2 January 2015

Taking on good, bad, all Talibans

Suhasini Haidar
January 2, 2015 

Despite a change in mood in Pakistan after the Peshawar massacre, India cannot afford to be complacent given that the network of the various ‘Talibans’ is more united and synchronised than ever, and benefits from the differences between South Asian neighbours

In its multi-point National Action Plan against terror, Pakistan’s government and military has envisaged a plan more comprehensive than any other in the past 20 years. It was in 1994 that the Taliban first emerged to take power in Kandahar, funded and trained by Pakistani officials, and will be full circle for the country if its leaders go ahead with the ambitious course laid out in the plan. The steps include the establishment of fast-track anti-terror courts, a crackdown on banned organisations and terrorists and choking their finances, disarming all militia, and the regulation of madrassas that indoctrinate them.

Pakistan has made such declarations before. The first was when it became a “partner” in the war on terror in 2001 and agreed to look for Osama bin Laden, and again in 2002, when President Pervez Musharraf announced a crackdown on anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Neither of those pronouncements came to much, but there is still reason to hope that the new announcement recognises that the people of Pakistan want a decisive turn after the massacre of over 130 schoolchildren in Peshawar. It is now a battle for Pakistan’s soul, one made even more complicated by the fact that the perpetrators of this diabolical operation once trained alongside the Afghan Taliban in a war in which Pakistan was once a prime mover.

The many Talibans

Much has changed since those days, in the 1990s, when the Taliban claimed Kabul, and welcomed every kind of jihadigroup into the country, and some of those fighters were given access to Pakistan’s borders with India, so as to fight in Kashmir. A distinction between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” has come up between the Afghan Taliban groups and the Pakistani Taliban who target the Pakistani military and civilians. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement that there will now be no good or bad Taliban is welcome for most Pakistanis, but the euphemisms of good and bad are only a more visible part of the threat they face from the Taliban. It is important that Pakistan’s leaders recognise the other Taliban threats today, in a self-destructive war they have already squandered too much time on, and after Mr. Sharif has committed to fighting “All the Talibans”.

To begin with, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that carried out the Peshawar massacre now represents, weren’t always separate entities. In 2008, when the TTP first came up under Baitullah Mehsud, its chief patron was Mullah Omar, the chief of the Taliban. Mehsud himself had been very close to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and declared a governor by Mullah Omar in 2004 before five major Taliban commanders, including men responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto and assassination attempts on Mr. Hamid Karzai and Gen. Musharraf. Therefore, it is baffling how the narrative today has become one of Pakistan protecting the Afghan Taliban, while Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of sheltering TTP leaders and other members of the Pakistan Taliban.

Old nightmares, new imponderables

Jonathan Eyal
The Statesman
02 Jan 2015

Instant history is seldom reliable history, so caution is advisable in drawing any conclusions about the impact of key events that took place during the outgoing year. Nevertheless, it is clear that 2014 has witnessed some fundamental strategic shifts and surprises, destined to shape our lives for years to come.

The first and by far the most important is the end of the post-Cold War period. There was always something odd about the fact that this span of time, which began in 1989 and lasted for the past 25 years, never acquired a name of its own, and was merely generically referred to as a period after a previous period.

But now we know why, for the post-Cold War age was just a lull, a strategic interval, rather than a new era with solid and durable foundations. Politicians talked about the benign effects of globalisation, about the futility of wars, territorial possessions or borders, and the interdependence of nations. All this was true but, as is by now clear, not sufficient to bridge the gap between those who regarded the post-Cold War order as beneficial and long-lasting, and those who saw themselves as losers and therefore want to overthrow the status quo. Tensions have lingered for years, but it was in 2014 that the eerie calm was shattered, and great-power politics came back with a vengeance. The most spectacular example of this is, of course, Russia, which stormed back on to Europe's strategic stage with its military intervention in Ukraine. The Ukrainian war may seem remote and even irrelevant to nations outside Europe. But the confrontation has already cost the lives of thousands, including hundreds of innocent civilians killed when a Malaysian airliner was shot down.

And Ukraine brought back some old nightmares which governments around the world thought they had safely left behind: the danger that borders may be changed by force, that territories can be simply gobbled up by countries, and that ethnic minorities can be used as "Fifth Columnists", covert agents undermining one government at the behest of another
Diplomats and experts will argue for years as to who was responsible for the Ukraine flare-up. Yet there should be little debate about the fact that the real clash between Russia and the rest of Europe is no longer about Ukraine as such, but about Russia's determination to carve for itself a new sphere of influence, both on the European continent and further afield in Central Asia, among the republics which once belonged to the Soviet Union. Nor is there much doubt that this showdown between the West and Russia will overshadow the coming year, and most likely many years thereafter.

The main imponderable for 2015 is whether China and a number of other key developing nations would seize the opportunity provided by Russia to advance claims for spheres of influence of their own, or to make common cause with Russia against the West. In theory, that's possible: like Russia, the other nations belonging to the so-called Brics grouping have made no secret of their desire to replace the current world order with a new, multi- polar structure in which the United States is no longer the sole superpower.

Bodos: Crisis of unresolved grievances

Sanjoy Hazarika

Why is this little pocket of land in western Assam so explosive, such a tinderbox of unresolved grievances and bitternesses? It is a stinging commentary on the state government that those living in shelters still do not find conditions safe enough to return home.

Bodo villagers move to a safer place after their houses were attacked and set alight in Gossaigaon, in district Kokrajhar, Assam. 

Cost of conflict

The Adivasis have remained largely poor and underprivileged, their villages still lack basic facilities. their HDI is as low as are education levels.

The lack of communications — in this case proper roads — which enabled the killers to hit and virtually walk away unimpeded is a damning indictment of the state government’s inability to meet basic needs.

Increasingly, automatic weapons have been used by the Bodo groups.
The problems of internal conflict will remain unless ground work continues to mend fences and bridges.

An official committee of social scientists and civil society organisations working in the field, in association with knowledgeable officials, should be quickly constituted to review the land situation in this fragmented land and suggest ways to reduce the confrontation.

It’s that time of the year again when one is flooded with media requests for interviews and columns to explain something brutally horrific that has taken place in the North-eastern wedge of the country. For decades, my contemporaries, friends and I have been called upon to explain and make sense of this to fellow Indians, on television and in print, on radio and on social media, of what was once “isolated and disturbed,” to use two cliches where Delhi and even the state capitals still remain “distant”, peopled by communities with a deep sense of being discriminated against, of injustice.

It is getting more and more difficult to explain the growing complexity and extraordinary range of emotions that these events raise: from anger to perplexity, from suspicion and frustration to despair, from doubt and horror to seeking a fast and furious response against those who are responsible. We too go through this cyclorama of feelings. It is wearying to see this cycle of murder begetting hatred, violence, more bloodshed and hatred repeating itself in ever shorter cycles.

Violent outrages

Thousands of Ukraine nationalists march in Kiev

Jan 2, 2015

Activists of the Svoboda (Freedom) Ukrainian nationalist party hold torches as they take part in a rally to mark the 105th birth anniversary of Stepan Bandera in Kiev on January 1, 2014. 

KIEV, Ukraine: Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists held a torchlight procession across Kiev today in honour of a 1940s anti-Soviet insurgent branded by Moscow as a Nazi collaborator whom Europe must reject. 

The march on what would have been Stepan Bandera's 106th birthday moved along the same streets on which hundreds of thousands rallied for three months last winter before ousting a Moscow-backed president. 

Some wore World War II-era army uniforms while others draped themselves in the red and black nationalist flags and chanted "Ukraine belongs to Ukrainians" and "Bandera will return and restore order". 

"The Kremlin is afraid of Bandera because he symbolises the very idea of a completely independent Ukraine," Lidia Ushiy said while holding up a portrait of the far-right icon at the head of the march. 

Bandera is a mythical but immensely divisive figure in Ukraine whom some compare to Cuba's Che Guevara. 

His movement's slogan — "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!" — was also the catchphrase of last year's pro-European revolt. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin in March called that uprising's leaders "the ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler's accomplice during World War II." 

Bandera was the ideological patron of resistance fighters who fought alongside invading German forces during World War II. 

The Ukrainian famine of the 1930s that was created by Soviet collective farming had turned many against Moscow and in favour of any foreign presence that could help fend off Kremlin rule. 

But Bandera himself was arrested by the Germans for trying to set up a Ukrainian government and spent the war years in a concentration camp. 

He was poisoned by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959. Bandera was posthumously decorated with a Hero of Ukraine medal in January 2010 by the then pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko. 

The decision outraged Russia and was revoked by the Moscow-backed leadership prior to its own ouster in February. 

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko — a billionaire who helped man the Kiev barricades — made a New Year vow to defeat the "cruel-hearted foe" now fighting government forces in the Russian-speaking east. 

Poroshenko surrounded himself with soldiers and Kiev protests members for the traditional New Year's Eve message to the nation that airs in the closing minutes of the outgoing year.

AirAsia plane may have touched down on water safely: Experts

Jan 2, 2015

JAKARTA/LONDON: The pilot of the crashed AirAsia plane may have pulled off the perfect emergency landing before it sank in the choppy waters of the Java Sea killing all the 162 people aboard, a media report said on Thursday.

Experts believe that the absence of any usual crash transmission data means the AirAsia flight QZ8501, on its way from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore, could have touched down safely, though the hunt for the black boxes is on.

After leaving Indonesia early on Sunday, the Airbus A320-200 disappeared over the Java Sea during a storm but the emergency transmissions made when planes crash or are submerged in the sea were never emitted, the Mirror reported.

Flight experts now believe it is possible that experienced former airforce pilot Captain Irianto may have safely landed the plane on water — before it was overcome by high waves and sunk to the bottom of the sea.

Dudi Sudibyo, a senior editor of aviation magazine Angkasa, said: "The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) would work on impact, be that land, sea or the sides of a mountain, and my analysis is it didn't work because there was no major impact during landing."

"The pilot managed to land it on the sea's surface," the report quoted Sudibyo as saying.

Captain Irianto was cruising at a height of 32,000 feet when he requested permission to change course to avoid storms.

But although air traffic controllers gave him permission, he had to wait because of heavy air traffic and the plane vanished from radar screens minutes later.

While a mass search is still underway for the black boxes, some experts believe it may have stalled because it climbed to steeply or was travelling too slowly — yet it remains a mystery why there was no distress signal from the pilot, the report said.

Nine bodies have since been found in the Java Sea, with some reports suggesting passengers were wearing lifejackets and holding hands.

Two of the first pieces of debris found were an emergency exit door and an inflatable slide, which could suggest the first passengers may have started to evacuate the plane.

3 Biggest Misconceptions About India

December 31, 2014

Despite its huge size and population, there are several common misconceptions about India. 

As we near the end of the year, I would like to reflect on a few of the biggest misconceptions I’ve noticed people, even those interested in South Asia, have about the region, especially India. As a writer on South Asian issues, I found that some of these most common recurring misconceptions included the following:

Most Indians are Vegetarian. This is a common misconception held by many non-Indians and Indians as well. In fact, most Hindus also eat meat. Around 60 percent of Indians eat meat and the percentage is growing. While this still means that the world’s largest vegetarian population is in India, it also means that the majority of Indians are meat-eaters, like every other country in the world. Contrary to popular belief, the consumption of meat and vegetarianism have generally not been personal choices, though to some extent the idea of vegetarianism has been linked to a belief in non-violence. However, for the most part, vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism have been linked to notions of purity and status that distinguished different caste and subcastes from each other or are regionally colored.

Generally, vegetarianism has been associated with higher castes as it distanced an individual from the blood and gore of an earthly, labor-based existence. There are still many, many exceptions and permutations all over India, making it hard to make categorical statements about Indian eating habits. For example, most Gujarati people of any caste are vegetarian. However, not all Brahmins (members of the highest caste, traditionally associated with vegetarianism) are vegetarian, as Bengali Brahmins eat fish and Kashmiri Brahmins eat goat. Kshatriyas and Rajputs, a highly ranked caste associated with warfare and government eat meat for the most part as well. Most members of lower castes, including the Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) eat meat, including sometimes beef, but their cuisine rarely makes it to international restaurants. It is likely that the notion of most Indians being vegetarian arose due to the fact that many public gatherings and institutions serve only vegetarian food which accommodates everyone, unlike non-vegetarian food.

Additionally, the proportion of vegetarians is higher among India’s elite who mostly derive from groups that practiced vegetarianism even if they no longer follow the traditional taboos of their ancestors. In India’s segmented society, it is likely that the meat-eating practices of the majority often fail to be noticed by those who write about India and food. The point is, Indian food practices are far from homogenous.

Why the U.S. still has a role in Afghanistan

DECEMBER 30, 2014 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrives to visit American troops at Tactical Base Gamberi in Afghanistan. (Mark Wilson / Associated Press) 

Fighting will continue in Afghanistan, and the U.S. has a responsibility to continue helping its government 

After 13 years of war, more than 2,300 dead U.S. troops and the replacement of the Taliban regime with an elected government, the United States this past weekend declared a formal end to its combat mission in Afghanistan. That's an important symbolic marker, but no one should interpret the declaration as the end of anything. Some 10,800 U.S. troops remain behind to train and support the still-young Afghan military. Surviving Taliban forces — which operate with relative impunity from the lawless border region of Pakistan — have been mounting fresh attacks, making it clear that the fighting will continue. The best that can be hoped for is that the Afghans take over the job of defending themselves and their government, allowing the U.S. presence to diminish.

Any time military force is deployed, there is the danger of mission creep, and that is certainly to be guarded against in Afghanistan.- 

Unfortunately, we saw in Iraq what can happen when a new government — and its new military — isn't quite ready to stand on its own legs. Pro-Shiite policies by then-Prime Minister Nouri Maliki exacerbated sectarian tensions with the nation's Sunni population, fanning mistrust and weakening the central government's authority. The Iraqi military then collapsed — in some cases, turned tail — as the Islamic State insurgency expanded from the Syrian civil war into Sunni-heavy northwestern Iraq, where the extremists found some support among people who saw the barbaric invaders as preferable to the Iraqi government. Maliki was replaced as prime minister by Haider Abadi, who has sought to be more inclusive, but the damage is done. President Obama, while pledging not to send ground troops back to Iraq, has ordered U.S. air missions to try to rout the extremists.

Tackling militancy in Punjab

FINALLY we seem to have a national counterterrorism plan and it is now time for the government to fight the battle against militancy. Notwithstanding the controversy over the decision to set up military courts and the resumption of executions, overall the plan does provide a coherent framework for action.

But the plan by itself may not suffice. Have we not had some tough anti-terrorism laws operating already? So the real question is how effective can the government be in its actions. What we have seen thus far is the prime minister doing more of the mundane: he has been busy setting up committees, more committees and sub-committees. There’s no sign of urgency.

The foremost challenge for Mr Sharif will be how he deals with the problem of militancy and religious extremism in his home province of Punjab. For long, counterterrorism efforts have been focused entirely on the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and the state has conveniently shut its eyes to militant activities in the country’s most powerful province. This inaction cannot be dismissed as just a state of denial, and has more to do with expediency.
Radical madressah networks in Punjab lie at the heart of Pakistan’s terrorism problem.

Deliberately wrapped up in the jargon of ‘good militants’, they were considered a useful cog in our twisted national security paradigm. The fear of retaliation was also the reason for handling them with kid gloves. Will the new counterterrorism strategy really be a game-changer? One is not so sure.

Indeed, a crackdown on Punjab-based militants is a part of the 20-point action plan and both the civil and military leadership have pledged to end the dubious distinction between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. Yet, there is still no indication of this much-touted policy shift coming into play, at least in Punjab.

While the focus has remained on the TTP and some other militant groups engaged in fighting security forces in the northwest, it is actually Punjab that had turned into the main centre of militancy and religious extremism. Most of the banned militant and sectarian outfits have their base in the province. What the civilian and military authorities conveniently tend to ignore is that many of the terrorist attacks in the country were linked to Punjab-based groups.

In fact, the venues of some of the most horrific and audacious terror attacks have been in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Be it the attacks on the FIA building, a police training centre, Moon Market, the Data Darbar massacre in Lahore or the brutal carnage in Rawalpindi’s Parade Lane mosque and the attack on GHQ and the devastating bombing of Islamabad’s Marriot, all were carried out by a nexus of the TTP, Al Qaeda and Punjab-based militant groups.

A loose coalition of militants of Punjabi origin calling themselves Punjabi Taliban came into prominence after those attacks. A significant number of Punjabi Taliban were involved in fighting along with the TTP in Swat and the tribal areas. Since 2005, thousands of militants from southern and northern Punjab reportedly moved to Waziristan and worked in close alliance with the TTP in planning attacks on Punjab’s cities. Many of them had also established their training bases in North Waziristan.

An opening in Afghanistan: Kabul’s deal with Pakistan

December 28, 2014

Members of the Pakistani military stand guard near Army Public School, which was attacked.Photo: EPA

With public sentiment rising against terrorism, the Pakistani and Afghan governments have decided to abandon their traditional policy of giving terror groups shelter in exchange for a promise not to carry out attacks inside the “host” nation.

As a result of that policy, a variety of terror groups have been able to set up bases in the two neighboring countries, at times in full view of the authorities.

The Pakistani Taliban attack Pakistan from bases in Afghanistan, and the Afghan Taliban operate from bases in Pakistan.

Last week, however, Pakistan army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif and his Afghan counterpart, Shir-Muhammad Karimi, signed an agreement that may well signal a strategic change in the two nations’ methods of dealing with terrorism.

Under the agreement, the two neighbors will allow each other’s forces the right of hot pursuit.

This had been a thorny issue for decades, as successive Afghan governments refused to recognize the border fixed by the British during their rule in the Indian Subcontinent.

Afghans claim that large chunks of land, where Pushtun tribes form a majority, represent “Afghan occupied territory ” that should return to “the motherland,” a position firmly rejected by Pakistan.

Right now, some terror bases operating against Afghanistan are located just a couple of miles inside Pakistani territory under protection of Pakistani border guards.

With the new agreement, that protection will no longer be available. In fact, last week an Afghan unit pursued a terrorist group inside Pakistani territory for the first time.

The agreement also envisages an exchange of information on a regular basis. That would enable both neighbors to learn about planned attacks in time to deal with them.

Up to now, terror groups have been able to travel hundreds of miles with full knowledge of Pakistani security services to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

Kabul Is Dangerous Again As Taliban Threat Grows

Pamela Constable

Kabul was eerie and dangerous under the Taliban. It feels that way again.
Afghan residents walk in the old city section of Kabul on Dec. 12. Afghanistan’s economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL — Many winters ago, I stood in a vast, empty intersection of central Kabul. The only sounds were the jingle of passing horse carts and the ticking spokes of old bicycles. There were no other Westerners on the streets, and all eyes were upon me. Despite being wrapped in many layers of modest clothing, I felt naked.

Much has changed in the Afghan capital since those haunted days under Taliban rule. Bombed-out ruins have been replaced by multi-story apartment buildings and ornate mansions. The populace has quintupled and traffic jams are constant. Cellphone and computer shops with picture windows line the streets, and beauty parlor signs feature women with pouting lips and geisha makeup.

But this winter, even as a frequent foreign visitor to Kabul, dressed modestly and with my head covered, I feel naked once again. Almost every Westerner I once knew here has left the country for good, their missions suspended or shut down, and several of my longtime Afghan acquaintances and colleagues have fled abroad and sought asylum.

The few old friends who remain stationed here, mostly professionals from international agencies, are either away for the holidays or shuttered inside guarded compounds, ordered by security consultants to avoid public places and unable to visit the projects they sponsor.
The Taliban are back — this time not as the wary but proper official hosts who periodically issued visas to Western journalists and officials during their five-year rule from 1996 to 2001. Now they are cold-blooded insurgents who have been preying aggressively on the capital since a new civilian government brokered by the Obama administration took office in late September.

An internally displaced Afghan youth wraps himself against the cold in a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan on Dec. 24. (Massoud Hossaini/AP) In the past two months, the militants have bombed or stormed foreign symbols and sanctuaries around the city — aid agencies, guest houses, even a performance at a French cultural center, while warning that they will treat Western civic activities exactly like military enemies. Among the targets were three compounds where I had once shared meals and laughter with friends — now long gone — who cared about Afghanistan and had no plans to leave.

A Chinese View of the World’s Most Important Relationship

DECEMBER 30, 2014 

Forget all the doom and gloom; 2014 was not bad to Sino-U.S. ties. 
Andy Hu is a media professional based in Beijing. 

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.

In any case, the upper echelons of Chinese power share something with the country’s grassroots: Both understand that China is not the superpower that the United States is, and cannot become one without radical changes to the status quo at home and abroad.

In any case, the upper echelons of Chinese power share something with the country’s grassroots: Both understand that China is not the superpower that the United States is, and cannot become one without radical changes to the status quo at home and abroad. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang put it bluntly and humbly in Chicago on Dec. 17, when he told the China-U.S. Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade that Beijing is neither willing nor able to challenge U.S. dominance of the global economic order, and that “in the process of cooperation, China hopes the United States would come to understand Chinese ideas more.” Chinese netizens across the political spectrum accept this strategy. Self-proclaimed democracy advocates such as Jing Yunchuan, a Beijing-based head lawyer, stress the necessity to cooperate with the U.S. and not resist it, while even hawkish observers like Gary Su, who edits a popular military website, welcome the strategy, believing it will buy China more time to rise as American supremacy falls. Conservative netizens like Yin Guoming, though, call that wishful thinking from Beijing. Yin, in particular, is convinced that “the U.S. will perceive China as a threat as long as China is not torn into pieces.”

How the Cultural Revolution Haunts China's Leaders

By Kerry Brown
December 30, 2014

Growing up during the Cultural Revolution had a lasting impact on Xi Jinping and his generation of elites.

The mainstream view, at least amongst the China-watching community in recent years, was that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s generation would be the last to have a clear memory of the Cultural Revolution decade that began in 1966. Presumably, younger leaders belong more to the post-1978 reform era. Cheng Li in his 2001 book, China’s Leader’s: The New Generation, even went so far as to call the Hu-Wen generation the “unlucky” ones — their education disrupted, their careers put on hold or sometimes radically redirected because of the closure of universities at the end of the 1960s and the internecine battles within the Communist Party during this era. Those coming after them at least lived in a world of more normality.

A biography of Xi Jinping issued by Mirror Books in 2013, however, makes at least one thing clear. The “Decade of Turbulence” from 1966-1976 lay just as heavily, if not more so, on Xi, Li Keqiang, and Wang Qishan and their fellow fifth generation leaders as it did on previous ones. They might have been children when it started, but over the course of the years up to 1976 their most formative experiences, and the things that have most sharply shaped their world view till now, were from this unique period of modern Chinese history when Mao became an object of quasi-worship, society was convulsed by factionalism and violent battles, and every dimension of life was politicized. It is impossible to understand these leaders and their behavior today without taking this into account.

Xi Jinping Da Zhuan (“Biography of Xi Jinping”) by Hu Lili and Li Taohao is as full of inventive speculation as any other product largely written for the Chinese language speaking overseas audience. But it does convey something of the real trauma of the Cultural Revolution period and the toll it must have taken on the young Xi. His father, Xi Zhongxun, had already been removed from political life by an early argument around hidden messages supposedly contained in a book he was associated with while working in the propaganda organs in the early 1960s. And while the Cultural Revolution meant his case was revisited and he was exposed to some struggle sessions, on the whole the elder Xi was sidelined and simply left alone (due in some part, the book argues, to Premier Zhou Enlai’s intercession).

For Xi junior, the Cultural Revolution meant first of all the removal of his father and the break-up of his family just as he was hitting adolescence. It meant the end of his life in Beijing and the move to a rural area of Shaanxi province, close to the old revolutionary base of Yan’an. His education effectively stopped for a decade, and his life instead centered on a commune among farmers and agricultural workers. The one sighting he seems to have had of his father during this period was in the very early 1970s, when the two were almost unrecognizable to each other because of the lengthy period they had been separated.

Taiwan's New Stealth Corvettes: Just What the Doctor Ordered?


Taiwan's New Stealth Corvettes: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Taiwan’s got a new tool in its sea-denial toolkit.

Word has it the Taiwan Navy has taken delivery of Tuo Jiang, its first stealth corvette under the Hsun Hai, or Swift Sea, program. The news warrants a cheery huzzah! here at year’s end. These 500-ton craft pack some serious heat in the form of eight indigenously built anti-ship cruise missiles per hull. The Swift Sea marks the ROCN’s evolution from a force intent on ruling the waves to one that accepts that keeping China from ruling the waves is sufficient to Taipei’s purposes. This constitutes welcome change, years in the making.

Or so it seems. Changing a culture involves more than fielding new widgets, no matter how formidable. How a navy uses its fighting ships is at least as important as the technical capabilities manifest in those ships. The U.S. Navy, in effect the Taiwan Navy’s parent service, bequeathed habits of mind — not just platforms and warmaking methods — to ROCN mariners. Commanders and government officials reared on the American-inspired idea that navies’ purpose is to sweep their enemies from vital waters, wresting away untrammeled control for themselves, may find demotion to spoiler status hard to stomach.

And indeed, the guerrilla-like outlook characteristic of sea-denial navies is foreign to sea-control navies like America’s and Taiwan’s. It takes time, often compounded by some trauma, to compel an organization to reinvent itself. Defeat constitutes a particularly powerful stimulus. That being the case, let’s reserve the remaining two huzzahs until the Hsun Hai program matures. Only then will it be possible to evaluate the ROCN’s cultural revolution — and, in turn, to estimate the efficacy of sea warfare, Taiwanese style.

Until more data appear, here are some benchmarks to appraise Taiwan’s increasingly hybrid maritime strategy. First and foremost, mass could pose a problem for the sea-denial fleet. Central to any fleet’s battle effectiveness is fielding enough units to absorb combat losses and fight on. Taipei only plans to field a dozen of the new corvettes, complementing its existing, far less capable flotilla of Kuang Hua VI fast patrol craft.

China and the Uyghur Issue: Can the New Silk Route Really Help?

Rajeshwari KrishnamurthyResearch Officer (IReS), IPCS 

Today, with the increasing threat of Islamist terrorism due to the rise and reach of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, sections of societies in Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia are getting increasingly radicalised. Will China succeed in pushing forward in its economic agendas via the Western Development Strategy – the New Silk Route project and the energy corridors between Central Asia and China – if the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the region that borders all the aforementioned areas is constantly under unrest?

Understanding the Unrest in the XUAR

Contrary to the misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation that unrest in the XUAR is purely terrorism, terrorism and religious fanaticism, the unrest in the region is rathercomplex and specific. The oversimplification of the issue is what has resulted in the turmoil that exists today. The Uyghur region has witnessed several socio-political and economic changes since the time of the Silk Road trade. Since its inclusion into the Chinese State in 1949, the Communist Party of China’s (CPC’s) policies – that it borrowed from the erstwhile Soviet model – of making the country a Unitarian state with a singular identity across all regions, has created problems of several kinds, and the XUAR unrest is one such consequence.

The restrictions on the expression of religious and cultural heritage and choices; the increased migration of the Han Chinese into the XUAR – that has resulted in the Uyghurs getting a sense of minoritisation –; branding of any dissent and/or protest of policies as terrorism and separatism; the heavy-handed measures used to crack down on opposition; the misinformed strategy of using economic means to solve a socio-political problem; and more importantly, viewing all Uyghurs as the same – i.e. separatists –has pushed the Uyghurs to a brink causing them to resist even resiliently.

Beijing, thus, knowingly and/or unknowingly fuels the very unrest it has been trying to put an end to. Furthermore, China has, over the past few years, begun to equate Islam (the religion followed by most Uyghurs in the XUAR) to extremism – a regressive approach that will not only not resolve the unrest, but also further frustrate any effort towards the resolution of the issue.

The Core of Beijing’s Misinformed Strategies

The CPC’s lack of nuanced understanding of the history of the region and/or its deliberate unwillingness to admit to the actual socio-political history of the region will only prove detrimental to the strategies towards the successful implementation of its domestic and international agendas.

Beijing’s approach – using economic incentives to resolve a socio-political issue – has not worked elsewhere, and is likely to fail in the XUAR as well, and for the same reasons. The overlapping of the socio-cultural and socio-political elements in the CPC’s strategies in the region since 1949 have thus resulted to a certain degree, an overlap in terms of the pushback that is generated as a consequence.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…: U.S. Military Starting to Retrain the Iraqi Army

Tim Arango
December 31, 2014

U.S. Troops, Back in Iraq, Train a Force to Fight ISIS

BAGHDAD — The United States has begun training a first wave of Iraqi Army recruits, in recent days putting them through morning fitness exercises and instructing them in marksmanship and infantry tactics, in an effort to gather enough forces to mount a spring offensive against the extremists of the Islamic State.

Military officials here say the first of the American-trained recruits, who answered the call to arms by Iraqi religious leaders over the summer and have completed some basic training under the Iraqis, will be ready to join the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by mid-February. Pushing forward, officials say the goal is to train 5,000 new recruits every six weeks.

“These are new patriots of Iraq, that have actually signed up, have been through basic training and are now ready to go through some advanced training,” said Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the American commander who is overseeing the training program.

More than six months after the Islamic State’s lightning advance through northern Iraq forced a reluctant President Obama to order a new United States military mission here, an American training program for the Iraqi security forces has begun to take shape. In recent days, the first recruits, about 1,600 men in four battalions, have been received by American instructors at Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad. Others have begun arriving at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province, joining roughly 200 American Marines and Special Forces soldiers.

The American presence in Iraq is expected to grow in the coming weeks, to more than 3,000 personnel from about 1,800. The American military already has a presence in Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish capital in the north, and has plans for two more training sites: one for Special Forces in Baghdad and another in Besmaya, south of the capital.

The current American training program is dwarfed by past efforts: $25 billion over eight years to assemble a security force that crumbled this year in the face of the onslaught from the Islamic State.

The training program, for now, is focused on building manpower to throw at the fight against the Islamic State, and not on solving the deeper problems of the Iraqi security forces, such as endemic corruption and poor leadership. Although there are American advisers working closely with top Iraqi military officers, officials say a broader restructuring of the Iraqi Army, with the help of the Americans, will be undertaken once the Islamic State is defeated.

Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, the deputy to Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, who oversees Army forces in the Middle East, said the question guiding the training program is, “What are the bare minimum basics needed for counterattacking?”

Notably — and perhaps ominously, in a country deeply divided by sect — the vast majority of the trainees so far are Shiites from southern Iraq, even the recruits who have been assigned to work with United States instructors in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province.

Americans en route to Iraq. The United States presence is set to grow to 3,000 from 1,800. Credit Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

Iran’s Growing Power and Influence Inside Iraq

Behnam Gholipour
December 31, 2014

Deaths in Iraq show two sides of Iran’s role in sectarian conflict

The funeral this week of a Revolutionary Guard commander killed in

Iraq showed Iran’s official commitment to its armed forces, while

the murkier dimensions of Tehran’s growing role in the region’s

sectarian conflict have been highlighted by the death of an Iraqi militia leader with long links to the Islamic republic

Iranian civilians and members of its armed forces carry the flag draped coffin of Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, who was killed during a battle against Isis. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Thousands of Revolutionary Guards gathered in Tehran on Sunday for the funeral of Iranian Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi, who was reportedly killed by a sniper while organising the defence of the Iraqi city of Samarra against Islamic State (Isis) militants.

According to Fars News, Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani told mourners that if “people like Taqavi do not shed their blood in Samarra, then we would shed our blood [within Iran] in Sistan [-Baluchestan], [East and West] Azerbaijan [provinces], Shiraz and Esfahan [to defend the country]”.

Mehr News reported the funeral was also attended by General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds brigade, the overseas arm of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), which has been active in Iraq. The Iranian Labour News Agency relayed condolences from Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker, “to the Lord of the Age [the 12th Shia Imam, believed to be in occultation], the Supreme Leader, the honourable Iranian nation, his comrades and respected and patient family members.”

Taqavi, 55, was the most senior Iranian military commander killed in Iraq, where Tehran calls its role “advisory” in assisting the Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and Shia militias against Isis. While Taqavi’s funeral illustrated the clear official Iranian commitment to its armed forces, the murkier dimensions of Tehran’s growing role in the brutal sectarian conflict engulfing Iraq and Syria were highlighted by the death of Wathiq al-Battat, an Iraqi militant with long links to Iran and leader of one of Iraq’s several Shia militias.

The Mukhtar Army, the Iraqi militia, recently announced its leader Wathiq al-Battat had been killed in Diyala province. Battat had been a player in the shady war between Iraqi Shia militias and the Sunni militants of Isis.

As general secretary of Hezbollah in Iraq, al-Battat’s militant anti-Sunni sentiments often unnerved Iraq’s mainstream Shia leaders. But he had often boasted of his links to Iran’s IRGC and proclaimed his loyalty to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

The circumstances of his death on 20 or 21 December mired within the violence in Iraq, are unclear. Within two days of al-Battat’s demise, several Iranian conservative websites claimed Saudi intelligence was involved.

Will Fracking, Climate Change, Solar Reshape US Security?

December 23, 2014 

Energy sources and related commodities have driven national security issues ever since the modern nation-state was born with the Peace of Westphalia. Oak made Spain and England’s stout sailing ships. Water energy and wind drove mills and moved water. Wood and coal moved steamships. Then came the almost magical commodity of oil, packed with energy. World War II brought us the wonder and terror of nuclear energy. Today, America buys much less foreign oil for the first time in decades, largely due to fracking and other technological advances. Wind and solar energy are growing by leaps and bounds. How fundamental are these changes in the world’s energy markets and what is their likely effect on our national security interests? My colleague at Breaking Energy, Jared Anderson, tackles the energy side of the equation. We’ve got the national security side. Read on. The Editor.

The global oil market is going through an upheaval, with non-OPEC production led by North American producers surging while OPEC’s traditional price-setting role changes. First, US oil production and proven oil reserve growth over the past several years is astonishing. Despite the current oil price decline, US oil production growth in 2015 is expected to grow around 1 million barrels per day. However, those growth rates probably won’t be sustained over the long term.

Second, if you look at the world’s largest oil reserve holders and countries that have reserve-to-production ratios in excess of 100 years, they are almost exclusively OPEC members. The cartel’s market influence has diminished in the face of robust non-OPEC production, but the group’s power is likely to endure over the long term purely due to the sheer volume of oil its members collectively control.

The Saudis will remain the de facto leaders of OPEC until another country can build comparable spare production capacity, which in the Saudis case is currently around 2 mmb/d. Saudi Arabia has 266 billion barrels of proven high-quality, cheap-to-produce oil reserves. The US, in contrast, boasts only 44.2 billion barrels of mostly expensive-to-produce oil reserves. Technology is a wild card that has the potential to unlock additional petroleum resources and reduce production costs, but it would be a mistake to discount Saudi Arabia’s power as an oil country, particularly over the long term.

The U.S. and Iran are aligned in Iraq against the Islamic State — for now

December 27 

A Shi'ite fighter, center, mans a heavy machine gun as he takes his position on at the outskirts of Balad, north of Baghdad December 25, 2014. (Stringer/Reuters)

Iranian military involvement has dramatically increased in Iraq over the past year as Tehran has delivered desperately needed aid to Baghdad in its fight against Islamic State militants, say U.S., Iraqi and Iranian sources. In the eyes of Obama administration officials, equally concerned about the rise of the brutal Islamist group, that’s an acceptable role — for now. 

Yet as U.S. troops return to a limited mission in Iraq, American officials remain apprehensive about the potential for renewed friction with Iran, either directly or via Iranian-backed militias that once attacked U.S. personnel on a regular basis. 

A senior Iranian cleric with close ties to Tehran’s leadership, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said that since the Islamic State’s capture of much of northern Iraq in June, Iran has sent more than 1,000 military advisers to Iraq, as well as elite units, and has conducted airstrikes and spent more than $1 billion on military aid. 

“The areas that have been liberated from Daesh have been thanks to Iran’s advice, command, leaders and support,” the cleric said, using the Arabic acronym for the group. 

At the same time, Iraq’s Shiite-led government is increasingly reliant on the powerful militias and a massive Shiite volunteer force, which together may now equal the size of Iraq’s security forces. 

Although the Obama administration says it is not coordinating directly with Iran, the two nations’ arms-length alliance against the Islamic State is an uncomfortable reality. That’s not only because some of the militia shock troops who have proved effective in fighting the Islamic State battled U.S. forces during the 2003-2011 war there, but also because, in Syria, Iran continues to support President Bashar al-Assad, whom the United States would like to see toppled. U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, are pushing ahead with negotiations to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program to prevent the country from developing a nuclear weapon. 

Ali Khedery, who advised several U.S. ambassadors in Iraq, said the tensions that fueled a U.S.-Iran confrontation in Iraq after 2003 are masked by the shared desire to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. 

“ISIS will be defeated,” said Khedery, who runs a strategic consulting firm in Dubai. “The problem is that afterwards, there will still be a dozen militias, hardened by decades of battle experience, funded by Iraqi oil, and commanded or at least strongly influenced by [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps]. And they will be the last ones standing.” 

12 Geopolitical Predictions About 2015

DEC 30, 2014

ReutersA Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands near a wall on which the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants have been painted over, in the northern Iraqi town of Zumar on October 26, 2014. The town had recently been retaken from the Islamic State.

If 2014 proved anything, it's that guessing at the state of the world a year down the line is a vain or even slightly embarrassing endeavor.

Indeed, who could have expected a year ago that Russia would take over Crimea, ISIS would break out of Al Qaeda and declare a caliphate, the US would start bombing Syria and Iraq while approaching a nuclear deal with Iran,or that Ebola would ravaged three west African countries and scare the world?

Nevertheless, we're going to do our best to predict the big geopolitical stories of 2015:

Armin Rosen:

The Islamic State will lose control of Mosul. The US will continue to increase the number of "advisors" on the ground in Baghdad while upgrading "coordination" with Iran in preparation for a surprise push against the city in mid-2015. The US-Kurdish-Iraqi-Iranian assault will succeed in dislodging ISIS but not in totally defeating the group.
Nir Elias/ReutersVictorious - but weaker than ever.

The Great Clash Explained: What Drives Dangerous Tensions between the West and Russia

Dmitri Trenin
December 30, 2015

"The lesson of the Napoleonic wars about the need to integrate a former adversary—which was forgotten after WWI, with disastrous consequences and then heeded after WWII—has been forgotten again."

When Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush gave the Cold War a sea burial off the coast of Malta in December 1989, one thing was clear: the Yalta system, in place since 1945 and based on the concept of delineation of spheres of influence in Europe between Russia and the West, was over. Regarding the future, Moscow and Washington, however, had widely diverging views. While Gorbachev’s spokesman, Gennady Gerasimov, proclaimed what he called a “Sinatra doctrine,” which invited former Soviet bloc countries to do it their way, the Kremlin was lost in daydreams about the coming era of U.S.-Soviet friendly condominium in the world, based on Gorbachev’s “new thinking.” The White House, by contrast, was preparing for a “Europe whole and free” and a “new world order,” which had no need or place for a co-hegemon.

The years that immediately followed saw the unification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Over the next two decades, the Atlantic and European institutions—NATO and the European Union—virtually completed the unification of Europe outside the former Soviet Union. Russia—which was neither involved in the integration process itself, nor able to block it—was offered a relationship that, in order to succeed, required Moscow to acknowledge the U.S. global leadership, accept the EU’s values and norms and renounce its own atavistic ambitions for a sphere of influence or even a protective buffer zone. The Kremlin balked at all three. As a result, Russia’s own pretensions to co-equality were then dismissed as ludicrous, and its attempt at leading an integration process in post-Soviet Eurasia was rejected as neo-imperialist and effectively resisted. A bitter crisis followed in 2014, with Ukraine at the center of it.