26 November 2014

The great Game Folio

Written by C Raja Mohan
November 26, 2014

The PM had raised expectations that India would take the leadership of the region by his surprise invitation to all the Saarc leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony in May. (Source: PTI photo)

For all its trappings of a multilateral organisation, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, whose leaders are gathering in Kathmandu this week, is only an aggregation of India’s bilateral relations with its neighbours. This is the reason why the world is focusing on what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to offer during the first Saarc summit that he is attending.

The PM had raised expectations that India would take the leadership of the region by his surprise invitation to all the Saarc leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony in May. His visits to Bhutan and Nepal have reinforced those hopes. Modi, however, has a problem. He has inherited a dysfunctional Saarc, whose failures are rooted in geography and history.

As the largest country located at the heart of the subcontinent, India has borders with all its neighbours. Only two other members, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have a border with each other. It is no big surprise, then, that most of the regional trade is actually bilateral trade between India and its neighbours. So are the problems that come from a common border.

That takes us to the history of these frontiers. The partition of the subcontinent created new borders and territorial disputes within the subcontinent. Nearly seven decades later, India does not have settled borders with either Pakistan or Bangladesh. In the northwest, Kabul does not accept Islamabad’s claims that the Durand Line drawn by the British Raj between undivided India and the subcontinent at the end of the 19th century is the legitimate boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Darkness ahead

Written by Khaled Ahmed
November 26, 2014 

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed in 2011 by his own bodyguard for blasphemy. The murderer policeman was given the death sentence by a judge who then ran away from Pakistan to avoid being killed.

A christian couple was burned to death in a Kasur town near Lahore on November 4 because a 50-strong mob of pious Muslims thought they had blasphemed under Article 295C of the penal code. The country was jolted by the savagery of the act, but religious leaders were silent while “liberal fascists” crowded Facebook with pessimism about the survival of a state gone bonkers.

The big anti-Indian clerics, like Hafiz Saeed, were silent or didn’t have time to spare from their fulminations against Prime Minister “Moodhie” of India for his alleged role in Gujarat 2002. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif sobbed as he tried to console the Christian family with Rs 5 million and farmland for the three children of the dead couple. As he bent over the grief-stricken Christians, a policeman in Gujrat, north of Lahore, hacked to death a Shia Muslim “because he uttered blasphemous” words.

Article 295C, passed in 1986, is about insulting the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and it hands down death as the minimum punishment. For other offences, like the burning of the Holy Quran, you go in for life. Article 295C is anathema to even medieval jurisprudence, but the Pakistani parliament passed it “because if we didn’t legislate, pious people would kill without recourse to law”, which they do anyway. The blasphemy law says: “whoever insults the sacred name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by words either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly” will be punished by hanging. This is one crime that can be committed “without intent”.

The judicial interpretation of the article also lays down that insulting any of the prophets mentioned in the Quran would attract the death penalty. But the judges who added this “interpretation” didn’t think they needed to read Christian scripture. In any case, most judges think it wise to publicise their piety as orthodox Muslims and would think it below their dignity to read the Old Testament to find an insulting view of the prophets revered in the Holy Quran: Noah (Nuh) who becomes naked after getting drunk, David (Daud) who seduces a neighbour’s wife, and Solomon, whom the holy book accuses of becoming an apostate. I dread the day when a crazy Islam-stricken lawyer takes these texts to the court and asks for the mass extermination of our Christian community.


Ashok K Mehta
26 November 2014

While Make in India is a great idea, the Armed Forces must restrain the Government from going overboard. Glitches are bound to occur, and this will result in time and cost overruns and operational impairment

The national daily, The Hindu, recently carried a revealing news item, perhaps the first ever of its kind, describing how a new Army wives’ organisation calling itself the Indian Army Wives Agitation Group, has sought the immediate replacement of unsafe military equipment. These brave wives had the courage to petition the Prime Minister to “replace outdated and unsafe military equipment that endangers the lives of military soldiers”. This issue has finally been raised not a day too soon, given that precious lives are lost flying on endless extension through jugaad and other improvisations, ageing MiG 21 fighters and sundry equipment which is flogged beyond its use by date.

In October this year, a Cheetah helicopter crashed, killing three young Army officers. The Agitation group is representing to the Supreme Court about the perennial problems of the Cheetah and the Chetak fleet, especially after Defence Minister AK Antony had said on the floor of the House in 2012 that Cheetah fleet will be replaced “soon”. Mr Antony’s stewardship of defence focussed on probity, generously blacklisting foreign defence companies endangering defence preparedness. The agitators should charge him with inflicting the highest damage on operational readiness and morale of the Armed Forces due to shelving decisions on defence acquisition.

One-sided picture

Huma Yusuf
26 Nov 2014

An internet meme of Sartaj Aziz was circulating on Facebook last week: the bespectacled national security adviser looks askance from the camera and wonders, ‘Has anyone seen my glasses? I can’t seem to find them’. The joke depicts Aziz as fumbling and forgetful, but the political gaffe that prompted the meme is no laughing matter.

Aziz’s comment in a recent interview suggesting that Pakistan would not pursue militants that do not attack the state was damaging, and not only because of its timing: days after Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad during which Pakistan pledged to support Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban, and while Gen Raheel Sharif made the rounds of Washington to pitch the military’s counter-terrorism credentials and secure more US dollars for the fight against militancy.

Read| Militants not dangerous to Pakistan should not be targeted: Sartaj
It does not matter that the Foreign Office has since clarified Aziz’s meaning, or that he contacted his Afghan counterpart to set the record straight. Snafus like this matter because they exacerbate the civilian-military imbalance that haunts Pakistan. A new narrative sets up the military as our only hope.

For years, the security establishment has projected itself as the saviour of the Pakistani people. Civilian politicians have repeatedly been portrayed as corrupt and incapable of governing, and military takeovers have been welcomed by the public as a respite from a parasitic political culture.

This narrative has been revitalised thanks to PTI and PAT’s endless anti-government protests.

Both the ruling party and the opposition have been discredited in the process, appearing by turn hypocritical, arrogant and incompetent. The military, meanwhile, has emerged from the fray in the best possible light: the calm arbiter, the honest broker, the institution with profound respect for the democratic process, and — most importantly — the sanest of the bunch. In recent months, a new narrative is emerging in parallel with the well-established dichotomy of trustworthy military versus corrupt politicians

This narrative seeks to rewrite Pakistan’s experience of militancy, suggesting that the country is losing the fight against terrorism because of the ambivalence of its political elite, and despite the military’s commitment to eradicate home-grown militancy. And it is in the context of this emergent narrative that Aziz’s statement is the most damaging.

Waiting for America

Nov 25, 2014

Modi’s invitation may raise some eyebrows. There is no dichotomy here. The Vietnam War slogan ‘Yankee go home but take me with you’ well expresses Indian ambivalence towards America.

It may be too much to hope that the invitation to Barack Obama to be chief guest at the next Republic Day ceremony will put an end to anguished moaning about the United States forever linking India and Pakistan. The link however is less in US actions than in our thinking, a manifestation of both India’s diplomatic immaturity and the obsession with Pakistan. But Narendra Modi’s invitation will serve a useful purpose if it makes Indian foreign policy less opaque and more straightforward so that this other love that dare not speak its name can be openly acknowledged.

It is not only in emergencies like the 1962 war or the drought and food shortage during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency that India cannot do without American help. The US is permanently necessary for trade, investment, energy, technological expertise and fighting terrorism. Strong India-US ties reinforce India’s bargaining position with China, Pakistan and the rest of the world. George W. Bush’s cooperation with Manmohan Singh’s nuclear policy, ending India’s isolation in the nuclear world, confirmed that the Lone Superpower alone can perform certain services. Thus, although in itself the invitation may achieve little, the symbolic gesture conveys goodwill and a desire for stronger relations.

A similar surprise invitation to Singapore’s Goh Chok Tong in 1994 marked the beginning of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s activated Look East policy and India’s closer ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Mr Obama’s presence in New Delhi on January 26, 2015, could mark the beginning of another phase in the evolution of our foreign policy. It will not be altogether new for though this is not admitted and therefore isn’t widely known, India was courting the Americans even before 1947. It was the US that rebuffed us. Asaf Ali, whom Jawaharlal Nehru sent to Washington as India’s first ambassador, discovered that soon enough when secretary of state George C. Marshall ignored his proposal for a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation.

Follow-up overtures by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai and other Indian diplomats were also rejected. Once in 1949, the state department noted smugly it had cleverly solved “the problem” (of Indian importuning “to establish a formal blueprint of relations” that would mean sharing military secrets) by classifying India “upwards to the category of countries receiving ‘restricted’ US military information” and making “a deliberate effort to furnish the Indian military attaché (in Washington) with relatively harmless but somewhat impressive military information...” Nevertheless, Ram Jethmalani suggested Atal Behari Vajpayee should clinch a military pact when Bill Clinton visited India.

Mr Modi’s invitation may raise some eyebrows because the US refused him a visa for so long. There is no exceptional dichotomy here however. The Vietnam War slogan “Yankee go home but take me with you” well expresses Indian ambivalence towards America. “When I call on Cabinet ministers, the President, or governors, they all love to talk about their sons, sons-in-law and daughters in the United States and how well they’re doing and how well they like things,” mused William B. Saxbe, American ambassador in the Seventies. “The next day I read in the papers the very same people are denouncing the United States as a totally different kind of country.”

As I noted in my book, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium, “Private yearning in India went hand in hand with public loathing.” Project Star Sapphire to build radar defences on the Nepal-Tibet border and nuclear-powered sensor devices on the Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot mountains to eavesdrop on China’s Lop Nor tests were two instances of secret collaboration between the Indian and American intelligence agencies that no Indian leader would ever admit. The CIA helped to organise India’s own intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, and, especially, its Aviation Research Centre. India helped it to recruit Tibetans who were trained in guerrilla warfare and infiltrated into Tibet. According to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former ambassador to India, the US twice funded Indira Gandhi who was most vociferous in damning the CIA as the “Foreign Hand” and her Congress to fight Communists in West Bengal and Kerala.

Syrian air strikes on IS 'capital' kill 63 civilians

Nov 25, 2014

An explosion following an air strike is seen in western Kobani neighbourhood. (Reuters photo)

BEIRUT: A wave of Syrian regime air strikes on the Islamic State group's self-proclaimed capital of Raqa, in the country's east, killed at least 63 civilians on Tuesday, a monitor said. 

"The death toll has risen to at least 36 in air raids on Raqa," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, updating its earlier toll of at least 23 killed. 

"Dozens more were wounded, some of them critically. We fear the death toll may rise further," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. 

The head of the Britain-based monitoring group said previously that "most of the casualties were caused by two consecutive air strikes" on Raqa's main industrial zone. 

"The first strike came, residents rushed to rescue the wounded, and then the second raid took place," said Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on a network of sources on the ground in Syria for its information. 

Amateur video footage distributed by activists in Raqa showed several bloodied bodies laid out on a street near an apparent bombing site, as an ambulance rushed to the scene. 

Aid workers in red overalls bearing the Red Crescent symbol could be seen placing the corpses into white body bags. 

Activists from the city meanwhile denounced the raids as a "massacre". The Islamic State organisation emerged in Syria's war in spring 2013. It took over Raqa, the only provincial capital to fall from government control since the outbreak of a 2011 revolt, and turned it into its bastion. 

Most of the city's civil society activists, as well as rebel fighters who expelled President Bashar al-Assad's troops, have either been killed, kidnapped or forced to flee for other parts of Syria or neighbouring Turkey. 

US to leave more troops in Afghanistan than first planned: Sources

Nov 26, 2014

The United States is preparing to increase the number of troops it keeps in Afghanistan in 2015 to fill a gap left in the Nato mission by other contributing nations.

KABUL: The United States is preparing to increase the number of troops it keeps in Afghanistan in 2015 to fill a gap left in the Nato mission by other contributing nations, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the situation. 

The final numbers are still being agreed, but there will be at least several hundred more than initially planned, one of the sources said. 

"If they hadn't done that, the mission would have lost bases," the source said. 

Under the US commitment, described as a "bridging solution" until other nations fulfil their pledges later in the year or the troops are no longer needed, Washington may provide up to 1,000 extra soldiers. 

That figure was confirmed by all three sources, who said the final number was still under discussion and depended on when other countries stepped forward with their commitments. 

The additional US troops will be assigned to a 12,000-strong Nato force staying in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces through a new mission called Resolute Support, said the sources, who declined to be identified. 

The coalition force in Afghanistan did not comment on the figures but said it welcomed all commitments of troops to the new Nato-led mission. 

"We are confident that we will have the necessary resources to launch the Resolute Support mission on Jan. 1, 2015. The process to generate the forces required for the mission is ongoing," the International Security Assistance Force said. 

The Pentagon acknowledged discussions with Nato partners. But spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said, "As we stand here today, there is no change in the 9,800 force level." 

The bulk of Western combat troops, who once numbered up to 130,000, are to leave the country at the end of this year when the mission officially winds up after 13 years of war against a stubborn Taliban and its al Qaeda allies. 

Afghan forces suffer heavy losses 

The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 

Nuclear talks with Iran have failed to yield an agreement, but the deadline for a deal has been extended without a hitch. What would have been a significant crisis a year ago, replete with threats and anxiety, has been handled without drama or difficulty. This new response to yet another failure to reach an accord marks a shift in the relationship between the United States and Iran, a shift that can’t be understood without first considering the massive geopolitical shifts that have taken place in the Middle East, redefining the urgency of the nuclear issue. 

These shifts are rooted in the emergence of the Islamic State. Ideologically, there is little difference between the Islamic State and other radical Islamic jihadist movements. But in terms of geographical presence, the Islamic State has set itself apart from the rest. While al Qaeda might have longed to take control of a significant nation-state, it primarily remained a sparse, if widespread, terrorist organization. It held no significant territory permanently; it was a movement, not a place. But the Islamic State, as its name suggests, is different. It sees itself as the kernel from which a transnational Islamic state should grow, and it has established itself in Syria and Iraq as a geographical entity. The group controls a roughly defined region in the two countries, and it has something of a conventional military, designed to defend and expand the state’s control. Thus far, whatever advances and reversals it has seen, the Islamic State has retained this character. While the group certainly funnels a substantial portion of its power into dispersed guerrilla formations and retains a significant regional terrorist apparatus, it remains something rather new for the region — an Islamist movement acting as a regional state. 

It is unclear whether the Islamic State can survive. It is under attack by American aircraft, and the United States is attempting to create a coalition force that will attack and conquer it. It is also unclear whether the group can expand. The Islamic State appears to have reached its limits in Kurdistan, and the Iraqi army (which was badly defeated in the first stage of the Islamic State's emergence) is showing some signs of being able to launch counteroffensives. 
A New Territorial Threat 

The Islamic State has created a vortex that has drawn in regional and global powers, redefining how they behave. The group's presence is both novel and impossible to ignore because it is a territorial entity. Nations have been forced to readjust their policies and relations with each other as a result. We see this inside of Syria and Iraq. Damascus and Baghdad are not the only ones that need to deal with the Islamic State; other regional powers — Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia chief among them — need to recalculate their positions as well. A terrorist organization can inflict pain and cause turmoil, but it survives by remaining dispersed. The Islamic State has a terrorism element, but it is also a concentrated force that could potentially expand its territory. The group behaves geopolitically, and as long as it survives it poses a geopolitical challenge. 

India’s Foreign Policy Dilemma

24 Nov , 2014

India is today at a point of inflection. A cautious myopic vision will spell doom. The MEA needs to be confident enough to take onboard all instruments available in the country to consolidate India’s interests. “Military diplomacy’’ is generally anathema in diplomatic circles, which is self-constraining. India will not become a “great power” by default. It has to lift itself by its boot laces. This can only be possible by garnering every resource in the country and harnessing all energy at its disposal to truly transform its collective destiny.

The PLA gets its orders from the CCP through the Central Military Commission (CMC) the highest military policy decision making body…

On completion of hundred days of the new Government, the External Affairs Minister in her first press conference elucidated the direction of the Modi Government’s foreign policy thrust. She succinctly coined an epigram stating it to be a “Proactive, Strong, and Sensitive” policy. The initial focus is “Look East” with the immediate neighbourhood getting the due priority. The Government has taken the initiative to reach out to these countries and gone beyond mere protocol niceties. Shedding any ‘Big Brother’ notion and interacting as equal partners in taking the relations forward would be a comforting gesture to the smaller states in the region. However, the challenge will be for each to align its respective national interests taking into account and respecting each other’s sensitivities. Here is where the challenge lies – how much ‘give-and-take’ and how much ‘compromise’ to be made.

Patrol boats high and dry, cops untrained, gaping holes in coastal security

Written by Praveen Swami
November 24, 2014

The Gujarat Marine Police patrol boats criss-crossing Porbandar harbour have impractical configurations, and keep breaking down.(Source: Express photo by Praveen Swami)

The sound of timber hitting the Randal Krupa made Velji Bikhubhai Kotiya, captain of the ageing fishing trawler, jump from his hardwood bed next to the wheel. A little later, he was back in the space he shared with the gods guarding his boat and crew. “Nothing, nothing, just another crew wanting to know how the fishing is.”

In November 2008, a fishing boat out of Karachi bumped against the Porbandar-registered Kuber, in almost exactly the same way. Five of its crew were shot dead in the next few minutes. The captain was next, and then 154 children, women and men.

Six years after 26/11, The Indian Express has found that very little has changed on the ground despite the government spending Rs 646 crore — and committed to another Rs 1,571.91 crore by 2016 — on a coastal policing project.

The project, which involves deployment of state-of-the-art interceptor boats, electronic identification systems, and a string of new police stations along the coast, is beset with problems ranging from badly-designed equipment to poor planning to lack of training.

A Key Update: Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence

By Anthony H. Cordesman, with the assistance of Aaron Lin and Michael Peacock 
NOV 21, 2014 

The Burke Chair has recently released a four part survey of the Afghan Transition, titled, Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition, which is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/publication/afghan-forces-edge-transition

The four parts include:

I. Introduction, US Policy, and Cuts in US Forces and Spending

II. Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence 

III. Measuring the Transition from ISAF to ANSF 

IV. Progress in Afghan Force Development

Volume II of this series, Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence, has just been updated to reflect the results of a significant new poll by the Asia Foundation called “Afghanistan in 2014: A Survey of the Afghan People,” which is available on the web athttp://asiafoundation.org/country/afghanistan/2014-poll.php.

The survey should be read in full by anyone interested in Transition in Afghanistan, but even the short summary trend data that are now include in the Burke Chair’s report Afghan Forces on the Edge of Transition: Sharply Contradictory Data on Levels of Violence highlight the seriousness of the near total lack of credible NATO, ISAF, US reporting on the war.

The summary data in the report provide a deeply disturbing picture of the recent unclassified data on the fighting. The new data from the Asia Foundation survey are not all negative, and reflect many positive trends the new government in Afghanistan can build upon. At the same time, they show that the Taliban and other insurgents have far more influence and impact on security in given parts of the country than ISAF and the US have been willing to admit.

The data reinforce the need for transparency, and for honesty rather than spin and attempts to sell the war and current process of Transition at a time when ISAF and the US have virtually ceased to report any metrics or hard data on the fighting, limiting information to press briefings.
The only unclassified official data that are now being provided are a few quarterly trend data for the percentages of change in Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIAs). This focus on Enemy-Initiated Attacks (EIAs) assumes that enemy forces will concentrate on taking the tactical initiative at a time they know the US and other ISAF states are leaving. It ignores the very nature of an insurgency and the insurgent effort to increase political influence and control. It ignores the need to make net assessments of ANSF and insurgent influence and capability. It also ignores the far more negative trends in UN estimates of casualties, areas of violence, and State Department estimates of patterns of terrorism.

Afghanistan’s Turbulent Past Could Once Again Become Its Future

More than a decade after the US and its allies ousted the monstrous Taliban regime and gave the people of Afghanistan a level of stability and progress that they had not known in decades, it seems that things could well be coming a full circle. Ironically, someone who is perceived to be a prodigy of the Americans who has been fostered on Afghanistan through an election that was marred by ‘industrial scale fraud’ is likely to be person who is going to push Afghanistan towards instability and conflict, undermining the achievements for which a very heavy price in men and money was paid not just by Afghanistan but also by the international community. Worse, the new President of Afghanistan is not just seeking security from, but also appears to be mortgaging Afghanistan’s future to, the very country – Pakistan – that has been responsible for sabotaging the efforts of the international community to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Although the political transition from the former President Hamid Karzai to his successor was botched by the horribly rigged electoral process that catapulted a political light weight like Ashraf Ghani to the Presidency, there was some hope that the formation of the National Unity Government would help in getting over the bitter taste left by the stolen election. But it increasingly seems as though Ashraf Ghani is not going to live up to his side of the bargain, especially in terms of sharing power with other stakeholders and building a consensus on critical political, security and foreign policy issues.

By all accounts, even though Dr Abdullah Abdullah has been made the Chief Executive (a post that enjoys no constitutional sanctity) and had been promised a fair share in distribution of cabinet berths, Ghani appears to be manoeuvring to reduce Abdullah and his supporters into mere embellishments with no real power and no say in anything. This power grab by a man whose own legitimacy is in question is already causing a lot of heart burn and is likely to make cohabitation very difficult. Some Afghan analysts are of the view that the unilateral shifts affected by Ghani in foreign and security policy by literally agreeing to become a vassal of the GHQ in Rawalpindi – his ‘calling on’ the Pakistan Army Chief during his recent visit to Pakistan left no doubt about which way he is swinging – has only added to the sense of disquiet inside Afghanistan.

Already under strain, if the fragile political arrangement breaks down, political stability will become the first casualty, something that will work to the advantage of the Taliban and their backers across the Durand Line. Ashraf Ghani’s detractors believe that he is going all-out in trying to appease Pakistan in the fond hope that with a ‘friendly’, even compliant, government in Kabul, Pakistan will not only assist in a rapprochement with the Taliban but also stop all overt and covert hostile action inside Afghanistan by its proxies. In other words, Ghani’s play is to give the Pakistanis everything they want in return for them ensuring his own survival in Kabul.

As If We Did Not Have Enough Problems: Israel Once Again Hinting That It May Launch Preemptive Airstrike on Iranian Nuclear Installations

Israel mulls preemptive attack on Iran as nuclear talks falter

Cheryl K. Chumley

Washington Times, November 24, 2014

The deadline for the P5+1 powers and Iran to reach a deal on nuclear power is Monday, but Israel — hardly confident — is starting to talk about a preemptive strike as the only logical solution.

The P5+1 includes the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany.

"Current proposals guarantee the perpetuation of a crisis, backing Israel into a corner from which military force against Iran provides the only logical exit," unnamed government sources said in an article in The Jerusalem Post.

The plan on the P5+1 table now would limit Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade and put a cap on its ability to make any type of weapons-grade material, the Post reported.

Iran would have to give all of its existing stock of weapons-grade materials to Russia for conversion into a peaceful use and also agree to inspections, Newsmax said.

But Israel isn’t satisfied with that agreement, with one official noting in the Post report that “our intelligence agencies are not perfect.”

The official also said that “inspection regimes are certainly not perfect. They weren’t in the case in North Korea and it isn’t the case now — Iran’s been giving the [International Atomic Energy Agency] the run around for years about its past activities,” the Post reported.

Israel’s biggest worry with the deal now facing the P5+1 is the “sunset clause,” the Post reported.

The West Siberia Gas Supply Deal on the Horizon for Russia and China: Is a Friend in Need a Friend Indeed?

NOV 24, 2014 

On the sidelines of the summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Beijing on November 9 came a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Russia’s Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) for natural gas supply from West Siberia. This MoU, which was announced following a meeting between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China, entails Gazprom’s commitment to supply 30 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) of natural gas from West Siberia to northwest China through the proposed Altai pipeline for 30 years, with a notional start date of 2019. Additional details are sparse, and the deal itself is presumed to be far from concluded. This is the latest development in a series of energy deals between the two countries in recent years that reinforces the notion of a growing relationship between energy-hungry China and energy-export-dependent Russia, whose economy has come under significant pressure from the steep drop in oil prices and Western sanctions over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The potential deal in the making also underscores the growing importance of robust Asian markets over stagnant European markets and reflects the eastward shift in Russian energy exports.

Q1: Did the ongoing tension with Europe lead Russia to seek this deal?
A1: For Russia, geopolitical factors likely played some role to compel the discussion on the Altai route, just as they played a facilitating role in the landmark Russia-China gas deal signed in May. The May agreement sets out a contract between the two countries for Gazprom to supply 38 bcm/y—1.34 trillion cubic feet per year (tcf/y)—of natural gas from East Siberia to China for 30 years after 2018. That deal had been negotiated for nearly a decade and was signed on the occasion of the Russian president’s visit to Shanghai. The tension with Europe over Ukraine appears to have encouraged the Russians to soften their insistence on using oil-linked sales contracts in Europe as a benchmark price for the pipeline gas deal with China, which had proposed a lower price comparable to its pipeline gas imports from Turkmenistan, below $10 per million British thermal units (Btu). 

While Gazprom puts the total value of the announced deal at $400 billion, the average delivered price is estimated to be at $375 to $380 per thousand cubic meters (mcm) or slightly over $10 per million Btu—roughly equivalent to the average Gazprom export price to Europe of $380/mcm.

This latest deal in the making to supply 30 bcm/y (1.06 tcf/y) of West Siberian natural gas to China is an extension of this trend—i.e., a sign of the Russian economy under duress, a desire to deepen market ties east, and a gesture toward Western countries seeking to constrain Russia through economic means. There are, however, several fundamental difference between the May and November agreements. First, the negotiation is far from over. For example, there is no indication that the two sides discussed price in earnest. Second, China has never been in favor of the western route, as its entry point is far from Chinese gas consumers and from a direction already supplied by Central Asian gas. Indeed the argument between Russia and China over western versus eastern routes was one of the reasons the previous gas negotiations stalled for more than 10 years. It may be just as difficult this time around for Russia to find the right combination of factors and incentives to get the Chinese to agree.

China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’ and the future of the PLA

Written by Malcolm Davis.
November 21, 2014
The life-blood of China’s economy is energy. Without access to energy resources, China’s economy will slow, and its prosperity will wane, it will become more vulnerable to internal social and political disorder and the CCP’s grip on power will weaken.[1] Therefore, ensuring China’s energy security affects its foreign and defence policy, and will influence the future development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).[2] China’s imported oil demand continues to outstrip diminishing domestic and offshore production and current projections suggest that by 2020 imported oil will make up 66% of its total oil demand, increasing to 72% by 2040.

At the heart of the challenge of ensuring energy security is ‘the Malacca Dilemma’. Chinese President Hu Jintao recognised the strategic significance of the Malacca Dilemma in November 2003 noting that “certain powers have all along encroached on and tried to control navigation through the [Malacca] Strait.” [3] The significance of the Malacca Strait is that 80% of China’s energy (in addition to much of its trade) moves through a waterway that at its narrowest point is only 1.7 miles across. The nearby Lombok-Makassar Straits (see map) are also strategically significant as most supertankers too large for the Malacca Strait traverse this route.[4] China is attempting to alleviate its dependency on these waterways by building pipelines through Myanmar and via Gwadar in Pakistan, but none of these projects would replace dependence on the sea for China’s energy supplies.[5]

Therefore in considering solutions to resolving the Malacca Dilemma, an obvious step, and one currently being undertaken, is greater cooperative naval diplomacy with other international actors to maintain good order at sea, and counter unconventional non-state threats to maritime security such as piracy and maritime terrorism. Beijing also could support capacity building for littoral states, intelligence exchanges and multi-national training through regional security architecture such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). But such peacetime practices do nothing to eliminate the Malacca Dilemma given that in a future conflict China still faces the prospect that an adversary could interdict Chinese shipping passing through the Malacca and Lombok-Makassar Straits.

Keeping India's interests in mind, says China on Brahmaputra dams

November 24, 2014

China said on Monday that its projects on the Brahmaputra river will not have any negative impact on flood management and ecology of downstream areas, as Beijing was "bearing in mind" Indian concerns and the "bigger picture" of its relations with India as it goes forward with projects.

On Sunday, China put into operation the first section of its 510 MW hydropower project at Zangmu, in Tibet - its first major dam on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra, or Yarlung Zangbo as it is known in China. Also read: China puts first Brahmaputra dam into operation

China last year also gave the go-ahead for three other hydropower projects, which Beijing says are run of the river dams that will not divert the river's flow.

China said on Monday it was keeping "close communication" with India on the projects, indicating that the issue had figured in recent talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping during the latter's visit to India in September.

"The cooperation and communication we have [with India on transboundary rivers] is sound, and we are bearing in mind the bigger picture of the China-India good relationship," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

"We have been providing hydrological data and emergency management to the Indian side, which has played an important role in flood prevention and disaster relief of downstream areas. The facts have shown that our assistance in these areas is effective, and the channels are smooth."

Hua added that "during President Xi's visit to India both sides issued a joint statement in which India thanked China for the provision of hydrological data and assistance in emergency handling."

She said both sides were using a joint expert-level meeting mechanism to "enhance cooperation on transboundary rivers", following an agreement signed in 2013 when then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the government would "take full account of concerns of downstream areas". "The hydropower stations China has built will not affect flood prevention and ecological systems of downstream areas," Hua said.

Escaping China: the perilous journey of the Uighurs

Saturday 22 Nov 2014

Until a secret raid on a moonless night in March, Major-General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot thought he was getting a grip on the problem. After the incident, he had to think again.

The 46-year old police commander was handed one of the toughest jobs in Thai policing last year when he was made top immigration cop in southern part of the country. The region is nothing less than a jungle-covered transit lounge, frequented by brokers, smugglers, human traffickers, shadowy boatmen and the like.

What’s more, the Major-General is under pressure. Earlier this year, Thailand was downgraded in a high profile US State Department report on human trafficking. It now occupies lowest rung, otherwise known as “tier 3″, alongside North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The burden of fixing up this mess, caused in part by corrupt and incompetent policing, has fallen on the shoulders of the US-educated immigration chief.

After vowing to shut down the criminal syndicates operating in the region, Thatchai raided a series of traffickers’ camps, extracting 900-odd Rohingya smuggled from neighbouring Burma. He has even managed to make some arrests, including two local “king-pins”.

Almost 300 people sat on a mountain – in silence

Troubled Skies Above the East China Sea

By Roncevert Almond
November 24, 2014

In its 2014 Report to Congress, the USCC underscores China’s challenge to the U.S. position in East Asia. 

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (the “Commission” or “USCC”) recently issued its 2014 Annual Report to Congress. The Commission’s mandate is ‘‘to monitor, investigate, and report to Congress on the national security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.’’

In developing its report, the Commission traveled from South Korea to Australia, but its request for an official visit was denied by Chinese government authorities. Despite this limitation, the USCC was able to effectively investigate a wide range of issues, from China’s role in global issues like weapons proliferation and energy consumption to bilateral concerns like disputes before the World Trade Organization and access to U.S. capital markets. Of particular interest to the Asia-Pacific region is the Commission’s findings regarding Beijing’s attempt to expand China’s sphere of influence by aggressively advancing its security interests in East Asia.

According to the Commission, Beijing has concluded that the U.S.-led East Asia security architecture does not benefit China’s core interests. Instead, Beijing promotes a vision of regional security that marginalizes the United States in favor of an Asian-based order with China at its center. President Xi Jinping appears to havetightened his grip on foreign policy and is actively seeking to link China with its continental and maritime neighbors. In this vein, Xi has proposed regional trade corridors based on the precedent of the historic ancientSilk Road and Java trade routes, a campaign designed to project China’s image as a “responsible stakeholder” while increasing access to markets and natural resources.

The USCC notes, however, that Beijing’s efforts to improve China’s image in South and East Asia has been marred by the use of military might and economic power to extract political and security concessions from neighboring states. In particular, Beijing’s increasingly coercive actions towards its maritime neighbors in the East and South China Seas have created headwinds for its diplomatic efforts to cultivate positive relationships in the region. Among the key actions highlighted by the Commission was Beijing’s unilateral establishment of an Aircraft Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea (the “ECS ADIZ”) in November 2013.

Six Ways to Resist China's Salami-Slicing Tactics

November 24, 2014 

"With a relatively minor investment of time and resources, the United States can help its friends build their maritime capacity with an end goal of deterring conflict and preserving regional stability."

Since 2008, countries bordering the East and South China Seas have observedan increasingly assertive presence of Chinese maritime enforcement, coast guard and naval vessels among disputed claims in these seas. During this same period, Chinese officials have been more outspoken about China’s maritime territorial claims, which has led to increased tensions in the region. Recent incidents involving disputed claims and Chinese paramilitary and military forces have occurred near Scarborough Shoal, with Chinese oil-drilling rigs inside Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), around the Senkaku Islands, at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands and with U.S. naval vessels and aircraft.

This Chinese “salami-slicing”—small, incremental actions too minor to be acasus belli, but which can accumulate over time into substantial strategic change—now presents a vexing challenge to China’s smaller neighbors. They lack the capacity to match China’s increasing presence, which, if not opposed, could eventually create “facts on the ground” supporting China’s maritime claims. The United States, which still retains a strong interest in defending the principles of an open commons in the East and South China Seas, is presently hard-pressed to justify drawing red lines and risking a confrontation over what many consider to be uninhabited and insignificant rocks. The United States and its friends in the region thus seem flummoxed over how to respond.

Fortunately, there are practical actions China’s smaller neighbors around the East and South China Seas can take to resist China’s salami-slicing. These actions focus on building maritime capacity, especially on the nonmilitary end of the spectrum. They also focus on increasing cooperation and coordination among these neighbors in order to make the best use of limited assets and to enhance the political, legal and moral legitimacy of resisting China’s assertions. The United States will have to become a major supporting player if these initiatives in the region are to succeed; the United States is trusted by most of these countries and is thus well placed to provide the diplomatic and leadership “glue” needed to ensure effective cooperation.

What Scares China's Military: The 1991 Gulf War

November 24, 2014 

"The Gulf War provided Chinese military and civilian decision-makers with a ready example of what modern war looked like, and gave some lessons about how to fight (and how not to fight) in the future."

In 1991, Chinese military officers watched as the United States dismantled the Iraqi Army, a force with more battle experience and somewhat greater technical sophistication than the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Americans won with casualties that were trivial by historical standards.

This led to some soul searching. The PLA hadn’t quite been on autopilot in the 1980s, but the pace of reform in the military sector had not matched that of social and economic life in China. Given the grim performance of the PLA in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union, something was bound to change. The Gulf War provided a catalyst and direction for that change.

To get a sense of why the Gulf War matters for the PLA, we need to take a quick detour into organizational theory. Armies learn in several different ways; experiments, experience, grafting (taking members from other, similar orgs), vicarious learning and scanning. In 1991, the PLA lacked any relevant experience in modern warfare since the disastrous campaign against Vietnam in 1979. It lacked the funds and the political wherewithal to undertake the kind of large-scale exercises necessary for modern war. Grafting is notoriously difficult for modern military organizations, as it’s become awkward to simply hire sergeants and colonels from foreign countries.

This leaves scanning and vicarious learning, both of which involve trying to learn as much as possible from the environment (scanning), and from the experiences of other armies. In 1991, the Gulf War made apparent both what worked (the United States military) and what didn’t work (the Iraqi military). It’s not surprising, in this context, that the Gulf War would have such a big effect on the PLA.


Update on the Security Situation in Somalia and yemen

November 24, 2014

Gulf of Aden Security Review

Yemen: Southern Movement states intent to erect checkpoints along north-south border; roadside IEDs target al Qayfa tribal leader in al Bayda; Minister of Defense announces integration of al Houthis into military

Horn of Africa:Al Shabaab militants hijack bus and execute civilians in Kenya’s North Eastern; Kenyan defense forces kill dozens of al Shabaab militants in response to al Shabaab attack; Somali Parliament compromises second attempt at vote of no confidence in the Somali prime minister

Yemen Security Brief 
Factions of Yemen’s Southern Movement stated on November 24 that they will erect checkpoints along the pre-1990 borders between north and south Yemen after the November 30 deadline on which southerners have demanded all northern government employees and armed forces leave the South. A Southern Movement leader Faoud Rashid also stated that talks are underway among southern leaders to unify the various factions of the Southern Movement.

An unidentified airstrike targeted the vehicle of an unnamed tribal sheikh in Rada’a, al Bayda, 150 km southeast of Sana’a. No casualties resulted from the strike. Separately, unknown militants planted two roadside improvised explosive devices (IED) targeting the car of an al Qayfa tribal leader, also in Rada’a, al Bayda. The tribal leader, who is engaged in fighting al Houthi militants in al Bayda, survived the assassination attempt. 

Yemen’s Minster of Defense Mahmoud al Subaihi announced on November 23 that plans are underway to integrate al Houthi fighters into Yemen’s security and armed forces. The plan is part of an agreement with the al Houthi movement to create a balance among the groups represented in Yemen’s military.

Horn of Africa Security Brief 
Al Shabaab militants hijacked a bus and executed 28 civilians onboard in Mandera in Kenya’s North Eastern Province on November 22. Al Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmoud Rage released a statement on November 22 claiming the group’s responsibility for the attack and announcing that the killings were in retaliation for the November 17-19 mosque raids by Kenyan security forces.

The UAE and Saudi War on the Muslim Brotherhood Could Be Trouble for the U.S.

November 17, 2014

The UAE Cabinet approved a list of 83 designated terrorist organizations on Saturday, including al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Much more significant, though, was the inclusion of many Muslim organizations based in the West that are believed to be allied with the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Prominent among them are two American Muslim groups: the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society.

The decision to put two mainstream U.S. Muslim groups on its list of terrorist organizations is part of an initiative, together with the Saudis, to undermine the Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood. The move is unlikely to succeed, but it could cause problems between the U.S. government and the American Muslim community.

Ever since the Muslim Brotherhood's rise in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have felt deeply threatened by the Islamist movement. Both countries supported the July 2013 coup that toppled the Brotherhood-led government of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. They continue to use their financial might to prop up the government of former military chief President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In addition, they are trying to make sure that the Brotherhood in the region is generally weakened, or even decimated.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.


In America’s ill-conceived war with ISIS, Uncle Sam has ordered the usual, i.e. airstrikes. They are having the usual effects, which is to say they are working to ISIS’s net benefit.

In an article titled “Airstrikes Blunt ISIS, But Draw Civilian Ire,” the November 14 New York Times reported that random airstrikes not coupled to any ground campaign are succeeding at the physical level of war but failing at the mental and moral levels. The Times wrote that

American airstrikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa, the vaunted capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, have scattered its fighters and disrupted the harsh system they had imposed, residents and visitors there say. But they see no gratitude toward the United States.

Rather, they suggested in interviews, many people are angry at the Americans. Food and fuel prices in Raqqa have soared, power blackouts have prevailed, and order is now threatened by a vacuum of any authority.

The last point is the most significant in any 4GW situation. People’s first requirement is order, because without order you don’t have anything else. If you do, anyone stronger than you can come and take it from you. And they will.

Syrian Sunnis foolishly thought they could destroy the ordered state maintained by the Assad government without falling into disorder. They were wrong. Now, they are desperate for order. ISIS brings order, so despite its many unattractive features, they welcome it. Harsh order is preferable to an absence of order.

The American bombing campaign, unsupported as it is by any credible force on the ground, only brings more disorder. That ramps up the locals’ support for ISIS, as of course does the Goliath Effect. In Syria, we could couple our air campaign with the Assad government. I suspect that if you could hold a referendum in Syria on the question, “Do you want to restore the situation in Syria to what it was before the rebellion against the Assad government begain?”, it would win overwhelmingly, including in Sunni regions. But Washington’s ideological blinders have ruled that single realistic option out. In fact, it appears the Obama Administration is edging closer to expanding its air campaign to target Assad. Nothing could more safely ensure continuing disorder in Syria and the loss of any chance of restoring a Syrian state.

The same issue of the New York Times reported that, in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, one that showed the complete muddle that is the Administration’s and the Pentagon’s thinking about our new war, General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he might recommend sending U.S. combat troops back to Iraq. He was simply acknowledging the inevitable result of our current policy, a policy established by President Obama’s idiotic promise to defeat and destroy” ISIS. More, if, or more likely when we do send in American combat troops, they will lose. As we have shown over and over again, our military does not know how to win Fourth Generation wars. In effect, the threat we utter against 4GW entities everywhere is, “If you piss us off enough, we will go to war against you and lose.” That’s some threat.

All of this points to the single most important fact about the Washington defense and foreign policy establishments: they cannot learn. All they are capable of doing is the same thing over and over again. That same thing always ends the same way, in an American defeat. No country can sustain so disastrous a course indefinitely.