25 July 2014

Kargil panel: No checks & balances in Intelligence system


Status of KCR followup

The Kargil Committee Report (KCR) recommended sweeping changes in India's national security apparatus. While a few have been implemented, some critical requirements like having a Chief of Defence Staff are nowhere in sight.
The integration of the service headquarters with the MoD is not at the desired levels
A lot still needs to be done in the area of civil- military liaison

No headway in lateral induction of ex-servicemen into the para-military.
Defence Intelligence Agency created.
ON July 29, 1999, three days after the Kargil conflict officially ended, the then government, headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, set up a four-member, high-powered committee to analyse the situation. The terms of reference of the committee, headed by strategic analyst Late K Subrahmanyam, were to review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Jammu and Kashmir, and to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions. The other members were Lt Gen KK Hazari, former Vice Chief of Army Staff, senior journalist BG Verghese and Satish Chandra, then Secretary, National Security Council Secretariat. The committee had the authority to interview any person associated with the security establishment, including former presidents and prime minister and was given access to all classified documents and reports. The committee presented its findings and recommendations, christened From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Committee Report (KCR), to Vajpayee in January 2000. Some of its key observations are:

Pakistan’s aggression came as a total surprise to the Indian government. Infiltration by armed irregulars was considered to be feasible in the area but not an intrusion and occupation of territory by Pakistani troops.

There were lapses in communication and dissemination of information between different intelligence agencies, which illustrate deficiencies in the system.

There were many bits and pieces of information about activities within the FCNA region. Most of them tended to indicate that Kargil was becoming a growing focus of Pakistani attention which had been clearly demonstrated by the marked increase in cross-LOC shelling in 1998. The reports on ammunition dumping, induction of additional guns and the construction of bunkers and helipads all fitted into an assessment of likely large-scale militant infiltration, with more intensive shelling in the summer of 1999. RAW assessed the possibility of "a limited swift offensive threat with possible support of alliance partners," in its half-yearly assessment ending September 1998 but no indicators substantiating this assessment were provided. Moreover, in its next six-monthly report ending March 1999, this assessment was dropped. In fact, its March 1999 report emphasised the financial constraints that would inhibit Pakistan from launching on any such adventure.

No specific indicators of a likely major attack in the Kargil sector such as significant improvements in logistics and communications or substantial force build-up or forward deployment of forces were reported by any of the agencies. Information on training of additional militants for infiltrating them across the LoC was not sector-specific. Indian intelligence appeared to lack adequate knowledge about the heavy damage inflicted by Indian artillery, which would have required Pakistan army to undertake considerable repairs and re-stocking. That would partly explain the larger vehicular movements reported on the other side. The Indian Army did not share information about the intensity and effect of its past firing with others. In the absence of this information, RAW could not correctly assess the significance of enemy activity in terms of ammunition storage or construction of underground bunkers.

KARGIL WAR 15 YEARS ON How raw courage & grit triumphed

Lt Gen Mohinder Puri (retd)

The daunting task was to militarily reorient the Division operationally from a counter- insurgency role to that for conventional warfare in virtually no time. The operations had to be completed well before the onset of winter
Operation Vijay was a daunting task for the soldiers because they had to deliver results in a hostile terrain within a limited time frame

IT was the May of 1999, that the 8 Mountain Division also known as "Forever in Operations" was tasked to move from the Kashmir Valley to the rugged Drass-Kargil axis along the Line of Control (LoC) and be part of Operation Vijay — it was the first call to arms in the conventional matrix after nearly 30 years.

Operation Vijay was launched by the Indian Army to evict the Pakistani Army which had occupied the heights in this terrain. The role of first inducting the entire division, complete with its support arms, equipment and men secondly to fight the battle had challenges which had to be overcome and were done successfully.

I had been in command of the Division in the Valley for over a year when the fresh deployment was ordered. For 10 years, or since 1989, the Division was mandated for Operation Rakshak to fight militancy.

As the Pakistani plan in Drass-Kargil unfolded, the daunting task came with the challenges. The first was to militarily reorient the Division operationally from a counter-insurgency role to that for conventional warfare. All this was to be done in virtually no time and to deliver success almost instantly in view of the tremendous pressure of public opinion at home built up by the media. The second issue was to complete operations well before the onset of winter — that sets in early in the high Himalayas.

Since the operations had to be conducted at extreme high altitudes averaging 15,000 feet, troops had to undergo three stages of acclimatisation spread across 10 days to be able to give their best. In hindsight it was stoic bravery, raw courage and the sheer "will to win" among all ranks that added this glorious chapter to the saga of valour and sacrifice for the Division (now headquartered at Kumbathang some 25 km south of Kargil) and also of the Army.

Responding to insurgency


POLICING INSURGENCIES — Cops as Counterinsurgents: Edited by C. Christine Fair, Sumit Ganguly; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, 1 Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 995.

It is strategic folly to expect police forces to do counter-insurgency job for which they are neither equipped nor trained

The fight against insurgents has mainly been conducted by military forces around the world. Insurgencies are a politico-military enterprise in which political power is attempted to be seized as much by military action against the state as through political action amidst the population. Insurgent organisations aim to discredit the state apparatus by attacking its organs of law and order maintenance, political leaders and economic activity.

The insurgents extensively use weapons, explosives and intimidation to force the populace to abide with their diktats. More often than not, state police are found incapable of dealing with insurgent forces, and the recourse to military forces is the option exercised by the state. While there have been exceptions, for example in Northern Ireland, the involvement of military forces either directly or as a back-up to police action has been the norm.

The vast literature on counterinsurgency (COIN) relates substantially to military forces and their operational strategies or to socio-economic and political measures undertaken by the states. The role of the police forces in COIN is largely overlooked, even though in some instances such forces have made a significant contribution to bringing the conflict to an end.

In India for instance, while COIN operations in the North Eastern states have been largely entrusted to the army, the final closure in Punjab was brought about by the police. In the Maoist insurgencies in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, COIN operations have continued to remain the responsibility of police.

Need for neutral force

The larger question remains one of whether police forces can conduct effective COIN operations. Most often the police are themselves a part of the problem, in which their exploitative or oppressive rule and corrupt and unaccounted-for conduct originally creates conditions for an insurgency to begin.

A complex country decoded



Academician T.V. Paul’s The Warrior State is a crossover book on Pakistan

An academic book on Pakistan by an Indian, which examines its position in the contemporary world, is bound to arouse curiosity. One would expect the usual narrative with a slant towards India. But T.V. Paul’s take on Pakistan, The Warrior State – Pakistan in the Contemporary World, which is a hotbed of international terrorism, is objective and is, as he calls it, ‘a bitter pill to swallow’ for Pakistan. The James McGill Professor of International Relations at McGill University, Canada, takes a comprehensive look at what ails the country. Paul, who belongs to Kerala, was in the city recently for the South Asia release of the book. It has been published in India by Random House India.

Excerpts from an interview.

Why a book on Pakistan?

I have been trying to understand the conflict dynamics in South Asia for a long time. Since I have been trained in conflict studies, security studies, general international relations...I have tried to apply some of that knowledge while writing this book. To my knowledge, not a single book exists, in the contemporary period, which comprehensively explains why this country became the way it did. Most of the popular journalistic works describe what is happening in Pakistan or Afghanistan. I felt the need for an explanation – a diagnostic work. I cannot claim complete knowledge of Pakistan in a very micro sense but the macro understanding I have is enough to provide a historical, sociological explanation but in a comparative sense. And perhaps in some respects, it is my most important work, a crossover book – academic plus popular book. The policies Pakistan has adopted have neither made it secure, nor more integrated, unified, or prosperous. A nation state exists for these purposes. Why isn’t that happening in Pakistan? It is a puzzle. And I am a puzzle-driven scholar.

What is your diagnosis? What prevents it from reaching its potential?

One argument is that they have become too focussed on a narrow understanding of national security. Their focus has been territorial defence, practising competitive international relations, and a quest for status equivalence and power parity with India which is 7 to 8 times bigger in many parameters of national power. In the past it was possible to maintain parity given the great powers, the United States (US) and China, treated India and Pakistan as co-equals. But since 2000 a noticeable change has been that the US treats India as a rising power, which Pakistan cannot accept.

But the US was responsible for creating this situation in Pakistan...

Quite a bit of the criticism goes to the US, but I am not happy with that line of reasoning. Most Pakistanis place the blame on the US or other outside powers for the mess they are in. My contention is that similar to Korea and Taiwan Pakistan had a choice...how they made use of the alliance relationship with the US. During Ayub Khan’s period Washington did play a positive role in the economic arena. Since Zia-ul-Haq’s time Pakistani leaders used the alliance to make it a nuclear-armed Islamic state, while ignoring trade and investment, unlike US allies such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan. They played double games – they wanted to acquire as much military resources and aid as possible and using that alliance to compete with India. That is why I ascribe the main cause for their underdevelopment to a “geostrategic curse.”

Indo-Nepal relations: rising above the script


MAKING OLD TIES NEW: Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Nepal will lay the ground for Narendra Modi’s visit to the country soon. Picture shows Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala with Mr. Modi in New Delhi.

Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Kathmandu presents an opportunity for India to clarify misgivings and re-state the country’s best intentions towards its neighbour

Even before Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister, there was both excitement and suspicion in Nepal. Mr. Modi’s stunning victory in the Lok Sabha election has only added to the emotions. Besides those Nepalis who would like to see Nepal revert to Hindu rasthra (but not necessarily a Hindu kingdom) as well as the likes of Kamal Thapa and his pro-Hindu and pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Nepal), leaders of other political parties in Nepal see Mr. Modi’s ascension as auguring well for their country. They have cited “clarity in his approach” and “decisiveness in his action” as reasons for their buoyancy.

A more focussed engagement

Before Mr. Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, this scribe had reached out to five different leaders — from the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Nepal and the RPP (Nepal) — for their opinion on India’s Prime Minister-elect. All five ruled out any fundamental shift but expected a more focussed Indian engagement. As expected, they varied in their assessment of the what and how of that “focussed engagement.”

Foreign policies do not change overnight with a change of guard in government, unless some fundamentals have changed dramatically. India-Nepal bilateral ties have remained the same except for a few sharp turns after the 12-point agreement between the seven parliamentary parties and the underground Maoists in November, 2005 in New Delhi and the immediate period after the Maoist party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal a.k.a. Prachanda became Prime Minister in 2008.

It is in this backdrop that India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is visiting Nepal for three days starting today. However, discussions in Nepal before her visit have not been pleasing at all. By design or accident, the spotlight once again is on India’s “intentions” toward the smaller neighbour which is so dependent on India for trade, fuel and, grudgingly, political refereeing. The last one mentioned has another name in Nepal: meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.

India: XVII Mountain Corps

Amit Saksena
23 July 2014 

On 1 January 2014, the flag of the newly sanctioned XVII Corps was hoisted at its interim headquarters in Ranchi, which kick-started the process of fielding a credible Indian deterrent force on the Northeastern front, from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir. In a largely Pakistan-centric architecture of troop distribution, this Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) is the first China-oriented offensive formation to be deployed by India. However, based on the Indian experience in weapon procurement, as well as the disjointed collaboration between auxiliary agencies, the viability of this endeavour is doubtful. The feasibility of playing catch-up, at the expense of modernisation and strategic development on other fronts, must be validated by the Government of India.

Fiscal Constraints

Monetary apprehension is a very strong factor against the operationalisation of this corps, and an analysis of the 2014-15 defense budget validate these concerns. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has reportedly commissioned a massive INR 64,000 crore over the next 7 financial years to float the MSC. This fund will cover all the major expenses of the project, from infrastructure to recruitment and logistical expenditure of the additional 80,000 troops that the Army intends to commit to this corps. With an alarmingly high revenue expenditure (almost 82 per cent) vis-à-vis its existing force of 12,00,000 troops, the addition of a further 80,000 troops will send the fiscal budget through the ceiling. Out of the INR 73,444 crore capital allocation for the three forces, 96 per cent has already been earmarked for installments on previous purchases, leaving a meager INR 2955 crore free for new acquisitions. Compared to the annualINR 8,000 crore needed to float the MSC, there is no overt indication of where the rest of the money is coming from. 

Logistical Development and Topographical Constraints

Till very recently, one of the major stumbling blocks in military infrastructure development along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been the delay in environmental clearance. This project will require close collaboration between the Ministries of Finance and Environment, the Border Roads Organisation, and the Indian Army and Air Force (IAF). It should be noted that China presently fields five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000 km of roads in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). This allows Beijing to move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC, outnumbering Indian forces by at least 3:1.

In addition to the roads, the Army and the Air Force will require credible contractors to take on the task of building and developing military-centric installments in the region. High-altitude bases for light and stationary artillery, barracks for troops, ammunition, intelligence and logistics nodes, and training centres will have to be developed. The inhospitable weather conditions in which contractors may be unwilling to work can prove to be a serious roadblock. For instance, since 2009 the IAF has been trying to recruit contractors for upgrading the existing Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) along the Chinese border, with no success. 

Defence Budget: A Perspective on self Reliance and Modernisation

23 Jul , 2014

India’s Defence Budget for 2014-15 has an allocation of Rs.2,29,000 crores ($38 billion) which is an increase of 12% over the previous year’s allocation. The capital outlay which is for modernization and purchase of new weapon systems and equipment is Rs.94,588 crores ($15.7 billion). The remaining allocation of Rs.1,34,412 crores is the revenue outlay. The sub allocation of capital outlay to Army is Rs.20,655 crores, Navy – Rs.22,312 crores, Air force – Rs.31,818 crores, DRDO – Rs.9298 crores and modernization of Ordnance Factories (OFs) – Rs.1,207 crores. One of the highlights of the defence budget is the increase in FDI to 49% from the existing 26%.

The increase in FDI from 26% to 49% needs to be reviewed as it will not bring in the required investment.

What we need to critically analyse is whether the approach of the defence budget is in line with the requirement of achieving the goals of self -reliance in defence equipment and modernization of the armed forces. The challenges in these two spheres confronting India are unique and enormous. The enormity of the problem can be gauged from the fact that the Indian Armed forces are the third largest with the Indian Army being the second largest in the world. Furthermore, the Indian Armed forces have a perpetual operational commitment of manning unresolved borders with two of her adversaries and intensive employment in counter insurgency / counter terrorism operations in the State of Jammu& Kashmir and the North east. Despite these operational commitments, the nation due to the nascent and dismal state of its defence industry is dependent on imports for 70% of its defence equipment.

Since the past three years India has been the world’s largest arms importer accounting for a share of 12%. India has become the world’s largest arms market because of its large requirements and purchasing power in view of its $5 trillion economy on PPP terms. Therefore, it will never be in the interest of arms exporting countries whose defence industries are major revenue earners for the Indian defence industry to be developed into a robust and modernized industry capable of being self reliant.

The arms exporting countries will always be reluctant to transfer cutting edge and state of the art technology. Even in the generation old technology the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) will hold back a crucial component of the technology with them so that dependency in some form remains. Since we are import dependent for our defence equipment, the modernization of our armed forces has greatly suffered as our procurement procedures are complex, cumbersome and have inherent delays. Most of the procurement cases remain stuck for years and end up getting derailed on flimsy grounds/apprehensions.

The development of infrastructure in border areas will require massive funding and the allocation needs to be increased from Rs.1000 crores to at least Rs.10,000 crores.

The key focus areas of the capital allocation of the defence budget needs to be Defence R&D, Defence Industrial Manufacturing base, infrastructure development in border areas and procurement of new weapon systems/defence equipment.


Michael Kugelman
July 24, 2014 ·
Could Afghanistan be the next Iraq?

Within foreign policy circles, it’s become one of the most frequently posed questions of the summer. And according to many, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

“A future similar to Iraq’s may be inevitable,” warns Anish Goel, a South Asia fellow at the New America Foundation.

“I watch and analyze the mistakes in Iraq, and I think many of them are going to come to pass in Afghanistan,” opines Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

“I fear what we are seeing in Syria and Iraq could happen in Afghanistan next year,” declares Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, a former top military official in Great Britain.

“We don’t want Afghanistan to repeat Iraq but all parties have to think about it,” contends Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, a top supporter of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.

And none other than War on the Rocks’ editor-in-chief Ryan Evanspredicts that the next U.S. president “might confront an ISIS-style bind in the Hindu Kush.”

It’s easy to understand this sentiment. Afghanistan, like Iraq in 2011, is an insurgency-buffeted state beset by internal divisions facing the impending departure of international combat troops. And as in Iraq three years ago, these troops will leave the fate of the host country in the shaky hands of fledgling security forces.

In recent weeks, the Afghan Taliban launched a fresh assault in Helmand province. Pakistan’s current military offensive in North Waziristan is reportedly pushing militants into Afghanistan. And commanders of extremist groups elsewhere in Pakistan vow to deploy their fighters to Afghanistan next year to help the Taliban.

Little wonder many observers fear that Iraq’s rapid destabilization — hastened by the rampaging radicals of the Islamic State organization, formerly known as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq — could soon be replicated in Afghanistan.

Could such predictions come true? Perhaps. But at the same time, there’s reason to believe that Afghanistan could avert Iraq’s frightening fate. Here’s why.

Afghanistan is on an upward trajectory.

On the eve of the drawdown, Afghanistan is a far different country than it was in October 2001 when international forces toppled the Taliban-led government. Recent years have seen expansions in press freedoms, advances in women’s education, and improved health care (though to be sure, during the era of Taliban rule, these features were virtually nonexistent in Afghanistan). More to the point, Afghan security forces are getting stronger. Recent Pentagon assessments note “substantial progress,” and specifically “increased abilities to plan, carry out, and sustain high-level kinetic operations.” Tellingly, Afghans are expressing optimism about their country’s future. The recent resolution of a potentially destabilizing election crisis gives even more reason for hope.

Pak Army Ops in North Waziristan is a Tough Challenge

The Pakistan army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb(sharp and cutting), its much delayed ground offensive against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan, on June 15, 2014. Since then, the army claims to have killed 386 TTP and Uzbek terrorists, including the mastermind of the twin terrorist attacks on Karachi airport on June 9th and 10th, while 20 soldiers have lost their lives. Approximately 600,000 civilian inhabitants have had to leave their homes and join the swelling numbers of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Pakistan. North Waziristan is the last bastion of anti-Pakistan terrorists who have killed over 50,000 civilians and army personnel in ten years.

According to the Karachi Airport Security Force, 29 people died in the suicide attack on the airport, including all ten terrorists, while 24 were injured. On the same day, in the latest manifestation of continuing sectarian violence, Sunni extremists killed 23 Shia pilgrims travelling by bus in Balochistan. Later, on June 24th, a PIA flight was fired upon while landing at Peshawar airport; one woman inside the aircraft suffered fatal gun-shot wounds. Earlier, on June 4th, two officers of the rank of Lt Col and three other personnel had been killed by the TTP in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi. These attacks are clearly indicative of the ability of Pakistan’s terrorist organisations to strike at will and underline the helplessness of the security forces in taking effective preventive action.

Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government's counter-insurgency policy had until now lacked cohesion. The commencement of a peace dialogue with the TTP in February 2014, despite the abject failure of several such efforts in the past, allowed the terrorist organisation to re-arm, recruit, train fresh fighters and plan new operations. In March 2014, the TTP offered a month-long cease-fire. The army honoured the cease-fire and refrained from undertaking active operations, but several TTP factions disregarded the diktat of the leadership and fought on. On April 16th, the TTP reneged on its ceasefire pledge and blamed the government for failing to make any new offers.

In the face of mounting public and army pressure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reluctantly agreed to approve military strikes. He was apprehensive that General Raheel Sharif, the COAS, may unilaterally decide to launch an all-out offensive. The army had been recommending to the government for quite some time that firm military action was necessary to deal with the menace of home grown terrorism. The PM is now backing the army fully and has said that he will not allow Pakistan to become a “sanctuary of terrorists” and that the military operation will continue till all the militants are eliminated.

The deteriorating internal security environment has gradually morphed into Pakistan’s foremost national security threat. Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode. The Al Qaeda is quietly making inroads into Pakistani terrorist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HuJI), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has consolidated its position in North Waziristan and could have broken out of its stronghold into neighbouring areas. Fissiparous tendencies in Balochistan and the restive Gilgit-Baltistan Northern Areas are a perpetual security nightmare.

Realisation about the gravity of the internal security situation has dawned on the Pakistan army as well. Two successive army Chiefs have declared publicly that internal instability is the number one national security threat. However, unlike the Indian Army that has been embroiled in low intensity conflict since the 1950s, the Pakistan army is relatively inexperienced in counter-insurgency operations. The then Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani had declared 2009 as ‘Military Training Year’ to re-orientate the army to internal security duties. Before becoming COAS, General Raheel Sharif had developed the training manuals for counter-insurgency. Over the last decade, the Pakistan army has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas. It has suffered over 15,700 casualties, including about 5,000 dead since 2008. The total casualties, including civilian, number almost 50,000 since 2001.

Location, location, location

Photo by Dietmar Temps on flickr.
16 Jul 2014

Myanmar is in the thick of the Asian century, writes NICHOLAS FARRELLY.

Myanmar has taken charge of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for the first time.

To host the hundreds of meetings that come with the year-long job, a vast new neighbourhood has been built in Naypyitaw, the country’s sprawling decade-old capital.

Two huge convention centres and more than two dozen brand new hotels have sprung up, all helping fulfil the government’s long-held desire for international respectability and renewed national pride.

Leading ASEAN is a significant turning point in Myanmar’s relations with its nine Southeast Asian neighbours. During the dark decades of military dictatorship, the country’s pariah status would have precluded a regional endorsement of this kind.

But now Myanmar is taking centrestage and enjoying the applause as it performs what could be the world’s most astonishing political pivot: former military dictators building a system that is slowly starting to look like democracy.

These changes matter for lots of reasons, especially because they mean that a nascent economic boom is helping lift millions of the country’s people out of poverty.

But the most important reason to be watching Myanmar closely is the old real estate mantra: location, location, location.

Many Australians have started to focus on the implications of the resurgence of China and India, but we’re still far from the frontlines.

Myanmar – almost 700,000 square kilometres, home to sixty million people – is wedged between those twin Asian-century behemoths, its long, winding borders snaking across remote mountains and valleys.

It is only a matter of time before Myanmar’s wedge of territory feels the force of the renegotiation of global power that the coming decades will bring.

For millennia, the diverse peoples of Myanmar have accepted influence from both directions.

Today, the country recognises 135 “national races,” or ethnic groups, within its borders. Anyone walking the streets of Myanmar towns can see clearly the jumble of linguistic, culinary, genetic and cultural influences that have flowed from India and China.

And not just from those two giants. Myanmar’s interactions with its other neighbours – Thailand, Bangladesh and Laos – are important too.

Troubled waters: the Mekong River crisis

JULY 18, 2014 

China is bafflingly silent about strange, record-breaking changes that have been wreaking havoc on the mighty Mekong River in recent months, writes Pilita Clark

A fisherman on the Mekong River, Vientiane, Laos, April 2014

Den Kroolong got the jolting news in a 6am phone call at his home in northern Thailand one day in December last year. His boat had disappeared. Being an experienced fisherman, he had left it tied up securely on the banks of the Mekong River, a few minutes’ drive away.

But now a friend was calling to say something extraordinary had happened overnight to the river, which separates this part of Thailand from neighbouring Laos. It had suddenly become engorged by muddy, debris-filled flood waters and had risen by several metres. This was peculiar because December is in the region’s dry season, when the Mekong is normally so placid and low that people grow vegetables along its banks for cash and paddle off the sandy beaches that emerge on its shores.

Kroolong, a 53-year-old grandfather who started fishing on the Mekong when he was nine, was shocked by what he saw when he reached the river. “It was the first time in my life I had ever seen anything like it,” he said one steamy day in April when he took me down to the banks to explain what had happened.

Everything along the banks had been hit. Riverside crops of tomatoes and cabbage were swept away. Fish farms were wrecked. Boats were sunk, battered and, like Kroolong’s craft, carried off by the surging waters. He and a friend jumped into another boat and sped down the river to see if they could find the missing vessel, steering frantically to dodge the tree branches and rubbish being swept along the swirling water.

A few hours later, they discovered that villagers on the Laos side of the river had picked up his boat. “I told them, ‘This is my boat. I want it back’,” said Kroolong.

“They said, ‘If you want it you have to pay 15,000 baht’.” That was about $460, a large sum for a man who had been making around $6 a day selling the fish he pulled from the river. Convinced the police would be no help, Kroolong left his boat behind, along with a way of life.

He had to take a job as a security guard at a nearby hospital, where he has had time to think about why the river suddenly turned into a swollen torrent that day. “It might have been raining up north,” he said, staring out at the huge stretch of water flowing quietly beside us. “Or it might have been the Chinese dams.”

The dams China has built hundreds of miles upstream from Kroolong’s home are what brought me to the Mekong, one of the world’s mightiest waterways. The river is so long that if it were in the US, it would stretch all the way from Los Angeles across to New York. It starts off high in the snowy peaks of the Tibetan plateau before plunging down through the mountains of China’s southern Yunnan province towards Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and finally Vietnam, where it pours into the South China Sea. Just under half the river’s length is in China, which first started damming it in Yunnan more than 20 years ago.

Japan’s Building 2 Aegis Destroyers

July 23, 2014

Tokyo is accelerating its timetable for acquiring two additional Aegis-equipped ballistic missile defense ships. 

Japan will build two more Aegis-equipped destroyers by 2020, a local newspaper is reporting.

According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, a right-leaning Japanese newspaper, the Japanese government will start funding construction of new Aegis ships over the next two fiscal years. The Defense Ministry will allocate funding for the first ship during fiscal year 2015, while the second ship will begin receiving funds in FY2016.

In the 2014 National Defense Program Guidelines, which were approved by the Cabinet in December 2013, Tokyo said it intended to build two new Aegis-equipped ships within the next decade. The Yomiuri Shimbunreport, which cited “unnamed sources” without providing further details, suggests that the timetable outlined in the National Defense Program Guidelines has now been accerelated.

The report said that each additional Aegis ship would cost 150 billion yen (approximately $1.5 billion) and take around five years to complete. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) already operates six Aegis-equipped destroyers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun report suggested that North Korea was the main factor driving the decision to acquire additional Aegis-equipped destroyers. North Korea has been testing missiles—including ballistic missiles—at an unprecedented rate this year. After Pyongyang tested two Rodong-class (Nodong) mid-range ballistic missilesback in March, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera ordered the MSDF to shoot down any ballistic missile North Korea launched throughout most of the month of April. One of Japan’s Aegis-equipped destroyers was deployed to the Sea of Japan to lend credibility to that threat.

Also during April of this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States would forward deploy two additional Aegis-equipped ships to Japan by 2017. He cited North Korea’s provocations as the main reason for the reinforcements.

“In response to Pyongyang¹s pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions, including recent missile launches in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, I can announce today that the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan by 2017,” Hagel said at the time.

Where does the US-China relationship stand?

RS Kalha
22 July 2014

The sixth joint meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was held in Beijing from July 8-10. It is a very convenient point to assess the present state of the bilateral Sino-US relationship, considering that almost all departments from both sides were represented at the talks. The importance can also be seen in that Chinese President Xi Jinping personally opened the proceedings and stated that 'our interests are more than ever inter-connected,' and that the two nations 'stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation'. Jinping went on to say that 'if we are in confrontation, it will surely spell disaster for both countries and for the world,' adding that the Pacific powers need to 'break the old pattern of inevitable confrontation'. Earlier in a statement issued by the White House, President Obama said the US was committed to building a 'new model' of relations with China that is defined by cooperation and the constructive management of differences. 'We remain determined to ensure that cooperation defines the overall relationship,' Obama said. But what is the reality? 

Let us examine strategic issues first. In the first decade of the 21st Century, the US became involved in costly mis-adventures, first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan that have cost it nearly US $ 4-6 trillion and huge losses in both men and material; whilst China remained largely insulated. China has since then quadrupled its military spending, quietly abandoned Deng Xiaoping's 'taoguangyanghui' [bide your time, hide your strength] policy directive and has started asserting itself on its perceived claims in both the East and South China Sea areas. The US believes that Chinese claims are 'inconsistent with international law' and that China is following a policy that is deliberately low key to slowly establish its position in this vital area by generating minor incidents that do not invite US retaliation. The US assessment is that by following this policy, the Chinese hope to strengthen the conviction amongst East and South East Asian countries that the US is an 'unreliable' security provider and that they would be better served if they came to an accommodation with China. 

The Chinese perceive that it was Japan, conscious of the strength of the vital US-Japan Security Treaty, which initiated the tension in East Asia by 'nationalizing' the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and thus deliberately changed the status quo in East Asia. Chinese spokespersons repeatedly stress that both Hanoi and Manila have in the past admitted that China had sovereignty over all islands and islets on the Chinese side of the Nine-Dash Line in the South China Sea and therefore Beijing deems the Philippines' occupation of some of these islands as unacceptable. Unless there is some real engagement among the various parties, tensions are likely to continue to rise. As the US is an ally of both Japan and the Philippines, it has made itself an interested party in the disputes. The issues that surround the complex security relationship between China and the US with regard to East and South East Asia have thus remained unresolved despite sentiments of co-operation expressed both by Xi and Obama and even after the present S&ED dialogue. 

On the other hand, the US desperately needs Chinese help to dampen North Korean ambitions, particularly when it comes to their missile and nuclear programmes. The US watched with some satisfaction when Xi Jinping visited Seoul, having already met President Park of South Korea five times, before he has yet to even meet the North Korean leader. Similarly, the US needs Chinese co-operation in the UN Security Council, in climate change negotiations, as also with regard to Syria, Iraq and Iran's nuclear file [5+1 Talks]. 

Can the US and China Cooperate on Counterterrorism?

By Jeffrey Payne
July 23, 2014
There are strong arguments to suggest they should, if only the political hang-ups could be overcome. 

Amidst a relationship that is expected to define international relations in this century, efforts are underway to find ways for the United States and the People’s Republic of China to cooperate on counterterrorism. As powerful states that thrive in part because of their entanglement within the global economic system, both the U.S. and China are disproportionately threatened by the emergence of instability within that same system.

While it is true that the U.S. and China have different methodologies through which they interact with the larger world – the U.S. prefers multinational partnerships backed by American security guarantees while China favors a system of bilateral relations and the pursuit of regional hegemony in East Asia – both recognize that terrorism is a trans-border threat. Moreover, as both countries are potential targets of terrorist organizations and both are economically tied to regions regularly destabilized by terror, it follows that the U.S. and China would have a shared interest in combatting global terrorism. However, they have yet to cooperate. The reason for this is political, not strategic.

A Shared Threat

In an age of globalization, the non-state actor is more important than ever before. One reason for this is that states in today’s world partially thrive because of an international commercial network that, once disrupted, has immediate and substantial effects. Thus, while a group like Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines is not a direct threat to the U.S., or even the government of the Philippines, its violence can disrupt the political stability of a specific locality, creating a safe haven for a host of illicit groups. These groups, involved in drug smuggling, kidnapping and piracy, among other activities, become a regional problem that can disrupt the interests of states as far away as the U.S.. This was, in part, the lesson learned by the U.S. after 9/11 and one currently resonating in China in the wake of a series of attacks by radical groups.

The domino effect that terrorism creates is of particular importance in two regions: the Middle East and South Asia. The Middle East, a region beset by economic stagnation and sectarian tension, has begat a variety of radical groups with a penchant for violence and unforgiving ideologies. These groups, using the cleavages wrought by political and economic failings, emerge alongside other criminal forces, further weaken regional states, and disrupt international commerce. Particular cases include Yemen, where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has used a weak state to further destabilize the country; Syria, where the civil war features Assad-allied Hezbollah fighting against, among others, the al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra front; and Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which now calls itself simply the Islamic State (IS), operates within the context of the Syrian civil war to lead successful attacks against the Iraqi state.

Can China Engage Meaningfully on Iraq?

By Michal Meidan
July 23, 2014

Instability in Iraq has serious implications for China, but does it have the ability to forge a proactive policy? 

Beijing continues to watch with unease as the violence in Iraq drives up global oil prices and brings the country to the brink of a sectarian split. With no end in sight to the unrest, Beijing dispatched its special envoy for the Middle East to Baghdad on July 7. But China’s diplomatic outreach will remain limited. For the leadership in Beijing, the cost of deeper strategic involvement in Iraq still far outweighs the cost of inaction. Their preferred option is to look inward, and hedge their bets overseas.

To be sure, instability in Iraq has serious implications for China’s energy security. Chinese oil imports from Iraq have surged from 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2012 to 720,000 bpd in April 2014. Any supply disruptions would require Beijing to secure a replacement for more than 10 percent of total oil imports and see the cost rise substantially: a $10 increase in oil prices would, it is estimated, lower China’s GDP by 0.2 percent. This is an alarming prospect for a Chinese government already struggling to keep economic growth at its 7.5 percent target for this year.

China is also the top foreign investor in Iraq’s energy sector, accounting for roughly 700,000 bpd of output in 2013. Even though instability has thus far left the Southern oil fields – where most of China’s assets lie – unharmed, simmering tensions could undermine Iraq’s production outlook. At a time when Chinese national oil companies are coming under greater scrutiny at home for their investments and losses, the pressure to keep their investments profitable is high.

Moreover, with roughly 10,000 Chinese workers in Iraq, employed in energy, telecommunications and construction, the question of the state’s responsibility to protect is once again being raised in Beijing. Whilst the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states remains a central pillar of Chinese foreign policy, China’s growing global footprint and sprawling investments mean this is increasingly being put to the test. In March 2011, following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, China was compelled for the first time to send military assets to a distant part of the world to evacuate its citizens.

But judging by Beijing’s response to the violence in Iraq, interference is not on the agenda. Expressing support for the Maliki government could not only affect ties with subsequent Iraqi governments, but will also reverberate in neighboring Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, where China’s energy and trade links also run deep. If there are any lessons for China from its involvement in Iraq over the past decade, it is that non-interference in the country’s politics pays off.

How to Deal with America’s China Problem: Target Beijing’s Vulnerabilities

July 22, 2014

Recently completing a book manuscript assessing the status and outlook of U.S. relations within the broad Asia-Pacific region reinforced this writer’s opinion in an earlier article that the United States remains unsurpassed in regional influence and leadership. The Obama government’s nuanced and multifaceted rebalance initiatives mesh well with regional priorities and promise growing security, economic, and political ties. By contrast, China, the only other possible competitor for regional leadership, pursues conflicted policies at odds with key regional concerns of independence, sovereignty, and stability.

China’s recent unrelenting drive to use coercive and intimidating state power, short of direct application of military force, to advance control of disputed territory in the East China Sea and the South China Sea poses a major problem for the United States. The Chinese “salami slicing”, a term used to describe the accumulation of small changes that gradually change the strategic picture, undermines the credibility of U.S. alliances and U.S. standing as the region’s security guarantor. The Obama government has adopted a harder public line against China’s actions and has deepened security cooperation with allies and others threatened by Chinese provocations. These steps presumably pose some costs to China’s regional standing and its long-standing goal to reduce the US security presence around China’s periphery. Whatever the costs, they have not gotten the Chinese to stop.

Former Pacific Commander and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, members of Congress responsible for national security matters, and a variety of other experienced observers urge the U.S. government to break out of the prevailing pattern of the U.S. reacting to Chinese provocations. They push the United States to take initiatives that would show China the serious costs for Beijing in its salami slicing strategy of the disputed East and South China Sea. In response, the Pacific Command is reportedly pursuing enhanced surveillance and monitoring of Chinese activities in disputed seas and possible consideration of shows of force and U.S. escorts of allied ships in disputed seas. How these and other measures will deter determined Chinese salami slicing is not at all clear, especially as it remains to be seen how strongly the Obama government will pursue such initiatives. Notably, such U.S. actions risk possible confrontation with Chinese forces at a time of serious troubles in U.S. foreign relations with Russia and protracted problems in Ukraine, and throughout the Middle East and Southwestern Asia.

Against this background, this writer judges that Chinese advances, and subsequent negative consequences on U.S. interests, have reached a point where careful consideration needs to be given to options that focus on the many weaknesses and vulnerabilities China faces in dealing with the United States. The thinking in congressional deliberations is that China’s use of coercive measures, short of military force, targets U.S. weakness in dealing with such technically non-military threats. The United States should do likewise, targeting Chinese weaknesses and vulnerabilities, which are more than those of the United States.

Most of these options can be implemented easily by U.S. policymakers and are within U.S. budget constraints. In most cases, the options can and probably should be employed without heavy publicity, strong rhetoric, direct arguments, or public confrontation with China.


July 22, 2014 

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now calling itself the “Islamic State,” has burst onto the world scene in an impressive way in the past month, with its Blitzkrieg-like seizure of Mosul, Tikrit, Bayji, and Tal Afar. While experts in the region had been monitoring ISIL’s progress for some time, its emergence shocked the general public. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, then furthered that shock by declaring ISIL as the core of a caliphate (with himself, of course, as its Caliph), the sole legitimate Islamic State on earth.

For the United States, crafting a policy to neutralize ISIL and its ever-expanding ambitions is a difficult proposition with no easy answers. Solutions require recognition that ISIL has been transformed by its successes from a localized terrorist group into an organized and effective political and military powerhouse that poses serious threats to the region and beyond. Fortunately, while ISIL may achieve some temporary tactical gains from declaring the caliphate, it made the strategic error of declaring all other Sunni political actors illegitimate, including Sunni nationalists and the Syrian “moderate opposition,” as well as both al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia himself. Specifically, this may provide an opening to build a coalition that includes major Sunni actors that can create and implement a regional strategy to attack ISIL.

To create such a strategy, it is important to understand what ISIL is and is not. It is frequently thought of as an al Qaeda franchise or part of the Iraqi Sunni resistance. However. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded ISIL’s predecessor organization before 9/11 as part of the global jihadi movement before the Iraq invasion. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003 it became a more active part of the resistance, explicitly targeting Shi’a Muslims to foment civil war. Only later, and reluctantly, did Zarqawi ally with al Qaeda for tactical reasons. This was never a good fit.

After U.S. forces killed Zarqawi in 2006, the organization continued its terror campaign against Iraqi Shi’a. Coalition forces and Iraqi Sunni tribes soundly defeated it during the U.S. surge. But ISIL was reenergized by the opportunity to fight the Alawite regime in Syria and has subsequently and formally broken with al Qaeda. However, its successes have transformed it into something new and singular.

A good way to think about ISIL is as a political entity superimposed over the formal boundaries of the failed state of Syria and the failing state of Iraq. It operates in total disregard of the formal borders of these two states. Its membership is international, and therefore ISIL is now a regional problem, and its new self-identification as the Islamic State, or caliphate, indicates its broader ambitions. Because of its trans-national aspirations, ISIL exercises a particular draw on the international jihadist community. The media has shown pictures of Tunisians, Bosnians, and Chechens involved in the recent attacks in Iraq, and a variety of sources suggest that there are hundreds of EU citizens and scores of Americans within ISIL’s ranks.

In the Heart of Mysterious Oman

Muttrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman, 2005; photograph by Edward Grazda

1.  The Pipeline 

On March 12, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, together with his foreign minister, his oil minister, the head of Iran’s central bank, and other senior Iranian officials, took a short flight across the Gulf of Oman to Muscat, the capital of Oman. Occupying the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Persian Gulf meets the Arabian Sea, Oman belongs to a part of the Arab world known for its hostility to Iran’s Islamic Republic. Several of Oman’s closest neighbors, including Qatar, Kuwait, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have been fighting an increasingly brutal proxy war with Iran in Syria; Iran has at various times threatened to block tankers carrying Arabian oil from passing through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which separates it from Oman. 

But the purpose of this extraordinary visit—the first by President Rouhani to Arabia—was to discuss economic ties with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, who has been ruling Oman for more than four decades. Within twenty-four hours, the two countries had concluded an agreement to build a $1 billion gas pipeline across the Gulf of Oman and provide Iranian gas to Oman for twenty-five years. 

The deal showed just how quickly Iran’s position in the world has evolved. When Rouhani was elected, in June 2013, Iran was suffering from years of economic sanctions and isolation by the United States, which had deep alliances with Iran’s enemies—the mostly Sunni monarchies on the other side of the Persian Gulf. Since then, Iran has reached an interim agreement with the US to negotiate a new nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has lost considerable influence in Washington, and the Saudi-led alliance—the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Oman is a charter member—is increasingly divided. In June, when Sunni extremists swept across the northern half of Iraq, there was even talk of Washington’s and Tehran’s growing shared interests in saving the country. Though little noted in the press, the leader largely responsible for this dramatic shift was Sultan Qaboos, a staunch US ally and, measured by years in office, the most senior of the Arabian monarchs. 

Unlike his flamboyant peers in Qatar and the Emirates, Sultan Qaboos has long had an aversion to publicity. But over the past year, the seventy-three-year-old sultan has asserted his country’s interests in regional affairs with unusual vigor. In August 2013, he was the first foreign head of state to visit Rouhani in Tehran, where he also met the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei; this was followed by revelations that Oman had secretly been the host for bilateral talks between Iranian and US officials that produced the breakthrough interim agreement last fall. 

Then, in December, Oman publicly denounced a plan by Saudi Arabia to turn the alliance of Gulf states into a political union—a plan that was widely viewed as an attempt by Sunni hereditary rulers to counter both Shiite Iran and the popular movements that have been spreading through the Arab world. By late spring of this year, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia itself were instead making overtures to Tehran. On June 20, Oman’s top diplomat was invited to the White House for a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who noted that the sultanate “has helped us to be able to do things that might otherwise have been difficult,” adding that the US was especially seeking Oman’s advice about Iraq.