18 September 2014

New World Symphony

Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Brazil 
China’s mammoth Silk Route plan would dynamise half the world. Will India accept the invitation? 

Old Silk Route 

Distance: Over 4,000 miles, stretching from China to the Mediterranean Sea 

The route linked ancient lands of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Bactria and Rome 

Combining extant, ancient trade routes, its golden age was from 2nd century BC till the 13th century 

Got its name from trade in Chinese silk, though cotton and spices from India and precious stones and other items from Persia, Arabia and Europe were also sold 

New Silk Route 

Nearly 20 countries—China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Kenya—over three continents—are part of proposed project. The number may go up. 

Silk Strategy 

China’s proposed Silk Route would uplink connectivity within China to the region and beyond and also give a boost to Chinese industry and investment in different parts of the world 

Build and develop ports and naval bases to ensure the important sea lanes carrying oil, gas and other minerals as well as Chinese goods from the mainland remain unhindered and without trouble 

By developing infrastructure in different countries, present the soft power of China and raise stakes of others to minimise confrontation with Beijing 

Lastly, it would allow China to develop a parallel trading network—a huge overland and maritime arc encircling the whole of Asia and running into Europe—that would challenge the ones by a US-led West 

Shrouded in myths and legends, the ancient ‘Silk Route’ had for centuries been the main conduit for trade and cultural interaction between East and West, connecting old civilisations, encouraging merchants, scholars, pilgrims and nomads to travel to newer realms. Now, over 800 years after its decline, thanks mainly to a Chinese initiative, global attention is recast on the famed route. Countries from Malaysia and India, Kazakhstan to Germany, Kenya to Italy and Vietnam to Netherlands are busy debating whether the proposed project gives more muscle to China’s global power or helps in making it play a more responsible international role. Touted exclusively as a commercial venture and an enabler for connectivity, the Chinese proposal is now being studied by strategists, policy-makers and diplomats in various world capitals. 

China’s Mixed Messages to India

Map of the Himalayas locating disputed borders and territory between China and India (Courtesy: Reuters).
As India welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping today, it’s hard to miss the mixed messages coming from China. On the one hand, India and China have had a difficult security relationship over the past half-century, with a still-unresolved border dispute over which they fought a war in 1962. On the other hand, their trade and economic ties have rapidly expanded in the last decade, such that China has become India’s largest trade partner in goods with approximately $70 billion in two-way trade. The disjuncture between these two parallel tracks—unresolved security challenges along one, with rapid progress economically along the other—has become a truism for all analyses of India-China relations.

One might think that the eve of a major bilateral visit would be the time to showcase areas of positive cooperation, and downplay the most contentious problems. (Or at least save those for the negotiating room.) The Indian press has been busy reporting the size of the deals that President Xi will bring to India, particularly infrastructure investment in railways and other sectors ranging from $100 billion to $300 billion. The Chinese consul general in Mumbai told the Times of India that China would “on a conservative estimate” invest at least $100 billion in various infrastructure projects over a five-year period, “or thrice the investments committed by Japan.” Whatever the motivation, and that quote certainly suggests some competition for Indian dosti, that’s a large sum.

The last few months have also witnessed enhanced India-China collaboration in newer multilateral forums. This year’s BRICS Summit, held in Brazil, resulted in the announcement of the new BRICS Development Bank with capital contributions and an agreed-upon governance framework. China will host, but India will get the first rotating presidency. India’s application for full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, after years of observership, has been “initiated.” And China and India are both part of the ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations in Asia.

Against this investment and diplomatic bonhomie, reports of military as well as civilian incursions into disputed territory along the India-China border have quickened.

Just as Prime Minister Modi and President Xi strolled along the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad today, reports of fresh incursions were hitting Twitter. Last week an alarming story emerged involving Chinese troops and civilians crossing into sectors in Ladakh andattempting to build a road. After a five-day standoff, both sides retreated. The Indian Army apparently believes that Chinese troops sought to connect one of their outposts to Indian territory to install a surveillance camera.

This isn’t the first example of incursions preceding major bilateral meetings. Last year, a significant mid-April incursion led to Chinese troops setting up camp in tents, also in the Ladakh area (Depsang). This extended over a two-week period into early May, and Indian media reported that the Chinese troops had extended nineteen kilometers into Indian territory. Premier Li Keqiang visited Delhi May 19 to 21 of last year.

Border incursions happen fairly regularly along the long, 4,057-kilometer undemarcated border between India and China. Most of these do not make the news, so those that do are more significant. Indian members of parliament fairly regularly request information about border incursions from the ministries of defense, home, or external affairs. But the regularity of these border crossings comes across in the official answers from ministries, noting the fact that the undelineated nature of the border leads to differing perceptions of where Indian and Chinese territory begins and ends, leading to what are technically termed “transgressions” (since the border isn’t defined). For example, in answer to a question submitted on August 13 in the Lok Sabha, the Ministry of External Affairs clarified that “situations have arisen on the ground that could have been avoided if we had a common perception of the border demarcation.”

In India’s Rajya Sabha, a question submitted to the Home ministry, also on August 13 (unstarred question 3776), requested more details about the specific “number of times the Chinese intruded into Indian territory during the last five years.” The answer, which focuses on transgressions due to differing perceptions of the border, is quite revealing.

Transgressions doubled from 2011 to 2012. Based on the seven-month data the Home ministry provided for 2014 (through August 4), Chinese transgressions appear well on track to substantially exceed the 400-plus levels of the previous two years. It’s hard to reconcile this pattern with the economic cooperation messaging happening in parallel.

India has many good reasons to seek positive cooperation with China. But it also should expect its friends and partners to respect its territorial integrity. So as President Xi brings with him offers of bountiful support for India’s economic development, Indian officials will be conscious of the other, less salubrious message coming across from the border in Ladakh.

India’s fast power

September 16, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj upon his arrival at AFS Palam in New Delhi on Wednesday, Sept 3, after his Japan tour. (Source: PTI photo)

Wrapping up an account of the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy activism in its first hundred days in office, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj claimed last week that Indian diplomacy had moved into high gear with its “fast-track diplomacy”. The foreign ministry’s public diplomacy division has published a colourful booklet filled with photographic evidence of the government’s impressive global engagement in the past three months.

In claiming credit for this diplomatic activism, the foreign minister has drawn attention to a new facet of power in the contemporary world, which John Chipman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) explored in an essay for the Munich Security Conference of 2013. Students of international relations and diplomacy are familiar with Joseph Nye’s concept of hard power and soft power as well as Hillary Clinton’s smart power.

Chipman suggested, on more recent evidence, that a nation state’s ability to influence developments in an increasingly complex and fast-changing world, other things being equal, is determined by the “speed” of its diplomacy. Thus, proposed Chipman, fast power matters too.

While hard power and soft power are necessary attributes of sustainable power projection by nation states, smart and fast power can help nations, big and small, find their way through or adapt to complex and rapidly changing strategic environments. By acting “fast”, the Modi government can claim it has more than neutralised, in a short period of time, the negative impact of its predecessor’s months of inaction. While critics and cynics may dismiss this activism as nothing more than photo-ops and collecting flying miles, a la Hillary Clinton (the most travelled foreign minister in history), the MEA’s “fast-track diplomacy” booklet is indeed an impressive document, in that it shows clarity of purpose in all this speedy activism.

Narendra Modi’s ‘Mausam’ manoeuvre to check China’s maritime might

Sep 16, 2014

Indian Navy warships in the Arabian Sea. New Delhi has been alarmed by the interest shown by Sri Lanka and Maldives in Beijing's maritime silk route initiative. (TOI file photo)

NEW DELHI: As China's President Xi Jinping comes calling on Wednesday, India is all set to launch what is probably the Narendra Modi government's most significant foreign policy initiative for countering Beijing's growing influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Long accused of remaining a mute spectator to China's expanding interests in the region — and the astounding success of Beijing's "maritime silk road" proposal — India will soon launch its own Project Mausam, a transnational initiative meant to revive its ancient maritime routes and cultural linkages with countries in the region.

Titled Project Mausam: Maritime Routes and Cultural Landscapes Across the Indian Ocean, the project focuses on the natural wind phenomenon, especially monsoon winds used by Indian sailors in ancient times for maritime trade, that has shaped interactions between countries and communities connected by the Indian Ocean.

TOI has learned that foreign secretary Sujatha Singh held a meeting with culture secretary Ravindra Singh to discuss how to give shape to the project, garbed in India's cultural linkages but with a serious strategic dimension, in light of the Chinese emphasis on the maritime silk route.

According to sources, Project Mausam aims to explore the multifaceted Indian Ocean "world" — extending from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka to the Southeast Asian archipelago.

The 13-Year Divide: India's Economy Looks Much Like China's in 2001

Sept. 14, 2014
Delhi Hopes to Emulate Beijing's Success, but Will Delay in Liberalizing Prove Too Costly? 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the 6th BRICS Summit in Brazil in July. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images 

NEW DELHI—India today doesn't look quite like the economic dynamo that, just a few years ago, some predicted would overtake China as emerging-markets champion. 

But the race looks a lot closer if you account for one key fact: China got a 13-year head start on India in opening its economy and giving companies greater freedom to invest and produce. In exports, capital spending and foreign investment, India today is remarkably similar to China circa 2001. 

That should both console and concern India as it gets back on its feet after three years of weak growth and high inflation. Console, since it suggests the country's economy could remain on a China-like trajectory for years to come. But concern, because India's delay could mean that the country has missed out on some big advantages that catalyzed China's boom. 

The latter point is especially worth considering given how assiduously India's recently elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, is working to follow the blueprint for China's export- and investment-driven success. 

When Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the Indian capital this week he will encounter a recipe for economic revival that ought to look very familiar. Delhi is aiming to boost exports and raise India's share in world trade by 50% over the next five years. "Sell anywhere," Mr. Modi said in an Independence Day exhortation to global business last month. "But manufacture here." 

The prime minister is promising Indians bullet trains and "smart cities." He is rolling out more "special economic zones" in which companies get tax benefits and zip through India's bureaucratic thickets. 

And then the waters rose

September 16, 2014

Statements coming from the chief minister do not indicate that there are reassuring, competent professionals in government with a handle on ongoing relief measures.

As August slipped into September, Kashmir was its usual idyllic, picturesque self. The evening sun was gentle and golden, readying to welcome the next phase of the tourist season. Jewellery shops at Lal Chowk were open on Sundays, heralding the wedding season. Citizens in areas like Rajbagh, Gogji Bagh, Sonawar and Jawahar Nagar were tending their gardens for the next burst of chrysanthemums. Roads were lined with shops signifying new development activity. They had modern glass facades and offered the latest in tiles, taps, wall paint, cement and upholstery. The banks of the Jhelum were finally landscaped after lying unkempt for over 40 years. Impending elections added to the sense of activity, with local predictions from Muslims and Hindus alike that the BJP could well form the next government in the state, albeit perhaps in coalition with the PDP. It was expected to do well in Jammu and Ladakh and pick up a few seats in the Kashmir valley to stake a claim. Most had given up on the National Conference.

A visitor familiar with the turbulence in Kashmir over the last 25 years would have noticed the sense of security, stability and well being manifested by the frenetic construction activity going on in most areas, from large new houses along the airport road to renovations in private dwellings and craft workshops and showrooms in the inner lanes of the old city. Within the city, one could see hostile wall slogans like “India go back” in only two or three places. Most local residents toss off questions about the Hurriyat Conference’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani or Yasin Malik with dismissive comments about their irrelevance. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had recently taken to defending the cosy tea party between the Hurriyat and the Pakistan high commissioner. The people described this as a sure sign that he felt politically weak and insecure. They recalled how even Sheikh Abdullah at one time, and during the last decade the PDP, had done the same.

This backdrop is necessary as a contrast to the grave natural disaster that hit the state of Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir overnight. The prime minister of India lost no time in personally assessing the damage and lending support to the disaster management effort. The defence services, which have been the target of politically organised dissent for so long, have pulled out every stop to rescue stranded citizens.

Today, several individuals are caught in a strange contradiction of their own making as they praise the army for itsrescue but curse the media for publicising this.

Disaster brought forth offers of mutual assistance from the political leadership of India and Pakistan, although Pakistan’s elected leader is currently under a different kind of siege himself. The significance of a mutually humanitarian approach must underline all future engagements between India and Pakistan. India’s rescue efforts in the state and offer of help to Pakistan demonstrate a new sense of strength and confidence as a powerful but compassionate neighbour. Our very own separatists are silent and missing in action, instead of being seen wading through the river-like streets helping the distressed by running relief camps or taking food up onto rooftops.

It is understandable for the state government to claim that the police and civilian administration have been cut-off from communication, just like everyone else. The state apparatus

Why Failure Helps

September 11, 2014

"Man's real treasure is the treasure of his mistakes, piled up stone by stone through thousands of years," writes the great Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his 1941 book, Toward a Philosophy of History. Though we flatter ourselves by always "wanting to begin again," civilization requires that we never break our continuity with the past, for it is the very memory of what has gone grievously wrong that is the signal requirement for progress.

Not to fail, not to be wrong, is inhuman. And there are no more callow, uninteresting personalities than those who claim or feel themselves to have always been right and who have never known humiliation. Failure and being wrong are things that we should hold dear, as prized possessions, and learn from constantly; they are more valuable than money in the bank or degrees from elite schools. The young are seen to be unwise and shallow not because they are made that way, but because they haven't accumulated enough years yet to make the kind of humiliating mistakes and to suffer the hardships that are a precondition for the true enrichment of character.

Without the career mistakes made by Thucydides and Machiavelli, we might never have had The Peloponnesian War and The Prince, arguably the two greatest, seminal works of international relations.

Thucydides was an Athenian general whose army in 424 B.C. failed to return from Thasos in time to save the city of Amphipolis from Spartan forces. The Peloponnesian War was written by Thucydides in the full knowledge of his own disgrace. The book's searing objectivity and realism, which give it almost a modern sensibility, is no doubt integrally connected to the author's own appreciation of limits and constraints based, in turn, on his own shame and misfortune.

At the beginning of the 16th century Machiavelli was one of Florence's leading diplomats. But in 1512 his career ended abruptly when the Medici family, returning from exile, dismissed him from his post and accused him of taking part in an anti-regime conspiracy. After imprisonment, Machiavelli retreated to his farm and in 1513 wrote The Prince -- a classic that drew on the full body of his political experience: his numerous successes along with his public humiliation.

Failure and errors of judgment do not automatically make one wise, but they can lead to wisdom if the person is willing to use such setbacks to grow emotionally. Richard Nixon managed the transition from a disgraced U.S. president to a respected elder statesman. Though that transition contained a fair measure of calculation on Nixon's part, it also drew on his personal growth. Bill Clinton famously observed that few meetings he had had during all his years as U.S. president were as instructive as his meeting with Nixon, whose wisdom at that point in time had to be inextricable from his own abject failure.

Even great statesmen have a record of failure. Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, misjudged the resolve of the North Vietnamese in 1969. They thought they could bomb them into submission; they couldn't. Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker thought that the war in Yugoslavia did not matter to the United States in 1991-92, when it did. As a member of parliament, Winston Churchill vastly underestimated the danger of fascist Japan in the early 1930s, even as a decade later, when Churchill was British prime minister, the Japanese would go on to conquer Singapore -- arguably Great Britain's most prized Asian possession. Failure and faulty analysis are part of a normal career. They should not be excused, but they can be internalized so as to improve a leader's performance later on. The story of success is often the story of coming back from some sort of failure and adversity. Success comes from frequently asking, What did I get wrong, and how can I make sure not to commit a similar mistake again?

This all comes to mind because of the recent implosion of Iraq. The most prominent supporters of the Iraq War, such as former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, were not too long ago in the media blaming U.S. President Barack Obama for the bad turn of events. They may have a point in blaming Obama. They may also have a point in defending America's invasion of Iraq in 2003. But what has angered people, I believe, is less their positions per se than the absence of any subtlety, emanating from personal remorse, in their arguments. Whatever their private opinions, their public utterances do not in themselves indicate that they have learned anything from what simply had to have been the most heart-wrenching policy issue of their professional lives.

This is a shame because given their resumes, men like Cheney and Wolfowitz should have much wisdom to impart. After all, Cheney before being vice president was one of America's most impressive defense secretaries of the modern era, under President George H.W. Bush. Cheney was President Gerald R. Ford's chief of staff in the 1970s. This is, by any measure, a storied career in government. Yet, his utterances do not betray the depth of insight that should go along with such a career. In a word, he seems not to have used his failure in Iraq to any useful advantage.

The same with Wolfowitz, a very able former undersecretary of defense under George H.W. Bush before becoming the deputy secretary of defense under President George W. Bush. Wolfowitz was also a former ambassador to Indonesia (a superb one at that), a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia, and a former head of the State Department's policy planning bureau -- another storied career from which much insight should normally emerge. And indeed, Wolfowitz is wise on a number of subjects, especially East Asia. But again, like Cheney, he has not publicly expressed himself in a manner that emanates wisdom from what he did regarding Iraq. There seems to have been little personal growth, even though given the extent of the opprobrium heaped on him because of Iraq, there must have been. Failure should lead to more interesting, profound people than this.

I, too, supported the Iraq War, something that I regret and that I never fail to mention when writing about Iraq or a related subject. I have written at length elsewhere about what I have learned from the experience. I can only hope that it has made me a better person and a better analyst, but that is for others to judge.

In any case, failure should lead to more than just blaming someone else for a turn of events the way prominent Iraq War supporters have blamed Obama. And it should lead to more than just offering up counterfactuals, as interesting and useful as counterfactuals often are. If only this had been done, or that... Failure truly offers riches to be plumbed. As Ortega y Gasset observes, it is from failure that human and personal progress are made.

Or to quote Irish writer Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

A Gloomy Assessment of How the War in Afghanistan Is Going

Scenes From the Forgotten War America Is Losing

Bing West

Politico Magazine, September 14, 2014

The Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIL, is dominating the headlines. Perhaps we’re serious the second time around in Iraq, but I’ve heard the same rhetoric before.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is close to conquering the key district of Sangin in Helmand province, which could lead to the fall of southern Afghanistan and erase the gains made by coalition forces over the course of the 13-plus year Afghan war. President Obama has promised to withdraw most of our troops this year, and all of our troops before he leaves office. The war in Afghanistan, already seemingly forgotten, might follow Iraq and also be lost.

But politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. The strategy of trying to build a nation while Pakistan provided a sanctuary for our enemy was a monumental strategic error by our top generals. Would any sane military commander repeat our Afghan strategy? When our grunts are sent forth to do battle eyeball-to-eyeball, they deserve an achievable mission clearly set forth by leaders determined to win. Since 2001, that has not been true.

So why are we again bombing in Iraq? How does one tactic—be it killing on the ground or from the air—fit into a strategy for eliminating Islamists from Iraq, Syria and, yes, Afghanistan?

I’ve seen the mistake—sending forth strong men armed to cover up for a dizzying lack of strategy—from up close for too long. Over the past decade, I have made more than 20 extended visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, embedding with more than 60 units at the grunt level. I am as disappointed in our household-name generals as in Presidents Bush and Obama. The Marines fought because they were marines, not because the strategy made any sense.

Below is an excerpt from One Million Steps, describing a typical patrol. What was achieved by such valor? Patriotism—yes. Grit—yes. A satisfactory end state—judge for yourself.


In early 2011, I flew to Helmand Province for a fourth visit and met with Col. Paul Kennedy. For the past decade, I had embedded about twice each year with our frontline units. The Army and Marine grunts comprise a small community. In 2004, I had embedded with Kennedy’s battalion in Iraq. When I again met him at his headquarters south of Sangin, he was as terse as ever.

Stealth Is Dead! Long Live Stealth!

Russian expert says fighter jets can’t hide forever—but that’s old news

A Russian military expert has sounded a seemingly dire warning for the United States. Dr. Igor Sutyagin claims that stealthy fighter jets and bombers can’t stay hidden much longer as enemy radar technology improves.

The U.S. military is betting hundreds of billions of dollars—in essence, its whole air-power investment—that detection-dodging stealth works … and will keep working for many decades to come.

So if Sutyagin is absolutely right, America could be in big trouble. The roughly trillion dollars Washington has spent designing and building F-117s,B-2s, F-22s, F-35s and new Long-Range Strike Bombers since the 1970s has been a waste. And the United States is about to lose its aerial advantage.

At least, that’s the simplistic reading of stealth and counter-stealth in today’s warplane development. And make no mistake, Sutyagin’s argumentis simplistic.

In truth, the Russian expert’s claims aren’t particularly new. And there’s no reason to think that better radars are about to render radar-evading warplanes totally obsolete. Emphasis on totally.

Reality is more complicated that Sutyagin’s warning implies. Back-and-forth technological advancements mean that, yes, stealth is no panacea. Instead, radar-evasion is becoming just one standard feature in warplane design—albeit still a very important standard feature.

Again, there’s nothing particularly new about that. Stealth has never been perfect. It’s not perfect today. It won’t be perfect tomorrow. But it still matters.

At top and above — U.S. Air Force F-35As. Air Force photos

The core of the alleged former spy’s recent article — published by the U.K.’s Royal United Services Institute, where Sutyagin is a fellow — is that “low-band” or “low-frequency” radars are quickly getting a lot better at finding radar-evading aircraft.

Did Hamas Win?

SEP 15, 2014
Mkhaimar Abusada is Professor of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. r

GAZA CITY – This summer’s 51-day war on Gaza left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, over 11,000 injured, and vast areas of devastation that will take years to rebuild. After the third Israeli war on Gaza in less than six years, many Palestinians are questioning the purpose of continuing to fight – and hoping for a solution that does not increase their suffering. Can Hamas, with its newly acquired position at the forefront of Palestinian politics, provide such a solution?

Before the latest war erupted, Hamas was politically isolated. It had lost traditional allies in Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Most damaging, the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government had deprived Hamas of its lifeline of supplies and armaments.

Egypt’s military regime, led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been unrelentingly hostile toward Hamas, blaming it for the fighting in Sinai between the army and insurgent groups. Egypt even mounted an operation to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, isolating Gaza completely.

Hamas faced an intensifying crisis. Unable to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 public employees in Gaza, it was being slowly strangled by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities. And the unity government that it established with the Palestinian Authority in June brought no relief.

With nothing to lose, Hamas decided that another round of fighting with Israel was the only way to shake things up. Despite its modest military capabilities, Hamas managed to hold out for 51 days – and, in the process, place itself at the center of Palestinian and regional politics.

Israel, by contrast, failed to achieve any of its goals – beginning with restoring its deterrent capacity. Indeed, despite Israel’s best efforts, Hamas continued to launch long-range missiles at major populated areas from Haifa in the north to Ashkelon and Dimona in the south, and it repeatedly crossed Israeli lines using underground tunnels.

Such achievements shattered the indomitable image of the Israeli army, exposing a weakness that other radical Islamist groups may attempt to exploit. Against this background, it is perhaps unsurprising that Hamas managed to compel most Israelis living in areas adjacent to Gaza to flee, with many Israelis accusing their government of failing to protect its citizens adequately.
Pakistani Military Cool Amid Political Crisis
September 12, 2014

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif seems to have weathered weeks of protests, but he and his rivals, Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, will likely all suffer politically from the crisis, says CFR's Daniel Markey. "Everyone will look weaker except perhaps the army," which has sought to avoid a military takeover and facilitate peaceful negotiations, Markey explains. Despite hopes for his political success at home and abroad, Sharif has fallen short in addressing some of the country's very difficult challenges, particularly its ailing economy and poor governance. "He's learned what every Pakistani leader has learned for several decades now, which is that it's an incredibly difficult country to govern," Markey says. 

The latest news from Pakistan are the floods, but there have also been continuing street protests and sit-ins in Islamabad. Do these endanger Sharif's government? 

It looks like Nawaz Sharif is okay for the time being. There were moments during the past few weeks when it looked like the government might fall, but he seems to have held on, and now the issue is whether he's such damaged goods that he will be significantly weakened, and in particular whether the army has used this political crisis to reassert itself. 

Back in 2013 when he was elected prime minister, there was a great deal of enthusiasm both in Pakistan and the United States about a way to repair relations: Secretary of State John Kerry went to Pakistan right away. What's happened in the last year or so that's damaged his standing? 

He came in with a wave of euphoria, certainly among his own supporters but also among everybody else, including those in Washington who were hoping that—with an elected government succeeding another elected government for the first time—this was a milestone for Pakistan. And Nawaz Sharif, the head of a major party, was seen as somebody who would be business-minded and perhaps who would be better at actually improving the governance of the country. 

Over the last year, he's picked a variety of fights, both with opposition parties as well as with the military. And probably more important than that, he's learned what every Pakistani leader has learned for several decades now, which is that it's an incredibly difficult country to govern. 

Success is hard to find, and it's hard especially in the near term to turn a grievously ailing economy around quickly in ways that are not too painful for the public—to get electricity during the summer heatwave or to improve the infrastructure such that these latest floods would not inundate major cities like Lahore. These are tough challenges, and by nearly all accounts he didn't make progress quickly enough to keep that enthusiasm he enjoyed in 2013 going. And so opposition party leaders—Imran Khan, the former cricket player, and Tahir-ul-Qadri, a religious leader—came together to challenge him in the streets. And that's the origin of this most recent protest. 

How does the military play into the politics right now? 

Throughout almost all of Pakistan's history the military has dominated the areas it cares most about: its budgets, [decisions on when to go to war], major foreign policy issues, and the nuclear program. That's not really changed dramatically, even as you've seen civilian governments in place. 

Now, this latest protest, by most accounts, was an attempt by the two protest leaders to force a change of government by pressuring the army to step in or adjudicate or tip the scales in their favor. There is little reason to think that the opposition protests, in and of themselves, could bring down the government. We're talking about a country of two hundred million people. Even if the opposition leaders had gotten the million marchers that they originally promised—and they got nowhere close, [the number was] something much closer to tens of thousands—that would have been only a tiny fraction of the country. The idea of bringing down a duly elected government with a protest like that makes no sense unless you take into account that there has always been this other force in Pakistani politics—the army—that could reach in and pressure politicians one way or the other. 

A Gloomy Assessment of How the War in Afghanistan Is Going

Scenes From the Forgotten War America Is Losing
September 14, 2014

The Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIL, is dominating the headlines. Perhaps we’re serious the second time around in Iraq, but I’ve heard the same rhetoric before.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is close to conquering the key district of Sangin in Helmand province, which could lead to the fall of southern Afghanistan and erase the gains made by coalition forces over the course of the 13-plus year Afghan war. President Obama has promised to withdraw most of our troops this year, and all of our troops before he leaves office. The war in Afghanistan, already seemingly forgotten, might follow Iraq and also be lost.

But politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. The strategy of trying to build a nation while Pakistan provided a sanctuary for our enemy was a monumental strategic error by our top generals. Would any sane military commander repeat our Afghan strategy? When our grunts are sent forth to do battle eyeball-to-eyeball, they deserve an achievable mission clearly set forth by leaders determined to win. Since 2001, that has not been true.

So why are we again bombing in Iraq? How does one tactic—be it killing on the ground or from the air—fit into a strategy for eliminating Islamists from Iraq, Syria and, yes, Afghanistan?

I’ve seen the mistake—sending forth strong men armed to cover up for a dizzying lack of strategy—from up close for too long. Over the past decade, I have made more than 20 extended visits to Iraq and Afghanistan, embedding with more than 60 units at the grunt level. I am as disappointed in our household-name generals as in Presidents Bush and Obama. The Marines fought because they were marines, not because the strategy made any sense.

Below is an excerpt from One Million Steps, describing a typical patrol. What was achieved by such valor? Patriotism—yes. Grit—yes. A satisfactory end state—judge for yourself.

In early 2011, I flew to Helmand Province for a fourth visit and met with Col. Paul Kennedy. For the past decade, I had embedded about twice each year with our frontline units. The Army and Marine grunts comprise a small community. In 2004, I had embedded with Kennedy’s battalion in Iraq. When I again met him at his headquarters south of Sangin, he was as terse as ever.

“You’d be bored and ignorant up here at regiment,” he said. “I’ll drop you off where the fighting is.”

I arrived at Patrol Base Fires in the farmlands of Sangin in time to join the morning patrol.

By way of greeting, Lt. Vic Garcia, the commander of 3rd Platoon, handed me two straps.

“You know the drill,” he said. “One’s for you. If you have to use the other one on someone, twist the knob until he screams. And stay inside the bottle caps. We don’t want to carry you back.”

Like the horse stirrup or the bicycle, the modern tourniquet is so simple that it took centuries to invent. Cinch the strap around a mangled leg, twist the fist-wide knob tight and the blood stops gushing out. A half century ago, my platoon in Vietnam had used narrow elastic tubing that sliced into the flesh without fully stanching the bleeding. In Vietnam, one in four of our wounded died, mainly from loss of blood. In Afghanistan, one in seven died, but the number of amputations skyrocketed.

It’s always long term for China

by Rahul Sharma — September 17, 2014 

The Chinese President’s decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean that China is ready to dump Pakistan.

There is nothing to be excited about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip Pakistan during his forthcoming South Asia tour. Some might argue that it would have been a good time for Xi to land in Islamabad to show support for the country roiled by political uncertainty, but let’s be clear that the call to stay away does not reflect any change in relations between the two long-standing friends. 

Xi is due to visit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives later this month, trips during which he will test prime minister Narendra Modi’s keenness to improve trade ties between the world’s two most populous countries and reaffirm Beijing’s deepening ties with Colombo that has attracted vast amounts of Chinese investments in its infrastructure.

Ties between India and China have always been testy given the border dispute that saw the two go to war back in 1962. Frosty relations have thawed in recent years and trade between the two neighbours has grown, but there is still a long way to go before any degree of mutual trust can be established.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said this week that while Modi and Xi had established good relations when they met at the BRICs summit in Brazil soon after general elections in India, she also made it clear that Beijing had been delivered a strong message that it had to respect the “one-India policy (which means no claims on Arunachal Pradesh) given that New Delhi recognised Tibet and Taiwan to be part of China.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past. 

China’s ‘creeping invasion’

By Jackson Diehl Deputy editorial page editor
September 14 

A few months ago it looked like East Asia might be the place where the crumbling global order of the past quarter-century, centered on U.S. power and values, would face a decisive crisis. Chinese boats, planes and oil rigswere pressing into territories claimed by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines; there was anti-Japanese fervor in the Chinese media and disturbing nationalist gestures from the most hawkish Japanese government in years.

Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of The Post. He is an editorial writer specializing in foreign affairs and writes a biweekly column that appears on Mondays.View Archive

Instead, it was Vladimir Putin who launched a frontal military assault to stop the spread of Western influence and institutions to Ukraine, and the Islamic State that forced President Obama to reverse the U.S. retreat from foreign military commitments. In Asia — to which Obama promised to shift U.S. attention and security resources — tensions are, somewhat surprisingly, inching downward.

Senior Japanese officials here say Chinese naval incursions around the disputed Senkaku islands, the most likely trigger point for a crisis, have dropped in recent months. A Chinese oil rig that had appeared in waters claimed by Vietnam was withdrawn. Nationalist propaganda has paused, envoys are quietly shuttling among capitals, and diplomats are thinking that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may finally meet in November, breaking a long freeze in high-level contacts.

That Asia remains peaceful, if far from tranquil, is in part the result of some effective diplomacy by Obama, who made it clear that the United States wouldn’t hesitate to help Japan defend the tiny, uninhabited islands China was probing. The White House also pressed Abe to curb his provocative displays of nationalism. Mainly, however, the non-crisis here reflects the difference between Xi’s China and other would-be disrupters of the global status quo, such as Putin.

Unable to modernize Russia’s economy or satisfy its middle class, Putin has made a risky bet that nationalist adventurism will sustain his regime. Xi, in contrast, appears to be settling into comfortable control over a country whose economic and military strength is still rapidly expanding. Beijing’s assault on the post-Cold War order can be more patient and subtle.

That, of course, is its own problem. Without exception, Japanese officials and analysts I spoke to here over a week believe China has not moderated its ambition to replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia. But it aims to avoid the sort of crisis — and Western pushback — Russia has provoked by moving in small increments, interspersed with tactical retreats when necessary. The result, over time, could be as momentous as a war. “Some people call it the creeping invasion,” said Akio Takahara, a China expert at Tokyo University.

Silk route to Beijing

September 15, 2014

Putting in place a strategy to modernise India’s internal connectivity and strengthen its maritime infrastructure is critical for any effective Indian response to China’s silk road initiative. 

China’s decision to postpone President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan has got much attention in New Delhi. But this in no way marks a major change in Beijing’s policy towards Islamabad. President Xi is likely to travel to Islamabad sooner rather than later and reaffirm the depth of Beijing’s commitment to Islamabad. Delhi, however, is in danger of missing the significance of a more important change in Xi’s itinerary for the subcontinent. Instead of Pakistan, Xi has gone to the Maldives and also keeps his original date with Sri Lanka.

Thanks to its preoccupation with the defence of the contested northern frontiers with Pakistan and China, Delhi does not pay adequate attention to the emerging maritime dynamic to the south of the subcontinent. China’s interest in the island states of the Indian Ocean is relatively new and could turn out to be rather consequential.

As China’s economic interests in the Indian Ocean expanded rapidly in recent decades, Beijing’s naval interest and profile in the littoral also grew steadily. Sceptics say China’s naval priority is the western Pacific, where it is locked in intensifying territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours. They note Beijing’s determination to contest America’s longstanding naval primacy on its eastern sea board.

Others insist that Beijing is pursuing a two-ocean strategy rather than limiting itself to the western Pacific. Since the end of 2008, the Chinese navy has deployed its naval units on a continuous basis for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. This has provided the Chinese navy with valuable experience in conducting “far sea operations”.

Beijing sees the sea lines of communication (SLOCs), which move massive amounts of energy and mineral resources from the Middle East and Africa to China through the Indian Ocean, as vital lifelines. Securing these SLOCs has emerged as a major justification for China’s growing naval activity in the Indian Ocean.

JCS Chairman Says Half of Iraqi Army Not Ready for Combat

Dempsey: Half of Iraqi army not OK as US partners

Associated Press, September 17,2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the first in a series of high-profile Capitol Hill hearings that will measure the president’s ability to rally congressional support for President Barack Obama’s strategy to combat Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. Obama last week outlined his military plan to destroy the extremists, authorizing U.S. airstrikes inside Syria, stepping up attacks in Iraq and deploying additional American troops, with more than 1,000 now advising and assisting Iraqi security forces to counter the terrorism threat. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

PARIS (AP) — About half of Iraq’s army is incapable of partnering effectively with the U.S. to roll back the Islamic State group’s territorial gains in western and northern Iraq, and the other half needs to be partially rebuilt with U.S. training and additional equipment, the top U.S. military officer said Wednesday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former wartime commander of U.S. training programs in Iraq, said a renewed U.S. training effort might revive the issue of gaining legal immunity from Iraqi prosecution for those U.S. troops who are training the Iraqis. The previous Iraqi government refused to grant immunity for U.S. troops who might have remained as trainers after the U.S. military mission ended in December 2011.

"There will likely be a discussion with the new Iraqi government, as there was with the last one, about whether we need to have" Iraqi lawmakers approve new U.S. training, he said. He didn’t describe the full extent of such training but said it would be limited and he believed Iraq would endorse it.

Mission Creep Watch: This Is How the War in Vietnam Began

The Slippery Slope Begins: Is U.S. Policy on Fighting ISIS Already Changing?

NY Times Editorial Board

September 17, 2014

A week ago, President Obama stood before the American people and promised that the expanding fight against the Islamic State — a vicious Sunni militant group known as ISIS or ISIL that is terrorizing parts of Iraq and Syria — would not mean a commitment of American ground troops. “As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission,” he said.

On Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a very different message when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” he said, citing a potential attempt to retake the strategic important Iraqi city of Mosul as an example.

There is no way to read this other than as a reversal from the firm commitment Mr. Obama made not to immerse the country in another endless ground war in the Middle East.

Even though General Dempsey’s remarks were conditional, the Obama administration has turned on a dime in record time and opened the door to deeper, more costly American involvement even before the strategy is fully sketched out. And this is happening without Congress ever giving Mr. Obama the authority to wage war.


Writing on the wall - Ashok V. Desai

The prime minister had a good time in Japan. Kyoto is one of its most beautiful cities. I recall sitting around in its gardens and wooden temples, such havens of peace and quiet charm; it was difficult to tear oneself away from them. The city itself is small and friendly; an itinerant tourist like me can walk everywhere. Narendra Modi perhaps saw more in it than I did: he may have been more interested in its Buddhist heritage, and may have connected it with its Indian roots.

Modi and Shinzo Abe are old friends. As prime ministers, they would have to make small, innocuous talk; and nothing can be more innocuous than talking about culture and roots. Modi even learnt to eat in the Japanese fashion. The English eat soup; the Japanese drink it. They pick up the bowl, raise it to their lips and empty it. It is not too difficult; one only has to be careful that the soup does not dribble down one’s beard. But Modi mastered an even more difficult art: that of eating with chopsticks. Many Indians faint at the thought of it; most ask their Japanese hosts for knife and fork. It is not too difficult. It involves holding one chopstick like a pen — a task that all literate Indians have had to master. The art lies in holding the other chopstick in the two little fingers in such a way that it acts as an anvil for the premier chopstick. Things get really slippery when one has to pick up noodles: they are apt to slip off, and even if they do not, it is hard work to direct the slippery snails into one’s little mouth. Perhaps the most difficult eating experience I have had has been eating jumping prawns with chopsticks. They are live prawns made drunk by pouring liquor on them; then one has to pick them up with chopsticks and bite off the body. But enough of this lesson in eating Japanese-style; no one can learn it out of a Telegraph article.

Cuisine was not all that the tête-à-tête between Abe and Modi was about; they also talked business. Modi went through some difficult times when he was under attack in the West for his lack of sympathy towards Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots. The leaders of China and Japan were silent then; so it is not surprising that Modi first went East. He could have combined a visit to China with the one to Japan; it would have saved travel time, and avoided appearance of favouring one against the other. He reached out to Xi Jinping in Fortaleza at the time of the BRICS meeting, and suggested an amicable settlement of the border dispute. Xi Jinping then engineered an invitation for Modi to the next meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group next November. Thus, Modi has looked for a rapprochement with China and got a positive response; a stopover in China would have been a good opportunity to follow it up. But Japan and China have some tension over Senkaku islands; so maybe Modi decided not to mix them up. The decision could be taken to imply a certain tilt towards Japan; it may be deliberate, for his criticism of 18th-century ways of thinking seemed to be directed at China.

Anyway, it implied giving priority to Japan — which could be based on the likelihood of Japanese aid, investment and collaboration. Japan has promised a lot — 3.5 trillion yen for infrastructure projects including the cleaning of Ganga and smart cities (whatever that might mean). It has also shown some willingness to soften its disapproval of India’s nuclear ways, and to help it with military aircraft.

Global Warning Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

SEPT. 11, 2014

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published an essay in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?” that thrust him into the center of public debate. Although often misunderstood and maligned, its central argument was straightforward and sensible: With the collapse of Communism, liberal democracy stood alone as the only form of government compatible with socio­-economic modernity. Over the years since, Fukuyama has continued to argue the case, and has now summed up his efforts with a two-­volume magnum opus that chronicles global political development from prehistory to the present. A quarter-century on, he remains convinced that no other political system is viable in the long run, but concludes his survey with a sobering twist: Liberal democracy’s future is cloudy, but that is because of its own internal problems, not competition from any external opponent.

Fukuyama began the first volume, “The Origins of Political Order,” which appeared in 2011, by stating that the challenge for contemporary developing countries was how to “get to Denmark” — that is, how to build prosperous, well-governed, liberal democracies. This, in turn, required understanding what “Denmark” — liberal democracy — actually involved. Drawing on the insights of his mentor Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama argued that political order was all about institutions, and that liberal democracy in particular rested on a delicate balance of three distinct features — political accountability; a strong, effective state; and the rule of law. Accountability required mechanisms for making leaders responsive to their publics, which meant regular free and fair multiparty elections. But elections alone were not enough: A true liberal democracy needed to have its institutions of accountability supplemented by a central government that could get things done and by rules and regulations that applied equally to ­everyone.

Fukuyama showed how throughout human history these three factors had often emerged independently or in various combinations. China, for example, developed a state long before any existed in Europe, yet did not acquire either the rule of law or political accountability. India and much of the Muslim world, by contrast, developed something like the rule of law early on, but not strong states (or, in much of the Muslim world, political accountability). It was only in parts of Europe in the late 18th century, Fukuyama noted, that all three aspects started to come together simultaneously.

U.S. Credibility and the Anti-ISIS Coalition


Last week a congressman asked me: Should I support President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy even though it is likely to fail? Good question. And it’s not only lawmakers who are asking themselves that question. So are actual or potential U.S. allies from Europe to the Middle East. The most important people to be asking themselves that question are Sunni tribes in Iraq and Syria whose support is vital to defeat ISIS. But should they risk their lives in what could well be a losing cause?

That, unfortunately, is the issue that will confront retired General John Allen, who has been tasked with assembling an anti-ISIS coalition. American credibility reached a low point a year ago when Obama threatened air strikes against Syria but then lost his nerve. Obama’s credibility has never recovered either with American voters or American allies. As one analyst in the UAE (one of the countries Obama is relying upon for help), recently told the Washington Post, “We have reached a low point of trust in this administration. We think in a time of crisis Mr. Obama will walk away from everyone if it means saving his own skin.”

The president does nothing to enhance his own credibility when he overrules the bestadvice of his own military commanders by refusing to commit U.S. “boots on the ground” to help anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria became a more credible military force. Most serious military analysts believe a substantial force of American advisers and Special Operations Forces will be required. Kim and Fred Kagan, for example, arguefor 25,000 personnel in Iraq and Syria. I have suggested a figure of 10,000 to 15,000. By limiting the entire U.S. presence to 1,600 personnel so far, and by refusing to let U.S. advisers operate with units in the field, Obama has made it much less likely that the U.S. could achieve the objectives he set out.

And those objectives are themselves problematic. Obama said he is out to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. If his objective is really to destroy the group, why include the word “degrade”? Did FDR commit the U.S. after Pearl Harbor to “degrade and ultimately destroy” German and Japanese power? No, he committed the U.S. to do whatever was necessary to achieve he unconditional surrender of the enemy–the “degrade” part was assumed as being necessary on the road to ultimate victory. Because, however, Obama makes clear that his immediate objective is only to “degrade” ISIS–and because Pentagon officials have been leaking that the administration envisions a multiyear effort that will be handed off to the next administration–he raises the suspicion that he is intent only on “degrading” not on “destroying” ISIS.

Secretary of State John Kerry does not help matters, either, when he denies that the U.S. is at war with ISIS–he says it’s simply a “major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.” That kind of language hardly inspires men to risk their lives.Kerry had to backpeddle on Sunday, saying that, yes the U.S. is “at war” with ISIS but the damage had been done–it shouldn’t be a matter of debate whether the U.S. is or is not at war.

This exquisitely nuanced and cerebral president needs to understand that war is, above all, a matter of willpower–that, especially when you are engaged in a conflict against an adversary utilizing guerrilla or terrorist tactics, the winner is usually the side with the greatest will to win. Alas, the president is doing little to convince anyone that he has committed every fiber of his being to crush ISIS. And until allies are convinced of our seriousness they are not likely to hazard much to help us.