11 January 2015

Identifying the REAL enemy

11 January 2015

In the past few days, terrorists have killed 17 people in Paris and 2,000 in Nigeria, while more than 30 have died in bomb blasts in Yemen and seven in Rawalpindi. 

In terms of geography, the incidents were as widely distributed across the globe, as they were in the ethnicity of the victims. But there is one thing in common in all the acts of violence—they were done in the name of Islam. 

A lazy person’s analysis would argue that there is something inherent in the faith that persuades its adherents to such acts of violence. But a closer analysis would suggest that this is no clash of civilisations pitting Islam against the rest, but a civil war within Islam, a battle for its soul. 

Security: A French policeman stands in front of the entrance of Paris Mosque as French Muslims gather for Friday prayers in Paris

People hold a banner reading "Refugees welcome" as they take part in a protest against a rally by a mounting right-wing populist movement in Rostock, northeastern Germany

Human cost: An Iraqi girl displaced by fighting between government supporters and the Islamic State (IS) group, cries near a shelter built for pilgrims but now housing internally displaced people

Most of the victims in the incidents cited above were probably Muslim, but obviously there was something different in the way they professed their faith that persuaded their more radical co-religionists to murder them.

France asks: How did we miss them?

January 11, 2015 

The bloody denouement on Friday of two hostage crises at different ends of a traumatised Paris means attention will now shift to the gaping question facing the French government: how did several jihadists — and possibly a larger cell of co-conspirators — manage to evade surveillance and execute a bold attack despite being well known to the country’s police and intelligence services?

On its own, the Wednesday morning slaughter that left 12 people dead at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo represented a major breakdown for French security and intelligence forces, especially after the authorities confirmed that the two suspects, the brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had known links to the militant group Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Then on Friday, even as the police had cornered the Kouachi brothers inside a printing factory in the northeast suburbs, another militant, Amedy Coulibaly —who has since been linked to the Kouachis — stormed a kosher supermarket in Paris and threatened to kill hostages if the police captured the Kouachis.

“There is a clear failing,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. “When 17 people die, it means there were cracks.”

Pak boat sank on Jan 1, but satellite phones remained active until Jan 4

Jan 11, 2015

NEW DELHI: For three days after a Pakistani boat went up in flames off the Gujarat coast on January 1 with four occupants onboard, the two satellite phones used by the suspected terrorists continued to be active, according to technical details with Indian agencies.

The two numbers had been under NTRO's (National Technical Research Organization) watch for months before it alerted the Coast Guard about a possible mid-sea transaction. According to sources, the phones were used to get in touch with a mobile number in Thailand during most of this period.

At least one more Indian agency other than NTRO had also been monitoring the two numbers. NTRO suspected throughout those months of monitoring that the two numbers were part of a smuggling racket. It alerted the Coast Guard on December 31 morning about their possible movement in seas near international maritime boundary of India, because the indication was that they were planning a major transaction.

On December 30 morning, the two numbers were about 8km apart in the Arabian Sea. By the evening of the same day, the two Thuraya satellite phone numbers had reached the same location.

Around the same time, the boat that probably came from near Sri Lanka moved the 'cargo' to the boat that came from Pakistan.

According to details available from technical monitoring, the two satellite phone numbers then drifted apart. In the months running up to the operation, the numbers were probably also in touch with a number in UAE.

Raising several questions, the two Thuraya phones continued to be operational as late as January 4, three days after one of of the boats went up in flames as the Coast Guard closed in on it. According to officials, the boat that blew up was located using the Thuraya phone on board.

Coast Guard spokesperson told TOI that he had no further comments other than the official statement issued after the operation on January 2.

France prepares for mass anti-terrorism rally

Jan 11, 2015

People hold bouquet of flowers as a French police officer tries to maintain the mob during a demonstration outside a kosher grocery store where four hostages were killed on Friday in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. (AP photo)

PARIS: France vowed to combat terrorism with ''a cry for freedom'' in a giant rally for unity Sunday after three days of bloodshed that horrified the world. Police searched for a woman linked to the three al-Qaida-inspired attackers, but a Turkish official said she appears to have already slipped into Syria. 

The rally Sunday is also a huge security challenge for a nation on alert for more violence, after 17 people and three gunmen were killed over three days of attacks on a satirical newspaper, a kosher supermarket and on police that have left France a changed land. 

Hundreds of thousands of people marched Saturday in cities from Toulouse in the south to Rennes in the west to honor the victims, and Paris expects hundreds of thousands more at Sunday's unity rally. More than 2,000 police are being deployed, in addition to tens of thousands already guarding synagogues, mosques, schools and other sites around France. 

Unity against extremism is the overriding message for Sunday's rally. Among the expected attendees are the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president. The Ukrainian president and Russian foreign minister, And the leaders of Britain, Germany, NATO, the Arab League and African nations. And the French masses, from across the political and religious spectrum. 

Top European and US security officials are also holding a special emergency meeting in Paris about fighting terrorism. 

The rally ''must show the power, the dignity of the French people who will be shouting out of love of freedom and tolerance,'' Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday. 

''Journalists were killed because they defended freedom. Policemen were killed because they were protecting you. Jews were killed because they were Jewish,'' he said. ''The indignation must be absolute and total _ not for three days only, but permanently.'' 

Al-Qaida's branch in Yemen said it directed Wednesday's attack against the publication Charlie Hebdo to avenge the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, a frequent target of the weekly's satire. 

French radio RTL released audio Saturday of Amedy Coulibaly, speaking by phone from the kosher supermarket where he killed four hostages, in which he lashes out over Western military campaigns against extremists in Syria and Mali. He describes Osama bin Laden as an inspiration. 

The focus of the police hunt is on Coulibaly's widow, Hayat Boumeddiene. Police named her as an accomplice of her husband in the shooting of a policewoman and think she is armed. 

But a Turkish intelligence official told The Associated Press on Saturday that a woman by the same name flew into Sabiha Gokcen, which is Istanbul's secondary airport, on Jan. 2, and that she resembled a widely distributed photo of Boumeddiene. 

I kept stepping on bodies: Boko Haram survivor

Jan 11, 2015

Hundreds of bodies — too many to count — remain strewn in the bush in Nigeria from an Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International suggested Friday is the 'deadliest massacre' in the history of Boko Haram.(AP photo)

KANO(NIGERIA): Yanaye Grema hid for three days between a wall and his neighbours' house, as Boko Haram fighters ransacked his hometown of Baga on the shore of Lake Chad in Nigeria's far northeast. 

The 38-year-old fisherman already knew the attack was serious — he joined civilian vigilantes to defend the town but their simple weapons were no match for the Islamists' superior firepower. "People fled into the bush while some shut themselves indoors," he said of last Saturday's attack. "The gunmen pursued fleeing residents into the bush, shooting them dead," he told from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. 

But it was only after breaking cover on Tuesday night that he realized the true scale of the attack, which it is feared may be one of the worst in the six-year insurgency. "For five kilometres (three miles), I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached Malam Karanti village, which was also deserted and burnt," he said. 

Local officials this week said the attack forced at least 20,000 people from Baga and other settlements in and around Lake Chad to flee, many of them across the border. Nearly 600 others had been stranded on an island on the lake without food, water or shelter. 

The attack wasn't the first on Baga. Nearly 200 people were killed in April 2013, when militants stormed the town and set much of it on fire, prompting fierce fighting with the Nigerian military. This time, the Islamists met less resistance and were able to take over the town and overrun the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force, which is based there. 

At least 16 towns and villages in the area were razed. Security analysts believe the targets of last weekend's attack were the civilian vigilantes helping the military in the counter-insurgency. 

Hiding from view between the wall and the house, behind a roadside stall and the cover of a thick neem tree, Grema said the rampaging Islamists unleashed mayhem. "All I could hear were ceaseless gunshots, explosions, screams from people and chants of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest) from the Boko Haram gunmen," he added. "I remained in my hiding place until Tuesday evening. "Every night when it was dark, I would furtively scale the fence into my house to quickly eat garri (processed cassava granules) and drink water and go back to my hideout." 

His family was not at home. They were in Kukawa, 40 kilometres (25 miles) away, paying their respects after Boko Haram killed his wife's cousin about two months ago. "Some of the Boko Haram gunmen camped outside the Baga main market just 700 metres from my hideout," he explained. 

"At night I could see lights from the power generator they ran. I could also hear their cheering and laughter. 

"Luckily on Monday some of the gunmen withdrew while others stayed in the town. This reduced their number, which made it difficult for them to patrol the whole town. It worked to my advantage. "On Tuesday they began looting the market and every home in the town... Around 6pm (1700 GMT) they set fire to the market and began burning homes. I decided it was time I leave before they turn in my direction. "Around 7:30 pm I ventured out of my hiding and started to walk away from the noise coming from the gunmen. It was dark, so no-one could see me."

France terror: Female suspect Hayat Boumeddiene may be in Syria

January 11, 2015
ReutersThis photo circulated by the Paris police show Hayat Boumeddiene (L) and Amedy Coulibaly.

A woman wanted in connection with the terror attacks on France a few days ago, is believed to have entered Turkey earlier this month and is now, possibly, in Syria, media reported Saturday.

Hayat Boumeddiene is believed to have entered Turkey Jan. 2, according to aCNN report, which cited a Turkish Prime Ministry source. Turkish police have a track of her movements, the source said.

If this could be proved true, it would mean that Ms. Boumeddiene was not in France when Thursday’s deadly attacks occurred, according to a Xinhua report.

The source added that Ankara did not arrest her due to a lack of timely intelligence from France.

A source close to French security services said Ms. Boumeddiene is thought to be no longer in France,CNN reported.

Ms. Boumeddiene is thought to have left for Turkey “of course to reach Syria,” according to the French source, the report said.

Turkish authorities have informed French officials that Ms. Boumeddiene travelled from Turkey to Syria on Thursday, and on Saturday, French authorities also said they believed that Ms. Boumeddiene had reached Syria from Turkey, Xinhua reported.

The 26-year-old woman was the partner of the extremist Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed on Friday, in a fight with the police at a Jewish grocery store at Porte de Vincennes in southern Paris. Four hostages were also killed in the attack.

China Makes a Move in the Resource Wars

January 8, 2015

Washington displays a troubling lack of interest over the intensifying tug-of-war for access to strategic resources.

From Marvel Comics to the Iron Man movies, we all know the role defense technology plays in the science fiction world of action heroes. What goes on in the real-world renditions of Stark Enterprises, however, is usually hidden deep in the shadows of compartmentalized clearances and black budgets.

A recent look into that shadow world is of particular interest. It was delivered during a New Year's Eve speech half a world away by Avinash Chander, the head of India's secretive Defense Research and Development Organization - India's DARPA - and one of the technologists who helped India build a long-range nuclear missile. 

From the dark world of advanced weapons R&D, Chander's message lit up like a signal flare.

"In what could be a strategy to limit India's military capability, China is restricting the supply of rare earths and certain other metals," summarized one of India's leading English-language newspapers. And the cutoff of Chinese supply is not limited to tungsten and heavy rare earths, where China continues to account for 99 percent of global production. As the Indian defense chief noted, "titanium is used in almost all aerospace engines. We are not able to come up with world-class engines just because we don't have a good supply of such a material."

A New and More Lethal Kind of Jihadist Terrorism Comes to Europe

January 8, 2014

France and the New Charismatic Jihad

The terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday—with 12 people killed by masked men yelling Islamist slogans—has been a long time coming.

After the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., Western counterterrorist experts probably feared European radical Muslims more than they did Islamic militants in the Middle East. Since the early 1990s, when Algeria’s savage war between the military junta and Islamists began to spill over into France, the French internal-security service, now known as theDirection central du renseignement intérieur, or DCRI, began to ramp up its capacity to monitor Muslim militants.

On Nov. 27, 2001, France’s premier counterterrorist magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguière, was pessimistic about “autonomous” jihadist cells in Europe and North America that “don’t need to receive orders to pass into action.” The Iraq War added to this widespread anxiety. Many believed that the Anglo-American invasion would provoke a maelstrom of holy warriors against the West.

It didn’t happen then. But it may be happening now.

The lethal attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo —which has made a specialty of mocking both sides of the too-much-Islam-in-Europe debate, and in 2012 famously published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad —probably isn’t a lone-wolf affair. But it may represent what Mr. Bruguière feared: native jihadist cells that can act independently of foreign terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda or Islamic State, but may act in concert, and certainly in sympathy, with these groups.

The DCRI, easily the most effective domestic-intelligence organization in Western Europe, has been sounding the alarm for over a year, warning that the Syrian insurrection against the Bashar Assad regime was becoming too bloody and too irresistibly magnetic for French Sunni Muslims. Several hundred of them have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight under the banner of Islamic State and other radical groups. Hundreds of other European Muslims appear to have joined them. The French bastion against domestic terror appears to be cracking.

What Did 8 Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan Accomplish?

Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf
January 8, 2015

Tracking Eight Years of Airstrikes in Afghanistan

On October 7, 2001, the United States and United Kingdom, as part of the military campaign to topple the Taliban, began conducting airstrikes in Afghanistan. The air attacks were carried out by five B-1 and ten B-52 bombers operating out of Diego Garcia, twenty-five F-14 and F-18 fighter aircraft launched from naval carriers in the Arabian Sea, two B-2 bombers from Whiteman air force base in Missouri, as well as some fifty cruise missiles fired from off shore. Those initial airstrikes were against thirty-one targets consisting of air defense radars, Taliban airfields and command-and-control facilities, and al-Qaeda training camps. After the Taliban was removed from power and remnants of concentrated al-Qaeda fighters had dispersed, airstrikes were significantly curtailed by the end of December 2001. According to the U.S. Air Force, during the initial 76 days of bombing, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown, with 17,500 munitions dropped on over 520 targets.

Over the next several years, U.S. and NATO airstrikes continued, but at a much reduced tempo. The total number of strikes and bombs dropped are unknown because they have not been presented in a comprehensive manner to the public. Beginning in 2006, however, the U.S. Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) made this information available on a month-by-month basis, which allows for a better understanding of the trends in the use of air power in Afghanistan. Over the previous eight years, the United States and, to a far lesser extent, its Western partners have conducted 16,541 strike sorties and dropped 36,791 bombs.

There also are no publicly available estimates of the number of suspected Taliban or al-Qaeda militants killed with these strikes, though there have been estimates of civilian casualties compiled by the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan. For example, in 2008 there were an estimated 552 civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes, and in 2014 (through November 15) there had been more than 78 civilian deaths. Although President Obama claimed two weeks ago that “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,” U.S. airstrikes will continue, including for force protection and counterterrorism missions, and to provide close air support for Afghan forces.

Vietnam Gives China an Earful For 'Worst' Project

January 09, 2015

Vietnam’s transport minister publicly criticized the management of a Chinese railway company following recent accidents at an embattled project for which it is contracted in Hanoi, Voice of America reportedJanuary 8.
In an animated display seen in a nationally televised broadcast earlier this week, Dinh La Thang reportedly shouted and pointed his fingers at a representative from the state-owned China Railway Sixth Group Co. during a meeting, excoriating it for repeated accidents in the Ha Dong- Cat Linh elevated railway project for which it is the main contractor.

“Each time an accident happens, you accept responsibility, but things have not changed… Even if you make an excuse this time by saying that we borrow loans [from China], I can ask our government to replace you. We cannot trade [Chinese] loans for Vietnamese lives,” Thang said.

He also implored the company’s top leaders to come down to Vietnam from China to inspect the site and to send more units to ensure a timely completion of the accident-prone and repeatedly delayed project, which he called “the worst” in Vietnam.

Thang’s outburst comes after a recent run of accidents at the problem-ridden project, which has Chinese state-owned China Railway Sixth Group Co. Ltd as its main contractor. On November 6, bulky reels of steel fell off from the construction site, killing one motorcyclist and injuring two others, causing the project to be suspended until November 14.

Just over a month after resuming, however, another accident occurred on December 28 when the scaffolding under construction at Ha Dong terminal collapsed, smashing several cars but causing no casualties.

A Revolving Door Era for China?

Interdisciplinary experience would benefit both scholars and diplomats, but there are some hurdles to clear. 
On December 18, Chinese President Xi Jinping appointed Qu Xing as the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, in accordance with the decision of the Standing Committee of the People’s National Congress of China. Before this appointment, Qu was the director of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing. This appointment has piqued the interest of Chinese scholars in international relations, some of whom see it as a sign of the beginning of a revolving door era in China.

Qu Xing is a well-known scholar in the international relations sphere in China. He holds a PhD and Master’s Degree in Political Science from Sciences Po in France and a Bachelor Degree in French from the Beijing Foreign Languages University. He is also a commenter for several TV channels, including China Central Television (CCTV) Channel 4, the International Channel. Being the director of the CIIS, he is well known to many in the academic world of international relations in China. His publications have often appeared in major academic journals such as Shijie Jingji Yu Zhengzhi (World Economy and Politics), China’s leading journal on international relations, and in newspapers like the Global Times, which is the People’s Daily’s official newspaper on foreign affairs. Thus, he has cultivated a reputation in both the academic and popular spheres.

This is also not the first time that Qu Xing has been chosen as a diplomat. The scholar was appointed envoy to the Chinese Embassy to France in 2006 when he was the Vice-Dean of the Chinese Foreign Affairs College. After returning from Paris in 2010, he became the director of CIIS, which is a major think tank on foreign affairs in China and directly led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). This time, however, he has been appointed an Ambassador, a far bigger role than his previous post in France. For some observers, it may be a sign that more Chinese scholars are to take important posts in the near future. But is this possible?

The revolving door mechanism has long existed in the West, most notably in the United States. This mechanism allows movement of people from the government to the private or academic sectors and back again. One of the best known examples among international relations scholars is Joseph Nye. He helped establish neo-liberalism in international relations theory, developed the concept of soft power, and has been a professor at Harvard University for more than thirty years. During the Clinton Administration, Nye was appointed assistant secretary of Defense and was responsible for international security affairs from 1994 to 1995. After that, he returned to Harvard, taking the position of dean at the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance.

Despite US-Cuba Detente, China Forges Ahead in Latin America

January 09, 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Latin American leaders in Brazil (July 2014).

At the inaugural China-CELAC forum, Beijing seeks a new role in Latin America even as the U.S. makes its own moves. 

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the opening ceremony of a new dialogue platform linking China and Latin America. The forum brings together China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a 33-member bloc made up of the South American, Central American, and Caribbean states. China and CELAC agreed to create a joint forum at last year’s CELAC meeting in Cuba, and the inaugural ministerial meeting opened in Beijing on January 8.

As this is the first-ever China-CELAC forum, the main item on the agenda is to put in place regulations — defining rules, setting up regular dialogues, and providing “a system guarantee” for implementing plans and political consensus. This first meeting is also expected to set the agenda for China-Latin America cooperation from 2015 to 2019.

China has already floated some ambitious goals. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China wants to increase direct investment in Latin America to $250 billion by 2025. China also pledged to increase bilateral trade to $500 billion in the same time frame, nearly double the $261 billion value of China-Latin America trade in 2013. That would cement China’s position as the second-largest trading partner for the region, still far behind the U.S. (which totaled $850 billion in trade with the region in 2013).

Xi’s remarks hit the usual notes of Chinese diplomacy: win-win cooperation, equal partnerships, and joint economic growth. Xi also added that he hopes the China-CELAC forum will “have an important and far-reaching impact on promoting South-South cooperation and prosperity for the world.” Clearly, China is reaching out to Latin America based on its status as a fellow developing country and thus a supposed equal, echoing China’s strategy for engaging Africa. Another similarity is China’s strategy of using financing to secure resources from both Africa and Latin America, a tactic that has been particularly successful in the oil-rich nations of Venezuela and Ecuador.

China becoming a superpower or just a regional player?

 08 Jan , 2015

The end of the Cold War in 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, opened up strategic opportunities for China.

As per Chinese perceptions, the era of bipolarity had given way to a multi-polar world in which it was destined to play a crucial role. The world order, however, has not been shaping according to Chinese strategic calculations.

The Gulf War in 1991, the War in Bosnia, the War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the latest operation in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) has underscored the reality in Chinese perception that the US is loathe to dilute its unipolar status.

Many Chinese policy makers feel that an unchallenged superpower status may embolden the US to adopt a more strident posture in support of Taiwan’s independence, notwithstanding the repeated policy assertions by the US of facilitating the eventual unification of Taiwan with China. Even though there are increasingly high stakes in economic and other linkages between the two countries, the world sees China and the US as contradictory powers.

The strategic manoeuvrings by the US to checkmate China are an ongoing process and were most pronounced in 1996 when the US had deployed two carrier battle groups in the vicinity of Taiwan during the latter’s presidential election. The US continues to manipulate strategic and diplomatic leverages like the human rights issue and China’s nuclear and missile proliferation activities. US espionage activities in China were clearly in evidence when a US spy plane recently crash-landed on China’s Hainan Island.

China has been growing in self-confidence due to its successful economic reforms and more recently by the return to its fold of Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 1999. It is also a sign of growing confidence that China has begun to make maritime forays into areas that are far from the mainland, such as the South China Sea. While low or middle ranking powers are more land oriented, and by implication, army oriented in their defence posturing, a high-ranking power begins to focus on its maritime reach.

By all indications, China has begun to view itself as a developed country and a high-ranking power, even though there is much distance to be covered.

Chinese tendency to keep border issues or territorial disputes unresolved is quite pronounced, especially with those countries with which it seeks to retain strategic leverage.

While analysing China, it is difficult to overlook the contradictions. Tangibly, China has some very robust attributes of a strong power i.e. nuclear capability, space capability, missile capability, the largest armed forces, a massive manpower resource base, and an impressive economic growth. On the other hand, there are contradictions such as China’s inability to manufacture world-class conventional weapons such as tanks, aircraft, destroyers, submarines etc.

Its large import of arms from Russia in recent years, are also reflective of its technological inadequacies. When the Chinese leaders talk of ‘pockets of excellence’, it is a tacit admission that the scientific and technological development is not well rounded.

Visitors to China are invariably highly impressed with the way the economic and infrastructural development in the country is showcased. But at the same time, Chinese products and goods that once threatened to swamp the world markets, fail to inspire confidence because of their doubtful quality and durability. Most of the countries that have imported weapons and military equipment from China are bedevilled with their low serviceability rate.

Paris Attack Underscores a Deeper Malaise

JANUARY 8, 2015 

Wednesday's deadly attack against a French satirical publication has the potential to upset relations between European states and their Muslim citizenries. The strategic intent behind such attacks is precisely to sow this kind of crisis, as well as to influence French policy and recruit more jihadists. Even though Islamist extremism is, at its core, an intra-Muslim conflict, such incidents will draw in non-Muslims, exacerbating matters.

Three suspected Islamist militants attacked the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with high-powered assault rifles, killing 12 people. Among the dead are the editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, who was on a hit list appearing in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine for "insulting the Prophet Mohammed." Eyewitness said they heard the attackers shouting, "We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed," and chanting, "God is Great" in Arabic. This is the third such attack in a Western country in less than three months. The Paris incident involves perpetrators who displayed sophisticated small arms and small unit training.

Whether or not these attacks are the handiwork of self-motivated grassroots jihadists and cells or of individuals tied to international jihadist entities, such incidents aggravate tense relations between the Western and Muslim worlds. This is all the more significant in Europe, where states are experiencing the rise of right-wing nationalism and Muslim communities have long experienced disaffection. The jihadist objective is to get the states to crack down harder on Muslim communities in order to further their narrative that the West is waging war on Islam and Muslims.

While Western states go to great lengths to demonstrate that no such clash of civilizations is occurring, right-wing forces engage in rhetoric that reinforces these fears among many common Muslims across the world. More important, there is a longstanding conflict of values — particularly freedom of expression, which is cherished in the West but seen by many Muslims as a license for sacrilege. Though the vast majority of Muslims will not engage in violence in response to speech deemed as blasphemous, there are many who will. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law has been a subject of huge controversy. Many Pakistani citizens have been murdered by their fellow countrymen for speech or behavior deemed objectionable. At the root of this problem is the extreme discomfort many Muslims have with free expression, although this attitude is not universal. The person of the Prophet Mohammed is all the more sensitive because the traditional view is that he cannot be depicted pictorially, let alone in a satirical manner.

Ultimately, this is an intra-Muslim struggle for power and control wrapped in a debate over what it means to be a Muslim in today's world and what the boundaries of justifiable action are. Defining those factors is one tool that can be used to gain power; attacks against the West and its interests, meant to force Westerners to pull out of Muslim lands or to attack Muslims and enforce the jihadist narrative, are another. This issue undermines efforts by moderate and progressive Muslims to advance the notion of freedoms based on an Islamic ethos.

Nepal: China's Gateway to South Asia?

January 08, 2015

China’s latest South Asian addition to the Silk Road: Nepal. 

As The Diplomat previously reported, China has been in the process of setting up two major infrastructure and transportation corridors between China and the Middle East and Europe. One corridor, the Maritime Silk Road, extends westwards through Southeast Asia, while the overland Silk Road Economic Belt goes through Central Asia.

Both routes largely skirt around South Asia though this is not necessarily by design. Chinese officials have beencajoling India to join the New Silk Road though India has been reluctant to do so. However, many of India’s neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Maldives have been eager to participate in China’s Silk Road project. Indian reluctance to join the Silk Road is partially fueled by its wariness of China making inroads into its neighborhood, but this seems to be happening anyway. Small countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal do not embrace Chinese investment to spite India, but for their own economic and political reasons. In a previous article, I warned that South Asian countries would begin to integrate economically with East Asian economies, especially China, individually if they could not do so as a bloc. Yet integration as a bloc within South Asia, in the manner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), seems unlikely because of the failure of India’s economy to open up enough or perform well enough to drive the entire economy of South Asia (Pakistan’s obscurantism is also responsible). Despite welcome moves by the Modi government, reform will be hard and slow and its effects will not be evident for several years.

It is in this context that Nepal has decided to join the New Silk Road, marking the beginning of an overland extension of that project into South Asia. Last month, Nepal signed a four-point document endorsing the Silk Road. Nepal would be connected to a Chinese rail line in Tibet. China recently extended its rail network from Lhasa to Xigaze (Shigatse), a city just 253 km away from China’s border with Nepal and India. The plan is to extend the line to several sites in Nepal, then the capital Kathmandu, and then potentially to India.

Nepalese involvement in the New Silk Road will enable Nepalese goods to travel throughout Eurasia and could spur an economic renaissance in that country. Nepal is currently connected to international trade routes only through India. Nepal’s relations with India have improved since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in India but China is able to pour more money into developing Nepal’s infrastructure than India.


Author Ali Mamouri
January 6, 2015

People read books at the start of a reading initiative in Baghdad, Sept. 29, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani)

Islamic State book burnings target minorities

NAJAF, Iraq — For decades, the overland route between western Iraq and Lebanon has been the busiest and most important passage for the transportation of books and publications to Iraq. Today, the route has fallen under control of the Islamic State (IS), with fighters censoring book shipments to prevent the entry of material and information they consider to be contrary to Islam. Given that the transportation of books by air and sea is much more costly, IS’ control over land routes will affect the market for and distribution of cultural products in Iraq.
Summary⎙ Print The Islamic State has imposed strict conditions for books entering Iraq by land, confiscating all those related to Christianity and slowly destroying cultural pluralism in Iraqi society.

Fighters usually inspect cargo, impose custom duties and confiscate any publication deemed contrary to their principles. The offending books are burned or otherwise destroyed on the spot. Moreover, the vehicle drivers face serious consequences. In many cases, they are only released after their relatives or the publishing houses they work for agree to pay large sums of money as ransom.

At one point, publishing houses began resorting to trickery to distribute their products, placing potentially sensitive books under copies of the Quran. This led some fighters to believe that entire loads consisted of the Islamic holy book, so they would allow the cargo to pass on to Baghdad and other southern cities. IS members eventually recognized what was happening and tightened inspection procedures and supervision.

Al-Monitor learned from the Beirut publishing house Dar al-Rafidain that in early December 2013, IS had confiscated one of its latest publications, “Christians in Iraq: Comprehensive History and Current Challenges.” The volume is an encyclopaedia of some 900 pages on the historical roots, cultural presence and social heritage of Christians in Iraq. IS fighters detained the driver and only released him after obtaining a $5,000 ransom from the shipping company.

US Launched 1,867 Airstrikes on ISIS Targets in Iraq and Syria in December 2014

Brian Everstine
January 8, 2015

Airstrikes against Islamic State total 1,867 in December, highest in five-month campaign

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq dropped 5,886


from August through the end of 2014, more than in any recent year in Afghanistan.

These airstrikes have put Islamic State fighters on the “defensive,” though the Pentagon is now researching claims that civilians may have been killed in the bombings, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday.

Coalition aircraft released 1,867 weapons in December battling the Islamic State, the most in any month since the campaign began in August and contributing to a year-end total of 5,886 weapons released, according to numbers provided by Air Forces Central Command. By comparison, the busiest year since 2009 in Afghanistan saw 5,411 bombs dropped in all of 2011.

U.S. Central Command on Wednesday released details on targets hit during the campaign. These total 3,222 and include 184 Humvees, 303 tactical vehicles, 673 fighting positions, 259 oil infrastructure targets and 58 tanks.

"We very much see ISIL [Islamic State] largely in a defensive posture inside Iraq, that whatever momentum that they had been enjoying has been halted, has been blunted," Kirby said. "That has stayed steady over the last couple of weeks."

That progress cannot be taken for granted though, Kirby said. Islamic State fighters still threaten the city of Baiji, along with remaining in control of Mosul and parts of the Anbar province.

"It’s very much a contested environment, but what we don’t see, what we haven’t seen in the last several weeks has been any renewed offensive moves by ISIL of any significance," Kirby said. "They have largely taken a defensive posture in the last several weeks."

Al-Shabaab in Somalia Claims That It Has Executed 4 Men Who Spied for CIA and Ethiopia

January 8, 2015
Somalia’s al-Shabab kills ‘CIA and Ethiopian spies’

Several top officials of the al-Qaeda-linked group have either defected or have been killed in recent months

Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabab has killed by firing squad four men accused of spying for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The men, who included two government soldiers, were shot in front of a large crowd in the southern town of Bardhere, witnesses said.

A court run by al-Shabab had earlier convicted them of spying for the CIA, Ethiopia and the Somali government.

US air strikes have killed two senior al-Shabab commanders in recent months.


"One of the spies worked with the CIA and facilitated the killing of an al-Shabab commander," a judge in the al-Shabab-run court said.

He did not name the commander, but al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US air strike in September and last month its intelligence chief, Tahlil Abdishakur, was assassinated in a similar strike in southern Somalia.
Somalia’s army has been fighting the militants with help from African Union troops

Abdishakur’s killing came just days after his predecessor, Zakariya Ahmed Ismail Hersi, gave himself up to the Somali government.

The Nightmare Cometh: Europe faces an evolving, ever-more complex terror threat

January 9, 2015

Europe’s nightmare: Terror threats both large and small

LONDON (AP) — The military-style attack in Paris has made clear that Europe faces an evolving, ever-more complex terror threat no longer dominated by a few big players.

It’s not just al-Qaida, or Islamic State. It’s not just the disciples of some fiery, hate-filled preachers.

Instead, security experts say, it’s now an Internet-driven, generalized rage against Western society that can burst into the open at any time - with a slaughter in Paris, an attack on a Jewish Museum in Belgium, or the slaying of a soldier in the streets of London.

This evolving hydra-headed beast bedevils security chiefs, who have to deal not only with al-Qaida planners looking for another 9/11-style hit but also with, as in Paris, well-trained, well-armed killers intent on avenging perceived insults to their religion by gunning down journalists.

In a rare public speech, Andrew Parker, director of the domestic British security service MI5, said Thursday that thwarting terrorist attacks has become more difficult as the threat becomes more diffuse.

It is harder, he said, for agents to disrupt plans of small groups or “lone wolves” who act spontaneously, with minimal planning but deadly effect.

"We believe that since October 2013 there have been more than 20 terrorist plots either directed or provoked by extremist groups," he said, citing deadly attacks in Europe, Canada and Australia. He said security services have stopped three potentially lethal terrorist plots inside Britain alone in recent months.

"The number of crude but potentially deadly plots has gone up," he said, warning that small-scale plots carried out by volatile individuals are "inherently harder for intelligence agencies to detect."

The individuals are not part of disciplined, sophisticated networks, he said, and often act with little or no warning.

Already some 600 Britons have gone to Syria to join extremists there, with most embracing Islamic State, Parker said. Some 550 Germans have done the same, with about 180 known to have returned, including a hard core of about 30 who are judged to be extremely dangerous, according to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. About 1,200 French citizens have left for Syria, including about 400 still in the war zone and 200 on their way, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said last month.

Parker said they have learned how to hate and how to kill.

Concentrating solely on these volatile individuals wouldn’t work, he said, because at the same time rival al-Qaida and Islamic State groups inside Syria are trying to orchestrate broader attacks in Britain and Western Europe.

Open societies everywhere have difficulty protecting against terrorism, whose perpetrators are aided by the very freedoms and openness that they often despise. But in Europe, several factors further complicate the situation.

Grexit Grumblings: Germany Open to Possible Greek Euro Zone Exit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used to worry about Greece's exit from the euro zone. She doesn't any longer.

There was a time when Germany feared the consequences were Greece to leave the euro zone. Now, though, with Greek elections approaching, Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to accept a "Grexit" should a new leftist government in Athens demand concessions.

At midnight, Lithuania's days without the euro came to an end. As the calendar flipped to 2015, the countdown clock hanging over the entrance to the country's central bank hit zero and fireworks shot into the air above the city palace in Vilnius. People celebrated in the streets and in the bars of the Lithuanian capital as a euro symbol was projected onto the facade of the city's neoclassical cathedral. Not long later, Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius withdrew a 10-euro note from a cash machine decorated especially for the occasion.

Lithuania is now the 19th member of the euro zone. The country's currency, the litas, is history, making way for the "euras," as the European common currency is known in the country.

In Greece, meanwhile, 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) to the south, a different kind of countdown is proceeding apace. In contrast to Lithuania, however, the days being counted could be the final ones in the country's participation in the euro zone. On Jan. 25, Greek voters will be heading to the polls for parliamentary elections. Should the leftist alliance Syriza win, as polls show it might, the euro could soon be history in the country.

Some five years after its outbreak, the euro crisis is returning to its geographic starting point. Once again, Greece is providing the stage for a conflict that is much more significant than the country itself. And once again, the North-South conflict's focus is the German-designed austerity and reform program that all crisis countries have had to adopt in order to become eligible for billions in bailout money from EU funds.

Core to the dispute remains the question as to what carries more weight: The Greeks' democratic will to leave behind austerity and cuts? Or the laws of the financial markets -- which would cease granting credit to Athens should it leave austerity behind -- combined with the unwillingness of other euro-zone member states to once again provide taxpayer money to bail Greece out?

Ukraine Says That Russian Intelligence Behind Recent Hack of German Government Websites

January 8, 2015

Ukraine says Russia behind cyber attack on German government

Ukraine’s prime minister blamed Russian intelligence on Thursday for a hacker attack against German government websites, for which a pro-Russian group claimed responsibility.

The attack on Wednesday took place before Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk was due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Russian group demanded Berlin end support for the Ukrainian government.

"I strongly recommend that the Russian secret services stop spending taxpayer money for cyberattacks against the Bundestag and Chancellor Merkel’s office," Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told ZDF TV when asked if pro-Russian hackers from Ukrainewere responsible.

The attack included web pages for Merkel and for the German parliament. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibbert, said counter-measures were taken but failed to halt the attack, which left the sites inaccessible from 10 a.m. Wednesday until the evening.

In a statement on its website, a group calling itself CyberBerkut claimed responsibility. “Berkut” refers to the riot squads used by the government of Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted after violent protests last February. The claim could not be verified.

It was believed to be the first successful prolonged attack on German government websites, which intelligence agencies say face about 3,000 such assaults daily. About five of the daily attacks come from foreign intelligence agencies, the head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency said recently.

The attack comes after U.S. investigators said they believed North Korea had probably hired hackers for a massive cyber attack against Sony Pictures. North Korea blamed the United States for internet outages it suffered soon after.

A Casualty of Moscow’s Secret War: A Russian Soldier Vanishes in the Ukraine

Joshua Yaffa
January 8, 2015

The Search for Petr Khokhlov
The main road from Donetsk to Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, on the trail of Petr Khokhlov. Credit Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

After their father died and their mother fell into drink, Petr Khokhlov and his brother, Sergey, were sent to an orphanage in Novouzensk, a small, dusty town of low-slung Soviet-era apartment blocks on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. The two boys had only each other. Petr was quiet and well behaved, scolding other students at the orphanage when they addressed their teachers with the familiar ty, rather than the more formal vy. He played the balalaika in music class and carried himself as a little gentleman, with any number of pretty girls in tow. As they grew up, Petr would consult with his older brother on just about every decision, down to what T-shirts he should buy. When Sergey was courting the woman who would later become his wife, Petr — just two years Sergey’s junior, but with a soft, boyish face that made him look even younger — would tag along on their dates to the movies and fall asleep in the back seat on the drive home.

When Petr turned 18 and left the orphanage school, he was sent away for his year of mandatory army service and ended up at a base hundreds of miles north, in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. Nine months in, he decided to sign up for a three-year contract as a professional soldier. Russia’s armed forces are made up of its large conscript army, with 340,000 young men drafted each year, as well as a professional force of 220,000 officers and 200,000 contract soldiers. Petr didn’t see many other ways to get the money to pay for college or one day buy an apartment. Sergey opposed the plan. He wanted his brother back in Novouzensk with him, as always. But Petr was determined: “I should stay here and drink myself to death? Or work on a construction site?” he asked.

Petr came home for a visit, and the two brothers argued. “Don’t sign,” Sergey begged him. “Serve out your time and come back here.”

But Sergey knew there was another reason his brother wanted to stay at the base: Petr had fallen in love with a cheerful student at a local medical college. Anna Komolova was 17, with a gentle smile that curved up at its edges and blond hair that fell over her forehead. She also grew up without parents, a fact that brought her and Petr closer together; it didn’t take long before the two of them were talking of moving in together. After half a year of dating, Petr proposed. They planned to register their marriage in October, after Anna turned 18 and Petr had a chance to take her home to Novouzensk to introduce her to Sergey and his wife, Nazira. Sergey knew that staying close to Nizhny Novgorod was a way for Petr to stay close to Anna, who had several years of medical studies left. It was hard having his younger brother so far away, but he came to understand — respect, even — Petr’s decision. “O.K., so he wants to achieve something, he’s put a goal in front of himself,” he thought.