8 August 2014

My neighbour, the environmentalist

Rahul Pandita
Published: August 8, 2014

The exiled Kashmiri Pandits have been trying to retain their connection with their homeland by visiting their shrines. Picture shows them offering prayers at the Kheer Bhawani temple in Kashmir Valley.

What does the Kashmiri separatist machinery achieve by preventing 40 persons from undertaking an ancient pilgrimage?

If you ever happen to drive towards Srinagar airport in Kashmir Valley, and if you have a little time to spare, take a little detour towards your left. Go to the posh Hyderpora colony off the airport road, and ask any passer-by for directions to the house of the pro-Pakistan separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani.

Chances are that he will meet you. He is an extremely polite person — he never raises his voice and the expression on his face hardly changes. If he likes you, he will, after instructing his staff to get you tea, hold your hand and ask you to be the ambassador of Kashmir in “Hindustan.” As you leave, he will gift you a few books on Islam and tell you that it is not a religion but a “way of life” of which politics is an essential part.

You will love him.

Mr. Geelani often visits Delhi, mostly to seek medical treatment from some of India’s best doctors, including a Kashmiri Pandit. When he speaks to journalists, he refers to exiled Kashmiri Pandits as “brothers.” Without batting an eyelid, he says Kashmir is incomplete without them.

But besides his false avowal, Mr. Geelani, in practice, is opposed to the idea of sharing Kashmir with non-Muslims, especially the Pandits. A few days ago, owing to his strong opposition, the State government withdrew permission to a small group of Pandits to undertake the historical Konsar Nag yatra in south Kashmir. The group comprising 40 people, including women, had to halt its journey midway after Mr. Geelani’s supporters resorted to stone pelting and blocked the road leading to the pilgrim site. The pilgrims took shelter in a temple and were then forced to return to Srinagar.

Tagore's art remembered in distant Slovenia

Published: August 7, 2014

This June 4, 2011 file photo depicts 'Peacock', ink and water colour on paper, by Rabindranath Tagore displayed at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

An exhibition of prints of selected paintings by Tagore and his contemporaries begins on Thursday, his death anniversary, in Slovenia.

The anniversary of the passing away of Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore will be remembered in Slovenia from August 7, his death anniversary, to Sep 4, with a unique exhibition of prints of selected paintings by Tagore and his contemporaries —— provided by the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

The exhibition displays representative works of Rabindranath, Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, along with those of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher—Gil.

The uniquely curated exhibition will be on display at the house of culture in the world heritage village of Smartno in the municipality of Goriska Brda on the western border of Slovenia with Italy, according to a statement issued by the Indian embassy in Slovenia.

The village of Medana in the municipality of Goriska Brda was the natal home of poet and jurist Alojz Gradnik, who was the most prominent translator of Tagore’s works into the Slovenian language from 1917 onwards.

Gradnik’s translation of “Gitanjali” into Slovenian was published from Ljubljana in 1924. The memory of Gradnik is kept alive by the international festival of poetry and wine at Medana every August and by the “Gradnik evenings” in November each year.

This is the first time that the memory of Tagore is being so honoured in the birthplace of his major Slovenian translator after Tagore visited Yugoslavia in 1926. Slovenia, a country of two million people in Central Europe, is one of the breakaway countries of the original Yugoslavia.

By 1926, the Indian Nobel laureate’s works, translated by Gradnik and others, had generated an unprecedented response in Slovenia. Slovenian identification with Tagore and his people derived from a perceived common goal of striving for political and cultural independence.

Remembering Tagore

Aug 7, 2014

On the 73rd death anniversary of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, here are some interesting vignettes into the life and times of the poet. Compiled by: Indrani Dutta Photos: Sushanta Patronobish

Established in 1784 this was the house where Rabindranath Thakur was born and where he breathed his last. He spent half his life here with other members of the Tagore family. Known as ‘Thakurbari’ (Tagore being an anglicized form) this house was the cradle of Bengal’s cultural renaissance for well over a century.

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Strangers across the Border: Indian Encounters in Boomtown China By Reshma Patil,HarperCollins, Rs 599

India and China celebrate this year the 60th anniversary of Panchsheel, the agreement on ‘peaceful co-existence’ that the two countries signed in April, 1954. Governments and the people of both countries and the rest of the world today see that euphoric period of India-China relations as a false dawn. In his review essay on a recent book, India in the Chinese Imagination: Myth, Religion and Thought in the July issue of Foreign Affairsmagazine, Tansen Sen, well-known scholar of Chinese history, calls it the era of the ‘bhai-bhai lie’.

The problem is that much of the discourse on India-China ties still clings to that lie. There is also a modern variant of the old rhetoric in the idea of Chindia, mooted by Indian politician, Jairam Ramesh. On the other extreme, we have scholars, analysts and politicians telling us that the two countries today can only be rivals, if not enemies.

True, there were thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore and his Chinese contemporary, Liang Qichao, who hailed the ‘brotherly’ cultural ties between the two countries. In the first half of the 20th century, a new generation of Chinese scholars sought to rediscover India through their studies of Sanskrit and Buddhism. When he was forced to work as a security guard on the campus of Peking University during the Cultural Revolution, Ji Xianlin, well-known Indologist, took refuge in secretly translating the Ramayan into Chinese.

An indefensible posture

C. Raja Mohan 
August 8, 2014

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s talks with many Asian counterparts in a multilateral setting in Myanmar and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s engagement with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel this week will highlight a big void in India’s external engagement, left behind by the UPA government. It is about India’s defence diplomacy or the lack of it.

Amid the shifting balance of power and the mounting regional tensions to the east and west of India, many countries in Asia and the Indian Ocean were hopeful that Delhi would take on a larger security role in the region. There is deep dismay among India’s Asian neighbours that Delhi is unwilling to step up to the plate. The major powers, meanwhile, are asking if India is ready at all for geopolitical prime time.

If the ministry of defence does not see much utility in bilateral defence cooperation with countries, big and small, its leadership will not even show up at multilateral meetings, and where it does, it has little to say. While the ministry of external affairs and the armed services understand the value of defence diplomacy, they have struggled to persuade the MoD.

The reason for this lies in the nature of the MoD, which views its role in terms of control over the armed forces. The MoD has, over the decades, shunned the responsibility of developing and implementing a defence strategy for India. It has created no institutional capacity within the ministry to engage foreign defence establishments. Its bias is to limit, rather than to promote, India’s defence diplomacy.

Asian leaders will be too polite to bring it up in their meetings with India’s foreign minister. But if Swaraj is willing to ask questions and listen to her Asian interlocutors, she will discover the huge gap between the regional expectations of India as a stabilising force and Delhi’s performance as a security actor.

America’s frustrations are even larger, because Washington had bet big in the last decade that India would rise to be a major power and emerge as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Over the last few years, US defence officials have virtually given up imagining India in grand strategic terms. They find organising even routine meetings with the MoD an enervating exercise.

This was not the way India and the US began in the mid 1980s, when the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, opened the door for defence cooperation with Washington. Successor P.V. Narasimha Rao, and his defence minister, Sharad Pawar, laid the basis for a more systematic military engagement with America and the West, as well as with the East Asian neighbours. India’s prolonged military isolationism had come to an end in the early 1990s.

A bubble called Pakistan

Husain Haqqani 
August 8, 2014

The military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics.
Summary Appointments and transfers of judges affect the independence of the judiciary and judicial review.

Barely 14 months after convincingly winning a general election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is being asked to resign amid threats of street protests. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based Sunni cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri plan separate marches on Islamabad on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. Several politicians and parties known for their close ties to Pakistan’s deep state, the ISI, have announced support for the anti-Sharif protests

Sharif will most likely ride out this first wave of attack. He retains an absolute majority in parliament and, by most accounts, there is no appetite in the country for a military coup. But the protests will weaken Sharif and sap the elected government’s energies, diminishing its effectiveness. That is exactly how the wings of the previous civilian government led by Asif Zardari and Yusuf Raza Gilani were clipped. Then, the judiciary played a critical role in tying up elected leaders in knots though, this time, the judges have yet to get involved.

The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its existence as an independent country. When it can’t govern directly, the military and its intelligence services still want to exert influence, especially over foreign and national security policies. At any given time, there are enough civilian politicians, media personalities or judges willing to do the military’s bidding for this manipulation to persist.

Currently, the military wants Sharif to curb his enthusiasm about normalising ties with India and turn away from Pakistan’s past policy of meddling in Afghanistan’s politics. It also wants an end to the treason trial of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

***Military Power, The Core Tasks Of A Prudent Strategy, And The Army We Need

August 6, 2014 |

The following is Brigadier General (USA Ret.) Huba Wass de Czege’s Keynote Address given at the “West Point Senior Conference 50: The Army We Need in an Uncertain Strategic Environment,” held on June 2, 2014.

Our current Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond T. Odierno, often reminds his audiences of the 1951 admonition from the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Omar N. Bradley: “American armed strength is only as strong as the combat capabilities of its weakest service. Overemphasis on one or the other will obscure our compelling need—not for airpower, not for seapower—but for American military power commensurate with our tasks in the world.”2

My purpose here is to present testable hypotheses about what makes a prudent strategy, what military tasks and purposes comprise it, and the logic that transforms military capability into power toward each task. By this reasoning, the Army can make a far more solid case for its relevance to military strategy than it can by making the case for a “land domain” and “land power” within that domain, reasoning that mimics the illogical and shallow arguments being made in Washington for a share of the budget by the other services. The surest guide to the Army we need emerges from the role Army forces play within the Armed Forces as they work together and with allies to deter aggression, defend a status quo, enforce changes to an intolerable situation, and pacify a violent population within a prudent grand strategy.

An Uncertain and Unstable World.

Seeing mostly prosperity and stability in the relations of major global powers, post-Cold War statesmen have come to believe in a durable, mostly self-sustaining, peace between them. They trust foreign statesmen to recognize the common benefits of the peace, and to act in their rational self-interest to maintain it. They thus assume that all future military interventions will be optional, limited in scale and aim, and relegated to the unruly global fringe.

These assumptions have no basis. Prosperity and stability among major global powers can easily become conflict and chaos when statesmen make rational decisions on illogical premises, or when premises are sound enough, but reason is clouded by emotion. Either case is common historically, and could lead to unexpected events that can easily spiral out of control. Going to war is, in many cases, not a matter of choice. War comes unbidden to all but the aggressor, and not in a way anticipated.

India’s Space Diplomacy: A Brilliant Masterstroke by Modi

Perhaps no other head of Indian state has displayed such a keen and well informed interest in space activities as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Indeed, Modi who went round the facilities at Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), the Indian space port in Srihairkota Island on India’s eastern coast, before witnessing the spectacularly successful flight of India’s four stage space workhorse PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) on June 30 left a deep imprint on the Indian space community by his pointed questions on the utility of the space technology for improving the life of the common man in the country.

But what made Modi’s visit to the launch site particularly memorable was his strong advocacy of the need for India to use its soft power based on space technology to “win friends and influence people”. While addressing a gathering of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) scientists after the PSLV launch, Modi, in a rare display of statesmanship, called for sharing “the fruits of our technological advancement with those who don’t enjoy the same” Stretching this logic a bit further, Modi called upon the Indian space agency to take up an initiative to develop and deploy a satellite system dedicated to provide a range of services to the country’s neighbours belonging to SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation).There is no denying the point that Modi wants to deploy Indian space technology as part of the diplomatic outreach of the country in all its manifestations. On another front, Modi also urged the space scientists to extend the services of India’s home-grown navigation satellite IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System).The first two satellites in the seven spacecraft IRNSS constellation being developed to end Indian dependence on US GPS system are already in place. As things stand now, the countries in India’s neighbourhood can easily access the potentials of IRNSS. For it is designed to provide coverage across 1500-kms beyond India’s geographical boundaries. Civil aviation, marine navigation, road transportation and disaster management are some of the areas that would stand to benefit from the potentials of IRNSS. Modi was quick and in his elements to point out that “India’s space programme is driven by a vision of service to humanity and not by the desire to power”. Touching upon international humanitarian dimensions of the nation’s space programme, Modi noted that India is already sharing satellite based natural disaster information with around thirty countries and the benefits of the telemedicine which was introduced for the first time in the country by ISRO more than a decade back are being made available to war torn Afghanistan whose health care infrastructure is not in fine shape as well as to the African countries.

Significantly, the INSAT communications and IRS earth observation spacecraft constellations being operated by ISRO are being routinely harnessed for a wide ranging purposes including disaster warning, tele medicine and tele education, crop forecast, water resources monitoring and mapping of natural resources. Indeed, India’s experience in exploiting the potentials of satellite technology for accelerating the pace of socio economic development is of immense relevance to the third world countries including the country’s South Asian neighbours.

Rightly, Modi’s view was that India’s advantage lies in the cost effectiveness of its high performance satellite systems. By all means, a dedicated SAARC satellite is a brilliant master stroke by Modi to leverage space diplomacy and further Indian interests in the immediate neigbhourhood. A vastly stepped up regional cooperation in space technology stands out as an additional dimension to the prevailing conventional level relationship for jointly tackling the problems of poverty, backwardness and natural disasters haunting SAARC nations. According to Modi, this satellite can be an Indian “gift to the neighbour” and it should provide a full range of applications and services to all of India’s neighbours. Elaborating on the relevance of an exclusive SAARC satellite, Modi states,”There is a lot of poverty in the SAARC nations and we need scientific solutions for this. It will be beneficial for the development of all the countries in the region.” Spelling out his vision for India’s fast advancing space program, Modi had to this to say, “India is rooted in the age old ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family)“. In keeping with this age old philosophy, India, says Modi, should help the countries in SAARC region with the offer of its space technology specifically tailored to meet the needs of development in a cost effective manner.

Afghanistan: Between Brinkmanship and Statesmanship

The worst fears about Afghanistan appear to be coming true. For more than a year now, there was a virtual consensus, not just in the international community but also within Afghanistan, that the future of the country was critically dependent on a credible presidential election in 2014. So much so that the prospects for relatively smooth security and economic transition was also contingent on an orderly political transition from President Karzai to his successor. But despite a fair, clean, transparent and untainted election which was accepted by all stakeholders being a sine qua non for a stable and secure future of Afghanistan, the election was subjected to what the front-runner Dr Abdullah Abdullah has called ‘fraud on an industrial scale’. This monumental folly has now put the entire future of Afghanistan at stake and while efforts are underway to resolve the dispute over the elections, the damage has been done.

All is, however, still not lost. If efforts at damage control go beyond merely papering over the deep differences between the leading candidates and their supporters, and are successful in bridging the widening chasm of suspicion and distrust between them, then Afghanistan still stands a good chance of pulling back from the brink. Despite the anger and resentment caused by the electoral fraud, the two main candidates have displayed remarkable sense of responsibility and maturity by not letting things spiral out of control. But whether they can rein in their supporters indefinitely is something that will depend on their political sagacity and skill. Afghans as a people can be amazingly pragmatic and some of this is manifest in the way both Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah have agreed to back off from a headlong confrontation. The attitude of the leading Afghan politicians, when juxtaposed with the behaviour of Pakistani politicians where the opposition is virtually on the war path against the government and challenging an election that has been internationally recognised as credible, generates a lot more optimism about Afghanistan than it does about Afghanistan’s tormentor, Pakistan.

Frankly, Dr Abdullah’s rejection of the verdict that emerged after the run-off election is entirely understandable. Not only did he establish a clear lead over his nearest rival, Dr Ashraf Ghani, and came within sniffing distance of the 50%+1 vote in the first round, he also managed to get endorsements from most of the candidates who did not qualify for the run-off. Add the votes polled by losing candidates like former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, the religious leader Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and the influential Pashtun leader Gul Agha Sherzai, all of whom endorsed Dr Abdullah in the run-off, and it was clear that he would romp home easily. His candidature received traction among not just the non-Pashtun Afghans but also among large sections of Pashtuns who saw in him a leader with not just potential to end the feckless governance under outgoing president Hamid Karzai, but also lead Afghanistan out of the impending crisis that loomed against the backdrop of the withdrawal of foreign forces.

According to Dr Abdullah’s supporters, there were other clear advantages that their candidate enjoyed over Dr Ghani. They point out that Dr Abdullah’s credentials of having fought against both the Soviet occupation and the Taliban tyranny were well established. Compared to him, they say, Dr Ghani was comfortably living in the USA when Afghanistan went through its worst period in recent history. They also feel that at a time when Afghanistan faces the real threat of another Taliban offensive, Afghanistan would probably be better off with Dr Abdullah at the helm. Politically, Dr Abdullah not only is seen as a charismatic leader but also as someone with the knack to build bridges across ethnic communities. Dr Ghani, on the other hand, was seen as stand-offish, less than even tempered and someone with an intellect that refused to suffer fools, a quality so critical for success in politics. For all his erudition, brilliance, administrative skill and, most of all honesty, Dr Ghani would probably have to make concerted efforts to take people along and build consensus across communities.

How Israel’s Ultra-Vocal Hawks Destroyed The Israeli Peace Movement

Gregg Carlstrom 
Foreign Policy 
August 6, 2014 

The Death of Sympathy: How Israel’s hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left. 
TEL AVIV — Pro-war demonstrators stand behind a police barricade in Tel Aviv, chanting, “Gaza is a graveyard.” An elderly woman pushes a cart of groceries down the street in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and asks a reporter, “Jewish or Arab? Because I won’t talk to Arabs.” A man in Sderot, a town that lies less than a mile from Gaza, looks up as an Israeli plane, en route to the Hamas-ruled territory, drops a blizzard of leaflets over the town. “I hope that’s not all we’re dropping,” he says. 

Even before the war, Israel was shifting right, as an increasingly strident cadre of politicians took ownership of the public debate on security and foreign affairs. But the Gaza conflict has accelerated the lurch — empowering nationalistic and militant voices, dramatically narrowing the space for debate, and eroding whatever public sympathy remained for the Palestinians. 

The fighting seems to be winding down, but it leaves behind a hardened Israeli public opinion: There is a widespread feeling that Israelis are the true victims here, that this war with a guerrilla army in a besieged territory is existential. 

Hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found himself under pressure from politicians even further to his right. The premier has suspended negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, arrested more than 1,000 Palestinians, demolished the homes of several people convicted of no crimes, and launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 1,800 people. That’s not enough, even for some members of Netanyahu’s own party, who see worrying signs of weakness. 

"We’ve seen the influence of [Tzipi] Livni over the prime minister," Likud Knesset member Danny Danon told Foreign Policy, referring to the justice minister and her centrist party. “My position is to make sure we’re not becoming a construct of the left…. As long as he stays loyal, he’ll have the backing of the party.” 

Netanyahu fired Danon from his post as deputy defense minister last month, because he was too critical of the government’s strategy in Gaza. But Danon cannot be dismissed as a marginal figure: He took control of the Likud central committee last year, and has used the post to steer the party further right — an ironic turnabout, as Netanyahu used the same tactics to drive out former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a decade ago. 

Even before his election, the 2012 Likud primary turned Netanyahu into perhaps the most liberal member of his own party.

Even before his election, the 2012 Likud primary turned Netanyahu into perhaps the most liberal member of his own party. 

Pacific Fleet Flagship Visits Chinese HQ: The Navy’s Balancing Act

August 06, 2014 
Navy officers from the US (left) and China (right) meet in Qingdao on Monday.

We write a lot on this site on tactics and technologies for a war with China. But it’s worth remembering there’s another way. The US Navy in particular spends as much effortengaging Chinese leaders as it does deterring them. It’s a balancing act so delicate that the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, stirred controversy by saying in June that “we can’t… talk more openly” about how we might fight China because “it will unnecessarily muddy waters.” As for the ongoing attempts to clear the waters, the Navy announced last night, the commander of the US 7th Fleet and his flagship, USS Blue Ridge, are visiting the PLA Navy base at Qingdao for talks involving “more than 50 senior officers” from both sides.

It’s not an entirely equal dialogue. Vice Adm. Robert Thomas oversees naval operationsfrom India to Siberia. His host, Rear Adm. Yuan Yubai commands only the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet (NSF), whose relatively small sector includes Korea – where the two superpowers are trying to collaborate – but not conflict zones around Taiwan or the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. Those are primarily the responsibility of the East Sea Fleet, which has practiced invading the disputed islands, although President Xi Jinping himself leads policy on what China calls the Diaoyus.
Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, Pacific Fleet commander, with PLAN North Sea Fleet commander Rear Adm. Yuan Yubai.

Arguably that division of responsibilities makes the North Sea Fleet commander an easier partner for Americans, since he can honestly say he’s not responsible for any particular provocation. It’s also worth noting Qingdao is much closer to Beijing than the other PLA fleets’ headquarters.

Whatever the reason for choosing Qingdao, such a high-level engagement between the US and Chinese navies carries symbolic weight. So do the subjects of discussion: “Codes for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES),” which help prevent collisions and shoot-outs; “humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, search and rescue procedures, and potential opportunities for future exercises and exchanges … [as well as] counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden [off Somalia], efforts to remove chemical weapons in Syria, and rendering assistance” afterTyphoon Haiyan in the Philippines (when the Chinese were largely absent).

It’s hard to imagine the 50-plus officers involved had a substantive discussion on so many different topics in a single visit. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and given time, raindrops can erode a mountain. Every time Chinese officers sit down in good faith with Americans to discuss our common interests, it opens the possibility of opening minds to a path away from conflict.

Hillary Clinton’s China Policy

By Amitai Etzioni
August 06, 2014
In her new book the potential 2016 presidential candidate talks about her approach to China. 

Hillary Clinton’s book Hard Choices reaffirms what critics have long stated about President Barack Obama’s China policy: that there is none but merely vague generalizations and that the administration is largely reactive rather than proactive.

Clinton’s book will be welcomed by those who are interested in certain areas of the world more than others, because, unlike many memoirs, this book is not organized chronologically. Instead, there is a chapter for each region or country of special interest: one on Afghanistan, one on Pakistan, one on Europe, one on China, and a whole chapter on Chen Guangcheng.

Clinton allows that there are three possible approaches to the region. The United States could prioritize “broadening our relationship with China” to encompass new issues and areas of potential collaboration, or it could emphasize “strengthening America’s treaty alliances in the region,” or it could “elevate and harmonize the alphabet soup of regional multilateral alliances.” Clinton writes that she favored an amalgam of the three approaches. She writes, “Over the next four years, we practiced what I called ‘forward-deployed diplomacy’ in Asia borrowing a term from our military colleagues. We quickened the pace and widened the scope of our diplomatic engagement across the region, dispatching senior officials and development experts far and wide, participating more fully in multilateral organizations, reaffirming our traditional alliances, and reaching out to new strategic partners.” A fine mix that says little about the strategic choices at issue: should the U.S. yield some of its positions it amassed in the region to make room for a rising China? Or insist that every pile of rocks is worth fighting over? Seek to contain China – or seek to engage it as a partner in management of regional, if not global, affairs?

One exception to the bland mixture, is Clinton’s call for “multilateralism.” Until roughly 2009, Clinton writes, China operated according to a strategy of “hide and bide.” It recognized the superior military power of the United States and generally hewed to the principles of international law. In 2009 and 2010, China began to doubt American regional commitment and view American power as in decline. These observations led hardliners in the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army to adopt a “more assertive approach” and become a “‘selective stakeholder,’ picking and choosing when to act like a responsible great power and when to assert the right to impose its will on its smaller neighbors.”

Geopolitical Developments and India-China Relations

The world is in a state of continuing flux. The economies of the major powers are still fragile and vulnerabilities exist in those of the bigger emerging powers in the Asia-Pacific like China and India. The balance of power is concurrently undergoing a shift with competing focal points of power surfacing in the East. The fragile nature has been accentuated in the past few years with Beijing’s accelerated push for recognition as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific. This is resisted by the US, Japan and India and has made South East Asian countries nervous.

China’s sudden assertiveness since the end of 2007 was prompted by a combination of factors, but mainly by: the global economic downturn; China’s considerably enhanced economic and military strength; and Beijing’s perception that the US as a global power is on the decline and this is now the opportune moment for China to regain its self-perceived rightful position on the world stage and alter the status quo in Asia. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is divided on the issue of whether to write off the US as the sole world power. One view is that the US is a power irreparably on the decline while the other, which seems to be gaining ground, argues that the intrinsic strength and resilience of the US will ensure its return on to the world stage as a stronger, more effective power. There is consensus, however, that the US ability to project power simultaneously in different theatres is presently constrained, thus offering China a window of opportunity that would last at most between 5-10 years.

China’s impetuousness and decision to ‘take on’ the US anticipatedly triggered a response signalling quite clearly that the US is not about to cede either power or influence in the Asia-Pacific. The US encouraged particularly Japan and the Philippines, to react to China’s aggressiveness. It additionally unveiled the seemingly short-lived ‘Asian Pivot’ with its definite military content. The US has now shifted emphasis though, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Pacific Intellectual Property Rights (TPIP), which are economic equivalents of the ‘Asian Pivot’. China is now leaning towards joining the TPP/TPIP.

China, however, has not been deterred and continues to press ahead with achieving its global and regional ambitions. The continuing tense stand-off with US ally and East Asia’s strongest power, namely Japan, amidst steady escalation in tensions in the South China Sea, underlines Beijing’s willingness to push the envelope in the apparent confidence that the US will stop shy of confronting it and so will Japan and Vietnam. China reasserted the role it desires in the Asia-Pacific in a statement in Washington DC by its Ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, in February 2014. There is little doubt that US credibility as a reliable ally willing to back its partners in the region has been dented in the past 5-odd years.

In the South China Sea, after a series of confrontations with Vietnam and the Philippines where China seized some maritime territories, Beijing has begun to assert its claims over a larger area. It has revived its claims on St. James’ Shoal off Thailand and South Korea’s Ieodo Rock and recently began building airports on some islands and extending others. On May 24, 2014, China’s largest US $ 1 billion oil rig the ‘Haiyang Shi You 981’ sailed into Vietnamese-claimed waters escorted by 86 armed ships and Beijing has now sent four more rigs. Simultaneously, tension with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu in Chinese) rose in recent weeks with the increased frequency of patrols by Chinese Navy ships and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft flying very close to Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) aircraft and at times coming near collision range.

Meanwhile, modernisation of the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which coincides with China’s continuing assertiveness that has unsettled its neighbours, has entered the final stage of its current phase. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s Third Plenum, which was held in November 2013, provided it a substantive push. On January 18, 2014, the Party Secretary of Liaoning province disclosed that the second domestically-produced aircraft carrier being built at Dalian would be ready in six years. China also allocated US$ 1.6 billion for the first phase of indigenous design, development and production of jet engines.

World’s Largest Dam Requires US-China Cooperation

August 06, 2014

The U.S. and China have been seeking to raise and improve their respective profiles in Africa this week. The U.S. is interested in catching up with China, which became the continent’s largest trading partner five years ago, with trade reaching $200 billion last year, double U.S.-Africa trade. For its part, China is seeking to improve its image. Despite huge amounts of investment in Africa, China struggles with an image as an exploitative partner that seeks to extract the raw materials it needs in Africa without investing in projects to improve partner countries, or even use local labor.

At the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, the U.S. announced plans to open 10 new trade missions on the continent, as well as $14 billion in investment from U.S. companies. Former President Bill Clinton also called for a 15-year extension to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers preferential trade agreements to qualified African countries. The U.S. is intent on stemming its loss of influence in Sub-Saharan Africa by identifying U.S. companies to partner with African countries, like General Electric Co. and Ford Motor Co., which both announced plans for large investments at the forum.

While the U.S. tries to resurrect its profile in Africa, China is seeking to improve its image while still stepping up its involvement. In May the governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, admitted that, in regard to China’s history of investment in Africa, “Different entities have behaved differently. There may have been some phenomena of Chinese investors [that were] not so good, not so satisfactory.” That same month Premier Li Keqiang also acknowledged that the relationship between Africa and China had suffered “growing pains.” These two statements were the clearest signs yet that China’s leadership recognizes complaints by both its African partners and Western countries of “checkbook” diplomacy on the continent. This policy is characterized by China extending loans and investments to African countries which are then used to fund projects that facilitate the export of natural resources to China, often carried out by Chinese companies using Chinese labor. Beijing sought to counter this negative image in May by signing a deal with the African Development Bank for $2 billion that would award deals to the most suitable company, instead of just immediately defaulting to a Chinese firm.

Obama's Iraq Plan Has a Killer Flaw - And Airstrikes Alone May Not Save It

Jacob Siegel
Obama's Iraq Plan Has a Killer Flaw - And Airstrikes Alone May Not Save It
The U.S. gambled on local militias to keep ISIS in check. The President’s authorization of air strikes is an admission that bet didn’t pay off.

Thursday night, with a humanitarian mission already underway, President Obama authorized airstrikes in Iraq. What had been the U.S. policy -- to rely on local forces to contain ISIS while waiting for a new Iraqi government to reach a political solution -- is finished. The new policy is still taking shape. It will begin with American aircraft dropping bombs from the sky. But it may eventually lead to more involvement from the special operations troops who have been in Iraq for weeks.

Obama said Thursday he had authorized airstrikes to protect American personnel and the Yazidi minority group stranded by ISIS on top of Mt. Sinjar. A senior administration official later stressed to reporters that U.S. forces were not launching a "sustained campaign" against ISIS in Iraq. 

But with the Kurds, America’s closest allies in the fight, recovering from heavy losses, some analysts and military veterans say that airstrikes alone may not be enough to turn the tide. A sustained -- if small-scale -- campaign may be the only way to achieve that.

The Peshmerga, the Kurdish military, had been acting as a bulwark against ISIS, keeping the group tied up on a northern front while it also battled against the Iraqi military in the south and west.

Then, starting on Saturday evening, came the waves of ISIS attacks on positions in northern Iraq. A senior administration official described it as "a multi-pronged attack across hundreds of kilometers in northern Iraq." This official said ISIS "acted with tremendous military proficiency."

The Kurds were overrun. The surviving religious minorities and other vulnerable groups who had lived under their protection fled into the mountains to escape ISIS.

General Greene’s Death and the Afghan Mission


The death of Major General Harold Greene in Kabul is shocking on many levels. He is the most senior military officer killed in a war zone overseas since the Vietnam War and by all accounts a highly intelligent and competent officer who, ironically enough, had never served in combat before arriving in Afghanistan this year to take the No. 2 job at the command charged with training Afghan troops. Kabul is not particularly dangerous, especially not compared to Baghdad. I and many other visitors have been to the military academy where he was slain many times. Yet even in Kabul there can be terrorist attacks.

The death of General Greene and the wounding of a number of other NATO personnel is all the more dismaying because the perpetrator was an Afghan soldier. Such incidents of “green on blue” violence have the potential to turn Americans against the entire Afghan endeavor. Why should we help them, many wonder, if even Afghan soldiers want to kill our troops?

A little perspective is in order. While there have been all too many “green on blue” attacks in Afghanistan, the number has actually dropped in the past year and it was never all that high to begin with. Very, very few Afghan soldiers have ever been driven to turn their weapons on their allies. As in, an infinitesimally small amount. We’re talking about a few dozen individuals out of a force more than 330,000 strong.

Remember that even the U.S. Armed Forces are hardly immune to these kinds of “insider” attacks. Fort Hood alone has seen two such attacks, one in 2009, another in April. The fact that Major Nidal Malik Hasan fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009 is not and should not be taken as evidence that the U.S. Armed Forces are fundamentally disloyal. It was and should be seen as a freak occurrence by one disgruntled officer.

The shooting in Kabul should be seen in the same light. There is no larger problem of disloyalty among Afghan military units. They are not defecting to the enemy or refusing to fight. In fact they are fighting hard and suffering considerable casualties.

The “insider” threat in Afghanistan is real, but it is actually decreasing. The U.S. military is acutely conscious of this issue and has taken steps to mitigate the danger, for example by assigning troopers to act as “guardian angels” for other troopers when meeting with Afghan counterparts. Such steps have paid off. According to the Brookings Institution, there were 21 insider attacks in 2011, 41 in 2012, 9 in 2013, and just one this year prior to the attack on General Greene.

Moreover, while any death is tragic, it is important to keep in mind that U.S. fatalities overall are rapidly decreasing. According to the icasualties website, 39 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year–down from 127 in 2013, 310 in 2012, and 418 in 2011. Those figures will undoubtedly fall even more as U.S. personnel transition to an entirely advisory mission. What may happen is that, as the threat from IEDs and other types of attacks goes down, the percentage of fatalities caused by insider attacks goes up. But that should not mask the overall trend, which is that Afghanistan is getting safer for U.S. personnel.

Thus there is no reason to rethink the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan after this attack, no matter how shocking or tragic. Given General Greene’s lifetime of distinguished service–and the service of his family members as well–it is safe to assume that this is the last thing he would have wanted, for his death to lead to a pullout from Afghanistan that will undo all that he and so many other soldiers fought so hard to achieve.

Is Afghanistan Is Going the Way of Iraq?

An Afghan National Army soldier searches passengers at a checkpoint near the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, a training complex on the outskirts of Kabul, on Aug. 6, 2014.

The killing of Maj. Gen. Harold Greene by an Afghan soldier on Tuesday doesn’t just mark the first killing of a U.S. general in a war zone since Vietnam. It’s also a disturbing example of a problem that coalition forces had seemed to be getting under control: so-called insider, or “green-on-blue,” attacks.

In 2012 at least 52 coalition soldiers were killed by purported allies in the Afghan security forces. But perhaps thanks to improved screening and security measures, these attacks have become a lot less common. A Pentagon report issued earlier this summer stated that insider attacks had declined from 48 in 2012 to 15 in 2013 to just two in the first quarter of 2014.

But on Tuesday, in addition to the attack that killed Greene, the New York Timesreports that an “Afghan police officer opened fire on American soldiers visiting the governor of Paktia Province.” This comes after a few weeks of alarming security news in Afghanistan, including the worst suicide bombing in the country since 2001, Taliban military gains in areas previously thought to be under government control, and worrying signs that the U.S.-brokered deal reached after the recent disputed presidential election may be unraveling.

Given recent events in Iraq, it’s worth asking whether there’s potential for similar disintegration in Afghanistan. There are some key differences between the situations. Unlike Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, both Afghan presidential candidates—Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—have pledged to sign an agreement that would keep a limited U.S. troop presence in the country through 2016 to continue to train Afghan security forces. Of course, that’s contingent on one of these men actually getting into office. They’re currently locked in an ongoing dispute over an audit of election results. Continued insider attacks will also make the job of U.S. trainers much harder.

And there’s still a lot of work to be done. Assuming the Taliban threat persists, arecent independent report commissioned by the Pentagon concluded that current U.S. and NATO efforts are woefully inadequate to prepare Afghan forces to maintain the country’s stability after international troops draw down.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the Iraqi military—and more importantly, the government behind it—was unprepared to meet a threat on the scale of ISIS. The post-American outlook for Afghanistan doesn’t look a whole lot better at the moment. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

America: Help Kurdistan Hold the Line

August 6, 2014 

Is it time for Washington to adjust its Baghdad-only Iraq policy?

Last week, a tanker of oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, bound for Texas, became stranded off the U.S. coast on the orders of an American court, at the behest of lawyers hired by Baghdad and in response to confusing and contradictory statements by the U.S. State Department.

This event, relatively small in the grand scheme of things, shows how utterly out of touch Washington is with ground realities in Iraq, where a struggle to the death is unfolding right now; one that threatens to put in place some unpalatable geopolitical realities, create a humanitarian disaster and negatively affect the core policy interests of the democratic West.

There are, and almost always have been, tensions between Kurdistan and Baghdad. As a reminder: Kurdistanofficially holds semiautonomous status within Iraq and has its own regional government with its own ministries, president, prime minister and parliament, while also being part of Iraq and sending delegates to the national parliament and holding the Iraqi presidency. Kurdistan’s majority is Sunni, but the population is Kurdish, not Arab, and tends to be very forward-leaning on such matters as religious tolerance and secularism. In the years since the overthrow of Saddam, it has prospered in every way and is aggressively pro-American—an unrequited love, unfortunately. The U.S. government, in its wish to see Iraq succeed as a whole, has been determined to interact only with the central government in Baghdad.

However, if Iraq was floundering a few months ago, now with the ISIS assault, the situation is desperate. We may prefer to deal with Baghdad, but the reality is that there is no functional central government at this time, and the urgency of the current crisis does not allow us to wait until one finally emerges—if it does.

US Major General Killed in Green-on-Blue Attack in Afghanistan

August 06, 2014
The incident is the latest green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan. 

An attacker in an Afghan National Army uniform killed a U.S. Army major general in Afghanistan, according to U.S. government sources. In addition to the major general, 15 other military personnel were wounded in the attack. Among the fifteen, three Afghan officers and a German brigadier general serving with NATO were injured. The attack comes after a relative lull in the frequency of so-called “green on blue” attacks—attacks carried out by rogue Afghan soldiers against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The confirmed death of the U.S. major general, who remains unidentified by the Pentagon at the time of this report, marks the highest-ranking U.S. military casualty in the 13 year Afghanistan conflict.

The attack occurred just outside a U.K.-run military academy, Camp Qargha, on the outskirts of Kabul on Tuesday. The White House has been relatively quiet on the incident, with press secretary Josh Earnest stating that the Obama administration was unable to give “any information on the motive or circumstances surrounding the attack.” The BBC reports that the attacker opened fire following an argument. U.K. officials are also tight-lipped about the attack at the moment, stating that “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.” Green-on-blue attacks are a sensitive political issue in the fraught bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments.

In general, these sorts of “insider” attacks have decreased in frequency since 2012 when they reached their peak. As I have previously discussed in The Diplomat, completely preventing these attacks seems to be an intractable problem for the Afghan National Army and Security Forces. Earlier this year, “rogue” attackers within the Afghan police and security services shot and killed three American doctors and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo journalist. While most attacks stemming from an Afghan defector have been carried out against U.S. and NATO troops, attackers have also attacked civilian targets.

So far, there is no concrete reason to believe that the attacker was motivated by links to the Taliban or anti-coalition forces. According to The New York Times, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, noted that the group is uncertain whether one of their loyalists carried out the attack. He nonetheless praised the attacker, called him an “Afghan hero soldier who turned his weapon against foreign invaders.” Several green-on-blue attackers are motivated purely by personal reasons. In recent years, the Afghan National Army has grown dramatically, resulting in individuals discontented with the U.S. and NATO presence in the country donning the country’s uniform.

U.S. and NATO troops will largely withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year and are expected to leave a small residual force behind to aid in limited counterterrorism operations and training.


August 6, 2014
Despite reports to the contrary, Saudi Arabia and Iran are not about to turn a corner in their 35-year-long confrontation. These two oil-producing Middle Eastern heavyweights are diametrically opposed on a host of regional conflicts and the Iraq crisis on both countries’ borders additionally stands to push the two countries further apart.

Leaders in Tehran and Riyadh already seem to be doubling down on their antagonism. “This blood will boil in the hearts of tens of millions of Shia and between the Muslims of the world, and the burden of that for [Saudi] Arabia will be quite heavy.” That’s how the Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, Major-General Hassan Firoozabadi, recently responded to reports that Saudi Arabia is preparing to execute the Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr who had led protests in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. Meanwhile, the Saudi King promoted Prince Bandar, the Kingdom’s point-man for backing anti-Shi’ite jihadist groups in the Levant, as his personal advisor and emissary.

As standard bearers for Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, respectively, Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been at each other’s throats. They are in an economic and strategic battle for regional leadership, with theological disputes rooted in the 7th century providing a bloody background.

For decades, Saudi Arabia has had the upper hand. As America’s golden goose, pumping mass quantities of oil into the global economy, Riyadh enjoyed a protected status. But now, the tide may be turning. Iran is trying to cash in on the benefits of its recently extended interim nuclear deal with the world’s leading powers. Gulf leaders are sensitive to these shifting sands. On the one hand, they seek to block Iran’s rise. On the other, these countries are fearful of Iran, and are looking for ways to hedge.

To this end, Saudi Arabia invited Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, to visit in May. The trip never materialized, although Zarif’s deputyindicated that the door was open for a Saudi visit. He also noted that Iran and Saudi Arabia have not discussed the situation in Iraq together, suggesting that the two parties are not currently engaged in substantive talks at all.


August 5, 2014 

The caliphate has been revived — again. But unlike in previous instances over the past several decades when jihadi groups made claims to states or “emirates,” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) June announcement that it had established a new caliphate poses a potentially more long-term, or even permanent, threat to the future of Iraq. At the same time, the group faces real obstacles that could thwart its ability to expand influence and control over land, people, and resources.

Caliphate basics

The institution of the caliphate has important historical, religious, and political significance in the Muslim world. The first caliphate was established in 632 A.D. after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The first four “rightly guided caliphs,” or rashidun, led from Medina, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Due to their personal conduct and the process through which they were chosen, the rightly guided caliphs are often considered the ideal. Sunni Muslims consider all four of the rightly guided caliphs to be legitimate successors to the Prophet, whereas Shi’a accept only the fourth, ‘Ali. This disagreement led to a split in Islam and the emergence of its two main branches. Modern-day caliphate revivalism exists almost exclusively within the Sunni community and is largely relegated to extremist groups.

The notion of restoring the caliphate is not new. Throughout the 20th century, caliphate revivalist efforts emerged, such as the Khilafatmovement in India. In more recent years, additional extremist groups advocating for the restoration of the caliphate materialized. Hizb ut-Tahrir, for example, is well known for its advocacy of the caliphate due to its very effective media activities. And, of course, al-Qaeda also supports the establishment of a caliphate. Ayman al-Zawahiri once declared that terror attacks would be nothing more than disturbing acts, regardless of their magnitude, “unless they led to a caliphate in the heart of the Islamic world.” Notably, neither of these groups actually declared a physical caliphate. Hizb ut-Tahrir lacks the capabilities to do so and al-Qaeda finds the concept useful in unifying the global jihadi movement ideologically, but so far has shied away from taking it from the abstract.

Obstacles to overcome

The Islamic State has made remarkable advances in Iraq, and declaring a caliphate has arguably helped. Concerns over this development are justified, but at the same time, significant obstacles stand in its way.