3 October 2014

Time to teach China a lesson


October 01, 2014

'Demchock and Chumar are important crucibles for both China and India to know about the other. While India 'learns,' she also need to 'teach,' suggests Lieutenant General Anil Chait, one of the Indian Army's most cerebral thinkers, who recently retired as chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

Why are important visits in the Indo-Chinese context, accompanied by physical intrusions across Line of Actual Control?

Why do nations show tactical aggressiveness under conditions of strategic stability?

Is it because China's People's Liberation Army is a rogue military or is it, because it has become such a professional force, that it does what it thinks is right in spite of being ordered to retrace its futile aggression.

Or is the action a measurable and demonstrable response to what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Japan while condemning the revisionist nature of countries in the context of the 21st century.

Large numbers of questions have yet again surfaced and it will take a deeper analysis to understand the intent behind the Chumar incident in Ladakh. The withdrawal as ordered by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who heads the Communist Party of China and is also the Chairman of China's Military Commission, was expected to be completed by Tuesday, September 30, a full 13 days after being informed of the Indian desire to return to the pre-September 10 position, during the visit.

This indeed is the 'strategic baggage' that Xi has left behind, post his India visit. Does it need to be borne or discarded considering the factum of growth, equity and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar initiative? Or, in the context of geo-economics becoming the currency of power, does India need to forget this incident as a one off and build on trade and commerce?

There are several facets to this visit, some very nuanced that need to be examined closely, to understand their import and implications of the 'acne' that India suffered in the past or the incapacitation that can be caused in future by the 'toothache.'

The Chinese would find it very hard to establish that the ingress into Demchock and Chumar was not pre-planned and specifically timed to coincide with President Xi's day of meetings with Prime Minister Modi. The Indian narrative and approach much to their expectation was on expected lines -- accept the dispute and the issue of peace at the borders as a necessary pre-condition to good neighbourliness and keep India boxed into the currents and vortex of South Asia.

The dust raised by the ingresses in Ladakh did impact the discussions in Delhi and though 13 agreements were signed, the overall mass of agreements is short of the expectations and hype, built in anticipation of the visit. The expected 'orbital jump' clearly did not happen. What instead emerged is that activities on the Line of Actual Control for India are the prime determinants of the relations between the two countries.

Why Indian-Americans Love Modi

October 01, 2014

Narendra Modi has captivated Indian-Americans during his trip to the United States. 

Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi arrived in New York last Friday for a long awaited visit to the United States. On Sunday, Modi addressed a 20,000 strong crowd – mostly comprised of Indian-Americans but also of several important U.S. political figures – in Madison Square Garden. As the sold-out event showed, Modi is extremely popular among Indian-Americans. The term “rock star” was frequently used by the press to describe his status among Indian-Americans. Why is Prime Minister Modi so popular among Indian-Americans? What does he mean to them?

Modi is extremely popular among Indian-Americans, probably more so proportionately than among citizens of India itself. Most Indian-Americans came to the United States for economic and professional opportunities rather than a desire to escape difficult social and political situations. Indian-Americans thus keep in close touch with India, travel to it frequently, and are not alienated from Indian politics and culture. Therefore, they have both the ability and incentive to respond to developments in India rather than remain indifferent to happenings there. This is why Indian-Americans have taken such an active role in welcoming Modi. It would not be surprising if a strong lobby emerges, as Modi wishes, of Indian-Americans advocating for close ties between India and the United States.

Indian-American immigrants (and Indians in general) tend to value hard work, meritocracy, entrepreneurship and self-improvement, traits that were not particularity rewarded in India’s stifling bureaucratic culture, complete with a jungle of laws, patronage, caste-based reservations, corruption, and family-run political outfits. This fostered a culture in India known as chalta hai, which denoted a sort half-hearted acceptance of things as they were. This attitude, which tended to be pervasive in India, incentivized many people to leave India if they could.

In short, Indian-Americans left India mostly because they were fed up with India’s rotten political system, unimpressive economic performance, and the various developmental and social issues deriving from this system. Therefore, it is no surprise that a man like Modi, who promised to change what Indian-Americans don’t like about India, is extremely popular among Indian-Americans.

The question of whether or not Modi will be able to substantially change the course of India’s economy and development is one for the future, and can hardly be answered now. But no matter what happens with India’s economy, Modi will remain popular because he has changed the course of Indian discourse on development and is seen as trying hard to reform India’s system and bring investment to India. It will be hard for India to turn its back on the dialogue of development, rather than welfare or sectarian concerns, now that such rhetoric has resulted in electoral victories. This will make it harder for India shift its focus away from rapid development, which is one of the primary concerns of Indian-Americans.

Need to revive Iran-India energy ties

September 30, 2014

With the recent report1. of two American companies – Chevron and ExxonMobil – dropping out of the race for the long-struggling TAPI gas pipeline project, on the grounds that Ashkabad had refused to give them equity stakes in the fields supplying the gas in exchange for funds for constructing the pipeline, has put the project in further doubt. Even though two other firms – France’s Total and Malaysia’s Petronas – have offered to step in without demanding any stakes in Turkmenistan’s gas fields, at best, the project will be delayed for several months.

Interestingly, an earlier report had also said that Pakistan was now mulling over an alternative proposal whereby it would buy liquefied gas (LNG) from Iran, in lieu of natural gas through the suffering IPI pipeline project. Although Iran has been aspiring to build a liquefaction facility since the 1970s, it has not been successful and has had to cancel or delay LNG projects because of the US-EU sanctions regime that has made it impossible to obtain financing and to acquire the requisite technology for the same. As a result, Iran is now looking at the possibility of exporting natural gas to Oman, which has two liquefaction facilities, from where the Iranian gas could be converted to LNG and then exported to Pakistan. The report said that Pakistani officials were planning to hold negotiations with Iranian counterparts at an upcoming meeting.

The fact that Oman and Iran have reportedly finalised a “heads of agreement” whereby Iran will export 20 million cubic meters per day (mcmd) of gas to Oman through a pipeline over 25 years from 2015, does make the Pakistani proposal viable. Significantly, at the time the agreement was being negotiated a year ago, Oman had stated that approximately 50 per cent of the gas could be allotted for export to other markets including Japan, South Korea and India.

Of all the proposals that have been making the rounds over the last few decades, the latter appears to be the most feasible as it would resolve India’s security concerns associated with the IPI and TAPI projects, and would avoid the unstable and insecure route transiting Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the success of the under-sea pipeline from Oman would be contingent upon a pipeline between Iran and Oman being constructed. Although an Iran-Oman gas agreement has been doing the rounds since 2007 and a MoU was signed in 2013, as of now, only a “heads of agreement” has been signed between these countries, which is essentially a checklist of issues that the parties have decided must be resolved. Nonetheless, the fact that Oman has taken this preliminary step is significant given the pressure that it has been subjected to by the US to purchase gas from other suppliers, like Qatar.

In fact, several countries and companies, including European ones, are eagerly waiting for signs that the sanctions imposed on Iran will be lifted so that they can access not only the country’s vast energy resources, but also enter its lucrative market. In particular, European companies, which had exited from Iran four years ago, when the sanctions were tightened, are at the forefront leaving their American counterparts behind. Many are already holding exploratory talks with Iran. Within weeks of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) being announced in November 2013, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh met with the chief executives of some European oil companies. With the US and EU imposing sanctions on Russia for its Ukraine operation, although as of now these do not include the energy sector, concerns are increasing that Russia may retaliate by cutting off supplies to Europe, lending weight to Europe’s search for a non-Russian supply alternative. Although the JPA set a July 20, 2014 deadline for a final settlement on Iran’s nuclear programme, the deadline was pushed to November 24, 2014. While the negotiations are inching along with both sides taking hard positions, Tehran seems optimistic that by November a decision to lift the sanctions will be taken.2.

Russia Is on a Road to Nowhere

Sep. 29 2014 

Since Vladimir Putin has held the reins of the Russian leadership, Russia has actively integrated into the global economy, making the era of his rule even more liberal in an economic respect than it was under former President Boris Yeltsin. Russia ranked seventh in the world for stock market capitalization at the time of the 2008 crisis, foreign assets in its banking system reached 26 percent, and foreign trade increased by almost five times from 2000 to 2008.

The number of Russians traveling abroad rose from 9.8 million in 2000 to 32.7 million in 2008, and Russia's rate of development in modern communications and various segments of the Internet economy was one of the fastest in the world.

But the situation began to change in 2011 when two important circumstances became clear. On one hand, the relative success of the Russian economy gave rise to a call for political change, and many anticipated a "new perestroika" under the more progressive and tech-savvy President Dmitry Medvedev.

On the other hand, it became evident that Russia lacked the mobilization and technological capacity to achieve large-scale modernization and end the country's reliance on natural resource exports in the near future.

That began Russia's "reversal of 2012" — the point at which the political elite understood that a gas and oil economy worked best under a nondemocratic "power vertical" and that restructuring the country's political foundations in hopes of achieving an uncertain result — and at a time when mass public protests were on the rise — was simply too risky.

Russia began turning away from Europe, and the West as a whole, not during the Ukrainian revolution in February, but when Putin began his third term as president in 2012. The fact that many Western leaders in recent years had what Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski called "hopes for Russia's democratic modernization" only proves that they misunderstood the nature and outlook of the Russian elite and people.

By 2014, Russia had once again become a country whose leadership showed no intention of complying with the rules of foreign or domestic policy. In fact, those leaders would probably act even more decisively if economic considerations did not hold them back. But the truth is that Russia depends heavily on the world economy, even if its political elite believe otherwise.


This undated image is one of few pictures purportedly showing Mullah Mohammad Omar. (Video frame grab) 

Ever since the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, questions have swirled about the Afghan Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Suppositions run the gamut. Some analysts say he is dead; others say he has retired from active command of militant groups; and still others say he is a figment of the imagination, a name rather than a real person.

“Since the fall of the Taliban’s rule in Kabul, no Taliban leader has claimed to have seen or met with Mullah Omar in the past 13 years,” Mubashir Bukhari, a Lahore-based analyst, said.

At the very least, he does not seem to be actively commanding the militants, Bukhari said.

“I believe the militia is running on ‘automatic’ mode … and its local commanders have gained more power and independence to pursue their ‘jihadist’ agenda,” Bukhari told Central Asia Online.

“If he is alive, he would have been spotted,” he said.
Existence difficult to prove

In late 2001, when international forces dislodged the puritanical regime in Kabul, Mullah Omar reportedly escaped capital on a two-wheeler. Since then, no credible reports of him being seen or heard have surfaced.

However, reports have circulated of him being killed in Pakistan on his way to North Waziristan – a Pakistani tribal agency that was headquarters to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Haqqani Network and a local chapter of al-Qaeda, until Pakistan security forces launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in mid-June this year, destroying the militants’ networks. But those media reports were never confirmed.

Meanwhile, Mullah Omar remains a spectre.

Part of the mystery stems from the rarity of available photographs, even of those taken during the Taliban’s heyday. Supposedly the militants frowned on photos as a form of self-glorification.

In a 20-year-long journalistic career, Safdar Dawar, a former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists (an association of reporters from the Pakistani tribal area), has never met someone who claimed to have seen Mullah Omar.

“I’ve asked a number of Taliban commanders and al-Qaeda people in North Waziristan about the Taliban leader, but none said they had seen or heard [the actual voice] of Mullah Omar,” Dawar, a native of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, said.

U.S. to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan

Sep. 29, 2014 

U.S. soldiers patrol an Afghanistan highway on Aug. 11 in Parwan province. The U.S. and Afghanistan expect to sign an agreement to keep about 10,000 American troops there after combat operations end at the close of this year, an Obama aide said. (Cpl. George Huley / Army)

WASHINGTON — The United States and Afghanistan will sign a long-delayed security agreement Tuesday that will allow about 9,800 American troops to remain in the country past this year, a U.S. official said.

White House senior adviser John Podesta on Monday reported the planned signing after attending the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in Kabul.

U.S. and Afghan officials agreed on terms of the accord more than a year ago, but former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign. Karzai complained about U.S. airstrikes that have killed Afghan civilians and U.S. overtures to the Taliban, the Islamists who had ruled Afghanistan until ousted by American forces in 2001. The Taliban have been waging a civil war ever since.

Both Ahmadzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, said they would sign the agreement if elected.

The two formed a power-sharing government, with Abdullah named chief executive, a position with substantial influence within the government.

The residual U.S. force will be responsible for advising and supporting Afghan security forces and conducting counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaida and its affiliates.

NATO countries are expected to contribute troops to the residual force as well, bringing the total to about 12,000.

Under the plan the number of U.S. forces would be reduced by more than half in 2015 and then removed entirely by 2017.

Currently there are about 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak of about 100,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the Pentagon.

Afghan security forces are already leading operations throughout the country as U.S. forces have largely withdrawn from direct combat.

Four Early Steps to Salvage Afghanistan

September 29, 2014

Monday saw the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history, as Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated to succeed Hamid Karzai as president. Ghani and his electoral rival, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, now must make immediate, impactful decisions to demonstrate that the divisions and tension generated by their unity government's protracted and painful birth are in the past. The new government must move fast to show its citizens that it is capable not only of holding Afghanistan together, but also of working to serve them.

This was no easy transition: Thirteen years of rebuilding efforts nearly unraveled during a fraught electoral summer. The Taliban gained momentum and territory while the economy shrank and government revenues sank. Afghans' confidence in their constitutional system and in the future of democracy took a hit, and many fear that the political arrangement that has emerged will prove unworkable - that the national unity government, far from sorting out political rivalries, has institutionalized them instead.

If it is to reverse these setbacks, the new Afghan government and its international backers will have to act with unity of purpose. The establishment of a reform-oriented government strongly backed by the international community provides the best and possibly only opportunity to prevent Afghanistan from sliding back into anarchy and erasing many of the gains achieved at great cost since 2002. Missing this opportunity would also seriously undermine the clear U.S. interest in an Afghanistan that does not further destabilize this volatile region, in particular its nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan.

Four urgent prerogatives


China flag 

Manufacturing in the US has rebounded after the Great Recession, but employment levels have not recovered from their steep decline in the decade before the recession. This column examines to what extent the sector’s fall is a result of the rise of China. The authors estimate direct effects of import competition from China, as well as labour market and buyer-seller indirect effects that operate at the local level. China’s impact has been strong, and employment in US manufacturing is unlikely to recover.

By Daron Acemoglu, David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson and Brendan Price

The end of the Great Recession has rekindled optimism about the future of US manufacturing. In the second quarter of 2010 the number of US workers employed in manufacturing registered positive growth – its first increase since 2006 – and subsequently recorded ten consecutive quarters of job gains, the longest expansion since the 1970s. Advocating for the potential of an industrial turnaround, some economists give a positive spin to US manufacturing’s earlier troubles: while employment may have fallen in the 2000s, value added in the sector has been growing as fast as the overall US economy. Its share of US GDP has kept stable, an achievement matched by few other high-income economies over the same period (Lawrence and Edwards 2013, Moran and Oldenski 2014). The business press has giddily coined the term ‘reshoring’ to describe the phenomenon – as yet not well documented empirically – of companies returning jobs to the United States that they had previously offshored to low-wage destinations.

Before we declare a renaissance for US manufacturing, it is worth re-examining the magnitude of the sector’s previous decline and considering the causal factors responsible for job loss. The scale of the employment decline is indeed stunning. Figure 1 shows that in 2000, 17.3 million US workers were employed in manufacturing, a level that with periodic ups and downs had changed only modestly since the early 1980s. By 2010, employment had dropped to 11.5 million workers, a 33% decrease from 2000. Strikingly, most of this decline came before the onset of the Great Recession. In the middle of 2007, on the eve of the Lehman Brothers collapse that paralysed global financial markets, US manufacturing employment had already dipped to 13.9 million workers, such that three-fifths of the job losses over the 2000 to 2010 period occurred prior to the US aggregate contraction. Figure 1 also reveals the paltriness of the recent manufacturing recovery. As of mid-2014, the number of manufacturing jobs had reached only 12.1 million, a level far below the already diminished pre-recession level.

Figure 1. US employment , 1980q1-2014q3

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hong Kong and the Dream of Chinese Democracy


Call me naïve, but I’m a sucker for pro-democracy demonstrations against dictators. Admittedly, whether in Tiananmen Square or Tahrir Square, they don’t always work out well. But there is something thrilling about tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand the basic rights that most of us in the West have come to take for granted–knowing, all the while, that there is a real possibility of bloodshed on the part of a brutal regime bent on protecting itself at any cost.

These thoughts are prompted, of course, by images of all the people who have been occupying the streets of central Hong Kong for three days now to demand direct election of their chief executive without limiting candidates to a list vetted and approved by the Communist Party leadership in Beijing. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators on Sunday, but that did not disperse them. Now the security forces have backed off to ponder their next move.

From Beijing’s perspective this is a no-win situation. If they send the troops out to clear the streets by force, they will risk international opprobrium–and, perhaps more significant, delay for another generation any hope that Taiwan will agree to voluntarily become part of the People’s Republic of China. After all Beijing’s key selling point to Taipei is that it could enjoy the “one country, two systems” model implemented in Hong Kong after the British left in 1997. If Chinese forces carry out a slaughter in the streets of Hong Kong that message will be exposed as hollow. If, on the other hand, the government caves in to the demonstrators’ demands it could expose Beijing to more demands for democracy from dissatisfied people on the mainland.

There is not much the U.S. can do to affect the situation one way or the other beyond showing clearly where our sympathies lie. There is no doubt a debate going on in the administration as I write this between the usual, predictable parties–the realists who say we have to accommodate ourselves to Beijing at any cost and the human-rights advocates who believe we have to stand up forcibly for the rights of people in Hong Kong and elsewhere around the world.

The World’s Most Dangerous Rivalry: China and Japan

September 29, 2014 

The East China Sea—thanks to tensions between China and Japan—can accurately be described as the most dangerous place on the entire planet. Yet, writings in China suggest compromise is certainly possible. 

Editor’s Note: The following is part two of a new occasional series named “Dragon Eye” which seeks insight and analysis from Chinese writings on world affairs. Part one of the series, “What Does China Really Think About the Ukraine Crisis?” can be found here.

The East China Seathanks to tensions between China and Japan—can accurately be described as the most dangerous place on the entire planet. It is entirely conceivable that one of the many coast guard vessels on either side patrolling the contested islets could suddenly come under fire or, more likely still, become severely damaged in a bumping incident (of the type that has occurred recently in the South China Sea). In such circumstances, the steps from gun fire to exchanging volleys of anti-ship missiles between the fleets, to theater wide attacks on major bases, to all out global war could be all too abrupt.

Hollywood, which is perennially looking for apocalyptic scenarios, may want to examine contemporary China-Japan relations for developing next summer’s blockbuster suspense film. Thankfully, however, some momentum appears to be building to arrest the downward spiral in this extremely crucial bilateral relationship. Recent low key diplomatic steps are undergirded by some reasonable voices that have bravely stepped forward in the Chinese foreign policy debate to try to reign in the two East Asian powers on the precipice.

China-Japan relations have seemed to be in a death spiral since a 2010 ‘trawler incident’ interrupted a positive dynamic in relations that had occurred during 2007-2009. Since that time, the relationship has been rocked by China’s move to establish full time maritime patrols in the vicinity of the contested islets, as well as the occasional air patrol and even a Chinese drone sortie. That alteration to the status quo came in response to Tokyo’s purchase of the islands in September 2012. Just over a year later, Beijing upped the ante again by declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and the disputed islets, to which Washington promptly responded by sending American bombers to fly through (and thus challenge) the new Chinese ADIZ. 2014 has already witnessed at least two dangerous encounters between Chinese and Japanese military aircraft. Similar incidents are also occurring with American aircraft as well.

China’s Climate Change Paradox

By Stephen Junor
September 30, 2014

It is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, but recent shifts in China give cause for hope. 

The UN Climate Summit in New York, a key meeting before the much hyped United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference next year in Paris, has now concluded with the usual mix of strong rhetoric and limited action.

Going forward, the goal is to agree to a comprehensive and legally binding deal to reduce carbon emissions. It is widely understood that China will play a key role in determining the chances of achieving this goal, given its position as the dominant voice among developing countries, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and, somewhat paradoxically, a forerunner in developing renewable energies that will underpin the green economies of the future.

The 2009 meeting in Copenhagen was the last to be built up as the defining moment where a comprehensive legally binding deal would be agreed. It ended with only a weak document and blame being apportioned all round. It was a lesson in the dangers of pinning too much hope on one meeting. More than a year out from the Paris meeting, though, and there is a risk of the same thing happening. The primary sticking point at previous climate meetings has been a lack of compromise between economically “developed” and “developing” countries, with arguments over historic emissions, climate justice and current and future emissions.

China occupies a unique position as it is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, while still considered to be a developing country. The claim that it has a “right” to develop, which inevitably leads to higher emissions, is a strong one given the historic emissions of the largely post­industrial West, particularly when you consider that China’s per capita emissions (7 metric tons) are lower than the likes of the U.S. (17 metric tons), Australia (16 metric tons) and Germany (9 metric tons). Looking at per capita emissions is important as no country wants to concede competitive advantage to another, which provides yet another stumbling block to any climate deal. In terms of a climate agreement, however, total emissions are more important than per capita emissions and being the largest emitter puts the onus on China to consider its global environmental impact and assume responsibility.


By D Ravi Kanth*
Nuclear weapon test Romeo (yield 11 Mt) on Bikini Atoll 

The commemoration of the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on September 26 was a grim reminder of the continued threat from nuclear weapons to people at large.

“Around 2000 nuclear weapons are kept on alert between the United States and Russia which are now latched on to the [current] crisis in Syria and Ukraine,” says Aaron Tovish, a leading activist from the global Mayors for Peacecampaign to eliminate nuclear warheads.

Just when Iraq and Syria are pounded from the skies with smart bombs, the surviving victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings point towards the deadly effects from the weapons of mass destruction on the civilians.

“We emphasize the importance of intensifying the global campaign for abolition of nuclear weapons and our major goal is to strengthen global momentum for achieving this goal by 2020,” Tovish told IDN.

As the United States plans to spend nearly a trillion dollars on modernizing its nuclear arsenal in the next ten years and Britain intending to spend 50 billion dollars on its Trident nuclear missile, the days of Cold War are back once again.

“We emphasize the dangers of from Syria, and Ukraine cannot serve as a justification for any of those expenditures on the nuclear weapons which pose a much bigger threat to climate change and food security,” Tovish argued.

Tovish who took part in the proceedings to mark the first anniversary of the UN day to eliminate nuclear weapons in Geneva explained about “I was her age” project launched by Mayors for Peace and Peace Boat to get the “Hibakusha” out to the world in the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings next year.

Hibakusha are the living victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. President Harry S Truman, who took the decision to drop the first weapon of mass destruction on the Japanese city, had insisted that “the world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”

Time for ‘Act East’ Policy

September 2014 

“Now it is time to not just look but act. Under the Narendra Modi government, we will have an Act East Policy,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said during her recent visit to Vietnam. Dr M Mayilvaganan elaborates. 

India’s engagement with ASEAN is flourishing to new heights today, owing to the changing geopolitics in the region, India’s maritime interest and its quest for securing access to natural resources and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. India’s current vibrant Look East Policy (LEP) seeks to reinforce its ties with states in the Asia-Pacific, much beyond the intention of LEP that was initiated in 1991 by former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. After the end of the Cold War and the launch of economic reforms, New Delhi essentially aimed to reintegrate India, economically and culturally, with South East Asia (SEA). This led to a major strategic shift in India’s foreign policy objectives, as traditionally till then New Delhi looked westwards in spite of its long-established historical and cultural ties with the region. Gradually, increased trade and commerce between India and ASEAN, which later expanded to Japan, South Korea and Australia, contributed significantly to the expansion of defence and security ties. As a result, relations between India and the region have acquired new strategic and security characteristics in recent years.

The breadth and intensity of India’s engagement with South East Asia and East Asia today is considerably unparalleled by any of its other regional relationships. Several institutionalised annual summits, ministerial consultations and intensive engagement across governments and programmes between private sectors, academia, and media are cases in point. However, there are some pertinent questions with regard to India’s rising relations with the region such as: How does India perceive itself in the regional scene? What are India’s main strategic concerns? Is it ready to assume the role of security provider in the region?

The recent pronouncement of a five-year action plan by the Modi government for enhancing connectivity and cooperation in diverse areas and acceleration of a free trade pact on services and investment that starts from 2016 have given fresh impetus to India’s LEP. This envisaged action plan puts the spotlight on India’s blossoming ties with the larger Asia-Pacific region – Eastern Indian Ocean and West Pacific – home to the world’s rapidly growing economies. Notably, India-ASEAN ties have now entered a new rapid phase, as stated by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, “now it is time to not just look but act…we will have an Act East Policy.”1 This revamped LEP anchors on mutual ambition of India and ASEAN at regional and multilateral levels. Besides, the minister’s recent visits to Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam aside from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan have demonstrated New Delhi’s blueprint for a strategic partnership with the region, and its commitment to accelerate better communication links and enhanced trade and investment.

Enhanced Connectivity

Improving connectivity in all its dimensions – physical, institutional and people-to-people – with SEA and East Asia has been the decisive feature of India’s LEP, and its deepening engagement with the region. India has time and again underscored the importance of strong connectivity between India and ASEAN. Lately, the government under Modi is seamlessly promoting a multimodal approach that integrates land, sea and air connectivity for better people-to-people interface and advancing trade and investment. For instance, emphasising the need for stronger connectivity within ASEAN, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed the importance of the ‘C’ of Connectivity to the five Ts that New Delhi is currently pursuing – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology,2 signifying institution-to-institution and people-to-people linkages. 

Physical Connectivity

Catastrophe and Optimism: South Asia at the UN Climate Summit

By M. Sophia Newman
September 30, 2014

Although India’s PM Modi skipped it, South Asia still had a presence at the climate change gathering in New York. 

Nearly 20 years ago, Atiq Rahman, a Bangladeshi dignitary attending the 1995 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Berlin, said, “If climate change makes our country uninhabitable, we will march our wet feet into your living rooms.” Last week, some 400,000 people marched across New York City to ask the United Nations to take action preventing climate catastrophe. Twenty years after Rahman first sounded the alarm, can activists help stop disaster in South Asia?

The river of protestors on New York’s Avenue of the Americas was 3.5 kilometers long. Powerful figures joined the protest, including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Amid the crowd, a contingent of Bangladesh, Indian, and Nepalese activists numbered just a few dozen people. That group nonetheless featured an important dignitary of its own: London-based climate scientist Saleemul Huq, one of 38 civil society members invited to address the UN Climate Summit.

Huq, who would later call the march “good fun,” leads Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) and has established Bangladesh’s International Center on Climate Change and Development. Both organizations are engaged with research and policy on protecting the Bengali delta, considered one of the most climate-vulnerable areas in the world.

Speaking with The Diplomat prior to the march, Huq explained the challenges facing the nation: “Almost every climate change problem you can think of is going to happen in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is well-known to be, if not the most vulnerable country, one of the most vulnerable countries.” In an interview, BEN member Sufian Khondoker added that projected sea level rise of 1-1.5 meters will mean “we lose almost 16% of the country. It is a tremendous problem for Bangladesh…. 17 million people could be affected. And they have to go somewhere.”

Huq is optimistic about the government’s participation in solutions. Among Least Developed Countries, Bangladesh was among the first to develop an UN-recommended National Adaptation Plan of Action, which the government upgraded to a comprehensive Climate Strategy and Action Plan. Then, Huq says, Bangladesh became “the first country in the world to have a budget line item for tackling climate change.”

Khondoker agrees, but adds, “In actual policy formulation, no implementation has begun.” He notes that climate migration “has to be reorganized by the government,” and that avoiding political strife over outmigration into India will depend on “an understanding between the governments that India is willing to take a limited number of people and settle them.”

Putin Wants to Beef Up Russian Internal Security and Defenses Against Foreign Cyber Espionage on Russian Targets

Russia Needs More Internet Security, Says Putin

Olga Razumovskaya

Wall Street Journal , October 1, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin, chairing a Security Council meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on Wednesday, said Russia must take steps to better protect its cyberspace but would stop short of imposing total control over the internet. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin called for more steps to ensure Internet security in the country, warning that better protection of communications networks was vital to ensure Russia’s sovereignty and thwarting leaks of confidential data.

Mr. Putin, speaking at a meeting of top security officials devoted to online security Wednesday, vowed to protect Internet freedom, but industry advocates feared more moves to tighten control over the Internet in Russia.

Stocks of local Internet companies fell.

A Kremlin spokesman told Interfax news agency earlier Wednesday that the Kremlin was concerned about Russia being cut off from the global Internet amid threats of new Western sanctions against Moscow for its role in the crisis in Ukraine.

While western officials have discussed limiting Russia’s access to the international financial system, there has been no public suggestion in the West of sanctions affecting Internet access.

Mr. Putin called for better protection of the Russia’s cyberspace from threats from abroad, saying cyberattacks against the country have risen several-fold this year.

"We’re seeing that some countries are trying to use their dominant position in the global IT-space to achieve not only their economic goals, but also their political and military goals," Mr.Putin told the officials.

On Wednesday, presidential aide Igor Shchogolyev said “organizational and engineering measures” should be taken to safeguard Russia’s cyberspace from external threats.

ISIS Is Putin’s Problem, Too, and This Chechen Is One Reason Why.


Abu Omar served with the U.S.-trained Georgian army, spent time in jail, and emerged a jihadi. Now at the top of the ISIS leadership, he wants to take the war to Russia.

BIRKIANI, Georgia — Time seems to stop in this sleepy Georgian village high in the green mountains of the Pankisi Gorge. Nothing has changed around the little gray house that was the family home of one of the most senior commanders of the so-called Islamic State that is now the target of America’s wrath in Syria and Iraq. This is just a one-story gray dwellng with four windows, behind a farmer’s fence built of massive stones. A small outdoor television satellite dish sticks out of tall grass alongside a few piles of firewood. By any standard the home of Abu Omar al-Shishani (“the Chechen”) looks poor and abandoned.

Rumor has it that these days Abu Omar, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, lives in a luxurious villa with a swimming pool in Syria. That may or may not be true. And he is said to be luring more young Muslims from his home region in the Pankisi Gorge to join his insurgency forces. Of that there is little doubt.

Red-bearded Abu Omar has become a symbol of much that Washington hates and fears in its war on ISIS or ISIL, as the group is widely known: He is a foreign fighter—a convert to Islam, no less—and a veteran of the U.S.-trained Georgian military. He’s proved able to implement devastating tactics against the Kurdish and Iraqi armies, and wreaked havoc with the moderate Syrian rebel forces the Americans are rushing to train. According to U.S. intelligence, he is a member of the shura council, a group of the top ISIS leaders; he helped organize the seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and now commands ISIS forces in northern Syria that are the focus of the American-led bombing campaign. His units are believed to have about 1,000 foreign fighters in their ranks, and may have been responsible for holding foreign hostages.

But Abu Omar also is a figure whose history on the battlefield extends into the rebellious Russian province of neighboring Chechnya, where his mother had her roots. And even as he plots defenses against American and allied air raids, he is taunting Vladimir Putin and his allies in Grozny.

The Pankisi Gorge is a beautiful place, but it does not offer big opportunities to the local boys. Two unemployed 17-year-olds, both of them ethnic Chechens, told The Daily Beast they have hardly anything to do besides “sit and stare at each other,” pray at the village mosque or chat with their friends in Syria on WhatsApp forums. One of the friends, a dropout from Georgian Technical University who wore a beard and no mustache, a look typical of many would-be jihadis, said that most of his friends were thinking of hopping on a bus and going first to Turkey and then to join Abu Omar’s troops in northern Syria, “to die for Allah.” The current front line around Kobane, Syria, is only a day’s drive away. To them, anybody supporting Bashar Assad or joining the war against ISIS is taken to be a direct enemy. 

“This is a message to you, oh Vladimir Putin. … The Islamic State is and will be—and it is expanding, God willing.”


September 30, 2014

Who exactly is this Syrian opposition we are assisting and why?

Earlier this month, President Obama announced that “we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition” and called upon Congress to authorize “additional authorities and resources” to that end. Congress complied, and the following week a bi-partisan measure passed both houses. So now the President has his authorization.

The Administration called upon Congress in June to fund rebels in Syria, asking for $500 million to arm “vetted” Syrian moderates to “help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”

This begs the question, what defines a rebel force as “moderate” in Syria? Is it its commitment to establish strong, democratic institutions? Are fighters certified as “moderate” if they pledge to abstain from atrocities and gross violations of human rights, such as suicide bombings and eating thehearts of their enemies? Perhaps the moderates are simply those rebels who don’t demonstrate blatant contempt for the United States in their rhetoric. In reality, there are no moderates in Syria, as most recently evidenced by “moderate” Syrian protesters condemning U.S. bombings of the Khorasan group, the terrorist vanguard of the popular, al Qaeda- associated Syrian rebel group Jabhat al Nusra. “Moderate” Syrians’ inability to distinguish between the rebels fighting Assad and the network of terrorists seeking to attack the U.S. should serve as proof that it is folly to believe that moderate leadership will somehow spring forth from this extremist morass. And if, per some miraculous chance, it did, would the fundamentalist rebels ever consent to laying down their arms and recognize the legitimacy of a moderate regime? Different as the various rebel groups may seem, they are all tragically similar in the one way that counts: their fundamentalism precludes them from living under the rule of the others.

President Obama’s goal of “promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement” is not essential to the U.S. objective to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This goal represents mission creep in a mission that has barely begun. If Obama insists on trying to find moderates to replace ISIL, he has conflated the strategy to defeat this insurgency with an ill-defined and unannounced U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war.

This is a mistake for two reasons. First, this is not the mission he shared with Congress or the American people – it would be far costlier, longer and uglier than anything the President described. Second, it’s just not possible. Though I believe searching for moderates in Syria is akin to searching for unicorns, were we to hypothetically find the perfect opposition forces – the very definition of moderate (whatever that is) – they still would need to reconcile with a host of extremist factions on every side whose members would rather die than compromise. Good luck finding a negotiated settlement under those conditions.

The President must not allow the operation to destroy ISIL to metastasize into an impossible and protracted mission to unify Syria. Syria is beyond our power to save. It is a nation split by demographics that are united only in their complete estrangement from negotiation as a means of conflict resolution. Syria hasn’t had a democratic government since 1949 and since then, autocracy has been the norm. If the lessons of past interventions have taught us anything, it should be the limits of American power in democratic state-building. Though Washington can vanquish regimes, it has limited ability to shape who or what comes next, and the power to do so comes at a cost well beyond what the American people are prepared to pay. Who will rule Syria? The answer to that question is beyond the scope of our mission and our control. Whoever emerges to fill the void of ISIL in Syria likely will not govern by consensus or be “moderate” in any common definition of the word. We just have to live with that.

Jonathan Lord is a private sector research analyst in security matters and a graduate of Vassar College and the Georgetown University Security Studies Program.


September 30, 2014

In early 1948, Harry Truman’s policy of support for the partition of Palestine — and thereby the creation of the state of Israel — appeared dead in the water. As an Israeli defeat at the hands of joint Arab forces seemed inevitable, State Department Arabists — with CIA and the Department of Defense in tow — seized the moment to scuttle the president’s policy. Truman’s illustrious Secretary of State, George Marshall, had the courtesy to excoriate the president to his face, telling Truman that he would not vote for him in the coming election if he maintained his support for a Jewish state. On March 25, 1948, Truman caved to the Washington consensus, announcing his decision to postpone partition.

President Obama has gone through a remarkably similar process over the past few months regarding his policy in Syria and Iraq. The comparison with Truman in 1948 illuminates important elements of the current debate. The battlefield successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and, in particular, the group’s videotaped beheadings of American journalists, have caused official Washington to close ranks against Obama’s prior policy of non-intervention in either country. Like Truman, Obama found both Washington elite pressure and Middle Eastern developments conspiring against him. The result was the campaign of American airstrikes in Iraq and, as of the past week, Syria to “destroy” ISIL. The consensus, once again, seems to have won out.

There is another key parallel between the 1948 Palestine debate and today’s Syria-Iraq conversation: the analytical shortcuts taken by each president’s opponents.

In 1948, it seemed obvious both to policymakers like Marshall and specialists like Director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs Loy W. Henderson that Truman had irrevocably mishandled Palestine. By acceding to a Jewish state in Palestine, in part due to successful Zionist lobbying in the United States, Truman, they believed, was sacrificing American interests in the Arab world at the altar of domestic politics. Yet, every aspect of this dire vision proved incorrect: Israel rebuffed Soviet overtures, and Arab oil monarchies remained in the American column.

Flawed policy proposals flowed from these faulty assumptions. Above all, Middle East specialists were unable to logically connect means and ends — i.e. to candidly assess the best way to achieve U.S. objectives. The ends of U.S. policy — maintaining American access to Gulf oil and preventing Soviet inroads in the region — were clear, but Henderson and the Arabists had tenuous notions of how non-recognition of Israel would advance or protect these aims. Obscuring this analytical gap, Truman’s opponents grabbed at the crutch of threat inflation. Among the catastrophes they claimed would flow from partition were a Saudi oil embargo, spontaneous violence against Americans across the Arab world, and Soviet tanks rolling into Arab capitals. The Middle East, they believed, would fall to the Soviets in much the same way Eastern Europe had. In reality, the Arabists were willfully ignorant of the fact that Arab monarchies’ oil and security interests trumped their professed antipathy to Israel.

Why America’s Middle East Nightmare Keeps Getting Worse

September 29, 2014 

Beyond ISIS: If the U.S. insists on treating the Middle East as a region of strategic importance, then it must develop a better, more long-term solution to ensure that it isn’t cleaning up the autocrats’ messes for years and decades to come.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama offered a forceful repudiation of jihadism.

"The ideology of ISIL [sic] or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day,” said Obama in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly. He went on to say "If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground -- no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed."

Powerful words from the president--but a quick glance at the alliance organized to fight the jihadist group know as Islamic State, or ISIS, should serve as a reminder that no matter how much lip service American presidents pay to the aspirations of Arabs and Muslims across the greater Middle East, the United States is -- and will likely remain -- heavily invested in an autocratic status quo in the region.

In recent months ISIS has made gains throughout much of Iraq and Syria, leaving behind tales of violence, terror and savagery. The executions of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff helped to rapidly turn public opinion on the matter, compelling an otherwise insouciant administration to act.

For Obama, the composition of the regional alliance against ISIS was key. The president rightly believed it important to foster regional buy-in and include Arab allies in the campaign. As Slate foreign policy writer Fred Kaplan put it, “To have Muslim nations, especially Sunni nations, battling against ISIS helps discredit its rationale for existence.”

Kaplan’s observation isn’t wrong, but it is a demonstration of just how limited the U.S.’s options remain.

While a bloc including Sunni Arab regimes certainly provides the U.S. with a kind of PR cover -- in addition to essential tactical support in its bombing campaign -- it also means more military aid and hardware for monarchs, sheiks and strongmen in the Mideast and North Africa. It means additional arms for monarchies in Jordan and Bahrain, as well as Apache helicopters and fighter jets for the military junta in Egypt. Ostensibly intended to help the U.S. fend off terrorism in the Mideast, this aid will also undoubtedly be used by these regimes to suppress their own restive populations.

Is America on the ISIS Hit List?

September 29, 2014 

"To whom does ISIS pose the most imminent and even existential threat?"

ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and his organization are unusual among terrorists in their explicit articulation of their ambitions, their agenda, their priorities, and their strategy. Analyzing their actions, one finds a high level of alignment between what they say and what they do.

Their self-proclaimed mission is to create an Islamic State, one governed according to their extreme and perverted interpretation of Islam. To achieve that objective, they organize fighters prepared to strike with vividly brutal strokes that are aimed at terrifying and intimidating their adversaries. After more than three years of civil war in Syria between the Assad government and an array of opponents, including the American-assisted Free-Syrian Army and Al Qaeda’s affiliate Al Nusra, ISIS has emerged as the most successful in establishing control of territory. From that base it has pushed into adjacent Iraq where it now controls a large swath of the northwest.

To those who come to its battlefield to thwart its ambitions, ISIS promises death, in the most brutal fashion. The ISIS-crafted statements by the American and British hostages who were beheaded could not be more explicit. Unlike Osama bin Laden’s fixation with what he called the “far enemy,” for ISIS the US is far away and well down on its hit list.

To whom does ISIS pose the most imminent and even existential threat?

- Assad’s Syrian government (from whom it has seized more than one-third of its country and seeks the rest).

- Iraq’s Baghdad government (from whom it has seized a quarter of its territory and aspires to more).

Iraq Is Splintering Along Ethnic and Religious Lines

Abigail Hauslohner
September 30, 2014

With the rise of Islamic State, Iraq is splintering along religious and ethnic lines

BAGHDAD — For millennia, Iraq has been one of the Middle East’s most religiously and ethnically diverse lands. Its cities and villages are dotted with the decaying hallmarks of ancient Babylonian civilization, the mosques of the first Muslim empires, the castles of foreign conquerors, and the churches and shrines of early Christians and Jews.

Now that history may be coming to an end.

Iraq’s demographics have shifted over time for a variety of reasons, including violence and politics. But the rise of the Islamic State group may have dealt the most lethal blow in centuries to the nation’s diversity.

The Sunni militant fighters have driven away, enslaved and exterminated Shiitesand members of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities on a scale that human-rights groups have likened to ethnic cleansing.

The impact, experts say, goes beyond ridding Iraqi cities of their cultural diversity. The extremists’ campaign could lay the foundation for perpetual conflict by segregating and isolating the country’s religious and ethnic groups.

Iraqi Shiite Muslim pilgrims make their way through Baghdad’s Sunni Adhamiya district. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Future generations of Sunnis and Shiites may know little of each other, undermining the very idea of what it means to be Iraqi, intellectuals fear.