19 July 2014

BRICS building

Minxin Pei | July 18, 2014
In the short term, cooperation among the BRICS will be measured almost solely on the success or failure of the NDB.

Finally, the BRICS put money where their mouths used to be. At the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held in Fortaleza, Brazil, the leaders of five of the largest developing economies unveiled the New Development Bank, which is unofficially known as the BRICS bank. This announcement marks a new phase in the evolution of the BRICS. Until these five powerful countries agreed on this new vehicle of development financing, most observers had doubted whether the BRICS could accomplish anything more than the production of the rhetoric of cooperation and mutual respect.

To be sure, despite its name, the New Development Bank (NDB) is a relatively modest financial undertaking. According to the agreement reached by the BRICS, the NDB will have only $10 billion in paid-in capital (to be funded over seven years), with each country contributing $2 billion. In addition, the NDB will have $40 billion that will be paid “upon request”. The $50 billion forms the initial funding pool for the NDB. Another $50 billion will also be made available to the NDB by the BRICS in the future. Of the $100 billion capital, China will provide $41 billion, India, Russia, and Brazil will contribute $18 billion each. The remaining $5 billion will come from South Africa, the smallest economy in the BRICS.

Based on the agreement on the governance and location of the NDB, it appears that the leaders of the BRICS worked hard to overcome their differences. To everyone’s relief, a face-saving solution was found. Shanghai gets the headquarters, India gets the first presidency, Russia and Brazil get the chairmanships of the two supervising boards.

In the short term, cooperation among the BRICS will be measured almost solely on the success or failure of the NDB. In this regard, perhaps, the BRICS should be given the benefit of doubt.
Given the tremendous technical difficulties involved, the NDB is unlikely to quickly deliver eye-popping results in fulfilling its mandates — infrastructural financing and currency stabilisation, primarily in the BRICS and secondarily in other developing countries.

In the long run, the challenges to the success of the BRICS are chiefly geopolitical, not economic. Although the BRICS may aspire to be the developing world’s answer to the G-7, it would be a mistake to overlook some of the fundamental differences between the BRICS and the G-7 that will greatly influence how the BRICS work with each other.

Contested coastlines


Jul 19, 2014
Arun Kumar Singh

India needs to revive its decade-old case for creating the post of a professional national maritime adviser, who can provide specialist single-window advice on complex maritime issues

The recent July 7 verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague, the Netherlands, has resulted in some media and Indian think tank comments supporting the accord as a “win-win” event for India and Bangladesh, while others have lamented the loss of EEZ (exclusive economic zone) equal to the size of Bengal. Some others have called it a “civilised example of maritime dispute settlement” and asked for similar solutions to the ongoing disputes in the South and East China Seas.

However, in the East China Sea both Japan and China are unwilling for international arbitration over the disputed Senkaku Islands. In the South China Sea, the Philippines on January 22, 2013, took up its case (for sovereignty over the disputed Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal) to the PCA, but on February 19, 2013, China formally refused to participate in the proceedings, thus leaving it to the PCA to work without any inputs from China. It will be interesting to see how this ongoing arbitration ends. This article, examines the pros and cons of July 7 India-Bangladesh arbitration award, and its implications for India.

As per United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 3, (UNCLOS 3) 1982, which came into force on November 16, 1994, nations have the following three options to address any dispute under UNCLOS:
w The International Court of Justice at The Hague, the Netherlands.
w ITLOS i.e. the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at Hamburg, Germany.
w PCA i.e. the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, the Netherlands.
India has a maritime boundary with seven nations (the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Since 1970, India has settled its maritime boundaries with five of these countries (except Pakistan and Bangladesh), by applying the basic “principle of equidistance” and there is no maritime boundary dispute with these five nations. Unfortunately, both Pakistan and Bangladesh did not agree to a resolution by the “principle of equidistance” during bilateral talks.
Bangladesh — which has a concave coastline — found that its proposed EEZ (calculated on the “shore baseline” concept) was severely limited. It therefore had proposed (and UNCLOS 3, accepted it vide Article 7(2) “Straight Baseline”) that in such cases, it could take a “floating straight baseline” on the 10 fathom (i.e. about 20 metre water depth line). This provision not only gave Bangladesh more territorial waters (about 40 nautical miles or nm, as against the permitted 12 nm from shore baseline), but it also subsequently interpreted this to claim a much larger EEZ, since 200 nm to seawards was now to be calculated from this “floating baseline”.

In 2008, Bangladesh claimed a huge rectangular “oil block exploration area” deep into the Bay of Bengal, which overlapped the proposed Indian and Burma EEZ claims. On October 8, 2009, Bangladesh took its case against India to the PCA. Simultaneously, Bangladesh took its case against Burma to ITLOS. On March 14, 2012, Bangladesh won its case against Burma and ITLOS awarded it 111,000 sq. km of EEZ in the Bay of Bengal, as against its claim of 107,000 sq. km.

The five-member PCA tribunal visited Bangladesh on October 23-24, 2013 and India on October 24-25, 2013. During this period, the tribunal made a sea sortie of the disputed territorial waters and also an aerial sortie of the coastline, since the 200 nm seawards for the EEZ (and even beyond 200 nm, if the continental shelf extends beyond 200 nm) is measured from the appropriate “coastal baseline” as per UNCLOS

The hearing of the case by the PCA commenced on December 13, 2013, at The Hague, and the final judgment was delivered on July 7, 2014. India was represented by two joint secretaries and one director from the ministry of external affairs, while Bangladesh was represented by its foreign ministser and a retired rear admiral, who had been re-employed by the Bangladesh MEA, as additional secretary. A summary of the 168-page judgment (binding on both nations) is as follows:
w Location of land boundary terminal (LBT). This was fixed as the “midstream of the Hariabhanga river” (as per Radcliffe award of 1947). This decision supports India’s claims.
w Delimitation of territorial sea. Based on the LBT, a 12 nm territorial sea has been fairly marked out, and generally supports India’s claims.
w Delimitation of EEZ and continental shelf. Media reports indicate that Bangladesh has gained 19,467 sq. km out of the disputed area of 25,602 sq. km from India. Its new International Maritime Boundary Line with India has a southern limit, which is 295 nm south of Bangladesh’s coastline and is 407 nm east of the Indian port of Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. This new International Maritime Boundary Line between India and Bangladesh passes only 140 nm eastwards of India’s Paradip port and a possible future scenario of having Chinese oil exploration rigs in Bangladesh’s new EEZ will have their own political and security ramifications for India (Chinese supply and Coast Guard ships operating from Chittagong would be needed to provide logistics support and “oil rig protection” respectively). Alarm bells should be ringing loudly in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The PCA award is binding. However, both parties can within 30 days of July 7, 2014, ask for clarifications about interpretation only, and the PCA is obliged to respond within 45 days.
India also should monitor as to how ongoing arbitration attempts unfold in the South and East China Seas. Apparently, Pakistan may not be able to go in for international maritime arbitration (over its IMBL and Sir Creek dispute with India) because of the 1968 Indo-Pak Rann of Kutch international tribunal award and also the 1972 Simla Accord. Finally, India needs to revive its decade-old case for creating the post of a professional national maritime adviser (preferably a serving three-star naval officer), who can provide specialist single-window advice on complex maritime issues.

The writer retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam


Subir Bhaumik 
July 19 , 2014

Indian intelligence officials take Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence quite seriously as a rival but tend to sneer at other national intelligence organizations. Going by professional track record, however, Sri Lanka’s military intelligence displayed that it was capable of generating real-time intelligence that was used to smash the LTTE. If we restrict ourselves to judging the effectiveness of Lankan military intelligence in the last days of the Jaffna war, there is no doubt it was highly effective. Similarly, Bangladeshi agencies, purged of pro-ISI elements after Sheikh Hasina became prime minister, have displayed a remarkable capacity to generate effective real-time intelligence. The Rapid Action Battalion has not exactly covered itself with glory in the recent months. It has often meddled in local politics, bumped off political rivals of some high and mighty politicians, for a price. The multiple murders in Narayanganj has put the RAB on the mat — three of its top officers (all army deputationists) were found involved in abducting and killing seven persons including the local councillor, Nazrul Islam, and the lawyer, Chandan Sarkar, at the behest of another councillor and sand-mafia-lord, Nur Hossain. Hossain was later arrested in Calcutta and his deportation to stand trial in Bangladesh is keenly awaited. This incident has led to strident demands that the RAB should be banned, but there is no way one can overlook RAB’s enviable track record in counter-insurgency, specially its success in decimating Islamic radical groups.

The latest RAB operation at Satcherri, on the Tripura-Bangladesh border, in June led to the recovery of a huge arms cache. Satcherri was the one-time headquarters of the All Tripura Tiger Force, used by Ulfa to stock weapons brought from Southeast Asia. Almost all rebel groups active in the Northeast used the Bangladesh coast to smuggle in weapons from Southeast Asia. Most of these weapons were made in China but some originated elsewhere and dated back to the days of the Vietnam war.

This first came to light during Operation Golden Bird, initiated by the 57th Division of the Indian army in April-May 1995, which tracked down and decapitated a rebel column that had picked up a huge consignment of weapons at the Wyakaung beach (south of Cox’s Bazar) and was moving that through the jungles of Mizoram. Thirty eight rebels were killed and 118 nabbed during the 45-day operation, information for which was provided by the National Unity Party of Arakans. The counter-point to Golden Bird was the huge arms-drop at Purulia in December, 1995. There is enough evidence now that the Purulia arms-drop mastermind, Niels Christian Nielsen, had tried very hard to secure landing permission at Dhaka for his aircraft carrying arms. The British gun-runner, Peter Bleach, had told me in a BBC interview within a year of the drop that he tried his “Dhaka agent”, the retired Captain Taslim Hossain of M/s Riverland Agencies, to secure landing permission but failed. The consignment was also marked for Rajendrapur cantonment and a fake end-user certificate had been obtained through the armed forces division of Bangladesh’s prime minister’s office. This has led many to surmise that the consignment was not actually meant for the Ananda Margis (as suggested by CBI) but for some Burmese rebel group.

Bangladesh was then a happy hunting ground for the ISI, and rebel groups active against India found it a very useful place for regrouping and bringing in weapons. But this changed after Hasina took over as prime minister in January, 2009. She got the Bangladesh security agencies to crack down on not only the Northeast Indian rebel groups, but also the arms trade thriving around them. Scores of rebel leaders — including the Ulfa chairman, Arabindra Rajkhowa, the UNLF chairman, R.K. Meghen, and the NDFB chairman, Ranjan Daimary — were nabbed and quietly handed over to India. Their bases were demolished without the fanfare that accompanied Bhutan’s Operation All Clear.


The future of a nuclear South Asian is in the doldrums in the wake of evolving strategically twiddling intentions revealed and publicized by the Indian civil leader’s articulations from time to time.

BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a staunch Hindutva proponent, said that India needs only two years to defeat Pakistan militarily and that India determines to use nuclear weapons as only an option left to solve the lingering Kashmir dispute among the south Asian nuclear rivals.

‘In an interview, Dr. Swamy said that the Muslims have no connections with India and that they did not want to live with Hindus, they should lift India.’ Meanwhile, he stressed on the ISIS vision of an Islamic state that stretches up to Gujrat in India

is serious enough for India to prepare for war. He said “we’ll have a war… war with the Islamic caliphate that will be set up very soon which will include Pakistan and Afghanistan. Start preparing. Send troops to Afghanistan. Make friends with Iran because they are Shiites and those militants are all Sunnis.”

More to the point, Prime Minister Modi, in his election campaign promised to maintain a tough posture against both China and Pakistan. It is important to note here that China was the only country, not invited to the Modi’s swearing-in ceremony

where all the country’s immediate neighbors were invited. Ironically, on one hand, retaining a dual and dubious policy, India with such acts, depicts its apprehensions towards China and on the other hand, BJP (as stated by Dr. Swamy) aspires to neutralize relations with China in order to overwhelm its inclination towards Pakistan.

Whereas the Chinese government is keen to improve its ties with India in the face of regional strategic threats and certain border disputes among both nations.

Admittedly, the country successfully did acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction (by illegal diversion of civilian technology for military purpose), but at the same time New Delhi forgot the fact that nuclear weapons are not meant for use, rather than only to achieve political objectives. In this instance, if anyone abnormally

decides on or even contemplates to make violent use of WMD, Pakistan is, in response capable of the best capacity with the worlds competent army soldiers, a glimpse of which Indians must be seen in the on-going operation named under “Zarb-e-Azb” (a joint-military offensive operation).

Dr. Swamy needs to update himself with the worst consequences by the use of Nuclear weapons on either side, when he aspires “there would be no Pakistan left”.

Critically analyzing the heinous intentions of Dr. Subramanian Swamy at the time when the world is looking after the emerging policies of the BJP’s mentality or its new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi can easily be evaluated and deducted in light of the on-going milieu. Previously, when BJP came to power, in

1998, the party announced its agenda publicly by deliberating its intentions “to exercise the nuclear option and induct nuclear weapons, occupy Azad Kashmir and to demolish mosques to build Hindu temples.”


By C. Raja Mohan

The idea of an overland pipeline bringing hydrocarbons from Russia to India has been around for a while. Mooted under UPA rule, the proposal is gaining some traction with the NDA government. New Delhi and Moscow are looking for some big new projects to boost their stagnant commercial ties. Annual bilateral trade now hovers below a paltry $15 billion. Given the massive complementarities in the energy sector, the two sides rightly focus on making this the centrepiece of a stronger economic partnership in future.

The Great Game Folio

Talks on Russian atomic reactor exports are making slow progress amidst the continuing differences over the application of India’s nuclear liability act. As India’s demand for oil and natural gas grows, the hydrocarbon sector presents itself as a major strategic opportunity. India already has $5bn invested in the Russian petroleum sector. India also imports crude oil worth nearly $200 million every year.

India would like to import a lot more and the idea of building a direct pipeline from Russia, therefore, has become an object of political interest in Delhi and Moscow. Further impetus for the project has come from a recent Russian deal with China to export natural gas worth $400bn over a 30-year period via a new pipeline. The idea is generating some excitement and is expected to figure in the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the BRICS summit in Brazil.
Luckless India

It is easy drawing pipeline routes on the map. India knows that building them on the ground is not. For none of the pipeline projects that India has debated in the last two decades has taken off for reasons of costs, geopolitical and financial. There have been many proposals to build underwater pipelines from the Gulf to India; but cost considerations have put them on hold. Overland pipeline projects have been grounded mainly for geopolitical reasons. The plan to build the

Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline has run into strong opposition from the United States, which remains opposed to any projects involving Tehran. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have spent much time negotiating the TAPI pipeline that would have brought natural gas from Turkmenistan into the subcontinent. Given the security problems in the Af-Pak region, it has been hard selling the project to international bankers.

There was a plan to build a natural gas pipeline between Myanmar and India through Bangladesh. But the inability of Delhi and Dhaka to act fast saw Myanmar deciding to sell the gas to China. Beijing moved rapidly to build a twin pipeline system from the Bay of Bengal coast to the Yunnan province in southwestern China, just north of Myanmar.

Any Russian pipeline from Russia to India will have three possible routes into India. One is via Iran and Pakistan; another must traverse Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the third must come through China. The option of bringing them through Pakistan will face many of the same problems as the IPI and TAPI pipelines. The China option involves bringing the pipeline across the Great Himalayas and through the regions of Jammu and Kashmir that are part of the territorial dispute between Delhi and Beijing.
Lahore beckons

In a paradox, the only pipeline that could get off the ground in the near term is the one that would run out of India rather than into it. Delhi has been discussing with Islamabad for some time now plans to build a pipeline to the Punjab border to export liquefied natural gas to Pakistan.

Vaidik - Saeed Meeting: A Case of Self-Appointed Diplomats, Self-Serving Charlatans

The meeting between internationally designated terrorist chieftain Hafiz Saeed and an Indian journalist (?) and political operator, Dr VP Vaidik, in Lahore has caused a veritable storm in not just political circles but also the media. Normally, no eyebrows should be raised if anyone who claims to be a journalist meets any extremely undesirable and notorious criminal. Howsoever unpleasant and politically incorrect, such meetings are part and parcel of a scribe’s profession. But Vaidik’s meeting with Saeed is extremely problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the hint of misrepresentation by him about his contacts and closeness to the new government and his subtle and insidious efforts to put a human face to someone who is by all accounts a monster and mass murderer.

Before detailing the reasons for condemning Vaidik’s ‘interview’, it must be said that for publicity hounds even notoriety is welcome. After all, Dr Vaidik has managed to capture more airtime with the controversy he has generated than he would have got in his decades long innings as a ‘journalist’. What this fifteen minutes of fame (or should we say, infamy) does for him and his benefactors and mentors is hardly the issue. Dr Vaidik has a penchant for hitting the headlines for wrong reasons. In the early 1990s, he had managed to inveigle himself with Mulayam Singh Yadav (whom he lauded as the best thing that happened to Indian politics….and we all know how that turned out). Over the last few years, he has managed to get close to yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who in turn has been a major supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dr Vaidik also has a thing for name-dropping and impressing people by referring to senior leaders and politicians by their first names – tell Nawaz I am in such and such hotel…, I asked Ahmed (Shah Massoud) to talk to Gulbadin (Hekmetyar)…, I told Hamid (Karzai) to do this and that…. and so on and so forth. The gullible (which includes some senior Indian officials, including at the highest levels in the Ministry of External Affairs) often assume that he is some kind of a South Asian Henry Kissinger and this tends to open doors for him, especially in places seeking some kind of private access to corridors of power in Delhi. In a sense, he is the quintessential Delhi Durbari, but also an outsider who presents himself as an insider.

Countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan have been an old hunting ground for Dr Vaidik, where he has managed to establish himself as a very consequential man from Delhi. According to Pakistani sources, Dr Vaidik has presented himself in Pakistan as someone who is very in with the new dispensation in Delhi. He is believed to have sent signals or at least given an impression to his Pakistani interlocutors that he was some kind of unofficial mediator for the Modi government. This is also the sense that comes out of his interviews to Pakistani TV channels. More than anything else, it is this that has stirred the hornet’s nest in Delhi. Asides of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it very clear that he doesn’t subscribe to back-channel or private diplomacy, even less so by busybodies and self-appointed diplomats, there would have to be something terribly wrong with this government if it was using someone so given to self-promotion like Vaidik to either carry out such diplomacy or even some message. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that someone as indiscreet as Vaidik would be used for sending any message across the Radcliffe line. After all, one of the fundamental qualities of a good diplomat is the ability to zip up.

Pentagon and U.S. Intelligence Community Now Doubt That Obama’s New Counterterrorism Strategy Will Work

Josh Rogin
The Daily Beast
July 16, 2014

Obama’s Counterterror Plan Has New Doubters: His Own Generals and Spies

The idea of pulling nearly all American troops out of Afghanistan in 2016 suddenly seems pretty lousy, after so much of Iraq has collapsed under a similar scenario.

When President Obama announced his plan to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, U.S. intelligence said it could be done safely. Now, intelligence and military leaders are privately warning that the U.S. counterterrorism forces could be needed there for much longer.

During the internal administration debate earlier this year over the way forward in Afghanistan, the CIA supported a plan to degrade al Qaeda to the point that America could withdraw almost all of its troops there by 2016. The responsibility of fighting al Qaeda would be left mostly to the Afghan and Pakistani militaries.

For a White House looking to announce a new policy to go to zero combat troops in Afghanistan by the time President Obama leaves office, the agency’s classified assessment was exactly what they wanted to hear. But the assessment ran afoul of military leaders, especially those responsible for Afghanistan, who had long advocated for leaving a residual force in Afghanistan past 2016, including a strong contingent of the special operations and intelligence personnel to pursue and press al Qaeda.

Now, those military leaders and some of their intelligence community brethren are warning privately that the rise of ISIS and the growing crises in Iraq, Syria, and North Africa are drawing away counterterrorism resources faster than expected from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The plan to degrade al Qaeda enough so that U.S. forces can leave is already lagging behind schedule. And given what’s happening in Iraq, they argue dismantling U.S. counterterrorism capabilities in Afghanistan no longer looks like a good idea in the first place.

“The CIA assessment [earlier this year] was that whatever risk there may be in the President’s plan can be managed,” said one U.S. official who was briefed on the assessment. “In the next couple of years they can further degrade al Qaeda core to the degree where their capabilities would not require the kind of counterterrorism mission we’ve had there over the past few years.”

But critics worry that the White House plan—and the CIA assessment that underpins it—may be too hopeful.

“The issue is whether… we can manage the risk that the assessment is wrong and that al Qaeda could regenerate its senior leadership,” the official said. “Al Qaeda in Iraq was a destroyed organization when we left there and look where ISIS is now.”

If a similar scenario plays out in Afghanistan, it could leave the America vulnerable and its war gains lost.

“The idea that you could keep the pressure on terrorism networks in Afghanistan in the future without any counterterrorism forces there is highly problematic. Al Qaeda has proven to be an astonishingly resilient organization in the face of great pressure from the U.S.”

Islamist Extremists Gaining Ground in Pakistan’s South

Saba Imtiaz and Declan Walsh
New York Times
July 16, 2014

Extremists Make Inroads in Pakistan’s Diverse South

MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan — In a country roiled by violent strife, the southern province of Sindh, celebrated as the “land of Sufis,” has long prized its reputation as a Pakistani bastion of tolerance and diversity.

Glittering Sufi shrines dot the banks of the river Indus as it wends through the province. The faithful sing and dance at exuberant religious festivals. Hindu traders, members of a sizable minority, thrive in the major towns.

But as Islamist groups have expanded across Pakistan in tandem with the growing strength of the Taliban insurgency, so, too, are they making deep inroads into Sindh. Although banned by the state, such groups are systematically exploiting weaknesses in Pakistan’s education system and legal code as part of a campaign to persecute minorities and spread their radical brand of Sunni Islam.

The growth of the fundamentalist groups, many with links to armed factions, has been alarmingly rapid in Sindh and has brought violence in its wake, according to police officials, politicians and activists. In recent months, Hindu temples have been defaced, Shiite Muslims have been assaulted and Christians have been charged with blasphemy.

A family praying last week in Karachi at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, a Sufi saint. Credit Max Becherer for The New York Times

A central factor in the expansion of such groups is a network of religious seminaries, often with funding from opaque sources, that provides them with a toehold in poor communities. “If there were three seminaries in a city before, now there are tens of seminaries in just one neighborhood,” said Asad Chandio, news editor of the Sindhi-language newspaper Awami Awaz.

In May, a threatening crowd in Mirpurkhas, a small city in central Sindh, surrounded four members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had set up a stall near the railway station. The mob accused the four of blasphemy because they were selling books that contained images of God and Moses. The crowd’s leader was a member of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a sectarian group that is ostensibly banned by the government, but that is now openly operating, and growing, across Sindh.

Fearing crowd violence, police officers led the four to a nearby police station where they were charged with blasphemy — potentially a capital offense. They were taken away in an armored vehicle, and are now in hiding as they await trial.

Pakistan, Belarus Plan Military and Technical Cooperation

July 17, 2014

Pakistan may be looking to export arms to Belarus. 

Despite the fact that diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Belarus have been limited in the past, the two countries have decided to develop their cooperation on military and technical matters. According to a report in The Nation, representatives from the two countries explored areas for military cooperation at the 7th International Exhibition of Arms and Military Machinery (MILEX-2014), which is taking place in Minsk, Belarus. Pakistan’s Minister for Defense Production Rana Tanveer Hussain met with senior Belarusian military officials. Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko remains Europe’s last authoritarian dictatorship; the country maintains close ties with the Russian Federation. The news that the two countries will cooperate on military matters comes some days after Belarus announced that it would open an embassy in Pakistan.

The Belarusian defense industry is large considering the size of the country, and has suffered significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union as demand for military products declined across the former Soviet space. Currently, the defense industry relies on limited contracts with Russia. It additionally pays some of the costs of maintaining Russian armed forces on its soil. Belarus is currently sanctioned by the United States and the European Union, in part for its willingness to do business with repressive regimes and pariah states. Under Lukashenko, the Belarusian defense industry has developed particular skill in maintaining and upgrading legacy Soviet-era equipment. Belarus has also historically been skilled in military radio technology.

Given that the Pakistani military uses a very limited set of Soviet-era and Russian hardware, military cooperation between the two countries will likely focus on newer projects. According to The Nation‘s report, both countries are interested in “establishing mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of defence production.” According to the same report, Pakistan has invited Belarusian Minister of Defense Yuri Zhdobin to the 8th International Defense Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS-2014), which will be held later this year in Karachi. The report also noted that Pakistan highlighted its indigenous advances in defense production, including the JF-17 fighter (developed with Chinese cooperation).

China’s Economy Continues to Defy Gravity. That May Not Be a Good Thing

A container truck drives past the container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, part of the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, on Sept. 26, 2013Carlos Barria—Reuters
China announced better-than-expected growth over the second quarter. Despite optimistic official figures, there's plenty to worry about in the world's second largest economy 

China announced its GDP figures for the second quarter on Wednesday and — surprise, surprise — they were better than expected. Growth clocked in at 7.5% — which just so happens to be the government’s official target. The statistics will likely give a boost to sentiment globally. Investors have been worried that a slowing China would hit the entire world economy. More buoyant Chinese growth will probably calm those jitters. 

Yet China is also something of a puzzle. Somehow the economy continues to power through all sorts of issues that should be slowing it down. The all-important property sector, which accounts for some 16% of its GDP, is undergoing a major downturn. For most of the year, the government has tried to control dangerous levels of debt in the economy and clamp down on “shadow banking,” which encompasses alternative financial networks and lending practices. Tighter credit should translate into slower growth. Beijing is also supposedly on a mission to streamline bloated industries like steel by eliminating excess capacity, which, though healthy for the future prospects of the economy, should also act as a drag on short-term growth. So should President Xi Jinping’s ongoing anticorruptioncampaign, which in theory should be disrupting policymaking and creating uncertainty. 

So how is China defying gravity once again? There is always the perennial suspicion that the numbers are inflated. Capital Economics looks at statistics that aren’t as easily manipulated as GDP, such as freight shipments and electricity output, to gauge the economy’s performance, and figures GDP has probably been expanding more like 6% in recent quarters. But economists are crediting the latest growth rate to government stimulus, carefully targeted at infrastructure and public housing, both investments the economy still needs. 

This is a smart move. The Chinese government has ample ability to keep growth humming while it attempts to implement more substantial reforms. However, the reliance on stimulus also raises doubts about what might be ahead. Some economists see growth “bottoming out” and a revival continuing through the rest of the year. Others believe continued headwinds, especially the struggles of the property sector, are too strong for the government to counter — without even greater largesse. That might be on its way. New loans made in June were the highest in five years, according to research from Barclays, which suggests that the government is loosening up credit once again. 

That begs the most important question facing China’s economy right now: Will Beijing sacrifice reform for growth? So far, China’s leaders have controlled their usual urge to pump up growth rates, an indication they realize the dangers lurking in the economy. Since the 2008 financial crisis, debt in China has risen to dizzying heights. A recent report from Standard & Poor’s calculated that China’s corporate sector has more debt outstanding than any other in the world. Combined with tremendous excess capacity, a risky increase in shadow banking and signs of a property bubble, the Chinese economy is rampant with problems that threaten its future. Some economists believe Beijing needs to address these ills and resist efforts to use credit and other stimulus to rev up growth — or else face a possible financial crisis. 

Asian Nations' Fears of War Elevated as China Flexes Muscle, Study Finds

July 14, 2014 

Majority of Filipinos, Japanese and  Vietnamese Say They Fear Armed Conflict With China Large majorities in many Asian countries fear that China's territorial ambitions could lead to war, according to the Pew Research Center, in a finding with implications for U.S. foreign policy in a region that increasingly looks to America for protection. 

A widespread worry that military conflict over territorial disputes may disrupt the region is among the findings of a public-opinion survey of 44 countries by the Washington-based Pew. 

Another global trend is building opposition to U.S. eavesdropping following revelations of spying by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. U.S. drone strikes also elicit strong misgivings. However, those controversies don't appear to have done too much damage to America's generally positive global image, outside the Muslim world, the Pew report said. 

The survey, conducted from March to June, comes after China has muscularly pressed its claims over disputed islands, sending ships, planes and, in one case, an oil rig into areas held or contested by several neighbors. 

Fears of armed conflict are at high levels among those countries locked in these standoffs with China, according to responses to a question introduced this year in Pew's spring survey of global attitudes. In the Philippines, 93% of respondents are concerned about an outbreak of hostilities. In Japan, the figure is 85%, and in Vietnam, 84%. 

Yet worries about China's threat to peace are almost as strong in South Korea, a close neighbor that has warm relations with China, where 83% of respondents fret about war. Even in China, 62% are anxious. 

Protesters in the Philippines denounced China's deployment of an oil rig in disputed South China Sea territory in May. Associated Press 

So China Moved Its Oil Rig. What Now?

July 17, 2014

Why did China move its oil rig, and what does that mean for the future? 

As Clint reported earlier today, China has removed its offshore oil rig from waters near the Paracel Islands. The rig, which had been operating in an area Vietnam claimed as part of its exclusive economic zone, caused a major rift between Beijing and Hanoi. The rig is currently being moved to a new project near Hainan, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

The move came as something of a surprise, as the rig was originally scheduled to stay in the area until mid-August. Speculation raged over why the rig had been removed. A Chinese energy expert told Reuters that he though the rig had simply been able to finish its task ahead of schedule due to favorable weather conditions over the past two months. Other analysts suggest that China took advantage of the upcoming typhoon season to remove a major source of friction between it and Vietnam. Vietnamese Maj. Gen. Le Ma Luong was even more blunt, according to the New York Times. He claims that the “strong reactions” from Vietnam forced Beijing to move the rig early.

The timing of the move is somewhat curious. The rig was set up shortly after Obama’s trip to Asia, causing many analysts to argue that China was sending a signal more to the U.S. than to Vietnam. Now, the removal of the rig comes less than a week after China’s South China Sea maneuvers reportedly “topped the agenda” at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. Still, months’ worth of criticisms (including heated speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue) have had no effect on Beijing’s calculations; it’s disingenuous to suggest that the S&ED was the tipping point.

More likely, China simply calculated that it had little to gain from keeping the rig in place, especially when compared with the potential benefits of moving it. From a tactical standpoint, the oil rig has largely achieved its purpose. China proved that it has the capability to operate a drill near the Paracels, including the naval force necessary to protect the rig from Vietnamese ships sent to the area. Beijing has also proven itself resistant to external criticisms on the issue, ignoring and counterattacking when Vietnam, the United States, and other regional players accused China of provocation.

After two months, there was little left for China to gain by continued drilling. With the announcement that the drill discovered evidence of oil and gas, it will be easy for China to return the rig to the area at any time. As Hong Lei told the press Wednesday, China National Petroleum Corporation will study the data and “map out a specific work plan in the next step.”

Audio Tapes of Intercepted Russian Phone Calls Regarding the Shootdown of the Malaysian Airliner

July 18, 2014
The New York Times and other media organizations have posted online audio tapes of three intercepted telephone conversations involving Ukrainian separatist commanders as well as a number of Russian military intelligence officers, including two officers identified officers identified only as the “Major” and the “Greek.” The intercepts and their transcripts can be accessed here.

The Crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Is a Game ChangerThis conflict is now officially out of control

JULY 17, 2014

Malaysian Airlines just can't catch a break. Just four months after flight 370 disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean, Thursday brings news that Malaysian Airlines flight 17, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with ground control around the Ukrainian-Russian border. Initial reports say "50 km away from entering Russian airspace, the plane began descending, then it was observed burning on the ground on Ukrainian territory." The plane, a Boeing 777, is said to have been carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members.

Over the last couple of months, pro-Russian separatists have been downingUkrainian military planes with increasing regularity—and mounting casualties on the Ukrainian side. Just earlier Thursday, separatists had shot down another one. All of that seemed to undermine the narrative, propagated by the Kremlin, that the separatists were just a ragtag people's militia who didn't stand a chance against a proper, organized military. The constant downing of Ukrainian jets showed that these men were equipped with some pretty serious stuff: You can't really shoot down a jet with a Kalashnikov. 

And, in fact, Russian a state media report from late June indicates the rebels got a hold of a Buk missile system, a Russian/Soviet surface-to-air missile system. Rebels are now denying that they shot down the plane, but there are now screenshots floating around the Russian-language internet from what seems to be the Facebook page of Igor Strelkov, a rebel leader in eastern Ukraine, showing plumes of smoke and bragging about shooting down a Ukrainian military Antonov plane shortly before MH17 fell. "Don't fly in our skies," he reportedly wrote. If that's true, it would seem rebels downed the jetliner, having mistaken it for a Ukrainian military jet.

This has all to be confirmed, though the separatists did issue statementssaying they downed an Antonov this morning and took five of its crew members hostage. There is also an off-chance that the Ukrainian military did it, having also declared a no-fly zone in the area recently. The rebels are, of course, busily blaming the Ukrainian military.

Make no mistake: this is a really, really, really big deal. This is the first downing of a civilian jetliner in this conflict and, if it was the rebels who brought it down, all kinds of ugly things follow. For one thing, what seemed to be gelling into a frozen local conflict has now broken into a new phase, one that directly threatens European security. The plane, let's recall, was flying from Amsterdam.

For another, U.S. officials have long been saying that there's only one place that rebels can get this kind of heavy, sophisticated weaponry: Russia. This is why a fresh round of sanctions was announced yesterday. Now, the U.S. and a long-reluctant Europe may be forced to do more and implement less surgical and more painful sanctions. 

Q. and A.: Rana Mitter on the Legacy of World War II in Asia

JULY 10, 2014 

A visitor photographed the Marco Polo Bridge on the western outskirts of Beijing on July 7, the 77th anniversary of the skirmish that triggered full-scale war between Japan and China.Credit Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke at an event in Beijing on Monday commemorating the 77th anniversary of the start of full-scale war with Japan, he warned against efforts to downplay Japan’s brutal occupation of China. It was a stark reminder of how the events of that era continue to shape the geopolitics of Asia today, as China and Japan square off over territorial disputes and Beijing voices concern about Japan’s moves to lift longstanding restrictionson its military forces.

Rana Mitter, professor of the history and politics of modern China at Oxford.Credit Courtesy of Rana Mitter

In his recent book “Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II” (outside the United States, it is titled “China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945″), Rana Mitter, a professor of history at the University of Oxford, restores the often tarnished image of China’s contribution to the defeat of Japan in World War II. In an interview, he said that, unlike in Europe, where a broad consensus on the war has been achieved, interpretations of the conflict in Asia remain a source of acrimony between the major players, and these disagreements have important ramifications for the future of the region. A better understanding of history by all sides, he said, will prevent the events of the past from being used in an irresponsible manner. Following are excerpts:
Q. East Asia has had these sorts of debates over World War II history in the past. Does this latest bout feel different in any way?

A. I think it is new and I think it’s different.

In some sense it’s a continuation of disputes that have been going on for a long time. If you think back to the 1980s, when we had the so-called “textbook dispute” in which various Japanese textbooks which were felt to be whitewashing Japanese war crimes in China were condemned by the Chinese government — some people regard that as being the beginning of the contemporary phenomenon of this kind of dispute over history between China and Japan.

But I do think what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks and months is new. There are two reasons for that. The first is that, in terms of the politics of the two countries, the history dispute is fitting into two very different views of themselves. In China we’re talking about a new administration under Xi Jinping which has explicitly stated that using the memory of the war against Japan, the War of Resistance against Japan as it’s known in China, is a core ideological plank in terms of shaping a new identity. And that fits alongside the new geopolitical aims that China has, which again are not particularly hidden, which is to increase its level of influence in the Asia-Pacific region. It’s a different sort of China that’s now talking about these issues.

U.S. Intelligence Assessment Finds That Malaysian Airliner Was Shot Down by Pro-Moscow Ukrainian Separatists

  1. July 18, 2014

    Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola
    Washington Post, July 18, 2014

    KIEV, Ukraine — A preliminary U.S. intelligence assessment indicates that a Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine was shot down by an antiaircraft missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, U.S. officials said Friday.

    President Obama said at least one American was killed in the shootdown, which he said was carried out from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. In a news conference at the White House, he noted that the separatists have “received a steady flow of support” from Russia, including heavy weapons, training and antiaircraft systems. He called for “a credible international investigation” into the tragedy and urged Russia to cooperate with it.

    Obama identified the U.S. victim as Quinn Lucas Schansman, whom he said was “the sole person we can definitively say was a U.S. or dual citizen” so far based on an examination of the flight manifest. The deaths of the 298 people on the plane “are an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” Obama said.

    “Our assessment is that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 . . . was likely downed by an SA-11 missile, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine,” Samantha Power , the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council earlier Friday.

    Because of the “technical complexity” of the Russian-made surface-to-air missile system, “it is impossible to rule out Russian technical assistance” to the separatists in operating it, Power said.
    As emergency workers continue to search for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 after it was shot down near the Russian border, world leaders are calling for a cease-fire in Ukraine. (AP)

    A U.S. official in Washington cautioned that the intelligence assessment is not final and that analysts are still investigating. The SA-11 is an early version of the Buk antiaircraft system that has been identified by Ukrainian authorities as the weapon used to bring down the airliner.

    The assessment that rebels were responsible for the shootdown came as Ukrainian leaders stepped up their condemnation of Russia over the crash, calling for Moscow to be held accountable for allegedly supplying the missile system that they said was used by the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

    “This is a crime against humanity,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, as he called for swift international justice. “All red lines have been already crossed. . . . We ask our international partners to call an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and to [do] everything we can to stop this war: a war against Ukraine, a war against Europe, and after these terrorists shot down a Malaysian aircraft, this is a war against the world.”

    Yatsenyuk added: “Everyone is to be accountable and responsible. I mean everyone who supports these terrorists, including Russians and the Russian regime.”

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, addressing the nation early Friday, also blamed pro-Russian separatists and those he called their Russian masters for the downing of the Boeing 777 with 298 passengers and crew on board.

    The victims included “nearly 100 researchers and advocates” who were en route from Amsterdam via Kuala Lumpur to attend an AIDS conference in Australia, Obama said. “They were taken from us in a senseless act of violence,” he said. AIDS conference organizers have confirmed only seven names and said they think the number of people flying to the conference on the Malaysian flight could be much lower than 100.

    “War has gone beyond the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said earlier. “Consequences of this war have already reached the whole world.”

    Russia and the separatists both denied any responsibility for the shootdown, pinning the blame instead on the Ukrainian government.

    But Poroshenko said recordings of what the Ukraine Security Service described as intercepted phone conversations between separatist rebels and Russian intelligence officials implicated them in the shootdown.

The ISIS Chronicles: A History

"If the Islamic State’s history is any indication, then one should be concerned about it deepening political polarization and sectarianism in both Lebanon and Jordan..."

On June 10, 2014, Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the capital of Ninawa province, fell to the Salafi-Jihadi organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The fall of Mosul and the subsequent blitz with which ISIS took over other Sunni majority cities shocked Washington and Baghdad. However, the leaderships of the two countries have entertained different visions as to how to deal with this surging threat to regional and international stability. This has only added another layer of misconception about ISIS and its future military and religiopolitical program in the Middle East. ISIS has achieved what Al Qaeda failed to accomplish. A recent statement by ISIS in which it rebranded itself as the “Islamic State,” declaring the establishment of an Islamic Caliphatein Iraq and Syria, led by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as Caliph Ibrahim, shows both the astuteness of its military command and ingenuity of its ideologues. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Islamic State has already replaced Al Qaeda as the paradigm organization of Salafi-Jihadists and stands, if not defeated in its formative stage, not only to change the map of political geography of the Middle East, but also the scope and breadth of Salafi-jihadi threat to the West and Middle East.

The ideological roots of the ISIS can be traced to the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which was established in Iraq in 2004 by the Salafi-jihadi Jordanian Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi soon pledged his allegiance to Al Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden, and changed the name of his organization to Tanzim Al Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Al Qaeda Organization in the Country of the Two Rivers). This organization became commonly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi was killed by American troops in 2006 in Iraq. His successors Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and Abu Omr al-Baghdadi were both killed in 2010, whereupon the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq passed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In principle, Al Qaeda in Iraq embraces a Salafi-jihadi ideology, best advocated by Al Qaeda. The ideology underscores first the return to the authentic beliefs and practices of the al-salaf al-salih(pious ancestors), who comprised the companions of Prophet Muhammad (d. 632), the followers of the companions, and the followers of the followers of the companions. Establishing an Islamic state or a caliphate constitutes the means by which these beliefs and practices are applied. Next, the ideology focuses on the concept of tawhid (oneness/unity of God). This concept is divided into three categories: tawhid al-rububiyah (Oneness of Lordship), tawhid al-uluhiyah(Oneness of Godship), and tawhid al-asma’ wal-sifat (Oneness of the Names and Attributes of God). Tawhid al-rububiyah implies that God is the only creator and to attribute any power of creation to other than God constitutes kufr(unbelief). Tawhid al-uluhiyah implies that God only is the object of worship and to worship other than God or to associate worship with God constitutes unbelief. Tawhid al-asma’ wal-sifat implies that God’s depiction is literally limited only to that presented in the revelation. Correspondingly, Salafi-jihadists apply a literalist reading of the texts of the revelation, comprising the Koran and the Sunnah (customs and traditions of Prophet Muhammad), and they uphold ridding Islam of all bida’ (reprehensible/illegitimate innovations) in belief and practice. As such, they enforce their vision of Islam in belief and manifest action, and they endorse waging jihad against idolatrous regimes that do not govern according to God’s rules.

In practice, however, Al Qaeda in Iraq has disagreed with other Salafist organizations, especially Al Qaeda, over how to bring about the caliphate. Initially, Al Qaeda in Iraq had a fallout with Al Qaeda on account of al-Zarqawi’s blood-spattering actions that inflicted heavy damages on both Sunnis and Shi’a irrespective of Iraq’s communal and political situation. At the heart of the dispute was al-Zarqawi’s plan to first and foremost wage a jihad against the Shi’a, for, according to him, they held the key to radical change in Iraq.

More on Pentagon’s Failing Grade Given to Current State of the Iraqi Military

Bill Roggio
The Long War Journal
July 16, 2014

US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military

This report from McClatchy describes the US military’s initial assessment of the Iraqi security forces and their ability to defend against the Islamic State and its allies as well as push the group out of its strongholds in Anbar, Diyala, Salahadin, and Ninewa provinces. The assessment is “grim,” as McClatchy states. At least four Iraqi Army divisions have fallen apart, and the remaining Iraqi units are compromised by poor leadership, or Shia militiamen and Sunni infiltrators. Additionally, the Islamic State has made significant gains in northern Babil, just south of Baghdad.

The initial U.S. assessment, which arrived at the Pentagon Monday, apparently is just as grim. In one of its most alarming findings, according to a Pentagon official, the advisers concluded that while Iraqi troops could defend Baghdad against an attack now, they would be unable to launch the kind of offensive maneuvers required to fend off the insurgents for the long term, leaving the capital at continued risk. The official asked to remain anonymous because he had not been authorized to discuss the report.

The advisers also warned that the majority of Iraqi brigades are infiltrated by either Sunni extremists or Shiite militias, the official said.

The assessment will inform the Pentagon’s recommendations to President Barack Obama on possible options in Iraq, though there is no public time line for when such recommendations could arrive at the White House. In the meantime, the assessment teams remain in Baghdad, where they would become advisers to the Iraqi military should the White House authorize that step.

As the Pentagon drafts it recommendations, the size of the Iraqi debacle in June is becoming increasingly clear:

Four Iraqi army divisions have simply disappeared and won’t be easily resurrected.

The 2nd Division was routed from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, on June 9 at the beginning of the Islamic State’s advance, and its four brigades have dissolved.

The 1st Division also is basically gone, losing two brigades in Anbar province earlier in the year, then two more during last month’s Islamic State onslaught, including one brigade that in the words of the senior Iraqi politician was “decimated” in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

The same is true of Iraq’s 3rd Division. The division’s 6th and 9th Brigades fled the Islamic State’s advance in the north, and the status of its 11th Brigade is unknown. A small unit of its 10th Brigade is still in Tal Afar, but it is trapped by Islamic State forces.

The 4th Division also was routed. Half its members have disappeared — many suspect they were massacred when the Islamic State captured Tikrit — and only one small unit is known to still exist, surrounded by Islamists at a one-time U.S. military base near Tikrit known as Camp Speicher.