15 January 2015

Reconciliation process driven by ISI

G Parthasarathy
Jan 15 2015

American military interventions in recent times — be these in Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon, Libya, or Iraq — have undermined regional stability and left deep scars on the body politic of these countries. The society and the body politic of America have felt the tremors of these misadventures. The American military intervention in Afghanistan, code-named “Operation Enduring Freedom”, commenced in the aftermath of 9/11. Its combat role ended 13 years later on December 31, 2014. The Americans tried to win “Operation Enduring Freedom” cheaply, outsourcing many operations to the erstwhile Northern Alliance. Adversaries comprising the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaida, thousands of Islamic radicals from the Arab world, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China’s Xinjiang province and ISI-linked Pakistani terrorist groups escaped across the Durand Line, to safe havens under ISI protection, in Pakistan.

The US has paid a heavy price for this folly. Some 2,200 of its soldiers were killed in combat, suffering heavy losses in the last four years after it became evident that it was pulling out. As the US was winding down its military presence and transferring combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Army (ANA), an emboldened Taliban and its Chechen, Uzbek, Uighur and Turkmen allies have emerged from their Pakistani safe havens and moved northwards. In subsequent fighting 4,600 Afghan soldiers were killed in combat in 2014 alone. The Afghan army cannot obviously afford such heavy casualties continuously, if morale is to be sustained. Its available tactical air support and air transport infrastructure are woefully inadequate. The Afghans do not have air assets which were available to the NATO forces.

Apart from what is happening in southern Afghanistan, Taliban-affiliated groups are now increasing their activities in northern Afghanistan, along its borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China's Xinjiang province. Afghanistan’s northern provinces like Kunduz, Faryab and Takhar have seen increased attacks by the Taliban allies, from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These Central Asian countries are getting increasingly concerned about the security situation along their borders. American forces are scheduled to be halved in 2015 and reduced to a token presence, just sufficient to protect American diplomatic missions by the end of 2016. Not surprisingly, President Ashraf Ghani has asked the US to review its withdrawal schedule.

India’s security apparatus far from satisfactory

Satish Chandra
Jan 15 2015 

The concept of national security is often defined in excessively narrow terms and taken to simply connote the preservation of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. Accordingly, the safeguarding of national security is felt to be largely dependent upon the state's military capabilities, the efficacy of its internal security system and its ability to forge effective diplomatic alliances designed to keep foes in check.

Such a limited construct of national security is clearly inadequate. It neither takes into account the innumerable additional factors impinging on national security, nor the new challenges of the 21st century such as globalisation, climate change, terrorism, cyber crime, proliferation, pandemics, etc.

Indeed, in a paper entitled “Redefining Security”, Richard H Ullman compellingly argues that defining national security primarily in military terms is dangerous as it causes states to “concentrate on military threats and ignore other, perhaps even more harmful, dangers. Thus, it reduces their total security”. A good example of the dangers of overly focusing on military muscle, at the cost of other aspects of nation building, is the breakup of the Soviet Union, which can, in part, be attributed to its huge defence spending during the Cold War. An even better example, closer home, is Pakistan’s single-minded focus on its military, to the neglect of other sectors of national life with obvious disastrous consequences.

One of the important additional factors critical to the preservation of national security is economic strength. This is essential not only for maintaining the coercive institutions of the state, but also the basic infrastructure such as roads, railways, telecommunications, energy and industrial systems, which constitute their backbone. It also enables the state to enhance its influence abroad.

Another critical component of a country’s national security is the well-being of its people. Taken in its broadest sense, well-being constitutes a powerful and effective vaccine against disaffection as well as a propellant for development and economic growth. Such well-being not only demands the availability of all basic economic requirements of life for the common man, but also that of good education, healthcare and employment in an environment conducive to the liberty of thought and expression, with the state ensuring the rule of law and good governance.

Get serious about defence manufacturing at home

Amitabh Kant
Jan 15 2015 

Excerpts from the presentations at the Roundtable on National Security Key Challenges Ahead organised by The Tribune National Security Forum in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs See also www.tribuneindia.com

India can never be a secure nation till it does not grow at rapid rates of 9-10 per cent per annum, year after year, for the next three decades to be able to create jobs for its very young population. India has grown at this rate for a relatively short period, but it needs to do this for three decades. Manufacturing is a crucial issue and compels a very strong component of our GDP. Today, it is stagnant at around 16 per cent. It must go up to 25 per cent. 

Other than manufacturing is how we manage our process of urbanisation; because in the next four decades, we are going to see 70 crore people move from rural areas to urban. Every minute, 30 Indians are moving away from rural areas. How we manage this in a planned, sustainable manner will be extremely critical for India. But when we touch on the aspect of defence manufacturing, we need to know that India is the world's largest importer of defence equipment. We import 70 per cent of our defence equipment. In the next several years, we will be importing close to $140 billion worth of equipment. In addition, we will be importing about $110 billion worth of homeland security equipment. These are the key challenges. 

This government, after coming to power, has taken a series of measures to encourage domestic manufacturing in defence, one of which is key in terms of deregulating almost 55 per cent of the items on the defence category list. These have been removed and one can now go and manufacture after taking approval from the RBI. The challenges of deregulation and de-licensing have been undertaken by the government. Secondly, it has allowed the FDI to go up from 26 to 49 per cent; you can go up further to 100 per cent under certain conditions. One of the most critical things was that the earlier government had restricted it and said we will not allow FII to come in at all. And, therefore, a number of projects were held up because every single manufacturer across the world always has some FII component. This government has allowed it through the automatic route; in defence, you can go up to 24 per cent. In fact, in the last three to four months, we have cleared almost close to 44 applications where no licence may be required. We have also cleared 21 applications held up for various reasons. So, there is a huge amount of buoyancy as far as manufacturing within India is concerned. 


Claude Arpi
15 January 2015

China's virile and strong policies have helped develop Tibet to a certain extent. The Tibetans are certainly economically better off, but it is clear that they are now slowly swamped by millions of Han tourists

For me, it was a privilege to meet someone who had witnessed history from a close quarters like Major SM Krishnatry, who recently passed away in Delhi at the age of 93. The officer of the Marathas had served in free Tibet where as a young captain, he commanded the Indian military escort soon after independence; later he became the Indian Trade Agency Agent in Gyantse. Krishnatry’s corespondence is fascinating; he regularly informed his bosses in Delhi about the fast-developing situation in Tibet, as the People’s Liberation Army marched into the land of snows.

Krishnatry writes: “Perhaps the historians will not fail to record that the year marked out a period of great success for the Chinese communists in their plans to incorporate Tibet as an integral part of new China. The process of subjugation and the struggle with the recalcitrant masses and peasantry of Tibet is just beginning to show signs in favour of Chinese success; and looking back retrospectively, it is obvious that the communist dictatorship is now far too well dug in and consolidated and has come to stay.”

The Chinese are first and foremost strategists; according to the Indian Trade Agent: “They concentrated on quickly improving their communications and roads and rapaciously grabbing all they could find in the way of foodstuffs and other supplies,” Krishnatry then concludes: “They aimed, by means of virile and strong blows of propaganda, to capture the heart and soul of Tibetans and won. Will Tibet ever finds her soul again?”

Sixty-three years later, has Tibet recovered her soul? The official Chinese press has recently written a great deal about Tibet’s achievements in 2014, and Beijing’s expectations for the coming year. A website associated with Xinhua, chinatibetnews.com, conveys the gist: “Tibet’s tourist revenue in the first three quarters of 2014, reached 16.382 billion yuan ($2.68 billion) accounting for 24.76 per cent of its regional annual gross domestic product in the same period.”

'Charlie Hebdo cartoons are bigoted'

January 15, 2015

Blasphemy involves critiquing a tradition from within, of which Islam has had a long and honourable history (Ijtihad), says renowned academic Mahmood Mamdani.

Back with a Prophet Mohammed cartoon on its cover, Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, has resolved to take on Islamic fundamentalists, after a terror attack on its office premises in Paris last Wednesday claimed the lives of 10 staff members including that of its editor, Stephane Charbonnier. In an email interview to Vidya Venkat, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, author of 'Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror', explained the difference between critiquing a religion and ridiculing it, and why it is one thing to oppose censorship and quite another thing to reprint Charlie Hebdo cartoons in solidarity. Edited excerpts:

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, there is widespread condemnation of Islam itself. George Packer, in his New Yorker article, for example, had held Islam and its tenets and those believing in them responsible for the attacks. Are we misdiagnosing the problem here?

In my view, George Packer’s is a knee-jerk response. It fails to recognise what is new about the Charlie Hebdo killings. The information we have so far suggests that it was a paramilitary operation. Though carried out by a local unit, decentralised in both planning and execution, the attack was strategised and sanctioned from headquarters. The killings need to be seen as a strategic and organised military attack. As such, it is different from the kind of grassroots demonstrations we have seen in the past, such as in responses to the Danish Cartoons.

Proponents of the Charlie Hebdo brand of humour and satire see the need to share and endorse the culture of “free speech”. Your view?

I support the right of free speech as part of a right of dissent. But that does not mean that I support every particular exercise of free speech or dissent. It is well known that the history of free speech is contradictory. We recognise it by distinguishing ‘hate speech’ from other forms of free speech. Some states ban ‘hate speech’ legally, other states refrain from a legal ban and leave it to society to discourage it politically and morally.

When asked to comment on the Danish Cartoons on Prophet Mohamed, the German novelist Günter Grass said they reminded him of anti- Semitic cartoons in a German magazine, Der Stürmer. The New York Times piece that carried the interview with Gunter Grass added that the publisher of Der Stürmer was tried at Nuremberg and executed. Among those tried in Arusha following the Rwanda genocide was a radio journalist. Following mass violence in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the ICC issued a list of those charged with crimes against humanity; one of these was a radio journalist. In all three cases, the journalists were accused of spreading hate speech.

My own preference is for the political and the intellectual over the legal. I am against all forms of censorship. While I think you have a right to say what you think, I will not support anything you say or write. I also reserve the right to disagree with you, vehemently if necessary. It is one thing to support the right of Charlie Hebdo journalists to print the cartoons they did, and quite another to reprint them as an expression of support.


By Giriraj Bhattacharjee

The trend of rising insurgency-related fatalities in Meghalaya continued through 2014, with a total of 76 fatalities, as compared to 60 in 2013, an increase of 26.67 per cent, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). Consequently, the State continued to hold the dubious distinction of being the second-worst insurgency affected State in the Northeast in terms of overall fatalities, with Assam accounting for the highest number of fatalities at 305. Meghalaya secured this unenviable position for the first time in 2013.

One fatality has been recorded in 2015 [data till January 11]. Two Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF) militants killed a gatekeeper, Entison Sangma (30), at Ronkhugre in the West Khasi Hills District on January 11. “We suspect the killing was for ransom and was the handiwork of AMEF,” said Superintendent of Police, West Khasi Hills, S. Nongtyngnger.

In spite of the rise in fatalities, indices suggest a consolidation of peace in the State. Crucially, civilian fatalities, which had been rising continuously since 2009, registered a decline of 17.86 per cent in 2014, as compared to the previous year, dropping from 28 to 23. Incidents of civilian killing in both years, remained at 20. Civilian killings in 2014 were reported from five Districts – East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills, North Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and South West Garo Hills. These Districts accounted for all the insurgency-linked fatalities in the year, leaving the remaining six Districts of the State outside the ambit of fatal violence. In 2013, fatalities had been reported from seven districts – the five above, as well as West Khasi Hills and South West Khasi Hills.

Fatalities among Security Force (SF) personnel, which had increased sharply in 2013, over 2012, recorded a decline in 2014. Two SF personnel had been killed in 2012; nine in 2013, as against six in 2014. On the other hand, the State recorded the highest single-year fatalities among militants since 1992, with 47 killed in 2014. SFs action led to 27 militant fatalities [in 22 encounters], while another 13 rebel cadres were killed in internecine clashes; seven militants were lynched by angry villagers in 2014. In 2013, militant fatalities stood at 23 – including 15 killed by SFs; six lynched by villagers; one killed in a factional clash; and another one killed by his own group. The ratio of SFs to militants killed improved to 2:9 in 2014, as against 3:5 in 2013.

Afghanistan: Can it be A Template for India, China Cooperation?

One of the most troubling, but also fundamental, questions confronting India is while New Delhi is keen on cultivating with China a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship that, despite an element of competition, is not only conflict-free but also cordial, does China want a similar relationship with India? Despite trade between the two Asian giants booming, and a fair degree of convergence in interests in global forums, there are outstanding issues – among others, the boundary question – between them that cause strains in the bilateral relationship. Some actions by the Chinese – stapled visas for people and officials from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the ‘aggressive’ and ‘intrusive’ patrolling along the disputed stretches of the Line of Actual Control, the complete disregard for India’s concerns and sensitivities when it comes to relations with Pakistan – muddy the waters by fouling up the public mood in India.

Even as the two sides work to manage, if not resolve, these issues, Afghanistan has emerged as something of a test case on not just how India and China will relate to each other but also on whether they will either work in conjunction or at cross-purposes on other emerging issues like the West Asian crisis. With the Western involvement, and perhaps even interest, in Afghanistan almost over, countries of the region will have to do some of the heavy-lifting to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become the cockpit of terrorism which will also affect them. Among all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, India and China are probably the only two countries with the diplomatic, political, economic and military clout to help in stabilising Afghanistan. They can synergise their strengths to prevent Afghanistan’s descent into chaos.

The Russians, still suffering from the hangover of their Afghan misadventure in the 1980s, are very wary of getting involved in Afghanistan directly. The Iranians have a crucial role to play but can’t do much alone partly because of their strained relations with the West and partly because of their deepening involvement in West Asia to combat the scourge of the Islamic State. The Pakistanis are more of a problem and, notwithstanding the horrible massacre of school children in Peshawar, are unlikely to become part of the solution unless someone like China is able to knock better sense into them. The Central Asian states have their own problems and can at best play a supporting role.

The problem as far as Afghanistan is concerned is that even though the interests of both India and China converge, their strategies diverge. Both countries are extremely apprehensive of Afghanistan getting destabilised and once again becoming a base for global and regional jihadist terror groups. The Uighur terrorists and separatists in Xinjinag, India-centric jihadists, Central Asian extremists, all will once again make a bee-line for Afghanistan and make it a safe haven for plotting and launching terrorist attacks. A civil war in Afghanistan between the resurgent Taliban and the forces opposed to them will also spill over into other countries. This, in turn, will force countries affected by the war in Afghanistan to cultivate proxies, which will only further fuel the war within and without Afghanistan. But keeping Afghanistan secure from extremists and jihadists is just one of the common interests shared by India and China.

Pakistani Intelligence Chief Meets With Afghanistan’s New President

January 12, 2015
Pakistan intelligence chief meets Afghan leader as relations thaw

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a event in Kabul January 1, 2015.

(Reuters) - Pakistan’s intelligence chief met Afghanistan’s new president to discuss ways to boost coordination in fighting militant attacks in the region, an official said Monday, in a sign of improving ties between the often uneasy neighbors.

It was the third trip to Afghanistan in recent months for the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence chief, Razwan Akhtar, hinting at new cooperation between the countries that have long accused each other of harboring Islamist insurgents.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met Akhtar on Sunday, said Ghani spokesman Nazifullah Salarzai.

"In this meeting, both sides discussed ways to strengthen joint efforts against terrorism and extremism," Salarzai said. He declined to go into detail.

Ghani - unlike his predecessor Hamid Karzai who had difficult relations with Islamabad - made a state visit to Pakistan soon after being sworn into office last year, pledging to improve ties.

Fighting the CIA and the Taliban In Afghanistan’s Drug Wars

Mother Jones
January 12, 2015

A Drug Warrior’s Inside Look at the War on Afghanistan’s Heroin Trade

One of the many messes the United States is leaving behind as it formally withdraws from Afghanistan is that it’s more or less a narco state. Despite the United States spending nearly $8 billion to fight the Afghan narcotics trade, the country is producing more opium than ever. It’s unlikely to get better anytime soon: Last month, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan “are no longer a top priority.”

The roots of the problem really aren’t that complicated, says Edward Follis. "It really does come down to basic economics." The Taliban "has decided they would exploit the economic dearth of all these people that can’t provide for themselves, and they take it from there."

For several years, Follis headed up the Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts in Afghanistan as the agency’s country attaché,reporting directly to the US ambassador. After chasing drug kingpins in Thailand, Mexico, and Colombia, Follis was sent to Afghanistan in 2006 and was tasked with bringing down the figures behind its narcotics trade. He spent 27 years with the agency. Today he is director of special projects for 5 Stones Intelligence, an intel and investigative firm based in Miami.

Follis recounts his experiences in his memoir (with co-author Douglas Century),The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Global Narco-Terrorism, which was published last year. In the book, Follis recounts making drug deals with Mexican cartels, setting up phony gun deals, working deep undercover to help take down the notorious Shan United Army in Burma, and hanging out with a major Lebanese drug trafficker at Disneyland. In Afghanistan, he befriended accused Taliban financier Haji Juma Khan. While some American officials wanted to take out Khan in a drone strike, Follis claims that he convincingly argued that he should be brought in alive. Khan is now awaiting trial in New York City on charges of conspiring to distribute narcotics with to support a terrorist organization.


January 13, 2015
Andrew Small of the German Marshall Fund, Stephen Tankel of American University and WOTR, and Joshua White of the Stimson Center joined Ryan Evans to talk about South and East Asian regional affairs, including the complex web of relations between Pakistan, China, India, and Afghanistan. Have a listen and read Andrew’s new book, The China-Pakistan Axis.


Barry C. Jacobsen

Foolish political policies and military incompetence lead to bloody disaster for the British in the First Afghan War!

In 1876, George Armstrong Custer and some 268 some members of the US 7th cavalry were “massacred” in battle against native Lakota and Cheyenne warriors in the valley of the Little Bighorn River. This signal, but ultimately meaningless defeat of a “modern” military force by technologically inferior tribal forces is almost universally known in America; thanks to countless books and not a few films that deal with the subject. 

What is almost universally forgotten is the far greater and more politically significant destruction of a much larger British Army just 34 years earlier; by Afghan tribesman in the snowbound passes of Eastern Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan was a pawn in the "Great Game" for control of Central Asia and India; seen here in a political cartoon of the day, courted (and squeezed between) its two suitors, the Russian "bear" and the British "lion" 

The First Afghan War (1839-1842) is best understood in context of the so-called “Great Game”: the contest for influence in Central Asia between the Russian Empire and Great Britain. India, the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire, was governed from Calcutta by the East India Company (colloquial known as "John Company"); and garrisoned by an army of largely British-led native troops, called Sepoys (from a Turkic/Persian term for professional soldier, Sipahi). These Sepoy regiments supported a core of British regiments; both "John Company" troops and “Queen’s Regiments” of the regular British Army. 

"John Company" Sepoy soldiers. Though well-trained and equipped with the same weapons as their British counterparts, the Sepoys often lacked shoes or wore sandals; and suffered terribly in the Afghan winter. 

West facing 'payback' for colonialism, says China paper

by Staff WritersBeijing 
Jan 13, 2015
The religious and cultural tensions the West faces are "payback" for slavery and colonialism, a Chinese state-run newspaper said Tuesday in the wake of the Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

The editorial in the Global Times newspaper -- which often takes a nationalistic tone -- dismissed the weekend's huge marches in Paris and elsewhere as "painkillers" that cannot halt the intensifying "clash of civilisations".

The article comes amid a global show of support for the satirical French weekly, whose Paris office last week was stormed by Islamist gunmen in an attack that left 12 people dead.

"Voices say that what Western developed societies have gone through is payback as it is their historical acts of slavery and colonialism which led to their current demographic structures," the newspaper, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party, said.

"The immigrant issue has bred ultra-extremist right-wingers in Europe, making conflicts largely insolvable," it continued.

About 1.5 million people took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to mourn the victims of the magazine attack and support free speech, including several world leaders.

But the Global Times contended that the rallies "can hardly produce significant results".

"Despite its impressive scale, the vast solidarity march in Paris on Sunday looked like feeding a seriously ailing person with painkillers," the paper wrote.

"When calm is restored, if the magazine holds on to its stance on Islam, it will put the French government in a difficult position and it will become a symbol of a clash of civilisations in Europe," it continued.

Beijing strictly controls its own domestic media and has recently launched one of its biggest campaigns to silence critics in years, detaining and jailing dozens of human rights activists, lawyers, academics and journalists.

China has also been engaged in a heavy handed crackdown on unrest in the far-western, mainly Muslim, Xinjiang region which has been the scene of bloody clashes that authorities classify as religiously-inspired terrorism.

Nation-State Cyberthreats: Why They Hack

All nations are not created equal and, like individual hackers, each has a different motivation and capability.

This is the first in a series exploring the motivations that drive nation-states to participate in nefarious cyber activity. 

We know that hackers hack for a variety of reasons. Some hack because they are greedy or have criminal motives. Some hack to satisfy their egos or gain peer recognition. Some hack alone, and some hack in groups. But many hackers, or more accurately “hacktivists,” join groups like Anonymous in order to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with powerful organizations such as corporations and governments who fail to share their world views.

These hackers don’t consider themselves to be bad actors. They see their activity in a positive light, viewing themselves as contributing to a greater body of knowledge, or furthering a good cause, and often hacking without a clear vision of the second- and third-order effects of their actions.

Another category of hacker supports nation-state strategy by operating in the cyberdomain. These hackers are difficult to categorize, since they may be directly employed by an arm of a national government, the Chinese PLA for example. Or they may be form organized crime entity employed by a national government. Think recent hacks against JP Morgan Chase, attributed to an undefined group in Russia. Understanding the motivation of hackers and the organizations with whom they are associated is essential to understanding their tactics. Knowing one’s enemy is a fundamental concept in kinetic warfare and is equally important, albeit more difficult, in the cyber environment.

Find out more about nation-state cyber espionage in The New Target For State-Sponsored Cyber Attacks: Applications.

I think it is valuable to explore nation-state and nation-state-sponsored hackers because they are generally resourced the best, and their collective motivations run across the spectrum. Because nation-state-supported hackers are funded extremely well relative to small groups and individuals, they can be particularly formidable adversaries for other countries and for commercial industry, regardless of vertical. In short, nefarious nation-state-sponsored cyber activity can have devastating effects on a country’s national security and its economy.

All nation-states are not created equal, and like individual hackers, each has a different motivation and level of cyber capability. As we look at the cyber terrain from a global perspective, we see several countries that surface in the media most often: China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the US.

In China, Projects to Make Great Wall Feel Small

JAN. 12, 2015 

DALIAN, China — The plan here seems far-fetched — a $36 billion tunnel that would run twice the length of the one under the English Channel, and bore deep into one of Asia’s active earthquake zones. When completed, it would be the world’s longest underwater tunnel, creating a rail link between two northern port cities.

Throughout China, equally ambitious projects with multibillion-dollar price tags are already underway. The world’s largest bridge. The biggest airport. The longest gas pipeline. An $80 billion effort to divert water from the south of the country, where it is abundant, to a parched section of the north, along a route that covers more than 1,500 miles.

Such enormous infrastructure projects are a Chinese tradition. From the Great Wall to the Grand Canal and the Three Gorges Dam, this nation for centuries has used colossal public-works projects to showcase its engineering prowess and project its economic might.

Now, as doubts emerge about the country’s three-decade boom, China’s leaders are moving even more aggressively, doubling down on mega-infrastructure. In November, for instance, the powerful National Development and Reform Commission approved plans to spend nearly $115 billion on 21 supersize infrastructure projects, including new airports and high-speed rail lines.

“China has always had this history of mega-projects,” said Huang Yukon, an economist and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank based in Washington.

“It’s part of the blood, the culture, the nature of its society. To have an impact on the country, they’ve got to be big.”

Whether China really needs this much big infrastructure — or can even afford it — is a contentious issue.

The infrastructure plans run counter to Beijing’s commitment to reduce its heavy reliance on government-led investment to fuel growth. And some economists worry that the country might eventually be mired in enormous debt.

According to China’s National Audit Office, local government debt alone stood at about $3.1 trillion in 2013, more than a third the size of the entire economy. The high level of debt, analysts warn, could stunt growth for a long time.

Strategic perspectives on China’s South Asian connectivity

13 Jan , 2015

China’s presence in South Asia is now firmly established. Most of the South Asian countries including India are trying to take advantage of China’s desire to increase its trade and economic relations with the subcontinent. China’s readiness to invest and execute infrastructure projects speedily has generally been welcomed by South Asian countries to improve their poor infrastructure development.

The modernisation of the PLA during the last two decades in tandem with its economic growth has increased China’s confidence in its capability to protect the country’s economic and strategic interests worldwide.

China’s economic prosperity has enabled it to emerge as the global leader not only in manufacturing but also in consumption of raw material. This has triggered China’s appetite for energy and natural resources enormously, setting it on a global quest to meet its needs. And South Asia’s natural resources are likely to be increasingly exploited to meet China’s needs.

The global economic downturn four years ago has had its adverse impact on China’s export based economy slowing down its double digit growth rate. China has taken a number of corrective measures including improving internal consumption and opening up new markets of Asia, Africa and South America. China is also increasing its trade and investment in these new markets. The modernisation of the PLA during the last two decades in tandem with its economic growth has increased China’s confidence in its capability to protect the country’s economic and strategic interests worldwide.

China’s increasing strategic presence in South Asia has to be viewed in this global environment. China’s moves would undoubtedly contribute to optimize the rapid growth of the vast underserviced South Asian markets while increasing the import of Chinese products. However, these developments would progressively reduce India’s dominant influence in the sub continent and Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with the progressive increase in China’s strategic reach to the Indian Ocean littorals.

Islam Has A Violence Problem

JANUARY 12, 2015
Do we see much of anyone besides adherents to Islam committing mass murder over religious beliefs lately?

I confess to being something of an amateur when it comes to the religion of Islam, although I feel acquainted with it enough at this point to say it has a problem with violence, and its oft-bandied moniker as a “religion of peace” seems a bit misplaced when its most dedicated adherents make a habit of sawing people’s heads off and shooting cartoonists for drawing the wrong fellow. It seems fair to say Islam has a problem with violence, in a way that, say, Christianity does not: in the developed world, the most whack-job adherents of the Christian faith (if we might even label them as followers of Christ) are folks like the Westboro Baptist Church, who make it a habit of picketing soldiers’ funerals with signs announcing “God Hates Fags.” It’s rather a different kind of approach to extremist ideology: the funeral-goers may be offended, but at least they are not dead.

That Christianity has less of a violence problem is self-evident, but the point is still lost on some people: at The Guardian, Ian Black declared that, in regards to the religion’s resistance to images of the Prophet Muhammad, “Islam is not unique. Judaism forbids the use of ‘graven images’ and Christianity has at times frowned on visual representations of sacred figures, allowing only the cross to be depicted in churches.”

Blasphemy and the law of fanatics

January 8

A man holds a Charlie Hebdo's front page reading "Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists ; It's hard to be loved by fools" during a gathering in front of the city hall of Rennes, western France, on January 7, 2015. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

As they went on their rampage, the men who killed 12 people in Paris this week yelled that they had “avenged the prophet.” They followed in the path of other terrorists who have bombed newspaper offices, stabbed a filmmaker and killed writers and translators, all to mete out what they believe is the proper Koranic punishment for blasphemy. But in fact, the Koran prescribes no punishment for blasphemy. Like so many of the most fanatical and violent aspects of Islamic terrorism today, the idea that Islam requires that insults against the prophet Muhammad be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda. 

One holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible. In the Old Testament, blasphemy and blasphemers are condemned and prescribed harsh punishment. The best-known passage on this is Leviticus 24:16 : “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.” 

By contrast, the word blasphemy appears nowhere in the Koran. (Nor, incidentally, does the Koran anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad, though there are commentaries and traditions — “hadith” — that do, to guard against idol worship.)Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has pointed out that “there are more than 200 verses in the Koran, which reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now called ‘blasphemy or abuse of the Prophet’ . . . but nowhere does the Koran prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment.” On several occasions, Muhammad treated people who ridiculed him and his teachings with understanding and kindness. “In Islam,” Khan says, “blasphemy is a subject of intellectual discussion rather than a subject of physical punishment.” 

Somebody forgot to tell the terrorists. But the gruesome and bloody belief the jihadis have adopted is all too common in the Muslim world, even among so-called moderate Muslims — that blasphemy and apostasy are grievous crimes against Islam and should be punished fiercely. Many Muslim-majority countries have laws against blasphemy and apostasy — and in some places, they are enforced. 

West Still Struggling to Prevent Militants From Joining Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East

Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt
January 13, 2015

West Struggles to Halt Flow of Citizens to War Zones

WASHINGTON — For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries, increasing surveillance of those who have expressed an interest in joining extremists, creating computer programs to track suspicious travel patterns and taking other measures.

But last week’s commando-style raids in France — carried out by at least one man who traveled to Yemen in 2011 to train alongside the Qaeda affiliate there — were deadly reminders that those measures have done relatively little to reduce the threat. The number of people traveling abroad to fight continues to grow, with about 1,000 militant recruits joining the fight in Syria and Iraq each month, according to recent United States government figures.

Worried that these returning militants could go for years without drawing attention, American and European counterterrorism officials have been scrambling to come up with new ways to stop their residents from traveling abroad to fight — efforts that have taken on greater urgency in light of the killings in France.

New or amended counterterrorism laws have been passed in countries like Albania, Australia, Bosnia, France, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, making it illegal to travel to fight in a foreign conflict, like the ones in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have issued bans prohibiting their citizens from joining the Islamic State. Arrests of people suspected of being militants have increased in Austria and Morocco, and foreign fighters have been prosecuted recently in Germany and the Netherlands.

In the United States, where about 150 people have tried or actually gone to fight in Syria, federal law enforcement officials have focused not only on monitoring social media networks more aggressively, but also on educating state and local authorities about ways to identify potential travelers.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has traveled to Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and other cities in recent months to promote partnerships between the federal government and state and local groups that are better positioned to detect potential militants in their midst.

“We haven’t been able to stop the flow, but we have created more friction,” said a senior State Department official who follows the issue closely. “We’ve made it harder.”

But while law enforcement and intelligence agencies have gotten better at identifying and stopping Americans from traveling to Syria, American officials conceded there was still room for improvement. “I still don’t think we have our hands around it,” said one senior American official.

Charlie Hebdo Exposes Southeast Asia’s Hypocrisy

January 13, 2015

The two major Muslim-majority states of Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia, have joined the chorus of condemnations against the deadly attacks in Paris on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The incident against the newspaper, infamous for its cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad whose depiction is forbidden in some interpretations of Islam, has once again thrust the issue of free speech to the international stage. In response, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took to Twitter to declare his country’s unity with the French people, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry issued a statement backing French efforts to “bring the perpetrators to justice.”

While this solidarity and moral clarity is admirable, these countries continue to persecute editors, cartoonists and other citizens at home for exercising the same freedom of speech Charlie Hebdo was entitled to. It did not escape the attention of some, for instance, that two of the most prominent voices from the region condemning the attacks – the editor of The Jakarta Post, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, and the controversial Malaysian cartoonist Zunar – are both also under scrutiny at home for cartoons that were deemed to offend public sensibilities.

Meidyatama is being investigated for blasphemy in Indonesia after his newspaper published a cartoon of the flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group last July, which it has since apologized for and retracted. While he may not be convicted, others have not been so fortunate. Since 2004, Amnesty International notes over 100 individuals have been convicted under so-called blasphemy laws, with some imprisoned for up to five years. This is part of a troubling trend in Indonesia over the past decade under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, where the government has repeatedly failed to protect its citizens from assaults by hardline Islamist groups.

Zunar, meanwhile, is facing sedition charges in Malaysia over political satire cartoons. The current charges are not related to Islam per se, but he has been targeted by the government over the years for his satirical depictions of events including the country’s curious ban on the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims. Such extreme decisions, some argue, are symptomatic of rising religious intolerance in the country as its ruling party panders to Malay rights groups to cling on to power following its worst-ever showing in 2013 polls. While Najib continues to tout his vision of a Global Movement for Moderates abroad, many are worried about Malaysia’s slow drift to Islamic fundamentalism at home.

The parallel, of course, is not exact. Meidyatama, Zunar and others who face persecution for related offenses in their countries have not been killed. But the hypocrisy of their governments is clear. Indonesia, Malaysia, their fellow Southeast Asian colleague Brunei, as well as other Muslim governments around the world cannot just condemn deadly assaults against free speech internationally when they themselves continue to crack down on it domestically. Their leaders should not wait for violence to extend the moral clarity they seem to find so easily abroad to their citizens at home.



By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. That’s why in this year’s letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same. 
                                                                              - Bill Gates

by Bill Gates 

I’ve heard this myth stated about lots of places, but most often about Africa. A quick Web search will turn up dozens of headlines and book titles such as 'How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor.' 

Thankfully these books are not bestsellers, because the basic premise is false. The fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa. 

So why is this myth so deeply ingrained? 

I’ll get to Africa in a moment, but first let’s look at the broader trend around the world, going back a half-century. Fifty years ago, the world was divided in three: the United States and our Western allies; the Soviet Union and its allies; and everyone else. I was born in 1955 and grew up learning that the so-called First World was well off or “developed.” Most everyone in the First World went to school, and we lived long lives. We weren't sure what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, but it sounded like a scary place. Then there was the so-called Third World—basically everyone else. As far as we knew, it was filled with people who were poor, didn't go to school much, and died young. Worse, they were trapped in poverty, with no hope of moving up. 

"By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world".Bill Gates 

Forget the Strategy PowerPoint

APRIL 22, 2014

I have for decades watched CEOs and other executives try to explain a corporate strategy to a small group of senior managers or to a much larger group of staff. For the most part, it has not been a pretty sight. In the case of senior managers, I usually hear 3 or 4 different interpretations of what the boss said, or disagreements about what they thought he or she said. In either case, no alignment at the top. In the case of a larger group of staff, often many people look on blankly during the presentation. They may appreciate a CEO’s willingness to share crucial plans. But because they don’t have the context or experience, they can’t even begin to understand what is being thrown at them in a thick PowerPoint deck. And what they do see certainly doesn’t make them want to get up in the morning and come to work.

I have watched CEOs have better success communicating a good vision. It is much shorter, easier to see (literally), at best emotionally compelling. It is the place that a strategy is trying to drive the enterprise. But better success communicating the vision only goes so far. To truly help an enterprise succeed, this needs to be tightly connected to the actual strategy, and often is not. Worse, the vision can come out sounding as if it has no real content, or antiseptic or foggy.

My colleagues and I have found an alternative that is easier to communicate, more effectively aligns people, and generates and sustains energy better and for longer. We call it “The Big Opportunity” and I devote an entire chapter to it in my new book Accelerate. We have been using this in all our field work with different kinds of companies and organizations. I have been impressed with the power of this simple, clear concept.

Briefly, here is the idea: a Big Opportunity articulates in language that is analytically accurate and emotionally compelling an opportunity that will move an organization forward in a substantial way. It is that exciting possibility which, if you can capitalize on it, will place you into a prosperous, winning future. It is related to vision and strategy in a very straightforward way: a strategy shows you what you need to get to a vision; a vision shows you what you will be doing if you get to, and are able to capitalize on, a big opportunity.

How Russia’s Sinking Economy Could Provoke Unrest on Its Doorstep

JANUARY 12, 2015

Reid Standish is an Assistant Digital Producer at Foreign Policy. A native of British Columbia, he holds a BA in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an MA from the University of Glasgow. He has lived in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he reported on drug trafficking, environmental degradation, and the Eurasian Union. 

With oil prices plummeting, the ruble tanking against the dollar, and the Russian economy squeezed by Western sanctions, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday offered an assessment that might easily qualify as the understatement of the new year. “The economic situation is quite problematic to say the least,” he said.

Even as Russian consumers find the value of their rubles shrinking and consumer goods harder to find, there is a flip side to the contraction, one that has potentially significant ramifications for Russia’s volatile domestic politics. Since the first week of January, labor migration into Russia — mostly from Central Asia and the Caucasus — has dropped 70 percent compared to the same period last year, according to data released by Russia’s official Federal Migration Service. That could be a boon for Russia’s vocal, xenophobic, and occasionally violent nationalist movement, which wants many of those immigrants to go home.

Russia, population 144 million, is home to at least 11 million immigrants, mainly from former Soviet countries like Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The numbers of migrants had been growing for years, sparking clashes between members of Russia’s ethnic Slavic population and the mostly Central Asian newcomers. In 2014, 19 people were killed and 103 were injured in ethnically charged attacks, according to the Sova Centre, a Russian think tank. In one often-cited example of violence, riots broke out in the Moscow suburb of Biryulyovo in 2013 after a Russian soccer fan was killed by a migrant from Azerbaijan. The riot began with protesters chanting “Russia for the Russians” and “White Power,” before a wave of violence leveled the suburb and police intervened and arrested 400 rioters.

Recent Terrorist Activity in US, Europe, Australia and Canada, and the Govermental Responses

January 12, 2015

Extremist threat pits law enforcement against civil rights

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The threat of Islamic extremism has justice officials balancing tougher law enforcement against the need to protect civil liberties, and that balance is struck in myriad ways around the world. The FBI’s collection of demographic data on U.S. communities has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups, while Australia has been accused of reversing the onus of proof by demanding that travelers prove they have legitimate reason for visiting a terrorist hotspot.

—Dozens of Australians are suspected of fighting in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, then coming home. It’s illegal for Australians to fight in foreign militias, but authorities have had difficulty proving such charges.

—Shotgun-wielding Man Haron Monis took 18 people hostage in a Sydney cafe in December; his 16-hour standoff ended when police stormed the cafe. Monis, 49, and two hostages died. In September, 18-year-old Numan Haider was shot dead after stabbing two police officers. Both men had come to authorities’ attention before the attacks: Haider’s passport had been canceled and Monis was on a terror watch list for a time after writing hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The government has ordered an inquiry into why Monis was dropped from the list.

—Australia’s main counterterrorism agency, Australian Security Intelligence Organization, says it regularly disrupts terrorist plots.


These are the countries most at risk from a climate change 'apocalypse'

These maps claim to show which countries would be most vulnerable in the event of the effects of climate change reaching life-threatening levels - if they already haven’t.

They were compiled using the ND-Gain Index, a project of the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana in the US.

The index is built on two variables, vulnerability and readiness, and has been monitoring countries since 1995.

The UK is seventh-best equipped to deal with the aftershock of climate change reaching its tipping point, behind mostly Scandinavian countries.

Countries most at risk meanwhile are in Central America, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.