27 March 2015

Afghanistan and Pakistan: The False Promise of Rapprochement

By MOHAMMED UMER DAUDZAI
MARCH 22, 2015

Afghanistan — Just weeks after becoming president of Afghanistanlast September, Ashraf Ghani signaled a dramatic shift in the country’s regional diplomacy. He promptly visited Pakistan and its main allies Saudi Arabia and China, and then Pakistan’s army chief and head of intelligence visited Kabul.

The Afghan government is hoping Pakistan will help facilitate dialogue with the leaders of the Afghan Taliban, whom Pakistan has long harbored and enabled. Pakistan, for its part, has asked Kabul’s assistance against the leaders of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P.), the so-called Pakistani Taliban, whose leaders are said to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan.

A BETTER AFGHAN STRATEGY: LOSE THE TIMELINE

March 26, 2015

The first official visit to Washington of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah comes at an opportune time for both countries. The significant drawdown of Western forces at the end of 2014 combined with recent events in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine have pushed Afghanistan down the foreign policy priority list of the United States and its allies at a time of great transition. This visit will allow Ghani and Abdullah the occasion to put a new face on the bilateral relationship and signal clearly to Americans that the tumultuous days of the Karzai regime are over. For the United States it provides a valuable opportunity to reassess the nature of its commitment to supporting Afghanistan at the outset of the latest and perhaps most crucial phase of the conflict. The Obama administration would be wise to use this occasion not to simply reaffirm its current guidance regarding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan but to make a bold statement that it is committed to the longer-term, continued development of a key ally.

Meet Pakistan's Newest Political Odd Couple

By Jack Detsch
March 26, 2015

Barely a week after Pakistani Army Rangers raided the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, the embattled political party, accused of harboring illegal weapons on the premises, finally got some good news. On Wednesday, former president and co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari extended an invitation to MQM to join its coalition in Sindh province.

Has the Caliphate Come to Kabul?

MARCH 23, 2015

Shortly after 5 p.m. on Feb. 24, Ismail Keyhan arrived at Kabul’s central bus station to pick up his father, Amini, a day laborer working on construction sites in Iran. It had been nearly a year since the 20-year-old university student had last seen his dad, and as the evening sun inched toward the western mountains ringing the Afghan capital, Keyhan kept a close watch for the bus.


Does ASEAN Have a South China Sea Position?

March 26, 2015

On March 25, Xinhua reported that Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen had reiterated that the South China Sea dispute is an issue between claimant states and China, not between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

“It is not the issue of the whole of ASEAN, but the issue between claimant countries and China,” he said during a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education. “They need to negotiate with each other.”

SUB-REGIONAL COOPERATION CAN GIVE SAARC NEW WINGS – ANALYSIS

By G. Padmaja

SAARC regional cooperation and sub-regional cooperation were some of the issues discussed during Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to Bhutan and Bangladesh on March 1 and 2 as part of his SAARC Yatra. These issues have acquired importance following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘neighbourhoood first’ policy. At the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu Prime Minister Modi minced no words in describing the limited progress which the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has made in the last 30 years.

No, Indonesia’s South China Sea Approach Has Not Changed

March 26, 2015

Earlier this week, a number of news outlets reported that Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had said that part of China’s claims to almost the entire the South China Sea has no legal basis, and that Jakarta wants to remain “an honest broker” in the disputes there.

This was perceived among some to be the first time Jokowi had taken a position on the issue since taking office last October, which was significant because he said so on a visit to Japan and right before a trip to China. It might also contribute to the perception that Indonesia’s approach to the South China Sea issue has changed, however slightly, under Jokowi.

China, Russia Consider a Return to Six-Party Talks


On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement noting that the top nuclear envoys of both China and Russia met in Beijing on Tuesday to discuss a possible resumption of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

Wu Dawei, China’s top diplomat focused on nuclear affairs, and his Russian counterpart, Igor Morgulov, met in Beijing on Tuesday. According to a statement released by the Chinese foreign ministry quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap News, the two envoys ”exchanged views on the resumption of the six-party talks.”

The Real Intention Behind China's Extreme Counter-Terrorism Law

March 26, 2015

The People’s Republic of China is postponing the third reading of a controversial draft of a new counter-terrorism law which, among other things, would have required Western technology firms to hand over encryption keys, source code, and install “backdoors” (bypassing normal authentication) giving Chinese authorities remote access to computers and networks.

Recent reports by U.S. authorities that the law has been put on hold for good have turned out to be premature. The law will likely be somewhat revised to address some Western concerns, since Beijing is still technologically dependent on foreign companies, despite a push to eliminate foreign technology in key sectors by 2020. “Currently, the deliberation on this law is ongoing,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on March 16.

China's Master Plan for Remaking Its Courts


The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Court Reform Plan Outline has left most of the world confused about what it means, surprisingly including Chinese judges, some of whom have been burning up the Chinese blogosphere. Stanley Lubman, commentator on Chinese legal affairs, wroteWhat remains unclear is whether Chinese leaders intend to make meaningful changes within that framework to raise the quality of Chinese justice or are merely paying lip-service to justice as they continue the old patterns of authoritarian control.

This article provides another perspective on the significance of the Court Reform Plan Outline.

The Court Reform Plan Outline needs to be recognized for what it is — part of President Xi Jinping’s comprehensive reforms of the current political system, and, in particular, part of his comprehensive reforms of the justice system. The aim is to raise the quality of Chinese justice (under Party leadership). As the head of the office of the Central Judicial Reform Leading Group (the Communist Party group in charge of judicial reform) said, “an unjust judiciary would have lethal damage effects on social justice [and, by implication, social stability].”

China and Non-Proliferation: Progress at Last?


China’s implementation of non-proliferation controls has been subject to intense and ongoing criticism from the West since the 1970s. However, China’s non-proliferation commitments have gradually expanded over the decades, with implementation following behind, albeit with a substantial lag. There are signs that a tipping point may have been reached but China still has much to do to build confidence in its ability to manage strategic technology.

Welcome to the New Terror Heartland


03.25.15 

America’s ally in Yemen is gone. Its special forces have been evacuated. A country touted by the President as a counterterror ‘model’ is poised to be an ISIS and al Qaeda playland. 

Now that U.S. forces have left Yemen and the country’s president has fled in the face of Iranian-backed rebels, the United States has a dramatically diminished capability to combat al Qaeda and ISIS militants who have rooted themselves in the war-torn country and pose a threat to the West, experts and lawmakers said. 

Japan's Navy Unveils 'Aircraft Carrier in Disguise'

March 25, 2015

Japan’s largest warship since World War II has just entered service. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) took delivery on Wednesday of the Izumo, a helicopter carrier “as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific.”

The Izumo was indigenously constructed at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at a cost of around $1.5 billion. It is named after the former Izumo province in western Honshu. In Japanese mythology, the entrance to yomi (hell) is located in Izumo.

JIHADISTS AS THE GREAT COALITION BUILDERS

March 26, 2015

When Tunisia’s authoritarian government fell, that democratizing and relatively free country became a place in which jihadists could operate with substantial impunity. One result was that Tunisia contributed adisproportionate number of foreign fighters to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Now, however, ISIL has fouled its own nest.

The recent terror attack at Tunisia’s Bardo National Museum has been a watershed moment for that transitioning nation. Though the dead were mostly foreigners, by attacking tourism the terrorists are directly threatening the livelihood of 10 percent of Tunisians, and indirectly threatening the rest of the population, too. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, in a televised address, told the people “to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us.” He added that “we will fight them without mercy to our last breath.” European leadersrushed to offer security and economic assistance to the country and to help it continue its democratic transition.

A grotesque love of propaganda. Unspeakable barbarity. The loathing of Jews - and a hunger for world domination. In this stunning intervention, literary colossus V.S. NAIPAUL says ISIS is now the Fourth Reich

By V.s. Naipaul
22 Mar 2015

The Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul has warned that Islamic State are the most potent threat to the world since the Nazis.

In a hard-hitting article in today’s Mail on Sunday, the revered novelist brands the extremist Muslim organisation as the Fourth Reich, saying it is comparable to Adolf Hitler’s regime in its fanaticism and barbarity.

Calling for its ‘military annihilation,’ the Trinidadian-born British writer says IS is ‘dedicated to a contemporary holocaust’, has a belief in its own ‘racial superiority,’ and produces propaganda that Goebbels would be proud of. 

Locked and Loaded: North Korea's Scary Chemical-Weapons Arsenal

March 26, 2015

In recent years, North Korea’s chemical weapons have taken a backseat to her nuclear weapons. They are, however, no less dangerous. The deterioration of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) makes them more essential to victory than ever before. For both practical and doctrinal reasons, North Korea will almost certainly use chemical weapons in wartime, from riot control to lethal nerve gases.

Chemical weapons will be used to create a local, tactical advantage on the front lines and neutralize some advantages, such as air power. Thanks to North Korea’s prodigious missiles and artillery, they can be employed beyond the battlefield as well. North Korea will likely attack South Korea (ROK) through its depth with chemical weapons, from the Demilitarized Zone to Busan.

The Right Peace for Ukraine

March 25, 2015

"There was never a bad peace nor a good war," Benjamin Franklin once said. The Russian language version of this is somewhat more direct: Bad peace is always better than a good war. In Ukraine today, we have a bad peace. Although violations of the cease-fire occur daily, full-scale warfare has, for now, abated. But it could start again, and our situation is as precarious as ever. We as Ukrainians need to unify now, before it is too late. The next step to be taken is not on the battlefield - it is in Kiev.

The world has seen how unpredictable our adversary is. Yet our fate today depends as much as ever on ourselves, and on whether we learn from past events or repeat mistakes.

Is North Korea a Nuclear State?

March 26, 2015

If the global norm against nuclear proliferation is to retain meaning, North Korea must remain isolated from the international community in certain respects. But that doesn’t mean the United States or South Korea should be allowed to conduct naïve policy and planning toward North Korea. Recognizing the threat we are dealing with on the Korean Peninsula—a nuclear-armed North Korea—is a distinct proposition from allowing North Korea to rejoin the international community.

Should Putin Let the Ruble Bottom Out?

MARCH 25, 2015

One can almost excuse Vladimir Putin for trying so hard. This is a man, after all, who famously built his public image in part on feats of derring-do: riding shirtless across Siberia, hang-gliding with migrating birds, and releasing a caged leopard into a natural reserve. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that the Russian president would leap with similar brashness into his country’s economic crisis, precipitated by tumbling global oil prices and Western sanctions. Why not use sheer financial force to wrestle the depreciating ruble back to safety?

Republicans' Israel Problem

March 25, 2015

Jeb Bush's criticism of James Baker underscores how neocons have hijacked the GOP's Israel policy.

Former Secretary of State James Baker is discovering who really controls the Republican Party. Baker, who has never had much patience with Israel’s settlement policy, appeared on Monday evening before the Washington lobbying organization J Street—which was founded to counter the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—to chide Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for opposing Iran talks and disdaining a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “Frankly, I have been disappointed with the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace—and I have been for some time.” These might seem like fairly tepid criticisms, which is what they are. But now the long-time Bush family counselor is being repudiated by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who is scurrying to shore up his support among the GOP’s pro-Israel base.

U.S. Naval Base Is Under Threat...And It's Britain's Fault

March 24, 2015

The naval base on Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean is one of the most strategically important U.S. military installations in the world. But the base’s future might just have been thrown into question by a seemingly unrelatedinternational ruling that the British government, which is sovereign over Diego Garcia, acted illegally by unilaterally announcing the creation of an environmental protection zone in the territory back in 2010.

INTERNATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: BACKGROUND AND US RESPONSES – ANALYSIS

By Liana W. Rosen

Illegal drugs refer to narcotic, psychotropic, and related substances whose production, sale, and use are restricted by domestic law and international drug control agreements.1 Common illegal drugs trafficked internationally include cocaine and heroin, as well as psychotropic substances, such as methamphetamine and ecstasy.2 Cannabis, or marijuana, is also internationally proscribed. The illegal trade in these drugs represents a lucrative and what at times seems to be an intractable transnational criminal enterprise.

U.S. Air Force Pilots Said Retiring the A-10 Will Put Troops in Danger

By MANDY SMITHBERGER

“I can’t wait to be relieved of the burdens of close air support,” Maj. Gen. James Post, the vice commander of Air Combat Command, allegedly told a collection of officers at a training session in August 2014.

As with his now notorious warning that service members would be committing treason if they communicated with Congress about the successes of the A-10 Warthog, Post seems to speak for the id of Air Force headquarters’ true hostility towards the close air support mission.

The White House Is Barely Shrinking the U.S. Force in Afghanistan This Year

By KEVIN KNODELL

U.S. troops won’t be leaving Afghanistan as quickly as the White House once planned. On March 24, Pres. Barack Obama announced that American troops will slow their withdrawal from the troubled country.

Though the U.S. officially ended combat operations in 2014, American troops — and funds — still play a huge role in operations against insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan.

“Putin’s Soviet Ambitions”: The Return of the Cold War

26 Mar , 2015

Ukraine is situated in the Eastern part of Europe bordering Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia. It is home to almost 44.3 million citizens (it grows to 45.4 million if we include Crimea). Territorially it is the largest country in Europe. After the fall of Soviet Union, Ukraine has maintained closer economic ties with Russia, and an estimated Ukrainian exports to Russia is 15.8million USD every year. It accounts for about 5% of the total Russia’s imports – the largest among the commonwealth of Independent nations and overall fourth largest. Ukraine is also a pipeline state which connects Russia’s gas supply to the west. One of the Russia’s five divisions in the Russian Navy, the Black Sea Fleet, is stationed at Svetsapol, Crimea.

U.S. Backing Iran With Airstrikes Against ISIS


03.25.15 

Iran and the U.S. say they’ve been fighting parallel wars in Iraq. But those two campaigns appear ready to become one, American officials tell The Daily Beast. 

The American-led coalition is now launching air strikes to back up Iranian and Iraqi troops in the key city of Tikrit, a U.S. official tells The Daily Beast. Those forces had previously kicked off their operation to reclaim Saddam Hussein’s from the self-proclaimed Islamic State without informing the U.S. military. But when that campaign stalled, they turned to American air power. 

The Planet’s Best Stealth Fighter Isn’t Made in America


The U.S. military likes to think it makes the world’s most sophisticated combat aircraft. Think again.

In 2005, Lockheed Martin labeled the F-35, the stealthy new jet they were building for the Pentagon, as a “fifth-generation” fighter. Ironically, it was a term that they had borrowed from Russia to describe a different stealthy fighter, the F-22. But the term caught on. Some of Lockheed’s rivals tumbled into this rhetorical trap and tried to argue that “fourth-generation” was just as capable—whether it is true or not, making such a case is an uphill struggle. 

But if “fifth-generation” means more than “the ultimate driving machine,” a sixth generation will emerge. Saab—yes, that Saab—can argue that it has built the first such aircraft. The Swedish plane has got a mouthful of a name: the JAS 39E Gripen. But it could well be the future of air combat. 

Troubled Waters: Will a Strong Dollar Torpedo the Global Economy?

March 26, 2015

The Plaza Accord was a truly coordinated effort by the G5 economic powers to spur economic growth. Finance ministers met, agreed on a course of action, and executed it. Although the goal was explicit, it was also vague—to devalue the dollar. Now, central banks are coordinating their policy decisions again. But instead of summits and meetings between finance ministers, central banks have a new method to conduct their policy coordination—transparency. Policy transparency from the Federal Reserve allows other central banks to anticipate their actions—and respond accordingly. This is the Yellen Accord—and it may just save Europe.

US Admiral: China Counter-Space Threat Is 'Real'

March 26, 2015

China’s ability to wage war in space is a major concern for the United States, a U.S. admiral said this week. Admiral Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (the command force responsible for U.S. nuclear forces and missile defense), made the remarks in apress briefing at the Department of Defense on Tuesday.

Haney referenced Chinese missile tests designed to target satellites in low-earth orbit, one in July 2014 and one in 2007. Haney said the U.S. watched the 2007 test “with astonishment,” noting that the successful destruction of the targeted satellite “created just thousands and thousands of pieces of debris that we are confronted with even today.”

ISLAMIC STATE ‘CYBERCALIPHATE’ HACKED 600 RUSSIAN WEBSITES IN 2014

By RFE RL

Hackers aligned to Islamic State (IS) militants attacked 600 Russian websites last year, according to a new report by Russian cyber intelligence company Group-IB.

The websites targeted by the group include a number of banks, construction companies, government organizations, and even schools and a local history museum in the North Urals, Group-IB said on March 25.

Apple co-founder on artificial intelligence: ‘The future is scary and very bad for people’

March 24

The Super Rich Technologists Making Dire Predictions About Artificial Intelligence club gained another fear-mongering member this week: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. 

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Wozniak joined original club members Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk by making his own casually apocalyptic warning about machines superseding the human race. 

"Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people," Wozniak said. "If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they'll think faster than us and they'll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently." 

A clarion call to prepare for cyberwar. But what’s the threat?

By Michael Schmitt
23 March 2015.

Summary: American professionals writing about national defense are intelligent and well-educated, usually with distinguished careers. But their writings should be datelined “from Oz”. Today we examine another example, about the law of cyberwar. {1st of 2 posts today.} 

In every War College in the world, two core principles of military planning are that “hope is not a plan” and “the enemy gets a vote.” Any plan developed without sensitivity to these two maxims is doomed to fail. They apply irrespective of the mode in which the conflict is fought, the nature of the enemy, or the weapons system employed. Unfortunately, some states seem to be disregarding the maxims with respect to cyber operations. They include certain allies and friends around the world, states that the United States will fight alongside during future conflicts. The consequences could prove calamitous, especially in terms of crafting complementary strategies and ensuring interoperability in the battlespace.

Russia playing the long game in global cyberwar campaign

March 24, 2015

The recently published US intelligence community's annual threat assessment promotes cyberattacks the most serious threat to US national security.

This is nothing new, since "cyber threat" replaced terrorism as the main threat a few years ago. What is new however is that where the emphasis was previously on the threat from Chinese, it is now changed to put the emphasis on Russia's cyber-capabilities.

Russia has been developing its cyber-capabilities with big resources for the last 30 years, but it has been fairly restrained in its use so far. At least most of the experts estimate this to be the case.

For example, Russia has not been forced to use its more sophisticated capabilities in Ukraine since it has achieved its political goals without it. But if the war in Ukraine gets worse, so will the related cyber-activities.

Why Politicians Could Use an Arts Lesson

March 26, 2015

Political leaders with an intellectual bent usually gravitate towards reading history, often biographies of political figures that they admire or identify with. A smaller number are also drawn towards the arts. George Washington had his favorite play, Joseph Addison’s Tragedy of Cato—about the Roman leader who chooses death over captivity—performed at Valley Forge. Richard Nixon named Tolstoy as his favorite author and George H. Bush War and Peace as his favorite book. John Kennedy and Albert Gore cited Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, the French 19th century novel about the young ambitious Julien Sorel, among their favorites. Senator Robert Kennedy turned to the Greek tragedies after his brother’s assassination.

HARRY POTTER AND THE FIVE-SIDED LABYRINTH

March 26, 2015 

Not long ago I was searching for an obscure office off a little-used corridor in the lowest subterranean level of the Pentagon when I had an epiphany. Though it seems far-fetched at first glance, J. K. Rowling’s fabulously successful series of Harry Potter novels is nothing less than a thinly-disguised allegory of the U.S. armed forces.

Rowling’s tale is about good, evil, and coming of age in a community based on arcane magic, existing among but hidden from the rest of human society. It revolves around Hogwarts, an academy where trainee wizards learn their craft. Students arriving at Hogwarts are assigned to one of four centuries-old houses within the school based on their personality traits, and their lives then revolve around these identities as the houses vie with each other for preeminence. And this is where the parallels with the American defense establishment start revealing themselves.

The F-35 Nightmare Could Get Even Worse

March 24, 2015

Let’s assume the Pentagon somehow comes up with enough money to pay for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Suppose further the F-35 eventually passes all its test and evaluation milestones and the appropriate authorities make the appropriate Initial Operational Capability and Final Operational Capability declarations.

Let’s imagine a future in which the various services have patiently waited long enough to finally take ownership of their respective fleets, totaling some 2400+ aircraft, allowing the Pentagon to retire the F-16, A-10, F-18 and AV-8. And maybe the F-15 and F-22, as well.

When the Hermit Kingdom Turned Ugly


03.25.15 

Just a few months after the end of the Korean War, a bright, well-dressed young man named Kenneth Rowe matriculated at the University of Delaware to study engineering. Although only a little older than most of his classmates (he was 22 at the time), the man whose birth name was No Kum Sok had already lived though enough hardship and misadventure for an entire lifetime. On September 21, 1953, just days after an uneasy armistice had been signed to end hostilities between belligerents (despite not actually ending the war that officially is still extant), he had piloted his MiG-15 fighter plane across the 38th parallel, defecting from North Korea and landing unannounced at an American airbase. He had no idea about the $100,000 that the U.S. government had promised to any defector who would deliver a working MiG.

26 March 2015

India and Pakistan: Between 'Disgust' and Dialogue

March 25, 2015

On March 23, 1940 that the Muslim League, then a nascent political party, passed a resolution to establish the state of Pakistan. Each year, on that same day, the diplomatic enclave in the heart of New Delhi ushers in Pakistan Day by turning into a veritable fortress, replete with police picket lines and bodyguards manning entry and exit points. Scores of media vans clog the avenues, and hundreds park their cars in the streets. It’s anything but a normal day.

This year, the media proved even more curious than usual, hoping to figure out whether India would send a representative to participate in the celebration of Pakistan’s founding.

That curiosity has a long history. Last August, India abruptly canceled secretary-level talks with Pakistan, angered over interactions between Pakistan’s envoy to India, Abdul Basit, and separatist leaders in Kashmir.

India's frugal Mars mission extended by six months

By Staff Writers
March 24, 2015

India's famously frugal Mars mission has been extended by around six months thanks to a surplus of fuel on board the spacecraft, the country's space agency said Tuesday.

The Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft had been scheduled to wrap up its mission this month after India in September became the first Asian nation to reach the Red Planet, all on a shoe-string budget.

But scientists said the unmanned spacecraft would remain in orbit to study the planet's atmosphere and its surface after burning less fuel than expected over the last six months.

"As the... Mars Orbiter has sufficient fuel to last longer than it was intended earlier, its mission has been extended for another six months," said Devi Prasad Karnik, director of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation.

The Surprisingly Mundane Key to Afghan Stability: Roads

By Saagar Enjeti
March 25, 2015

Driving along Afghanistan’s roads is not like driving anywhere else in Asia. Traffic can stand still for hours, an engine can give out on ascent of a mountain in a remote village, and in wayward towns in Wardak Province, some drivers have found themselves engulfed in IED craters large enough to swallow an entire 18-wheeler.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Afghanistan’s roads are in astonishingly meager condition. The Washington Post recently observed that the government is unable to maintain most of the roads constructed since American troops entered the country in 2001.

Is the US War in Afghanistan Actually Over?

By Jack Detsch
March 25, 2015

America’s pullout from Afghanistan, after 14 long years of battling insurgents, isn’t proceeding as quickly as the White House had anticipated. In a reversal, U.S. military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad, where some of the fiercest fighting in the country has taken place, are likely to stay in service through the end of 2015, and potentially well into next year.

The news comes with President Ashraf Ghani deep into a crucial visit in Washington. On Monday, Ghaniconferred with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at President Barack Obama’s retreat at Camp David. Carter promised to continue funding Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) into 2017. Ghani will speak with Obama at the White House on Tuesday before making an address to Congress Wednesday.

Obama Slows Afghan Withdrawal

MARCH 24, 2015

The administration is willing to nearly double the number of U.S. forces who will remain in Afghanistan this year, but promises they'll be out when the president leaves office.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has spent months publicly lobbying the White House to slow its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. His efforts have paid off.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday, March 24, that he would slow the rate at which U.S. troops leave Afghanistan over the next two years, but will stick with his plan of having almost all of them out of the country by 2017.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: The False Promise of Rapprochement

By MOHAMMED UMER DAUDZAI 
MARCH 22, 2015 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Just weeks after becoming president of Afghanistan last September, Ashraf Ghani signaled a dramatic shift in the country’s regional diplomacy. He promptly visited Pakistan and its main allies Saudi Arabia and China, and then Pakistan’s army chief and head of intelligence visited Kabul. 

The Afghan government is hoping Pakistan will help facilitate dialogue with the leaders of the Afghan Taliban, whom Pakistan has long harbored and enabled. Pakistan, for its part, has asked Kabul’s assistance against the leaders of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P.), the so-called Pakistani Taliban, whose leaders are said to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan. 

This rapprochement has generated much excitement, but all the hype does not measure well against reality. Despite signs of renewed cooperation, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have fundamentally different goals and approaches. While Mr. Ghani’s moves are bold and risky for Afghanistan, Pakistan’s response so far has been largely tactical and self-serving. 

Out of Afghanistan: US Needs to Rethink its Afghan Policy

March 24, 2015

The visit of the Afghan President and Chief Executive to Washington this week is crucial because it is likely to lay down the framework for future US engagement and involvement in Afghanistan. Reports in the US media suggest that Afghan leaders are going to urge the American President to stall the pull-out of US troops and rejig the withdrawal plan. For its part, the Obama administration has already made some adjustments in the draw-down schedule and has also allowed US troops to engage in combat operations against the Taliban if US interests are at stake or in danger. But whether or not the US will accede to the requests of the Afghan leadership and extend its military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2016 will depend on not just how much the Afghan leaders can convince the Americans about their future plans but also on domestic politics in the US. Moreover, global geopolitics and new hotspots in the Middle East could divert US attention and commitment away from Afghanistan.

There are three clear benefits of such a strategic rethink. First, the confusion caused and ambiguity created by efforts to woo the Taliban will end. Battle-lines, both military and ideological, will be clearly defined, which will help in not just firming the resolve of the anti-Taliban forces but also identifying the enemy. Second, the cost of supporting the Afghans from outside will be a fraction of the cost involved in maintaining troops and/or pumping money into countries like Pakistan to make them see the light of day. Once the aid and other concessions flowing into Pakistan cease, it will turn the screws on Pakistan more effectively. Finally, if Pakistan still continues along its desultory path, then it will have to pay not just its own tab but also pick up the tab for its allies in Afghanistan. At that stage, will China step in to write the cheque? Unlikely. And if it does, then it will be interesting to see how the China-Pakistan axis plays out, especially in light of China fast becoming a Dar-ul-Harb in the eyes of the jihadists.