29 October 2014

Melting glaciers, changing climate

Published: October 29, 2014

Meena Menon

The HinduSCALING NEW HEIGHTS: Glaciology is not for the faint-hearted. Picture shows Mohd Soheb, a glaciology researcher, checking the precipitation gauge at the JNU base camp .Photo: By Special Arrangement

Though studies point to an increase in the pace of glacier wastage in the western Himalayas, long-term monitoring is required to study glacier evolution and its relation to the climate

At dawn, Mohd Soheb begins an arduous trek to the high camp at Chhota Shigri glacier in the Pir Panjal range in Spiti valley, Himachal Pradesh. From the PWD guesthouse at Chota Dara, he walks down to the Chandra river where he travels across in a small iron crate using an ingenious system of pulleys to the base camp at about 3,850 metres set up by the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) School of Environmental Sciences.

From the camp, the snout of the glacier located at about 4,050 metres, looks deceptively close but actually requires a two hour climb over moraine. Covered by a sheet of dirty ice, it is almost blocked by stones but has a clear stream flowing from it which meets the river downstream at Chota Dara. Soheb will go ahead to 4,800 metres, to the high camp from where he will be carrying out studies. Steam drills are carried all the way up to dig into the snow and ice to place bamboo stakes up to 10 metres deep for measuring melting at intervals after the snout of the glacier. About 100 km from Manali, the glacier is relatively accessible, but for students like Soheb doing his M.Phil in glacier studies, the hardest part is getting there. The five-hour drive from Manali over non-existent roads is bone crushing and then the climbing over moraine filled with giant boulders. What is more challenging is measuring the winter snow accumulation, also called winter balance, just when the snow starts melting in late May, Soheb says. Last year he, along with other researchers, walked 30 km to reach the glacier since the area was snowed under and the roads were not open.

Glaciology, therefore, is not for the faint-hearted. JNU solved the issue of trained human resources by launching a programme from 2013 under a Department of Science and Technology (DST)- Indo-Swiss capacity building programme for budding glaciologists, training nearly 30 persons for advanced research in Himalayan glaciology. Chhota Shigri is one of the earliest glaciers in the country to be studied since 1986 as part of the Himalayan Glaciology Research Programme by DST. This was discontinued in 1989.

5% Army officers still ‘come from Sainik Schools’

Bhanu P Lohumi
Tribune News Service

Shimla, October 28
Even today Sainik Schools and Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) contribute five to six per cent of the officers to Indian army, says head of Doctrine branch at Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla Major General Sukesh Rakshit.

While grooming of students at Sainik Schools, focus is on overall development of students, including academics, co-curricular activities, physical fitness and discipline, besides inculcating in them a spirit of staunch nationalism.

The curriculum is continuously upgraded to keep the students abreast of the latest trends and developments. The students not joining the army do well in other fields. The focus on physical fitness and sports makes the students bold, tough and capable of facing challenges. This helps them during examinations for entry into the Indian Army.

Not only a large number of pass-outs from Sainik Schools enter the Army, but they also hold high positions in the Air force and Navy. The number of Generals coming out of Sainik schools is in three digits, he added.

At present, there are 27 Sainik Schools in the country. These are managed by Sainik Schools Society.

The objective of the Sainik Schools is to prepare students to lead as officers in the defence services of the country. The schools select promising students through entrance examination. After that the focus is on moulding their overall personality with emphasis on extracurricular activities.

The Army, which was a leading career choice of youth, had been relegated to lower positions in recent years and brilliant students were not joining the Army. However, after the Sixth Pay Commission and improved service conditions in the Army, the trend has reversed and shortage of officers at middle level has been reduced drastically, says another General.

The concept of Sainik Schools came into being in 1961 to rectify regional and class imbalance among the officer cadre of the Indian military and to prepare students for entry into the National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla and Pune and Indian Naval Academy.


Sound & fury

Oct 29, 2014

Were the explosives finished goods meant for export to as yet unknown destinations, whether eastwards into the Naxalite-infested jungles of peninsular India, or to other similar killing grounds in Jharkhand and Bihar? Or were they to be fed back into Bangladesh? 

The Vietcong in their time would have approved of it. So too, but for different reasons, would the ISIS, the Islamic State whose black flags have recently appeared in the rabbit warren area of Srinagar. The Vietcong, for the organisation and concealment of a well-stocked and fully-equipped clandestine bomb and grenade making factory unearthed in the residential madrasa for girls in the non-descript village of Khairagarh in Burdwan, West Bengal. The factory might have been as good as any they had established under the noses of the Americans in the Iron Triangle near Saigon, during the Vietnam War. The ISIS would have reason to be reassured by the stubborn spirit of intense jihad inculcated in two semi-literate housewives of the same village (carrying their infant children) who refused to divulge any information to investigators despite prolonged questioning by agents from the National Investigation Agency, India’s closest equivalent to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation. Why West Bengal?

What has emerged from whatever information has become progressively available is a very definite connection between the Khairagarh bomb factory, and a network of extremist elements within the state, as also in Bangladesh, in this case the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (Bangladesh) or JMJB, and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (Bangladesh) or HuJi. For India, there is little difference between the various Bangladeshi fundamentalist groups, all hostile to India, and all engaged in a campaign of terrorism against the liberal, secular-minded (and hence by their definition un-Islamic) government of Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League. Sheikh Hasina is a trusted friend and ally of India and India’s interests require her continuance in office. One way of doing so is to satisfactorily resolve the case of “The Bombs of Khairagarh” and eliminate the terrorist network surrounding it, particularly elements which have established themselves inside this country.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014 | Ashok K Mehta |

The last thing one wants is television anchors across the divide playing with fire. While Islamabad has pushed the Kashmir envelope, Prime Minister Modi must break the ice, and keep his fingers crossed

If one were to believe television debates orchestrated by some misguided anchors on both sides of the Line of Control, India and Pakistan came pretty close to war following the 10-day long localised firing of small arms and mortars mainly in the International Border sector. A new reason for Pakistan starting the firing was that India beat Pakistan in the Asiad hockey final!

The TV content was mind-boggling: Cold Start-Limited War escalating to nuking each other off the map. Sipping whiskey from tea cups, smoking the war pipe and liberally abusing one another with anchors spraying chilli powder, otherwise sane security experts went berserk proving their nationalistic credentials. Hilarious SMSs were exchanged about anchors and channels, one even suggesting that like the WWF, these contests were also fixed. The incalculable environmental damage inflicted by the senseless exchange of tirade helped none, especially inhabitants living astride the IB and the LoC. Never before has firing across borders created unprecedented bad blood. Pakistan and India have gone their own predictable ways — United Nations and New York and Simla and Lahore Agreements respectively — with apparently no meeting ground, culminating in the ISI-sponsored Kashmir ‘million man march’ in London last week. It is internationalisation versus bilateralism.

For a third time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a lockdown with his Army, has frittered away his huge political capital, incapacitating his peace-with-India agenda. This red rag to a bull for the Pakistan Army forced Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to do a cut-and-paste job of a Gen Kayani speech on ‘Kashmir the jugular vein’, to the Kakul Military Academy earlier this month. All this and more is deja vu. Except that the Modi Government is claiming that it has changed the rules of engagement: No talks under the shadow of terrorism and maintenance of peace and stability on the LoC. Convictions of the masterminds of the 26/11 attack have apparently been removed. India says Foreign Secretary level talks were only about modality of reviving the dialogue and so there was no need for Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit to meet the Hurriyat.

China tells Nepal what to do


China has brazenly told Kathmandu that it is not happy about the presence of activists fomenting trouble in Tibet.
Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Posted: October 27, 2014 
China has sent a clear message to Nepal that it is keen to invest in the country but would like a secure environment for that. It has candidly prescribed some bilateral and internal arrangements. Chinese authorities recently told Nepal’s visiting Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam that a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement (BIPPA) would encourage China to invest more, and with confidence, in Nepal.

Nepal had signed a BIPPA with India about two years ago. The least China wants is the same priority treatment from Nepal, where political instability and the prolonged transition have taken a heavy toll on development. In recent years, China has been more assertive with Nepal and has sometimes brazenly told Kathmandu that it is not happy about the presence of international activists fomenting trouble in Tibet. “They want to have an extradition treaty along with the BIPPA,” Gautam said on his return.

China is increasing its presence in Nepal, even as most Nepali citizens see very little chance of their current political leaders delivering a meaningful constitution by the January 22 deadline. Beijing is also worried that a campaign of 22 parties, led by Maoist chief Prachanda, for identity- and ethnicity-based federalism will have a direct bearing on Tibet. China has been repeatedly warning against such a federal state being endorsed during the constitution-writing process.

Control of Terrain in Iraq: October 26, 2014

by Ahmed Ali and Nichole Dicharry

Ahmed Ali is a Senior Iraq Research Analyst and the Iraq Team Lead.


The British Indian Army that fought the Great War a hundred years ago cannot be labelled as a mercenary force, writes J.J. Singh

28 Oct 2014

Bengalee War Memorial, Calcutta, 1914-1919

The profession of soldiering is as old as the evolution of human civilizations. The glory of the armies and the valour of men in arms in India find a mention since the Vedic era, in the Upanishads and the Mahabharat. Continuing through the Maurya and Gupta periods, the Cholas and the Vijaynagar dynasty, the Mughal and British rule, the soldiers of Hindustan have displayed bravery, a sense of honour and loyalty in abundance. Their allegiance to the king, the State, the cause or dharma was seldom in question. They lived and died for naam, nishaan, namak, dastur and izzat (their name, the colours under which they would go into battle, loyalty, tradition and honour). These were simple, disciplined, sincere and industrious men from rustic backgrounds, and, when required, they could be ferocious warriors and second to none in gallantry. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that they remain so even today.

In the centennial of the Great War for Civilization, I recently attended a book-release event in Delhi in which India and the First World War by Vedica Kant and the role played by the British Indian army in that war was focused on. A question arose in some minds as to whether the Indian army’s role in this war was worth remembering at all, as “these soldiers were mere mercenaries”. Such remarks have often been made in the past by others too, including those from the political classes. Therefore, it is not surprising to read the views expressed by some soldiers fighting in Europe, Mesopotamia or other far-off lands in their private correspondence — “If I die here who will remember me?” Not all of them were fully aware or convinced of the cause for which they were fighting, and because of this ambivalence many had a lurking feeling that the nation would forget them and their sacrifices.

World War I would also be remembered as the “war for civilisation”. India — Punjab and Maharashtra in particular — lost thousands of young men in foreign lands, for the British Empire, for a free world and for the glory of their “paltan”. Let us not forget that many senior battalions of infantry, regiments of cavalry and some units of artillery proudly nurture glorious histories with detailed accounts of battles won or lost, acts of bravery and traditions going back to the 18th century or earlier. We are inspired by them even today.

For the “Mahrattas”, the Mesopotamian campaign was an epoch-making period of their impressive and ancient martial tradition of bearing arms. As a mark of honour for the regiment’s impressive display of gallantry, steadfastness and ability to withstand harsh battlefield conditions and severe deprivation in World War I, it was given the elitist title of “Light Infantry”. All the paltans (battalions) suffered heavy casualties; some had to be raised again during the war itself. It was during this campaign that the 117th Battalion, now the 5th Maratha Light Infantry, was given the honorific title of “Royal” for conspicuous gallantry and the most outstanding standards of conduct, discipline and dedicated service in the face of severe odds and privations. It may be worth recalling that this battalion was raised in December 1800 as a native fencible regiment, and subsequently formed a part of the army of the Bombay Presidency.

What is perhaps forgotten is that political leaders of eminence such as Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Sarojini Naidu, besides many others, supported the participation of Indian soldiers in this war. In his response to the appeal made by the viceroy to prominent leaders to support the war effort, Gandhi said, “With a full sense of my responsibility, I beg to support the resolution.” And this great “votary of non-violence” is reported to have toured the villages of his home province of Gujarat exhorting young men to join the army to fight in World War I. One of the important reasons for them to do so was the perception that such contributions would facilitate the grant of home rule or independence to India. Tilak, too, asked the people to come forward with the slogan, “Purchase war debentures but look at them as title deeds of home rule.” Appreciating the positive qualities that war was said to bring out in men, Gandhi highlighted fearlessness, comradeship and a sense of duty (dharma).

Nobel Peace Prize: For less than noble reasons.

Mohan Guruswamy
25 October 2014

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Norwegian Parliaments choices for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 were announced. The little excitement this elicited in India and Pakistan has mostly died down. With good reason too. For a start this award has a history of having less to do with actual contributions and more to do with some part of a larger agenda. Some pretty dubious people have received this. Many more were patently undeserving. The last but not the least was Barack Obama who received it in his first year of office for “"for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Undoubtedly President Obama is a highly gifted person and is an inspiration to millions of people world over. But in 2009, a year after he won the US Presidency and after a somewhat desultory term as US Senator, even he would have been hard-pressed to tell us what exactly were his “extraordinary efforts”?

According to Alfred Nobel’s will the Peace Prize was to be awarded to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese negotiator won it in 1973 following a bitterly fought war which saw the USA rain all manner of weapons and flouting many conventions. The only reduction of standing armies they possibly contributed to was on the battlefields of Vietnam. Le Duc Tho rightly rejected it. This list is long. Some very nice people too have received this prize but for reasons well outside the original scope set out by Alfred Nobel. The Dalai Lama and Aung San Su Kyi probably the most prominent among them. Both are leader fighting to save their nations from the tyranny of undemocratic regimes.

It is quite clear that both, Malala Yusufzai and Kailash Satyarthi, have done nothing for world peace. But both have served their nations in other ways. They have embarrassed the ruling elites by highlighting the inequities within the systems they preside over. The number of child workers in India is in the millions. Malala’s struggle to extend education to Pakistani girls, frowned by radical Islamists, is well known. But she has also been the beneficiary of some superb huckstering by western journalists like Christina Lamb.

When John Kennedy, then running for the US House of Representatives, was asked how he became a war hero, pithily replied, “it was entirely involuntary. They sank my boat!” Malala could afford to be equally charmingly self-deprecating after a Taliban gunman shot her in the face in 2012. Now just seventeen, Malala became a symbolic and primetime victim of the religious extremism being espoused by the USA’s former allies, the Taliban being foremost among them. It all makes a good story, though it is also very obviously a contrived one, unless we swallow hook, line and sinker the legend that she began writing a blog at the age of twelve and her ambitious father and people like Christina Lamb had little more than a little to do with it?

I wouldn’t know much about Malala for like most of who read this I too know her from a distance and see what I am shown, read what is written and can be as much a victim of subliminal persuasion as any person buying soap is. But Kailash Satyarthi, I know personally.

I first met him in the early 1980’s when he was an aide to Swami Agnivesh who was leading a heroic struggle to liberate bonded labor, then an endemic practice in India. The story of Agnivesh’s Bandhua Mukti Morcha (Bonded Labor Liberation Front) is the stuff of legends. BMM activists, most notably, Agnivesh and increasingly Satyarthi, waged a relentless guerilla struggle to free bonded labor from the enforced servitude in brick kilns, stone quarries, carpet and dhurry factories, and wherever the cycle of usurious interests made loans impossible to repay and hence condemned the borrower to perpetual servitude in exchange. The Supreme Court of India took notice of this and in a landmark judgment forced the enactment of laws to free bonded labor and to stipulate minimum physical conditions in all workplaces for unorganized labor.

Procurement: Indian Mirage Upgrade Is A Mirage


October 21, 2014: Back in 2006 India decided to upgrade its 52 (now 49) Mirage 2000 fighters, at a cost of $35 million each. The upgrade is still not complete and the cost has grown to $45 million per aircraft. Part of the delay was due to Indian insistence that most of the work be done in India. That meant Indian technicians had to be trained, often in France and special tools and equipment had to be obtained from France. The Indian military procurement bureaucracy is famous (or infamous) for its sloth and inefficiency and that has been a big part of the problem with getting the upgrades done.

Another example of that is the inability of Indian procurement officials to approve orders for spare parts for the Mirage 2000s, as well as for the items needed for the upgrades. Because of the delays in getting needed spares at least a dozen of the Mirage 2000s are grounded, some of them since 2010. It is also difficult to get politicians to agree on things like upgrades to older equipment, but the larger problem is the inefficient and often ineffective procurement officials. 

So far two Mirage 2000s have completed the upgrade but are awaiting certification. That might take years. The Indian firm doing the upgrades say they can upgrade ten Mirage 2000s a year but no one with a knowledge of how these things work in India believes that.

The upgraded Mirage 2000s are getting new radar with 90 kilometers range (a 20 percent increase). The new fire control systems, modern electronic warfare systems and digital communications will make the Mirage 2000s capable of handling the most modern Pakistani and Chinese fighters. Other components (like the airframe and engines) were also to be refurbished. After the upgrade, the twenty year old Mirage 2000s would be good for another twenty. The upgrade price includes a supply of MICA, long range (50 kilometers) radar guided missiles which are similar to the U.S. AMRAAM.

While expensive, the upgrade would turn the Mirage 2000 fighters into long range air-to-air killers. These aircraft could very efficiently knock down their Chinese or Pakistani opponents (which are equipped with less capable Chinese FD-60 long range missiles.) Meanwhile Pakistan has received new F-16 fighters as well as upgrades for their older ones. Pakistan is al receiving American AMRAAM missiles as well. The Indians expect the French to provide electronic warfare equipment that can give AMRAAM a hard time. How well that works won't be seen until, and if, there's another large scale war between India and Pakistan. China uses copies of the latest Russian Su-30 fighters and the upgraded Mirage 2000s, as well as Indian Su-30s, are supposed to be competitive with those.

Kill funding to kill terrorism

27 Oct , 2014

Terrorism, like almost every other human activity that involves production and creation of goods and services, needs money. Collecting funds initially through donations, borrowing or robbing banks and the rich are the first stage when terrorism/insurgency is internal. State sponsors are the starting point of all externally-originating terror activity and resort to extortion, kidnapping for ransom, smuggling and human trafficking inevitably follows.

Funds are needed to maintain cadres, arrange their training, weapons and shelter but, eventually, all terrorism becomes profitable business. The nexus that grows over time among terrorists and criminals make the two indistinguishable. Both begin to appear legitimate businessmen as they discuss real business in fancy bars in the US or Europe. The only ideology of the leadership of the organisations is that of money and profits. The economics of jihad is the global dimension to terror and crime.

Saudi and Qatari money, and donations from charities to anti-Assad groups like ISIS have helped create the present mayhem in West Asia.

Turbulence is the Normal

Terrorism and turbulence have existed in West Asia on a massive scale for several decades. The Black September attacks in Jordan, the Munich Massacres, the assassination of Anwar Sadat and the Yom Kippur War were early markers and the Opec oil embargo alarmed the west. The Siege of Mecca in 1979 is not as often remembered as the Iranian Revolution the same year, but this shook the Saudi royals and other Sunni potentates. West Asia was only going to get worse and a radical and violent Islamic world was taking shape. Hezbollah was born in 1985 and Hamas in 1987 at a time when the Afghan jihad against the Soviets raged and in which many Arabs participated. This was a great economic and financial opportunity for unconventional businessmen, middlemen and terrorists-turned-businessmen. Adnan Khashoggi, Manucher Ghorbanifar and Ghaith Pharaon were legends in their time.

Self-Sufficient, & Profitable

It was the Reaganomics of terror where armed groups had given up relying on state largesse, and had begun to finance themselves using market and business techniques. In the 1980s, when the well-endowed Palestinian leader Ahmed Jibrilwas dumped by Muammar Gaddafi and the KGB, he wasted no time in switching loyalties to the Iranians for a fee. Hamas having received funding and support from Saudi Arabia became a state-shell with enough resources to provide socioeconomic support to Palestinians. The Arab Bank in Sidon, Lebanon, which had bailed out the debt-ridden King of Jordan more than once, was the bank of convenience of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) till the Israeli invasion in April 1982.

That year, the PLO controlled 35 factories in Lebanon with lucrative business interests abroad. Tax worth millions, collected by the PLO from all illegal activity in Lebanon, was shared with Arab luminaries. Anew entity came into prominence during this time. Backed by money from many influential Saudis like Khaled bin Mahfouz — whose sister was one of Osama bin Laden’s wives, Agha Hassan Abedi, a Pakistani — founded the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1972. The BCCI handled shady transactions of illegal arms transfers, handled drug money and became the CIA’s favoured bank during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s. The underworld of terror financing inevitably got linked with rogue banks through an intricate web of financial institutions and banks controlled by Saudi princes that transferred funds to various armed groups and terrorist organisations across the globe. Helped generously by the Pakistan establishment, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) established its own legitimate institutions and charities, including a hospital, ambulance services and mobile clinics.

**** Principle, Rigor and Execution Matter in U.S. Foreign Policy

Geopolitical Weekly

By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism for his foreign policy, along with many other things. This is not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush was similarly attacked. Stratfor has always maintained that the behavior of nations has much to do with the impersonal forces driving it, and little to do with the leaders who are currently passing through office. To what extent should American presidents be held accountable for events in the world, and what should they be held accountable for?

Expectations and Reality

I have always been amazed when presidents take credit for creating jobs or are blamed for high interest rates. Under our Constitution, and in practice, presidents have precious little influence on either. They cannot act without Congress or the Federal Reserve concurring, and both are outside presidential control. Nor can presidents overcome the realities of the market. They are prisoners of institutional constraints and the realities of the world.

Nevertheless, we endow presidents with magical powers and impose extraordinary expectations. The president creates jobs, manages Ebola and solves the problems of the world -- or so he should. This particular president came into office with preposterous expectations from his supporters that he could not possibly fulfill. The normal campaign promises of a normal politician were taken to be prophecy. This told us more about his supporters than about him. Similarly, his enemies, at the extremes, have painted him as the devil incarnate, destroying the Republic for fiendish reasons.

Iran, Pakistan Exchange Mortar Fire

October 25, 2014

Amid growing tensions, Pakistan and Iran exchanged mortar fire. 

According to Pakistani officials, the Iranian army fired six mortar shells into the Pakistani border town of Mashkail early Friday morning. The BBC reports that Pakistan “is then thought to have fired back.” This exchange of fire comes after months of deteriorating ties between Iran and Pakistan over the security situation in their mutual border in Balochistan. Iran claims that Pakistan has not done enough to prevent Sunni militants from seeking safe-haven in the deserts of Balochistan province in southwest Pakistan, creating instability on the Iranian side of the border in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.

According to Pakistan’s DAWN, there were no casualties as a result of the mortar fire. One anonymous Pakistan official notes that the Iranian side ceased mortar fire once Pakistan retaliated. ”Mortar shells fired by Iranian border personnel landed 3,000 meters inside Pakistani territory,” he added.

As The Diplomat reported recently, Iran accused Pakistan of letting Sunni militants enter its eastern province after an attack on Iranian border guards last week killed two border officers. Tension between the two countries ticked up sharply in February this year when five Iranian border guards were abducted by the Jaish al-Adl Sunni militant group and taken into Pakistani Balochistan. At that time, the Iranian Interior Minister had suggested that Iran would not hesitate to send troops in to retrieve its soldiers: “If Pakistan doesn’t take the needed steps to fight against the terrorist groups, we will send our forces into Pakistani soil. We will not wait for this country,” he told Iran’s Mehr News.

Despite the exchange of mortar fire and the general increase in bilateral tensions, Pakistan’s Inspector General Frontier Corps Major General Ejaz Shahid and Iranian guards Chief General Qasim Razai met to boost bilateral intelligence cooperation to help maintain peace in Balochistan. “Both chiefs of border forces… agreed to tighten security at the border besides sharing intelligence information to maintain peace and order at the border,” a Pakistani Frontier Corps spokesman noted. “Maj. Gen. Ejaz Shahid told Iranian officials that Pakistan wants durable relations with its neighbors and peace in the region,” the spokesman added

One Easy Way to Blow $7.6 Billion Try eradicating Afghanistan’s poppies

The U.S. military learned the hard way not to interfere with Afghanistan’s thriving production of poppies, the colorful flowers that are the source of opium and, by extension, heroin.

Now we know the cost of that lesson—a cool $7.6 billion.

On Oct. 14, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction—a.k.a., SIGAR—alerted the Defense, State and Justice Departments to this latest dollar figure for poppy-elimination efforts.

And here’s SIGAR’s kicker. Despite the nearly $8 billion America has spent on eradication efforts, today the Afghan opium trade is booming. At 400,000 acres, the poppy crop in 2013 was the biggest ever.

Above—poppies in southern Afghanistan. David Axe photo. At top—U.S. Marines, Afghan troops and civilians in a poppy field. NATO ISAF photo

One potent flower

Cultivating poppies has been illegal in Afghanistan since 2001, the same year that U.S. and allied troops invaded. But local authorities have enforced the law only sporadically. After all, they benefit from the opium trade, too.

Likewise, for the first three years of the occupation, the U.S. military left the poppy farmers alone.

The Americans were there to fight the Taliban, not to regulate an illicit drug trade or reform the farming habits of a whole society. In the early days of the war, Pentagon planners removed drug-related sites from lists of potential targets.

The State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency, however, were determined to stamp out the poppies—and pressured the Defense Department to help raid laboratories and bulldoze fields. The State Department and the DEA argued that there was a clear connection between Afghanistan’s black-market opium and the Taliban.

They were right. The insurgents act as middle men in the poppy trade and have funneled millions of dollars in revenue into attacks on the occupation forces and the Afghan government.

To fight terrorism was to fight opium, was the DEA and State Department’s reasoning. Russia and the U.N., both grappling with devastating heroin epidemics, agreed with this assessment. And bowing to pressure, in 2004 U.S. troops began destroying poppy fields.

The eradication process was long, laborious … and pointless.

Afghanistan officials refused to allow aerial spraying of crop-killing poisons. That meant American soldiers had to clear the poppies by hand. They walked through the fields, swatting down the flowers bulb by bulb. Or they ran tractors back and forth across the fields.

The early eradication efforts were too imprecise to eliminate more than a fraction of the poppy crop. But they were destructive enough to alienate thousands of impoverished farmers—the very people the U.S.-led coalition was also trying to win over with expensive development and education projects, all in order to transform Afghanistan into some semblance of a modern country.

Eradication was at best pointless—and at worst dangerously counterproductive.

In 2006, the Americans switched up their tactics. As eradication continued, the military and the State Department also offered farmers alternative crops including wheat and almonds. The DEA flew in Colombian counternarcotic agents to help train their Afghan counterparts. The State Department constructed an $8-million drug court in Kabul.

The truth emerges about Afghanistan, an indictment of our war. Now comes the hard part: learning from failure.

22 OCTOBER 2014

Summary: Today’s must read is a retrospective on our expedition to Afghanistan, now that the cloud of lies slowly dissipates. Since Vietnam we’ve masked our failures by myths, short-circuiting our ability to learn. A hegemonic power can substitute power for smarts. The coming multi-polar world will prove more challenging, so that weaknesses become terminal flaws.

by Rory Stewart

New York Review of Books, 6 November 2014

Review of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes

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.

That was 12 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 13 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 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 2 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.”

China’s Railway Diplomacy in the Balkans

October 23, 2014

Hungarian, Serbian and Chinese leaders shake hands at the ceremony announcing their agreement for the new Hungaro-Serbian High-Speed Railway (HSR) project.

In November 2013, China, Serbia and Hungary signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the construction of the Hungaro-Serbian High-Speed Railway (HSR), connecting Belgrade and Budapest by rail to facilitate transporting Chinese exports from Greek ports to European markets. First proposed by Beijing in February 2013, the contract is expected to be finalized during the China-Central and Eastern European (CEE) Summit in Belgrade this December, with construction set to begin in 2015 and finish by 2017 (Dnevnik, February 22, 2013; Government of Republic of Serbia, September 11). The two billion euro ($2.5 billion) project, financed by soft loans from China’s Export-Import Bank and built by state-owned China Railway and Construction Corporation (CRCC), represents the changing face of China’s relations with CEE countries and will serve as a staging ground for greater Chinese access to Western Europe, for both commerce and infrastructure projects (Tanjug, September 9; Politika, September 11). 

Ticket to Ride

The Hungaro-Serbian HSR project is an important part of China’s strategy to extend its Maritime Silk Road (MSR) into Europe via land routes (see also China Brief, October 10). The maritime terminus of the MSR is the Greek port of Piraeus, which is partially owned by China’s state-owned shipping giant COSCO and is now the main entry point for Chinese goods to Europe, though Beijing has also shown interest in developing and utilizing other Greek ports in Thessaloniki and Igoumentsia, as well as several Adriatic ports, including Bar in Montenegro (People’s Daily, December 21, 2012). Furthermore, railway infrastructure and technology projects financed with Chinese export loans enable Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to gain a foothold in overseas markets and test their technology and know-how in less-developed European countries on the way to lucrative markets in Western Europe.

Keeping Chinese imports competitive in the European market requires reduced shipping times to offset the rising costs of production in China, and the HSR project will accomplish this by dramatically reducing the time required to transport exports between the Suez Canal and Western Europe. According to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, directing exports bound for Europe to the Greek port of Piraeus, “the pearl port” of the Mediterranean Sea, already shortens the total shipping time from China to Europe by at least one week compared to traditional routes (China Daily, June 20). Previously, Chinese exports were shipped through the Suez Canal, then sailed around Europe to ports on the northwestern coast, including Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, and finally taken by rail to inland cities. Now that Chinese exports can sail through the Suez directly to Greece and be taken by train through CEE countries to Western Europe, the total transit time is estimated to decrease from roughly 30 to 20 days. The Hungaro-Serbian HSR, along with other regional transportation infrastructure projects, will further reduce shipping times within the European continent, as HSR trains will average at least between 100 and 125 miles-per-hour (mph), instead of the current 45 mph (Ekathimerini, June 20; Železnice Srbije, November 26, 2013; B92, May 12). This will reduce the time by rail between Belgrade and Budapest alone from the current eight hours down to a mere three hours.

China’s Railway Diplomacy: Present and Future

The HSR project adds to a number of recent Chinese-led projects in the Balkans that have either upgraded or built new regional transportation networks, particularly railway infrastructure and technology, which are financed by Chinese banks and fulfilled by Chinese construction SOEs. These projects are part of a coherent Chinese strategy to create a distribution infrastructure that will facilitate the movement of Chinese goods from several ports in southern Europe—Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Bar—via the Balkans to northern Europe.

In Serbia, Beijing features prominently in the country’s development agenda through China’s involvement in myriad capital projects. In December 2012, China’s Chinese Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and the Serbian Ministry of Transport signed an MoU for the improvement of several neglected sections of the country’s north-south railway axis. The north-south railway, including the Serbian part of the Hungaro-Serbian HSR route, transits from Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Hungary in the north to Bulgaria and Macedonia in the south. CCCC will also repair 300 miles of railway connecting Serbia and Montenegro from Belgrade to Bar (Xinhua, December 18, 2012). In July 2013, Serbian Railways reached a 78 million euro ($100 million) agreement with Huawei, backed by favorable bank loans ensured by Huawei, to modernize Serbia’s railway telecommunication infrastructure along 275 miles of the same north-south railway line (Železnice Srbije, July 17, 2013). Serbian Railways is also negotiating a Chinese loan of approximately 400 million euros ($510 million) for the reconstruction of rail lines to Serbian ports on the Danube River. China is interested in harnessing the potential of these ports along the Danube to serve as free-trade zones and transit points for Chinese goods on their way up the river toward European markets, an idea recently embraced warmly by the Serbian government (Government of Republic of Serbia, September 11). The loan could also be used to fund the construction of a new terminal on the north-south railway route, and would be paid back through exports of unspecified Serbian commodities to China (InSerbia, April 14). These projects altogether reflect a further deepening in Serbia’s strategic partnership with China, and Serbia’s role anchoring as a key transport hub for Chinese exports.

Realizing China’s Sustainable Growth Rate

OCTOBER 24, 2014


Continued economic growth in China depends upon Beijing’s success in restructuring its fiscal system.


The former US Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers and his Harvard colleague Lant Pritchett recently delivered a reality check on the Chinese economy’s prospects by publishing a study indicating that China’s growth will average only 4 per cent a year for the next two decades. At the same time, the Conference Board issued its study with similar conclusions. 

The Summers-Pritchett study is a statistical exercise drawing on cross-country experiences, which is then applied to China (and India). The Conference Board projection is China-specific but makes some debatable assumptions about the lack of reform. It also discounts quality and productivity increases while coming up with its slow growth scenario. In contrast, staid institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund foresee annual growth rates closer to 7 per cent for 2020 going down to 6 per cent by 2025, and one must not overlook the pessimists who see an imminent financial crisis with growth collapsing. 

No other country generates such disparate views, making it difficult for more dispassionate China watchers to decide whom to believe. Probing deeper into China’s growth, it seems the answer may depend on the less recognised issue of whether Beijing succeeds in restructuring its fiscal system.

The Summers-Pritchett analysis concludes that economies that grow at high rates for extended periods typically follow the principle of “regressing to the mean”, with growth subsequently falling significantly. Using this principle they argue that China’s growth will average 5 per cent a year up to 2023 and 3 per cent up to 2033. They note that countries cannot expect rapid growth to last for more than say a decade before succumbing to this principle. China was already the exception as it had been growing at about 10 per cent a year for the past three decades. 

That a 10 per cent rate of annual growth cannot continue forever is clear. The current slowdown to about 7 per cent represents the inevitable shift to a slower growth trajectory as China’s economy matures. Is China’s destiny to go straight from 10 per cent a year to say 5 per cent by 2020 or is there an intermediate phase with sustainable growth of about 7 per cent for another five to 10 years? The experiences of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan suggests there may be a transitional phase when growth slows down by 2-3 percentage points from its highs, followed by a third phase once China’s economy has reached high-income levels and the growth rate falls by another 2-3 points. 

China’s challenge is not that it lacks the productive capacity to grow at 7 per cent a year, but that this rate is not currently sustainable because of inadequate demand. Hence, Beijing has resorted to selective stimulus policies which impact negatively on its need to deleverage. On the supply side, China’s strong infrastructure base combined with rapid expansion of its higher education system means that it has both the physical and human capital resources to grow rapidly. Moreover, there are still considerable productivity gains to be secured from urbanisation and a flourishing private sector, making a medium-term 7 per cent growth target realistic. 

The problem is the inadequacy of demand. China’s rapid growth before the global financial crisis was partly due to strong external demand from the US and Europe which has now waned. China’s investment rates will decline in response to lower returns and the need to deleverage. Thus, most China watchers have argued that the solution lies in increased personal consumption. 


By Jai Kumar Verma


The strength of Islamic terrorist organizations is escalating in Xinjiang region of China.

Several Uyghur outfits, including East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET), and the Uyghur Liberation Organization (ULO) carried out several terrorist incidents despite the ruthless repression by authorities of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Besides these organisations, there are a few more Uyghur terrorist outfits and their splinter groups.

The aim of ETIM is the creation of an Islamic state with the name of Uyghuristan or Eastern Turkistan and to convert all Chinese into Islam. ETIM was declared a terrorist organisation by United States of America, Pakistan and a few more countries.

The majority inhabitants of Xinjiang region are Uyghur Muslims who are closer to the residents of Central Asia than Han Chinese. In fact, in 1933-34 Uyghur Muslims had established an independent Islamic state although for a short duration. Now PRC is making an attempt to settle more and more Han Chinese to change the demography of the region.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan gave asylum to Uyghur separatists. However, China signed treaties with these countries and they not only stopped helping the Uyghurs, but also extradited Uyghur separatists residing in their areas.

Uyghur Muslims affirm that Chinese are exploiting their mineral wealth and want to exterminate their culture, language, religion and separate identity. Hence some Uyghurs advocate the need for a sovereign state while a few groups are for an autonomous state so that their special entity can be retained. The Muslims allege that the Chinese authorities do not allow them to perform their religious rituals.

The Chinese security personnel launched search operations in Xinjiang region even in the pious month of Ramadan, where only houses of Muslims were searched; ladies wearing veils and men having beards were questioned and young Muslims were detained, interrogated and searched. In the month of Ramadan Muslims were compelled to break the fast.

These and several other restrictions have generated animosity in Uyghur Muslims and there were violent demonstrations in several cities, including Elishku and Alaqagha. In March 2014, the Islamic radicals slaughtered 29 people with knives at Kunming railway station, while in May they killed at least 31 people in a shopping area in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province.

On July 28, Muslims attacked a police station in Elishku with knives and sticks. Chinese security agencies claim that the crowd after attacking the police station raided the houses and shops of Han Chinese and killed more than 30 people. According to authorities, police resorted to firing in which more than 60 activists were killed. However, according to independent sources the death toll was more than 100. The list of violent incidents is very long despite the suppression of news and banning of international and local media from reporting.

Chinese authorities allege that Muslim extremists as well as countries inimical to China are disseminating Wahhabi Islam in this region. They are spreading fabricated stories of Chinese repression and discrimination. These forces use the internet to propagate fundamentalism and separatism among Uyghur Muslims. Chinese allege that Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington DC, is also behind spreading mischievous information.

ETIM and other Uyghur outfits get financial assistance and training from various terrorist groups including Al Qaeda. These terrorist outfits are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also assists these radical organisations.

The Uyghur terrorist groups also contacted the Islamic State (IS) of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to get assistance against the Chinese government. China figures in the shortlist of countries prepared by Baghdadi where Muslims are “persecuted”. At present IS is attracting Muslim fighters from all over the world, and according to a report more than 200 Chinese Muslims have already joined IS and several others may follow. Chinese authorities are worried that once these Muslims return to China they will spread terrorism and fundamentalism in the country.

China pursues a very stringent policy against terrorism, separatism and religious fundamentalism. They are considered as a grave threat not only to the peace and tranquillity of the nation but also viewed as a formidable danger to national security and stability. The Human Rights Organisations, including Amnesty International, allege that Chinese are persecuting religious dissidents, especially Uyghur Muslims, under the garb of anti-terrorism operations.

Washington and Tokyo Are Messing Up a Vital Trade Pact

October 28, 2014

Measured by geography alone, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ambitious: The pact would bind the United States, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and seven other countries in a free trade agreement.

As with most such arrangements, signatories hope the deal will boost trade and investment, create jobs, and harmonize regulations. The Partnership is about more than trade, though - the TPP would act as a key economic and strategic bulwark for America's Pacific alliances. Given its importance, Washington and Tokyo have made bold pledges to conclude the deal. China is watching: Beijing views the agreement as a test of the American-led security order in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, narrow but powerful interest groups in the United States and Japan that benefit from existing protectionist measures have stalled negotiations once again. This continued gridlock is dangerous, and negotiators must find a way to overcome it and quickly finalize the pact.

The Partnership promises considerable economic gains. Its potential signatories account for some 40 percent of global output and more than 33 percent of world trade. Within 11 years, the pact is projected to create an annual $440.4 billion in additional exports (including $123.5 billion in U.S. exports and $139.7 billion in Japanese exports) and $285 billion in global income gains ($76.6 billion for the U.S. and $104.6 billion for Japan). This number will grow if countries such as India, South Korea, and Taiwan join the TPP in subsequent rounds.

The strategic benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Finalizing the pact will affirm U.S. staying power in Asia at a time when America's military leadership in the region is undermined by its shrinking defense budget, conflict-weary voters, and involvement in turmoil in other parts of the world. Economic integration among the pact's signatories should also increase their diplomatic and military cooperation. Moreover, by creating an enormous free trade zone that competes with the Chinese market, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will ease its members' reliance on Beijing and grant them a freer hand to resist China. Finally, economic growth means that TPP members will have more resources to fund their military budgets - nearly all of these countries lag significantly behind Chinese defense spending.

The pact promises to provide non-military means to surround China by strengthening its neighbors while also drawing them closer to the United States and Japan. Yet the pact has stalled, and failures in Tokyo and Washington to overcome domestic political interests are largely to blame. Take two examples:

In January, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for an expedited vote on the TPP. Such fast-track authority, which would bar deal amendments, was necessary to end the lengthy back-and-forth that ensues each time a change to the pact is requested. After all, other countries negotiating the agreement would not make concessions unless their counterparts did the same and they were confident that Congress would ratify the pact in the agreed-upon form. A major concern was that congressional members beholden to labor unions, if given the opportunity to re-write the TPP, would not accept Tokyo's call for Washington to cut its tariffs on Japanese cars. Nevertheless, to please unions in the run-up to November's congressional elections, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied Obama's request, and Obama did not push back. With this political divide revealed, U.S. and Japanese leaders predictably failed to resolve their differences during Obama's April trip to Asia - a trip meant to reassure regional allies that they had Washington's backing against an increasingly aggressive China. 

Japan and America: Forging a Global Alliance?

October 23, 2014 

Recently, the US and Japan released the Interim Report on the Revision of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation (PDF). The revision’s the first since 1997 and occurs in the context of Asia-Pacific power shifts. So countries in the region are watching closely just how much the US–Japan alliance is changing, both practically and conceptually. That includes the Australian government, which has long been supportive of a more ‘active’ Japanese security and defence policy at both the regional and global level. It’s a line Japan’s current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been pushing.

Indeed, the five-page interim report points to the prospect of a US–Japan alliance moving beyond a narrow focus on the territorial defense of Japan against major aggression (from China or North Korea, for example). Instead, it’s based on a “strategic vision for a more expansive partnership” and the need to build the alliance as a “platform for international cooperation that would continue to make positive contributions to the region and beyond.” It stresses that among other things future bilateral defense cooperation would focus on:

- “seamless, robust, flexible, and effective bilateral responses;

- the global nature of the U.S.-Japan Alliance; and

- cooperation with other regional partners.”

Moreover, the report’s interesting for what it doesn’t say: in recognition of the expanding scope of geographical cooperation, the report doesn’t mention “situations in areas surrounding Japan,” a phrase that underpinned the 1997 guidelines.

While the 5-page document isn’t specific on details, the report provides some ideas on what these three aforementioned headings might entail. When it comes to “seamlessly” ensuring Japan’s peace and security, it observes that there could be “cases where swift and robust responses are required to secure the peace and security of Japan even when an armed attack against Japan is not involved [italics mine].” In other words, in theory at least, Japan could be asked to provide protection for US forces in hostile environments beyond its immediate neighborhood; for instance in the area of ship-based ballistic-missile defense.

Concerning increased “cooperation for regional and global peace and security,” the document notes that “areas of cooperation to be described may include, but are not limited to”: peacekeeping operations; international Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief; maritime security; capacity building; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; logistics support; and non-combatant evacuation operations. While the US continues to try to reassure Japan about its security commitments (for instance, the US Navy just announced plans to forward deploy three more ballistic-missile-defense-capable destroyers to Japan over the next three years), Washington also sees the revised guidelines as a chance to move the alliance beyond Tokyo’s preoccupation with the “China threat.”

How likely is the emergence of a more “global” US–Japan alliance? The good news is that Japanese officials involved in drafting the interim report agreed to the report’s language, probably in anticipation of the Abe government’s expectations. Moreover, Japan has been stepping up its Asia-Pacific defense engagement. For example, it agreed to provide both the Philippines andVietnam with modern Coast Guard vessels. As well, Japan and India are in talks about the possible sale of Japanese amphibious aircraft. Lastly, there’s still the prospect of a submarine deal with Australia.

Ukraine Must Seize Its Chance for a New Beginning


Petro Poroshenko is basking in victory. In Ukraine’s parliamentary election on October 26, his bloc won 23 percent of the vote. This is Poroshenko’s second major victory since May, when he was elected president. The result confirms his popularity and support for his efforts to bring peace and stability to Ukraine.

This could be Ukraine’s chance for a new beginning since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. It could also be a chance for the European Union to decide once and for all what kind of long-term strategy it wants to forge with Ukraine.

For the EU to congratulate Ukraine on its pro-Western choice is not enough to secure the country’s future. Providing enormous amounts of financial assistance is not sufficient either. Ukraine needs something more fundamental. The EU must decide about the future of its influence in Eastern Europe. In practice, that means asking how far the EU is prepared to enlarge eastward and, inevitably, what kind of relationship it wants with Russia.
GOOGLE+Closely trailing the Petro Poroshenko bloc in the electionwas the People’s Front led by Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk. It won 21 percent of the vote, according to exit polls. But the actual results put Yatseniuk ever so slightly ahead of Poroshenko. Yatseniuk has consistently taken a hard line against Russia over the way it annexed the Crimean peninsula and provided so much military support for the pro-Russian rebels who have seized parts of eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko and Yatseniuk have pledged to introduce far-reaching reforms, although little has been achieved so far. Now, the leaders have few excuses if it turns out that the overwhelming majority in the 450-member Rada, or parliament, is pro-Western. That is not yet clear. About half of the seats were elected through party lists. Pro-European forces obviously did very well, but it will take time to analyze the remaining, single-mandate seats.