23 August 2014

Learning from NREGA


Published: August 23, 2014 

Jean Drèze

Photo: The HinduFIGHTING FRAUD: Surveys point to a sharp reduction in the extent of embezzlement of NREGA funds in recent years, at least in the wage component of the programme. Picture shows NREGA workers Kancheepuram district, Tamil Nadu.

Corruption in NREGA works has steadily declined in recent years. There are important lessons here that need to be extended to other domains

One neglected aspect of the debate on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) relates to the process aspects of the programme. In the process of planning works, organising employment, paying wages or fighting corruption, many valuable activities take place: Gram Sabhas are held, workers agitate for their rights, social audits are conducted, technical assistants are trained, administrators find out how to speed up wage payments, and so on. These activities, aside from being valuable in themselves, are also a great opportunity to learn.Prevention of corruption

One productive area of learning has been the prevention of corruption. The principal method of embezzlement in labour-intensive public works programmes is well known: muster rolls are inflated and middlemen pocket the difference. Before the Right to Information Act (RTI) came into force, muster rolls were beyond public scrutiny and the crooks had a field day. Things improved after muster rolls were placed in the public domain, and even displayed page by page on the internet. Even then, an enterprising middleman might fudge the muster rolls and hope that no one will bother to verify them. So, further safeguards were introduced one by one including mandatory social audits of all NREGA works.

A major breakthrough was the transition to bank (or post office) payments of NREGA wages. This was a painful affair — the system was not ready for it and the overload led to long delays in payments. Five years later, banks and (especially) post offices are still not equal to the task. For the prevention of corruption, however, this was a step forward: the new system makes it much harder to embezzle NREGA funds since the money now goes directly to workers’ accounts.

One major qualification is that village post offices are still vulnerable to capture by powerful middlemen. Extracting money from someone else’s bank account without his or her knowledge is very difficult because banks have strict norms of identity verification. But for a suitable commission, a village postmaster can often be persuaded to use the accounts of illiterate workers as a conduit to siphon off NREGA money. Over time, workers learn to collect their wages in person from the post office and verify the passbook entries. But it will take a while for many of them to protect their account from fraud. And the crook’s next refuge is to involve workers themselves in the scam.

DIVIDED OR DESTROYED - Remembering Direct Action Day

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140823/jsp/opinion/story_18735231.jsp#.U_fS9fmSxqo

Politics and play - Ramachandra Guha

The 14th of August is Pakistan’s Independence Day. The 15th of August is India’s Independence Day. They were both first celebrated in 1947. Yet those two nations owe their origins to another day in August, a single day — fortunately never to be repeated — in the previous year.

On the 16th of August, 1946, the Muslim League called for a “Direct Action Day”. Its leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, proclaimed that we shall have “either a divided India or a destroyed India”. The violence unleashed on that day set in train a series of events that made the Partition of India unavoidable. The riots started in Calcutta, but soon spread to the Bengal countryside. Then Bihar and the United Provinces erupted, and finally, and most savagely, the Punjab.

Many historians (including myself) have written of the causes and consequences of Direct Action Day. Recently, while working in the archives, I found a vivid first-hand account of what happened that day in the city where the rioting was most intense — namely, Calcutta. This took the form of a letter written by the anthropologist, Nirmal Kumar Bose, to his friend, the writer Krishna Kripalani, who was then living in Delhi. It was written on the 2nd of September 1946, two weeks after the events it describes. This is how the letter begins.

“The 16th began as an anxious day for everybody. No one knew what was going to happen. [The Muslim League Leader, Khwaja] Nazimuddin’s statement that the Muslims did not swear by non-violence did not lead us to anticipate that active preparations for looting etc. had been going on in the meantime. Anyway, no police men were visible anywhere, and even the traffic police had been withdrawn. The trouble started in Shambazar about mid-day, and earlier in other quarters. There was going to be a very big Muslim meeting at the Maidan at about 2, and Muslim crowds began to pour in from towards Cossippore about 12. Every one noticed with some anxiety that the processionists carried lathis and brick bats in hand. … The processionists asked the shopkeepers to close their shops, and before that could be done, a Kaviraje’s shop was broken up in Baghbazar Street. A doctor’s house was attacked, and the crowd shoved in burning rags through the cracked door. Some ten or fifteen young men rushed out from the neighbouring houses and with lathis fought the crowd. The crowd swayed back from Baghbazar St. and continued on its way southwards.”

FOR THE UNITY OF THE NATION

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140823/jsp/opinion/story_18739487.jsp#.U_fTBPmSxqo
Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Inherently and axiomatically, diplomacy reflects the officially accredited activities of the diplomats of a sovereign nation, to be treated as ‘equals’, while dealing with other sovereign nations. International diplomacy recognizes open-ended activities, with designated officials enjoying mutually accepted ‘diplomatic immunity’, unlike secret services and their agents, who operate clandestinely under diplomatic passports. Hence the ‘foreign services’ of every sovereign country carry a tinge of aura and awe. However, there also exists in the contemporary world a ‘back channel diplomacy’, the most famous proponent and successful practitioner of which was the American ‘super sleuth diplomat’, Henry Kissinger, whose nocturnal and surreptitious ‘diplomatic activities’ through Pakistan brought the mutually inimical Chinese and Americans on the same diplomatic high table, thereby marking the beginning of pathbreaking bilateral relations in the early 1970s.

Understandably, Kissinger’s pioneering activities and success came as a tonic to the protagonists of ‘track-II’ diplomacy, which India has so enthusiastically embraced during the last several years to reach a diplomatic consensus with Pakistan. It soon became apparent that although ‘unofficially accredited’, owing to the inherent faith and confidence reposed in them by the powers-that-be, some of the retired/former diplomats have started enjoying ‘extra- special’ power. They projected themselves as ‘super diplomats’ and started a sustained campaign for ‘imminent peace with the neighbour’, thereby spreading the wrong idea that they are the closest possible confidantes of the ruling government in trying to resolve the Indo-Pak dispute surrounding Jammu and Kashmir. They assumed undefined roles with additional power and responsibility, thereby completely sidelining their former colleagues who were now the serving-line officers, to achieve ‘extra-jurisdictional, extra-territorial, extra-legal or extra-curricular missions’. As mentioned earlier, Henry Kissinger was their avowed idol whom they wanted to emulate, though in vain.

With the best of intentions perhaps, the cue from the American formula was picked up by the nostalgic ‘underprivileged child of Partition’, the prime minister of India, and carried to dizzying heights when his trusted and hand-picked track-II diplomats virtually eclipsed the established system, headed by serving foreign office mandarins, through a process of ‘direct reporting’ to the head of the Indian government. Seeds of ‘hope for peace’ were sown through highly secretive ‘unofficial/personal back channel’ discourse, in the guise of official diplomatic discussions between Delhi and Islamabad.

The track-II specialists were on their ‘final mission’, as late as mid-May 2014, to pursue their clandestine diplomacy by trying to manipulate the incoming prime minister, Narendra Modi. Unfortunately, however, Modi did not have the clandestine diplomacy pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir and the line of control in mind while seeking votes from the people of India. Breaking all traditions, by refusing to play ball vis-à-vis the unwritten but accepted code of election conduct and play a supremely divisive role by harping on the fear psychosis pertaining to the historical faultlines of religion, caste, language and ethnicity, Modi gave a clarion call of development for all. This earned him spectacular and unprecedented dividends. With the unsolicited advice to convert the LoC into an international border, the ‘peaceniks’ from a bygone era made a last-ditch attempt to capture the imagination of the “outsider”, Modi, to cling on to their diplomatic privileges and remain relevant in the charmed circuit of Lutyens’s Delhi. With predictions of fresh turbulence and efforts at destabilization by those who were, and are, constantly referring back to the “disastrous days” of rule by the ‘Hindu Nationalist Party’, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the job at hand for the new prime minister is daunting. The real challenge is yet to come.

Create Defence-Industrial Giant

http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Create-Defence-Industrial-Giant/2014/08/22/article2391250.ece

By Bharat Karnad

Published: 22nd August 2014 

Prime minister Narendra Modi extolled “Made in India” products from “satellites to submarines” in his Independence Day address. A day later he demanded that “Instead of having to import even small things...India...become an exporter of [military] equipment over the next few years”. And, he exhorted foreign countries and companies to “make in India”. Rendering the country self-sufficient in armaments, it turns out, will help India emerge as workshop of the world manufacturing all kinds of quality goods economically. But it will require the PM to do to the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) overseen by the ministry of defence (MoD) what he did to the Planning Commission—utilise their resources more effectively.

At the core is a fact that cannot be glossed over: DPSUs are deadweight. Despite outputting some 800 combat aircraft and thousands of jet engines not an iota of any of the technologies, for example, have been absorbed let alone innovated over the past 60 years by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Indeed, DPSUs haven’t progressed much beyond assembling platforms from imported kits achieved during the Second World War when Harlow PC-5 and Percival Prentice trainer aircraft, trucks, and mortars were mass-produced for the Allied armies. In this context, the indigenous HF-24 supersonic fighter developed from scratch in the 1960s seems an aberration. It is because the DPSUs have stayed stuck at the screwdriver technology level that the department of defence production in MoD has evolved a procurement system willy-nilly funnelling billions of dollars to foreign vendors with minimal transfer of technology (ToT). DPSUs neither ingest foreign technology nor let the private sector benefit from it.

How much the ToT provisions are eyewash and how much the military procurement system favours imports and enriches foreign countries may be gauged from a few facts. Firstly, the technology transfer content in deals is not required to be divulged by the foreign vendors until after the bids are in and a supplier chosen! This empowers the vendor to restrict the technology it chooses to transfer, usually basic stuff related to the platform—a ToT threshold DPSUs are comfortable with. As prime buyer India doesn’t use its leverage to squeeze state-of-the-art technologies out of the suppliers, is uncommonly generous in forking out huge sums at the outset, and tolerates delays in delivery and non-transfer of technology. Hence, gains from indigenisation even from the offsets policy are minimal. It leads to imports of high-value packages being locked into long-term deals. Dassault, for example, will supply 30% of the advanced avionics amounting to over $10 billion of the $30 billion plus contract for the full duration of the Rafale programme.

*** The Struggle for the Levant: Geopolitical Battles and the Quest for Stability

AUG 19, 2014 

The United States and its allies compete with Iran in a steadily more unsettled and uncertain Levant and Middle East. The political upheavals in the Middle East, economic and demographic pressures, sectarian struggles and extremism, ethnic and tribal conflicts and tensions all combine to produce complex patterns of competition. The civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, and the internal upheavals in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon all interact and affect the competition between the US and Iran.

The Burke Chair is circulating a review draft on US and Iranian strategic competition in the Levant. This study shows that the United States faced an increasing level of instability across the Levant, which in turn affected every key aspect of US competition with Iran in the broader Middle East and North Africa. It asks how do the US and Iran compete in the Levant, where do they compete, and what are the forces and constraints that shaped this contest in the past, present, and possibly in the future?

The study is entitled The Struggle for the Levant: Geopolitical Battles and the Quest for Stability and is available on the CSIS web site at:


The study examines how the US and Iran compete in the Levant, where they compete, and what forces and constraints that shape their competition: 
The first chapter of this report introduces the analysis. 
The second explores US and Iranian interests in the Levant. 
The third chapter addresses how the US and Iran compete by considering the conventional military balance in the Levant. 
The fourth chapter goes beyond conventional forces and considers an area where Iran has been especially effective over time, namely in shaping the regional asymmetric balance. 
The fifth chapter looks at the history, evolution and current state of play in the Arab and regional state system. 
A complementary sixth chapter looks at the evolution of socio-economic forces that shaped the Arab uprisings and their lingering regional effects. 
The seventh to twelfth chapters examine how the US and Iran compete in each country in the Levant. 
The thirteenth chapter evaluates persistent and emerging challenge or “wild cards” in the region. 
The final chapter derives key implications that are likely to shape future US policy towards the Levant. 

The analysis shows that deep socio-economic, political and sectarian cleavages, the pervasiveness of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a cycle of popular protests, all combine to make the Levant a growing challenge to the US in shaping its regional struggle with Iran. The US Role in the Levant

Examining the Assam-Nagaland Border Crisis

August 21, 2014

On August 19 and 20, more than 20 protestors were injured and two killed in police action at Rangajan, Golaghat District, Assam against an economic blockade on Asian Highway 1 (also called NH 39) leading into neighbouring Nagaland. The protestors from several local organisations including Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chhatra Parishad, All Assam Tea Tribes students Association, All Assam Tai Ahom Students Union, and All Adivasi Students Association were holding up traffic of Nagaland bound vehicles since last week on NH-39. In a related incident, the visiting Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s convoy was assaulted by angry protestors at relief camps in Uriamghat village, Golaghat District near the Assam-Nagaland border. These protestors were part of the affected people embroiled in the latest incidents of killings and violence in this sensitive inter-state border area. On August 12, at least nine persons from the Tea and Tai Ahom Tribes were killed inside the Assam side of the border allegedly by armed Nagas from Nagaland. The miscreants torched over 200 houses across seven border villages after which over 10,000 people fled to Urmianghat.

The Assam-Nagaland border is disputed since Nagaland achieved statehood in 1963. The disputed land is claimed by private individuals and communities on both sides of the official border based on historical rights in the absence of bona fide documents. In spite of the Supreme Court’s intervention, the dispute remains unresolved with an interim agreement between Assam and Nagaland to place the disputed border areas under the control of a neutral Central Police force. The border area of these latest incidents, a small part of the larger Disturbed Area Belt (DAB), is roughly the size of 12 football fields in the Dhansiri subdivision, Golaghat District and is officially inside Assam and owned by the government’s Forest Department. So while the Assam Chief Minister has blamed the central government and its forces for failing to contain the violence, the Centre claims it could only assist the state government responsible for policing.
Genesis of the latest violence

Not as much reported were earlier incidents of arson and violence in the contiguous areasinside Nagaland, which was the prologue to later escalated events. Bordering the affected areas in Assam is the Ralan circle in Wokha district of Nagaland inhabited by the Lotha Naga ethnic group. According to reports, members of the Tea Tribes from neighbouring Assam migrated to settle in areas several years ago around Chandalashung B Lotha Village after signing official land usage agreements with the Lotha Nagas.1 Tension has been building up in villages of Ralan circle since July 25, with incidents of confrontation, house damage, kidnapping and extortion between the Tea Tribes and the Lotha Nagas. 

Zorawar Daulet Singh: Indo-Pak relations and the journey to Neverland

Zorawar Daulet Singh 
August 19, 2014 
Realistic statecraft, not emotion must become the guiding principle of India's Pakistan policy

The decision to call off the foreign secretary talks is an apt moment for Delhi to scrutinise recent history and re-craft aPakistan policy that is both realistic and modest in its ambitions.

In the late 1990s, India began a rendezvous with Pakistan whose after-effects still echo in our national discourse. Perhaps, historians with the benefit of time and access to archives will discover the inner deliberations at the apex level that produced what to the naked eye seemed a policy based on hope rather than on leverage and strategy.

Nevertheless, it is possible to deconstruct the essence of the Pakistan policy that began with the National Democratic Alliance and was extrapolated passionately by the United Progressive Alliance regimes after 2004. The first element of this policy was that India must introduce a new approach to Pakistan, one based on non-reciprocity rather than a transactional approach that characterises even the most normal bilateral relationships. But the envisaged grand transformation was always high on rhetoric and short on logic to justify such an asymmetric approach.

Let's explore the underlying assumptions that persuaded experienced policymakers from both sides of the aisle to internalise a particular Pakistan policy. The first assumption was that India could not emerge as a prosperous and meaningful regional power without solving its Pakistan problem. Curiously, this idea was accepted without fully explicating the argument. Was it about guns versus butter, and, that a South Asian entente would release resources for India's socio-economic transformation? With one of the lowest military budgets as a percentage of gross domestic product among states that do not rely on an alliance system for security, this was hardly about money. India's developmental failures have nothing to do with Pakistan. Never was any empirical evidence offered to explain why a weak Pakistan stood in the path of India's rise.

Second, was it about improving relations with the great powers? Perhaps, there is something to this. Since the 1950s, there has been a perception in India's policymaking elite that a normalised equation with Pakistan was a pre-requisite to more positive and strategic relations with Pakistan's benefactors in the West. The experience immediately after the 1962 war reinforced such a perception. The Kennedy administration sought to link its military assistance with a transformation in India-Pakistan relations, and particularly, on the Kashmir issue. Although India-Pakistan talks broke down by the summer of 1963, largely on account of Pakistani irredenta, this must have left an enduring impression on the Indian mind: that ties with the West and Pakistan went hand-in-hand.

Pakistan and Afghanistan: International Indicators of Progress

AUG 20, 2014 

It is unclear that the United States has any current assessments and strategy to deal with either these governance or economic issues. If it does, it has provided no transparency as to what these plans are, and has failed to develop any effective public measures of the effectiveness of its civil aid programs after more than 10 years of effort, and in spite of the fact that the civil dimension of counterinsurgency efforts is at least as important as the military efforts.

It is also important to note that World Bank and UN reporting show the same lack of progress in governance, economics, and human development in Pakistan as in Afghanistan. These trends are laid out in graphic form in a new Burke Chair report entitled Pakistan and Afghanistan: International Indicators of Progress, which is available on the CSIS web site athttps://csis.org/files/publication/140820_afghan_pakistan_indicators.pdf. As is the case with Afghanistan, this report highlights a critical lack of progress in many key areas of reporting.






How Pakistan's Military Benefits from Civilian Unrest

August 21, 2014


Pakistan is experiencing its greatest domestic crisis in years. Can democracy and civilian rule prevail? 

In May 2013, Pakistan celebrated a major political milestone: the successful transfer of power from one civilian government to another. This was a feat the country had never quite managed to achieve in its almost 70 years of independence. Coups and military interference in domestic politics are endemic in Pakistan. Its most recent military tyrant, Pervez Musharraf, is under trial for treason. All of this suggested a certain return to civilian normalcy. However, as of August 2014, Pakistan is back in the middle of a political crisis — its most severe in years by some counts, and one that is likely to have destabilizing outcomes.

Earlier this month, Imran Khan, the former cricket legend and self-styled leader of the Pakistani opposition, promised to lead a million Pakistanis straight into the heart of Islamabad on Independence Day (August 14). Khan leads Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), a political party that privileges the preservation of Pakistani national sovereignty and defending Pakistan’s unique national identity as a South Asian Muslim state. While Khan fell far short of organizing a million angry Pakistanis, he gathered enough to cause a stir in Islamabad. This Wednesday, his supporters breached the “red zone” at the core of the city, becoming an actual threat to important institutions including the Supreme Court, parliament, and embassies. Khan’s supporters are flanked by those of Tahrir ul-Qadri, a Cananda-based demagogue preacher. The top objective for these protesters is the resignation of Nawaz Sharif and his government who they claim came to power through election rigging in May 2013.

I won’t pretend to know how these protests will resolve themselves. Uncertainty looms large in Islamabad. Sharif’s government dispatched the Pakistani military to the capital in anticipation of Khan’s march on the city. Should widespread violence erupt between Khan’s supporters and the military, Sharif will undoubtedly inspire nationwide rage. Rage of the sort that Pervez Musharraf witnessed in 2007 when protests sprang up against his rule across the country. Alternatively, PTI and the government appear to be on the cusp of entering into negotiations (although PTI’s precondition for negotiating is an assurance from Sharif that he will step down). The crisis is further complication by notices from the Supreme Court of Pakistan prohibiting Khan and his supporters from “illegal and unlawful trespassing of prohibited zones” in Islamabad.

Rogun Dam Studies Set the Scene for Further Disputes Among Central Asian Countries

Eurasia Daily Monitor 
August 14, 2014 

Last month (July 2014), a World Bank assessment explicitly approved the technical, economic and social aspects of the construction of the planned Rogun hydropower plant (Rogun HPP). The conclusions vindicate Tajikistan, which has hoped to build this hydroelectric dam for years. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, long an opponent of the Rogun HPP, expressed strong dissatisfaction, leaving the dispute among these two countries unresolved. Following the World Bank report, Russia, which disapproved of the project in 2009, this time expressed its support, bringing itself back into the picture while further complicating the regional conflict over water use (World Bank, July 14–18).

Four years after the World Bank agreed to perform the studies into the construction of the Rogun HPP by Tajikistan, it held its fifth and final meeting among the six neighboring countries that share Central Asia’s largest rivers and water sources: Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic (the upstream countries looking to build HPPs on the rivers) along with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (the downstream states that rely on the rivers for agricultural irrigation). The meeting took place on July 14–18, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and its purpose was to review and collect final comments before the World Bank’s reports on the Rogun dam are finalized and released in August of this year. The two studies are a Techno-Economic Assessment Study and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment. The first report concludes that: 1) the possible negative impact of salt wedge (salt formations in the soil) can be mitigated; 2) previous construction and repair work done to the dam was suitable; 3) and subject to specific design modifications, all three options for the dam’s ultimate height—335, 300 or 265 meters (approximately 1,100, 984 and 869 feet, respectively)—can be built and operated safely. The latter report concludes that the Rogun HPP is technically and economically feasible as long as Tajikistan ensures the restoration of the resettled people’s livelihoods, as well as maintains the current seasonal pattern of flows to downstream countries by converting the Nurek reservoir into a run-of-river HPP, using the Rogun damn to regulate the cascade and downstream water flows (World Bank, July 14–18).

In a press-release issued by the World Bank on July 18, Anna Bjerde, the World Bank’s Director for Strategy and Operations in Europe and Central Asia, who chaired the Rogun HPP discussions in Almaty, said that the five-day meeting was “the culmination of four years of state-of-the-art, independent analysis by international experts.” She added, “Throughout this process the World Bank has been committed to ensuring that the studies meet the highest standards for technical quality, transparency, and consultation” (World Bank, July 18).

What Is Europe Doing to Stop the Islamic State?

August 20, 2014 

Great Britain, France and Germany are picking up the slack and leading Europe’s response to the crisis in Iraq. Could they do even more?

On August 13, 2014, Benjamin Rhodes—President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser—made news when he told a collection of reporters traveling with the president on Martha’s Vineyard that the Obama administration was prepared to increase military support to the Iraqi Government once Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi was able to form a new cabinet. In fact, not only would Washington be willing to continue its aerial campaign against militants from the Islamic State (IS), but it would also be open to the idea of using helicopters and U.S. ground forces to facilitate the evacuation of thousands of Yazidi civilians trapped on top of the Sinjar Mountain.

Fortunately for the administration, this option is no longer required. After an assessment conducted by U.S. personnel who were flown onto the top of the Sinjar mountain, the Defense Department concluded that a humanitarian evacuation was “far less likely,” due to the effective combination of U.S. airpower and a Kurdish peshmerga counterattack. Yet the fact that the White House was willing to place “boots on the ground” in harms way in order to save thousands of men, women and children is a vivid example of just how important the United States remains to the safety of people half a world away.

If America is willing to step up its activity—an additional 130 U.S. advisers were dispatched to Irbil on August 12—it’s also appropriate to ask what America’s allies and partners in Europe are willing to do in order to help alleviate a dire situation that would have turned calamitous without targeted U.S. intervention.

The European continent as a whole, it’s fair to say, is not doing as much as it should considering the situation. The European Union, thanks to its bureaucratic bylaws of needing an absolute consensus before taking concrete action, is divided about what to do: that is, how much Europe should donate, whether it should send in aircraft of its own and what type of assistance the continent should provide. The EU’s Political and Security Committee left open the option on August 15 of its member states sending ammunition and arms to the Kurdish peshmerga holding the northern line. But even that decision, while welcome, masks one critical fact: only several European states are following that policy.

Crimea: A Patriotic Russian Vacation From Hell






08.20.14 

Vladimir Putin snatched Crimea from Ukraine as a strategic, patriotic, and touristic prize. You can scratch that last one off the list. 

KERCH, Crimea — After Russian President Vladimir Putin wrested the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine this year, declared it part of Russia (again), and called on true patriots to vacation on its beaches this summer, he waxed a little apologetic about the dilapidated tourist infrastructure. “If we don’t offer cheap tickets,” he said, “people won’t go.” He blamed the Ukrainians for letting it get run down, and he cut the round-trip air fare from Moscow almost in half. Many Russians, inspired by Putin’s rousing rhetoric about the glories of their old empire and hopeful they could get cheap beach deals, thought it would be even easier to drive. 

That was a big, big mistake. 

Crimea is technically a peninsula, but it is virtually an island, and its slender connections by road to the mainland lead into eastern Ukraine, which has been in a state of rebellion—and is now in a state of war—since Putin started punishing Kiev by claiming its territories. 

So if you took your car from Russia into Crimea this summer—and more than 130,000 people did—there’s only one way to get it out: on a ferry from the Crimean town of Kerch to the Russian mainland. 

News of the Silly: Because of Security Fears, Russian Government Wants to Remove All Foreign-Made Software Currently Used in Russia and Replace It With Domestically-Produced Software

Delphine D’Amora
August 20, 2014
Million-Man Army of Programmers Won’t Free Russia From Western Software

Foreign software has become the latest target of Russian officials’ clamorous calls for self-sufficiency, with plans to swiftly replace all foreign imports and triple the number of Russian programmers heralding a crusade that analysts consider misguided and hopelessly optimistic.

"We stand for complete sovereignty of information," Communications and Mass Media Minister Nikolai Nikiforov said late last week, going on to trumpet state plans to foster an "entire industry of import-replacing software."

This ambitious task can be accomplished within three years for most products and ”five to seven in certain areas,” Nikiforov said. During that time, the state will have to increase the number of programmers from 350,000 to 1 million, he added.

Russia has seen a wave of similar initiatives this year, with officials calling on domestic industry to phase out foreign financial, defense and agricultural products as Russia faces off with the West in a war of sanctions and import bans over the crisis in Ukraine.

But along with the other plans, the state drive to replace foreign software will eventually come crashing against the harsh wall of reality, IT experts said.

"The only people who are not laughing are those who are trying to benefit from the government contracts," said Anton Nossik, a prominent blogger and pioneer of the Russian Internet.

In the first place, the world of software is dominated by giants: U.S. software producer Microsoft raked in nearly $74 billion last year, followed by Oracle and SAP with $37 billion and $20 billion, according to Fortune magazine.

These companies have sunk billions of dollars and millions of man hours into perfecting their products, giving them an advantage that the Russian IT industry, which is severely stymied by a lack of qualified specialists, will be hard pushed to overcome.

As for the state’s timeline, it is “obviously not realistic,” said Karen Kazaryan, chief analyst for the Russian Association of Electronic Communications.

Creating an operating system that could actually replace Windows, for instance, would take at least 10 years of concentrated work and investment, he said.

A Tale of Two Chinese Muslim Minorities

By Brent Crane
August 22, 2014


There is a chasm between the conditions experienced by the Hui and Uyghur peoples in China. 

There are two major Muslim ethnic groups in China: the Hui and the Uyghurs. While these two ethnic communities may share the same god, their respective positions within Chinese society remain radically different.

The Uyghurs, who speak a Turkic language written with an Arabic script, are as distinct in appearance from the Han Chinese as Native Americans are from their Caucasian counterparts. Their population of around 8 million mostly resides in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a vast province situated along the borders of several Central Asian countries in China’s northwestern frontier.

The Hui, estimated at around 11 million, can be found throughout China. Most, however, are concentrated within the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. They are unique in China as they represent the only one of the 56 officially designated nationality groups in China “for which religion…is the sole unifying criterion of identity.” In skin and blood, the Hui are little different from their Han brethren. For the vast majority of the Hui, Mandarin is a mother tongue, and besides refraining from pork and alcohol, they have much the same dietary preferences as the Han.

The most striking difference between the two groups though is their respective positions in relation to the Chinese government. Unlike the Hui, the Uyghurs face an alarming amount of state discrimination. “Under the guise of counterterrorism and ‘anti-separatism’ efforts, the government maintains a pervasive system of ethnic discrimination against Uighurs…and sharply curbs religious and cultural expression,” notes a 2013 Human Rights Watch report on China. It cites an “omnipresence of the secret police,” a “history of disappearances” and an “overtly politicized judiciary” as common components of the “atmosphere of fear among the Uighur population.” The Hui are not mentioned in the full-country report. The cause behind the gap in government treatment is twofold.

Chinese Foreign Policy Needs Major Reform

August 21, 2014

Tao Guang Yang Hui or Fen Fa You Wei? This is the question for China. 

Perhaps the most important question facing China and the rest of the world in coming decades is how China will use its increasing power at the global level (this is assuming that China’s power will continue to increase in the future). Is China ready to act like a global leader? If so, how does China need to reform to play this new role? Currently there is a fierce debate within China that focuses on this exact issue.

To simplify it a bit, the debate is between those who emphasize “Tao Guang Yang Hui (韬光养晦, or “keep a low profile”) and those who emphasize “Fen Fa You Wei (奋发有为, or “striving for achievement”). The debate itself is not new, as it has been going on for several years already, but the level of intensity is new. Of course, the TGYH school will not completely neglect elements of the FFYW school and vice versa. Nonetheless, the main difference between these two schools of thought in Chinese foreign policy is that the emphasis is on either TGYHor FFYW. We might say that the TGYH strategists put 70 percent of their energy into TGYH and 30 percent on FFYW whereas the FFYW strategists do the opposite.

The debate can get quite intense, as a recent televised debate between General Luo Yuan and formal ambassador Wu Jianming demonstrates. Luo and Wu’s main debating point is whether China’s international security environment has fundamentally changed. Wu believes that today is still the era of “peace and development” whereas Luo believes that China’s security environment is deteriorating. Luo’s main argument is that China should prepare for a war. Wu meanwhile doesn’t think war is approaching and thus China should still focus on development. There is a certain degree of truth in both Wu and Luo’s arguments, but the key here is to determine how to correctly assess China’s security environment and act accordingly. The balance between being overly aggressive and overly aloof to threats is always hard to find.

One related issue is how China’s foreign policy should be reformed. As Yan Xuetong from Tsinghua University points out, China’s foreign policy now needs major reform for a number of reasons. Yan thinks that China should embark on reforms in the following areas: 1) as the probability of conflict with other countries increases, China’s foreign policy should directly confront rather than avoid the issue of conflict; 2) China should try to develop rather than just maintain its “strategic opportunity period” because waiting for a strategic opportunity period is always passive; 3) China should begin to shape rather than just integrate into international society because China now has the capacity to do so; and 4) China should change its non-alignment approach and make efforts to establish a “community of common destiny.”

To echo Yan’s reform proposal, another Chinese scholar Xu Jin from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also calls for debunking several dominant myths in Chinese foreign policy. Xu lists six myths: 1) China should keep a low profile; 2) China should not seek alliances; 3) China should not seek leadership; 4) China will not become a superpower; 5) the Sino-American relationship is the most important one; and 6) China’s foreign policy should serve China’s economic development. Xu believes that all these six myths should be discarded as a new era calls for new ideas. Like Professor Yan, Xu also sees President Xi Jinping’s use of the term “FFYW” as a signal of China’s new foreign policy, though he also acknowledges that within China other scholars disagree with this interpretation. Xu predicts that in the next 10 years all these six myths will gradually be replaced by new ideas.

One thing is clear about these debates: whether or not China adopts a new and more active approach to its foreign policy, the international environment and China’s own capacities have changed. China does need a new grand strategy, and this is increasingly a consensus. What is debatable is the content of this new grand strategy. Tough questions still face China, such as how much of the international burden it should bear. It will surely be beneficial for outsiders to pay attention to such domestic debates in China.

Time to Annihilate ISIS; Here’s How

08.20.2014 

The videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley reveals both the barbarism and the weakness of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The barbarism is obvious: how else would one describe the carefully choreographed and televised murder of this innocent reporter who had been kidnapped in Syria? This merely confirms what Army Colonel Joel Rayburn, one of the most astute observers of Iraq around, has previously said: that ISIS is a Middle East version of the Khmer Rouge. It is, in short, a death cult that will commit unimaginable crimes against humanity unless it is stopped.

What of ISIS’s weakness? That too was revealed by the video, which was a poor response to the military setbacks ISIS has suffered in the past week as Kurdish peshmerga militia have managed to retake Mosul Dam with the assistance of American firepower (and most likely U.S. Special Operations Forces, although their involvement has not been publicized). Recall the last time that al-Qaeda publicly murdered an American journalist. That would have been my former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl, who was killed in early 2002 at a time when, thanks to the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was on the run. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed Pearl for the same reason some ISIS fanatic killed Foley: to convey an impression of strength. But such desperate measures instead telegraph, well, desperation–and far from cowing anyone they are only likely to redouble the resolve of the civilized world to smash this group of genocidal jihadists.

What is needed now is not strongly worded condemnation of Foley’s murder, much less a hashtag campaign. What is needed is a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire. In the Spectator of London I recently outlined what such a strategy should look like. In brief, it will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria–meaning not only the peshmerga but also the Sunni tribes, elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Free Syrian Army–to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds. The fact that Nouri al-Maliki is leaving power in Baghdad clears away a major obstacle to such a campaign.

Now it is simply a matter of resources and resolve on the part of the U.S. and its allies. That, of course, remains the big unknown–how far will President Obama go? He has been willing in the last few weeks to apply a liberal interpretation of his original mandate for U.S. forces in Iraq, which was to protect Americans in Erbil and Baghdad. But beyond protecting the Yazidis and retaking Mosul Dam we still need a strategy to annihilate ISIS. It can be done–and if done right it will be the best, indeed the only worthy, response to James Foley’s barbaric demise.

Counter-Terrorism: ISIL And The Saudi Connection

August 21, 2014

Saudi Arabia was the original source of nearly all current Islamic terrorism and is still the source of most recruits and financial supports for these groups. Despite this Saudi Arabia declared itself an enemy of al Qaeda in the 1990s, literally went to war with al Qaeda in 2003 and recently agreed to abide by new UN sanctions against Islamic terrorist fund raisers. These new rules were adopted on August 16th and pressure was applied to the wealthy Gulf oil states to enforce them vigorously this time. The Saudis recently demonstrated their determination to do so by sentencing four young Saudis to prison for trying to go off and join ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Earlier this year (February) the Saudis made it illegal for Saudi citizens to join ISIL but in typical Saudi fashion waited a while before strictly enforcing it. The Saudis have a hard time punishing fellow Saudis for being Islamic radicalism, in large part because Arabia was where Islamic radicalism was invented and is still highly respected and practiced. 

The Arabian Peninsula is where Islam was founded in the 7th century and where the highest concentration of the world’s oil supply is found. This combination of Islamic conservatism and vast wealth has created a situation where it is difficult for the Saudi government to go after all the financial backers of Islamic terrorism in their midst. There too many of these guys and some are quite high wealthy, powerful and well connected. Despite the official prohibitions there continue to be some wealthy Arabian families willing to fund Islamic terrorist groups, even those as extreme as al Qaeda and ISIL. 

The situation is worse with ISIL, which recently declared a new Islamic empire, or caliphate, in areas of Syria and Iraq that it controlled. But now Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the two major sources of Islamic terrorist funding, have agreed that outfits like ISIL are a threat to even Islamic conservatives and must be destroyed. The Saudis and Kuwaitis won’t be able to stop all the ISIL donations but can reduce the flow of cash considerably by stressing “self-preservation” to the hard-core donors. 

The UN has condemned ISIL for committing crimes against humanity and being an international pariah. Even other Islamic terrorist groups are appalled at the harsh way ISIL treats civilians and anyone who opposes them. ISIL relishes the publicity their atrocities receive. But al Qaeda knows from bitter experience (in Iraq from 2006-2008) that the atrocities simply turn the Islamic world against you. The bad relations between ISIL and all the other Islamic radicals reached a low point in June 2013 when the head of al Qaeda (bin Laden successor Ayman al Zawahiri) declared the recent merger of the new (since January 2013) Syrian Jabhat al Nusra (JN) with the decade old Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) unacceptable and ordered the two groups to remain separate. The reason for this was that the merger was announced by ISI without the prior agreement of the JN leadership. The merger formed a third group; Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). That was the problem, as many JN members then left their JN faction to join nearby ones being formed by ISIL. JN leaders saw this as a power grab by ISI/ISIL and most of the JN men who left to join ISIL were non-Syrians. Many of these men had worked with ISI before and thought they were joining a more powerful group. 

Britain’s beheaders – how we came to export jihad

20 August 2014

This feature is a preview from this week’s Spectator, out tomorrow:

It is the now familiar nightmare image. A kneeling prisoner, and behind him a black-hooded man speaking to camera. The standing man denounces the West and claims that his form of Islam is under attack. He then saws off the head of the hostage. Why did Wednesday morning’s video stand out? Because this time the captive was an American journalist —James Foley— and his murderer is speaking in an unmistakable London accent.

The revulsion with which this latest Islamist atrocity has been greeted is of course understandable. But it is also surprising. This is no one-off, certainly no anomaly. Rather it is the continuation of an entirely foreseeable trend. Britain has long been a global hub of terror export, so much so that senior US government officials have suggested the next attack on US soil is likely to come from UK citizens. All countries — from Australia to Scandinavia — now have a problem with Islamic extremists. But the world could be forgiven for suspecting that Britain has become the weak link in the international fight against jihadism. And they would be right. This is not even the first beheading of an American journalist to have been arranged by a British man from London.

In 2002, 27-year-old Omar Sheikh was in Pakistan. A north London-born graduate of a private school and the London School of Economics, he had gone to fight in the Balkans and Kashmir in the 1990s. In 1994 he was arrested and jailed for his involvement in the kidnapping of three Britons and an American in India. Released in 1999 in exchange for the passengers and crew of the hijacked Air India flight IC-814, he was subsequently connected to the bombing of an American cultural centre in Calcutta in January 2002 and that same month organised the kidnapping and beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Back then it was possible to dismiss Omar Sheikh as a one-off — a macabre fluke. His alma mater shrugged off concerns about the number of London-based students who had got involved in Islamic extremism or the radical preachers touring the country. The shrug became a little harder to maintain — though maintained it was — the next year when two British men — Asif Hanif, 21, from Hounslow in west London and Omar Khan Sharif, 27 — carried out a suicide bombing in a bar on the waterfront in Tel Aviv. Omar Sharif had been a student of King’s College London, just across the road from LSE. That time the glory of killing three Israelis and wounding over 50 was claimed by the terrorist group Hamas.

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

The Master Plan: How to Stop ISIS


Here is a hint: It is not all about a military solution, but a shared Arab identity.

This coming December will mark the fourth anniversary of the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi. This event ignited the revolution in Tunisia, and then sparked similar uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. While Bouazizi’s desperate act was the event which sparked the uprisings, the underlying cause was smoldering resentment against oppressive, illegitimate Arab governments and economic privation. What was stunning about these demonstrations was that in most countries, they were conducted in the spirit of nonviolence, secularism, justice and unity of purpose. What is seldom commented on, but no less profound, was that at some level, the viral spread of these revolts across the Arab world spoke to a shared political identity that cut across state boundaries. While it would be a stretch to interpret this as a sign of an Arab nationalist revival, it should be viewed as an indication that at least at the subliminal level, a shared Arab identity was part of the political consciousness of the region.

Four years later, the spirit of the Arab Spring has been lost, hijacked by Islamists like former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi who initially masqueraded as a pragmatic leader, but proved to be an Islamic ideologue, and radical groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which claims to be reversing the injustice done by the colonial powers at the end of the First World War, while imposing its own injustices on religious minorities, women and secular Muslims amidst the civil wars raging in Syria and Iraq. ISIS has clearly been the most flagrant in breaching the spirit of the Arab Spring by using brutal tactics that make even Al Qaeda wince, and exploiting the civil wars to impose a Sunni based Caliphate that further threatens Iraq, Syria and the broader region.

The question being asked in Washington, in the capitals of Europe and across the Middle East, is what will it take to vanquish or at least seriously hobble this organization? The answer coming from the Obama administration is that a combination of surgical airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, military support for the Kurds, and political reform in Baghdad is what is needed. The hope is that the incoming Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will be less blatantly sectarian and more inclusive of the Sunnis than outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, it has been argued, bears primary responsibility for driving many Sunni leaders into the arms of ISIS.

Report: Britons Make Up 25% of All Foreign Militant Fighters in Iraq and Syria

Islamic State: British fighters make up a quarter of foreign jihadists 
Jonathan Owen 
August 20, 2014 

Isis militants regard Britons who travel abroad to fight as some of the ‘most vicious and vociferous fighters’ in Syria and Iraq 

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 Radicalization 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.”

Russian Border Guards Routinely Allowing Ukrainian Rebel Fighters in Uniform to Cross Russian Border Ito the Ukraine, Including Stamping Their Passports!


Rebels Falter, but Russian Border Buzzes With Military Activity

Andrew Roth

New York Times, August 21, 2014
Ukrainian soldiers detaining a pro-Russian fighter in the village of Chornukhine. Russia is accused of sending arms and fighters across the border into Ukraine.Credit Oleksandr Ratushniak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DONETSK, Russia — They arrive every day, carloads of young men and women in camouflage who pass through this Russian border checkpoint before heading for the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

Although patches sewn into their uniforms identify them as separatists, their passports are routinely stamped by Russian officials. After passing by a monitoring station from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a Ukrainian border post now operated by the separatists, they disappear into Ukraine’s civil war.

The rebel war effort may be flagging, but the Russian border in the region still controlled by the separatists remains a hive of military activity.

Almost nightly, convoys of tanks and other military vehicles can be seen on local roads, lumbering west toward Ukraine after dark, turning off dirt roads within miles of the border, apparently following routes previously favored by smugglers sneaking cheap gasoline into Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West have expressed concern about the military buildup on Russia’s border, and have accused Moscow of supplying a steady stream of armor, weapons and fighters to the rebel forces.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has repeatedly denied any Russian role in backing the rebels, while insisting that what goes on within Russia’s borders is its own business.

But the activity and the overt presence of separatists in Russian border towns like Donetsk (not to be confused with the much larger Donetsk, Ukraine), which are closely watched by the Russian border guard service, are evidence that the rebels’ activities are at the very least tolerated.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring stations were established last month at the border crossings in Donetsk and Gukovo, at the behest of Mr. Putin, to allay fears about the porous border. Paul Picard, the chief observer here, said the mission regularly sees young men in camouflage clothing crossing the border, but so far none of the monitors have seen weapons or armor.

The border between Russia and Ukraine is vast and, for long stretches, virtually unguarded, leaving ample space for surreptitious movements of weapons and vehicles that Moscow has been accused by NATO and the Ukrainian government of organizing.