9 July 2015

A 'New Chapter' for India and Central Asia?

Leaning on history, India and Central Asia eye further security and economic cooperation.

In Tashkent Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the relationship between Central Asia and India has “ancient roots” and “now occupies a significant place in India’s future.” In Astana Tuesday, Modi declared his intention to “write a new chapter in an ancient relationship.” Modi’s mission in Central Asia points to significant interests in energy, economics, and counterterrorism. Still, engagement between Central Asia and India leans heavily on history.

The Uzbek government called upon the shared historical figure Babur, a descendant of the Mongals and Timur and the eventual founder of the Mughal Empire. Babur was born in Andijan, ruling over the Fergana (and then losing it and seeking his fortunes elsewhere) long before there was an Uzbekistan:

Much of the history, literature, music, art and architecture of the Uzbek and Indian people, their mutual enrichment is associated with the name of our great ancestor Zahiriddin Muhammad Babur.

In Uzbekistan, Modi met with President Islam Karimov–who has visited India five times since coming into power in 1991–as well as with Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has served in that position since 2003. Modi tweeted that his discussions with Karimov were “very productive.”

India and Pakistan Are Set to Join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So What?

July 07, 2015

India and Pakistan will join the SCO, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the SCO will start to matter more in Asia.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are headed to Ufa, Russia later this week where they will attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. Both India and Pakistan are set to join the organization as full members after years of holding observer status. Their accession is expected to conclude in 2016, according to statements by a Russian official. The SCO was founded in 1996 and is largely a forum for limited consultation and cooperation on political, economic, and military matters.

According to the Press Trust of India, the two prime ministers will meet on the sidelines of the summit on July 10. Modi’s talks with Sharif will be an important litmus test for the state of India-Pakistan relations, which have declined in recent months due to a range of factors, including skirmishes across the Line of Control in Kashmir and Pakistan’s treatment of anti-India terrorists.

Strengthening the Indo Russian Relationship

The Prime Minister embarks on his first visit to Russia next week to attend the BRICS summit and a meeting of the SCO. A visit by an Indian dignitary to that country is fraught with symbolism, given the long and steadfast relationship that India enjoyed with Russia’s predecessor, the erstwhile Soviet Union. Notwithstanding India’s professed policy of non alignment, the Soviet stand of consistently backing India on various issues in international for a coupled with huge investments in our infrastructure, economy and defence had won for that country the reputation of being an all weather friend. This was proved to the world in August 1971 when the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed, amidst indications of the Sino American entente and war clouds over the Indian Subcontinent – probably the high water mark of the Indo-Soviet relationship.

…over the last two decades the newly formed Russian Federation’s ties with India did lose some momentum.

How Can China and India Boost Economic Ties?

The bilateral business relationship has underperformed. Here’s what can be done.

Beijing consistently amazes foreign visitors with its size, cleanness, efficiency, and youthful atmosphere (especially the buildings) that belies its long and rich history. Not surprisingly, visitors to Beijing question whether China should still be categorized as a developing nation. But Beijing is the capital and among the most advanced cities in China, and certainly does not represent the national norm. According to 2014 data, Beijing’s GDP per capita (nominal) stands at more than $16,000, more than double the national average of just $7480.

There are significant wealth disparities among China’s regions. In fact, most of the coastal provinces and Inner Mongolia (with a combined population of 413 million) have reached GDP per capita (nominal) in excess of $10,000, whereas the rest of China, especially Western provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Qinghai, still have GDP per capita as low as $4,297. Given that global GDP per capita is more than $10,000, China is still a developing country.

India's INS Viraat, World's Longest-Serving Aircraft Carrier, Set for Decommissioning

July 08, 2015
A few mid-week links covering defense, security, and geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific:

Farewell to India’s INS Viraat. India’s oldest aircraft carrier INS Viraat will be decommissioned in 2016 and turned into a docked museum ship after 57 years of continuous service, first as the Royal Navy’s HMS Hermes and then, after entering the Indian Navy in 1987, as the Viraat. The Viraat was the flagship of the Indian Navy until its successor the INS Vikramaditya was commissioned two years ago. The Viraat‘s decommissioning will primarily mark a symbolic moment for the Indian Navy—its contribution to India’s Naval aviation was modest with a limited group of British Aerospace Sea Harrier jets and indigenously designed utility helicopters. Earlier this year, The Hindu noted that the carrier’s decommissioning was spurred by the deteriorating condition of the aging Harrier jets.

Anxiety along the Russia-China border. If you don’t look closely, you may think that Russia and China are two pegs in an ironclad alliance and, while there are good reasons to think that they’ll stay aligned for a while, there are difficulties and anxieties underlying the relations, particularly on the Russian side. As a recent Financial Times report highlights, local politicians in the government of Russia’s Zabaikalsky Krai, a poor area in southern Siberia, on the Chinese border, recently concluded a controversial deal to let a private Chinese firm effectively control and develop 1,000 square kilometers of Russian land over a 49-year lease.

Afghan Officials Reportedly Meet With Taliban in Pakistan

Details are few, but this meeting seems to be more ‘official’ than previous rounds of talks.

The Afghan government publicly confirmed Tuesday that a delegation from the High Peace Council has traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, to engage in talks with the Taliban. Details are limited, and what is known has been gathered from anonymous comments made by Western diplomats as well as Afghan and Pakistani officials.

The Afghan government has pressed for a political solution to the conflict with the Taliban, engaging in a series of informal talks facilitated by Qatar, Norway and China this year. The May meetings in Urumqi, China were organized by Pakistan. The meeting was attended by three members of the old Taliban government and Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, at the time a member of the High Peace Council and as of July 4 the second nominee for Afghan Defense Minister to be rejected by the parliament. The Urumqi meeting was disavowed by the Taliban, as represented by the official political office based in Qatar–which said the men who attended were not official representatives.

When I played make-believe with the Pakistani military

Jul 05, 2015

Most of the men in Pakistan’s regular forces have no understanding that the people doing their best to kill them are the offspring of the strategic thinkers in the army and ISI.

In the summer of 2010, I was teaching at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan. When I was not teaching, I was conducting research for my book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War.

Pakistan’s army and various intelligence agencies organised a series of visits to important facilities and regions where military and anti-terror operations are ongoing, including the Swat valley and North and South Waziristan.

The army routinely uses these tours to cultivate observers, in hopes that they will believe Islamabad’s various party lines, namely: that they are fighting a serious war on terrorism; that they are victims themselves of terrorism; that these terrorists are backed by Indian, Afghan, Israeli, and even American intelligence agencies; and that, therefore, Pakistan cannot possibly be supporting terrorism in any way.

Why the J&K police want this Facebook image to be blocked

Jul 04, 2015

This photo of 11 young men, with their faces clearly visible, is proof that militant groups are winning new recruits.

On Friday, the Jammu and Kashmir police asked a local court to block all Facebook pages that had uploaded this image of 11 uniformed boys. The picture was clicked over the last month, the authorities believe. The boy in the centre of the second row is 19-year-old Burhan Muzaffar Wani. He is the face of the new militancy movement in the Valley. As his popularity has grown over the last four years, solo pictures of Wani have spread rapidly across social media networks. The fact that he now stands with ten more men hints at a changed reality.

China Peak Oil: 2015 Is the Year

Domestic production looks set to peak, with some profound implications for the world market.
Intense focus on the North American shale boom, Saudi Arabia, and ISIS obscures an important emerging energy trend: China’s oil production is peaking. This has profound implications for the world oil market, because China is not just a massive importer of crude; it is also among the world’s five largest oil producers, trailing only the U.S., Russia, and Saudi Arabia, and virtually neck-in-neck with Canada.

China’s oil industry has delivered impressive oil and gas production growth over the past decade. Yet a range of data and historical analogies increasingly suggest that, at global oil prices between $50-to-$100 per barrel, China’s oil supply capability is plateauing and may peak as soon as this year. Lower or higher prices would accelerate or extend this timing.

Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?

As the trial gets underway, we should be clear about it may – or may not – mean
On July 7, the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague began its hearing on the case submitted by the Philippines against China regarding its South China Sea claims. As we get bombarded with news updates in the coming weeks, it is important to keep the broader significance of the case in mind.

In terms of principle, the case is important because it is a bold attempt to begin to untangle the knotty South China Sea disputes through the rule of law rather than the might makes right approach that China has been using over the past few years. Since 2009, China has increased its assertiveness in the South China Sea, including by seizing Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012, forcibly moving an oil rig into Vietnamese waters in 2014, building artificial islands, and encroaching even into the southernmost extent of its nine-dash line reaching into Malaysia and Indonesia. This disturbing and destabilizing pattern has continued despite repeated protests that it violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), other agreements like the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties Beijing inked with Southeast Asian states, and general principles like the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Why is China's Stock Market Crashing?

China’s stocks tumbled in recent weeks. Barely three weeks earlier, on June 12 (Friday), Shanghai Composite (SSEC) closed at 5166.35 points, the highest since January 18, 2008. Yet by the end of July 3, the SSEC shed 1481.99 points, losing almost 29 percent of its recent high and more than $2.8 trillion of value (i.e., 10 times of Greece’s annual GDP).

What is vexing for policymakers is that the Chinese stock markets ignored signals from the Chinese leaders and continued their downward fall. Following the 7.40 percent dive on Friday (June 26), the People’s Bank of China (the central bank of China) on Saturday responded by cutting its benchmark interest rates and the amount of reserves certain banks are required to hold. The central bank cut its one-year benchmark lending rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 4.85 percent and its one-year deposit rate by the same scale to 2 percent.

Moreover, Monday, June 29, was supposed to be an auspicious day when the ceremony for the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-led international bank, was held. But investors disregarded these strong signals and continued their selling. The SSEC lost 12 percent for the week, the worst weekly performance since the financial crisis.

What on Earth Is Wrong With China's Stock Market?

Whatever the reasons for the recent crash, it is time for the Chinese government to understand the power of market forces.
In a strange fashion, the whole world’s attention is now focused on China’s stock market—an unlikely event given China’s tensions with other countries over the South China Sea. While different pundits offer different opinions about China’s recent stock market correction, one thing is clear: this problem is getting very serious and it will have political consequences.

Why did the market drop so much so quickly? There are many likely reasons, including technical, economic, psychological, and political ones. It is too early to declare the death of China’s bull market, however, as the Chinese government still has many tools in its toolbox to fix the market and strengthen investors’ confidence. In a way, the market crash is insignificant if we focus on the real economy in China.

The problem, reflected by this ongoing stock market crash, is twofold.

The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and the ‘China Threat’

Manila’s ongoing defense buildup needs to be put into perspective.

Yesterday, reports surfaced that the Philippine military was “ramping up” its military spending amid a rising threat from China most clearly manifested in the saber-rattling by the two sides in the South China Sea. While the reports provide important updates about the status of Philippine military modernization, it is important to put them in broader perspective because it can otherwise mislead some.

First, the total spending amount recently announced is not a new increase, but an approval of an old request. According to Reuters, Major-General Raul de Rosario, military chief of plans, unveiled that 998 billion pesos ($22.11 billion) has been approved by the government until 2028. That approval was based on plans and funding amounts articulated in the Armed Forces Modernization Act initiated in 2013 and had been pending for the past two years.

China's tanking stock markets have wiped out wealth worth 10 times the Greek economy

Never mind the crisis in Greece, what's happening next door?
As we prepare to deal with the fallout of the choices of the Greek voters, all economic eyes are pointed squarely at Europe. For good measure: The outcome of Sunday's referendum will have a definitive impact on the future of the Euro and could potentially have ripple effects on the economies of Spain and Portugal that will in turn affect the rest of the world. So there are good reasons to focus on Greece right now. But there's also a story line playing out closer to home, across the border in China, that could also be somewhat troubling.

Shares in China's two major stock markets have nosedived over the past month in what is now properly being described as a crash. The Shanghai Stock Exchange has lost more than 24% of its value since June 12. On the smaller, but influential, Shenzen Composite, total value is down 30% in the same time. That means the markets have wiped out something to the tune of $2.4 trillion in wealth over the last few weeks alone, which is 10 times the size of the Greek economy.

INDIA VS. CHINA Battle of the Asian Giants

By Bertil Lintner
July 3 2015

India and China’s enmity has a long and complicated history, and may soon get much fiercer as they compete for control of the Indian Ocean.

Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Most Volatile Frontier

The enemy of the enemy is my friend…at least until a better option comes along. This appears to be the guiding principle of geopolitics in the fault-line region where China and India rub together. It has tended to escape scrutiny from the West, due to the inaccessibility of the area and the labyrinth of language differences.

And, also, the sheer complexity and length of the conflicts involved, according to Bertil Lintner, a journalist who has not only spent decades watching the area but a lot of time traveling around it. His new book, Great Game East: India, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Most Volatile Frontier, is no armchair study but the result of hands-on experience.

Lintner notes that on a number of occasions border disputes between China and India have led to armed conflict. But the Game is usually more about maneuvering for influence with the states, would-be states, and insurgency movements that form a chain from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. Lintner supplies some helpful maps of the area, which illustrate the patchwork nature of the region.

Where Did Chinese State Media Get All Those Facebook Followers?

JULY 7, 2015

People's Daily is surging on a social media platform Chinese citizens can't even access.

Where Did Chinese State Media Get All Those Facebook Followers?
The headline was worthy of a double take, and the article read like a dispatch from a not-too-distant, perhaps dystopian future: “People’s Daily deputy editor in chief: Our number of Facebook fans second only to the New York Times.” The famously red mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party was claiming in a June 27 Chinese-language article that the popularity of its English-language Facebook page had overtaken those of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. It quoted its own deputy editor in chief, Lu Xinning, telling a media forum in Russia that the paper had 4.6 million fans on Facebook, even though the social media platform is blocked in China. (The total is now 5.7 million.) The achievement, she said, showed how social media was upending the old pecking order, letting some papers overtake their rivals “like cars on a winding road.” But a closer look suggests the state-funded Daily’s Facebook genuine fan base, which only surpassed 1,000 in April 2013, is not as large as the numbers make it seem.

French Special Forces Kill Al Qaeda Leaders

July 7, 2015

An al Qaeda fighter who had been released in exchange for former French hostage Serge Lazarevic was killed by French special forces during a raid in the Kidal region of northern Mali yesterday. Mohamad Ali Ag Wadossene, a member of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, had previously been captured by French forces in Mali sometime last year.

The Associated Press reported that yesterday’s operation occurred in the Tigharghar mountains in the northern Kidal region. A Malian military official stated that a dozen other AQIM fighters were also captured in the assault.

The French Ministry of Defense has released a statement saying “two terrorists were captured,” along with the killing of Wadossene.

French special forces also killed two al Qaeda leaders, Hamada Ag Hama and Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, in a nighttime raid in northern Mali in May. Hama, who also went by Abdul Karim al Tuareg, was the leader of AQIM’s Katibat al Ansar. He was responsible for taking several French hostages in the North African country, according to RFI. Inawalen was a leader in Ansar Dine, a jihadist group within al Qaeda’s network in Mali. [See LWJ report, French forces kill two al Qaeda leaders in Mali.]

Caucasian jihad


Islamic State is recruiting volunteers in the Caucasus. Russia may be letting them goJul 4th 2015 
IN OCTOBER 1832 Russian soldiers besieged the village of Gimry (pictured) in the mountains of Dagestan in an effort to capture Gazi-Muhammad, the first imam of the Caucasus Imamate, who had defied their rule. He was killed, but his follower, Imam Shamil, jumped over the line of Russian bayonets and escaped. Ever since then, Gimry has been a symbol of defiance and a stronghold of Islamic rule.

In the autumn of 2014 Russian soldiers again besieged the village. They were trying to capture Magomed Suleimanov, a native of Gimry who had been proclaimed emir of the Emirate Caucasus, an al-Qaeda-linked insurgency launched in 2007. The soldiers sacked a neighbouring settlement, forced out its population of 1,000 and looted their houses. Mr Suleimanov escaped, but Gimry remains surrounded by Russian soldiers; only residents are allowed in.

U.S. boots on the ground against ISIS: Necessary, in conjunction with an improved Iraqi force

Michael E. O'Hanlon
July 6, 2015

Editor’s Note: The blog posts in this series are adapted versions of speakers’ opening remarks from the June 24th Brookings Debate, which asked: “Should the U.S. put boots on the ground to fight ISIS?” 

We need to do more than what we are doing right now to combat Islamic State (or ISIS). This is particularly true in Iraq and Syria—but for the purposes of my opening comments, I will focus on Iraq, since the two countries are two quite different fronts, albeit both part of a common overall campaign. ISIS now also poses a threat in parts of Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. We need different strategies for each of those contexts based on traditions in different countries. 

In Iraq, we need roughly two to three times as many U.S. troops as we have now. Instead of 3,000 to 3,500, or the 4,000 that President Obama seems headed toward, I’m in favor of something in the range of 7,000 to 10,000. Moreover, instead of simply advising and training at the central locations like we are today, we’re going to have to get down to the brigade level. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this would not mean fighting for the Iraqis; rather, U.S. forces would be on the ground advising. Counter-insurgency is tough, and Iraqi forces are not quite ready for that fight. 

Profile: Amir Reza Khan Of Indian Mujahideen

July 7, 2015

Amir figures in the list of 50 most wanted terrorists India wants to be deported from Pakistan. He carries a reward of Rupees one million on his head.

By Bibhu Prasad Routray and Manoj Kumar Panigrahi*
Born on 5 January 1978, Amir Reza Khan, alias Parvez (also known as Rizwan and Muttaki) was one of the four sons of Ishaque Ali Khan and Hasina residing in Beniapukur’s Mafidal Islam lane in Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal. Ishaque Ali Khan managed a small construction business and a large joint family. According to the National Investigative Agency (NIA) Amir’s permanent address is in Gaya district’s Mheyan, in the state of Bihar, which is the hometown of Ishaque Ali Khan. Amir’s life was significantly influenced by that of his elder brother Asif Reza Khan.