13 July 2015

Exposed: Iran Can't Dominate the Middle East

July 11, 2015

In recent weeks, many have expressed growing concern over Iran’s potential to dominate the Middle East, particularly if it receives sanctions relief as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal. These concerns, while not completely without merit, are greatly exaggerated. Iran's gains in recent years have not been nearly as extensive as is often claimed, while the setbacks it has suffered have been all but ignored.

Concerns about Iran’s potential to dominate the region originate from the belief that Iran has made significant gains throughout the region over the last decade. James Stavridis, the former Supreme Commander of NATO, summed up the thinking of many when writing, “A glance around the region shows the power and reach of Iran today, despite the significant imposition of sanctions. Indeed, Iran is deeply and successfully dominating politics in the capitals of four major states in the region from Beirut to Baghdad, Sanaa to Damascus.”

Will Japan Become a Permanent Part of US-India-led Naval Exercise?

July 10, 2015
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and the Indian navy replenishment oiler INS Shakti (A57) conduct a refueling at sea exercise. Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 are deployed participating in the Malabar Exercise with ships and aircraft from the Indian Navy.
Image Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Apprentice Andrew K. Haller/Released

Japan could become a permanent participant in the U.S.-India-led Malabar naval exercises.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) will likely be a permanent participant in the U.S.-India-led Malabar naval exercise going forward, according to a report by the Yomiuri Shimbun. As Prashanth Parameswaran noted in these pages recently, the MSDF will return to the Malabar exercise this year in October, which will take place in the Bay of Bengal, off the Indian coast. This will be the first time the MSDF will have returned to participate in Malabar in the Bay of Bengal—it first did so in 2007 in a larger exercise which comprised the navies of Australia, Singapore in addition to the U.S. and Indian navies. Malabar began as an annual bilateral naval exercise in 1992 and usually alternates between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

New Military Strategy Shows A Dangerous World – But Not How To Deal With It

July 10, 2015 

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is painfully aware the world is changing. What the military’s clearly still struggling with is how we should change to cope.

That’s the less-than-reassuring implication of the new National Military Strategy, released a week ago by the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey. (I discuss the strategy and its shortcomings with Richard French of Regional News Network in the video above). While expectations tend to be low for such bureaucratic products, the new strategy make some important insights into new threats — only to prescribe familiar solutions.

“On the positive side the diagnosis is basically correct with regard to the strategic environment, [but] when it boils down to how the military needs to think about it, it becomes very linear again,” said Nathan Freier, an associate professor at the Army War College.

12 July 2015

Indo-Pak Talks: The problem is with the Pakistani mindset

By Kanwal Sibal
10 Jul , 2015

Prime Minister Modi extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan immediately after his electoral triumph by inviting Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony and agreeing to hold foreign secretary level talks. This despite the experience of a sterile dialogue with Pakistan all these years and the mixed messages from Nawaz Sharif himself who, while expressing his desire to normalise relations with India, has been emphasising his intention to escalate the Kashmir issue politically .

Frequent cease-fire violations on the line of control have created a background of tension that erodes the seriousness of efforts to resume political level negotiations.

How Nawaz Sharif reconciles these two contradictory strategies is unclear. Pakistan cannot say that it wants to turn a page with India while determined to read from the same well-worn text on Kashmir dating back several decades. If Nawaz Sharif as a Muslim Leaguer cannot disregard his family and party links with jihadi groups and this compels him to agitate the Kashmir issue, then Sharif the businessman, with Pakistan’s economic interests in mind, cannot move very far with India. In dealing with Pakistan we are always caught half-cock between rude reality and wishful thinking and hence the inconsistencies of our policies towards that country.

India Needs to Stop Obsessing Over IITs

When people discuss higher education in India, they often talk about what is happening at IITs and IIMs. Once in a while, people talk about NITs or the internal politics of Delhi University. India's barely functional universities are elephants in the room - direly in need reform and rejuvenation, and yet largely missing from public imagination. 

Understandably, Education Minister Smriti Irani has also largely focused on IITs and IIMs within her higher education portfolio. These institutions take in less than 20,000 students a year all put together, and are currently in a shape where they can largely take care of themselves. Even if Education Ministers were to largely let IITs and IIMs cruise on autopilot for the next decade, India will be just about fine. 

Where India desperately needs someone in the cockpit is in rescuing our universities from oblivion and irrelevance. According to the UGC, India has almost 25 million students enrolled in higher education - with an intake of about 5 or 6 million students a year. Those who graduate are far from employable, and most struggle to participate in the modern Indian economy. 

India's New Opportunity to Lead South Asia

India’s domestic and international economic choices have not always been the wisest.

At independence, India was determined to transcend the distorted pattern of economic integration with the world that two centuries of exploitative colonialism had engendered. But in the process, it ended up effectively locking itself out of global trade and investment flows altogether—just at the time when advanced countries were tearing down their mercantilist tariff walls to make way for the liberal, post-war trading order.

Central planners in New Delhi foisted an import substitution industrialization model of development, one suited to middle-income, primary-product exporters, upon an impoverished agrarian society. In doing so they condemned all but a privileged pocket of urban and public sector employees to the margins of the modern economy.

The Hurriyat’s journey — or Kashmir’s road to impasse

by Praveen Swami 
July 9, 2015 
The story of the project, and why it failed, doesn’t necessarily bear out his suggestion that New Delhi could have talked its way out of trouble in Kashmir.
One sunny winter afternoon in November 2009, three men, holding the keys to history in their hands, slipped past the restaurants and coffee shops in New Delhi’s Khan Market, and walked towards the rear parking lot. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties’ Hurriyat Conference, and his colleagues Bilal Lone and Abdul Gani Butt, got into an unmarked car that would take them to India’s Home Minister, P Chidambaram, and a chance to shape Kashmir’s future.

The meeting, however, saw nothing but recrimination — and the death of New Delhi’s years-long effort at bringing about a grand reconciliation in Kashmir.

What I Saw in Afghanistan

When the late Richard Holbrooke was the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, he would periodically invite members of Congress to breakfast meetings with his staff, on which I was serving. On September 16, 2009, we met with Representative Nita Lowey, the chair of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. As chair of the subcommittee, Lowey had more authority over funding for civilian activities in Afghanistan than anyone else in the U.S. Congress. She was also the representative of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s home district, and Clinton attended the meeting.

Holbrooke declared the meeting to be on the record, since my former boss at the Council on Foreign Relations, Holbrooke’s friend Les Gelb, was there covering it for a profile of Clinton. Before Lowey arrived with Clinton, Holbrooke cautioned us, “She gives us the money.” Lowey told us that a chorus of influential members was questioning why we were spending so much money in Afghanistan. The women’s caucus and others in Congress were up in arms about the lack of progress on women’s rights and fighting corruption, and about the ongoing dispute over the results of the August, 2009, Presidential election. Transforming Afghan society, Lowey argued, would take a long time and would be a permanent drain on the U.S. budget. Holbrooke responded, “Transforming Afghan society is not our mission. Girls’ education is a big issue in many places. We are in Afghanistan because of our national-security interests.”

ISI’s Grip Still Strong In Bangladesh – Analysis

By Swadesh Roy*
July 9, 2015

She is a student of one of the leading private universities in Bangladesh. Her hobby is listening to Western music and dressing up in modern attire. She was passing her early university life cheerfully. Like any other day, she was returning home by her Prado jeep and moving her head to the rhythm of music. But on checking her email on her smartphone she became stiff; she even stopped registering the music. She got a single line email from one of her study group friends. The mail said, “Sister, it is the last for you, come to the way of Dawah”. Dawah are rules in the Islamic lifestyle. In Bangladesh now many sister terrorist organizations of Jamaat–e-Islam Bangladesh (Jamaat) are using the term for spreading their tentacles.

One of the economists in Bangladesh, who was a civil bureaucrat and had served in many top-level positions like chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), is one of the members and mentors of Jamaat. A close source of Jamaat says that he put forth the plan that, now it is tough to make Islamic terrorists in Bangladesh in the name of the political party like Jamaat. And a day is coming when the Sheikh Hasina government will ban Jamaat and all the senior leaders of Jamaat will be hanged for war crimes. Therefore, he proposed a plan that they have to create Islamic terrorists in the name of Dawah and Islamic study groups. The system of Dawah is working under many guises in Bangladesh. In the name of Dawah they are trying to motivate the upper class boys and girls. On the other hand, through study groups they are also trying to motivate the public university students, who come from the middle class and poor economic backgrounds. They never utter that they will overthrow the government of Bangladesh. 

What Justice? Afghan Court Overturns Death Sentences in Farkhunda Murder

July 09, 2015
The U.S. spent over $1 billion since 2003 on rule of law programs in Afghanistan and has little to show for it.
Only July 2 a Kabul judge quietly overturned thedeath sentences handed in May to four men for the brutal killing of Farkhunda. In March, Farkhunda, a 27-year old woman, got into an argument with Zain-ul Abedeen, who Reuters reported as the caretaker of the Shah-e Do-Shamshera shrine in central Kabul, over his amulet selling. She was accused of burning a Quran and a violent mob murdered her. Dozens of videos filmed with cell phones by bystanders show Farkhunda surrounded, stomped, and beaten bloody by a crowd of men. She was then run over by a car and set on fire, before being thrown in the Kabul River.

The original trial, criticized by human rights organizations for being too quick, took only four days to sentence four men to death, eight men to 16 years in prison, and found an additional 18 men not guilty. A subsequent trial handed eleven police officers one-year terms and set eight others free.

Of the 49 people initially convicted of crimes in relation to Farkhunda’s death, AP reports that 37 have been released ahead of their appeals.

Afghanistan: Darkening Shadows – Analysis

By Ajit Kumar Singh*
The Islamic State (IS) has started making significant territorial gains within war-torn Afghanistan. IS, according to the US Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, has emerged as the most dreaded global terror outfit, and has captured large parts of Syria and Iraq. According to June 2015 reports, fighters loyal to IS have seized sizeable territories in Afghanistan as well. Reports citing witnesses, who have fled from Nangarhar Province due to fierce clashes between forces loyal to IS and those loyal to the Afghan Taliban, claim that IS has pushed the Taliban out from areas previously under Taliban control. Haji Abdul Jan, a tribal elder from Achin District (Nangarhar Province) stated,
They (IS loyalists) came in on many white pickup trucks mounted with big machine guns and fought the Taliban. The Taliban could not resist and fled… Unlike the Taliban, they (IS) don’t force villagers to feed and house them. Instead, they have lots of cash in their pockets and spend it on food and luring young villagers to join them. Some villagers welcomed the new arrivals.

Modi Visit To Central Asia: Enhancing Indian Presence In Bridge Region – Analysis

By Dr. Athar Zafar*
July 9, 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a visit to five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. For the Central Asian countries the visit was long awaited as it is for the first time that an Indian prime minister is visiting all the five republics in a single trip to the region. The visit has already generated much enthusiasm and expectations in the Central Asian countries because the experts and analysts from the region have long been demanding from India to increase its political, economic and cultural presence in the region.

The new government in India has been placing greater emphasis on connecting with the countries in the neighbourhood. Prime Minister Modi is seen as a decisive leader and his foreign visits are focused, goal-oriented and executed well. He conducts diplomacy with extra vigour, leading to increased hope for concrete outcomes. Recently, India expressed its willingness to play a greater role in the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) grouping. SCO is evolving as an important forum to discuss and address the challenges faced by the region. During the visit the prime minister is scheduled to attend the BRICS Summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa countries hosted by Russia and also expected to participate in the SCO meeting. It is also expected that India will get full membership of SCO at the Ufa summit

Sparing India’s Strategic Space For China’s Entry In East – Analysis

By Col R. Hariharan*
July 9, 2015

China’s latest strategy paper provides insights to Xi’s thinking on power projection. India should keep its options open while sparing its strategic space to China by participating in the BCIM corridor project.

At last India also seems to have made up its mind on joining the China-promoted Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor project to open up a land access route between South Asia to China’s South Western region.[i] General VK Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, recent statement that the recent standoff with Burmese Naga insurgents in Manipur would not affect the Project amply clarifies that New Delhi is clear in its decision.[ii]

Perhaps, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the decision to join the Project after clarifying his mind on some of India’s strategic concerns about China after his May 2015 visit to Kunming capital of Yunnan Province where he inaugurated a Yoga Institute supported by India. The Chinese also “acknowledge that unlike in the past, when it was perceived to be dragging its feet, India is now showing enthusiasm over the project” according a news report in The Hindu from Kunming.[iii] With its changed stance Chinese have high expectations of India speedily completing the last bit of 200 km of road on Indian side of the border to provide four-lane highway connectivity between Kunming and Kolkata.

Why is a Big Cambodia Military Delegation in China?

On July 8, Defense Minister Tea Banh left Cambodia with a large, high-powered delegation of 23 high-ranking military and security officials for a five-day trip to China. While both sides have insisted that the visit is a routine one, recent events, as well as the specifics of the visit, have led it to get significantly more attention than it otherwise would.

Cambodian and Chinese officials have been bending over backwards to describe the visit as a routine one. On the Cambodian side, a military spokesman told reporters it was “just an annual exchange visit,” and Defense Minister Banh himself told The Cambodia Daily that the visit was “nothing big.” On the Chinese side, reports said very little about the agenda except that it was designed to “further enhance bilateral ties and cooperation,” with Banh meeting military leaders and visiting some key institutions of China’s Ministry of Defense.

For some, this is hard to believe. According to Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat, the 23-member delegation for the so-called “friendship-boosting” trip includes the commanders of all three branches of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces – the army, navy and air force – as well as the National Military Police Commander. Despite Banh’s denial, such a large and high-powered delegation makes the visit look “big” regardless of what it is actually designed to do and what else is going on at the time.

Stock Market a Test for China’s Government

The state intervention in the market will have some serious ramifications.
All eyes are on Greece this week, where $350 billion in debt threaten a “Grexit” from the euro zone. But another economic nosedive with arguably even greater consequences is taking place: China’s stock market has lost over $3.2 trillion in value in the past month. The Shanghai Composite rose 130 percent between last September and June 12, when it entered a downward spiral that has wiped off more than thirty percent of market value to date, an amount roughly twice the size of the entire Indian stock market.

Signs of a Chinese stock market bubble can be traced over the course of the last year. More Chinese citizens have gotten involved in buying and trading shares on the Shanghai and Shenzhen markets, with college students to grandparents alike making money in a “stir-frying” of stocks. Many of these newer investors wereborrowing money to buy shares they couldn’t afford. These smaller, less resilient players on the market believed that stocks could only move higher. The bull market came at a time when the Chinese economy was more broadly slowing, a trend that led to an overvaluation of the market and further exacerbated the market’s detachment from the Chinese economy, according to Patrick Chovanec at Silvercrest Asset Management.

China’s New Cybersecurity Law: What You Need to Know

July 9, 2015

The National People’s Congress posted the draft of a new cybersecurity law (in Chinese) on Monday. The purpose of the law, according the NPC, is to maintain “cyberspace sovereignty.” The law is open for comments until August, and the important questions will be in how it is modified, interpreted, and implemented. But here are some of the key points:

-Government will establish national security standards for technical systems and networks.

-Real name registration to be enforced more strictly, especially with messaging apps where enforcement has been lax.

-Internet operators must provide “support and assistance” to the government for dealing with criminal investigations and national security. Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia Director at Amnesty International, tells Reuters that Article 50 gives authorities the legal power to cut Internet access in to maintain order as Beijing did in Xinjiang in 2009.

-“Timely warning and notification” system for cybersecurity incidents.

-Greater investment in cybersecurity (including subsidies for cybersecurity companies, internet operators, etc.) and cybersecurity education.

Could Islamic State Go Nuclear? – Analysis

By Wolfgang Rudischhauser*, NATO Review 
July 9, 2015

This year has shown that terrorism is again coming closer to Europe. After Madrid in 2003 and London in 2005, this year it has already visited Paris, Brussels and Verviers. Tomorrow it could be Frankfurt, Berlin or Rome.
Muslim countries in Asia are also at risk. The US has had its own terrorist experiences with New York, Boston and other attacks. While public attention is currently very much focused on military security in Europe, and in particular in Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood, much less attention is given to developments on the southern borders of NATO. Terrorist groups operating there, as inhumane as they are, are still considered primarily as a “conventional threat”.

But a further particular risk could become a major threat to Western societies. There is a very real – but not yet fully identified risk – of foreign fighters in ISIL’s ranks using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials as “weapons of terror” against the West.

Who has 'boots on the ground' in fight against IS?

July 8, 2015

WASHINGTON — As the United States and Iran continue efforts to reach a long-term nuclear agreement, it is becoming increasingly evident that they are tacitly aligned in a longer-term struggle against the mutual threat of Sunni extremism.
Summary⎙ Print A mismatch in priorities between the United States and its Sunni allies is obliging the Obama administration to rely more on Iran-backed forces to fight the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indirectly confirmed July 7 that the “boots on the ground” battling the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) are primarily forces also backed by Iran, including Shiites and Kurds.

The United States has managed to train only 60 vetted individuals to fight IS in Syria, Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee. The figures for Iraq are better but hardly impressive. As of June 30, Carter said, the United States has trained fewer than 11,000 Iraqis — of whom only 1,300 are Sunnis — to join forces seeking to roll back IS advances in Iraq.

Tajikistan: An Opportunity for Great Power Cooperation

The plight of Central Asia’s poorest nation offers a rare opportunity for collaboration among regional powers.
One of the least known nations on the planet, Tajikistan demands little attention from the outside world – even less than its Central Asian neighbors do. And since the conclusion of its civil war at the end of 1997, it has had little reason to do so.

Despite a small population – just shy of 8 million – and a flagging economy, the poorest nation in Central Asia is geopolitically unique. The major powers, however, have largely ignored it in their strategic thinking. With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from neighboring Afghanistan (as well as their large contingencies of support units in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan), China’s geostrategic interests focused largely elsewhere, and Russia’s priorities now pointed towards the Caucasus and Ukraine, Tajikistan finds itself increasingly isolated, with no lifeline, in a seemingly perpetually troubled region.

Why Is Iran's Foreign Minister So Angry?

Nuclear negotiations that once contested questions of access and verification now seem to be turning into a contest of measurement—and those aren’t uranium stockpiles they’re measuring. Yesterday, Russian and Iranian media outlets reported a string of bombastic outbursts from their nations’ top diplomats in disputes over the removal of the United Nations Security Council’s arms embargoon Iran. The Russians and Iranians want the arms embargoes lifted; the U.S. and others want some restrictions to remain. After European Union foreign policy head Federica Mogherini suggested the talks could end over Iran’s intransigence,say the reports, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shouted back, “Never threaten an Iranian!” “Or a Russian,” Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is said to have added. Zarif and U.S. secretary of state John Kerry are also reported to have been shouting at each other so loudly one night that other delegations in the hotel could hear; on another occasion, when Western negotiators raised the issue of Iran’s destabilizing role around the Middle East, Zarif “erupted” that “If we are talking about regional security, I should take every one of you to international courts for supporting Saddam” in the Iran-Iraq War.