6 October 2014

Choice of techniques

The Statesman, 06 Oct 2014


"An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man", Emerson had observed. Undoubtedly, the Planning Commission was nurtured under the overstretched shadows of the socialist ideals of Nehru. While the Modi Government's decision to consign it to the dustbin of history was most welcome, one cannot but look without apprehension into the government's consideration to create a replacement institution. Institutions have a life of their own, and once established, they cannot simply be wished away. If its replacement inherits any of the weaknesses that had made the Planning Commission such a dysfunctional but growth-obstructing institution, the substitute will also continue to corrupt our governance system for a long time. We ought to be very careful in resurrecting it in another form, without adequate thought and clarity about its intended role and purpose.

With its unrestrained powers and authority, the Planning Commission was serving powerful interests that ensured its survival for such a long time. Its abolition is no guarantee that these interests will let go of their privileges so easily ~ they are more than likely to stage a come-back, albeit in a different guise. This chain needs to be broken irrevocably, before history repeats itself. History is replete with examples of new incarnations of old institutions having inherited the character and shortcomings of those they have replaced. As a nation with an abundance of talent and entrepreneurial capacity, we need to consider if we really need another institution in place of the Planning Commission to guide the nation by their own ideas.

It may be interesting and instructive to draw from the experiences of other countries in this regard ~ for example, the BRICS countries India is often grouped with. In the erstwhile Soviet Union, the State Planning Committee, known as Gosplan, was responsible for central economic planning since its inception in 1923, till the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gosplan was responsible for creation and administration of a series of five-year plans governing the economy of the USSR, much like the Planning Commission in India during 1950-2014, or the State Planning Commission in China during 1952-1998. But after the break-up of the Soviet Union, countries that rose from its debris have shifted determinedly from planned economies to market economies by adopting liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation as the only way forward, and some of these countries, like Estonia, have registered GDP growth exceeding 8 per cent, transiting into advanced economies. Russia does not have a centralised planning system anymore; the state control that had marked six decades of overwhelming dominance of all investment, production and consumption decisions by the Communist Party is now a nightmare of the past. The country is grappling today with the decrepit legacy of its earlier centralised planning system.

Taking ties beyond the Beltway

Jayant Prasad

Narendra Modi’s U.S. visit has restored a degree of confidence to a neglected relationship, preparing the ground for a lift to bilateral ties, while ensuring that India and the U.S. get on with operationalising what they can from their multilayered agenda

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States has to be measured against the principal challenge he faced: how to engage with an already preoccupied partner.
He overcame this challenge by interacting with a much broader American audience than any of his predecessors. A very special feature of his visit was his determination to open new doors in the U.S. and take the relationship beyond the beltway in Washington DC. All previous Summit level U.S. visits by Indian leaders featured a mandatory speech at a think tank, interaction with a few Congressional leaders, and a meeting each with businessmen and the Indian community. The public diplomacy effort this time included multiple energetic exchanges with business and industry leaders, the Indian-American community, and U.S. lawmakers, surpassing all previous efforts.

U.S President Barack Obama commented about Mr. Modi’s “rock-star performance” at the Madison Square Garden arena. Far from being just a “tamasha,” the spectacle mobilised the Indian community across the U.S. and imparted to them a sense of pride and hope. Several Congressmen and Senators were present at the event, including some who have been critical of India on IT visas and compulsory licensing. These lawmakers saw at first hand the size, scale and connectedness of the Indian-American community to India, as also Mr. Modi’s crowd-pulling power. The message that this community is now a force whose expectations cannot be ignored, including for better India-U.S. ties, is a positive asset.
Future contours

While engaging new audiences, Mr. Modi did not ignore his host, with whom he established an excellent entente, overcoming the negative overhang of visa-denial since 2002. Moreover, he did not use the visit for inventorying deliverables, but to convey to all his interlocutors, within and outside the U.S. government, India’s aspirations for the future contours of the relationship. Much of this is encapsulated within the Joint Statement, the joint editorial by the two leaders published on the website of The Washington Post, and the Vision Statement of the India-U.S. Strategic Partnership — cleverly captioned by a new “mantra”: “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward together we go.” Such a vision could help in taking steps towards its progressive concretion.



Gwynne Dyer

“We have to recognise that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it’s not America’s responsibility to make it one,” said President Barack Obama last May. No, it isn’t, and Afghanistan is a strikingly imperfect society in almost every respect: politics, economy, security and human rights. But it isn’t entirely a lost cause, either.

Hamid Karzai, who was given the job of running Afghanistan after the American invasion and, subsequently, won two deeply suspect elections in 2004 and 2009, finally left office although he didn’t move very far. (His newly built private home backs onto the presidential palace.) On the way out, he took one last opportunity to bite the hand that fed him for so long. “The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners,” he said. “Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war.” The US ambassador, James Cunningham, said that “his remarks, which were uncalled for,... dishonour the huge sacrifices Americans have made here,” but they were, of course, true.

Over 1,400 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and they all died for a particular US official vision of how American security might be best assured. How else could the 13-year US military commitment in Afghanistan possibly be justified to the American people? As to whether the long occupation was also in Afghanistan’s interest, that depends very much on the stability and success of the two-headed potential monster of a government that is now being created in Kabul.

Two is company

Karzai has handed over the reins of power to two very different men after five months of bitter disagreement over which one of them had really won the last presidential election. It was not as blatantly rigged as either of the two elections that maintained Karzai in the presidency, but it was still pretty dodgy. In the first round of voting, when there were 11 candidates, the leader was Abdullah Abdullah, with 45 per cent of the vote, and the runner-up was Ashraf Ghani, with only 31 per cent. In the second round, Abdullah Abdullah’s vote actually dropped two points to 43 per cent, while Ashraf Ghani’s almost doubled to 56 per cent.

Al-Qaeda chief in region may be of Indian origin: Intel agencies

October 3, 2014 


India’s intelligence agencies have begun investigating information that the head of al-Qaeda’s new unit in the subcontinent is a former Uttar Pradesh resident, highly-placed government sources have told The Indian Express.

Maulana Asim Umar, earlier reported to be a Pakistani national, is now believed to have studied at the famous Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in Deoband, before emigrating from India in the late-1990s.

The investigations were under way even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a Washington, DC-based think tank that terrorism in India was “exported, not home-grown”.


Both the UP Police and Intelligence Bureau (IB) have questioned figures linked to the Islamist movement in India in the 1990s, seeking details on any Indian national who may have moved abroad.

Intelligence sources said their inquiries had focussed on former members of the now-proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), whose cadres were enthusiastic in their support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that took power in Afghanistan in 1996.

“No firm details have emerged so far,” one intelligence official said. “But from the bits and pieces of information we have, we’re increasingly convinced that Maulana Umar is likely of Indian origin, perhaps even an Indian national.”

The fact that the cleric has never appeared without a digital mask, the official said, “suggests he has something to hide, since the top jihadist leadership in Pakistan generally do not hesitate to show their faces”.

Maulana Ashraf Usmani, a spokesperson for the Deoband seminary, said that in the absence of identifying pictures, or approximate dates of residence, it was impossible to confirm — or deny — whether Maulana Umar had been a student there.

“Thousands of students go through here,” he said, “and we don’t have full records of the many who drop out”.

However, Maulana Usmani said, “I want to emphatically underline that the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband is unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorism, and, indeed, in its opposition to all forms of wrongdoing. Wherever this man got his ideas, it was not here.”

From three separate Pakistani sources familiar with the jihadi movement, The Indian Express learned that Maulana Umar arrived in Pakistan in the late-1990s, and began studies at the Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia, a Karachi seminary that has produced several top jihadist leaders, including Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who headed the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

Maulana Umar, the sources said, was mentored by Nizamuddin Shamzai, a cleric with close links to the Taliban, who once bragged about having been a “state guest” in Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

E-mail requests to the Jamia Uloom-e-Islamia, seeking confirmation of Maulana Umar’s residence and nationality, went unanswered. The seminary says on its website, though, that students from 60 countries, including India, have studied there.

After finishing his studies in Karachi, Maulana Umar is believed to have joined Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, teaching briefly at the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania seminary in Peshawar, and serving at the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Afghan army death rate spikes 30 percent


Afghanistan National Army soldiers march during their graduation ceremony at the Kabul Military Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 1, 2014. 

By Jason Straziuso
The Associated Press
October 3, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan army desperate for more advanced military equipment is suffering death rates 30 percent higher in the 2014 fighting season, the army's first against the Taliban without large-scale assistance from the U.S.-led international military force, officials said.

A bigger worry than the increased deaths, though, is the havoc the military could unleash on the country if the army rips at its ethnic seams, an increased possibility as U.S. and other NATO forces continue to draw down their forces, Afghan and American military experts say.

When the U.S. and other NATO-led forces withdraw all combat troops by Dec. 31, the Afghan army will truly be on its own on the battlefield for the first time since the 2001 U.S. invasion. America has spent $62 billion since then to train and equip the country's security forces, but Afghan military experts remain concerned that the army doesn't have enough men or materiel.

"They're fighting, but they are suffering," said Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's former minister of defense and a current adviser to the president's office.

Some of those worries were mitigated on Sept. 30, when the United States and Afghanistan signed a bilateral security agreement allowing about 10,000 American troops to remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces past the end of the year. America's NATO allies are expected to contribute a further 5,000 or so troops. A smaller U.S. Special Operations forces will also remain and actively go after extremists such as al-Qaida.

More importantly, signing the deal assured the Afghan government of about $4.1 billion in U.S. and foreign funding that pays for everything from soldiers salaries, to their bullets and the fuel they use in their vehicles. Without the money, the Afghan security forces would have fallen apart in months.

The need for foreign support was evident this summer, the first where the Afghan army couldn't rely on U.S. bombers when it needed them most. The army's death rate spiked 30 percent, Wardak said, because of an increased number of battles and the army's vulnerability to roadside bombs. That spike translates to about 450 additional deaths per year — about 1,800 deaths.

Afghan Taliban Claims to Have Captured District in Kandahar Province

Thomas Joscelyn ; Bill Roggio 
The Long War Journal 
October 4, 2014 

Jihadist group loyal to Taliban, al Qaeda claims to have captured Afghan district 

A blast at an Afghan military base in the Reg district in Kandahar. The photograph was published on Junood al Fida’s Twitter feed.

The Taliban claims to have captured the Registan district in the southern province of Kandahar. In a statement released on Oct. 2, the Taliban said it had routed Afghan forces in Registan, forcing them to flee to the neighboring “Shorawak district after dozens were killed and wounded.” This “led to [the] Mujahideen liberating the district center, unfurling the sublime white flag of Islam over it and bringing the entire district under their complete control.”

Afghan officials quickly denied the Taliban’s claims.

Pajhwok Afghan News reports that Afghan “authorities rejected the assertion as exaggerated,” saying that the Registan district remains under the government’s control. Afghan officials insisted that the district center was moved for “administrative reasons,” because it was difficult for people to reach it, and not because the Taliban had overrun security forces.

Whatever the truth is behind the Taliban’s disputed claims, it appears that Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, has played a significant role in the fighting.

In a series of tweets on the group’s official Twitter account, Junood al Fida also claimed that the Registan district had fallen. The organization heralded it as good news for the “Commander of the faithful,” Mullah Omar, and also honored al Qaeda master Osama bin Laden.

One tweet by the group’s media arm reads: “Glad tidings O Ummah - the den of Shaykh Osamah will fall to the lions of the #Islamic_Emirates - by the will of Allah!” The accompanying hashtags are #Kandahar and #Afghanistan.

"Allahu Akbar, Mujahideen of #Junood_al_Fida have made enormous gains in the dessert [sic] of Kandahar!" another tweet reads. A third post claims: "Today is a great day for the lions of Ameerul Mu’mineen [Commander of the Faithful] Mullah Umar, the Mujahideen have attacked the enemy camps giving them severe blows." And a fourth tweet cheers Junood al Fida’s ability "to gain much territory from the Murtad [or Apostate] army."

Still other tweets (included at the end of this article) show a base the group claims to have assaulted, as well as scenes from the fighting.

Other online jihadists are crediting Junood al Fida with capturing the district, which may very well be an exaggeration.

The Taliban have taken control of several districts in Afghanistan during the fighting season. In July, the Taliban overran Sangin district in Helmand province. Afghan officials negotiated a peace agreement with the Taliban in August, and the district remains contested to this day. Also in July, the Taliban took control of Char Sada district in the central province of Ghor.

Baloch group that pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar calls Ayman al Zawahiri its ‘emir’

In mid-July, Junood al Fida released a statement explaining its approach to waging jihad.

Afghanistan and America Don’t let history repeat itself


Barack Obama has dangerously reduced the military help America owes Afghanistan Oct 4th 2014 

IT TOOK a while, but Afghanistan has at last got a new president. After a four-month stand-off during which his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, accused him of stealing the election, Ashraf Ghani, a Pushtun technocrat with a notable temper, was inaugurated on September 29th. As part of the settlement, Dr Abdullah comes into the government in the newly created position of chief executive (in effect, prime minister). It remains unclear how the new arrangement will work; what is certain is that the stand-off damaged the economy, threatened to reopen ethnic divisions and, most dangerous of all, allowed the Taliban and other insurgents to regroup.

If the country is secure, the rest will follow

Security matters above all else: without it, Afghanistan cannot prosper. That is why the new government’s long-delayed signing of a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with America the day after Mr Ghani’s inauguration is so important. A “status-of-forces” agreement with NATO quickly followed it. They come not a moment too soon. The agreements provide the legal basis for Western troops to stay on in Afghanistan after they cease combat operations at the end of the year.

The BSA should have been signed by the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, last December. But to the horror of most Afghans, Mr Karzai refused at the last moment to put pen to paper. Even without a functioning government in Kabul and with the threat of abandonment by the West a possibility, the country’s security forces have been performing with courage and effectiveness. But fatalities have been running at a rate of about 100 a week, as high as at any time during the 12-year war.

However welcome the BSA, its scope has been constrained, perhaps fatally, by Barack Obama. The president’s military advisers wanted him to commit an enduring force of about 15,000. As well as training and advising the army and police it would provide military assistance, in particular the air power Afghan soldiers have become used to when fighting alongside their NATO partners. That means close air support, aerial surveillance, air transport for special forces and medical evacuation. The generals wanted this force to stay until the Afghans were able to provide these things for themselves.

But rather than heed the advice, in May Mr Obama decided on a force of just 9,800 Americans at the beginning of 2015, falling to half that a year later before being fully withdrawn by the end of 2016. Worse, the “assist” part of the mission now looks as though it will be negligible. Fighter jets, transports and helicopters at the vast Bagram air base near Kabul will not fly to help Afghan forces. A big effort to train and equip the Afghan air force has begun far too late. It will be four years before it can fill the void.

The Islamic State's Potential Recruits in Pakistan

October 03, 2014

Omar Khalid Khorasani

There is evidence that the terrorist outfit is actively recruiting fighters in the troubled country. 

Tanned, green-eyed, long-bearded Pashtun crossing the border from Afghanistan have never been so feared in Peshawar, the capital city of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Through history this region has been one of the busiest in Central Asia, connecting travelers, traders and storytellers to India and beyond. But the recent decade has been agonizing for local Pashtun, with their identity and geography appropriated by militant groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as their various factions in the region. This week brought the biggest blow yet, when the formidable Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS and ISIL) was discovered openly recruiting in the city.

Local fighters in Peshawar and FATA were seen to be showing around about a dozen men who had crossed over from Afghanistan to Pakistan to promote the cause of the caliphate. These men in turn distributed hundreds of pamphlets in Peshawar and its environs.

For fighters and militant commanders in Pakistan, the Islamic State is an object of awe. Most militants, individually and in groups, romanticize the idea of Islam and sharia spreading across the world. In essence, the idea and ideals of a unified caliphate has aroused jihadists everywhere, multiplying the Islamic State’s following in Pakistan and Afghanistan much more rapidly than was achieved even by heavyweights like the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Amanullah Khan, a former professor at Peshawar University who worked for many years trying to de-radicalize youth, said that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an appealing figure for young followers with a jihadi mentality, with his background as an Islamic scholar playing a stronger bonding role for impressionable youth. Unlike Osama Bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri, respectively an engineer and doctor, jihadists who were less immersed in knowledge of Islam, Baghdadi offers both a traditional Islamic education and an abundant jihadist resume. “That legitimacy can definitely turn a lot of al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters in the region, and in fact it is already happening,” says Khan.

With at least 48 known jihadist groups in Pakistan, IS would seem to have plenty of potential to grow within the country.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned militant group that wants to establish Pakistan as a Sunni Muslim state, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and offshoots of al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network are just a few of these groups. The Pakistan military has long been accused of providing opportunities, logistics and sponsorship to these groups in exchange for their proxy services. With the popularity of right-wing religious parties swelling in every city, Pakistan has become a hotbed for new recruits. IS is now tapping these resources, and given Pakistan’s porous borders with its neighbors, it could give the group the foothold it needs to establish a presence in South Asia.

Afghan Army and Police Casualty Rate Has Risen 30% This Year

Afghan Army Death Rate Spikes 30 Percent

Associated Press
October 3, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan army desperate for more advanced military equipment is suffering death rates 30 percent higher in the 2014 fighting season, the army’s first against the Taliban without large-scale assistance from the U.S.-led international military force, officials said.

A bigger worry than the increased deaths, though, is the havoc the military could unleash on the country if the army rips at its ethnic seams, an increased possibility as U.S. and other NATO forces continue to draw down their forces, Afghan and American military experts say.

When the U.S. and other NATO-led forces withdraw all combat troops by Dec. 31, the Afghan army will truly be on its own on the battlefield for the first time since the 2001 U.S. invasion. America has spent $62 billion since then to train and equip the country’s security forces, but Afghan military experts remain concerned that the army doesn’t have enough men or materiel.

"They’re fighting, but they are suffering," said Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s former minister of defense and a current adviser to the president’s office.

Some of those worries were mitigated on Sept. 30, when the United States and Afghanistan signed a bilateral security agreement allowing about 10,000 American troops to remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces past the end of the year. America’s NATO allies are expected to contribute a further 5,000 or so troops. A smaller U.S. Special Operations forces will also remain and actively go after extremists such as al-Qaida.

More importantly, signing the deal assured the Afghan government of about $4.1 billion in U.S. and foreign funding that pays for everything from soldiers salaries, to their bullets and the fuel they use in their vehicles. Without the money, the Afghan security forces would have fallen apart in months.

The need for foreign support was evident this summer, the first where the Afghan army couldn’t rely on U.S. bombers when it needed them most. The army’s death rate spiked 30 percent, Wardak said, because of an increased number of battles and the army’s vulnerability to roadside bombs. That spike translates to about 450 additional deaths per year — about 1,800 deaths.

Despite the billions in aid, the army is hampered by a lack of large-scale fire power — including offensive air capabilities — little or no medical evacuation ability and not enough transport aircraft, Wardak said. Keeping the Taliban at bay, he said, will be a “difficult task” unless the U.S. continues to provide more fire power, he said.

The Taliban staged attacks on Afghan army troops in Kabul on Wednesday and Thursday, killing 10 soldiers. Large-scale fighting is taking place in several remote provinces.

But it is not the Taliban’s military pressure that poses the most serious potential problem, said Seth Jones, a former special adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command in Afghanistan and an analyst at the Rand Corporation.

A collapse of the political compromise between newly inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — who represents the country’s ethnic Pashtuns — and newly installed Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah — the leader of the country’s Tajiks — could lead to fissures in the country’s “already fragile” security forces, he said.

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. 

However, its role (alongside Putin's Russia) in the provision of diplomatic, military and economic support to the Assad regime in Damascus puts it in a difficult position with some of its key partners in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who have clearly backed those opposing Assad. Beijing's motives for backing Assad's regime have largely stemmed from its broad interest in undermining Western-led doctrines of intervention and thepotential implications for Xinjiang should Assad's Syria fall and create an Islamist haven.

Yet China's support for Assad and its own hard line toward the Uyghur has made it a target. In an address in Mosul on 4 July, ISIS' self-styled 'caliph', Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declaimed that 'Muslim rights are forcibly seized in China, India, Palestine' and a host of other countries before exhorting his supporters to take up the fight to such 'oppressors'. Here, then, China's repression of the Uyghur in Xinjiang and its role in the fractured Middle East have intersected to embed the Uyghur issue firmly into the discourse of globally-oriented Islamism.

Chinese Hackers Hitting Phones of Hong Kong Democracy Activists With Lots of Malware

Year of the RAT: China’s malware war on activists goes mobile

Sean Gallagher
Ars Technica
October 2, 2014

Activists involved in Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” have been targeted by remote access malware for Android and iOS that can eavesdrop on their communications—and do a whole lot more.

Malware-based espionage targeting political activists and other opposition is nothing new, especially when it comes to opponents of the Chinese government. But there have been few attempts at hacking activists more widespread and sophisticated than the current wave of spyware targeting the mobile devices of members of Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution.”

Over the past few days, activists and protesters in Hong Kong have been targeted by mobile device malware that gives an attacker the ability to monitor their communications. What’s unusual about the malware, which has been spread through mobile message “phishing “ attacks, is that the attacks have targeted and successfully infected both Android and iOS devices.

The sophistication of the malware has led experts to believe that it was developed and deployed by the Chinese government. But Chinese-speaking hackers have a long history of using this sort of malware, referred to as remote access Trojans (RATs), as have other hackers around the world for a variety of criminal activities aside from espionage. It’s not clear whether this is an actual state-funded attack on Chinese citizens in Hong Kong or merely hackers taking advantage of a huge social engineering opportunity to spread their malware. But whoever is behind it is well-funded and sophisticated.
I smell a RAT

The personal computer version of RATs, also known as “remote administration tools,” have had their recent moment in mainstream media thanks to the case of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. Wolf revealed earlier this year that she had been the victim of a RAT-based “sextortion” plot —someone managed to use a RAT to take control of her computer’s webcam and take pictures of her in her room. And as Ars reported last year, there’s a community of “ratters” who trade in pictures and video collected from the webcams of their “slaves.”

But RATs have been used against dissidents and activists by hackers from China as well. Starting in June 2008, researchers from the University of Toronto’s Infowar Monitor Project began an investigation of allegations of hacking by the Chinese government against the expatriate Tibetan community. They discovered that the Private Office of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and a number of Tibetan nongovernmental organizations in India, Europe, and North America had been targeted by a Trojan called Gh0st RAT—a remote control Trojan operated from the network of a commercial DSL Internet provider in Hainan, China.

By tracking Gh0st RAT traffic, the University of Toronto team was able to trace additional compromised systems in 103 countries—nearly 30 percent of which were located on “high value” networks associated with international diplomacy—including other nations’ foreign ministries and embassies and NATO headquarters. But it’s not clear that the network’s intent was to specifically target its victims for government-sponsored espionage, or whether the social engineering approach used to spread the Trojan just happened to be one that resonated with diplomatic targets. Gh0st RAT was already in circulation among other hackers before it was modified for use by the Hainan-based attack. As the University of Toronto report’s authors put it:

Analysis: The fight against Islamic State – and America’s coalition woes


President Obama gradually disengaged his country from the Middle East with no consideration for his old allies.

US Secretary of State John Kerry walks at the State Department in Washington October 2. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Fate has not been kind to US President Barack Obama, who twice was forced to admit over the course of a few days that he had failed: Failed to devise an adequate strategy against Islamic State, and worse, failed to obtain real-time information on what was becoming a major threat to the West.

Obama is now making an all-out effort to convince ever more Arab states to join the grand alliance he is building in order to show that far from fighting Islamic countries, he is defending them against the threat of extremist elements.

Immediately after the barbaric murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, Obama proclaimed the murderers were not representative of any religion, insisting the Islamic State terror group did not represent Islam.

The president has consistently demonstrated his sympathy towards Islam and expressed the wish to turn over a new leaf, after decades of political and military conflicts that led Muslims to believe the US was against Islam and oppressing them for no reason – a belief not shaken after 9/11.

Indeed, in his Cairo and Ankara speeches shortly after taking office, Obama tried to convince the Muslim world that America harbored no hostile feelings towards them. He pledged to free the Guantanamo prisoners; withdrew his support from Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak; helped topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi; took American soldiers out of Iraq; ignored the Syrian crisis for far too long (though he did wade into the issue of chemical weapons); set a time limit for the presence of American troops in Afghanistan; engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood, believing they represented a moderate Islam and would promote democracy and progress in Arab countries; and tried to reach a “viable compromise” with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

In short, he gradually disengaged his country from the Middle East with no consideration for his old allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Left to its own devices, Iraq started disintegrating.

Egypt, for decades America’s staunchest ally, was “punished” for having gotten rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, and is still waiting for the long overdue delivery of much-needed American weapons.

All the while, seemingly undetected Islamist terror organizations were busy undermining the fragile equilibrium of the region, planning to impose by force a rejuvenated caliphate on the Middle East and the world at large.

Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

By Andrew J. Bacevich 
October 3


Residents of Syria’s Idlib province examine building damaged in air strikes on September 24. The United States and its Arab allies have opened a new front in the battle against Islamic State militants. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East. 

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980. 

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew. 

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive. 

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement. 

Islamic State leading Mideast into warlord era as nations dissolve

By Glen Carey 
Bloomberg News
October 3, 2014

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter stands next to a firearm Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Mahmoudiyah, Iraq. Peshmerga fighters took control of the northern village from the Islamic State group a day earlier.

The Pentagon has been issuing dire warnings this year that the military is fast approaching a severe money crunch — a problem compounded now by the war in Iraq and Syria. So Congress will almost certainly reach for an old standby accounting solution. 

Troops deploying in support of the fight against the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria don’t have a campaign medal to call their own, in part because the growing set of operations has yet to be graced with a name. 

To the United States and its allies, the Nusra Front is a fearsome al-Qaida affiliate whose extremist ideology has no place in a future Syria. To many Syrian rebels, however, Nusra fighters are vital warriors in the battle to topple President Bashar Assad, even if the moderates don’t share the group’s end goal of a religious state.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The Middle East may be sliding toward a warlord era, with nation-states increasingly struggling to control all their territory and millions living under the rule of emergent local chiefs and movements.

Armed irregular forces hold effective power over growing areas of Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya where central government authority barely reaches. Motivated by religious ideology or regional separatism, they have grabbed oil facilities and weapons, imposed taxes or changed school curriculums, and fought each other as well as traditional armies.

"It is almost like the whole regional order that was built in the 20th century is collapsing," Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London, said in an interview. "Non-state actors are filling the vacuum."

The failure of governments to provide security and basic services, in a region that holds more than half the world's oil, is allowing extremist groups to thrive and drawing in external powers bent on stopping them. Behind the turmoil lie economic failures that will be even harder to address without functioning administrations.

It's not clear whether interventions such as the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria can put the pieces back together, said James Coyle, director of global education at Chapman University in California. Military operations will only achieve short-term gains, unless governments are "given legitimacy by the people through the provision of security and basic social services," he said by email.

Islamic State, which declared a caliphate on the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, is the most visible challenge to the Middle Eastern system of nation states that emerged as the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I.

Other non-state forces have also emerged, especially since the Arab revolts of 2011, which plunged Syria into civil war. The latest fighting in northern Syria pits Islamic State against Kurdish forces that have also won de-facto autonomy from Damascus. In Iraq, where the collapse of central authority dates to the U.S. invasion of 2003, much of the fighting against Islamic State has also been done by non-state forces — Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, or Iran-backed Shiite militias.

In some countries, "the state has been too fragile to withstand the combination of internal challenges and foreign intervention," Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, said in response to emailed questions.

Libya, holder of Africa's biggest oil reserves, hasn't suffered as much bloodshed as Syria yet the eclipse of government power is even more complete, as the country slid into chaos after the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi by NATO-backed rebels. Two rival parliaments and premiers emerged, and separatist groups seized oil terminals and at one point sought to sell the crude themselves. The past few weeks of fighting between rival militias has displaced more than 140,000 people, the United Nations estimates.

Yemen was convulsed by almost a year of protests that toppled its longtime leader in late 2011, and his successor, President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, hasn't been able to restore stability. Last month, Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels advanced from the north, seized key buildings in the capital, Sanaa, and forced authorities to change the cabinet and revoke tax increases.

The Islamic State: Delivering Islam's Reformation?

October 3, 2014 

"When the dust finally settles, we may find that IS has given the world a lasting, if expensive, gift: the long-overdue Islamic Reformation."

Of all the reactions to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and its grisly, intentionally provocative brutalities, perhaps the most interesting one is surely unintended: it is inspiring critical and substantive debate about the nature of Islam, on the part of Muslims, a debate with the potential to bring about the modernization and reformation of that religion.

In decades past, it has been taboo even to hint at any possible anachronisms or problems in the Quran. And: “Islam is a religion of peace” was the universal obligatory mantra after 9/11. Only a daring few voices expressed the occasional doubt, to be instantly branded as Islamophobes.

And this politically correct version might have been true. Some of the theological observations made in this context had validity: it is true that almost all religions contain seeds of extremism and have engendered violent fringe movements. Certainly, the Quran also contains passages about justice, tolerance and communal peace. It is true as well that the Bible’s Old Testament contains multiple injunctions and sanctioned behaviors that shock us today—from infanticide to polygamy to rape. Judaism and Christianity have adapted their religions to changing mores by tacitly ignoring those passages that no longer fit the times, and by accepting that some aspects of religious doctrine are historic, rather than ethical or theological.

But the sentence about Islam being a religion of peace was never a theological statement. It always had an ulterior motive: the desire to be polite, to be politically correct, and to wish into being a desired reality. I have attended more than one academic conference where an incipient discussion of Islam was anxiously aborted with the warning that “one can’t go to war with 1.6 billion people.” This statement in itself, of course, pretty much negates the religion of peace premise, presuming as it does that an angry horde would be ready to rise up if it didn’t like your panel’s comments. “Religion of peace” was an invocation more so than a diagnosis.

What lies behind the “Islamic State” threat

2 October 2014


A fighter of the Islamic State (IS) holds an IS flag and a weapon, Mosul, 23 June, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

This interview with Crisis Group’s Project Director for Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria and Senior Middle East and North Africa Adviser, Peter Harling, is translated and republished here with permission from Le Point and Armin Arefi.

Going beyond the clichés, Peter Harling shares some disturbing truths on the origins and the rise of the Islamic State. The horrific murder of hostage Hervé Gourdel in the name of the Islamic State organisation has focused France’s attention on the jihadi group and reinforced President François Hollande’s determination to strike the group’s positions in Iraq.

But what really is this ultra-radical group? Who contributed to its ascension? Why does it continue to attract disciples around the world? And how can it be stopped? International Crisis Group’s project director for Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and senior Middle East and North Africa adviser, Peter Harling, who lived and worked in Iraq for seven years, reveals to Le Point some disturbing truths on the war against the Islamic State.

Le Point: Is François Hollande’s determination to strike IS in Iraq a good strategy?

Peter Harling: The question is not one of François Hollande’s determination, but of the nature of the enemy and the relevance of the means used to combat it. To announce that we will avenge in Iraq or elsewhere a murder that took place in Algeria falls into the category of political agitation and public relations. It doesn’t reflect strategic thinking.

However, this group has called for the killing of the “bad and dirty French”.

In the West, Daesh (Peter Harling uses this acronym, also employed by the French government, to designate the IS organisation) evokes the image of terrorists genetically programed to be evil. This allows us to close our eyes to politics, as if there was some particular type of person that had to be destroyed in order to solve the problem. Thus the predominance of military solutions. However, Daesh attracts people who cannot be defined with a strict typology, and the West’s response with airstrikes only increased Daesh’s ability to mobilise.

What do you mean by that?

Some disoriented Europeans, tempted by ultra-violence, find in the organisation’s crimes and the way they are staged a sort of ideal of radicalism and virility. In Syria or Iraq, by contrast, Daesh can be perceived simply as an ally of necessity, essential for responding to the aggressions of a sectarian government perceived as an Iranian- backed occupation force. Daesh also expresses diverse and profound frustrations regarding the existing order, at a point when there is no existing alternative: secular elites are impotent, “mainstream” Islamic trends have failed and fragile government structures have been ripped apart by predatory behaviors serving individual or nepotistic interests.

Backgrounder on Top Leaders of ISIS

October 3, 2014

Who runs the militant group Islamic State?

Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim militant group, has seized a third of Syria and large areas of Iraq and this year proclaimed a caliphate across the two countries in the heart of the Middle East.

The group, which U.S-led forces are bombing in Iraq and Syria, is made up of thousands of fighters from both countries as well as foreign recruits from around the world. Its leadership draws from militants with combat experience in Iraq.

Here are some of the group’s main figures:


Born in 1971, Baghdadi comes from an Iraqi family of preachers and Arabic teachers, according to a biography distributed on militant forums that says he studied at the Islamic University in Baghdad.

According to U.S. media reports, Baghdadi was detained for several years at Camp Bucca, a U.S-run prison in southern Iraq, before becoming head of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq in 2010, a predecessor to Islamic State, which expanded into Syria in 2013.

In June this year the growing group named Baghdadi as “caliph for the Muslims everywhere,” and called on all to pledge allegiance to him. Although he is rarely pictured, a video released in July claimed to show him preaching in a mosque in Iraq’s Mosul city, dressed in a black robe and turban.

He has proved ruthless in eliminating opponents and showed no hesitation in turning against former allies: He launched a war against al Qaeda’s Syria wing Nusra Front, leading to a split with al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, earlier this year.

A recent pamphlet released by Islamic State traced Baghdadi’s purported lineage to the Prophet Mohammad and listed his military achievements. The United States is offering $10 million for information leading to the location, arrest, or conviction of Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarai.


Born in 1977 in Idlib, Syria, Adnani has delivered Islamic State’s main messages, including its declaration of a caliphate, which was distributed in five languages.

The United States designated him a “global terrorist” this year and says he was one of the first foreign fighters to oppose U.S-led coalition forces in Iraq since 2003 before becoming spokesman of the militant group.

With Robust Economy, Poland Navigates Around Eastern Europe’s Strains

OCT. 4, 2014


A giant new Amazon distribution center is opening outside Poznan, in western Poland.CreditMaciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

RZGOW, Poland — To the east, Russian aggression has paralyzed Ukraine’s hope for faster economic development. To the south, Hungary flirts with authoritarianism and still struggles to climb out of the last recession. To the north, Lithuania and the other Baltic States are being squeezed by the cycle of escalating trade sanctions between Moscow and the European Union.

Poland, meanwhile, has managed to navigate safely around the latest strains on Eastern Europe, just as it managed to sail through the 2008 financial crisis with barely a bruise, maintaining solid growth rates, attracting considerable new investment and industry and using its relative economic strength to build clout within the European Union.

By dint of its size, enthusiasm for embracing the West and stable governance, Poland, a member of NATO and the European Union, has long been the most important model of post-Soviet transformation. But now, with Russia again seeking to exert its influence and much of Europe struggling to recover fully from the deep downturn of recent years, Poland has taken on an even more important role as the leading symbol of regional stability and resolve.

Construction cranes stretch across the Warsaw skyline. Huge malls and gleaming stores open almost daily. Attracted by wage rates considerably lower than those in Western Europe, many multinational companies continue to invest in Poland as a manufacturing and distribution base.

Virtually everything that Ikea, the Swedish housewares behemoth, sells in Europe, for instance, is manufactured in Poland. Many Volkswagen components are made in Poland. General Motors has facilities here, as do 3M, Procter & Gamble and other American brands.

Amazon is opening giant new distribution centers. Google Campus Warsaw, mirrored on similar projects in London and Tel Aviv, will nurture homegrown high-tech start-ups.

Intent on ensuring that it is not vulnerable to Russian pressure, Poland is pressing the European Union to do more to break its reliance on Russian energy supplies. The recent rounds of sanctions and countersanctions over Russia’s aggression in neighboring Ukraine have had relatively little impact on Poland’s economy, beyond inspiring a patriotic campaign to persuade Poles to eat more homegrown apples in reaction to Moscow’s banning of them.

“There has been a small dip in trade with Russia, but double-digit growth in exports,” said Mateusz Szczurek, minister of finance, with a shrug. “They find a way around.”

Poland is the only nation in Europe to see growth in every quarter since the financial crisis hit six years ago, with its gross domestic product now 25 percent above 2008 levels while the European Union average remains below that year’s mark. In 2003, Poland exported $53 billion worth of goods. Last year, it was $203 billion. And now some Polish businesses, like Grupa Azoty, Europe’s second-largest fertilizer company, are investing in other nations, something almost unheard-of just a few years ago.

Russia and America Both Think They Can Win a New Cold War

October 2, 2014 


Experts on both sides think they can turn up the pressure and prevail. This is dangerous.

Mutual miscalculation is one of the most dangerous errors in foreign policy. Deliberately escalating a crisis does, after all, sometimes work: when you’re better able to endure its consequences than your rival, they might make concessions they otherwise wouldn’t. But crises are hard to predict. They don’t always move in straight lines. You might be less resilient than you thought—or your rival might be tougher. He may have tricks up his sleeve you didn’t expect. Making this kind of miscalculation hurts you. And when your opponent makes a similar miscalculation, you both lose.

Thus, for example, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, thinking he could reverse some unpleasant concessions Iraq had made to Iran years before while the young Islamic Republic was weak. And he made big gains in the early days of the war. But the conflict stalemated and dragged on. Two years later, the Iranians had reversed most of Saddam’s victories and held the upper hand. The Iraqi strongman proposed a ceasefire. Now it was Iran’s turn to err—it went on the attack into Iraq, pursuing the end of Saddam’s regime. They didn’t succeed. The war dragged on for six years and ended exactly where it had begun—but both sides had seen hundreds of thousands of their young men killed, both sides had spent enormous sums of money, both sides had seen their cities bombed and infrastructure ruined. Both sides lost. The consequences of that mutual miscalculation hang over both countries today.

The United States and Russia may be on that path today as the crisis in Ukraine sparks talk of a “new Cold War.” Paul J. Saunders, executive director of the Center for the National Interest and associate publisher of this magazine, has just released a collection of essays from Russian and American experts on their nations’ policy options in a crisis. The prognosis is grim. “The overarching conclusion of the four papers,” writes Saunders, “is that both the U.S. and Russian governments are likely to believe that they possess acceptable policy options to not only confront one another but to impose significant costs on the other party if necessary.” These mutually confrontational policies don’t come without a price, he warns: a “foundation of this judgment...is a failure to recognize the potential price that their own nation may pay in a direct conflict or (more likely) in a long-term adversarial relationship.”