15 February 2015

India-Pakistan: The Curious Case of the MFN Status

By Huma Sattar
February 14, 2015

For many years, Pakistan has been struggling with the idea of granting MFN status to India. In 2011, at least, it seemed that dialogue between the two countries was delivering some progress. MFN status appeared to be a matter of when, not if, and indeed this was candidly communicated to the business community and the media.

The collegial agreement on the Composite Dialogue sought to discuss several issues affecting Pakistan-India relations, including peace and security, Kashmir, water and territorial issues, terrorism, and economic cooperation. Trade appeared to be the low-hanging fruit for stakeholders on both sides of the border, who hoped that better economic relations would pave the way for political stability and normalized relations between the two countries.

Several meetings into the dialogue Pakistan agreed to grant MFN status to India, renaming it non-discriminatory market access (NDMA), in the first quarter of 2014, provided India gave market access to Pakistan for some 300 items. The meeting also came with promises to ease visa processes across the border and open banks on each side to accelerate transaction processes. The final decision was postponed until after the Indian elections so that the MFN status could be offered to the new Indian government in office.

However, speaking at a recent conference organized by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, said that extending MFN status to India would severely harm Pakistan’s local economy. Basit argued that growing bilateral trade has hardened India’s stance on the issue of Kashmir.


By Simi Mehta
FEBRUARY 13, 2015

There appears to be a cognizable vibrant shift towards an equitable partnership-based relationship between India and the US after Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the US as the prime minister of India. This raised new hopes and expectations that the Indo-US defence collaboration under the auspices of the strategic cooperation would reach to greater heights beginning with the last two years of Obama administration under the stewardship of Prime Minister Modi. Their first joint statement in September 2014 placed defence cooperation as the staple aspect of the bilateral relationship.

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review cited India as one of the anchors for ensuring regional security and helping the US manage tensions and prevent conflict in the Asia Pacific on issues ranging from humanitarian assistance to maritime security to counterterrorism. It underscored the importance of India’s rise for the United States as an increasingly capable actor in the region, and the deepening bilateral strategic partnership was made evident through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI).

On the occasion when India showcased the pride and might of its armed forces, defence security cooperation emerged as the keyword of the second visit of the POTUS. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi took the bilateral defence ties to a “new level”, by renewing the 10-year Defence Framework Agreement that was signed in the year 2005 by the then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld. While Obama sat bewildered witnessing the India’s advertisement of its military might at the Republic Day parade, he agreed in principle to pursue joint development and production projects under DTTI, which could become the hallmark of the Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Dassault can also sign contracts

By Claude Arpi
14 Feb , 2015

Last week, a rather surprising development occurred.

…‘clarified’ that France will not assume full liability for the HAL-built aircrafts…

A senior official of the Armament Procurement Agency (Direction générale de l’armement or DGA) of the French Ministry of Defence asserted that a 2012 agreement to provide Rafales to India never committed Dassault Aviation to guarantee aircraft manufactured in India.

For the first time, Paris openly sided with Dassault, a French family concern, in its talks with Delhi, the latter arguing that liabilities during the process of manufacturing 108 aircrafts in India, should be the French supplier’s responsibility. For months now, this has been the main bone of contention between the 2 parties.

Laurent Collet-Billon, the DGA’s boss affirmed: “Dassault will not be responsible for the whole contract. It is a co-management setup.”

He also ‘clarified’ that France will not assume full liability for the HAL-built aircrafts: “It cannot be a problem, because it was not in the request for proposals (RFP),” he added. It is not what the Indian Ministry of Defence says.

Speaking to reporters on February 9, Collet-Billion also admitted: “A lot of progress has been made since 2012.” The French official however latter agreed that the negotiations should “give way to a contract for the 126 fighters plus 63 options”.

…the Indian Air Force (IAF) required at least 45 fighter squadrons to counter a ‘two-front collusive threat’, while the government has sanctioned 42 squadrons only…

Not Your Dad’s Taliban: Afghan Taliban Insurgency Is Becoming More Complex

By Sudarsan Raghavan
February 13, 2015

FAIZABAD, Afghanistan — The Taliban in this northern province allows girls to attend school. It doesn’t execute soldiers or police. Its fighters are not Pashtun, the main ethnic group that bred and fueled the insurgency. Some members are even former mujahideen, or freedom fighters, who once despised the Taliban and fought against its uprising.

“The Taliban here are against the ideology of the Taliban in the south,” explained Maizuddin Ahmedi, 20, a former Taliban member who reflects the local faction’s atypical nature: He has a Facebook page, tweets regularly and wears a beanie emblazoned with “NY.”

“They don’t behead soldiers,” he said.

As the United States reshapes its military footprint in Afghanistan, the Taliban is transforming into a patchwork of forces with often conflicting ideals and motivations, looking less like the ultra-religious movement it started out as in the mid-1990s. The fragmentation may suggest the movement is weakening, but it is forcing Afghanistan’s government to confront an insurgency that is becoming increasingly diverse, scattered — and more lethal.

What is unfolding here in Badakhshan province offers a glimpse into these complexities — and the future of a conflict in which the U.S. combat mission is formally over. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, this was the only province it was never able to control. Now, the insurgency is making inroads here and in other parts of the north, outside its strongholds in the south and east.

The Taliban in Badakhshan has gained strength precisely because it is different from the core insurgency. Its fighters are using their ethnic and tribal ties to gain recruits and popular support, while their knowledge of the landscape helps them outmaneuver Afghan security forces and control lucrative sources of funding.

All the Reasons Islamic State Won’t Have It Easy in Afghanistan


For one, there’s Taliban to deal with

On Feb. 9, an American drone strike killed Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Afghan Taliban leader turned deputy chief of Islamic State’s apparent Afghanistan-Pakistan franchise.

For awhile now, some militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been waving the flag of Islamic State—the same terrorist army presently ravaging Iraq and Syria.

“In Afghanistan, we see an initial emergence of ISIS,” Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Feb. 11 during a hearing on Afghanistan. “The threats are real, and the stakes are high. We cannot let Afghanistan become a sanctuary for Al Qaeda or ISIS.”

But how worried should we be? The answer is—not very.

“Thus far we believe that the nascent Daesh presence in Afghanistan represents more of a re-branding of a few marginalized Taliban,” Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told senators on Feb. 12.

Campbell added that he takes the potential threat seriously, referring to the group using an Arabic acronym. But even so, the range of challenges the general has on his plate in Afghanistan range far beyond the somewhat recent addition of Islamic State.

The group’s potential aspirations are just one small factor of the general’s unenviable task—helping the Afghan government stabilize their country. He must also consider how events in Pakistan and border security play into this challenge.

Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria

By Anthony H. Cordesman
FEB 13, 2015

The Obama administration and its strongest opponents in Congress may not have all that much in common, but one thing they do share is the constant misuse of the word “strategy.” Strategy does not consist of stating a broad policy goal and empty rhetoric. It consist of stating an actual plan with clearly defined goals, specific means to achieve, milestones for action, estimates of the necessary resources and their availability, estimates of cost-benefits and risks, and metrics to measure success. A sound bite that fits in Twitter or a fortunate cookie is not a strategy.

Getting this wrong is particularly dangerous when one starts talking about the use of military force and mindlessly throwing around terms like “boots on the ground” with no actual definition of what is involved or what the term is intended to mean. Every American has to accept the fact that the coming presidential election means two years of vacuous partisan political posturing, but any form of war is serious and the stakes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are all too real.

The Need for an Integrated Civil-Military Strategy, Based on Command and Embassy Expertise on the Scene

To begin with, these are areas where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the key commanders on the scene, along with the ambassadors and State Department who have responsibility for the political and economic dimensions of a given operation, need to be asked for detailed advice.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria do not have that much in common, but one thing is clear in all three cases. U.S. military action must be tied to a civil-military strategy that offers the best possible hope of producing a stable and friendly nation as its ultimate outcome. No amount of tactical victories in the field, and no amount of U.S. military force that merely defeats the immediate enemy threat, will create that stability. Military success is critical, but it is only a means to an end.

Top Afghanistan Commander Pushes for Flexibility in Troop Drawdown

FEBRUARY 12, 2015

The top commander in Afghanistan said he hopes to have more flexibility in the number of American troops available for the mission in Afghanistan in the latest sign the U.S. military drawdown there may not happen as fast as expected.

Gen. John Campbell, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, told lawmakers Thursday that he has provided a set of options to the White House that would allow him to adjust his “force posture” through the year, strongly indicating that he would like to have the latitude to have more troops in Afghanistan as he may need them. His request comes amid significant political support from both parties to give him what he wants.

“I’m particularly concerned about the summer of 2015, the Afghans — this is the very first fighting season completely on their own,” Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. “They’ve had the lead for two years. They’ve done quite well, but this is the first one at the current force levels that we’re at.”

The current plan outlined by President Barack Obama last year is to draw down to fewer than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year, and leave all but a handful of troops in Afghanistan after 2017.

With the recent history of Iraq looming, U.S. military commanders who typically want the flexibility to determine force strength for any mission have flinched over the prescribed “glide path” of removing troops from Afghanistan after more than 13 years of war.

China Should Back India for a Permanent UN Security Council Seat

By Akhilesh Pillalamarri
February 13, 2015

On Thursday, multiple Indian media outlets were abuzz with the ‘story’ that the Chinese government had stated that it had no objections to India and Brazil joining the United Nations Security Council as permanent members. While this story was, in fact, not true, and an exaggeration, the recent Chinese position is that India should play a greater role at the United Nations. This position was articulated at a recent meetingbetween the Chinese, Russian, and Indian foreign ministers in China.

Despite the lack of explicit Chinese support for an Indian bid to join the UNSC as a permanent member, India should make the most of China’s favorable position to press China to support its bid. India and China often vote together at international forums despite their bilateral differences and border disputes. Moreover, an India on the UNSC would provide a neutral and independent counterweight to other powers, and would help usher in a more multipolar world, as many Chinese analysts wish for. Despite being a liberal democracy, India has supported Russia and China on issues of non-interference in the affairs of other states and would help balance the UNSC away from the Western bloc.

China would be more favorable towards an Indian bid or a larger Indian and Brazilian role at the U.N. than the bids of Japan and Germany. Japan and Germany, along with Brazil and India form the G4 nations grouping, an informal agreement among the four nations to support each other’s bids to join the Security Council. However, their bids are all opposed by regional rivals, such as Pakistan for India’s bid, and Argentina for Brazil’s bid.

China, Pakistan Renew 'Iron Brotherhood'

By Shannon Tiezzi
February 14, 2015

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wrapped up a two-day visit to Pakistan on Friday. Wang met with a number of top Pakistani leaders, including President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sharif’s national security and foreign affairs advisor, Sartaj Aziz, and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif.

Throughout the meetings, both sides affirmed China and Pakistan’s friendship and agreement on various issues. “China-Pakistan friendship is always rock firm regardless of changes in the international and regional situation,” Wang proclaimed. Prime Minister Sharif, for his part, said that friendship with China was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Sharif also hailed the “the all-weather strategic partnership between the two countries.”

As Ankit noted yesterday for The Pulse, the biggest announcement to come out of Wang’s visit was the confirmation that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan in the coming months. There are no details yet on the timing of the visit, but Pakistani officials had previously said they expected Xi to be the chief guest at Pakistan’s military parade, which will take place on March 23, Pakistan’s national day. The visit will be Xi’s first trip to China’s “iron brother” since assuming office — last year, Xi had to cancel a planned visit to Pakistan due to large-scale protests in Islamabad. Interestingly, this week’s trip was also Wang’s first official visit to Pakistan, though he had previously visited both India (June 2014) and Afghanistan (February 2014).

How China Defines Terrorism

By Zunyou Zhou
February 13, 2015

Following the 9/11 attacks, the media frequently reported that China was planning to adopt a comprehensive anti-terrorism law. It was not until last November, however, that the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, finally published the much-anticipated draft law on counter-terrorism, consisting of 106 articles, for public discussion.

Despite overwhelming domestic acclaim, the draft law is sparking sharp international criticism. Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently accused China of attempting to use the law to legitimize ongoing human rights violations and to facilitate future abuses. Among the concerns raised by the HRW, the definition of terrorism ranks number one. In the words of the HRW, the definition of terrorism is “dangerously vague and open-ended.”

Evolution of the Definition

Actually, this law is not the first Chinese legal instrument to define terrorism. In December 2003, the Ministry of Public Security published China’s first terror list, enumerating four terrorist organizations and 11 terrorists. The national police authority also announced concrete criteria for designating “a terrorist organization” and “a terrorist.” These criteria remained in the form of an administrative regulation rather than a parliamentary law. Later, in October 2011, the NPC’s Standing Committee passed a “Decision on Issues Related to Strengthening Anti-Terrorism Work.” Although it falls short of a full-blown anti-terrorism law, the short Decision, consisting of eight articles, sets up another significant legal foundation for Chinese anti-terrorism efforts. In particular, the legislation provides definitions for “terrorism,” “a terrorist organization,” and “a terrorist.”


Kevin Woods and Jessica Huckabey
February 13, 2015 

Islamic State’s (IS) capture of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria has reignited interest in what many had hoped was a closed chapter of U.S. military history in Iraq: the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). While AQI was defeated, it was not destroyed. In fact, as a timeline offered by the Brookings Institutionsuggests, the Islamic State’s emergence appears to be just another step in AQI’s regional evolution.

A challenge for the American objective of degrading and ultimately defeating IS is developing a clear understanding of how AQI failed. In addition, because IS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, isn’t likely to publish a tell-all memoir any time soon, being able to see what the organization’s predecessors were learning in Iraq during AQI’s supposed demise would also help us understand IS’s growth. Finally, it would also be useful to examine what the Islamic State learned from AQI’s “defeat,” and how it is applying those lessons.

Notwithstanding its remarkable innovations in funding and information operations, the Islamic State has a lot in common with its AQI predecessors. It faces the same, if not more challenging, tasks of population control, internal and external power struggles, and security—especially from the rapid influx of unvetted foreign fighters. Unsuccessful execution of these tasks doomed past Salafist jihadist groups. Those familiar with Abu Musab al-Suri’s writings assessing failed jihads, especially in Syria, will recognize the jihadist movements’ miserable track record in moving past the recruit-fight-martyr stages of state-building.

ISIS Attacks Airbase Housing U.S. Troops

Nancy A. Youssef
Source Link

No Americans were injured, but with ISIS holed up in a town less than 10 miles away, this may not be the last such assault.

Two dozen jihadists—including at least four suicide bombers—charged at the perimeter of an Iraqi base that is home to U.S. troops on Friday, marking the first such attack by suspected members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. 

The assault on the Ayn al Asad Airbase near the city of Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province comes just days after the Islamic State took control of the nearby town of al Baghdadi on the Euphrates River, less than 10 miles away. That ISIS took a town so close to the base had immediately raised fears that the terror group would try to strike at American troops.

During the U.S. war in Iraq, the base was the site of frequent attacks by what was then known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group that subsequently renamed itself Islamic State and declared a supposed “caliphate” last year. It is now widely known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL.

As one Pentagon official explained to The Daily Beast, “We are all too familiar with this kind of attack.”

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s assault, suspected ISIS fighters had launched small-arms attacks, on average, twice a week. None of those had injured a U.S. service member but ISIS may well have been probing the base defenses.
“We are all too familiar with this kind of attack.”

Ukraine or the Rebels: Who Won in Minsk?

Nicolai N. Petro
February 13, 2015

Comparing the “Package of Measures to Ensure the Implementation of the Minsk Accords” to the Protocol Document submitted by the representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples Republics, it is readily apparent that the document signed on February 12 is largely based on the rebels’ proposals.

The only omission worth noting is the absence of any mention of ending the military campaign in the East, which is referred to by Kiev as the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). This is understandable, since it is highly unlikely that such a measure could pass in the Ukrainian parliament, where several influential political actors, including Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, Interior MinisterArsen Avakov, and the former speaker, now head of the National Security and Defense Party, Oleksandr Turchinov, are on record as committed to military victory in Donbass.

The most significant rebel achievement was getting Kiev to recognize a second de facto demarcation of force line, and a withdrawal of forces to the maximum line of separation of forces, which will now be between 70 and 140 kilometers. This concession by Kiev allowed the negotiations to proceed without getting bogged down in disputes over territory which, in any case, are supposed to be resolved by the Law on “Temporary status of local self-administration in certain regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast,” commonly referred to as the Law on Special Status.

Yet, it should be noted that the proposals presented by the rebels in their Protocol Document made a number of significant concessions to Kiev at the very outset. Among these:

– No mention of federalism or autonomy. The rebels even used Poroshenko's own term—"deep decentralization"—to define regional self -government.

– No mention of language, cultural, or religious rights;

What brought Vladimir Putin to the table over Ukraine, and how to keep him there

By Robin Niblett
February 12, 2015

The signing of the ‘Minsk II’ ceasefire agreement in the Belarus capital on Feb. 12 raises the question of whether the United States and Western governments should shelve the idea they have hotly debated over the past few weeks over providing defensive weapons such as radar systems, unarmed surveillance drones and armored transports to Ukrainian forces.

In recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to have concluded that the original Sept. 5, 2014 Minsk agreement would constitute a strategic defeat, as it froze the conflict with only a third of the combined ‘oblasts’ of Donetsk and Lugansk under the separatists’ control. This was unlikely to give him the leverage to achieve his long-term goal of a subservient Ukraine within a broader Russia-dominated neighborhood. A new injection of Russian military supplies, trainers and ‘volunteers’ to the separatists at the start of the year led to a major military escalation and loss of life among civilians and fighters alike on both sides.

Since mid-January, the separatists made some significant gains, specifically retaking the ruins of Donetsk airport, pushing West towards Buhas and drawing a tight noose around the strategically important town of Debaltseve. But despite these gains (some 190 square miles by some estimates), the separatists are still far from controlling the two provinces. So what brought them and Putin to the bargaining table?

Ukrainian resistance and the growing impact of Western economic sanctions, whose removal became an ever more distant prospect as the conflict escalated, may have played a role. Another factor, however, will have been the transatlantic debate over providing arms to the increasingly beleaguered Ukrainian forces.

Putin’s war on the West

Feb 14th 2015 

As Ukraine suffers, it is time to recognise the gravity of the Russian threat—and to counter it

HE IS ridiculed for his mendacity and ostracised by his peers. He presides over a free-falling currency and a rapidly shrinking economy. International sanctions stop his kleptocratic friends from holidaying in their ill-gotten Mediterranean villas. Judged against the objectives Vladimir Putin purported to set on inheriting Russia’s presidency 15 years ago—prosperity, the rule of law, westward integration—regarding him as a success might seem bleakly comical.

But those are no longer his goals, if they ever really were. Look at the world from his perspective, and Mr Putin is winning. For all his enemies’ machinations, he remains the Kremlin’s undisputed master. He has a throttlehold on Ukraine, a grip this week’s brittle agreement in Minsk has not eased. Domesticating Ukraine through his routine tactics of threats and bribery was his first preference, but the invasion has had side benefits. It has demonstrated the costs of insubordination to Russians; and, since he thinks Ukraine’s government is merely a puppet of the West (the supposed will of its people being, to his ultracynical mind, merely a cover for Western intrigues), the conflict has usefully shown who is boss in Russia’s backyard. Best of all, it has sown discord among Mr Putin’s adversaries: among Europeans, and between them and America.
In this section

Does Russia Need a Chinese Bailout?

Benn Steil, Dinah Walker
February 13, 2015

Russia’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by nearly one-third since October 2013; they’ve fallen 20 percent just since September 2014. Whereas the country still has over $300 billion in reserves, about $150 billion of this may be illiquid; it also has close to $700 billion in external debt.

Whom would Russia turn to for dollars in a crisis?

The IMF is the most obvious place. The IMF approved lending to Russia of about $35 billion (SDR 24.8 billion) in the 1990s. With the sort of “exceptional” access that the Fund has granted to Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Ukraine, Russia could potentially borrow up to $200 billion today, as shown in the figure above. But when it comes to Russia, the United States and Europe are not in a generous mood at the moment. Moscow would almost surely want to look elsewhere.

What about its new BRICS friends? Putin had said in 2014 that the new BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) “creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets.”

Russia could potentially borrow up to $18 billion through the CRA. But here’s the rub: it can only do so by being on an IMF program. Without one, Russia could only borrow a mere $5.4 billion – chicken-feed in a crisis. In fact, borrowing such a pitiful sum might only precipitate a crisis by hinting that one was coming.

What about China? Here, things get interesting. Under a central-bank swap line agreed in October, Russia could borrow up to RMB 150 billion – the equivalent of $24 billion at current exchange rates. China’s Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng has reportedly said the swap line could be expanded.

Better Off Alone: Sweden Makes Single Work

John Allen Gay
February 14, 2015

It’s hard to be single on Valentine’s Day, no matter how much Buzzfeed tries tocheer you up. But with pizza and bitter, lonely tears, you’ll pull through. There are even people who prefer being alone on the big day. The same is true for countries: across history, many have deliberately stayed out of alliances. A few have even tried to cut themselves off from the outside world entirely. It doesn’t always go well—to paraphrase an apocryphal Leon Trotsky quote, you may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. Neutral Belgium and Luxembourg got steamrolled at the beginning of both World Wars. The United States and the Soviet Union were painfully drawn into the Second World War after trying to stay out. But a few countries have made single work—with Sweden among the most successful.

Believe it or not, Sweden was once a major European power—an empire, no less, ringing the Baltic with its possessions in the seventeenth century. Yet a string of setbacks saw Sweden beaten back and, at the dawn of the nineteenth century,deprived of some of its core territories. A new approach was needed—but first, some cleanup. The Swedes joined the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon, kicked his Danish friends out of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and forcibly took the Norwegians under their wing. Sweden hasn’t done much since.

It’s gone well for the Swedes—it kept them out of the conflicts of the middle of the nineteenth century and both of the World Wars, with their most major deviation (a somewhat sympathetic approach to Germany in WWI) being abandoned when it started to hit the pocketbooks of ordinary people. Remaining neutral in the Second World War was a major achievement, given that all of Sweden’s neighbors participated in the conflict at one point or another. Keeping out wasn’t easy or cheap: the Swedes increased their defense budget more than tenfold and had to navigate both Allied and Axis demands. Yet the benefit was great: while the lands around them were torn, while cities were reduced to ash, while the Holocaust murdered millions, Sweden was safe. At the margins, they were able to extend their safety to others, taking in refugees and extending diplomatic protection to thousands of Jews inside the Third Reich.

US commander in Afghanistan proposes slower withdrawal

By Travis J. Tritten
February 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.

Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.

The proposed changes from the front-line leadership of the U.S.-led NATO mission building Afghanistan’s military and police come just as the White House also reconsiders its withdrawal time line announced last year that would bring troop levels down to a 5,500 embassy security force by 2016. Republicans in Congress have slammed the Obama administration for what they call an artificial withdrawal plan that ignores realities on the ground.

“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.

The general said this year is a crucial point in the 13-year effort to root out factions that could launch more 9/11-type attacks against the United States and again pull Afghanistan back into warring chaos. About 10,000 U.S. troops began a noncombat support mission in January.

A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.

Campbell did not provide details of his proposals and was scheduled to provide a closed-door classified briefing to Senators on Thursday.

Rouhani's New Budget Offers Pain Without Hope

Hooshang Amirahmadi
February 14, 2015

President Hassan Rouhani submitted a budget bill for the next Iranian year (which begins in March) to the Iranian parliament this last December. Thisbudget should be of particular interest to Iran watchers at a time when sanctions are biting, oil prices have fallen and the country is in the midst of nuclear negotiations.

Tehran may blame a foreign plot by Saudi Arabia and the United States for many of its troubles, but such complaints are of no use for a besieged economy that needs a far deeper understanding of global economic trends, a better appreciation of successful development models, and smarter economic management. We don’t find any of that in the new budget.

Rouhani’s proposal manages to be both incoherent and misguided, offering the pain of neoliberalism without its benefits. It is an illiberal security-austerity budget that will not take Iran out of its present doldrums, and which ultimately risks a return to the economic chaos of the Ahmadinejad years. The Iranian people deserve better.

Conceptual Basis of the Budget

The budget bill, which has been produced by the newly‑revived Organization of Management and Planning, offers no explicit conceptual framework within which the budget is formulated, nor is it based on any “planning” for the economy— budgeting is no planning. This is despite the fact that the budget bill document begins with a quote from Imam Ali (the first Shi’ite imam) saying “correct (economic) planning increases trivial wealth while incorrect planning destroys abundant wealth.” It also does not begin with a discussion of the nation’s economic development prerequisites, nor give any indication of its trajectories.

A new era for Caspian oil and gas

By Najia Badykov
FEB 13, 2015

The recent decline in world oil prices is likely to constrain economic growth and investment in the Caspian region.

The steep decline in global oil prices has dealt a blow to earnings for many energy-exporting states, pushing their finances and investment projects over the red line. They have suffered slowdowns since crude prices began to slide in mid-2014, but most of them still expect to weather the crisis and will draw on their significant currency reserves to keep their economies and projects floating.

The Caspian states – specifically, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – are among these believers. This essay will focus on their responses to the price crash.
Nobody knows with certainty when and how this prolonged and unexpected market fluctuation will end.

Even if conditions were to stabilise soon, the consequences of the dramatic fall that has already occurred could be serious. And if the market remains bearish, these countries could have a very hard time, not only with respect to recouping their losses but also in facing much tougher competition for new investment.

Under pressure
Caspian oil and gas exporters are already feeling the pressure from low oil prices and slow global economic growth. Additionally, they are also being squeezed by the knock-on effects of Russia’s economic crisis.

Among the former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are the biggest crude oil producers in the Caspian region. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Kazakhstan exported about 1.69 million barrels per day of oil in 2014, while Azerbaijan exported 840,000 bpd and Turkmenistan 280,000 bpd.

Since Turkmenistan is predominantly a gas-exporting country, it is more insulated from the fall in oil prices. But if the market remains at its current level for a long time, the country will soon face more serious problems than it has so far. Its export contracts may soon be generating less money than usual, as they link gas prices to global oil prices, which have sunk by about 50% since last June.

Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are also bound to be hurt by the deterioration of crude prices. Since these two countries rely heavily on oil exports to generate budget revenues, they have felt an immediate negative impact from the bearish market conditions.

My Bloody Valentine: The 5 Messiest Breakups in History

Rebecca M. Miller
February 14, 2015

February 14. It’s a day to celebrate the ones who we love. A day to show that special someone how much you truly appreciate their suffering through your questionable cooking, terrible jokes and long rants about everything from your overbearing mother-in-law to American grand strategy. But for many of us, Valentine’s Day is also a reminder of relationships lost and messy splits.

Breakups are always tough, whether it’s between lovers, friends, families or entire societies. Indeed, history has seen its fair share of heated conflicts that ended in both sides parting ways. Some had religious, moral or ideological undertones, but most were political at their core.

There are many ways to gauge the severity of a breakup. How swift was it? How much bloodshed was there? Was there closure? Is there a chance for reconciliation, or are the two sides never, ever getting back together? For the purposes of this piece, I won’t be focusing on the specific numbers of casualties, but rather the general misery and lasting impact these breakups had on the course of history. So for all the lonely hearts out there, here are the five messiest breakups of all time.

The Catholic Church

Anyone willing and able to come up with ninety-five discussion points on any topic is clearly passionately invested in his or her belief system. Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” criticizing the Church’s sacrilegious practices, like selling “indulgences,” upended the Catholic world.

Although Luther undoubtedly sought to cause a major stir, even he couldn’t have foreseen the dramatic consequences of his action. Most immediately, the Protestant Reformation embroiled the Christian world in over a century of constant, violent sectarian conflicts between adherents to the Church and the growing number of “heretics” across Europe. This culminated in the Thirty Years’ War, which devastated Europe. Precise casualty numbers are hard to estimate, but they were many million people at a time when populations were much smaller. Present-day Germany was the hardest hit, with as much as a third of its population perishing during the war.

Canadian Intelligence Agrees to Give Ukrainian Military Satellite Imagery of the Eastern Ukraine

Stephen Chase
February 13, 2015

Canada is preparing to supply the Ukrainian military with satellite imagery that would give Kiev’s forces new high-resolution battle intelligence in their long-running conflict with Moscow-backed separatists, sources say.

Ottawa and Kiev are finalizing an agreement that would see Canada feed Ukraine data from RADARSAT-2, which the Canadian Space Agency says is capable of scanning the Earth day or night through any weather conditions.A deal is expected to be announced shortly. It’s taking shape as Kiev prepares for a new ceasefire deal that is supposed to calm the fighting in eastern Ukraine by Sunday. But there’s no guarantee the truce will hold, and the Canadian satellite imagery would give Kiev a high-tech means of independently monitoring whether Moscow is honouring the terms of the ceasefire.

“They will be able to see what is crossing their borders,” one source familiar with the plan said.

The Ukrainian government has been battling pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for more than 10 months, and the United Nations has estimated more than 5,300 people have died in the conflict.

RADARSAT-2, a satellite launched in 2007, is operated by Richmond, B.C.’s MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates for the Canadian government and is used for everything from coastal surveillance by the military to mapping and keeping track of sea ice, crops, pollution and ships.

The decision to supply beleaguered Kiev with sophisticated imagery was not without internal controversy. Some civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development opposed sharing the data, sources say.

The Canadian government will stipulate in the agreement that the satellite pictures should only be used to help Ukraine take defensive measures and not offensive operations such as targeting opposing forces.

A Tempest in a Teacup: Forget Hybrid Warfare!

By Franz-Stefan Gady
February 14, 2015

Hybrid warfare is defined as “a combination of conventional, irregular, and asymmetric means, including the persistent manipulation of political and ideological conflict, and can include the combination of special operations and conventional military forces; intelligence agents; political provocateurs; media representatives; economic intimidation; cyberattacks; and proxies and surrogates, para-militaries, terrorist, and criminal elements.” The center of gravity in hybrid war is the population of a country.

However, the word hybrid — merely describing the mix of components in this form of conflict — does not do full justice to this nascent operational concept. For one thing, it leaves out its converging nature. As Lt. Col. Frank G. Hoffman states in an article in the Joint Forces Quarterly: “[The] character of conflict that we currently face is best characterized by convergence. This includes the convergence of the physical and psychological, the kinetic and nonkinetic, and combatants and noncombatants.” Hybrid warfare is the convergence of conventional and unconventional tactics, all merged to accomplish one objective. It is the scope of this form of warfare — including the media, organized crime, and business – that is truly unique, rather than the mix of new tactics.

With the exception of strategic cyber weapons, the various components of hybrid war have been used in previous conflicts. Currently, there is a lot of hype surrounding this subject (my colleague, Prashanth Parameswaran has provided a very useful summary and background on the current hybrid warfare debate). Hybrid war is the logical consequence of our increasingly connected, ostensibly borderless world. However: hybrid warfare is not a game changer on the battlefield. It does not qualify as a revolution in military affairs (RMA), and it cannot markedly alter the military balance between two opponents if one side chooses not engage in this form of warfare.

5 People, Including Former San Francisco Cop, Indicted for Computer Hacking As Part of Corporate Espionage Plot

Vic Lee
February 12, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — A decorated former San Francisco police officer is under federal indictment and facing charges of corporate espionage. The former cop and others are accused of hiring hackers to break into a company’s computer system. The whole thing came unraveled with these arrests.

A federal grand jury brought charges against five people for intercepting electronic communications; or, in laymen’s terms, they’re accused of hacking into private computers. The five people charged had been contracted by a company that was seeing a rival competitor for hiring away its employees.

The FBI arrested four of those indicted in the Bay Area. Former San Francisco police inspector and now private investigator Peter Siragusa was taken into custody at his home in Novato. Others arrested include Nathan Moser in Menlo Park, a third man in Oakley, and a fourth suspect in Los Angeles.

The indictment says the corporate espionage started in the early months of 2013.

Moser, a private investigator on the Peninsula, was hired by Internet marketing company Visalus to investigate its competitor Ocean Avenue. According to the indictment, Moser asked Siragusa to join the case.

The court documents charge the two men with hiring computer hackers to get Ocean Avenue’s email and Skype accounts.

The government says the hackers used a keylogger to gain access to the company’s protected computers. A keylogger is usually a software tool that intercepts activity on a keyboard.

Ahmed Ghappour is a specialist in security and technology at UC Hastings College of the Law. He explains how a keylogger works.

Sony Hack: Poster Child For A New Era Of Cyber Attacks

Dmitri Alperovitch

What made the Sony breach unique is the combination of four common tactics into a single orchestrated campaign designed to bend a victim to the will of the attackers.

In early 2014, George Kurtz and I predicted, in our "Hacking Exposed: Day of Destruction" presentation at the RSA Conference, an increase in data destructive attacks and even showed demos of attacks that can achieve physical destruction. On Nov. 24, that prediction came true with an attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) from a SILENT CHOLLIMA adversary, which CrowdStrike attributes to North Korea.

The Sony attack consisted of four phases: 

1. The initial infiltration into SPE network, likely through a spearphish email, and the subsequent reconnaissance of that network, theft of administrative passwords, and exfiltration of sensitive data, including confidential emails and unreleased movies and scripts.

2. Deployment of the wiper malware on Nov. 24 across the SPE network with hardcoded administrative credentials inside, which enabled the malware to automatically spread. The malware proceeded to securely overwrite data files and Master Boot Record (MBR) to make the machine un-bootable, as well as launch a local web server hosting a menacing skeleton image and bearing a blackmail threat. 

3. In the weeks after the wiper attack, the adversaries have carried out an orchestrated public release (doxing) of sensitive data, with direct outreach to media organizations and the hosting of stolen data on BitTorrent sites. The goal of the release was to bring further embarrassment and damage to the SPE executives, as well as hurt their business, by revealing highly proprietary and confidential business strategies and salary information.

4. Lastly, on Dec. 16, the attackers published a threat of physical violence on Pastebin against movie theaters that carry the film “The Interview,” resulting in the initial cancellation of the theatrical release of the movie.

None of the elements of the attack had been truly novel or unprecedented. Certainly, intrusions and exfiltration of data from corporate networks are a daily occurrence these days. Wiper malware variants, while less common, have been seen in use pervasively by SILENT CHOLLIMA against government, media, and financial institutions in South Korea since 2009; as well as by other adversaries against a variety of targets in the Middle East in recent years. Confidential data releases have been perfected by hacktivist groups like Anonymous over the last decade and physical threats on Pastebin are a dime a dozen.

Obama Signs New Executive Order For Sharing Cyberthreat Information


President Obama today signed a new Executive Order to promote the sharing of cyberthreat information among private sector organizations as well as between the private and public sectors.

This is not Obama's first EO to push cyberthreat intel-sharing: his February 2013 order to buttress the security of the nation's critical infrastructure also called for increased cybersecurity information-sharing, from the federal government to private industry. The new EO includes more details on information-sharing, especially when it comes to private industry's liability and other concerns.

Obama officially announced the EO after his keynote address at the much-anticipated White House Summit On Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University. The EO comes on the heels of the administration's rollout of the new Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, which wasannounced earlier this week.

"I'm signing a new Executive Order to promote even more information-sharing both within the government sector and between the government and private sectors," Obama said at today's summit. The order calls for a common set of standards and protocols that protect privacy and civil liberties as well, he says.

"So government can share with [private-industry] hubs more easily. It will make it easier for them to get classified cybersecurity threat information they need to protect their companies," the President said.