6 January 2016

Pathankot terror attack is exactly why India should talk to Pakistan

Shivam Vij, January 04, 2016 Quartz india

The big terror attack in Pathankot threatens to derail a renewed India-Pakistan peace process. For now, the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are saying that the talks will go on. But it is possible that they may not be able to work against public opinion for long.
Here are five reasons why India must continue the process of talks announced after Bangkok, and reaffirmed by prime minister Narendra Modi in his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart in Raiwind.
Now is the time to talk

If there were no terror strikes emanating from Pakistan, why would India need to talk to Pakistan anyway? India must confront Pakistan with evidence of the use of its soil, perhaps even the support of its state institutions, in terror attacks on India. Sit on the table, and ask them, what about this? How can we normalise relations when you do this? To call off talks would be to walk away just when you need to confront, talk, engage, and seek answers.
Pakistan won’t talk terrorism until India talks Kashmir, and that is why we had a “composite dialogue” process, whose name the Modi government has changed to “comprehensive dialogue.” Since Kashmir has a Line of Control that’s often on fire, and a source of terrorist infiltration, India has a need to talk about Kashmir, too.

India has no interest even in gaining Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir, although India talks about it when Pakistan ratchets up its protestations on Kashmir. Truth is, India is happy to convert the Line of Control into an international border. It is Pakistan that has made gaining Indian-administered Kashmir an article of faith. Pakistan’s support to terrorism comes from this desire for the Kashmir Valley, which it has not been able to gain militarily. Talking Kashmir and terrorism, along with trade and visas and everything else, can bring India long-term gains.
Be seen as the one that wants peace
We may never get to hear the details, but there has been much commentary in the press about the international pressure brought on India to talk to Pakistan. Washington and other world capitals want India to talk to Pakistan because not talking often only escalates tensions, on the border and between the foreign offices in New Delhi and Islamabad. They fear this not only because it has serious implications for Washington’s efforts to contain Pakistan in Afghanistan, but also because both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed.

When India is not talking to Pakistan, it comes across as the country that does not want to talk peace. Pakistan keeps saying it wants to talk to India without pre-conditions, India keeps saying what about terrorism, and Pakistan says let’s talk terrorism too.
Instead of allowing itself to be seen as the one that doesn’t want to sit down and talk to resolve issues, India should sit down and talk and let Pakistan be seen as the one that is up to terror strikes to derail talks. Talking to Pakistan is an opportunity to put the spotlight on its India-centric terrorism infrastructure, not a way of forgetting terrorism.
Lack of military options

'With Pakistan, where is the question of trust?'

January 05, 2016
'In international relations, you don't trust anybody. Bottomline. I wouldn't trust even my mother in international relations because what happens is when interests change, when situations change and then alliances and friendships change.'
'I have no problems with prime ministers interacting with each other, that is not a bad thing. My problem is that if we think engaging with the Pakistanis is going to solve our security problems, then I am afraid that is not going to happen.'
'If you continue engaging with them, we can actually end up encouraging the Pakistanis giving them a sense of impunity, who will then think that they can continue with their acts (of terror) even as you talk to them.'
Sushant Sareen, Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com how terror attacks like the one at the Pathankot air base puts Indian governments in a fix when it comes to engaging Pakistan in peace talks.

Were you expecting a terror attack after Prime Minister Modi's visit Lahore?
I suppose this fits into a pattern. This has been happening since (then prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee went to Lahore in 1999.
Whenever you start the talks process or some atmospherics that comes ahead of a peace process, if you can call it that, there is always some kind of spectacular attack.
It happened in 1999; it happened in 2001, within a couple of months of Agra we had the attacks on the Srinagar assembly and then Parliament; it happened in 2006, the Mumbai train blasts, which we seem to have forgotten because ordinary people died; we seem to have remembered 2008 (the 26/11 terror attacks) because some rich people died.

A couple of days before Nawaz Sharif landed here (for Modi's swearing-in) you had an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat (Afghanistan) which we seem to have forgotten.
We had Ufa and then we had Gurdaspur; we had Lahore and then we have had Pathankot...
In that sense, there seems to be some kind of pattern when over time there seems to be some kind of movement (on the peace front).

The Strategic Importance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Indian government needs to recognize the value of India’s southeast border.
By Sunil Raman, January 03, 2016
In the Bay of Bengal, far removed from the mainland, lie the 572 islands of Andaman and Nicobar, which form India’s southeast border. While the northernmost part of the archipelago is only 22 nautical miles away from Myanmar, the southernmost point, called the Indira Point, is a mere 90 nautical miles from Indonesia. These islands dominate the Bay of Bengal and the Six Degree and Ten Degree channels which more than 60,000 commercial vessels traverse each year.

Among the nine major bottlenecks that control entry to this region are the Malacca Strait and the Six Degree Channel. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands lie in this strategically important zone, meaning that India with its growing naval capabilities could play a significant role in controlling access.
India’s Navy chief, Admiral R K Dhowan recently acknowledged that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a “very very important aspect” of India’s security, acting as extended arms of the country. Dhowan said that India needed to deploy naval assets to the islands for surveillance in important sea lines of communication.

Yet over the past 15 years successive governments have been slow to act, even after having declared their intention of beefing up the security infrastructure on the islands. A unified land, sea and air command was created more than a decade ago, but the command still faces turf wars, funding issues, and glacial decision making.
In the meantime, other countries – notably China – have expanded their presence in the region. Naval vessels camouflaged as fishing boats have been sighted, while other ships make port visits to Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

'Very serious risk of a spectacular terrorist attack by ISI-backed groups'

January 03, 2016
'The combination of the LeT and the ISI is the most dangerous terrorist challenge in the world because it carries a real and present danger of provoking nuclear war.'

Last year, former Central Intelligence Agency official Bruce Riedel made the startling revelation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the cross-hairs of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Al Qaeda.
Speaking at one of several conferences held on the eve of Modi's visit to the US in September 2014, Riedel, who was part of the CIA for over three decades, said, "Prime Minister Modi, his very persona, his past, the histories about him, perceptions for and against him, attract Islamic extremist thinking."

"Modi as an extremely successful Indian politician, known to be a strong nationalist, known to be a strong believer in the BJP ideology, is going to attract the attention of extremist movements like Laskhar-e-Tayiba, like Al Qaeda," Riedel, now a Senior Fellow and Director at the Washington, DC think-tank, the Brookings Institution's Intelligence Project, added.
"It is inevitable in who he is that enemies of that are going to try to take him down," Riedel warned.
"The attack underscores the determination of jihadist groups in Pakistan to sabotage any attempt at detente with India," Riedel replied when Nikhil Lakshman/Rediff.com sought an interview soon after the Indian Air Force station in Pathankot was attacked.
"These groups have very powerful friends in the Pakistani army who want to see the Lahore process collapse," he added.

After the bon homie of Christmas Day in Lahore, were you surprised that the Pathankot airbase attack occurred so quickly? 
No, I was not surprised. An attack was very predictable by jihadists wanting to sabotage the Lahore process. A high profile target like an airbase was the jihadists' choice to buttress their claims to be warriors. 
Could such an attack have occurred without the Pakistan military's approval?
Do you believe the Pakistan army no longer controls terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and these groups have become independent, sort of like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan?

The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, almost certainly knew an operation was coming.
The ISI closely monitors JeM and LeT. They control their leadership and facilities, and have agents inside these and similar groups. They are not independent actors.

Premvir Das: An important question of morale

If the three service chiefs have been concerned enough about the Seventh Pay Commission to address their political superior, it is for good reason
Premvir Das January 2, 2016 

Recent media reports suggest that the three service chiefs have together written a letter to the defence minister protesting the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, and seeking its review insofar as the armed forces are concerned, by a suitable committee with representation from the military. At the same time, while addressing the annual Commanders Conference of the three services on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said everything would be done to ensure that the fighting efficiency of the armed forces remained high.

There is some mismatch in these two seemingly separate but related developments. While many of the issues of concern to the armed forces will, hopefully, be set right, what is disconcerting is the underlying theme which, through pay structures, downgrades the stature of the military institution. This is a potentially damaging scenario which needs discussion, as the morale of fighting men and the equipment they fight with are not different things, but two sides of the same coin.

The real problem is not the recommendations of any Pay Commission or the ongoing agitation by armed forces veterans, but the approach that is increasingly being adopted by the country towards the one institution which stands by the homeland in weather both fair and foul. In terms of recognition of the armed forces as an institution, governments of all hues, past and present, have had an approach which borders on schizophrenia.

There is high rhetoric on the regard in which the military is held by everyone; yet, no effort is spared to denigrate its leadership or to downgrade its stature. In the early 1960s, when the Army Chief protested and then resigned over the promotion of a clearly unsuitable senior officer, Prime Minister Nehru first assured General Thimayya that he would get the issue resolved and, on the very next day, castigated the chief in quite derogatory language in the Lok Sabha. The person in question was elevated and a year later, led his troops to a demoralised retreat from the battlefield which was even more traumatic than the defeat itself.

How India can prevent another act of terror

January 04, 2016
'India has already suffered in the raid of January 2, and taken punishment. If comparable or higher retribution does not visit Pakistan, there is no reason why it should not undertake such a misadventure again,' says Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd).

The raid on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot that began on the 2nd January has continued.
The worst seems to have been averted by the ongoing heroic actions of our armed forces, all of whom have promptly answered the call of duty. Some of them have paid the ultimate price.
Details are pouring in: The origin of the terrorists, their organisation and preparations, and their commitment to their cause -- militant Islam. Coming in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's internationally acclaimed surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas day, the raid from Pakistan was not totally unexpected.

Of course, what else does one expect from the extremist radicals in Pakistan? They are certainly bent on ensuring Pakistan's confrontation with India, and detest the lowering of tension between the two countries.
The rabid terrorists who are carrying out the raid have put on display their place of origin and the organization that they represent, namely Jaish-e-Mohammed. This is a subterfuge invented by their launchers in Pakistan for the benefit of the credulous in and outside India. It makes it convenient for the Pakistan government to deny its accountability.
As far as we in India are concerned, it is a Pakistan raid, it does not greatly matter to us if it is carried out by Jaish, or by Pakistan special forces. Deniability by Pakistan suits the US too, although the US could not have known of the raid before it was launched.

IAF and MOD, predictably, blowing it at the Bahrain air show

Posted on January 2, 2016 by Bharat Karnad

Are you aware that the C-17 heavy lift, long range, air lifter and the Embraer aircraft are Indian products the country should be proud of and represent great success stories of the govt-sector-dominated Indian aerospace sector? No? Some of you may protest, claim that, actually, Lockheed Martin of the US and the Embraer Corp of Brazil are the progenitors of these transport aircraft. But Air Shows are meant to showcase aviation technologies developed by countries and feature the unveiling of the latest, most advanced, aircraft and aerial platforms and allied technologies to impress the gaggle of potential customers. And, at the Bahrain Air Show slated for later in the month, the Indian Air Force is dispatching a C-17 and an Embraer aircraft as the entries under its name, taking ownership for products they have no relationship with other than as a customer!!! OK, the Embraer platform is being developed by the Centre for Airborne Studies, Bangalore, with a top-mounted SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar) with a good slant range, and this SLAR tech is worth an air show exposure. But C-17? And that too an avionics-wise de-rated transporter — what uniquely Indian technology does it contain, and what is remotely Indian about this aircraft other than the pilots in its cockpit?!!!

This farce will be played out in the context of the genuinely Indian designed and developed 4.5 generation, bulk composite, combat aircraft — the first one created in-country after the cold-blooded killing by the IAF of the Marut Mk-II in the Seventies, entering the lists at the Bahrain Air Show but as DRDO entry, with the IAF treating the LCA as a leper it wants to have nothing to do with! There will be two of the Tejas at Bahrain that will be put through its paces, even as the Embraer will be handled by Suneet Krishna, a former Mirage pilot and the most experienced of the Tejas pilots recently shunted to CABS.

What it says about the IAF is plain enough — that it takes pride in foreign-produced goods while taking every opportunity to denigrate and show down the home-grown LCA. In many ways, the IAF leadership is beyond repair — it has long been the dead weight pulling down the country’s indigenous efforts at arms independence. But what does it really say about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his chosen defmin, Manohar Parrikar, an IIT alumnus no less, that after making a “political decision” to send the Tejas to Bahrain, they lacked

As Captain Ram Pratap sheaths his saber


By DNA Sunday Team Date published: Sunday, 3 January 2016 - 6:40am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

It doesn't matter that Capt. Ram Pratap is fictional. Nearly a million of our standing defence forces will bash on regardless, with a smile on their faces and a hope that the nation recognises their efforts beyond platitudes. At the start of 2016, Lt General Bhopinder Singh (former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry), ruminates on the life and times of the men in green

Tepid tea in a white mug brings temporary relief to Captain Ram Pratap's scraggy, frozen face as he squats on a bunker top on a 17,000ft. picket overlooking the LoC. There's a shortage of nearly 12,000 army officers, and not surprisingly – given his battalion's deployment on the active border – his and many of his platoon boys' leaves were cancelled.

Hopefully the old warhorse of a helicopter, Cheetah, will continue belying his service age of over 40 years and drop some 'fresh greens' to usher in much-needed cheer to these hardy men from the Thar desert, sick of canned food. Why complain about the flying bird, he thinks. Even the weaponry and equipment can do with upgrading – there's only so much spit-polish and old-fashioned scrubbing one can do to retain the glint on the bayonet. He wonders if the civilian babus around Rajpath really understand the conditions in which the fauj operates, yet get to decide everything for them.

With snow covering the passes, they had hoped cross border infiltrations would cease, but no such luck. Down in the valley, Colonel MN Rai had been shot dead leading an attack on terrorists. Thank god for such heroes, he thought. Word had spread in the paltan, and they all felt honoured to be part of an outfit where officers still led from the front.

Later, Colonel Mahadik, the spirited Maratha, had put himself in the line of fire. Despite all organisational cribs, it was stories like these that kept the olive-green chins up. All the thundering braggadocio by pot-bellied politicians about bringing enemies to their knees hadn't helped on these pickets; infiltrations by terrorists and 'friendly cover-fire' by enemies still continued. Then suddenly, the mind raced to the super-awesome, real-time action in Myanmar, where they were sent to settle some scores by his Para Commando buddy, Captain Shyam, the 'devil's-very-own', and his band of toughies who had inadvertently helped further inflate the chests of the kurta-pajama folks in Lutyens' Delhi.

Shock and awe: the top 10 indebted companies in India

Neeraj Thakur @neerajthakur2 ,  |31 December 2015

Here's a financial tip no one gives you. If you owe money to the banks, make sure the amount is huge. Then you won't need to worry about paying it back on time. Or, indeed, in some cases, paying it back at all.
This is not a joke. Several top business houses in India owe banks astronomical amounts and have defaulted in repayment. But instead of facing pressure to pay back these loans, companies are routinely given sweet deals: either their loans are 'restructured' in a way that allows a moratorium on interest payments, or their repayment schedule is extended generously.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that under RTI, and in the interest of transparency, banks must reveal the names of companies who default. Until now, banks have refused to share this information easily.

In absolute terms, the gross non-performing assets - loans not repaid by borrowers - owed just to state-owned banks was reported at Rs 3.04 lakh crore. That's four times the entire budget for education in India. A large part of these loans will never be repaid by the companies.
Compare this with the farm loan waiver of Rs 70,000 crore given by the government in 2009 that faced huge criticism from free market economists who start beating their chests at the mention of subsidy to the poor in the country.
The Reserve Bank of India so far has not released the details of individual borrowers who have defaulted on repayment of their loans.

In the absence of this, here is a list of the 10 most indebted companies of India, reported by Credit Suisse in its October 2015 report. The debt shown on their balance sheets was till March 2015.
One expects that debt on these 10 companies comprise a major chunk of the non-performing assets of the banks. Though it is unclear how much is the exact amount of non-performing assets against each company, however, just their outstandings make for staggering reading.

The Reliance Group
The Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group is in the business of power, insurance, wealth management, telecommunication infrastructure and entertainment. In March 2015, the company had a debt of Rs 1.25 lakh crore on its balance sheet.
The amount is equivalent to the special package announced for Bihar by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of state elections in August this year.

The Vedanta Group
Anil Agarwal's company is the second-most indebted company. According to Credit Suisse, the company, which is into metals and mining, had a debt of Rs 1.03 lakh crore.
This is equivalent to the amount raised by the Government of India in March 2015 through its biggest-ever auction of telecom spectrum.

Essar Group
Managed by the Ruia Brothers (Shashi Ruia and Ravi Ruia) the company, with operations in 25 countries, owes Rs 1.01 lakh crore.
That's what the Centre plans to spend on building smart cities until 2020.

Adani Group
Gautam Adani, the chairman of the Adani Group of companies is known for his proximity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His business house owes Rs 96,031 crore to the banking system. The amount is a little less than the Budget for building the bullet train network between Mumbai and Ahmadabad proposed by the government.
Earlier this year, the State Bank of India reportedly approved a loan of around $1 billion (Rs 6,600 crore ) for the company's coal mine in Australia. However, after much hue and cry in the media due to the highly stressed balance sheet of the public sector bank, the approval was withdrawn.

Jaypee Group
Manoj Gaur-run Jaypee Group has a debt of Rs 75,163 crore on its balance sheet. Jaypee Group had a golden time during the Mayawati rule in Uttar Pradesh between 2007 and 2012.
The debt is eight times the allocation for mid-day meals in 2015 that feeds 12 crore school going children in the country.

Afghanistan and the U.S. Strategy to Defeat ISIS

Sigurd Neubauer and Erik Brattberg
Last Updated: : Thursday 24 December 2015

While the unfolding Syrian crisis is expected to dominate the foreign policy debates in Washington and throughout the various European capitals, NATO must continue to prioritize its presence in Afghanistan in order to help protect the fragile gains achieved over the past decade by keeping a robust troop contingency beyond 2016. As part of a diplomatic strategy to strengthen the Afghan government, President Ghani received significant regional support for his quest to advance the country’s embattled peace process with the Taliban at the newly completed Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad, Pakistan. While the country’s fragile peace process is receiving support from China, India and Pakistan, a long-term NATO military presence is required to help bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. If anything can be learned from the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, it is that a persistent military presence is far cheaper and a more effective strategy to help build a fragile state from the ground and up while preventing insurgents from changing the facts on the ground.

Amid renewed calls for a more robust U.S. strategy to defeat the Islamic State group in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, the Afghan war is moving into its fifteenth year without any end in sight. While President Obama warned against being “drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,”(1) only weeks prior to Sunday’s prime-time address to the nation, he quietly agreed to extend the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan despite initially having pledged to withdraw all but a small U.S. force before leaving office in January 2017.

Obama’s decision to protect the fragile gains achieved in Afghanistan over the past decade while pushing back against fresh calls to double down against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, underscores the difficult choices Washington must take as it faces a prolonged war, again without any end in sight, against a host of extremist organizations operating in large parts of Africa (Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia) and throughout the Middle East and the Af-Pak region

Xinjiang Seethes Under Chinese Crackdown


KASHGAR, China — Families sundered by a wave of detentions. Mosques barred from broadcasting the call to prayer. Restrictions on the movements of laborers that have wreaked havoc on local agriculture. And a battery of ever more intrusive ways to monitor the communications of citizens for possible threats to public security.
A recent 10-day journey across the Xinjiang region in the far west of China revealed a society seething with anger and trepidation as the government, alarmed by a slow-boil insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives, has introduced unprecedented measures aimed at shaping the behavior and beliefs of China’s 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that considers this region its homeland.

Driving these policies is the government’s view that tougher security and tighter restraints on the practice of Islam are the best way to stem a wave of violence that included a knife attack at a coal mine that killed dozens of people in September.
The tough security measures are on full view for travelers as they stop at the ubiquitous highway checkpoints that slow movement across this rugged expanse of deserts and snowy peaks.
Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority, preparing food at a market in Kashgar. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

As heavily armed soldiers rummage through car trunks and examine ID cards, ethnic Uighur motorists and their passengers are sometimes asked to hand over their cellphones so that the police can search them for content or software deemed a threat to public security.
In addition to jihadist videos, the police are on the lookout for Skype and WhatsApp, apps popular with those who communicate with friends and relatives outside China, and for software that allows users to access blocked websites.

“All of us have become terror suspects,” said a 23-year-old Uighur engineering student who said he was detained overnight in November after the police found messages he had exchanged with a friend in Turkey. “These days, even receiving phone calls from overseas is enough to warrant a visit from state security.”
Here in Kashgar, the fabled Silk Road outpost near China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials have banned mosques from broadcasting the call to prayer, forcing muezzins to shout out the invocation five times a day from rooftops across the city. The new rule is an addition to longstanding policies that prohibit after-school religious classes and children under 18 from entering mosques. (The installation of video cameras on mosque doorways in recent months makes such rules hard to ignore.)

Interactive Map: Follow the Roads, Railways, and Pipelines on China’s New Silk Road

Interactive Map: Follow the Roads, Railways, and Pipelines on China’s New Silk Road Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday to solidify new deals for Beijing’s ambitious plan to revive the old Silk Road as a modern-day trade hub. Beijing has already spent billions of dollars on roads, railways, and other infrastructure and intends to invest billions more to connect China to Europe in what it calls the “Silk Road Economic Belt.”
Xi’s visit comes as other major powers have launched economic integration projects in Eurasia. Russia launched the Eurasian Economic Union in January and the United States is plugging its own infrastructure project, the “New Silk Road.” But Beijing has outshined both countries in investment and execution. Now both Washington and Moscow are trying to hitch their wagons to China’s massive project.
Here at Foreign Policy, we’ve put together an interactive guide tracking Beijing’s victories and obstacles along the new Silk Road. The list of participating countries is still not finalized, but with China forking out billions in trade deals and preferential loans, its appeal as an economic benefactor is only set to grow.

An Unholy Alliance Abbas' Rivals Unite Against Him

December 23, 2015 , By Grant Rumley

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to name a successor, hold elections, or reform the PA’s corrupt institutions is pushing his rivals to unite against him. The staunchest of enemies—from members of Hamas to former members of the PA, including the Western-educated reformer Salam Fayyad and the exiled Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan—have found common ground in their quest to dethrone the aging Palestinian leader.
Abbas’ politics of exclusion has driven his rivals together. He has refused to name a deputy and continues to forestall any attempts at political reform in the West Bank. His Fatah party is meant to hold a conference once every five years to elect new leadership, yet it has been six years since the last conference, and Abbas continues to postpone the next one. Meanwhile, he persists in attacking dissidents in the West Bank, arresting journalists and citizens for critical articles and Facebook posts.

The newfound alliance between Hamas and Fayyad was evident in early December, when Fayyad made a surprise visit to the Gaza Strip, where he urged political reform. As prime minister of the Fatah-dominated PA from 2007 to 2013, Fayyad instituted policies of moderation, reform, and pragmatism that earned him few friends in Gaza, where Hamas members accused him of enacting vindictive policies. When the two parties signed a unity agreement in 2011, one of Hamas’ demands was that Fayyad resign. When he finally did resign in 2013, Hamas officials cheered. Some of the bad blood remains: his recent speech evoked a visceral reaction from some Hamas officials, who protested his visit.
Abbas’ politics of exclusion has driven his rivals together.

As Abbas has grown more and more closed off, however, Fayyad’s relationship with Hamas has improved. Fayyad fell out with Abbas in 2013 over Abbas’ controversial campaign to seek recognition for Palestine at the United Nations. According to reports, Fayyad’s disagreement with the campaign, which he saw as a diplomatic distraction that would only threaten donor aid to the PA, was so vehement that he broke his hand during a meeting after slamming a table in protest. When Abbas finally forced Fayyad out of the PA in 2013, many Palestine watchers thought Fayyad’s political career was over. But he soon launched a grass-roots-focused NGO in the West Bank, began funding local start-up projects, and started changing his tone on Hamas. In October 2014, he called for the creation of an umbrella political organization that would include “all PLO factions and those not affiliated with it,” a clear fig leaf to Hamas. He went further in March, when he explicitly urged that the Islamist movements be included in such a body. As Fayyad wrote, these parties would be “assured of genuine partnership in the Palestinians’ pursuit of their national aspirations.

Why Indonesia is Immune to ISIS

January 3, 2016 By Edward Delman The Atlantic

Can lessons from countries like Indonesia be applied to volatile countries in the Middle East?
In recent days, rumblings of ISIS have reached the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Security forces in Indonesia, which is home to some 200 million Muslims, launched a manhunt for the militant leader Santoso, who had publicly pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. Police arrested several suspected ISIS supporters amid chatter about terror plots, while Australia’s attorney-general warned that the Islamic State was intent on establishing a “distant caliphate” in the Southeast Asian island nation. But the flurry of activity doesn’t tell the whole story about ISIS’s inroads in Indonesia. Consider, for example, that while the number of foreign fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other violent extremist groups is estimated to have more than doubled between June 2014 and December 2015, relatively few are coming from Indonesia—at least for now. The question is: Why?
Indonesia has certainly experienced its share of terrorism and jihadist movements since declaring independence from the Netherlands in 1945. After proclaiming an “Islamic state” in 1949, the organization Darul Islam denounced the Indonesian state as apostate and staged a series of armed rebellions against it in the 1950s and early 1960s, before moving underground. The militant Islamist movement then split into numerous groups, from Laskar Jihad, which led an anti-Christian campaign across Indonesia, to Jemaah Islamiyah, which executed the 2002 Bali bombings. Indonesian jihadists have not solely focused on local targets; many went to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion as mujahideen, though most only received training rather than engaging directly in the fighting there.

Moreover, there is clearly a base of support for ISIS in Indonesia. A September 2014 report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) details the Islamic State’s aggressive recruitment and propaganda efforts in the country, as well as mass professions of allegiance to the group. (As the report and a more recent one from USAID caution, these public declarations—in which roughly 1,000 to 2,000 people have taken part—are not necessarily accurate measures of active support for ISIS.) IPAC notes in another report that “the conflict in Syria has captured the imagination of Indonesian extremists in a way no foreign war has before,” for reasons ranging from the suffering of Sunni Muslims there, to the prospect of restoring an Islamic caliphate, to the fact that “Syria is directly linked to predictions in Islamic eschatology that the final battle at the end of time will take place in Sham, the region sometimes called Greater Syria or the Levant, encompassing Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.”

The Caucasus: A Crucible for Eurasian Powers

Stratfor, 31 December 2015
Where the boundaries of Europe and Asia meet, a relatively new arena has emerged in the competition between Russia and the West: the Caucasus. The region, which comprises Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, rests outside mainland Europe and is surrounded by regional powers. A wave of separatist movements since the fall of the Soviet Union has played an influential role in how the Caucasus countries view Russia, which has consistently lent its support to disputed territories.

In the coming decades, the Caucasus will continue to be an important battleground for Russia and the West as other regional powers like Turkey and Iran are drawn into the competition for influence. And as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan align more closely with their chosen sides, all signs point to a Western-backed alliance gaining ground.
Where the boundaries of Europe and Asia meet, a relatively new arena has emerged in the competition between Russia and the West: the Caucasus. The region, which comprises Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, rests outside mainland Europe and is surrounded by regional powers. A wave of separatist movements since the fall of the Soviet Union has played an influential role in how the Caucasus countries view Russia, which has consistently lent its support to disputed territories.
In the coming decades, the Caucasus will continue to be an important battleground for Russia and the West as other regional powers like Turkey and Iran are drawn into the competition for influence. And as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan align more closely with their chosen sides, all signs point to a Western-backed alliance gaining ground.

Czarist echo? Russian Orthodox Church drives to restore its political clout

The Russian Orthodox Church sees itself as the spiritual generator of public policy and the ideological bulwark of the state. Under Putin, priests have become fixtures in the military, schools, and other public institutions.
By Fred Weir, Correspondent January 4, 2016 

Moscow — Baikonur Cosmodrome may lie in Kazakhstan, but it is an iconic symbol of modern Russia: the coming together of cutting-edge science and Space Age power.
But just before the mid-December blastoff of the latest Soyuz mission to the International Space Station, the countdown procedure was halted to allow a robed and bearded Russian Orthodox priest a few minutes to shuffle around the mighty rocket, sprinkling holy water on its fuselage, murmuring snatches of biblical verse, and calling upon God to keep it safe. He also blessed each of the three astronauts – American, Russian, and British – about to make the journey.

Such is the new normal in today’s Russia. The 1993 Constitution strictly defines Russia as a secular state, in which no religion is the official or obligatory one. But many people in post-Soviet Russia yearn for ideological certainties to fill the void left by communism. And with the ascent of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s new order, the Russian Orthodox Church, an ancient institution that was nearly annihilated during seven decades of Soviet rule, is returning to a highly visible and central role in the life of the country.
Furthermore, the line between sacred and secular appears increasingly blurred in Russia. Unlike in the West, where religion and politics occupy separate spheres, the Orthodox Church sees itself as the spiritual generator of public policy and the ideological bulwark of the state. Priests have become regular fixtures in the Army, schools, hospitals, and other public institutions. When President Putin gave his recent state-of-the-nation address to parliament, Patriarch Kirill – the Orthodox equivalent of the pope – was seated prominently among top government officials in the audience.

That has prompted leaders to supplement their dubious democratic legitimacy with backing from the church that’s been a key pillar of Russian statehood for 1,000 years.

“The main idea our temporal authorities are offering these days is a return to Russian ‘great power’ status,” says Nikolai Svanidze, a historian and leading TV personality. “What the church brings to that is historical depth, clear philosophical outlook, and cultural traditions that most Russians relate to.

“But it’s a hopelessly archaic institution, profoundly reactionary, and with a long habit of subordinating itself to the state,” he adds. “It’s incapable of taking any kind of progressive stand in favor of the country’s development, and together with our current authorities it is driving Russia down the blind alley of the past.”

About 70 percent of Russians identify themselves as “Orthodox” – though only a small fraction go to church regularly – and polls show the church is one of the most highly respected institutions in the country.

Fighting a war without being at war

January 04, 2016

Cyber-warfare is not replacing conventional warfare, but becoming an integral part of the military toolbox to be used in hybrid-warfare, but - so far, more for disruption than destruction, as Jarno Limnéll explains.
Jarno Limnéll, professor of cyber-security, Aalto University

Cyber-warfare is a hot topic. The evolution of warfare both follows and contributes to the evolution of society and therefore cyber-warfare should be understood as something innate in our contemporary cyber-dependent societal practices.
The problem for analysis is that precedents of cyber-warfare are few. At the same time nation-states are developing more sophisticated cyber-capabilities while the cyber and physical worlds are increasingly intertwining and “the playbook” on how to use cyber-operations in a war or a conflict remains vague.

Many have been watching the Russo-Ukrainian war in the expectation that it would be the first real fully-fledged cyber-battlefield. Although an increase in cyber-activities has been reported throughout the war, prominent cyber-operations with destructive physical effects have not occurred. "Pure cyber-war", which would take place only in the digital environment, has not been seen in Ukraine and will hardly ever be seen anywhere either. On the other hand, it is unlikely we shall see war, crisis, or conflict without exploitation of the digital environment – cyber-instruments – as an integral part of other military activities. This is exactly what has happened in Ukraine. Cyber-operations have been one tool in the “political-military toolbox” of hybrid warfare between Ukraine and Russia. We must not turn a blind eye to this development.

Ukraine offers a glimpse into the type of hybrid warfare that we in the West are preparing for: battles in which traditional land forces dovetail with cyber-attackers to degrade and defeat an enemy. It also illustrates the difficulties that nations face in identifying and defending against cyber-attackers. Cyber-operations are well suited to the political-military hybrid environment in Ukraine. With hybrid warfare, we are facing a substantial change in military operations and in our perceptions of war. The boundary between actual military warfare and other methods of exercising power is becoming blurred, and the capabilities of cyber-warfare are becoming increasingly important. It is now possible to fight a war without actually being at war and cyber is a key element in this development. In addition the distinction between legitimate and illegal activity is becoming increasingly blurred. It should be also taken into account that wired citizens can be affected by cyber-attacks just as much as network defenders and national security decision-makers.

Cyber Warfare

January 3, 2016 | Piret Pernik
Former Advisor, National Defence Committee of the Estonian Parliament
The Russian government is considered to be one of the most advanced cyber actors globally, with highly sophisticated cyber capabilities on par with the other major cyber powers. Open source information about Russian cyber programs and funding is scarce, but an ultimate goal of the government is to gain information superiority, both in peacetime and in military conflicts.

According to U.S. intelligence, Russia is a top nation state threat to American interests. Russian armed forces have been establishing a cyber command and a specialized branch to carry out computer network operations. It is likely that Russia aspires to integrate cyber into all military services. For example, the Russian government news agency TASS has reported that strategic missile forces are establishing special cyber units, and according to Russian general Yuri Kuznetsov, cyber defense units in the Russian armed forces will acquire operational capabilities by 2017.

Researchers from China have observed that Russian armed forces have rehearsed both attacking an adversary’s cyber targets and defending themselves against cyber attacks. It is believed that Russia, in addition to its espionage over the last decade against Western governments, is conducting its own active research and development of cyber weapons. It has also been alleged that FSB develops sophisticated computer malware programs.

However, despite a belief shared by many that Russia possesses capabilities to conduct cyber network attacks with physical effects equivalent to a kinetic attack, in the recent hybrid conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, only a limited use of cyber attacks has been recorded. No physical damage, or disruption of critical infrastructure or weapons has been reported, but there is evidence that Russian actors are capable of taking down services. For example, Russian APT28 (Pawn Storm/Sofacy/Tsar Team) shut off transmissions of French TV5 Monde for 18 hours, and its cyber attacks allegedly resulted in significant damage to the channel’s infrastructure. Moreover, the Ukrainian security service (SBU) reported in December 2015 that Russian security services have planted malware into the networks of Ukrainian regional power companies. Power outages are reported to have occurred shortly thereafter. However, due to the lack of investigation and evidence, it is not possible to attribute these outages to any actors

As Ukraine enters 2016, peace remains elusive


By Thomas Gibbons-Neff December 31, 2015
Despite a ceasefire signed in February that was supposed to have been completely implemented by the start of 2016, the prospect of peace in Ukraine remains elusive. The war in the country’s east between government troops and Russian-backed separatists — periodic lulls in the fighting notwithstanding — has remained largely unchanged since earlier this year.
While some heavy weapons, such as tanks and artillery, have been removed from the front lines, both sides still clash daily.

On Wednesday, the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed to extend the current ceasefire — known as the Minsk Agreements — into 2016, according to a statement released by the French government. The first Minsk peace deal, signed in September 2014 collapsed almost immediately. The second, implemented in February, has dampened some of the fighting and allowed the implementation of some parts of the ceasefire.
The four leaders also discussed upcoming local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two regions of eastern Ukraine that broke away from the country following protests in the spring of 2014. The local elections hope to normalize relations between the restive east and the government in Kiev.

The multinational watchdog group, the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe has been largely responsible for monitoring both sides of the conflict since the signing of the last Minsk agreement. On Thursday the OSCE’s chief monitor for its mission to Ukraine, Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, expressed hope for peace, but reiterated that a true ceasefire is a way off.
“The fact that the number of ceasefire violations in the last weeks of December had increased again in eastern Ukraine reflects a worrying development as the year ends,” Apakan said in a statement.

Moscow’s Cyber Buildup

January 3, 2016 | Luke Penn-Hall

The legacy of the Cold War has left many enduring images in the minds of most Americans, images that are usually associated with Russia and its nuclear arsenal. But a key threat, from what many believe is the new Cold War, could very well be from Russian hackers. When listing countries with the most sophisticated and mature cyber-capabilities, Russia is usually right after the United States and right before China Russia has not been involved in many high profile, OPM-style cyber attacks, ones that are usually linked to China or Iran, but Russia has earned its place as one of the most effective cyber-entities in the world.

Russian hackers made headlines in 2015 by reportedly breaching unclassified systems at both the State Department and the White House. Russia is also consolidating control over its cyber-forces through an organization similar to the U.S. Cyber Command, an indication that perfecting command and control over cyber-operations has become a Russian priority. The 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that Russia is a greater threat than China in the cyber-domain, and there are indications that Russia is gaining the ability to remotely access industrial control systems. Given those systems are an integral part of American critical infrastructure, that ability represents a significant and growing threat.

Arguably the most worrying aspect of the Russian cyber-buildup is their willingness to use cyber attacks to support conventional military operations. This type of joint attack, called “hybrid warfare,” was used to great effect in Ukraine. Hybrid warfare refers to military operations that blend cyber-operations and propaganda with the use of conventional military forces. Thus far, Russia is the only nation to have successfully mixed cyber and conventional forces in this way.

2015, The Year That Was: Science And Technology

from The Conversation
-- this post authored by Maggie Villiger, The Conversation
There are a number of definitions of science, as both a process and a body of knowledge. At root, it's an effort to understand the world around us via observation and experimentation. When you think about it, that's an awful lot for one desk at The Conversation to cover - here's a roundup of some of the stories we chose to focus on during 2015.

In a year when we reported that only half of biomedical research studies stand up to scrutiny and only a third of published psychology research could be replicated, are you concerned your trusty science and technology editor is feeling dismayed about the state of the field? Never fear, she is not! These articles pointed out ways to reinforce scientific standards and make the research publishing process more rigorous.
The quest for reproducible scientific truth continues... and we covered hundreds of cool stories that drive the point home.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Orion Nebula, from 10 years ago. NASA,ESA, M Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team, CC BY

Shall we start with a visual? Eighteen astronomers from around the world chose their favorite images taken by Hubble Space Telescope in honor of the 25th anniversary of its beaming awesome images back to us here on Earth. In other space news, we tracked NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto fly-by. And just this month we got our closest up views of another dwarf planet, Ceres, courtesy of NASA's Dawn probe.

The functional connections in the brain that were most distinguishing of individuals. Emily S Finn, CC BY-ND

Lawmakers notch win in fight for global cyber laws

By Cory Bennett - 01/03/16
Lawmakers pushing for global cyberspace norms have scored an early win.

The major cybersecurity bill that President Obama signed into law two weeks ago includes a clause requiring the State Department to publicly produce an international cyberspace policy within 90 days.
The edict is the product of months of cajoling from cyber-focused lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who regularly have warned that the lack of global cyberspace rules poses serious dangers.
ADVERTISEMENT“Quite frankly there are no rules of the game right now and that’s part of the problem,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who sponsored a standalone bill mirroring the cyber bill’s clause.

“Because there are no [cyber] norms, actions and responses are totally unpredictable,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told The Hill during a recent interview, calling the situation “inherently dangerous.”
Himes is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on the National Security Agency (NSA). He recently sent a letter to the State Department with his subcommittee's chair, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), urging action on the issue.
But these lawmakers acknowledge it’s just the first step toward the ultimate goal: a Geneva Convention for cyberspace.