28 July 2014

Divvying up the Bay of Bengal

July 28, 2014 

The recent Indo-Bangladesh Maritime Delimitation award contributes substantially to international law. But will it lead to greater cooperation in South Asia or revive tensions?

Asia is a hotbed of maritime disputes and The Bay of Bengal is no exception. On July 7 this year, a panel of five jurists of the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered the long-awaited award concerning the maritime delimitation of Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh/India cements the boundary of the four maritime zones that the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) entitles states to: the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the ‘inner’ continental shelf extending up to 200 nautical miles from the coasts of the states as well as the ‘outer’ continental shelf extending beyond 200 nautical miles from the coasts of the states. The award is undoubtedly historic but raises more questions than delivers answers.

To quickly recapitulate, under the UNCLOS, the territorial sea of adjoining coasts (like those of India and Bangladesh) must be delimited using an equidistance line drawn from each coast. However, no guidelines are provided for the delimitation of the continental shelf or EEZ. The only caveat provided by treaty is that the delimitation conforms to ‘equity’. Prior delimitation awards have generated a three-step analysis for dividing the continental shelf and EEZ. The first step is the establishment of a provisional equidistance line between the states, the second, consideration of relevant circumstances for the adjustment of this line and, finally, an ex post facto correction of any disproportionality in the final result.

The Bangladesh/India tribunal contributes to greater certainty in EEZ and inner continental shelf delimitation by explicitly stating that the three-step test now constitutes international law.

Unfortunately, while reiterating emerging norms, the Tribunal also perpetuates their attendant disadvantages by entangling itself in the redundant rhetoric of ‘equity’. The three-step test emerged from equitable considerations in the UNCLOS. Questions have already been raised about the value of the ‘disproportionality’ stage in the three-step test as it appears to be merely a synonym for equity. It is alleged that discretion to correct for ‘disproportionality’ adds unnecessary subjectivity to a test already predicated on personal discretion. Bangladesh/India complicates this further by subjecting the ‘relevant circumstances’ to equity considerations as well. The court is overtly cautious and is enlarging the scope for arbitral discretion in maritime delimitation.

Outer continental shelf rights

The UNCLOS provides for the extension of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles where a natural prolongation of the continental shelf exists. The UNCLOS states that all outer continental shelf claims must be submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) that is created by the UNCLOS itself whose recommendations are “final and binding.” The Bangladesh/India tribunal acknowledges that claims forwarded by India and Bangladesh are pending before the CLCS but states that it has the authority to delimit these territories anyway. If the UNCLOS suggests that outer continental shelf rights can only arise from CLCS approval, can the Tribunal suo moto create a boundary where no right exists? It is unlikely that a Tribunal would have the necessary expertise to make this determination. Moreover, such a jurisdictional conflict might cast doubt on the finality of the award if the CLCS was to make recommendations contrary to the order. Perhaps it is these issues that caused the Nicaragua/Honduras tribunal in 2007 to steer clear of outer continental shelf delimitation. In the words of that tribunal: “Any claim of continental shelf beyond 200 miles must be in accordance with Article 76 of UNCLOS and reviewed by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf established thereunder”.

Afghan Taliban Scoring Battlefield Gains Outside Their Traditional Strongholds in the South

Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan

Azam Ahmed

New York Times, July 26, 2014
Afghan police recruits trained in Kabul on Tuesday. Security forces have been under increasing fire in areas around the capital. Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

“They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Asked for figures on the latest security force casualties this year, both ministries refused to provide data or confirm accounts from local officials. But there are signs that the casualty rate is already likely to be at least as bad as it was last year.

In one important indicator, the United Nations reported a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first half of this year compared with a similar period from 2013, hitting a new peak since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking the data in 2009. More significantly, for the first time, the highest number of those casualties came from ground fighting between the Afghan forces and insurgents rather than from roadside bombs.

The United Nations found that more fighting was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.

One important effect of those gains, particularly where police forces are being driven away, is that the Taliban are establishing larger sections of lawless territory where they can intimidate local populations. They become safe havens, and staging grounds for more ambitious attacks against Kabul and other major cities, like the militant assault on Kabul’s airport on July 17.

In the immediate vicinity of the country’s main cities, the Afghan military was still holding up well, according to American and Afghan commanders. But as more marginal districts have come under unexpectedly heavy attack, the military planners’ expectations have been tested.

One widely accepted prediction was that soon after 2014, the Taliban would gain in rural areas and traditional strongholds, as the government made tough decisions about what to fight for and what to let go. Places of no strategic value in remote areas of the south and east, some officials said, could afford to be forgotten.

But heavy attacks, and some territorial losses, are already happening in those places, earlier than predicted.

Aerial views of India by drone - in pictures

21 July 2014 

Photographer Amos Chapple's remarkable aerial views of India were shot by attaching his camera to a 'quadcopter' drone 

A knot of fishing boats at the entrance to Sassoon Dock, Mumbai. Photograph: Amos Chapple
The emperor Humayun's tomb, commissioned by his widow. Photograph: Amos Chapple
Known to the locals as 'Hill 3' this knoll jutting above Mumbai's northern slums is no more valuable than the land below. Photograph: Amos Chapple

India in a Changing Asia

July 24, 2014

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets with India's Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 28, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). 

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series following a recent CFR trip to India and China. See related posts from my colleagues Daniel Markey and Elizabeth Economy

I just returned from a trip to India and China with my colleagues Liz Economy and Dan Markey, where we had the opportunity to participate in seminars and discussions in both countries focused on U.S. relations with Asia. On a personal note, while I’ve been visiting India regularly since 1990, I had only visited China once, back in 2001. In the thirteen-year interim it seemed as if Shanghai and Beijing grew even more impressive buildings and many more of them—the infrastructure is just astounding. (Many U.S. cities would benefit from such development.) 

But back to the trip. There’s a palpable excitement and energy in New Delhi about the new Modi government, and its intention to revive the Indian economy. The pursuit of economic growth will surely preoccupy New Delhi for the foreseeable future, and rightly so—but it will also have to deal with forging its path in a changing Asia. It will need to do so in the context of a China which has greatly increased its economic and political influence across Asia and indeed throughout the world, especially in recent years. 

New Delhi’s relations with Beijing appear at first blush very similar to Washington’s: both relationships have rapidly growing trade and investment ties, while both have some challenging security differences to manage. Yet this superficial similarity belies a much deeper set of contradictions India faces with China. 

On the one hand, modern India feels a sense of solidarity with Asia’s other colossus, a solidarity dating back many decades (setting aside for now the longer history of civilizationalcontact and influences). Despite an unresolved border dispute, and Indian suspicions of China’s growing engagement with the South Asian region, this sentiment persists. 

At the end of June, for example, India’s vice president traveled to China to celebrate the sixty-year anniversary of the Panchsheel treaty, which rooted India-China relations in 1954. The treaty lays out “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” later included in the Bandung Afro-Asian conference principles, and then in the Non-Aligned Movement. (Here’s a booklet providing some background on the treaty published by India’s Ministry of External Affairs to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary back in 2004.) Of course, the Panchsheel vision emphasizing sovereignty, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, non-interference, equality, and mutual non-aggression hearkens back to a time when neither India nor China were rising global powers. And eight years later, the 1962 India-China border war rudely jolted its ideal-type visions of harmony. 

State Department Releases Satellite Imagery Showing Russian Artillery Units Firing on Ukrainian Military Positions Across the Border

Scott Neuman

NPR, July 27, 2014
Image released by the U.S. State Department showing what it says is evidence of Russia firing artillery into eastern Ukraine.U.S. State Department

The U.S. State Department has released satellite images it says back up the assertion by Washington and Kiev that Russian forces are firing artillery into eastern Ukraine in support of separatists.

titled Evidence of Russian Shelling into Ukraine, released Sunday, blast marks from rocket launches in Russia and craters in Ukraine can be seen, the State Department says.

The document also shows “self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units, on the Russian side of the border, oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine.”

It also states that: “Russia-backed separatists have used heavy artillery, provided by Russia, in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.”

The images are attributed to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and were taken between July 21 and July 26, officials say.

According to The Associated Press, they “claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than 7 miles.”

The release of the satellite images comes after , a charge that Kiev has made repeatedly and loudly in recent days.

It also comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly agreed in a telephone conversation Sunday on the importance of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, according to Reuters.

In a Russian Foreign Ministry statement carried by the news agency, Moscow describes the crisis in Ukraine as an “internal conflict.”

Israel Restarts Gaza Strip Offensive

July 27, 2014

Ending Cease-Fire, Israel Resumes Gaza Offensive

Isabel Kershner

New York Times
Israeli soldiers leaving Gaza near the Israel-Gaza border on Sunday. Credit Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

JERUSALEM — Soon after barrages of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Sunday morning, the Israeli military announced that a humanitarian lull in its Gaza offensive, which was meant to last through midnight, was over.

The military said in a statement shortly after 10 a.m. that it was resuming its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip “following Hamas’s incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window.” Some Israeli politicians began talking of the possibility of escalating the Israeli offensive against Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, now in its 20th day, as intense international efforts over the weekend to press for an immediate, broader cease-fire appeared to have failed.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that 25 rockets and mortar shells had been fired into Israel since 8 p.m. on Saturday, when an initial 12-hour cease-fire ended. Israel said it would hold its fire for an additional four hours while its cabinet met on Saturday night, then announced that, at the request of the United Nations, it would extend the lull for 24 hours. But Israel responded to some of the fire overnight with artillery fire toward Rafah, in southern Gaza, Colonel Lerner said.

The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement that the Israeli military was aiming to hit “terrorist” targets and that “if civilians are hurt unintentionally, Hamas will be responsible for that, after once more violating a proposal for a humanitarian lull that Israel agreed to.”

After listing previous violations of temporary cease-fires over the past few days, the statement accused Hamas of “making cynical use of Gaza’s civilians in order to use them as a human shield.”

The United Nations, it added, had requested an extension of the cease-fire to allow Gaza’s residents to prepare for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and is leading the fighting against Israel, rejected the extension of the temporary truce on Saturday night, saying that any cease-fire that did not secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and allow residents to go back to their homes was unacceptable. Israel had said that it would maintain defensive positions in Gaza during the lull and continue to operate against Hamas’s underground tunnel network, which has been used by militants to infiltrate Israeli territory.

The Taliban Have Returned to Pakistan’s Swat Valley

July 27, 2014

With Taliban’s Revival, Dread Returns to Swat

Zia ur-Rehman and Declan Walsh

New York Times

SWAT VALLEY, Pakistan — As battle rages in North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military says it has killed more than 500 militants, unfinished business from the army’s first major assault on the Taliban lingers painfully in the Swat Valley, at the other end of Pakistan’s Pashtun belt.

Five years ago, Pakistani soldiers flooded into Swat as part of an operation to banish the Taliban from the valley. The offensive became a cherished victory for Pakistani generals, who presented it as evidence of their counterinsurgency prowess.

But a steady drumbeat of killings, by both militants and soldiers, has whipped up fear in Swat in recent years and blighted hopes for a return to normality in a place known for its beauty and tourist industry. Taliban fighters have slowly crept back to attack and kill pro-government community leaders. The army faces accusations of gross human rights abuses, including the execution of at least dozens of detainees whose bodies have recently been returned to their families.

And Maulana Fazlullah, the ruthless cleric and militant commander who led the original Swat uprising in 2007, has evaded capture and risen to greater heights as the supreme leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

“For a long time there was a narrative of the Swat operation as a total success,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar. “Now that success is being questioned.”

Few doubt that conditions in Swat have improved dramatically. Bloodied bodies no longer hang from traffic lights in the town square where the Taliban once executed their enemies. Markets are bustling, and more girls are attending school.

But the campaign of Taliban violence, though sporadic, has rattled public confidence. “This is a controlled peace,” said Akbar Khan, a 38-year-old bookseller. And it offers a sobering check on the limits of military engagement at a time when the army is engaged in a fresh anti-Taliban drive in the tribal district of North Waziristan.

There, more than one million people have fled their homes since the operation started on June 15. The military, which tightly controls media access, has portrayed it as an unalloyed success, drip-feeding reports of battlefield victories to the Pakistani media. On Saturday, a spokesman said its forces had killed 531 militants and lost just 34 men.

Similarly triumphant claims followed the 2009 Swat offensive, but some successes proved to be temporary. Although hundreds of Taliban fighters were captured, many more slipped across the porous border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, where they have successfully regrouped.

In the last two years, small pockets of fighters have infiltrated back into Swat, moving along remote mountain trails on horseback and on foot, according to villagers.

One of their most infamous attacks was on Malala Yousafzai, the teenageschoolgirl who was shot in the head in October 2012 but survived her injuries and became a global icon.


Refugees from North Waziristan registering for aid in Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan.

A country where liberal journalists risk death

By Mohammed HanifPakistan
4 July 2014 

The life of a liberal journalist in Pakistan is not an easy one. Write about someone fighting a blasphemy case, or someone whose faith is considered heresy, and you may very soon find yourself in deep trouble.

Shoaib Adil, a 49-year-old magazine editor and publisher in Lahore, has many well-wishers and they all want him to disappear from public life or, even better, leave the country.

Since blasphemy charges were filed against him last month, the police have told him that he can't return home, he can't even be seen in the city where he grew up and worked all his life. It wouldn't be safe.

As a journalist, Adil has been a vocal critic of religious militarism. But the threat to his life doesn't come from the Taliban.

He is the victim of an everyday witch hunt by Pakistan's powerful religious groups - the kind of witch hunt that's so common and yet so scary that it never makes headlines.

For the past 14 years, Adil has been editing and publishing a monthly current affairs magazine, a rare liberal voice in Pakistan's Urdu media. Back issues of Nia Zamana read like a catalogue of human rights abuses.

The June issue's cover story, for example, reports on the murder of a human rights lawyer, Rashid Rehman in the city of Multan in central Pakistan. Rehman, defending a literature professor accused of blasphemy, was told in the court by the prosecuting lawyers that if he didn't drop the case he would not live to see the next hearing.

Sure enough, Rehman was gunned down in his office before the next hearing.

Mourners grieving over the coffin of Rashid Rehman, murdered in May this year

Adil had just published this issue of Nia Zamana when his crusading journalistic enterprise came to an abrupt end - and he was lucky to avoid sharing Rehman's fate himself.

“Start Quote

The maulvis ransacked my office looking for material to pin blasphemy on me”

Markey: Afghanistan Anxieties Reign in India and China

July 24, 2014

Afghans work at a new parliament building constructed by an Indian project in Kabul on November 26, 2013 

Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series following a recent CFR trip to India and China. See related posts from my colleagues Alyssa Ayres and Elizabeth Economy

Among the most consistent themes we heard throughout our travel in India and China was anxiety over developments in Afghanistan. While not a huge surprise—after all, there’s plenty of concern about Afghanistan’s trajectory here as well—it was useful to be reminded how New Delhi and Beijing perceive their interests, to hear their misgivings about U.S. drawdown plans, and to learn more about how India and China are attempting to manage the situation as it unfolds. 

Afghanistan’s history as a hub for anti-Indian terrorism (with Pakistani sponsorship), location bordering energy-rich Central Asia, opportunities for trade and investment, and longstanding cultural ties all motivate Indian interests there. In at least some Indian policy circles, there is also a tendency to read the impending U.S. military departure from Afghanistan as part of a broader shift: the waning of U.S. power and influence, or at least the narrowing of Washington’s global ambition. The contrast with New Delhi and Beijing is sharp; in both of those rising Asian giants, uncommonly powerful, energetic leaders are now at the helm. 

Resigned to the reality that U.S. forces are leaving Afghanistan sooner than many Indians think wise, New Delhi has agreed in principle to work with Russia to provide weapons to friendly Afghan forces. The crucial unanswered question is whether India will choose to make the arrangement operative. Since 9/11, Washington has always opposed Indian military involvement in Afghanistan, fearing that Pakistan would interpret it as a provocative escalation and start another round of externally-sponsored civil war. But as U.S. forces withdraw, sooner or later Washington will lose its effective veto power over Indian policies. If Afghan politics and security start to unravel, India will make its own calculations about the costs and benefits of greater intervention, whether by overt or (given the apparent predilections of its new national security advisor, Ajit Doval) covert means. 

India is, however, doing more than just hedging against downside risk in Afghanistan. For years, New Delhi has contributed to a range of Afghan development projects. These include private sector efforts to encourage Indian investment in Afghanistan and to improve Afghan capacity to promote foreign investment on its own. As valuable as these private initiatives may be, they remain small-scale; all involved are painfully aware that they float on the waves of broader political and security developments. 

China, like India, fears the consequences of an unstable Afghanistan and worries that the U.S. commitment will come up short. The good news is that Beijing has come to perceive that its near-term aims in Afghanistan are consistent with those of the United States: fighting terrorism and avoiding a relapse into civil war. To the extent the two sides disagree, it is over the specific sources of threat. China, for instance, views Uighur separatists as a more pressing concern than al-Qaeda. 

Can Iraq Ever Be Rebuilt Into a Single Country?

July 27, 2014

A Nation in Peril-Iraq’s Struggle to Hold Together


BAGHDAD — Salman Khaled has already lived through Baghdad’s sectarian disintegration; with Iraq now splintering into Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions, he says this time the survival of the country is at stake.

"Things are really tense and it could get worse," said the 23-year-old Sunni Muslim student. "If the politicians continue as they are doing now, we are on the path to separation."

When Khaled’s father was shot dead by Shi’ite gunmen at the height of Baghdad’s religious bloodshed seven years ago, his family took shelter in a Sunni neighborhood of the capital.

They made their flight as violence forced apart communities that once mingled in the city. Today the family lives in the Adhamiya district, close to the Abu Hanifa mosque where one of Sunni Islam’s most influential theologians is buried.

At his home on an unpaved street, Khaled says he still feels secure in Adhamiya but he rarely goes to the rest of Baghdad where blast walls and security checkpoints hint at the fate of a fractured Iraq.

Iraq’s latest - and gravest - crisis erupted when mostly Sunni fighters swept through the north last month. Now the jihadist black flag flies over of most of the country’s Sunni Arab territory.

Kurdish forces, exploiting the chance to take another step towards independence, seized the city of Kirkuk and nearby oilfields, leaving the Shi’ite-led government controlling only the capital region and the mainly Shi’ite south.

The Indian Ocean Region

By Anthony H. Cordesman, Abdullah Toukan 
Contributor: Garrett Berntsen, Daniel Dewit 
JUL 25, 2014 

A Strategic Net Assessment 

The IOR is one of the most complex regions in the world in human terms. It includes a wide variety of different races, cultures and religions. The level of political stability, the quality of governance, demographic pressures, ethnic and sectarian tensions, and the pace of economic growth create a different mix of opportunity and risk in each state. This can affect mid and long-term development, and sometimes creates near term problems in stability that can trigger internal or civil conflict.

The Burke Chair is issuing a final review draft of analysis of the region entitled The Indian Ocean Region: A Strategic Net Assessment. This document is available on the CSIS web site at:https://csis.org/files/publication/140725_Indian_Ocean_Region.pdf

The Contents of the Net Assessment

The revised study provides an updated and expanded comprehensive overview of the subregions and countries in the region, drawing heavily on a new Country Risk Assessment Model developed by Dr. Abdullah Toukan, a Senior Associate with the Burke Chair at CSIS. It provides detailed graphs, tables, and maps covering the IOR as a whole, each major subregion, and each of the 32 countries in the region as well as the impact of US and Chinese military forces.

• Chapter One provides an overview of risks in terms of governance, economics, ease of doing business, security, and progress in human development using the Country Risk Assessment model and ratings by the UN, World Bank, and IMF. It provides summary risk assessments in each key category.

• Chapter Two examines demographic trends and risks for the period from 1950 to 2050. It highlights the importance of population pressure, the “youth bulge” caused by the very young population in a number of countries, and the shock caused by rapid urbanization and the breakdown of previous patterns of social and political stability. It also examines the level of gender inequality. A critical factor slowing economic growth and development in a number of IOR states.


By Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy

Over the past three years, there has been an evident surge of Buddhist radicalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, with the clergy being increasingly involved in violence against minorities, especially Muslims. Both countries have sizeable Muslim populations, and while the situation in Myanmar is the worse of the two, Sri Lanka is not too far behind.

The general deduction is that the current state-of-affairs is a consequence of paranoia over losing one’s culture, Islamophobia, and a typical assertion of the majority over the minority. However, there must also be a closer examination. How did the practitioners of Buddhism – widely perceived as the most peaceful religion in the world – come to resort to violence? Given how a majority of victims in both countries have been Muslims, how much of a role has Islamophobia played? Is there a non-theological reason for the proliferation of religious violence?

The Situation Today

In Myanmar, a large section of the society comprises monks, given the large-scale enlisting to monasteries that took place during the Junta years. The clergy holds a moral high ground in Myanmarese society, and has a strong social standing. Throughout the decades of military dictatorship, Myanmar’s clergy fought another issue – the high global attrition rate among schools of Theravada Buddhism. Therefore, protecting the culture became the mainstay, and, knowingly and/or unknowingly, aided the cultivation of non-violent radicalisation among the monks. When this met Islamophobia, it resulted in a violent campaign against 400,000 Rohingya Muslims. Naypyidaw could have easily intervened but it has its own agenda: to wash its hands off the economic costs of providing for thousands of people when its resource basket is already heavily strained. There is a strong ethnic bias element too. Rohingyas do not find favour with the Rakhine Buddhists for their ethnic origins, and given their Muslim faith, Islamophobia has been a side-effect.This, combined with the high social position occupied by the clergy, has resulted in a plausible tacit deal.

In Sri Lanka, action and literature against religious minorities began 40 years ago, soon after the government decided to stop funding the Sangha. Although the victims were not Muslims alone at the start, since the early 2000s, the focus of violent Buddhist radical actions has been Sri Lanka’s Muslim population.

In Sri Lanka, three key ethnicities are identified: Sinhalas, Tamils and Muslims. This makes it evident that despite being a religious and not an ethnic construct, Muslims (who have ancestral links to Arab traders, Tamils, and Malays) are considered to be of another ethnicity – one that is identified by the their religious faith. However, the Sri Lankan Buddhist radical clergy does not target Muslims alone. They began by targeting minorities, and with increasing Islamophobia, they have concentrated their attacks primarily on Muslims. In Sri Lanka, almost all political parties have monks in their membership. The monks’ entry into the political arena they otherwise shunned began just before World War II, and has today become a part of Sri Lankan politics.

China: A Major Defeat

July 24, 2014: China has refused to abide by any international agreements when it comes to their claims on nearly all the South China Sea. As far as China is concerned the area is owned by China and China will seek to establish control over it all as peacefully as possible. As China deploys more military forces to the South China Sea it is clear that China is preparing to confront and scare off, or fight, any armed opposition. So far there has been opposition, but not heavily armed opposition. Thus far China’s bully and intimidate tactics are working. 

Meanwhile the Chinese aggression in the South China Sea has created a widespread belief that war is not only possible but imminent. A recent opinion poll in the region found that over 60 percent of the people in nations bordering the South China Sea feared Chinese aggression and the war it might trigger. A similar percentage of Chinese agreed. China created this mindset, and the world wonders what China is going to do about it. 

China and many foreign economic experts believe China has survived its recent economic crisis (although housing process continue to fall and the Chinese banking system is still suspect) and stabilized at a lower (7-8 percent a year) growth rate. For nearly three decades China grew at a rate of 10 percent a year or more. This new stability is based on China making real progress in curbing corruption. Although there are more arrests and prosecutions, there is still a lot of corruption out there. Worse, China is also prosecuting any freelance corruption investigators, especially those who report on how government anti-corruption efforts operate. It is feared that the senior leadership is simply warning the corrupt officials to be more discreet and those who do not comply will be prosecuted. This is a very Chinese way to deal with such matters and while many foreigners may not recognize it, most Chinese do. 

The government has the military engaging in a number of public relations events to show off the new, modern Chinese military and build public support for the higher military spending. The military does have new uniforms, better educated and trained personnel and lots of new gear. But some things have not changed. This PR effort is up against the public perception that the military is still pretty corrupt. This ranges from recruiting officers taking bribes to let unqualified recruits or the more common incidents of troops selling military equipment on the side and procurement officers demanding bribes from firms that want military contracts. China suppresses reporting on this stuff, but because of the widespread availability of cell phones and the Internet the word gets around. Chinese efforts to censor cell phones and the Internet have only been partially successful and in terms of controlling information this is a major defeat. 

China and India recently agreed to allow more economic activity between the two countries. This is unpopular with Indian firms who see the Chinese as capable and ruthless competitors. Indian diplomatic experts also point out that once China becomes a large part of a neighbor’s economy they will use that economic leverage to coerce concessions out of the neighbor. China is even doing this with mighty Japan, long a major investor in and exporter to China. Meanwhile India is spending billions of dollars to double the number of troops stationed on its borders with China. 

This Chinese tactic isn’t working so well in North Korea. But China will always find a way and in the case of North Korea the Chinese have gained some leverage by providing something the North Korean leadership does want; help in halting North Koreans from escaping into China. More North Korean “defectors” are being arrested by Chinese police and sent back to North Korea. It’s unlikely North Korea will go so far as to drop their nuclear weapons program because of this, even if that’s what China really wants. 

All Roads Lead to Beijing

July 24, 2014

China's President Xi Jinping reviews an honor guard on the sidelines of the 6th BRICS summit at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on July 17, 2014. (Sergio Moraes/Courtesy Reuters) 

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series following a recent CFR trip to India and China. See related posts from my colleagues Alyssa Ayres and Daniel Markey

Chinese president Xi Jinping is on the march, laying the groundwork for a highly integrated Asia with China at the center. Over the past year, Xi, along with Premier Li Keqiang, has been touting the region as Beijing’s number one foreign policy priority—a shift that moves the United States out of the top spot. Of course East Asia—including Southeast Asia—has long been a target of China’s affection: it is the economic jewel of the broader Asia Pacific. Central Asia, in turn, has occupied the most critical position in China’s security thinking. And now South Asia appears poised to assume its own unique role in China’s vision of an integrated Asia. 

Throughout a ten-day trip to India and China, my colleagues, Alyssa Ayres and Dan Markey, and I heard discussion of South Asia as a significant element in China’s regional economic and security plans. As Alyssa details in her post, there are a number of new economic and security organizations under development that engage some or all parts of the region, including a new BRICS bank, an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and a security based accord, “The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia.”These efforts are further complemented by the grand-scale new Silk Route (which will run from central China through Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, ending in Italy) and Maritime Silk Route that will follow a path from coastal China through to the Malacca Strait, north around the horn of African through the Red Sea and concluding in the Mediterranean. There are also more narrowly constructed regional economic development plans such as the China-Pakistan corridor and the Bangladesh-Myanmar-India-China corridor. 

While most Chinese officials and analysts with whom we met were quite enthusiastic about Beijing’s prospects for both economic and security cooperation in the region, there were cautionary notes. Discussions with a Chinese trade official, for example, highlighted the propensity of Chinese investment to cause as many problems on the political front as benefits on the economic front for Beijng. The official noted that there is a tendency for Chinese officials and businesspeople to engage only with senior government officials in host countries and assume that they will enforce any investment deal that is reached. The Chinese often have only a poor understanding of the situation on the ground and thus are ill equipped to deal with local communities who are not on board with Chinese plans. In this regard, the official commented that India was a strong competitor for China, offering better language, cultural, and public relations capacity in host countries. 

Will the U.S. Really Defend Japan?

By Paul Sracic
July 26, 2014

Despite the president’s statements, the reality appears much more complicated. 

If the unthinkable happens, and the dispute in the East China Sea between Japan and China over the Senkaku islands (called the Diaoyu islands by the Chinese) escalates into a military conflict, will the U.S. military really come to the aid of Japan? This is certainly the implied position of the Obama administration, but would it be able to follow through on this commitment? If not, what impact will this have on future relations with Japan and in Asia? These are very important questions, yet no one is asking them; this is because no one thinks they need to be asked.

On the surface, this is true. In late April 2014, President Obama twice stated that the disputed islands are, in his words, “administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.” The president’s statement affirmed a position that had already been articulated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, current Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It was, nevertheless, very well received in Japan, with one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s advisors declaring it “the most reassuring statement that the nation has ever heard from the U.S.“

At the same time China has been cleverly taking actions, such as setting up an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in area, which might call into question Japan’s administrative control over the Senkaku. So far, this has not altered the position of the Obama administration. Nor has it influenced Congress, which added a resolution to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act stating “the unilateral action of a third party will not affect the United States’ acknowledgment of the administration of Japan over the Senkaku Islands.”

This latter resolution is significant because, in the end, Congress may be the most important, and most vulnerable, institution when it comes to defending Japan. To understand why, it is helpful to look at the actual text of the U.S.-Japan treaty

According to Article 5 of the treaty, each country is obligated “to meet common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes” (my emphasis). Lest one think that that this language was intended only to acknowledge Japan’s constitutional restrictions, a similar reference to constitutional demands is common in joint security arrangements entered into by the U.S. It is found, for example, in the NATO and SEATO treaties. According to the Congressional Research Service, the language was intended “to satisfy congressional concerns that the agreements could be interpreted as sanctioning the President to take military action in defense of treaty parties without additional congressional authorization.” This understanding is confirmed by 1973 The War Powers Resolution, which specifically states that presidential authority to unilaterally send troops into harm’s way shall not be inferred “from any treaty heretofore or hereafter ratified unless such treaty is implemented by legislation specifically authorizing the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities.”


July 26, 2014

At the Aspen Security Forum on Friday, General Martin E. Dempsey opened his remarks with a joke: “Some of you in the audience have been kind enough to invite me [to the Aspen Security Forum] four years in a row, but I wanted to wait until things calmed down before I came.”

This was, of course, a reference to the many crises playing out across the globe. With Lesley Stahl moderating, General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed almost every major strategic issue in the world that concerns the United States, with special focus on the crises in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. His remarks (transcript here) were lucid and engaging.

General Dempsey’s remarks on Iraq were particularly interesting and I quote them here as they represent, I think, the first open acknowledgment by a senior official that Iraq may not survive as a unified political entity. He advanced, in the strongest terms we’ve seen so far, President Obama’s position that the onus is on Baghdad to pursue a more inclusive polity. And he was willing to broach the possibility that it might not happen and that Iraq might not survive. He also discusses how the U.S. military is viewing the ISIL problem strategically:

DEMPSEY: ISIL has some longer term objectives that we should acknowledge and we should take the longer view on how to deny them those objectives. The immediate task is to determine whether Iraq has a political future. Because if Iraq has a political future then we will work through Iraq among others to deal with the ISIL threat. If Iraq does not have a political future, as an inclusive unity government, then we’re going to have to find other partners. To take-

STAHL: Are you talking militarily?

DEMPSEY: I’m talking — well, I mean, it’s pretty hard to discuss military options devoid of policy decisions at this point. What I’m talking about is a — is a strategy that initially assesses — tries to better understand the threat, assesses that which exists or remains that can either contain it and degrade it, and what that force might need if it were to try to defeat ISIL, to work on the periphery, to squeeze this thing from as many directions as possible. And, you know, to precipitously, if you will, take military action might gain some tactical advantage, frankly, but it wouldn’t do much for us to build the kind of strategy that I think we need.

Christians at the mercy of jihadis

July 25, 2014

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Sunnis must reassert leadership and crush extremism

Just weeks after seizing swaths of northern and central Iraq, the jihadi extremists of theIslamic State in Iraq and the Levanthave driven out the remaining Christians ofMosul. After daubing their houses with N for Nazarenes, Isis offered them stark choices: convert to Islam, accept ancient taxes on minorities, or death. To underline their contempt for any interpretation of religion but their own, these Sunni supremacist blackshirts blew up the shrine to Jonah in Mosul, a prophet revered in the Koran and the Bible. This is more than a subplot in awider tragedy.

The spectre of an east Mediterranean empty of Christians is haunting, not just because it would uproot a 2,000-year-old heritagewhere Christianity was born. Otherminorities such as the Druze fear that if the Christians are driven out they will be left alone, while secular Arabs know they will have lost a unique window on the world – a bridge between east and west.

This did not start last month when Isis captured Mosul. Nor is it confined to Iraq. Across the Arab world, Christians, perhaps 15m among 300m Muslims, are endangered: threatened by Islamist radicals; forced by limited opportunities to seek newlives abroad; accused of complicityinthe schemes of foreign predators;and menaced by the upheavals sweeping the region and laying bare the hard-wiring of sectarianism.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, indigenous Assyrian Christians, mostly Chaldean, endured a backlash that reduced their numbers from about 1m to 300,000. The US-led occupation, by bringing the Shia to power in the Arab heartland for the first time in centuries, rekindled the age-old schism between Sunni Islam and Shiism – and Christians were caught in withering crossfire. Revanchist autocracy against the Arab spring has piled on the misery.

The 2011 revolution in Egypt was followed by riots between Copts(about 10 per cent of Egyptians) andMuslims, inciting suspicion that the ancien regime – now restored to power – was trying to widen a sectarian cleft and force citizens to choose between the old order and chaos. In Syria, where Christians also make up some 10 per cent of the population and Aramaic, the language of Christ, still survives, the minority Assad regime from the outset targeted other minorities such as Christians and Druze with a subliminal narrative: stand with us because, if we fall, you will be put up against the same wall by Sunni fundamentalists. Isis has been the main beneficiary of its savage repression, and Arab and western failure to support mainstream rebels. In Lebanon, Christians who had previously ruled emerged disempowered from the 1975-90 civil war and are nowdivided between factions allied withthe Shia, led by Hizbollah, andremnants of the old Phalange party,who have cast their lot with the Sunni. War and emigration have reduced their numbers to about 30 per cent of the population.

Cataclysmic Purge in the Middle East

July 22, 2014

All eyes were on Gaza when the recently self-proclaimed "Caliph" at the helm of the "Islamic State" of Iraq and Syria gave Christians in Mosul, Iraq, 48 hours to evacuate their homes and leave behind all their possessions. This was an act of "benevolence" committed against a people who had two millennia of continuous presence in their ancestral city.

The edict noted that as Christians, they could choose conversion, submission as a protected minority, or death. The Christian leadership, it seems, had "failed" to enter into negotiations on the options for submission, and the authorities of the Islamic State said they were thus within their rights to proceed with a wholesale massacre. However, through the "mercy" of the Caliph, the Christians were ordered instead to leave the territory of the state, their belongings duly reverting to the "treasury" of the new order. This absurdity notwithstanding, the Caliph had indeed displayed relatively "humane" restraint in his edict on the expulsion of Christians. No such consideration was accorded to the countless victims of the Islamic State in Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria, where public decapitations, amputations, crucifixions, flagellation, and stonings are common punishments for "convicts," sentenced by "judges" who are often only teens. The historical, archaeological, and architectural record of this land, once the cradle of Western civilization, is now subject to systematic obliteration with acts of arson and sabotage, each meticulously documented by the perpetrators.

Islamic thinkers and intellectuals can no longer absolve themselves and their faith of responsibility for these acts of horror. It is not the function of common adherents to Islam to refute transgressions against human decency committed in the name of their religion; it is, however, the duty of those who declare themselves custodians of the faith to refute the monstrous manifestation of depravity displayed in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Mali, and locations in between. The price of their inaction, or woefully insufficient reactions, over decades has been the debasing of their religion into a rationale for torture and mayhem.

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria must each assume some direct responsibility for the current unfolding horror. The Saudi government is locked into a quasi-suicidal symbiosis with a bloated religious establishment to which much of the reductionism in ideology and regimentation in behavior can be traced. Through acts of commission and omission, Saudi Arabia continues to foster the global onslaught on the diversity and pluralism of Islamic heritage, manifested in its vilest forms today in the so-called "Islamic State." Iran, with the diversion offered by the facade of reformers - possibly well-meaning, certainly powerless - is engaged in a historic revision of the Shi‘ia heritage of Islam along lines more compatible with the ideology of the Saudi religious establishment than with the tradition of dissent and pluralism with which it is conventionally associated. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran cynically utilize the fruits of their ideological outreach for immediate political advantage, but the damage to the texture and integrity of societies that host their respective vassals is permanent.

Gen. Dempsey Remarks at the Aspen Security Forum 2014

By General Martin E. Dempsey

July 24, 2014 —ELLIOT GERSON: Good evening -- and it is almost evening. I’m Elliot Gerson of the Aspen Institute, and it’s my great privilege to welcome you to the last panel of the day, and I know it’s going to be a terrific one. Lesley Stahl of CBS News is going to be interviewing General Martin Dempsey, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the topic: bringing into balance the military instrument of power.


LESLEY STAHL: Thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, thank you.

Well, it’s a great pleasure to have General Dempsey with us. He is the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officer, the principal military adviser of the president. Before this job, the general served as Army chief of staff. He’s been in the military for more than 39 years.

General Dempsey, it is an honor to be up here with you, and I know we all thank you for being here with us today.

My first comment is: Imagine, “60 Minutes,” and it’s not even Sunday. (Laughter.) And –

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: If it were Sunday and it was you sitting here, I would be leaving. (Laughter.)

MS. STAHL: It’s the story of my life. It’s the story of my life.

This is the first time you’ve ever been to this conference, correct?

GEN. DEMPSEY: It is. Actually, some of you in the audience have been kind enough to invite me four years in a row, but I wanted to wait till things calmed down before I came, so -- (laughter).

MS. STAHL: Well, that brings up the article in The New York Times yesterday that said that it is unprecedented, speaking of things calming down, to have so many crises going on at the same time that overlap and intertwine. It -- I -- a lot of the crises involve questions of U.S. military force.


MS. STAHL: And several of them leave us without really viable partners to help us in these situations. So let’s begin with ISIS as a topic. Eric Holder has said that ISIS is a deadly threat. Its bomb makers are a clear and present danger. Let’s start off by you giving us your assessment of the threat from ISIS.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, as you know, ISIS -- and I know we have some of our Arabic partners in the audience. They probably refer to it as DAISH, and you’ll hear it referred to as ISIL as well. It’s -- I think it’s important for us to understand that as we look at these groups -- whether we call them Salafist jihadists or religious extremists or violent extremists -- it’s important to both recognize the differences among them, because they are -- they are different. Some of them are opportunistic. Some of them seek to establish a sense of political Islam and theocracies under Shariah law. And some of them are apocalyptic, actually, meaning they have such a world view that it becomes -- it becomes of a magnitude that makes them, I think especially dangerous.

And ISIS, and as you know I think, the S -- the last S, it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. And the ancient kingdom of al-Sham stretched from Lebanon to the current state of Israel to Syria to Jordan to Iraq and to Kuwait. So this is a group that has aspirations and seeks a sense of religious legitimacy. And that sense of religious legitimacy is as the heir to the caliphate. They actually -- at least the senior leaders of ISIS -- believe themselves to be the heir to the caliphate. They can only sustain that religious legitimacy if they continue to succeed. So this is not a group that can go halfway. It has to keep moving toward its ultimate end-of-days apocalyptic narrative or it will lose support because it loses religious legitimacy.