist money as well as some industry and agriculture, the loss of 4% of the population would hardly count as a devastating economic blow to Ukraine. The referendum has been arranged at ten days' notice, it does not offer voters the status quo—just secession or absorption by Russia, and it is being held when Crimea is occupied by Russian elite troops. However you judge the referendum's legal niceties, what counts is that it is unfair and that it sets a terrible precedent.

Correction: This post originally said that Russia quashed self-determination movements in "Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan". As several readers pointed out, Russia has thwarted self-determination for Chechnyans but has supported it for groups in the latter three places. The post has been amended.-
 See more at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/03/economist-explains-10#sthash.M6GS7QHj.dpuf

Pakistan’s Impending Famine

Pakistan’s Impending Famine
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The tragedy in drought-ravaged Thar says much about the limits of Pakistani democracy.
By Michael Kugelman
March 14, 2014

It’s hard to catch a break in Pakistan.

Extremist violence is widespread, earthquakes and flooding are routine, and polio remains endemic. No nation has a higher infant mortality rate, and only a few have more cases of tuberculosis. Nearly half the country’s 180 million people lack access to safe water, and many Pakistanis have experienced power outages of up to 20 hours per day. Given such stresses, it’s not surprising that up to 16 percent of the country suffers from mental illness.

And now comes the latest scourge: Famine.

In recent days, media reports have revealed that dozens of people—many of them children—have died from malnutrition over the last three months in the bone-dry desert region of Thar, in the southern province of Sindh. And yet things could soon get much worse. A recent UNICEF report, noting that drought has “devastated” crops and livestock and that “hundreds of thousands” of people have fled, warns of a possible “massive humanitarian crisis” in Thar. Ominously, almost 3 million people “risk starvation” across Pakistan.

Many Pakistani press accounts—and numerous Pakistani politicians—depict the Thar tragedy as a catastrophic case of negligence by Sindh’s provincial government. They fault local officials for taking too long to get food assistance to those in need late last year when drought conditions first began to set in. And they single out authorities for failing to transfer sick children in remote areas to better hospitals.

Yet the Thar famine also reflects another type of failure: that of democracy.

In recent years, Pakistan—a country ruled by the military for about half its existence— has made remarkable democratic progress. With successive free elections, civilian rule is firmly in place. Pakistan’s mighty military has mellowed. Constitutional amendments have decentralized power. The Supreme Court is increasingly targeting powerful people and institutions. And private media outlets have rapidly proliferated.

However, there are limits to this progress.

The Taliban’s Unity of Purpose

The Taliban’s Unity of Purpose
Image Credit: REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
A lack of harmony between Pakistan and Afghanistan supports the militants’ unity of purpose.
By Asim Yousafzai
March 14, 2014

Taliban and like-minded jihadis are becoming more united in their determination to impose their brand of sharia on both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the help of their international mentors under the banner of al-Qaeda.

While the terrorists are racing ahead with this unity of purpose, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan are divided when it comes to tackling the growing extremism. Islamabad is busy pursuing talks, while in Afghanistan “insider attacks’” are on the rise because the Taliban have managed to get members recruited by the Afghan security forces. The recent increase in the so-called green-on-blue attacks forced Coalition partners to suspend training of Afghan security forces.

Historical Background

South Asia, heir to the great Indus Valley Civilization, is reeling after three decades of war. The ongoing war in Afghanistan has already spread east, and extremists regularly operate across the Durand Line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. The security situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is the worst in decades, with the Taliban in effective control. The adjoining Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) has seen its worst violence since the Afghan war began in 1979. Tens of thousands have been killed in attacks in these northwest Pakistan regions in recent years.

Kashmir is a disputed region surrounded by Pakistan, India and China, and is the main source of the Indo-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan. Some of the current jihadi groups were trained in Kashmir and are now operating from Pakistan’s Punjab province. The deadly Mumbai Hotel attacks were carried out by one such group (Lashkar-e-Taiba) in 2008.

The ultimate goal of these groups appears to be establishing an Islamic Caliphate, stretching from east Africa to southeast Asia, somewhat along the lines of the one present in the 8th century at the peak of Muslim ascendancy.

Pakistani terrorists currently operate under various names: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and many others. Besides the local, home-grown terrorists, there are a large number of fighters (mainly Uzbeks and Chechens) from Central Asia and Arab countries who are now permanently settled in FATA. They were part of the mujahedeen groups who fought against the Russians in Afghanistan.


Madhavi Chakravarti
March 10, 2014 

China’s energy demand has increased manifold in the past decade. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that in the coming years, China will account for one-third of the world’s energy consumption. This quest for energy resources to meet its growing demand motivates Beijing towards Afghanistan’s untapped reserves of minerals, and oil and natural gas.

The Mines Project

In 2007, two Chinese state-owned companies – the China Metallurgical group Corporation (MCC) and the Jiangxi Copper Company – signed a 30-year deal with the Afghan government to mine copper in the eastern region of the country. This reserve, with an estimated 240 million metric tonnes of ore, pegged at $88 billion, is believed to be the world’s second-largest unexplored copper cache. China’s $3.5 billion-worth investment in the Mes Aynak copper mines located in Logar province has been the largest foreign direct investment in the Afghan history. Initially, this copper mine project included the construction of a 400 megawatt power plant, a copper smelter, and a railway line.

However, this ambitious project has since been plagued by delays. First, unstable security situation resultant of the ongoing insurgency has made this site vulnerable to attacks. Ever since the MCC undertook this project, rampant looting and rocket-attacks have targeted the site, with 19 attacks in 2013 alone. Furthermore, abduction threats aimed at the staff have compelled the employees to pull out of the project.

Second, Mes Aynak is home to an archeological site as well. Following the discovery of the historical site, international archeologists and organizations began campaigning and undertaking efforts to save the relics and artifacts.

Six years since the signing of the deal, the Chinese have not been able to extract even a single gram of copper from this mine; and, now Beijing wants to renegotiate the deal that would cut their royalties towards the Afghan government, and postpone the construction of the railway line, the power plant and the smelter. This alteration in the plan has the potential to negatively affect any future foreign investment in Afghanistan.

Although the probability of China pulling out of this project is low, in an event of a Chinese pullout, India can fill in.

*** Afghanistan From the Air

What does an airport say about a country? More than you might think.
Kajakan Valley in Afghanistan's Shinwari District. (AfghanistanMatters/Flickr)

As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, Jeffrey Stern has surveyed the country from its rooftops and from behind the wheel, capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of a massive war winding down. Now he offers his third installment in the series: A view of Afghanistan from the air.

KABUL—On a flight to Afghanistan, I sat next to a young Afghan man traveling alone and returning home for the first time in five years. A boy, really, 19 years old, wearing skinny jeans and a gelled-up faux-hawk, coming back for a wedding and to see an aging grandfather.

The boy had flown from London, where he’d been going to school, to Dubai and then caught the short flight from Dubai to Kabul, which is when he began to get nervous. He used the bathroom three times; he fidgeted constantly; he actually began talking to himself. Finally, he asked me a question in the cockney accent he’d picked up in London: “Is it dangerous?”

He was genuinely frightened to be returning to Afghanistan. His uncle was going to pick him up at the airport and drive him through some of the country’s more dangerous provinces to his family’s home, and he was worried he’d gone soft while getting his education abroad—too soft for his own country. He didn’t feel he belonged there, any more than the foreigner sitting next to him. 

It struck me that this young man was part of the equation we don’t often think about when we discuss what will happen here when we leave. The hopeful among us talk of Afghanistan’s urban generation—people who are educated or at least want to be, sophisticated about things like technology, and progressive about issues like gender relations. A decent future is achievable, so goes this line of reasoning, if this young generation—seven in ten Afghans are under the age of 25—can loosen the grip the old men with beards have on tradition and religion.Natural rock formations along the shoreline of the lake at Kajaki in Helmand province. (AfghanistanMatters/Flickr)

I’m as impressed with this generation of Afghans as anyone. I believe they cankeep this whole enterprise going in the right direction. The question the boy I met on the plane represented for me is: Do they want to? Do they even want to be here? Two of my closest and most educated Afghan friends are now in the U.S., applying for asylum. They are both the kind of people who, if you met them, would leave you encouraged about Afghanistan’s future.

Recent Release of Taliban Prisoners Reveals Massive Divide in Perceptions Between U.S. and Afghan Governments

March 13, 2014
Insight: Release of Afghan prisoners exposes root of rift with U.S

U.S. military commanders believe Sardar Mohammad is a dangerous Taliban bomb-maker who has attacked foreign and Afghan soldiers. In April last year, U.S. and Afghan forces captured Sardar and placed him in a military prison.

The Afghan government ordered Sardar and 64 other men to be released last month. A quiet man who says he is in his late teens, Sardar headed back to his village in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. There, dozens of relatives and villagers paid respects to him outside his mud home. Sardar was never a Taliban insurgent, his family and neighbors say. But thanks to his imprisonment and release, he is now a hero.

"I hate what the Taliban stands for," Sardar said.

President Hamid Karzai’s decision last month to release the disputed 65 prisoners is a sign of his growing eagerness to assert his independence from his Western backers. Twelve years after Washington and others helped him seize power and with just a few months left in his final term, the Afghan president seems to want to distance himself from his once-closest ally at every opportunity.

But the story of the released prisoners also illustrates just why the gap between Washington and Kabul has opened up so much. The conflicting allegations about Sardar and another detainee whose case Reuters examined show howAfghanistan and the foreign military forces stationed there so often speak past each other. As the U.S. and NATO forces wind down their combat mission, it’s not just that the different sides disagree on the facts, but that they sometimes seem to be talking about different wars altogether.

The prisoners were part of a much larger group of more than 600 detainees transferred to Afghan authority last year, in what was seen as a milestone in the U.S. and NATO withdrawal.

Afghan officials later released some of those prisoners without U.S. objection. But the United States believes the 65 who were released in February should be tried or investigated further.

The Afghan government and Afghan judicial officials say the 65 had been wrongly imprisoned on charges that did not stand up to examination.

Abdul Shokor Dadras, a member of the Afghan Review Board, a government body set up to examine the cases against detainees transferred from U.S. to Afghan custody, said the board, the attorney general and the country’s intelligence agency conducted investigations into the U.S. allegations.

"All three organizations repeatedly determined that there was no evidence to (adequately) prove these men’s guilt. So why do the Americans keep saying they have proof?" Dadras asked.

But U.S. military officials say they have piles of evidence tying the 65 men to the Taliban, whom foreign and Afghan forces have fought since 2001, including forensic material and evidence of phone contacts. The officials say they provided the Afghan Review Board, the attorney general’s office, and the intelligence agency with “hundreds of pages” of “hard evidence”. U.S. officials said the information either implicated the men or showed their cases warranted further investigation.

Neither side was willing to share the full details of their evidence, though the Americans gave basic details.

The struggle for Central Asia: Russia vs China

As Russia's economy stagnates, rising China is challenging its influence over Central Asia.

12 Mar 2014 

Baktybek Beshimov is a Visiting Professor, at the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern University and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for International Studies. 

Ryskeldi Satke is a freelance contributor with research institutions and news organisations in Central Asia, Caucasus, Turkey and the US. 

Pipeline infrastructure has been an important factor in Russia's dealings with Central Asia [Reuters] 

It has become increasingly clear in the past few years that Russia has no intention to relax its grip over the former Soviet bloc. Ukraine has recently become a good case in point. Although Moscow is clearly preoccupied with keeping its western borders and geopolitical interests safe, it has not forgotten about the East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's political project to pull former Soviet republics of Central Asia into the Kremlin's orbit via the Customs Union, is part of a larger plan to bring Russia back to manage one fifth of the world's largest landmass. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has sought, through various economic treaties, to re-establish its control over the Central Asian republics.

The first one, and most well-known, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) included 12 of the newly independent republics and was formed in late 1991. Russia then proposed the idea of an Economic Union in 1993 and after two years in January 1995, Russia signed a treaty on the formation of the Eurasian Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which were later joined by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

When Putin came to power, he wanted to strengthen reintegration of the former Soviet space and the union was transformed into the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), with the signing of a treaty by the five countries in October 2000. Eventually the idea of dropping customs barriers emerged and in 2007, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a treaty to establish the Customs Union.

Since then the idea of the union has been developed and since 2013 there has been talks of establishing the Eurasian Economic Union, which could open its doors to countries beyond the borders of Central Asia. 

6 Dead After Knife Attack in China

Reports suggesting a Uyghur was behind a knife attack in Changsha could lead to inflamed ethnic tensions in China.
March 15, 2014

Less than two weeks after a coordinated attack by knife-wielding assailants left 29 dead and over 140 wounded in Kunming, China, another knife attack has resulted in six deaths. The latest attack took place in Changsha, the capital of China’s Hunan province. According to reports, the attack stemmed from a dispute between two street vendors in a food market in Changsha’s Kaifu district. One vendor allegedly attacked and killed the other with a knife, then turned on random bystanders, killing four. Of those victims, two died on the scene, and the other two in the hospital. The perpetrator was shot dead by Changsha police as he tried to flee.

The official report in Xinhua identified the two street vendors in question as Memet Abla and Hebir Turdi, with the latter pegged as the attacker. Although Xinhua merely called the two men “non-locals,” their names suggest the two were ethnic Uyghurs. South China Morning Post also reported that the two men were selling naan bread, which is popular among Uyghurs.

Unlike the Kunming attack, there is no suggestion that this was a terrorist attack, or that the incident was in any way connected to Xinjiang separatism. However, in the wake of Kunming, anti-Uyghur sentiments in China were already running high. A second deadly incident involving Uyghurs would only increase tensions—which may be why Xinhua refrained from explicitly identifying the attackers as Uyghurs. According to the Associated Press, online reports identifying the men as Uyghurs were later removed.

Anti-Uyghur sentiment in China right now is at a high. Accordingly, when news broke of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, some Chinese netizens began speculating that the plane had been targeted by Uyghur terrorists. Such theories were especially prevalent after it was revealed that two passengers has been traveling using stolen passports. After authorities discovered the identities of the two men in question (but before publicly releasing the information), Malaysian authorities felt the need to specifically point out the two were “not from Xinjiang, China” in response to this rampant speculation. Tea Leaf Nation notes that online theories about terrorism have been quite common, but China’s state media has been careful to point out there are no facts pointing to such a conclusion.

Of Course the PLA is Planning for a 'Short, Sharp War'

Of Course the PLA is Planning for a 'Short, Sharp War'
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The “revelation” that China’s military is planning for a quick war with Japan should shock no one.
March 14, 2014

So Captain Jim Fanell, grand intel wizard for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, made headlines this year — again — at the WEST conference on maritime affairs out in San Diego, California. And again, the headlines come from speaking the plain truth in un-politically-correct language. Captain Fanell opines that China is preparing for a “short, sharp war” with Japan over the Senkaku Islands.

‘Zounds! Who’d've thought military forces prepare for armed conflict in peacetime? Or that they prefer to fight short, sharp wars rather than long, dull ones?

George Washington, call your office. Now parse Jim’s words. (The Naval Diplomat was sitting next to him when he uttered the unutterable, so I get to be familiar.) Enlightened opinion on this side of the Pacific Ocean evidently finds one of two things unfathomable: that Beijing is contemplating war, or that the People’s Liberation Army prefers to avoid a protracted test of arms should one prove unavoidable. Let’s take those possibilities in turn.

First, what else should PLA strategists do than plan for a war to uphold what the political leadership obviously considers an important national interest? I hate to sound sympathetic, as I have no truck with the purposes impelling China’s foreign policy vis-á-vis Japan. But that’s a quarrel with Chinese policy, not Chinese maritime strategy or its executors. Armed services exist to furnish their political masters options in times of trouble. Thinking about the unthinkable — and doing advance legwork should statesmen deem the unthinkable thinkable — is what they do.

Indeed, commanders commit malpractice if they fail at this basic function. Flip matters around and look at them from an American standpoint. It’s naïve to wonder, for instance, “who authorized preparations for war with China?” Well, the framers of the U.S. Constitution presumably didn’t expect the U.S. Army and Navy to be potted plants when they empowered Congress to raise land forces and maintain a navy and vested presidents with the authority to conduct foreign relations. That’s who.

In a Sensitive Month, China Touts Progress in Tibet

In a Sensitive Month, China Touts Progress in Tibet
Image Credit: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
In move to sway international opinion, Beijing releases development figures and surging tourist numbers.
By Saransh Sehgal
March 14, 2014

In what is a politically sensitive month, Beijing is moving to counter world opinion on its rule over Tibet, which has seen 127 incidents of self-immolation over the past four years in protest at what Tibetans see as oppression. As exiled Tibetans and their support groups around the world mark the fifty-fifth anniversary of the March 10 Tibetan National Uprising against Chinese rule and the anniversary of the deadly 2008 Lhasa riots, China has been releasing statistics demonstrating the progress that has been made on the remote Himalayan plateau.

The Chinese government recently announced that the economy of Tibet in 2013 grew 12.1 percent, according to official data released by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission on February 27, 2014. “The growth rate was 4.4 percentage points higher than the country’s average. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Tibet reached 80.767 billion Yuan (13.19 billion US dollars) in 2013, almost double that of 2009, according to the bureau,” the Chinesestate media reported.

The report further quoted Liu Baicheng, head of the regional statistics bureau saying, “It is the first time that Tibet has ranked at the top with growth speed within the 12 western provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. Moreover, Tibet was ranked on top nationwide.”

The announcement coincided with the annual session of the China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the first since Xi Jinping was confirmed as president, which featured a 10-day session with around 3,000 legislators from delegations across China.

How U.S. Military Power Benefits China

For all the factors driving great power rivalry, there are some that encourage cooperation.
By Stephen Ellis
March 13, 2014

Often overlooked in the debates about the possibility of a future struggle between the United States and China in East Asia is the fact that the current U.S. military presence in the region actually serves and supports a number of critical Chinese strategic interests. Beijing actually benefits in a number of ways from U.S. power, suggesting that the contention that China is ultimately seeking to push the United States militarily out of the region may not be as clear cut as is often assumed and asserted.

Limiting Japan’s Conventional Power

The United States security commitment to Japan has for over six decades allowed Tokyo to “free ride” on U.S. military power in East Asia, and this has meant that Japan has not built up a conventional military capability in keeping with the size and wealth of its economy. Whilst Japan is undoubtedly today an important military actor within the region, it is highly likely that it would possess far greater conventional military capabilities were it not for the credible security guarantee provided to Japan by the strong U.S. military presence in the region. Whilst Japanese free-riding may or may not serve U.S. interests, the fact that the U.S. security guarantee has served to limit the size and power of Japan’s conventional military is highly beneficial for Beijing, given China and Japan’s history of hostility and conflict, current territorial disputes and their growing competition to be the lead East Asian nation.

If in the future China was to somehow succeed in driving the United States militarily out of East Asia, Tokyo would likely respond to diminishing U.S. regional power by significantly bolstering its own conventional military capabilities. For China, this would be something of a pyrrhic victory, as Beijing would have only succeeded in replacing the U.S. presence with growing Japanese military power, something China would likely view as a much more significant threat. Thus, pushing the United States militarily out of the East Asia may prove to be of questionable value to Beijing and could even worsen China’s strategic position with regard to Japan.


Sahil Mathur 

IPCS Brief 

The Indian Ocean traditionally refers to the water body that covers the expansive area from the eastern coast of the African continent to the western coast of Australia. The IOR includes all the countries that have a coast on the Indian Ocean. This paper focuses on the northern boundaries of the IOR, from the Iranian coastline to the Myanmarese coastline. 

As China continues to grow steadily, it needs energy resources to meet the increasing needs of its rising population. A majority of the oil imported by China passes through the Indian Ocean, especially through the Strait of Malacca. Given its geographical proximity and historical linkages, India, the other rising Asian power, has traditionally had an influence over the Region. Hence, China, unsurprisingly, believes increasing its own presence in the region as an imperative to preserve its national interests.

The situation becomes further grim when one realises that all the major countries in the region are nuclear-equipped. Apart from India, China, and Pakistan actively indulging in nuclear testing, the US too has a naval presence in the Region.

What are the implications of Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) vis-a-vis the concerns of India, Pakistan, and the United States (US)?

The prevailing nuclear environment is far from stable, with four nuclear states that have strategic interests in the region. While Pakistan is building its nuclear stockpile (allegedly with China’s help) to deter India, India is wary of the threat from China. The successful India-US nuclear deal has raised the possibility of an India–US alliance to counter a China–Pakistan alliance in the event of a conflict that could involve nuclear weapons. India is well within range of China’s land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and is worried about China’s establishment of a ‘string of pearls’ – by constructing ports – in its neighbouring countries in an effort to militarise, and possibly nuclearise the region.

China claims that this strategy is only to provide it with alternative sea lanes and trade routes to decrease its reliance on the Strait of Malacca, a chokepoint; India doubts it. New Delhi’s launch of the Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) in 2009 indicates its desire to nuclearise its navy. India is not as well equipped as China, and Beijing doesn’t view New Delhi as a serious threat. However, the presence of Chinese naval nuclear power has created an uneasy atmosphere in the Indian Ocean Region.

This essay argues that the advancement of efforts to realise Chinese interests has the potential to destabilise the region, and that both India and China need to take significant measures to maintain the current deterrence.