8 March 2014


 Something that the UPA government got exactly right
Politics and Play - Ramachandra Guha

Last week, the great pioneering environmentalist, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, was given the Gandhi peace prize, awarded annually by the government of India. I should perhaps have said technically awarded annually; since in the 10 years the United Progressive Alliance has been in power, the government has chosen just two Gandhi peace prize winners. In 2005, the committee’s choice fell on the South African theologian and activist, Desmond Tutu; now, shortly before a general election the UPA will surely and deservedly lose, they have chosen Chandi Prasad Bhatt.

The idea of a Gandhi peace prize was first mooted in 1994, the year of the Mahatma’s 125th birth anniversary. P.V. Narasimha Rao was then prime minister. Rao was a very learned man; and one with a decidedly ambiguous relationship to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. He had, through the 1980s, been extremely deferential to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, but after unexpectedly becoming prime minister in 1991, he chose to mark out a distinct legacy of his own. Hence the push to liberalize the economy, and hence also the institution of the Gandhi peace prize.

That Narasimha Rao sincerely admired Mahatma Gandhi is not in question. Yet, in setting up an award in his name, he may also have been dealing a subtle snub to the memory of Indira Gandhi. For one of Rajiv Gandhi’s first acts as prime minister was to set up an award named after his mother, which his government claimed would become as prestigious as the Nobel Peace Prize. The Indira Gandhi prize for peace, disarmament and development was first awarded in 1986 to the New York-based Parliamentarians for Global Action. Later awardees included the Russian politician, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Norwegian stateswoman, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the Namibian freedom-fighter, Sam Nujoma.

In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Tamil terrorists from Sri Lanka. Later in the year he was posthumously awarded the Indira Gandhi prize. This, on Narasimha Rao’s part, was an acknowledgment of the brutal nature of Rajiv’s death, and of his own past obligations to the First Family. Three years later, by the time of the Mahatma’s 125th birth anniversary, Rao had made himself quite independent of his former patrons in thought and in action. One manifestation of this growing independence was the institution of the Mahatma Gandhi peace prize. This carried a cash award of Rs 1 crore, whereas the Indira Gandhi prize was worth a mere 25 lakh. The discrepancy was surely not accidental; someone (most probably Narasimha Rao himself) was saying to someone else (most probably Sonia Gandhi) that the Mahatma was a much greater Indian than Indira Gandhi.

Indian PM Addresses BIMSTEC Summit, Pushes Free Trade

Indian PM Addresses BIMSTEC Summit, Pushes Free Trade
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Manmohan Singh made his final diplomatic trip to Napyidaw, Myanmar to attend the BIMSTEC summit.

March 08, 2014
major multilateral event as Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh attended a meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in Napyidaw, Myanmar. BIMSTEC is a fairly young regional institution that gets lost in the space between SAARC and ASEAN, but the latest summit added some much-needed energy to its development. BIMSTEC is comprised of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal.

In Napidyaw, Singh called for fast-tracking a free trade pact among the BIMSETC members and increasing economic cooperation. The summit issued a joint declaration on trade, which expressed an intention to “expedite work for conclusion of the Agreement on Trade in Goods by the end of 2014, and to continue its efforts for early finalisztion of the Agreement on Services and Investments.”

Singh emphasized the importance of a short timetable for a potential free-trade agreement: “Most of us here are connected with each other through one or more regional economic arrangements and it should not be difficult for us to conclude one for BIMSTEC.” A BIMSTEC free trade area framework has existed since at least 2004 but has led to little concrete progress for the countries within the organization.

The free trade pact process within BIMSTEC is rendered more complicated by the fact that its constituent states already have FTAs under the South Asia Free Trade Area agreement, which was reached via SAARC summits, or are members of ASEAN who then have their own free trade negotiations with BIMSTEC states. Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh noted the difficulty of arriving at “an outcome that is optimal for India and them.”

“In coming together, we are not only stepping out of narrow, traditional definitions of regions such as South Asia or Southeast Asia, but we are also building a bridge across Asia’s most promising and dynamic arc,” Prime Minister Singh said at the summit.

The BIMSTEC leaders jointly vowed to increase cooperation in counter-terrorism, drug trafficking, and transnational crime as well. According to The Hindu, the heads of government at the BIMSTEC summit “called for expediting the ratification for entry into force of the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking and also for the early signing of the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.”

Singh also took the opportunity to announce that India would initiate direct shipping lines to Myanmar. Relations between India and Myanmar have grown warmer since President Thein Sein’s wave of reform. Myanmar will import India-developed submarine sonar systems this year. For India, Myanmar represents an important node in its Look-East Policy.


Sri Lanka’s Growing Links with China

Sri Lanka’s Growing Links with China

Trade, investment and a strategic Indian Ocean location bring the two countries closer together.
By Jack Goodman
March 06, 2014

“We love this country,” declared a Chinese Foreign Minister on a state visit to Sri Lanka in 1971, China “was ready to give its fullest co-operation to speed up the socialist march of Ceylon.”

Sri Lanka’s socialist “march” didn’t ever quite catch up with China’s, but since the first Rubber-Rice pact was signed in 1952 China-Sri Lankan relations have been a source of unity and continue on an upward trajectory today.

As China’s economic power has grown, investing overseas has been a tactic used across the world by China to help bolster the national interest. Its financial foreign policy rests on two strategies: “accumulating foreign currency reserves and sending money abroad in the form of FDI, aid, assistance and loans,” wrote U.S. economic advisor Ken Miller in Foreign Affairs. Sri Lanka is a model for the latter part of this strategy.

The statistics alone indicate the inexorable rise of China’s financial stake in Sri Lanka.

Impending confirmation of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries is symbolic of the tight-knit relations between Beijing and Colombo in 2014. Bilateral trade exceeded $3 billion for 2013 and China is Sri Lanka’s second largest source of imports behind India.

Despite the symbolism, China will profit more from the generous new tariffs of the FTA. Sri Lanka has a growing trade deficit with China that stood at approximately $2.4 billion in 2012. China is the destination for less than 2 percent of total Sri Lankan exports.


Saturday, 08 March 2014 | 

After 12 years at the helm, with the much-needed initial prop from America, Mr Karzai is a bitter man today blaming the US for the “war that’s not ours”

A month before he demits office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has gone public with one of the worst-kept secrets: that he and US President Barack Obama have barely been on talking terms, and that he has nothing but “extreme anger” for the US Government. After 12 years at the helm, with the much-needed initial prop from America, Mr Karzai is a bitter man today. “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,” he complained in an interview to The Washington Post earlier this week. The Americans, as he put it, fought the long war “not for us” but “for US security and for Western interests”. He conceded he was so emotional about the losses suffered by the Afghan people that he could not really say if the war had been worthwhile overall.

The Americans, too, have been complaining of frustration and exasperation with Mr Karzai. There may be clear relief within the Obama Administration that once the Afghan elections are done with next month, it would not have to deal with him any longer. The issue agitating Washington utmost in recent months has been Mr Karzai’s refusal to sign the much-touted Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Without that instrument, the United States says it will be left with the “zero option” of withdrawing all its troops by the year-end. But if the BSA is concluded, it would be willing to maintain a residual presence beyond 2014, albeit largely in a non-combat role of training Afghan security forces and assisting them in counter-terrorism operations. Deadlines that the Obama Administration set for concluding the BSA have come and gone, but Mr Karzai has refused to budge.

America’s current face-off with Russia over the Ukraine crisis may have temporarily relegated the Afghanistan conundrum to the background, but Washington will have to face the issue squarely before long. The Republicans have been warning of the dangers of a total withdrawal of US forces from that country. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon recently attacked President Obama for his “lack of leadership” on this issue. As one who has been advocating a longer US mission, the senior House Republican thundered: “Do we step back and abandon Afghanistan to the wolves? Do we still have a moral responsibility to the people there? Does our humanity still compel us to help people who have known nothing but war for four decades? We abandoned Afghanistan to the Taliban once before. And both the United States and the people of Afghanistan paid the price.”

Decoding Hamid Karzai

March 8, 2014 

Suchitra Vijayan Prakhar Sharma

Karzai has retreated from many ideological and political positions in the face of recalcitrant events and shifting context. The most irreconcilable are his opinions about the Taliban as well as his views on the role of the U.S. in Afghanistan

Over the past few weeks, editorial space in leading newspapers has been dominated by opinions about the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, ranging from an almost Freudian scrutiny of his decision-making to a lazy stereotyping of his behaviour. This deluge of commentary stems from Mr. Karzai’s recent decisions to postpone the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States government and to release 65 prisoners from Bagram.

But, how well does existing commentary help us understand Mr. Karzai? Three problems seem immediately apparent: the portrayal of his actions in a manner that seems to betray the absence of any analytical inquiry; an overwhelming focus on his agency at the exclusion of structure, or vice versa, and an oversimplification of his interests as single, dominant or static.

Media portrayal

Recently, columnist Maureen Dowd bemoaned “ … our runaway fruitcake puppet Hamid Karzai fiddling while the Taliban burns, vowing to run America out just as they did the Russians and waging vicious attacks on women.” Early media depiction of Mr. Karzai, in 2002-2003, bears little resemblance to the figure we read about today, once described as “Afghanistan’s caped hero” by columnist Nicholas Kristof, to an “elegant and eloquent” figure and a “brave, even heroic” man who was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, in The Wall Street Journal.

By 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama came to office, the long honeymoon with Mr. Karzai’s regime was over. Numerous op-eds were severely critical of the leader — “unsteady Mr. Karzai,” and “afflicted with grave paranoia” (WSJ), a “wily survivor in a snakepit of feuding warlords, drug lords, and Taliban” (The Guardian), a “loose cannon,” and “untrustworthy,” (The New York Times), and “inconstant as a zephyr” (The Washington Post) . Ms Dowd even called him “colicky,” comparing him to a fickle mistress, in contrast to a 2003 Washington Post article, a piece reflective of the sentiments in 2003, where Mary McGrory stated, “Even with skeptical and sympathetic senators inviting him to speak candidly about his problems, beginning with nation-building funds far short of ‘a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan,’ he does not wince or cry aloud.”

The good intentioned, but inefficacious ruler had been replaced by a perceivably corrupt, nepotistic, hashish-smoking leader at the helm of a disintegrating “corrupt narco-thug government.” What explains this shifting western narrative? Did Mr. Karzai change for the worse, or are the labels on his personality and decision-making misplaced?

The complexity of the evolving political context in Afghanistan and Mr. Karzai’s response to it elude easy categorisation. Adjectives that portray him may provide convenient labels, but they remain purely descriptive, focussing on the “what” instead of the “why.” Unless linked to the analytical inquiry of the situation, descriptive categories stunt the development of arguments. Media portrayal has thus produced a series of snapshots of the President, transforming him from a dapper statesman to an inept leader to a corrupt nepotistic ruler to the “crazy Karzai.” They have also focussed primarily on his behaviour at a given situation without much regard for the context.

Afghanistan’s transformation

In the last 12 years, Afghanistan has transformed itself socially, economically and politically. It is only fitting to acknowledge that its broad structural changes have been accompanied by an evolution of strategic choices among the country’s political elite; they have responded to the changing context just as they have played their part in shaping that context. Mr. Karzai is an embodiment of this continuous adaptation and response to the volatile context around him. This seemingly mutual constitution of interests, restraints, relationships and agency is often not given its due in existing Karzai commentary.

Mr. Karzai has retreated from many ideological and political positions in the face of recalcitrant events and shifting context, the most irreconcilable being his opinions about the Taliban as well as his views on the role of the U.S. government in Afghanistan. For instance in 2000, he testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan and helped gather support for an anti-Taliban movement. In 2002, as the chairman of the transitional government in Afghanistan, he epitomised a leader who publicly embraced democratic pluralism in Afghan politics, welcomed international engagement and courageously drew a distinction between the Taliban and the rest of Afghan society. As the insurgency gained momentum by 2004, he grew frustrated with the West’s passive heeding of his demands for more troops. Consequently, the consistency with which he publicly criticised the Taliban lost its steam. The May 2006 riots in Kabul exacerbated his fears of being reduced to irrelevance by western interests on one hand and the brutal volatility of the Afghan politics on the other. His lashing out against the West and Pakistan increased as he questioned his affiliations and their interests. The election in 2009 and the unsparing western criticism of the electoral fraud sealed his perception that the conflict had three sides, not two; he was confronting the Americans just as he was being confronted by the Taliban. The resignation of Amrullah Saleh and Hanif Atmar in 2010, the establishment of the High Peace Council later that year, and the spate of political assassinations in 2011 would further distance him from the West. His responses have thus been punctuated with the evolving political context around him, depending on the exigencies of the present and the nature of his interests.

Most accounts about Mr. Karzai either resign themselves to convenient stereotyping or frame his behaviour as driven by a single dominant motive. Legacy, a fear of conspiracy, and insecurity are some of the explanations behind his recent behaviour — and there is merit. Mr. Karzai indeed is mistrustful of the U.S. He also seeks to alleviate his insecurity and indeed aspires to leave a legacy behind. But, what many of these arguments conveniently ignore is that his behaviour is far from irrational, his outbreaks of impulse are safely conventional and that he has a multiple hierarchy of interests and identities whose salience varies with context.

Afghanistan’s modern history is punctuated by war, ethnic factionalism and, ultimately, by the state’s deformation. State building in Afghanistan has been punctuated by personality politics over national interest, the distribution of patronage over governance by institutions; fleeting alliances among competing and reconciling factions; copious amounts of unaccounted aid and an abundance of opium revenue. The patrimonial nature of social interactions has became the societal norm that governs Afghan society. In this climate, Mr. Karzai the political leader needs to constantly affirm his reputation and ability to reward loyal supporters, because deal-making rather than legislative and executive action informs political decisions.

Karzai’s agency

At the heart of the government of any political system lie certain mechanisms of decision-making and in communicating the same to the public. Government agencies in most countries, at the very least, provide relevant inputs that aid and enable the political leadership in formulating and framing policies. In the western context, one could refer to strategic documents published by the government and the policy papers produced by influential think tanks to understand the direction of specific priorities and the evolving narrative on major issues. Many countries, those in South Asia included, rely on careerist bureaucracies to inform, if not influence, policy-making. In the case of Kabul, beyond providing critical administrative support, the role of the government and the bureaucracy in framing policies remains perceivably muted in the public sphere. Decision-making on crucial policy priorities seems to reside primarily with the President and his close advisers. This overly-centralised, policy-making structure entails communicating key decisions through speech-making from the President before his voting audiences and international media. Any inquiry into Afghanistan’s policy-making processes therefore takes one to interpreting the President’s speeches and comments, and confers disproportionate emphasis on Mr. Karzai’s personal agency.

To be fair, this approach has its appeal; individuals and ideas matter in politics. In the Afghan political system, his agency does carry disproportionate weight than anyone else’s. As the man at the centre of most decision-making, Mr. Karzai’s intentions and motivations bear heavily on the policy-making process. If he has been “erratic,” “unreliable” and “unpredictable,” one could hope that the next elected political leader in Afghanistan would be better, may listen more, and may even sign the BSA. Is the problem solved? Not quite. To look at his agency without recognising its relationship with the context is to overinterpret Mr. Karzai and oversimplify any analysis of his decisions. A change in leadership, even leadership that has pledged to sign the BSA and “resolve to maintain the strategic western partnership” will not significantly change the limitations under which a new president has to negotiate the terms.

Mr. Karzai today is the dramatis personae of the theatre state called Afghanistan; a President who performs the social ritual of governing without governance and where decision-making functions were long ago forsaken for deal-making; the Afghanistan that President Karzai will bequeath to his successor is a country with a long tumultuous past, circumstances made dire by the U.S. government’s policy-making paralysis and apathy, and a country under the duress of insurgency and severe developmental gaps. More crucially, the many attempts to produce a strong Afghan state have failed in design before they failed in implementation. Leadership succession in Afghanistan will occur within these historical, political and institutional contexts, with severe constraints. The simultaneous discounting of Mr. Karzai and the analytical suggestions that a new “President” after the election would be a better actor to negotiate with, is simplistic.

(Suchitra Vijayan, a political analyst and writer, studies insurgency in Afghanistan at Yale. Prakhar Sharma is a research student in political science at the Maxwell School.)


Living up to the Cold War stereotype

March 8, 2014
. Russia fears that the loss of the Crimean base will alter the strategic balance, making the Black Sea a large Nato-dominated lake. (Reuters)
But the Ukrainian crisis could be an opportunity to complete the task of establishing equilibrium in the former Soviet space
The spectre of a new Cold War is haunting Europe. The crisis in Ukraine, exacerbated by Crimea’s parliament vote in favour of joining Russia, threatens to evolve into the classic, stereotypical West versus the Kremlin confrontation. To understand what the possible outcomes could be, it is important to recount how matters reached this stage and Moscow’s perception of these developments.

In November 2013, then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (still accepted by all parties as democratically elected) decided not to sign the association agreement with the EU. Instead, he opted for the Russian economic bailout package — $15 billion plus natural gas at discounted prices. Protests ensued, with thousands occupying central Kiev. Initially, there was a carnival air about the protests — fiery speeches, foreign dignitaries, including ministers mingling with and speaking to the protesters. Senior US officials were photographed distributing sandwiches to anti-government demonstrators.

The protests spread to other towns in western Ukraine, with government buildings being occupied with muscle provided by rightwing and neo-Nazi outfits. In Kiev, meanwhile, Yanukovych decided by mid-February that it was time to clear the demonstrators from the streets. Police action started. Nearly 100 people were reportedly killed. (Latest reports indicate that many of these deaths were the result of work by snipers from the opposition forces.)

Mysteriously, the police action was halted and the opposition invited for talks. The negotiations resulted in an agreement on February 21 that was a virtual surrender by Yanukovych. The agreement, countersigned by three European foreign ministers, was summarily dismissed by the protesters, who were by now led by radical nationalists. No one, including the three ministers, appeared to object.

Mearsheimer Is Dangerously Optimistic

Mearsheimer Is Dangerously Optimistic
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Mearsheimer’s claim that China’s military power is significantly inferior to the U.S. misses the point.
March 08, 2014

Give John Mearsheimer credit. At his best he conveys wisdom in a few words. But — and you knew there was going to be a but — economy of words has its drawbacks. Mearsheimer also displays a penchant for packing lots of error into little space on the page. Exhibit A: this snippet from his latest missive over at The National Interest, wherein the University of Chicago political scientist pronounces the doom of free Taiwan:

Contemporary China does not possess significant military power; its military forces are inferior, and not by a small margin, to those of the United States.

Well. That’s a relief.

Except that you could say the same thing about any conflict in Chinese Communist Party history. Mao Zedong’s Red Army did not possess significant military power in the early phases of the Chinese Civil War; its military forces were inferior, and not by a small margin, to those of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. Indeed, the KMT army hunted the Red Army to the brink of extinction in the 1930s — compelling Mao’s beleaguered communists to undertake their famous Long March, a 6,000-mile retreat into the hinterland.

But the Red Army made a comeback and won that one if memory serves. Inferior hardware isn’t everything. Not for nothing did Mao upbraid adherents to “the so-called theory that ‘weapons decide everything.’”

Nor did China possess significant military power in 1950, when communist forces were still mopping up hapless KMT forces. Armed mainly with Soviet, Japanese, and Western castoffs, its military forces were inferior, and not by a small margin, to those of the United States. Yet late that year China intervened on the Korean Peninsula in force. Its army of “Chinese People’s Volunteers” threw back General Douglas MacArthur’s combined UN force in disarray, defeating an American-led effort to reunify the peninsula under non-communist rule. Washington had to settle for the antebellum status quo, a divided Korea.

Xinjiang Party Secretary Talks Terrorism After Kunming Attack

Plus a round-up of other NPC speeches and remarks. Friday China links.
March 08, 2014

On Thursday, Xinjiang’s Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian led the Xinjiang delegation’s meeting at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. In the wake of the deadly March 1 attack in Kunming, Zhang faced a barrage of questions about the rise of terrorism within China and the government’s response. As the Global Times reported, Zhang fired back at arguments (mainly in the West) that China’s crackdown in Xinjiang pushed more Uyghurs to engage in violent activities. He said growing terrorist activities by Xinjiang separatists are “a result of the international spreading of conservative or extremist forces” rather than an indication that China’s policies were failing. “Violent terrorism isn’t a result of our crackdown, but an inevitable phenomenon of society,” Zhang said. “It is because we have been taking measures that we were able to contain it so far.” This suggests that China is not planning to alter its strategy for dealing with terrorism, other than increasing the scale or intensity of its anti-terrorism “crackdown.” Accordingto South China Morning Post, Zhang and the rest of Xinjiang’s government will be working with the new National Security Commission, led by President Xi Jinping, to ensure security.

Zhang also claimed that around 90 percent of violent terrorists use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or other means to get around China’s Great Firewall. This means preventing the spread of terrorism could be a task that falls under the purview of China’s new central Internet security and informatization leading group, headed up by President Xi Jinping himself. Xi had already indicated that, in addition to its goals of making China a “cyber power” and strengthening defenses against external cyber threats, the group would look to increase control over China’s internet. Preventing terrorist videos and other materials from being accessed within China will certainly be high on the group’s to-do list in the wake of the Kunming attack.

Back in December, Global Voices Online claimed that “prolonged network shutdowns have become a regular occurrence in Uyghur and Tibetan minority regions of western China.” If Zhang’s comments are any indication, these internet blackouts might become even more common in Xinjiang as the government seeks to prevent would-be terrorists from accessing training materials.

China’s Defense Budget: A Mixed Bag

China’s Defense Budget: A Mixed Bag
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
For the U.S. and its allies, China’s new defense budget contains both bad news and good news.
March 08, 2014
eady reported, China announced a military budget of 808.23 billion Yuan ($131.57 billion) for 2014, a roughly 12.2 percent yearly increase. Naturally, this has raised concern among many of China’s neighbors that are locked in territorial disputes with Beijing, as well as in the United States.

For the countries concerned about China’s growing defense spending, there is both bad news and good news (or at least less bad news) contained in this announcement.

Let’s begin with the bad. First, as is well known, China’s military spending in 2014 is almost certain to far exceed $132 billion, as Beijing is notorious for keeping much of its defense spending off the books. Many estimates of China’s 2013 defense spending put it closer to $200 billion, although any credible sources contain a caveat that the margin of error is high. Nevertheless, assuming it was around $200 billion in 2013, a 12 percent increase this year would put China’s defense spending at about $224 billion. The Pentagon’s base budget is about $527 billion for FY 2014, meaning that Beijing’s military budget is about 42 percent of the United States’. However, this gap is narrowing quickly given the stagnant or even declining U.S. defense budget and the large yearly increases in China’s military budget. As discussed more below, wide disparities in personnel costs further narrow the differences between U.S. and China defense spending.

Another negative development for the U.S. and its Asian allies is that China’s military budget is growing at a faster rate. The 12.2 percent increase in 2014 is the largest increase since 2011, despite the growing economic issues the Chinese leadership must contend with. Since this was Xi Jinping’s first defense budget, this trend could continue for the next nine years, although that is hardly certain.

Relatedly, and perhaps the most troubling development, China’s military spending now appears to be totally divorced from its GDP growth. Defenders of the double-digit growth in China’s defense budgets over the last decade or so have often sought to downplay concerns by pointing out that the increases were simply keeping pace with growth in the overall economy. This felt reassuring since it meant that China wasn’t spending any more on defense when measured as a percentage of GDP (indeed, this number would be declining since China’s GDP is larger than its defense budget). Thus, the implication was that the military was not a top priority for China’s leadership.

Far from the foreign front

Mar 07, 2014 

The two challenges for policymakers would be how to counter and insulate India from radical Islam and the rise of China. Both factors converge in Pakistan, making an otherwise containable entity dangerous. 

The world ceases to exist for India six months before a parliamentary election. The next one, on April 7, with results on May 16, is particularly distracting as it is unlike the ones in 2004 or 2009.

The combat then was between known adversaries and in 2004, were it not for the collapse of his allies in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee may well have continued in power. The forthcoming election is different. The rise of a new left-of-centre challenger — the Aam Aadmi Party — the leadership transfer in Congress to Rahul Gandhi and the anointing of Narendra Modi, a charismatic though divisive leader, by the Bharatiya Janata Party make for an exciting, even volatile, contest. The world, however, does not stop for India, despite the fact that one-sixth of humanity lives here. The in-coming Indian government would have multiple choices to make in the neighbourhood and beyond.

The presidential elections in Afghanistan in May and in the largest Islamic nation Indonesia in July indicate the flux. With the advent of spring, militant Islamists will resurface with force in the region, from Afghanistan to Jammu and Kashmir, particularly as the US withdraws from the region, fully or largely. As the Taliban and their associates, like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, continue to employ terror with periodic offers to return to the negotiating table, the security situation degrades. The stand-off between Russia and the West over Ukraine is a new distraction that will benefit status quo challengers like the Islamists and a rising power like China.

The two major challenges for Indian policymakers would be how to counter and insulate India from radical Islam and the inevitable rise of China. Both these factors converge in Pakistan, making an otherwise containable entity dangerous. The additional challenges would be the rivalry between the Sunni and Shia alliances led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively. Symbolising this was the presence of the crown prince of the former and the foreign minister of the latter almost simultaneously in New Delhi recently. Complicating this is the stand-off over Ukraine. For instance, Turkey, a Nato member, is stuck between its old Khanate of Crimea, which it lost in the war with Russia in 1768-74, and the Tartar population there, constituting 12 per cent of the population, which has abiding emotional ties to Turkey, and imploding Syria to its south. In both countries Russia is aligning with forces opposed to Turkish orientation.

Assessing modernisation needs

V. R. Raghavan

Merely acquiring modern weapons without changing the national defence management system, creates a false sense military power

“Armed Forces are only as good as their weapons,” is a well-known adage. That was true when kinetic energy in the form of guns, tanks, ships and aircraft formed the essential power of armed forces. Merely collecting ever more of such hardware, or, having a million men under arms, is however no insurance against defeat in a war today. Saddam Hussein and others through history learnt it at great price to themselves and to their nations. Modern war is conducted on land, sea and in the skies, but as much and more in the electronic spectrum; and through space-based surveillance and control of the battlefield. Above everything else, the structures which bring together the armed forces, political and bureaucratic machinery to work in synergy form the essential components of modernisation. Every developed and developing country is conscious of this overarching need and is continuously finding ways to optimise the nation’s organisational, technical, defence production and R&D mix . 

In India, military modernisation is still largely viewed as the acquisition of weapon systems. This skewed view leads to a ‘bean counting’ approach which compares how much India has in comparison with China, Pakistan or other likely adversaries. The book under review covers a range of military modernisation subjects in terms of army, navy, air force, R&D, missiles etc and their inventories. The authors of this edited book do a fine job of the efforts and processes employed by the Indian governments in improving the battle fighting inventories of the armed forces. As wars of recent decades have shown, from Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Gaza and Lebanon and now in Syria, mere military inventories and kinetic power do not win wars. Victory in such wars is not just a question of defeating the opposing militaries but of obtaining a peaceful outcome. 

India’s economic growth and its military strength in a complex security environment has made it a major military power in Asia. It is currently one of the world’s largest weapon systems importers. Its overwhelming import dependence for military hardware has turned it into possibly the largest military markets for weapons producing nations. Developed countries whose armament industries are finding it difficult to sell their produce after the Cold War, see India as military purchase bulwark. The competition to sell major armament systems to India is therefore so great that even large cutbacks and bribes come in play. The system of ever increasing defence budgets, need for ever modern weapon systems which can only be imported, and a stagnant Indian defence production capacity, has led to a self-sustaining negative security spiral from which India needs to come out. Military modernisation is, therefore, in need of going beyond numbers of weapons and systems, to improving national defence as an eco-system, involving all organs of the government and the political, economic and technological sinews of the nation. 

A soldier’s critique of India’s wars

Swaran Singh

Chennai: 01/03/2014: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column: Title: India at Risk. Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy. Author: Jaswant Singh. 

The Indian political class is not known for engaging in serious writing, even reading. The number of independent India’s politicians who have written on serious national issues, including Gandhi, Nehru, and more recently Shashi Tharoor and Arun Shourie, do not reach double digits. Amongst these, Jaswant Singh stands out for being extremely forthright, a prolific reader and writer, multilingual, and only one who stood firmly by his book on Jinnah even when it cost him his political life in 2009. His works invariably have immaculate detail, a strong sense of history and geography, and his story-telling style is extremely engaging. But that also explains the higher expectations that readers have from him. His recent book, India At Risk, which examines India’s major wars and other security challenges of the last 66 years, surely meets some of these high expectations, but partially. 

At the very outset, he elucidates how India’s security challenges remain rooted largely in the “artificial and rather irrational vivisection” of India in 1947. The very premises and experience of partition made India and Pakistan forever sworn enemies. Their sense of security stood undermined as following World War II, over 400,000 troops were discharged in less than two years and then, a hurriedly set up Partition Council divided the rest between India and Pakistan in a matter of 45 days, leaving persisting handicaps and controversies. For him, the “disarming of India” by the British goes back to India’s first war of independence in 1857 and had already resulted in a “decline in India’s martial ethos”, which was worsened by “a militarily illiterate and untrusting civilian control of the armed forces” after 1947. Strong words these! 

Even in case of India’s first war with Pakistan in 1948, it was again the British (Mountbatten and Bucher) who ensured India did not attempt a decisive victory but took matters to the U.N. The author, however, sees “prevarication by the premier” as equally responsible for this. Indeed, he shows how, the U.N. resolution that asked for a ceasefire in Kashmir, withdrawal of Pakistani forces and then, ascertaining the will of the people was fully exploited by the U.K.-U.S.-led Pakistani leadership. Pakistan did not vacate from areas occupied by its forces simply because in addition to losing that territory, ascertaining the will of the people would have called the bluff of its two-nation theory. Instead, it has now continued with its campaign against India for not holding a plebiscite. 

China-Pakistan axis

As regards India’s other neighbour China, in the wake of China’s occupation of Tibet, Nehru chose to simply announce in Parliament on November 20, 1951 that “the McMahon Line is our boundary”, and that “the frontier from Ladakh to Nepal is defined chiefly by long usage and custom” which were again British lines and “not a sustainable assertion,” according to Singh. 

Another “unforgivable lapse” of Nehru was his decision of November 2, 1961 to order setting up of posts in “forward posture” based on a major appraisal by Intelligence Bureau about two month earlier. The result? India became a laughing stock with Nehru having to send back-to-back two long telegrams to Kennedy on November 19, seeking help by describing the situation as “really desperate”. His nonalignment stood demolished. 

Violent Splinter Group Hurting Chances of Reaching Pakistan-Taliban Peace Deal

March 7, 2014
Violent splinter group mars peace deal with Pakistan Taliban
Pakistan’s cities are unsafe from Islamist militant attacks due to their porous security, the country’s defense minister said after suicide bombers and gunmen killed 11 people in an assault on a court in the capital earlier this week.

Carried out by a splinter group of the Paksitani Taliban, the attack will complicate the government’s efforts to open peace talks as it destroyed trust on all sides, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters.

"It is scary," Asif said in the wake of the worst attack in Islamabad since the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in 2008.

Responsibility for Monday’s attack was claimed by a group called Ahrar-ul-Hind, or “Liberators of India”, that had splintered from the Pakistani Taliban just a month earlier.

Coming a little over a week after the Pakistani Taliban announced a ceasefire to revive faltering peace talks with the Prime Minister Sharif’s government, the attack may have succeeded in destroying chances for negotiation.

"Whatever little trust there was between the two parties, that trust has completely fizzled away," the defense minister said.

Frighteningly for Pakistan, investigators believe the leader of Ahrar-ul-Hind, Umar Qasmi, can draw support from other militant outfits, including several linked to al Qaeda, that have wreaked bloody havoc in the country over the last decade.

The three fighters who carried out Monday’s attack were armed with hand grenades and automatic guns. Two died when they detonated suicide bombs, while a third escaped, officials say. Independent accounts say there were more gunmen.

Unchecked in Kunar

The Afghan province is emerging as the future capital of the Taliban’s envisioned ‘emirate’. 

C R Sasikumar Khaled Ahmed
March 7, 2014


The Afghan province is emerging as the future capital of the Taliban’s envisioned ‘emirate’.

The Afghan province is emerging as the future capital of the Taliban’s envisioned ‘emirate’.

On February 23, the Afghan Taliban attacked an Afghan National Army (ANA) military outpost in the northeastern province of Kunar, killed 21 soldiers in their sleep and captured a half dozen who were awake. An Afghan spokesman said the Taliban included “foreigners” and hinted at the participation of warriors from “across the border”, meaning Pakistan. Kunar is not controlled by Afghanistan. The abutting North Waziristan is not controlled by Pakistan. But Kunar lies next to other semi-controlled Pakistani “agencies” like Bajaur and Mohmand, while another “uncontrolled” Afghan province, Nuristan, is contiguous to Pakistani Chitral and Swat semi-tribal areas.

Kunar and Nuristan are two provinces abandoned by the ISAF forces in 2011. The order came earlier, in October 2009: “In line with the counter-insurgency guidance of Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, ISAF commander, ISAF leaders decided last month to reposition forces to population centres within the region.” The reason given to the ANA for leaving the area was that it was sparse, strategically unimportant (sic!), subject to local rebellion that couldn’t be countered (sic!), and must therefore be left to the ANA to prove its battle-worthiness. McChrystal didn’t think of Pakistan then, just as Pakistan didn’t think of America when allowing the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban to operate out of North Waziristan. Kunar is now where the Pakistani Taliban has converged.

Kunar was historically dominated by Arabic-speaking Afghan-Pashtun clerics educated in Saudi Arabia, and its sparse population had to follow the Wahhabi faith. Before al-Qaeda fled the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan under UN Security Council Resolution 1373, its leaders used to be located here. Ayman al-Zawahiri was here but had his R&R in adjoining Pakistani agency Bajaur. There is a strong suspicion that he may still be staying in Kunar.

Maulana Fazlullah fled Swat in 2010 and joined a like-minded al-Zawahiri in Kunar. The chemistry must have been immediate and deep because, after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud died in a drone attack in 2013, Fazlullah was chosen as the next non-Mehsud leader with al-Qaeda blessing. His method of persuasion is derived from the demonstrative effect of spectacular killing. If the North Waziristan-based leadership was unhappy with his elevation, it was soon chastened through violence, the latest victim being Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who had actually held the top post temporarily after Mehsud’s death. He was killed in North Waziristan on February 24. The message was: you will be ruled from Kunar by your leader, Fazlullah. Some put the bland label of Taliban infighting on it.

China Remodels an Ancient Silk Road City, and an Ethnic Rift Widens

MARCH 5, 2014 

A woman walks past demolished houses. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

KASHGAR, China — Visitors walking through the mud-brick rubble and yawning craters where close-packed houses and bazaars once stood could be forgiven for thinking that the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar had been irrevocably lost to the wrecking ball. A billboard looming over the ruins tries to counter that impression: “Inherit and preserve the historical culture to showcase a brand new Kashgar.”

The Chinese authorities set out five years ago to modernize Kashgar’s fabled Old City district while promising to preserve its dense Casbah-like charms. But the results underscore the growing divide between the government and the ethnic minority that lives here — the Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people who have chafed at Beijing’s rule since Communist troops took over their traditional homeland in 1949. The region, in China’s far west, is now known as Xinjiang, a Mandarin term meaning “new frontier.”

The official narrative of the modernization project justified tearing down 65,000 homes and resettling 220,000 Uighur residents as crucial to improving their lives. “Houses in the Old City of Kashgar are mostly old and dilapidated, extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and fire,” said a 2010 report by Xinhua, the state news agency, that was widely republished in the Chinese government-controlled media. “The renovation of the Old City zone in Kashgar is a project that complied with the wishes of the people,” the report claimed.

A rebuilding project in the city. CreditGilles Sabrie for The New York Times

But propaganda slogans posted across the Old City, like “Everyone has the responsibility to create peace and security,” hint at political tremors in Xinjiang that are much more worrying to the Chinese government than any natural disaster. Uighurs have protested discrimination, restrictive religious policies and suppression of Uighur-language education as people from the Han majority have settled in Xinjiang by the millions.

There's No Real Difference Between Online Espionage and Online Attack

You can't hack passively.
Bruce Schneier Mar 6 2014,

An office of the U.S. Air Force Space Command in 2010 (Reuters)

Back when we first started getting reports of the Chinese breaking into U.S. computer networks for espionage purposes, we described it in some very strong language. We called the Chinese actions cyber-attacks. We sometimes even invoked the word cyberwar, and declared that a cyber-attack was an act of war.

When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been doing exactly the same thing as the Chinese to computer networks around the world, we used much more moderate language to describe U.S. actions: words like espionage, or intelligence gathering, or spying. We stressed that it's a peacetime activity, and that everyone does it.

The reality is somewhere in the middle, and the problem is that our intuitions are based on history.

Electronic espionage is different today than it was in the pre-Internet days of the Cold War. Eavesdropping isn't passive anymore. It's not the electronic equivalent of sitting close to someone and overhearing a conversation. It's not passively monitoring a communications circuit. It's more likely to involve actively breaking into an adversary's computer network—be it Chinese, Brazilian, or Belgian—and installing malicious software designed to take over that network.

In other words, it's hacking. Cyber-espionage is a form of cyber-attack. It's an offensive action. It violates the sovereignty of another country, and we're doing it with far too little consideration of its diplomatic and geopolitical costs. Four insignia of U.S. Air Force command—Cyber Command is second from the right. ( Reuters )

The abbreviation-happy U.S. military has two related terms for what it does in cyberspace. CNE stands for "computer network exfiltration." That's spying. CNA stands for "computer network attack." That includes actions designed to destroy or otherwise incapacitate enemy networks. That's—among other things—sabotage.

CNE and CNA are not solely in the purview of the U.S.; everyone does it. We know that other countries are building their offensive cyberwar capabilities. We have discovered sophisticated surveillance networks from other countries with names like GhostNet, Red October, The Mask. We don't know who was behind them—these networks are very difficult to trace back to their source—but we suspect China, Russia, and Spain, respectively. We recently learned of a hacking tool called RCS that's used by 21 governments: Azerbaijan, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, and Uzbekistan.

US Soft Power in Ukraine is Missing Hard Power's Escalation Control

March 4, 2014

The most frustrating thing about watching events unfold in the Ukraine is the realization that the United States apparently learned nothing from the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. If you recall the invasion of Georgia in 2008 by Russia, you will also recall it took place right in the middle of an American election. It would appear that timing favored Russia, because lessons were apparently not learned, indeed there is scant evidence the issue was truly studied.

Today, in nearly every avenue of action, tactical options are being discussed on how to 'react' to Russia's occupation of Crimea. For the last 5+ years, time has been lost that could have been used developing a policy that included strategic options for how to deal with aggressive Russian military behavior. Many of those options are finally being explored (like working the region towards energy independence from Russia) but they are years away from being employed, and lack value in dealing with the current crisis.

In 2007 the United States Navy developed the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower in which the strategic object of preventing war was elevated to a primary mission statement of the US Navy. There was some hope that the DoD would adopt this stance as part of it's lexicon of capabilities provided. In rhetoric, the DoD demonstrated some appreciation for the concept of preventing war, but there is scant evidence the strategic object has been developed into an actual capability. Planning and rhetoric aside, the United States right now needs to prevent a war in the Ukraine. Yes, Russia has invaded the Crimea, and is using military power - but this is not a war, yet. Should the shooting start inside the Ukraine, the distinction between the non-violent occupation by the Russian military and an all out shooting war will be made evident, so no need to parse definitions.

As of Tuesday March 4, 2014, success for President Obama's soft power diplomacy policy depends entirely on preventing a war inside the Ukraine. I have been observing two starting assumptions represented in the mainstream assumptions of many "experts." I guess I am naïve to reject the prevailing wisdom of experts, time will tell.

First, I do not underestimate Putin, and I believe too many important people in this process are underestimating Russia right now. I have seen a number of media and political folks who talk to the White House regularly speak as if they believe Putin is acting from a position of weakness, and that Putin has somehow lost control of the situation and is improvising. Please stop. The EU is who lost control of the situation, and everyone has been scrambling ever since as Russia has set the parameters for the conditions inside the Ukraine to date. This administration has a history of underestimating Putin right up to the point where they get kicked sideways and told what the end game is - which seem to always favor Russia and leaves the US in a poker game holding a pair of twos trying to save face. This Rice/Kerry/Hagel team has yet to win on the field of play in foreign policy has no business underestimating this or any opponent, and has every reason to continuously expect the unexpected. The US must shape conditions favorably when given any opportunity, and right now I do not see the United States taking this kind of full court press approach to suggest we are in it to win it.

Caught between Russia and the EU

Parvathi Menon

Ukraine threatens to become the Syria of Eastern Europe. And like Syria, civil war could ultimately decimate a vibrant and ethnically diverse society, and a rich civilisational legacy 

The political crisis in Ukraine, that has now entered its fourth month, is rapidly reaching a point of no return. Territorial fissures in the country along political, linguistic and ethnic lines, the real possibility of civil war, and the emergence of the southern (autonomous) Ukrainian republic of Crimea as a potential, international military flashpoint, are among the different aspects of the current situation in the country, which is the second largest state in Europe. 

The focus has shifted from Kiev to the southern province of Crimea where the interim government that deposed former President Viktor Yanukovych has not been recognised. With its complex ethnic mix and historical past, the region has traditionally had strong ties with Russia. 

Russia has stepped up its military presence in Crimea — it already has a treaty with Ukraine that allows it to station its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and its Parliament recently passed a resolution reserving the right for limited military intervention to defend the rights of 1.5 million Russians in Crimea. 

The western bloc has accused Russia of the “armed seizure” of Crimea, and Washington is putting together legislation for a package of sanctions against Russia that could include trade restrictions, visa bans and asset freezes. These countries have withdrawn from preparations for the G8 Summit that is to be held in Sochi, the venue of the Winter Olympics. 

Euromaidan and agreement 

The background to the crisis goes back to the three month occupation of the Euromaidan in Kiev which grew out of opposition to President Yanukovych’s decision to postpone signing an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU). 

The protests and sit-ins rapidly spiralled into pitched battles between protesters and police. Police reprisals against protesters — of whom a large section were armed with deadly weapons including Molotov cocktails to force entry into government buildings — resulted in 85 deaths. 

In the face of escalating street clashes, and increasing pressure from the EU and the United States to accommodate the opposition’s demands, Mr. Yanukovych was forced to sign an EU-brokered agreement with his Maidan opponents on February 21. 

The agreement represented the first real breakthrough in the deadlock, as it had the support of all the players in the conflict — including the western bloc and Russia. Mr. Yanukovych promised a return to the 2004 Constitution within 48 hours, the setting up of a government of national unity, and presidential elections between September and December of this year. 

The opposition parties and their backers, however, clearly had a bigger agenda. A day later they broke the agreement and seized power in Kiev. This sent the deposed President, who now faces charges of mass murder, into refuge in southern Russia. 

Ukraine is now facing an acute economic crisis as well. It is close to bankruptcy with a debt of nearly $73 billion. In December, President Yanukovych had secured a bailout deal with Russia, which offered to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt in two-year bonds, plus a $3.5 billion discount on natural gas purchases. The offer stands withdrawn in the light of the recent political changes. 

Revival of the dreaded Cold War tensions

07 March 2014 

Nato activism keeps hostility alive even though the eight-nation Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991. US goal is the total elimination of Moscow's influence in Europe. Happenings in Ukraine are a pointer to this reality

The revival of Cold War tensions in Ukraine again places India in a quandary. When newly-independent Ukraine signed a major arms deal with Pakistan in 1995, India appealed to Moscow. Soon to become Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who was born in Soviet Ukraine and authored the concept of a Russia-India-China “strategic alliance” to balance the United States, responded to the appeal. In effect, the Russians took over some of Ukraine’s armaments production units. The Pakistan pact was cancelled. India cannot forget that. But it cannot support a Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s industrialised eastern Provinces including the Crimea while the new pro-Western regime in Kiev flirts with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Admittedly, many of the 46 million Ukrainians are keen on becoming EU citizens so that they can travel freely and work in glamorous Western European cities like London and Paris. But the crisis really erupted three months ago when the ousted President, Mr Viktor Yanukovich, spurned a pact with the EU in favour of closer ties with the Kremlin. His decision plunged the country into chaos and cost nearly 100 lives. Encouraged by the anti-Yanukovich faction’s bloody protests, the pro-West majority in Ukraine’s Parliament voted to remove him from power on February 22, hours after he signed an accord with the opposition to end the stand-off.

His deposition precipitated another crisis. While Ukraine’s pro-Russian eastern Provinces refused to accept the new rulers in Kiev, the pro-Western protesters violated the accord, refused to surrender their arms or suspend their agitation, and stormed the former President’s office and house. Had Mr Yanukovich not fled, he would surely have been lynched. Not only did Parliament order the police and military not to intervene but in calling for new elections for May 25, it released from jail the formidably militant pro-Western hawk and former Prime Minister, Ms Yulia Tymoshenko. Star of Ukraine’s ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004, she narrowly lost to Mr Yanukovich in the 2010 elections. Mr Yanukovich jailed her for alleged abuse of power. Now, she lauds the anti-Yanukovich, anti-Russian protesters as “liberators”, and seems the likely winner in the May presidential election.

Behind the drama, Ukraine, like many other former Soviet satellites in East European, is teetering close to bankruptcy. Its GDP of about $157 billion is only a fifth of Turkey’s. The former parliamentary Speaker and interim head of state, Mr Oleksandr Turchynov, warns that Kiev would have to default on foreign obligations amounting to $13 billion due this year if the West doesn’t provide the $15 billion bail-out package that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had promised Mr Yanukovich. There are hopes that the “planned volume of macroeconomic assistance may reach around $35 billion by the end of next year”. Kiev expects Western nations and the International Monetary Fund to convene a donor conference to allocate funds for modernisation and reform.

Israeli Navy Captures Iranian Boat Loaded With Syrian Missiles Destined for Gaza (VIDEO)

MARCH 5, 2014 

A missile found on board the ship. 

Israeli Naval commandos on Wednesday intercepted an Iranian ship in the Red Sea weighed down with missiles that was en route to the Gaza Strip, the IDF said in a statement.

The boat, named KLOSC, was stopped by the elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13 as it was heading to Sudan, 1,500 miles from Israel.

Once on board the KLOSC Israeli soldiers found cement bags, behind which were hidden dozens of M-302 missiles which, the IDF said, were loaded onto the boat in Iran. Had the boat reached the Port of Sudan, its next stop would have been the Gaza Strip.

The M-302 missile is made in Syria and is based on Iranian technology, Israel’s Wallareported. M-302 missiles have a range of up to 200 kilometers and were used during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 to bomb several Israeli cities, including Haifa.

IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, oversaw the operation and gave the order to Major General Ram Rothberg, head of the Israeli navy, to seize the KLOSC, the IDF said.

According to a senior Israeli military official, the commandos encountered no resistance from the crew of the KLOSC, Walla said.

The IDF said the success of the mission was “due to the combination of in-depth intelligence and enhanced operational capabilities.”

“This shipment, meant to reach the hands of terrorist organizations in Gaza that are waging an ongoing armed conflict against Israel. These terrorist organizations systematically use such weaponry against the Israeli civilian population,” the IDF added.

“Iran was behind the shipment,” said Brigadier General Moti Almoz, spokesman for the Israeli Navy, at a special press conference that was held on Wednesday, Ma’ariv reported.