21 November 2014

French jihadis call for attacks on homeland

Nov 21, 2014 

A horrified France was grappling with a new reality on Thursday in which hundreds of its citizens are openly joining jihadi groups and directly calling for attacks on their homeland.

A new ISIS video, released on jihadi forums and Twitter on Wednesday, showed three Kalashnikov-wielding Frenchmen burning their passports and calling on Muslims to join them or stage attacks in France.

The new video explicitly calls for retaliation against France for launching airstrikes against ISIS, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq.

It follows the appearance of two other French jihadis identified as 22-year-olds Maxime Hauchard and Mickael Dos Santos in a brutal ISIS execution video released at the weekend.

Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Wednesday that France would step up its campaign against the jihadis, sending six Mirage fighter jets to Jordan in December.

France currently has nine Rafale jets based in the more distant United Arab Emirates as part of a US-led international campaign to provide air support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the group.

But France is increasingly looking inwards as it reels from the news that over 1,000 people from a wide range of backgrounds have left to join the jihadis in Iraq and Syria, with 375 currently there.

PM Manuel Valls said Wednesday that “close to 50” French citizens or residents of France have been killed in the conflict zone.

“So we know the dangers and, sadly, we are not surprised to learn that French citizens or residents of France are found at the heart of these cells and taking part in this barbarity,” said Mr Valls.

Meanwhile, an ISIS leader has been killed in an airstrike in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, residents and a local medical source said on Thursday.

They said Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni, who they described as the radical militant group’s leader in Mosul, was killed with his driver when their car was hit in a western district of the city on Wednesday afternoon. Hamdouni was buried later on Wednesday.

Iran Nuclear talks may drag on till March

Nov 21, 2014 

A deadline for resolving a 12-year-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme may be extended from Monday until March because of sharp disagreements between Tehran and Western powers, officials close to the talks said on Thursday.

US secretary of state John Kerry will arrive in Vienna later for what Washington and its allies had hoped would be the culmination of months of diplomacy between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The aim is to remove sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic programme, but the talks have been deadlocked; the timing for lifting sanctions and future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment are key stumbling blocks.

“Important points of difference remain,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told a joint press conference with Mr Kerry, who met him in Paris on his way to Vienna later on Thursday. The latest round of talks between the six began on Tuesday and are likely to last right up to the self-imposed November 24 deadline for a final agreement. “Some kind of interim agreement at this point is likely, or perhaps at best a framework agreement by Monday that needs to be worked out in the coming weeks and months,” a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

US deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken had said a comprehensive deal was not impossible to achieve by Monday.

US increasing non-lethal military aid to Ukraine

Nov 21, 2014

Medical volunteers unpack individual first aid kits similar to those used by Nato during a ceremony where they were donated by Kiev's mayor Vitaly Klitschko in Kiev.

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to increase non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, including deliveries of the first Humvee vehicles, having decided for now not to provide weapons, US officials said. 

The increase in non-lethal aid to Ukraine, which is grappling with a Russian-backed separatist movement in its east, is expected to be announced on Thursday during a visit to Kiev by vice president Joe Biden. 

The officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, described it as an expansion of US support for Ukraine's armed forces, but one that was unlikely to significantly alter the conflict. 

The aid falls short of what Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid — a request echoed by some US lawmakers in response to what Nato allies say is Russia's movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine. 

Officials in the Obama administration had said Washington believed Ukraine had enough lethal aid and the types of weaponry requested for Ukraine would be of only marginal value. They had also emphasized the need for a diplomatic outcome. 

The United States and its European allies have imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine. 

The new non-lethal aid Biden will present in Kiev includes Humvees from excess supplies in the Pentagon's inventory, as well as the delivery of previously promised radars that can detect the location of enemy mortars, officials said. They did not specify a dollar value for the assistance. 

Previous non-lethal aid to Ukraine includes $53 million announced in September for military equipment such as counter-mortar detection units, body armor, binoculars, small boats and other gear for Ukraine's security forces and border guards in the east. 

Long debate 

President Barack Obama's administration has long debated providing weapons to the Kiev government, but has so far concluded that it might only prompt Russia to escalate its aid to the separatist rebels. 

Ebola vaccine running into patent cover in Canada?

Sushmi Dey
Nov 21, 2014

Almost a decade ago, Canada developed probably the world’s most promising vaccine to prevent spread of Ebola virus disease.

NEW DELHI: A Canadian patent protection may be blocking an Ebola vaccine even as the world is struggling to stop the spread of the deadly virus. 

Almost a decade ago, Canada developed probably the world's most promising vaccine to prevent spread of Ebola virus disease. However, the Canadian government shielded the vaccine with patent rights, limiting its further development for use in other countries, it is learnt. 

The Canadian government licenced the vaccine in 2010 to Bioprotection Systems Corporation, a subsidiary of NewLink Genetics, allowing the firm sole rights to develop and commercialize it. 

The profit-driven arrangement between the Canadian government and the firm has attracted criticism worldwide. Critics said since patenting a vaccine in such circumstances is affecting public health, the Canadian government should put it out in public domain in larger interest. The vaccine which was developed by a Canadian scientist, is based on a live attenuated vesicular stomatitis virus and has several known advantages as compared to other vaccine candidates in clinical trials.

The world according to Gita: Millennia before European thinkers, Gita and Arthashastra embodied Indian tradition of realpolitik

November 21, 2014, 

World order in Hindu cosmology was governed by immutable cycles of an almost inconceivably vast scale — millions of years long. Kingdoms would fall, and the universe would be destroyed, but it would be re-created, and new kingdoms would rise again. The true nature of human experience was known only to those who endured and transcended these temporal upheavals.

The Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita framed these spirited tests in terms of the relationship between morality and power. Arjuna, “overwhelmed by sorrow” on the eve of battle at the horrors he is about to unleash, wonders what can justify the terrible consequences of war. This is the wrong question, Krishna rejoins. Because life is eternal and cyclical and the essence of the universe is indestructible. Redemption will come through the fulfillment of a preassigned duty, paired with a recognition that its outward manifestations are illusory because “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” Arjuna, a warrior, has been presented with a war he did not seek. He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honor, and must strive to kill and prevail and “should not grieve.”

While Lord Krishna’s appeal to duty prevails and Arjuna professes himself freed from doubt, the cataclysms of the war — described in detail in the rest of the epic — add resonance to his earlier qualms. This central work of Hindu thought embodied both an exhortation to war and the importance not so much of avoiding but of transcending it. Morality was not rejected, but in any given situation the immediate considerations were dominant, while eternity provided a curative perspective. What some readers lauded as a call to fearlessness in battle, Gandhi would praise as his “spiritual dictionary.”

Against the background of the eternal verities of a religion preaching the elusiveness of any single earthly endeavor, the temporal ruler was in fact afforded a wide berth for practical necessities. The pioneering exemplar of this school was the 4th century BC minister Kautilya, credited with engineering the rise of India’s Maurya Dynasty, which expelled Alexander the Great’s successors from northern India and unified the subcontinent for the first time under a single rule.


Friday, 21 November 2014 | G Parthasarathy

The most significant development that India can ill afford to ignore is that the US no longer regards the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban as an Al-Qaeda “affiliate”. It also does not see the Taliban as a terrorist group

A recent report issued by the Pentagon has, for the first time, alluded to “sanctuaries” in Pakistan for harbouring terrorists on its borders with both Afghanistan and India. This is not the first time that the Pentagon has indicted Pakistan for aiding terrorist violence in Afghanistan. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2011, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen stated: “The fact remains that the Quetta Shura (Taliban) and the Haqqani network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organisations, serving as proxies of the Government of Pakistan, are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers”. Adm Mullen described how the Haqqani network had attacked the US Embassy in Kabul in September 2011.

Ms Hillary Clinton has consistently not minced her words on Pakistani support for terrorism, warning that Pakistan would pay a high price for its actions. She bitingly told Pakistan: “You cannot nurture snakes in your backyard and expect they will only bite your neighbours”. More recently, she is reported to have asked General Kayani: “How do you envisage Pakistan in 2020 — as South Korea or the Democratic Republic of Congo?” She is said to have left the smug General speechless. It is clear that the US now recognises groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Dawood network as inimical to its security interests. But, while one can realistically expect some intelligence sharing and monitoring of funds of these outfits, India should not believe that the US will take any meaningful action to dismantle or degrade them. Action against ISI backed terrorist groups acting against India cannot be outsourced.

The bulk of Pakistan’s diplomatic and military attention will be focussed on developments across the Durand Line for the foreseeable future. Over 80,000 Pakistani troops are now taking on those of its former ‘assets’ now affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. With nearly a million Pashtun tribals fleeing their homes, the Pakistan military has not destroyed, but dispersed internal terrorism. The attack by the TTP in Wagah was a manifestation of this development. But, given the subterranean links the ISI doubtless retains with the TTP, one should not discount the ISI using the TTP brand name to mount or incite terrorist attacks in India. Amidst these developments, India has to keep a close eye on what is transpiring in Afghanistan, as the new Ashraf Ghani dispensation takes charge in Kabul.

A travesty of history

Nov 19, 2014

The ailing Sardar’s letter to Nehru three weeks before he passed showed his strategic vision. He warned Nehru of the threat arising from China’s occupation of Tibet and advised necessary defensive preparations.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Indira Gandhi are national icons. Both made unparalleled contributions to India in different spheres. The former unified a nation of continental dimension in a year, saving it from being splintered into over 550 separate political entities. Except in the case of Hyderabad, this was done peacefully. In Hyderabad, the Indian Army had to carry out police action. The Hyderabad Army surrendered within five days and casualties were minimum.

Integrating such a large nation so peacefully in a year is unmatched in the history of mankind. The Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck’s much lauded unification of Germany starting with the war against Denmark in 1824, followed by war against Austria and then France in 1871, took much longer to complete and was on a much smaller geographical canvas involving far fewer people.

Indira Gandhi’s contribution as a war leader has a unique place in the history of our country. India won a great military victory after over two millennia. Ninety-two thousand Pakistani soldiers surrendered. A new nation of a hundred million was born. This was achieved against the teeth of opposition of the Nixon-Kissinger duo and also China’s higher-than-the-mountains and deeper-than-the-oceans friendship with Pakistan. The threat from the US Seventh Fleet, including its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise, coming to the Indian Ocean, proved to be of no avail for Pakistan. It was being shadowed by Soviet submarines. The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was a big deterrent.

Saarc without a backbone

Saarc was always hostage to the India-Pakistan relationship: India always feared it being used as a forum for bilateral one-upmanship by our neighbours.
Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Posted: November 21, 2014 

Despite his commitment to greater regional cooperation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have his work cut out for him at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu. Saarc declarations have made considerable progress on a range of issues, from trade and connectivity to ecology. But these declarations only serve to highlight that Saarc has near zero credibility. Can Modi convert a traditionally bureaucratic exercise, at the margins of our political imagination, into an ambitious political gambit with more meaningful outcomes?

There is some hope. The normative discourse on greater connectivity in the region has shifted. There are many projects already on the ground, ranging from grid connectivity with Bangladesh to power agreements with Nepal. These are very modest beginnings. Only in a culture that sets the bar as low as South Asia can these be regarded as progress. They are a far cry from the need to think of South Asia as shared ecological space, a connected energy market, a free-trade area, a zone of freer movement of people, a unified transport area, and more ambitiously, a zone of free, self-confident democracies. Contrary to our traditional fears, greater regional cooperation strengthens individual nations in Saarc rather than weakening them.

Saarc was always hostage to the India-Pakistan relationship: India always feared it being used as a forum for bilateral one-upmanship by our neighbours. This fear has diminished considerably. That is because some of India’s bilaterals have improved, making it harder for all countries to gang up, as it were. There is also the view that regional cooperation can proceed at a different pace with different countries. And finally, at this point, the momentum of India-Pakistan relations has very little to do with India’s actions. Pakistan needs to sort out what kind of national and regional player it wants to become: Indian conduct is, both for the Pakistani military and its Western supporters, largely an alibi for not facing up to its internal problems. Its human costs are high. But the only thing India can do is signal powerfully that there is a new regional imagination taking shape. This imagination has a lot of potential, and Pakistan can join the party if it wants to. The Pakistan factor is more reason to strengthen Saarc, not weaken it.

Hashtags and Holy War: Islamic State Tweets Its Way to Success

Interview Conducted By Britta Sandberg

A screenshot of Islamic State's Twitter account:

In an interview, Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who was a key figure in the arrest of the mastermind behind al-Qaida's 9/11 attacks, discusses Islamic State's massively successful social media strategy and serious errors made in the war against terror.

SPIEGEL: You recently conducted extensive research into Islamic State's media strategy, analyzing numerous documents including videos and Facebook and Twitter postings. What differentiates IS from other terrorist groups?

Soufan: They are very familiar with social media -- they know how it works. They are very smart in reaching out to the iPhone generation. They deploy different tools in different markets -- using mostly Twitter in the Gulf region, for example, and Facebook in Syria. It's very decentralized and that is interesting. It is the first organization of this kind that understands the impact of social media.

SPIEGEL: Do you know how many people are working in the IS propaganda department?

Soufan: We do know that a whole army of bloggers, writers and people who do nothing else other than to watch social media are working for IS. According to our research, most are based in the Gulf region or North Africa. The program was started by Abu Amr Al-Shami, a Syrian born in Saudi Arabia. And we know that at one point more than 12,000 Twitter accounts were connected to IS. This is one of the unique tactics used by this group: the decentralization of its propaganda work. The Islamic State has maximized control of its message by giving up control of its delivery. This is new.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean in reality?


November 19, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles based on insights gleaned from Jason Campbell’s recent NATO-sponsored trip to Afghanistan that featured meetings with senior NATO and Afghan officials, members of Parliament, representatives from a number of international organizations, and prominent members of Afghan civil society. Read the first article here.

As of January 1, 2015, the nature of the NATO mission in Afghanistan will change dramatically. The transition to Resolute Support Mission (RSM) will remove all coalition forces from combat and concentrate them into only a handful of regional bases from which they will continue to provide mentorship and limited indirect support to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Though a definitive reduction in the NATO mission’s size and scope, it would be a mistake to judge this phase as any less important. While the ANSF have made important strides, fighting the insurgency on their own will be a massive undertaking and enduring coalition support will be crucial. Senior officials of NATO troop-contributing nations must resist the temptation to prematurely head for the exits.

Little support for a time-defined RSM. During my recent trip to Afghanistan, there was a constant theme throughout all of our meetings and briefings: disagreement with stated U.S. plans to remove all of its troops from theater by the end of 2016. While I fully expected to hear some apprehension voiced in certain circles, I was struck by the unanimity of this sentiment across the spectrum of our interactions. In most cases the unease with the U.S. plan was offered without prompting. Many alluded to the need to shore up confidence among the Afghan population after a trying 2014. The long delay in the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement, a drawn out and at times divisive election dispute, and resulting economic stagnation combined to cultivate an air of general uneasiness. As one diplomat we met with argued, the United States “should rethink the length of RSM, not just from a security and political perspective, but a psychological one as well.”

Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition

By Anthony H. Cordesman, with the assistance of Aaron Lin and Michael Peacock 
NOV 18, 2014 

The United States and its allies are months away from ending their combat role in Afghanistan. The United States, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and the Afghan Government have provided a substantial amount of data on the process of Transition, the course of the fighting, and the development and capability of Afghan forces.

In at least some cases, this may be the last round of valuable data that provides this level of information. With the reduced US and allied presence in the Afghanistan, key data on the course of fighting and Afghan force readiness have already been sharply cut back as the US and ISAF lose direct contact with Afghan forces in the field. Additionally, efforts have been made to portray Transition and the course of the fighting in favorable terms in the face of setbacks and undeniable challenges, for what often seem to be political reasons.

A new study by the Burke Chair at CSIS summarizes the key policies and metrics that have become available since August 2014, as well as the trend data necessary to put this material in context. It provides considerable insight into the success of Transition to date, the seriousness of probable Afghan capability to contain and defeat the Taliban and other insurgents and the seriousness of the fighting.

At the same time, these data often expose a critical lack of transparency, and what often seem to be serious gaps in the planning for the future. In many cases, there seems to be a growing emphasis on “spin” and public relations efforts to sell progress at the expense of realism and objectivity – often by simply ceasing to report metrics that have proved to be embarrassing in the past.

The study is divided into four different parts, each focusing on different aspects of Transition:

Afghanistan at the crossroads Pakistan's terrorist troubles grow

G Parthasarathy

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (centre) intends to test Pakistani "sincerity". AFP 

A recent report issued by the Pentagon has, for the first time, alluded to sanctuaries in Pakistan for harbouring terrorists on its borders with both Afghanistan and India. This is not the first time that the Pentagon has indicted Pakistan for aiding terrorist violence in Afghanistan. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2011, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, stated: “The fact remains that the Quetta Shura (Taliban) and the Haqqani network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations, serving as proxies of the Government of Pakistan, are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers”. Mullen described how the Haqqani network had attacked the US Embassy in Kabul in September 2011.

Hillary Clinton has not minced words on Pakistani support for terrorism, warning that Pakistan will pay a high price for its actions. She has bitingly told Pakistan: “You cannot nurture snakes in your backyard and expect they will only bite your neighbours”. More recently, she is reported to have asked General Kayani: “How do you envisage Pakistan in 2020 — as South Korea or the Democratic Republic of Congo?” She left the smug General speechless. It is clear that the US now recognises groups like Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed and the Dawood network as inimical to its security interests. But while one can realistically expect some intelligence sharing and monitoring of funds of these outfits, India should not believe that the US will take any meaningful action to dismantle or degrade them. Action against the ISI-backed terrorist groups acting against India cannot be outsourced.

The bulk of Pakistan’s diplomatic and military attention will be focused on developments across the Durand Line for the foreseeable future. Over 80,000 Pakistani troops are now battling those of its former “assets” now affiliated with Tehriq e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). With nearly a million Pashtun tribals fleeing their homes, the Pakistan military has not destroyed but dispersed internal terrorism. The attack by the TTP in Wagah was a manifestation of this development. But, given the subterranean links the ISI doubtless retains with the TTP, one should not discount the ISI using the TTP brand name to mount terrorist attacks on India. Amidst these developments, India has also to keep a close eye on what is transpiring as the new Ashraf Ghani dispensation takes charge in Afghanistan.

A paradigm shift?

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
20 Nov 2014

President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan is being hailed as a watershed moment. Realising its promise will be a longer-term process. Hopefully, the expectations generated by the visit will be met and a new era in relations between the two countries will commence. However, a history of mutual suspicion and negative perceptions has to be overcome. This will not be easy because the burden of the past is rooted in interests and institutions and in contrasting perspectives and priorities.

Ashraf Ghani has indicated the vision and will to take up this challenge. He has committed himself to addressing Pakistan’s concerns without compromising on Afghanistan’s sovereign independence. Pakistan must reciprocate by demonstrating a similar vision and will in addressing Afghan concerns. Otherwise, Ghani will come under increasing domestic criticism for his Pakistan initiative.

Increasing trade and assistance, investment and economic cooperation, and embedding them in emerging Chinese- and American-supported initiatives for regional cooperation and integration around concepts such as the ‘heart of Asia’, the ‘new Silk Road’, ‘economic and energy corridors’, etc should assist in transforming Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The leaders of both countries have shown an awareness of this in their discussions and agreements. Pakistani opinion is very excited by the prospect. I suspect Afghan political opinion may be more cautious and sceptical.

Islamabad is concerned about raids into Pakistan from Afghan territory and the degree of Afghan-Indian security cooperation. The safe havens in Afghanistan for Pakistani and other militants who conduct these raids could threaten the success of the Zarb-i-Azb and Khyber One military operations. Afghanistan’s increasing security cooperation with India, unbalanced by similar cooperation with Pakistan could, in Pakistan’s perception, sow the seeds of anti-Pakistani sentiment among substantial numbers of the next generation of security decision-makers in Afghanistan.

Kabul is adamant that Pakistan needs to make a clear choice between supporting the new government of unity and continuing to actively or passively support the Afghan Taliban who seek to militarily overthrow it. The Taliban remain undefeated, and as the Western military presence whittles down they seem to be regaining the military initiative in some areas of Afghanistan. This could threaten the stability of the new government. Pakistan, moreover, has in the past advocated the need for conceding a share of power to the Taliban if a negotiated settlement is to be possible.

The Oil Slick on the Road to China-US Climate Cooperation

By David Livingston and Wang Tao

Without cooperation on oil, China’s transition to a sustainable energy future is hardly guaranteed. 

The joint announcement of new climate pledges from the United States and China injects momentum and brings new hope to the climate negotiations that are to take place in Lima and Paris over the next thirteen months. Alongside continuous efforts to cut consumption of coal, attention was also focused on the enormous development of renewable energy promised for the next fifteen years by the Chinese government. However, there remains an area where cooperation is in more urgent need, and without which China’s transition to a sustainable energy future is far from guaranteed. The missing jigsaw piece of China’s ambitious energy transition is oil, a crucial energy source with complex economic, environmental and security calculations in both countries’ policymaking processes.

To begin with, it remains unclear what China’s pledge implies for petroleum and the broader transport sector. China’s intention to have carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions “peak” around the year 2030 is mostly an enhanced continuation of previously announced domestic policies to reduce the reliance on dirty coal, and China has already laid out plans for new nuclear and renewable power generation that will go a long way – though not all of the way – towards meeting its goal of having non-fossil energy account for 20% of primary energy consumption by 2030. The greatest uncertainty thus exists in what limits China will place on its rapidly growing transport sector emissions, and how the pace and carbon intensity of its oil consumption will evolve.

Complicating this is the difficult outlook for oil alternatives in the transport sector. Many first-generation biofuels compete with food crops and face a number of challenges to achieving the scale necessary to displace oil. China has made significant efforts to promote electric vehicles since the 1990s, but our previous analyses indicate that its policies have thus far seen only limited success in the private market, and the combination of high costs and a coal-intensive electricity grid do not make them a probable major contributor to China’s 2030 goal.

China’s Maritime Silk Road is all about Africa

NOVEMBER 17, 2014

Rice bound for Africa is loaded onto a cargo ship in Bangkok, Thailand

A recently signed agreement between China and Thailand sheds light on the dynamics of the Maritime Silk Road.

Amid all the fanfare and media buzz about China’s re-envisioning of its two Silk Road projects, the New Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road, admittedly little is known about the details, the mechanics, and the functions of the new routes. For example, this interactive graphic published by Xinhua suggests the Maritime Silk Road’s prime focus is to facilitate trade between Asia and Europe when in actuality the focus of the Maritime Silk Road is to support and facilitate booming trade growth between Asia and Africa. To put this into perspective, from 2011 to 2013, trade between China and the EU showed no increase, keeping steady at around USD 530bn. This was outpaced by trade growth between China and Africa which expanded at an average of 10% per year over the same period of time and is projected toincrease 15-20% per year over the next five years. In 2013 total trade between China and Africa reached USD 210bn – five years ago China’s total trade with Africa was less than half of what it is now.

Despite China’s increasing trade prospects with Africa, China alone cannot orchestrate the construction of the Maritime Silk Road. Rather, China needs to link up with key partners in Southeast Asia who will provide both strategic port facilities and export goods, like Thai rice, alongside of Chinese goods to growing markets in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Central Asia: Can China’s Silk Road Vision Coexist with a Eurasian Union?

November 12, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on November 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. (Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service)

There is a good chance that economic jockeying between China and Russia in Central Asia will intensify in the coming months. For Russia, Chinese economic expansion could put a crimp in President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan for the Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin has turned to China in recent months, counting on Beijing to pick up a good portion of the trade slack created by the rapid deterioration of economic and political relations between Russia and the West. Beijing for the most part has obliged Putin, especially when it comes to energy imports. But the simmering economic rivalry in Central Asia could create a quandary for bilateral relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on Beijing’s expansion plans, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, prior to this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which concluded November 12. The plan calls for China to flood Central Asia with tens of billions of dollars in investment with the aim of opening up regional trade. Specifically, Xi announced the creation of a $40-billion fund to develop infrastructure in neighboring countries, including the Central Asian states beyond China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province.

An interactive map published on Chinese state media outlet Xinhua shows Central Asia at the core of the proposed Silk Road belt, which beats a path from the Khorgos economic zone on the Chinese-Kazakhstani border, through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, before snaking into Uzbekistan and Iran. Turkmenistan, already linked to China by a web of pipelines, would not have a hub on the main route.

The fund’s aim is to "break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity by building a financing platform," Xi told journalists in Beijing on November 8. Such development is badly needed in Central Asia, where decaying Soviet-era infrastructure has hampered trade among Central Asian states, and beyond.

The Internet with Chinese Characteristics

November 20, 2014

At the World Internet Conference, China outlines its vision for global internet governance. 

The World Internet Conference opened today in Wuzhen, China. According to Chinese media, representatives from “nearly 100 countries and regions” are to take part in the conference. Attendees included Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba; Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank; Pony Ma, chairman of China’s Tencent internet company; Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn; and Paul Jacobs, the executive chairman of Qualcomm.

The World Internet Conference is another part of China’s push to have a say in the emerging conversation about the global Internet – what it should look like and how it should be governed. In today’s interconnected world, China is no longer content to have other countries respect its tight domestic controls of the Internet. Instead, to ensure its domestic security China seeks to have the international community buy into its vision for internet controls. This was readily apparent from the stated theme of the World Internet Conference: “An Interconnected World Shared and Governed by All.”

In a welcome message for the conference participants, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized that the Internet poses “new challenges to national sovereignty, security and development interests.” To meet these challenges, Xi said, the world must “pursue common governance” over the Internet. Global Internet governance was at the top of the list of topics for the conference, according to China’s top internet regulator Lu Wei. China’s vision of internet governance involves international acceptance of the idea of “Internet sovereignty,” wherein each country is given a legal, internationally recognized right to control and restrict domestic use of the Internet however it sees fit.

In addition to seeking global buy-in into China’s vision of a controlled Internet, Beijing of course continues to demand that the international community respect its unique domestic vision. Xi spoke of the need to “respect sovereignty on the Internet.” Speaking on October 30, Lu Wei defended China’s decision to block a number of foreign social media sites, including Facebook. “China has always been hospitable to the outside world, but I can choose who will be a guest in my home,” Lu said, adding that Chinese controls on the internet are designed to protect national security and “the interests of Chinese consumers.” “For those foreign firms who want to enter China, there is a basic rule for them — they must abide by Chinese laws and regulations,” Lu emphasized.

Those laws and regulations include agreeing to practice censorship as required by the Chinese government. What Beijing wants from Internet providers is nebulous by design, as ill-defined boundaries for acceptable content encourage Internet companies to err on the side of caution. At a seminar in early November, Ren Xianliang, the deputy director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, told Chinese officials and internet entrepreneurs that “an important aspect of proper website management is to spread positive energy.” Ren also encouraged those in charge of supervising Internet sites “to explore new ways to manage the virtual world,” with spreading “positive energy” as a main goal.

Can China Fall Peacefully?

November 19, 2014 

"The prospects for peace in Asia are not promising. Indeed, whether China rises or falls, the most logical theories predict that conflict is likely, if not downright unavoidable."

The idea that China cannot rise peacefully has become something of an international-relations truism. The story here is simple: as China’s economy grows, its military will follow, and just as other great powers have used force to achieve their foreign-policy goals, so, too, will China. Yet while much ink has been spilled to explore the security implications of China’s rise, relatively few attempts have been made to examine the potential effects of a sudden and prolonged economic downturn. This might be about to change.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, China’s growth will decline sharply in the coming decade, from 7.7 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent between 2020 and 2025. Some analysts are more pessimistic, projecting future growth rates as low as 1.6 or 1.7 percent. (To put these numbers in perspective, China grew at an average annual rate of 10.2 percent from 1980 to 2011.) These trends have led some at the National Interest to claim that China is headed for collapse and that we may be approaching the end—not a delay—of China’s economic rise.

What will be the geopolitical implications for China, its neighbors and the United States if the Chinese economy tanks? Would China be taken off of its supposed collision course, or would conflict remain unavoidable?

Resuming sovereignty in the North-East

Vinod Saighal
20 Nov 2014

China is leaving no stone unturned to complete its maritime and land silk routes in record time so that it leaves its biggest challenger in SE Asia still struggling with failed promises, tardy decision-making, delivery deficit and last, but not least, comparatively shoddy construction. Any number of examples can be listed over the past decade, earlier as well.

However, things seem to be changing for the better for two main reasons: First, the advent of the new government with resultant across-the-board improvement in decision-making in most aspects of governance.

Secondly, as reported in many national dailies, the Trilateral Highway project, intended to link India, Myanmar and Thailand, has got Mr Narendra Modi's backing. Media reports also give details of the multi-modal transport corridors being fast-tracked and centrally monitored by the concerned ministries.

As per the MEA spokesperson these could end up as game-changers. By themselves, these fast-tracked projects, even if they do come to fruition in record time, say by 2018, two years behind schedule, may not suffice until connectivity within the North-east is also fast-tracked, and, what is more, guaranteed against delay and disruption. As things stand, there is no guarantee that the pattern of frequent connectivity disruptions that have bedeviled development in the North-east can be removed unless the government at the Centre resumes sovereignty in the North-east.

Although at no stage did sovereignty stand revoked as such, not exercising it to the fullest in as far as it relates to connectivity can be deemed to be tantamount to abdication of sovereign responsibility.

By its very charter the Union Government is obligated to guarantee free movement of people and goods to every part of the country, no matter how remote ~ be it by rail, road, air, the post or telecommunications. While natural disasters, whenever they occur, can be deemed to be force majeure delays, and disruptions cannot always be controlled by the government, no excuse for disruption can be made when these are orchestrated by political parties, disaffected groups, insurgents or for any other similar reason. The cutting off of road connectivity to Manipur for long periods is a case in point, although not the only instance of the government abdicating its sovereign responsibility.

ISIS Is Almost Certainly Having Problems Controlling Thousands of Untrained and Undisciplined Fighters From Over 80 Countries

The Downside of Foreign Fighters

The Soufan Group, November 19, 2014

A great deal of attention has rightfully been paid to the benefits the Islamic State gains from its large number of foreign fighters; left unexamined is the significant downside of managing a multinational, disparate group of violent extremists
Last week in the Syrian city of Raqqa the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate a group of Uzbek fighters returning from Iraq fought with both Chechen and Arab fighters who had moved into houses the former had previously claimed, leaving at least six dead

Even in the best of times, foreign fighters are unaccustomed to the norms and traditions of local populations, leading to tension between those who want to live there and those who want to die there; it is likely that pressure will increase as Islamic State advances stall
Breaking the issue down further, Chechen and Uzbek fighters tend to set up residence in their adoptive new homes (as seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan earlier in the decade), while foreign recruits from the Arab Gulf and Northern Africa seek martyrdom or a make-believe vision of war, inevitably leading to violent conflict

The group is now in its hold and govern stage, in which foreign fighters really dont play a constructive role; the more the dissimilar groups of foreigners congregate, the more fighting there will be between them and locals as well as between themselves.
Since its breakout victories last June in Mosul, the Islamic State has seen an influx of foreign fighters into its ranks, providing the group with thousands of recruits whose motivation, hyper-violence, and propaganda-value seem to more than make up for their lack of military acumen and discipline.

Thinking beyond Roadmaps in Somalia

By Dominik Balthasar 
NOV 18, 2014 

Expanding Policy Options for State Building 

Progress toward building a viable, functioning state in Somalia appears to have stalled in the face of political infighting, corruption, and insecurity. With its mandate due to expire in 2016, the Federal Government of Somalia is in danger of missing a series of deadlines, agreed with the international community, to pass a permanent constitution and hold national elections. In this report, Dominik Balthasar of the European Union Institute for Security Studies examines whether these priorities are the right ones for a government struggling to win public legitimacy. Citing the example of Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia in 1991 to declare an independence yet to be recognized by the international community, the author shows that state building is an inherently messy, elite-driven process that does not—and should not—follow a set path. Examining Somaliland’s singular approach to building a state is instructive in helping Somalis and their international partners consider new approaches to their own, faltering project.

Dominik Balthasar is an analyst with the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Brussels. 

Managing Indo-Pacific Crises

By Koh Swee Lean Collin and Darshana M. Baruah
November 19, 2014

A crewman from the Vietnamese coastguard ship 8003 looks out at sea as Chinese coastguard vessels give chase to Vietnamese ships that came close to the Haiyang Shiyou 981, known in Vietnam as HD-981, oil rig in the South China Sea, July 15, 2014.

Is there a multilateral mechanism that could manage air and maritime encounters in a tense region? 

Tensions in Asia are rising over unresolved territorial disputes and sovereignty issues. In contrast to the immediate post-Cold War period, recent tensions are characterized by the evident proclivity of some, if not all, parties towards the threat or use of limited force. As a much preferred tool of statecraft, maritime platforms tend to be the archetypical instrument for this sort of diplomacy.

The spike in maritime encounters in recent years have largely involved coastguard-type forces in disputed waters of the East and South China Seas. More recently, though, regular naval ships have begun to appear on the scene. Not only do heavily armed warships cast an ominous shadow over the coastguard vessels operating on the frontlines, at times they become involved, for instance by directing fire control radar at opposing military assets in the vicinity. Moreover, these numerous encounters between rival maritime patrols in the regional flashpoints are now being augmented by aerial encounters involving highly capable fighter jets and sophisticated surveillance assets.


The risk of collision, especially in the constrained littorals that characterize the region, has risen as a result of these encounters. The risk is arguably higher in the air – one need only recall what happened to the Chinese J-8 interceptor that crashed after colliding with a U.S. Navy EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft off Hainan Island in April 2001. Dangerous close-proximity aerial and surface maneuvers aside, operational miscalculations prompted by misperceptions of the other party’s intent, fed by endogenous factors such as psychological stress at moments of high tension, may result in an inadvertent resort to force.

Ukrainian Air Force Blames High Loss Rate in Recent War to Poor Training, Tactics and Intelligence

Ukraine outlines reasons for high aircraft loss rate

Gareth Jennings

IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, November 18, 2014

A lack of experience and training, as well as poor tactics and intelligence not being acted on are the primary reasons for losses being incurred by the Ukrainian Air Force in the restive east of the country, a senior service official noted on 19 November.

Speaking under the Chatham House Rule at the IQPC Fighter Conference in London, the officer said that these are the main factors behind the loss of 10 helicopters, nine combat aircraft, and three airlifters lost to separatist air defences to date.

"In total, we have lost five Mi-8 [‘Hip’] and five Mi-24 [‘Hind’] helicopters; six Su-25 [‘Frogfoot’], one Su-24 [‘Fencer’], and two MiG-29 [‘Fulcrum’] fighters; as well as one An-26 [‘Curl’], one An-30 [‘Clank’], and one Il-76 [‘Candid’] transport aircraft. In my personal view, the reasons [behind these losses] are that in 23 years since independence we have never had to use our aircraft or pilots in combat before, and so there is no experience; we have not given enough money to training; our tactics have not always been the right ones; and intelligence of man-portable air defence systems [MANPADS] has not always been acted on," he said.

According to the official, some of these MANPADS have come from Ukrainian military bases and government facilities that fell into separatist and Russian hands with the annexation of Crimea in March, some were captured from Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, and some have come directly from Russia. “The last Russian ‘humanitarian convoy’ that came into Ukraine carried approximately 5% of food and water, and the rest was military equipment such as shells, mines, and MANPADS,” he said, adding: “We believe there are approximately 20 air defence batteries being used by the rebels now.”

The French jihadi

Enfant de la Patrie
Nov 18th 2014

HE IS French, 22 years old, and comes from a quiet rural village in Normandy. He is also, the French government suspects, one of the executioners in a video released by Islamic State (IS) on November 16th which shows the beheading of 14 Syrian soldiers and Peter Kassig, an American aid worker. France has been well aware for some time of the problem of home-grown jihadist recruits. But the revelation that one of them seems to have taken part in beheadings is of an altogether different order of concern.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, tentatively identified the young man (pictured, at right) as Maxime Hauchard, from the Norman hamlet of Bosc-Roger-en-Roumois. Stunned neighbours described a quiet boy not known to be a troublemaker. Mr Hauchard converted to Islam at the age of 17, according to French news reports, having become radicalised through the internet and social media.

Detailed Study and Analysis of ISIS

November 19, 2014

Richard Barrett of The Soufan Group in New York City has produced an excellent 66-page unclassified report on the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency/terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria.

The report covers the history of ISIS, its Objectives and Ideology , its organization structure and leadership, its military operations, civil administration in the captured territories, the organization’s finances, and perhaps most importantly, the ISIS Media Operations.

The report can be accessed here.

Hezbollah in a Time of Transition

By: Daniel L. Byman and Bilal Y. Saab
Paper | November 2014

The Syrian conflict is transforming the Lebanese Hezbollah. A movement that long claimed to transcend sectarianism is now the longest pole in the Syrian regime’s tent and has become a bogeyman to the region’s Sunni community. At the same time, Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the Syrian civil war has damaged its position in Lebanon and even led to questions within its Shi’ite base. The conflict with Israel, while still a focus of rhetoric, has faded to the background.

"Hezbollah in a Time of Transition," by Daniel Byman, senior fellow and director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, and Bilal Y. Saab, senior fellow for Middle East Security at the Atlantic Council, examines Hezbollah’s uncertain future and its impact on regional stability. Civil war in Lebanon could reignite if sectarianism continues to grow and the Syrian war spills over in greater intensity. Hezbollah’s role has proven vital for the survival of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and has also changed the nature of the Syrian opposition, empowering jihadists who champion sectarianism and see Hezbollah as their primary enemy. Israel has long viewed Hezbollah as its most dangerous neighbor, and diminishing Hezbollah’s desire and ability to make war is imperative to the Jewish state’s security. Ironically, the United States finds itself uneasily aligned with Hezbollah in the struggle against the Islamic State, but this de facto convergence could easily change.

Because of the civil war in Syria, Hezbollah is overtaxed militarily and on the defensive politically. The United States must recognize this mix of strength and weakness if its regional policies are to meet with success.

Season of Monsters Surviving the horrors of a war-torn Syria

November 18, 2014 

Tucked outside the walls of the old city of Aleppo, there is a hidden 800-year-old Ayyubid stone building called Madraset al-Firdaws, or the School of Paradise. The small architectural gem was the vision of Dayfa Khatoun, the Kurdish-Syrian niece of Saladin, who ruled Aleppo for seven years in the 13th century. She envisioned a modern complex dedicated to the study of Sufi Islam. Every element in the complex followed the ancient and strict “golden proportion,” from the overall floor plan to the smallest details on the ornamental columns with muqarnas capitals. The building with its 11 domes was designed—from concept to execution—to stand apart from the dozens of other religious monuments in Aleppo. It was built to be perfect.

I visited Madrasat al-Firdows in June 2011 during my last visit to Aleppo. At that time, the people of the city were still safe, far from the turmoil erupting across Syria. Protests raged outside Aleppo’s borders, but absolute stillness occupied the courtyard as it had for centuries. 

It is no longer so. The cobblestoned streets of old Aleppo have been torn into piles of rubble. War has lodged itself in the heart of the city for over two years now, splitting it literally in half between rebel and regime forces. Now ISIL fighters encircle what remains of Free Syrian Army territory as the city’s fate hangs in the balance. Many of Aleppo’s ancient artifacts have been destroyed—burned, bombed, looted. The city that was once home to over four million people, is now ravaged by over two years of indiscriminate shelling and constant barrel bombs launched by the Assad regime that killed, injured, and displaced thousands of innocents along with their precious cultural heritage. Rebels on the front line retaliate with haphazard shells of their own that strike both army forces and civilian bystanders.

Miraculously, Madraset al-Firdows still stands intact although devastating loss surrounds it. 

Loss permeates every Syrian family. Three and a half bloody years of conflict has taken over 200,000 lives and displaced millions. Loss is a word that defines Syria today.

In September, I watched Secretary of State John Kerry discuss “Heritage in Peril: Iraq and Syria” at the opening of the Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Egyptian Temple of Dendur was a grand background for Kerry as he lamented the recent loss of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria. During his short speech, he mentioned ISIL seven times. He mentioned the Assad regime once, in passing. At times he seemed almost sincere in his sentiments, “And I must say, in the last 29 years that I served in the United States Senate, I went to Damascus a number of times and to Syria, and I cringe at what is happening now, and particularly to an extraordinary place like Aleppo.” I wondered if cringes from people in high places had the power to save my city.

After the diplomatic speeches, as the guests dispersed into the museum halls, three men began to play traditional Syrian songs on the stone platform. They faced the rows of now empty seats surrounded by a shallow moat, literally stranded on a stone island of displaced cultural heritage, playing to a nonexistent crowd, singing to no one. Like the forsaken people of Syria.

Inside Madraset al-Firdaws in Aleppo, Syria. | Courtesy of Lina Sergie Attar