29 March 2013

Israel's Insightful Cynicism

By Robert D. Kaplan, Chief Geopolitical Analyst
March 27, 2013 

Israel is in the process of watching a peace treaty unravel. I don't mean the one with Egypt, but the one with Syria. No, I'm not crazy. Since Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in 1974, the Israelis have had a de facto peace agreement of sorts with the al Assad family. After all, there were clear red lines that both sides knew they shouldn't cross, as well as reasonable predictability on both sides. Forget about the uplifting rhetoric, the requirement to exchange ambassadors and the other public policy frills that normally define peace treaties. What counts in this case is that both sides observed limits and constraints, so that the contested border between them was secure. Even better, because there was no formal peace agreement in writing, neither side had to make inconvenient public and strategic concessions. Israel did not have to give up the Golan Heights, for example. And if Syria stepped over a red line in Lebanon, or say, sought a nuclear capacity as it did, Israel was free to punish it through targeted military strikes. There was usefully no peace treaty that Israel would have had to violate. 

Of course, the Syrians built up a chemical arsenal and invited the Iranians all over their country and Lebanon. But no formal treaty in the real world -- given the nature of the Syrian regime -- would likely have prevented those things. In an imperfect world of naked power, the al Assads were at least tolerable. Moreover, they represented a minority sect, which prevented Syria from becoming a larger and much more powerful version of radical, Sunni Arab Gaza. In February 1993 in The Atlantic Monthly, I told readers that Syria was not a state but a writhing underworld of sectarian and ethnic divides and that the al Assads might exit the stage through an Alawite mini-state in the northwest of their country that could be quietly supported by the Israeli security services. That may yet come to pass. 

Israeli political leaders may periodically tell the media that Bashar al Assad's days are numbered, but that does not necessarily mean Israelis themselves believe that is an altogether good scenario. Indeed, I strongly suspect that, for example, when the Israelis and the Russians meet, they have much in common regarding Syria. Russia is supporting the al Assad regime through arms transfers by sea and through Iraq and Iran. Israelis may see some benefits in this. Russian President Vladimir Putin may actually enjoy his meetings with Israelis -- who likely don't lecture him about human rights and the evils of the al Assad regime the way the Americans do. 

True, a post-al Assad Syria may undermine Iranian influence in the Levant, which would be a great benefit to Israel, as well as to the United States. On the other hand, a post-al Assad Syria will probably be an anarchic mess in which the Iranians will skillfully back proxy guerrilla groups and still be able to move weapons around. Again, al Assad is the devil you know. And the fact that he is no longer, functionally speaking, the president of Syria but, rather, the country's leading warlord, presents challenges that Israelis would prefer not to face. 

Picking friends, influencing neighbours

Prashant Jha

India has been pursuing an ambitious regional doctrine, but it has often failed because of a shallow reading of who its friends and foes are

Events in the neighbourhood — Mohammed Nasheed’s foray into the Indian Embassy in Male, the dilemma over the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka, the Shahbhag protests, and violence against Pakistan’s minorities — have sparked off long overdue reflections in the Indian public sphere about New Delhi’s policy in South Asia.

There have been suggestions that India must reward “pro-India parties” while punishing the “anti-India” forces in neighbouring countries to force them to realign their incentives as a part of a regional doctrine. Others have despairingly written about how a drift in India has eroded its authority and diminished the instruments at its disposal to implement policy goals outside its borders.

The region is indeed in a state of ferment. Most countries are in the process of drawing out a new social contract and institutionalising democracy. Nepal will have elections for a new Constituent Assembly (CA). It will only be the second time Bhutan will vote under a quasi-democratic constitution. This is the first time a civilian government in Pakistan would have completed a full tenure. And the Maldives will seek to get back on democratic track after a constitutional and political breach if elections are free and fair. Marginalised and excluded social groups are fiercely asserting themselves in some instances, like Nepal, while, in other cases, the conservative majoritarian backlash has trampled on minority rights, like Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

But the specific junctures at which these countries find themselves cannot force one but to ask – is a regional doctrine possible? Can it cope with the fluid political dynamics? And given India’s complicity in creating the domestic churning in these states (New Delhi was an active player in 1971 in Dhaka, in 2006 in Kathmandu, in 2008 in Male, and in the run-up to 2009 in Colombo — the consequences of which we see today), is it correct to see India as the virtuous power and others merely as troublesome immature allies? This is an attempt to search for an answer by looking at India’s experience in a country where it has been deeply enmeshed — Nepal.

Simplistic binary

In 2003, the Nepali Maoists were waging a war, and rallying against Indian “expansionism.” New Delhi was pumping in equipment and resources to the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) in its anti-Maoist campaign.

But quietly, the Maoists had approached the Government of India through Professor S.D. Muni of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The then National Security Adviser (NSA), Brajesh Mishra, asked for a written commitment. The Maoists sent a letter, emphasising that they would not hurt Indian interests. Indian intelligence agencies then established links with the Maoist leaders. The Maoists told India they would accept a multiparty system. India constantly emphasised that the giving up of violence, accepting democracy, and sensitivity to Delhi’s security interests were non-negotiable points.

The conversation had major implications when the king took over in a coup in 2005. The Maoists now pushed for an alliance with the democratic parties, and asked for India’s support. Indian facilitation enabled the two to come together. A war ended, democracy was restored, the monarchy abolished, the Maoists and Naxalites were delinked, and the conflict’s spillover effect to India ceased. If one had gone by the public posture, the Maoists were an “anti-India” force. If India had not engaged with them, and adopted a black and white prism, would Nepal be at peace today? Which force, in contexts where there is a huge gap between public rhetoric and actual political line, and where positions rapidly evolve, is pro- or anti-India? Who judges it, and how?

Aakash is no silver bullet

Akshat Rathi

AP PROMISE AND HYPE: When officials are themselves confused over the tablet’s future, it would be a good idea to step back and analyse the reasons for going ahead with the project.

The government needs to open its eyes and realise that the technological utopia it envisions in the low-cost tablet is no cure for poor education, poverty or inequality

The last few days have brought the Aakash tablet back into the media limelight. Last Friday, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister M.M. Pallam Raju said that troubles with the manufacturer could doom the project. But the next day, former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who started the project, denied Mr. Raju’s comments. He further added: “I want public services to be delivered through Aakash. I want Aakash to be a platform for 1.2 billion people.”

Before Mr. Sibal sets more ridiculous targets and spends taxpayers’ money on them, he needs to be stopped. His fanciful ideas are wrong. First, there is no evidence that a tablet can solve any of the problems that he claims it can. Second, it is not clear how it will ever be able to produce a laptop that costs less than $35.

Root of the idea

The idea for the Aakash tablet and troubles that the project brings with it have both been inherited from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project launched in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. OLPC’s hope was that empowering children in the developing world with computers connected to the internet will help them learn faster, develop better skills and reach their full potential.

But there were problems with the idea right from the start. First, it hadn’t been tested on a large enough population to make a reasonable cost-benefit analysis. Second, the project claimed that scaling up production will reduce the cost of each laptop below Rs.5,400 ($100), though they weren’t sure how. Third, OLPC thought better education was the panacea to all problems irrespective of a country’s needs.

Despite these issues, OLPC received backing from the United Nations Development Programme in 2006. With this stamp of approval, its large-scale implementation began. About eight years after its launch, the results are in and OLPC hasn’t done so well.

Tested in Peru

Peru was the site of the largest experiment. More than 850,000 laptops were given out at a cost of Rs.108 crore ($200 million). In treatment schools where the number of laptops per child was increased from 0.12 to 1.18, a report by the Inter-American Development Bank found that OLPC failed in its goals. Test scores in languages and maths remain dismal. Enrolment isn’t higher than what it was before.

Now, States will decide nation’s foreign policy!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Determined to leave no stone unturned to use outrage in Tamil Nadu for political advantage, the main political players in Tamil Nadu are advocating a course of action, which will leave India with no leverage in Sri Lanka

With a population of barely 20 million, people in Sri Lanka have, in recent years, shed earlier prejudices and fears about India. Roughly one-third of its Tamil population of three million are descendants of Indian workers who sought employment there during colonial rule. They live in the central and southern regions and have elected leaders who have a working relationship with the Sinhala majority. Facing discrimination in the years following independence, Tamils who have inhabited the Island’s northeast for centuries, resorted to an armed struggle, in which India rather unwisely associated with the armed Tamil groups in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord provided substantive autonomy to the Tamil-dominated north. This agreement's provisions were enacted as the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution. India thus has a historical role and responsibility in facilitating the devolution of powers to the Tamil majority northern province.

After the ethnic conflict became an armed insurrection in the 1980s, sentiments in Tamil Nadu were inflamed and they assumed partisan political dimensions, between the two major parties, the AIADMK and the DMK. While the AIADMK under MG Ramachandran initially backed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the DMK led by M Karunanidhi, chose to back the rival Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation. Mr Karunanidhi strongly condemned Prabhakaran for assassinating TELO leader Sri Sabarathinam in 1985. While he later proclaimed that Prabhakaran was not a terrorist, he asserted in October 2012 that India cannot forgive the LTTE for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. This recent statement came after the culmination of the bloody civil war in 2010, when Prabhakaran was killed.

While both the DMK and AIADMK Governments have performed far better in economic and social development in Tamil Nadu than most other State Governments in India, the aging Mr Karunanidhi has opted for dynastic succession, handing over the reins of power to his third son, Stalin. This proposed change has come at a time when the DMK functionaries and even members of Mr Karunanidhi’s family are facing investigations and charges of corruption in the 2G Spectrum scandal. In the meantime, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa moved swiftly to up the ante on the horrendous deaths in the last days of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Impartial international observers, however, acknowledge that, while there were excesses by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the LTTE could not be exempt from blame, because of its use of civilians as human shields — a tactic it regularly used against the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1987-1988. The DMK responded by organising mass agitations and whipping up public passion, demanding that India should take the lead in getting Colombo condemned for “genocide”.

Given the present domestic environment, New Delhi is having a difficult time navigating its way to get Colombo to ease up on the heaviness of its military presence and organise free and fair elections in the Tamil-dominated north. This process should lead to the establishment of a significantly empowered Provincial Government to address the day to day needs and aspirations of the Tamil people. With the Congress lacking leadership with a mass base in Tamil Nadu, New Delhi appears to lack the potential to directly explain to the people there why reason has to prevail over emotions in the conduct of foreign policy. It was just not understood in Tamil Nadu that, however hard New Delhi tried in the UN Human Rights Council, it was inconceivable that any resolution moved by India describing Sri Lankan actions as “genocide” would not have picked up even five votes in the 47-member UNHRC. South Korea was the only Asian country, apart from India, to support the Washington-backed resolution. Even Japan abstained. The US alone was capable of getting its nuanced resolution passed, and that too with only 25 out of 47 members voting in its favour. Washington was in no mood to accommodate even minor Indian amendments.

A frog in the hot water

Mar 29, 2013

India should arm Vietnam with nuclear missiles and distribute the supersonic Brahmos cruise missile to any Southeast Asian country that wants it

John Garver, a leading American expert on Sino-Indian relations, has likened Beijing’s strategy towards India to the Chinese way of cooking a frog. Plonk the frog in a vessel and turn up the heat slowly. If the water was hot to begin with or the temperature were to rise much too quickly, the frog would simply jump out and escape.

But if the heat is turned up gradually, the frog luxuriates in the warming water, unmindful of the fate awaiting it until it is too late for it to do anything.

Having contained India strategically to the subcontinent by nuclear arming Pakistan and, with the urgings of military assistance and economic aid, encouraged its landward neighbours (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal) to stand up to India, Beijing is even tempting Bhutan to look east and away from New Delhi for its needs. Such developments are forcing the Indian government to be preoccupied with its immediate periphery rather than to focus on strategic issues.

With the idea of further confining the frog to the vessel, Beijing has worked hard to alienate the adjoining maritime states from India as well, turning the once welcoming waters of the Indian Ocean into a cauldron that, should New Delhi continue with its wayward policies, may soon boil over. Here again the means used are tried and tested — a spate of high-value infrastructure projects are but a thinly veiled wedge to mine the mother lode of Sri Lankan and Maldivan resentment against “big brother” India.

The modern container port complex in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, a container port and another airport upcoming in the Maldives, and armaments by the shipload to Bangladesh are real gains for these countries and could be the precursor of more such projects to draw these island and littoral states into the Chinese security orbit as a means of neutralizing India’s dominant position astride the busiest, most strategic of oceanic highways.

Combined with Beijing consolidating its political hold on Nepal through the Maoist cadres and making deep inroads into Burma by constructing the north-south road and rail transportation and energy grids, it is also tying up Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia in oil and gas pipeline network to deliver energy resources to China’s western provinces of Xinjiang and Chinese-occupied Tibet (CoT). Beijing’s plan is grand and audacious both in its conception and implementation. The increasingly marginalised New Delhi, meanwhile, morosely chews the cud, limiting India’s options at every turn, such as by not getting in on the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Colombo, Male, Kathmandu and Yangbon, meanwhile, play up the virtues of a “friendly” China, and preen themselves, being finally in a position to command New Delhi’s attention and respect.

The Chinese strategy of alienating the neighbours from India and consolidating its own presence in the region is deftly prosecuted with soft words issuing in tandem with hard, well-thought-out actions, with the Indian government, predisposed to doing nothing, lulled into inaction. Despite all the evidence of the warming water, the Indian frog seems determined to not feel the heat.

National security adviser Shivshankar Menon, apparently oblivious to the developments adversely affecting India’s vital national interests in the Indian Ocean Region, declared the other day that “maritime rivalry with China is not inevitable.” Such pronouncements do nothing, of course, to prevent New Delhi appearing foolish, confirming the Chinese estimation of this country as a“pushover state”.

Great Game in Central Asia After Afghanistan

March 27, 2013

Could efforts by Russia and America in Central Asia exacerbate tensions and make matters worse?

As the U.S. and coalition forces prepare to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, with all combat forces out by the end of 2014, the governments of Central Asia are bracing for a possible spillover of instability from their south. Ostensibly to help Central Asian countries protect themselves against the Islamist radicals that may gain strength in post-2014 Afghanistan, the U.S. and Russia are both offering military aid programs to the region's governments. Their rival efforts, though, carry with them possible unintended consequence of exacerbating tensions between Central Asian countries.

Russia has been building up the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a security bloc made up of ex-Soviet states. The organization has promised to take on a variety of security missions in the ex-Soviet space, from cybersecurity and counternarcotics to preventing “Arab Spring”-type revolutions. But more than anything, Russia has promoted the group as a means of bolstering security in Central Asia as a bulwark against Islamist extremists in Afghanistan who may set their sights on Central Asia.

Last year, under the auspices of the CSTO, Russia offered a massive $1.1 billion military aid package to Kyrgyzstan, and another $200 million in assistance for Tajikistan. The aid to Kyrgyzstan will reportedly include armored vehicles, artillery and portable surface-to-air missiles, while Tajikistan is slated to get air defense upgrades and repairs to their current equipment. In the last six months, Russia also renegotiated leases for military bases it operates in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, solidifying its position in those countries.

Meanwhile, neighboring Uzbekistan has been the America's key partner among the ex-Soviet states in its Afghanistan campaign. A large percentage of U.S. military cargo going to Afghanistan passes through Uzbekistan, which has acted as a critical strategic hedge against the volatility of relations with Pakistan. In late 2011, after a NATO incursion from Afghanistan into Pakistan killed several Pakistani soldiers, Islamabad closed its border to Afghanistan for Western military transit, and the supply route through Uzbekistan played a crucial role in ensuring uninterrupted shipments of U.S. troops and materials.

Uzbekistan has seized this opportunity to build closer military ties with the U.S. The country's president, Islam Karimov, has told American officials that he wants to remake his military, replacing its legacy Russian gear with entirely American equipment. In late 2011 the White House loosened restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan that had been in place for nearly a decade due to human rights concerns, and so far the U.S. has agreed to supply Uzbekistan with “non-lethal” military equipment including night-vision goggles, global positioning systems (GPS) gear and small surveillance drones. And as the U.S. draws down in Afghanistan, it has promised to leave some of its gear behind in Central Asia; Karimov reportedly has expressed interest in heavier equipment, like helicopters and mine-resistant armored vehicles.

While military aid to Uzbekistan is controversial in the U.S. because of Uzbekistan's terrible record of repressing its own people, there are also concerns that aid could upset the balance of power in a region full of mutual mistrust. Uzbekistan is the largest country in the region and during the Soviet era played a leading role in Central Asia. For a variety of reasons, Uzbekistan's neighbors mistrust them. Kazakhstan sees it as a rival for regional dominance, while smaller Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fear its bullying. Uzbekistan is virtually the only transportation outlet to the world for remote Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan has wielded that power aggressively, repeatedly cutting off rail traffic to and from Tajikistan when Tajikistan acts in a way that displeases Tashkent.

The Afghan War in 2013: Meeting the Challenges of Transition Volume I: Leadership and Governance

Mar 26, 2013

The Afghan War in 2013: Meeting the Challenges of Transition Volume II: Afghan Economics and Outside Aid
By Anthony H. Cordesman, with the assistance of Bryan Gold and Ashley Hess
MAR 27, 2013

The Afghan War in 2013: Meeting the Challenges of Transition Volume III: Security and the ANSF

By Anthony H. Cordesman, with the assistance of Bryan Gold and Ashley Hess
MAR 27, 2013

US, China and playful AfPak frogs

By M K Bhadrakumar 

Writing in the Los Angeles Times a year ago, predicting with extraordinary prescience how exasperating the American efforts to negotiate an Afghan settlement would turn out to be when the crunch time comes, Peter Tomsen who was president Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Mujahideen in the 1980s and is undoubtedly a richly experienced regional expert - he was inexplicably marginalized, though, by the late Richard Holbrooke - compared such efforts to the woes of a bazaar merchant in the Hindu Kush trying to balance the weight of frogs on opposite trays of a produce scale. 

Tomsen wrote, "The merchant can load frogs on one tray. But as he begins to load the second tray, some of the frogs on the first one will inevitably jump off. And as he reloads them, frogs on the second tray will leap to the ground. Eventually, even the most determined merchant will give up." 

Tomsen's prognosis might well be turning out to be the miserable fate of the United States today in Afghanistan as time is running out and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's troop withdrawal has begun in earnest, while on the parallel track the peace talks with the Taliban are yet to begin with any seriousness. 

In fact, the situation is even more complicated today than what Tomsen could have expected in the late 1980s when he struggled with the moody Mujahideen groups based in Peshawar under Pakistani military's supervision. For one thing, the merchant's basket today contains many more frogs than during the "Afghan jihad" and it also contains now a Big Frog, which can easily devour the small frogs in the basket if and when it chooses - at least, some of them. 

The past 72 hours must have been a chastening experience for US Secretary of State John Kerry. After an unpublicized dinner meeting with the Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani at Amman on Sunday, where they apparently hit it off with some soldier-to-soldier talk and agreed on the need to quickly commence the peace talks with the Taliban at the Qatari capital of Doha, Kerry flew into Kabul the next morning on an unscheduled visit reasonably certain that he had cut a deal with the Big Frog the previous night. 

Kerry's next mission was to get Afghan President Hamid Karzai on board. Now, that is a trickier frog since Karzai's ties with the US had lately taken a nosedive, with the Afghan leader even alleging "collusion" between the Americans and the Taliban. 

If anyone within the US administration today has a fighting chance of mollifying Karzai, it is Kerry. Karzai, in turn, knows the secret of Kerry's diplomatic success in Kabul; simply put, Kerry dislikes unpleasantness and by and large he concedes Karzai's demands even if he didn't mean to at the outset. 

In October 2009, Kerry was dispatched by President Barack Obama to persuade Karzai to back down and allow a fair and free presidential election to be held so that a genuine winner could emerge with a legitimate mandate, but instead he ended up being persuaded that the Afghan president rightfully deserved a second term and would be inclined to heed the US' advice circa 2014. 

A Better Afghanistan Will require a better president.

Apr 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 28 • 

Hamid Karzai has been acting even more obnoxiously and erratically than usual of late. He has tried to kick U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak Province, a Taliban-infested area south of Kabul, and he has tried to renege on an agreement over the transfer of an American-run detention facility to Afghan custody. Even worse, Karzai’s claims that the Taliban and the United States are colluding against his country have forced Gen. Joe Dunford, the top U.S. military commander, to issue an alert to his troops warning them that they face an elevated risk of attack. 

Edward Lansdale in 1963

All of this highlights the importance of Afghanistan picking a better leader in the next presidential election, scheduled for April 2014. It is vitally important that this balloting, unlike previous elections, not be marred by fraud. U.S. forces need to start planning now to ensure a free and fair election. 

But securing the vote is only the beginning of the problem. For it is perfectly possible that even a free election can bring to power a weak leader who, like Karzai, will tolerate massive corruption. If that were to happen it would be a disaster, because the ineffectiveness of the existing government is a prime recruiting tool for the Taliban. Unless Afghans elect a better president there is little chance that the massive American investment in Afghanistan, designed to safeguard the country from a return to power by the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies, will pay off.

Given the stakes, the United States can’t afford a holier-than-thou attitude of committing ourselves to free and fair elections while remaining agnostic about the outcome. Our tremendous power (we still have 66,000 troops in Afghanistan and provide more than 90 percent of the country’s budget) gives us the opportunity to influence the outcome, overtly or covertly. We should use that clout to help secure the election of a candidate who could unite Afghans and defeat or at least marginalize the Taliban—and we should not be paralyzed by fears that our machinations will blow up in our faces.

This is a difficult task to pull off, but Edward Lansdale showed how it could be done. This legendary CIA and Air Force officer arrived in the Philippines in 1945 at the beginning of an uprising by the Communist Huks (short for Hukbalahap). To counter the Huks, the Philippine Army was attacking barrios with artillery and bombs and indiscriminately locking up and torturing suspects. This campaign was not only brutal but ineffective, because it was overseen by a government that Lansdale described as “rotten with corruption.” The Huks, who numbered 10,000 to 15,000 active fighters, only grew stronger under this ham-handed assault.

To counter the Huks’ influence, Lansdale set out to talk to Filipinos from all walks of life. He quickly made friends with his soft-spoken manner, which was a welcome contrast to the hectoring tone adopted by so many Americans in Southeast Asia in those days—or in Afghanistan today. A Filipino friend recalled, “He would always say things in such a nice, disarming, and charming way. He never ordered but only asked, ‘What do you think about doing it this way?’ or ‘Don’t you think this is how we should treat the problem?’ ”

The most important friend Lansdale made was Ramón Magsaysay, a former anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter who was just a congressman when the two met in 1950. Lansdale became Magsaysay’s closest confidant, for a time even his roommate. The two men saw eye to eye on how to combat the Huks—and it wasn’t the way that the Philippine security forces were going about it. 

Moving Past the Wreckage of China’s Tibet Policy

Beijing should give consideration to re-starting a process of engaging the Dalai Lama in dialogue, one that might even result in his return to Tibet.

March 10th, the anniversary of the uprising that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight from Tibet in 1959, has come and gone. While it is not as infamous in the West as the Ides of March, it is a day of great symbolic import in Tibet and has become a focal point for the expression of Tibetan protest against Chinese rule over the region. Yet, unlike in 2008 when widespread unrest enveloped Tibet following the anniversary, this month has seen no dramatic upheavals on the rooftop of the world.

On the surface such an outcome validates Beijing’s three-pronged approach toward managing the Tibet issue. First, it continues to send large-scale subsidies to the region intended to spur economic growth. Second, it oversees a dense network of coercive and surveillance measures designed to stifle any public expression of dissent. Third, it stymies the prospect of serious talks with the charismatic Dalai Lama in favor of waiting for his death. This final tactic appears to be based upon the assumption that China will be in a stronger negotiating position with the Tibetans after he is gone.

Yet, such an approach is counter-productive to China over the long run. Rather than continuing to do the same thing in Tibet, the time is ripe for China’s leaders to consider a dramatic re-orientation of their policies toward the mountainous region. Beijing should give serious consideration to re-starting the long-stalled out process of engaging the Dalai Lama in meaningful dialogue, one that might even result in his return to Tibet. While the odds against such an initiative unfolding are long, Beijing might find such a turn appealing due to the new realities Beijing is confronting both inside Tibet and in the wider international arena. 

First, internal signs of a popular rejection of Beijing’s right to rule Tibet are still commonplace throughout the region. The most persistent, and harrowing, indication of such Tibetan displeasure with the Chinese is the ongoing wave of self-immolations that have been carried out across the Tibetan highlands. However, rather than acknowledge the sentiments that cause such acts of desperation (now numbering over 100), Beijing has harshly castigated those who have been involved with these symbolic acts of protest as reckless agitators and criminals. At the same time, in concert with its campaign to paint the Dalai Lama as a callous, calculating, politician it has charged those close to the exiled Tibetan leader with explicitly promoting self-immolation. In so doing, Beijing argues Dharamsala has revealed the extent to which it is willing to sacrifice anything, and anyone, in the pursuit of promoting Tibetan independence.

Neither of these measures has stopped the Tibetans from continuing their fiery protests. Thus, while Chinese control over Tibet remains firm, the legitimacy of such rule is remarkably shallow. China owns the region but has little authority over those who reside there. Such a situation is a drain on Chinese resources, and presents a never-ending challenge to the country’s leaders.

Vilifying the Tibetan leader also poses international problems for Beijing. First, excoriating the Dalai Lama makes China’s leaders appear vindictive and bullying on the world stage. It thus constitutes a prominent stain on China’s international reputation. Second, as he is widely revered within Tibet, Chinese attacks upon the Dalai Lama further biases Tibetan views of the Chinese state. These are both losing propositions for Beijing.

China’s Glass Ceiling

Sure, the Middle Kingdom is becoming a superpower, but it's always going to be No. 2.


"It's over for America," a Chinese academic told me in late 2008, two days after Goldman Sachs turned itself into a commercial bank in order to fend off possible collapse. "From here on, it's all downhill." Sitting in Beijing as American capitalism seemed to be hanging by a thread, it was easy to believe that one era was ending and another beginning.

The past half-decade should have been the glory years for the spread of Chinese influence around the world. After China's ravishing 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and its startling recovery from the financial crisis, it had a platform to push for a bigger voice in international affairs. At a time when the United States has been navel-gazing on its own deficiencies and beset by dysfunction and infighting in Congress, China has quickly become the main trading partner for a long list of countries, not just in Asia, which should give it all sorts of sway. And at the very least, many Chinese assume, the country should start to resume its role as the natural leader in Asia.

Yet the years since the crisis have demonstrated something very different. Rather than usher in a new era of Chinese influence, Beijing's missteps have shown why it is unlikely to become the world's leading power. Even if it overtakes the United States to have the biggest economy in the world, which many economists believe could happen over the next decade, China will not dislodge Washington from its central position in global affairs for decades to come.

China is certainly not lacking in ambition, even if many of its final goals are not clearly articulated. It is implementing plans which challenge U.S. military, economic, and even political supremacy. But on each front, the last few years have demonstrated China's limitations, not the inevitability of its rise.

China's effort to gradually squeeze the U.S. Navy out of the Western Pacific did not start with the financial crisis in 2008. The financial crisis did, however, coincide with a new aggressiveness in the way China has pushed its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has scored at least one victory, securing control of the Scarborough Shoal, a group of small islands in the South China Sea, from the Philippines in 2012.

But among these tactical successes, China has been sowing the seeds of a strategic defeat. China's assertiveness is generating intense suspicion, if not outright enmity, among its neighbors. Its "peaceful rise" is not taking place in isolation. There may be echoes in today's Asia of the late-nineteenth century in Europe and North America, but this is the one critical difference. The United States came into its own as a great power without any major challenge from its neighbors, while Germany's ascent was aided by the collapsing Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and Russian monarchy on its frontiers. China, on the other hand, is surrounded by vibrant countries with fast-growing economies, from South Korea to India to Vietnam, who all believe that this is their time, as well. Even Japan, after two decades of stagnation, still has one of the most formidable navies in the world, as well as the world's third largest economy. China's strategic misfortune is to be bordered by robust and proud nation-states which expect their own stake in the modern world.

China’s Massive Water Problem

Stephen Crowe
Published: March 28, 2013

This month, a hundred years after the completion of the Panama Canal, China is expected to finish the first phase of its gigantic South-North Water Transfer Project, known in Chinese as Nanshui beidiao gongcheng — literally, “to divert southern water north.” The phrase evokes the suggestion, attributed to Mao, that “since the south has a great deal of water, and the north very little, we should borrow some of it.”

In realizing Mao’s dream of moving huge quantities of water from areas of plenty to those of want, Beijing is building a modern marvel, this century’s equivalent of the Panama Canal. But whereas the canal inaugurated a century of faith in the ability of human ingenuity to reshape the natural world, the South-North Water Transfer Project is a testament to the limits of engineering solutions to problems of basic environmental scarcity.

China is one of the most water-rich countries in the world. But as Mao observed, its water resources are unevenly distributed and overwhelmingly concentrated in the south and far west. Water scarcity has always been a problem for northern China, but shortages have reached crisis levels as a result of rapid economic development.

For most of the 1990s, northern China’s major river, the Yellow, failed to reach the sea, and the water tables around Beijing and other major northern cities have dropped so low that existing wells cannot tap them. In response, the government has tried to promote water conservation and limit water use. But these measures have had little impact, and there simply isn’t enough water to satisfy growing demands for drinking water, irrigation, energy production and other uses.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in China

Issue Vol. 28.1 Jan-Mar 2013 | Date : 28 Mar , 2013

Long Haul Eagle

China’s massive UAV developmental work has unhealthy implications for India. Soon Chinese capability will be of the latest standard and massive in size. If and when integrated in a manner similar to the Americans, the Chinese will have great knowledge of battle space. The Himalayan terrain is such that it is not easy to conceal and camouflage effectively. The stealthy nature of newer UAVs will make it difficult for India to intercept them.

Research into Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in China began in the late 1950s. Around this time, USA flew UAVs over China to gather intelligence. In fact, one of the first Chinese UAV was partially developed by reverse engineering the American UAV that was lost over China. The development effort increased in the second half of the 1960s and by the 1980s had grown into three series of products i.e. the Chang Kong 1 drones, WZ-5 high-altitude UAV and small remotely controlled D4s. The UAV design and research organizations were founded in NAI, BIAA and NPU Universities. While UAV programmes in China originally were based on US and Russian designs, today the Chinese researchers are producing original and innovative designs for mini, micro, Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) and flapping-wing UAVs.

China’s military has limited capability and experience with UAVs to date…

With the success of UAVs in recent conflicts, China is looking to position itself as a major user and exporter of UAVs. China’s research and development centres, especially Xian’s Northwest Polytechnic University (NPU), and the Beijing and Nanjing Universities of Aeronautics and Astronautics, have active UAV developmental programmes. The others are the Beijing Technology Company, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), Hebei Electric Power Reconnaissance Design Academy, North Western Polytechnic University, Shaanxi Engine Design Institute and Xian ASN Technology Group Company.

China has also acquired UAVs from outside. In 1994, Israel’s IAI Malat sold Harpy UAVs to China and in May 2006, the former was accused of again selling Sparrow UAVs. In August 2006, Japan’s Yamaha Motor Company was accused of selling the RMAX helicopter UAV to Beijing Technology Company which has ties to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Japanese military, for example, used the RMAX in Iraq for surveillance. Another report said that Yamaha exported 11 UAV helicopters to Beijing’s Poly Technologies and to Beijing Technology Company, both of which also have ties to the PLA.

China is creating an entire production ecosystem for business and GA aircraft…

China’s military has limited capability and experience with UAVs to date. Consequently, the practical application of UAV sensor information to battlefield operations is only in the developmental stage. China’s armed forces have operated the Chang Hong (CH-1) long-range, air-launched autonomous reconnaissance drone since the 1980s. China developed the CH-1 by reverse engineering the US Fire-bee reconnaissance drones recovered during the Vietnam War. An upgraded version of the system was displayed at the 2000 Zhuhai air show and is being offered for export. A PRC aviation periodical reported that the CH-1 can carry a TV, daylight still or infra-red camera.

Will the Chinese Be Supreme?

Ng Han Guan/Reuters

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Japan’s New Komeito party, delivering a personal letter from Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to China’s President-in-Waiting Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, January 25, 2013

During the turbulent Maoist era from the 1950s to 1970s, China clashed militarily with some of its most important neighbors—India, Vietnam, the Soviet Union—and embarked on disastrous interventions in Indonesia and Africa. But by the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping had put China on a development-first policy, advising the country to “hide its capacities and bide its time.” This wasn’t exactly reassuring—implying that at some point China would reveal its true intentions—but from the 1980s through the mid-2000s China had relatively few confrontations, despite its rising economic, political, and military power.

Suddenly, it seems this modesty has evaporated. China’s territorial claims to islands and waters in East Asia are long-standing but they have turned insistent, bellicose, and even provocative, causing a sharp rift between China and many of its neighbors. Most recently, the Philippines and Japan announced that they would become “strategic partners” in settling their maritime disputes with China—anathema to Beijing, which prefers to see these disputes handled separately. Regardless of the merits of China’s claims and actions, from a realpolitik standpoint these disputes and new alliances bespeak major policy blunders in China’s past.

The most serious conflict involves Japan. While China’s actions in Southeast Asia cause many angry statements, most countries there lack the capacity to prevent Chinese ships from patrolling waters they claim as their own. But in Japan, China faces one of the world’s most capable maritime powers. Unlike the Philippines, which hasn’t been able to stop Chinese ships from encroaching on its territorial waters and even dropping markers onto disputed reefs, Japan has actively defended claims to several disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japanese, Diaoyu in Chinese, and Tiaoyutai by nearby Taiwan (which also claims them, largely based on the same historical arguments used by China).

While other disputes have ended after a few days or weeks, this one has continued now for months. In February, Japan claimed that a Chinese frigate had locked weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter. Almost every few days, Japanese media report on Chinese ships—especially China Marine Surveillance survey ships—sailing without permission inside Japan’s territorial waters around the islands. (At least twenty-eight such violations have been reported since the issue heated up last autumn.) Last year, these tensions helped prepare the way for the election of a nationalistic Japanese prime minister.

Shale: the wedge between Russia and China

By Robert Blohm
Mar 28, 2013

As the US undergoes a shale energy revolution, Canada is looking to China as an alternate market for exports, just as Russia looks to China as the EU diversifies its supplies and does its own shale development. If both the US and the EU move away from Canada and Russia respectively as an energy supplier, then China becomes Canada's and Russia's replacement market. Yet, according to the International Energy Agency, as foretold by Li Guo Yu, China's venerable elder statesman, pioneer and geographer of energy, China has more shale potential than either the US or the EU! If China is smart, it should push for low prices (ideally zero profit) for Russia in natural gas negotiations and develop its own domestic resources instead. Indeed, making China more energy independent is in both China's and the world's interest, since it would increase overall supply and lower prices.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's New Weave on India

Paper No. 5440 Dated 28-Mar-2013
By Bhaskar Roy

Soon after taking over as China’s new president with a tenure of ten years, Xi Jinping invited selected journalists from BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) for an exchange on March 19, in Beijing. President Xi would be attending the upcoming BRICS meeting in Durban, South Africa where he will meet heads of states and governments of the member countries, including Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

There is no precedence of former Chinese President Hu Jintao holding press meets with BRICS journalists. Perhaps, it is because this is the first occasion. Equally possible, Mr. Xi was giving out glimpses into his foreign policy thinking. It was well choreographed in advance.

Predictably, the Indian journalist’s question centered on the Sino-Indian border issue and the position taken by China’s new disposition. President Xi’s reply was certainly not predictable. Indeed, it has provoked a lot of questions among Indians.

Mr. Xi replied “The boundary question is a complex issue left from history, and solving the issue won’t be easy. This is a new formulation. Till now the standard formulation was that the boundary question was an issue left over from history and it will take time to resolve it.

Has Mr. Xi removed the border talks from the table and consigned it to the next generation of Chinese leadership? The resolution of the Sino-Indian border question was to be a three step procedure. The first step, recognition of the issue, has been achieved. The two countries are in the second step, but are stuck. No movement has taken place including exchange of maps showing the respective positions of the two sides on the Western and the Eastern Sectors. China has also dug its heels in on the 2005 agreement that no settled population territories would be exchanged.

Herein lies the problem. China has, in recent years, insisted that Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is part of Southern Tibet, there are Tibetan sentiments attached to it and the Tawangmonastery, and Tawang should go to China in the border settlement. For India, it is near impossible to give up Tawang, a town with settled Indian population. In resolution of all boundary issues, there is a give and take of territory. But settled populations have not been transferred. This is evident from all border agreements China has signed with its other neighbours on land borders.

Imagine a situation where some Indians wake up one morning to find themselves to be Chinese citizens. The partition of India in 1947 witnessed such a situation, and at what cost. That experience cannot be reenacted again in the smallest ways. The Indian people will not allow it and no Indian government can carry such an agreement through. 

China’s claim on Tawang has little to do with the sentiments of Tibetans, living in China, or historical claims. It has two aspects (a) military strategic reasons, and (b) the Tibetan independence/autonomy movement and the 14thDalai Lama.

Bhutan’s Second Trip to the Parliamentary Polls

March 27, 2013

By Sudha Ramachandran

With its second general elections, Bhutan takes one more step towards securing its democratic gains.

Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan conjures up images of peace and tranquility. Indeed, it is a country of serene and striking geographic beauty. But this setting brings with it an isolation that kept Bhutan politically sealed off from the rest of the world as an absolute monarchy until 2008, when it became a democracy.

Over the next couple of months Bhutan will take steps towards further consolidating its fledgling democracy. Its people will vote first for the National Council (the upper house of parliament) and then the National Assembly (the lower house).

This is the second time in their country’s history that the Bhutanese will be voting in parliamentary elections. Voting for the 25-member Council will take place on April 23. While voting dates for the more influential Assembly are yet to be announced, they are expected in June.

Bhutan’s first general election was held in March 2008. It was a two-horse race between the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Voter enthusiasm was high, with voter turnout of almost 80 percent. Several voters trudged through kilometers of mountainous terrain to take part. Although pre-election violence did occur, polling was peaceful.

Although some analysts predicted a close contest, the DPT swept the elections, winning 45 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.

Will Bhutan’s second general election be any different? There a few key developments worth noting. For one, more parties are likely to enter the fray this time around. Further, voter turnout is expected to be lower. As for the outcome, the DPT is likely to win again, albeit by a smaller margin.

An absolute monarchy for a century ago, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy in 2008, making it one of the youngest democracies in the world.

King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck took the first steps towards democratization by setting up a 130-member National Assembly in 1953. His son and successor Jigme Singye Wangchuck further loosened the monarchy’s grip on absolute power in 1998 when he took steps to rule Bhutan in conjunction with the National Assembly as well as the Council of Cabinet Ministers. He followed that up by setting in motion the drafting of a constitution in 2001.

Political parties – banned decades ago – were reintroduced in 2007. In December that year and January 2008, Bhutanese voted for their National Council. Three months later, they elected their National Assembly. The new democratically elected bicameral Parliament then enacted the Constitution. 

The Threat from Rising Extremism in the Maldives

Mar 27, 2013
Animesh Roul

The Indian Ocean archipelago state of the Maldives is best known for its scenic and secluded tourist resorts. An estimated 400,000 people live on approximately 1,200-2,000 small islands, grouped into 26 atolls.[1] The tourism industry accounts for 30% of its gross domestic product, with an estimated 900,000 foreigners visiting the country each year.[2] In the past decade, however, the Maldives has experienced political uncertainty and growing religious extremism.

In 2008, the Maldives held its first democratic presidential elections. Mohamed Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the country for 30 years, winning 54% of the vote.[3] During the election campaign, Gayoom and his supporters accused Nasheed, a Sunni Muslim, of spreading Christianity in the Maldives.[4] In December 2011, after three years in power, Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) faced massive protests by opposition parties, religious groups and their thousands of supporters in the capital Male.[5] Called the “Defend Islam” protests, the organizers accused the Nasheed administration of defiling Islam, arguing that Nasheed promoted Western ideals and culture and restricted the spread of more austere Islamic practices.[6] The protests continued into 2012. On February 7, 2012, a bloodless coup toppled the Maldives’ first democratically-elected government.[7]
Since Islam was introduced in the Maldives in the 12th century, religious practices in the country have been moderate. Yet in the past decade, the country has grown increasingly religiously conservative. This became especially evident following the implementation of political reforms and the transition to multiparty democracy in 2008, which gave a greater voice to religious conservatives and those calling for the rigid implementation of Shari`a (Islamic law) in the Maldives.[8]

This article examines religious conservatism and extremist violence in the Maldives, as well as cases of Maldivians joining jihadist groups. It finds that religious conservatism is on the rise in the Maldives, which could result in more violence and affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

A Move Toward Religious Conservatism

For hundreds of years, Sunni Muslims in the Maldives have largely practiced a more liberal form of the religion. Yet during Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s three-decade autocratic rule, the Egyptian-trained religious scholar enacted a number of measures that, at least inadvertently, encouraged more hard line Islamist elements in the country. In 1994, the Protection of Religious Unity Act was passed, which restricted the freedom to practice any other religion besides Islam.[9] In 1996, Gayoom constituted the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (which was renamed the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in 2008) charged with overseeing religious affairs in the country. This body of clerics pressured the government to carry out moral and cultural policing of alleged “anti-Islamic activities.”[10] In 2008, it asked the police to ban night clubs and discotheques for New Year’s Eve celebrations, saying that they were contrary to Islam.[11]

By the end of Gayoom’s time in office in 2008, the dress code for women had grown increasingly conservative, and more and more men grew out their beards.[12] Whereas women used to dress in bright colored clothes, they increasingly wear black robes and headscarves today.[13] On more conservative islands such as Himandhoo, women wear black abayas and face veils.[14] Ahmed Naseem, the Maldivian foreign minister until the coup in 2012, said that the Maldives “had no one wearing headscarves 10 years ago,” but it is common now.[15] From imposing a ban on Christian missionary radio to apprehending migrant service providers for allegedly preaching and practicing their own religion, Gayoom’s regime initiated an era of state-backed religious intolerance and radicalization in the Maldives.[16]

Bangladesh: To Bangla Opposition Leader: Pyromaniachs are eventually consumed by fire:

Paper No. 5441 Dated 28-Mar-2013
By Bhaskar Roy

Begum Khaleda Zia, Chairperson of the main opposition party in Bangladesh, is a two-time Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She and her party also took to the streets in 1992 in a joint movement with the Awami League to oust General and President H.M. Ershad’s military government. Her husband, Gen, Zia-ur-Rahman, usurped the post of the President of the country, ran a martial law government to start with, lived by the sword, and died by it.

The assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family on August 15, 1975 ushered in the politics of Martial Law and military rule like Pakistan. The BNP and its ally the Jamaat tried to sponsor a military coup in 2006, but were pre-empted by some top army leaders. But there was the shadow of the army over the caretaker government when the famous “minus two” theory – exile both Khaleda Zia and Sk. Hasina, was tried. A new party to be led by a particular celebrated person was contemplated.

Then army Chief Gen. Moin U. Ahmed also floated a new political theory of “democracy with Bangladeshi characteristics”. Unfortunately, Gen. Moin appears to have been influenced by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s theory of “socialism with Chinese characteristic”. There can be no comparison between two in any way. But people do get carried away, and can be pardoned if they did not cause any harm.

With this background, it is astonishing that a political leader like Begum Khaleda Zia who has seen the Bangladesh liberation war in the early stages from the Pakistani army controlled cantonment in Dhaka, to the present stage would again call on the army to intervene in the politics of the country.

This writer remembers what late Maj. Gen. M.A. Mannaf told him in 1983. Gen. Mannaf, who was the GOC and Martial Law Administrator of Chittagong Division said he believed the army belongs to the barracks and on the borders of the country to defend the nation from external aggression

Certainly, many countries call in the army to help in natural disasters, communal riots and disturbances of this kind, because the army is better equipped and better trained. In all circumstances it is the government that controls the country. On March 24, however, Khaleda Zia called upon the army not to be a silent spectator and play its role in the political development in the country. She placed the police firing on the rampaging Jamaat and its student wing Shibir cadres, on the same page as the police firing under the Pakistani regime in 1971!