5 October 2014

Can China and India Cooperate in Afghanistan?

By Edward Schwarck
October 01, 2014

Their border disputes and maritime rivalry aside, China and India may be able to make common cause in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan is going out of fashion among governments in the West, as attention shifts to a disintegrating Middle East and a new battlefront in Eastern Europe. But something may be moving in to fill the void. China and India held their first bilateral talks on Afghanistan in April 2013, and discussed the issue most recently during Xi Jinping’s visit to New Delhi last week, where both sides agreed to “strengthen strategic dialogue” on building “peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan,” which was identified as a “shared interest.”

The China-India relationship is still riddled with suspicion from the 1962 war, and a smoldering border disputeand rivalry in the maritime sphere complicates relations further. But as Western forces are drawn down in Afghanistan at the end of this year, cooperation may be the best way to establish the regional stability that the country needs for its future growth and security. The pressing question is not, therefore, if such cooperation is desirable, but whether the two Asian giants are capable of working together to produce a robust and viable framework for the country’s future.

Convergence of Interests

Cooperation grows from common interests, and China and India are united in the common threat that both countries face from the surge in terrorism that would likely accompany state collapse in Afghanistan. India perceived a terror threat emanating from the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate for much of its existence, and an attackin May on India’s consulate in Herat by four heavily armed militants – reportedly members of Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba – suggests that this threat is still alive. While Beijing is not overtly concerned with instability in Afghanistan (it weathered the Taliban decade by simply closing its borders) spillover into the poorly governed spaces of Central Asia – or worse, Pakistan – could provide a means for terrorist groups to link up with Uyghur fighters in Xinjiang.

Afghanistan also figures in the regional strategies that both countries are unveiling. Beijing’s “Silk Road Economic Belt,” emerging as a hallmark foreign policy under Xi Jinping, will comprise a cross-border logistics infrastructure linking China’s western regions with resource-rich Central Asia and, eventually, the markets of Europe. Meanwhile, India’s “Connect Central Asia” policy envisions Afghanistan as a regional trade hub crossed by energy pipelines and air, rail and road links that will one day transport the resources of Central Asia to the subcontinent. In other words, both countries have a vision for Afghanistan and its neighborhood as a thoroughfare for regional trade and prosperity.

Are India’s ‘Smart Cities’ a Smart Move?

By Prashant Kajaria
October 02, 2014

Modi’s plans for hyper-urbanization must answer some tough questions. 

May 16, 2014 is now a historic day for democratic India, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coalition winning an overwhelming majority. It sparked nationwide optimism, with a growing GDP, the Sensex rising over 10 percent in 4 months, and the hope of acche din (good days) for the Indian economy. As a part of the budget, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, has promised numerous projects for this term, including the creation of 100 smart cities – or cities with sophisticated IT features.

This grandiose pledge had been envisioned by Modi as a part of the achhe din campaign from the outset. More than 7000 crore ($1.13 billion) has been allocated to the endeavor, or 70 crore per city. Insisting this was to be the seed money, the government pledged additional investments in due course. The concept is based on ecologically friendly urban settlements that exploit technology to offer a more structured living environment. Such cities would have a centralized control system that provides real-time data on the availability of water, electricity, education, public transportation and sanitation: the basic modern-day needs.

All of which begs a question: Are smart cities really important? The project’s aim is “housing for all,” and that is possible only through affordable housing. Much like other developing nations, India has high levels of rural-urban migration – the country is expected to have an urban population of 530 million by 2030, up from 390 million in 2008. Given the fast pace of development, better living standards are being sought by those with lower incomes, and a new middle class is emerging. Official data show that approximately 269 million people in India are still below the poverty line, but millions are moving out of poverty every year. It is for this rising class that the need for better living standards arises. To accommodate this growing and increasingly mobile populace, it is imperative that a sustainable model of housing be developed. But are smart cities the answer? Certainly, in theory the idea sounds very appealing. In practice, it is much less certain and the answer won’t be known until India actually builds some. India has already taken serious steps to turn certain cities into smart cities. International assistance has been sought from Singapore and Japan, among others. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between India and Japan to develop Varanasi into a smart city based on the experience of its Japanese counterpart – Kyoto.

The Taihoku mystery


There have been three enquiry commissions to investigate the truth, but their hearings were either inconclusive or their findings were rejected. And yet our governments have kept some secret files on Netaji as classified documents and this proves that he was a victim of an international conspiracy. For a variety of reasons, the Taihoku tale has Cut no ice ~ NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT

Around 50 members of Netaji’s family recently met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with an appeal for declassification of the secret files concerning Netaji’s mysterious disappearance after 16 August 1945. They also wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to unravel the truth behind his sudden exit. They claimed that there have been three enquiry commissions to investigate the truth, but their hearings were either inconclusive or their findings were rejected. 

It is well-known that the iconic leader was reportedly killed in an aircrash at Taihoku (Formosa) on 18 August 1945. However, Indians have found no convincing reason to believe it. After the fall of his allies ~ Germany, Japan and Italy ~ Netaji realised the futility of continuing the war from South-east Asia. He wanted to go to the Soviet Union to seek its help in his struggle for freedom and sought to reach Dairen where the Soviet troops had already reached.

We do not know whether the Japanese authorities in Saigon had accepted his proposal. But on 16 August, they offered a seat to Netaji in a Tokyo-bound plane, and after considerable pressure they provided another seat to Col Habibur Rahman to accompany Netaji. The other associates of Netaji ~ Guljara Singh, Pritam Singh, Devnath Das, SA Ayar and Abid Hussain ~ were left behind. Moreover, on 19 August the Japanese gave the assurance that one of them could be immediately brought to Netaji by air, and the others would get their seats in the next plane which would fly via Hanoi. Eventually Mr Ayar, a minister of the provisional government, boarded the first plane. But, during his journey, he came to know that Netaji had died on 10 August in an aircrash at Taihoku (S A Ayar, Azad Hind Fauz, p 97).

The mystery deepened in Saigon. Certain facts need to be noted:

* Had Netaji been killed in an aircrash on 18 August, then why on the 19th did the Japanese promise to take his five associates to Japan in order to meet him? What was the mystery behind it?

* According to Tokyo Radio (22 August 1945), his plane crashed in Taihoku air field at 12 noon on 18 August. He was under treatment in “a hospital in Japan where he died at midnight”. But on 25 August, Taiwan ~ Sin-Pau, the Taihoku newspaper, announced that Netaji had died in a local hospital. So, where exactly did he perish?

* The radio news bulletin was actually prepared by Mr Ayar, but he was not present at the spot of the aircrash. Was he on the staff of the radio network? Then the question survives as to why, four days after Netaji’s reported death, the draft of the bulletin needed the help of Mr Ayar’s pen?

* Neither his death certificate nor the municipal record of his cremation could be produced before any investigating authority. Even the photograph of the body has not been available. Only a Japanese, named Ichiro Okura died on that day in Taihoku hospital.

Five Reasons India Shouldn't Worry About Its Trade Deficit With China


Two steps forward and one back: That was the general theme for Sino-Indian economic ties after Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s recent visit to India.

According to statements made by Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China promised to help update India’s railway system, establish industrial parks in the Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, and open its markets to Indian products like pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods. A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said Xi’s trip removed “some suspicions” between China and India.

At least in India, however, the comment seemed premature. As Xi’s visit approached, Indian media were reporting that Chinese troops were constructing a temporary road into Chinese territory, leading to a standoff in the Himalayas. Agitated Indian media reports cited Xias urging his troops to be ready for war.

Due partly to the lingering legacy of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, Indians remain deeply suspicious of China. Chinese have a slightly more sanguine attitude: A 2012 Pew poll showed that some 39% of Chinese surveyed say the China-India relationship is cooperative, while only 23% of Indians agree.

Unfortunately, this suspicion extends to the economic relationship. India has blocked Chinese investments in sectors such as telecom, ports, and shipping due to security concerns, made it difficult for Chinese employees to obtain visas to work in India, and complained loudly and frequently about its trade deficit with China. Chinese imports to India were $48.44 billion in 2013, while Indian exports to China were only $17.03 billion.

Taliban Devise New Strategy in Afghanistan: Territorial Control and War on Afghan Intelligence Headquarters

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 18

September 26, 2014 11:19 AM Age: 7 days

Afghan soldier on patrol (Source: NATO Training Mission Afghanistan)

On September 10, 2014, Kunduz province’s police chief, Ghulam Mustafa Mohseni, announced that a longtime Taliban stronghold, the Chahar Dara district of northern Afghanistan, had been cleared of insurgents. Mohseni added that the Taliban lost around 210 members in the operations (ToloNews, September 10). The large number of Taliban casualties in Kunduz is one of the many instances of the widening insurgency in Afghanistan. Militants increasingly have been able to carry out attacks with hundreds of people fighting Afghan government forces for days and weeks in order to gain territorial control over specific strategically located areas of Afghanistan.

Along with these major and well-coordinated battles in the field, insurgents are now being used as assets in a clearly drawn intelligence war targeting the Afghan security establishment, with a particular focus on the Afghan domestic intelligence agency. The latest of these attacks was conducted in early September with a group of 19 suicide attackers targeting the National Directorate of Security (NDS) provincial headquarters in Ghazni province. The attack, which lasted for a few hours, was highly sophisticated and brutal, killing and wounding around 180 civilians and security personnel (Daily Mail, September 4).

Large groups of Taliban fighters in combat and an intelligence war are the two main pillars of a strategic shift in the broader strategy of the Afghan insurgency. This shift demonstrates that the Afghan insurgency has changed dramatically in 2014, as the country is heading toward a transformed role for NATO forces left in Afghanistan coupled with a political transition that has been underway for the last five months. Success for various groups of insurgents operating under the Taliban’s banner could be a game changer and would allow the reemergence and reestablishment of a brutal regime in Afghanistan.

Struggle for Territorial Control

Since June, the Taliban have waged four major direct assaults in four Afghani provinces. The largest operation conducted so far has been in Helmand province. Reports suggest that 800 to 1,000 Taliban insurgents were involved in major assaults on the Sangin, Nawzad, Mua Qala and Kajaki districts (BBC, June 25). Fighting there continued for weeks until the Taliban were defeated and areas were cleared; around 100 militants were reportedly killed during the fighting. The Taliban then shifted their operations to northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province where they fought for weeks to take control of the Khan Abad, Chahar Dara and Dashte Archi districts. As a result, they lost tens of their people and fought the Afghan security forces for weeks (ToloNews, August 24). Eastern Nuristan was another target of the Taliban in late August. Afghan security forces waged an eight-day operation to regain control of the province’s Doa Ab district, killing around 30 Taliban (ToloNews, August 29). After being repulsed on three fronts, more than 1,000 insurgents then launched another operation in northwestern Farayab province in a struggle for territorial control of the Qaisar and Ghormach districts. The attacks continued for around a week and resulted in over 130 insurgent casualties (Pajhwok, August 18).

The deterioration of the security situation and a drawn-out, disputed political process have paved the way for the undertaking of a new strategy by the Taliban in Afghanistan. A senior security official in the Afghan government told Jamestown on the condition of anonymity that the Taliban’s efforts for major gains in territorial control is planned mainly for 2015 when the NATO-led ISAF forces will be fully withdrawn and a fragile and weakened Afghan state will have the burden of stabilizing Afghanistan alone. Due to the political instability that emerged during the long-time disputed elections and an uncertain NATO presence, however, the Taliban began implementing their new strategy in 2014, a strategy that the Afghan official termed as a defeated one. [1]

Intelligence War

Losing the "Forgotten War" The U.S. Strategic Vacuum in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia


OCT 1, 2014 
The US is now engaged in a major national debate over how to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. That same debate over the future of the US role in Afghanistan is not taking place. The US has issued the usual reassuring rhetoric after the inauguration of President Ghani and the belated signing of bilateral security and status of forces agreements. Afghanistan is still the “forgotten war” in terms of substantive plans and workable commitments. The Taliban is making steady gains, civilian casualties are rising, there still is no clear US strategy, and America’s allies lack clear plans for any post-2014 aspect of transition.

Afghanistan is also only part of the story. Pakistan is as critical to any meaningful definition of strategic success in the fighting as is Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, is in political chaos, has rising tensions with India, has only made uncertain progress in its latest military campaign, and has made no progress in the mix of economic and educational reforms that are critical to its stable future. Few Americans see Pakistan as having been anything but the most reluctant ally since “9/11” and many see Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as part of the enemy.

US forces have effectively left Central Asia, but the US has not announced any strategy to deal with Central Asia in the future or how to adjust to growing tensions with Russia.

The end result is that the United States has failed to define meaningful future strategies for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia. It is cutting its presence in Afghanistan so quickly that its Transition efforts may well fail, and it has no clear future strategy for Pakistan and Central Asia.

As a result, the Burke Chair is issuing a study that examines the overall mix of problems in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region. It suggests the best solution for the U.S. in dealing with the complex problems in South Asia and Central Asia may be the simplest and most minimalist approach. No vital U.S. national security priorities are currently involved that require sustained, major U.S. intervention, and strategic triage indicates that other areas and problems have a higher priority.

At the same time, it is far from clear that the US cannot make Transition work in Afghanistan if the new Afghan government is unified and acts quickly enough to show it can be a credible partner, and if the Obama Administration is willing to provide the needed advisors and aid resource on a conditions-based level. There may still be a practical and affordable path to success in Afghanistan if the US does not reduce the US presence to an unworkable level by the end of 2015.

Could Myanmar’s hunt for energy derail peace?


1 October 2014 

A little over a quarter of Myanmar's population has access to electricity. Despite this incredible statistic, the country has tremendous energy potential. Criss-crossed with rivers (not to mention an abundance of hydrocarbons), hydropower could provide for much of Myanmar's energy needs. However, it was attempts to harness this hydropower that led to renewed conflict in Kachin state in 2011. A new proposed dam could provoke a similar fallout.
Myanmar's Ayeyerwaddy River; Photo by Author

In order to support the country's development, Naypyidaw is under pressure to generate more electricity. Low wages and operation costs mean that many foreign manufacturers have flocked to Myanmar since the easing of sanctions. Over the next 20 years, a business as usual estimate by the Asian Development Bank forecasts a 3.1% annual growth in energy demand.

New hydropower projects are one way of boosting power generation. Some sources put the number of proposed dams in the country at as many as 45. Many of these are planned along the mighty Salween River. The 2400km-long river (known as the Nu River in China) runs from Yunnan province in China to Thailand, with 53% of the river basin in China, 42% in Myanmar and 5% in Thailand.

On 16 September, the Deputy Minister for electric power, Maw Thar Htwe, announced in parliament that a new mega dam on the Salween had been approved, pending further impact assessment (Australia's Snowy River Engineering Corporation will reportedly be conducting the environmental and social assessment).

The proposed dam will be situated in the country's eastern Shan state, close to areas controlled by Shan State Army-South, an armed ethnic group. As one lower house lawmaker from the region noted: 'Fighting could break out if the government does not discuss this project with the rebels.'

This concern has precedent. In 2011 the fallout and lack of community consultation for a dam project in Kachin state in northern Myanmar led the Kachin Independence Army to abandon a 17-year long ceasefire and re-engage in fighting with the Myanmar military (locally known as the Tatmadaw).

This fighting continues, with tens of thousands displaced.

China’s Cyber War Against Hong Kong Protestors

October 01, 2014

Online censorship and direct cyber attacks are targeting Hong Kong protestors. 

The Hong Kong protests made it through October 1, China’s National Day, without the violence some had feared would accompany the sensitive date. Now it seems that Beijing and the Hong Kong government have adopted a gentler strategy — waiting out the protests, hoping that the movement will lose support over time. But that doesn’t mean Beijing is taking an entirely hands-off approach. In the cyber realm, the Hong Kong protests face both extensive censorship and cyber attacks.

Hong Kong’s protestors are being targeted by computer viruses that exploit vulnerabilities in mobile devices, a mobile security firm reported this week. Lacoon Mobile Security announced that malware, dubbed Xsser, targets Apple devices, including iPhones and iPads. The Xsser software is related to spyware targeting Android devices.

In a post on the company website, Lacoon’s research team noted that the Android spyware was “disguised as an app to help coordinate Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong.” Infected links were sent out via popular Chinese messaging service WhatsApp. While investigating that spyware, the Lacoon team discovered the Xsser software targeting Apple devices. “Cross-Platform attacks that target both iOS and Android devices are rare, and indicate that this may be conducted by a very large organization or nation state,” Lacoon noted. Lacoon Chief Executive Michael Shaulov told Reuters that Xsser is the most sophisticated spyware he has seen being used against Apple devices.

Given that the spyware seems to be targeting Hong Kong protestors, that is it unusually sophisticated, and that the code being used is written in Chinese, suspicions are running high that Beijing is behind the spyware. Lacoon warns of the danger posed by this spyware: “When infected, Xsser mRAT exposes virtually any information on iOS devices including SMS, email, and instant messages, and can also reveal location data, usernames and passwords, call logs and contact information.”

In addition to targeting the protestors themselves, China may be instituting cyber attacks against media outlets in order to prevent information on the protests from reaching mainland Chinese audiences. Yesterday, GreatFire.org, a site dedicated to monitoring China’s online censorship, tweeted that Yahoo appeared to be the target of a “man-in-the-middle attack” in China. Such an attack, as the name implies, places the attacking computer in between a user and a third party site — in this case, Yahoo. The go-between can then block access to specific areas of Yahoo, all without the user being aware that the connection is compromised. MITM attacks are relatively rare; GreatFire notes the apparent attack on Yahoo is only the third such case in China.

The Approaching Xinjiang Crisis Point

By Scott Devary
October 02, 2014


Crackdown or reform, Chinese leaders will be forced to take action soon if they hope to keep the peace. 

“China Executes 8 Convicted on Terrorism Charges,” the headline reads. It is a succinct, eye-grabbing statement that causes me to pause. As I finish the byline, I recognize an all-too familiar pattern in the Chinese justice system. Where the Uighur ethnic minority are concerned, excessive force and an opaque sense of impartiality are the rule. Official Chinese news sources read off charges linking the men to violent and dangerous separatist activities. The Tiananmen Square attack from the end of October in 2013 that left five dead and twenty-nine injured is laid at the feet of one of the men, an alleged mastermind, but the response by the state rings hollow and the reason is a complicated one. The Uighur separatism issue is far from solved, and the threat of domestic terrorism still looms large in Xinjiang.

For Western observers, Chinese domestic security policy has never had the appearance of justice or finesse, due largely in part to restrictions on a free press in matters important to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Law and order are important to every state, but a functioning justice system must rely on transparency and citizens’ rights as much as the guarantee of punitive action against a society’s worst offenders. One need only review the complex and controversial history of the CCP’s claims to the Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Regions to recognize that the law and public good have been capriciously applied in the CCP’s recent past.

This relative inconsistency in the use of force and treatment of citizens’ rights belies one of the central failings of Beijing’s policy regarding the violence of the Uighur separatist movement in Xinjiang: Overzealous use of force from a variety of official and unofficial agencies in the region only hinders the CCP leadership’s goal of a pacification. Despite this inconsistency, these events can give foreign analysts insight into what means the CCP is willing to take to maintain its rule – and how far it is willing to go. At the very least, they reveal how adaptable and responsive the central party apparatus is at dealing with such a nebulous security threat.

The use of force in domestic police action within China is difficult to fully conceptualize for the Western observer, whose political systems are usually based on the idea of political costs and finite political capital. How does one assess political costs for an arcane single-party system with state-run and officially-sanctioned public news bureaus? There can be no doubt that there are internal power struggles: Competition over resources and policy preferences and priorities must surely exist within the closed doors of the CCP. Ascertaining how much compromise, bargaining, and public influence are weighed by policy elites remains difficult, however. This is why the Uighur separatism issue is becoming more important and warrants greater scrutiny from foreign policy and academic circles. It is a litmus test to see how far the CCP and its leaders are willing to go in resolving aperceived internal existential threat in either direction: citizen rights reform or increasingly draconian security measures.

Xinjiang and terrorism (part 2): The new threat of ISIS


3 October 2014

Beijing's well-documented heavy-handed response to the recent upswing in violence in Xinjiang has been one contributor to the internationalization of the Uyghur issue which I argued in part 1 of this post. President Xi Jinping's call for a 'people's war' to make terrorists 'like rats scurrying across the street' has resulted in an increased security presence in the region, including mass arrests of suspected 'terrorists' and their sympathizers and regular house-to-house sweeps in search of suspected militants.

Mass sentencing, Yili, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China (REUTERS/China Stringer Network)

Thousands of Chinese Communist Party cadres have been dispatched to the countryside to 'educate' the population regarding the threats of Islamism and the virtues of 'ethnic unity' and 'stability'. In parallel, the authorities have fallen back upon their default strategy for combating Uyghur dissent: attempts to control Uyghur religious and cultural practices. Since the beginning of this year there has been renewed emphasis on long-standing policies such as restricting religious observance by state employees, Party members and the young, and attempts to limit outward expression of Islamic identity such as beards and headscarves.

Predictably, such policies have been counter-productive with many Uyghurs increasingly adopting such outward markers of their ethnic identity as a symbolic form of resistance to Chinese rule.

More significantly, these policies increasingly appear to be backfiring on Beijing's management of the Xinjiang and Uyghur issues internationally. Beijing's approach is now being questioned not only by Western governments and human rights organizations but creating dilemmas for it in the Middle East. China has long fostered pragmatic ties with major states in the region based not only on China's growing energy demands and economic clout but also its role as a foil to the meddlesome tendencies of the West, and the US in particular. 

From the Frontlines of Climate Change Along China’s Yellow River


One in five people in the world get their water from great Asian rivers linked to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in northwestern China. Here, beneath a gently undulating landscape, spring the headwaters of the Yellow River, which sweep three thousands miles across China on their way to the sea. When they make it. The Yellow River now runs dry so often that some scientists have argued it ought to be considered a seasonal phenomenon. The plateau is also a beacon for climate change. Like the Arctic, for the past 50 years, the land beneath its expansive ice fields has warmed much faster than the rest of the world. Scientists call it “the third pole.”

Through my panoramic images, I seek resonance with some of the romantic notions of the once-great Yellow River. The search is for a gentle beauty that is characteristic of this plateau, but also for muted signs of a landscape in the throes of transition caused by human intervention. These traces of change within the landscape serve as a way to connect with the frontlines of climate change where the environmental crisis underway, like climate change itself, isn’t always easy to see.

My panoramas of the Yellow River reveal the subtle, barely visible changes climate change is causing along its banks. —Ian Teh
Ian Teh’s concern for social, environmental, and political issues is evident in much of his photography. Amongst selected works, his series, The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives (...

Ian Teh photographed “Traces: From the Frontlines of Climate Change Along China’s Yellow River” as a 2014 Abigail Cohen Fellow in Documentary Photography. The fellowship is a joint initiative of Asia Society’s ChinaFile and Magnum Foundation.

In the 1990s, China’s Yellow River began to dry up, and in 1997 it failed to reach the sea for several months. In an effort to address the problem, government officials launched a scheme to protect the river’s source, a region about the size of Illinois called Sanjiangyuan (“Three River Source”) in northwest Qinghai province, which is also home to the sources of the Yangtze and Mekong rivers. The Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve was established in 2000. Since then, Ngoring Lake, the largest of the lakes in the Reserve, has seen its water levels rising and is now larger than its historical average. Local officials claim this is proof that the government’s environmental preservation efforts have been successful, but recent research by climate scientists suggests a more worrying explanation for rising water levels: not only is climate change thought to be responsible for increased rainfall and snowfall in the area, it has also caused, by some estimates, up to a fifth of the permafrost which covers 80% of the plateau to melt.

ASEAN Finds Its Voice on Islamic State

October 02, 2014

U.S. aircraft after conducting airstrikes over Syria

The bloc has finally broken its silence. Can it now contribute to the fight against the terrorist outfit? 

In a refreshing departure from its usual say nothing approach to all things diplomatic, ASEAN has finally broken its silence over the self-anointed Islamic State (IS), and issued its first joint statement on the crisis, warning of the threat the terrorist outfit poses to global security.

It also backed United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on the international community to suppress the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and their financing, saying they “not only pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, but also to all countries in Middle East, and, if left unchecked, to the rest of the world.”

The statement was issued after an ASEAN-US ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. It also said ASEAN denounces “all acts of destruction, violence, and terror in all its forms.”

ASEAN countries – in particular Muslim-dominated Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – had been coy about the rise of IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL – and its spread from Syria westward into much of Iraq where it is now threatening Baghdad and laying siege to the Kurdistan region.

Authorities fear up to 200 Indonesians and at least 30 Malaysians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with IS, including women.

Hundreds more, including Cambodians and Australians, have also been reported among the multinational force made up of militias and mercenaries and their presence has raised the prospect that terrorist designs for an Islamic caliphate could be exported back to Southeast Asia.

Among the latest warnings, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein raised the prospect of a strike by Islamic State within Southeast Asia and said its influence and the spread of their ideology had to be stopped.

Philippine authorities are on alert for any attempt by IS militants to enter the country after the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the country’s south threatened to kill two Germans it had taken hostage in retaliation for U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria. ASG, among other regional militant groups – including former Jemaah Islamiyah leaders – has sworn allegiance to IS.

Perspectives on the South China Sea

Diplomatic, Legal, and Security Dimensions of the Dispute 

By Murray Hiebert, Gregory B. Poling, Phuong Nguyen 
SEP 30, 2014 

The South China Sea is arguably one of the world’s most dangerous regions, with conflicting diplomatic, legal, and security claims by major and mid-level powers. To assess these disputes, CSIS brought together an international group of experts—from Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam. This volume gathers these experts’ analyses to provide a diverse and wide-ranging set of perspectives on the region and to explore possibilities for future cooperation.

Contributors: Alice Ba, Chu Shulong, Jerome A. Cohen, Patrick M. Cronin, Vu Hai Dang, Alan Dupont, Bonnie S. Glaser, Euan Graham, Bing Bing Jia, Yoji Koda, James Manicom, Charmaine G. Misalucha, Jonathan G. Odom, Phillip C. Saunders, Carlyle A. Thayer 

Publisher CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield 

ISBN 978-1-4422-4032-2 (pb); 978-1-4422-4033-9 (eBook) 

Analysis of the Capture of the Iraqi City of Hit by ISIS

October 3, 2014

ISIS Captures Anbar City in Coordinated Offensive

Lauren Squires and Christopher Kozak

Institute for the Study of War

On October 2, ISIS detonated three SVBIEDs in Hit, a city between Ramadi and Haditha, targeting security checkpoints at the western and eastern entrances of the city as well as the city center. Hit is one of the few remaining areas in the Thar Thar area of Anbar Province that is not under ISIS control. ISIS followed this initial SVBIED wave with a ground attack and now reportedly controls between 70 and 90% of Hit. Local nationals report ISIS members moving freely around the city and black flags flying over government buildings.

Hit occupies a strategic position along the Euphrates River Valley arm, and ISIS likely seeks to control Hit in order to counterbalance ISF control of Haditha, a city that has been highly contested between ISF and ISIS for the past several months. The attack on Hit is the latest in a series of operations that ISIS has conducted in Anbar province in order to gain freedom of movement and maneuver and to develop a secure staging area in preparation for further consolidating territory in the western Baghdad avenue of approach. Additionally, ISIS could be intensifying its effort in Anbar Province to eliminate tribal retaliatory attack planning. In the past two weeks ISIS has besieged an ISF base in Albu Aitha, north of Ramadi and overrun a second ISF position in Saqlawiyah northwest of Fallujah. ISIS persistently conducts attacks against emplaced ISF positions in the Euphrates River corridor to prevent ISF reinforcements from entering the province and to break ISF lines of communication to the outer Euphrates River belt.

ISIS’s Anbar urban offensive likely employs several different pincer movements in the outer Baghdad Belts and in the Euphrates River Valley, deliberately alternating its tactical engagements in time and space in order to keep the ISF and other adversarial forces off balance. ISIS attacks northwest of Baghdad appear to offset from ISIS attacks southwest of Baghdad, for example, and ISIS is offensives in eastern Anbar appear to offset from attacks in outer Anbar near Haditha. ISIS has been active in each of these locations over the last few weeks. ISIS tactics in the outer Anbar province also suggest ISIS commands from at least two distinct operational headquarter in Anbar. These two commands frame the Haditha-Ramadi corridor.

One headquarters element exercises control from the outer northwest Thar Thar region to middle Anbar, a block we have previously assessed to conduct attacks and provide strategic reinforcement along this corridor. The Thar Thar region that stretches from Fallujah north to Samarra is a likely stronghold for ISIS since the Abu Ghraib Prison attack in July 2013. ISIS took control of the Muthanna Complex there on June 11, 2014 - only a day after Mosul fell. The ISF have increasingly targeted villages on the southern edge of the region, such as Garma, after ISIS entered Fallujah in December 2013, but the evidence indicates that ISIS probably maintains a significant force in this zone.

The other element is likely in southwestern Anbar along the southern bank of the Euphrates near Haditha and Ana. This element is most likely responsible for attacks from far western Anbar towards the Haditha - Ramadi axis. ISIS was conducting attacks in Haditha at an almost daily rate in early September 2014. However, ISIS has been unsuccessful penetrating ISF defenses in Haditha and has shifted both logistical and operational focus farther down the Euphrates River Valley corridor. ISIS likely seeks to merge the efforts of these two Anbar elements and close the gap at Hit. If ISIS succeeds in this, it will isolate pro-government tribes that are fighting ISIS in Haditha and Ramadi from ISF reinforcements. It will also relieve ISIS elements in Anbar by diminishing the local population’s opportunity to resist. The ISIS offensive for Anbar is closely linked to the ISIS campaign for the Baghdad Belts. If ISIS can consolidate its core strength in Anbar, then its reinforcements that are currently augmenting attacks in this zone will likely shift to reinforce the northern and southern Baghdad Belts and prepare to attack the capital.

Impotent U.S. Airstrikes, Passive Turks and an ISIS Triumph



Kobani has become the Kurds’ Alamo as they fight ISIS in Syria. Nobody’s coming to help them, and if and when they fall, the repercussions will be felt for years to come. 

ATMANEK, Turkey — At dusk on Friday evening the crackle of automatic gunfire, the whoosh of rockets and the sickening roar of tank shells echoed from the fighting in Kobani, Syria, less than a mile away. We stood on the rooftop of a derelict farmhouse meters away from a Turkish tank and a razor wire fence marking the end of Turkey. 

Nearby a family of Turkish Kurds busied themselves in their fields piling vegetables onto a donkey-drawn cart. Look the other way though, towards Syria as the sun melted in a red glow under the horizon, and the occasional rocket and flare flashed across the skyline. 

Another day in a desperate fight was ending in the Kurds’ Alamo. And as with the 13-day last stand of the Texans James Bowie and William B. Travis there was no relief in sight. 

In the morning Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists in a briefing in Ankara that his government would do what it could to prevent the mainly Kurdish town of Kobani, known as Ain al-Arab to the Arabs, from falling to the militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). 

“We wouldn’t want Kobani to fall,” he said. 

It is hard to tell though. 

Is the CIA Now Working With Hezbollah Against ISIS?

Has the ISIS crisis pushed the CIA into bed with Hezbollah?

Jeff Stein
October 1, 2014

A few months ago, a former top CIA operative applied for a Lebanese visa to do some work in Beirut for an oil company. While he was waiting for approval, a package arrived at his client’s office. Inside was a full dossier on his CIA career. “It included things on where I had served, well back into 1990s,” said Charles Faddis, who ran the CIA’s covert action program in Kurdistan during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, among other top assignments. “It had details on my travels to Israel and Lebanon—years ago.”

Faddis took it as a blunt message from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed partner in Lebanon’s coalition government that is equal parts political party, social service agency, occupying army and terrorist group. “It was their way of saying, ‘We don’t want this guy here, but we want business with you to go forward,’” Faddis told Newsweek. It also was a way of underscoring—as if any emphasis was needed—that to do business in Lebanon, you have to go through the “Party of God.” And today that business includes the U.S. drive to recruit regional partners to wage war on the Islamic State, the group more commonly known as ISIS.

Washington wants Lebanon to stop ISIS at its borders. So does Hezbollah, whose entry into the Lebanese government last February did not get it removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.

It’s a tricky minuet for two longtime lethal foes. In 1983 Hezbollah notoriously dispatched a suicide bomber to the Marine Corps barracks at Beirut International Airport, who killed 299 Marines and French servicemen. The same year, it also bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, most of them CIA and State Department personnel. Its kidnappings and executions of Americans, including CIA station chief William Buckley, were as savage as any ISIS beheading.

For several years now, however, there has been “unwritten, unacknowledged cease-fire” between the combatants, as Faddis and several other authoritative sources put it. “They know where we are and could easily take out our officers,” a senior CIA official told Newsweek last year, on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive U.S.-Hezbollah relations. But they haven’t—not that they have acquiesced to CIA operations in Beirut. In 2011, for example, Hezbollah merely exposed the names and faces of some alleged CIA officers in Lebanon, rather than killing them. Such restraint reflects Hezbollah’s transformation from a Shiite movement and welfare service with an armed militia and a terrorist arm to a powerful political force. The Party of God and its allies now hold more than a third of the cabinet portfolios in Lebanon’s coalition government and 12 seats in the parliament.

And that alone gives Hezbollah a virtual veto over CIA operations in Lebanon, if not making them de facto partners against ISIS, whose aim is to liquidate the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hezbollah’s long-time protector. “The enemy of my enemy is a worst enemy,” quipped Ali Soufan, a former top FBI counterterrorism official, speaking of the joint interest of Shiite Hezbollah and Iran and the U.S. to “degrade and destroy,” as President Obama put it, the Sunni Islamic State.

“Relations between [Hezbollah] and the U.S. are developing positively,” a Lebanese newspaper quoted a pro-Western parliament member as saying.

Treasury official outlines plan to bankrupt ISIS


A Treasury Department official on Wednesday said the administration is trying to cut off funding to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by leveling sanctions against people who do business with the group.

David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, said administration officials are on the lookout for people who buy oil from ISIS. 

“At some point, there is someone who is purchasing this oil that they're going to refine and try and sell. Those people have relationships with the banking sector. Those are people who we're identifying,” Cohen said on CNN.

“We can apply sanctions against them but we can also message those people and make clear to them the danger that they're putting themselves in,” he added.

Recent reports say ISIS has made $3 million per day in oil sales. Last week, the U.S. bombed oil refineries operated by the group in Syria.

Cohen said another way ISIS is funded is through foreign donations, which he said the Treasury Department is working to stop.

Last week, the department imposed sanctions on 11 people and one entity that the administration said has provided financial and other support to ISIS. President Obama has said the administration would work to cut off the group’s financing.

While Cohen said ISIS has “substantial resources in terms of funds,” he said their financing shouldn’t be overestimated.

Host Wolf Blitzer noted estimates say they have hundreds of millions of dollars, but Cohen said he couldn’t provide a specific number.

“I don't have a precise figure to give you, Wolf. And there's no question that is has substantial financial resources,” he said. “But the question really is, will they be able to continue to replenish those resources, will they be able to use those resources, and what can we do to undermine their financial strength.”

A "Just" War against ISIS?

October 2, 2014 


"If America is not prepared to supply the means necessary to achieve a just end, then the probability of success is in greater jeopardy than if we had never decided to destroy ISIS at all."

The relationship between ends and means is one that is crucial to get right in any conflict, and the launching of attacks against ISIS in recent days makes the discussion more important now than ever. Not only can the relationship between the two guide us through the subjective decision to wage war at all, but it can also guide our conduct in war as we consider whether one can ever justify the other.

There were many interesting components of the recent testimony by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, but none perhaps so much as the evaluation of the special relationship between these two elements: ends and means. In his remarks, Secretary Hagel laid out clearly both the ends he and the president sought, as well as the ways they proposed to achieve them.

If the secretary’s remarks had been the only ones we heard that week, we could be relatively comfortable that the fight to destroy ISIS was one that fit within the bounds of jus ad bellum(loosely, the right to wage war). Indeed, to meet this categorization, Just War Theory tells us that five basic criteria must be met: War must be declared by the right authority (traditionally, this is a state), declared in pursuit of a just cause, be a proportionate response, be used as a last resort and be used with probability of success.

The first four criteria are easily—if subjectively—met when we consider the wide coalition that is forming around the objective to destroy ISIS, the indiscriminate violence ISIS is waging against civilians, the choice to use (limited) air, ground and humanitarian support and also the recent history of power vacuums in both Iraq and Syria.

But, if we add Chairman Dempsey’s remarks into our analysis, the picture of justice takes on a different hue. In his remarks, Chairman Dempsey boldly urged Congress to realize that the support of ends does not necessarily entail the support of the means. Indeed, in his words, he is “growing increasingly uncomfortable that the will to provide means does not match the will to pursue ends.” With this observation, Chairman Dempsey’s remarks call into question the probability of success criteria, because that probability is limited not by our ability to fight, but also by our willingness to fund. This danger is present at every level of the strategy.

Iran's Two-Pronged Problem with the Islamic State: At Home and Abroad

September 11, 2014 

Qasem Soleimani, IRGC Commander, in Amerli, Iraq (Source: Twitter user Digital Resistance)

Executive Summary

The authorities in Iran consider the Islamic State to pose two different kinds of threats to Iranian regional interests and domestic stability. On the one hand, the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq threaten Tehran’s geopolitical interests as two of its closest Arab allies – the governments in Damascus and Baghdad – fight to contain the rise of the extremist Sunni and anti-Iran jihadist movement. Accordingly, Tehran’s first priority is to contain the threat of the Islamic State to outside of its borders. But recent statements from Iranian officials suggest a heightened degree of fear that the extremist anti-Shi’a message of the Islamic State might find some sympathy among some of Iran’s disgruntled Sunni minority, especially in the Sunni-majority province of Balochistan.

Sunni Jihadists Squeeze Iran from East and West

There have been a growing number of statements by Iranian officials that reject any claims that fighters from the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are in Iran, particularly in the northwestern border regions. But such rumors are not going away. This week, for the first time, the authorities in Tehran reported the arrest of three Afghan and Pakistani citizens traveling through Iran to join the Islamic State (BBC, September 8). The question is whether Iranian Sunni militants will join this latest Sunni jihadist cause. In fact, there are reports in the Iranian media that bands of Sunni militants operating in Balochistan, the southeast province of the country that borders Pakistan, might look to the Islamic State as a model.

From Iranian Balochistan

Reports have been publicly aired for a few weeks about the presence of Islamic State militants in Balochistan, Iran’s impoverished Sunni-majority province, but Tehran vehemently rejects these rumors (Fars News, September 3). On September 3, Iran’s Interior Minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, once again had to reassure the public that Iranian authorities are fully alert even though they have not yet detected any infiltration by Islamic State fighters and sympathizers (Fars News, September 3). Fazli specifically denied reports of local Islamic State sympathizers gaining ground in the southeastern city of Zahedan, the capital of Balochistan and on the border with Pakistan.

This official Iranian posture is a reflection of the fact that Balochistan poses a unique security threat to the country’s internal stability due to a combination of extreme poverty and decades-long resentment by the local Sunni population against the policies of the Shi’a-dominated central government in Tehran. Since 2003, when a new breed of Sunni militancy appeared there with the arrival of Jundollah, Balochistan has been in effect the only region in the country that continues to frequently experience armed clashes between government forces (mainly border guards but also members of the elite Iranian Revolution Guards Corps) and local Sunni militants.