5 January 2015

Pak. has reined in LeT: U.S.Suhasini Haidar

January 4, 2015 

ReutersHafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. File photo
APThe certificate is a condition for the U.S. to disburse funds under the Kerry-Lugar Bill for civilian aid to Pakistan that was co-authored by Mr. Kerry in 2009.

Certification comes ahead of Obama’s India visit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Pakistan this month, shortly after certifying the Pakistan government’s “action against” Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

The authorisation is likely to spark outrage in India. Mr. Kerry is due to visit the Vibrant Gujarat summit, which begins in Gandhinagar on January 11, ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit on January 24.

Mr. Kerry will lead the Strategic Dialogue in Islamabad later in January, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry announced this week.

Despite the fact that both the LeT and JeM have resurfaced visibly in the past year in Pakistan and the founders of both, Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, have held public rallies in Pakistan in 2014, the U.S. Secretary of State has signed off on a certification that the Pakistan government has “prevented al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad from operating in the territory of Pakistan” for the year.

Civilian aid

Pak complacency threatens its survival

Anita Inder Singh
Jan 5 2015

With ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban around, the govt may not act decisively against militants

The killing of 148 students by the Taliban in Peshawar last week is not inspiring a change of heart for Pakistan's government and the military. Many militants will be hanged, says the military, perhaps because such a massacre is an obvious challenge to the Pakistani state. But the militants have good reason to be undeterred.

Pakistan's leaders continue with their ambiguous — rather duplicitous — response to the extremism that could derail Pakistan's democracy. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured his compatriots that his government would cease to distinguish between the “bad” Pakistani Taliban, which challenge the Pakistani state, and other “good” anti-India, anti-Afghan Taliban groups. But there is little possibility of this tough stance being transformed into a credible policy.

Just two days after the massacre, a Pakistani court granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, the militant commander accused of planning the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. Lakhvi is a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the supposedly “good” Taliban groups that focuses on attacking India and has been trained and sustained by Pakistan's army. Admittedly, the government can legally keep him behind bars. That only serves as a reminder of his sluggish trial, which began in 2009, and of Islamabad's failure to ensure justice to the families of those killed in the Mumbai attacks. India has protested at the granting of bail to Lakhvi. 
The Lashkar, meanwhile, has been allowed to re-establish itself and to re-emerge as a political force. Its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives safely in Lahore although the United States has offered a bounty of $10 million for his arrest.

True, the army has intensified its bombing of militant outfits in north-west Pakistan. But that does not signify a decision to stop training all extremists. Good and bad Taliban cooperate with one another — and Islamabad and its army surely know that. But Islamabad shows no determination to hunt down all militant groups.

The inference is that Pakistan's leaders and generals want to sustain anti-India militants while trying to get some political clout in Kabul. Even as the Pakistani military recently chased the Taliban in North Waziristan, it stopped short of mounting an offensive against the Haqqani network, a militant group that staged several attacks in Afghanistan last summer, or the militants in Punjab and Sindh who the military still thinks of using against India.
The aims of Pakistani-sponsored extremist groups fighting India or trying to make a headway in Afghanistan are similar. The Lashkar-e-Taiba is not content with trying to dislodge India from Kashmir: it also calls for jihad against the West. Its friends, who include the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) seek to create a political arrangement based on the sharia.

Carbon-based democracy

The Statesman
05 Jan 2015

The use of coal has been known since ancient times. But its use was generally restricted to the areas where it was found, and to particular trades that required large quantities of processed heat, such as limestone-burning and metal-smithing. Shortage of wood, especially in Britain, led to a gradual increase in the use of coal as a general substitute for wood since the 16th century. The hydrocarbon age started when coal replaced wood and other biomass materials as the main source of commercial energy around 1850s.

Coal is a concentrated hydrocarbon fuel. It was more compact than wood and suited for large-scale industries. It accelerated industrial progress and the growth of cities. It also brought about far-reaching changes in the agrarian structure. Production on a mass scale required access to large new territories for growing crops both for supplying food on which the growth of cities and manufacturing depended and producing industrial raw materials. By freeing the land previously reserved as woodland for the supply of fuel, fossil energy contributed to this agrarian transformation.

Coal had fuelled the industrial age and catapulted Britain, the United States, Germany and other coal producing regions to emerge as strong powers. Cities and large-scale manufacturing units grew at a rapid pace. It was estimated that by 1860s, coal was providing energy to Britain ; to obtain energy from timber would have required four times the country’s area. The switchover to coal more than a century and a half ago enabled the concentration of population in cities, in part because it freed the urban population from the need for adjacent pastures and woods. 

Human settlements in dispersed forms till continued along the rivers, close to pastureland and within reach of large reserves of land set aside as woods for fuel.

Coal also changed social and political landscapes. Timothy Mitchell of Columbia University, New York, in his book, Carbon Democracy ~ Political Power in the Age of Oil has comprehensively exposed this aspect. The book is an excellent study. There is a widespread view that political systems are primarily shaped by attitudes and ideas. Expressing doubts about this view, Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. The coal industry, in which concentrated energy supply travelled in networks, offered workers a new kind of autonomy. Each step ~ mining, loading, transportation and ultimately consumption ~ was susceptible to delay and sabotage. In demanding better pay and allowances and working conditions, labour activists and trade union leaders achieved an egalitarian breakthrough by resorting to mining strikes. They used the threat to build the first mass democracies. 

Over the Barrel: Oilpolitik

Written by Vikram S Mehta
January 5, 2015

A frequently asked but futile question is: Where are oil prices headed? The question is futile because no one knows the answer.

This does not mean that people do not analyse and speculate. It is just that they get it wrong more often than not. The more useful questions would be: What are the implications of the recent downturn in oil prices? What, if any, are the opportunities that this decline offers?

The price of crude oil was $115 per barrel (bbl) in June last year. Today it has fallen to below $60 per bbl.This decline was unanticipated. Prices have fallen comparably sharply in the past, but there has been an explanatory external trigger each time. Between 1997 and 1999, prices fell from $25 per bbl to $10 per bbl.

The trigger was the Thai government’s decision on June 30, 1997, to stop defending its currency. This snowballed into the full-blown Asian financial crisis. Between July and December 2008, prices went from $145 per bbl to $35 per bbl. Here, the triggers were two-fold. First, prices had run up to an unsustainable level and second, investment bank Lehman Brothers went belly up in September and banks stopped lending. This time, however, there has been no external trigger. Prices have slid because supplies have outrun demand.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) had projected that oil demand would rise by 1.4 million barrels a day in 2014 over 2013. But demand increased by only half that amount — 7,00,000 barrels a day. On the supply side, the US tight oil producers (shale) exceeded production expectations by 1 million barrels per day (mbd), and Iraq and Libya by 200 and 300 thousand barrels per day, respectively. In addition, Opec passed the baton of “swing producer” of oil to the US. Instead of cutting production to defend prices, it decided to defend market share. To close observers of the petroleum market, this shift in policy should not have come as a surprise.

For, in September 2013, Saudi Arabia’s minister of petroleum had said that US shale oil production should become the “world’s new swing producer of oil”. Later and all through 2014, both he and the Opec secretary general repeatedly made clear that Opec would not play its traditional role; that with its lower cost reserve base it had the staying power to withstand any price pressure; and that US shale producers should hold back production if they did not wish to be driven into an economic hole.

They knew that US producers could not “cartelise” and buck competitive forces, so these statements were deliberate signals to alert the market of their altered attitudinal stance. So when, at the Opec summit meeting in November, they rolled over the output quotas of individual members unchanged, the price of crude slithered sharply.

Opec is gambling that it will not be long before US production stagnates and that, with faster growth in the US, China and India, the current price trend will reverse. This is a gamble, because there is an eight-month lag before drilling activity responds to price signals. Also, the price point at which the marginal costs of shale production exceed marginal revenues is not clear.

A fine sense of drama - Putin's recent proposals have thrown a challenge to India

Krishnan Srinivasan & Hari Vasudevan

Vladimir Putin in New Delhi, December 11, 2014

In an international scene unfolding not necessarily to India's advantage, a traditional constant is welcome and India's all-weather relationship with Russia is doubly appreciated when it is substantive rather than ceremonial. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has always possessed a fine sense of drama, and during his recent visit to India, he used this to project his country as a potential key factor in India's energy security, thereby adding a new dimension to his version of the erstwhile German Ostpolitik or Eastern Policy, as a supplement to Russia's existing Chinese linkages based on commerce and military cooperation. Putin's initiative was deftly steered and without fanfare. The president's use of the media has its effect in Russia, especially as seen in the course of the year-long Ukraine crisis, and his previous visits to India were not lacking in this touch, involving large media interaction and teleconferencing with audiences from different cities. On this occasion, however, such packaging was left out.

The absence of any advance build-up should not have blunted the Indian anticipation of some unusual initiative, because India has always held a special place in Putin's world view. India has been the president's particular interest and he has carried the bilateral relationship on his own shoulders, picking at times the appropriate government agency and official to assist him. In Putin's opinion, India has been a trusted friend with whom Russia can have few problems, and the bilateral relationship lacks the current animosities with other countries that are brought about by common borders or contentious history.

The Russian and Indian near abroads overlap in Central Asia, but India is the only country not to have played any role in the parking of funds or in the spoliation of Russian human resources in the dark years of the 1990s, and has been a firm adherent to the spirit and letter of past agreements on loans and interest payments. In addition, India's presence on the world stage - commanding a degree of attention in international affairs by virtue of population numbers, civilization and erratic talent - has never been used in causes against Russia. In the president's entourage in Russia, there has been an Indian group in his advisory council, and there is even an Indian member of parliament in the Duma representing the president's United Russia party.

Taliban leader lists ‘jihad’ as skill on LinkedIn

Jan 5, 2015

After being approached by the British daily, LinkedIn took down Ehsan’s account on Friday night.

LONDON/ISLAMABAD: A senior Taliban commander, wanted in connection with an assassination bid on Malala Yousufzai's life, has been found using networking site LinkedIn, listing his skills as "jihad and journalism". 

Ehsanullah Ehsan, one of the world's most notorious terrorist leaders, has 69 connections on LinkedIn, indicating a sizable network. 

Ehsan does not hide his associations and openly promotes himself on LinkedIn as spokesman for the Jammat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Taliban, The Telegraph reported. 

He describes himself as "self-employed" and says he has been a spokesman since January 2010. Ehsan even lists his skills as "jihad and journalism" and provides details of his school, employment history and language skills. He also includes his photograph. 

After being approached by the British daily, LinkedIn took down Ehsan's account on Friday night. 

A spokesman said the company's security team had decided to "restrict it", meaning it was no longer in operation. But she said it was not clear if the account belonged to Ehsan or was a fake account, established by another party. 

She said the IP address of the account, indicating where in the world it was set up, suggested it was fake. She said the "lack of Taliban recruiting messages" was another clue. 

The spokesman said, "(I) Can't say for certain that it is someone else...But I can say that our security team has a high degree of confidence that it is a fake account, which is reason enough to restrict it. (I) Also can't say for certain who might have set it up if it is fake." 

Pakistan has placed a $1 million bounty on Ehsan's head after he boasted of the Taliban's responsibility for the attempted assassination of Malala, who was shot in the head in October 2012 for campaigning for girls' education. He was then the spokesperson of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Divers resume search for victims and fuselage of AirAsia jet

Jan 5, 2015

Group of divers prepares their gear on the deck of the SAR ship KN Purworejo during a search operation for passengers onboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea.

SURABAYA: The weather improved Monday and divers will attempt again to locate large objects on the ocean floor believed to be the fuselage of the AirAsia flight that crashed more than one week ago, killing all 162 on board. 

At least five ships with equipment that can detect the plane's black boxes have been deployed to the area where the suspected plane parts were spotted, said Suryadi B Supriyadi, Indonesia's National Search and Rescue director of operations. 

"If it cannot be done by divers, we will use sophisticated equipment with capabilities of tracking underwater objects and then will lift them up," Supriyadi said. 

Five large objects — the biggest measuring 18 meters (59 feet) long and 5.4 meters (18 feet) wide and believed to be the fuselage — have been detected, and Supriyadi repeated that officials expect that many passengers and crew will be found trapped inside. 

"But today's searching mission is still, once again, depend on the weather," he said. 

Divers tried to reach the site on Sunday, but rolling seas stirred up silt and mud, leaving them with zero visibility. 

Also Sunday, emotionally exhausted family members sang and cried at a tiny chapel in Surabaya, the city where Flight 8501 departed from Dec 28. The Rev. Philip Mantofa, who heads the congregation at Mawar Sharon Church — where more than a quarter of the victims were members — urged those gathered to find comfort in their faith. 

"If God has called your child, allow me to say this: Your child is not to be pitied," Mantofa said, locking eyes with a grieving father seated in the front row. "Your child is already in God's arms. One day, your family will be reunited in heaven." 

It is not known what caused the Singapore-bound plane to crash into the Java Sea 42 minutes after taking off on what was supposed to be a two-hour flight. Just before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control that he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb to a higher altitude because of heavy air traffic. 

Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, has been gripped by grief as bodies, one by one, continue arriving in simple, numbered coffins after being painstakingly pulled from the water. Three more corpses were recovered Sunday, raising the total to 34. 

Polls in the Time of Terror

Sheikh Saleem and Vasundhara Sirnate

Kashmiris stand in queue to cast their vote at Shadipora. 

The December 6 attack by militants in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), during the Assembly elections that have so far witnessed high turnouts, has thrown the spotlight on the dynamics of an insurgent ploy – the call to boycott polls in an attempt to depress voter turnout ahead of the remaining phases of polls.

On December 6, 2014, twenty-one people in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) lost their lives when coordinated militant attacks were carried out by suspect Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives in Uri, Soura, Pulwama and Shopian areas of the Kashmir Valley. Eleven of those killed were from the Indian security forces, six were militants and two were civilians. The attacks were meant for one specific purpose − to depress voter turnout in the remaining phases of the Assembly elections in J&K. In this article, we hope to draw attention to a number of factors that have played into several inter-related outcomes that have emerged from the recent polling in Jammu and Kashmir.

First, we draw attention to the conditions of campaigning in the State and what has allowed for more public campaigning by politicians in J&K. Second, we explain why people have showed up to vote in such high numbers by privileging the voices of voters in some of the poorest areas of the State. Third, we contend that candidate choices before the electorate have led many of them toward a suspected anti-incumbency sentiment. Fourth, we suggest that high turnout in these polls should not be equated with a pro-India sentiment. We believe that many voters have voted precisely to be able to consolidate local Kashmiri control in a bid to forge an effective voice as a deterrent against the excesses of the Indian state.

There is uncertainty over the impact that the militant attacks will have on the polling and the turnout for two reasons: Kashmiri people have long defied poll boycotts, thereby proving that the electorate is not easily intimidated. Moreover, the attacks were localised to military/state targets and were stopped effectively by the security forces with some losses sustained. It is, therefore, unclear if the bullying tactics of a bunch of militants will translate into lower turnout in the remaining phases of the polling. However, evidence from similar cases does suggest that sometimes violence does impact voter turnout negatively.

Campaigning and Turnout in a Conflict Zone

Arbitrary use of power

January 5, 2015

The Union government recently blocked 32 websites, including globally popular ones such as Vimeo, GitHub, Dailymotion and archive.org that support data-archiving, video-sharing and software development, evoking serious questions and criticism. The action was sought to be justified on the grounds that these websites were being used for “Jihadi Propaganda” by “Anti-National groups” encouraging Indian youth to join organisations such as Islamic State (IS). Such a justification may in principle seem reasonable, yet it does not instil confidence in citizens given the weak track record of Internet regulation and a deficient legal framework coupled with the arbitrary use of state power. 

Following the arrest of Bengaluru-based Mehdi Biswas, suspected of operating a pro-IS Twitter account, the government officially banned IS in India only last month. A 2012 United Nations report titled “The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes”, warns of terror groups using the Internet for their “propaganda”. For instance, al-Qaeda uses the Internet to announce its latest attacks and strategic alliances, promote its interests and so on. Robert Hannigan, from the Government Communications Headquarters in the U.K., spoke in an interview about how IS uses popular hashtags to boost its viewership, sending “thousands of tweets a day without triggering spam controls”. Undoubtedly, terrorists use technology with some level of sophistication.

The scepticism is with regard to implementation rather than the principle behind the action. First, the government invoked Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and relevant “Blocking Rules” were framed under it to take down the sites. These provisions, the constitutionality of which is under challenge in the Supreme Court, are riddled with vagueness and are open to arbitrary use. Second, reasonable restriction on free speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution is to be interpreted to include only cases where there is a direct relation between the offending speech and public disorder or national security. 

A case to share more information

January 5, 2015

The dramatic photograph of a fishing boat ablaze on water and the assertions by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) that it was an “explosives-laden” vessel from Pakistan that blew itself up on being intercepted, has provided some comfort that a force guarding the country’s coastline was able to avert a 26/11-type horror on New Year’s-eve with a timely chase across the Arabian Sea. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has commended the Coast Guard for a job well done. Pakistan has denied the boat had anything to do with it. Particularly as vital questions of foreign relations are involved, the MoD would do well to shed more light on what happened off the Gujarat coast that night. 

So far, the version provided has left several questions unanswered. Given the Coast Guard’s suspicion that this was a boat carrying terrorists from Karachi, why was the Navy not involved in the incident, at least in a supporting role? If there were intercepts of communication between the boat and handlers in Pakistan, surely the Coast Guard needed to mobilise more help. It should have at least called out more of its own vessels. The blaze is said to have started when the crew went below deck and set the boat on fire after the Coast Guard caught up with it. There was also an explosion, according to a statement put out by the MoD. An expert examination of the photograph provided would confirm whether there was a blast. 

A statement that the four-member crew aroused suspicion because they were not dressed like fishermen is also worrying, indicating as it does the Coast Guard’s belief that clothes are a good indication of a person’s occupation and intentions.

On top of it all is the opaqueness on locations, 365 km west-southwest off Porbandar providing only a general direction and an assurance that it was within the Coast Guard’s 200 nautical mile jurisdiction. A full-fledged investigation into the incident would not be out of place. With India-Pakistan relations not yet out of the shadow of the 26/11 attack, an allegation that a boat loaded with explosives that set off from near Karachi tried to get close to the Indian coast is a serious matter. 

NASA explores inflatable spacecraft technology

Devising a way to one day land astronauts on Mars is a complex problem and NASA scientists think something as simple as a child’s toy design may help solve the problem. Safely landing a large spacecraft on the Red Planet is just one of many engineering challenges the agency faces as it eyes an ambitious goal of sending humans into deep space later this century.

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, engineers have been working to develop an inflatable heat shield that looks a lot like a supersized version of a stacking ring of doughnuts that infants play with. The engineers believe a lightweight, inflatable heat shield could be deployed to slow the craft to enter a Martian atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

With goals, the challenges

Such an inflatable heat shield could help a spacecraft reach the high-altitude southern plains of Mars and other areas that would otherwise be inaccessible under existing technology. The experts note that rockets alone can’t be used to land a large craft on Mars as can be done on the atmosphereless moon. Parachutes also won’t work for a large spacecraft needed to send humans to Mars, they add.

“We try to not use propulsion if we don’t have to,” said Neil Cheatwood, the senior engineer at Langley for advanced entry, descent and landing systems. “We make use of that atmosphere as much as we can, because it means we don’t have to carry all that fuel with us.”

NASA’s leaders acknowledge that getting humans safely to and from Mars as early as the 2030s will poses extreme challenges. The agency’s scientists acknowledge they also must design new in-space propulsion systems, advanced spacesuits, long-term living habitats aboard spacecraft even communication systems for deep space. Work is proceeding, sometimes fitfully.

When an unmanned private rocket destined for the International Space Station exploded in October soon after lift-off from Wallops Island, Virginia, numerous scientific experiments went up in flames with it. But one NASA experiment that Orbital Sciences Corp. originally invited aboard for a second-generation inflatable spacecraft never made it for lack of time to get it together, NASA officials say.

Limitations of technology now

‘Bomb boat’ incident

January 5, 2015 

Our intelligence forces and the Coast Guard deserve wholesome praise for eliminating what could well have turned out to be another 26/11 (“Explosives-laden Pak. boat intercepted”, and “Coastal surveillance system proves itself,” both Jan.3). Pakistan must realise that pursuing a self-destructive path and adopting a relentless anti-India stance will do it no good. Its civil leadership should now work towards removing the military’s vice-like grip on the country. Coming just after the Peshawar massacre and subsequent strong anti-India statements from across the border, this incident is another reminder that India needs to be constantly on alert.

V.S. Ganeshan, Bengaluru

But for the swift action by Indian defence agencies, the headlines might have been very different. What looks like Pakistan’s latest misadventure by stealth shows its relativity theory on terrorism is skewed. Is it a sign that it is heading towards becoming a failed state? Is this why India is always its easy target? If Pakistan’s attitude is one of constant hostility, how can it expect us to hold out the olive branch?

R. Krishnamachary, Chennai

The dreadful and nightmarish scenes of mayhem perpetrated by Pakistan-based terrorists during the Mumbai siege is one that will continue to haunt India. We are fortunate that the Coast Guard prevented a repeat. The sad and dark reality is that Pakistan has only a one-point agenda — of unleashing terror on Indian soil.

B.V. Kumar, Nellore

How can one expect any form of improvement in India-Pakistan relations when we constantly face such deadly threats? That the leaders of both countries hold peace talks fairly regularly is what we often hear, but what exactly is being discussed? We seem to make progress only to find ourselves being wounded deeply immediately thereafter.

Arjun Prasanna S., Chennai


Jay Bhattacharjee
04th January 2015

There have been innumerable definitions of politics since societies and countries started their experiments of governing themselves. Alexander Hamilton’s assessment, however, has stood the test of time and remains ever relevant. Hamilton, one of the founding parents of the US, among many other achievements, pithily remarked, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

Watching the tortuous saga of the decision-making process on Raisina Hill on the issue of granting

One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) for the nation’s armed forces, any observer would be tempted to remind India’s two top decision-makers of Hamilton’s adage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and one of his key Cabinet colleagues, Raksha Mantri (RM) Manohar Parrikar, freshly anointed to this key position, need to be told some home truths, though this writer, for one, finds it rather painful to do so.

To start with, Modi made OROP one of his key election promises as early as in August 2013. Thereafter, OROP was featured in the BJP election manifesto and the Prime Minister has, in recent months, repeatedly assured the armed forces and the country that this much-needed policy would be implemented soon. When Parrikar’s appointment as the full-time Defence Minister came through a few months ago, India heaved a sigh of relief, since the short-lived experiment of having Arun Jaitley as a part-time RM was an unmitigated disaster.

In addition, Parrikar came to Delhi with a well-deserved reputation as an effective and above-board CM of Goa. He was said to have been a major figure behind the resurrection of the BJP in the western state. Many incidents of his no-nonsense style of working and his spartan conduct in public life (for example, taking a regular bus from the airport terminal to the aircraft, along with other passengers) were public knowledge and contributed to expectations that he would be the proper and effective RM that the country and its military were looking for. Eight years of A K Antony were more disastrous for our armed forces and defence sector than anything Pakistan and China could have ever hoped.

There is, however, something about the air and ambience in Delhi’s Raisina Hill (with its commanding height of all of 50 feet) that brings out the worst Faustian instincts in any human being. And, here, we are being very charitable to the RM Parrikar. To set the record straight, it was Jaitley who dropped the initial bombshell during one of his periodic sojourns in South Block, where the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is housed. He grandly remarked that full OROP was not possible. Before, the veterans, who had gone to meet Jaitley to press for this decision, could recover from the bombshell, Jaitley had disappeared.

The Himalayas’ Hidden Aryans

Nina Strochlic

Are the Brogpas of Kashmir in India really the last bastion of purebred Aryans? Their claims have led to both academic controversy and localized conflict. 

A cluster of remote Himalayan villages claim to hold a bastion of purebred Aryans—the last in the world completely un-muddied by the outside gene pool. 

For decades, visitors have been drawn to the Ladakh province of Kashmir in India by the promise of a master race that has remained intact for thousands of years. The Brogpas, or Brokpas, say they are the purest remnants of light-skinned European invaders who, legend has it, traveled through India thousands of years ago. 

Living in the villages of Dah and Beema more than 10,000 feet up the mountains, their obscure and relatively unreachable territory has kept their DNA incubated from outside interference. Traditionally, the community has eschewed visitors and strangers to their towns, and strictly forbade outside marriage. 

They’re are not exactly a reflection of the platinum skinned image advertised by the Nazi’s vicious campaign, but some Brogpas have blue eyes, lighter skin, and stand taller than residents of surrounding communities. 

Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan Impeded by Internecine Warfare Amongst Differing Factions

Azam Ahmed
January 3, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan — A series of kidnappings and robberies struck northern Helmand Province this summer, paralyzing residents and embarrassing theTaliban leaders who controlled the area.

Responding to growing complaints, the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan ordered a hunt to find the criminals, but soon discovered an inconvenient truth: Their own people were behind the banditry, earning thousands of dollars in ransoms every month. Within a matter of days, the culprits had been captured and executed, including two notorious fighters known as Pickax and Shovel.

Though the episode went largely unnoticed outside the Taliban stronghold, it highlights a question that is on the minds of many: More than 13 years after the war here started, who exactly are the Taliban? Are they the bandits responsible for the abduction and killings of numerous villagers? Or are they the disciplined leaders who hanged the fighters who had taken to criminal tyranny?

Increasingly, it appears, they are both.

More than a decade of constant fighting has deeply changed the movement that the American-led invasion helped remove from power in 2001. Much of the cadre of fighters that first rose up to battle rapacious warlords during the country’s civil war has been killed or remains in exile. On the ground, the movement now relies on a mixed bag of members, many of whom fight under the banner of the Taliban but bear no resemblance to the spiritual movement of the 1990s.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the C.I.A.

DECEMBER 31, 2014

“I M W KSM.”

So went the electrifying text message received by a C.I.A. operative in Islamabad, Pakistan, in February of 2003, sent by a mysterious man known as Asset X. The note confirmed what Asset X, whose real identity is an official secret, had been telling his C.I.A. handlers for months: that he could lead them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a senior Al Qaeda leader and the suspected mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. K.S.M., as he later came to be known in the West, was still at large, and the C.I.A. wanted him almost as badly as they wanted Osama bin Laden.

Within hours of the operative receiving the text message, C.I.A. and Pakistani intelligence officers followed Asset X’s lead, swooped into the compound where Mohammed was living, and captured him. The takedown of Mohammed had almost fallen apart several times, thanks to C.I.A. mismanagement of Asset X. Just as remarkable is how his capture was later used to justify the most brutal aspects of the C.I.A.’s special interrogation program that was put in place after the 9/11 attacks.

Soon after his capture in Rawalpindi, on March 1, 2003, Mohammed was spirited to secret C.I.A. prisons in Afghanistan and Poland, where his interrogators went straight to brutality: slamming him against a wall (a practice known as “walling”), depriving him of sleep (at one point for more than a week), forcing him to stand or crouch in painful positions, stripping him during questioning, and engaging in a bizarre practice called “rectal rehydration.” (According to a C.I.A. document, it was supposed to help “clear a person’s head.”) In Poland, the interrogators subjected Mohammed to waterboarding, a form of torture that makes a person believe he is drowning, at least a hundred and eighty-three times.

The details of Mohammed’s interrogation, described in the report issued earlier this month by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, make for grim, even sickening reading. During Mohammed’s waterboarding sessions, C.I.A. officers reported that he “yelled and twisted,” “seemed to lose control,” and became “somewhat frantic.” The purpose of the waterboarding appears to have been to bring Mohammed as close as possible to death without actually killing him. As one C.I.A. medical officer who presided over the torture wrote, “In the new technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings.”


JANUARY 3, 2015

The year 2014 was a momentous year for Afghanistan. Afghans successfully concluded a presidential election, transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another, signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States and Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) with NATO and now there is a unity government in place with Drs. Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in the lead. They have a long and hard road to address the many challenges of Afghanistan. The least of which entails the implementation of their unity government agreement.

However, the year 2015 will be decisive and the year of consolidation of years of international investment in the country. With the signing of BSA and SOFA – in 2015 the nature of US/NATO military, diplomatic and economic engagement will change. In this year – Afghans will be in complete charge of their security, economy and political institutions.

Following are the six key trends to watch for in 2015 for Afghanistan.

1. Constitutional Loya Jirga and Unity Government: The Question of Premiership and NUG Survival

The National Unity Government agreement signed by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah predicts that within two years of the formation of the new government, the President shall call for a Loya Jirga to amend the constitution and create a new position of premiership for the country. This post is currently held by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who is the Chief Executive of the country based on a presidential decree and has no constitutional basis. There are also other amendments expected in the constitution i.e increasing the number of Vice-Presidents, clarifying roles and responsibilities of minister among others.

Furthermore, based on the history of national unity governments in Afghanistan and the growing number of deadlocks over many issues i.e. including the formation of a cabinet among others, many experts doubt whether this arrangement will last long.

China’s Nuclear Missile Forces Now Have 10 Operational Road Mobile DF-31 ICBMs

January 3, 2015
Source Link

Intelligence reports from the Pentagon indicated that the Second Artillery Corps, China’s strategic missile force, had already put 10 DF-31 intercontiental ballistic missiles into service, according to Moscow’s Russian Military Analysis on Jan. 1.

It will only take 30 minutes for the People’s Liberation Army to launch a DF-31 missiles into the air. The range of a DF-31 is estimated to be 7,200 kilometers, which is shorter than the DF-5A developed in 1981. When the DF-31 is launched from Central China, it can not even reach the central US. However, the range of a DF-31A, the modified version, has the capability to hit most major targets in the United States since its range is extended to 11,200 kilometers.

China is developing the DF-31 and DF-41 to replace the DF-5A missiles. Even though the DF-5A has a longer range than the DF-31, it can be easily destroyed since the missile is stored in a horizontal position in tunnels under high mountains. In contrast, the DF-31 and DF-41 are both road-mobiles. With the assistance of the Beidou Navigation System, the accuracy of the DF-31 and DF-41 has been enhanced. Like the DF-5A, the DF-41 is also designed to carry multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRVs).

The report estimates China to have 20 DF-5A missiles. In addition, it operated a total number of 30 DF-31 and DF-31A missiles. After the DF-41 begins its service, all DF-5A missiles will be retired. Since it is still very difficult for China to transfer its DF-31 and DF-41 on road-mobile systems easily because of their weight, a senior official in China said that some of DF-41s may still be launched from tunnels under mountains.

Uncle Xi’s Astonishing Power Grab

By Joshua Keating
JAN. 2 2015

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a second annual televised New Year’s Eve address two days ago, establishing what seems to be a new tradition. The content of the speeches—this year, Xi told viewers that over the past 12 months, China had “pressed ahead with reform, cracked many hard nuts and introduced important reforms close to the interests of our citizens”—may be less interesting than the location: Xi’s office.

The public doesn’t usually get to peek inside the president’s workspace. It’s so unusual that, as Shanghaiist reports, Chinese media outlets and Internet users have been analyzing the décor of the tidy, computerless office, paying particularly close attention to the photos of family members and of his meetings with ordinary citizens placed behind him, some of which have changed since last year.

None of this seems particularly illuminating—stunningly, for a politician, Xi wants you to know he loves his family and cares about people like you—but these touches of humanity are notable in a Chinese politician. Since the personality cult excesses of the Mao era, the Chinese government has tended to emphasize the collective leadership of the party rather than individual leaders. A 1980 directive from the party’s central committee explicitly called for “less propaganda on individuals.” The emphasis on uniformity is such that former Premier Zhu Rongji was praised for his bravery last year when he appeared at a party congress with gray hair. Most of his compatriots dye theirs jet-black. For up-and-coming Chinese leaders, having a word like flamboyant attached to your name has tended to be a liability. 

In contrast to his predecessors—the famously inexpressive Hu Jintao’s fondness for table tennis and ballroom dancing was erased from his official biography after he took over as party chief—Xi seems intent on demonstrating that he’s a real person with something of a personality. He likes to joke around with reporters and even engages in some (mild) self-deprecation. Last year he caused something of a sensation by visiting a Beijing lunch counter, waiting online, and paying for his humble lunch of pork dumplings himself. He’s been depicted in an unexpectedly playful cartoon. He’s often referred to on China’s tightly controlled Internet as “Uncle Xi” or “Xi Dada.” He’s comparatively relaxed in speeches, and his aspirational catchphrase, the “Chinese dream,” is a departure from Hu’s inscrutable public pronouncements.

Europe's ethical dilemma over migrants

By Richard Hamilton
3 January 2015

Two cargo boats with a total of more than 1,200 migrants on board were abandoned and left to drift dangerously in the Mediterranean this week - a relatively new tactic by people smugglers.

The Italian authorities did eventually manage to board both vessels - one a cargo ship, the other a cattle transport - and rescue the passengers.

But many migrants who make the ruinously expensive and risky attempt to enter Europe illegally aren't so lucky, and die in the attempt.

From a distance it looks like a fish, with colourful scales, with its gills and tail guiding it through the water.

But look closely and you see that it is a boat - packed so tightly with people looking up that you cannot actually see the boat, only a collection of humans shaped like a boat.

It is like when a child sprinkles a piece of cardboard with glitter - you cannot see the cardboard, just the glitter.

The photo encapsulates the plight of more than 150,000 migrants - mostly from Africa - who tried to cross the Mediterranean in 2014 - up from 60,000 the year before. An estimated 3,000 of them died.

Iraqi general warns of military woes in fighting Islamic State militants

By Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra 
January 2, 2015

Iraqi security forces deploy in a military operation to regain control of the villages around the town of Beiji, Iraq, on Dec. 8, 2014. 

BAGHDAD — Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi had 225 fighters, a single Abrams tank, a pair of mortars, two artillery pieces and about 40 armored Humvees when he set out to retake a strategic city in northern Iraq captured by Islamic State militants over the summer.

It took 30 days as his force made an agonizingly slow journey for 25 miles through roadside bombs and suicide car attacks, then successfully laid siege to the oil refinery city of Beiji. The campaign earned al-Saadi the biggest battlefield victory by Iraqi forces since Islamic State fighters swept over most of northern and western Iraq in a summer blitz, prompting the collapse of the military.

Yet al-Saadi is deeply pessimistic, saying Iraq's military lacks weapons, equipment and battle-ready troops and complained that U.S. air support was erratic. Both the military and the government remain riddled with corruption, he said. Most of the senior generals serving when the military fell apart had skills "more suited to World War II," he said.

"If things don't get better," warned the general, "the country could end up divided" between its Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.

The extremists are beatable when confronted with a proper force, he said. But he worries that the military's multiple woes prevent it from doing so. Already, there is a danger the jihadis could retake Beiji, he said.

Sri Lanka’s Violent Buddhists

JAN. 2, 2015 

BANGALORE, India — When I met Watareka Vijitha Thero in early 2014 in a suburb of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, he had been in hiding for nearly five months. The gentle-voiced monk had spoken out against anti-Muslim fearmongering by a hard-line group called the Buddhist Power Force, known by its Sinhalese initials B.B.S.

Mr. Vijitha’s car was attacked in retaliation, and he narrowly escaped. “What does it mean for Buddhism if those that speak for communal harmony have to hide in fear?” he asked me. “What does it mean for my country that the government lets these lawless thugs have a free run?”

Six months later, Mr. Vijitha was found on a road near Colombo stripped naked and bloody, his hands and legs bound. The B.B.S. denied involvement. When the monk filed a complaint, the police threw him in jail for 12 days on charges of self- inflicted violence — a warning to others who dared to criticize hard-line Buddhists.

Three years ago, the B.B.S and other hard-line groups were fringe elements. Today, they are a powerful force, and their aggressive assertion of Sinhalese Buddhist dominance, in a country that is 70 percent Buddhist, is increasingly mirrored in government-approved revisionist histories of Sri Lanka.

Now, with the country’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, facing a challenger in elections on Thursday, hard-line Buddhist groups have mobilized to support him. A wave of populist chauvinism has engulfed the country and sidelined the Tamil and Muslim minorities that make up over a quarter of the population. If it continues unchecked, Sri Lanka will face more instability, ethnic polarization and suppression of dissent.

Extremist Buddhist monks are confounding; they directly contradict a canonically nonviolent religion often perceived as apolitical. Like radical monks in Thailand and Myanmar, Sri Lankan hard-liners reserve special ire for Muslims. The B.B.S. and its counterparts have incited mobs to demolish mosques. A June speech by the B.B.S. chief Galagodaththe Gnanasara triggered anti-Muslim rioting in Sri Lanka’s southern villages; thugs burned homes, four people were killed and at least 80 were injured. But instead of arresting Mr. Gnanasara, the president simply urged “all parties concerned to act in restraint.”

Thailand Eyes Submarine Fleet

January 04, 2015

Thailand may look to procure two or three submarines as part of an increased 2016 defense budget, finally giving the country a capability it has lacked for more than sixty years, The Bangkok Post reported Friday.

According to a source from Thailand’s defense ministry, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is expected to propose the procurement of two to three submarines in the 2016 budget, with the country’s defense minister Prawit Wongsuwon already backing the plan in principle pending cost considerations. The navy has been considering submarines from various sources, but the South Korean Chang Bogo Class submarine is reportedly the least expensive at around $330 million each.

To the seasoned observer, Thailand’s plan to acquire submarines is neither new nor surprising. Lacking a submarine capability since 1951, the country has tried since the 1990s to ink submarine deals with several countries, including most recently Germany and South Korea. Though they eventually did not materialize, many were expecting Thailand’s submarine quest to once again become a top priority once the ruling military junta seized power in a coup in May 2014.

Since then, all signs have pointed to the RTN preparing for an anticipated purchase of submarines. In July 2014, it officially launched a multi-million dollar submarine training center, a significant boost to its incremental capacity-building efforts, which have included sending officers abroad to South Korea and Germany for training courses. On November 20 last year, which marks Royal Thai Navy Day, Thailand’s navy chief Kraisorn Chansuwanich revealed that he had revived plans to procure submarines and presented his proposals to defense minister Prawit. Prawit had reportedly agreed with the plan but had instructed the navy to present detailed studies on the types of submarines it wanted and their costs to see if they were affordable.

Mission Accomplished? How to Measure Success against ISIS

December 30, 2014 

While success against ISIL may be difficult to unambiguously describe at the outset of this new war, frequent assessments are vital.

Senior U.S. officials have stated that Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – will probably last between three and ten years. As the U.S. gears up for another prolonged conflict in the Middle East against a violent extremist group, questions are rightly being asked as to how we will know if we are succeeding and indeed, what success will even look like. Not surprisingly, similar questions were asked during the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, and the last Iraq War. Yet assessments of each of these wars were often inaccurate and in some cases dangerously misleading. So how might we do better in the war against ISIL?

To answer that question, we must first understand our objectives in this new war. In his speech back in September, President Obama told the American people, “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” In a White House fact sheet, the administration lists nine lines of effort to achieve this objective: Supporting Effective Governance in Iraq; Denying ISIL Safe-Haven; Building Partner Capacity; Enhancing Intelligence Collection on ISIL; Disrupting ISIL’s Finances; Exposing ISIL’s True Nature; Disrupting the Flow of Foreign Fighters; Protecting the Homeland; and Humanitarian Support. Together, these nine lines of effort describe what the U.S. will do to fight ISIL in the years ahead.