26 September 2014

U.S. court issues summons against Modi


APAccording to the Alien Tort Statute, U.S. federal law first adopted in 1789 gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by U.S. residents for acts committed in violation of international law outside the U.S.

Even before he touched down on U.S. soil after a nine-year visa ban, a federal court in New York has issued summons against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his role in presiding over the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during 2002 when he was Chief Minister of the state.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Justice Center (AJC), a non-profit human rights organisation identified among the plaintiffs “two survivors of the horrific and organised violence of Gujarat 2002”, and called for a response from Mr. Modi based on the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA).

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, whose law firm represents the plaintiffs, explained via email to The Hindu that the summons issued by the Federal Court of Southern District of New York requires Mr. Modi to respond within 21 days after it is served.

The summons document, which also alludes to the 21-day deadline, notes that if the Prime Minster fails to answer the attached complaint, “Judgement by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in the complaint,” adding that Mr. Modi was expected to file his answer or motion with the court.

Specifically the twenty-eight page complaint filed was said to seek compensatory and punitive damages and “charges PM Modi with committing crimes against humanity, extra-judicial killings, torture and inflicting mental and physical trauma on the victims, mostly from the Muslim community”.

Mr. Pannun further noted that the “default judgement”, which in other cases has been entered against defendants in their absence, would be a “declaration from Federal Court that 2002 killing of Muslims was ‘Genocide’ as per US and international law”, and possibly grant compensatory and punitive damages for the riot victims.

According to a statement by the plaintiffs the ATCA, also known as Alien Tort Statute (ATS), is a U.S. federal law first adopted in 1789 that gives federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by U.S. residents for acts committed in violation of international law outside the US.

Commenting on the summons issued by the John Bradley, a Director at the AJC said, “The Tort Case against Prime Minister Modi is an unequivocal message to human rights abusers everywhere… Time and place and the trappings of power will not be an impediment to justice”.

The AJC is scheduled to hold press conference on September 26 to clarify the implications of the lawsuit filed in terms of the legal path ahead in the survivors’ quest for justice, according to a statement the organisation issued.

Britain to join coalition against Islamic State, plot to ‘attack’ US metro system unearthed

Sep 26, 2014

A formation of US navy F-18E Super Hornets leaves after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq as part of US led coalition air strikes on Islamic State.

NEW YORK/BEIRUT: French fighter jets struck Islamic State targets in Iraq on Thursday and the United States hit them in Syria, as a US-led coalition to fight the militants gained momentum with an announcement that Britain would join. 

The French strikes were a prompt answer to the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria by militants, who said the killing was punishment for Paris's decision last week to become the first European country to join the US-led bombing campaign. 

In the United States, FBI director James Comey said Washington had identified the masked Islamic State militant believed to have beheaded two American hostages in recent weeks, acts that helped galvanise Washington's bombing campaign. 

Iraq's Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, in New York to attend a UN meeting, said on Thursday he had credible intelligence that Islamic State networks in Iraq were plotting to attack US and French metro trains. 

Senior US officials said they had no evidence of the specific threat cited by Abadi, but New York's governor said he and his counterpart in New Jersey were already beefing up transport security in light of possible Islamic State threats. 

France had said earlier on Thursday it would boost security on transport and in public places after the killing of French tourist Herve Gourdel by Islamic State sympathisers in Algeria. 

'Made in China' campaign launched with 'Make in India'

Sep 25, 2014

BEIJING: Seeking to retain its manufacturing prowess, Chinese government has launched a "Made in China" campaign with a host of tax concessions coinciding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" pitch. 

China will encourage high-tech imports, research and development (R&D) to upgrade 'Made in China', a decision by the Chinese central government said. 

Under the new campaign China will use tax breaks to encourage enterprises to upgrade their equipment and increase R&D efforts to improve the manufacturing industry. 

Companies that bought new R&D equipment and facilities after January 1 or possess minor fixed assets will have taxes reduced based on value, the Cabinet, presided over by Premier Li Keqiang, has decided. 

Imported high-tech equipment will also enjoy tax deductions in aviation, bio-medicine production, manufacturing of railway and ships, electronics production including computer and telecommunications, instrument production and those used in making IT products and software, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today. 

The new decision coincides with the global launch of Modi's 'Make in India' campaign on Thursday. 

The Indian embassy here, Consulates in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong held special investment promotion events showcasing the 'Make in India' campaign. 

China's new move aims to prompt technical improvement of companies, especially innovation of small and medium-sized enterprises, which in the last three decades propelled it to become world's second largest economy and made it a powerhouse of the manufacturing industry. 

Ukrainian prime minister says Russians ‘want us to freeze’

Sep 26, 2014

“We do understand that we had just two options: bad and worse,” Arseny Yatseniuk said.

UNITED NATIONS: The prime minister of the Kiev government accused Russia on Thursday of attempting to freeze Ukraine in the coming winter by using natural gas as a weapon to subjugate the former Soviet Republic. 

"They want us to freeze. This is the aim and this is another trump card in Russian hands. So, except military offence, except military operation against Ukraine, they have another trump card, which is energy," Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York City. 

"The ultimate goal of Russia is to organize, to orchestrate another frozen conflict in Ukraine." 

Russia's state-controlled energy company Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June because of a row over Kiev's unpaid gas bill, raising concerns that the country may not be able to cover the peak-demand winter season. 

The European Commission is aiming to propose an interim solution to the gas quarrel between Russia and Ukraine at talks it is brokering in Berlin on Friday. 

Yatseniuk said there were no official negotiations on it, though he said a plan to help Ukraine secure additional gas "would be helpful for us." 

A war between pro-Russian separatists has left more than 3,000 people dead. Kiev and Western governments have said it was direct Russian military intervention that tipped the battlefield balance in favour of rebels in eastern Ukraine and forced President Petro Poroshenko to call a ceasefire on September 5 after big losses by government forces. 

Russia, which opposes the pro-Western course of leadership in the ex-Soviet republic, has denied that its troops have participated in the war or provided arms to rebels. 

Yatseniuk defended the Kiev government's decision to grant temporary autonomy to rebel regions, saying it was the least repugnant choice they had, as well as a "goodwill" move that demonstrated their commitment to a peaceful solution. 

"We do understand that we had just two options: bad and worse," he said. "So the president and the government decided to take just the bad option." 

He expressed little confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin as a partner in peace talks. 

"I have no trust in President Putin," he said, adding that was why it was crucial to have the United States and European Union sitting with Ukraine at talks with Russia. 

Echoing comments he made in his speech to the UN general assembly on Wednesday, Yatseniuk said EU and US sanctions against Russia should remain in place until all of Ukraine is back under control of Kiev, including Crimea, a Black Sea region Russia annexed after an independence referendum in March. 

"Russia has to pay the price," he said. "They want to get back to business as usual but we want to restore law and order, restore territorial integrity and independence of our country." 

"This is the aim of the sanctions, to urge Russia to pull back its forces," he said. "To pull back its artillery and stop the supply of weapons and lethal aid to Russian-led terrorists and just to get out of Ukraine." 

Asked if he was disappointed by the United States not supplying weapons to his government, Yatseniuk said Washington had taken the lead in pushing for international sanctions against Moscow and was likely to do more. He did not provide details. Poroshenko visited Washington last week. 

40 countries urge Libya to resolve military crisis

Sep 26, 2014

Fire consumes military vehicles following the cessation of clashes for control of the city of Warshefana.

UNITED NATIONS: Forty countries and three major organizations urged Libya's feuding political leaders on Thursday to peacefully resolve the political and military crisis gripping the north African country. 

A statement issued by the chairman of a high-level meeting convened by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the annual meeting of world leaders at the UN general assembly said the political polarization and military conflict are posing "a dangerous and significant threat" to the country's transition to democracy. 

Libya has grown increasingly lawless and has been witnessing the worst bout of violence since the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Weeks of fighting among rival militias has displaced more than 300,000 people. 

The latest violence, which erupted in July, forced Libya's elected House of Representatives to convene in the eastern city of Tobruk after Islamist-allied militias seized the capital, Tripoli, and the country's second-largest city, Benghazi. The militias, meanwhile, formed their own government and revived Libya's outgoing parliament in Tripoli. 

"The political transition process is facing its biggest challenge since the revolution," UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said. "We must do our utmost to reverse this course and help the Libyan people safeguard their democratic transition." 

The political mission in Libya said that the rival groups agreed to hold talks on September 29, an initiative welcomed by the participants. 

The UN announcement said a joint UN-Libyan committee would oversee a future ceasefire. The mission urged the rivals to agree on a timeline to pull out fighters and armed groups from major cities, airports and other key installations. 

Participants at Thursday's meeting — including Libya's neighbours, key Arab nations, the US, Russia, the African Union, European Union and Arab League — "reaffirmed the international community's firm determination to uphold Libya's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and unity." 

Participants said Libya must also take the lead role in addressing the growing threat of terrorist groups. 

They warned that "the growing presence and influence of radical and terrorist groups intent on exploiting the growing political and security vacuum in Libya as a major threat to the stability of Libya and the wider region, but also to international peace and security." 

The participants took note of support for the September 29 meeting from the president of the House of Representatives. 

The president, Agila Saleh Essa, told Thursday's meeting that parliament members welcome the upcoming dialogue as well as an Algerian initiative to organize a dialogue involving eminent personalities and key figures across party lines next month. 

Essa said regional and international support has not resolved the crisis, and the government is now seeking "more creative and unconventional solutions, especially when the security situation is deteriorating with every passing day, and the prospect of civil war is looming on the horizon." 

He said the government is looking forward "to a real and effective engagement in Libya in order to achieve tangible progress in the democratic transition and build a state of institutions and law"

Xi Jinping orders PLA officers to abide by perk rules

Sep 26, 2014

The Chinese president, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, seemed unhappy with the military’s disciplinary inspectors.

BEIJING: Chinese president Xi Jinping has ordered officers of the People's Liberation Army to hand over houses or cars they are using in violation of regulations. This is being seen as a prelude to crackdown on the uniformed forces by sleuths of the hugely powerful anti-corruption wing of the Communist Party. 

This is the second time Xi has publicly expressed his unhappiness over the ways of the PLA since his return from a visit to India, marred by Chinese troop intrusion into the Indian side. He had earlier scolded officials for low level of coordination and efficiency at a time when the country must aim to win "regional wars in the age of information technology". 

Some observers said Xi is upset about the timing of the intrusion because it conflicted with his show of friendship in Ahmedabad and New Delhi. There's a possibility the anti-corruption sleuths are preparing ground for a major crackdown against a section of military officers, observers said. 

More than the monetary aspect, it's the prestige of the PLA in the public eye which is taking a hit by the government's decision to go public on its anti-graft campaign, observers said. Though ostensibly meant to investigate use of official property, the goal is to unearth illegal incomes and private investments by corrupt military officials, sources said. 

PLA Daily, the military's official organ, said authorities were "warning officers that the anti-graft campaign would not cease until all corruption was rooted out and eliminated". 

It said a "leading group responsible for tackling graft and misconduct" has exposed a number of irregular practices of military officers occupying or using PLA-owned houses and vehicles. There is evidence of over-employment of civilians in military units indicating large-scale corruption in appointments and recruitment of relatives, sources said. 

The Chinese president, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, seemed unhappy with the military's disciplinary inspectors, who have been asked to "strictly and aggressively" enforce regulations and discipline in retrieving irregularly occupied houses and irregularly held cars. 

Even benefits given to retired senior officers or family members of deceased senior officers will be re-checked and that excessive favours will be taken away. 

Officers found to be hiding extra housing or official cars, or who decline to return them before the given time, will be seriously disciplined, the paper said.

Obama urges world to do more to tackle Ebola

Sep 26, 2014

Obama has come under criticism from some in West Africa for a slow response to the outbreak.

UNITED NATIONS: President Barack Obama, in a sober assessment of international efforts to stem a deadly Ebola outbreak, warned a high-level United Nations gathering Thursday that there is a "significant gap" between what's been offered so far and what is actually needed to stem the health crises in West Africa. 

The leaders of the hardest-hit nations also appealed for more help, with the president of Sierra Leone calling the Ebola virus "worse than terrorism." 

The emergency UN session on Ebola reflected the deep concern about an outbreak that has so far killed nearly 3,000 people. US health officials have warned that the number of infected people could explode to at least 1.4 million by mid-January, though they have also cautioned that the totals could peak well below that if efforts to control the outbreak are ramped up. 

Despite the grim warnings, Obama said international aid simply is not flowing into West Africa fast enough. 

"The outbreak is such where at this point, more people will die," Obama said as he closed out three days of diplomacy at the annual gathering of the UN general assembly. "So this is not one where there should be a lot of wrangling and people waiting to see who else is doing what. Everybody has got to move fast in order for us to make a difference." 

On Thursday, top lawmakers in Congress also approved the use of leftover Afghanistan war money to begin funding Obama's $1 billion request to help fight the outbreak. 

Obama has come under criticism from some in West Africa for a slow response to the outbreak. He outlined a more robust plan last week, announcing that the US would dispatch 3,000 US troops to Liberia to set up facilities and form training teams to help with the response. The Pentagon mission will involve airlifting personnel, medical supplies and equipment, such as tents to house Ebola victims and isolate people exposed to the virus. 

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso announced on Thursday that the European Union was increasing aid to tackle the outbreak by nearly $40 million. 

345 rescued ‘refugees from Syria’ refuse to leave Cypriot ship

Sep 26, 2014

A handout image released by the Cyprus defence ministry shows a large fishing trawler overloaded with people in the Mediterranean Sea.

LIMASSOL, Cyprus: More than 300 people, apparent refugees fleeing from Syria, refused to leave a cruise ship that rescued them from a small boat stranded off Cyprus, a cruise line official said Thursday. 

Salamis Cruise Lines managing director Kikis Vasiliou said that the people are insisting that they be taken to Italy instead. 

"They want us to send them to Italy," Vasiliou told reporters at the east Mediterranean island's main Limassol port. "The authorities, they have to decide what they want to do." 

Vasiliou blamed Cypriot authorities for keeping him in the dark about how they intend to resolve the situation. 

Cypriot officials said that the 345 people, including 52 children, were to be taken to a reception centre near the capital Nicosia where they would be given shelter and medical attention until authorities determine what will happen to them. 

Dozens of civil defence officials, medical staff and police were waiting at dockside to receive the people after the cruise ship had docked. A small group did disembark from the ship to negotiate with authorities, Vasiliou said, but talks broke off with the group returning to the ship. 

But several adults holding small children were seen leaving the cruise ship, while one man led away by police in handcuffs. 

A man later came on the cruise ship's public address system to urge the group to disembark through an Arabic-speaking interpreter by telling them that authorities would do all they can to send those who met the criteria to other European countries. 

The people were packed aboard a small vessel that issued a distress call early on Thursday amid rough seas and high winds some 50 nautical miles off Cyprus' southwestern coastal town of Paphos. 

The Cypriot defence ministry said the boat had "most likely" set sail from Syria loaded with "civilian refugees". 

Vasiliou said his company received the request from Cypriot Search and Rescue authorities to assist in the rescue operation on Thursday morning while the cruise ship was returning to Cyprus from the Greek islands. 

But he said the unexpected turn of events is costing his company "several hundred thousand" euros after the cancellation of a trip by 300 mainly Russian tourists to Haifa, Israel aboard the cruise ship that was scheduled to depart late Thursday. 

Thousands of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea in rickety boats in search of safe havens in Europe, and hundreds have died at sea.

Progress and Challenges Related to the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal


This paper seeks to address factors that led to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, initial expectations, how those expectations evolved over time, policy drivers that keep the two parties from reaching a rapid closure on the issue, and what it will take to

make this deal a success.


The subject of granting “various rights and privileges available to signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even though India would remain a non signatory” has come up in bilateral discussions between the U.S. and India ever since the U.S. lifted partial sanctions that were imposed following Indian nuclear tests in May 1998. In fact, a “non-paper” on the subject was passed by Jaswant Singh to his interlocutor Strobe Talbot during a meeting in London following the re-election of the NDA Government led by Vajpayee in 1999. Nothing came of it then as Democrats in charge of the U.S. government knew that it would be nearly impossible for them to deliver a deal that very few, if any, in their party would support. Furthermore, Mr. Talbot and his colleagues believed that if India was given such privileges so should Pakistan as the rivalry between the two would otherwise intensify to the detriment of regional security.

The subject resurfaced during the Bush Administration that followed Mr. Clinton in 2001. Mr. Robert Blackwill, who served as a foreign policy advisor to President Bush during the 2000 election campaign as a member of the “Vulcans” (foreign policy advisory group led by Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who subsequently became the National Security Advisor to the new President), was made the Ambassador to India. Ambassador Blackwill saw a strategic value in creating a special friendship between the U.S. and India, and knowing India’s desire to re-engage in nuclear commerce, strongly advocated support for such a deal. However, his resignation as the Ambassador in 2003, followed by the Indian election in 2004, put the deal on a relative backburner until Dr. Rice became the U.S. Secretary of State in 2005.

As much as the Indian Foreign Service officials and the then foreign minister, Mr. Natwar Singh, wanted to push for such a deal, the political leaders in New Delhi were not so sure. Dr. Rice made the nuclear deal the centerpiece of the U.S. effort to build a fundamentally different relationship with India, hoping it would lead to some bilateral nuclear commerce that would benefit American companies but she saw its importance mainly in creating a friendly environment for selling U.S. military hardware to India, the country being among the largest importer of arms in the world. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, however led a fractious group of diverse political parties – from communists to regional heavyweights – and both were unsure if the deal would be approved by the Indian Parliament. Within India’s nuclear and security community, many saw the deal as a game changer, while an equal number of policy experts saw it as constraining the Indian “Swadeshi 3-stage nuclear program” intended to exploit to energy value of India’s abundant thorium, or infringing on Indian sovereignty and national security. The deal was eventually signed during Prime Minister Singh’s visit to Washington on July 18, 2005.

NATO Says That Intelligence Shows Most Russian Troops Have Left the Ukraine

September 24, 2014

NATO Sees Significant Pullback of Russian Troops From Ukraine

BRUSSELS — NATO has observed a significant withdrawal of Russian forces from inside Ukraine, but many Russian troops remain stationed nearby, an alliance military spokesman said on Wednesday.

"There has been a significant pullback of Russian conventional forces from inside Ukraine, but many thousands are still deployed in the vicinity of the border," Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen said in an e-mailed response to a request from Reuters for comment.

"Some Russian troops remain inside Ukraine. It is difficult to determine the number, as pro-Russian separatists control several border crossings and troops are routinely moving back and forth across the border. Further, Russian special forces are operating in Ukraine, and they are difficult to detect," he said.

On Sept. 4, a NATO military officer said Russia had several thousand combat troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles inside Ukraine and around 20,000 troops close to the Ukrainian border.

As recently as a week ago, NATO said it believed Russia still had around 1,000 soldiers inside Ukraine despite some cuts in troop numbers since a ceasefire began on Sept. 5.

Janzen said there appeared to be a reduction in incidents, including artillery fire, between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists.

"NATO welcomes these positive signs, and encourages all parties to continue to work towards a peaceful solution to this crisis," he said, while still expressing NATO’s concern about the large numbers of Russian forces deployed close to the eastern Ukraine border.

Israel Says That Iran Used Parchin Military Base for Testing Nuclear Weapons Detonation Technology

September 24, 2014

Israel says Iran used Parchin military site for testing nuclear detonation technology

JERUSALEM, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Israel said on Wednesday that Iran has used its Parchin military base as the site for secret tests of technology that could be used only for detonating a nuclear weapon.

The Jewish state has been a severe critic of six big powers’ negotiations with Iran on curbing its nuclear energy programme, suspecting Tehran is only trying to buy time to master sensitive nuclear know-how and would evade the terms of any final deal.

The Islamic Republic says allegations that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability are false and baseless. Tehran says it is Israel’s assumed atomic arsenal that is a destabilising threat to the Middle East.

A statement from Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, issued a day before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani - the architect of Tehran’s nuclear diplomacy - was to address the U.N. General Assembly, said the implosion tests at Parchin involved neutron sources that would include nuclear material.

Israel, his statement said, based its information on “highly reliable information”, without elaborating.

It gave no specific dates for such testing, saying only that it occurred after what it called the 2000-2001 construction of a nuclear weaponisation test site at Parchin.

An annex to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report in 2011, which included information received from member countries, indicated that Iran may have conducted such alleged experiments but did not specify where they had taken place.

"It is important to emphasise that these kinds of tests can have no ‘dual use’ explanation, since the only possible purpose of such internal neutron sources is to ignite the nuclear chain reaction in nuclear weapons," the Israeli statement said.

"Dual use" technology, materials or know-how can be applied to producing either civilian nuclear energy or nuclear bombs.

Iran has long refused U.N. nuclear inspectors access to the Parchin base outside Tehran where the IAEA has said it has observed, via satellite imagery, ongoingconstruction and revamping activity.

Western officials believe Iran once conducted explosive tests at Parchin of relevance in developing a nuclear weapon and has sought to “cleanse” the compound of evidence since then.

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military base only.

The landslide election of the relatively moderate Rouhani last year raised hopes of a solution to Iran’s nuclear stand-off with the world powers after years of rising tension and fears of a new Middle East war.


Is the White House Hyping the Threat Posed by the Khorasan Group in Syria?

Shane Harris, John Hudson and Justine Drennan
September 23, 2014

'We're Not Sure Their Capabilities Match Their Desire': Is the Khorasan Group as dangerous as the White House is making it out to be?

Before the first U.S. military aircraft attacked the headquarters of the Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria, early Tuesday morning, waves of American Tomahawk cruise missiles began pounding targets 130 miles west, near the battleground city of Aleppo. They weren’t targeting the Islamic State, though. They were battering the training camps and explosives-making facilities of a little-known al Qaeda offshoot called the Khorasan Group that officials say was in the final stages of planning an attack on the United States or European countries.

The U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State gave President Barack Obama a moment of opportunity to launch a one-two punch, hitting both the high-profile militant group that has overtaken vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and the shadowy Khorasan Group. But absent the strikes on the Islamic State, which have beentelegraphed for weeks, it’s difficult to know if, or when, Obama would have ordered an attack on Khorasan. U.S. intelligence agencies have been tracking the group’s evolution for years, but until now, the White House avoided taking military action. As it happened, though, the attacks on the Islamic State have finally given the administration a pretext for hitting Khorasan, which U.S. intelligence officials say is trying to learn how to build bombs that can be sneaked onto commercial airliners.

Still, the Syrian airstrikes have raised questions about why the administration didn’t attack Khorasan sooner and whether it’s actually as dangerous as the White House is now claiming. Officials and terrorism experts have described the group as a cell of well-trained al Qaeda leaders with ambitions to wage war against the West. Khorasan is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a close confidant of Osama bin Laden, and one of the few al Qaeda insiders who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they happened. Unlike the Islamic State, which has used social media to celebrate its battlefield wins, threaten the West, and post gruesome photos of beheadings and crucifixion, Khorasan has yet to even publicly confirm its existence.

Despite the group’s low profile, U.S. and other nations’ spy services have been tracking Khorasan and its members “over the past few years, since many of its members arrived in Syria, notably from Pakistan and Afghanistan,” a senior administration official said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters. “Their plotting was reaching an advanced stage,” the official said.

Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the group had been conducting experiments with improvised explosives devices in Syria and recruiting Westerners fighting there to return to their home countries to mount new terrorist attacks.

Still, it’s unclear what — if any — concrete intelligence prompted the United States to attack the group now.

Still, it’s unclear what — if any — concrete intelligence prompted the United States to attack the group now. Officials who spoke with reporters about the Syria strikes didn’t offer any information about a specific plot. Nor did they explain why the current threat — which was reportedly described to members of Congress a year ago — is any more dire than it was in July, when Khorasan’s efforts to recruit Westerners prompted security officials to tighten security checks at some overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.

10 Priorities for Afghanistan’s New President

By Tamim Asey
September 24, 2014

Now that a power-sharing deal has been done, these are the most urgent tasks for the new government. 

After six months of political wrangling, intensive negotiations, and international mediation, Afghanistan at last has a president-elect, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, and a new Chief Executive Officer (equivalent to a prime minister), who is to be nominated by Dr.Abdullah Abdullah. The two men will lead the new government with a sharing of power and decision making over national issues.

The new Afghan government is inheriting a stagnant economy and an empty treasury with a society divided along ethnic and political lines. The new president will face an enormous task uniting the Afghan people and rallying them behind a new vision and program for Afghanistan.

Here are ten priorities for the new Afghan president:

1. Sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States and the NATO Status of Force Agreement (SOFA).

Both presidential candidates pledged during the campaign that they would sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and the NATO SOFA within the first few weeks of taking office. These two agreements are vital for the long-term sustainability and professionalization of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Under the agreements, the United States and other NATO members will provide mentoring, training and equipment to the Afghan forces to counter domestic and regional threats.

Signing the agreements will signal to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the region that Afghanistan will not be left alone and that Western powers are there to stay. The agreements will also have spillover effects in the form of contracts and other economic incentives to local businessmen who have been supplying U.S./NATO forces for the past decade.

2. Address the deteriorating security situation and surging narcotics trade.

Ghani has promised to establish a new military council under his direct chairmanship to monitor and coordinate on a daily basis security developments in Afghanistan. Since the presidential election Taliban attacks have intensified and ANSF casualties have surged alarmingly. This year the Taliban have also been able to wage coordinated attacks. This is a serious concern and requires the immediate attention of the incoming commander in chief.

Meanwhile poppy production in Afghanistan has doubled in the last two years, and this demands a renewed effort with the political will to go after the big narcotics dealers

3. Revive a stagnant economy, fight corruption, and keep the foreign aid flowing.

America Should Not Forget About The War In Afghanistan

September 22, 2014

Remember that other war we're still in engaged in?

America has lost interest in Afghanistan at precisely the most important transition point in that country’s recent history. It’s easy to understand why this has happened. The long drumbeat of bad news, the increasingly fraught relationship with outgoing President Hamid Karzai, the lack of a clear, publicly supported Afghanistan strategy, and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; all of these have played a role in our society’s indifference to news from Kabul. Unfortunately, this is an awful time for America to wash her hands of Afghanistan. As we contemplate our upcoming involvement in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL, we would do well to consider whether we are really finished with our work in Afghanistan, or if we aren’t embarking on another round of an eternal global war on terror-themed version of whack-a-mole fueled by our inability to follow through on our strategic plans.

The 2014 Afghan presidential elections were always going to be dicey, but the stakes were raised considerably when we failed to reach a bilateral security agreement with Karzai in 2013. His personal motivations for refusing to sign the agreement aside, this impasse dramatically worsened the short-term outlook of the Afghan economy. Until the recently announced power-sharing arrangement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the crisis over the results of the 2014 Afghan presidential elections was heightening fears that the country could see a return of the factional disputes that led to civil war in the 1990s. Though many in the international community are breathing a sigh of relief that the elections crisis may be over, the new unity government in Kabul will face an uphill battle against a strong insurgency and a weakening economy as the world’s attention turns elsewhere. The historical analogy to the early 1990s is imprecise, but the danger of a return to chaos in Afghanistan is real and must be avoided at all costs.

What gives me hope about the situation is also what makes it so frustrating to see the level of American callousness to events in Afghanistan. We don’t need to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland. All that we really need to do to ensure that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are not able to operate in Afghanistan is help prevent a civil war and support the Afghan government as its economy begins to adjust after decades of relying on foreign aid for the bulk of revenue. These are not lofty goals, and are entirely within our grasp. What is less clear to most Americans is why we should still care. This is a question that I often find even more loudly voiced in veteran communities where almost everyone has a friend or comrade who was killed in Afghanistan. Why does it even matter what happens there now that Osama bin Laden is dead and the threat from groups elsewhere seems to be much greater?

I also lost people in Afghanistan, and I identify with the frustration, but here’s my considered response: 
Political chaos in Afghanistan would make it much easier for groups like al Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba and others to quietly expand their recruiting, training, and operational capabilities. It is easier than is commonly thought for terrorist groups to survive when a weak central government and widespread violence shift attention to other issues. 
A violent and unstable Afghanistan increases the risk of interstate war within the Indian subcontinent. Any increase in space for terrorist organizations to train and plan operations from Afghan soil only raises the chances for an attack on India that Delhi might respond to with force. For those concerned about the potential outbreak of nuclear war, this is something to be avoided. 

Artificial Islands in the South China Sea

By P K Ghosh
September 23, 2014

With this latest twist, Beijing now appears to feel the time is right to change the facts on the ground. 

The turbulent South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as a regional flashpoint, with sovereignty disputes over rocks and islands driving increasing tensions. Recently, a new twist to the saga has emerged, in the form of new artificial islands being created by China in an effort to bolster its sovereign claims.

While the other claimants in the region – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia – are all in control of natural islands, China is the first to control the artificial variety. At the same time, Beijing is also trying to enlarge the existing islands that it already has under its control.

These news islands and enlargements are essentially new, and have the potential to intensify the disputes and the associated level of acrimony. One of the most noticeable changes that have occurred has been in the Spratly Islands. Until the beginning of 2014, the Chinese presence in these islands consisted of a handful of outposts that comprised a collection of concrete block-type houses perched atop coral atolls. Now, China is expanding most of these islands, rocks, and submerged reefs through landfill with sand dug from nearby reefs, which is being dumped to create new structures. After the landfill is completed, the existing minimal infrastructure is considerably upgraded. In some cases, the newer islands are being created from submerged reefs and shoals. Presently, activity is underway on five different reefs.

One of the primary areas of land reclamation and focus has been the Johnson South Reef. Historically this was the site of the deadly skirmish that was fought between China and Vietnam in 1988, leading to the loss of more than 70 Vietnamese lives, along with the sinking of two Vietnamese boats. Afterwards, China took possession of six features in the Spratly Islands. Fortunately, despite the considerable aggression in Chinese posturing in more recent years, there has as yet been no replay of those bloody events.

Still, the current attempt to build artificial islands has caused considerable anxiety amongst other claimants. The primary concern stems from the fact that China is preparing to build an entire air base along with a concrete runway meant for fighter jets on the Johnson South Reef, mainly to assert its claim over the Spratly Islands. Civilian ships are planned to be modified to become large, low-cost floating production platforms in the South China Sea. Other vessels will be used to deliver water, as there are no sources of groundwater in the area.

Asia's "Cold Peace": China and India's Delicate Diplomatic Dance

September 24, 2014 

President Xi Jinping just might have missed a golden opportunity to transform his nation's relationship with India.

It was a prospect of Himalayan proportions. Here was a historic chance to redraw the strategic and economic map of Asia in ways that would benefit regional prosperity, stability and Chinese influence all at the same time. But the recent diplomatic trek to India by Xi Jinping ended up stuck in the foothills.

Instead of a game-changer, it will likely be remembered as a missed opportunity on China’s part, an episode in a gathering narrative of Beijing’s strategic paradise lost. Amid all the talk, the promises and the morally compelling logic of building a developmental partnership between the world’s two most populous countries, the shadow of a militarized border dispute was never far away.

It didn’t need to be like this. Here was a chance for Xi’s China to translate mutual economic gain and pan-Asian respect into the beginnings of a relationship of strategic trust with India’s powerful new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has long had little reason to love the United States. In turn, this could have had the potential to set early limits to efforts by Washington, Tokyo and others to engage India as a security partner in the present ballet of Asian power balancing. The visit could also have done much to sway Indian public opinion, which, according to detailed polling, is suspicious of China as a risk to India’s interests, yet open-minded about cooperating with China, too.

It was not to be. Unexplained Chinese military activity on the disputed border is likely to leave many Indians thinking more about perfidy than partnership. If it was meant to signal disapproval about Modi’s openness to strategic partnership with Shinzo Abe’s Japan, it will probably instead bring Delhi and Tokyo closer. More immediately, it will ease the way for Modi to share strategic concerns with the Obama administration when he visits the United States shortly.

Just days after the summit, when there should have been a diplomatic afterglow, there was an aftertaste of anxiety. With a series of border confrontations continuing, India has called off a media dialogue with Chinaand kept back its army chief from a planned foreign visit to ensure things are kept under control. Hysteria from some parts of the Indian media, inaccurately portraying Xi’s guidance to the PLA on its overall “regional war” posture as being aimed specifically at India, has not helped.

Centripetal and Centrifugal Forced at work in the Nation-State

Zhixing Zhang 

"Here begins our tale: The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been." This opening adage of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, China's classic novel of war and strategy, best captures the essential dynamism of Chinese geopolitics. At its heart is the millennia-long struggle by China's would-be rulers to unite and govern the all-but-ungovernable geographic mass of China. It is a story of centrifugal forces and of insurmountable divisions rooted in geography and history -- but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, of centripetal forces toward eventual unity.

This dynamism is not limited to China. The Scottish referendum and waves of secession movements -- from Spain's Catalonia to Turkey and Iraq's ethnic Kurds -- are working in different directions. More than half a century after World War II triggered a wave of post-colonial nationalism that changed the map of the world, buried nationalism and ethnic identity movements of various forms are challenging the modern idea of the inviolable unity of the nation-state.

Yet even as these sentiments pull on the loose threads of nations, in China, one of the most intractable issues in the struggle for unity -- the status of Tibet -- is poised for a possible reversal, or at least a major adjustment. The long-running but frequently unnoticed negotiations have raised the possibility that the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, may be nearing a deal that would enable him to return to his Tibetan homeland. If it happens, it would end the Dalai Lama's exile in Dharamsala, India -- an exile that began after the Tibetan uprising in 1959, nine years after the People's Republic of China annexed Tibet. More important, a settlement between Beijing and the Dalai Lama could be a major step in lessening the physical and psychological estrangement between the Chinese heartland and the Tibetan Plateau.
Tibet, the Dalai Lama and Self-Determination

The very existence of the Tibetan issue bespeaks several overlapping themes of Chinese geopolitics. Most fundamentally, it must be understood in the context of China's struggle to integrate and extend control over the often impassable but strategically significant borderlands militarily and demographically. These borderlands, stretching from northeast to the southwest -- Manchuria, Mongolian Plateau, Xinjiang, Tibet and the Yunnan Plateau -- form a shield, both containing and protecting a unified Han core from overland invasion. In attempting to integrate these regions, however, China confronts the very nature of geographic disintegration and the ethnic identities in these restive borderlands, which have sought to resist, separate or drift away from China at times when weak central power has diminished the coherence of China's interior.

Tibet in many ways represents the extreme edge of this pattern. Indeed, while the formidable geography of the Tibetan Plateau (its altitude averages 4.5 kilometers, or almost 2.8 miles, above sea level) largely inured it from most frontier threats to the Han core compared with the more accessible Manchuria, Mongolian Plateau or Xinjiang, perhaps no borderland is as fraught with as much consequence as Tibet under China's contemporary geopolitical circumstances. The Tibetan Plateau and its environs constitute roughly one-quarter of the Chinese landmass and are a major source of freshwater for China, the Indian subcontinent and mainland Southeast Asia. The high mountains of the Himalayas make a natural buffer for the Chinese heartland and shape the complex geopolitical relationship between China and India.

Why the ASEAN Economic Community Will Struggle

By Ji Xianbai
September 24, 2014

Serious weaknesses within ASEAN threaten the realization of the bloc’s regional project. 

The recently released U.S. Chamber of CommerceASEAN Business Outlook Survey 2015 highlighted the widespread concern that the much-anticipated ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) would not be launched by the end-2015 deadline. Indeed, most respondents were pessimistic about the inauguration of the AEC by 2020 or later. This is not the first time that AEC faces a probable delay: In 2012, the commencement of the AEC was postponed to December 31, 2015 from the original plan of January 1, 2015. Despite ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan’s firm reassurance that “[t]here will be no more delays and that all ten ASEAN countries will participate,” even the most fervent proponents of AEC are beginning to worry about the increasingly diminishing chance of delivering AEC on time as 2015 closes in.

ASEAN Economic Community

AEC originates from the ASEAN Vision 2020, which was adopted in 1997 on the 30th anniversary of ASEAN. It aspires to create a single market and production base with a free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor by 2020. In 2003, ASEAN leaders signed the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II and agreed to establish the AEC by 2020. The 2007 Cebu Declaration accelerated the establishment of the AEC to 2015, and ASEAN introduced the AEC Blueprint, which was substantiated into the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) two years later, to guide the implementation of the AEC.

To track the progress of the AEC, the AEC Scorecard, a compliance tool developed based on the EU Internal Market Scorecard, was adopted by ASEAN. To date, two official scorecards have been published, one in 2010and the other in 2012. According to the AEC Scorecard 2012, the implementation rates of AEC’s four primary objectives: (a) single market and production base; (b) competitive economic region; (c) equitable economic development; and (d) integration into the global economy were 65.9 percent, 67.9 percent, 66.7 percent, and 85.7 percent, respectively, with 187 out of 277 measures being fully implemented by 2011. The formation of AEC appeared to be on track, which makes it all the more intriguing that so few people expect it to come into force even by 2020.

A Frail Locomotive

US Government Names 11 Individuals Believed to Be Major Supporters and Financiers of ISIS and Other Terror Groups

Gus Taylor
September 24, 2014
Feds name 11 backers of terrorist organizations

Bolstering the growing air and ground assault against Islamic State and al Qaeda operatives in Syria and Iraq, the Obama administration named 11 new global terrorism suspects Wednesday, claiming that each has played a role in helping to finance and provide foreign fighters for the extremist movements in the Middle East.

Officials at the U.S. Treasury Department, which announced the new terrorist designations, said those named come from “range of terrorist organizations” not just in the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but as far off as Indonesia.

"Today’s broadly scoped designations will disrupt efforts by [the Islamic State], al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda, and Jemaah Islamiya to raise, transport, and access funds that facilitate foreign terrorist fighters," Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

"These steps, taken the same day as the adoption of a new United Nations Security Council Resolution, affirm the commitment of the United States and our partners to degrade and destroy terrorist access to financing," Mr. Cohen said.

With the goal of thwarting their ability to move money electronically and to travel across international borders around the world, the Treasury Department said that the 11 men named Wednesday are being added to the official U.S. list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

U.S. officials said two of those named are already high-level members of the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL or ISIS. One of the two is Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, a Georgian national who has held top positions in ISIL in recent years and was named in May 2013 by the groups leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to head all Islamic State forces in northern Syria.

Also named was Tariq Bin-Al-Tahar Bin Al Falih Al-‘Awni Al-Harzi, whom the Treasury Department says has played a lead role in “recruiting and facilitating the travel of fighter for ISIL since 2013,” including that of Western Europeans who’ve joined the extremist group in recent months.

Since last year Al-‘Awni Al-Harzi has served under al-Baghdadi as the “Amir for the border region between Syria and Turkey,” according the Treasury Department statement circulated Wednesday.

Backgrounder on the Growing Number of Al Qaeda Ofshoots Springing Up Across the Middle East

Rick Noack
September 24, 2014
Islamic State just one of many al-Qaeda offshoots in the Middle East

Fighter of the al-Nusra Front. (Rami Al-Sayed/AFP) 

When the United States launched airstrikes in Syria this week, they targeted not only the extremists of the Islamic State, but positions manned by a shadowy organization with al-Qaeda links dubbed the “Khorasan Group.” Though our understanding of the group remains murky, it joins a whole constellation of al-Qaeda offshoots in the Middle East. 

What is striking about many of these groups is their recent emergence. Some were founded to adapt to the challenge of pro-democracy protesters in the Arab Spring (such as Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen), while others are a reaction to the intensifying competition among terror groups in the Middle East (one example would be the Khorasan group). 

If we included other regions, such as further east in South Asia or in Africa, the number of organizations would rise significantly. Here is a selection of Middle Eastern groups. 

Jabhat Al-Nusra 

Two members of the Al-Nusra Front speak in front of U.N. peacekeepers on Sept. 9, 2014. (Nusra Front via Reuters TV) 

The group (translated name: “Victory Front”) emerged in 2011 as an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is now known as the Islamic State. Donations from abroad and al-Qaeda in Iraq helped the group gain momentum very quickly — but it has since distanced itself from the Islamic State and pledged its allegiance to the central al-Qaeda network. Al-Nusra was among the groups targeted by U.S. airstrikes in Syria on Tuesday morning. 

Abdallah Azzam Brigades 

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for a twin bomb attack in Beirut in February 2014. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters) 

The group is an offshoot of al-Qaeda in various locations of the Middle East. According to the U.S. Department of State, the group operates in Lebanon and the Arabian Peninsula, and was formed in 2009. In 2014, it claimed it had fired several rockets into Israeli territory from Gaza. Two years earlier, it hadwarned Shiites in Lebanon not to join Assad’s fight against the Syrian opposition and threatened those who would not comply. 

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula/Ansar al-Sharia (Yemen) 

Leaders of Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen. (AFP/Getty Images)