8 November 2014

Just add to cart

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/just-add-to-cart/99/

In spite of the delirium visited upon the country this Diwali, e-commerce will be no more than 3-10 per cent of Indian retail over the coming decade.
Written by Bhaskar Chakravorti | Posted: November 8, 2014 

While the Diwali fireworks have died down, it is becoming clear that as far as the annual shopping season goes, 2014 has brought some explosive changes. The business of Diwali may never be quite the same after this year. According to some retailers, not enough shoppers were lining up at the shops, upending a time-honoured tradition. The Future Group’s chief, Kishore Biyani, pretty much summed it up in a quote in The Wall Street Journal: “The market has been bad”. On the flip side, according to almighty Google, “The internet is increasingly becoming the preferred source of research (and even purchase) for Indians, and searches on Google clearly show the rush of searches around Diwali.” More and more Indian shoppers are turning to their phones and computers instead of braving the traffic to make their purchases for the festival season; it seems the trend accelerated this year. Of course, 2014 was also the year when records were broken in Indian e-commerce; in excess of $3 billion poured into the nascent Indian e-commerce market over the summer. ASSOCHAM expects online sales to hit the Rs 10,000 crore milestone this year. With the tech research firm, Gartner, predicting 70 per cent growth in the Indian e-commerce market by next year and The Fletcher School-MasterCard Digital Evolution Index placing India as a “break out” country in terms of digital evolution, we may be looking at a future filled with digital Diwalis.

This is a transition that is remarkable for the simple reason that despite the liberalisation of the Indian economy and the growing interest of international players in getting a toehold in one of the world’s highest potential consumer markets, Indian retail has stubbornly resisted change. It had remained fragmented, chaotic and inefficient, a postcard from the “old” India. The political and regulatory establishment could never quite make up its mind about whether to enact the bold laws to truly nudge it towards modernity. With the rise of digital players, Indian retail may be sidestepping decades of dithering. Digital retail is forcing a competitively feisty space, with innovation in branding, business models and funding that retail has never witnessed before.

F.B.I. Is Investigating Retired U.S. Diplomat, a Pakistan Expert, Officials Say

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/us/robin-raphel-fbi-state-department-search.html?_r=1


By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZONOV. 7, 2014

WASHINGTON — F.B.I. counterintelligence agents are investigating a veteran American diplomat suspected of taking classified information home from the State Department, and have searched her house and office for evidence, government officials said Friday.

The diplomat, Robin L. Raphel, is a retired ambassador and an expert on Pakistan who until recently was an adviser to the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The officials said that after the F.B.I. searches, Ms. Raphel was put on leave and her contract was allowed to expire.

The nature of the investigation is unclear, but officials said the F.B.I. was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel apparently brought classified information home, and whether she had passed, or was planning to pass, the information to a foreign government.

F.B.I. counterintelligence agents have a broad mandate — including tracking foreign spies inside the United States, investigating American citizens suspected of spying for other nations, and examining the mishandling of classified information.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, did not give details about why they were examining Ms. Raphel’s activities. Nor did they say whether she was officially a target of the investigation.

It is extremely rare for the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into such a prominent Washington figure. Any decision by the Justice Department to open the inquiry would have had to take into account that an investigation — whatever its outcome — will have a lasting impact on Ms. Raphel’s ability in the future to operate within American diplomatic circles. One official said on Friday that Ms. Raphel had been stripped of her security clearances as part of the investigation.

Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that the department was “cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues on this matter.”

“Ms. Raphel’s appointment expired,” Ms. Psaki said. “She is no longer a department employee.”

A divided miracle - China, Japan, India and Buddhism



China and Japan didn't seem to be on speaking terms. Flanking Suranjan Das, Calcutta University's vice-chancellor, but separated by disputed islands and the "nine-dash line" in the South China Sea, the consuls-general of the two countries carefully avoided looking at each other as they glowed in the radiance of the Buddha. Emphasizing the Middle Path not the Middle Kingdom, each trumpeted his country's robust Buddhist credentials. Each staked a vigorous claim to ancient ties with India. China's Wang Xuefeng spoke as India's closest neighbour. Kazumi Endo stressed that despite distance, Japan is India's closest friend.

The occasion for this competitive courtship, enigmatically called Release of Posters, was the Indian Museum's curtain-raiser last Monday for the exhibition of Indian Buddhist art it is sending to Shanghai and Tokyo. Japan's self-confessed Buddhists and Shintoists together outnumber its total population. But China claims to be the world's largest Buddhist country with more than 240,000 monks and nuns, over 28,000 monasteries and 16,000 temples. The world's tallest Buddha statute and the world's highest Buddhist pagoda testify to its devotion. The Buddha must be grinning.

The museum's expert on Buddhist art, Anusua Sengupta, who has lovingly curated the 91 sculptures, manuscripts, silver, wood carvings and other artifacts illustrating the three stages of the Buddha's life must have some inkling of the passions art evokes. Her pride - a second-century schist stone titled Miracle at Sravasti, the first discovery of Gandhara art -can provoke fierce controversy. A distinguished Pakistani at Harvard severely scolded me for daring to call Gandhara art Graeco-Indian. "Indian hegemonism!" he screamed, "Gandhara is in Pakistan!" He magnanimously agreed to accept "Graeco-Indian" if I acknowledged the Taj Mahal as Pakistani.

Building roads of peace

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/building-roads-of-peace/99/

Connectivity is another way of saying “no war”, but in our parts “no war” is considered a cowardly thing.
Written by Khaled Ahmed |Posted: November 8, 2014 
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi delays peace talks with Pakistan and the LoC heats up, another meeting of SAARC looms this month, barring South Asian leaders from talking war and persuading them to focus on the more modern concept of “connectivity”. Modi is the man of “connectivity” when he is not being warlike and knows more about it than Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who thinks connectivity with India is the way to go for Pakistan.

Connectivity is another way of saying “no war”, but in our parts “no war” is considered a cowardly thing. Today, the world thinks if two warrior states become interdependent they will find it hard to go to war. Connectivity is achieved through free trade and you need roads to get your goods across borders. If Pakistan is sensitive to self-interest, it should truly exploit the “edge” of strategic physical location that makes neighbours interdependent with it. That edge is called transit trade and Pakistan and Afghanistan have that advantage.

Pakistani-American scholar Mahnaz Z. Ispahani wrote in her seminal book on the issue of routes and anti-routes, Roads and Rivals: The Politics of Access in the Borderlands of Asia (1989), and remains the best source on South Asia’s attitudes towards “regional connectivity”. She concluded that roads were essential to a country’s internal cohesion; cross-border roads tended to be seen as breaching security and imposing cohesion where it was not required by states before they could reconcile with each other as friendly states. There were states that sought access and there were others that denied access and established anti-routes. Borders were the first natural anti-routes. At the risk of committing heresy in Pakistan, I will repeat the well-worn adage: nothing destroys frontiers as free trade.

Kabul breakpoint

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kabul-breakpoint/99/
Pakistan army chief has renewed the offer of providing military training, which Karzai consistently refused.
Written by Vivek Katju | Posted: November 8, 2014 

After months of political uncertainty because of a flawed and fraudulent election, a national unity government was formed in Afghanistan on September 29 with Ashraf Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive. Many leaders of regional and Western countries participated in their oath-taking ceremony. Vice President Hamid Ansari represented India at the event.

The new Afghan government is based on an extra-constitutional and unstable arrangement, almost completely worked out by the US, which had, for many years, wanted Ghani to succeed Hamid Karzai as president. The US objective is to ensure that the Afghan political system does not collapse and the security forces do not split as it withdraws from the country.

Afghanistan faces immense political, security and economic challenges. The country’s politics will remain fraught as it will not be easy to reconcile the differences between Ghani and Abdullah, or between their supporters. Their first challenge is cabinet-formation and the appointment of senior officials. While these are works in progress, Ghani has begun to take important initiatives, especially related to foreign and security affairs. His approach is a significant departure from then president Karzai’s post-2009 tactics. However, similarities can be discerned between Ghani’s present attempts and those of Karzai in the first few years of his presidency, specifically between 2002 and 2005. During this period, Karzai did all that was possible to woo Pakistan and his relations with the US were strong. It is clear that Ghani is preparing to tread the same path with Pakistan, but he is seeking to place it within a conceptual framework.

Kabul Connect in Beijing

http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Kabul-Connect-in-Beijing/2014/11/07/article2510925.ece

By Harsh V Pant

Published: 07th November 2014
Last week Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani reached out to China with a four-day visit to the Asian powerhouse. There was high-flying rhetoric as Ghani said his country viewed China “as a strategic partner, in the short term, medium term, long term and very long term”. President Xi Jinping reciprocated by hailing Ghani as an old friend of the Chinese people with whom China prepared to work towards “a new era of co-operation”, and “to take development to a new depth”. Afghanistan and China signed four agreements on trade and commerce relations, bilateral economic ties, humanitarian aid, and travel permits for public servants. Despite China’s concerns that a deteriorating security situation could threaten greater investment, it agreed to give Afghanistan $327 million in aid over the next three years—$81.8 million in 2014 and the remaining sum between 2015-2017. More significantly, China also agreed to act as a mediator between Afghanistan and Pakistan while Ghani pledged to help China fight its own Islamic militants.

China is interested in playing play a larger role in Afghanistan, long seen as primarily a US responsibility after its 2001 invasion. With the impending departure of the western troops from Afghanistan and Taliban gains threatening to stoke Islamic militancy in China’s western Xinjiang region and cut off mineral resources valued as high as $3 trillion, there are new pressures in China’s Afghanistan policy.

Both Beijing and Kabul recognise each other’s importance. Afghanistan has requested assistance from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in its fight against the Taliban. Providing assistance to Afghanistan may form a part of Xi Jinping’s wider plan to establish a 6,437km “Silk Road” economic belt to connect the Far East with Europe by way of Central Asia. Security concerns have prevented Chinese investments in Afghanistan from getting off the ground. State-owned China Metallurgical Group spent $3 billion to mine copper at Mes Aynak, about 30 miles south of Kabul, only to see the project stalled because of insurgents and the discovery of Buddhist artifacts at the site. China National Petroleum Corp., the nation’s largest oil company, agreed in 2011 to develop Afghanistan’s Amu Darya basin, a project the government estimates will yield about $7 billion in profits.

***** The Critical Bay of Bengal

November 6, 2014

Amitav Ghosh is to my mind the most brilliant, serious fiction writer alive today. His emerging Ibis trilogy, about individuals caught up in the 19th-century opium trade in the Indian Ocean, has the sweep of Leo Tolstoy and a linguistic intricacy that might have impressed James Joyce. In 2000, Ghosh published The Glass Palace, an epic historical novel spanning decades about Indian migration throughout the Bay of Bengal, the eastern half of the Indian Ocean. The novel takes place in what used to be known as Burma, Bengal, India and Malaya. I had the good fortune to read it some years back in Kolkata, near the top of the bay.

The Bay of Bengal constitutes a single world of Indian migration throughout maritime Southeast Asia. The bay in earlier times was essentially the Chola Sea, recalling the medieval empire of the Hindu Tamils who sent their ships as far as China. It wasn't only imperial glory, however, that drove Tamils and other Indians to all corners of the bay, but also indentured servitude, as ethnic Indians suffered on the dense and steaming plantations of Malaya. Then there was the Indian middleman minority that played such a large role in the business community of Burma's capital, Rangoon, a minority that supplies Ghosh with his central characters in The Glass Palace.

There is a profound geopolitical lesson here, elucidated by Sunil S. Amrith, a scholar at Birkbeck College, University of London, in Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants, published in 2013. Amrith tells the story of a bay that "was once a region at the heart of global history," but which in the second half of the 20th century "was carved up by the boundaries of nation-states, its shared past divided into the separate compartments of national histories." In other words, throughout the medieval, early modern and modern periods of world history -- under both indigenous city-states and empires, and later under the British Empire -- the Bay of Bengal was one, singular civilization united by a rice culture and a common coastline that brought trade and migrants around its shores, spreading the same deities and architectural styles. And its economic impact up through the mid-20th century was global: Tamil migrant workers on Malayan rubber plantations supported the new American automobile industry, even as Burma was the largest rice exporter in the world.

The common thread in modern times was British control of not only Greater India, but Burma and Malaya, too. In this one sense at least, Western imperialism continued a pattern of cultural and political unity that had gone on for centuries as far back as antiquity, and which was sundered by imperial collapse. In the place of empire came the late-20th century states of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia. And this, in turn, led to an artificial division between "South Asia" and "Southeast Asia" -- a division buttressed by Cold War area studies, one which seems altogether natural to us but which has, in fact, little basis in history. For the British, to use one example, required Southeast Asia to defend India, uniting in a strategic conception both sides of the bay.

Poorly Funded Indian Intelligence Agencies Not Petrforming Counterterrorism Mission Well

Indian intelligence agency on the cheap hampers war on militants

Reuters, 
November 6, 2014

(Reuters) - When a bomb went off last month in West Bengal state, police at India’s leading counterterrorism organization had to hail taxis to get to the scene because they did not have enough cars.

The admission by two officers from the National Investigation Agency underlines how poorly equipped it is to fulfill its role of investigating the most serious terrorism cases, cutting off funding to militants and putting suspects on trial.

The NIA’s woes are symptomatic of an overstretched intelligence network at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi must counter the growing threat of Islamist militants from al Qaeda, and possibly also Islamic State, gaining a foothold in the world’s largest democracy.

The NIA has no officers specializing in cyber surveillance, explosives or tracing chemicals and has been forced to ask companies to decrypt computers recovered at crime scenes, officers said.

"The government has its budget constraints; we have done quite well in cracking cases with the resources at our disposal," NIA head Sharad Kumar told Reuters in an interview.

When NIA officers eventually arrived at the scene of the blast in West Bengal, bordering Bangladesh to India’s east, what they discovered was important.

Two members of a banned Bangladeshi militant group had blown themselves up building bombs, and the NIA believes they were part of a series of plots to destabilize Bangladesh.

The NIA, which had only opened its West Bengal branch five days earlier, was caught by surprise by the blast, as were other Indian intelligence agencies.It is now investigating the case and says it is struggling to find a dozen senior militant leaders who it said had fled the area after the explosion.

SHOESTRING BUDGET

The NIA was created in response to the siege of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, when Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people in a commando-style assault on two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish center in 2008.

The agency is seen as India’s answer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism wing, although, despite a population four times that of the United States, it has about 0.5 percent of the funding of its American counterpart.

RUSSIA MOVING MISSILES, ROCKETS TOWARD EASTERN UKRAINE

http://fortunascorner.com/2014/11/06/russia-moving-missiles-rockets-toward-eastern-ukraine/

Russia Moving Missiles, Rockets Toward Eastern Ukraine

NATO commander: Deployment of western “rotational forces” needed in Poland, Romania, the Baltics

BY: Bill Gertz
November 6, 2014 

Russia is sending additional military forces toward the border with eastern Ukraine, including units equipped with ballistic missiles, as part of Moscow’s ongoing destabilization effort in support of pro-Russian rebels.

U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports said one Russian military unit equipped with short-range ballistic missiles was detected this week near eastern Ukraine, where Russia has launched a destabilization program following its military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March.

The military movements coincided with the an unusual number of flights last week by Russian strategic nuclear bombers and aircraft along Europe’s northern coasts in a what NATO’s military commander called strategic “messaging” toward the West.

“My opinion is that they’re messaging us,” Gen. Phillip Breedlove, the commander, told reporters at the Pentagon this week. “They’re messaging us that they are a great power and that they have the ability to exert these kinds of influences in our thinking.”

The bomber flights included three days of paired Tu-95 bomber flights that were to have circumnavigated Europe from the north but instead were halted near Portugal.

U.S. officials said Russia deployed several Il-78 refueling tankers in Egypt that were to resupply the bombers during flights over the Mediterranean, but those flights were scrapped for unknown reasons.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concerns about Russian military moves in Ukraine during remarks to reporters Tuesday in Brussels.

“Recently we are also seeing Russian troops moving closer to the border with Ukraine, and Russia continues to support the separatists by training them, by providing equipment, and supporting them also by having special forces, Russian special forces, inside the eastern parts of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Other officials said both intelligence and social media reports in recent days revealed an increase in Russian deployments.

The missile systems being deployed were described as conventionally armed, short-range ballistic missiles, multiple launch rocket systems, and BM-21 Grad multiple rocker launchers.

Additionally, Russian military forces are moving towed artillery pieces closer to the border.

One official said the display of military power is part of Moscow’s effort to reinforce “separatists” seeking to carve out a pro-Russian enclave in Eastern Ukraine.

The Russian “Spetsnaz” or special forces commandos are already inside the country, but the ground forces as of Wednesday appeared to be staging at the border.

Russian military forces in Ukraine number around 300 commandos. “These are not fighting formations. These are formations and specialists that are in there doing training and equipping of the separatist forces,” Breedlove said.

The buildup is either part of a plan for military escalation, or a coordinated pressure tactic by Moscow to force Ukraine to make concessions to the rebels, officials said.

Rebel groups in the region have made repeated threats to take control of the key southeastern Ukrainian port of Mariupol and other territory unless the Ukrainian government agrees to make changes in the current separation line.

“The build up may just be a pressure tactic to force such concessions, or it may presage further escalation,” one official said.

Rebels in eastern Ukraine recently held elections that Ukraine and NATO dismissed as illegal. New charges were raised in Kiev Wednesday about violations of a peace agreement reached in Belarus in September.

Breedlove said Monday there was no “huge change” in Russian deployments. Currently about seven battalion task groups are stationed near the border with Ukraine.

Here's Why Forbes Named Putin The Most Powerful Leader On Earth

NOV 6, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (not pictured) in the Kremlin in Moscow December 18, 2007.

Hitting the Pause Button: The "Frozen Conflict" Dilemma in Ukraine

November 6, 2014

"Georgia's experience with frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia offers lessons for Ukraine." 

For some time, Ukraine is likely to host frozen conflicts, in Crimea and the Donbas region. Elections last Sunday in the Russian-armed, rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine reinforced this. Moscow said the vote reflected the "will of the people," but the European Union called the elections "illegal and illegitimate." Ukraine will face difficult realities and painful choices in managing its conflicts. Georgia's experience with frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia offers lessons for Ukraine.

“Frozen conflicts” describe places where fighting took place and has come to an end, yet no overall political solution, such as a peace treaty, has been reached.

There are key differences between the Georgian and Ukrainian conflicts. First, in the Georgian ones, both sides played a role in provoking fighting. After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Russian forces supported separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia in part to stem Georgian armed efforts to subdue the two regions. In 2008, Georgians used force precipitately in South Ossetia after Russia’s provocation. In contrast, Russia’s seizures of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were unprovoked by Ukrainian military action.

Second, in its 2008 invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia incurred Western criticism, but no lasting ill effects. In contrast, its seizure of territory in Ukraine, breaking explicit international commitments, has led to tough Western sanctions. They are exacerbating capital flight from Russia, an economic downturn and international isolation. These effects may not be alleviated anytime soon.

Third, Russia justified its 2008 intervention in specific terms: preventing Georgia from committing alleged genocide in the separatist regions and avenging the deaths of Russian peacekeepers. Moscow depicts its actions in Ukraine, however, as serving a broader goal, to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers abroad wherever they may be endangered. Buttressing this strategy, Russia is waging a nationalistic propaganda campaign alleging that the United States and the West seek to overthrow governments through rightist-led color revolutions.

Despite these differences, aspects of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s frozen conflicts are similar.

Reform should remain Ukraine’s priority:

Like Georgia, Ukraine became more vulnerable to Russian pressure because of bad governance and poverty. Despite being fledgling democracies, the two countries have per capita GDPs less than half that of Russia. People in the occupied regions see material cost in staying with Georgia or Ukraine. When Russia seized Crimea, some older people there exulted to journalists that their pensions would rise.

To entice people in the occupied areas, Ukraine must become more prosperous. This means privatizing state-controlled economic property and slashing wasteful subsidies and regulations that feed corruption and stifle business opportunity. Without progress, support for Ukraine will decline. Western patience with stalled economic reforms, and sky-high corruption and energy inefficiency, is wearing thin.

Avoid hyping the nationalist and revanchist card:

After the 2003 Rose Revolution when Mikheil Saakashvili became president, he played to excess the nationalist card, alienating many of Georgia’s supporters in the West. He often lambasted Russia’s leaders and policies, despite Western counsel that this tiresome refrain ran undue risks for Georgia. Saakashvili’s tactics may have helped egg on Russia to ban wine and others imports from Georgia, freeze high-level dialogue and set the stage for the 2008 war.

SORROW, MEMORY, AND THE END OF THE HELMAND CAMPAIGN

November 4, 2014 

As I watched the American, British and NATO flags come down at Camp Leatherneck, marking an end to NATO combat operations in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province, a hollow feeling filled my chest. This reaction surprised me. I have been a critic of the Afghan campaign since I worked out of Main Operating Base Lashkar Gah, affectionately known as Lash, from late 2010 through summer 2011. Lash was my home for most of my time in Afghanistan in my role as a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team Social Scientist, a typical Department of Defense jumble of jargon that basically indicates my job was to help the military – in my case the British and Danish forces then operating in central Helmand – understand the Afghan people. Four months into my tour, I understood that what we were doing in Helmand was all wrong. I could see the campaign was based on several faulty assumptions and that no matter how well we did at the tactical and operational levels, the larger strategic goals of the campaign would remain elusive.

Not long after my return, I argued that the bulk of NATO troops should leave the country by the spring of 2013 with a residual force left behind to keep watch on a much more constrained set of interests than those envisioned by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Now it is the fall of 2014 and my old home in Lash is in Afghan hands, including the patch of dust where I slept in an eight-man tent and the condemned, low-slung concrete buildings where I moved after the tent flooded. NATO operations in this troubled province are over, and I feel sorrowful. Why is that the case, when we never should have deployed to Helmand in such force in the first place?

Endings, no matter their context, are always tinged with a sort of tragedy. The end of NATO combat operations in Helmand is no different. As those flags over Leatherneck lowered for the final time, I was forced to reflect.

This ending carries with it many things that should and do comfort me. No more American, British, or Danish troops will be killed or injured in Helmand for a war that doesn’t merit the sacrifice, nor will their Estonian andGeorgian comrades who also fought for the province and ended their mission there earlier this year. Almost twice as many men and women in uniform were killed in Helmand than in the next deadliest province – neighboring Kandahar. Many more were maimed, leaving behind their limbs and sometimes their sanity. We can reasonably hope there will not be one more Western military casualty in Helmand, aside from, perhaps, special operations forces. The United States is overstretched. Its interest in stability in a place like Helmand pales in comparison to demands presented by nihilist drug cartels in Mexico, a rising China, a revanchist Russia and the collapse of large swaths of Syria and Iraq to a jihadist army. Moreover, our very ability to affect lasting change in Helmand was always questionable. One simple fact is sufficient to illustrate the inadequacy of NATO efforts in this troubled province: Helmand is a more dangerous and violent place now than it was before the surge of troops into Afghanistan. Our efforts there were misspent and good men and women paid for it with their lives.

Nevertheless, the end of NATO operations in Helmand is not an end to the war for the people who live there. It is, rather, the beginning of a new and more dangerous phase. Haji Mohammad Hydar, an Afghan farmer in Sangin, recently said to a reporter, “There was war before the foreign troops arrived, there was war while they were here, and there will be war after they leave.” Like the rest of Afghanistan, Helmand has been at war with itself for 36 years, broken only by brief periods of repression. The first was in the late 1990s, under the dictatorial rule of the Taliban. The next lasted a couple of years after the Taliban’s ousting under the chaotic rapaciousness of the Akhundzada clan. The introduction of British forces into Helmand in 2006 to stem a resurgent Taliban and ensure the appropriate conditions for development led, of course, to more strife. By late 2010, a larger, multi-national force composed largely of U.S. Marines surged into the province was able to bring a semblance of stability to its most populated districts. The cost was not low. NATO and Afghan troops died in the hundreds every year. And their success was not complete. Civilians still died violently. The police held on to some of their predatory tendencies and ISAF and the Afghan government were never able to expand their writ throughout the province, but life in Helmand became far less severe than it had been for decades. Still, the populace had greater access to education, transport and medical care than ever before. This period was, as one English comrade put it at the time, the orange slice in the middle of the football match. But this could not endure the withdrawal of foreign troops. Halftime would end and the rough game would resume. I understood, as did many others serving in Helmand at the time, that the province’s myriad “micro-conflicts” would once again come to the fore, creating endless opportunities for the insurgency and drug gangs. Government gains in the countryside paid for in the blood of men and women from six countries, including Afghanistan, would be reversed. And so it goes. NATO operations until then were merely a prolonged and largely unnecessary preface to Helmand’s next phase.

Why India is getting Wagah all wrong

Sushant Sareen
November 05, 2014

The suicide bombing that killed over 60 Pakistanis just outside the Wagah border parade area seems to have affected the usual suspects in India far more than it has the people across. So overcome were they by their emotions that they immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be a game-changer and that the time had come for India and Pakistan to cooperate and collaborate to root out terrorism. Worse, fears were expressed that the terrorism sweeping through Pakistan had now reached the Indian border and was going to soon cross over. Asides of not specifying who India could collaborate with other than the fringe liberal section of Pakistani society that doesn’t call the shots and matters little in the larger scheme of things, the fact that terrorism emanating from Pakistan has already entered, or more accurately been exported, into India decades ago was blithely ignored.

Clearly, the Wagah incident on November 2 is not going to make the Pakistani society and its ‘deep state’ wake up to the existential threat posed by jihadist terror groups. There is neither going to be any change in Pakistan’s attitude towards using terrorism as an instrument of state policy, nor its inimical attitude towards India. Simply put, Pakistanis have been brain-washed to a point where their hatred for India in general and Hindus in particular far outweighs any fear or horror they may feel over the acts of terrorism by the jihadists. To expect cooperation on terrorism from a country where an internationally designated terrorist organisation like the Jamaatud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba is considered to be a philanthropic outfit is nothing short of delusional.

A sample of the mindset that prevails in Pakistan, not just towards India but also terrorism, was on display the day after the bomb blast. Apparently the Pakistan Rangers had requested the BSF to suspend the flag lowering ceremony for three days following the suicide attack. The BSF graciously acquiesced to this request. But the very next day the Pakistanis decided to go ahead with the ceremony. Actually, it is quite normal for military and paramilitary units to get rid of the ghosts of either an accident or an untoward incident by repeating the drill at the very next available opportunity. But what the Pakistanis did was sneaky and dishonourable because they informed the BSF of this at the last minute but by then most of the Indian crowd had been turned back. The Pakistanis, however, stacked the stands with serving and retired services personnel. This then was used by the Lahore Corps Commander, presumably one of the prospective collaborators against terrorism, to raise the morale of his own side. This he did by indulging in some low brow point scoring. He thumped his chest by saying that it seemed as though the Indian audience had “sniffed a snake” while the Pakistanis showed their devil-may-care attitude and their resilience to bounce back after a serious terrorist attack. Such low cunning is an outcome of an institutional, and even national, attitude that breeds pathological hatred towards India. This should shame the apologists for Pakistan in India of their woolly-headed notions about normalising ties.

What is it about the Wagah blast anyway that makes some Indians think that it will make Pakistan more amenable to anti-terror cooperation with India? It is certainly not the worst terror attack on Pakistani soil. Worse attacks have happened without making an iota of difference to Pakistan’s approach to Jihadism. There was no high profile casualty in the Wagah attack. Most of the people who died were anyways expendable in the larger strategic calculus of the Pakistani ‘deep state’. The way the Pakistani establishment sees it, the cost of terrorism is much below what the Pakistani ‘deep state’ thinks it will have to pay in terms of its irredentist claims, corporate interests and religion based nationalism in order to normalise relations with India.

The choice of Wagah was only tangentially related to India, in the sense that any incident there would create an instant international splash and give the terrorists the publicity. Even if instead of 60 people only a couple had lost their lives, the incident would have created the same publicity impact.

By carrying out the attack the terrorists sent a loud message that their network and ability to strike remains very much intact despite the government claims that the military operations in North Waziristan had disrupted their command and control centres. That three different groups claimed responsibility seems odd at first sight but chances are that all might have had a role to play – one would have planned it and supplied funds, explosives and suicide jackets, another would have listed the suicide bomber and the third could have provided the local logistics. The fact that all groups claimed responsibility could be the result of a sort of competition to emerge as the top dog in the terrorist fraternity. There is an open tussle for leadership and going by the stupendous success of the Islamic State, the group that can demonstrate that it is the most effective will get the maximum recruits, funds and even the leadership mantle. For this they must carry out spectacular attacks, which is what Wagah was. To bring India into this dynamic is akin to missing the woods for the trees.

Is There Trouble in Sino-Russian Paradise?

By Chen Weidong

Uncertainty with a gas deal may be overblown, but China would be wise to learn from the trouble Europe got into by depending on Russia for energy

A weibo post on the troubles arising again with a Sino-Russian natural gas deal has circulated online in the last few days. It reads: "On September 25, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Devorko Abramovich said in Moscow that there are still differences over the Russia-China natural gas contract. An agreement has still not been reached on Gazprom's demand that the Chinese side pay an advance sum. The Russia-to-China gas supply project is still uncertain."

On June 18, Gazprom's deputy chairman, Alexander Medvedev, said the sides had reached an agreement on an advance payment. China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) would pay Russia US$ 25 billion and Gazprom would start supplying gas to China within four to six years. The agreement was signed, but the payment particulars were not finalized. Abramovich's apparent remarks about "differences" refer to the Chinese side's belief that the payment is included in the pipeline construction deal. Russia insists that the money was not included, but rather was prepayment for gas.

A Baidu search did not yield any news reports on this issue. The Sino-Russian gas deal has received worldwide attention. I am going on the theory that if Abramovich made such a remark, the mainstream media would have picked up on it. If the comments only appear in one weibo post, it is possible they were fabricated. However, the fact it has spread so widely indicates problems exist.

The Russian government's main sources of income have been Gazprom, Rosneft Oil and Transneft. The present level of Rosneft and Gazprom's oil and gas output is mainly a legacy of the former Soviet Union. Sanctions from the United States and European Union that target investment in Russia's future oil and gas production capacity, such as Arctic, Eastern Siberian and liquefied natural gas projects, are seriously impacting the ability of Russia's large energy companies to raise funds. Their rapid expansion over the past few years has been accompanied by high debt. This is especially true of Rosneft Oil, which faces big liquidity problems. Gazprom's situation is better due to lack of acquisitions and mergers.

The Sino-Russian "deal of the century" is unlikely to proceed without difficulty. It is certain that Russia will eventually send gas to China. I have no doubt of that. The two countries' presidents witnessed the signing of the contract. The honeymoon is not over yet, but the story of alleged uncertainty is popular. Indeed, it has sent shockwaves though the industry and is raising many questions, namely: Are the Russians reputable?

Russia constantly says that it has and always will be a reliable energy supplier. But on January 5, 2009, Vladimir Putin made a startling announcement on television, saying that that during a bitterly cold winter, Russia would cut off the supply of gas to its Western European clients, who had been passive spectators of a dispute over gas between Russia and Ukraine. This was the first time that Russia (or the former Soviet Union) had reduced the gas supply to its Western clients. In the eyes of many Western scholars and politicians, Putin's move was an attempt to crush the EU. Thus, Europeans have come to view Putin's use of energy resources as a tool for punishing his neighbors.

Also, on New Year's Day 2006, Russia shut the gas pipeline to Ukraine over outstanding debts. Several months later, Lithuania's oil supply was cut off because a refinery had been sold to a Polish company instead of Rosneft. That same year, a petroleum pipeline to Georgia mysteriously exploded, and Russia refused to allow Georgian investigators to investigate or aid in repairs. In 2007, Russia and Estonia got into a dispute over the dismantling of a Soviet Union-era war monument, and Estonia's oil supply was immediately cut off.

Time to Take the Russia-China Axis Seriously

November 04, 2014

The current partnership between Russia and China is far from temporary. 

If you haven’t already read it, Gilbert Rozman has an incisive essay over at Foreign Affairs that explains why the contemporary iteration of close bilateral ties between Russia and China is here to stay. Rozman argues that we’re not about to see a rehash of the Sino-Soviet split anytime soon for a variety of reasons — most related to national identity and ideology. What makes Rozman’s argument remarkably convincing in my view is the complete absence of the United States’ policy and position in Asia as a causal force in driving China and Russia together. Indeed, under Putin and Xi, China and Russia have come together organically as both country’s ideological directions and geopolitical impulses have converged. While the two aren’t formal allies (and won’t be anytime soon), their potential combined impact on international relations in Asia and the world at large should not be understated.

At the core of today’s convergence between Russia and China is the common idea that the existing international order needs at least an alternative, and at most a complete overhaul. Both countries’ elites experienced the global financial crisis of 2008 in similar ways and walked away from that experience with a degree of vindication that the Western way was by no means adequate. Similarly, Rozman notes that contemporary intellectual elites in both Russia and China have convincingly cast the West as a nefarious imperialist force, culpable for current unrest in Ukraine and Hong Kong. Given the prevalence of these narratives in both countries, nationalism remains directed at the West and not at the other.

Heightened Tensions in the East and South China Seas Report Released

Posted on November 3, 2014 

Territorial disputes, rising tensions and increased military capabilities in the East and South China Seas: will this lead to a regional arms race and potential conflict, or will cooler heads prevail and quell any local action?

A Wikistrat report, released today, explores four distinct scenarios that discuss various aspects of the fragile situation, including interference from the United States, Chinese assertiveness and regional reactions.

The East and South China Seas territorial disputes, including but not limited to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, have not only increased in complexity but are an area of concern for the United States. The lands in question hold historical and strategic significance and highly sought-after potential energy reserves. As China has grown in power and asserted its regional influence, it has looked to increase its claim to these territories, causing concern among neighboring states with similar claims. Under these circumstances, the current international order in East Asia, maintained by the United States, comes into question.

The significance of these disputed territories as strategically important and prospective offshore energy sources is fueling efforts to solidify national claims. In the midst of increased disquiet over the issue, regional states are augmenting and modernizing their military capabilities, particularly the navy and aerospace. Notably, China has dramatically increased military capacity while states such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea are also undergoing upgrades. Such increased military investment and political strain could lead to a regional arms race and accidentally spark conflict over a misunderstanding.

In light of the United States’ commitment to maintaining its conception of international order, what role could they play to ease tensions? Or will regional states step up and mediate before the situation becomes unstable?

In June 2014, Wikistrat conducted a crowdsourced simulation exercise intended to examine potential driving factors that could influence stability in the waters of the East and South China Sea. The simulation utilized the expertise of more than seventy analysts who developed scenarios and policy options illustrating the complexity of the political and economic issues surrounding this topic.

Washington and Tokyo Are Messing Up a Vital Trade Pact

October 28, 2014

Measured by geography alone, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ambitious: The pact would bind the United States, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and seven other countries in a free trade agreement.

As with most such arrangements, signatories hope the deal will boost trade and investment, create jobs, and harmonize regulations. The Partnership is about more than trade, though - the TPP would act as a key economic and strategic bulwark for America's Pacific alliances. Given its importance, Washington and Tokyo have made bold pledges to conclude the deal. China is watching: Beijing views the agreement as a test of the American-led security order in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, narrow but powerful interest groups in the United States and Japan that benefit from existing protectionist measures have stalled negotiations once again. This continued gridlock is dangerous, and negotiators must find a way to overcome it and quickly finalize the pact.

The Partnership promises considerable economic gains. Its potential signatories account for some 40 percent of global output and more than 33 percent of world trade. Within 11 years, the pact is projected to create an annual $440.4 billion in additional exports (including $123.5 billion in U.S. exports and $139.7 billion in Japanese exports) and $285 billion in global income gains ($76.6 billion for the U.S. and $104.6 billion for Japan). This number will grow if countries such as India, South Korea, and Taiwan join the TPP in subsequent rounds.

The strategic benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Finalizing the pact will affirm U.S. staying power in Asia at a time when America's military leadership in the region is undermined by its shrinking defense budget, conflict-weary voters, and involvement in turmoil in other parts of the world. Economic integration among the pact's signatories should also increase their diplomatic and military cooperation. Moreover, by creating an enormous free trade zone that competes with the Chinese market, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will ease its members' reliance on Beijing and grant them a freer hand to resist China. Finally, economic growth means that TPP members will have more resources to fund their military budgets - nearly all of these countries lag significantly behind Chinese defense spending.

The pact promises to provide non-military means to surround China by strengthening its neighbors while also drawing them closer to the United States and Japan. Yet the pact has stalled, and failures in Tokyo and Washington to overcome domestic political interests are largely to blame. Take two examples:

In January, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for an expedited vote on the TPP. Such fast-track authority, which would bar deal amendments, was necessary to end the lengthy back-and-forth that ensues each time a change to the pact is requested. After all, other countries negotiating the agreement would not make concessions unless their counterparts did the same and they were confident that Congress would ratify the pact in the agreed-upon form. A major concern was that congressional members beholden to labor unions, if given the opportunity to re-write the TPP, would not accept Tokyo's call for Washington to cut its tariffs on Japanese cars. Nevertheless, to please unions in the run-up to November's congressional elections, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied Obama's request, and Obama did not push back. With this political divide revealed, U.S. and Japanese leaders predictably failed to resolve their differences during Obama's April trip to Asia - a trip meant to reassure regional allies that they had Washington's backing against an increasingly aggressive China. 

Last month, just one hour into what was to be a daylong meeting on the TPP, Japan's top negotiator reportedly walked out over Washington's request that Tokyo curtail its agricultural protectionism. Japan offered only a "modest reduction" in tariffs on beef imports and demanded a "highly punishing safeguard measure" that would allow Tokyo to increase those tariffs if beef imports surpassed a specific threshold. Having long benefited from substantial tariffs on foreign agricultural products, Japanese farmers strongly oppose free trade. Consider the following Japanese tariffs: 778 percent on rice, 360 percent on butter, and 252 percent on wheat. As Michael Auslin writes, "[t]he political imperative for [such tariffs] is obvious even if the economics are bad. Japan's postwar electoral system gives great weight to rural areas. No group has benefited more from the agriculture lobby's support than [Japan's ruling party]."

MOUNTAINS, MINES AND MEMORIES: THE IDEA OF KURDISTAN

November 5, 2014


We have heard the tales of soldiers, diplomats, journalists, and humanitarian aid workers. They have chronicled the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the war that followed, sharing perspectives and observations that have become familiar to us. Their nuanced arguments and biases have helped shape our memory of the war and the Iraq that was left behind. Now, three years after the final combat troops were withdrawn, enough time has passed for authors to begin producing serious fiction and introspective memoirs. At the same time, their musings carry some urgency as Iraq has once again spiraled out of control. It is in this space that we find Francesca Recchia’s voice narrating the story of her experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan from 2008-2010, as well as observations from her most recent travels in 2014. Recchia’s new book Picnic in a Minefield places us at the center of life, loss, and hope in Kurdistan’s Erbil and provides a unique insight into the current events that have once again brought the Kurds to the forefront of our world.

Recchia is an Italian academic who left Europe for a position at the University of Kurdistan Hawler (UKH) in Erbil, Iraq in the hopes of expanding her professional horizons as an educator. In the course of two years, Recchia experiences life in many different circles. She transitions between guest, traveler, teacher, and mentor with an ease that disarms those who might stand in her way. It is from the unique perspectives of both her professional work at the UKH and her personal interactions with locals that Kurdistan is made real for the reader. Through Recchia’s travels, the soldiers, diplomats, journalists and humanitarian aid workers that usually narrate our collective Iraq experience, are illuminated for the reader from a new perspective. She reports their actions, thoughts and intentions in the insightful and articulate observations of a self-aware and humble narrator.

When Is the U.S. Going to Admit That Bashar al-Assad Is Going to Stay in Power?



Syrian children living in Athens take part in a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Athens on March 15, 2012.

Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch reports that the State Department is cutting its funding for the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, a group that’s gathering information in Syria about war crimes perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The program was meant to collect evidence that could eventually be used to prosecute the Syrian president after he’s overthrown.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer atSlate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Assad has almost certainly committed war crimes, and is almost certainly continuing to do so. Just last week, an army helicopter dropped a barrel bomb—one of the most deadly and indiscriminate weapons in the regime’s arsenal—on a displaced persons camp, reportedly killing at least 10 civilians.

There’s not much point in collecting documentation on Assad’s crimes, though, if the U.S. doesn’t anticipate him being overthrown. And it’s starting to look more and more like that’s what’s going on here.

The Obama administration may still insist that its Syria strategy rests on supporting moderate rebels against ISIS. But it’s getting harder to take this seriously. U.S. officials say they will turn their full attention to Syria only after the Islamic State has been beaten back in Iraq, whenever that is, by which time the rebels will be in a better position to fight. But Washington has apparently yet to decide who to get behind out of the hundreds of militias that’s fighting Assad, many of whom are increasingly aligned with extremist factions the U.S. finds unacceptable.. In another discouraging sign, U.S.-backed rebels were routed from their northern strongholds by the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra last weekend.

Notwithstanding the lack of suitable U.S. partners on the ground in Syria, if the U.S. really wanted to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, it would have overthrown Bashar al-Assad. Washington could have intervened against the Syrian government in the early days of the Syrian civil war, or last year when the Obama administration actively considered airstrikes against Damascus.

It seems to be more acceptable now for mainstream foreign policy voices in Washington to suggest that a resolution to the crisis might require Assad staying in power. In the New York Review of Books, Jessica Matthews, outgoing president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes that the U.S. should take advantage of a rare moment of agreement with both Saudi Arabia and Iran and lead an international push for a peace deal that would allow Assad to remain in power but with “most of his power dispersed to regional governors, the prime minister, the parliament, and the military.”

Mr. Keating, The United States government has not yet admitted that the Cuban government is going to stay in power even though it has been there for two generations and shows not the slightest signs of going anywhere. More...

“Though he is a war criminal, Assad’s personal fate matters less at this point than his country’s,” she writes.

The prospect of Assad remaining in power after the carnage of the last three years is grim, but it appears to be an idea that American leaders are coming around to. They’re just not ready to admit it publicly.

This Is How ISIS Smuggles Oil


Mike Giglio Buzz Feed Staff

An exclusive ground-level look at the illicit oil trade that has made ISIS the world’s richest extremist group. BuzzFeed News’ Mike Giglio reports from the Turkey–Syria border.posted on Nov. 3, 2014, at 9:09 p.m. 

BESASLAN, Turkey — This town on the Turkish-Syrian border is covered in trash. Residents refuse to let any outsiders — even garbagemen — inside. What makes Besaslan more guarded than the other grim towns lining what has become one of the world’s most dangerous borders sits at the end of a winding dirt road: oil.

The oil brings Omar to town weekly, huddling with grease-covered men to negotiate the purchase of faded, 17-gallon drums. A Syrian in his thirties, Omar was once a proud rebel in his country’s civil war. Now he’s a merchant in the trade that bankrolls the extremists who hijacked it: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The militants can make more than $1 million a day selling oil from fields captured in eastern Syria. But the way this shadowy trade works on the ground remains largely unknown.

On a recent Saturday, about 100 drums of oil were clustered at the center of a dusty lot. Omar got a price of $1.11 a liter, 42% cheaper than the standard diesel rate. This was the oil’s first stop in Turkey. After ISIS drilled it inside Syria, middlemen delivered it to the Syrian border opposite Besaslan, where it was pumped into pipes buried underground. On their end of the pipes, the traders in Besaslan filled new drums. Men like Omar bought the oil from the lot and delivered it to local Turkish businessmen, who sold it secretly to gas stations or set up illegal filling stops. While Omar negotiated, a wiry man used a hose to fill a hidden oil tank beneath a white minibus. Oil drums were also packed inside buses like this or crammed into cars like the one that brought Omar to Besaslan, a minivan fit for a soccer mom.

Many cash-strapped residents take part in the dangerous business — and spotters walked the streets, keeping watch for police. Men on motorbikes peered into the van’s tinted windows as it rolled back out of town toward the Turkish city of Reyhanli. The trip to Besaslan may have marked the first time a foreign journalist witnessed oil-smuggling at its source in Turkey since ISIS launched its shock offensive in Iraq this summer, sparking a global push to find and stop its revenue streams.

The Threat of ISIS to the UK: RUSI Threat Assessment

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is well financed, well equipped and brutal. It is also a plausible threat to the UK.


The group operates across large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, where the sustained conflicts continue to attract large numbers of foreign fighters. Official estimates suggest the total travelling to the region has now exceeded 15,000, including 500 from the UK. It is unclear what proportion has joined ISIS, though it is understood that a majority of these UK citizens have joined its ranks. This briefing argues that it is this community of foreign fighters that poses an immediate terrorist threat to the West.

As the UK joins the coalition against this increasingly dominant jihadist force, understanding the scale of the threat and the complexity of the challenge is crucial. This briefing analyses four key questions: 

What is the group’s current narrative and interest? 
How is this narrative being heard in the UK? 
What would change to make ISIS refocus from its regional concentration
to a global one? 
How might a new ‘awakening’ movement be stimulated in Iraq? 

This briefing provides an objective view on ISIS and some judgements about its current threat trajectory. It draws on a series of discussions held at RUSI, which involved internal and external expertise, to come to some key judgements on the group.