5 April 2014

The wisdom of abstaining

G Parthasarathy | April 4, 2014 11:53 pm

Jayalalithaa doesn’t mention the BJP in speeches but she is thought to be Modi’s friend. This feeling is expected to take the minority vote away from her.

Never in India’s history have relations with any neighbouring country been so dramatically influenced by the politics of a single state as our relations with Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, public opinion in Tamil Nadu has not been adequately sensitised about the diplomatic complexities of developments in our neighbourhood, or of precisely what New Delhi is doing to address the needs and welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan civil war ended when separatist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in 2009. It is universally accepted that both sides were guilty of human rights abuses during the last stages of the war — a fact acknowledged by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

India’s policy, thereafter, has been to work towards the Sri Lankans themselves implementing the LLRC recommendations. More importantly, apart from India, no government in the world has done anything substantive for the relief, rehabilitation and welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Since 2010, India has doled out assistance estimated at $1.3 billion (Rs 8,000 crore) — its largest ever development assistance project — for the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. The projects include the construction of 50,000 homes and the supply of materials for around 43,000 war-damaged residences. There have also been major projects for the development of rail transport, port infrastructure in Kankesanthurai, a 500 MW thermal power station in Sampur and the upgrading of the Palaly airport.


Saturday, 05 April 2014 | Hiranmay Karlekar |

Bangladesh will once again become a regional exporter of terrorism, as it was during the BNP-Jamaat coalition Government between 2001 and 2006, if the Jamaat calls the shots in any Government there

The Awami League will no doubt look back with satisfaction at the recovery it has made from the drubbing it took in the first two rounds of the Upazila (sub-district) elections in Bangladesh. Candidates backed by it won the chairman’s posts in 34 Upazilas against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s tally of 41, the fundamentalist Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami’s 12 and the Jatiya Party’s one, in the first phase of elections on February 19. It continued to fare poorly in the second phase held on February 27, at the end of which its tally stood at 78 against the BNP’s 93 and the Jamaat’s 20. It was just a whisker behind the BNP after the third phase held on March 15, after which its total of chairman's posts stood at 118 against the BNP’s 120 and the Jamaat’s 27, with the rest going to other parties. It surged ahead at the end of the fourth phase held on March 23, its tally going up to 171 against the BNP’s 144 and the Jamaat’s 32, with other parties getting eight. The fifth, and the final, phase saw it forge decisively ahead, winning won 225 posts of chairmen against the BNP’s 157 the Jamaat’s 35, with other parties winning 35, besides the Jatiya Party’s three.

The dramatic recovery notwithstanding, the Awami League needs to do some serious introspection. Candidates supported by it won in as many as 331 chairman’s posts in the Upazila elections held in 2009, when the BNP won in only 79 contests. Clearly, there has been a marked fall in the party’s popularity. In fact, it has been argued that it would have done worse than it has but for widespread rigging by its activists. It can no doubt be argued that not much be read into these charges because losers in the country’s elections, even the ones to the National Parliament, have regularly attributed their defeat to malpractices and violence. The BNP did it after the parliamentary election of December 2008, which the Awami League had swept, and the Awami League had done the same on earlier occasions.

Modi's Foreign Policy

IssueCourtesy: Economic Times| Date : 02 Apr , 2014

Modi has not yet expressed his thinking on India’s foreign relations. His focus and that of those opposing him or tracking his national rise has been on internal politics and development issues.

His sundry remarks that the External Affairs Ministry should focus on “trade treaties” rather than on strategic issues and the states should be given a greater role in promoting ties with select foreign countries need not be taken as his definitive thinking.

Modi can change our psychological equation with China, boosting in the process our relations with Asean and Japan.

Our most severe external challenges are driven not by economics but politics, relating to territory, terrorism, religious extremism, nuclear blackmail, constraining our strategic options and boxing us in the sub-continent while eroding our influence there. Loosening the Centre’s control over foreign policy will cause confusion in its conduct and open our polity to more manipulation by outside interests.

Modi’s critique that India has “failed to give leadership to the SAARC grouping on economic issues” stems from the oft-expressed view that we should link the smaller economies of our neighbours to our much larger economy and create dependency bonds that would act a cushion against their adversarial politics. Pakistan’s prevarications on MFN, Sri Lanka delaying the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and Nepal still resisting cooperation on water resources reflect the limits of such a policy.

How much a Modi-led NDA will follow or depart from Vajpayee-led NDA’s foreign policy is an important question. Modi will not be working on a clean slate and any notable departure from Vajpayee’s legacy will be queried. The considerable continuity in our foreign policy under the NDA and UPA governments adds to the complexities.

Vajpayee called the US a “natural ally” and reached out to it strategically. The seeds of the India-US nuclear deal were laid during his time, US intervention in Afghanistan was supported and even the logic of US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was acknowledged.

…UPA’s cardinal mistake in delinking dialogue from terrorism and equating ourselves with Pakistan as victims of terrorism needs correction.

Sam Bahadur!

April 03, 2014 

Field Marshall S H F J 'Sam' Manekshaw, India’s greatest military commander, would have turned 100 on April 3, 2014. To mark the occasion and to celebrate a brilliant mind, we reproduce some of the articles Rediff.com had published over a period of time on one of India’s most-loved soldiers.

S H F J -- 'Sam' -- Manekshaw is one of India's living legends.

The soldier who led India to its greatest military victory in the 1971 war turned 89 on Thursday. The Indian Army will commemorate its first Field Marshal's entry into his ninth decade with several events this coming year.

Lieutenant General Depinder Singh (retd), who served as military assistant to Manekshaw when he served as Chief of the Army Staff, has just published a riveting memoir of this most unusual man.

rediff.com is proud to publish an extract from Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Soldiering with Dignity.

The man eventually destined to be free India's first Field Marshal was born on 3rd April 1914 at Amritsar. How did a Parsi couple settle for the holy city of the Sikhs? I once asked him and was told that in 1899, his father recently qualified as a doctor and just married, could make no professional headway in Bombay, and was advised to try his luck at Lahore in the Punjab. With his young wife, he set off by train for Lahore. The long dusty and hot journey took five days and by the end of it, his young wife, who had never left the comforts and civilization of Bombay, was in hysterics and cried to go back. Poor Dr Manekshaw did all he could to comfort her, but as the train steamed into Amritsar, with her first sight of the Sikhs the young bride screamed her lungs out and refused to go any further. So they left the train at Amritsar, and there they stayed for forty-five years.

The Manekshaws had six children, four boys and two girls, and Sam was the fifth child. Sam had his schooling at Nainital's Sherwood College. After completing his schooling, he should have gone to England to pursue higher studies; this was the promise made to him by his father but, fortunately for the Indian Army, Dr Manekshaw felt that this particular son was far too young to be on his own in a foreign country, even with his two elder brothers already studying there. So he was admitted to the Hindu Sabha College, Amritsar. If he had gone abroad, he often reminisces, he would have become a doctor. 'What doctor?' I queried, and was told 'Gynaecologist.'

After a stint in Hindu College, he applied for and was accepted for entry into the first batch of the newly opened Indian Military Academy at Dehradun for training Indians for commissioned rank in the British Indian Army. He received his commission on 4th February 1934 and, after an attachment as was the practice then with a British Infantry Battalion, the 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots, he joined the 4th Battalion, 12 Frontier Force Regiment, commonly called the 54th

'Here's my pistol, now come on shoot me'

June 27, 2008 

Field Marshall S H F J 'Sam' Manekshaw, India’s greatest military commander, would have turned 100 on April 3, 2014. To mark the occasion and to celebrate a brilliant mind, we reproduce some of the articles Rediff.com had published over a period of time on one of India’s most-loved soldiers.

As a young major in 1947, Eustace D'Souza first read about Major Sam Manekshaw when reading about the Burma campaign in World War II. Manekshaw was shot in the stomach when he and his company were holding the Sittang bridge. For that act of valour, he was given the Military Cross on the field of battle; his commanding British officer did not expert the flamboyant Parsi officer to survive. But survive Sam did, leading the Indian Army to an incredible military victory in the 1971 war.

Commissioned in the Indian Army in 1943, Major General D'Souza (retd), now 87, has fought four wars and had several interactions with Field Marshal Manekshaw. He spoke about the man who was an outstanding leader of men. A first person account of a great soldier who passed into the ages shortly after midnight June 27:

Till yesterday Sam Manekshaw was the oldest living field marshal in the world.

I first met Sam Manekshaw when I was facing the Chinese in Nathu La, commanding a brigade. It was in 1964-1965. The Chinese were across a little strip and my brigade held them when they first moved up with 2,000 troops, we held fast, we didn't panic like in '62.

Sam came to visit us as he was very pleased, and then he came again to request me to stay on as brigade commander. I told him, 'Sir I have a family too, I have been away from my family for four years -- three in high altitude.' He recommended me to the National Defence College and I went there.

He was very perceptive. When he came to visit me at Nathu La at 13,600 ft, I was a brigadier then with 5,000 troops under me. He said, 'Souzie -- he used to call me that --what do you do for your young officers, they must be absolutely cheesed off here.'

He went back to Calcutta and sent back a packet of girly magazines. He said this is for your young officers. He had wanted to see how I lived and saw a portable record player with lots of LPs -- and I am a Western classical music fan. He went back and sent a parcel with a LP record of the famous American singer Marian Anderson.

He was fearless. When he was a major with the Sikh company in Burma, they had a promotion meeting for the appointment of lance naik to naik.

He didn't approve of one name because he said he was a rascal. That man sent word to Sam saying, 'I would kill you.' So Sam Manekshaw told his senior subedar -- 'Unko march karna hai'.

He was marched before Sam and he asked him -- 'You are going to kill me? Here's my pistol, now come on shoot me.' That man was so taken aback that he marched out meekly. Sam appointed him as batman. That was the sort of man he was.

Afghanistan or Talibanistan?

April 2, 2014 

Afghan National Army soldiers learn to medevac casualties at Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province on Feb. 19, 2014. For many, this was the first time they had been aboard a helicopter. (U.S. Marine Corps)

Will the country see relative stability and freedom after 2014?
Col. Robert M. Cassidy

This year will see a set of key events in Afghanistan: variables of pivotal magnitude that may well determine whether it succeeds as a state or succumbs to another Taliban takeover.

If Afghanistan succeeds and endures, the struggle will have ultimately been the good war of the last 12-plus years: in terms of the justification for going to war, in the way the coalition ultimately prosecuted it, and in the context that the international community will have fulfilled a post-war moral commitment to the Afghan allies we supported and fought alongside.

The value of the political object, the morality of the war, and the perception of victory or defeat comprise the most compelling logic of the contest of wills there. There are impediments that increase the risk of failure, yet also momentum that favors success. And there is history, and the history of wars in Afghanistan does not suggest that catastrophic failure is inevitable – if the coalition continues to support Afghanistan after 2014.

The political object, and its perceived value, guide war. The value of the political object of the Afghan War – dismantling, defeating, and denying al-Qaeda sanctuary – derives from the horrific consequences of the 9/11 raids. The political object, when achieved and sustained, will prevent this from happening again. However, the perceived value of the object has diminished in the eyes of the supporting polities because of the costs and duration of this war. In other words, the political and domestic will to persevere have waned.

The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamist zealots of similar cloth have endured significant disruption, displacement and dismantling of their capacity to carry on, yet their will to continue has not relented. This is because of the fanatical religious creed that animates these enemies, and because of the physical and materiel sanctuary and support they benefit from in Pakistan’s border areas. Generous funding from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states also helps. For the likes of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis, their mantra is ‘Islam or death.’ For Western polities, it is, ‘bring the troops home.’

Pakistani security elites believe they can counter their existential nemesis, India, by supporting the Taliban and using the Haqqanis to foment insurgency in Afghanistan. Although this notion of strategic depth is a figment of these elites’ febrile and fertile imaginations, their cost-benefit strategic calculus is not likely to change unless there is a huge shift in how the U.S. and the West confront Pakistani duplicity. In other words, in the minds of the Pakistani security leadership that decides strategy, the benefits of supporting and protracting the insurgency in Afghanistan outweigh the costs.

Starkly, there are still two potential, but not inevitable, outcomes: a revived Talibanistan or a strengthened Afghanistan. Giving up potential victory by quitting the field precipitously might see the Taliban eventually overwhelm and undermine the Afghan government and its security forces. And, if the Taliban were to revive an Islamist emirate in Afghanistan, there is every reason to forecast a future with more attacks against the West, planned and prepared, with increasing scope and intensity, from Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

A better outcome, turning the stalemate of the previous decade into a semblance of victory, would see a resilient and durable Afghan state, with the government, the security forces and the population aligned against a marginalized Taliban. Success would see an Afghanistan that does not fragment and endures as a state inhospitable to al-Qaeda, the Quetta Shura Taliban and other extremists. The bar is not high and the international community does not aim to make Afghanistan into Austria. There will still be violence, poverty and underdevelopment, but an Afghanistan with its people, security forces and government cooperating in modest harmony equates to victory in this context.

India-Pakistan: Talking in Different Tongues

Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)

April 2nd, 2014

India and Pakistan, since their partition have remained embroiled in a seemingly unending acrimonious relationship. This remains so, despite periodic efforts undertaken at the governmental and the non-governmental levels. The overt introduction of nuclear weapons in 1998 added a new dimension to the Indo-Pakistan relations, which continues to evolve till date. Glancing at the contemporary academic or think tank discourse on the issue, it becomes evident that while both the countries seem to be looking at the same picture, their interpretations seem very different. While this is natural for any two countries with varying national security interests or priorities, there is a need to ponder over what is exactly different in the way New Delhi and Islamabad perceive the role of nuclear weapons and its relation with the spectrums of conflict.

Pakistan’s asymmetry with the Indian military was a pressing issue for its decision-makers. To address the conventional gap, Islamabad chose to take the sub-conventional route by employing state-funded non-state actors and bleeding India by a thousand cuts. It is worth noting that sub-conventional activities (terrorism) in Kashmir were initiated and carried out by Pakistan-based and supported terror groups against the nuclear backdrop. To understand this better, let us look at the figure below with Triangle 1 (which denotes India’s focus) and Triangle 2 (which denotes Pakistan’s focus). The Triangles are divided into Sub-conventional (Level 1), Conventional (Level 2) and Nuclear (Level 3) Conflicts.

Diagrammatically, Pakistan opted for actions at the sub-conventional level (Level 1) in the triangle to address a gap in conventional capability (Level 2). Over time, Pakistan remained unsatisfied with its success in Level 1 and was consternated by its widening military and economic gap with India. New Delhi’s response to Pakistan’s sub-conventional activities was confined to counter-terrorism (CT) operations and in extreme cases (such as attack on Indian Parliament in 2001) resorted to the use of conventional strength (as denoted by the arrows in the diagram). This implies that New Delhi responded to Pakistani challenges at Level 1 through CT operations and at times by action at Level 2. The Triangles also depict how India separates the nuclear level of conflict from non-nuclear levels of conflict. On the other hand, Pakistan has tried to blur the distinctions between all the levels of conflict.

Needless to say, the South Asian geopolitical scenario changed drastically with overt nuclearisation in the sub-continent. Since then, a major divergence has always been the way India and Pakistan have viewed nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. India views its nuclear weapons as political weapons, i.e. that they are not war-fighting weapons but considered a capability to deter any nuclear attack on India (threat perception from China acting as an important motivating factor). India separates the Level 3 from Level 1 and 2.

Contrastingly, Pakistan considers its nuclear weapons as possessing the capability to deter a conventional war with India, while continuing with sub-conventional operations. Pakistan’s continuous support of terror groups to attack India, in turn results in a conventional response from India. India attempts to deter Pakistan’s sub-conventional activities by threatening a strong conventional response. Pakistan hopes to deter Indian conventional response by threatening to take the war to the nuclear level. Consequently, Pakistan removes the distinctions between all the three levels of conflicts by indirectly connecting Level 1 to Level 3.

To illustrate, the 2004 Indian Army Doctrine popularly referred to as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) is Indian Army’s attempt to reduce the time taken for mobilisation and undertake operations below Pakistan’s red lines. Even with the possession of nuclear weapons, India has stuck to the non-nuclear domains of conflict, starkly in contrast with Pakistan which prefers to do away with the distinction between non-nuclear and nuclear levels. Moreover, the introduction of HATF IX/tactical nuclear weapons as a response to CSD is yet another attempt by Pakistan to undo the distinctions between the conventional and nuclear conflict. HATF IX also makes one wonder if Islamabad has changed its earlier stance of First Use (which was strategic in nature) to First Strike (which is tactical in nature). Pakistan is threatening to lower its threshold for nuclear use which implies that it would escalate any conventional war to the nuclear level, thereby attempting to take away any space for conventional action by India.

With the spiraling evolution of actions and response, the lines between all forms of conflicts are seemingly getting blurred in the Indo-Pakistan context. This can be majorly attributed to India and Pakistan’s different interpretations of deterrence and nuclear deterrence. Without doubt, this poses a danger to the stability in the region. The analysis only goes to show that India and Pakistan are speaking in different tongues when it comes to nuclear issues. Although India released the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs (CCS) approved nuclear doctrine in January 2003, Pakistan has offered no such precedent. There are also growing uncertainties about the technical capabilities of both the countries coupled with misinterpretations regarding their nuclear signaling. At this juncture, there is a strong need for greater interaction and transparency between Indian and Pakistani officials. The need of the hour is to establish platforms where both sides can address their concerns and address misperceptions on a timely basis. This will surely make a positive contribution to Indo-Pakistan deterrence stability.


US President Barack Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia on March 28 for his first visit to the country since 2009 and met King Abdullah to “look him in the eyes” and explain that US-Saudi strategic interests remain very much aligned. The visit took place even as the Saudis wonder and worry about the larger US commitment in the region, specifically US willingness to stand by its traditional allies. The diverging nature of US-Saudi interests and the apprehension that their future foreign policy trajectories might take them further away has created this palpable air of uncertainty in the region. Saudi officials have warned of a “major shift” away from Washington.

Washington and Riyadh have had bitter disagreements over the US’ response to the Arab Spring uprisings, and policy towards Iran and Syria. Saudis believe it is a strategic imperative to effect a regime change in Syria to avert what they see as a threat of Iranian domination of Arab countries, a view not shared by Washington. Obama and the Saudi monarch discussed “tactical differences” in their approach to some of these issues.

Obama Visit

Obama and King Abdullah met for more than two hours at the king’s retreat at Rawdat Khuraim, northeast of the capital Riyadh. Obama reassured King Abdullah that the US remains committed to strengthening the moderate opposition in the Syrian civil war. But it is not yet clear whether there was an agreement on any significant expansion of the covert US programme to train and arm the Syrian opposition. While Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states desire greater military assistance to the Syrian rebels, the US is reluctant to provide arms that could end up in the hands of jihadists and extremists in Syria. The Obama administration is reportedly considering allowing shipments of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS) to the Syrian rebels but concerns on their misuse persist.

Iran was another key topic of discussion between the president and the king. Obama assured that the US would not accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran. The White House statement after the talks reiterated the significance US places on its “strong relationship” with Saudi Arabia. The statement added that Washington and Riyadh were working together to address critical bilateral and regional issues, including “the crisis in Syria, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, counterterrorism efforts to combat extremism, and supporting negotiations to achieve Middle East peace”.

Saudi Threat Perception

The Saudis see an Iranian effort to shift the balance of forces in the region in Tehran’s favour, and trying to encircle them with its elite Quds Force, active in Bahrain, Lebanon, through killing of Sunni Muslims in Syria, supporting the Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq, providing arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen and fomenting unrest among Saudi Shiites. They also see the Egyptian military battling the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadi terrorists in the Sinai, as a threat to Saudi Arabia. It was not surprising that the Saudis offered to pay for the $2-3-billion arms package Egypt is seeking from the Russians. Saudi Arabia has also given the Lebanese army $3 billion in aid, and some of the money is likely to be spent on weapons from France. Saudi Arabia is seeking to bolster the Lebanese army to counter the Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran.

The Other Threat to Pakistan


LAHORE, Pakistan — At a literature festival here not long ago, I bumped into a school friend who had recently relocated from Karachi, the southern port city where we both grew up. Karachi has all the buzz, and violence, of a megalopolis — more than 2,700 people were killed there in 2013 — and none of the greenery and historic charms of Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province. “I’m loving Lahore,” she told me. “I feel like I’ve moved to Switzerland after living in a war zone.”

The contrast is not as exaggerated as it sounds. In recent years, Punjab has suffered less than the rest of the country from the suicide attacks and bomb blasts that have killed some 49,000 people since 2001. There have been dramatic exceptions: terrorist attacks against the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and at a major Sufi shrine in Lahore, at army headquarters in Rawalpindi, and at a five-star hotel and courts in the capital, Islamabad. Anti-India militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and anti-Shiite organizations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are based in Punjab and draw most of their recruits from the province. But these groups mostly stage their attacks elsewhere in Pakistan to maintain benign relations with the local authorities.

And so the perception that Punjab has suffered less from violence than the rest of the country prevails, creating much resentment. For non-Punjabis, the province’s relative stability is just the latest demonstration of how Punjabi elites rally to protect their own interests at the expense of their compatriots. And such interprovincial rivalries could be as great a challenge for the country’s stability as the Taliban.

It is commonly said that Punjab is synonymous with Pakistan, and vice versa, which seems to relegate the other provinces and autonomous regions to the status of outliers. Some of Punjab’s good fortune is an accident of geography: the name means “land of five rivers,” referring to the Indus River and the tributaries that flow through the province, making it the agricultural and industrial heartland of Pakistan. But politics matters even more.

Pakistan’s elites, political, bureaucratic and military have long hailed from Punjab and shaped the country’s policies to the province’s advantage. Until recently, Punjab received the lion’s share of national revenues simply by virtue of having the largest population; never mind its actual needs or contributions to the national budget. (The formula was finally revised in 2009, benefiting Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.) Also, the government and the military have long allotted prime agricultural land and urban real estate in other parts of Pakistan to Punjabi officers and senior bureaucrats.

Punjab itself is not a monolith. Some of the province’s southern districts are among the country’s poorest, and their inhabitants have grudges of their own against Lahore-based politicians. Water and energy shortages kept Punjab’s economic growth rate at 2.5 percent between 2007 and 2011, compared with 3.4 percent for the country overall. But this has done little to temper the impression among non-Punjabis that the province is booming while the rest of the country is burning.

4 Reasons Elections Won't Fix Afghanistan

Saturday’s election may be critical, but Afghanistan isn’t about to become a stable state anytime soon. 

By Michael Kugelman
April 03, 2014

Observers across the board—from think-tankers and diplomats (both current and retired) to journalists andelection monitors—are describing Afghanistan’s April 5 election as critical for stability.

And for good reason. A successful election would be a democratic milestone, as it would mark the first time Afghanistan has experienced a peaceful transfer of power. A legitimately elected new leadership, particularly one seen as effective and above all clean, could conceivably help convince Afghans that their government is a better alternative to the Taliban—and thereby weaken recruitment to the insurgency.

It would also bring to power a leader not named Hamid Karzai—and therefore someone who would likely sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington, ensuring that a residual international military presence remains in Afghanistan after this year.

And yet a successful election is far from assured. On March 10, the Taliban promised “to use all force” at its disposal “to disrupt these upcoming sham elections.” Supporters of the top two candidates—Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—have been targeted. Recent days have brought attacks on two different Afghan election commission facilities. Turnout could be compromised in a big way—though to their credit, many Afghans vow to defy the Taliban and vote anyway.

Equally troubling is the growing potential for fraud and other electoral illegalities—especially after a March 21 deadly assault on Kabul’s Serena Hotel prompted many international election monitors to leave Afghanistan. Last week, Afghan election officers accused government employees of using state resources to help the campaign of Zalmai Rassoul—the man thought to be Karzai’s preferred candidate. There’s even been speculation that Karzai could postpone the election in order to pursue a peace deal with the Taliban.

This is all quite unsettling. Yet here’s an even more sobering thought: Even if none of these things were happening, there would still be reason to worry. And that’s because no matter how free, fair, credible, and legitimate the election ultimately is (or is not), Afghanistan has a long way to go before it becomes a more stable state. Here are four reasons why.

1. Afghan military forces continue to be a work in progress.

Pointing to decreased levels of violence in numerous areas controlled by Afghans, optimistic observers insist that Afghan security personnel “are doing better than almost anyone expected.” Still, their capacities remain limited. In Congressional testimony in February, top Pentagon officials conceded that while Afghan troops are earning tactical victories on the battlefield, they struggle to hold cleared territory and still need much help in areas like transport and intelligence.

Kerry’s Neglect of India Comes With a Price


With so many pressing problems to deal with—North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, to name just four—Secretary of State John Kerry appears set to continue dedicating precious time and resources to resolving the unresolvable: namely the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which is no closer to a “solution” today than at any time in the past 60+ years. His latest gambit is to offer the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel in the expectation that Israel will reciprocate by releasing a bunch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and freezing development in the West Bank to curry favor with the Palestinian Authority. All of this frenetic maneuvering, mind you, is designed not to achieve a breakthrough—everyone knows that won’t happen—but simply to keep the Palestinians and Israelis talking and talking and talking.

What is Kerry neglecting with his odd focus on Israelis and Palestinians? Well start with one of the biggest potential diplomatic opportunities for the United States: to incorporate India, a fellow democracy menaced by Islamist extremists, into a closer partnership with Washington. George W. Bush made dramatic progress in wooing India but now the relationship seems to be going backward. As the New York Times notes, ”The United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained). Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.”

Instead of working together, the U.S. and India are squabbling over diplomatic privileges following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of underpaying a housekeeper.

This is not all America’s fault, to be sure, but lack of high-level attention in Washington and numerous missteps by the State Department—including the U.S. Ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, who has mercifully just announced her departure–have certainly exacerbated the situation. The Times quotes a senior Indian diplomat complaining: “There is a feeling that no one in this administration is a champion of the India-U.S. relationship.”

Perhaps that’s because our Secretary of State–who could be nurturing this relationship, working to bring allies such as Japan and South Korea closer, or paying attention to myriad other issues–has instead chosen to waste time on the fantasy of a final peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Afghanistan's Coming Coup?

The Military Isn't Too Weak -- It's Too Strong
By Paul D. Miller
APRIL 2, 2014
Source Link

Afghan National Army soldiers march during their graduation ceremony, Sept 2010. Afghan National Army soldiers march during their graduation ceremony, Sept 2010. (ISAF Media)

In February 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan after ten years of brutal counterinsurgency warfare. International observers and Afghan rebels expected the swift collapse of the newly orphaned Afghan communist regime in Kabul, as did the regime itself. Looking to take advantage of the government’s weakness, the Afghan mujahideen temporarily put aside their differences and planned an ambitious assault on Jalalabad, the country's second most important Pashtun stronghold. In March, the rebels rallied a force of some 10,000 soldiers and marched on the city.

They failed spectacularly. Bolstered by Soviet arms, training, and advisers, the Afghan army and its allies easily outgunned, outmaneuvered, and outgeneraled the oncoming force. Although the mujahideen had mastered guerilla tactics and defensive maneuvers on their home turf, they proved incompetent at carrying out a conventional offensive; poor leadership and factional disputes undermined their fighting power. Three years later, the communist regime finally did collapse -- not because it was overrun by the superior fighting abilities of the Afghan rebels but because Russia stopped funding its security forces.

There is no shortage of experts who warn of the impending demise of the current Afghan government after the withdrawal of most NATO military forces at the end of this year. In 2012, the International Crisis Group, for example, warned of a possible “state collapse.” The military historian Tom Ricks wrote that Kabul’s fall was “all too likely.” Yet the case of 1989 suggests the opposite outcome: the Afghan government is likely to survive the withdrawal of international troops, just as the communist regime did, and it stands a good chance of surviving so long as international donors keep the Afghan army in the field. Although Afghans should expect some decrease in international aid, donors -- many fearful that state collapse in Afghanistan could trigger instability in Pakistan -- are unlikely to end their military assistance anytime soon.

Time is Running Out in Afghanistan: The April 5th Election is Only the Prelude to Transition

APR 2, 2014 

The war in Afghanistan is not so much forgotten as in limbo. It may not be ‘Waiting for Godot,’ but it is obviously waiting for something. No leadership on the issue has emerged from the White House in months. There are no public plans or budgets for either the military or civil side of the war, no one has defined what will happen of the Bilateral Security Agreement is signed or what a “zero option” really means. 

Waiting for an Afghan Godot: No Real US Budget, No Real Plan

The Pentagon and ISAF no longer issue any kind of detailed military progress reports or metrics and the state Department and USAID never did. The State Department FY2015 requested $5.9 billion in aid funds for Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO. It funds “key programs in Iraq and Pakistan and helps sustain hard-fought gains in Afghanistan through the 2014 transition.”

Only $2.6 billion of this is allocated to Afghanistan under conditions where State cautions that, “the Administration has not yet determined the size and scope of any post-2014 US presence,” but indicates that the US will sustain, “our diplomatic platform and security operations in Kabul, Mazar-e-sharif, and Heart, while assuming selection reductions in personnel in preparation for transition. The budget prioritizes technical assistance and channels more aid through Afghan institutions, while holding the Government of Afghanistan accountable for undertaking concrete reforms and improving efficiency and sustainability, FY2015 funds will sustain gains in health and education, projects to facilitate economic self-sufficiency through improved agricultural production, good governance, rule of law and women’s rights as laid out in the strategic Partnership agreement.” 

In short, buzz words waiting for a plan, and hopes that the war, governance problems, and economic strains won’t create a crisis. All of them mixed with implied promises about progress and reforms for which there seem to be no clear time limits, conditions, and commitments

There also seem to be additional funds for security enhancements for US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan that total $5.1 billion. Exactly what this means in terms of real Transition planning for Afghanistan is anyone’s guess. There seem to be no contingency funds for any kind of economic crisis in Afghanistan as aid and military spending are cut, or planning for what could happen if the April 5th election results in a run off, a prolonged delay in forming an effective government, or while the three most likely candidates -- Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, all of whom lack detailed experience in governing –- show whether they can actually lead a state that now has to operate largely on its own.

Flawed U.S. Policy Led to This New Cold War

By Stephen F. Cohen
Apr. 04 2014 

The East-West confrontation over Ukraine, which led to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea but long predated it, is potentially the worst international crisis in more than 50 years — and the most fateful. A negotiated resolution is possible, but time may be running out.

A new cold war divide is already descending on Europe — not in Berlin but on Russia’s borders. Worse may follow. If NATO forces move toward western Ukraine or even to its border with Poland, as is being called for by zealous cold warriors in Washington and Europe, Moscow is likely to send its forces into eastern Ukraine. The result would be a danger of war comparable to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

If NATO forces move near Ukraine, Moscow may invade eastern Ukraine. This could be worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Even if the outcome is the nonmilitary “isolation of Russia,” today’s Western mantra, the consequences will be dire. Moscow will not bow but will turn, politically and economically, to the East, as it has done before — above all, to fuller alliance with China. The U.S. will risk losing an essential partner in vital areas of its own national security, from Iran, Syria and Afghanistan to threats of a new arms race, nuclear proliferation and more terrorism. And — no small matter — prospects for a resumption of Russia’s democratization will be terminated for at least a generation.

Why did this happen, nearly 23 years after the end of Soviet communism, when both Washington and Moscow proclaimed a new era of “friendship and strategic partnership?”

The answer given by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and overwhelmingly by the U.S. political-media establishment is that President Vladimir Putin is solely to blame. The claim is that his “autocratic” rule at home and “neo-Soviet imperialist” policies abroad eviscerated the partnership established in the 1990s by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. This fundamental premise underpins the American mainstream narrative of two decades of U.S.-Russian relations — and now the Ukrainian crisis.

But there is an alternative explanation, one that is more in accord with historical facts. Beginning with the Clinton administration, and supported by every subsequent Republican and Democratic president and Congress, the U.S.-led West has unrelentingly moved its military, political and economic power ever closer to post-Soviet Russia. Spearheaded by NATO’s eastward expansion, already encamped in the three former Soviet Baltic republics on Russia’s border — and now augmented by missile defense installations in neighboring states — this bipartisan, winner-take-all approach has come in various forms.

They include U.S.-funded “democracy promotion” nongovernmental organizations, which were deeply involved in Russia’s internal politics; the 1999 bombing of Moscow’s Slavic ally Serbia, forcibly detaching its historic province of Kosovo; a U.S. military outpost in former Soviet Georgia, which along with Ukraine, was one of Putin’s previously declared “red lines,” contributing to a brief proxy war in 2008; and, throughout, one-sided negotiations, called “selective cooperation,” which took concessions from the Kremlin without meaningful White House reciprocity and followed by broken U.S. promises.

Erdogan's Secret to Success

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won yet another election victory in Monday's municipal elections. While the results saw a five percent decline in support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was also a 6 percent improvement over the AKP's results since the last municipal elections in 2009. Erdoğan's party will continue to control the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara (although the Ankara results are disputed and may yet be reversed), and it won a few new major cities such as Antalya, an important tourist destination on the Mediterranean. What makes this victory even more significant is that it came in the aftermath of several setbacks for the AKP: the Gezi Park protests, a corruption and graft investigation against a group that included ministers' family members, and a torrent of wiretaps that embarrassed the prime minister, his sons, his ministers, and businessmen close to him.

Erdoğan's secret for galvanizing his supporters and voters - against all odds - is a function of what he has achieved, his style of politics, and his tactics. Over his twelve-year tenure as prime minister, Turkey's economic situation has significantly improved, and the country has been largely shielded from the global economic crisis. Erdoğan has also improved social services in areas like health and education. He has implemented several mega-infrastructure projects, such as an underground railway tunnel below the Bosporus. While the AKP's economic growth model - based on major construction projects financed by international debt - may be losing its sustainability, things still look much better than the day Erdoğan first came to power.

U.S.-Japan Relations: Not So Sweet Caroline

After a rapturous welcome, Japanese enthusiasm for Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has cooled noticeably. 
By Yo-jung Chen

April 02, 2014

In a November 2013 op-ed for Singapore’s Straits Times (“Kennedy Magic and US-Japan Relations”), I wrote about the national frenzy that greeted the arrival in Japan of Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador.

Besides the worldwide “Kennedy magic,” the Japanese have particular reason to harbor special feelings for the Kennedys. On that fateful day of November 22, 1963, Japanese were glued to their television sets anticipating a happy event: the inauguration of the first-ever live satellite transmission from the United States. When those much-anticipated first images finally appeared on the screen, they were conveying the breaking news of the assassination of the U.S. president. Imagine the shock felt by millions of Japanese TV viewers.

Fifty years later and only three days to the tragic anniversary, euphoric crowds lined the streets of Tokyo to watch JFK’s daughter ride in a Victorian-style horse-drawn carriage on her way to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials to the Emperor. Some in the ecstatic thousand-strong crowd could be heard happily chanting “Sweet Caroline,” in reference to the song dedicated to her in 1969 by Neil Diamond.

The media left no stone unturned in its efforts to play up the national joy in welcoming “America’s princess” to Japan. The press marveled at Kennedy’s quoting of an ancient Japanese poet, Basho, and promptly portrayed her as an expert on Japanese culture. Her two previous personal visits to Japan were repeatedly mentioned as proof of her “particular love” for the country. And the fact that her late father once expressed a desire to visit Japan was seen as a fateful link between the Kennedys and the land of Rising Sun.

Defend the First Island Chain

A strategic solution to the troubled waters of the Western Pacific is perimeter defense—but what kind? History offers options.

Want to give China an ulcer, a nagging sore that compels Beijing to think twice about aggression? Then look at the map. Geography affords the U.S.-Japan alliance abundant opportunities to make trouble for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), denying China’s military access to the vast maneuver space of the Western Pacific while hampering its movements up and down the Asian seaboard. Fortifying the offshore island chain while deploying naval assets in adjoining waters could yield major strategic gains on the cheap. Doing so is common sense. The only question is how.

One imagines the greats of strategy would agree. Sage Carl von Clausewitz instructs statesmen and commanders to size up the “strength and situation” of each competitor before embroiling themselves in power politics. Net assessment is basic for him. Savvy competitors turn their physical surroundings to advantage, harnessing geographic features to block enemy movements altogether or channel them into predictable pathways where attackers can be met and overpowered. At sea, imaginative use of islands and passages can balk an adversary’s strategy if that strategy depends on free movement through nearby waters. Terrain, then, can offset an opponent’s advantages in numbers of ships, aircraft, or manpower. Used deftly, it can produce a margin of superiority at places where it matters most.

And that’s the crux of things, isn’t it? For Clausewitz there’s no higher or simpler law than to make oneself strong at the decisive place and time. Doing so—displaying imposing capabilities while telegraphing the resolve to use them—improves the prospects for deterring opponents, and thus for preserving peace. It’s high time for the U.S.-Japan alliance to heed the wisdom of this long-dead Prussian in the strategic competition with China. Islands bristling with antiship and antiair weaponry can cast a long shadow over sea passages, making themselves strongpoints in an offshore barricade while creating overlapping fields of fire. Mines, submarines, and fleet-footed surface craft dispersed around the islands can make things even tougher on PLA forces.

Best of all, these are low-cost measures that compel China to mount countermeasures at high cost to itself, and with doubtful efficacy. The value a combatant assigns its goals usually governs how many resources it puts into a martial endeavor, and for how long. The more valuable a political aim, the more lives, treasure, and weaponry it expends on behalf of that aim. But as Clausewitz notes, warring states have been known to limit an effort not by ends but by means. He terms this “war by contingent.” That is, a government caps the amount of resources it’s willing to spend on an enterprise ahead of time. It then looks for ways to wring maximum bang out of this predetermined number of bucks. Ingenuity and operational dexterity are at a premium as the contingent searches out ways to create outsized problems for and impose outsized costs on the adversary.

Asia’s “first island chain,” to borrow the ubiquitous Chinese phrase, encloses the East Asian coastline. It arcs southward from the Japanese home islands through the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, and the Philippine archipelago. Each annual Pentagon report on Chinese military power, moreover, includes a map that traces the island chain from the Philippines westward to central Vietnam. Interpreted thus, and sealed off by the occupants of the islands, the chain would present a formidable barrier to exit from or entry into the China Seas. This is an ideal opportunity for mischief-making at the PLA Navy’s expense. Contingents scattered on and around the islands and straits comprising the first island chain could give Beijing a bad day should things turn grim over the Senkaku Islands, Taiwan, or some other geopolitical controversy.

MERRY: The geopolitical pull of the South China Sea

The 21st century may see the rise of a new ‘demographic heartland’More Sharing Services
By Robert W. Merry
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Robert D. Kaplan first gained national recognition nearly 25 years ago with publication of his third book, “Balkan Ghosts,” part history and part travelogue, which explored the social, political and cultural complexities of the Balkans, just as that region was about to descend into Europe’s worst spree of violence since World War II.

It was said that Mr. Kaplan was so compelling in his description of the hopeless hatreds of the old Yugoslavia that President Clinton, upon reading the book, resolved to stay out of the region.

“Balkan Ghosts” was noteworthy for its evenhanded treatment of the Serbs, and Mr. Kaplan’s effort to convey to readers the historical, cultural and geopolitical factors that drove Serbian aims and fears as regional stability disintegrated. It didn’t take, for as events unfolded and Serbian atrocities became known, the West embraced a regional narrative that cast the Serbs as villains in the drama.

Mr. Clinton eventually embraced that narrative, as attested by his 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia aimed at ripping the Serbs’ ancestral lands in Kosovo, now majority Albanian Muslim, out of the hands of Serbia. Throughout that drama, Mr. Kaplan’s book offered a compelling historical framework for tragic current events.

Now, 12 books later, Mr. Kaplan is out with “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.” Like “Balkan Ghosts,” the latest book is the product of considerable historical analysis tied to journalistic observations emanating from extensive travels through the region.

It is a region, writes Mr. Kaplan, that will assume huge import in coming decades in geopolitical and demographic terms. It will also spawn some of the world’s most intense geopolitical maneuvering.

To understand the significance of the South China Sea, we must elevate ourselves and look at a bigger map of the surrounding maritime territory. By 2050, Mr. Kaplan tells us, nearly 7 billion of the world’s 9 billion people will live generally in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. This constitutes a “global demographic heartland,” with its central organizing principle being the Greater Indian Ocean, along with the Western Pacific.

This map unites by sea what the noted British geopolitical scholar Halford Mckinder called the globe’s “Eurasian Heartland,” the world’s most significant strategic territory. Mr. Kaplan sees this greater region as stretching from the Horn of Africa across the Indian Ocean, bending around Indonesia, then up to the Sea of Japan.

Why the Saudis Are Panicking

April 3, 2014

As President Barack Obama must have noticed during his visit, there is a panicky tone to almost everything the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does these days, whether it’s campaigning for two years to win a coveted seat on the UN Security Council only to give it up immediately after the vote, or its public pronouncements of going it alone in the chaos of Syria, or its break with its fellow Arab state Qatar, or the closing of the Al Jazeera office in Riyadh, or the banning of the books of renowned Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish. Or, of course, its opposition to diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program and the prospects of a US-Iranian thaw.

Riyadh’s opposition to the Iran nuclear talks has largely been understood in the context of the larger Saudi-Iranian and Sunni-Shia rivalry. Consequently, Saudi’s negative reaction was predictable, the argument goes. The Saudi royal house would undoubtedly not sit idly by as its regional rival negotiated its way out of harsh sanctions and into a potential US-Iranian rapprochement that could pave the way for an American tilt towards Tehran—all at the expense of Saudi interests.

But the intensity of Riyadh’s reaction cannot be explained solely through the kingdom’s displeasure at Tehran’s diplomatic advances. In fact, the unprecedented opening between the US and Iran is arguably only the tip of the iceberg of Saudi Arabia's growing list of concerns. Numerous geopolitical trends in the last decade have evolved in opposition to Saudi interests. Much indicates that it is the combination of these factors, rather than just Saudi displeasure with US-Iranian diplomacy, that best explain the erratic behavior of the House of Saud.

Consider the following developments. First, the United States has significantly increased its own oil production and reduced its dependence on Saudi oil. Driven by a boom in shale oil production, America's crude output has surged at record speeds in recent years. Last year, production rose a stunning 15 percent—the fastest absolute annual growth in any country in twenty years. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer as early as 2015.

The official Saudi line reads that OPEC had survived past increases in production from countries outside OPEC, and that Saudi does not worry about the America’s growing output. But some important voices in Saudi Arabia publicly disagree, charactering the US’s declining dependence on Saudi crude as “an inevitable threat."

Indeed, being a dominant producer on the oil market has provided the kingdom with vital political influence. The US’s growing output is a direct strategic threat to that influence, according to some in Saudi.

ONCE AND FUTURE NATO Speaking Loudly While Carrying No Stick

Calls to expand NATO are a reckless response to Russian aggression. Taking on new members without committing to their defense risks hollowing out the alliance and handing Putin an easy victory.

Published on April 2, 2014

Washington has settled on a simple yet vague response to the crisis in Crimea: Stop Russia, but do not fight it. Translating this mandate into action has proven difficult. Amid calls for sanctions and boycotts, one action has received wide support: expand NATO. A bipartisan group of forty congressmencalled for the eventual admission of Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Georgia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Meanwhile, a group of 56 senior foreign policy experts—including former Senators Joseph Lieberman and Norm Coleman, eight former Ambassadors, and multiple sub-cabinet level officials—sent an open letter to President Obama arguing that the United States “should press America’s NATO allies to agree to a Membership Action Plan for Georgia” and “should also support Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, and other European security partners, if they seek NATO membership.” Likewise, rising Republican foreign policy stars Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Tom Cotton claimed that the crisis “should break the freeze on NATO expansion that has been in place for the past five years” in order to attack “Russia’s belief that it can bully NATO partners and not face a credible response.” Just as Russian troops were taking up positions in Crimea, the Obama Administration affirmed that Georgia would, one day, become part of NATO.

As Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, words only go so far. They can even do you harm if you don’t think them through or back them up. Is it truly in the American interest to admit additional former Soviet republics, such as Georgia, into NATO? If so, is the United States willing and able to defend these new commitments if confronted? Answering the former should generate healthy debate, but America’s response to the latter must be clear and definitive. Expanding American defense commitments without building and maintaining the force needed to protect them is not only strategically incoherent; it risks a far more dangerous outcome than not proclaiming anything at all. Speaking loudly without a stick is a recipe for disaster.

For two decades, NATO expansion was largely seen as cost-free. Since the end of the Cold War, 12 additional countries joined and an additional four are aspiring to do so. Even as Washington nearly doubled its defense commitments, it more than halved its troop presence in Europe. Whatever Moscow’s irritation at its former satellites joining its archrival, the prospect of fighting a war seemed remote. Moreover, these new members were key contributors to U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much like European Union membership, the prospects of joining NATO spurred states to reform their institutions and integrate into the “New World Order.”