27 October 2014

Moving the discourse to ground zero

October 27, 2014 

Suhasini Haidar

With tensions along the LoC, the centre of gravity for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute has moved away from Jammu and Kashmir, both geographically and mentally

When two elephants fight, goes the oft-repeated cliché, it is the grass that gets trampled on. The recent firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan has caused the deaths of both soldiers and civilians, has set back dialogue and left the Kashmir resolution process gravely wounded. The most lasting effects of these will no doubt be felt by the people of Jammu and Kashmir who bear the brunt of all the tensions between the two countries. In more than a decade of the ceasefire holding, farmers had resumed planting crops, schools had sprung back to life, and many villages were repopulated along the LoC, outcomes that are endangered now. But what has affected the State the most is that as a result of such tensions, the centre of gravity for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute has moved away from Jammu and Srinagar, Poonch and Rajouri, both geographically and mentally.

Away from a resolution

Consider for example the crisis from August to October this year. As the firing progressed and artillery guns were deployed, the discourse moved away from the purview of local commanders. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued orders that the local Border Security Force (BSF) commanders must not accede to a flag meeting, and firing should persist. Orders from Pakistan were sharp too, as the Army kept the barrage going on its side. Fairly soon, New Delhi and Rawalpindi were engaging each other, and the messaging had deeper undertones. It was clear that Pakistan’s Army was testing the new Indian government, raising firing levels in the pre-winter shooting season. And the new Indian government was letting Pakistan know there is zero-tolerance in its working style. This was reflected in the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary talks being cancelled over a meeting with Hurriyat leaders, while the firing over the LoC/IB resumed, according to a senior Defence ministry official, “in double measure.”

Inequalities and the Ebola crisis

Nissim Mannathukkaren 

The response to Ebola, which has killed nearly 5,000 Africans but only two western citizens, cannot be colour coded anymore. For the future, we cannot but raise questions about the structural inequalities that prevent accessible health care for the global poor, and societies that eliminate these inequalities 

The principle upon which the fight against disease should be based is the creation of a robust body; but not the creation of a robust body by the artistic work of a doctor upon a weak organism; rather, the creation of a robust body with the work of the whole collectivity, upon the entire social collectivity. — Che Guevara 

The photograph in August this year, of a very weak, 10-year-old Saah Exco, suspected of having contracted Ebola, sitting naked on a bucket and fighting to stay alive while residents of a slum in Monrovia, Liberia, milled around him, terrified of helping him, might go on to win Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore another prize. But that’s irrelevant in what is unfolding as a devastating tragedy in Africa. Moore’s and others’ pictures can only show us a glimpse of that tragedy. They do not show that Exco’s mother and brother had died earlier, or that he himself would die later. 

The popular media in America and the rest of the western world, which, until recently, was busy dealing with the horrors of beheadings perpetrated by “medieval barbarians,” and other “horrors” in the form of nude photographs of celebrities being leaked online on a daily basis, was suddenly forced to confront another horror. One that was silently brewing for many months in those parts of the world which appear in the western consciousness only through Hollywood blockbusters. And this it was forced to do so only once the first Ebola death happened on American soil.

Global apathy 

Nevertheless, the response to the crisis has been on expected lines. The entire discourse surrounding Ebola in the West is about quarantining itself against “those” poor Africans entering “our” space, bringing deadly viruses with them. Look at the discussion surrounding Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America, in September. Social media was rife with opinion that he had deliberately come to America to infect others. The state authorities in America, before his death, were even considering filing criminal charges against him for intentionally exposing the public to the virus! Airports in North America have begun screening passengers travelling from affected areas and the governments are on high alert for any eventuality. 

“The response of developing nations such as India, China, and Brazil — all of which want Africa as a business partner — has not been any better than that of the West.”

Of course, it is only natural that people are concerned about their own safety and lives. But what is shocking is that the concern for one’s own self is also accompanied by a complete apathy towards the distant other. Otherwise, how can we explain the response to what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the “unparalleled” health crisis in modern times? Canadian journalist Geoffrey York who has covered wars and disasters, from the Gulf War to tsunamis, reported from Liberia that “nothing is quite like Ebola,” a feeling reinforced by photographs: stricken mothers slumped on pavements with their infants on their laps, the dead lying on roads, people pleading with health workers to touch the bodies of their loved ones. 

Piecemeal solutions 

These gut-wrenching pictures resemble nothing short of a scene of a war-ravaged zone, except that the tragic difference here, unprecedentedly, is that one cannot even help the dying or grieve for the dead. Yet, the international community has only “failed miserably,” as the World Bank president would admit. The reported response of developing nations like India, China, and Brazil — all of which want Africa as a business partner — has not been any better than that of the West either (the shining exception has been that of the tiny nation of Cuba, contributing, as in all global health crises, far beyond its means). 

Last U.S. and British Troops Prepared to Leave Helmand Province in Afghanistan

Last U.S. Marines, British combat forces end Afghan operations, prepare withdrawal

Reuters, October 26, 2014

(Reuters) - The last U.S. Marines unit and final British combat troops in Afghanistan officially ended their operations on Sunday as they packed up to leave the country and transferred a massive military base to the Afghan military.

The American and British flags were lowered and folded up for the final time at the regional headquarters of the international military, 13 years after the toppling of the Taliban’s radical Islamist regime launched America’s longest war.
The timing of the troops’ withdrawal from the base in the strategic province of Helmand was not released for security reasons.

Camp Leatherneck is the largest U.S. base to be handed over to Afghan control as the coalition ends its combat mission at the end of the year, leaving most of the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency to Afghan army and police.
British forces transferred the adjacent Camp Bastion at the same time.

Once a teeming compound of some 40,000 personnel, the coalition’s Regional Command (Southwest) combined base on Sunday resembled a dust-swept, well-fortified ghost town.
Concrete blast walls and razor wire were left guarding empty sand lots and barracks. Offices were bare, and bulletin boards stripped of photo tributes of fallen American troops.


Pakistan's internal problems in its Pashto areas and its war with jihadi extremists, tends to take the focus away from a long and bitter struggle by the Baluch people to realise their aspirations. In the film below, Al Jazeera captures the intensity of the struggle and narrates the heroic struggle of the Baluch people to liberate their nation from Pakistan.

Mohan Guruswamy

The Pakistani case for Kashmir no longer rests on religion; the Bengali rebellion and secession in 1971 did in that argument. It now rests upon the more exalted principle of self-determination. That is what their friends abroad and even in India wax eloquent about. The Pakistanis no longer harp about Indian perfidies in Junagadh and Hyderabad. Free elections, full integration and the sheer fact of Hindus being the major community in these two onetime princely states has put paid to that. But Kashmir still dogs us. It is predominantly Muslim and the demand for self-determination has us confused. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?

But the irony is that Pakistan is the champion of self-determination when its own people do not often enjoy democratic rights. The three pillars upon which the Pakistani state rests are still Allah, Army and America. The people of Pakistan do not figure in this scheme at all. The Pakistani leaders want a diplomatic engagement with us on Jammu and Kashmir again. Their Prime Minister has once again donned the cloak of democracy that hangs outside Gen. Kiyani’s bunker. But we must not shirk from talking about self-determination with them. It’s a two edged sword and cuts both ways. Let’s take the case of Baluchistan.

The Pakistani province of Baluchistan is a mountainous desert area of about 3.5 lakh sq.kms and has a population of over 7.5 million or about as much as Jammu and Kashmir’s population. It borders Iran, Afghanistan and its southern boundary is the Arabian Sea with the strategically important port of Gwadar on the Makran coast commanding approach to the Straits of Hormuz. It also has huge oil and gas reserves. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, the population here now consists of Baluch and Pashtu speaking Afghans, and from time to time Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Like the Kurds, the Baluch are also a people ignored by the makers of modern political geography. There is also the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan spread over an area of 1.82 lakh sq.kms. and with a population of over 2.5 million Baluch. Its capital is Zahedan.

Through most of their history the Baluch administered themselves as a loose tribal confederacy. The Baluch are an ancient people. In 325 BC, after his abortive India campaign, as Alexander made his way back to Babylon through the Makran Desert, his Greeks suffered greatly at the hands of marauding Baluchis. The legend has it that they originally came from near Aleppo in Syria and there is much linguistic evidence to suggest that they belong to the same Indo-European sub-group as the Persians and Kurds. They came into Islam under the shadow of the sword of Muhammed bin Qasim’s conquering Arab army in 711 AD. Whatever be their origins, by 1000 AD they were well settled in their present homeland. The poet Firdausi records them in the Persian epic, the Book of Kings, thus: “Heroic Baluches and Kuches we saw/ Like battling rams all determined on war.” As relatively late arrivals in the region, the Baluchis had to battle earlier occupants of the lands such as the Brahui tribes who still abound around Kalat. The Brahui language belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is close to Tamil. The Brahui’s are the only Dravidian survivors in northern India, after the Aryan invasion.

A restless people, the Baluchis naturally pushed eastwards towards the more fertile regions watered by the Indus River, but were halted by the might of the Mughals. But we still have reminders of the many Baluchi incursions in the names of the towns like Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan in the Punjab and NWFP. Unlike the Dravidians of Mohen-jo-daro and Harappa who disappeared without a trace, the Brahui’s made one last hurrah when they asserted their power in Kalat. By the 18th century Kalat was the dominant power in Baluchistan and the Khan of Kalat was the ruler of the entire region. But the Brahui’s paid for it by getting assimilated into the majority Baluchis. Brahui language still survives in small pockets but only by just.

The British first came to the region in 1839 on their way to Kabul when they sought safe passage. In 1841 they entered into a treaty with Kalat. In the wake of Lord Auckland’s disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, the British annexed Sind in a mood that Mountstuart Elphinsone said was “of a bully who had been kicked in the streets and then goes home to beat the wife in revenge!” The British annexed Sind in 1843 from the Talpur Mirs, a Baluchi dynasty. On June 27, 1839 Ranjit Singh died and within ten years his great prophecy on being shown a map with British possessions in India in “ek din sab laal ho jayega!” came to be true. After the formal surrender of the Sikhs on March 29, 1849 and the annexation of Punjab, the British now had a long border with the Baluchis. But learning from their disastrous experience with the Afghans they generally preferred to keep out of harms way and seemingly took cognizance of Baluchi assurances of the inviolability of their borders.

In 1876, the British however forced another treaty on the Baluchis and forced the Khan of Kalat to lease salubrious Quetta to them. The Khan’s writ still ran over Baluchistan, but now under the watchful but benign eye of a British minister. That the Khan of Kalat was not considered another insignificant prince was in the fact that he was accorded a 19-gun salute like the Jaipurs and Jodhpurs. With security assured and largely unfettered domestic power the Khans led lavish and often eccentric lifestyles. One Khan collected shoes, and to ensure the safety of his collection had all the left shoes locked in a deep dungeon of his fort in Kalat!

A New Start for Afghanistan: 5 Massive Challenges That Will Decide Its Future

October 20, 2014 

The formation of a unity government is only the first step in a broader political process—one that requires the Afghans to deliver on reforms, and the United States to sustain its engagement.

The inauguration of Afghanistan’s unity government two weeks ago was a historic event, marking the country’s first peaceful, democratic transition. It was by no means inevitable. After an election marred by massive fraud and a contentious and protracted postelection struggle, many Afghans were bracing for a return to civil war.

The unity government has had a promising start. Newly elected president Ashraf Ghani delivered a substantive inaugural address, focused on fighting corruption, catalyzing economic development and needed reforms and protecting democratic rights. Ghani’s prompt signing of a bilateral security agreement with the United States is a major step in repairing relations with Washington. And Ghani’s decision to reopen an investigation into the Kabul Bank scandal—in which the bank collapsed after senior Afghan figures stole close to $1 billion—is a signal that he intends to take corruption seriously.

Three massive challenges, however, will determine Afghanistan’s future:

1. Sustaining Political Unity: Unity governments have a sorry history in Afghanistan. A succession of unity governments since 1979, brokered initially by pro-Soviet communist factions and then by anti-Soviet Mujahideen parties, all collapsed.

The current unity government has several advantages over its predecessors. Most important is the fact that its leaders—Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—are worldly and have internalized lessons of the past three decades. I know them well, and believe that they are committed to strengthening their fragile unity government. The two leaders have agreed to meet three times a week to build trust and tackle key issues together.

Ghani and Abdullah have their differences and there is a significant difference in the relative constitutional authorities of the two. The Afghan constitution has established a presidential system with substantial concentration of power in the presidency. It remains to be seen whether they can manage differences over policy, staffing, relative role decision making and constitutional reform issues. There could be tension between maintaining unity and governing effectively. Their first test is to agree on competent cabinet appointments. Forming a competent cabinet and appointing merit-based cabinet and lower-level officials should be the highest priority of the president, and the chief executive near-term decisions will shape deliberations in the Constitutional Loya Jirga two years from now. The Loya Jirga will consider amendments to establish a prime-minister position and define its authority over the executive branch. The Taliban and its supporters—understanding that influential figures in both the Ghani and Abdullah camps are not personally vested in the unity government’s success—are seeking to promote and exploit internal divisions.

To sustain the unity government, which Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker, the Obama administration will need to break its pattern of catalyzing national compacts, only to celebrate prematurely and disengage in the implementation phase. The chaos in Iraq today, to give a vivid example, has its roots in the Obama administration’s failure to ensure that agreements after the 2010 elections between prime-ministerial candidates Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi were carried out.

2. Achieving Key Priorities in a Comprehensive Reform Agenda: Ghani and Abdullah have agreed to a comprehensive reform agenda. The practical challenge now is to set priorities that can be addressed in a political culture in which implementation and follow-through remain relative weaknesses.

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’

by Anand Gopal 


Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began: 
There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value. 

Ashraf Ghani; drawing by James Ferguson

That was twelve years ago. No one speaks like that now—not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war. 

Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over thirteen years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense. 

But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero. 

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words: 

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies. 

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry. 

Gopal’s investigations into development are no more encouraging. I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan. 

Or consider Gopal’s description of the fate of several principal Afghan politicians in the book: 

Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo…. 

Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time…. 

Nine Guantanamo inmates claimed the most striking proof of all that they were not Taliban or al-Qaeda: they had passed directly from a Taliban jail to American custody after 2001. 

Why didn’t I—didn’t most of us—know these details? The answer is, in part, that such investigative journalism is very rare in Afghanistan. Gopal’s work owes a lot to other researchers. He is building on the work of Sarah Chayes and Alex Strick van Linschoten (both of whom immersed themselves in the Pushtu south), of exceptional journalists such as Carlotta Gall and David Rohde of The New York Times, of officials with years in the country such as Eckart Schiewek, Robert Kluijver, and Michael Semple, and of Afghan journalists such as Mohammed Hassan Hakimi. 

Cutting off ISIS' Cash Flow


The Islamic State (or ISIS) is “the best-funded terrorist organization we’ve confronted,” but “we have no silver bullet, no secret weapon to empty ISIS’ coffers overnight.” These were the words of David Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in a speech yesterday, in which he outlined the U.S. government’s assessment of ISIS finance and a strategy to counter it.

According to Cohen, ISIS’ principal source of finance is still derived from its control and sale of oil, which he assessed was still bringing in $1 million a day. Additional funds come from kidnap for ransom, extortion networks, criminal activities, and donations from external individuals, the latter being of least significance in terms of scale. In order to counter this broad base of financial incomes, Cohen explained that U.S. strategy is focused on disrupting ISIS revenue streams, restricting ISIS access to the international financial system, and targeting ISIS leaders, facilitators and supporters with sanctions.

Despite vastly underestimating ISIS’ potential in the months and years leading up to the organization’s 2014 offensives in Syria and Iraq, the Treasury’s, and by extension the U.S. government’s assessment of ISIS finance and how to combat it does seem largely in tune. It is indeed right that external financial donations are of minimal significance to ISIS. Since as early as 2005, ISIS predecessor organizations Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) all consistently sought to develop internal structures dedicated to maintaining financial self-sufficiency and an independence from potentially vulnerable external donors. In the current climate, however, a diminished capacity to earn from the sale of oil may elevate the importance of external sources of funding for ISIS to sustain its internal durability.
ISIS Donors Abroad

For this reason, it is more important than ever to now focus on existing ISIS donors abroad — particularly in the Gulf — in order to diminish their potential to expand in scale when the need may arise. As Cohen made clear, initiatives in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to have made some headway, while in Kuwait and Qatar, Cohen assessed that despite new legislation aimed at countering terrorist financing, both countries remain "permissive jurisdictions" for such activities and that "both countries have more work to do." At this point, it is unclear whether new legislation — introduced in Qatar in mid-September and in Kuwait, in January — has been slow to make an impact, or is simply not powerful or as far-reaching as is necessary. Whatever the case, it remains evident that more needs to be done by Qatar and Kuwait to enforce their laws.

China: WWIII will erupt over Global Sea Spaces

Source: Global Times

As the Ukrainian crisis deepens, international observers have become more and more concerned about a direct military clash between the US and Russia. Once an armed rivalry erupts, it is likely to extend to the globe. And it is not impossible that a world war could break out.

The world war is a form of war that the whole world should face up to. During human evolution, the world war has entered its third development phase.

The first phase took place between nomadic societies and farming groups. The second phase was featured by colonial wars, with WWI and WWII as its special representatives.

Currently, the world has entered an era of new forms of global war.

Outer space, the Internet and the sea have become the battlefields of rivalry. Technology is the key, and the number of countries involved is unprecedented.

The rivalry on the outer space and the Internet takes place with the rivalry on the sea as the center stage. During WWII, some major powers attached significant importance to the sea.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a US military strategist who died in 1914, coined the notion of sea power. He advocated valuing the naval forces, commercial fleet and overseas military base, which served for wars on the land.

But nowadays, we stress the importance of power in the sea. Judging from the contention of the global sea space, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean have seen the fiercest rivalry. It’s likely that there will be a third world war to fight for sea rights.

In an era when a third world war may take place, an important topic for the Chinese military is how to develop its power to maintain its national interests.

This should become the basis for its development, because since the founding of the PRC, the development of its military forces has been centered around maintaining its rights on the land. As the rivalry on the sea grows intense, China’s military development should shift from maintaining the country’s rights on the land to maintaining its rights on the sea.

Meanwhile, China is standing at the focal point of rivalries. This requires China to develop its military power based on a global war. China is in the heartland of the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

The development of China’s sea power touches the nerves of many countries. China needs to develop its military power to avoid being squeezed to a passive position.

China’s overseas interests have spread all over the world. As the US has been shifting its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, especially aiming at China, China’s overseas interests have been increasingly threatened by the US.

Without large-scale military power, securing China’s overseas interests seems like an empty slogan.

The long-range or overseas combat capabilities of China’s sea and air forces are quite limited yet. If we don’t view the development of sea and air forces with a farsighted view, we will face various restraints when building up the combat capabilities of sea and air forces or maintaining overseas interests. This will lead to the backwardness of China’s sea and air forces.


24 OCTOBER 2014 

In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Dirk van der Kley examines China's policy options in Afghanistan, once the NATO-led mission there comes to an end in December 2014.

An Afghan policeman stands guard at the Chinese embassy in Kabul


Beijing is unlikely to make any meaningful security commitment to Afghanistan. Instead China will continue to enhance its diplomatic and economic engagement with the country.

Beijing views economic engagement as its key contribution to stability in Afghanistan. The type of economic commitment will depend greatly on the security situation, the attitudes of Chinese companies, as well as requests from the Afghan government.

Diplomatically, China will strengthen its contact with a range of political groups in Afghanistan including the Taliban, to prevent the country functioning as a haven for Uyghur militants and engage surrounding countries to increase regional cooperation. 


On 31 December 2014 NATO will hand over its final security responsibilities to local Afghan forces. The handover will raise new questions for Chinese policy in Afghanistan. On the one hand, Beijing wants a stable Afghanistan. It does not want the country to become either a haven for Uyghur militancy, or for instability to spread through the region. On the other hand, Beijing is reluctant to become too deeply involved in Afghanistan, conscious of the West’s difficult experience over the last decade and fearful of attracting the attention of international terrorist groups.

Against this backdrop Beijing is unlikely to make any meaningful security commitment to Afghanistan. Instead China will continue to enhance its diplomatic and economic engagement with the country. Whilst Chinese analysts are uncertain about whether such an approach will ensure stability in Afghanistan, it is seen as China’s least-worst policy option.

At the end of 2014 the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will hand over its final responsibilities for Afghanistan’s security to local forces. While a small but significant NATO and US security, training and support presence will remain in the country, more than a decade of direct effort led by the West to bring stability and security to Afghanistan will largely come to an end.

Western countries are not, however, the only ones with an interest and a stake in Afghanistan’s security. China has long been concerned about the spread of extremist ideas and activism from Afghanistan through Central Asia and across its own borders, particularly into its western-most territory, Xinjiang. This area is home to a Uyghur population, a predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkic ethnic group, of approximately ten million people. The Western military drawdown in Afghanistan therefore raises questions for China. This will be a defining period for China’s relationship with its neighbour Afghanistan.

China has made a minimal security contribution to Afghanistan since 2001. Its aid commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction has been a very modest US$250 million.[1] Diplomatically too, China took a low-key approach to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012. Andrew Small of the US think tank the German Marshall Fund sums it up succinctly: “Until then [the end of 2011], China had sat completely on the sidelines. They just used to send people to read out statements in meetings.”[2]

Get Ready, America: The Winds of Change Are Blowing in East Asia

October 20, 2014 

"A rift between South Korea and Japan and flourishing ties between China and South Korea pose huge challenges to U.S. interests."

The ISIS and Gaza crises in the Middle East along with the conflict in Ukrainehave pushed potentially momentous events in the Asia-Pacific this summer to the middle pages. Yet we are witnessing the beginning of a major reconfiguration of the East Asian geopolitical landscape that promises to have profound implications for, among others, the world’s three largest economies.

The visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Seoul early in July may well have cemented the trend. Xi became the first Chinese leader to travel to South Korea without visiting longtime ally North Korea—and young North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has yet to visit Beijing nearly three years after coming to power.

State-controlled media in China billed Xi’s meeting with South Korean president Park Geun-hye as “ground-breaking,” claiming it struck at the heart of the trilateral pact that binds the United States, Japan and South Korea together. Meanwhile, in Seoul, the visit triggered media frenzy, with countless commentaries speculating over its long-term impact on the region.

Some observers were quick to play down its significance. For them, the status quo is set in stone: China will never abandon an alliance with North Korea that was signed in blood in the Korean War more than sixty years ago; South Korea will do nothing to weaken trilateral ties with the United States and Japan. But these comfortable blinkers obfuscate mounting evidence on the ground that South Korea is embarking on a concerted move away from its dependence on the United States towards a deeper relationship with China.

President Park’s tone towards Xi Jinping over the past year has been palpably amicable, marking her down as far more “pro-China” than even former left-wing president Roh Moo-hyun, who was routinely criticized for being anti-American, pro-China and Pyongyang sympathetic.

At an APEC summit in October of last year, Park reportedly quoted Xi a line from an ancient Chinese poem; a line she learned from a work of calligraphy Xi had previously gifted her. In contrast, she refused to even acknowledge the presence of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. They were sitting next to each other at the time.

Park’s warmth towards Beijing is of course rooted in economics and politics. China is now South Korea’s largest trading partner and largest export market for hi-tech goods. Crucially, a vitally important free-trade agreement between the two countries is gathering momentum with both sides pledging to sign a deal before the end of the year.

This agreement could underpin the RMB’s gradual transformation into an intra-Asian tradable currency, even as South Korea’s central bank continues to buy into U.S. treasury bonds. It may also pull mainland Asia away from the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership coalition-building efforts (a proposed free-trade agreement involving twelve countries).

Furthermore, the Park administration is giving serious consideration to participating in talks over a new China-led regional bank to fund infrastructure projects in Asia. The proposed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank is seen by many as a challenge to the U.S.- and Japan-led Asian Development Bank.

Military ties between China and South Korea are also beginning to improve. Following Xi’s trip to South Korea, the two sides agreed to establish a direct hotline between their two defense ministers. Tension remains of course. A failure to finalize an agreement over the precise parameters of a partially overlapping, maritime exclusion zone resulted in the South Korean coast guard shooting dead a Chinese fishing-boat captain. And back in 2011, a South Korean coast guard officer died in a scuffle with Chinese fishermen. Remarkably, however, in the latest incident there has even been some criticism within South Korea of the coast guard’s use of live firearms. One can only imagine, by contrast, the level of national outrage had it been the Japanese coast guard that killed a South Korean national.

Murphy's Law: Bad Behavior Is Legal In Pakistan


October 15, 2014: The U.S. State Department recently concluded a four year investigation of one of its contractors in Afghanistan. The subject was paying bribes to Pakistani officials to get people and equipment from the port of Karachi and into landlocked Afghanistan. The investigation concluded without recommending the contractor be punished. That’s because such bribes are a way of life in Pakistan and any foreign government operating there knows that you cannot get anything done without paying bribes. The American investigation did not find any fraud on the part of the American contractor (like their employees stealing bribe money) thus there was no crime according to U.S. law. Many Americans think that U.S. law forbids the paying of bribes overseas. In fact, the law does not do this in all instances. When you have a situation, as in Pakistan, where you simply cannot get things done without paying bribes, then that is, according to American law, legal. The U.S. government prefers that this sort of thing be done discreetly and without attracting investigations like this. 

The situation with Americans in Pakistan is all because Afghanistan is landlocked and most imports and exports move along the 1,600 kilometers long truck route from Kabul to the Pakistani port of Karachi. Only a few hundred kilometers of the route (mostly National Highway 55 in Pakistan) is a proper, multilane road common in the west. The rest of it, especially in the Pushtun territories astride the border, is a poorly maintained and quite narrow two lane road, often twisting its way up and down mountains. The Pushtun tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, in cooperation with government officials on both sides of the border, demand additional payments from trucking companies if they want their trucks to get across the border and into Afghanistan intact. That has cost Afghanistan and the foreign countries trying to help Afghanistan billions of dollars in additional transportation costs because of the bribes plus the costs of lost or damaged cargo. All this is nothing new. 

For centuries, the tribes along this route collected payments from the merchants (or, these days, trucking companies) to insure safe passage. Some of the current tribes are pro-Taliban, but this is business, and it has become more lucrative as the Afghan economy has revived since 2001 (when the reactionary, and bad for business, Taliban were chucked out). But as the Pushtun tribes split into pro and anti-Taliban groups, one of the side effects was a struggle over who would control the "security" business on the roads into Afghanistan. This explains the occasional attacks made on convoys and truck stops. While you hear about the U.S. and NATO convoys being attacked, the battles back in the hills, between the rival warlords, gets less coverage (mainly because reporters are apt to be shot, just to keep the media away from the savage fashion in which these disputes are settled.) The truck security payments (often several thousand dollars or more per truck per trip) are a major source of cash for the border tribes. It's something worth fighting, and dying, for. At the height of the trucking activity (2006-2010), the cost of getting a truckload (usually just a large cargo container) from Karachi to Kabul went from a thousand dollars to nearly $3,000. During that period over 5,000 trucks were destroyed and at least 120 drivers killed anyway. But only about one percent of NATO shipments were lost. It’s the Afghan economy as a whole which suffers the most. 

While religion and tribal politics play a big role in the Taliban and al Qaeda violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, you also have to follow the money to get to the source of most of the fighting. You can live without religion, but you can't live without food. And that will cost you, especially in one of the poorest regions of Asia. It's also one of the most heavily armed parts of Asia, where hungry tribesmen have long resorted to violence when they were hungry, or just greedy. 

U.S. and NATO commanders soon got fed up with the "protection" scam being run them on the supply route. In response, NATO has been bringing more cargo in via Russian and Central Asian railroads (the old Soviet rail network). This has been increasing since 2010 and made a noticeable dent in traffic going through the Khyber pass. That meant most of the traffic still being threatened moving through Pakistan was for the Afghan economy. Thus more civilian traffic is also shifting to the rail lines coming to the Afghan border via Central Asia. For the first time, some railroads are being built in Afghanistan. There were limits on how much traffic could be shifted north. For one thing there were few good roads going from north to south (where most of the fighting was) and there was one tunnel (the Salang) that carried more traffic than it was designed to. Salang was the quickest way south and has been a real bottleneck. So Pakistan still gets all this traffic, and a license to steal from the truckers.

Intelligence: ISIL And The Code Of Silence


October 15, 2014: The bombing campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria is limited in effectiveness because of the lack of a good informant network in areas ISIL controls. This is largely because most of the territory ISIL controls is populated by Sunni Arabs. ISIL prefers to kill or drive non-Sunnis out of areas they govern. Most Sunni Arabs back the idea of Sunnis, especially Sunni Arabs, being in charge. That belief is so widespread that it’s extremely difficult, and dangerous, for Sunni Arabs to act as an informant against ISIL or any other Sunni Arab leaders. 

This situation is particularly acute in Iraq where most Sunni Arabs believe Iraq will not work if Sunni Arabs are not in charge, as they had been for five hundred years. Despite being a minority, since the 16th century the Sunni Turks (until 1918) relied on the Baghdadi Sunni Arabs to help run things in what is now central and southern Iraq. For about a decade after 1918 the British occupied Iraq and also depended on the Sunni Arabs to keep the peace. Then the British left but had to re-occupy Iraq during World War II because the Sunni Arab government (not the king they brought in as part of a constitutional monarchy) tried to ally itself with the Nazis. 

At the time many Arabs admired Nazism. The Brits again conquered country, using three divisions and taking three weeks to do it. The Brits found another bunch of Sunni Arab notables and told them they could run things if they stayed away from the Nazis. That lasted for about a decade, until the Sunni Arab politicians and generals decided that this democracy stuff wasn’t working for them. The royal family was massacred and parliament purged of “disloyal” elements. 

The Sunni Arabs were now firmly in charge, via a series of dictators, until Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. Despite the subsequent elections too many groups in Iraq, not just the Sunni Arabs, believe a dictatorship (with them running it) would be the best solution for the nation's ills. As long as there is the possibility of some group seizing control, Iraq's democracy is in danger. After all, Iraqi had a democracy before (from 1932-58). That one was a constitutional monarchy. There were elections, political parties, and a parliament that passed laws. But it all ended half a century ago when Sunni Arab generals shut down the democracy (actually, they pretended the parliament still worked but the legislators merely followed orders). Saddam ran this military government for three decades and ran the country into the ground. Yet some Iraqis (mostly Sunni Arabs but even a few Shia Arabs) still admire Saddam and consider his blood-soaked reign a "golden age." 

Al Qaeda came in after 2003 and added Islamic radical terrorists to all those that the Sunni Arab nationalists had recruited. This backfired, as al Qaeda represented a form of political action that the post–World War II Sunni Arabs had abandoned and even gone to war with. But now, in the name of restoring Sunni rule Islamic terrorists were allowed to do as they pleased. This led to Iraqi Christians becoming "legitimate targets" that should all be killed or driven out of the country. Such threats are nothing new and have been getting worse for over a century. Christians were only 2-3 percent of the Iraqi population in 2003 while a century ago they were over ten percent. The Christians are at most risk from groups like the Islamic State of Iraq (which eventually became ISIL), a coalition of most of the Sunni Islamic terror groups operating in Iraq. 

Another nasty side effect of Saddam's overthrow has been the emergence of more major criminal gangs. Some of these existed even in Saddam's police state. Once Saddam was overthrown these gangs largely sided with the Sunni terrorists trying to put Saddam (or some other Sunni dictator) back in charge. The more purely criminal branches of terrorist groups tend to survive, which is how the surviving mafia organizations can trace their lineage back to 19th century freedom fighters. But in the last two decades the mafia and IRA have been reduced to much smaller, and less effective, organizations. 

After 2003 the Iraqis used a police approach to terrorism that had worked numerous times elsewhere in the past few decades. India crushed powerful Sikh separatists in the late 80s and early 90s by concentrating on what were basically police methods of developing informers and double agents and going after the key people and the criminal fund raising activities. At the same time, Egypt was crushing Islamic radicals, using similar techniques. Throughout the 1990s, Algeria fought a vicious Islamic terrorist group, finally reducing their numbers from over 10,000, to less than 500. Same thing with Israel's victory over Palestinian terrorists who were successful, for a few years after 2000, with suicide bomber attacks inside Israel. The U.S. adopted a lot of the Israeli techniques for intelligence collection and agent development. 

Iraq had another advantage in that American and Iraqi counter-terrorism efforts had managed to tear up the Islamic terrorist groups by 2008. Many Sunni Arab terrorists accepted (with some trepidation) various amnesty deals. Al Qaeda, which was still largely a foreign outfit, has been crippled with the killing or capture of most of their senior leaders. Being foreigners, and favoring attacks on civilians, made al Qaeda the most hated group in the country. There were plenty of tips from concerned citizens because of that. 

Iraqi members of al Qaeda then switched to criminal gangs, relegating Islamic terrorism to the "what I do in my spare time" category. While the U.S. contributed lots of essentials (UAVs, intelligence collection, and analysis) support for the counter-terror battle, the Iraqis did most of the work on the ground. The Iraqi cops took advantage of the fact that most Iraqis wanted peace. Three decades of Saddam's misrule and nine years of post-Saddam terror created a widespread desire for less unrest. While there are far fewer terror attacks after 2008 (less than ten percent of those during 2004-7), they persisted, and police believed there were enough diehard Islamic radicals and violent criminals to keep the bombs exploding well into the next decade. 

Syria: To The Turks ISIL Is The Lesser Of Two Evils


October 14, 2014: The civil war has left at least 180,000 dead so far. The government forces now tend to step aside when various rebel factions fight each other. Due to continued Russian aid the Syrian air force continues to regularly hit pro-rebel civilians and government ground troops keep going after remaining rebels around Damascus and Aleppo. At the moment ISIL is concentrating on the Kurds, especially those defending the town of Kobane near the Turkish border. The government keeps trying to get the West to admit that the Assad government is an ally in the international battle against ISIL and that Syria has led the way in recognizing and fighting this international Islamic terrorist threat. So far the rest of the world is ignoring the Assad claims, although in fact the Assads and the rest of the world are both fighting ISIL. 

In the north the Kurdish border town of Kobane has become the focus of ISIL activity since mid-September. Kobane is a key market and crossroads town near the north-central Turkish border. The area is largely Kurdish as is the border area to the east, all the way to the Iraq border and Kurdish northern Iraq. Most of the Kurds in the region are in southeastern Turkey. The Kurds of Iraq used to be part of the Turkish homeland, but not those in Iran and northeast Syria. When the British assembled Iraq after World War I and the destruction of the Turk Empire (which at one time included most Arab states) they included the Turkish province of Mosul (northern Iraq) because it had oil and they did not want the new Turkish republic to have oil because many in the West feared the Turks would eventually seek to rebuild their empire. The Kurds wanted to be independent and got along with the Arabs less well than they did with the Turks. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs who run ISIL are particularly angry at Kurds because for decades the Kurds have resisted Arab rule and often defeated Arab troops seeking to impose Arab control. Curbing Kurdish independence is an ISIL obsession that is made worse by the fact the ISIL in Iraq is being defeated by the Kurds there, whose trained fighters are more numerous, better equipped and have access to more American air support. So the month old offensive against the Syrian Kurds is not just a matter of dominating a troublesome opponent, but of gaining a measure of revenge against the hated Kurds who mock Arab power by constantly defeating Arab warriors. 

This is why most of the Kurds living in the area fled the ISIL advance. These fears have been confirmed as Kurds slaughter, often in gruesome (like beheading) ways any Kurds they capture. ISIL then distributes photos and videos of the beheaded Kurds in an effort to terrorize and demoralize. That does not work against the Kurds, who become more determined to fight ISIL. Thus despite ferocity and large number the ISIL advance has been stuck at Kobane for two weeks. The Turks, despite pressure from Arab states and the West, refuses to allow military aid to cross the border to the Kurdish defenders of Kobane. The Turks don’t like the Kurds either, even though the Turks have been successful over the centuries at compelling Kurds to submit to Turkish rule. Despite that the Kurds continue to resist and the Turks see an opportunity to weaken the Kurds and ISIL by prolonging the fighting in Kobane. The Turks have a particular dislike for the Syrian Kurds because they see these Kurds as still supporting the PKK (the active Turkish Kurdish rebels). This cynical policy has enraged Kurds throughout the region and caused violent protests in Turkey which has left over 20 dead. But the Kurds cannot push their protests too far because the Kurds of northern Iraq need Turkish cooperation. The Iraqi Kurds are landlocked and their only reliable trade route to the outside world goes through Turkey. Kurdish and non-Kurdish businesses are eager to support this trade but the Turkish government can shut down this access at any time. Smugglers would only be able to replace, at most, about ten percent of that vital trade. Meanwhile Turkey has sent more troops, including a company of tanks, to the border area opposite Kobane. 

The current situation in Kobane was caused by the Kurdish decision to shift forces back to Iraq in early September to help defend Kurdish northern Iraq. ISIL sensed an opportunity. Because of growing American air strikes in Iraq it seemed safer to concentrate forces against the Syrian Kurds. Because of this shift in forces to Iraq, ISIL only encountered local militia when they first advanced into Kurdish areas of northern Syria in mid-September. ISIL mobilized over 5,000 fighters and used armored vehicles and artillery for the campaign against the Syrian Kurds. This was more than the Kurdish militia (including some armed women among the largely male fighters) could handle. Despite Kurdish reinforcements being shifted to northeastern Syria by late September plus a few coalition air strikes the ISIL advance continued. Turkish Kurds told the Turkish government that refusal to allow support for the Syrian Kurds via Turkey was causing anger among Turkish Kurds and might interfere with the current peace negotiations to end the three decade old Kurdish rebellion in Turkey. The Turks, as they often do, ignored the Kurdish threats knowing that the Kurds needed Turkish cooperation more than the other way around. In effect the Kurds are saying that they prefer ISIL on their border to Syrian Kurds that might provide support for PKK. ISIL will not support the PKK and the Turks have confidence in their ability to keep ISIL out of Turkey. In this the Turks have history on their side. Only about 1.3 percent of Turks are Arab and most live along the Syrian border. Turkish Arabs are hostile to Islamic terrorism and ethnic Turks and Kurds who are radicalized are rarely supporters of Islamic terrorism. So ISIL has little support, and many opponents inside Turkey. The Turkish Army has long and successful history of defeating Arabs, including fanatic terrorists, in combat. To the Turks, ISIL is the lesser of two evils. 

The fighting is now inside Kobane, a town largely empty of civilians. This struggle (including the two week September advance towards Kobane) has caused over 2,000 casualties (most of them ISIL) so far, at least 600 of them dead. ISIL gunmen entered Kobane on October 6th. The Kurdish defenders counterattacked and pushed ISIL out by the 8th. But on the 9th ISIL had massed more men and armored vehicles and came back in. By the 10th ISIL controlled at least a third of Kobane. Since then additional ISIL offensives have been defeated or greatly slowed down by the defenders. The Kurds are moving in reinforcements and supplies (especially ammunition) from the east (especially northern Iraq) as fast as they can. The Kurds have about 1,500 fighters in Kobane and another few hundred secular Syrian rebels (the FSA). There are also several thousand Kurdish civilians in and around Kobane. ISIL has more than three times as many armed men in and around the town than the Kurds do. The Kurdish reinforcement route is much more difficult than moving along the safe and more numerous Turkish road network. ISIL has managed to take most of the town but enough Kurdish reinforcements have arrived to halt, for the moment, further advance. The Kurds want more American air strikes and there have been some more. This is helping the Kurds but the outcome of the Battle of Kobane is still in doubt. ISIL is determined to achieve a decisive victory over the Kurds and the Kurds are determined to prevent that from happening. 

In the east (Deir Ezzor province) ISIL continues to have problems with Sunni tribes (especially the Shueitat) who oppose ISIL rule. In July and August ISIL killed over 700 hostile tribesmen, some by beheading or crucifixtion. This put a stop to open resistance, but now some tribesmen have turned to guerilla warfare and claim to have killed at least a hundred ISIL men. This armed resistance (of about 300 armed men calling themselves “Shite Shroud”) forces ISIL to keep more men in the east to maintain order and protect supply lines, especially to Kobane. 

The problem with the east Syrian tribesmen was unhappiness with ISIL efforts to force a strict Islamic lifestyle on them. Also unpopular was the ISIL attitude that anything the Islamic terrorists did was above reproach. That resulted in a July edict that anyone who said (in person or via the media or Internet) anything hostile to ISIL would be severely punished. At first there were some executions of prominent critics, including five who were crucified and many more who were beheaded. In late July this led to several battles in villages as the tribesmen fought ISIL and initially won. At first ISIL leaders sought to negotiate the problem but that did not work out to the satisfaction of ISIL. So in August ISIL tried force and killed enough tribesmen to obtain a surrender and promise of subservience from most of the unhappy tribesmen. Some tribesmen continue to resist and now the terrorists have their own terrorism problem. 

Murphy's Law: Islam And The Cure Worse Than Death


October 14, 2014: Moslems in general and Arabs in particular have developed a peculiar relationship with democracy. Since the 1960s, when many Moslems were able migrate to the West, millions of Moslems have come to understand democracy from personal experience. They did this either by moving to live in the West, or being visited by family or friends who had and were eager to explain this curious but wonderful form of government in great detail. As a result of this opinion polls in Moslem countries have shown a growing approval of democracy. This was especially true in 2011 after the Arab Spring uprisings. But since 2011 that approval of democracy has dimmed a bit as Moslems unaccustomed to running a democracy found that doing so was not easy. A majority of Moslems still think democracy is the best form of government, but a quarter of Moslems also believe that democracy may be unsuitable for Moslem countries at this time. This disappoints and confuses many Moslems. They can see that democracy creates superior results where is has been established, but the process of getting democracy to work reliably is a lot harder and more difficult than many Moslems originally believed. This is largely because of some unique problems in Moslem states. 

One of the unique problems is opposition from some Islamic conservatives. This is made worse because many Arabs believe what al Qaeda preaches, that the world should be ruled by an Islamic religious dictatorship, and that this must be achieved by any means necessary (including force against non-Moslems and Moslems who don’t agree.) This sort of thinking has been popular with Islamic conservatives since Islam first appeared in the sixth century. Since then, it has periodically flared up into major outbreaks of religious inspired violence. But that’s not the only problem. Arabs, in particular, sustain these outbursts with their fondness for paranoid fantasies and an exaggerated sense of persecution and entitlement. For example, most Arabs believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not carried out by Arabs, but were a CIA scam, to provide an excuse for the West to make war on Islam. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. troops in Iraq were amazed at the number of fantastical beliefs that were accepted as reality there. Then there is the corruption and intense hatreds. It’s a very volatile and unpredictable part of the world, and always has been. 

In first decade of the 21st century if became popular to call many of these Moslem countries who were having trouble establishing democracy "failed states." This became the generic term for unstable countries that were prone to rebellion and civil disorder. What they all have in common is a lack of "civil society" (rule of, and respect for, law), and lots of corruption. The two sort of go together. 

The best example of a failed state has long been Somalia, and that's largely because the concept of the "nation of Somalia" is a very recent development (the 1960s). It never caught on. Same could be said for the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn't in the same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government of sorts, on and off, for thousands of years. Not so Somalia. 

Another common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. Tribalism has kept most African nations from making much economic progress. The top failed states tend to be African, Moslem or both. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from clan animosities and severe warlordism. 

There's a similar problem in the Middle East. For example, two current hot spots, Iraq and Afghanistan, have long been torn apart by tribal and religious animosities. Same with the Balkans and parts of India and Pakistan. Perhaps the most glaring example of a failed state caused by too much diversity is Papua New Guinea, on the eastern portion of the island of New Guinea (north of Australia). Papua New Guinea has over 800 languages (and even more tribes.) It has been in chaos, of one form or another, since becoming a nation 35 years ago. There is no Islam involved here as most of the locals are Christian or pagans. 

No one has come up with a quick, or easy, solution for failed states. It's all a matter of effective local leadership, and that frequently fails to show up. There has been some success in helping good leaders develop, by assisting with installing a democracy. But just letting the people vote often leads to someone, who looked like a good guy, turning into a dictatorial "president for life." Haiti has, for two centuries, trying to develop a civil society, and for over a century has been using democracy in that effort. Has not worked, and prospects are bleak. 

Iraq is being keenly watched by the Arab world. It's one of only few Arab states to have held free and fair elections lately. Iraq, however, is in the center of the Arab world, and its success, or failure, as a democracy, will determine how well democracy will fair in the region. Thus the current struggle with ISIL takes on an added urgency. 

The consensus so far is that the old reasons (outside interference) for the poor government in Arab states no longer apply. Since the 1950s, centuries of Turkish, and, more recently, a few decades of European rule, were to blame. Tiny Israel also got some blame. But it's become obvious that the Turks, Europeans and Israelis are not the cause. The problems are internal, and the search is on for workable solutions. 

One exemplary leader can make a difference. Examples abound. Kemal Ataturk, more than any of his close followers and advisors, turned Turkey from a medieval monarchy, into a functioning democracy. India also had a handful of strong leaders early on who achieved what many believed impossible, and created the world's largest (over a billion people) democracy. Neither Turkey nor India are as efficient and prosperous as many older democracies. But compared to many of their neighbors, Turkey and India are beacons of hope in an otherwise dreary political landscape. Alas, they are the exception, not the rule, and this sorry state of affairs will continue for the foreseeable future. 

ISIS rapes and enslaves women. So why are so many joining the cause?

 by Amanda Taub
October 20, 2014

ISIS's treatment of women seems to be rife with confusing contradictions. The group's strict rules for women's dress seem oppressive, and its restrictions on women's behavior seem designed to subjugate them. But, at the same time, ISIS is more than happy to recruit and arm women, and has created all-female ISIS brigades.

It turns out that ISIS's approach towards women is driven less by its ultra-conservative ideology than it is by calculating military strategy. That strategy is, by all appearances, designed to further specific recruitment, military, and state-building goals — and there are signs that it is working.

ISIS's success in appealing to women to join its cause, and using women to further it, represents a major break from al-Qaeda. It offers revealing insights into how the group has managed to control such a wide expanse of the Middle East — often with a crucial degree of support from the very people living under its terror.
The roles women play within ISIS

Alleged ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi preaches at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq (Al-Furqan Media/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

ISIS reportedly fields two all-female brigades, al-Khansaa and Umm al-Rayan. They do not fight on the front lines of battle, but serve primarily in a policing role. They enforce civilian women's compliance with ISIS's strict rules of Islamist morality, including wearing a full niqab veil and not going out in public without a male escort.

There are also reports of ISIS female fighters accompanying male fighters at checkpoints and on home raids, so that they can search women and look for male fighters who might have concealed their identities under a veil and niqab.

ISIS's female members and supporters also recruit other women to join the group and to provide assistance in less direct ways, such as by marrying ISIS fighters or becoming involved in recruitment themselves.
Why ISIS wants women to fill those roles, instead of men

Women can help ISIS cement its control over civilian populations in ways that men cannot. For all its cruelty to civilians, ISIS knows that it needs some degree of popular support to maintain control, and it sees women as crucial to that.

Dr. Nimmi Gowrinathan, a UN researcher whose work focuses on women's participation in conflict and rebel movements, explains that any successful insurgency movement needs to generate popular support among both genders — not just men. Female insurgents, she said, "are particularly useful in that regard," because "they have better ability to access civilian women, to engage civilian women, and also to recruit."

The morality rules that all-female brigades enforce are based in religious doctrine and practice, but they're also a means of ruling and controlling civilians in ISIS-held territory. The Brookings Institution's Will McCants told me he sees three benefits for ISIS in enforcing such strict religious law. First, it allows ISIS to "demonstrate to the people who's boss." Second, it provides a ready-made set of norms and practices to put into place. And, third, it serves as an excuse to tightly control people's behavior.

ISIS's strict Salafist interpretation of Islamic law calls for quite strict control over how people behave, what they wear, and where they can go, which McCants pointed out can be a means by which to "engender fear and routinize obedience." That ideology "just happens to be quite handy if you are trying to establish authoritarian rule over a territory."

Actively enlisting women in "morality policing," McCants said, is "of a piece with the kinds of roles that some conservative women in Saudi Arabia or say Iran might have." But ISIS's approach to women is very different from al-Qaeda's: that group "strongly discouraged" women from fighting and limited women's involvement to just "encouraging their man to fight."

Why some women are actively seeking ISIS out

Syrian civilians fleeing an ISIS attack wait on the Turkish border (Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Even if ISIS has its reasons for seeing women as useful to its mission, why would women be willing to join ISIS — a group that not only imposes strict restrictions on women's dress and behavior, but also has a record of appalling abuses against women, including forced marriages, the use of rape as a weapon of war, and the enslavement of women from the Yazidi religious minority?