1 January 2015


Lieutenant  General (Retd)  Baljit  Singh. 
   “…the fall of Leh will be a strategic blow to India. It has to be saved at all cost….. I will be on that    flight in your cock-pit. So let’s go.”  Major General K S Thimayya, DSO, 23 May, 1948.

             “An eye witness to two stunning Himalayan Battles fought at either end of the range… had savored the joy of victory at Zoji La ……. And the sadness of withdrawal at Se La, from poor preparedness …”  W M (Bill) Aitken, 2009.

            “ … very special thanks are due to Serbjeet Singh for his kind permission to reproduce the spectacular panorama of the Namka Chhu Valley and Thagla ridge which he was still painting, perched on a hill over-looking the Battle-field, when the Chinese launched their attack on 20 October, 1962.” Major General D K Palit, Vr C, 1991. 
It was in 1978, when waiting to catch the attention of the Director General Military Operations in his office, that I noticed a card-board object lying on a table by the window. On a closer look subsequently, that cratered card-board was in fact a paper-mache, three dimensional model of the Namka Chhu Valley. It was a stunning replica of the terrain over which 7 Infantry Brigade had sited its defenses and engaged the PLA troops in October 1962. The master crafts man was, Serbjeet Singh!   

I had known the name but not the Man, leave alone his stupendous deeds and fame.  A graduate in History (First Division) from Forman College, Lahore but his life’s calling lay elsewhere; the Himalayas were his load-stone, not just their physical attraction but rather the philosophical introspection they inspire among human beings at different levels and how they shape the lives and cultures of those who dwell in and around them. Above all, Serbjeet Singh (SS) perhaps even understood the geo-strategic significance of the Himalayas as India’s Northern frontier. For, how else can one explain the presence of a twenty four year old film-maker-cum-artist (Charcoal, water colour and Oils), participating of his free volition in the First Flight to Leh (24 May, 1948), and witness the Battles at Zoji La (01 November, 1948), watch the history-making exploits of the Stuart Tanks of 7 Cavalry beyond Zoji La and all other engagements culminating with the capture of Kargil, on 23 November, 1948!! And all of it filmed, sketched, painted and recorded in text too, in his personal diaries.

New challenges from China

G Parthasarathy
Jan 1 2015 

Sri Lanka, Nepal keen on China's admission to SAARC
The year 2014 ended with China seeking and obtaining a measure of support for its attempts to gatecrash into SAARC during the Kathmandu summit. New Delhi will now face sustained attempts in 2015, from Sri Lanka and Nepal, to enhance Chinese influence and power across India's land and maritime frontiers. Sri Lanka is headed for Presidential elections on January 8. Nepal's Prime Minister Koirala has served notice that he is determined to adopt a new Constitution by January 22, whether or not there is a parliamentary consensus. Koirala is evidently ready to use the huge majority in the legislature that he and his coalition partners, the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-UML) command, brushing aside demands from the Madhesi people, who are calling for a federal set-up, reflecting the linguistic and ethnic diversity of the country.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse has sought re-election two years before the end of his second term Mr. Rajapakse was swept back to power in 2010 after he successfully brought an end to three decades of ethnic conflict, crushing the LTTE and eliminating its leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. But the years thereafter have been troublesome domestically for Rajapakse, who has also faced serious international challenges arising from excesses allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the last days of the civil war. This has led to moves by the US and its Western allies to censure Sri Lanka and demand action against those allegedly guilty of killing innocent Tamils.

President Rajapakse faces challenges not only from the opposition UNP led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, but also from within his own party, mounted by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. His rival in the coming Presidential election, Mathripala Sirisena, is an influential and long-serving general secretary of the ruling SLFP who was also his Transport Minister. The Presidential election is being held when Mr. Rajapakse's popularity appears to be waning, with his party candidates recording a distinct fall in their vote share in the recent provincial elections. Recent communal violence directed at Muslims by the Buddhist clergy has raised concerns. There is disappointment amongst Tamils at the manner in which the Northern Province Government has been denied any meaningful powers for governance, contrary to what President Rajapakse had assured earlier. All this is creating a situation wherein the President could well lose the support of minority communities constituting 25% of the electorate. Moreover, sections of his own party, led by his rival Sirisena and Chandrika Kumaratunga, could split votes of the President's own SLFP. The UNP has been reinvigorated by these developments.

The Rajapakse family, now holding virtually all key positions in the government and the legislature, is a formidable force. There is, moreover, a generally submissive judiciary and formidable State machinery. It would be unrealistic to presume that the President would not be returned to office. Moreover, Sri Lanka has done very well economically in recent years. Allegations that the Western powers are seeking to end the Rajapakse era are now widespread. 

The Centre we need

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta
January 1, 2015 
The prime minister rightly said that countries with ideologies falter, those with values endure.

New year resolutions, for the most part, are platitudes. This is because, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, it is the obvious that eludes us the most. The government is generating a lot of activity, but in a form more likely to cause greater economic uncertainty rather than restore clarity. And this is most true of the finance ministry, the economic face of the government. We all hope the new year will bring new resolve and clarity. But the signals are a bit confusing. So here are reminders in terms of the five key transitions needed in the new year.

First, the government was elected to restore institutional credibility, not erode it further. Frankly, the defence of the ordinance route for important legislation like coal and land acquisition is dubious on two grounds. The Opposition may have stalled Parliament. But the prime minister could have seized the political initiative with simple gestures like, “I will answer all questions in both Houses of Parliament for at least one hour a week.” A prime minister’s question hour would have restored the dignity of Parliament. It would not have given the impression that he is running away. And if, after that, the Opposition were still obtuse, at least legitimacy would be on the government’s side. There has not been a single major gesture by the government to restore institutional credibility. The prime minister rightly said that countries with ideologies falter, those with values endure. He should have added: Those with strong institutions thrive.

Second, the government needs to make a transition from “we are a too-clever-by-half lawyers’ government” to a people’s government. This hubris did the last government in. The land acquisition act needed modification, particularly on procedures. But the nature of the proposed modifications is a recipe for future problems. First, the social impact assessment (SIA) needed rationalisation. But this could have been done by promulgating rules. It did not need an ordinance. Second, the exemption granted to PPP projects will make the act liable to misuse. The courts will step in and we will be back to square one. A typical government manoeuvre: Preserve the form of the SIA but hollow it out. And third, the ordinance does not clean up anomalies in the act. (An odd one is that if the property of a minority education institution is acquired, the market value should be such that it would not abrogate the right of the institution to function, but the same protection does not apply to majority-run educational institutions. So, as a Jain, my private institution has more protection than as a Hindu.) The intent seems to have been more to create a splash. As my colleague, Partha Mukhopadhyay, colourfully puts it, this government seems to believe not in MGNREGA, but LEGA (legal employment generation acts).


01 January 2015

The focus must be on pre-empting massive terror strikes and carrying out strong counter-terror operations against insurgents. Accurate intelligence will be crucial for both

Threats to national security and measures to counter these will perhaps be India's most important preoccupation in 2015. The challenges and response will encompass two broad, and sometimes overlapping, areas of conflict — conventional and non-conventional (terrorism and insurgency). The two countries which menace India are well known — Pakistan and China; internally the main insurgent forces are the Maoists while a clutch of organisations in North-East India make up for their size by the level of their violence and savagery. Witness the recent slaughter unleashed in Assam by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit).

As is well-known, one of the most important factors in conventional warfare is military hardware. Unfortunately, the preceding United Progressive Alliance Government's record in supplying the Army, Navy and Air Force with the wherewithal of warfare was dismal. Starkly underlying this fact is the report that in March 2014, the Indian Army did not have enough ammunition for waging a full-scale war, involving severe fighting, for even 20 days! And this when relations with Pakistan, which had armed itself massively against this country by using most of the huge economic aid it received from the United States, were constantly on the edge.

The argument that Pakistan did not wage a full-scale war against this country and would not have done so, displays a staggeringly cavalier approach to national security. India can hardly take chances with a country which has the balkanisation of India as its strategic goal and has fought four wars against this, besides a continuing unconventional warfare through cross-border terrorism since 1980.

Efforts to adequately equip the military have accelerated with the installation of the present Government at the Centre. But then while orders have been and are being placed for hardware, the arrival and deployment of aircraft, ships, armoured vehicles, artillery and so on will take time. Meanwhile, there is need for a strategy to neutralise Pakistan's enhanced military muscle gained through unchecked mis-utilisation of American aid.


01 January 2015

Modi had offered Nepal a line of credit of one billion dollar for development projects. It was not appreciated. As a result, China has decided to increase by more than five times its official aid to the former kingdom

January 1 is a day for new resolutions. It is also a day for predictions. I will abstain from the first, but indulge in the second. The year 2015 will witness a slow takeover of Nepal by China. Here are some facts. In November 1950, a few days after China invaded Tibet, the young editor of Mother India, (published in Mumbai) asked Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian freedom-fighter and yogi about these ominous happenings in the Himalayas. The sage gave his views. In his next editorial, KD Sethna, the journalist wrote: “Let us not blink to the fact that Tibet is useful to China principally as a gate of entry to India. Nepal …appears to be the most likely objective (of Mao).” It is what is happening 64 years later.

Last week, Mr Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, visited Kathmandu, where he declared: “Nepal is an important neighbour of China and developing ties with Nepal is one of China’s priorities in developing ties with its neighbours.” While expressing ‘his gratitude toward Nepal for its firm and precious support in China’s core interests including the issue of Tibet,’ Mr Wang added: “China and Nepal should not only be friends of mutual trust and mutual support, but also should be good partners of common development and common prosperity.”

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Nepal for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting last month, he offered Nepal a line of credit of one billion dollars. It was probably not appreciated on the other side of the Himalayas. As a result, China has decided to increase by more than five times its official aid to the former kingdom. Reuters reported: “The jump in assistance was announced after talks between visiting Chinese Foreign Minister and his Nepali counterpart Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, part of a deepening engagement which is expected to lead to a visit by President Xi Jinping next year.”

China has three objectives. One, Beijing needs to control the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal and make sure that their ranks do not increase in the coming years. Two, the communist leadership wants to render Kathmandu economically dependent on the trade with Tibet (read China). Three, China believes in ‘culturally’ infiltrating Nepal.

B.G. Verghese (1927-2014)

ObituaryRamachandra Guha

In a column published in this newspaper in May 2006, I wrote of B.G. Verghese that - unlike other Delhi-based editors, serving or retired - he was "utterly honest, non-partisan, and interested in the world beyond the hotels and offices of the capital". Some weeks after this was published, I had the opportunity to test the last of these claims at first-hand. In June of that year, Verghese and I were part of an 'independent citizens' initiative' to study the civil conflict then raging in the Bastar area of Chhattisgarh. Verghese, then pushing eighty, was twice the age of the younger members of the group. Yet he was as energetic as the rest of us, as willing to drive through bumpy hill roads and walk through jungle paths to get to tribal hamlets.

Boobli George Verghese was born in 1927 of Malayali-speaking parents in Burma, where his father was a medical doctor. He was educated at The Doon School, Dehradun, St Stephen's College, Delhi, and Trinity College, Cambridge. With that kind of background he could comfortably have joined the ranks of the Indian - or indeed global - elite, taking a job in a merchant bank or the diplomatic corps. Yet he chose what at the time was a distinctly unglamorous (as well as poorly paid) profession, that of journalism.

On coming down from Cambridge, Verghese joined the Times of India. He worked in that paper in the first, heady decades of Independence, covering the first elections, the conflicts with Pakistan, and the construction of high prestige projects such as the Bhakra-Nangal dam. This was a time of hope and idealism, when the politicians and bureaucrats were honest and committed to building a new India, a time Verghese describes with empathy and zest in his immensely readable memoir, First Draft.

In the 1960s, Verghese worked briefly as the prime minister's press adviser, before joining the Hindustan Times as editor. He was an inspirational presence at this newspaper, encouraging young journalists to do in-depth field stories. One such story was about the malign influence of Sanjay Gandhi in national politics. This brought him in conflict with the proprietor; shortly afterwards, the Emergency was proclaimed, and Verghese sacked.

After the Emergency was lifted, Verghese stood as an independent candidate in the 1977 elections, from the constituency of Mavelikara. Here, he possibly pioneered the model of 'crowd-sourced' funding, since the money for his campaign came from hundreds of his friends and well-wishers who wished to have a man of integrity and patriotism in Parliament.

Verghese gave the Congress candidate a good fight, but ultimately lost, in part because (as he jokingly recalled to me years later) his Malayalam was rusty and inflected with the accents of St Stephen's and Cambridge. Now, in a shining display of integrity and patriotism, he took the unspent money from his campaign fund and created the Media Foundation for India, which endowed annual awards for women journalists, and commissioned studies on the history of journalism. (The awards, named after Chameli Devi Jain, still exist; among the awardees have been some remarkably courageous journalists.)

After Peshawar, Pakistan’s litmus test

January 1, 2015

Nawaz Sharif’s new blueprint to defeat terrorism, a monumental task, is not one for Pakistan alone. Assuming that Islamabad is serious about rolling back what is an existential threat, the challenge has to be dealt with locally, regionally and internationally

December 16 is a day of shame for Pakistan. On this day the Pakistan Army, the custodian of the nation’s core values and national interests, faced the ultimate humiliation of surrendering before the Indian Army at Dacca. Forty-three years later to the day, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a terrorist group nurtured by the Pakistan Army, carried out the most barbaric and macabremassacre of over 130 schoolchildren to avenge the Army’s six month-old Operation Zarb-e-Azb. However, India-haters and India-baiters — this includes Hafiz Saeed and Gen. Pervez Musharraf — were quick to blame India. Only those living in denial in Pakistan could have defended this atrocity.

Long ago, the Pakistan Army created armed militias, which it called the Mujahideen and the Taliban (terrorist proxies to the rest of the world), to act as force multipliers of Pakistan’s foreign policy against its neighbours. Instead, some of these strategic assets are now rebounding and rather than facilitating strategic depth in Afghanistan and India, have secured strategic space for themselves within Pakistan. Successive Army Chiefs, while admitting that the primary threat is from within, are unable and unwilling to take their eye off the eastern front — India — but with reason. Without this bogey, the Army would lose its primacy in the hierarchy of state order. Pakistan remains the epicentre of terrorism.

A turning point?

The statistics are mind-boggling. In 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), jihaditerrorism worldwide resulted in the killing of 18,000 people. Of these, 80 per cent were Muslims with Pakistan figuring among the five worst-affected countries; the others being Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Since 9/11, nearly 60,000 terrorists, civilians and security force personnel have been killed in Pakistan. The Pakistan Taliban and al-Qaeda have killed 15,000 security personnel — nearly as many have died in wars against India. These figures show that the enterprise of bleeding India through a thousand cuts is working in the reverse. Pakistani apologists say their country is the biggest victim of terrorism without conceding that it is hara-kiri.

The Peshawar incident has reportedly united the political opposition and government and one hopes that the India-centric military which is substantially Islamised and radicalised, will now be willing to mainstream its misguided Muslim brothers. After Peshawar, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlined his vision to tackle the unaddressed challenges of terrorism and extremism, making four salient points. The first was ending the divergence over the ownership of the war (since many claim Pakistan is fighting America’s war) and his categorical statement that “this is our war”.

World View: Facebook needn’t apologise for its Year in Review

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Rupert Myers
January 1, 2015 

If its algorithm throws out some jarring moments, perhaps it’s time to think twice about how much we share online

You don’t need to go out this New Year’s Eve to find yourself trapped by a stranger, being bored humourless by humblebragging references to their achievements in 2014, because the Internet has mainlined this straight into your home. Where once manners might have prevented the nastiest excesses of oversharing and boasting, we can now unashamedly wallow in how epic our lives are, or how stunning we can make them seem, by piping a stream of our curated moments out to our friends.

We now churn so much of ourselves out onto the Internet that Facebook has had to apologise for its Year In Review generator, after users complained that the algorithm generated galleries contained “jarring” content, including, in some cases, images of their deceased children.

Facebook should not have to apologise for regurgitating what people have uploaded themselves. The past isn’t over any more but rather the ceaselessly searchable present. And the Year In Review is a reminder of just how much of ourselves — our elation, grief and despair — we record and spray into the vast electronic mind palace of the Internet.Commodification of privacy

Most of us lost all sense of shame, any notion of privacy, any concerns about boastfulness when Facebook and other social networks tricked us into thinking that we would enjoy becoming the star of our own Internet experience. The commodification of our privacy and the gamification of our popularity transformed our social lives at electric speed. No longer were our thoughts and feelings our own; they were a currency to be swapped publicly. We soon became self-publishers of misery and joy. The Facebook wall became a community noticeboard, on to which we would announce births, engagements and deaths.

Yet this passive-aggression of boasting online, the uploading of expensive plates of food in restaurants, checking into airports, and the photographing of our own faces rather than the view, are all strands to the new social web that Facebook is now feeding back to us. People I know are starting to leave, exhausted by what one described as a “bragbook” effect.Disliking accuracy

Crimea’s ‘return home’ an epoch in history: Putin

Jan 1, 2015

His comments are likely to strike a chord in a country where many people have always viewed Crimea as part of their homeland because of centuries of shared history and the region’s mainly ethnic Russian population.

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised New Year's address on Wednesday that the "return home" of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula to Moscow's control would forever remain an important chapter in Russia's history.

Putin is facing the biggest challenge of his 15-year rule as the Russian economy is sliding sharply into recession, hurt by Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and falling prices for oil, Russia's chief export.

His comments are likely to strike a chord in a country where many people have always viewed Crimea as part of their homeland because of centuries of shared history and the region's mainly ethnic Russian population. "Love for one's motherland is one of the most powerful and uplifting feelings. It manifested itself in full in the brotherly support to the people of Crimea and Sevastopol, when they resolutely decided to return home," Putin said. "This event will remain a very important epoch in domestic history forever."

Russia annexed Crimea in March following the ouster of a Russian-backed Ukrainian president in Kiev, triggering the deepest crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War and prompting several waves of Western economic sanctions. Putin's popularity has surged at home thanks to his tough stance on the Ukraine crisis, but a deepening economic crisis threatens to undermine the stability and prosperity on which his approval ratings partly rest.

Ebola death toll rises to 7,890: WHO

Jan 1, 2015

Almost all the deaths and cases have been recorded in the three west African countries worst hit by the outbreak: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, WHO said yesterday.

GENEVA: The death toll from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa has risen to 7,890 out of 20,171 cases recorded, the WHO has said. 

Since the previous toll published on Monday, the first confirmed case of Ebola has been diagnosed in Britain. 

Almost all the deaths and cases have been recorded in the three west African countries worst hit by the outbreak: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, WHO said yesterday. 

Those apart, six have died in Mali, one in the United States and eight in Nigeria, which was declared Ebola-free in October. 

Spain and Senegal, which have both been declared free of Ebola, had one case each, but no deaths. 

Sierra Leone, which has overtaken Liberia as the country with the most infections, counted 9,446 cases and 2,758 deaths on December 28. 

Liberia, long the hardest-hit country, has seen a clear decrease in transmission over the past month. 

As of December 28, the country had recorded 8,018 cases and 3,423 deaths. 

In Guinea, where the outbreak started a year ago, 2,707 Ebola cases and 1,708 deaths were recorded. 

Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting. 

People caring for the sick or handling the bodies of people infected with Ebola are especially exposed. 

As of December 28, a total of 678 healthcare workers were known to have contracted the virus, and 382 of them had died, WHO said yesterday.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un says open to summit with South

Jan 1, 2015

The address by Kim, who took power in the reclusive state after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011, was his third televised new year's speech as leader of the country.

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to a high-level summit with neighbouring South Korea, days after a proposal from Seoul to resume dialogue. 

"If South Korean authorities sincerely want to improve relations between North and South Korea through talks, we can resume stalled high-level meetings," Kim said in a New Year's address broadcast by state media on Thursday. 

The address by Kim, who took power in the reclusive state after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011, was his third televised new year's speech as leader of the country. 

"If the atmosphere and environment is there, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit (with South Korea)," Kim said, speaking in what appeared to be a pre-recorded message. 

South Korea proposed on Monday to resume stalled inter-Korean talks with North Korea in January to cover issues including reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. 

The two Koreas have remained technically at war as the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Reunification of the Korean peninsula has been a stated priority for both governments. 

"There's no change in (our) government's stance to establish peace on the Korean peninsula by promoting trust between North and South through dialogue and exchange, and the development of normal relations," South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol told Reuters by phone. 

North Korea has in the past signalled intent to improve relations with the South, but subsequent provocations from the North or U.S.-South Korean military exercises have stalled progress between the two Koreas. 

"Annual large-scale (U.S.-South Korean) war exercises are a source of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula and increase the threat of nuclear war," Kim said in the speech. 

Standing in a wood-panelled room in front of a red flag bearing the crest of the ruling Workers' Party, Kim spoke for about 30 minutes to an off-camera audience, and appeared to be reading from a script. 

The Top Five Events in 2014

Geopolitical WeeklyDECEMBER 30, 2014 | 


'Tis the season to make lists, and a list shall be made. We tend to see each year as extraordinary, and in some senses, each year is. But in a broader sense, 2014 was merely another year in a long chain of human triumph and misery. Wars have been waged, marvelous things have been invented, disease has broken out, and people have fallen in love. Nonetheless, lists are called for, and this is my list of the five most important events of 2014.

1: Europe's Persistent Decline

The single most important event in 2014 was one that did not occur: Europe did not solve its longstanding economic, political and social problems. I place this as number one because regardless of its decline, Europe remains a central figure in the global system. The European Union's economy is the largest in the world, taken collectively, and the Continent remains a center of global commerce, science and culture. Europe's inability to solve its problems, or really to make any significant progress, may not involve armies and explosions, but it can disrupt the global system more than any other factor present in 2014.

The vast divergence of the European experience is as troubling as the general economic malaise. Experience is affected by many things, but certainly the inability to find gainful employment is a central feature of it. The huge unemployment rates in Spain, Greece and southern Europe in general profoundly affect large numbers of people. The relative prosperity of Germany and Austria diverges vastly from that of southern Europe, so much so that it calls into question the European Union's viability.

Indeed, we have seen a rise of anti-EU parties not only in southern Europe but also in the rest of Europe as well. None have crossed the threshold to power, but many are strengthening along with the idea that the benefits of membership in a united Europe, constituted as it is, are outweighed by the costs. Greece will have an election in the coming months, and it is possible that a party favoring withdrawal from the eurozone will become a leading power. The United Kingdom's UKIP favors withdrawal from the European Union altogether.

There is significant and growing risk that either the European Union will have to be revised dramatically to survive or it will simply fragment. The fragmentation of the European Union would shift authority formally back to myriad nation states. Europe's experience with nationalism has been troubling, to say the least — certainly in the first part of the 20th century. And when a region as important as Europe redefines itself, the entire world will be affected.

Therefore, Europe's failure to make meaningful progress in finding a definitive solution to a problem that began to emerge six years ago has overwhelming global significance. It also raises serious questions about whether the problem is soluble. It seems to me that if it were, it would have been solved, given the threat it poses. With each year that passes, we must be open to the possibility that this is no longer a crisis that will pass, but a new, permanent European reality. This is something we have been pointing to for years, and we see the situation as increasingly ominous because it shows no signs of improving.

2: Ukrainian and Russian Crises

Historically, tensions between Russia and the European Peninsula and the United States have generated both wars and near wars and the redrawing of the borders of both the peninsula and Russia. The Napoleonic Wars, World War I, World War II and the Cold War all ended in dramatic redefinitions of Europe's balance of power and its map. Following from our first major event of the year, the events in Ukraine and the Russian economic crisis must rank as the second most important event.

Stratfor forecast several years ago that there would be a defining crisis in Ukraine that would be the opening to a new and extended confrontation between the European Peninsula and the United States on one side and Russia on the other. We have also forecast that while Russia has regional power, its long-term sustainability is dubious. The same internal factors that brought the Soviet Union crashing down haunt the Russian Federation. We assumed that the "little Cold War" would begin in the mid-2010s, but that Russian decline would not begin until about 2020.

India: Indian Ocean First Responder?

December 30, 2014

India’s response to the Maldivian plea for assistance over a water crisis shouldn’t be overlooked. 
Earlier this month, Male, the capital city of the Maldives and home to some 100,000 people, faced an acute crisis when a fire at the city’s sole desalination plant left the city’s denizens without access to safe drinking water. The government immediately declared a state of crisis. India, the closest large state to the Maldives and self-professed guarantor of security in the Indian Ocean, responded with alacrity and competency. The Maldives water case should underscore the sort of preparedness in maritime assistance that India should aspire to. As I wrote earlier this year in The Diplomat, if New Delhi is to truly live up to its own ambitions of being the Indian Ocean’s maritime guardian, it will have to lead by example, both bilaterally and multilaterally.

The Maldives example, in my view, is an example of India demonstrating its value as a regional leader in the Indian Ocean. It was the first major state to react to pleas for assistance from the Maldives government. Initial reports suggested direct communication between the office of the Indian prime minister and the Maldives government. The Maldives, despite being a small island nation and not a major presence on India’s regional diplomacy radar, received the direct attention of both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj.

Following the rhetorical assurances of the Indian government that the Maldives would have its “full support,” the Indian Navy delivered bottled water within half-a-day of the Maldives’ government’s pleas for assistance. India additionally sent technical experts to aid in the repair and restoration of the desalination and sewage treatment facility. India also provided ship-based desalination plants to alleviate the immediate effects of the crisis. China responded shortly after India, dispatching its own assistance. Nevertheless, India’s swift response set a positive example for how India should aspire to lead in the Indian Ocean — its own naval backyard.

Additionally, a week later, the Indian government announced that it was ready to offer Male a second desalination plant to help avert future crises of this nature and reduce the country’s capital’s dependency on a single desalination plant. An official Indian Ministry of External Affairs statement, however, indicated that Male would have to pursue that proposal to make it a reality. The statement noted that ”India, as a matter of principle, does not impose or suggest projects to any country either near abroad or far abroad, unlike some countries that undertake development projects in various parts of the world out of [their] own volition. We purely go by the suggestions and needs of the local government.”

Pakistan’s Nuclear Choreography

29 Dec , 2014

The vice-like grip of Pakistan’s nuclear choreography is so mesmerising that India seems to be unable, or unwilling, break free of the spell it has cast, and so be able to evaluate hard facts and logical, eminently sensible, inferences in shooing the hobgoblin of strategic fears away. Maybe a time has come for India to shed her petrified inertia and end this exasperating farce. Hobgoblins, after all, are but big bubbles of void, and having no material or mass, are liable to be consigned to oblivion with just a slice of whip in the air.

Pakistan’s nuclearisation is one such hobgoblin which seems to hover over India’s lines of strategic thinking…

A Strategic Hobgoblin

Hobgoblins germinate in one’s mind and then fanning out to assume overbearing forms in the hapless owner’s pseudo-consciousness, loom threateningly to scare the wits out of him. That is a situation in which a captive’s mind is goaded into self-petrified paralysis. Pakistan’s nuclearisation is one such hobgoblin which seems to hover over India’s lines of strategic thinking. Thus, over the past decade we are struck with many cliché-riders that seem to have ensconced into our strategic perception and even if proved stale and irrelevant after many debates, continue to behold many of us to certain self-inflicted bindings.

The vice-like grip of Pakistan’s nuclear choreography is so mesmerising that India seems to be unable or unwilling, break free of the spell it has cast and so be able to evaluate hard facts and logical, eminently sensible, inferences in shooing the hobgoblin of strategic fears away. Maybe a time has come for India to shed her petrified inertia and end this exasperating farce. Hobgoblins, after all, are but big bubbles of void, and having no material or mass, are liable to be consigned to oblivion with just a slice of whip in the air.

Pakistan’s Compellence

Pakistan’s nuclearisation, as it is made out to be, is not just a simple matter of her survival against a neighbourhood enemy who is ostensibly out to gobble her up, as her rulers claim. It was and continues to be founded on certain self-realisations among Pakistan’s ruling class. These are: one, an innate impulse that would never let Pakistan reconcile with Kashmir or any part of it, being a part of India; two, the purported ordination that calls for them to ‘reclaim’ Muslim rule over the Indian sub-continent and three, a similarly ordained hostility towards the followers of Hindu faith – with which they are compelled to identify India just to keep their moribund ‘two nation’ theory alive. That these propagations are misplaced and nothing to do with Islam, does not improve the situation, implanted deep as these have been into the psyche of their citizenry and nurtured over the generations to merge into their gut. Pakistan’s state policies are but the manifestation of that innate compellence – that of compulsive anti-India obsession.

What Type of War did the US Fight in Afghanistan?

30 Dec , 2014

It is confusing that the US fought in Afghanistan the strange type of war it fought. For years, they had nothing more than the equivalent of one division in the whole of Afghanistan – hardly sufficient for the needs of the situation. Then, they came up with a surge around 2009 only to quickly announce they will withdraw by 2014 without ensuring that their worst enemies, the tenacious Taliban, were out of business and out of capabilities to wage military attacks.

…the border town of Peshawar in Pakistan is a teeming arms bazaar where copycat machine guns and all type of hand held armaments are made, including weapons for export to other terror gangs and crime gangs around the world, yet the US did absolutely nothing solid to target that activity.

It is amazing that the Taliban were permitted to get support and funds from across the border south of the Durand Line and that the US was barely able to suppress their activities. A few drone attacks don’t substitute for what ground troops can do. That the US did not take a more stiff approach to the issue is most perplexing from a military perspective.

The fact is that the border town of Peshawar in Pakistan is a teeming arms bazaar where copycat machine guns and all type of hand held armaments are made, including weapons for export to other terror gangs and crime gangs around the world, yet the US did absolutely nothing solid to target that activity. These arms have allegedly been finding their way into South and Central America via the tough Albanian Mafia and eventually into USA through Mexico, smuggled in by the dreaded Mara Salvatrucha crime gang. Many of the guns used in the Mexican drug war were possibly produced in Peshawar.

In addition, these arms are used to arm terrorist outfits emanating from Pakistan’s madrasas. Those outfits plot attacks against India, smuggle drugs and other contraband into India on the strength of those guns from Peshawar, and also export those guns to their jihadi brethren in Yemen and anywhere else they can, including perhaps to the Hezbollah and Chechen groups. It is worthwhile recalling that the latest bombing in Boston was by a Chechen origin person who was likely influenced by the Islamist propaganda emanating from Pakistan’s frontier provinces. So, what good has the USA done by not completely destroying the Peshawar arms bazaar, the terror training camps, and the madrasas where anti-western, anti-secular, and distorted jihadi beliefs are taught?

The Pakistan army continues to play a duplicitous role. And, to the contrary, the US literally allows the Taliban to hop across the Durand Line to Pakistan, where they refresh, regroup, rearm, and return to assault US troops. Which strategic war-planning manual says that you should allow your enemy to regroup and rearm? Was the USA blind, or ignorant? Afghanistan is 100% reminiscent of Vietnam where the US tied its own hands behind its back below the 17th parallel and refrained from invading North Vietnam, from where Russian and Chinese arms were supplied to the North Vietnamese. Again, the US hunted desperately for excuses to not enter Pakistan, implying that their diplomatic intelligence and constraints were thoroughly misplaced for the non-action they took. These were not the signs of a brave nation whose own territorial integrity is being targeted and violated.

Veterans look back on Afghanistan, Iraq odyssey with strong emotions

December 29, 2014

After climbing a ridgeline, Pfc. Alexander Simpson, of 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment's Headquarters and Headquarters Troop reconnaissance platoon, scans a nearby valley in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, shortly after sunrise July 13, 2007. 

"I don't mind it, you get used to it," Army Staff Sgt. Junior Casillas said at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on Dec. 23, 2014, about his four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggles of coming home from deployment. "Sadly enough, you kind of miss it."

As 2015 dawns, U.S. troops transition to a training and support role in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban is increasing its attacks. And in Iraq, more U.S. troops will be on the way to a war that was supposed to be over, at least as far as the U.S. goes. 

On the surface, the international community can look back at 2014 as a year of goals met in Afghanistan: A new president peacefully elected and long-term security agreements signed. 

The U.S. and NATO formally transitioned Sunday to a new “non-combat mission in a combat environment” whose definition remains as unclear as Afghanistan’s future, now that the bulk of foreign forces have left. 

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — In the rings beneath his steely eyes lies the toll of Army helicopter pilot Steven Martin’s 10 years at war.

The chief warrant officer 2 is no longer the eager, untethered 25-year-old he was when preparing for his first deployment. Idealism has been replaced by pragmatism; the excitement of battle has given way to the imperative of making it home to his twin girls.

“I’ve changed dramatically. What once was a romantic, naive idea of going to war to defeat terrorists has disappeared,” the veteran of four Afghanistan deployments said in his unit’s planning room at Bagram Air Field. “And now I know my responsibility is just to my brothers in arms and to my family.”

Rule of law must prevail in Pakistan

National Editorial

Supporters of Pakistani political and Islamic party Jammat-e-Islami pray for the victims of the Peshawar school massacre. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP)

Pakistan’s response to the killing of 134 children and 18 adults at a Peshawar school two weeks ago has been swift and deadly. In the past few days, its military has killed a Taliban commander blamed for the school attack and has unleashed air strikes and a ground offensive in the Orakzai and Khyber tribal districts near the Afghan border, which claimed the lives of at least 55 suspected militants. Prime minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to eliminate terrorism, and while Pakistan is right to target those who have visited death and destruction on the innocent, it should do so with caution.

Despite being weakened by a sustained army offensive, the Tehreek-e-Taliban remains a real and present danger to Pakistan. With the right will and resources, it can be defeated – along with its poisonous ideology that would prevent girls from being educated, women from working or engaging in public life and children from being vaccinated against the preventable scourge of polio.

The Peshawar school massacre has been described as Pakistan’s “September 11 moment” – a defining act of terror that has galvanised a nation. But it is important that Pakistan learn the lessons of America’s response to the 2001 attacks. It must have a clear strategy that precisely targets those who perpetrate and support criminal acts. The rule of law, which has been greatly diminished in Pakistan in recent years, must be applied and must be seen to apply. In addition to military strikes where necessary, the authorities should make arrests – including pursuing the court warrant against the hate preacher Maulana Abdul Aziz.

According to some accounts, the attack in Peshawar was an act of desperation by a group that was already on the run. Offenders must be brought to justice, but the official action must be measured. Any missteps, “collateral damage” or overreach of the kind that characterised the United States’s decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan will risk turning the tide of public opinion and thwarting Mr Sharif’s stated aim of ridding Pakistan of terror from within.


December 29, 2014 

Russian Diplomat: Taliban May Lay Siege To Kabul In Spring

MOSCOW. Dec 29 (Interfax) – The Taliban may mount an offensive against government forces and even lay siege to Kabul in spring after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) leaves Afghanistan but they will be unable to take the city, Special Representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said.

“There is every indicator that forces and materiel are being concentrated, primarily, by the Taliban which may mount a major offensive in spring of next year,” he said in an interview with Interfax.

“There is a winter seasonal decline in the hostilities now, which is traditional of Afghanistan. But, by the way, the armed opposition traditionally steps up terrorist activity for demonstrating its presence in the winter season, and we are witnessing this now,” he said.

The protracted presidential elections in Afghanistan and the related uncertainty have led to the gradual expansion of the zone of Taliban influence into regions around Kabul, the diplomat said.

“This means they are controlling not only the southeast of the country where the Taliban has always had strong positions but also possessing rather strong positions around Kabul, in provinces which actually encircle the Afghan capital city. Previously they were threatening Kabul only from the east and the southeast and were able to block main roads, and now they are creating a threat from the north as well,” Kabulov said.

The Taliban has taken strong positions in Pashto villages in provinces north of Kabul.

“This mean they can block all roads to Kabul and the city will find itself under siege at any moment and in a coordinated action,” he said.

“This is not happening now because a Taliban siege to Kabul will affect the interests of sellers, farmers who live on supplying their products to Kabul and will cause public discontent. Naturally, the Taliban is bearing this in mind. But when they see an opportunity they may attack the capital city as well,” Kabulov said.

“As far as I can judge by their military potential, they are unable to seize it. Kabul is being defended by the most combat capable army corps and there are also foreign troops there, enjoying aerial support,” he said.

After Years of Deliberate Delay and Inaction, Pakistani Government Is Finally Going After Terrorist Groups (But Not All of Them)

Tim Craig and Carol Morello
December 28, 2014

After years of delays, Pakistan cracks down on violent Islamists
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and police officials search for suspects in a residential area of Islamabad following a massacre this week at an army-run school. (Sohail Shahzad/EPA)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After pledging for years to crack down on violent Islamists, Pakistani authorities are now taking exceptional steps to do so, with a major military operation against the militants and a vow to rein in radical propaganda. 

The government’s campaign has intensified in the wake of a massacre at an elite army-run school in Peshawar this month, reflecting a striking change in public opinion about the danger posed by the extremist groups. 

The new effort also suggests an important political shift in a country where parties have traditionally laid out competing views on how to confront homegrown militants. Pakistani political leaders appeared together last week in Islamabad, the capital, to embrace the government’s new anti-terrorism measures, which include registering all religious schools and blocking funding of extremist groups. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and the country’s powerful military have agreed on 20 steps to tackle the terrorist threat. The government plans to try terrorism suspects in military courts, block the use of social media and other forms of communication by terrorists, and establish a 5,000-member paramilitary force that can take the fight against militancy deep into Pakistani cities. 

The army has vowed to further expand its military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban and groups such as al-Qaeda in the country’s remote tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. 

U.S. officials and Western analysts note that Pakistan has a nearly decade-long history of making promises to combat terrorism that it proved unwilling or unable to keep. And they remain skeptical that Pakistan has the wherewithal for a sustained campaign against an Islamist militancy that includes groups suspected of longtime ties to Pakistani intelligence officials. 

Still, Obama administration officials say they are encouraged that, after years of delay, Pakistan’s leaders have acknowledged the problems they face and are starting to take determined steps to address them. 

They cite signs that Pakistan is improving coordination with Afghanistan, where Pakistani Taliban commanders have traditionally sought shelter. Pakistan has also been tempering its public condemnations of U.S. drone strikes that target militants on its soil. But it is unclear whether Pakistan ultimately can change a culture of extremism rooted in some religious schools and mosques and allowed to fester for years in the country’s lawless tribal belt. 

‘A very critical juncture’ 

Pakistan finds itself at a crossroads. Over the past decade, more than 50,000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers have been killed in terrorist attacks and in the fight against extremists. The rising violence has wrecked the economy and threatened the nuclear-armed country’s ties to the West. 

But many of the attacks have generated little outrage in a public that had become inured to violence. 

A Chinese View of the World’s Most Important Relationship


Forget all the doom and gloom; 2014 was not bad to Sino-U.S. ties.
A Chinese View of the World’s Most Important Relationship

JINGZHOU, China — This year, believe it or not, has been good to the Sino-U.S. relationship. Cui Tiankai, Beijing’s top envoy in Washington, described growing trust between the two countries as “a fairly obvious trend” on Dec. 12. In a year-end review on Dec. 17, China’s official Xinhua News Agency compared Sino-U.S. ties to “a vessel that keeps moving ahead” even while buffeted by waves. As evidence of close relations, the piece cited the two face-to-face meetings that took place between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014, as well as the multiple joint agreements the two nations signed during President Obama’s visit to Beijing last month, including a climate change agreement and a deal to cut tariffs on high-tech goods. And person-to-person ties are only likely to grow. Statistics from Ctrip.com, China’s largest online travel agency, showed that applications for U.S. visas had gone up 50 percent since early November, when China and the U.S. agreed to a reciprocal 10-year visa policy for tourists, students and business personnel.

This all may seem counterintuitive — mutual tensions over cyber-espionage, maritime disputes, and trade often dominate both countries’ media coverage of the relationship. Yet from the perspective of China’s government, 2014 was in fact a reasonably constructive year for the world’s most important bilateral relationship, with particularly important breakthroughs in defense, high-tech trade, and the battle against climate change. Meanwhile, sentiments among Chinese people themselves remain mixed about their country’s shifting dynamics with the United States as China’s spheres of influence continue to expand. Intellectuals often find it welcoming that the two powers are trying to reach agreement in contentious areas. At the grassroots level, spontaneous nationalist reactions to perceived U.S containment are common.

The Rise of the 31st Army in Chinese Politics

By Bo Zhiyue
December 30, 2014
Two newly promoted leaders in China’s military and paramilitary both have ties to the 31st Army in Fujian. 

Lieutenant General Wang Ning, newly appointed commander of the People’s Armed Police of the People’s Republic of China, and Lieutenant General Miao Hua, newly appointed political commissar of the PLA Navy, have at least two things in common.

First, in contrast to their immediate predecessors, they lack prior experience in their current jobs. General Wang Jianping, Wang Ning’s predecessor, had worked in the People’s Armed Police for almost two decades. He had been deputy chief of staff, chief of staff, and deputy commander before his appointment as commander of the People’s Armed Police in December 2009. Wang Ning, however, had worked all of his military career in the army until his appointment as the armed police chief.

General Liu Xiaojiang, Miao Hua’s predecessor, had worked in the PLA Navy for more than two decades. He began his career in the PLA Navy as secretary of General Liu Huaqing in 1980 but later was transferred to the General Political Department. He came back to the PLA Navy as deputy director of the Political Department in 1998 and was appointed political commissar of the PLA Navy 10 years later. Miao Hua, on the other hand, had never worked in the PLA Navy until December 2014 when he was appointed its political commissar.

Second, both Wang Ning and Miao Hua have worked in the 31st Army before. Wang Ning was commander of the 31st Army from November 2007 to December 2010, and Miao Hua spent 36 years in the 31st Army, including a stint of six years as director of its Political Department.

One may also find other generals from the 31st Army among the leadership of the PLA. Those include General Zhao Keshi, a member of the Central Military Commission and director of the General Logistics Department; General Wu Changde, deputy director of the General Political Department; and General Cai Yingting, commander of the Nanjing Military Region. It is probably by coincidence that the 31st Army is stationed in Fujian Province where Chairman Xi Jinping of the Central Military Commission worked for 17.5 years.

Predictably, both Wang Ning and Miao Hua will be awarded the rank of general in the near future and enter the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party as full members at the 19th Party Congress in 2017.

State-approved screensavers

29 December 2014

State-approved screensavers, shared email addresses and why you must write Kim Jong Un's name in a font 20pc bigger: Fascinating glimpse at computing in North Korea as state blames U.S. for THIRD net shut down 'in revenge for Sony hack' 

Only 1,000 computers are connected to the internet in North Korea - and those are reserved for trusted members of the elite 

It has its own operating system - a rip-off of that used on Mac computers - called Red Star with state-approved wallpapers 

Population can access the intranet - which spews out propaganda - and automatically makes names of leaders 20pc bigger than other words 

North Korea has blamed the US for the third shut down of its internet and 3g network in a week as the cyber war between the two countries over the Sony hack raged on. 

But the apparent reprisal attacks on the secretive state has prompted the Western world to ask what effect it had on the people and services of North Korea.

The answer is simply not much. Very few of its citizens are connected to the internet in a country where the regime fiercely control any outside influence for fear of sparking dissent.

But MailOnline has been given a fascinating glimpse into the technology of North Korea captured during five years of visits from 2008 to 2013.

They reveal a country wrestling with the need for the knowledge the World Wide Web offers, outright propaganda and the desire to its subjugated citizens in their place.

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Not for your eyes: In this picture, taken in 2010, officials barred anyone from removing the kitsch cover on the computer

Big Brother is watching you: Workers go about their business with their leaders keeping a close eye on them