22 August 2014

BETWEEN HAWKS AND DOVES


Hafiz Saeed’s meeting with an Indian journalist must be seen as part of Islamabad’s sinister strategy, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya


Hardly anything remains secret or classified these days, owing to the availability of open-source information thanks to real-time reporting by the electronic media and the mass access to information technology. It is, therefore, time to recapitulate the life and times,the acts and utterances, of Hafiz Saeed, about whom some Indian celebrities appear to be intensely enamoured of. In fact, the list of Indian admirers of Saeed appears to be growing by the day, thanks to India’s benign tradition of tolerating wrong-doers, including terrorists and non-State actors operating from across the border.

Hence, the recent meeting between an Indian scribe and the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai massacre is neither surprising nor shocking. The Indian scribe appears to have tried hard to project himself as an ace, super-sleuth journalist. However, his admission to the charmed world of back-door diplomacy with Pakistan needs to be analyzed in the backdrop of a sustained and orchestrated conflict by Islamabad against India.

Some of Saeed’s utterances merit closer scrutiny. In November 1999, the founder of the Jamat-ud-Dawa is reported to have stated, “Jehad is not about Jammu & Kashmir only. About 15 years ago, people might have found it ridiculous if someone told them about the disintegration of the USSR. Today, I announce the break-up of India... we will not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan.”

Again, in October 2008, Saeed, allegedly, stated, “India has blocked the Chenab waters and constructed the Baglihar Dam. The only reason all this has happened is because jehad-e-Kashmir has been abandoned by the rulers. India understands only the language of jehad, which cannot be suppressed. In fact, with some support, jehad can break up India like the former USSR.”

British fighters make up a quarter of foreign jihadists

Jonathan Owen

The killing was evidence that British jihadis are some of the most vicious and vociferous fighters in Syria and Iraq. They are very much at the forefront of this conflict, with roles ranging from suicide bombers to executioners.


THE brutal beheading of US journalist James Foley by a Briton fighting in the ranks of Isis, which calls itself Islamic State, is the latest — and most shocking — example of British jihadists committing atrocities in Syria and Iraq. Britain accounts for around one in four of all European fighters who have pledged their allegiance to Isis, with an estimated 500 Britons among 2,000 foreign fighters from across Europe. One reason is the sheer ease with which people can get to Istanbul in Turkey, and then catch a bus to get into neighbouring Syria, according to Charlie Cooper, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation. Isis wants to “show off” its foreign fighters as part of its propaganda, he added. And the unnamed man who beheaded Mr Foley “will have committed himself entirely to furthering the aims of the Islamic state” and “completely rejected his British nationality”.

The killing of the American journalist was evidence that British jihadis were “some of the most vicious and vociferous fighters” in Syria and Iraq, said Shiraz Maher, a senior researcher at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London. They are “very much at the forefront of this conflict,” with roles ranging from suicide bombers to executioners, he added. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the killing an “appalling example of the brutality of this organisation” and admitted that “significant numbers” of Britons are involved in “terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities”. Professor Anthony Glees, of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, told The Independent: “Why are there Brits there? In my view, this is because Islamist extremist ideologies have been able to be spread with relative ease in our country under the cover of ‘religion’, ‘free speech’ and ‘multiculturalism’. He added: “A small number of British Muslims have been brainwashed by so-called preachers, from western values and convinced that they must kill to create a global caliphate.”

And they are willing to die for their beliefs. Abdul Waheed Majeed, a 41-year-old father of three from Crawley, Sussex, died in a suicide bomb attack on a jail in Aleppo in February. Many other Britons have been killed in the fighting. Earlier this month, 25-year-old Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, a former Primark supervisor from Portsmouth, became the latest to die, bringing the total number of Britons killed to 19. Meanwhile, British fighters continue to make their presence felt online. Last week, images emerged of 23-year-old Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, from London, holding the severed head of a soldier with the caption: “Chilling' with my homie or what's left of him.”

Middle East crisis: Questions we need to ask

Robert Fisk

Never before in the Middle East has so much land been out of bounds to the Western media. So ignorant are we of this Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Now that President Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink?


FOR centuries, governments told their soldiers and their people to “Know Your Enemy”. The problem with the Isis “Caliphate” — and it is a big problem for President Obama after journalist James Foley's murder — is that we don't know who it is. We are told of its butchery, cruelty, its kidnapping of women, its burying alive, its viciousness towards Christians and Yazidis and its public beheadings, but that is all. Even the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, comes across as a mad combination of the Mahdi who murdered Gordon of Khartoum, the assassinated Osama bin Laden and Oliver Cromwell, who did to the civilians of Drogheda what the Muslim Lord Protector al-Baghdadi has done to his enemies.
A verified file photo of militants of the Isis taking aim at captured Iraqi soldiers in plain clothes after taking over Tikrit. AP/PTI

James Foley’s parents, John and Diane (Right) A masked Isis militant in an unverified video purportedly showing beheading of Foley

Unspeakable enemy

Foley's ritual slaughter is enough to dissuade even the most foolhardy of journalists from seeking an interview with al-Baghdadi. Never before in the Middle East has so much land been out of bounds to the Western media. So ignorant are we of this Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant — a dark land in which the reports we see of it are their own phone videos — that the Obamas, Camerons and Hammonds can only gnash their teeth at this unspeakable enemy. Easy reaction — but not much to go on. Yet Isis knows how to do one thing: Confront Obama with his very own hostage problem, the same conundrum Tony Blair faced when Ken Bigley appeared before the video lens. Do you ignore the warnings, thus proving that you don't care about your individual citizens when undertaking military operations — which is the truth — or do you turn into Jimmy Carter, curtsy to every whim of your enemies, go down on one knee and tell the Pentagon to “Hold it right there”?

Now Obama has seen the next American reporter threatened with beheading. Will he blink? He can't, can he?

Behind the great firewall of China


August 22, 2014
Sonika Gupta

It is evident that the media environment in China is getting more hostile to journalistic reporting and moving more in line with its government-approved commercial and propaganda role.

Prompted by scandals, the Chinese government recently issued a set of instructions to the news media highlighting unethical media practices of bribery, fake news, sensationalism and what the government calls “rumour mongering.” The international media highlighted these instructions as a further tightening of China’s authoritarian media control policy. Actually, none of these instructions is new. Many of these, like the June 18 circular issued by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), banning journalists from publishing “critical” news without getting it cleared first with their higher authorities, is merely a restatement of China’s long-standing media control policy. While the recent instructions are ostensibly in response to a string of scandals in the Chinese media, they are a part of President Xi Jinping’s broader media reform policy, outlined during the Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held last year.Information control

The focus of this effort is to achieve a “systematic release of news,” a euphemism for information control. The Third Plenum report identified the rapid development of microblogs or weibos and “WeChat” along with other forms of social media as a national security problem and recommended “public opinion channelling to ensure order in online communications” as the preferred strategy to tackle this challenge. This was followed by a series of measures that either strengthened existing guidelines or introduced new instructions for the news media. This includes the setting up of a central Internet security and informatisation leading group led by Mr. Xi, with Premier Li Keqiang and Liu Yunshan, Politburo Standing Committee members, as deputy heads. One of the stated tasks of the committee is to protect China from cyber warfare, with the government claiming that there were 9,00,000 cases of hacking attacks on Chinese servers last November. However, the committee also concerns itself with building a “more organised and honest online community” in accordance with state laws.

Since the “reform” of the media in the 1980s, the Chinese media control policy has unequivocally been one of the Party guiding the media. To be fair to the CCP, it has never even pretended to be so otherwise. “Guidance of public opinion” has been a stated policy that has accommodated the demands of a commercial media with political propaganda. Media reforms of the 1980s specifically restructured the financial structure of the media industry, but not the political role of the media. They cut state subsidies to media outlets and gradually weaned away state funding to create self-sustaining commercial entities. Through the 1990s and the last decade, rapid media commercialisation has led to an immense pluralisation of media content, prompting some analysts to suggest a causal link between political changes and the changing mediascape in China.

***Europe's Malaise: The New Normal?

August 19, 2014

Russia and Ukraine continue to confront each other along their border. Iraq has splintered, leading to unabated internal warfare. And the situation in Gaza remains dire. These events should be enough to constitute the sum total of our global crises, but they're not. On top of everything, the German economy contracted by 0.2 percent last quarter. Though many will dismiss this contraction outright, the fact that the world's fourth-largest economy (and Europe's largest) has shrunk, even by this small amount, is a matter of global significance.

Europe has been mired in an economic crisis for half a decade now. Germany is the economic engine of Europe, and it is expected that it will at some point pull Europe out of its crisis. There have been constant predictions that Europe may finally be turning an economic corner, but if Germany's economy is contracting (Berlin claims it will rebound this year), it is difficult to believe that any corner is being turned. It is becoming increasingly reasonable to believe that rather than an interlude in European prosperity, what we now see is actually the new normal. The key point is not that Germany's economy has contracted by a trivial amount. The point is that it has come time to raise the possibility that it could be a very long time before Europe returns to its pre-2008 prosperity and to consider what this means.

Faltering Europe

The German economy contracted despite indications that there would be zero economic growth. But the rest of Europe is faltering, too. France had zero growth. Italy declined by 0.2 percent. The only large European economy that grew was the United Kingdom, the country most skeptical of the value of EU membership. Excluding Ireland, which grew at a now-robust rate of 2.5 percent, no EU economy grew more than 1 percent. Together, the European Union scarcely grew at all.

Obviously, growth rate is not the full measure of an economy, and statistics don't always paint the full picture. Growth doesn't measure social reality, and therefore it is important to look at unemployment. And though Europe is fairly stagnant, the unemployment situation is truly disturbing. Spain and Greece both have around 25 percent unemployment, the level the United States reached during the Great Depression. While that's stunning, 15 of the 28 EU members have unemployment rates of more than 10 percent; most have maintained that high rate now for several years. More alarming, these rates are not falling.

Half of all EU residents live in four countries: Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. The average growth rate for these countries is about 1.25 percent. Excluding the United Kingdom, their economies contracted by 0.1 percent. The unemployment rate in the four countries averages 8.5 percent. But if we drop the United Kingdom, the average is 9.2 percent. Removing Britain from the equation is not arbitrary: It is the only one of the four that is not part of the eurozone, and it is the country most likely to drop out of the European Union. The others aren't going anywhere. Perhaps the United Kingdom isn't either, but that remains to be seen. Germany, France and Italy, by population if nothing else, are the core of the European Union. They are not growing, and unemployment is high. Therefore, Europe as a whole is not growing at all, and unemployment is high.

Five to six years after the global financial crisis, persistent and widespread numbers like this can no longer be considered cyclical, particularly because Germany is running out of gas. It is interesting to consider how Germany has arrived at this point. Exports continue to grow, including exports to the rest of Europe. (That is one reason it has been so difficult for the rest of Europe to recover: Having lost the ability to control access to their markets, other European countries are unable to compete with German exports. It may be free trade, it may even be fair trade, but it is also a trade pattern that fixes failure in place.) Employment remains strong. The German financial system is viable. Yet consumer and corporate confidence is declining. As we look at the situation Germany is facing, confidence should be decreasing. And that in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: German employment has been supported by exports, but there is a limited appetite for Germany's exports amid Europe's long-term weakness and a world doing better but still not well enough to float the German economy.One of the things that should concern Germans is the banking system. It has been the obsession of the European financial elite, at the cost of massive unemployment, and there is the belief, validated by stress tests, that the financial system is sound. For me, there has been an ongoing mystery about Europe: How could it have such high unemployment rates and not suffer a consumer debt crisis? The climbing rate of unemployment should be hitting banks with defaulted mortgages and unpaid credit card debt. Given the fragility of the European financial system in the past, it seems reasonable that there would be heavy pressure caused by consumer debt.

The Great War’s Forgotten Soldiers


Shashi Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary general and former Indian Minister of State for Human Resource Development and Minister of State for External Affairs, is currently an MP for the Indian National Congress. His most recent book is Pax Indica: India and the World of the 
AUG 19, 2014 

NEW DELHI – One hundred years after the start of World War I, the world has been commemorating that seminal event. Described as “a war to end all wars,” the Great War, as it was called at the time, failed to live up to its billing. Those who fought and died in it would not have expected its sequel just 25 years later.

But while the war took the flower of Europe’s youth to premature graves, snuffing out the lives of a generation of talented poets, artists, cricketers, and others whose genius bled into the trenches, it also involved soldiers from faraway lands that had little to do with Europe’s bitter traditional hatreds.

The role and sacrifice of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and South Africans have long been celebrated in history books, novels, and award-winning films like “Gallipoli.” But the world hears very little about the 1.3 million Indian troops who served in the conflict, which claimed the lives of 74,187, with another 67,000 wounded. Their stories, and their heroism, have long been omitted from popular histories of the war, or relegated to the footnotes.

India contributed divisions and brigades to the European, Mediterranean, West Asian, North African, and East African theatres. In Europe, Indian soldiers were among the first to suffer the horrors of the trenches. They were killed in droves before the war entered its second year, and they bore the brunt of many German offensives.

It was Indian jawans who stopped the German advance at Ypres in the autumn of 1914, soon after the war broke out, while the British were still recruiting and training their own forces. More than a thousand of them died at Gallipoli, thanks to Churchill’s folly. Nearly 700,000 Indian sepoys fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire, Germany’s ally.

Letters from Indian soldiers in Europe to their families back home bespeak cultural dislocation and tragedy. “The shells are pouring like rain in the monsoon,” declared one. “The corpses cover the country like sheaves of harvested corn,” wrote another.

These men were undoubtedly heroes. They were pitchforked into battle in unfamiliar lands, in climatic conditions to which they were neither accustomed nor prepared, fighting an enemy of whom they had no knowledge, risking their lives every day for little more than pride. Yet they were destined to remain largely unknown once the war was over – neglected by the British, for whom they fought, and ignored by their compatriots.

Part of the reason is that they were not fighting for India. The soldiers were all volunteers; soldiering was their profession, and they served the very British Empire that was oppressing their own people back home.

While raising men and money from the subcontinent, the British promised to deliver self-rule to India at the end of the war. Had they kept that pledge, the sacrifices of India’s WWI soldiers might have been seen in their homeland as a contribution to India’s freedom. But the British broke their word, and nationalists had nothing for which to thank India’s soldiers. They had merely gone abroad to serve their foreign masters. Losing one’s life in a foreign war fought at the behest of colonial rulers was an occupational hazard; it did not qualify as a form of praiseworthy national service.

Thus, Indian nationalists allowed the soldiers’ heroism to be forgotten. When the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of WWI in 1964, there was scarcely a mention of India’s contribution anywhere, least of all in India. The India Gate in New Delhi, built in 1931, is visited by hundreds daily who have no idea that it commemorates the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting in WWI.

IS RUSSIA TRYING TO CUSHION ITSELF FROM WEST THROUGH BRICS? – ANALYSIS

By Indrani Talukdar,JTW

BRICS summit participants: President of Russia Vladmir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma. Source: www.kremlin.ru. 

One of the successful outcomes of the 6th BRICS summit on July 15-16 in Fortaleza was the creation of the $100 billion New Development Bank (NDB) and an emergency $100 billion BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) established to tackle infrastructure finance deficit and short-term liquidity pressures. These institutions might be put to the test with the announcement of new sanctions on Russia by the US and the EU. Russia is now facing harsher restrictions that will affect the key sectors of the Russian economy – energy, arms and finance – because of its alleged complicity in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over the province of Donetsk (eastern Ukraine) on July 18. The reaction of the other BRICS partners to these economic sanctions on Russia remains to be seen.

During the eve of the BRICS summit, with this year’s theme: Inclusive Growth: Sustainable Solutions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it is time to ‘raise the BRICS’ role to a new level’ and to make this grouping an unalienable part of the global management system for sustainable development.[1] For Russia, the main agenda during the summit was to counter-attack the West, especially ‘the Western bid to keep Russia out of global economic circles’[2] and also diplomatic sphere[3]. In the economic sphere, Russia has advocated breaking the West’s hegemony over the World Bank and the IMF. In the arena of international relations, Russia has been highlighting the unilateral sanctions imposed by the West, especially the US, and advocating the rule of international law, stressing the need for the United Nations to take a leading role in the international system. Russia was also to set out rules of responsible behaviour regarding global information networks after the Snowden revelations.

India-Pakistan Talks Cancellation: What Went Wrong?

August 20, 2014

Is India entering a new diplomatic era in terms of how it approaches Pakistan? 

As The Diplomat reported earlier on The Pulse, bilateral talks at the foreign secretary level between India and Pakistan have been shelved following a rendezvous between the Pakistani high commissioner in India and the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, a Kashmiri separatist group. The Indian government had delivered a message of “its either us or them” to the Pakistani side and the high commissioner’s actions have effectively erased any positive momentum in the fragile bilateral relationship that was put in place following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration, when he invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to India. If the talks had taken place, they would have been the first foreign secretary level talks in two years. Analysts expressed optimism about the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations given the positive rapport exhibited between Modi and Sharif in May.

However, as is evident, much has changed since May. The most important factor, perhaps, is that in Pakistan, consensus about the terms and objectives of foreign secretary level talks do not exist. As a consequence, Nawaz Sharif has a weak hand when it comes to dealing with India. Sharif was skewered domestically for his May trip to India for not addressing the Kashmir issue directly. He likely knew that this would be the response within Pakistan when he chose to travel to Modi’s inauguration. Moreover, during his trip to India in May, Sharif steered clear of meeting with the separatists — something that New Delhi had conveyed to his government in advance. That Sharif’s high commissioner would do so now, ahead of scheduled foreign secretary level talks, and ahead of another meeting between the two leaders at the U.N. General Assembly later this year, was likely unexpected by the Indian side.

Did India make the right call about canceling the talks? So far, many have made the argument that by canceling the talks, India is effectively weakening Nawaz Sharif’s hand and given ammunition to political elements in Pakistan who are less keen on talks with India. While Monday’s cancellation will have a chilling effect on bilateral diplomacy, it seems to me that India was right in communicating to Islamabad that it cannot simultaneously court both India and anti-India separatists. Secondly, it is not the Indian government’s place or responsibility to determine the viability of a Pakistani prime minister’s agenda. Sharif is currently under siege domestically for corruption, poor fiscal management, and a plethora of other reasons. Diplomatic talks with India would do little to address those challenges. Pakistan’s opposition, now consisting of the Pakistan People’s Party, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf, and Tahrir ul Qadri will need more than an Indian overture to satiate their demands.

India Inaugurates Largest Indigenously Built Warship

August 20, 2014

Modi uses a warship’s inauguration to articulate a comprehensive vision of India’s defense and maritime strategies. 

This past Saturday, a day after making a speech urging more manufacturing in India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s largest indigenously built warship, the INS Kolkata, in Mumbai. This comes two months after the prime minister dedicated another large ship, the INS Vikramaditya, in June. India’s Defense Minister Arun Jaitley and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R.K. Dhowan were also present at the ceremony. The INS Kolkata will be deployed in the Indian Western Fleet under the Indian Navy‘s Western Command.

The warship, which was inaugurated on August 16, 2014, represents a step forward in India’s goal of becoming more self-sufficient in meeting its own defense needs. As Modi said during a speech at the warship’s inauguration, “India can become self-reliant in this sector [defense]. Our youth will become innovative and a day will come when India will export in this sector.”

The 6,800 ton warship is considered a leap in Indian shipbuilding technology. According to reports, “INSKolkata will be a part of the Kolkata-Class destroyers of the Indian Navy which will include follow-on ships by the names of INS Kochi and INS Chennai.” The INS Kolkata has two main guns along with chaff and close-in weapon systems. The ship will also feature an air defense weapon, the Long Range-Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which is currently under development in a joint venture between India and Israel. However, the missile’s deployment has been delayed due to testing and technical issues. Some of the other capabilities of the warshipinclude the ability to travel at a speed of 30 knots due to the propulsion of four gas turbines and the capacity to fire the 290 kilometer-range BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile.

Prime Minister Modi used the INS Kolkata’s inauguration to touch upon larger themes in a speech. Modi stressed the importance of maritime security in global trade and commerce. “In the coming days, INS Kolkatawill inspire confidence to those involved in maritime trade,” Modi said. Modi additionally stated that “INSKolkata is also a great communication platform and will be useful in securing India’s trade interests at sea.” Using a speech on security affairs to discuss commerce demonstrates Modi’s holistic vision for India’s future. Modi pointed out that India has a long coast, which gives it enormous commercial potential in the form of harbors and trade. This potential, Modi said, needs to be exploited.

Modi’s vision of India providing maritime security for the international community, especially in the Indian Ocean, aligns with India’s interests and capabilities as the greatest indigenous maritime power in the Indian Ocean. As I argued previously, Indian assertion of power in its own maritime backyard is one of the most geographically and politically feasible (and obvious) courses of action India can take in order to enhance its geopolitical position.

Modi also articulated a theory of robust security that is much more assertive than the views of his predecessors and resembles United States military views of deterrence. These views, which could potentially one day be known as the “Modi Doctrine” of Indian security, stress the need for India to be prepared and proactive on security and foreign policy issues at all times. Modi stated in his speech at the INS Kolkata inauguration that “fighting a war and winning it have now become less difficult these days. But a modern military, armed with state of the art weaponry alone is a guarantee against war. When we are capable, no one can dare challenge us.” He added that “when people have a sense of our military capability, nobody will ever dare to cast an evil eye on our nation.”

Of course, India still has some way to go before its navy or military forces reach a level where they can fully deter the “evil eyes” of other nations. However, the fact that India is making strides toward this goal demonstrates the renewed seriousness of the new leadership in attending to important security matters. Additionally, the very fact that India’s security goals and rationale have been clearly articulated and are commensurate with India’s size and potential is positive. These goals would help enhance global security, and are considered beneficial by many other countries, including Southeast Asian countries, Japan, Australia, and the United States. Finally, it is beneficial for the Indian people to hear a dose of realpolitik from their leaders, which would have the effect of shifting domestic discourse away from antiquated notions of international idealism that still linger from the time of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

One Result of the Gaza Conflict: Iran and Hamas Are Back Together

Aug. 19, 2014

Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking to Iranian ambassadors abroad during a ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 13, 2014.EPA

Iran and Hamas were once tightly allied, but the Syrian war drove them apart. Now, after the Gaza conflict, the two sides are making up


Long considered to be the biggest sponsor of Islamic militants battling Israel and designated as terrorist groups by the United States, Iran’s relationship with the Palestinian group Hamas was once touted as among its strongest. Not only had Iran brought Hamas on board the so-called Axis of Resistance, alongside its other regional allies Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah, but the Islamic Republic had always publicly boasted of its wide ranging support for the group, from providing financial backing to shipping weapons.
However, when the Arab Spring spread into Syria in 2011, the majority Shiite Iran’s long-standing alliance with Hamas deteriorated significantly when the militant group opted to break step with Tehran and support the mainly Sunni rebels against Syria’s Bashar Assad. The falling-out came to a head when the political leaders of Hamas moved their base from Syria to Qatar, a regional rival of Iran.

Amid Israel-Hamas War: Is Peacebuilding a Dream or Reality?

By: Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen
July 25, 2014

While in Israel two weeks ago, as sirens sounded, rockets and missiles flew, and the sadly-certain descent began to where the two sides find themselves today, I heard a common refrain from a range of partner organizations and other civic activists working on peacebuilding in Israel: The current fighting will end, hopefully tomorrow, maybe in a week or a month. But when it does, the underlying dynamics and problems remain to be addressed. Our work can't stop.

Participants in USIP’s recent facilitation skills workshop in Ramallah experience a dialogue process lead by the Academy’s Alison Milofsky.

The battle between Israel and Hamas forges ahead with little sign of let-up. The death toll rises – more than 800 Gazans and at least 38 Israelis at the time of publication. And while international efforts to broker a ceasefire seem to be gaining momentum, they have yet to bear fruit. Analysts comment on the depressing déjà vu of it all; the term "cycle of violence" has become a cliché. It is easy, in the face of this renewed round of militant and military force, to retreat to fatalistic talk about the futility of grassroots conflict-resolution efforts and assume that the players involved are locked in an inevitable zero-sum fight to the finish, whatever that means. And it is worth dwelling, for a moment, on what that means. 

In seemingly intractable conflict arenas, peacebuilders are all too often dismissed as an army of dreamers clinging more to hope than to harsh realities. In Israel and in Palestine, civic activists who work on conflict resolution have been criticized by their compatriots as irrelevant, at best, and traitors to the greater nationalist cause, at worst. 

But what enables these peacebuilders to push forward in the shadow of war is precisely the grounded understanding that there is no "zero-sum" result to be realized by anyone in the sustained battle that is the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Countering 'insanity'

ISRAEL AND THE DEMISE OF “MOWING THE GRASS”

August 19, 2014 

“Israel is acting in accordance with a ‘mowing the grass” strategy.”

Unable to find a political solution to its protracted conflict with Hamas, Israel employs restrained military force to disrupt Hamas attacks on Israeli citizens. But, over time, Hamas capabilities inevitably increase and its attacks become more effective. At this point, Israel will conduct a major operation to reduce Hamas’ capabilities. In essence, it “mows the grass.” It hopes that these periodic major operations will provide periods of quiet, but knows that the quiet will last only until Hamas rebuilds its offensive capabilities. And then Israel will once again conduct a major operation. Like a homeowner, Israel has to mow the grass to keep it from growing out of control.

No one thinks this “strategy” will bring lasting peace. Rather, it is an operational approach required by the inability of the political elements of either side to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict. No Palestinian leader can provide assurances that all Palestinian organizations will stop attacks against Israel, and no Israeli leader can assure the Palestinians that Israel will come to terms on or abide by a peace agreement. There are too many factions and spoilers on both sides. With no political resolution in sight, Palestinian hardliners continue their attacks, Israeli hardliners continue to build new settlements in the Occupied Territories, and Israeli security forces seek to keep the violence at an acceptable level by periodically mowing the grass.

In the last few years, the success of Iron Dome has dramatically reduced the number of casualties that Palestinians can inflict on Israel. While one can argue over the percentage of rockets Iron Dome has intercepted and thus its deterrent value, it is clear that the systems have had a calming effect on the Israeli population. In response, Hamas has invested its resources and hopes in a larger arsenal of rockets with longer ranges. But despite having fired thousands of these rockets, Hamas has managed to kill only three Israeli civilians. Most Israelis were confident enough under Iron Dome to go about their daily business.

Initial analysis of Iron Dome’s success might suggest that technology favors Israel in its “intractable, protracted conflict” with Hamas. However, an unexpected result of Iron Dome’s success was the shift in the narrative about the Hamas-Israeli conflict. Going back to the Al Aqsa Intifada (2000-2005), Hamas’ indiscriminate suicide bomber campaign focused the narrative on those atrocities – in particular the deliberate attacks on school buses full of children. Most of the world accepted that Israel was justified in taking whatever steps were necessary to protect its citizens. However, the success of Iron Dome seems to be changing that. Hamas’ inability to get rockets through to their targets meant it killed just 3 civilians. In contrast, the close combat inside Gaza resulted in the deaths of 64 Israeli soldiers and the wounding of 600-700 hundred. As a result, 95% of Israeli casualties were soldiers – most of whom were killed and wounded in Gaza. While the public relations battle over exact numbers of Palestinian casualties continues, at least 50% and perhaps as many as 82% of over 1,800 killed were civilians.

A Coup Is Brewing in Afghanistan

August 20, 2014

All signs suggest that Hamid Karzai is considering a coup to stay in power in Afghanistan. 

As Afghanistan’s political crisis continues unabated, the New York Times reports that some members of the Karzai administration are considering seizing power.

“A coterie of powerful Afghan government ministers and officials with strong ties to the security forces are threatening to seize power if an election impasse that has paralyzed the country is not resolved soon,” the report states. It goes on to note that the officials would create an interim government after taking over, and would portray their actions as necessary to shore up democracy in the country over the long-term. The story’s reporter, Matthew Rosenberg (formerly of the Wall Street Journal, and an insightful observer of Afghanistan), also notes that the move is partially in reaction to fears that Afghanistan’s non-Pashtuns intend to seize power.

Rosenberg indicates that the security forces and President Hamid Karzai are not directly involved in the planning. However, he cites unnamed officials within the Karzai administration and Afghan bureaucracy as saying the move is being actively considered, while also citing some named officials, including Umar Daudzai, Afghanistan’s interior minister, as saying nearly the same thing, only with more diplomatic double talk.

“The debate is there and people have the right to debate, of course, particularly when they are faced with such an important national crisis,” Daudzai is quoted as saying, before adding, “But personally I prefer, and I see it in our national interest, that something come out of this election, whatever way it is.”

Although the move is apparently being considered by non-military officials, their actions would in essence amount to a coup. Indeed, preserving democracy over the long-term was the same justification (or at least part of it) used by the military juntas in both Egypt and Thailand.

Rosenberg suggests repeatedly in the article that he believes the officials were leaking the information in an attempt to pressure the two election candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, to reach a negotiated settlement to end the political stalemate. This is indeed possible, especially if Karzai isn’t directly involved in the planning.

Central and South Asia: Progress with Small Steps

By Jeffrey Payne & Schuyler Moore
August 20, 2014

There is no magic bullet for the region’s troubles, but smaller initiatives can produce incremental gains. 

A lot of conversations regarding Central and South Asia begin with the phrase “if only.” If only mistrust was not so widespread. If only real advancements in security could be achieved. These “if only” statements, of which there are many, reflect a perception based on Central and South Asia remaining unstable. While the likelihood of major region-wide achievements remains remote, observers should not ignore smaller scale progress that indicates greater change on the horizon. A set of unsynchronized efforts is underway that will assist interregional trade and better connect the region to the outside world. Viewed comprehensively, these seemingly isolated developments enhance political security and regional stability.

Change Perspective

Central and South Asia has its fair share of troubles. From political corruption, insurgencies, trafficking, and economic stumbles, among others, a host of factors has this region underperforming. Central and South Asia should be doing better. The region is home to a mostly young and entrepreneurial population and the region itself is deemed important by major outside actors for a host of economic and strategic reasons.

However, political inefficiencies, conflict, and mistrust have led to the construction of barriers that inhibit regional integration. Regional institutions are weak and ineffective. Widespread suspicion among neighboring states encourages isolation to protect against further instability, but this strategy has been ineffective – isolation has degraded state capacity, led to economic malaise, and often encouraged domestic revolt.

In an effort to combat this environment, various actors have proposed and pursued large-scale efforts to increase regional integration. The South Asian states formed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in order to bring the member nations closer together economically, but thus far it has fallen short of its objectives. China developed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a Central Asian-focused institution to increase regional trade, and although it has occasionally been able to serve as a geopolitical tool for member states, it has made little headway in its core mission of increased integration. The United States proposed the ambitious New Silk Road Initiative to link Central and South Asia, both for the sake of its interests in Afghanistan and the region’s economic potential, but this plan has yet to get off the ground.

To address regional integration within Central and South Asia, analysts should avoid the mantra of “big problems need big solutions” and look to how smaller-scale efforts can have a positive impact. In short, many need to change their perspective on what defines progress. Right now, a series of projects are being developed that overcome barriers that have previously confounded large-scale efforts. These projects mostly avoid multilateral frameworks and instead work on a bilateral or even a community-community model. As such, positive developments throughout Central and South Asia have an ad hoc flavor that push against the trend of multilateral and centralized trade and diplomatic agreements. Yet, in a region where trust is a rarity, progress on a more humble scale (bilateral, local, or even communal) may be the best way to improve the region’s performance.

Same Goal, Different Roads 

Beijing Cracks Down on Illegal Drug Use

August 20, 2014

Beijing police are cracking down on illegal drug use among Chinese and foreigners alike.
Beijing in recent days has seen a major crackdown on illegal drug use. As Zach noted earlier, one of the highest profile names to get caught up in Beijing’s drug raids was none other than Jackie Chan’s son. The crackdown on drug use is part of a broader effort by the Chinese government to regulate vice and enforce anti-drug laws, at least in the nation’s capital. For now, it appears that Beijing police are making little effort to concentrate on domestic offenders — one account of a drug raid demonstrates that the police are indiscriminately targeting foreigners and Chinese alike.

Over at ABC, Stephen McDonell has a harrowing eyewitness account of what it’s like to be caught up in a Beijing-style drug bust. McDonell witnessed the Beijing police’s heavy-handed tactics first hand. According to his account, Beijing police raided a bar that was known to be popular with locals and foreigners alike and, after asking for identification, conducted a “random test” of the bar’s clientele for drugs.

“They took down everyone’s name, phone number, and settled for a passport number or ID number. I was asked who I worked for,” notes McDonell. After identifying everyone in the bar, Chinese or foreigner, the police reportedly asked everyone “to do an on-the-spot urine test.” McDonell describes the scene: “With toilet doors open police watched as we gave samples one by one. Women too had to squat with the toilet door open. A police woman would stand in the doorway and partially block the view of those who walked about in front of the stalls.”

The drug test administered allowed for the police to instantly observe a reaction that determined if one “failed” the test (specifically designed to detect marijuana use). After “failing,” some 10 individuals, including a few foreigners, were carted away by the police. As McDonell describes, the approach to drug-busting in this particular incident was inflexible: “People were not found to have sold drugs nor bought drugs. They were not guilty of carrying drugs. They were not caught taking drugs. They were judged to have, at some point in the past, smoked marijuana.”

From there, the police detained these “drug users,” from anywhere between 24 hours to up to two weeks in the case of some foreigners. For foreigners in China, these sorts of busts have important implications. Essentially, individuals can be found guilty of marijuana use and deported even if they can prove that they had ingested the drug in a country where it was legal. McDonell describes “a tourist who had only been in the country for two days” as one of the victims of the raid he witnessed.

So far, it seems that foreign embassies have been reaching out to their citizens that are caught up in these raids but there has been no public call for Beijing to moderate its approach to busting illegal drug users in China. The penalty for being found guilty of drug use is less severe in China than being found guilty of dealing or trafficking. The latter can lead to life in jail or execution.

The China Factor: India’s Tryst with the Dragon

20 Aug , 2014

Beijing’s accelerated push in recent years for recognition as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific has accentuated the implicit contest for strategic space between Japan, the US, India and China introducing volatility in the region and making South East Asian countries nervous. It also occurs when the economies of major powers are still fragile.

…Modi has no option other than economic cooperation with China as India perforce has to recognise China’s economic and military superiority in Asia. It stressed that Modi would have to accommodate China, not out of choice or inclination, but out of necessity.

China’s sudden assertiveness since the end of 2007 has been prompted by a combination of factors, but mainly by: the global economic downturn; China’s considerably enhanced economic and military strength; and Beijing’s perception that the US as a global power is on the decline and this is now the opportune moment for China to regain its self-perceived rightful position on the world stage and alter the status quo in Asia.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is divided on whether to write off the US as the sole world power. One view is that the US is a power irreparably on the decline while the other, which seems to be steadily gaining ground, argues that the intrinsic strength and resilience of the US will ensure its return to the world stage as a stronger, more effective power. There is consensus, however, that the US ability to project power simultaneously in different theatres is presently constrained, thus offering China a window of opportunity that would last at most between 5-10 years.

Undeterred by US actions like the ‘Asian Pivot’ or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP/TPIP) conveying that it is not about to cede influence in the Asia-Pacific, Beijing is pressing ahead with efforts to achieve its global and regional ambitions. The continuing tense stand-off with Japan, which is a US ally and East Asia’s strongest power, underlines Beijing’s willingness to push the envelope in the apparent confidence that the US, Japan and Vietnam will stop shy of confronting it. In February 2014, China’s Ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, reiterated the role Beijing desires in the Asia-Pacific. China’s actions in the past few years have dented US credibility as a reliable ally willing to back its partners in the region.

Tibet railways to form 'triangle defense' for PLA

Staff Reporter 
2014-08-19 

A train enters Xigaze Station on the newly inaugurated Lhasa-Xigaze Railway, Aug. 16. 

The Lhasa-Xigaze Railway and the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway will help Chinese military deployments and resource allocations in southern Tibet and enhance Beijing's control over the country's border with India, China's nationalistic tabloid Global Times reports.

Trains began running on the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway on Aug. 16, shortening the travel time between Lhasa and Xigaze to around two hours. The link allows the PLA to respond quickly and transport supplies to southwestern Tibet in a contingency. The 253-km railroad on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is said to be the most costly railway ever built at 50,000 yuan (US$8,100) per meter as it situated at over 4,000 meters above sea level and requires many bridges and tunnels to cross the mountainous terrain.

Officials responsible for Tibet's economy said the railway will significantly boost the region's tourism industry.

The other link, the Lhasa-Nyingchi line, is set to begin construction before the end of this year and to be completed by 2018. The line will be 433 kilometers in length and trains may reach speeds of 160 km/hr, will transport both passengers and goods and be used by civilians and the military. It will form a reverse V-shape defense with the Lhasa-Xigaze Railway in southern Tibet and enhance the PLA's mobility in the Himalayas.

From the Indian perspective, India Today reported that China will further expand the railways to Nepal and Bhutan to increase its control over the border with India and be used as bargaining chips in border issues.

Global Times confirmed that the two railways will extend to Yadong county, which neighbors Bhutan and the Indian state of Sikkim and Nyalam county at the border with Nepal.

Why the Islamic State Is a Greater Threat Than Al-Qaida Before 9/11 Read more: The Spy Who Told Me: Serious Terrorist Threat Posed by the Islamic State | C-Notes | OZY

By John McLaughlin
Aug. 18, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard near Makhmur, south of the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, after Islamic State insurgents withdrew.

The End of the Beginning
Why the Islamic State Is a Greater Threat Than Al-Qaida Before 9/11

Why you should care

Because the Islamic State already possesses the money, territory and networks that al-Qaida itself could never manage to acquire.

Unless defeated, the Islamic State (IS) taking root in Iraq will be a greater threat to the United States over the long run than al-Qaida was before 9/11.

Before al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks, that organization had only two advantages. First, it had stealth; although U.S. intelligence in 2001 had confidence al-Qaida was preparing some kind of major attack on the U.S., we had not yet penetrated the organization sufficiently to know its specific targets or its timing.

IS has achieved something that the core al-Qaida leadership still can only dream about: It actually controls territory.

Second, al-Qaida had a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to plot and plan securely, the U.S. having attacked it only once with cruise missiles prior to 2001 — to little effect.

Today, the Islamic State enjoys many more advantages. Attacking the U.S. is not its top priority at the moment, but there can be little doubt this is among its ambitions — and something it can realistically contemplate.

Four things give IS the capability, reach, allies and motive:

First, IS has achieved something that the core al-Qaida leadership still can only dream about: It actually controls territory. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida was merely a guest in an Afghanistan governed by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. IS, by contrast, is actually the government in vast stretches of Iraq and Syria — more than 400 miles end to end, roughly from Aleppo in Syria and across Iraq to the outskirts of Baghdad. While its atrocities are well-documented, it is also in many areas providing a variety of social services to populations, such as electricity and water.

And with these accomplishments and the call to join its so-called “Islamic caliphate,” it is doing another thing al-Qaida failed to do — projecting a positive vision of the future for many Sunni Muslims.
Peshmerga fighter guard positioned on the front line of fighting with Islamic State militants 20 kilometers east of Mosul, on Aug. 18, 2014

No Winners in Unhinged, Disintegrating Syria


It’s time to accept that the Syrian Arab Republic established in 1946 is no more. In its place totter small regions with constantly fluctuating communal and geographical boundaries. Within those temporary enclaves, some leaders attempt to maintain or expand influence by force and ideology; others try to do so by bringing safety, food, shelter, and fuel to people caught up in havoc. Rebels of disparate religious, political, and ethnic shades—some backed by Saudi and Gulf Arab money, others inspired by nationalistic ideologies—shuffle the conflagration and the persons caught up in it back and forth as they fight to the bitter end against the Syrian army and militias like Hezbollah, who are buttressed by Iranian and Russian resources. Yet all sides are losing, for stability is gone in Syria and from there instability is rippling outward.

Since the civil war began in March 2011, the Syrian population of 18 million has experienced 10 percent negative growth, at least 160,000 deaths according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (the United Nations stopped countingwhen the toll hit 100,000), approximately 6.5 million internal displacements, and 3 million refugees seeking safe haven in nearby countries. In an immediate sense, the Syrian people are the greatest losers. The tragedy that has dislocated or killed more than half of them is the strongest indicator of the nation having become permanently defunct, with neither democratic nor authoritarian forces rising to help.

President Bashar al-Assad now maintains sporadic control over only one-quarter of Syria’s original 71,000 square miles. Even his capital city, Damascus, lies in ruins, and the Alawite ethno-religious community to which he belongs, and which were once 13 percent of the population, is fighting for survival. By terrorizing combatants and non-combatants alike with chlorine gas and bombs made of shrapnel and sections of oil pipeline, Assad, who recently had himself reelected in a sham vote, has ensured that Sunnis, who account for 74 percent of Syrians, will not compromise with him or his Baath party. Assad’s increasing dependence on Shiite troops from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is stripping him of the last semblance of independence while deepening the sectarian divide that abetted ripping Syria apart. Assad is already seeing his allies cutting off weapons supplies to his regime. He now must fear as well that foreign patrons may conclude his usefulness has been outlived, and move to find a replacement—just as Tehran did in Iraq when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki failed to hold that nation together politically, ethno-religiously, or militarily. With or without Assad, the Alawites are likely to find themselves with no place to go except the environs around the Mediterranean port cities of Tartus and Latakia, and there attempt to recreate the state they enjoyed briefly from 1920 to 1936 under the French Mandate for Syria. Yet even there they will find Sunni foes on three sides.

Kurds, who make up 10 percent of the population, are consolidating their hold over northeastern Syria. They stand alongside their kinsfolk in northern Iraq, who now control oil fields and infrastructure, and those in eastern Turkey, who seek independence from the government in Ankara. Indeed, national borders no longer divide Kurdish communities in Iraq and Syria; boundaries separating them from relatives within Turkey are beginning to dissolve too. Faced with attacks from other rebel groups like the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS), these Kurdish communities began consolidating a fighting force of men and women—to defeat not only the jihadists but to hold the Syrian and Iraqi armies at bay. Of all the groups involved in the struggle for Syrian territory, Kurds appear the most likely to carve out and maintain a viable nation in conjunction with territory already autonomous in Iraq. Yet Kurdish aspirations for independence face serious backlash not only from Turkey and Iran, which do not intend to have a new ethno-nationalist nation on their borders, but also from rivals within Syria and Iraq, especially jihadist groups. Indeed even as they make strides toward independence, Kurds are finding that Islamic State fighters are encroaching upon their southern flanks by targeting villages militarily and disenchanted youth ideologically. Despite their years of training, the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting forces have modest resources, dated weaponry, and a tribal elite often out of touch with the rest of society. As a result, their fighters and civilian members have taken a pounding in both Syria and Iraq. An additional complication is that its coalition includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which was designated a terrorist organization in 2002.

Caliphate of Fear: The Curse of the Islamic State

By SPIEGEL Staff

In Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State's "caliphate" has already become a reality. All women in the city are required to wear the niqab veil and pants are banned. Thieves have their hands hacked off and opponents are publicly crucified or beheaded, with the images of these horrific acts then posted on social networks.

The few hair salons that are still open are required to black out the pictures of women on the packaging for hair dye solutions. Weddings are only permitted to take place without music. And at livestock markets, the hindquarters of goats and sheep must be covered in order to prevent men from viewing their genitalia and having uncomely thoughts.

Any person caught out on the street during the five daily prayer times is risking his or her life.

The jihadists with the Islamic State, or IS, are acting out their fantasies of omnipotence in the name of God. They're murdering, torturing and forcing families to give their daughters away for marriage to Islamist fighters coming in from abroad. One girl whose family agreed to marry her off took her own life.

In Syria, IS militants and their predecessors have killed countless people in recent years, and over 160,000 in total have died during the Syrian civil war. Yet it is only now that the world is waking up, now that the conflict has spilled into Iraq, where the Islamic State also appears to be spreading its tentacles without much resistance.

Pictures were needed in order for the international community to understand the scale of the horror unfolding in Iraq and just how inhumanely the Islamic State terrorist militia is acting. Images allowed the global community to become witnesses to the plight of the Yazidis, followers of one of the world's most obscure religions, as they were forced to flee into the mountains, begging for help as they died of thirst. In the eyes of the IS fanatics, the Yazidis are "devil worshippers," people who deserve to die.

It was only this threat of genocide that moved the global community to act. Countries around the world quickly united in the battle against IS, by far the world's most brutal, most successful -- and most sinister -- jihadist troop.

In recent weeks, IS fighters managed to drive out the peshmerga fighters of the Kurdish Autonomous Government of Iraq with disturbing ease. In some cases the Kurdish soldiers, previously considered the best Iraq has to offer, didn't even resist. The IS threat has even brought rapprochement between the peshmerga and the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), who had long been enemies.

A Common Enemy for the US and Iran