10 February 2016

Internet power to the people

February 10, 2016

The Hindu"I am convinced that Facebook and their ad agencies completely underestimated the Indian public." Picture shows protests in Hyderabad against Facebook’s campaign. 

TRAI’s vigorous endorsement of net neutrality safeguards the Internet against platform monopolies, retaining the ability for users not only to be consumers but also creators of content

The regulations issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)barring differential pricing of data based on content have created a global impact. A friend, who runs a major international software company, called it the most important victory for the people in the tech space in the last 20 years. India has joined a select few countries that have protected net neutrality and barred zero-rating services.

What makes this “victory” even more surprising was the complete asymmetry of the two sides involved. On one side was Facebook, a company whose market cap is greater than the GDPs of 144 countries, allied with a bunch of big telecom companies (telcos). They had already “won” easy victories for their platform in a number of countries, and felt India would be no exception. They had an ad campaign that estimates put at Rs.400 crore. On the other side was a motley group of free software and Internet activists, with unlikely allies such as comedy group AIB, a bunch of start-ups, and some political figures and formations.

India, Thailand Talk Defense During Vice President Visit

February 09, 2016

India and Thailand discussed opportunities to broaden their defense and security cooperation during a historic visit by India’s vice president to the Southeast Asian state last week.

As I wrote for The Diplomat last month, Indian vice-president Hamid Ansari was set to visit Thailand from February 3 to February 5. Ansari’s visit to the kingdom was the first by an Indian vice-president in 50 years (See: “India’s Vice-President to Visit Thailand, Brunei in February”).

The focus of much of the visit was on security and defense ties, including counterterrorism and maritime security cooperation. That is no surprise since the two countries have been looking to bolster their defense relationship in several areas over the past few years.

“There is tremendous potential for enhancing our bilateral defense ties,” Ansari said in a February 4 speech on India, Thailand and ASEAN at the prominent Chulalongkorn University.

India and Thailand already have a series of bilateral defense interactions in place, including regular joint exercises, office training and exchanges at various levels as outlined in a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation back in January 2012.

What to Expect from US-India Relations in 2016

By Kanwal Sibal
February 09, 2016

India-U.S. ties have been transformed in recent years, best exemplified with the newly declared global strategic partnership between the two countries. Yet, what is the reality of the partnership in terms of achievements on the ground? And, what could be the future expectations?

For starters, the United States’ Pakistan policy remains a problematic issue. The objective of the two countries to advance regional security together is impeded by the continuation of U.S. military aid to Pakistan. This is done through presidential waivers to overcome the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which requires Pakistan to act verifiably against terrorist groups on its soil before U.S. aid can be released.

Furthermore, the United States does not consider the Taliban as a terrorist organization. The U.S. is, in reality, engaged in an effort to accommodate the Taliban politically in Afghanistan in a Pakistan-brokered deal, which is a risk to India’s security. It is thus difficult to see how, in these circumstances, the counter-terrorism partnership between India and the U.S. can be a defining one for the 21st century.

“Yemen on its Knees”: Viewing Houthi Insurgency through a Terror Prism

By Anant Mishra
09 Feb , 2016


In the past couple of months, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Arabian Peninsula, has been bombing major cities of Yemen, the poorest Gulf country. There is no shortage of conflict in the Middle East and Yemen has become its newest victim. The Saudis are receiving enormous pressure from West to decrease the aggressiveness in their attacks on the cities, which has consumed lives of over 4000 civilians at this time. Instead of moulding bending themselves under this international pressure, the Saudi’s have strengthened their command over this issue and have promised to resolve this by crushing the Iranian backed Houthi rebels.

On 14th July, the coalition took and overdrive and invaded the major Yemeni port of Aden. This operation was backed by coalition aircrafts and were manned by a group of people who were loyal to the exiled government, followed by extensive support of Saudi and Emirati commandos, were able to recapture Yemen’s second largest city from the grip of Houthi rebels. This was just a glimpse of what was to come. On August 2nd, French Leclerc main battle tanks, Russian BMD-3 armed personnel carriers, and American mine-resistant troop carriers landed along with a 3000-strong combined Saudi and UAE infantry division at Aden and immediately began to push northwards towards the al-Anad military base. Although this impressive and powerful show of strength was supported by tribal fighters who were sympathetic to the exiled government led by Mr. Hadi, and it came under no surprise that these powerful show of weaponry were operated by professionals.

Chinks in the armour - The military leadership's mindset has to be 'de-bureaucratized'

Brijesh D. Jayal 

As the festivities marking the end of the nation's 67th Republic Day drew to an end, one was left not with a spirit of bounden pride as one recalled during one's younger days but with a feeling of mixed emotions. The solemn ceremony with the prime minister along with the three service chiefs paying homage at the Amar Jawan Jyoti is a moment of collective reflection and a befitting beginning to the celebrations. Befitting, because it also signifies an umbrella of unlimited liability provided by the individual soldier, sailor and airman that assures the nation security for continued progress. One does wonder, however, if in those two minutes of homage, the prime minister heard the silent plea of the martyrs reminding him of his party's grand electoral promise to give to them a permanent memorial of their own.

Mumbai attackers made two earlier attempts: Headley

February 9, 2016

David Headley joined LeT and took his first “course” with them in 2002 at Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. File photo 

Public prosecutor Ujwal Nikam talking to media outside sessions court after video conference with 26/11 accused David Headley. Photo: Vivek Bendre 

In an important turn in the 2008 Mumbai attacks trial, Lashkar operative David Headley named Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed as the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. During his deposition on Monday before a special court here via videoconferencing from the U.S., he identified Pakistani Army officers associated with the ISI.

Lashkar handlers Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi had also been named by Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman who was executed for his role in 26/11, in his confession statement in 2008. However, he retracted his confession in court.

Afghanistan to Start Peace Talks With Taliban By the End of February

February 08, 2016

High level diplomats from four countries met over the weekend in Islamabad to discuss ending the war in Afghanistan. The meeting, hosted by the Government of Pakistan, was the third time that the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China convened discussing the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.

According to an Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, the representatives of the QCG countries—Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai; Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry; U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard G. Olson; and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Deng Xijun—expect talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups to take place by the of February 2016.

“[T]he QCG countries agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by the end of February 2016.” However, Ahmad Shekib Mustaghni, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that merely the date for peace talks will be finalized by the end of February 2016.

Tempering Saudi-Iran rivalry and the role of Pakistan

By Prateek Joshi
09 Feb , 2016

The ongoing crisis in the Middle East has got more complex with the revival of Saudi-Iran tensions. While tensions have simmered between these two nations for long, what caused their lingering enmity to snowball into a face off were Iran’s alleged support to Syria’s Bashar al Assad regime, Saudi airstrikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

Further intensifying a sense of mutual hostility was the negotiation of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in which the P5+1 powers reached an amicable solution with the Iranian leadership, getting the latter out of decades of global isolation. Tensions had begun to emerge when the deal allowed Iran to curb its nuclear program (and not eliminating it), thus feeding into Saudi insecurities. All of this took an even uglier turn as successive dampeners unfolded with the latest ones being the death of hundreds of Iranian Hajj pilgrims in a stampede at Mecca in 2015 and the execution of a Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr by Saudi authorities in January 2016. The reaction to the latter came in the form of arson attacks on Saudi embassy in Tehran, following which Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies cut their diplomatic ties with Iran.

Key Sangin District in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on the Verge of Falling to the Taliban and Kabul Doesn’t Seem to Care

Justin Rowlatt and Mahfouz Zubaide 
February 7, 2016

Sangin ‘on verge of falling back into Afghan Taliban hands’

The key district of Sangin in the southern Afghan province of Helmand is once again on the verge of being overrun by the Taliban, according to an Afghan army commander.

The commander, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC that most of the district had already been taken.

He said the Afghan government now controls just a few square kilometres of Sangin city.

The Afghan army and local governor’s office dismissed the claims.

A spokesman for the Helmand governor acknowledged there had been security problems in the past but said there was no “serious threat” that could lead to the fall of Sangin.

The unnamed commander warned that even the remaining areas under government control were under imminent threat.

China’s grand strategy, India’s great dilemma

China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ strategy holds immense significance for India

The spectacular rise of China has been arguably the most important geopolitical development of the past three-and-a-half decades. The concomitant changes in the strategic behaviour of Beijing have forced major powers around the world to take notice, resist, adapt and adjust. After studying the history of the past 500 years, Prof. Graham Allison of Harvard Kennedy School sets the record straight: of the past 16 instances when a rising power has challenged a ruling power, 12 have ended in war. Avoiding a war between the US and China, therefore, will require—according to Allison—“nothing short of bending the arc of history”. To be sure, the prospects of a US-China face-off seem slightly overhyped despite Allison’s warnings. But the significance of China’s rise and its fallout cannot be overstated.

In recent years, China has grown far more assertive in its maritime boundary claims in the East and South China Seas. Partly owing to the slow pace of reforms in international financial institutions and partly to excess capacity at home, Beijing has taken the lead in creating new financial institutions. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has produced fissures between the US and some of its European and Asian allies. China is also leading efforts to form a New Development Bank (NDB) along with India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa and an SCO bank along with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But one of its most important steps to make the “Chinese dream” a reality is its “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) initiative.

After North Korea Rocket Launch, China Pushes Back Against THAAD

February 09, 2016

In official statements and media commentaries, China keeps making the case against THAAD.
North Korea conducted a rocket launch on February 7, a day before the beginning of the February 8-25 timeframe it had originally provided for the launch. With diplomats from around the world scrambling to come up with a unified response, South Korea and the United States have already decided on one bilateral move: formally beginning talks over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. That, in turn, has reignited hand wringing in China about the threat THAAD poses to Chinese national security.

In fact, official statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on THAAD deployment were more severe than its statements responding to the North Korean launch. Spokesperson Hua Chunying said China had “noted” and “regrets” the launch; meanwhile, in a separate statement, Hua said China was “deeply concerned” about the start of THAAD talks. Deploying THAAD in South Korea “will not help maintain regional peace and stability, nor will it lead to a proper settlement of the current situation,” Hua cautioned.

‘Sword Of Damocles’ Hangs Over Asia

February 08, 2016

Worries over another Chinese currency devaluation are hanging over financial markets “like the Sword of Damocles,” while Japan is also fighting to keep its currency low to save Abenomics. Can Asia ride out the storm?

As Chinese financial markets paused for the Lunar New Year, market watchers were speculating on just how far the Chinese renminbi may fall in 2016, and its implications for the global economy.

According to Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), uncertainty over Beijing’s intentions has left markets floundering.

“Since 2016 began, the prospect of a major devaluation of China’s renminbi has been hanging over global markets like the Sword of Damocles. No other source of policy uncertainty has been as destabilizing,” he wrotein Project Syndicate.

How the Soviet Union and China Almost Started World War III

February 9, 2016

Americans tend to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis as the most dangerous moment in Cold War brinksmanship. Despite some tense moments, Washington and Moscow resolved that crisis with only the death of U.S. Air Force pilot Maj. Rudolph Anderson Jr.

Seven years later, in March 1969, a contingent of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers raided a Soviet border outpost on Zhenbao Island, killing dozens and injuring scores. The incident brought Russia and China to the brink of war, a conflict that might have led to the use of nuclear weapons. But after two weeks of clashes, the conflict trailed off.

What if the brief 1969 conflict between China and the Soviet Union had escalated?


The incident on Zhenbao Island, where the initial ambush and the bulk of the fighting occurred, represented the nadir of Soviet-Chinese relations. Just ten years earlier, Beijing and Moscow had stood hand in hand as bulwarks of the Communist world. Struggles over ideology, leadership and resources, however, resulted in a sharp split between the allies that had global repercussions. The split exacerbated territorial disputes that had existed since Tsarist and Imperial times. The long, poorly demarcated border left numerous gray zones in which China and the USSR both claimed sovereignty.

Was the Iran Deal a Victory For Realism?

February 9, 2016

Although 2016 just started, it will clearly go down in history as the year that saw the lifting of international sanctions against Iran. What happens next, however, is still unclear in many ways. How much oil will Iran deliver? What will be the Iran deal’s effect on the U.S. presidential elections? Will the bloodshed in Syria stop? How heavily were the American-Israeli relations damaged? Is it the beginning of the end for ISIS? Who won? Who lost?

Among all these significant questions there is another, no less important: Does the Iran deal represent a change in American foreign policy thinking? Or, in other words, was this deal a mere flash of foreign policy realism after several decades of ideological dominance, or is a major change under way?

Dealing With Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program

February 8, 2016

Building on the momentum from the successful pursuit of the nuclear deal with Iran, the P5+1 should now combine pressure and diplomacy to deal with Iran’s missile program.

Missiles became an essential component of Iran’s military posture during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, in which Iran received intensive Iraqi missile and air bombardments. Tehran started to build a missile arsenal because it could not get technical support for its largely U.S.-made modern aircraft. Over the years, Iran acquired Soviet-made or copied missiles from North Korea, Libya and Syria.

Although Iran today has the largest ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have substantial missile programs and had deployed longer-range missiles before Iran. Moreover, Israel is believed to arm its longer-range missiles with nuclear warheads.

The low accuracy of Iran’s missiles has limited their military utility. More recently Iran appears to be placing a priority on accuracy over range—most logical if Iran’s paths to nuclear warheads are blocked by its agreement to last July’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and if it has no intention to engage in long-distance nuclear terrorism.

Expansionist Designs of ISIS

By Maj Gen Afsir Karim
09 Feb , 2016

ISIS has clearly declared its intentions of formal expansion into the notional region of ‘Khorasan’ that includes Afghanistan-Pakistan and large parts of India, including Kashmir. ISIS has been active in Af-Pak in the recent past. It claimed responsibility for attacks on Ismaili Shias in Pakistan, and in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, it has been successful in luring hundreds of young Taliban militants to lend support to it. Meanwhile, many Sunni Muslim outfits of Af-Pak are reported to be encouraging youth in large numbers to fight along with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

…ISIS is now actively seeking to expand its operations in South Asia, it may soon try to establish a firmer foothold in Af-Pak.

ISIS appears to be making overt and covert appeals to Pakistani jihadi groups to join its fight against ‘the infidels’, but so far, there is no known formal link between ISIS and any major jihadi group in Pakistan. However, as ISIS is now actively seeking to expand its operations in South Asia, it may soon try to establish a firmer foothold in Af-Pak. Despite a measure of support and concerted efforts to expand links in Af-Pak, ISIS will not be able to seize territory in the region in the foreseeable future. ISIS is, however, likely to blow up areas it is unable to capture, and in these circumstances, Af-Pak may face multiple terror attacks of the kind ISIS has launched in France and Mali.

ISIS Fighters Seizing Oil Fields and Processing Facilities in Libya

Brian Bennett and W.J. Hennigan
February 8, 2016

Islamic State-linked fighters seizing oil-rich land in Libya

As Islamic State forces lose ground in Iraq and Syria, fighters loyal to the group have seized territory in oil-rich Libya, levying taxes at gunpoint and creating sanctuaries to launch possible attacks in North Africa and Europe, U.S. officials say.

The Pentagon has sent special operations teams to gather intelligence and launched at least one airstrike. But the White House so far has resisted calls from some senior aides to escalate the U.S. military role in another Muslim country to counter the potential threat.

Spy satellites and reconnaissance drones have shown the militants building fortifications around Surt, on the central Mediterranean coast and on training bases for foreign fighters farther inland, the officials said.

A U.S. intelligence estimate this week concluded that Islamic State has attracted more than 5,000 fighters in Libya, double the official estimate last fall, making it the extremist group’s largest and most potent affiliate outside Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State threatens to gain a “stranglehold” in Libya and potential “access to billions of dollars of oil revenue,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned, one of several alarms the administration has raised in recent days.

America’s ISIS War Is Helping Al Qaeda

U.S. intelligence and defense officials are increasingly worried their fight against the self-declared Islamic State is benefitting al Qaeda, ISIS’s jihadi rival.

U.S. strikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State have had an unintended beneficiary: al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has exploited the strikes and gained strength, and that has created a growing rift within U.S. national security circles about where the coalition should aim its strikes. Some American intelligence and defense officials and counterterrorism experts are worried that the intense focus on defeating ISIS has blinded the U.S. to the resurgence of al Qaeda, whose growing potency has become more apparent as ISIS becomes weaker.

The American air campaign has notably not targeted al Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra. With its foe, ISIS, under daily coalition bombardment, al Qaeda has been thriving, continuing to re-align itself with local forces, and re-emerging as the world’s enduring terror group.

“Now, al Nusra Front and [ISIS] don’t get along… I guess you could say to the extent that we’re weakening [ISIS], maybe it benefits al Nusra Front,” Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. commander in the war against ISIS, conceded in a recent briefing with reporters.

Syria Peace Talks ‘Paused’ After Putin’s Triumph In Aleppo – OpEd

FEBRUARY 7, 2016

“This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After 4 years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight.” — Edward Dark, Twitter, Moon of Alabama

A last ditch effort to stop a Russian-led military offensive in northern Syria ended in failure on Wednesday when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) backed by the National Defense Forces (NDF) and heavy Russian air cover broke a 40-month siege on the villages of Nubl and al-Zahra in northwestern Aleppo province. The Obama administration had hoped that it could forestall the onslaught by cobbling together an eleventh-hour ceasefire agreement at the Geneva peace talks. But when the news that Syrian armored units had crashed through al Nusra’s defenses and forced the jihadists to retreat, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura suspended the negotiations tacitly acknowledging that the mission had failed.

“I have indicated from the first day that I won’t talk for the sake of talking,” the envoy told reporters, saying he needed immediate help from international backers led by the United States and Russia, which are supporting opposite sides of a war that has also drawn in regional powers.” (Reuters) De Mistura then announced a “temporary pause” in the stillborn negotiations which had only formally begun just hours earlier. Developments on the battlefield had convinced the Italian-Swedish diplomat that it was pointless to continue while government forces were effecting a solution through military means.

South Korea’s Bluff on Pyongyang’s Rocket Launch

February 08, 2016

Ahead of North Korea’s widely condemned rocket launch on Sunday, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense threatened to shoot down the projectile if it approached its territory.

“The military is strengthening its air defense posture to intercept the North Korean missile or its debris that could fall on our land or in our waters,” ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told media on February 4.

Ultimately, the rocket didn’t enter South Korean airspace and Seoul was never called to make good on its vow. In reality, however, it probably couldn’t have even it wanted to. Seoul made an empty threat, weapons experts told The Diplomat, because its missile defense system is incapable of intercepting the type of long-range rocket that was launched by Pyongyang.

South Korea’s military had said it had readied Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) surface-to-air missiles, and could call upon the United States Forces Korea to deploy its PAC-3 missiles if necessary.

But George Lewis, an analyst at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University, said the missile defense systems had ranges in the tens of kilometers, making them little use against Pyongyang’s rocket.